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Can I confess? Or be anointed? Here’s what’s suspended -or not- in your diocese

Wed, 04/01/2020 - 17:10

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- All public celebration of Mass has been suspended in every Latin Rite diocese in the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many bishops have now also taken steps to limit or suspend access to other sacraments due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and to comply with local regulations that prohibit people from leaving their homes.

Here’s a list of those dioceses.

If your diocese is not listed here, your bishop has not issued a blanket policy suspending sacramental access, beyond the suspension of Mass. However, sacramental access may vary in different places and parishes depending on pastoral discretion and local stay-at-home orders.

If you are aware of any changes or updates,  email us here. Try to include a link if you can.

Province of Anchorage (Archdiocese of Anchorage, Dioceses of Juneau, and Fairbanks):

No changes to report.

Province of Atlanta (Archdiocese of Atlanta, Dioceses of Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte):  

The Archdiocese of Atlanta has prohibited confessions in confessionals, but “individual confessions may be celebrated in a well-ventilated area” that allows for both social distancing and confidentiality. Priests are encouraged to be extra cautious when offering the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

The Diocese of Raleigh has suspended penance unless the penitent is in danger of death. “Drive-through” confessionals have been banned. 

Province of Baltimore (Archdiocese of Baltimore, Dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Richmond, Arlington): 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has issued a policy suspending all sacramental ministry unless death is imminent.

Province of Boston (Archdiocese of Boston, Dioceses of Burlington, Fall River, Manchester, Portland, Springfield Ma., Worcester):

The Archdiocese of Boston is allowing priests to hear private confessions when they are requested, provided that “reasonable precautions” are taken.

The Diocese of Burlington is requesting penitents make an appointment for confession. 

The Diocese of Fall River has said that “Priests may offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation only in danger of death, or by appointment in extraordinary situations.”  

The Diocese of Manchester has instructed Catholics to contact their individual parishes for sacraments. 

The Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts has closed all churches and has suspended the sacrament of anointing of the sick. 

Province of Chicago (Archdiocese of Chicago, Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield Ill.): 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has said that “individual confessions are currently not possible” due to the stay-at-home order.  

The Diocese of Belleville has said that “individual confessions are currently not possible” due to the stay-at-home order.

The Diocese of Joliet has closed all churches and adoration chapels, and the sacrament of penance has been suspended unless the penitent is dying. 

The Diocese of Peoria has instructed priests to hear confessions outdoors if possible to comply with privacy and social distancing requirements.

Province of Cincinnati (Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Dioceses of Cleveland, Columbus, Steubenville, Toledo, Youngstown):

The Diocese of Cleveland has canceled scheduled confessions, but individual parishioners are to contact their priests for an appointment. 

The Diocese of Columbus has closed churches and has said that confession is to be made available only for the sick or in the case of emergencies.

The Diocese of Toledo has instructed priests that “Every consideration should be given to making the Sacrament available, perhaps during a time when the church is open for private prayer.”

The Diocese of Youngstown has instructed priests to offer confession by appointment only, with safety precautions taken by priests. 

Province of Denver (Archdiocese of Denver, Dioceses of Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, Pueblo):

The Archdiocese of Denver has left the provision of confession up to individual parishes.

The Diocese of Cheyenne has suspended all sacraments unless there is a danger of death.

Province of Detroit (Archdiocese of Detroit, Dioceses of Gaylord, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Marquette, Saginaw): 

The Diocese of Marquette has closed all churches in accordance with Michigan’s “Stay-At-Home” order and has said confession is to be made available only to the sick or dying. 

The Diocese of Saginaw has instructed priests to “consider the best options of the celebration of private confession for those in dire need of the sacrament.” 

Province of Dubuque (Archdiocese of Dubuque, Dioceses of Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City):

The Archdiocese of Dubuque is permitting one-on-one confessions, with safety precautions. Archbishop Jackels wrote that “the use of general absolution during this pandemic is allowed.” 

The Diocese of Des Moines has said confession is currently “mainly” by appointment. 

The Diocese of Sioux City has said confession is available by appointment only. 

Province of Galveston-Houston (Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Dioceses of Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Tyler, Victoria): 

The Diocese of Beaumont has instructed priests to hear confession by appointment only. 

Province of Hartford (Archdiocese of Hartford, Dioceses of Bridgeport, Norwich, Providence): 

The Diocese of Norwich has instructed people to contact their pastors about sacramental availability. 

Province of Indianapolis (Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Dioceses of Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary, Lafayette):

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has instructed priests to postpone individual appointments for confession unless the penitent is in danger of death. 

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has canceled scheduled confession times, but priests are allowed to hear confessions by appointment. 

The Diocese of Gary has said that confessions can be heard on a “case-by-case basis.”

The Diocese of Lafayette has ordered churches to remain closed and there will be no scheduled confessions until further notice, unless there is a danger of death. 

Province of Kansas City (Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, Dioceses of Dodge City, Salina, Wichita): 

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has ordered adoration chapels to close, but churches can remain open with fewer than 10 people inside. Confessions must comply with social distancing guidelines. 

Province of Los Angeles (Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego): 

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has suspended regularly scheduled confessions and confessions only can be heard if there is a danger of death or “extremely extraordinary situations.” 

The Diocese of Fresno has closed all “churches, missions and stations; including all grounds and facilities such as chapels, halls, meeting rooms and classrooms” until further notice.

The Diocese of San Bernardino has suspended confessions until further notice, saying “you should not have any confessions at all at your parishes.” Exceptions will be made for the dying.

Province of Louisville (Archdiocese of Louisville, Dioceses of Covington, Knoxville, Lexington, Memphis, Nashville, Owensboro): 

The Diocese of Covington has said that confessions are to be heard by appointment only.

The Diocese of Lexington has said confessions are to be heard by appointment and that general absolution could potentially be offered to those in a hospital if the situation merits it.

Province of Miami (Archdiocese of Miami, Dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Venice):/

The Archdiocese of Miami has suspended all activities, including confessions, that would require people to leave their homes for the next two weeks. This was decided after Florida issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order. 

The Diocese of Orlando has said confessions are to be heard only in emergency cases.

The Diocese of St. Augustine has instructed clergy to use “pastoral discretion and wisdom when making decisions for the parish.” 

The Diocese of St. Petersburg has allowed individual parishes to make decisions regarding confession availability.

The Diocese of Venice has declared that baptisms should only be celebrated in the case of emergency and that “Anointing of the Sick ought to be requested only in genuine need for the dying.”

Province of Milwaukee (Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Dioceses of Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Superior): 

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has stated that confessions are “private.” 

The Diocese of Green Bay has said that confession should be held outside of a confessional, and general absolution may be given in health care facilities with a large number of sick patients, or in religious institutes with many sick residents. 

Province of Mobile (Archdiocese of Mobile, Dioceses of Biloxi, Birmingham, Jackson):

The Diocese of Biloxi has instructed that anointing of the sick be offered only to those “most in need.”

The Diocese of Birmingham has encouraged priests to be “creative” when scheduling confessions outside of confessionals. 

The Diocese of Jackson is allowing confessions to continue as long as they do not violate “lockdown” orders. 

Province of New Orleans (Archdiocese of New Orleans, Dioceses of Alexandria La., Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette La., Lake Charles, Shreveport): 

The Diocese of Baton Rouge is permitting confessions by appointment only and has suspended all regularly scheduled confession times. 

The Diocese of Lake Charles has said that anointing and confession are to be made available on an “individual basis.” 

The Diocese of Shreveport requires confessions take place with some sort of barrier between the priest and penitent. 

Province of New York (Archdiocese of New York, Dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, Syracuse): 

The Diocese of Albany has “prohibited” scheduled reconciliation, but parishioners may call a priest for an appointment. 

The Diocese of Brooklyn has limited confession to emergencies only. Anointing of the sick may occur as needed. 

The Diocese of Buffalo has limited both anointing of the sick and confession to the gravely ill. 

The Diocese of Rochester is offering confession outside of confessionals. 

The Diocese of Rockville has said that confession may not be “advertised or scheduled,” but that “confession can be conducted when urgently needed and when requested on a case-by-case basis.”

Province of Newark (Archdiocese of Newark, Dioceses of Camden, Metuchen, Paterson, Trenton): 

The Archdiocese of Newark has suspended confession except for “extreme emergencies” which it defined as “in danger of death.” 

The Diocese of Camden has limited confession to appointment only.

The Diocese of Metuchen has stated that penance is for only those in need. 

Province of Oklahoma City (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Dioceses of Little Rock, Tulsa) : 

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has said that confessions may be conducted only from behind a screen. 

The Diocese of Little Rock has suspended face-to-face confession, but the sacrament can be celebrated with a barrier between the priest and penitent.

Province of Omaha (Archdiocese of Omaha, Dioceses of Grand Island, Lincoln): 

No changes to report. 

