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LA archdiocese announces reopening plan

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 12:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 10:35 am (CNA).- After California relaxed public health restrictions on churches on Monday, the nation’s largest diocese announced its plan on Tuesday to resume public Masses.

In a two-step plan for parishes to reopen and offer the sacraments, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Tuesday provided a checklist for each parish to observe. The state’s dioceses and archdioceses have all curtailed public Masses since March, but starting June 3 the archdiocese will allow for public Masses.

While Governor Gavin Newsom’s four-step reopening plan for the state had initially placed churches in stage 3 of reopening, that of “higher-risk workplaces,” on Monday the state announced that churches could begin reopening subject to county restrictions. The state is currently in stage 2 of Newsom’s reopening plan, where manufacturing and some retail businesses have been allowed to reopen.

Now, California has allowed churches to open at 25% capacity with a maximum of 100 people.

The state’s Catholic Conference called the new state guidelines “positive, constructive and fundamentally in alignment” with the diocesan reopening plans, and expressed gratitude for being “a part of the consultation.”

Individual dioceses and archdioceses would make the decisions on reopening parishes in consultation with local authorities, the conference said.

“We look forward to collaborating even further with Governor Newsom and our county leaders in the coming weeks to make social distancing the determining criterion for attendance for public worship so that our communities can undertake a pattern of worship that is both sustainable and safe,” their statement read.

For the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “Step 1” of its reopening plan for parishes allows for silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and individual confessions heard upon request inside a church, with social distancing measures in place.

Churches must be deep cleaned before reopening and cleaned again after each use, and volunteers should be present to open the doors, keep count of the number of those inside the church, usher the faithful to designated seating, and help clean the church.

Parishes can “advance” to Step 2 of the archdiocese’s plan starting June 3, when public Masses, sacraments of initiation, scheduled confessions, and weddings, funerals and quinceañeras can resume. Choirs at Masses will be replaced by a cantor and accompanist, and Holy Communion can be received in the hand only.

For infant baptisms, “[t]he use of the Oil of Catechumens and the ‘Ephphatha’ rite are to be omitted,” the archdiocesan guidelines state.

While the state’s Catholic Conference offered a positive commendation of the state’s reopening plan, one Pentecostal church is still challenging the plan in court, saying it arbitrarily subjects churches to stricter limits than businesses are subject to.

The Thomas More Society, representing South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego, sent a letter to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Tuesday stating that the state’s reopening plan was still unacceptable for churches.

Justice Kagan handles emergency requests from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to SCOTUSBlog.com.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t go far enough for the simple reason that they’re placing arbitrary and unconstitutional restrictions on churches that they’re not placing on secular organizations,” attorney Charles LiMandri told CNA on Wednesday.

South Bay church had already filed for an emergency injunction on the state’s order requiring churches to remain closed—Newsom’s original plan that placed churches in “stage 3” of the reopening. The church had asked for relief by Pentecost Sunday, May 31.

Then on Monday, May 25, the state’s health department announced that churches could resume religious services at a maximum of 25% capacity or 100 people.

The allowance is still not acceptable, the church argued in its letter to Kagan, as individual counties can still maintain stricter regulations than the state’s “ceiling” that was announced on Monday.

Furthermore, for larger churches such as South Bay which seats 600 congregants in its sanctuary, the 100-person limit is an “arbitrary cap,” the church argued.

“Some of these churches will seat over 1,000 people, so it makes no sense to have an arbitrary minimum cutoff” of 100 people, LiMandri said.

“They’re not doing that in any other organization or facility,” he added, noting that shopping malls are allowed to open at 50% capacity and warehouse stores like Costco do not have a customer limit.

The state’s allowance for churches is also legally suspect, the Thomas More Society argued, as it did not move churches to stage 2 of the original reopening plan “but has created an entirely new regime to regulate them alone.”

As various federal circuit courts have disagreed on the extent to which states may restrict religious practice during the pandemic, the Thomas More Society asked the Supreme Court to intervene and offer clarity.

“In light of these continued exigencies, it is imperative that states receive consistent and uniform guidance on this matter of utmost importance from Your Honor or the entire Court,” the letter stated.

“The deepening conflict between and among the various Circuit Courts of Appeal has triggered serious uncertainty as to what legal standard applies when citizens consider whether and under what circumstances they may freely exercise their religious faith by attending services at their church, temple, mosque or other place of worship.”

The U.S. Department of Justice warned California in a May 19 letter that it could not single out churches for burdensome restrictions during the pandemic. 

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential e-commerce, are included on the list as being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not,” stated a letter by Eric S. Dreiband, head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, joined by four U.S. attorneys for California.

That letter is one of several recent interventions by the DOJ, warning state and local authorities of the need to respect religious freedoms while making efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus.

On Monday, Nevada U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Deibrand wrote to Governor Steve Sisolak regarding the standing prohibition on gathering of more than 10 people for religious purposes.

"We understand these directives were issued in the midst of an uncertain situation, which may have required quick decisions based on changing information," the DOJ lawyers said. 

"We are concerned, however, that the flat prohibition against ten or more persons gathering for in person worship services — regardless of whether they maintain social distancing guidelines — impermissibly treats religious and nonreligious organizations unequally."

The letter asked Sisolak “to balance competing interests and make your best judgments” in drafting guidelines which accommodate both public health and religious freedom concerns.

After leukemia returns, Bishop Murry of Youngstown resigns

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 11:19

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 09:19 am (CNA).- Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, due to a recurrence of leukemia, the diocese has announced. The bishop is 71 years old, four years younger than standard retirement age for bishops.

In April 2018, Bishop Murry was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent a month of intensive chemotherapy treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, and was released in late May of that year. He doctors said he responded well to the treatment, and the leukemia cells had been suppressed, although he would need to return to the clinic weekly for monitoring.

“In July of 2019 he reentered the Cleveland Clinic for a reoccurrence of leukemia. At that time tests confirmed that he was in remission and that doctors were not recommending a bone marrow transplant,” the Diocese of Youngstown said in a statement this week.

“This past April, his leukemia retuned and he resumed treatment. With this third bout of leukemia, his present state of health leaves him less able to fulfill the tasks entrusted to him as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown,” the statement said.

Following his initial leukemia diagnosis, the bishop stepped down from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, as well as his role as chair of the conference’s Committee on Catholic Education.

Bishop Murry was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1972, and was ordained to the priesthood seven years later. Murry holds a M.Div. degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California, and a Ph.D. in American Cultural History from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He served in administrative roles in two Washington, D.C., high schools, as well as serving as a professor of American Studies at Georgetown University and as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. In 1998, the pope appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and on June 30, 1999, appointed him bishop of the diocese.

Bishop Murry has led the Youngstown diocese since 2007.

 

Holy water and Super Soakers don't mix, priests say

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 05:12

Denver Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 03:12 am (CNA).- After photos appearing to depict blessings or baptisms by water gun went viral online, several priests cautioned that Catholics should take care to treat sacred objects and rites with a proper sense of reverence.

“Putting holy water into a squirt gun and treating it as if it were a comedy sketch on SNL is treating both the sacrament and the blessed water unworthily,” said Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, assistant professor of canon law at St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California.

He noted that the Catechism teaches that profaning sacred objects or treating them unworthily is a sin – the sin of sacrilege.

Pietrzyk spoke to CNA about a number of photos online appearing to depict priests holding water guns at people, purportedly to meet “social distancing” guidelines during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In one photo, a priest points a water gun at a baby in a baptism gown from several yards away.

The priest, Fr. Stephen Klasek, pastor of two parishes in the diocese of Nashville: St. Mark in Manchester, Tennessee, and Saint Paul the Apostle in nearby Tullahoma, took to Facebook Tuesday to explain his intentions.

Saint Mark Catholic Church said in a Tuesday Facebook post that the photo was intended to be humorous. According to the social media parish’s post, the family had asked the priest to pose for the photo in imitation of similar pictures on the internet. It said the gun did not contain holy water and was not squirted at the baby.

The parish said it felt a need to “clarify the photo that has gone viral as we have been receiving inquiries about it. It has garnered almost a million views in Twitter, has been in the news in several websites and memes. It had good and controversial comments.”

