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These parishes took PPP loans. Here's why

Sat, 07/18/2020 - 06:00

Denver Newsroom, Jul 18, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- When the coronavirus pandemic necessitated widespread shutdowns, Catholic parishes were among those to feel the financial pinch almost immediately. No people in the pews meant no money in the collection basket. Mass after Mass, weekend after weekend, that loss added up.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado is one such parish whose already-precarious financial situation was thrown in jeopardy by the pandemic.

To keep paying his small staff, Fr. Joseph Lajoie applied for a Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan through the Small Business Administration. The loans were meant to support the essential needs of small businesses and nonprofits affected by coronavirus shutdowns.

An article from the Associated Press published last week criticized the “U.S. Roman Catholic Church” for reportedly accepting between $1.4-$3.5 billion work of PPP loans. In fact, there is no single entity that is the U.S. Roman Catholic Church. Rather, each parish operates as its own small nonprofit, and weekly donations help to employ the priest, along with the employees who maintain the parish and its ministries.

Sacred Heart Parish has three part-time employees, and a three-ring binder in which it keeps track of its 500-some registered families.

“In some ways our parish is very archaic,” Fr. Jajoie told CNA.

He dreams of someday hiring a maintenance manager.

“I have a 100 year-old church without a maintenance guy,” he noted.

Though it is located in Denver’s gentrifying, “hipster” neighborhood of RiNo (River North), Lajoie said Sacred Heart is a small, poor parish with no online donation portal and has been “limping along” through the pandemic.

When Lajoie applied for the loans, the priest had no grand visions for what he would do with the money.

The needs of the parish are pretty “bare bones,” and Lajoie said he used the loan to keep paying the salaries of his employees - a secretary, a bookkeeper, and a director of religious education - whose incomes help support their families. 

Masses are back at the parish now, but at a lower capacity to accommodate social distancing.

“Right now, because of the reduced Mass schedule that we have, we're just under about 50% of our normal parish income. So we're limping along, but it could be a lot worse,” Lajoie said.

Fr. Lajoie said by applying for the federal loan, he was not trying to pad his bottom line. He was simply trying to keep his employees, well, employed.

“I wanted to do my best to support these employees, and I would have done it even without the loan, even to the detriment of the parish, because I feel at least we showed them some gratitude” for their work, Lajoie said. “Because being here as a pastor for a year and dealing with the shutdown, I don’t know what I would do (without them). They're definitely quite essential to the needs of this parish.”

Lajoie said he hoped people understand that parishes are small businesses with employees who pay taxes and need to keep their jobs, and that they are not part of huge corporations.

“Parishes have employees, who are working, who need jobs. As far as my parish is concerned, we are using this money to help some people who are part of families. We are using this money the same way that a for-profit business is using money, which also helps their bottom line. As far as I'm concerned, what we're's to benefit working people, who themselves pay taxes,” he said. “We’re using this to help people the same way that a for-profit helps their employees,” he said.

“I think that more parishes can be trusted to actually care about people in all of this, than some companies out there who are willing to...cut jobs, because they're not making a profit anymore. I mean, the church will still exist if they're not making a profit. If the church isn't making a profit at a certain point, the buildings themselves will have to close because they can’t keep the lights on.”

The parish of Christ the King in Oklahoma City is more than three times the size of Sacred Heart. The parish has 1,800 families, and a school that educates 520 children. Between full-time and part-time employees, Fr. Rick Stansberry said the parish and school employ 78 people.

When the pandemic shut down Masses at the parish, Stansberry said one of the members of his finance committee encouraged him to apply for the PPP loan so that the parish wouldn’t have to fire anyone.

“Once everything was shut down, our collection dropped pretty quick, since people weren't coming to church,” Stansberry told CNA.
“In our parish, a lot of people are tied into the oil and gas industry, and lots of people were losing jobs. And so all of a sudden they found themselves without jobs, having to feed their families. Some were not able to pay tuition. Obviously they weren't able to tithe to the church,” he said.

“I didn't want to have to lay people off and contribute to the problem. And some of our part-time (employees) are more vulnerable in the sense that they really depended on the jobs that they had to eat. I didn't want to lay people off,” Stansberry said.

The part-time employees “were the ones that were the most grateful that we got the loan.”

The loans granted to parishes as well as other nonprofits and small businesses through the PPP loan could be used for salaries, utilities, rent and other necessities. Stansberry said his parish loan was used “100% for salaries.”

With the recent phased reopenings of Masses, Stansberry said that donations have “kind of stabilized” again, but that the financial situation of the parish and its school is a “moving target” right now, especially with all of the uncertainty surrounding the quickly approaching school year.

The school is working on a 40-page document detailing reopening plans with social distancing and masks and frequent disinfection of the school, which itself “has added thousands of dollars to our janitorial bill.”

But if something changes and reopening becomes impossible, it puts the future of many Catholic schools - and their employees - in jeopardy, Stansberry noted.

“If we can't reopen in person, I think we're going to lose a lot of Catholic schools, because parents are saying, ‘Well, why am I going to pay tuition to do virtual (Catholic) school when I can do the public one for free?’”

Stansberry said his parish also has some important ministries, such as those that feed the homeless, or help needy families with food assistance, that would have been cut had the parish not qualified for the PPP loan.

And the priest said he wanted to keep his employees paid and his ministries operational.

“By having this money to pay salaries, we did not have to cut back on the mobile meals program or helping to provide food for a needy family. That would have all had to have been cut too. The people that I think that are being critical (about parishes receiving loans) don't really know how a church works.”


Virtual conference to address Catholic health care in a time of crisis 

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 20:29

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- In a time of significant social and civil upheaval due to a pandemic, civil unrest over racial inequality, and legal threats to religious freedom, a group of Catholic health care workers are offering a virtual conference on the future of Catholic health care in the United States.

“The COVID pandemic has imposed a heavy burden of suffering throughout the world,” Dr. Steven White of the Catholic Medical Association said in a statement.

“If we embrace this cross with faith and hope in God’s mercy, his grace will enable us to bring physical and spiritual healing and renewal.”

The conference, which is entitled “A Cause for Hope: Catholic Health Care and Religious Freedom in the Face of Crisis,” will be held online on Saturday, July 18 beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern. It is hosted by the Catholic Medical Association and the Christ Medicus Foundation, and will include speakers from both organizations as well as MyCatholicDoctor and the Catholic Benefits Association. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, will also be a featured speaker.

The goal of the conference is to share a vision for the future of Catholic healthcare, including mental and physical health, as well as a plan for the protection of the religious freedom of Catholics practicing and receiving that care.

Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, noted that while the coronavirus pandemic is to be taken seriously, it must not become an opportunity to threaten religious freedom.

The pandemic has shown that “state and local officials in parts of the country are willing to use a serious public health crisis to unlawfully infringe on religious freedom,” Brown said. While most places of worship closed voluntarily in March during the most stringent parts of the coronavirus lockdown, some experienced discriminatory treatment in the reopening phases.

“This is all happening within the backdrop of a serious political push by anti-life and anti-religious freedom forces to use this public health crisis, the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd, and the recent social unrest to advance a culture of death,” Brown said.

“This conference will chart a way forward that will protect the health and dignity of all Americans, robustly defend religious freedom in health care, and unleash a new birth of civil rights in health care and beyond.”

Conference topics will include maintaining spiritual peace and mental health during challenging times; coronavirus therapies, vaccines, and their ethical issues; religious freedom and conscience protections in light of recent Supreme Court decisions; and a Catholic response to racial disparities in health care, among others.

Jordan Buzza with Christ Medicus Foundation said that the conference will be key to understanding the various issues the Catholic Church currently faces in health care, and added that it is a continuation of an ongoing conversation among Catholic healthcare groups in the U.S.

“We think this conference is paramount, because it will help us to come together and understand the breadth of the challenges but also the opportunities for success and growth as we seek to build up Catholic health care and a culture of life,” Buzza said.

Registration for the conference can be found at:

Jackson diocese reaches agreement with prosecutor over handling of fraudulent priest

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 19:01

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Jackson has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors to improve its financial controls, in a case related to one of its priests who allegedly defrauded parishioners.

The priest, Fr. Lenin Vargas, has been indicted “on ten counts of wire fraud based on alleged fraudulent fundraising activities,” according to a July 13 statement from the office of the US Attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi.

Fr. Vargas allegedly collected tens of thousands of dollars from parishioners, which he used for personal expenses.

The attorney's office added that it had “entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement” with the Jackson diocese “based on the alleged inaction of the Diocese, which allegedly contributed to parishioners continuing to donate money to Vargas.”

The DPA will be in effect for 12 months, and upon its successful completion, all charges against the diocese will be dismissed. The prosecutor's office reminded the public that a DPA and indictment “are not evidence of guilt and that all individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The DPA “includes a number of remedial measures designed to help ensure that there are no future violations such as those alleged in the Affidavit,” the US attorney's office stated.