Province of Philadelphia (Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Dioceses of Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton): 

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has instructed Catholics to contact their parishes about confessions. 

The Diocese of Greensburg’s website states there have been “restrictions” on anointing of the sick and penance, but does not offer further details. Diocesan offices are closed.

The Diocese of Harrisburg has closed all churches and chapels. Penance is restricted for those who are in danger of death. 

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has suspended all sacraments, including baptism, confession, and anointing of the sick, except for “the most grave of circumstances.” 

The Diocese of Scranton has suspended “public gatherings for the celebration of Confessions or the Anointing of the Sick, indoors or outdoors.” Priests will be available for the “gravest circumstances.” 

Province of Portland in Oregon (Archdiocese of Portland, Dioceses of Baker, Boise, Great Falls-Billings, Helena):

The Diocese of Boise has closed all churches to the public, and suspended all holy hours and “other services” until the governor lifts the “stay at home” order.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has said that “Confessions should continue to be made available under conditions that are deemed appropriate by the pastor of the parish while providing for social/physical distancing.”

The Diocese of Helena has suspended all sacraments except for “extreme emergencies.” Priests are asked to be “courageous” when anointing. 

Province of St. Louis (Archdiocese of St. Louis, Dioceses of Jefferson City, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Springfield-Cape Girardeau):

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has suspended indoor confession in confessionals and said they must be heard in well-ventilated areas.

The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has said that confession and anointing of the sick are available by appointment only. 

Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Dioceses of Bismarck, Crookston, Duluth, Fargo, New Ulm, Rapid City, Saint Cloud, Sioux Falls, Winona-Rochester):

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis is complying with a local stay-at-home order, but has said that priests may “administer the sacraments in cases of serious need and on an individual basis.”

The Diocese of Fargo has canceled regular confessions. Catholics can make an appointment for confession, and “Every effort will be made to provide Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum to those who need it.”

The Diocese of Saint Cloud has left confession availability up to individual pastors. Confessions will only be available by appointment. Churches will be closed. 

The Diocese of Winona-Rochester has said that sacraments are available by appointment. 

Province of San Antonio (Archdiocese of San Antonio, Dioceses of Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Laredo, Lubbock, San Angelo): 

The Diocese of Amarillo has suspended confessions until the “shelter-in-place” order issued by Potter and Randall Counties has ended.

The Diocese of Dallas has suspended scheduled confessions, but priests may respond to individual requests for private confessions. The shelter-in-place order issued for the city of Dallas does not allow people to travel to churches. 

The Diocese of El Paso has said confessions may be made available by appointment.

The Diocese of Fort Worth has stopped the outdoor distribution of communion after Masses. Confessions must occur behind a screen. 

The Diocese of Laredo has canceled communal penance services, but individual confessions are available. 

The Diocese of Lubbock has suspended confessions and has ordered churches closed to comply with the “stay-at-home” order issued by the City of Lubbock. 

The Diocese of San Angelo has suspended the use of confessionals, but confessions may be heard in well-ventilated rooms. 

Province of San Francisco (Archdiocese of San Francisco, Dioceses of Honolulu, Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Stockton): 

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has requested priests move confessions to an appointment-only basis to avoid drawing a crowd. 

The Diocese of Honolulu has suspended confession and does not allow general absolution.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa has said it is “imprudent to set up or attempt to offer the availability of individual confession even with the utilization of various protective measures.” 

The Diocese of Stockton has canceled scheduled confession times and encouraged people to learn more about acts of perfect contrition. 

Province of Santa Fe (Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Dioceses of Gallup, Las Cruces, Phoenix, and Tucson): 

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is permitting general absolution in cases that “would include, but [are] not limited to, circumstances where the priest cannot enter a ward with dying COVID-19 patients or even with those who will hopefully recover but would be comforted by the absolution of their sins.”

The Diocese of Gallup has limited anointing to those who are in “imminent danger of death,” and the sacrament of reconciliation must be done in a well-ventilated space.  

Province of Seattle (Archdiocese of Seattle, Dioceses of Spokane, Yakima): 

The Archdiocese of Seattle is not permitting parishes to publicize confession times, but is scheduling confessions by appointment.

The Diocese of Spokane has limited penance and anointing of the sick to those who are in danger of death.

Province of Washington (Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands): 

No changes to report.

Coronavirus keeps volunteers away, but Arkansas Catholic Charities plans help for tornado victims

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 21:01

Little Rock, Ark., Mar 31, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An EF3 tornado blew through Jonesboro, Arkansas, this week, and although no deaths have been reported, Catholic Charities of Arkansas is gearing up to help those whose livelihoods will be affected by the disaster.

Patrick Gallaher, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, told CNA that he anticipates that their involvement with the disaster in Jonesboro will involve long term case management to help uninsured and underinsured families recover and settle into permanent housing.

Typically, with a tornado like this, Catholic Charities will work with Habitat for Humanity to help get underinsured people into a Habitat for Humanity house, he said.

“We have been in contact with the parish in Jonesboro, Blessed Sacrament Church, and with their local Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council, but have not received any reports of damage or need at this moment. Once we begin receiving information from Jonesboro, we will be able to craft a response to meet the specific needs,” Gallaher said.

The tornado damaged nearly 200 structures, including several factories. Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared a state disaster and the state is seeking a federal designation from the national government.

Though Catholic Charities of Arkansas is not part of the immediate emergency response, Gallaher clarified, first responders in the county, with state assistance, have set up an emergency shelter with care being taken not to spread the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Craigshead County, where Jonesboro is located, has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases. The state as a whole has around 500.

Gallaher said the main difficulties in helping victims of the tornado is a lack of volunteers and funds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Most of my volunteers, my disaster volunteers, are elderly people. And I wasn't even going to call them, I don't want to take a chance," Gallaher told CNA.

He also noted that fundraising has been made more difficult by the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of Little Rock.

About three percent of the state's population is undocumented immigrants, who will not be eligible for federal or state unemployment assistance, Gallaher said. With Jonesboro as a manufacturing hub, and much of the city's factory capacity destroyed, Gallaher said he expects Catholic Charities will likely start receiving requests for assistance with food.

“I expect that as the protocols put in place to contain the epidemic continue, we will be hearing from families unable to meet their daily needs because of lack of employment. Although the federal and state response regarding unemployment insurance and direct payments will help most, there will be a segment of our population that is ineligible and will need assistance,” Gallaher said.

Kentucky AG aims to declare abortion 'non-essential' under coronavirus bans

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 20:30

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- Kentucky’s attorney general has joined the national controversy over whether abortion clinics can continue to operate at a time when other surgeries and procedures have been canceled or delayed to conserve medical resources to combat the novel coronavirus.

“Abortion providers should join the thousands of other medical professionals across the state in ceasing elective procedures, unless the life of the mother is at risk, to protect the health of their patients and slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron said March 27.

The attorney general has asked Kentucky’s Acting Secretary of Health and Family Services Eric Friedlander to certify that abortion providers are not essential under the governor's executive order barring non-essential medical procedures. The certification is necessary to act against any abortion clinics in violation.

According to Cameron, the certification would advance the goals of conserving medical supplies and advancing the “social distancing” deemed necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

“Acting Secretary Friedlander is on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am confident that he understands, better than anyone, the necessity of ending abortion procedures during this health crisis,” Cameron said. “His certification will immediately trigger action by our office to stop elective procedures during the pandemic.”

The only remaining abortion clinic in the state is EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. It continues to perform abortions.

Cameron, the current attorney general, is a Republican. He made the request to the administration of Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, who was Kentucky Attorney General from 2016 to 2019.
Beshear campaigned on a pro-abortion rights position and defeated deeply controversial incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin by about 5,000 votes in the November 2019 elections.

State legislators have proposed a bill to allow the attorney general's office to proceed with legal action without a certification from the health and family services department, the CBS affiliate WLKY reports.

The State Senate could consider the legislation, House Bill 451, on Wednesday. A floor amendment could bar abortions during the response to the coronavirus outbreak.

CNA contacted the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.

Federal judges in Texas, Alabama, and Ohio on Monday halted state rules that would limit or halt entirely abortions during the coronavirus pandemic on the grounds they are non-essential surgeries. On Tuesday the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily reinstated the Texas rule.

Indiana, Oklahoma, and Iowa have similarly acted to limit abortions. A hearing on the Iowa law is pending and the others too could be challenged in court.

For their part, officials in Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon have said abortions may continue.

In Utah, judgment about the medical necessity of an abortion will be left to the doctor, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health told the pro-abortion rights website Rewire News.

 

Maine priest encourages 'Pine Sunday' where there are no palms

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 19:00

Portland, Maine, Mar 31, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- With public Masses cancelled across the United States, ahead of Palm Sunday this weekend, some Maine Catholics are being encouraged to adopt a substitute devotional practice: pine branches. 