While Klasek’s photo was apparently staged, other photos have also been circulating the internet, including pictures of a priest purporting to bless parishioners with a water gun in Detroit. Fr. Tim Pelc told Buzzfeed News he had shot parishioners with holy water in a water gun as something “for the kids of the parish.”

Pietrzyk cautioned against assuming that the intention in a specific instance was to mock the sacraments. “I think we ought to proceed from the premise that it involves individuals who were attempting to make light of the difficulties of the coronavirus situation,” he told CNA.

Still, the priest said, while the intent may have been lighthearted, the photos raise serious concerns.

Holy water is a sacramental, a material object meant to help us sanctify our lives and dispose us to better receive the graces of the sacraments, he explained. Holy water reminds us of the purifying power of baptism, and of Christ, who referred to himself as living water.

“[B]lessed objects, including holy water, should be treated with respect and reverence as things set aside to build up the life of faith,” Pietrzyk said.

Fr. Daniel Cardo, who holds the Pope Benedict XVI Chair of Liturgical Studies at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, noted that there is a liturgical instrument specifically intended for the sprinkling of water - the aspergilium – which is used during the Easter Season and in other ceremonies when holy water is sprinkled.

“We do this all the time. We bless people at a distance with holy water. We have a beautiful thing that we can use [the aspergilium]. We don’t need toys to do that,” he told CNA.

Both Cardo and Pietrzyk suggested that an actual baptism performed with a water gun would be illicit.

But even a staged photo raises the possibility of the sin of scandal, which the Church defines as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil,” Pietrzyk said.

Staging such a photo, he said, may lead others “to treat the things of God and of Divine Worship as mere objects of derision, stripping them of their sacral import and infusing them with a sense of the slap-stick.”

“It especially leads non-believers into concluding that people of faith do not take their beliefs seriously and, in extreme cases, can lead people to conclude that the priests involved think that such acts of religion are no more than superstitious nonsense.”

Cardo agreed. He said the photo, while perhaps intended to be funny, could lead to confusion about the Sacrament of Baptism and how it is conducted.

“There is definitely a risk of trivializing” the sacrament, he said, and of undermining the sacredness of the rite that the Church views as opening the door to eternal life.

Ultimately, Cardo said, it is a question of whether we believe what the Church professes about holy water – and what it means to act accordingly.

“Do we believe that this water that has been blessed is actually different than what it was before? In other words, do we believe that through the prayers instituted by the Church, that water is not the same – there is something that changed in that water, that therefore makes it capable of doing something in the object or person that receives it?”

If so, he said, “then the consequence of treating that water with the utmost love and devotion and respect would be the most natural thing.”

Research aims to quantify and explain drop in US religiosity

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 02:09

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 12:09 am (CNA).- The current drop in the number of people in the United States identifying with a religion may not be permanent, but it is in some ways unprecedented, according to a new research study aiming to quantify the drop in religiosity the United States has experienced over the past several decades.

“Fewer people claim to be or identify as part of a religious community of any kind,” researcher Lyman Stone wrote in an April 2020 study by the American Enterprise Institute.

“From 95 percent or higher just after World War II to around 75 percent today, there has been a seismic change in Americans’ self-identified religiosity.”

For the past 50 years or so, religious membership has been in a decline “striking in its speed and uniformity across different measures of religiosity,” he said.

One of the biggest factors on decreasing religiosity has been secularized, public education, Stone argued.

“The decline in religiosity in America is not the product of a natural change in preferences, but an engineered outcome of clearly identifiable policy choices in the past,” he said.

Stone argued that the present decline in the percentage of “religious” people in the U.S. is not all that different in pace and severity from the decline experienced post-1700— around the time period identified as The Enlightenment, when many anti-religious ideas started to gain traction in Europe and elsewhere. 

Despite the decline in numbers, the total number of religious adherents in what would become the United States actually increased post-1700— thanks largely to massive population growth— even as the share of the population declined.

Today, in contrast, the total number of “religious” people in the U.S. as a share of the population has remained flat since 2005. Just 35% of the population attends religious services weekly— nevertheless, a high percentage compared to most countries in Europe.

After that post-1700 decline, religiosity in the U.S. “rose persistently” between 1776 and the mid-20th century.

The Second Great Awakening, a wave of religious revivalism generally dated between 1790 and 1830, however, did see growth in membership, Stone wrote.

Church membership also rose between the 1850s and 1940s, thanks in large part to immigration. Data from 1906 show that at least a quarter of religious people were worshipping in languages other than English— not counting Latin— at least occasionally.

According to membership data, Stone wrote, religiosity in America peaked sometime between 1940 and 1970, with religious membership rising dramatically during and after World War II in particular. By 1960, half of all Americans attended religious services weekly.

In his research, Stone highlighted the importance of distinguishing between religious membership— or even religious attendance— and religious belief. He warns that church attendance is not the best predictor of “religiosity.”

Although over 80% of Americans will say they believe in God, only a third will actually attend church, he said.

Similarly, though not a large number of people regularly went to church before 1930, almost all would say they believed in God, Stone argued.

Stone also pointed out that church membership— the kind that is officially recorded— also is not always the best predictor of “religiosity,” though it is helpful to observe as a “minimum level of behavior.”

“A person baptized, married, and eulogized in a church is properly counted as part of a religious community, but nonetheless their experience of religion is different than someone who attends every week,” Stone noted.

Stone pointed to several U.S. policy decisions that he believes have had an effect on the post-1960 decline in church attendance.

Among the policies he identified are Blaine Amendments, which grew out of 19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment and sought to prohibit direct government aid to religious schools. Today, 39 states formally restrict using any taxpayer money for religious instruction.

It was not until the mid-20th century that public education began to become as thoroughly secularized as it is today, Stone said. The rise of secular, public schools and the decline of religious schools in the U.S. meant that students who attended public schools after the 1940s “spent much of their life in schools that were far more secularized, and these are the generations during which religiosity has declined.”

Changing family dynamics, including an increase in the average age of marriage, also have had an effect on religiosity, Stone said.

He contended that a greater emphasis on higher education— which takes years to complete— has led to more people delaying marriage or choosing not to get married at all, meaning they are less likely to form religious habits such as attending church.

Additionally, a rise in interfaith marriages plays a role, Stone said. The children of interfaith marriages are less likely to adhere to either of their parents’ religions, or any religion, than children whose parents share the same religion.

 

Briefing shows ACLU has abandoned religious freedom for 'culture wars,' critic says

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 19:45

Denver Newsroom, May 26, 2020 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- Longtime critics of religious freedom protections, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, have formed a partnership to oppose the Trump administration policies and actions that aim to protect several Catholic institutions.

But for Matthew Franck, a Princeton University politics lecturer and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, this course will advance conflict and coercion, not freedom.

“The American Civil Liberties Union used to take an active interest in protecting everyone’s religious freedom, as well as the other protections of the Bill of Rights. But no longer,” Franck told CNA May 26. “In the culture wars generated by the sexual revolution, the ACLU now ranges itself against the constitutional right of religious freedom and on the side of coercion.”

Franck said the ACLU is supporting claims to civil rights not grounded in the U.S. Constitution. When those claims come into conflict with the religious freedom of individuals, religious associations, religious schools and religious charities, he suggested, the result is sometimes government coercion.

Those claims include “women seeking employer-provided contraceptives and abortifacients, or same-sex couples that want to compel church-sponsored adoption agencies to place children with them, or gay teachers who marry their partners and want to keep on working for Catholic schools that consider their teachers bound by the Church’s moral teachings, or same-sex couples who want a Christian baker to make them a custom wedding cake,” Franck said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for American Progress have launched a joint project, with material titled “Connecting the Dots.” The ACLU produced a legal briefing while the Center for American Progress released a short video May 19 linking to the briefing.

The advocacy is the product of a partnership between the two groups and the Movement Advancement Project, a strategic communications and development organization in LGBT advocacy founded by the influential millionaire Tim Gill.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value—but that freedom does not give institutions or individuals the right to harm others,” the Center for American Progress said May 19. “Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, his administration has expanded religious exemptions in an attempt to gut civil rights protections and codify discrimination against people of minority faiths, women, and people who are LGBTQ.”