The diocese specified July 15 that among the changes it is to undertake and maintain under the DPA are the “return of donations related to alleged fraudulent activities against parishioners”, making staff changes in the accounting and chancery offices, improvements in accounting for donations and priest spending, the formation of a new review board focusing on ethical conduct, establishing a fraud prevention hotline, revising collection policies, and initiating a penal process for Fr. Vargas.

The diocese added that it had already undertaken the enumerated changes during the investigation related to Fr. Vargas, excepting the penal process, which it said “will begin now.”

The prosecutor's office also noted that the diocese “has reimbursed identified victims of the alleged fraudulent scheme.”

Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson said July 15 that “there are still steps to be taken and certainly more changes ahead. As part of an agreed upon resolution of the federal investigation, the Diocese will welcome periodic review and oversight of its financial and management practices and protocols. As a result of the many steps we have already taken to tighten our internal controls, we are very comfortable with this resolution.”

He expressed “deep regret for all who have been hurt by Lenin Vargas’s actions” and added, “we still invite anyone to come forward with claims, and we will work to seek a just resolution with them.”

Fr. Vargas returned to his home country of Mexico while he was being investigated. The Jackson diocese has said he was barred from public ministry in November 2018, and by November 2019 it said he had been “stripped of his priestly facilities and authorities in the Catholic Church in Mexico were notified of his standing.”

Fr. Vargas was pastor of St. Joseph parish in Starkville, and its mission in Macon, until November 2018. The parish, as well as the chancery, were raided by federal agents that month following questions about Fr. Vargas' financial activities.

According to the indictment of the priest, he told parishioners he had cancer, when he in fact had been diagnosed with HIV around September 2014. He solicited donations, saying they were to cover cancer treatments and to help build an orphanage and chapel in his home country of Mexico. His alleged scheme to defraud continued from about January 2015 through September 2018.

The indictment says that the money collected by Fr. Vargas was sent to Mexico to enrich himself and Sergio Picon, with whom he had a close personal relationship, as well as business ventures.

In April 2015, Fr. Vargas went to the Toronto-based Southdawn Institute, which treats priests and religious with addiction or mental health problems. He told parishioners it was for cancer treatment.

In a November 2018 statement, the Jackson diocese said that Bishop Kopacz ordered an internal accounting audit of the finances at St. Joseph, and that afterward the diocese placed constraints on Fr. Vargas’ spending. The diocese added that it had demanded that Fr. Vargas stop soliciting charitable donations and that he do no more charitable fundraising without informing it.

A year later, in November 2019, the diocese said that “neither Bishop Joseph Kopacz, nor any Diocesan Official, committed, condoned or covered up fraudulent activity,” and that “no Diocese official had any knowledge that Father Vargas was asking individuals for money until … November 2018.”

It also said that the audit of St. Joseph parish was ordered in late 2017.

While facts about the priest’s health are at issue, the diocese has said the federal privacy law HIPPA “prohibits our discussion of Father Vargas’ medical condition.” The diocese provides medical insurance for its priests, and has said that decisions about the discussion of the priest’s medical condition were made “on the advice of its health insurance experts and legal counsel.”

Prominent Muslim leader says global effort needed to promote ‘compassionate Islam’

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 18:42

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 04:42 pm (CNA).- The leader of the largest independent Muslim organization in the world says that a resurgence of fundamentalist Islam threatens not only non-Muslim minorities, but feeds a cycle of retaliatory violence against Muslims.

Sheikh Yahya Cholil Staquf warned of a “political weaponization of fundamentalist Islam,” in an essay published in The Public Discourse on July 11. He said that religious minorities around the world “from sub-Saharan Africa to South and Southeast Asia” are discriminated against and attacked for their beliefs.

At issue, he said, is “a supremacist, ultraconservative interpretation of Islam” pushed even by U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

This resurgence of theocracies and sectarian violence around the world, he said, most notably manifested by the rise of the terror group ISIS in 2014, is actually the historical norm.

ISIS’ efforts to establish a caliphate based on an ultraconservative seventh-century interpretation of Islam “is not a historical aberration in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Rather, it is the historical norm,” as the Middle East up until the end of the Ottoman Empire “has been dominated by caliphs and/or those who ruled in their name, and governed according to the provisions of classical Islamic law.”

At the heart of the matter, he wrote, is the question of whether Muslims will choose to “remain silent and ignore the suffering of others,” or rather “pursue the truth and obey the dictates of conscience, whatever the consequences may be?”

Staquf is the general secretary of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim organization with more than 90 million followers. He has also co-founded a global movement promoting a “humanitarian Islam” that shuns the ideas of a caliphate, Sharia law, and “kafir,” or infidels.

These efforts need to become a global pursuit to truly bear fruit, Staquf wrote on July 11.

Widespread discrimination and violence against non-Muslim minorities simply feed a “cycle of retaliatory bloodshed,” he warned, citing attacks on Muslims at Christchurch, New Zealand, and attempts to displace or subdue whole groups of Muslims such as Xinjiang, China, or the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.

In 2019, the NU published fiqh rulings - or interpretations of Islamic law - from nearly 20,000 Muslim scholars, and Staquf presented the recommendations to Pope Francis when he met with him at the Vatican.

Among the recommendations were abolishing the legal category of “infidel” in Islamic law, pushing for equal treatment under the law for Christians and other religious minorities, and asking Muslims to be law-abiding citizens who work for peace. The document also affirmed the nation-state over a Muslim caliphate.

Earlier in 2019, Pope Francis had signed a document on religious pluralism together with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, the declaration on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

Staquf told CNA that he was “thrilled and excited” at the signing, which he said promoted the “compassionate Islam” that he has been advocating for.

“We cannot just pretend that there are no problems in Islamic views. There are problems there. You need to acknowledge that so that we can work for the solution. If you do not acknowledge the problem, you cannot resolve it,” Staquf told CNA.

“My hope is that these documents will be examined seriously by the Vatican so that the Vatican can make decisions to engage with us and work together with this,” Staquf said.


What Ted McCarrick's 'social networks' could teach the Church

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 16:15

Denver Newsroom, Jul 17, 2020 / 02:15 pm (CNA).-  

There are social networks, and then there are social networks. The term is usually used these days to refer to apps and sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other places where online connection takes place.

But in a more technical sense, a social network is the structure formed by the complex web of ties between groups and individuals — the connections that link us. Think about the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” and you’re thinking about social network theory.

The bishops of the Catholic Church form that kind of social network. And mapping that network can provide some insight into how the Church functions, and how abusers might function within Church networks.

Two experts have used the science of social network mapping approach to consider how influential sexual abusers like ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick went unchecked in the Church, and how both problematic responses to sexual abuse by clergy—or good practices to reform the Church—might propagate through the bishops’ links with each other.

Social network analysis has been applied to understand the spread of schools of medieval philosophy, organized crime, contagious disease, the academic job market, appointments to boards of directors, and collaboration among music composers. The approach could give insight into the leadership of the Catholic Church, according to Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University London.

“Basically it allows us to map and see in a far more structured way the kind of anecdotal, ‘folk wisdom’ about the dynamics of the Church,” Bullivant told CNA.

In the wake of McCarrick’s exposure as a serial sexual abuser of boys, teens and young adult men, including seminarians, journalists spoke of his influence in the episcopacy in terms of cliques, networks, and “kingmakers” who help choose which men rise in the Church hierarchy, and which men do not.

For Bullivant, social network analysis brings more rigor to this way of speaking.

“There’s a sense in which it tells us what we already knew, but it does it in a far more systematic, rather than anecdotal way,” Bullivant said. “You apply the right kind of clustering algorithms and you begin to see clear clumps of more densely networked bishops.”

Bullivant and Giovanni Sadewo, a research fellow in social network analysis at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, have modeled the relative influence of bishops, with particular attention to the deeply influential role of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

This clustering of influence can even be depicted in visual form, with each bishop forming a “node” connected to other bishops he served under, or served with, or supervised. In their analytical ranking, the elderly McCarrick was still the second-most influential living bishop in the U.S. as of July 2018, when Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals, after credible allegations of abuse, which McCarrick denied.

Bullivant and Sadewo assumed that bishops learned their role through “apprenticeship”: holding a chancery position or serving under another bishop.

They analyzed their data to focus on the connections of bishops who were auxiliary bishops or held positions in a diocesan chancery at the same time or under the same mentors. They also weighted nodes based on whether a given churchman was a bishop, archbishop cardinal-archbishop, or emeritus archbishop.

Mapping out McCarrick’s “personal community” includes a total of 43 living bishops, including “significant nodes” like Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop emeritus Martin Holley of Memphis, Archbishop emeritus John Myers of Newark, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark. The model also shows “direct ties” between individual bishops who are themselves separate nodes in McCarrick’s cluster.

The researchers’ data from July 2018 did not include deceased bishops. McCarrick retired as Archbishop of Washington in 2006 at the age of 75. The pope laicized him in February 2019.

Bullivant acknowledged that the model is limited. Factors that align McCarrick and another bishop “in no way implies guilty by association.” The network analysis is not a “forensic tool.”

“The fact you have a number makes it sound scientific, but this is the barest bones of anything,” he said. “This is a first step really to try to understand the kind of inner logic of how this culture works, and how power gets brokered through it.”

