As you know, I just returned from 5 days in Warsaw, Poland where I attended the amazing symposium dedicated to Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law and International Human Rights Legacy.

I was blessed and truly honored to be the keynote speaker at the opening dinner on May 17! I’d been asked to focus on my years at the Vatican and to talk about John Paul the man, his humanity, his humor, our encounters. My talk was entitled “I Made Cookies for a Saint.” Everyone was naturally intrigued by that idea and, to judge by response, they greatly enjoyed the presentation!

Far more challenging topics were the focus of the keynote speakers on May 18 and 19. Adrian Vermeule, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard spoke on “Common Good Constitutionalism” on Wednesday. On Thursday, J.H.H. Weiler, Professor at NYU Law School, addressed us “On the Limits of Natural Law and the Virtues of Revealed Law.”

The conference, co-sponsored by Ave Maria Law School and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw, counted quite a number of eminent guests including two Eminences – Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw, and Cardinal Willem Ejik, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland, who spoke on Human Rights in a Secularized Society.

Archbishop Zbignevs Stankevics of Riga, Latvia was also a riveting speaker! Among others things, he noted that in 2005 the Latvia constitution clearly and firmly stated that marriage was between a man and a woman,. That constitution now uses the word “family” to describe ‘unions’, including LBGT. However, he noted that he and other Church leaders worked hard to make abortion, if not outlawed, at least less available, and he said the number of abortions has indeed gone down in recent years.

Travelling on the bus to the various venues – the university and restaurants in the evening – and simply sharing two meals a day with the cardinals and archbishop and a judge of Poland’s Supreme Court, as well as the other contributors at this fascinating conference was a real bonus!

Our final dinner –

As I listened to the talks, I saw a huge, vibrant tapestry being created where, of course, the common thread was always St. John Paul and his teaching on natural law, human rights, the right to life, protecting life and human dignity. Given the SCOTUS leak of a possible overturning of Roe v Wade at the federal level, many of the talks were so timely!

Topics included constitutional law, religious freedom and secularity, natural law in contemporary understanding of international human rights, and much more.

A common thread to most talks was human dignity.

One speaker noted how, over time, what was not allowed in law because of human dignity (ie, abortion, euthanasia) eventually became allowed, and even enshrined in law, in the name of human dignity! That just boggles the mind! Has the idea of human dignity changed that much? It seems so!

Another speaker said: The world needs active protagonists of the cult of life and human dignity as human dignity of all and for all is the founding principle of human life. Yet another stressed the need for a positive change in the human rights climate towards freedom of speech, of practice, of religion.

Some guests noted how constitutions have changed over the years, going from protecting absolute rights to watering them down or introducing new rights. Yet other speakers noted how many international laws and constitutions that had rights and duties clearly laid out, with red lines so to speak, but now those lines have become pink or are close to disappearing.

My mind still reels from the depth of each talk – the brilliance, the thoroughness with which each topic was treated and the challenging nature of the talks!

I mentioned on my Friday blog that my Warsaw trip ended with a half-day spent outside the city with Franciscan sisters who, at their marvelous school and home for blind children, had welcomed several blind Ukrainian children.

I’d hoped to bring that story to you today in both words and photos but it just took me 90 minutes to download the pictures, not because they were that numerous but because my laptop simply closed the program every time I started the download. I’ll start working on that tomorrow, so stay tuned.

It is a wonderful, inspiring, heart-warming story of the deep love of these religious for their young charges as well as the story of the Polish people – the generous and warm welcome given to their Ukrainian brothers and sisters at the very worst time of their lives!



Today is May 1, the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and a holiday in the Vatican. May 1 is also Labor Day throughout most of Europe and a huge holiday as well. Many Italians took off Monday to create a “ponte” or bridge for a long holiday weekend. Others created an even longer holiday period by starting a mini-vacation on the April 25 Liberation holiday, remaining off work through today.

The crowds in Rome have been just enormous – long waits at all major monuments – unless, of course, you were smart and reserved your visit to the Vatican Museums and a few other spots online.

As I write, Pope Francis is on his way by car to the shrine so beloved by Romans, the shrine of Divine Love, where he will preside over the recitation of the Holy Rosary for the beginning of the Month of May. (photos from shrine website and

The original little church shrine –

The new, massive shrine –

A heads-up: If you are a weekly fan of Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo, you have to tune in tomorrow at 9:40 am (ET) when Teresa and I have our weekly chat because we have a special report on an astonishing, unique evening we had in Rome with another friend of ours, Margaret Melady – a unique evening we want to share with you, especially for your next visit to Rome.

Tomorrow I’ll post some of the photos we took during and after dinner. I will also be packing as I depart Thursday for a few days in Fox Point, Wisconsin, for a very special First Communion and mini family reunion. Stay tuned!


A statement from the Holy See Press Office this morning noted that, “The Holy See has taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia regarding His Eminence Cardinal George Pell. Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place.”

Today, May 1, in Melbourne, Australia, a judge ordered Cardinal George Pell to stand trial, following a monthlong pre-trial hearing on charges of alleged episodes of sexual abuse, dating back to the 1970s when Cardinal Pell, head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, was Fr. George Pell. There was also charges dating from the 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

The cardinal took a leave of absence, with papal approval, in the summer of 2017 to face the charges.

Although a number of charges in the hearing were dropped, the judge, Belinda Wallington said she believed there was enough evidence to proceed to a full trial.

Before his return to Australia, the cardinal told reporters at a Vatican news conference: “I’m innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me. These matters have been under investigation now for two years. There’s been relentless character assassination, a relentless character assassination.”

The cardinal spent days last year giving testimony from Rome via television linkup with Australia.

Cardinal Pell’s attorneys today issued a statement: “Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully cooperated with Victoria police and always steadfastly maintained his innocence. He voluntarily returned to Australia to meet these accusations. He will defend the remaining charges. …The cardinal thanks all those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time and is grateful for their continuing support and prayers.”

Cardinal Pell is also one of the nine cardinals who form the C9 group of cardinals who advise the Pope.


Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2018 / 03:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. State Department has removed the term “reproductive rights” from its annual human rights report, drawing praise from pro-life leaders who say that the phrase had become a thinly veiled reference to abortion.

“‘Reproductive rights’ has long been a euphemism for destroying human life in the womb,” said Lila Rose, founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action.

“A phrase that sounds like empowerment is a really only code for the subjugation of preborn children.”

The U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 were released last week, and now feature statistics on “coercion in population control” instead of “reproductive rights.”

Michael G. Kozak, a senior official with the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said in a press briefing that the changes are “not a diminishment of women’s rights or a desire to get away from it,” but rather were done in order “to stop using a term that has several different meanings that are not all the ones we intend.”

Previously, the “reproductive rights” section of the report included information about the legality of abortion within a country as well as the availability of contraception. The “Reproductive Rights” section was first included under the Obama presidency in the report that was released in 2012.

The new “Coercion in Population Control” section is under a larger section of each country’s report, titled “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons.” The new section appears under the subsection for “women” and features reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization procedures, and “other coercive population control methods.” There are also links to maternal mortality figures as well as the prevalence of contraceptives in a country.

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