Browsing News Entries

Legislators raise concerns about FBI raid at pro-life family’s home

Mark and Ryan-Marie Houck with their seven children, ages 2 to 13. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Twenty-two members of Congress are demanding an explanation from the Department of Justice after the arrest of a Catholic pro-life leader in front of his wife and children at the family’s home in Pennsylvania last week. 

Mark Houck, 48, was charged with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or the FACE Act, and entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The FACE act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). 

“The FBI’s treatment of pro-life leader Mark Houck is chilling,” Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines said in a press release that accompanied the Sept. 27 letter. “Instead of allowing for a local resolution of the dispute, the FBI nationalized the matter by using excessive force with an early morning raid at gunpoint in front of young children. The American people deserve answers.” 

The letter requests, by Sept. 30, “an explanation for the excessive level of force used by the FBI in this case, and why the power of federal law enforcement was once again used against an American citizen in what should be a state and local matter.”

“Attorney General Merrick Garland oversees an increasingly politicized FBI that seems hell-bent on making examples of average American citizens who don’t align politically with the administration,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said in the press release. 

“Given what we know about it thus far that is what the case of the raid on Mark Houck’s home appears to be,” Roy added. “And the FBI should immediately answer for its apparent use of a 25- to 30-person SWAT team with guns drawn to target Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven, for allegedly shoving a guy in front of an abortion clinic (while he maintains he was defending his 12-year-old son).”

Houck’s arrest gained national attention after his wife publicly offered her account about details of the resources and tactics used by the FBI to arrest the pro-life leader and family man.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA the day of the arrest.

“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

The FBI disputed Ryan-Marie Houck’s account of the arrest in a statement on Monday, calling the claims “inaccurate.”

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement said.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

The charges

Houck was indicted by a federal grand jury Sept. 22 after a Planned Parenthood clinic escort alleged that Houck pushed him twice, causing him to fall to the ground both times.

The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted the 72-year-old man, identified in the indictment by the initials B.L., who was at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021.

According to the indictment, Houck shoved the man to the ground as he was attempting to escort two patients. The indictment also says that Houck “verbally confronted” and “forcefully shoved” him to the ground in front of Planned Parenthood the same day. The indictment says the man was injured and needed medical attention.

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA the day of the arrest.

Brian Middleton, who acted as Houck’s family spokesperson, told CNA Monday that Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort in an effort to protect his then 12-year-old son from the man’s verbal harassment of the boy.

Middleton said that the man fell down but was not seriously hurt and required only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Houck faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted under the new federal charges. 

The congressional letter addressed the dropped state charges.

“There is much to learn about the extent of the FBI’s operations in this case, especially since state-level assault charges were apparently dismissed by local authorities in Philadelphia,” the congressional letter says.

“Surely, the FBI must have an extraordinary reason for showing up at the home of an American family, allegedly with roughly 25 heavily armed federal agents, and arresting a father in front of his seven children. At the moment, it appears to be an extraordinary overreach for political ends.”

Catholic University raises replica of Notre-Dame de Paris truss

A group of volunteers stand in front of a Notre-Dame Cathedral truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. / Patrick G. Ryan

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

A full-scale replica of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss creaked gently in the morning sun as dozens of students and volunteers pulled on ropes to raise it above the lawn of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

The truss — a roof support — went up just hours before Philippe Villeneuve and Rémi Fromont, chief architects leading the restoration of the historic cathedral, visited the U.S. for the first time since a fire engulfed the medieval church in 2019. 

The architects’ first stop, the university said, would be to see the truss.

The raising was no small feat: the 45-foot-wide by 35-foot-high white oak structure weighs 8,100 pounds. Its creation, the university noted, is also remarkable. Produced using traditional, 800-year-old methods, the hand-hewn truss was created using blueprints of the original.

Together with the educational nonprofit Handshouse Studio and other groups, the university’s School of Architecture and Planning crafted the truss during a 10-day workshop last year as part of the Notre-Dame de Paris Truss Project. A team of timber framers, carpenters, faculty, and students followed French protocol from the Middle Ages in everything from timber harvesting and tools to assembly.