Bullivant believes the model has its uses.

“If there were a predatory sociopath, which I think McCarrick clearly was, or something like it, then the way in which the system is built enables the kinds of failures to deal with that, as we’ve seen,” he said.

Bullivant and Sadewo discussed their social network analysis of the U.S. bishops and the bishops of England and Wales in their paper “Power, Preferment, and Patronage: Catholic Bishops, Social Networks, and the Affair(s) of Ex-Cardinal McCarrick,” published July 15 at the pre-print site arXiv, which is moderated but is not a peer review process.

The paper suggested the hypothetical example of bishops who had all “served as vicars general, chancellors, and/or auxiliary bishops for each other,” and helped promote and support the favorite bishop candidates of each other’s chanceries. It is also important to consider whether a bishop’s proteges have served under each other, or under the bishop’s own mentor.

“Should one of the senior bishops in this group then be rumored to have committed crimes while in office, it is not hard to imagine how others in the network might seek a ‘quiet’ solution to the problem, to prevent either themselves or their patrons becoming implicated, even if by association, to varying degrees,” the paper said.

“(T)hese kinds of network dynamics may have contributed, directly and indirectly, to both individual and institutional failures (and/or crimes) in adequately dealing with accusations of sexual abuse.”

The model suggests how bad practices, like poor responses to clergy accused of sex abuse, could propagate through like-minded bishops of a similar background or cluster.

While the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy spoke of a “playbook” in covering up abuse, Bullivant said this model does not require “a shadowy meeting to decide what to do” about an abusive priest. Rather, influential bishops set “the way we do things” based on prior cases handled by others in a bishop’s cluster, and this diffuses through a  network to become its standard practice.

Possible countermeasures, Bullivant said, could use social network analysis to speculate about which clusters had good practices, even though the analysis could not prove good practice in itself.

“If it came out that there had been certain dioceses where we hadn’t had cover-ups of abuse,” he said, reformers could consider “what’s going on in those dioceses at a structural level that seems to have shielded them.”

The analysis can also suggest which potential bishops are external to a cluster, like Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. In the wake of the controversies over the McCarrick revelations, Pope Francis named the former Atlanta archbishop and past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to succeed Cardinal Wuerl in the Washington archdiocese.

“Knowing nothing else about Archbishop Gregory, his appointment to D.C., based purely on the network map, looked like a good one,” Bullivant told CNA. “The way we mapped out on those criteria, he seemed to be at least a ‘partial outsider’ from that particular cluster of that network of people.”

“It looked like the kind of appointment where you’d think ‘that looks like it’d have a better chance than some others’,” he said.

Bullivant and Sadewo said in their paper that their network maps “support the view that it is meaningful to talk in terms of there being defined ‘cliques’ of bishops,” and influential bishops who meaningfully shape networks. They aimed to calculate that influence.

The weighted scale of network map influence, called an “indegree” measurement, averaged 1.24 for U.S. bishops.

McCarrick, however, measured 17 on the scale, behind only Philadelphia’s archbishop emeritus Cardinal Justin Rigali at 22. McCarrick’s measurement was equal to that of Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop emeritus of Detroit. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston ranked 15, followed by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, former Washington archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, then-Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput, former Los Angeles archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahony, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who was ranked 11.

The metropolitan archbishop can be a key figure in the appointment of a bishop. However, under new Vatican norms the metropolitan bishop is also a key figure in investigating other suffragan bishops who are accused of abuse, the very men who are part of his social network cluster.

“(G)iven the structure of episcopal networks, there would seem to be a very low probability of any metropolitan being ‘free of conflicts of interest’ if asked to investigate other bishops, past or present, of his own diocese or province,” the paper said. “Even where no direct ties exist, there will frequently be other close ties between mutual subordinates or superiors, protégés or mentors.”

The paper also touches briefly on the deeply controversial topic of homosexual relations among Catholic clergy. Heterosexual relationships can only take place outside of all-male priestly networks, but homosexual relations are different.

“There is clear potential for mutually compromised networks of homosexually active (or once-active) priests, such as McCarrick appears to have cultivated among his ‘nephews’,” the paper said.

Social network analysis could be a basis for further work. Bullivant hopes to analyze the U.S. bishops based on the apparent phenomenon of bishops transferring sexually abusive priests between dioceses.

“Just to map which bishops were in-the-know enough to send priests to and from each other would be interesting, for example,” he said.

Another topic for inquiry is financial corruption and episcopal social networks, such as the allegations against Bishop Michael Bransfield, who formerly headed the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia. He is accused of sexual harassment and assault of seminarians, priests and other adults, as well as making hundreds of cash “gifts.” With the right data, these transfers of money could reveal more information about Bransfield’s network.

Applying the social network analysis back in time could shed light on the origins of clergymen like McCarrick.

“We are interested, if we ever find resources, money and time to do it, to do that ‘family tree’ or a ‘genealogy’ if you like,” Bullivant said. “It makes sense if you have particularly important ‘kingmakers’ in one generation, picking the bishops the next generation, especially the way that the big archdioceses do, there’s a ‘family tradition’ almost.”

This approach to the Church is not simply a story of corruption, he said. Rather, it’s “a tool of sociological and historical inquiry into the way in which a very important decision-making class functions.”

Besides a bishop’s service in a diocese, there are many other “meaningful proxies” to analyze in a churchman’s social networks: the bishops who co-consecrated him, shared seminary or university background, or shared service on certain committees or boards of directors.

Bullivant said on Twitter July 15 that the document is a “working paper” seeking comments, questions and suggestions for future work. He said the question was “awkward” for placement in a journal, with a “very slow process.” The authors wanted their work published before any promised report on McCarrick, for background and context.

The release of the Vatican’s investigation on McCarrick was reportedly delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In October 2018, just months after sexual abuse allegations against McCarrick first emerged, the Vatican said that Pope Francis had commissioned a study of McCarrick’s career. Cardinal O’Malley told the U.S. bishops’ conference in November 2019 that the Vatican intended to publish the report “soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the new year.”

Louisiana Catholic governor calls for prayer and fasting to end coronavirus

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 14:18

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 12:18 pm (CNA).-  

Louisiana's governor will be skipping lunch next week, and is encouraging Louisianans of all faiths to do the same.

The governor has called for three days of prayer and fasting for people affected by coronavirus. New Orleans' archbishop says he hopes Catholics of the state will join in.

During a press conference on Thursday to discuss the state’s response to COVID-10, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) acknowledged that his latest attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus is “a little bit unusual,” but said he believes it bear fruit for the state.

“I’m going to call for three days of fasting and prayer for our state, for July 20 through the 22nd,” said Edwards, explaining that he received a request for the spiritual practice during a call with religious leaders from across the state.

Prayer and fasting are “a spiritual diet and exercise that I as a Catholic Christian believe is very important, anyway,” said Edwards.

The governor said he will be fasting from lunch Monday through Wednesday of next week, and “praying for the people of Louisiana,” especially the sick, their caretakers, and the families of those who have died from COVID-19.

“So if you’re inclined, please join me and the First Lady and faith leaders of Louisiana, regardless of your denomination or your religion, and we would ask that you join us in prayerful reflection and fasting,” he said.

The governor previously called for a statewide day of prayer and fasting for those affected by coronavirus March 24.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March and recovered from the disease in April, posted on Facebook that he also encouraged people to fast next week.

“I encourage people of all faiths to pray for those who have died from the Coronavirus, for the healing of those who are sick at the present time, for caregivers and healthcare workers on the front lines, and for our protection throughout the world and particularly in our own state that the virus may come under control,” wrote Aymond.

The New Orleans archbishop further reminded people that they must follow instructions related to masking and social distancing.

“We know that God hears our prayers, and we must cooperate with him in doing our part to make certain that we do not spread the virus by adhering to the governor’s call for masks and social distancing. With the governor, I also invite all people of faith and goodwill to fast on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday,” he wrote.

Fasting from a meal, explained Aymond, is a form of prayer. By fasting, Aymond said that “we by our actions say ‘God I hunger more for your protection and our safety than I do for food. Come to our help!’”

Following his recovery from COVID-19, Aymond flew over the city of New Orleans in a World War II-era plane and blessed the city with holy water on Good Friday.


Satanic symbol painted at church in parish where Knights of Columbus began

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 11:01

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 09:01 am (CNA).-  

A church in the New Haven, Connecticut parish at which the Knights of Columbus was founded was vandalized this week, with a satanic symbol painted on the door.

Fr. Michael McGivney, who will soon be beatified, began his priestly ministry at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, the city’s first parish, in 1877. The priest founded the Knights of Columbus there in 1882.

In 2018, nearby St. Joseph Church became part of St. Mary's Parish during a diocesan consolidation process. Fr. John Paul Walker, OP, the parish pastor said in a Facebook post Thursday that vandalism at St. Joseph Church had taken place overnight.

“Words and various symbols including a satanic one were painted on the outside doors of the church,” Walker said.
“While we assess the situation and make plans to bless the church, the church will remain closed at least through the end of the day today,” he said. “Our two daily Masses, confessions, and afternoon Adoration are therefore canceled. We will be live streaming Mass at noon from the priory chapel.”

