WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The U.S. Supreme Court said April 21 it would block a lower court’s restrictions on an abortion pill, leaving the drug on the market while litigation over the drug proceeds. The court’s order was an apparent 7-2 vote, with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito publicly dissenting. The decision froze a lower court’s ruling to stay the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug. The Justice Department and a pharmaceutical company that manufactures the abortion pill mifepristone previously asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the case after an appeals court allowed portions of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk to take effect. A coalition of pro-life opponents of mifepristone, the first of two drugs used in a medication or chemical abortion, had filed suit in an effort to revoke the FDA’s approval of the drug, arguing the government violated its own safety standards when it first approved the drug in 2000. However, proponents argued mifepristone poses statistically little risk to women using it for abortion early in pregnancy, and claim the drug is being singled out for political reasons. In an April 21 statement, President Joe Biden said he would continue “to stand by FDA’s evidence-based approval of mifepristone, and my Administration will continue to defend FDA’s independent, expert authority to review, approve, and regulate a wide range of prescription drugs.” On April 22, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the Supreme Court’s interim order “a tremendous disappointment, both for the loss of innocent preborn life from chemical abortion, and for the danger that chemical abortion poses to women.”

SAN FRANCISCO (OSV News) – On the very day Elon Musk launched SpaceX rocket Starship on its ill-fated maiden voyage toward space, that final frontier, Musk’s company Twitter did boldly go purging blue verification check marks from users who had not signed up for its paid Twitter Blue service on April 20, including Pope Francis’ Twitter accounts. The nine papal Twitter accounts, first set up under Benedict XVI in 2012, tweet a daily message from the Holy Father in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, French, Polish, Arabic and German. The Vatican press office, noting that the nine @Pontifex accounts have a total of more than 53 million followers, told CNS Rome April 21 it understood Twitter was changing some of its policies. But it added, “the Holy See trusts that they will include certification of the authenticity of accounts.” That same day, following the loss of its blue checkmark, each papal account received a new gray verification checkmark designating “a government or multilateral organization account.” Other religious entities and organizations that have lost their blue checkmark include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Catholic Reporter, Catholic News Service Rome and Protestant televangelist Joel Osteen. There is now a triad of checkmark colors on Twitter. Blue marks mean an account has an active subscription to Twitter Blue, gold indicates an official business account through Twitter Verified Organizations, and gray indicates a government or multilateral organization. There also are affiliate account badges for each, as well as automated account labels for bots.

BALTIMORE (OSV News) – For every Dorothy Day – or St. Teresa of Kolkata, St. Oscar Romero or St. Pope John Paul II – there may be hundreds, even thousands, of anonymous potential saints who are not raised to the altars for a very simple reason: Their advocates just can not afford it. The sainthood process entails expenses for research, travel, translation and, if the cause progresses, beatification and canonization ceremonies. On average, costs total about $250,000 – with high-profile causes potentially topping $1 million. While ultimately conducted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, causes are typically initiated by a diocese, religious order or nonprofit lay group. The intricacies of the canonization process – with stages marked by the titles servant of God, venerable, blessed and saint – also poses a challenge for under-resourced dioceses. In addition to undisputed holiness, there is intense research, reams of paperwork, continuous fundraising, potential discrimination – and sometimes, a few unanticipated roadblocks. Ralph E. Moore Jr., a lifelong Catholic and African-American parishioner of St. Ann Catholic Church in Baltimore and a member of its Social Justice Committee, has organized a canonization letter writing campaign to Pope Francis, urging him to advance the sainthood causes of six African Americans, noting that a lack of finances has played a role in denying Black Catholics their own recognized saints.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – At least three dozen women will be voting members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, Pope Francis has decided. In a decision formalized April 17, “the Holy Father approved the extension of participation in the synodal assembly to ‘non-bishops’ – priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, lay men and women,” the synod office said in a statement April 26. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod, told reporters that about 21% of the synod’s 370 members would not be bishops and at least half of that group would be women. Adding women and young people to the membership will make sure “the church is well represented” in the prayer and discussions scheduled for Oct. 4-29 at the Vatican, the cardinal said. “It will be a joy to have the whole church represented in Rome for the synod.” “As you can see, the space in the tent is being enlarged,” Cardinal Mario Grech, synod secretary-general, told reporters. “The Synod of Bishops will remain a synod of bishops,” Cardinal Grech said, but it will be “enriched” by representatives of the whole church.

The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Berdyansk, Ukraine, is seen in this undated photo. Ukrainian officials reported April 22, 2023, that Russian forces seized the church in occupied Berdyansk, part of what the Institute for the Study of War calls an ongoing persecution of Catholics. (OSV News photo/courtesy Primorka City)

BERDYANSK, Ukraine (OSV News) – Russian forces have reportedly seized a Roman Catholic church in Ukraine, according to published accounts. The nonprofit, nonpartisan Institute for the Study of War (ISW) released an April 22 assessment stating that Viktoria Halitsina, head of the Ukrainian military administration of the port city of Berdyansk, wrote on her agency’s Telegram channel April 22 that Russian troops had seized the city’s Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her post, Halitsina said that the church “was not only a religious community,” but a place where “the needy could receive support.” In November 2022, two priests based at the church, who served both Latin-rite Catholics and Ukrainian Catholics, were abducted, and their fates remain unknown. ISW noted April 9 that Russia has engaged in widespread religious persecution in Ukraine, targeting a number of Catholic, Christian and Islamic communities.

NAIROBI, Kenya (OSV News) – Catholic bishops in Kenya have expressed shock and strongly condemned the mass “starvation suicide” in Shakahola, a remote forest-ranch area in eastern Kenya, where a pastor led congregants to fast to death. Kenyan authorities still continue to retrieve bodies from shallow graves in the 800-acre ranch in Kilifi County near the town of Malindi. On April 27 the official death toll was 95. All victims were followers of the Good News International Church Pastor Paul Mackenzie. He told his followers to pray and fast to meet Jesus and that the world would end April 15. As families arrived in the town of Malindi in search of their relatives following the Shakahola tragedy, the Kenyan Red Cross Society in Kilifi County said April 26 that officials had recorded 322 missing persons. Some of the devastated families that arrived in Malindi had lost several relatives to the cult. “We condemn in the strongest terms possible, the cultic preaching orchestrated by (the) pastor … which induced his followers to fast to death,” said Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, in a statement April 24.