Traditionally, Catholics receive blessed palm branches during Mass on Palm Sunday, this year celebrated on 5 April, to mark Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem and the start of Holy Week. That will not happen this year, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the nationwide suspension of public Masses.

“Unfortunately, we won’t be blessing any palms in this year’s celebration because we won’t be able to process with them, nor can we distribute them so that you can place blessed palms in your home after Mass,” said Fr. Louis Phillips of the Diocese of Portland (ME) said. 

Instead, he has suggested to his parishioners at his three parishes to go outside--in a socially-distant manner--and clip a small pine branch to place behind a crucifix.

Phillips dubbed the idea “Pine Sunday,” and he is encouraging it among Catholics at St. Anne Parish in Gorham, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Windham. 

He told CNA that the idea of people came from a conversation he had with friends living in Florida. He realized that they would be able to grab a palm--albeit a non-blessed palm--from one of the naturally growing palm trees, and place it in their homes. 

“I thought, ‘Oh, too bad we don’t have any palm trees in Maine,’” said Phillips. “Then I got to thinking. I was looking outside, and thinking ‘but we do have plenty of pine trees.’” 

Maine’s official state nickname is “The Pine Tree State” and the trees are ubiquitous throughout the region.

“So I got to thinking that the people of Jesus’ time when they welcomed Him into Jerusalem that day, that first Palm Sunday, what they were doing in essence was laying out a red carpet for him,” said Phillips. Palm branches were readily available in Jerusalem, he explained, so they were a natural choice.

Phillips said that he hopes the presence of the pine branch will serve as a reminder of the Passion of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, as well as a remembrance of the unusual time that was Lent 2020. 

“I think this will be a Holy Week that none of us will forget, but that might just bring to mind the blessings and the challenges that we're facing today. Maybe when we look back on it in retrospect in months to come, we'll find some meaning in it all,” said Phillips. 

“So I thought maybe those pine branches could help do that, and still connect us really not only with the events of Holy Week but connect us with one another. If we kind of do this collectively, even though we are separated physically, there's something to be said when still we come together to pray together and celebrate our faith together through this simple thing,” he added.

The palms that were set to be delivered and distributed to the parishioners at Phillips’ three parishes will instead be used to decorate the church where Mass is live-streamed. Phillips said that this year, pine branches will also be a part of those decorations. 

At least one other priest in Maine has endorsed the concept of “Pine Sunday” for this year.

Fr. Seamus Griesbach, the director of vocations for the Diocese of Portland, approved of the “Pine Sunday” idea, and thought it was an excellent substitute for the traditional Palm Sunday tradition. 

“I was like, that is an awesome idea,” said Griesbach, when he learned of Phillips’ suggestion. 

YouTube, Griesbach said, half-jokingly, that the process of clipping a pine branch could also be a way to promote handwashing, as pine sap is incredibly sticky. 

“That stuff is nasty, it never comes off,” said Griesbach. “If you can wash that pine sap off your hands, you know that the coronavirus certainly isn’t surviving.” 

How college students can spend their time during the coronavirus

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 18:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 31, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has led colleges across the country to close their dorms, and offer classes online. As students return home with time on their hands, Catholics involved in campus ministry have offered advice on how to spend this time wisely.

Father John Ignatius, SJC, who served as chaplain at the University of Denver, and Peter Nguyen, a FOCUS missionary for Harvard University, have emphasized the important role of community, spiritual life, and charitable actions amidst quarantine.

Ignatius, who also leads the Servants of Christ Jesus religious community, told CNA that displaced students should prioritize prayer, community, and exercise, while making efforts to limit their screen time.

“It'll be so easy to binge on episodes [on] Netflix. [They should] decrease screen time and extracurricular time to be more relational,” Fr. Ignatius said.

“College students would do well to stay in touch with each other via phones … Hopefully it's a live conversation by phone or by Skype or FaceTime or any of the mediums you're actually having face time with peers that are at a distance.”

Fr. Ignatius said displaced students should also make time for charity, especially by picking up the phone.

“Just consider the consolation and the blessing that a grandson or a granddaughter could give to someone who's isolated and scared. It makes all the difference in the world to have just a 15 or 20 minute conversation with the grandparents and just think beyond one's own interests,” he said.

The priest added that students might also consider offering virtual tutoring to children they know have been displaced from school, or, if local laws permit it, offering snacks or essentials to homeless people while taking a walk.

Fr. Ignatius emphasized that the pandemic is an opportunity to reignite a neglected prayer life. He suggested students might pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or spend time reading scripture. He also pointed to resources from groups like FOCUS, which have made spiritual resources available online.

Nguyen, the FOCUS missionary, also stressed the importance of reinvigorating a prayer life, noting that too much free-time can become its own kind distraction from prayer. He said during these difficult times, it is important to rely on the Lord.

“I think the notion of free time is a little scary because [in] school they have all these activities and they have classes and they have their  sacramental life ….It's scheduled out and so there's a certain safety and security in order that we as Catholics know is there,” Nguyen told CNA.

“If we're in the crucible right now with the Lord, the one thing that will help sustain us is daily conversation and prayer with him.”

Nguyen pointed to some of the virtual options the students have available for them at Harvard. He said FOCUS at the university has started online events, including Bible studies and virtual praise and worship sessions, which last Sunday drew around 200 hundreds views from students.

“We believe the word of God is so effective, especially in this trying time. I think … people are kind of longing for a sense of spiritual nourishment,” he said.

While FOCUS has launched its discipleship program online as well, he said, the most important aspect is to focus on accountability and personal investment through consistent contact with these students, Nguyen said..

“In this time, we're still doing virtual things in order to continue to minister to our students who we encourage to their friends through the use of Zoom and in conversation on the phone, et cetera… Personal investment is probably the most important thing that we can be doing right now,” he said.

 

Texas coronavirus abortion rule back in effect, after court grants stay

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 17:00

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A Texas order prohibiting most abortions during the novel coronavirus pandemic is temporarily back in effect, after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on a federal district court ruling on Tuesday.

After the Western District Court of Texas on Monday allowed elective abortions to continue in the state of Texas during the coronavirus pandemic through a restraining order, a three-judge panel on the Fifth Circuit issued the temporary stay on the district court’s ruling on Tuesday.

“UPDATE: Victory at 5th Circuit - Abortion ruling stayed!” tweeted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the result.

Paxton had previously filed for appellate review at the Fifth Circuit, after the Western District Court of Texas on Monday halted the state’s executive order from going into effect that would have restricted most abortions during the new coronavirus pandemic.

The stay issued by the Fifth Circuit on Tuesday will give the court more time to consider Texas’ executive order, the judges wrote. 

However, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck saw the circuit court’s decision as a sign that the case will soon make its way to the Supreme Court. In 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court decided in favor of Louisiana’s abortion safety regulations, which require that an abortion doctor have admitting privilges at a nearby hospital. That case is now being considered by the Supreme Court.

Circuit court judge James Dennis dissented from the panel’s ruling, noting that “[a] federal judge has already concluded that irreparable harm would flow from allowing the Executive Order to prohibit abortions during this critical time.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the executive order (GA 09) on March 22 halting non-essential surgeries and medical procedures during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in order to free up resources and medical personnel to treat COVID patients.

Abbott clarified that the order would apply to “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, filed an emergency lawsuit in a federal district court to continue elective abortions in Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the court granted a temporary restraining order to allow abortions to continue. Federal judges in Ohio and Alabama also halted similar state restrictions on elective abortions from going into effect.

Paxton then filed for appellate review at the Fifth Circuit court on Monday. He said in his petition to the Fifth Circuit that the district court’s decision “endangers lives and hinders the State of Texas’s efforts to combat the deadly novel coronavirus.”

“The State of Texas faces today its most serious public-health emergency in over a century,” he wrote, noting that the executive order halting non-essential surgeries and procedures was meant to conserve “personal protective equipment (PPE)” for the expected surge in new coronavirus patients at hospitals.

“Exempting abortions from the three-week pause that applies to everyone else would deplete scarce PPE, reduce hospital capacity, and risk spreading COVID-19 to hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals across the State,” he wrote.

Majority of Americans praying for end to coronavirus, survey finds

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A majority of Americans say they have prayed for an end to the novel coronavirus, including some who say they rarely or never pray, a new survey reports.

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, published on Monday, 55% of Americans have prayed for an end to the pandemic, including slightly more than two-thirds (68%) of Catholics.

The survey of 11,537 U.S. adults was conducted between March 19 and 24, and asked Americans about their attitudes during the coronavirus outbreak, including their prayer life.

There are more than 823,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) worldwide as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, including more than 175,000 cases in the U.S.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there were 2,860 deaths from the virus as of 4 p.m. EDT Monday.

According to the survey, 15% of those who “seldom or never pray” also say they have prayed for an end to the pandemic, and even 36% of those whose religion is “nothing in particular” say they have prayed about the virus.

