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Recap of U.S. Bishops’ Spring Plenary in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathered this week for their Spring Plenary Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout the gathering, the bishops spent time in prayer and fraternal dialogue with one another.

The public portion of the assembly began with the bishops sending prayers and a message to the Holy Father, followed by an address by Cardinal Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and president of the USCCB, also addressed the bishops.

The bishops received updates on the following topics: the 2021-2024 Synod on Synodality; the bishops’ national mental health campaign; the National Eucharistic Revival and the National Eucharistic Congress; the Religious Worker Visa Program, and the National Review Board.

During their meeting, the bishops held a consultation on advancing the cause for beatification and canonization for Adele Brise, a lay woman who taught and catechized to children in Wisconsin and founded the Sisters of Good Help, a community of lay women. By a voice vote, the bishops affirmed the advancement of the cause of beatification and canonization on the diocesan level.

The bishops discussed and voted on three action items related to liturgical texts pertaining to the Liturgy of the Hours, presented by the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Worship:

  • The bishops voted 177 votes in favor, 3 votes against, and 1 abstention to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) Supplementary Texts to the Liturgy of the Hours. The approval of this requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members, with subsequent confirmatio from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  • The bishops voted 180 in favor, 2 votes against, and 0 abstentions to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) Additional Texts for the Liturgy of the Hours. The approval of this requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members, with subsequent confirmatio and recognitio by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
  • The bishops voted 178 in favor, 4 votes against, and 0 abstentions to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) Gray Book of the 2021 Roman Missal-Liturgy of the Hours Supplement. The approval of this requires a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members, with subsequent confirmatio by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

They also reviewed, discussed, and voted on two sets of guidelines to assist with specific ministries:

  • Listen, Teach, Send: A National Pastoral Framework for Ministries with Youth and Young Adults,” presented by the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth is a guiding document for use by pastors, ministry leaders, and families in an effort to revitalize ministries with youth and young adults. While an overwhelming number of bishops voted in favor of approving the framework, it was two votes short of meeting the threshold of two-thirds of the Conference membership to pass. The bishops eligible to vote who were not present at the time the vote was taken will be contacted and given the opportunity to cast their vote next week.
  • Keeping Christ’s Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry, a plan to assist dioceses and Catholic Native communities in their ministry. The bishops voted 181 in favor, 2 against, and 3 abstentions to approve the framework, which is intended to assist dioceses and local Catholic Native communities to develop their own pastoral plans that are sensitive to the vast cultural differences among the various communities.

The Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis provided an update on the Task Force for a National Directory for Instituted Ministries. They put forth two votes before the body that required a simple majority vote of bishops present:

  • A friendly amendment to allow the presentation of an interim document on the catechist: the bishops voted 136 in favor, 22 against, and 14 abstentions to pass.
  • Writing of a National Directory on Instituted Ministry: the bishops voted 156 in favor, 8 against, and 11 abstentions to pass.

Prior to the public sessions, the bishops spent time reflecting on positioning the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) for the future. For a half-century, grants made possible through the annual CCHD collection have gone to help community organizations working to empower people striving to overcome poverty. help community organizations working to empower people striving to overcome poverty. While the bishops met behind closed doors in an executive session, Archbishop Broglio provided an update at a press event without breaking the confidentiality of the bishops’ discussion saying simply: “The bishops had a good discussion, including time to share in small groups. The CCHD subcommittee will take this feedback and discern the best way to incorporate it into the future work of the CCHD. In all these discussions, the bishops’ ongoing commitment to the vital work of fighting poverty was clear.”

News updates, texts of addresses and presentations, and other materials from the 2024 spring plenary are posted to: www.usccb.org/meetings.

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U.S. Bishops Approve New Guidelines for Pastoral Ministry with Native Peoples

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At their annual June Plenary Assembly, the Catholic bishops of the United States approved a national pastoral framework to guide dioceses and those engaged in ministry with Native and Indigenous peoples. The document, Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry, intended for use by dioceses, Catholic Native organizations, schools, missions, and parishes, was approved by the full body of bishops in a vote of 181 to 2 with 3 abstentions.