Mass and other liturgies ordinarily take place at both church buildings in the parish. But because of renovations underway at St. Mary's Church, all parish liturgies have been taking place in St. Joseph Church. 

Fr. Walker wrote on Facebook that it is not yet clear if the church will be able to reopen Friday. When it does reopen, it will be unlocked during Mass and confession times only.
“I would ask everyone in the parish to pray to Our Lord in reparation for this sacrilege, and to St. Michael for protection against all the powers of hell,” the priest said. “Please pray, too, for the perpetrator of this action, who is clearly a very disturbed individual in need of serious help.”

Police are investigating the vandalism, Walker told CNA Friday, and federal investigators could also become involved.

The incident is the latest in a growing trend of vandalism against Catholic churches in the past week.

Earlier this week, a statue of Jesus was beheaded in the Archdiocese of Miami and a statue of the Blessed Virgin at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs was tagged with red paint.

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was beheaded last weekend at a church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
On July 10, a vandal spray-painted the word “idol” on the statue of the Virgin Mary at a prep school and seminary in the New York City borough of Queens.

The following day, the face, head, and upper body of a statue of the Virgin Mary were damaged in an arson attack at a parish in Boston.

On July 11, a man crashed a minivan into a Catholic church in Ocala, Florida, and then lit it on fire with gasoline while people were inside preparing for morning Mass.

At the same time that fire began, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles the church of the Mission San Gabriel was destroyed by fire. The 18th century mission was founded by St. Junipero Serra, whom Pope Francis canonized during his 2015 visit to the U.S. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, and is being investigated for arson.

The Archdiocese of Hartford acknowledged this trend in a Facebook post, saying, “The underlying motive of these sacrilegious attacks is clear: to intimidate and instill fear in the hearts of those who worship Christ. However, our cherished Catholic faith has survived for 2,000 years in the faces of many different oppressors, and it is not about to yield now.”

The archdiocese called on Catholics to remain unafraid and to respond to acts of hatred with love, unity, and prayers for the conversion of those trying to spread fear.

On July 15, Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement that recent attacks on Catholic statues are “attacks on Catholics and people of faith.”

“While our faith calls us to be respectful of different perspectives, acts of vandalism are crimes against all who cherish democracy and mutual respect. The Knights of Columbus remains firm in its condemnation of all forms of racism and violence, including political violence. With churches, statues, and religious symbols subject to vandalism and attack, we call upon elected officials and leaders at every level to defend the religious freedom of all,” Anderson said.

Fr. McGivney served as a priest in New Haven amid an anti-Catholic climate in the late 1800s. He established the Knights of Columbus to provide spiritual aid to Catholic men and financial help for families who had lost their breadwinner.

His sainthood cause officially opened in 1997 in the Archdiocese of Hartford. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared the American-born priest a Venerable Servant of God in recognition of his life of heroic virtue.

In May, Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to McGiveny’s intercession, paving the way for the priest to be beatified. A date for the beatification ceremony has not yet been announced.

McGivney’s cause will require one more authenticated miracle before he can be considered for canonization.

Phoenix bishop welcomes ’Venerable’ designation of Padre Kino

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 02:11

CNA Staff, Jul 17, 2020 / 12:11 am (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix praised the Holy Father’s decision to advance the cause of canonization for Venerable Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary priest who mapped the southwestern United States and evangelized native populations.

The pope’s recognition that “Padre Kino” lived a life of heroic virtue is a step on the road to sainthood and grants him the title of “Venerable.”

Olmsted said he received the news of the advancement “with great joy.”

“The history of the Catholic Church in Arizona is synonymous with the growth and history of the State of Arizona, and Padre Kino is one of the foundational figures in that great history,” said the bishop in a statement.

Born in 1645 in the Tyrol region of northern Italy, Kino studied in Germany with the Jesuits and was ordained to the priesthood in 1677. It was in Germany that he fell terribly ill and promised to embark on the American missions if he received healing through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier. When he indeed recovered, he headed to New Spain, arriving in the Americas at the age of 36, according to the Kino Heritage society.

In the Americas, Kino quickly earned his nickname “Padre on horseback” as he transversed Mexico and the southeastern U.S., baptizing over 4,000 natives. He zealously defended the native populations from European powers, who exploited the indigenous people in silver mines. On one occasion, he rode 1,500 miles in one week from his mission headquarters to Mexico City to advocate for the oppressed native populations to the highest Spanish officials.

Due to his work in service of oppressed populations, Olmsted said that Kino “remains a wonderful example of the mission of the Church lived in solidarity with the poor and marginalized.”

“As a faithful member of the Society of Jesus and a missionary priest, Padre Kino was a tireless advocate for the native peoples of the Southwest. He devoted tremendous energy to meeting their spiritual and temporal needs, founding 21 missions and numerous native-run rancheros, and willingly sharing in the poverty and hardships of those he served,” Olmsted said.

Not only were Kino’s expeditions in search of souls, but the missionary priest also explored the region with a view to the natural sciences. Kino mapped regions of the American south-east previously unknown to civilization, creating the definitive maps for the region for more than 150 years after his death.

Kino taught the native populations agricultural and ranching techniques, equipping them with a stable food supply and schools for the local children.

“As an explorer and a man of science, Padre Kino introduced cattle ranching and advanced agricultural techniques to the Southwest and mapped vast regions of northern Mexico and modern-day Arizona,” said Olmsted. “His unique combination of missionary zeal, scientific knowledge and practical wisdom is a beautiful illustration of the fruitful union of faith and reason.”

Olmsted’s praise of Kino’s cause for canonization joined that of other leaders in the Church.

Bishop James Wall of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, said that Kino is “a true son of the Church, and model of the New Evangelization for our modern day.”

As a native of Arizona, where Kino lived and worked, Wall said that Kino’s life strikes a special chord with him.

“The example of the life of the ‘Padre on Horseback’ has played a large part in strengthening my own Catholic faith – especially the love, care, and sensitivity he showed to the indigenous people of Arizona,” Wall said.

Olmsted prayed that the newly venerable will intercede for an increase in the missionary zeal in the Church today.

“Through the intercession of Venerable Eusebio Francis Kino, may we treasure and live faithfully the rich heritage of our Faith. Like the Catholic missionaries, let us make a commitment to living as true disciples of Jesus Christ, passing on to future generations the Faith which has become an essential part of our culture and history here in Arizona,” he said.

The Vatican’s recognition of Kino’s life as one of heroic virtue follows the recent vandalism and destruction of several statues of another missionary central to the history of the region. In recent weeks, demonstrators have attacked statues of St. Junipero Serra, who founded a string of missions across California and was known as a vigorous defender of rights of indigenous peoples.

The recognition of Kino’s heroic virtue was made Saturday morning in Rome, when Pope Francis advanced the causes of five possible candidates for sainthood.

Religious freedom is 'foremost' in unalienable rights, US commission reports

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 17:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 16, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A draft report from an advisory body to the U.S. State Department on human rights says that religious freedom is “foremost” among human rights.

“Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty,” stated the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, released on July 16.

“A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy.”

The commission was established last July by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced that Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, would lead it.

Pompeo explained the need for the commission on Thursday, noting that an increase in the number of recognized human rights presents “risks of collision” between rights claims, as well as “risks of trivializing core American values.” In his time at the State Department, he said, as cables from around the world came in he realized officials were discussing rights in ways that were “deeply inconsistent.”

Last year, Pompeo charged the commission with studying the nature and historical foundations of human rights, with the hope that it would be part of “one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Declaration.”

On Thursday, the commission released its report at an event in Philadelphia, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York offering the invocation.

God has “bestowed upon and ingrained into the very nature of his creatures certain inalienable rights enshrined by the founders,” Dolan said, noting that they are “rights flowing from the innate dignity of the person,” are “self-evident in reason and nature,” and are “celebrated” in Divine Revelation.

Dolan asked God’s blessing “upon this noble project” of the commission, “as we renew our sense of duty to share our country’s wisdom on rights inherent to the very nature of the human person, never, ever to be trampled.”

Glendon, introducing the report, noted various threats to human rights around the world, especially China “aggressively promoting a very different concept” of rights that puts “national priorities” over freedoms of speech and assembly, and free elections. She also pointed out recent technological advances that pose threats to human rights, such as artificial intelligence, data collection, and surveillance techniques.

Pompeo explained his hope that the tradition of rights outlined in the report could be used to give other countries the “courage” to speak up when authoritarian regimes abuse their own citizens.

Some critics of the commission, following its creation, alleged that it would emphasize rights such as religious freedom at the expense of other rights such as women’s rights or LGBTQ advocacy.

On Thursday, one senior administration official said it was “disturbing” how many human rights experts claim that focusing on religious freedom means a “deviation” from U.S. foreign policy priorities, or draws attention away from other human rights.

Today, religious freedom advocates are criticized as theocrats, the official said, but “those who seek toleration” shouldn’t be confused with “religious fanaticism.”

“To the extent that the United States” is successful in promoting religious freedom, the other freedoms “will be vindicated” too, the official said.