The ACLU’s May 2020 briefing paper “Connecting the Dots,” argued that the Trump administration was working to “create a license to discriminate across the country.”

“In the name of religious liberty, Trump and his allies have pursued a strategy to legalize discrimination based on religion and sex — including sexual orientation and gender identity — and other personal characteristics,” the briefing said.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental American value, so fundamental that it is protected by the First Amendment to our nation’s Constitution. But that freedom does not give institutions or individuals the right to harm others, including by discriminating and especially with taxpayer dollars,” it continued.

The ACLU said that the Trump administration authorized or expanded religious exemptions “that enable institutions, businesses, and individuals to refuse to comply with laws they assert interfere with their religious beliefs.” Such laws, in the legal group’s view, include non-discrimination laws, health care laws, and adoption and foster care laws.

For his part, Franck rejected the legal group’s claims.

“What the ACLU calls ’discrimination’ is not, under federal statutes as currently interpreted, unlawful,” Franck told CNA. “That may change if the Supreme Court willfully misreads Title VII in two pending cases. But whatever happens in these cases, the fact that the ACLU and the Center for American Progress call the defense of personal and institutional conscience an ’abuse’ of the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment says more about those organizations’ abandonment of the traditions of American freedom than it does about the Trump administration.”

“The Obama administration, sadly, ’normalized’ all these attacks on religious freedom as administration policies. The Trump administration deserves credit for working to reverse such policies,” Franck said.

Several topics in the ACLU briefing concern cases where Catholic institutions are involved.

The legal group opposed accommodations for employers with religious or moral objections to providing health care plans that cover contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious congregation that provides care for the indigent elderly, are still tied up in court over the coverage mandate, which dates back to the middle of the Obama administration.

The briefing objected to the Trump administration’s September 2019 statement of interest in a fired high school teacher’s lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The archdiocese had ruled that the teacher violated archdiocesan policy and Catholic teaching by contracting a same-sex civil marriage and said that the Catholic high school must terminate his job to maintain its Catholic affiliation.

The ACLU characterized the Trump administration’s action as “arguing against employees who are fired for being gay.”

Regarding a California legal case against a Sacramento-area Catholic hospital, the ACLU briefing claims its client, Evan Minton, was “turned away from a religious hospital for being transgender.”

Minton, who presents as a transgender man, filed a lawsuit against the Dignity Health Catholic health system after a Catholic hospital refused to perform a planned elective hysterectomy. Health system officials arranged for Minton to be transferred to a hospital not affiliated with Catholicism. In September 2019, a California court allowed Minton’s lawsuit to proceed, overturning a lower court’s decision that the transfer of Milton was sufficient to avoid charges under state anti-discrimination law.

“Catholic hospitals do not perform sterilizing procedures such as hysterectomies for any patient regardless of their gender identity, unless there is a serious threat to the life or health of the patient,” Dignity Health said in September 2019.

A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that the denial of surgery to someone seeking to change their gender would not be discriminatory. The letter rejected claims that it is discriminatory to decline to perform a mastectomy or a hysterectomy on a healthy woman who is “seeking to have the appearance of a man.”

The ACLU’s briefing criticized the creation of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services, and objected that this new division is better funded than divisions related to information privacy and civil rights.

The legal group objected to religious freedom protections for prospective foster and adoptive parents and for adoption agencies that receive federal funds. Several Catholic and other Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close by law or by denial of funds because they could not in good conscience place children with same-sex couples.

The ACLU also objected to the Trump administration’s amicus brief in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. The case concerned a Colorado bakery that declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony on the grounds of religious objections. The briefing charged that the Trump administration argued “on behalf of a business’ right to discriminate.”

The briefing claimed the Trump administration required departments and agencies to implement “a distorted interpretation of religious liberty” that in the ACLU’s view excessively favors religious claims. It criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ creation of a Religious Liberty Task Force to implement federal guidance, claiming this could “open the door to widespread discrimination in employment and government-funded services.” The ACLU said the government has denied requests seeking to determine who is on the task force.

The May 2019 action of the Housing and Urban Development on gender identity also drew criticism from the ACLU. The group said this action this allows shelters “to exclude transgender and gender nonconforming people from appropriate shelters, including on the basis of the shelter’s religious beliefs.” The group said that self-identified transgender women should be able to have shelter that “conforms with their gender identity.”

The Department of Labor’s rules allowing religious associations to obtain federal contracts also drew criticism, as did a May 2018 executive order allowing faith-based and community organizations to receive federal funds in grants, contracts and program funding “to the fullest opportunity permitted by law.”

The ACLU, the Center for American Progress, and the Movement Advancement Project are part of a multi-million dollar social and political change advocacy network aiming to limit religious freedom protections. Major funders of this network include the Ford Foundation, the Proteus Fund, and the Arcus Foundation. The Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire Jon Stryker, also funds Christian groups which reject traditional Christian teaching on LGBT issues and abortion.

The Center for American Progress was founded by John Podesta, a former chief-of-staff for President Bill Clinton and campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential run. In 2016, Podesta drew attention after leaked emails implied he had backed several political Catholic groups for a “Catholic Spring” revolt against the bishops.

 

COVID relief efforts should remember the poor, bishop says

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 17:52

CNA Staff, May 26, 2020 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- As Congress considers additional COVID relief efforts in the coming weeks, it should focus especially on the needs of the poor and vulnerable, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“As Congress turns once more to considering additional relief related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus should be on those most in need - the poor, the vulnerable, and people on the margins - to offer them some hope and assistance in desperate circumstances,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in a May 22 statement.

As many states begin the process of reopening following widespread quarantine restrictions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, members of Congress have discussed the possibility of an additional COVID-19 relief bill, although details of a potential bill are not yet clear.

Since March, the U.S. bishops have advocated for bills that would help the poor and unemployed with food security, affordable health care, housing, and education. They have also pushed for assistance to migrants, protections for the unborn, efforts to address ethnic disparities in health outcomes, the well-being of the incarcerated, debt relief, and support for charities during the pandemic.

“Additional needs have emerged such as sufficient protective equipment for all essential workers, protection of familial well-being and integrity, additional research on the link between air pollution and coronavirus health outcomes, and the need to address disruptions to the food supply chain and its impact on farmers and farmworkers, food waste and public health,” Coakley said.

The archbishop welcomed the Vatican’s new commission on COVID-19, which was created by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The commission is made up of the dicastery’s prefect, Cardinal Peter Turkson; secretary, Mons. Bruno-Marie Duffé; and adjunct secretary, Fr. Augusto Zampini.

The Vatican COVID-19 Commission will analyze the virus’ potential socio-economic-cultural impact and propose appropriate solutions for the future. According to the dicastery’s website, it will focus on five major points: “acting now for the future; looking to the future with creativity; communicating hope; seeking common dialogue and reflections; and supporting to care.”

Coakley echoed the words of Pope Francis, who on Easter Sunday prayed for the gift of hope and encouraged solidarity in the face of this crisis.

“Let us proceed in this hope, asking the Lord for wisdom on how best to respond, drawing close to our brothers and sisters in need, and finding our peace in the Lord’s promise to be with us ‘until the end of the age,’” Coakley said.

 

Minnesota bishops: Death of black man in police custody a ‘tragedy’

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 15:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 26, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Minnesota Catholic Conference on Tuesday called the death of a black man while he was in police custody a “tragedy,” and welcomed an investigation.

A video circulated online on Tuesday of a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis. In the video an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department can be seen kneeling on the neck of a man laying on the street as he is taken into custody. The man was later identified as George Floyd.

“I cannot breathe,” Floyd said multiple times, groaning as the knee of a police officer was on his neck. A second police officer stood by watching.

The video appears to skip several minutes to a later shot, where Floyd’s eyes appear closed and onlookers exclaim that he was not moving and shouted at the officers to “get off of his neck.”

According to the Minneapolis Police Department’s account of the arrest, officers had handcuffed Floyd and “noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.” They called for an ambulance, and Floyd was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center “where he died a short time later.”

The state’s Catholic Conference, which speaks on behalf of the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses, called Floyd’s death “a tragedy” and welcomed an investigation.