The document was presented to the body of bishops for the vote by Bishop Chad Zielinski of New Ulm, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. “The framework encourages bishops, dioceses and local Catholic Indigenous communities to work together, using the framework as a reference while developing their own local pastoral plans that are sensitive to the vast cultural differences among the various Native and Indigenous Tribes,” said Bishop Zielinski. “It covers a broad range of issues and concerns such as missionary discipleship, evangelization, the role of catechesis, sacramental and liturgical questions, youth and young adult ministries, and social justice issues. And it also addresses difficult topics such as reconciliation for any mistreatment and wrongs done during the boarding school period,” he continued.

After a dialogue with Native Catholic leaders in 2019, the subcommittee responded to the needs raised by developing a framework to guide Native and Indigenous communities in revitalizing pastoral ministry. The pastoral framework is the result of extensive consultation and dialogue over the last several years by the subcommittee with the leadership of Catholic Native groups.

The full text of Keeping Christ’s Sacred Promise: A Pastoral Framework for Indigenous Ministry is currently posted here, and the formatted version will be posted to the USCCB’s website on the page of the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs shortly: https://www.usccb.org/committees/native-american-affairs.

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U.S. Bishops Affirm Advancement of a Cause of Beatification and Canonization for Adele Brise, Lay Woman

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At their annual June Plenary Assembly, the bishops of the United States held a canonical consultation on a possible cause of beatification and canonization for Adele Brise. Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, and Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, facilitated the discussion by the bishops. By a voice vote, the bishops expressed support for the advancement of the cause of beatification and canonization on the diocesan level.

The following brief biography of Adele Brise was drawn from information provided by the Diocese of Green Bay:

Adele Brise was born on January 30, 1831, in Dion-le-Val, Belgium, to Lambert and Catherine Brise. Despite losing sight in one eye from a childhood accident, she was known for her cheerful demeanor. Adele pledged to the Blessed Virgin Mary to become a religious sister after her first Holy Communion, a goal that continued even after her family immigrated to the United States in 1855. Settling in Wisconsin, Adele remained committed to her religious calling.

In 1859, Adele experienced several apparitions of a woman dressed in white whom she later identified as Mary, the Queen of Heaven. She instructed Adele to become a teacher of religion. Adele began a door-to-door ministry, eventually founding a community of laywomen known as the Sisters of Good Help. They chose to live following the Franciscan way of life, without taking formal vows and focusing on religious education. The community faced many challenges, including the Peshtigo fire of 1871, which threatened their chapel and school. Historically considered one of the deadliest forest fires, these buildings were spared and considered by many to be a miraculous and divine response to prayers.

Adele continued her mission tirelessly, teaching and catechizing children, and creating a lasting impact on her community until her death on July 5, 1896. Her legacy of devout service is summarized by the inscription on her headstone: “Sacred Cross, Under thy Shadow I Rest and Hope.”

The Marian apparitions experienced by Adele in 1859 were given formal and official approval by Bishop Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay in December 2010, and the site of the apparitions was designated as a national shrine by the U.S. bishops in 2015, today known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion.

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Democratic, Republican bills on IVF voted down in U.S. Senate

U.S. Capitol, Senate side. / Credit: Public domain

CNA Staff, Jun 13, 2024 / 16:50 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted down a bill that Democrats said was designed to protect access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures nationwide, with the measure coming amid a continued national debate over the medical procedure that also spawned a competing pro-IVF bill from Republicans. 

The Right to IVF Act, introduced by Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, failed 48-47 on Thursday, needing 60 votes to pass. It would establish a right to receive fertility treatments, including IVF, and also the right to “make decisions and arrangements regarding the donation, testing, use, storage, or disposition of reproductive genetic material, such as oocytes, sperm, fertilized eggs, and embryos.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops had urged Catholics to contact their lawmakers and tell them not to pass the bill, warning among other things that the bill could create a new health insurance mandate to cover IVF. 

The Catholic Church opposes the use of IVF on the grounds that it separates the marriage act from procreation and establishes “the domination of technology” over human life.