In addition to Glendon, commission members included Notre Dame Law professor Paolo Carozza; Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and philosopher Christopher Tollefsen.

On Thursday, Pompeo expounded upon the findings of the commission, noting that its emphasis on religious freedom underlines that “no society can retain its legitimate or a virtuous character without religious freedom.”

The current unrest, with mass anti-racism protests occurring around the country, is connected to America’s very ability to put its founding ideals into practice, he said.

The U.S. “fell far short” of its ideals with chattel slavery being the “gravest departure,” he said, along with expelling Native Americans from their land.

However, he noted, the founding principles gave a standard and framework to abolish slavery and codify equality in law.

Conservative intellectuals call for tax credit expansion for families amid coronavirus

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 16:01

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- A group of conservative figures called on Congress Thursday to expand tax credits for families to ease the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a July 16 letter to the leaders of Congress, the signers called for an expansion of the Child Tax Credit  and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Among the 15 signers of the letter were researcher W. Bradford Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies, Princeton professor Robert George, and journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez.

“These two tax policies are proven to be the most effective programs at lifting Americans out of poverty and expanding them now would provide much needed aid to America’s working families,” the letter reads.

The EITC currently provides for a tax benefit for working people with low to moderate income, which the IRS defines as between $15,570- $50,162 for a single person or $21,370-$55,952 for married couples, depending on the number of children.

For families with no children the credit can be as low as $529. For families with one child, the maximum EITC for 2019 was $3,526, while the maximum credit for families with three or more children is $6,557, according to the IRS. The current numbers for 2020, which the IRS has already announced, are similar.

The CTC provides for a tax credit for people with a child under the age of 17, with a current maximum credit amount per qualifying child of $2,000. The maximum amount per child that can be received as a refund is $1,400.

“The CTC also reduces poverty while fostering some of our nation’s most critical investments: those that parents make for their children,” the letter reads.

“At a time when family budgets are under great stress and many parents have stopped working to care for their children, enlarging the child credit would offer much needed relief. We believe that an additional, fully-refundable CTC of $2,000 should be issued in the fall of 2020 to all American families.”

The signers also called for a second EITC in the fall of 2020, recommending that Congress should base this second EITC on 2019 earnings because of widespread unemployment in 2020, and recommended that the IRS minimize the “marriage penalty” associated with the EITC by setting a higher income threshold for married workers.

For couples earning the current EITC, marriage penalties can apply in some cases, such as when a working single parent marries another working person, thus raising their income and making them ineligible for a larger tax credit.

About 1.3 million workers filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, bringing the total number of unemployed people in the US to 32 million, or around 11%.

Second federal inmate executed after Supreme Court decision

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The second of five federal prisoners slated for execution was killed in the early hours of Thursday, July 16. 

Wesley Ira Purkey, 68, was originally scheduled to be executed Wednesday evening. The execution was delayed as a series of last-minute legal filings arguing that Purkey was not mentally competent enough to be executed.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote Thursday, let the execution proceed. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented and would have blocked the execution. 

The execution was held at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Purkey was sentenced to death in January 2004. His case was handled by the federal court system as he had kidnapped Jennifer Long, 16, in Kansas City, Missouri, and murdered her in Kansas, crossing state lines. Purkey confessed to Long’s murder while he was awaiting trial in Kansas for the murder of an 80-year-old woman with polio.

His lawyers argued that he should not be executed as he had dementia and claims of several other mental illnesses. 

On Wednesday, his attorney, Rebecca Woodman, described him as “a 68-year old, severely brain-damaged and mentally ill man who suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease and dementia.” 

“Though he has long accepted responsibility for his crime, he no longer has a rational understanding of why the government plans to execute him," said Woodman.

Purkey apologized to Long’s family in his final words, saying “I deeply regret the pain and suffering I caused to Jennifer’s family. I am deeply sorry. I deeply regret the pain I caused to my daughter, who I love so very much. This sanitized murder really does not serve no purpose whatsoever.” 

Long was last seen getting into Purkey’s vehicle on January 22, 1998. Purkey claims to have sexually assaulted her before stabbing and dismembering her, and that he later burnt her body. Authorities were unable to find Long’s remains in the area where he claimed to have disposed of them. 

Purkey is the second federal prisoner to be executed this week, following the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee on Tuesday. All five of the condemned prisoners were convicted of the murders of children. 

Unlike in Lee’s case, where the family members of his victims were opposed to the death penalty, Long’s relatives were supportive--although they thought the process was too long. 

Long’s stepmother was critical of the numerous appeals. 

“All these appeals, some of them he put through several times. And then we sat in a van for four hours this morning while he did a bunch more appeals,” she said. “We just shouldn’t have to wait this long.” 

The resumption of federal executions has been controversial since plans were announced last summer. Prior to this week, the last federal execution was in 2003. 

The next scheduled execution is Dustin Lee Honken, who was sentenced to death in 2004 for the murders of five people, including two young girls and their mother. Honken is scheduled to be executed on July 17. 

Honken’s spiritual advisor, Fr. Mark O'Keefe, OSB, attempted to delay the execution due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. His request was denied.

Among the supporters of Honken’s bid for clemency is Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, formerly the Archbishop of Indianapolis. Tobin personally asked President Donald Trump to commute Honken’s sentence to life in prison. 

In a letter to the president, Tobin explained that he had known Honken for seven years, and had witnessed his spiritual growth. Tobin wrote that Honken’s crimes are “heinous,” but that his execution “will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes.” 

“Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways,” Tobin wrote, noting that the use of the death penalty makes the United States an “outlier” in the world.  

“If his death sentence is commuted, Mr. Honken expects to spend his remaining days in prison,” Tobin wrote.

“By commuting this death sentence, you would help stem the tide of anger and revenge that threatens our country,” he told the president.

Other bishops have condemned the renewed use of the death penalty by the federal government after a 17-year moratorium. 

On July 7, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates who is the apostolic administrator of Joliet, Illinois, all joined more than 1,000 faith leaders in calling for a stop to scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the faith leaders stated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2267 on the death penalty was updated in 2018 with a statement from Pope Francis, calling the death penalty “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

California city will remove St. Junipero Serra statue from public grounds

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 14:55

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2020 / 12:55 pm (CNA).-  

The city council of Ventura, California has voted to remove a statue of St. Junipero Serra from the grounds of city hall, amid riots and protests in other California cities that have resulted in the destruction of several statues of the saint in recent months.

The Ventura city Council voted 6-0 Wednesday evening to remove a bronze statue from outside city hall and a wooden replica  inside the building, the LA Times reported.

The bronze statue of Serra is a 1989 replica of a 1936 concrete piece. Though the council’s resolution did not specify when the removal would take place, it declared that the intended destination of the statues would be the city’s San Buenaventura mission church, which St. Serra himself founded in the 18th century.

The vote coincided with Pope Francis’ July 15 announcement that the San Buenaventura mission church would be elevated to the status of minor basilica.

Across the country in recent months, protestors and rioters have pulled down statues of historic figures— some depicting Confederate figures, as part of a call to end systemic racism, but also some depicting abolitionists, and others such as George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant.

Despite Serra’s record of defending the rights of indigenous peoples, statues of the saint have become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California in recent weeks, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past.

A statue of the saint was torn down in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, on June 19 by a crowd of about 100 people, and on the same day a statue of the saint was torn down in Los Angeles.

Rioters pulled down and defaced a statue of Serra in Sacramento on July 4, inspiring a local Catholic to set up a makeshift shrine to Serra on the statue's empty plinth July 5, and lead other Catholics in cleaning graffiti from the site.

A massive fire on July 11 devastated the mission church of San Gabriel, which Serra founded, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The cause of the fire has not yet been announced, but it is being investigated as arson.

San Buenaventura had announced in June its intention to work with local officials and indigenous tribal leaders to see a Serra statue outside Ventura City Hall moved to “a non-public location.”

Elders of the Chumash Native American tribe had met in late June with Ventura Mayor Matt Lavere and Fr. Tom Elewaut, pastor of the San Buenaventura mission church.

“The three of us are confident that a peaceful resolution regarding the Father Junipero Serra statue can be reached, without uncivil discourse and character assassination, much less vandalism of a designated landmark,” the parties said in a June 18 joint statement.

“We all believe that the removal of the statue should be accomplished without force, without anger, and through a collaborative, peaceful process. This process has already commenced through our initial meeting and we look forward to continuing the discussion with the community to help guide further action on this.”

A similar statue of Serra was beheaded at the Old Mission Santa Barbara in 2017, and red paint was used to graffiti the mission in 2018, Ventura’s ABC affiliate reported.

Other California missions such as San Luis Obispo and San Gabriel had in June moved their statues “out of public view” amid fears rioters may tear them down.

The University of San Diego, a Catholic university, told CNA on Tuesday that it has placed a statue of St. Junipero Serra in storage.

Some California activists view Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary, as having contributed to the destruction of Native American way of life through his founding of the first nine of California’s mission churches, many of which would form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

A native of Petra Mallorca in Spain, Serra was a renowned scholar who gave up his academic career to become a missionary in North America.