“This is a tragedy. It is good that state and federal investigators are already looking into the incident to determine what happened,” stated Jason Adkins of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

“People need to feel safe in their communities and have trust in law enforcement, who should exercise their power in a spirit of service,” Adkins said. “If there was misconduct, hopefully justice will be done.”

According to the police department, officers had initially responded to a “forgery in progress” on the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South.

“Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence,” the department said.

When officers arrived on the scene, the department said that Floyd was ordered “to step from his car,” and physically resisted arrest once he got out of his car; the officers handcuffed him and then noted “he appeared to be suffering medical distress.”

Both the FBI and the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will be investigating the incident.

The mayor of St. Paul called the video “one of the most vile and heartbreaking images I’ve ever seen,” and that both officers “must be held fully accountable. This must stop now.”

Priest says water gun 'baptism' photo meant to be 'funny'

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 14:55

CNA Staff, May 26, 2020 / 12:55 pm (CNA).- The Tennessee priest in a now viral photograph that seemed to depict a baptism by water gun has told parishioners that the photo was staged, and was meant to be funny.

“This is what Fr. Steve said about this: 1) The family had requested for him to do this pose as copied from several posts of priests circulating around the internet. He agreed because he thought it was funny. 2) The water in the water gun is not holy water and was squirted towards the dad and not the baby for humor impact,” explained Saint Mark Catholic Church of Manchester, Tennessee in a Facebook post Tuesday.

“Bottom line, it was meant to be for fun,” the parish post added.

The priest in the photo is Fr. Stephen Klasek, who is pastor of two parishes: St. Mark, and Saint Paul the Apostle in nearby Tullahoma. Klasek, a priest of the Diocese of Nashville, has been ordained 37 years.

The parish indicated it was posting to "clarify the photo that has gone viral as we have been receiving inquiries about it. It has garnered almost a million views in Twitter, has been in the news in several websites and memes. It had good and controversial comments.”

While Klasek’s photo was apparently staged, photos of a priest purporting to bless parishioners with a water gun in Detroit went viral earlier this month. Fr. Tim Pelc told Buzzfeed News he had shot parishioners with holy water in a water gun as something “for the kids of the parish.”

Klasek's photo spread like wildfire over social media this weekend. While some praised it, others criticized the photo, suggesting it seemed to make light of the solemnity of baptism or trivialize priestly ministry.

The Diocese of Nashville has not yet responded to questions from CNA regarding Klasek’s staged photo.

 

California churches can reopen at 25% capacity

Tue, 05/26/2020 - 11:00

CNA Staff, May 26, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Churches in California can begin holding services again at a limited capacity, the state announced on Monday.

The California health department ruled that, subject to the approval of local authorities, churches in the state can begin reopening along with in-store retail shopping. The state had originally placed churches in a later reopening stage than some businesses which have already begun reopening.

Under the new 21-day policy, houses of worship can hold religious services at up to 25% capacity with a maximum of 100 attendees.

Churches have to implement virus prevention plans, recommend face coverings, set social distancing guidance, and “consider eliminating singing and group recitations.” Any singing or recitations “should be conducted outside,” the department said.

After 21 days, the state health department will reassess the policy, which is still subject to the approval of county health departments. According to KGO local news, some counties have progressed to later stages of reopening than others.

The state’s Catholic conference tweeted on Monday that the announcement was “welcome news,” asking Catholics to “continue to be careful and considerate” and to consult their diocese on reopening plans as “not all will be the same.”

The conference told CNA on May 14 that “the dioceses are working with all possible speed” to formulate their own plans and “working to match local conditions,” consulting with local authorities on how to safely reopen churches as the situation of the virus varied by county.

California remains in stage 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) four-stage reopening plan, where manufacturing, logistics, and some retail businesses are being allowed to reopen with some restrictions.

Churches were initially listed in stage 3 of the reopening plan, a later phase reserved for “higher-risk workplaces.”

The Thomas More Society had filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of a Pentecostal church in San Diego, saying that the state had violated First Amendment freedoms by forcing churches to remain closed while allowing some businesses to reopen during the pandemic. The church had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in its case.

Federal guidance for the resumption of in-person religious services was published on Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), after President Trump called on state governors to allow churches to reopen “right now.”

Public Masses in Californian dioceses have been suspended since March. In recent days, some of the state’s bishops had said that plans were underway to eventually resume public Masses.

On May 12, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone announced that he and other bishops had consulted with local leaders about safely resuming public Masses. Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said on May 20 that “My brother priests and I are preparing to resume the public celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass.” 

On May 23, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said he was “working really hard” with state and local officials “to help them to understand what is the importance of the presence of God in our lives and how beautiful it is for us to come to church,” and that “I think the officials are, little by little, understanding better what is that urgent reality.

Bishop on Memorial Day: Sacrifice for others is at the heart of our faith

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 12:54

CNA Staff, May 25, 2020 / 10:54 am (CNA).- As Catholics celebrate Memorial Day this year, they should keep in mind not only the sacrifice of the men and women who gave their lives in service to the country, but also Christ’s sacrifice, which is at the heart of our faith, said Bishop David O'Connell of Trenton.

In a message to the faithful of his diocese, O’Connell noted that Memorial Day is often celebrated with cookouts, swimming, and parades, as well as visits to military cemeteries to honor veterans who have died in service to the country. He called on Catholics to remember the memory and sacrifices of those who have fallen.

“Memorial Day honors those brave women and men who proudly wore the uniform of our armed forces and made the ultimate sacrifices that have become the lifeblood of our republic,” he said. “It is entirely fitting that we remember them with gratitude and pride.”

The faithful can also see in the sacrifice of fallen veterans a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ, and a call to lay down their own lives in service to others, O’Connell said.

“For Catholics, sacrifice and dying for others is the very root of our faith,” he said. “We need look no further than the Crucifix that is the central symbol of our religious consciousness to remember how the Lord Jesus redeemed us through his death and freed us from sin.”

The bishop recalled Christ’s words that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“The sacrifices made by our countrymen and women throughout American history are a reminder of Christ’s message,” he said.
 

 

Why medical students should learn about religion

Mon, 05/25/2020 - 12:01

Denver Newsroom, May 25, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- Four medical school educators have said that fully to address a patient’s needs, physicians should begin asking questions about the patient’s spirituality and religion.

A May 19 opinion piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine was written by a group of medical educators: Doctors Kristin Collier, Cornelius James, Sanjay Saint, and Joel Howell.

Is It Time to More Fully Address Teaching Religion and Spirituality in Medicine?” said assessing a patient's religious beliefs is important to understanding fully the person. They also highlighted the significance of spirituality in America.

“Today, approximately 90% of Americans believe in God or a higher power. Furthermore, 53% of Americans consider religion to be ‘very important’ in their lives,” they wrote.

“Because religious commitment is intrinsically connected to cultural, mental, spiritual, and societal aspects of wellness, many patients believe that any authentic approach to health care ought to engage their religious commitments.”

However, physicians often do not discuss spirituality with their patients. Physicians promote a medical education based on quantitative science, which ignores immaterial, spiritual realities, they said.
 
“Science became an almost unquestioned source of authority. Physicians started seeing patients less as social beings with families and faith being essential parts of their lives, and more as collections of malfunctioning organs defined by microscopic pathology and bacteriologic culture,” they said.

Kristin Collier, an assistant professor and the director of the University of Michigan Medical School Program on Health Spirituality & Religion, said patients want a deeper relationship with their physician.

“I’m a primary care doctor so I have relationships with people over time … As physicians, we are not technicians taking care of complex machines. We are taking care of human beings and we know from research that patients desire to be seen as whole persons,” she told CNA.

She pointed to the example of Cicely Saunders, an English nurse and a founder of palliative medicine. Saunders emphasized four dynamics: physical, social, physiological, and spiritual. Addressing only half of these needs will only acknowledge half of the person, Collier added.

“Patients have social needs, they have spiritual needs. Those needs actually can intersect for the physical. For example, patients who have under-recognized, undertreated spiritual needs at the end of life ... can [contribute to] unremitting physical pain,” she said.