In line with stay-at-home orders active in many places, the Pew survey also found fewer people are attending religious services in person; 59% of those who normally attend services at least once or twice per month said they had scaled back their attendence. But, among the same group, a simialry percentage —57%—reported watching religious services online or on TV during the pandemic instead of attending services in person.

And among Catholics who attended Mass at least once or twice a month, 55% said they have attended less often during the coronavirus, and 46% said they were watching Mass online or on TV instead of attending in person.

Catholic bishops around the country began suspending public masses in March, with the Seattle archdiocese as the first to do so on March 11, followed by all other dioceses in the U.S.

As bishops have halted public Masses during the pandemic, however, they have also exhorted Catholics to deepen their own prayer lives.

Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated on March 13 that “[n]ow is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices for the love of God and the love of our neighbor,” and called on Catholics to pray in unity with Pope Francis for the sick, health care workers, and civic leaders.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh issued a pastoral letter on March 20 “The Other Side of Corona,” noting that the mass closures of offices and schools, mass layoffs and the suspension of public Masses as a result of the coronavirus “is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with Jesus.” He called on Catholics to pray to God for protection from the virus and for comfort for all those afflicted.

Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia asked Catholics to join Pope Francis in prayer for an end to the pandemic on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.

On March 27, Pope Francis gave an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, “to the city and the world,” from St. Peter’s Basilica during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love,” Pope Francis said during a holy hour that included Eucharistic adoration and the blessing.

Churches closed in Maryland, not Virginia, after governors’ orders

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore has closed all churches to private prayer and instructed priests to only offer sacraments in cases of “impending death.”

The decision, announced Monday by Archbishop William Lori, is in response to the “Stay-at-Home” directive issued by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on March 30. 

“Like Governor Hogan, I want to take every precaution and every step necessary to ensure the health of the people we serve,” Archbishop Lori said on Monday.

Under the stay-at-home order, all Marylanders are instructed to remain in their homes and may only leave for certain reasons, such as daily exercise, travelling for medical reasons, going to the grocery store and conducting other “essential” business. 

Churches and other houses of worship are not classified as “essential” by the Maryland order. 

As a result, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that all church buildings and offices in the archdiocese are to close, and priests are to cease the regular distribution of all sacraments, including confessions, until further notice. Until Monday, churches in the Baltimore archdiocese were permitted to open for private prayer, but only to for 10 people or less at a time.

“While no bishop wants to ever close a church to one seeking closeness to God," Lori said, "I pray that in doing so we prevent further suffering, further death and will be closer to the day when we can reopen our church doors to the people we so deeply love and miss.”

In a Facebook post on the official account for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, it was clarified that there would be no sacraments at this time and that priests were not allowed to privately meet with parishioners. 

“No confessions or other sacraments except in cases of impending death. No in-person appointments. All parish offices remain closed as well,” said the archdiocese.

Maryland Catholics are further prohibited from traveling to a nearby diocese that is still offering sacraments. According to Hogan’s website, “No Marylander should be traveling outside of the state unless such travel is absolutely necessary. Those who have traveled outside of the state should self-quarantine for 14 days.”

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which also has parishes in Maryland, has yet to announce any new measures in response to the governor’s order. The archdiocese did not respond to a request from CNA for comment by the time of posting. 

A similar executive order in neighboring Virginia permits residents to travel to church. 

Places of worship are now listed as an acceptable reason for Virginians to leave their homes during a statewide stay-at-home directive. 

Executive Order Fifty-Five, also issued on Monday, from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, requires that Virginians remain at their homes and to practice social distancing if they do go outside. The Virginia order went into effect on March 30, and has an end date of June 10, although that may be shortened or extended if necessary. 

The executive order lists nine permissible reasons for people to leave their homes, including “Traveling to and from one’s residence, place of worship, or work.” 

However, places of worship are still not permitted to hold services with more than 10 people in attendance.

“All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited. This includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social events, whether they occur indoor or outdoor,” said Northam in the order. 

Previously, an executive order from Northam did not include churches in a list of essential locations, and any “non-essential” business--including churches--found to have more than 10 people inside would be subject to criminal penalties. 

“Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship,” states a webpage of frequently asked questions about Executive Order 53 on the state government website. 

“Places of worship that do conduct in-person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.”

Both of Virginia’s Catholic dioceses have already suspended the public celebration of Mass in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and parishes are instructed to allow no more than 10 worshippers in churches at any time. 

Parish buildings largely remain open for private prayer, and some parishes have continued to offer confessions while observing social distancing.

Federal judges stop states designating abortion 'non-essential'

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 11:00

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Federal judges in Texas, Alabama, and Ohio on Monday halted state rules that would limit or halt entirely abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal court for the Western District of Texas on Monday granted a temporary injunction against the state’s order designating most abortions in the state as non-essential procedures. Gov. Greg Abbott on March 22 signed an executive order that halted non-essential surgeries and medical procedures in the state, in order to free up resources for hospitals to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton clarified later that the order included most abortions as non-essential procedures, allowing only for abortions when the life or health of the mother was deemed to be at risk.

A coalition of abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project, filed a lawsuit against the executive order saying Paxton’s enforcement of the order was a “blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda.”

In two other states, Ohio and Alabama, federal judges stopped similar state orders from going into effect that abortions be stopped as non-essential procedures.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have also sued to block similar orders in Iowa and Oklahoma.

On Monday, Paxton stated that he was “deeply disappointed” at the decision and would be seeking appellate review “to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need.” 

In a brief filed with the Western District Court of Texas on Monday, Abbott argued that the state “faces its worst public health emergency in over a century,” and that the governor’s order would help slow the spread of the coronavirus through unnecessary human contact and free up resources including personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.

“But Plaintiffs—a collection of abortion clinics and one abortionist physician—ask this Court to grant them a special exemption, claiming a right to deplete or endanger precious PPE resources and hospital capacity in the name of providing abortions. They have no right to special treatment,” Paxton argued.

Dioceses announce staff cuts, but federal aid could help

Mon, 03/30/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As Catholic dioceses and parishes begin to cut staff during the coronavirus pandemic, they could be eligible for unprecedented federal relief to keep their employees on their payrolls.

Bishops across the United States have suspended public liturgies and closed church buildings in response to state-issued public safety policies, and Catholic leaders have warned of an immediate revenue shortfall. Consequences of that shortfall include staff reductions, furloughs, and decreased hours.

The Diocese of Buffalo, which had already declared bankruptcy last year and announced plans for a reorganization, said on March 19 that it was “accelerating” the reorganization process for its Catholic Center. In all, 21 positions are being eliminated and three more positions moved from full-time to part-time staff.

Employees whose positions were eliminated are eligible to apply for unemployment compensation and will have health insurance until the end of April.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh had also begun a process of reorganizing before the coronavirus pandemic. A long-term decline in mass attendance and donations was exacerbated by new clergy sex abuse allegations made in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 the diocese began closing parishes and consolidating others.

On March 26, the diocese warned that “cost-cutting methods, including layoffs at the parish and diocesan level may be needed.” The diocesan newspaper, Pittsburgh Catholic, in continuous publication since 1844, saw all of its positions terminated and operations have been suspended indefinitely. The diocese also started an emergency fund.

Staffers at parishes in Pittsburgh and Trenton, New Jersey, meanwhile, told CNA that they had already been furloughed or laid off.

Riley McCullough, media coordinator for the Catholic Community of Wexford in the diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA she had been furloughed on March 27.

“None of us are the exception to the impacts of this pandemic,” she said. “None of us are the exception to our lives being changed.”

On March 24, the Diocese of Joliet cut wages and hours for diocesan and parish employees, the Joliet Patch reported.

“Precipitating this decision are the anticipated losses in revenue to our parishes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the governmental restrictions undertaken to halt the spread of the disease,” the diocese stated. The action was also taken “to avoid laying off diocesan or parish employees as a result of the crisis,” the diocese stated.

In Boston, blogger Rocco Palmo tweeted on Sunday evening, the archdiocese has advised parishes to make long-term financial plans and that staffing reductions might be necessary, as the archdiocese could only provide them limited and temporary financial relief.

Many parishes are not equipped for online giving and dioceses are already facing hefty financial settlements for clergy sex abuse lawsuits. In the diocese of Pittsburgh, “only about 10% of our parishes are set up for online giving,” stated communications director Jennifer Antkowiak in a March 26 release. 

The diocese set up an emergency fund for the coronavirus crisis, as did other dioceses and archdioceses such as Trenton and Chicago. However, in anticipation of reduced incomes, dioceses and parishes have already begun cutting or furloughing staff.

But as dioceses across the country work to scale back payrolls, one lawyer who works with religious institutions says that new federal policies that could pay for employee leave and provide emergency loans to non-profits, and bishops and pastors should consider their options before making any major staffing decisions.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, told CNA on Monday. “Congress is essentially bribing businesses and nonprofits to keep people on payroll, making extraordinary, unprecedented offers.”