While many activists today associate Serra with the many abuses that the Native Americans suffered after contact with Europeans, biographies and historical records suggest that Serra actually advocated on behalf of the Natives against the Spanish military and against encroaching European settlement.

Serra specifically advocated for the rights of Native peoples, at one point drafting a 33 point "bill of rights" for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements and walking all the way from California to Mexico City to present it to the viceroy. Many of the Natives he converted wept and mourned him upon his death in 1784.

Pope Francis canonized Serra in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2015, saying that “Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it.”

Several of California’s bishops, including Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Jaime Soto of Sacramento, and others have released statements in support of Serra and of a rational dialogue about the statues.

Cordileone said in a statement June 20 that he did not want to “deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed. But just as historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden, neither can they be righted by re-writing the history.”

The archbishop praised the saint’s missionary zeal: “St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts.”

On Tuesday in Miami, a parish statue of Christ was beheaded, while in Colorado Springs, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was graffitied. Over the weekend, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was attacked this weekend at a parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee, while in Boston, a statue of Mary was set on fire, and in Brooklyn, a statue was tagged with the word “IDOL” in black spray paint.

A Catholic parish in Ocala, Florida burned over the weekend, and a Florida man has been charged with arson.


Church statue attacks continue with new incidents in Florida and Colorado

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 14:32

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 16, 2020 / 12:32 pm (CNA).- The recent series of attacks on church buildings and property continued Tuesday night, as a statue of Christ was toppled and beheaded at a Miami parish and a statue of Mary was daubed with red paint in Colorado Springs. 

Recent weeks have seen a rolling series of acts of vandalism and destruction at Catholic churches across the United States, including arsons, decapitations, and graffiti. But while some of the incidents have been caught on camera, in most cases the perpetrators, and their motivations have yet to be identified.

In response to the most recent attack, the Archbishop of Miami told police that the desecration of the statue of Christ should be treated as an act of hatred for the Church and faith. 

“Late Tuesday night, July 14th or early Wednesday morning, July 15th, the statue of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd was desecrated; the head of Jesus was separated from its body,” Mary Ross Agosta, communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami, told CNA.  

“The statue was located outside its namesake church, the Archdiocese of Miami’s Good Shepherd Catholic Church, in Southwest Miami-Dade County. The police were notified and Archbishop Thomas Wenski is asking this investigation be treated as a hate crime,” she added. 

On Wednesday morning, the statue was discovered knocked over and missing his head. Fr. Edvaldo DaSilva, the parochial vicar at Good Shepherd Church, told local media that he did not believe the damage could be accidental, as the pedestal’s screws had been tampered with. 

“They had some powerful hands to remove it,” DaSilva told WSVN of Miami. “Seeing what is happening in our country, I presume [it was deliberate], but we don’t have 100% assurance.” 

DaSilva said that he is praying for whoever desecrated the statute. 

“As a Christian community, we pray for those that have done this, that the Lord may forgive them and grant them the gift of conversion,” he said. 

Surveillance cameras from the parish are being examined to see if they caught the vandalism on tape. 

The area around the statute’s former pedestal now features a sign put up by parishoners reading “GOD wins over evil.” 

Also overnight on Tuesday, a statue of the Blessed Virgin at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Colorado Springs was tagged with red paint in an act of vandalism. The vandal or vandals colored the statue’s cross, and also appeared to paint the statue’s toenails. 

Fr. David Price, rector at the cathedral, told local media that the damage “looks more like a graffiti tag than anything else,” and added that the vandal wrote the word “redrum” on the base of the statue.

“Redrum,” which is “murder” backwards, is a reference to the 1977 Stephen King novel “The Shining.” 

Price said that the statute had been vandalized before, and was cleaned off by the city. 

The incidents Tuesday follow a weekend of similar acts.

In Tennessee, a statue of the Blessed Mother was decapitated In the early hours of Saturday morning, while, in Boston, a statue of Mary was set on fire, and in Brooklyn, a statue of her was tagged with the word “IDOL” in black spray paint.

On the same weekend, a parish in Ocala, Florida and a 249-year-old California mission founded by St. Junipero Serra were burned in fires. A man has been charged with arson in the Florida fire, and the California fire is being investigated as a case of arson. 

In recent weeks, Catholic religious statues in California, Missouri, and other places have been toppled or vandalized by protestors including several of St. Juniperio Serra.

While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts, including those against the images of the Virgin Mary and Christ, have not been identified.

Catholic universities welcome ICE reversal on international students

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 12:32

St. Paul, Minn., Jul 16, 2020 / 10:32 am (CNA).- A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement directive that would have forced thousands of international students to leave the country has been rescinded after it was challenged by a litany of lawsuits.

The directive, which was announced July 6, denied visas to international students with an exclusively online course load. It came after many colleges and universities announced plans to conduct the fall semester online, throwing the fate of international students into turmoil.

Catholic institutions praised the reversal of the directive.

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities said in a statement that they were “heartened by the agreement” reached in the lawsuit between Harvard-MIT and the government.

“Our institutions’ ongoing advocacy stems from valuing global collaboration and having a keen awareness that the Jesuit mission of forming persons who are charged with making the world a better place is one that has no borders or boundaries,” said the AJCU.

President John J. DeGioia of Georgetown University, who signed an amicus brief in support of the Harvard-MIT lawsuit, told the university’s press that he was “thankful for the news” of the reversal. Previously he had called the ICE directive a “reckless action” on the part of the government.

The directive “creates new and unnecessary barriers for international students and puts their health, stability and academic progress at risk if they are unable to participate in classes in person,” DeGioia said. It failed to “recognize the invaluable contributions of our international students within our community and the impacts of this abrupt change during an ongoing pandemic.”

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities also spoke out against the directive, calling it a “heartless” policy.

“These are young people fully vetted by the U.S. government, given clearance to study here, and now partway through their programs. Sending them home, without a degree, would force them to start their lives over simply because a university is trying to keep its faculty and students safe as contagion levels continue to be unpredictable,” the ACCU stated. “There are difficult decisions to make in challenging times, but this is not one of those.”

Shivam Mishra came to the U.S. from Jamshedpur, India, to study accounting at the University of Dallas, a Catholic University in Dallas, Texas. Although the university plans to open for in-person classes in the fall, it is prepared to go online if it is overwhelmed with cases.

For Mishra, who is working towards a masters in accounting, the ICE mandate would have threatened his ability to earn his license as a Certified Public Accountant.

“I have invested my time, money, and then I was away from my family, my parents and everyone,” Mishra told CNA. “I came to the US just to have better opportunities.”

Rahul Ashok Lobo, a rising junior who is majoring in economics and political science at Notre Dame University, led the international student response to the university’s dealings with international students and the ICE mandate.

Lobo, who was born in India, grew up in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and now holds a passport from the United Kingdom, said that the policy changes “throw any sort of semblance of planning out the window.”

“Information hasn't been very forthcoming recently, and that really leaves us and our imaginations to run wild in terms of what the fall semester is going to look like,” Lobo told CNA.

Even after the ICE policy was rescinded, Lobo said that a lot of uncertainty remains. Since the university has stressed the value of the in-person experience, it may continue to encourage international students, especially first year students, to take a leave of absence.

The ACCU also voiced concern for first year students.

“Yesterday’s decision resolved these issues for existing international students. We hope the administration will address the needs of new international students using the same flexibility during this pandemic,” the organization said in a statement.

Lobo said that not only are international students enriched by the campus experience, but the campus is enriched by a diverse student body. This fall, though, the campus will likely not be as diverse.

International students offer “a diversity of thought, opinion, background, and experience,” said Lobo.  “But the way things are looking, much of what Notre Dame prides in terms of diversity will simply be absent from fall semester on campus.”

Julie Sullivan, President of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, said in a statement that international students are an “integral and cherished part of the fabric of our community.”

“We are very grateful for the diverse, global perspectives our international students bring to the St. Thomas community, our state and our country,” Sullivan said.

Anti-Catholic attacks merit national media scrutiny, Irish-American group says

Thu, 07/16/2020 - 02:30

CNA Staff, Jul 16, 2020 / 12:30 am (CNA).- National news media cannot ignore intolerance against Catholics, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has said, citing recent attacks on Catholic churches and vandalism of statues of saints.

The group cited an incident at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida, where a man crashed a minivan into the church and then lit it on fire with gasoline early on Saturday, July 11 while people were inside preparing for morning Mass.

“The Hibernians are appalled at the conspicuous lack of national news coverage, particularly among the national broadcast networks, surrounding this blatant attack. The absence of national reporting concerning such an egregious attack against a Catholic church is at stark variance with past coverage of similar despicable attacks against other faiths,” the group said July 13.

“This absence of coverage is particularly glaring given that this attack is only the latest in a wave of wanton destruction targeting Catholics including the vandalism of a Catholic church in Boston, a Catholic school in New York and the ongoing investigation of a fire that destroyed the historic 249-year-old San Gabriel Mission and over the same weekend.”

The Ancient Order of Hibernians was founded in 1836, based on similar groups in Ireland. It is the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the U.S. and claims membership in all 50 states.