According to the opinion piece, there is a lack of training and mentorship fully to equip upcoming doctors to discuss spirituality. They said 78% of medical students reported that they have rarely or never seen their instructors discuss religion with their patients.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has required a core set of “spiritual competencies” for students to undertake in their medical education. The AAMC defines spirituality as an individual’s search for meaning through a participation in “religion and/or belief in God, family, naturalism, rationalism, humanism and the arts.”

Collier said a lot of medical schools have a curriculum for spirituality and described the curriculum at the University of Michigan Medical School. She said one of the examples is the FICA assessment, a questionnaire that assesses a patient’s beliefs, purpose, and community. Under the program, she said, the school will provide paid actors to play the role as patients and the students will then ask spiritual questions.

However, she said doctors and instructors need to be living out this example with real patients, which is a topic that is rarely discussed. She said that in the past it was taboo for doctors to discuss a patient's sexual history, which is an essential aspect of understanding a patient’s physical health. She said that similarly, doctors will not approach the subject of spirituality because it is too private or considered to be unrelated to health care.

“In some ways, the spiritual history parallels that of the sexual history. For years, the sexual history was considered ‘off limits’ in the clinical encounter, perhaps because it was too private a subject or not relevant for most medical providers, or perhaps because providers were uncomfortable talking about a diverse range of sexual behaviors,” the opinion piece said.

To introduce the topic, she said, doctors could begin with a questionnaire, like the FICA spiritual assessment. But, this important topic should eventually transcend a questionnaire, she said, noting that a deep human interaction extends beyond the paper. She said understanding the whole person will help doctors best understand how to treat their patients.

“I think this best happens in a relationship and I have relationships with my patients… What gives your life meaning? That question can oftentimes open up a lot of really interesting insights into your patients,” she said.

“[These questions] can help inform your decisions when it comes down to end of life or goals of care conversation.”

She emphasized the importance of faith in her own life and how that has given her a valuable perspective on the treatment of patients. She said it is the responsibility of physicians to set an example of a medical practice that honors human dignity.

“I see patients made in the image of God and I want to be able to attend to everything that is causing them distress and to be able to use my team to be able to attend to that,” she said.

“We have a responsibility as medical educators to teach our medical students and residents and fellows how to deliver whole-person care because that honors the dignity of the person. And, we know that patients want to be seen as more than just their disease or their biology.”

Want safe church re-openings? Follow CDC guidelines, infectious disease expert says

Sun, 05/24/2020 - 14:35

Denver Newsroom, May 24, 2020 / 12:35 pm (CNA).- Timothy Flanigan, M.D., worked to combat the deadly Ebola outbreak of 2014.

If someone asks him, “Is it safe for me to go to Mass?” Flanigan has one answer: “Are they following the guidelines the CDC has provided us to decrease the risk of transmission?”

In his view, it is the wrong question to ask whether it is safer to go to Home Depot than to go to church.

Rather, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines for group gatherings are paramount.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” said Flanigan, a professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

“Following that guidance is so important for all of us to do,” he told CNA May 21. “Whether it’s in a mall, whether it’s in a supermarket, whether it’s in an office building, whether it’s in a meeting.”

The novel coronavirus, technically known as Covid-19, has killed over 94,000 Americans and infected more than 1.5 million since January, the CDC reports.

Flanigan is also a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. He is part of the Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacramental and Pastoral Care, a project of the Thomistic Institute at the Pontifical Faculty of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. The group has put out guidelines on the sacraments pastoral care and the restoration of public Masses.

In 2014, Flanigan was in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. There, he helped Catholic clinics and the local Catholic hospital to increase safety amid the extremely deadly Ebola epidemic. His comments to CNA came before President Donald Trump’s May 22 announcement that he would direct the CDC to issue new guidance for churches to re-open.

The CDC has clearly said that the primary mode of transmission is through the aerosolization of droplets, Flanigan said.

“We know that these droplets occur certainly when people cough, when they sneeze, when they sing, when they talk in a loud voice. There is more projection of these aerosolized droplets,” he explained.

CDC guidance for people in groups is the same whether they are at a large store, a meeting, a workplace or at Mass.

“Their guidance says it is most important that we socially distance, that we’re six feet apart. That’s very important. That we don’t touch each other, because when we touch each other or when we share items,we come in contact with these droplets, and then when we touch our nose, our eyes, or our mouth, that gives the virus the ability to enter into those mucous membranes and cause infections.”

The CDC recommends that anybody with respiratory illness or an active cough should stay home.

“They recommend the use of masks in public spaces, and different states have different guidances,” said Flanigan. Wearing masks is helpful to decrease the spread of respiratory droplets and makes the wearer more aware.

“We generally don’t touch our nose and our mouth in the same way when we are wearing a mask,” he said. Flanigan also noted the importance of good hand hygiene, the use of different hand sanitizers, and guidance on cleaning services for venues.

“That guidance can help us significantly at decreasing the risk of transmission of coronavirus and other viruses associated with respiratory illnesses,” he said.

For Flanigan, the question is: “is the CDC guidance being followed when a group of people get together, for whatever those reasons are?”

“There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan added.

As states and localities gradually lift limits on economic and social life imposed to hinder the spread of the coronavirus, the courts are now considering the question of whether churches are being treated more strictly than similar venues.

A federal judge said the North Carolina governor failed to prove churches were more at risk and temporarily blocked restrictions For his part, Gov. Roy Cooper said different rules were justified because religious services posed greater dangers of spreading the novel coronavirus.


Coronavirus restrictions have tended to enjoy broad public support, though some churches, business owners and workers have protested.

On May 20, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota said they would allow parishes to resume public Masses, and to defy a statewide order prohibiting religious gatherings that exceed 10 people.

“An order that sweeps so broadly that it prohibits, for example, a gathering of 11 people in a Cathedral with a seating capacity of several thousand defies reason,” they said.

However, the Catholic bishops emphasized the need for parishes to follow strict requirements established by the Church. They must limit attendance to no more than one-third of church capacity, and must follow sanitation protocols. Catholics are still dispensed from their Sunday obligation to attend Mass.

Flanigan said safety precautions are vital for any such effort.

“When bishops do the careful work, as is done in many parts of the country like Minnesota, to recommend that their churches open following the guidance of the CDC, and the state has opened up similar gatherings in similar-type gatherings, then I’d certainly support the bishops in doing this,” he told CNA. “I support them for recommending an opening up, and the most important thing is doing what they are doing: following the CDC guidance.”

Churches have been the focus of concern during the epidemic because of the close proximity of church attendees, socialization before, during and after services, and practices like singing. Some churches have older congregations and so are believed to be more vulnerable to extreme consequences from coronavirus infection.

A May 22 article in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report considered a novel coronavirus outbreak at a rural Arkansas church from March 6-11. The report said that large gatherings pose a risk for Covid-19 transmission. Among the 92 attendees at the Arkansas church, 38% developed a laboratory-confirmed case of infection, and three died. Cases in the community linked to the church numbered 26, including one death.

The article said the case has the implication that faith-based groups “should work with local health officials” to determine how to implement U.S. guidelines for modifying their activities “to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities.”

While not commenting on any specific incident, Flanigan said these incidents of contagion at churches “occurred prior to the use of those guidelines.”

“We know that one very significant outbreak occurred where there was a lot of contact with different church members, very close contact, a lot of physical contact, touching, different materials, passing things around,” he said. “Of course this was prior to our awareness of the spread of coronavirus and prior to an understanding of how important it is that we follow the CDC guidance.”

“The CDC has described outbreaks that have occurred in the setting of singing,” he said. “We know that different activities can cause more aerosolization of droplets, and that has let to very specific recommendations. Unfortunately, choirs are recommended not to practice and not to sing, and not to perform in all areas. Whether it is in Mass or other choral groups or performances, for example.”

He said outbreaks have been related to public gatherings, carnivals, celebrations, conferences, and public worship.

“I think it’s a mistake to say ‘is a conference safer or less safe than a house of worship?’ That’s the wrong question,” Flanigan told CNA. “The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

“If somebody makes an arbitrary judgment that a church is not going to follow that guidance, without any evidence, that is biased and there is no evidence for that,” he said.