“It’s my understanding that we’re enacting the building and the utilization of a truss that was made with authentic materials and in an authentic construction fashion when the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was raised in the 12th century,” the university’s president, Peter Kilpatrick, told CNA.

While the creators originally dreamed of gifting the truss to the cathedral, now they are hoping to donate their talents instead — and travel to Paris.

“We’ll be sending American students and craftsmen over there to work with their materials and their supplies,” Sam Merklein, a graduate student studying architecture who is involved with the truss project, told CNA.

Architecture students Juan Soto, Andrew Masison, and Sam Merklein helped build a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica that was raised at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA
Architecture students Juan Soto, Andrew Masison, and Sam Merklein helped build a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica that was raised at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA

In the meantime, the truss has stood on the National Mall — between the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol — as well as inside the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Millennium Gate Museum in Atlanta.

Monday marked its fifth exhibition.

Merklein, a 23-year-old from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, called the effort a “symbol of solidarity, from the U.S. to offer to the French their condolences.”

Opening the day with prayer, Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, New York, a university trustee, called on the intercession of French saints for the rebuilding of not only the cathedral but also the Catholic Church in France.

“This morning we pray in solidarity with Parisians and people around the world who treasure Notre Dame Cathedral’s beautiful expression of the Catholic faith and the Catholic soul in art, architecture, liturgy, and history,” Barres said.

Kilpatrick, together with Andre Finot, the chief communications officer for the cathedral, attended the raising. Afterward, following an ancient tradition, one of the builders scaled the truss to fix a whetting bush, or evergreen, to the top in celebration.

A builder scales the Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica to fix a whetting bush, or evergreen, to the top in celebration at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan
A builder scales the Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica to fix a whetting bush, or evergreen, to the top in celebration at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan

Juan Soto, 24, from Ashburn, Virginia, called the truss’ placement on the university lawn, next to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a “beautiful sight.”

“We all worked on this hands-on, we got to hew the logs as they came in last summer,” said Soto, an architecture student who graduated earlier this year. 

With this project, Kilpatrick said that he hopes that these students come away with a new curiosity. He revealed that he attended Mass at the cathedral in Paris as a young assistant professor during his first trip to France in 1984. 

He explained, today, why he is excited about the truss project.

Catholic University of America President Peter Kilpatrick attends the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA
Catholic University of America President Peter Kilpatrick attends the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Katie Yoder/CNA

“It represents one of the most important elements of our university education, and that is that we believe in the integration of the disciplines,” he told CNA. “So knowledge is not isolated in a discipline, it’s not isolated in a time or chronology. Knowledge is part of human understanding of God’s truth for the world and so when you integrate something like history and architecture and our faith and human culture — when you integrate all those things — you’re helping our students and our community understand the continuity of knowledge and the relationship between the disciplines.”

Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, California, to attend the raising. A donor to the project, he attended the university’s architecture school as an undergraduate.

“I jumped at the opportunity and I thought, what a great way to not only support the school and the students here but also a project that is important — not just for Catholic University, but also for people around the world and, of course, Paris,” he told CNA. 

Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, California, to attend the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. A donor of the project, he formerly attended the university’s architecture school as an undergraduate. Katie Yoder/CNA
Attorney Trevor O. Resurreccion, 43, traveled from Santa Ana, California, to attend the raising of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. A donor of the project, he formerly attended the university’s architecture school as an undergraduate. Katie Yoder/CNA

Afterward, the cathedral’s Finot, representatives from Handshouse Studio, and Catholic University faculty participated in a panel discussion. The group identified two carpenters present who will help with the efforts to help rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris — after making connections through the truss project.

Marie Brown, executive director of Handshouse Studio, highlighted the beauty of building something the way it was originally fashioned, whether with the truss replica or with the cathedral itself.

“By remaking something in the method it was originally made, the process of that maker, the experience of that maker, is actually embodied,” she said. “The person now picks up the tool — they might not even be familiar with it if they’re a beginner, they might be next to a person who is an expert and get to watch and learn. But then their actual embodiment of that action gets you into the mind of the maker.”

She added: “It suddenly brings out this whole understanding of history in a way that’s so personal.”