Also at issue was Senate Democrats’ insistence that families who make use of IVF should be allowed to discard fertilized embryos — a necessary part of the IVF process and one of the key arguments against IVF from a Catholic perspective — without legal repercussions.

The use of IVF, which necessarily includes a selection process of the “best” embryos, has led to millions of rejected human embryos being discarded and millions more frozen and stored in a state of limbo.

All 49 Senate Republicans, meanwhile, on Wednesday signaled support for IVF — which remains popular among the public — but decried the Democratic-sponsored IVF bill as “fearmongering intended to mislead and confuse the American people.” 

As an alternative to the Democratic IVF bill, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama put forth another bill, which Cruz described as a “clear, straightforward, ironclad protection for IVF.” That bill would require that states not prohibit IVF services as a condition of receiving federal Medicaid funding.

Cruz attempted to bring the bill to a vote June 12 but Democrats blocked the measure, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray arguing that Republican support for “fetal personhood” would undermine the legality of the discarding of fertilized embryos. 

The IVF vote comes a week after the U.S. Senate rejected the “Right to Contraception Act,” which would have created a federal right to contraception, with legal implications for religious freedom and protections for minors. 

The current debate over IVF erupted following a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court in February that found that frozen human embryos are children under state law. Alabama lawmakers have since passed a bill that grants immunity to IVF providers in cases of death or injury to unborn babies during the IVF process.

The U.S. Catholic bishops expressed opposition to an earlier version of the Democratic Senate bill in February. 

“We can understand the profound desire that motivates some of these couples to go to great lengths to have children, and we support morally licit means of doing so,” the heads of four U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

“The solution, however, can never be a medical process that involves the creation of countless preborn children and results in most of them being frozen or discarded and destroyed,” the bishops emphasized.

IVF, the bishops warned, is “a threat to the most vulnerable of human beings.” They further rebuked the IVF industry as one that is “built on millions of children who are created to be destroyed or abandoned.” 

Thursday’s Senate vote also comes one day after the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., voted to approve a resolution opposing the use of IVF. 

Eucharistic pilgrims go ‘to the heights’ at the top of the Rocky Mountains

The Eucharist makes its way up a ski hill in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. / Credit: Greg Effinger/Archdiocese of Denver/Denver Catholic

CNA Staff, Jun 13, 2024 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

As far as “highlights” go on the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, thus far they don’t get much higher than 12,000 feet — at the top of the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies. 

There, last week, a priest held up the golden monstrance containing Jesus and blessed both halves of the nation, as Patrick Fayad and the other young Perpetual Pilgrims who are accompanying the Eucharist on a 2,000-mile trek looked on. 

“Just absolutely breathtaking, and even more breathtaking with Our Lord,” Fayad said while describing the experience at a Wednesday press conference featuring organizers of the congress and other Perpetual Pilgrims.

Fayad is one of the pilgrims on the Serra Route, which began in San Francisco. He said while the procession was in the Rocky Mountains, they visited the famous “Chapel on the Rock” in Allenspark and the Catholic summer camp Annunciation Heights, where they got a very enthusiastic reception from the young campers.

Chapel on the Rock. Credit: Patrick McKay via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Chapel on the Rock. Credit: Patrick McKay via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The lofty heights of the Rocky Mountains soon gave way to the Great Plains and the Colorado capital of Denver, a city whose 1993 hosting of World Youth Day with St. John Paul II has left a legacy of vibrant Catholic apostolates. On Sunday, June 9, nearly 5,000 people joined the pilgrims and filled the streets of downtown Denver in what was likely the largest Eucharistic procession in the city’s history.

On the northern Marian Route, more than 3,000 faithful gathered near the riverside city of La Crosse and, together with Minnesota pilgrims, processed with the Eucharist across the Mississippi River, which was originally named the River of the Immaculate Conception by Jesuit explorer Father Jacques Marquette in 1673.

As in previous weeks, the pilgrims had nothing but praise for the people they have met along the way who have shown them hospitality and welcome. They also expressed amazement at the large numbers of people who have come out to join the processions. 