Flanigan questioned the categories of some governors who classified religious gatherings as “non-essential,” compared to more “essential” activities like grocery stores.

“Being able to come together and pray together, being able to receive the sacraments, to encounter the Lord, right there in the sacraments, is so important,” Flanigan commented.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, just as important as spiritual health,” he said. “We are a whole self, which has a mind, a body, a heart a soul. To be able to pray together, to be able to support each other, to be able to worship together, to be able to receive the Lord in communion, is so important for us to be healthy and to thrive.”

“That is why our churches are essential,” he told CNA. “That is why this whole argument of essential vs. non-essential was a mistake, and not supported by anyone. Some governors just made assumptions that church is non-essential, and that is a grave error. It is an error from the public health point of view, and it is an error from the public health point of view.”

One hallmark of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, is isolation.

“We are alone in the hospital, we are alone in our nursing homes, we are alone with our fear at two o’clock in the morning. The way we normally get our support is suddenly taken away from us,” he reflected. “That alone-ness is very very difficult. The evil one can attack us, gravely, during these times.”

Coronavirus restrictions have polarized some supporters and critics, and appears to have resulted in violence at times. Across the country, Several store clerks who have asked patrons to wear masks have been assaulted or killed. A Holly Springs, Mississippi Pentecostal church that filed a legal challenge against the city’s stay-at-home order was burned down in an apparent arson, with a note chalked nearby denouncing church members as hypocritical.

Even as some states open up, outbreaks continue. Five of seven Redemptorists at a Houston, Texas community went back into quarantine after testing positive for the coronavirus, and after another priest died after possible exposure.

 

Warning of global hunger crisis, CRS launches campaign to help

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 17:59

CNA Staff, May 23, 2020 / 03:59 pm (CNA).- As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to worsen an already tenuous food situation for millions across the globe, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has announced a campaign to help address global hunger.

“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,” said CRS president and CEO Sean Callahan this week.

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

Catholic Relief Services warned that a food crisis already existed in many countries before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, unemployment, lockdowns, heightened food prices, and supply disruptions have made it even more difficult for impoverished families in many areas to get food.

“The shadow pandemic of worsening hunger is playing out in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries,” said Callahan.

The World Food Program has warned that the pandemic could double the number of people facing acute hunger or starvation, which already stands at 135 million.

Pope Francis has highlighted food insecurity in his homilies and addresses. In his comments on the COVID pandemic earlier this month, the pope noted that more than 3.7 million people have died from hunger so far this year. He warned of a “pandemic of hunger” that is not receiving adequate attention.

In response to the global crisis, Catholic Relief Services has launched a “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign, calling for greater awareness, advocacy and fundraising to address global hunger rates.

The relief agency is encouraging Catholics to educate themselves and become involved in the effort to fight global hunger. It is asking Americans to contact their representatives in support of specific legislation, such as the Global Thrive Act (H.R. 4864), which would integrate early childhood development efforts - including health and nutrition assistance - into already-established foreign aid programs.

The campaign also encourages Catholics to donate to relief efforts when possible as a sign of solidarity with those who are suffering, and to help spread awareness on social media with the hashtag #LeadNow.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has invited the faithful to offer a prayer at noon on May 24 as part of the campaign.

“At this critical time, CRS' ‘Lead the Way on Hunger’ campaign is an important expression of our Church's steadfast commitment to global solidarity, to working for the common good, and to the upholding of human dignity,” said Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a member of the CRS board.

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

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 malnutrition and often receive their only meal of the day through distribution programs at their schools, which are now 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.

Callahan urged Americans to be involved in efforts to alleviate acute hunger for the most vulnerable populations.

“The welfare of the next generation hangs in the balance,” he said.

 

After Minnesota bishops plan to defy Mass restrictions, governor eases rules

Sat, 05/23/2020 - 15:46

CNA Staff, May 23, 2020 / 01:46 pm (CNA).- The governor of Minnesota has issued an order allowing for the resumption of limited public worship gatherings, days after the bishops of the state said they would allow public Masses to resume in defiance of previous guidelines.

The bishops maintained that the original guidelines were unfairly restrictive toward religious services, as businesses and other entities in the state are slowly being allowed to reopen with new safety protocols in place to help guard against the novel coronavirus.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said he welcomes the executive order by Governor Tim Walz. In a May 23 letter to the members of the archdiocese, he thanked the governor and his team for their willingness to dialogue and arrive at a solution that respects both safety and freedom of religion.

“As you know, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota believe that the previous limitation on faith-based gatherings to ten people unreasonably burdened the Church’s ability to fully meet the sacramental needs of our faithful,” Hebda said in the letter.

“As allowances were made for other, less essential activities, it seemed to many that the life of faith was receiving unequal treatment,” he continued. “The new executive order removes that unreasonable burden on the Church and allows us to bring the Eucharist, the food of everlasting life, to our community.”

A May 13 executive order began Minnesota’s second stage of statewide response to the coronavirus pandemic. The order, issued by Governor Walz, reopens retail businesses and will gradually reopen restaurants and bars, but limits religious services to 10 people or fewer, with no timeline for loosening religious restrictions.

On May 20, the bishops of Minnesota said they would allow parishes to resume public Masses at one-third of church capacity on May 26, in defiance of the statewide order.

They bishops said the governor’s order was overly broad, to the point of defying reason, since significantly greater numbers of people were permitted to enter stores and shopping malls. They said they believed Masses could be resumed in a way that adhered to health and safety standards.

The bishops said they had attempted to work with state leaders, but had not received a concrete timeline or reasonable roadmap for resuming public Masses. Lutheran churches in the area also announced a plan to reopen without the governor’s permission.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which had worked alongside law firm Sidley Austin to raise the churches’ religious freedom concerns with the governor, said the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod worked with the governor’s office to develop a plan for houses of worship to open safely and responsibly on May 27.

While the Minnesota bishops had initially granted permission for public Masses to resume on May 26, Hebda explained that the additional day will allow parishes to have a chance to reconsider plans based on new protocols, which were developed with the help of public health officials.

These protocols include limiting attendance to 25% of church capacity, or 250 people, whichever is lower, rather than the one-third capacity the bishops had initially proposed.

“Even with these revisions, we hope that parishes already planning to come together on Sunday, May 31, for the celebration of Pentecost and the conclusion of the Easter season, should still be able to do that,” Hebda said.

The archbishop stressed that Governor Walz is trusting faith communities to make responsible decisions as they gather for public worship.

“The bishops of Minnesota have repeatedly told our pastors and parishes that they should only return to public Mass when they are able and willing to follow the many protocols that have been put in place – including sanitization and a few changes to the liturgy, particularly regarding the reception of Holy Communion [in the hand],” he said. “If a parish is not confident they are ready, they should not open. Period.”

Other changes to the liturgy will include a suspension of the Sign of Peace and the use of hand sanitizer by Eucharistic ministers before the distribution of communion.

Hebda recognized the sacrifice of the faithful in the archdiocese who have been unable to receive the Eucharist in recent weeks, while reiterating that the dispensation from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass remains in place, and those who are sick, vulnerable, or uncomfortable attending Mass at this time should remain at home.

He also thanked the priests who have ministered to their people and to the sick, recognizing the risk associated with doing so. He called the faithful to pray for the sick and dying, the first responders and health care workers treating them, and for an end to the pandemic.

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, said Minnesota should be a model for other states that have closed houses of worship.

“Governor Walz is to be commended for seeing the light,” he said. “Minnesota is setting an example by recognizing the importance of giving equal treatment to churches and other houses of worship, and that worship services can be conducted safely, cooperatively, and responsibly.”

 

After Trump call to reopen churches, Catholic doctor says it can be done safely

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 19:45

Denver Newsroom, May 22, 2020 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- While President Donald Trump's May 22 call to reopen churches has become a source of national controversy, a group of Catholic doctors has offered a plan that could expedite that process.

“I think that if we just use common sense to compare apples to apples for metrics that we know matter - like density, for example - then there’s no real kind of objective scientific reason why Mass is any more dangerous than going to the grocery store. I think the difference here is a perceived risk,” said Dr. Andrew Wang, an immunobiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine.

Wang said that while it is impossible to eliminate all risk, there are steps that churches can take to prudently reopen for Mass and Confession.