A group of students and volunteers pose in front of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan
A group of students and volunteers pose in front of a Notre-Dame de Paris truss replica at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 26, 2022. Patrick G. Ryan

Colorado Springs Diocese mourns death of emeritus Bishop Sheridan

Bishop Emeritus Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, who died Sept. 27, 2022. / Diocese of Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs, Colo., Sep 27, 2022 / 16:17 pm (CNA).

Bishop Michael Sheridan, who led the Diocese of Colorado Springs from 2003 to 2021, died Tuesday. He was 77.

The diocese announced his death at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs Sept. 27.

Bishop James Golka, Sheridan’s successor, wrote on Twitter: “Please join me in praying for the repose of his soul. He was a faithful servant until the end.”

Sheridan was born in St. Louis in 1945. He attended Rockhurst College for a year and then Cardinal Glennon College Seminary and Kenrick Seminary. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1971. 

He continued his studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, earning a licentiate, and returned to teach at Kenrick. He was active in the theater group there.

In 1997 Sheridan was consecrated a bishop and appointed an auxiliary of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

In 2001 he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Colorado Springs, and he succeeded as ordinary on Jan. 30, 2003. He retired in 2021 at age 76.

“Among his many achievements during his tenure as bishop of Colorado Springs were the development of a robust vocations program that resulted in the ordination of many new priests for the diocese and the construction of the St. John Henry Newman Chapel and Catholic Student Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs,” the diocese said.

Sheridan also hosted a weekly radio show from 2008 to 2020.

A vigil for Sheridan will be held Oct. 6 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs, and his funeral Mass will be said the following day at the city’s Holy Apostles Church.

Florida bishop calls for prayers ahead of Hurricane Ian

United States Naval Research Laboratory's infrared-gray satellite image of Hurricane Ian. / Public Domain

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 27, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

As Hurricane Ian bears down on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of St. Petersburg asked for prayers for “protection during the storm.”

In a message emailed to each parish in his diocese and posted on the diocese’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, Parkes offered a prayer of his own.

“Loving God, maker of heaven and earth, protect us in your love and mercy. Send the spirit of Jesus to be with us to still our fears and to give us confidence in the stormy waters. Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence, calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith,” he said.

“Guard us from harm during the storm and renew our faith to serve you faithfully. Give us the courage to face all difficulties and the wisdom to see the ways your Spirit binds us together in mutual assistance,” Parkes prayed. “With confidence, we make our prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

On Tuesday afternoon the Category 3 storm struck western Cuba and headed into the Gulf of Mexico. While the exact path of the hurricane is not yet known, forecasters have issued warnings for the entire Gulf Coast. Current projections are for the storm to hit between Tampa and Ft. Myers on Wednesday.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg is, for now, to the north of the hurricane’s expected path, but dangerous flooding and damaging winds are expected for all of Florida's west coast. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for coastal and low-lying areas.

Tampa officials warned residents on Tuesday to take the hurricane seriously, as first responders are not sent out if winds are higher than 40 mph.

With sustained winds expected to reach 115 mph, and gusts up to 145 mph, the National Hurricane Center warned that “locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

National Hurricane Center's track of Hurricane Ian, expected to make landfall onWednesday. Public Domain
National Hurricane Center's track of Hurricane Ian, expected to make landfall onWednesday. Public Domain

Cardinal Arinze explains why Belgian bishops can’t bless same-sex couples

Cardinal Francis Arinze. / Padre Mimmo Spatuzzi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Denver Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The Belgian bishops’ introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples has drawn rebuke from Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former head of the Vatican’s liturgy office. 

The cardinal said Belgium’s bishops have taken an erroneous and pastorally flawed approach.

“Human beings have no power to change the order established by God the Creator,” Arinze said in a Sept. 24 message included in the email newsletter of Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan.

“Even if the aim is to be pastorally helpful to homosexual couples, this is an error on the part of the bishops,” Arinze said.

The Nigerian-born cardinal, now 89 years old, served as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2002 to 2008. Even in retirement, the cardinal has responded to the Belgian Catholic bishops’ open defiance of the Vatican and Catholic teaching.

On Sept. 20 Belgium’s bishops announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions for the Flemish-speaking parts of the bilingual country.

Arinze criticized the bishops’ statement, citing its title “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons: for a welcoming Church that excludes no one.”