“It feels like we’ve been on this pilgrimage for three years now because it’s been so jam-packed, but that’s so amazing,” said Amayrani Higueldo-Sanchez, a pilgrim on the eastern Seton Route, which recently passed by the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland. 

“I think culturally, for me, it’s been a real shocker just to see how many different cultures worship in such different ways, but we’re all united in Christ. It’s just so beautiful to witness,” she continued. 

“Maybe we speak different languages, but just knowing that we worship the same God, it’s been really just edifying to me and just so beautiful to share with these people that I have nothing in common with sometimes.”

The first few weeks have been “pretty intense,” Fayad admitted. He said it has been a learning experience figuring out how to cultivate silent reflection time. But the pilgrims said the portions of the routes where they are driving in the vans has provided some time for quiet and solitude. 

“I think humans were made for stability, and that is definitely not what we have right now,” he said.

Having little free time has been “difficult, but also definitely really, really good for detachment,” he continued, saying that many of life’s ordinary comforts, while not bad in themselves, “have been removed from us.”

“[E]very single day spending time with Our Lord ... I’m slowly becoming a person who loves the Lord much more and is much closer to him. And I’ve been able to depend on him a lot more … It’s been really beautiful and difficult … but it’s for a great cause. It’s been wonderful,” he said. 

The four pilgrimages are roughly at their halfway point as the pilgrims continue to converge on Indianapolis for the National Eucharistic Congress from July 17–21. 

Catholics throughout the U.S. are encouraged to register to join the pilgrims in walking short sections of the pilgrimages and joining in numerous other special events put on by their local dioceses.

To read much more ongoing coverage about the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and National Eucharistic Congress, visit the National Catholic Register.

In unanimous decision, SCOTUS rejects doctors’ challenge to abortion pill

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on March 26, 2024, for a lawsuit brought by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), which seeks to impose more restrictions on the prescription of mifepristone. / Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

CNA Staff, Jun 13, 2024 / 12:38 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled against a physician-led challenge to the abortion pill, rejecting an attempt by advocates to impose stricter regulations on the drug. 

The court said in its Thursday ruling that the plaintiffs, represented by the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine (AHM), lacked standing to challenge U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of the abortion drug mifepristone.

AHM, which represents pro-life medical groups, sued the FDA in November 2022 to challenge the agency’s long-standing approval of the drug. 

The lawsuit further challenged the FDA’s subsequent deregulation of the drug, particularly its permission to prescribe the medicine without an in-person doctor’s visit and to dispense the drug through the mail. The high court heard oral arguments in the case in March of this year.

In their ruling on Thursday, the justices argued that the plaintiffs had failed to establish the necessary legal standing to sue the FDA for its regulation of the pill. 

The medical groups “are pro-life” and opposed to elective abortions, including the use of mifepristone, the court said.

“Because plaintiffs do not prescribe or use mifepristone, plaintiffs are unregulated parties who seek to challenge FDA’s regulation of others,” the ruling said. 

The advocates advanced “several complicated causation theories” to justify the suit, the court ruled, but “none of these theories suffices” to establish standing. 

The doctors had argued that under FDA regulations they might be forced to violate their consciences with regard to the abortion pill; the justices dismissed that assertion, claiming that “federal conscience laws definitively protect doctors from being required to perform abortions or to provide other treatment that violates their consciences.”

The doctors had also argued that the FDA’s relaxed mifepristone regulations could lead to economic injuries in the form of increased liability complaints and time-consuming medical treatments of women who take the drug. The court described these claims as “too speculative” and “too attenuated to establish standing.”

To “establish causation” in injury claims, the ruling said, “the plaintiff must show a predictable chain of events leading from the government action to the asserted injury — in other words, that the government action has caused or likely will cause injury in fact to the plaintiff.”

The court acknowledged that the pro-life plaintiffs “have sincere legal, moral, ideological, and policy objections to elective abortion and to FDA’s relaxed regulation of mifepristone.”

But “those kinds of objections alone do not establish a justiciable case or controversy in federal court,” it said. 

Pro-life leaders and advocates responded with disappointment to Thursday’s ruling. 