“If we have best practice for the hospital, for Home Depot, for Chick-fil-A, then why not have best practices for Mass? It just seems like it would follow naturally,” he told CNA.

Wang is one of seven Catholic doctors who released a document entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.”

The road map says that the sacraments are essential for Catholics, and argues that “churches can operate as safely as other essential services,” as long as care is taken to form and follow careful plans.

Safety protocols should be created with the help of medical experts and may need to be adjusted over time, it says, to reflect the changing realities and medical recommendations in a given area.

The document calls for Mass to be held with social distancing and the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Singing should be avoided, and those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

It calls for confessions to be held in outdoor or well-ventilated indoor areas, with the use of masks, an impermeable barrier between the priest and penitent, and frequent sanitization of surfaces.

As the novel coronavirus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease. However, beginning in mid-April, dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses.

At a Friday press briefing, Trump said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would, at his direction, be issuing new guidance for churches to reopen. He said he was identifying houses of worship as “essential,” although a source familiar with the deliberations told CNA that the label is not an official designation by the administration.

Trump’s announcement comes after the CDC reportedly drafted guidance for reopening businesses, churches, and other places of public accommodation earlier this month. On May 7, however, the AP reported that the Trump administration had shelved a 17-page CDC report that included an “Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith.”

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the White House pushed against the CDC issuing guidance for churches, with the concern that it did not want to unnecessarily limit the freedom of churches.

Critics of the decision have argued that church gatherings could result in additional outbreaks of the coronavirus, which has led to more than 93,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.

However, Wang said that he thinks careful guidelines can aid in efforts to prudently reopen churches. He told CNA that he finds Trump’s announcement “very encouraging.”

“I think those of us who are Catholic would probably view attending Mass as essential,” he commented.

The guidelines laid out in the “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely” are the fruit of careful consideration, he said. They address the major points that are currently known about the transmission of the coronavirus.

In implementing the guidelines, he said, parishes will need to take local context into account. For example, a large suburban church with a sizable parking lot may be able to hold an outdoor Mass, while an urban church may find it more difficult to do so.

He also noted that the road map is “a document made by doctors, not by liturgists, so the considerations are really purely medical” and may need to be adapted as deemed appropriate by Church authorities.

In developing the document, Wang said, “what we spent the lion share of our time on was the Eucharist, because that is a bit of special case that the grocery store or Walmart may not have.”

“The moment where you take the host, that presented really a special challenge…This was discussed at length, so that we all had a consensus on what would be safest practices for that particular moment.”

Ultimately, the group of doctors concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.

Wang referenced a recent study showing it is much easier to pick up the virus from saliva than a nasal swab.

While full information about the risk remains unknown, he said, “receiving on the tongue in this case, with this particular virus, may present higher risk” than reception in the hand.

Although he acknowledged that some people may object to this, Wang said that in his perspective, “it boils down to, is it better to not have communion at all - and by extension not have Mass at all?”

He added that the document’s guidelines are recommendations, but that priests and bishops can do as they see fit.

Wang also addressed the concern that HVAC systems may contribute to the spread of the coronavirus, moving contaminated air particles around even if people are spaced out within a church.

Outdoor Mass would be ideal at addressing this particular concern, he said, but it may not be logistically feasible at all parishes.

Still, he said, after a lengthy discussion, “our assessment of the literature was that it was not entirely clear that the circulation of air was necessarily something that would be limiting.” He noted that grocery stories, research labs, and other indoor facilities would also be similarly problematic if HVAC systems played a significant role in spreading the virus.

Ultimately, Wang said, going to church at this time is not risk-free, just as any other public activity is not without risk during a pandemic. He noted that dioceses throughout the country have granted dispensations from the Sunday obligation for those who are unable to attend or are not comfortable with the risk involved.

However, he believes that if churches act prudently, they can implement guidelines to minimize risk, while making the sacraments available to the people of God.

“It just boils down to one of the oldest institutions on earth having some kind of best practices, guidelines, for how one might do this as safely as is possible, based on what we currently know about COVID,” he said.

Laudato si': Atlanta archdiocese’s sustainability efforts 5 years on

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 18:58

Denver Newsroom, May 22, 2020 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- Susan Varlamoff, a retired biologist and parishioner at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, was in 2015 serving as director of the Office of Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, when she heard that Pope Francis was working on an encyclical on the environment.

Varlamoff told CNA that working for a cleaner environment has been a personal mission for her for many years, in part because her family suffered the negative effects of living near a toxic landfill when she was a child. 

“I've been on the forefront of this, doing so much in my own home, but to actually see the Catholic Church embrace this and the pope, who's a trained chemist, come out with an environmental encyclical was absolutely thrilling,” she told CNA.

Varlamoff approached her archbishop at the time— Wilton Gregory, now Archbishop of Washington— to see if she could somehow offer her scientific expertise to the pope.

Gregory laughed and said the pope likely had all the scientific help he needed— but, he said, the archdiocese would need its own action plan.

Valamoff began collaborating with climate scientists and other professionals at the University of Georgia, along with several interreligious groups who also were working on addressing environmental issues, to begin the process of creating the action plan. Before they could do much, Laudato si’ was promulgated.

Valamoff said when she read the encyclical, it exceeded her expectations. It was clear to her that Pope Francis had received good input from his scientific advisors, she said.

“What I was surprised about the document was that it addressed many different environmental issues from biodiversity, energy, water, and then he talked about the unfair way that the environmental issues are affecting the poor. They're taking a disproportionate share of the burden, of these environmental issues,” Varlamoff said.

Laudato si’ was released in May 2015. By November, Susan and her team presented a 48-page, peer-reviewed action plan to the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

The plan suggests ten areas where Catholics in Atlanta can make changes to make their homes— or their parishes— more eco-friendly, from energy efficiency and recycling to sustainable landscaping and water conservation.

Each section includes a few concrete suggestions that vary in time commitment, cost, and resources. For example, if you want to conserve water, you can check your toilet for slow leaks. Or, if you want to do something bigger, you can install a drip irrigation system in your yard.

The archdiocese presented the plan in 2016, and sent a copy to every parish.

Now, four years on, there are at least 60 or 70 parishes throughout the archdiocese that have a sustainability ministry, Varlamoff said.

One of the first things Varlamoff did at her parish was to replace styrofoam and disposable dishes at events with actual dishes, which reduced waste after large events.

In addition, after an energy audit, the parish replaced all its light bulbs, and is transforming its campus by planting native plants and trees.

She said for the ministries to work well, each parish needs a point person.

“They need somebody to lead the effort, to inspire the people to do this work, and to bring together experts and interested people to move the parishioners and to move the pastor and facilities manager and parish council to do this work,” she said.

At the beginning of this year, the Atlanta archdiocese started the Laudato Si Initiative, meant to expand on what the parish teams were already doing under the action plan.

The archdiocese also hired two Laudato si’ coordinators, including a sustainability strategist, in February.

Leonard Robinson, the sustainability strategist, has some 45 years experience in the field and previously worked with several California governors at the California Environmental Protection Agency.

He said not every parish in Atlanta has embraced the call for greater sustainability, partly because it simply was something new for many of them.

“It's a slight change, but it's not the change people expect. A lot of the parishes said, ‘Okay, we're overburdened. We've got all these ministries we've got doing this, this and this. We don't have time for one more thing’," Robinson told CNA.

“Well, I explained that this one more thing it's not really a thing, we want to weave sustainability in all walks of Catholic life, education, ministry, and everything else. So if you're open to it, you won't even notice that it's extra work. You might find in some cases there's less, and you'll have more resources to do other things.”

In some cases, the best way to approach parishes or individuals is not to even mention the phrases “climate change” or “sustainability.”

“Let's say energy efficiency. Let's say water conservation. Let's say sustainable landscapes. Let's say extra resources for other ministries, because you're saving energy, and these things when you save them, it does save you money, but it's not about money, it's maximizing the things that you do to enforce other ministries."

Robinson said the Laudato Si Action Plan was a great starting point, a “roadmap” for his work at the archdiocese.

“That was one of the attractions for my job. I don't have to start from zero, I've got this roadmap. All I have to do is institute that and weave that into every part of Catholic life,” he said.