The cardinal said their approach is not pastoral and ignores Catholic teaching.

“Holy Scripture presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” he said, adding that Church tradition, as represented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

“While persons with homosexual inclination are to be respected and not unjustly discriminated against, they, like every Christian and indeed every human being, are called to chastity,” Arinze said. He cited Christ’s words in Matthew 5:8: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual persons are “called to chastity.”

“By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” says the Catechism, as quoted by Arinze.

The cardinal also referred to a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, though he did not go into detail.

The CDF addressed the question on March 15, 2021. The congregation said that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex relationships. The Vatican statement was issued with the approval of Pope Francis.

The CDF statement made clear that blessings can be given “to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

“(T)he Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit,’” the congregation said. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”

The CDF statement came amid an effort in the Church in Germany to push for blessings of same-sex unions. The statement sparked protests and open defiance in the German-speaking Catholic world. German priests and pastoral workers also openly defied the Vatican and conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

LGBT advocates who believe Catholic teaching can and should change are active in the U.S.

In 2015, the American dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry called for the blessings of same-sex unions as marriages within the Church.

Amid outcry, FBI disputes account of raid at pro-life Catholic family’s home

An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The FBI is disputing published accounts of a “SWAT” raid on a pro-life Catholic family’s home in Pennsylvania last week.

The alleged circumstances of the Sept. 23 arrest of Mark Houck, a 48-year-old father of seven, have led to a public outcry about what many view as an unnecessarily aggressive show of force.

Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA that a large contingent of federal law enforcement officials arrived early that morning outside the family’s home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” she said.

“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

On Monday the FBI disputed her account.

“There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of Mark Houck,” the FBI’s Philadelphia office said in a statement.

“No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment,” the statement continued.

An FBI spokesman declined to answer CNA’s questions about the number of law enforcement personnel at the scene and whether any drew their weapons and pointed them at the family.

“Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search,” the statement said.

“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the statement concluded.

Brian Middleton, who has acted as the Houck family’s spokesperson, responded to the FBI’s statement.

“They’re turning this into a technical conversation about the representation of a woman who on Friday morning was awakened by a bunch of FBI agents armed with automatic weapons, some of them with body armor … pointing automatic weapons at her and her husband when they arrived in front of their children,” Middleton told CNA.

“This is absurd. If they’re not going to tell us the number, what they’re trying to do is make it look as if the Houcks aren’t telling the truth,” he said. “This isn’t a math contest. The issue is excessive force for the crime of maybe pushing another person.”

Middleton noted that publicist Tom Ciesieka will be taking over the role of family spokesman.

Altercation on video

Mark Houck, the founder and co-president of a men’s spiritual formation apostolate called The King’s Men, faces the possibility of 11 years in prison if convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The law carries stiff penalties for those who engage in “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice.

A federal indictment accuses Houck of twice assaulting a Planned Parenthood client escort, identified in the document as “B.L.,” outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 23, 2021.

Houck regularly prays the rosary, hands out literature, and “does some sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic, his wife told CNA.

Mark Houck maintains that he pushed the clinic escort away from Houck’s then 12-year-old son because the man was verbally harassing the boy, Middleton told CNA.

The man fell down but was not seriously hurt, Middleton said, requiring only “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family
Mark Houck with two of his seven children. Courtesy of the Houck family

Middleton said the altercation was captured on camera, though he said Sunday that the Houcks were still trying to locate the video.

Middleton said after local authorities declined to press charges, the escort pressed charges in Philadelphia municipal court, but the case was dismissed when the man repeatedly failed to show up for court dates.

As of Monday afternoon, an online fund drive for the Houck family has raised more than $191,000.

Defended by Thomas More Society

Houck’s arraignment on the charges is scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in Philadelphia. In a press release issued Monday, the Thomas More Society nonprofit legal firm announced it is representing Houck.

The law firm said one-on-one altercations like the one involving Houck do not fall under the federal FACE Act, citing a decision in a similar case Thomas More lawyers won in June 2019 on behalf of a sidewalk counselor.

“This case is being brought solely to intimidate people of faith and pro-life Americans,” Peter Breen, a Thomas More vice president and senior counselor, said in a statement. “Mark Houck is innocent of these lawless charges, and we intend to prove that in court.”