SBA Pro-Life America said in a post on X that it was “a sad day for women’s health and unborn children’s lives.”

The abortion lobby “gaslights women about the risks of these drugs and seeks to block states from even collecting safety data — even though the FDA’s own data show abortion drugs send 1 in 25 women to the ER,” the group said. 

“[T]he fight isn’t over,” the pro-life group said. 

Ingrid Skop, a board-certified OB-GYN and the vice president and director of medical affairs at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, told the press that it was “deeply disappointing that the FDA was not held accountable today for its reckless decisions.” 

“As a practicing OB-GYN with over 30 years’ experience, I have seen firsthand that mail-order abortion drugs harm my patients, both mothers and their unborn children,” she said. 

The abortion pill is “not health care, it’s abandonment, and the pro-life community will never stop advocating for patients,” she argued. 

Erin Hawley, meanwhile — who serves as senior counsel at the legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom — said in a statement that the group was “disappointed that the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of the FDA’s lawless removal of commonsense safety standards for abortion drugs.”

“While we’re disappointed with the court’s decision, we will continue to advocate for women and work to restore commonsense safeguards for abortion drugs,” Hawley said.

German Catholics write letter to Rome over Synodal Way, warn of ‘serious scandal’

The cross of the German “Synodal Way.” / Credit: Maximilian von Lachner / Synodaler Weg

CNA Newsroom, Jun 13, 2024 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A Catholic committee has turned to the Vatican in an attempt to avoid a permanent Synodal Council to oversee the Church in Germany.

Preservation group launches campaign to save New York churches from closure

The exterior of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, New York / Credit: Michael Shriver/buffalophotoblog.com

CNA Staff, Jun 13, 2024 / 11:00 am (CNA).

A New York-based historical preservation group is launching an effort to save Catholic churches in the city of Buffalo that are allegedly “deeply at risk of vacancy and demolition” amid a diocesan restructuring plan. 

The organization Preservation Buffalo Niagara announced on its website on Tuesday that it was launching a “Save Our Sacred Sites” campaign, one aimed at “funding and submitting local landmark applications for churches within the City of Buffalo” that it said are at risk of closure by the Diocese of Buffalo.

The Buffalo Diocese announced last month that it will be merging over a third of its 160 parishes, calling the move an effort to “reinvigorate the Catholic faith in western New York.”

Buffalo Bishop Michael Fisher said in May that 34% of its parishes — about 55 parishes — will be merged in a process of “rightsizing and reshaping.”

The merges, part of the diocese’s “Road to Renewal” program, will be finalized later this summer. 

On its website, the Buffalo preservation group says that most of the churches it is working to save — about 15 all told — are “deeply at risk of vacancy and demolition because they have minimal or zero preservation protections.”

The campaign will focus on “submitting a local landmark application for each church to the City of Buffalo” as well as submitting a “determination of eligibility” application to the New York State Historic Preservation Office when necessary. 

Each application costs about $2,500 to complete, the group said. The organization is soliciting donations to meet that goal.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara said it would also “provide resources for churches as they come in,” though it said most grant funding for historical churches “requires either National Register of Historic Places status or being a local landmark within the City of Buffalo.”

“That is why this local landmark campaign is so important to do,” the group said. 

The preservation society said landmark status would offer “crucial protection for our cherished sacred sites.” 

In the event of landmark status, the local preservation board “must review any significant changes to the building,” while owners of the properties “can benefit from tax incentives, making preservation more feasible.”

Preservation Buffalo Niagara is “the region’s only full-service, professionally staffed preservation organization,” the group says on its website. 

The Buffalo diocese told CNA on Thursday that the diocesan Vicar for Renewal and Development Father Bryan Zielenieski would be meeting with the preservation group soon to discuss the campaign.

The ongoing diocesan merger plan was initiated in response to priest shortages and financial difficulties, among other factors. In 2020 the diocese declared bankruptcy amid hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits filed against it.

Fisher said in May that the Church in western New York “is not the same as it was 50 years ago, not 20 years, not even 10 years ago.”