Kniffin referred to two new laws passed by Congress before members left Washington, D.C. for the next several weeks, in the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, provides for up to 12 weeks of paid leave. It offers to pay the salary of workers on leave for 12 weeks and pay the employer’s share of health insurance premiums.

The government foots the bill, Kniffin stressed, by providing a tax credit to employers that covers their Medicare tax, their share of the employee’s health insurance premium, and the employee’s pay.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed Congress last Friday and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, makes small business loans available to non-profits at two-and-a-half times their monthly payroll, Kniffin said. 

The loans can turn into grants under certain conditions: if they are used to cover payroll, mortgage or rent, and utility payments, if they are spent within eight weeks of issuance, and if the employer maintains payroll for one year by keeping the same number of employees and not reducing wages by more than 25%.

Even if dioceses and parishes are not able to maintain these conditions over time, there are formulas to determine loan forgiveness, Kniffin said.

Under another provision of the law, taxpayers can make a $300 donation to the charity of their choice and use it as a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on their 2020 taxes.

“These laws are brand new, and so of course it’s important to make sure how they apply to individual organizations,” he said. “But every ministry ought to take a close look at these before they start making big payroll decisions.”

NYC mayor threatens 'permanent' closure of churches defying coronavirus ban

Mon, 03/30/2020 - 12:00

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, March 27 threatened to “permanently” shut down houses of worship that continue to hold public services in violation of the city’s ban on gatherings of any size. 

The mayor cited a "small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues,” that are continuing to hold religious services despite a prohibition on anyone being within six feet of a person they do not live with. The restrictions were made in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has infected thousands of New Yorkers and has killed over 1,000 people in the state. 

De Blasio warned that if these communities were found to be holding religious services, “our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.” 

The religious congregations would also be subject to other punishments for continued defiance of the stay-at-home order, de Blasio added. This “additional action” that would be taken includes fines, as well as “potentially closing the building permanently.”

Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, which cover all five boroughs of New York City, suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14 and March 16, respectively. New York’s “stay-at-home” order was issued on March 22, and was recently extended through April 15. 

De Blasio’s threat to shut down religious buildings “permanently” provoked criticism from religious liberty experts, his legal authority to do so.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Further, the New York State Constitution states, “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind.” 

"Mayor de Blasio surely didn’t mean what he said, because there’s no way he or any other government official would ever have the power to shut down a church, synagogue, or mosque permanently,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. 

Rienzi said that, given the context, the mayor “appears to be talking about the temporary need to ensure proper social distancing in a time of crisis,” which Rienzi said was a “valid governmental interest.” 

Rienzi called the phrasing of de Blasio’s comments “unfortunate,” and said they were not helping to soothe the fears of religious groups, particularly as those same religious groups are providing emergency relief work to those impacted by COVID-19. 

“Right now, we need religious groups and the government to continue working together to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Rienzi. “The First Amendment will protect against any needless targeting of religious groups in a time of crisis.”

USCCB Domestic Justice Chairman welcomes coronavirus aid bill

Mon, 03/30/2020 - 11:00

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has praised congressional efforts to offset the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City issued a statement in response to the passage Friday of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which provides more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus and relief.

“We are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: during the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes, we are also experiencing what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Coakley said in a statement released March 28.

“Yet, around the world, we are united in common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit.”

Coakley highlighted the essential service of people working to keep society safe, healthy, and functioning during the pandemic, singling out supermarket workers and healthcare professionals for special praise, calling them “tireless and inspiring.”

The archbishop also noted the “long hours and late nights” Congress required to reach bipartisan agreement on the CARES stimulus package. At several points, congressional leadership were lock in debate about the act’s provisions, especially $500 billion made available to the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ensure corporate liquidity, and Democrat demands that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood be eligible for small business relief.

The CARES Act was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on Friday and signed into law by President Donald Trump later that day. It had previously passed the Senate on March 25 by a margin of 96-0.

The act authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Coakley noted that while “nothing is perfect,” “given the extraordinary needs of the moment, this $2.2 trillion package is the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history.”

“We are grateful for many provisions that will help the poor and vulnerable, including several provisions that will help employers retain their workers, and provisions that will help the many people who unfortunately have been laid off and will need immediate income when present circumstances make getting a new job much more difficult,” he said Saturday.

“It is good that there will be direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, and that there will be an infusion of financial resources for hospitals and charitable institutions which will be asked to do more than ever during this crisis.”

But, Coakley said, “there are some areas where aid and relief can improve.”

“We will continue to advocate for those most in need, for food security, for the homeless, for prisoners, for the sick who have large medical bills, for all Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and for those who have lost friends and loved ones.”

The archbishop particularly expressed his “disappointment” that some aid and relief measures were not extended to undocumented migrants living in the United States, and said that it is “extremely concerning that testing and access to health care coverage was denied to certain immigrants.”

“The health and wellbeing of all in this crisis is threatened if anyone is categorically excluded from getting help,” said Coakley.

Referring to Pope Francis’s homily and Apostolic Benediction, delivered to an empty St. Peter’s square on Friday, Coakley noted the pope’s chosen gospel of the disciples witnessing Christ calm the storm.

“Now is a time of great anxiety and distress. We are less in control than we thought.  This Lent is a time to return ever more to our faith, to trust in the Lord even in the midst of all this trouble. As Pope Francis said, the Lord ‘will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.’”

‘So much of this is out of our control’: Pregnancy amid a pandemic

Sun, 03/29/2020 - 07:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 29, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Sarah Sefranek, a Catholic wife and mother living in Parker, Colorado, is 37 weeks pregnant with her fourth child.

While she normally homeschools her other children even when there’s not a global pandemic on, coronavirus restrictions have changed what normal life looks like for everyone.

“It’s not regular homeschooling” right now, she said. “Regular homeschooling means you go out, you see your friends, you do exciting things.”

Sefranek and her family have been doing their best to stay home and maintain social distancing in order to avoid getting the coronavirus, especially so close to her due date. They’ve stopped going to the library, they’ve stopped playdates and book club meetings. Sefranek told CNA her husband leaves the house only to get groceries or other essentials.

But, like most pregnant women, even if Sefranek remains healthy, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery will likely look very different for her than they would have without pandemic restrictions.

“I know the things that were helpful to me when my (other babies) came, like having a meal train and having my mom come over. Now I can't have playdates for my big kids while I'm recovering. I don't even know where people are going to get the meat to make me meal for a meal train. So it is strange,” Sefranek said.

Things “suddenly felt a lot more serious” for Sefranek when her doctor offered to do a telemedicine visit for her 38 week appointment instead of an in-clinic appointment. Normally, at this point in pregnancy, Sefranek would be going in for weekly visits until she delivers. But her doctor told her this time, unless she had serious concerns that something was wrong, it would be best to do the visit over a video call.

Looming large among Sefranek’s worries - what happens if she, or her baby, get coronavirus?

“Recommendations are changing all the time, but right now, if I tested positive, they would want to separate the baby from me at birth, which is pretty scary to me,” she said.

There is also a shortage of coronavirus tests in most places in the U.S. Sefranek wonders what would happen if she showed up to the hospital to deliver, and had a cough or a fever, but could not get tested.

“I feel a little bit like I have to hide in even more of a bubble, because I feel I can't catch anything at all. In a way, I feel I'm more scared of being separated from baby than I am of the virus itself,” Sefranek added, which she admits is “maybe not rational.”

 

A dearth of research on coronavirus and pregnancy

 

Information about pregnancy and coronavirus is scant, as the disease is so new and there has not been enough time for extensive research. 

While pregnant women are not considered immunocompromised in the classic sense of the term, their immune systems are considered “suppressed,” meaning they are more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or coronavirus, and may suffer more severe symptoms and complications than they normally would have, were they not pregnant.

“With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses,” the CDC website states.

The CDC notes that it is still unknown whether mothers infected with coronavirus could pass the illness on to their babies, though it says that so far, no infants born to COVID-19 positive mothers have also tested positive for COVID-19. The virus has also thus far not been found in the amniotic fluid or breast milk of mothers who have tested positive.

There have been a small number of reported complications in pregnancy or delivery in mothers who are COVID-19 positive, though the CDC notes that it is unclear if the complications were related to the infection. Women of childbearing age are also in age categories where coronavirus death rates are not as high as older populations.

Jennifer Murphy is the medical director of the Pregnancy Support Center of Carroll County in Maryland. The pregnancy center helps women in crisis pregnancies or with low incomes with material assistance such as diapers, with medical care such as pregnancy tests or sonograms, and by connecting them with additional resources.