The law firm said it informed the Department of Justice in June that if Houck were charged he would turn himself in voluntarily.

“Rather than accepting Mark Houck’s offer to appear voluntarily, the Biden Department of Justice chose to make an unnecessary show of potentially deadly force, sending 20 heavily armed federal agents to the Houck residence at dawn this past Friday,” Breen said.

“In threatening form, after nearly breaking down the family’s front door, at least five agents pointed guns at Mark’s head and arrested him in front of his wife and seven young children, who were terrified that their husband and father would be shot dead before their eyes.”

Accounts of how Houck was taken into custody have been met with sharp criticism from GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

“I want to know from Merrick Garland directly why Biden’s DOJ is arresting Catholic protestors like terrorists — complete with SWAT-style tactics — while letting actual terrorist acts like firebombings go unpunished,” Hawley said in a tweet.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, wrote a letter to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary, imploring him to “get to the bottom of this duplicity.” 

“I am not in a position to judge the veracity of the account offered by the FBI or Houck. But it surely seems that the FBI overreacted in its handling of this matter. Houck had seven children at home as the SWAT team pounded on his door, showing up fully armored, yelling at him to open it,” Donohue wrote.

“This kind of overreaction for a minor infraction of the law is deeply troubling, and it becomes even more troubling when paired with the underreaction by the Department of Justice when the pro-life side is targeted,” the letter said.

Donohue wrote in June to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking him to “immediately deploy the full resources of the Department of Justice to apprehend and prosecute domestic terrorists who have recently attacked Catholic individuals, vandalized Catholic churches, and torched Catholic-operated crisis pregnancy centers.”

“Not only did I not receive a response from the attorney general, there have been no news stories on SWAT teams crashing the homes of abortion-rights terrorists,” Donohue said in the letter to Grassley.

Bishop Pfeifer asks Supreme Court to recognize ‘personhood’ of the unborn

U.S. Supreme Court building / Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

An emeritus Texas bishop is asking the Supreme Court to explicitly affirm the personhood of the unborn child in the womb.

“While the Supreme Court should be praised for overturning Roe v. Wade, it did not go far enough,” Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, bishop emeritus of San Angelo, said of the court’s decision that leaves abortion up to the states. “Now as a follow-up to this pro-life decision, the Supreme Court must recognize explicitly fetal personhood.”

In a September statement, Pfeifer called on the court to recognize the personhood of the unborn under the 14th Amendment to ensure that no state will “deprive any person of life, liberty, [or] property without due process of the law.”

“Affirming the fetal personhood is totally in accord with medical science, which over and over in recent years recognizes that there is a new human being in the act of conception — which has always been our biblical belief,” he wrote. “Hence as we move into the future after Roe v. Wade, governments and courts at a national and state level must respect and protect the tiny unborn person made in God’s very image and must never be deprived of life and liberty.”

Pfeifer, who served as Bishop of San Angelo from 1985 to 2013, criticized the “negative forces at a presidential and congressional level” proposing bills and policies “to approve the terrible killing of the unborn through abortion.”

Earlier this year, Pfeifer called on his fellow bishops to hold President Joe Biden accountable and take action against pro-abortion policy in favor of pro-life measures that support women and the unborn. More specifically, in April he encouraged the bishops to respond after Biden’s proposed 2023 budget removed pro-life protections.

Pfeifer’s latest statement came ahead of Respect Life Month, which the U.S. bishops celebrate in October. Pfeifer told CNA that Catholics and pro-life Americans with their children, family members, and friends “have countless opportunities, especially in the pro-life month of October, to show respect for the sacred personhood of each one, especially for the unborn, whose moms might be considering an abortion.”

“They do this by the kindness they show one another, especially for a pregnant mom,” he said. “They can do this by praying together, taking time to share with one another about needs, and by reaching out with loving hearts and caring helpful hands, especially for those who struggle and feel left out.”

In his statement, he likewise encouraged the pro-life movement to take action — and promote personhood.

“Now is the time for all pro-lifers, led by the bishops and leaders in government and civil positions, to strongly and clearly preach and protect this fundamental life issue of the sacredness of the personhood beginning with the unborn,” he said.