The Hibernians' statement cited the ancient legal principle “silence implies consent,” criticizing the national media for showing “silence on the rising tide of anti-Catholic violence.”

“The Hibernians ask why such an outrageous attack targeting Catholics is less worthy of reporting than an attack on a house of worship of another faith or a public institution? The news media needs to take accountability for its apathy and blatant double standard and the creation of a shameful 'hierarchy of outrage' in which hate targeting Catholics is not 'newsworthy',” the group said.

The story of the attack and Shields' arrest was covered by Fox News and the Associated Press, whose account was carried by the New York Times and Washington Post websites. However, a CNA review of ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN news websites found no additional coverage.

Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida was apprehended by police and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest in connection with the Florida church attack.

According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication. He said that he awoke on Saturday morning with a “mission.”

Shields also quoted scripture, especially the Book of Revelation, to officers, and told them his objections to the Catholic Church.

In 2019, Shields was arrested after swinging a crowbar at a woman and saying he wanted to kill her.

Also last weekend, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the church of the Mission San Gabriel was destroyed by fire. The 18th century mission was founded by St. Junipero Serra, whom Pope Francis canonized during his 2015 visit to the U.S. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Several statues of Serra have been torn down in recent unrest, with some critics claiming he committed violence against Native Americans. Demonstrators toppled his statues in Sacramento and San Francisco, while some institutions with statues of Serra have removed them from the public for safekeeping.

Serra was an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights, and was often at odds with Spanish authorities over the treatment of natives, according to historians. He helped convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity, and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Many natives showed an outpouring of grief at Serra's death in 1784.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles defended the saint in his June 29 column for Angelus News, published before the fire at the mission.

“The real St. Junipero fought a colonial system where natives were regarded as ‘barbarians’ and ‘savages,’ whose only value was to serve the appetites of the white man. For St. Junipero, this colonial ideology was a blasphemy against the God who has ‘created (all men and women) and redeemed them with the most precious blood of his Son’,” Archbishop Gomez said.

Other acts of vandalism have also taken place recently at Catholic institutions. Several Catholic churches and cathedrals have faced graffiti and broken windows in recent riots.

Boston police are investigating an arson attack late July 11 on a statue of the Virgin Mary outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. An unknown individual had set fire to plastic flowers in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body of the statue.

In the New York City borough of Queens, early Friday morning on July 10, a vandal spray-painted the word “idol” on the statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary.

In a third incident, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was beheaded last weekend at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Cardinal Dolan: AP report on paycheck loan program 'misleading at best'

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 20:01

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has written a response to an Associated Press report that characterized Catholic participation in the federal Paycheck Protection Program as an “aggressive pursuit of funds.”

The July 10 AP story, authored by Reese Dunklin and Michael Rezendes, “was so inaccurate, and left such a damaging impression I felt it was important to set the record straight with you,” the cardinal wrote in a message to his archdiocese.

He called the article “scurrilous” and “heavy on innuendo,” and added that “many news outlets picked up the story, which implied that there was something amiss in Catholic institutions receiving paycheck protection money.”

The PPP is a $669 billion initiative that allows entities to obtain low-interest loans that can be forgiven if the money goes mostly to cover payroll expenses, and to keep people employed who are in danger of losing their jobs.

Cardinal Dolan wrote that the PPP “was designed to help employers continue to pay its [sic] employees when the economy went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus,” so as to keep people employed.

“Religious institutions were invited and permitted to participate, as they employ large numbers of people across the country,” he added.

“Here in the Archdiocese of New York, if you combine the number of fulltime employees in our parishes, schools, agencies, and central administration, there would be 6000 fulltime and 4000 part-time employees. Without assistance from the PPP, many of our employers would have had no choice but to lay-off their employees, reducing the church’s ability to assist people in need, and forcing our people to seek unemployment.”

Without the reception of funds from the PPP, “your parish’s secretary, or the teachers in your child’s Catholic school, for instance, could easily have lost their jobs,” the cardinal wrote. “So, the money did not go to ‘the archdiocese’ but to our workers.”

For Cardinal Dolan, a second problem of the AP article is its attempt “to make some sort of connection between the sexual abuse crisis that has haunted the Church, and the Paycheck Protection Plan assistance.”

He said the funds received by the archdiocese “was used solely … to continue to pay employees their salaries and benefits. Not one penny of that money was used in any way to settle lawsuits or pay victim-survivors of abuse. We have none of this money left. It has all be [sic] distributed to our workers, and the government is carefully auditing it.”

The cardinal’s third primary complaint was its sole focus on the Catholic Church, “making it seem as if Catholics are unique in participating in the Paycheck Protection Plan.”

“In fact, religious organizations representing all faiths participated in the program, as it was intended,” he said. “Nationally, the Small Business Administration approved over 88,000 loans for religious organizations, supporting more than 1 million jobs. Why then focus solely on the Catholic Church, unless the reporters had some animus towards the Church (which we suspect they do)?”

Cardinal Dolan said that “the overwhelming number of reporters with whom I have interacted have been dedicated to their craft, seeking to get the story right, and by and large the coverage of the Church has been fair – critical and honest when reporting on my mistakes, willing to report on positive developments as well.”

“This AP story, however, did neither.  It invented a story when none existed, and sought to bash the Church.”

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the US bishops’ committee on domestic justice, also wrote a response to the AP story, defending the use of the PPP by Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools, dioceses, and social service agencies.

“The Paycheck Protection Program was designed to protect the jobs of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of whether they work for for-profit or non-profit employers, faith-based or secular,” Archbishop Coakley wrote.

“The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental supplier of social services in the United States. Each year, our parishes, schools and ministries serve millions of people in need, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. The novel coronavirus only intensified the needs of the people we serve and the demand for our ministries. The loans we applied for enabled our essential ministries to continue to function in a time of national emergency.”

“In addition, shutdown orders and economic fallout associated with the virus have affected everyone, including the thousands of Catholic ministries -- churches, schools, healthcare and social services -- that employ about 1 million people in the United States,” Coakley added.

“These loans have been an essential lifeline to keep hundreds of thousands of employees on payroll, ensure families maintain their health insurance, and enable lay workers to continue serving their brothers and sisters during this crisis.”

Report: 690 million people went hungry last year

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 18:51

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- Almost 690 million people around the world were undernourished last year, according to a new United Nations report, continuing what experts say is a worrying increase in global hunger.

The number of people who went hungry in 2019 was up 10 million from the previous year, and up 60 million from five years ago, said a report entitled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.

The report, released this month, was authored by international groups including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN’s International Children's Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

It warned that nearly 9% of the world’s population was undernourished last year, marking an increase in hunger despite international efforts to fight it.

The majority of people who went hungry in 2019 live in Asia, followed by Africa, the report said. Undernourishment is worse among women than among men, and the gender gap is growing.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has worsened projections for nutrition and food security. Estimates suggest that the pandemic could add 100 million people to those who are undernourished this year.

In May, Catholic Relief Services launched a campaign to help address global hunger.

The agency warned that many countries were already experiencing a food crisis prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, unemployment, lockdowns, heightened food prices, and supply disruptions have made it even more difficult for impoverished families in many areas to get food.

CRS president and CEO Sean Callahan warned of a “shadow pandemic” of worsening hunger in vulnerable parts of the world.
“Now is the time for us to lead the way forward to ensure that these communities have the support they need to make it through this crisis and beyond,” he said.

“If we don’t provide adequate food to children now, it will impact them for the rest of their lives.”

The “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign encourages Catholics to educate themselves and help fight global hunger through prayer, donations, efforts to raise awareness, and advocacy on behalf of foreign aid legislation.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a member of the CRS board, praised the campaign as an expression of solidarity, work for the common good, and promotion of human dignity.

“We believe that each life, no matter how vulnerable, is precious,” the archbishop said.

Catholic Relief Services is active in many countries to help alleviate food insecurity. In Guatemala, the agency is helping offer packages of rice, corn, beans and oil for children who are at risk of undernutrition and often receive their only meal of the day through distribution programs at their schools, which have closed due to the pandemic. In the Philippines, CRS aided a home for people with disabilities to acquire a one-month supply of food and hygiene items.

Catholic Relief Services is also helping with instructions and supplies for hand-washing and sanitization, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

House committees reject pro-life amendments

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 18:00

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Efforts to remove abortion funding in next year’s federal budget failed in the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week.

Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Andy Harris (R-Md.) offered pro-life amendments to legislation funding the government for the 2021 fiscal year, but their efforts were defeated when the full committee was considering the bills.

On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Cole offered an amendment to remove pro-abortion “poison pill riders” from a budget bill for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, or the “Labor-H” appropriations bill.

The bill, he said, was fundamentally flawed and so his amendment would prevent it from becoming law.

“The hostile language in this bill will block free exercise of civil rights and religious faith,” Cole said on Tuesday as the bill was being considered in committee.

The Labor-H bill would defund abstinence-only education providers, would require health clinics that receive Title X family planning funding to refer for abortions, and would fund Planned Parenthood, he said.