Murphy told CNA that so far, her center has not had any of their clients test positive for coronavirus. As a precaution, they have moved most of their operations to the parking lot, and only bring women into their facility if necessary, and once they have been screened for symptoms.

“You always worry that pregnant women are more susceptible to things than other people. So far, the data doesn't seem to show that,” Murphy said.

“I'm not making light of it, but there's so much in the news that's horrifying, but most people will actually come through this just fine, and there's not so far any evidence that pregnant women do worse than anyone else,” she added.

Murphy said she has been telling her clients to remain calm, to practice good hygiene and quarantine protocols, and to be in close contact with their doctors if they do suspect symptoms of coronavirus.

“It's a lot of quelling of anxiety, a lot of folks who are just very afraid, and understandably,” Murphy said. “But anxiety isn't good for you when you're pregnant either, so we're trying to emphasize positive things they can do quarantine-wise, and keeping their environment clean and calm as much as possible, and trying not to think too far ahead about bad things.”

“Pregnancy is a time of anxiety anyway, especially first time moms,” Murphy added. “And it's hard not to have this add a great burden, but just to try to stay focused on a few good things and taking care of your baby. So just (focus on) keeping yourself safe, and probably not even overexposing yourself to media, because I think that just makes it worse,” she said.

“Be informed, but don't make yourself crazy.”

 

Disrupting birth plans

 

The lack of information on pregnancy and coronavirus worries Anna H., a Catholic in Long Island, New York, where the pandemic has hit the hardest in the U.S. thus far. She is 22 weeks pregnant with her first child.

“It's just the unknown,” Anna told CNA.

“There isn't enough research on how it affects pregnant women, how it affects babies. I know there's a lot of research that says that it probably isn't too bad for the babies, but I also have asthma,” she adds, an underlying condition that could worsen the effects of coronavirus, a respiratory disease.

Anna, who teaches high school theology, said her school has been closed since March 12. She’s been teaching online, which is easier on her body, and she’s less worried about exposure now that she and her husband are working from home. She said she’s also grateful for the stay-at-home order in her state, and hopes the aggressive approach will slow the spread of the virus and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and doctors.

Already in New York, some overwhelmed hospitals are not allowing pregnant women to bring any support people with them - no spouses, parents, children, friends or doulas.

“I'm pretty nervous about that,” Anna said. She and her husband joke that they would schedule a home birth with a midwife if it came down to him not being allowed at the birth - and Anna knows a Catholic mom in the area who has delivered all five of her children at home.

But she’s hoping it doesn’t have to come to that, and that things will calm down by the time she needs to deliver.

“Right now I feel like we don't need to worry about that too much. We can put it in God's hands for now,” she said.

Baylyn Wagner, who is 28 weeks along and due on June 19th with her third child, has already decided to change her labor and delivery plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Initially I thought, ‘Oh, it'll for sure be over and done with by June and we won't have to worry about delivery,’” Wagner, who lives in Minnesota, told CNA.

But then she started hearing reports of hospitals restricting support people for pregnant women to one person, or to no one. Her own hospital emailed her and told her that they would only allow one support person, even though Wagner had been planning on her husband, doula, and birth photographer attending her labor and delivery.

Wagner said her doctor tried to reassure her. Wagner had a late loss in her second pregnancy - she miscarried a little after 21 weeks - and in light of that, Wagner’s doctor said she would do her best to advocate for the hospital to make an exception for Wagner’s husband to be present for the birth of their third child.

“But she said if it gets to ‘full crisis mode,’ those were her words, they absolutely could limit it down because their priority is keeping their staff healthy. I know hospitals are doing what they can, but for us...with the anxiety we already had with this pregnancy, we chose to look into midwives to do a home birth option,” she said.

After talking with four different midwives, Wagner said it sounded to her like a lot of couples were making the same changes.

Wagner said they’ve also changed their contract with their birth photographer to a more tentative plan, that accounts for whether the photographer is sick and cannot come to the birth.

Wagner lives with her grandparents, so she said they will watch her son while she gives birth at home. Her grandfather is also a Catholic deacon, and she said she is considering asking him to baptize her child soon after the birth, in the event that churches are not yet open.

“There's really no way to know right now what things will look like by June, if things will be better, if we'll able to have Masses again by that point, or what the world will look like,” Wagner said.

 

Keeping calm, trusting God


Claire Le, who lives in Littleton, Colorado, is expecting her first child with her husband Huy. The Le’s said they stocked up on food as they saw the pandemic worsening, and since then they have been staying home as much as possible to avoid any exposure.

“My main fear is if I contract the virus, then I would have been in ICU and then my husband can't be there during the delivery,” Claire said. “And then also, if hospital protocols get even worse, there may even be a chance he may not be there. So, right now we're trying to control what we can, and trying to both stay healthy.”

“I think we just constantly remind ourselves that this is not in our control,” Huy added. “I mean, we can pray for a good May 1st due date where everything's just back to normal, but things like that are not really under our control.”

Thinking about postpartum recovery is what makes Claire a little sad, she said. Her family is out in California, and they were planning to come see the baby and help out after the birth. But now, they’re not sure when a visit will be possible.

Huy and Claire are also wondering about the baptism, and if it will be performed privately.

Claire said she has found peace in prayer and offering up the situation to God.

“I know God's been with us from the very beginning, from conception, and he's been with us the whole way. I know we'll be okay,” she said.

Huy said staying connected with loved ones, watching daily Mass on YouTube, and praying together as a couple has been helping them stay calm at this time.

“We went to a chapel which was relatively quiet, that gives us a little bit of a release where we can just go there and with God for a while,” he said.

Anna said she has been trying to balance her worries and anxieties by also counting her blessings.

“I always try to think about what blessings I have at this time: more time with my husband, more time prepare for the baby, more time to rest,” she said. “The fact that I'm not on my feet all the time is really helpful...teaching is physically demanding because you're on your feet so much.”

The time at home has also afforded her more time to pray, Anna said.

“I did a novena to St. Gerard (a patron saint of pregnancy) when we first got pregnant and I just started the other day to do another novena to St. Gerard,” Anna said. “(I’m also) able to live stream daily mass, where normally when I'm a teaching I don't have time for that.”

Wagner said she and her husband have been trying to say a daily rosary in order to stay calm at this time.

“(We’re) especially meditating on what Mary and Joseph went through and their pregnancy and their birth with Jesus, and uniting our own uncertainty to what they experienced,” she said.

She’s also been using Hallow, a Catholic prayer app that leads users through guided meditations similar to the popular Calm app, but based on Scripture readings.

“They've had a whole series of little guided meditations on different ways to cope with isolation and stress through all of this, so that's been a nice tool and prayer as well,” she said.

Sefranek said the pandemic has made her identify more closely with women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, and helped her realize how much of life is out of her control.

“I planned this pregnancy nine months ago,” Sefranek said. “I didn't plan to have a baby in the middle of pandemic...maybe every pregnancy, every birth, in a way, is unplanned.”

“I don't want to diminish the pain and the difficulty of a real crisis pregnancy,” she added. “It just is reminding me of that…(because) so much of this outside of my control.”

Sefranek said she’s been saying a lot of “midnight rosaries” when she wakes up from pregnancy discomfort, and that’s been helping her to feel at peace, though she deeply misses the sacraments. She said she’s also been connecting with loved ones virtually to help ease her anxieties.

She is also paying attention to the small blessings in her life. For example, she said, the other day she found out that she had two extra boxes of sticks for her fertility monitor that she will need to track her cycle once the baby is born. She had previously been worried - panic buying has caused the sticks to be scarce online.

“(It was) a small thing, but maybe God had a plan for me and he used my absent mindedness to give me this small thing right now that could increase my peace,” she said.

“So that was a nice reminder that God can work through the things that feel really frustrating in the moment.”

 

HHS clarifies protections for coronavirus patients with disabilities

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 17:10

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reminding federally-funded health providers that they cannot ration health care based upon the disabilities of patients.

“In this time of emergency, the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently must be guided by the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and compassion that animate our civil rights laws,” the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) stated in a bulletin on Saturday.

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities,” the bulletin states.

The document outlines existing civil rights protections in health care for people with disabilities, in particular Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These are both in force, HHS said, and they prohibit discrimination on basis of disability in federally-funded health programs.

On a conference call with reporters on Saturday, the HHS OCR director Roger Severino said that “we’re doing everything we can to inform health care providers of their obligations under the law,” and that the bulletin “is the first step.”

He said that his office had received “several” complaints about state crisis standards of care being developed in response to the new coronavirus pandemic. The office was in the process of starting investigations into those complaints he said.

As there are now more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S., states are considering “triage” plans in the event that their hospitals and health care systems are overwhelmed by an expected surge in new coronavirus patients.

Such plans would detail how critical care, such as ICU beds and ventilators, would be rationed in such a crisis. However, advocates are sounding the alarm that the plans could be used to deny care to people with disabilities and the elderly, based upon their supposed likelihood of survival.