If the personhood of the unborn is recognized, he added, that could make way for a nationwide abortion ban.

At the same time, Pfeifer called on the faithful to pray to the Holy Spirit and encourage all pro-lifers — beginning with the bishops — to show more concern for women struggling with pregnancy problems.

“Pope Francis stresses the closeness, compassion, and tenderness we must have for all pregnant women and those considering an abortion decision and offer them spiritual, human, health, and financial means to assist them with their many needs and to encourage them to save their babies,” he said. “And we must work with our elected officials to provide the proper aid to cover the cost of the birth, and the early and ongoing care and education of their children.”

“God created the human person in the divine image and likeness as the pinnacle of all creation,” he concluded. “Each of us, including the unborn, share in the image of God’s glory. Human life as a gift from God is sacred and inviolable.”

Election 2022: Abortion appears on ballot in 5 states this November

null / roibu / Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2022 / 11:40 am (CNA).

Americans in five states will vote on abortion and the life issue in November. Three states — California, Michigan, and Vermont — are proposing constitutional amendments to advance abortion. At the same time, citizens in Kentucky and Montana are voting on pro-life measures.

The ballot initiatives follow the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and leaves abortion up to the states. They also come after the pro-life “Value Them Both” amendment recently failed in Kansas.

“I think the challenge of a ballot initiative is just getting your message out there when there’s so many other messages,” Katie Glenn, state policy director at SBA Pro-Life America, told CNA. “It’s all coming down to this one moment and capturing attention to get voters out there.”

“What we’ve really learned from Kansas was that the other side is willing to spend millions of dollars to lie and to really try to scare people into something that is not the reality of — certainly abortion law in Kansas — but of any state,” she added.

For pro-life candidates also on the ballot, she said, this means that they should talk about their position rather than letting their opponents define it.

“It should be the easiest thing in the world to say ‘I support women, I support babies, I support families,’” she said.

Americans will make their decision on those candidates — and these five ballot initiatives — on Nov. 8.

California: Proposition 1

Proposition 1 would amend California’s constitution to explicitly protect abortion.

It reads: “The state shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions, which includes their fundamental right to choose to have an abortion and their fundamental right to choose or refuse contraceptives.”

California currently allows abortion for any reason before viability, when a baby can survive outside the womb — generally considered to begin around 24 weeks of pregnancy. After viability, California allows abortion when a woman’s life or health is threatened.

The California Catholic Conference encourages pro-life voters to say “no” to Prop. 1.

“Proposition 1 is a worst-case scenario for abortion in California,” the group warns. “It is an expensive and misleading ballot measure that allows unlimited late-term abortions — for any reason, at any time, even moments before birth, paid for by tax dollars.”

A campaign for the amendment led by pro-abortion groups, called Yes on Proposition 1, argues that Proposition 1 would “ensure that, in California, people continue to have the power to control their own bodies and personal decisions.”

Kentucky: Amendment 2

Kentucky citizens will vote on Amendment 2 — a pro-life amendment — in November.

It reads: “To protect human life, nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

As a state, Kentucky currently prohibits abortion with exceptions for saving a woman’s life or preventing serious risk to her physical health.

The Yes for Life alliance, which includes the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, asks pro-life citizens to vote yes. The group says that the amendment’s language “will prevent state judges from asserting their own preferences over the will of legislators and the voters.”

Opposing the amendment, the Protect Kentucky Access coalition claims that the amendment would “pave the way for the state to ban abortion in all cases.”

Michigan: Proposal 3

Michigan’s proposed constitutional amendment, Proposal 3, would advance abortion.

The wording of the measure has been a source of controversy. On the ballot, the amendment is called a “proposal to amend the state constitution to establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make all decisions about pregnancy and abortion; allow state to regulate abortion in some cases; and forbid prosecution of individuals exercising established right.”

The amendment would “Establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility; Allow state to regulate abortion after fetal viability, but not prohibit if medically needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health; Forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment; Invalidate state laws conflicting with this amendment.”

In Michigan, women can obtain abortions for any reason before viability. After viability, abortion is permitted to save the woman’s life.