The diocese in March announced the sale of its headquarters in downtown Buffalo.

What is ‘green burial’ and does the Catholic Church allow it?

null / Credit: Sarah Marchant/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jun 13, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

In an era of increasing environmental consciousness, the practice of “green burials” is growing in popularity — including at numerous Catholic cemeteries throughout the United States. 

The funeral and burial economies in the United States — commonly grouped together as the “death care industry” — are both financially lucrative and highly resource-intensive. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) says on its website that the death care industry as a whole generated about $16 billion in the latest annual data.

Just over $3.3 billion of that amount is linked to “cemeteries and crematories.” Industry estimates, meanwhile, indicate that cemeteries bury tens of thousands of tons of steel coffins every year, along with several million gallons of “embalming fluids” such as formaldehyde and methanol.

The significant environmental costs of those materials has led many to seek alternative forms of interment, such as “green” or “natural” burials, which use considerably fewer resources and are more environmentally friendly as a result.

‘The original form of burial’

Cathy Vail, the executive director of the Catholic Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, New York, said green burial is “a process that returns humans to earth as simply as possible.”  

“The main difference from common burial practices is the interment process,” Vail told CNA. 
In green burials, she said, caskets are placed directly in the ground rather than in a poured concrete “vault.” 

The body, meanwhile, “must be in a biodegradable container (casket/urn) or shroud,” rather than the more common steel-fabricated coffins.

“Each cemetery may have different ‘levels’ or certification of green/natural burial,” she said. “These will determine the level of maintenance of the section.”

The Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, she said, is certified via the Green Burial Council, which requires a certain level of upkeep in the cemetery’s green burial sections. Uncertified cemeteries, she noted, can let their green plots grow more wild if they so choose.

At the Rochester facility’s newest burial section, green burials account for “44% of all graves purchased,” Vail said. The Green Burial Council says on its website that surveys show a “growing interest” in the practice.

Deacon Ed Handel, the director of the Office of Cemeteries and Funeral Services at the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, told CNA that the diocese offers green burials at one of its cemeteries, located at the city of Roanoke in the western part of the state. 

“It’s becoming a more popular request,” Handel said. The diocese has sold several burial spots in the green section, he said, though they have not yet buried any bodies there. 

Perhaps the most notable difference in green burials is the absence of embalming fluid in the preparation process. The vast majority of burials in the U.S. include embalming, in which the body is preserved using numerous chemicals to allow for viewings and wakes. The practice became widely used during and after the U.S. Civil War.

In addition to the lack of embalming, Handel said, a green burial casket is a relatively simple receptacle. The body is “placed in, for lack of a better term, a plain pine box,” he said. “There’s nothing artificial — no metal, no varnish — so that it naturally decomposes.” 

“Instead of six feet deep, the burial is actually done in the three- to four-foot-deep range, because that’s optimal for body decomposition,” he said. 

The lack of a concrete vault in green burials, Handel said, does present some structural challenges. A vault “keeps the grave from caving in when the casket breaks down,” he said. 

“With green burial there is no vault,” he noted. “Obviously in those areas there will be more backfill required as time goes on, because the body will decompose and the casket will cave in.”

The Roanoke facility isn’t the only Catholic green burial option in the state: Several years ago Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville began offering green burials

The abbey on its website says that, in its green burial process, “the body [is not] embalmed,” the casket is not made of metal, and there is no concrete vault. 

Graves, meanwhile, “are marked with simple engraved stones obtained from these same sacred grounds.”

Not all green burial methods ‘manifest respect’

Other environmentally friendly forms of burial have been the subject of debate in recent years, and the Church has declared some of them unsuitable for Catholics. 

Some environmental advocates have argued that “human composting” offers a solution to resource-intensive burials. In that practice, a human body is placed inside a reusable container where deliberately seeded microbes and bacteria break it down into soil. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year said that human composting, along with the chemical-based process of alkaline hydrolysis, “pose serious problems in that they fail to manifest the respect for last remains that Catholic faith requires.”

Green burials, in contrast, are permitted by the Catholic Church, Handel said, reiterating that the practice is perfectly in line with Church teaching.