Severino on Saturday clarified the existing civil rights protections for people with disabilities, and said that they were grounded in fundamental American principles.

“Part of the greatness of America is not simply our military might or our economic power, but the beauty of our character in how we treat the most vulnerable among us,” he said.

“We are not a society that is guided by some sort of ruthless utilitarianism, but one guided by compassion, justice, and fairness. And those principles are embodied in our civil rights laws.”

Last week, disability rights groups in Washington state said they had filed a complaint with the HHS OCR over a triage plan being developed by state health officials that they said posed a danger to persons with disabilities.

“While discussions about the details of the plan may be evolving, it is clear that it will discriminatorily disadvantage people with disabilities,” the groups’ letter stated, citing guidance by the state’s health department that reportedly “recommends that triage teams consider transferring hospital patients with ‘loss of reserves in energy, physical ability, cognition and general health’ to outpatient or palliative care.”

This week, 30 members of Congress wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr, requesting that they issue guidance to states on the civil rights protections.

Severino said on Saturday that he was “concerned” that state crisis standards of care might be based on “value judgements” and “stereotypes” about the worth of someone’s life.

“This is about fairness, equality, inclusion, and justice under our civil rights laws,” he said.

Religious health providers objecting to state standards of care could also be protected under federal law, Severino said.

For example, a religious hospital might wish to preserve the life of a patient with down syndrome, contrary to state standards of crisis care mandating that ventilators be given to patients with the supposed highest likelihood of survival.

“That could be an issue that could arise that is included in these questions of resource allocation,” Severino said.

EWTN’s Warsaw: Network can be a ‘lifeline’ during pandemic

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 09:00

CNA Staff, Mar 28, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The chairman and CEO of EWTN said Thursday that the media network will remain open and on the air during the coronavirus pandemic. In a March 26 interview, EWTN’s Michael Warsaw said that the organization’s ministry is more urgent than ever.

“I think there's so much anxiety. There's so much fear. People feel untethered. And I think one of the things that EWTN provides is a place that people can turn to ground themselves, to connect themselves with the faith and really to find reassurance that God is there for them in this really difficult time,” Warsaw said on EWTN News Nightly.

Warsaw stressed that although the global pandemic has affected the lives of everyone, including EWTN employees, policies are in place to ensure that news and catechetical output will continue. He said that as the virus spread from the Asia-Pacific region, through Europe - and especially Italy - before arriving in the United States, the global media group adapted to the changing circumstances. 

“Most of our employees are working remotely. And we have essential staff who are still on duty in their posts in Irondale and here in Washington and elsewhere,” Warsaw said. “And we're certainly prepared if we need to do more restrictions.” 

“The bottom line of that is that we will continue to air our channels. We will continue to produce programming, particularly the Mass, news, other key programming that will continue, and we're prepared for that to continue.”

Warsaw stressed that, in addition to its news outlets, EWTN’s pastoral and catechetical content is an important resource for Catholics, and that with shelter-in-place orders active in many parts of the United States and the world, it is vital to serve as a link with the Church and with the wider communion of the faithful.

In response to the coronavirus, all Latin rite dioceses in the United States have suspended public Masses, with many bishops ordering the total closure of church buildings. Bishops have encouraged Catholic to watch livestreamed liturgies, and to use the media of television, radio, and the internet to foster prayer and spiritual communion. In these circumstances, Warsaw said, many Catholics have told him that EWTN’s output serves as a “lifeline.” 

“One of the things that I think we've heard so much about is, with all of the churches closed and the inability of people not just in this country, but globally, really to be able to attend Mass on Sunday, people tying into our Mass and participating remotely in our Mass, has been really a lifeline for many people to the practice of their faith, the ability to watch the Mass on EWTN, both on our linear channels, but also online on EWTN.com,” Warsaw said.

“From its founding, Mother Angelica always wanted EWTN and its audience to be a family. And I think in this time and in this moment we are very much a family for one another,” he added.

During the interview, Warsaw encouraged “three things that our EWTN family can do” together. 

“One is, certainly, pray. We need to pray for one another. Pray for the network, as we pray for them. I think, secondly, share what they have in the gift of EWTN. This is a great opportunity to evangelize. If people are benefiting by EWTN, they need to share that with their friends, share that with their family. That's a very effective way of helping others and evangelizing in this moment.” 

Third, Warsaw said, “keep us between your gas and electric bill, as Mother Angelica would always say.” 

“It's very important that we have the resources to be able to continue our mission and to continue to execute our mission to a much, much larger audience of people that are turning to us at this time.” 

“Financial support is critical for us in this moment as well,” Warsaw said. “And we're always obviously very grateful to our EWTN family for that.”

“So many people have commented how much that has meant to them and how meaningful that has been to them -- to be able to have that opportunity to pray and to know that when they are praying, when they are participating in and watching, that they're doing so with people all over the world who are part of that EWTN family.” 

Warsaw said that, at a time when so many are looking for meaning and answers in the face of a pandemic, EWTN is “really trying to be a resource for people, and to give people hope, and to remind people that in this moment, what's most important is that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ.”

“They're looking for hope and they're looking for answers. And I think them coming to EWTN is a beautiful thing and a way for them to find those answers and to find that hope that they're looking for,” he said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

'A surge of hope': The fight to keep crisis pregnancy centers open

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 08:00

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Facing limited hours and a shortage of supplies, crisis pregnancy centers are working and praying with pregnant women, helping any way they can during the pandemic.

“I think we need to storm the heavens for all the women in crisis pregnancies, because they are in crisis, which means there’s a crisis at home. And if they’re sheltered-in-place, that means they’re in a situation of crisis, and they can’t get out,” said Mathilde Mellon, founder and CEO of Mulier Care – Pregnancy Help Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread quickly in the U.S., with more than 62,000 confirmed cases on Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Businesses and non-profits across the U.S. are closing down or limiting their hours for public safety, and to comply with state and local health mandates.

This means that crisis pregnancy centers are having to operate short-staffed, at a distance, or even close their doors completely in a time when they are concerned abortion rates will go up.

Pregnancy centers are now developing new care plans, providing counseling over the phone or delivering needed supplies such as diapers and baby formula to the women who need them.

The Sisters of Life run their “Visitation Mission” in New York City for expectant mothers, and in the past weeks have been ensuring that women have the diapers, food, cribs, and strollers that they need, said Sister Virginia Joy who directs the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.

A volunteer network has been sending food and gift cards for mothers and families, and women are being helped in their moves to maternity homes in different parts of the country.

Front Royal Pregnancy Center in rural Virginia, 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., is still operating but on an “essentials-only” policy. If women call ahead for material assistance, clinic helpers can bring baby formula or diapers to their door, and the clinic is still accepting phone calls for consultations on a case-by-case basis.

“Last week, we had a huge drop in the number of people who came to us for services,” clinic worker Olivia McDonough told CNA on Monday. The clinic normally serves 25 clients in a week, she said, but had just five clients last week.

In California, the state’s governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order on March 19. Marie Leatherby, executive director of the Sacramento Life Center, said it is “challenging” for the center to maintain its day-to-day operations with the mandate.

“Right now we’re running just kind of with the skeleton staff, mostly doing phone consultations, nurse consultations,” she said, as well as “drive-by baby care packages with diapers or baby baskets for newborns.”

Other centers have had to close their doors, such as Nashville’s Pregnancy Help Center.

“It’s devastating, because Planned Parenthood is still open, and our mayor won’t shut them down, and they’ve been deemed an essential service,” Mathilde Mellon told CNA. “Apparently, their abortions are a critical medical procedure, and it’s horrible.”

Mellon also runs a mobile medical unit, but had to halt its operations as well out of concern for the safety of her staff.

Abortion providers elsewhere have either been allowed to remain open or have done so in defiance of state orders.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York told Buzzfeed News last week that their doors were open.

In Ohio, Planned Parenthood affiliates continued to perform surgical abortions despite the state’s health department curtailing all non-essential or elective surgeries by the evening of March 18. The state’s attorney general wrote Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio’s Cincinnati surgery center on March 20, ordering them to “immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical elective abortions.”

The president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said that Planned Parenthood is “continuing to put abortion and profits before health and safety.”

On Tuesday, Dannenfelser and a coalition of pro-life leaders wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, asking him to urge abortion providers to cease operations and donate their personal protective equipment to hospitals for staff to treat the new coronavirus.

Other states, such as Washington and Massachusetts, have allowed abortions to continue despite canceling other elective surgeries. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has applied the governor’s order to curtail most abortions in the state.

In New York, pro-life advocates frantically called the Respect Life Office saying that abortion clinics in the Bronx were packed with staff and clients, Sister Virginia Joy told CNA— a clear safety hazard in the very epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.