The bill would also block funding of HHS to enforce conscience protections for doctors, health care workers, and faith-based organizations who don’t want to provide, participate in, refer for, or cover sterilizations, doctor-prescribed suicides, and abortions.

“Many faith-based grantees believe abortion is the murder of innocent human life, and the government should never force them to tell someone how to get an abortion as a condition of receiving taxpayer dollars,” Cole said on Tuesday.

“Congress has long supported vigorous protection for rights of conscience, and the right to follow the dictates of one’s faith in the marketplace and the workplace, he said.  

On Wednesday afternoon, after the appropriations committee had passed a dozen funding bills, Republicans said that despite areas of agreement, “the controversial policies and spending increases will have to be dropped before the bills have any chance of being signed into law – plain and simple.”

On Monday, Rep. Harris also offered an amendment to a funding bill for the Department of Defense that would have protected babies who survive abortions. The amendment failed in the appropriations committee, however.

For hospitals contracting with Tricare, the military’s health care program, Harris’ amendment would have required them to have policies of providing care for abortion survivors.

As part of the standards for contracting hospitals, Harris said his amendment required those hospitals to certify that in the case of a botched abortion, it would have policies in place to provide care for and resuscitate the baby. He said his amendment did not enforce this with criminal penalties, but rather with a condition of Tricare funding.

Harris’ amendment was rejected by a vote of 28 to 24, however, with two Democrats supporting it, according to the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), who supported Harris’ proposal, said that “if a baby is born alive after an abortion, we must make sure that everything possible is done to preserve the life of the child.”

The Susan B. Anthony List criticized the Democrats to rejected Harris’ amendment, saying they were part of the “party of late-term abortion and infanticide.”

Baby bust: New report predicts global population crash

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 17:00

CNA Staff, Jul 15, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A new study published in a leading British medical journal predicts that the total fertility rate worldwide will drop well below replacement level by 2100, and that the population of many countries will drop by half in the coming century. 

The article, published in The Lancet on Tuesday, is titled “Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: a forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study.” The research was conducted by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Researchers found that total fertility rate (TFR), the average number of children born to a woman throughout her lifetime, will drop to 1.66 worldwide by 2100. The global population is expected to peak at 9.73 billion in 2064, before dropping due to falling birthrates. 

A TFR of 2.1 is considered to be “replacement-level.” This means that adults will be producing enough children to eventually replace them in society. The figure is 2.1 rather than 2 to account for the number of children who do not survive to adulthood. With a TFR of 2.1, the population of an area is expected to remain stable. If it is higher, it will grow, and if it is smaller, the population will contract. 

“Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth,” says the article, noting the results could have dramatic effects worldwide.  

“A sustained TFR lower than the replacement level in many countries, including China and India, would have economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences. Policy options to adapt to continued low fertility, while sustaining and enhancing female reproductive health, will be crucial in the years to come,” they said. 

The research found that 23 countries, including Japan, Thailand, and Spain, would lose more than 50% of their populations between 2017 and 2100 due to low birthrates if trends do not improve. The approximate current populations of Japan, Thailand, and Spain are 125 million, 69 million, and 47 million, respectively.

China, which has a current population of about 1.4 billion people, will experience a population decline of 48% by 2100. The researchers forecast that the Chinese economy will eclipse that of the United States by 2035, but due to falling birthrates the United States will again be the largest economy by 2098. 

The countries projected to continue to have growing populations are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Presently, the top five biggest countries in the world by population are, in order, China, India, United States, Indonesia, and Pakistan. The researchers predict that by 2100, the five biggest countries by population will be India, Nigeria, United States, China, and Pakistan. 

The data was organized by different metrics: one modeling the population as a continuation of current trends on births and migration, and one if the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are met by 2030. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include expanded education and increased distribution of contraceptives. 

If every country meets the SDGs by 2030, only the researchers forecast that only three countries--Israel, Samoa, and Zimbabwe--would have a TFR of greater than 2 by 2100. 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the study, focuses in part on the distribution of contraceptives as a means of poverty prevention. 

“We work with countries that are committed to expanding access to high-quality, voluntary family planning to reduce maternal and newborn mortality,” says the Gates Foundation’s website on its page overviewing its family planning programs.  

“Our deepest engagements are in India and Nigeria. We also work with public and private partners and make selected investments in Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

Christians face the pandemic in Palestine

Wed, 07/15/2020 - 15:25

Rome Newsroom, Jul 15, 2020 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- Facing the global coronavirus pandemic, Palestine has “the special and unique challenges of being under colonialism and a touristic country,” a Palestinian Catholic from the Bethlehem area told CNA.

Rula Shomali, communications officer at the Latin Catholic Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told CNA that Palestinians, and especially Palestinians Christians, face unusual challenges while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“With a state of low income and poor resources, and a country that has fought colonialism for years, it is difficult to fight two colonizations at once; the Israeli occupation and COVID-19,” she said.

In recent weeks, coronavirus infections skyrocketed in the West Bank. As of July 9, there were 4,673 infected people and 22 deaths from COVID 19 in the West Bank. At the end of May, there had been only 400 infections and two fatalities. The renewed spread of the infection is jeopardizing the Palestinian Authority's efforts to counter the epidemic.

Shomali said that “we are already living in a large open prison, having the checkpoints and the wall surrounding our area. Having to deal with its consequences everyday leaves us in the same situation that the lockdown and quarantine measures have imposed.”

She added that “as a Palestinian working in Jerusalem, I have to cross the checkpoint every day to pass from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. To be able to do so, I should have a specific and valid permit.”

“During the outbreak” – Shomali recounted - “all the permits stopped, and the checkpoint was closed. My colleagues and I weren't able to reach our offices, and it took some time for the Patriarchate to arrange our coming to work.”

Working from home was also hard, because “our internet connection is very slow, and our laptops do not have access to everything we need. I had a three months old baby girl! (now she is six months!) which makes working from home harder than I thought. My other colleges have sisters and brothers who had exams and online classes with only one laptop at home, which made the progress of work slower.”

Three months of lockdown seemed at first to defeat the spread of the infection. But numbers in recent weeks show that the pandemic is still spreading in Palestine.

“One of Palestine's current risk factors is the intense social mixing, us living in overcrowding urban slums and camps, inadequate sanitation, and our specific cultural and faith practices that let people interact frequently,” explained Shomali.

She stressed that “family gatherings at wedding and funerals are the major reason that prevented the Palestinian government from protecting its people from the second wave of COVID-19.”

In addition to that, “people find it difficult to change their social behaviors suddenly. Some think of it as inappropriate to meet someone and not shake hands, or congratulate someone and not to kiss, or to leave someone and not to hug. These are the things we were raised doing: social gatherings and crowding!”

The new outbreak of pandemic took place in an area in downtown Hebron, called H2, which is administered by the Israeli government. Shomali said that “the Palestinian government has no authority there, so many people held weddings and funerals uncontrollably.”

Shomali noted that Palestinian authority has taken preventive measures to counter the infection, “despite the Palestinian low-income economics, and the lack of major health facilities and tools.”

She said that “since March 2020, the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the government imposed a closure on the Bethlehem area and asked people to go under lockdown after returning a Greek group who was on tour in Bethlehem, that was found to be infected with COVID-19.”

The proclaimed state of emergency measures resulted in the closure of many organizations and institutions, and so many employees and workers lost their jobs. The government, Shomali, said, “implemented various protective measures” and at the same time “raised awareness through TV channels and social media.”

Shomali said that life in Palestine is “definitely harder. I live 10 minutes away from my parents, and I can't visit them because of the restrictions and because of my fear of infecting them. Also, since March, I couldn't reach my office. The business stopped in the Bethlehem area. We are facing a critical financial situation, as some of us stopped receiving salaries, and others received small percentages of it. We pay rent, have loans, bills, and other fees, besides our daily expenses of food, and other necessary needs for my toddler.”

Before the COVID pandemic, life in Palestine was “simple,” while “during the outbreak of COVID-19, we stuck at home, we worked and studied online.”

“Many families had a hard time doing so due to the lack of laptops or smartphones in the house and poor internet connection. Many lost their jobs and couldn't afford to pay the bills, rent, and so. Our allowance for food and cleaning products increased, as we are home all the time, and it was during winter, so we needed more food! Besides all that, our anxiety increased, and we suffered sleep deprivation, it was hard to get a new routine during the pandemic.”

Shomali said that “many people couldn't afford to buy their basic needs, as their business stopped, they lost their jobs - as Bethlehem is considered to be a tourist town and its income mainly depends on tourism.”

The coronavirus outbreak also affected the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. “As well as struggling with the effects of decades of military and economic occupation, the pandemic left us with severe adverse impacts on our income, that many couldn't pay school fees, which is one source the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem depends on for the salaries of its teachers and employees,” Shomali said.

Shomali also noted that “a big part of our challenge as Palestinians living in a small community is not only the social visiting and the risk of infecting each other but also misinformation and rumors spreading on social media which have generated panic and mistrust among people, who their attention was diverted from the outbreak response and prevention and the great work done by the health-care workers, to passing down rumors and false information.”