The Citizens to Support MI Women and Children coalition, which includes the Michigan Catholic Conference, advises pro-life voters to vote no on the amendment. The group says it would “radically distort Michigan’s Constitution to create a new unlimited right to abortion.”

“This poorly-worded amendment would repeal dozens of state laws, including our state’s ban on tax-funded abortions, the partial-birth abortion ban, and fundamentally alter the parent-child relationship by preventing parents from having input on their children’s health,” the group says.

The coalition criticized the amendment’s wording last month, saying state officials should strike it from the Nov. 8 ballot.

In support of the amendment, Reproductive Freedom for All argues that, “in addition to ensuring access to a broad range of reproductive health care, this amendment would make sure no one goes to prison for providing safe medical care.”

Montana: Legislative Referendum 131 (LR-131)

Voters in Montana will consider Legislative Referendum 131, which says it will protect babies who are born alive after attempted abortions.

It reads: “An act adopting the born-alive infant protection act; providing that infants born alive, including infants born alive after an abortion, are legal persons; requiring health care providers to take necessary actions to preserve the life of a born-alive infant; providing a penalty; providing that the proposed act be submitted to the qualified electors of Montana; and providing an effective date.”

Montana law allows abortion before viability. Abortion is also permitted after viability to save a woman’s life or prevent serious risk to her physical health.

SBA Pro-Life America’s Glenn said that she personally found the ballot initiative in Montana — a state she said has been getting progressively more pro-life — the most interesting.

“I think that one’s different than the other four, which are all very much time-gestational bans, in that this is not a pro-life/pro-choice issue,” she said. “This is about providing lifesaving care to a child who’s already been born.”

Opposing the referendum, Compassion for Montana Families claims that it “​​would introduce extreme penalties for medical providers who, at the family’s request, do not take a dying infant away from its parents in order to perform invasive and even painful medical treatments in tragic circumstances where they have no chance of survival.”

Vermont: Article 22

In Vermont, citizens will vote on the constitutional amendment Article 22, also known as Proposal 5, which promotes abortion.

It reads: “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

Abortion is legal up until birth in the state.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which includes the entire state of Vermont, published a piece in its diocesan bulletin warning that the amendment “promises to enshrine unlimited, unregulated abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy in our state’s founding document” and “would permanently block any attempt to protect the unborn — even those who can survive outside the womb.”

Vermont Right to Life Committee urges citizens to vote no.

Led by pro-abortion groups, Vermont for Reproductive Liberty Ballot Committee argues: “We need this amendment because important medical decisions should be guided by a patient’s health and wellbeing, not by a politician’s beliefs.”

Pro-life Catholic clinic in Denver area vandalized, suspect quickly arrested

Graffiti on the exterior of Bella Health + Wellness in Englewood, Colorado, on Sept. 25, 2022. / Courtesy of Bella Health + Wellness

Denver, Colo., Sep 25, 2022 / 22:50 pm (CNA).

A suspect was quickly arrested in the vandalism of a Denver-area Catholic pro-life medical clinic. It is not clear whether the clinic was targeted for its pro-life Catholic mission, though the various graffiti included a reference to Satan and a stylized depiction of a devilish character.

“We are sad to have to share that our clinic was just vandalized,” Bella Health + Wellness medical group said Sept. 25 in a 3 p.m. Facebook post including some photos of the vandalism. “If you could take a moment today to pray for our mission, our team and their families, and our patients, we would be grateful!”

The medical group sought help to repair the building before patients arrived Monday morning.

Graffiti on the exterior of Bella Health + Wellness in Englewood, Colorado, on Sept. 25, 2022. Courtesy of Bella Health + Wellness
Graffiti on the exterior of Bella Health + Wellness in Englewood, Colorado, on Sept. 25, 2022. Courtesy of Bella Health + Wellness

The Englewood clinic’s front double-glass doors normally show the words “Bella Health + Wellness,” among other words. Spray-painted red lines obscured most of the words.

Near the doors, the building was spray painted in red with phrases of what appeared to be graffiti slang including the phrase “IC Redall is boy.”

A large dumpster alongside the building was tagged with large graffiti and the word “Satan” next to a multicolored, devilish-looking spray-painted face.