Tennessee Right to Life has been petitioning the state’s governor Bill Lee to shut down abortion facilities but “have not heard back” from the office, Mellon said. Nashville’s mayor John Cooper has been sympathetic to the abortion industry, she said, and “Planned Parenthood has got a stronghold here in Davidson County.”

And the fact that abortion providers remain open in a climate of fear and economic uncertainty is almost certainly bad news, pro-life advocates warn.

“We’re definitely worried about that,” McDonough told CNA. “I think that the economics is always the deciding factor with women considering abortion.”

“There’s just a lot of anxiety and fear, right now,” Leatherby said, noting that the phone calls and consultations at the Sacramento Life Center “just seem to be the abortion-minded in the past two weeks.”

On Monday the center had several callers hang up in the middle of the conversation. “We couldn’t seem to get women to want to talk to us. They just want that abortion, and that’s it, and there’s nothing we can do for them,” Leatherby said. “

In another case, a woman was told by her family that she was being selfish in bringing a child into the world at this time, Sister Virginia Joy said. In this case, pro-lifers need to be “getting them to be able to answer what they most want,” she said. “I think when you get to the bottom of a woman’s heart, what she most desires is to give life to her child.”

Tennessee’s abortion regulations—an “informed consent” provision and a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before having abortions—are still in effect, Mellon said, perhaps helping to reduce the number of abortions for women who are traveling to facilities in the state.

With the new coronavirus has come mass restrictions on businesses, and layoffs of workers have begun. U.S. consumers also began “panic buying” non-perishable items including baby diapers, which affected the supplies of local pregnancy care centers.

Leatherby noted that “the stores are all out of diapers and wipes,” and that several women had called the center looking for supplies as their baby showers had been canceled.

In Front Royal, women who had lost their jobs did request formula or diapers last week, McDonough said, adding that “we’re expecting to see a lot more clients like that over the next few weeks.”

Centers are also concerned about donations coming in. “Our fundraisers are all going by the wayside,” Leatherby said, noting that “anybody that could spare a gift would be really great, because I think that’s going to be a big worry coming up.”

“God is good. He’s taken care of the Life Center for 48 years now,” she said.

Prayers, however, are most needed, pro-life leaders say.

“It’s a supernatural grace that these women have to receive to choose life. It really has to be a work of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Virginia Joy said.

Last week, five women reportedly turned around before entering area abortion clinics even though no sidewalk counselors were present, she said.

They had seen people praying outside the clinic, and “that, kind of gave them a surge of hope,” she said. “They saw it as a sign to reach out for a different sort of help, not abortion, but to actually be able to choose life.”

The present crisis also presents a critical “opportunity” for society to rediscover the human dignity of the most vulnerable, she said.

“This could potentially be a huge moment of conversion, this desire to preserve life in the face of this virus,” she said. “May it be an opportunity to preserve and uphold the dignity of every human life at all stages.”

Brooklyn pastor is first Catholic priest in US known to die of coronavirus

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 00:21

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 10:21 pm (CNA).- A Brooklyn parish announced the death of its pastor, Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, who died of coronavirus at approximately 6 p.m Friday evening. The priest is the first in the U.S. known to have died from the virus.

Journalist Rocco Palmo was the first to report that the priest died from the virus, which is the cause of a global pandemic.

On March 24, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that a priest at St. Brigid’s Parish in Brooklyn, where Ortiz was pastor, had contracted the coronavirus. On the same day, the parish posted on its Facebook page that Ortiz was “under observation in the hospital” and requested prayers “for his speedy recovery.”

On March 27, the parish posted on its Facebook page again:

“With a very sad heart, we inform you of the death of our dearest pastor, Father Jorge Ortiz Garay. We ask for your prayers for his eternal rest. We also ask you in a special way to pray for his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews who have lost a very special and loved person by his family, our community and many people around the country.”

Ortiz was born in Mexico City, and, according to his parish website, “At age 18, he joined the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way. It was through the involvement with this group that he felt his calling for the priesthood.”

He was ordained a priest in 2004 in Newark, and served parishes, along with missions of the Neocatechumenal Way, in New Jersey and New York City. He became pastor at St. Brigid's in 2019.

In addition to his parish and missionary work, Ortiz led Hispanic ministry initiatives in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He is remembered by friends as a fervent evangelist.

The first cleric in the U.S. known to have died of the virus was Deacon John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, who died March 20. Worldwide, more than 60 priests and at least one bishop have died of the virus.

More than 100,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the US, and more than 1,700 have died. In the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic of the virus in the US, more than 600 people have died.

 

Mass. bishop 'suspends' sacramental anointing while rescinding controversial policy

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 22:51

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- After rescinding a controversial policy concerning sacramental anointing of the sick, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts told priests Friday afternoon that anointing of the sick is “suspended” within the Diocese of Springfield.

Earlier this week, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil,” Rozanski told priests in an email March 25.

On Friday afternoon the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy.

In fact, Rozanski emailed Springfield priests Friday afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.” 

The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.
 
“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds.

The catechism explains that “as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."

According to the Church’s canon law, parish pastors “have the duty and right of administering the anointing of the sick for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral office. For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the priest mentioned above.”

Canon law specifies certain circumstances under which the sacrament is expected to be administered, among them are cases “of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead,” and when a sick person has “at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.”

In his Friday email to priests, Rozanski noted that the diocesan Chrism Mass would be postponed, and told priests that “Should you run out of either the Oil of the Sick or Oil of the Catechumen, you may bless these oils to replenish your stock.”

The Church’s canon law says that bishops and their equivalents in law can bless the oil to be used in anointing of the sick, while other priests may do so “in a case of necessity, but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.”

The Diocese of Springfield did not respond to questions regarding the intended length of Rozanski’s temporary suspension.

The bishop's Friday announcement came as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee issued a memo to U.S. bishops, informing them that “with regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.” That memo seemed to refute the liceity of Rozanski’s March 25 policy.

USCCB liturgy chair: No cell phones for confession, no delegation of sacramental anointing

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 19:23

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- The chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on liturgy wrote to U.S. bishops Friday, to clarify issues related to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick which have arisen during the Church’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford wrote in a March 27 memo to U.S. bishops.

“In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones,” Blair added.

“With regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.

Blair explained to bishops that questions about those matters had been referred to the papal representative in the U.S., apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The nuncio consulted with Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, who returned with the answers supplied by Blair to the bishops, according to the memo.

The memo came as bishops have worked to devise policies for sacramental ministry that respond to the tightening social restrictions imposed by civil authorities to slow the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. bishops have suspended the public celebration of Mass, and restricted the celebration of other sacraments.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City last week suggested that priests might use cell phones to amplify conversations during sacramental confession, if social distancing policies required a distance or barrier between priest and penitent. The archdiocese told priests that cell phones would be permissible for confession if priest and penitent were within eyesight. The archdiocese declined to respond to questions from CNA about this policy.

Priests in other parts of the country have also indicated their use of cell phones during sacramental confession undertaken with social distancing.

On Friday, the Diocese of Springfield, Mass, rescinded a policy that would have permitted nurses to physically anoint with oil Catholics seeking the anointing of the sick, while priests recited the requisite prayers, if the context of a hospital setting prohibited immediate contact between the priest and the ill Catholic.

In his memo, Blair suggested to bishops that “when it is not possible to administer the Sacrament[ of anointing], then what the Apostolic Penitentiary said about the Sacrament of Penance might be applied analogously to the Sacrament of the Sick: ‘Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones.’”

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 1,500 have died, as of Friday.

 

House passes coronavirus relief bill, Trump signs into law

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House on Friday passed a $2 trillion relief package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the third major piece of legislation advanced by Congress in response to the outbreak.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the House March 27, with the support of a majority of members. It was then presented to President Donald Trump, who signed the bill on Friday afternoon.

After the bill passed the House by voice vote, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) requested a recorded vote, which received insufficient support. He then objected, arguing that a quorum of members were not present to do business. After a count was made, a quorum was determined to be present in the chamber, and the bill passed.

House leadership had initially considered the use of unanimous consent, or passing the bill with no voiced opposition.

The bill authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Among its health provisions, the bill allows for health savings accounts (HSA) to pay for over-the-counter medications, contains a “Good Samaritan” provision so that volunteer health workers do not face liability, and provides $100 billion for hospitals and health care providers.

The Senate passed the bill late on Wednesday night by a vote of 96-0.

In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Massie said that “[t]he Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” and that if “millions” of Americans still had to go to work during a pandemic, “[i]s it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”

Also criticizing the bill was Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who called it a “corporate bailout” with few strings attached and that Congress was not voting on it with “eyes wide open.”

Massie also said the bill was full of “pork” and allowed the Federal Reserve too much authority to print money and distribute it, and that “[t]his stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing.”

The bill provides $500 billion for a corporate liquidity program to be administered by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, which critics have called a corporate “slush fund.”

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