“From the Catholic perspective, I don’t see why we shouldn’t promote green burial,” he said, “because it goes back to our tradition that the preferred method of disposition at the end of your life is a full body burial, not cremation.”

Vail echoed those remarks, calling green burials “the original form of burial.” 

“The final act in the Catholic rites of burial is the committal in consecrated ground,” she said.  “Therefore, this type of burial is in line with Catholic teaching.”

The opening of St. Anthony’s tomb and the ‘Feast of the Tongue’

Gold reliquairies containing the chin and tongue of St. Anthony of Padua in the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua in Italy. / Credit: Richard Mortel/CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

CNA Staff, Jun 13, 2024 / 04:00 am (CNA).

St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most famous saints in the Catholic Church, partly because of his connection to St. Francis of Assisi and also because he is popularly invoked as the patron saint of lost items. 

St. Anthony’s feast day is today, June 13. But you may not be aware that there’s another important day of the year when St. Anthony is celebrated in Padua: Feb. 18, the day his tongue was removed. 

Thankfully, this took place after the saint had died, during the first of two exhumations of the saint in the year 1263, three decades after his death. 

Father Mario Conte, OFM Conv, one of the 50 friars who minister in the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, told CNA in 2022 that when the tomb was opened all those years ago, what was found was “really exceptional” — St. Anthony’s jaw and tongue appeared to be incorrupt

According to Catholic tradition, saints who are miraculously preserved from decay give witness to the truth of the resurrection of the body and the eternal life in heaven that is to come. 

“All the body had gone to ashes and bones basically, apart from the vocal apparatus, which was still wet and soft,” Conte explained. 

“And so they took these parts, the tongue and the jaw, and they put them into some reliquaries. And if you go to the Basilica of St. Anthony, there is a chapel dedicated to the relics of St. Anthony and you will see them in that particular chapel.”

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of giving honor to relics, which are objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Christ himself. Relics are not worshipped but given honor — “venerated” — because of the saint’s love of and closeness to God. Those praying with relics often ask for that saint’s intercession.

The 1263 exhumation was carried out by the then-minister general of the Franciscans, St. Bonaventure, because the Franciscans were moving the saint’s body to a new and larger church. Conte said that when Bonaventure found the tongue, he said: “‘This is really a miracle. God wants us to know that St. Anthony was really the messenger of God’s love.’”

Today, the day that St. Anthony’s tongue was found is celebrated with Masses at the basilica that bears his name in Padua, northern Italy. 

St. Anthony’s tomb was not to be opened again for more than 700 years — between January and February 1981. Conte described what it was like to be present for the second opening of St. Anthony’s tomb. 

“In 1981, we decided to open St. Anthony’s tomb for the second time … I was young at the time,” Conte told CNA in 2022. 

“That was when we found how the body of St. Anthony had been put inside a new coffin by St. Bonaventure,” he continued, and explained that additional relics from St. Anthony’s decayed body — pieces of the saint’s flesh, but not identifiable pieces of the body — were removed at this point and put into reliquaries. 

Today, these relics of St. Anthony travel all over the world, making stops at parishes and dioceses where large crowds often come out to venerate them. 

Who was St. Anthony?

Born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195, St. Anthony moved to Padua, Italy, after joining the Franciscan order. Anthony is known not only for his eloquent preaching and frequent rebukes of heretics but also for his loving care for the poor he encountered. 

In 1224, St. Francis of Assisi gave Anthony permission to teach theology in the Franciscan order, which he did in several French and Italian cities while strictly following his Franciscan vows and preaching regularly to the people. Later, he dedicated himself entirely to the work of preaching as a missionary in France, Italy, and Spain, teaching an authentic love for God to many people who had fallen away from Catholic faith and morality.

Known for his bold preaching and austere lifestyle, St. Anthony also had a reputation as a worker of miracles. He died in 1231 amid poor health at the age of 36. 

St. Anthony, a doctor of the Church, has his feast day celebrated June 13. In 2015, Pope Francis declared the Shrine of St. Anthony in Padua a minor basilica.