After 7 p.m. on Sunday, Bella’s social media reported that the Englewood Police Department had made an arrest. Its Facebook post said “huge thanks to the Englewood Police Department.”

Bella is a nonprofit medical practice that operates in alignment with Catholic teaching. Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver praised the practice at its December 2014 launch. It offers full OB-GYN care with a specialization in NAPRO technologies as well as family primary care, including pediatrics.

According to its website, Bella served more than 1,700 patients in 2021 and provided almost $250,000 in free care. It says 382 babies were born with Bella’s assistance, 981 Medicaid patients were served, and another 622 patients were served in partnership with Marisol Health, the pro-life medical centers of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“Bella has a mission to protect life-affirming, dignified health care,” the clinic says on the front page of its website. “We believe providers and patients deserve to act according to their own medical consciences.”

New information raises questions about FBI raid on Catholic father of 7

Mark and Ryan-Marie Houck with their seven children, ages 2 to 13. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2022 / 17:31 pm (CNA).

The arrest of a Catholic apostolate leader and father of seven in an FBI raid last week has sparked a groundswell of support for him and his family as new information has raised serious questions about how he was taken into custody.

As of Sunday night, an online fund drive had raised more than $126,000 to help the family, far surpassing an initial $30,000 goal.

Mark Houck, the founder and co-president of The King’s Men, a men’s ministry, faces federal assault charges stemming from an altercation with a Planned Parenthood escort outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic nearly a year ago.

Houck, who regularly prays the rosary outside the clinic, maintains he was defending his 12-year-old son from the escort’s verbal harassment, a family spokesman, Brian Middleton, told CNA on Sunday. The man fell when Houck pushed him away, Middleton said.

The altercation was captured on a video the Houcks are in the process of locating, Middleton added. As of Sunday the family had not yet hired a lawyer but they expect to do so on Monday, he said.

When both the city police and the district attorney declined to file charges against Houck, the escort filed a private criminal complaint in Philadelphia municipal court, Middleton said. The case was dismissed in July when the man repeatedly didn’t show up in court, Middleton said.

Just days later, Houck received a “target letter” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office informing him that he was the focus of a federal criminal probe into the same incident, Middleton said.

Through his attorney at the time, Houck tried to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss the case but never received a response, Middleton said.

“The next time they heard anything was Friday morning,” he said.

An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. Courtesy of the Houck family
An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. Courtesy of the Houck family

That day, Sept. 23, federal law enforcement officials arrived outside the Houcks’ home in Kintnersville in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, around 7 a.m.

“A SWAT team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door,” Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, told CNA on Friday, just hours after her husband’s arrest.

“They said they were going to break in if he didn’t open it. And then they had about five guns pointed at my husband, myself, and basically at my kids,” she added.

“They were pointing their weapons,” Middleton said. “They came in as if they were expecting some kind of confrontation.”

11 years in prison if convicted

The FBI told CNA that Houck was arrested outside his residence Friday morning “without incident.” In a press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said that Houck is being charged with a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, more commonly referred to as the FACE Act.

The federal indictment says that Houck twice assaulted a 72-year-old man who was a patient escort at a Planned Parenthood clinic at 1144 Locust St. in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. Houck first shoved the escort, identified by the initials B.L., to the ground as B.L was attempting to escort two patients, the indictment says. Houck also “verbally confronted” and “forcefully shoved” B.L. to the ground in front of the clinic on the same day, the indictment says.

The indictment says that B.L. was injured and needed medical attention. Middleton, the Houck family spokesman, maintains the injury was minor, only requiring “a Band-Aid on his finger.”

If convicted, Houck could face up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $350,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The FACE Act “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services,” according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Middleton said Houck and his family are well-known in the Philadelphia area.

“The Houcks are incredible people. Mark’s whole life is a ministry,” he said. “This is really the family next door.”

Middleton speculated that many of those contributing to the fund believe the FBI used “unnecessary force” in arresting Houck.

He said the raid may fuel further criticism that the Biden administration’s Justice Department has a double standard where abortion politics are concerned, noting the contrast between the aggressive tactics used against Houck and the lack of any arrests by the FBI in connection with dozens of incidents of vandalism against pro-life pregnancy centers across the country in recent months.

CNA reporter Joe Bukuras contributed to this story.