Varmaloff commented: "The Pope is so well respected as a moral leader in the world...why shouldn't Catholic churches be demonstration sites for energy efficiency, water efficiency, growing food sustainably? Why not recycling? There's no reason why the Catholic church can't lead the way.”

Church fighting Mississippi coronavirus restriction was burned down

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 17:00

CNA Staff, May 22, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Authorities are investigating the burning of a Mississippi church as a potential arson. The fire comes less than a month after the church filed suit arguing the city’s stay-at-home order was unconstitutional.

First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs, located in the city of Holly Springs, MS, was destroyed by a fire on Wednesday, May 20. Firefighters responded to the blaze at approximately 2 a.m., and were unable to save the building.

Fire investigators described the incident as an “explosion” from the back of the church, which further damaged the front of the building. The church has been declared a total loss.

At the scene, several cans of spray paint were recovered. A message reading “Bet you stay home now you hypokrits [sic]” was found painted on the church’s parking lot.

These factors, said Marshall County official Kelly McMillen, have led authorities to suspect arson.

“We do believe that based on the evidence and what we have seen at the scene and on top of the hill this was an arson,” said McMillen to local media.

Pastor Jerry Waldrop, who has led the congregation for more than three decades, said he would continue to “keep the faith,” and “keep doing what we have always done.”

“I’ll get with our faithful people, and maybe we’ll rent a building or whatever we need to do for the time being,” Waldrop said. He said that his church “has the means” to rebuild, and that he was unable to come up with any potential suspects.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said on Twitter Thursday that he was “heartbroken and furious” to hear of the burned church.

“What is this pandemic doing to us? We need prayer for this country,” said Reeves.

Waldrop, through his church, filed suit against Holly Springs on April 23, one day after his weekly Bible study was broken up by three members of the Holly Springs Police Department. On Easter Sunday, Waldrop was cited for violating the city’s stay-at-home order by hosting a service inside the church building instead of in the parking lot.

To protest the Easter Sunday citation, Waldrop took his congregation en masse to a nearby Walmart, where they were permitted to gather without incident.

Churches were among the establishments listed as “nonessential” in the March 30, 2020 stay-at-home order issued by Holly Springs. According to the lawsuit, the order’s terms were so far-reaching that Waldrop would not be allowed to enter his own office at the church by himself.
In the lawsuit, Waldrop claims that his First Amendment rights were violated by the selective enforcement of the stay-at-home order. He states that efforts were taken to ensure social distancing at the indoor services, and that the services were indoors due to inclement weather.

There have been 68 reported cases of COVID-19 in Marshall County, with three deaths. Two of the cases were connected to long-term care facilities.

Holly Springs is not the only Mississippi city home to a controversial stay-at-home order. In April, the city of Greenville withdrew an order that forbade even socially-distant drive-in church services.

On Wednesday, April 15, the City of Greenville announced on its website that “all drive in and parking lot church services are allowed as long as families stay in their cars with windows up and adhere to all state and federal social distancing guidelines.”

Mayor Errick D. Simmons (D) was quoted saying that he was “pleased to announce that Governor Tate Reeves has responded to my public request for definitive guidance on drive-in and parking lot church services. Thank you, Governor Reeves.”

Prior to rescinding the order, a church had been fined for having a parking lot service, and Greenville police blocked the parking lot of another church to prevent a gathering of parked cars.
 

Corpus Christi bishop condemns naval base shooting

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 16:11

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 22, 2020 / 02:11 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi offered prayers for a sailor who was injured in a terrorist attack in his diocese on Thursday, and pledged to be a force for peace in the face of evil.

Early on May 21, a 20-year-old man named Adam Salim Alsahli drove to the entrance of the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and shot a member of the base’s security forces, who was wearing a bulletproof vest. He then proceeded to crash his car into a barrier, and continued to fire shots. Alsahli was shot and killed, and the base was locked down.

“I condemned the act of terrorism that was perpetrated this morning at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi,” said Mulvey in a statement released shortly after the attack. “These acts of violence are heinous, but they will not undermine our resolve to work for peace in our hearts, and our society. Our prayer is with the sailor who was injured this morning.”

Mulvey prayed for “the Lord to sustain those on the front lines who courageously confront this evil,” and for “calm and peace to our community and the world.”

The base’s guard suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was released from the hospital on Thursday.

Alsahli’s vehicle was checked for explosives, but none were found. Authorities said that “electronic media” was found at the scene, but did not elaborate as to what this meant.

The FBI’s Houston office confirmed Alsahli’s identity shortly after 1 p.m. local time May 22, following the notification of his family .

“The FBI would like to recognize the bravery and heroism of the NAS personnel who took quick action to prevent the shooter from entering the base and engaged the shooter, potentially saving many innocent lives,” said the agency on Twitter.

By Thursday afternoon, law enforcement had declared that the shooting had been “terrorism related.”

Law enforcement told Texas media that they believed Alsahli, who lived in the United States but was born in Syria, had expressed online support for various terrorist groups, including the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Authorities are continuing to investigate if there is a second person connected with Thursday’s shooting.

Thursday’s attack on the Naval Air Station is the second terrorist attack in a six-month period to occur on a naval air station. On December 6, 2019, three people were killed and eight were injured after a shooting at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida. The shooter was killed shortly afterwards by law enforcement.
 
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit for that attack in February 2020, and the FBI confirmed on May 18 that the shooting was related to terrorism.

President Trump: Churches should reopen 'right now'

Fri, 05/22/2020 - 14:57

Washington D.C., May 22, 2020 / 12:57 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump on Friday called on state governors to reopen churches “right now.”

At a Friday press briefing, Trump said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  would “at my direction” be issuing new guidance for churches to reopen. He said he was identifying houses of worship as “essential places that provide essential services,” noting that state governors had classified such establishments as liquor stores and abortion clinics as providing essential services, but not churches.

The White House and the CDC have for weeks reportedly been in the process of drafting and publishing new guidelines for churches to reopen.

On Friday, CNA learned that, according to someone familiar with the deliberations, the new CDC guidance is expected on Friday afternoon and will differ from its previous interim guidance for faith communities that was issued in March, at the outset of the U.S. pandemic. That guidance was reportedly not cleared by the White House before publishing.

That guidance was reportedly met with concern by many in the faith community for certain provisions that seemed to intrude on the autonomy of religious groups, such as one recommendation that Jews should be allowed to use electronic devices on the Sabbath to stream services online.

The new guidance, CNA was told, would be more sensitive to the autonomy of churches and religions and will apply a “lighter touch” to them, functioning as a set of recommendations rather than instructions, and implying that actions taken by state and local governments that go beyond the federal recommendations are inappropriate. It has the input of lawyers with experience in religious freedom cases.

The guidance will include a section for state and local leaders, saying they should recognize religious gatherings as something unique and different from other gatherings and protected by the First Amendment; it will imply that states should not be treating churches more strictly than they are treating other public gatherings or businesses reopening.

Churches, however, will not be officially classified as “essential” establishments, CNA was told, as that classification can vary state-by-state in its implications for religious groups. However, calling churches “essential” in the administration’s “messaging” on the guidance was reportedly discussed.

Earlier on Friday, Trump said that he believed the CDC would “be issuing a very strong recommendation” for churches to reopen, speaking at the end of an event with military veterans at the White House.

Trump added that “we’re going to make that [churches] ‘essential.’”

On the previous day, Thursday, Trump spoke several times about his desire for churches to reopen soon, and said health officials would issue relevant guidance “today or tomorrow.”

“I think CDC is going to put something out very soon. I spoke to them today; I think they're going to put something out very soon,” Trump said at a listening session with African-American leaders on Thursday afternoon in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Conversations about guidance for churches to reopen during the pandemic have taken place for weeks. On April 28 and 29, officials at the White House and U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) talked with four Catholic bishops who had decided to resume public Masses in their respective dioceses. The conversation focused on the reopening of churches and what federal guidance on that might look like.

The CDC reportedly drafted guidance for reopening businesses, churches, and other places of public accommodation earlier in May, but on May 7, AP reported that the Trump administration had shelved a 17-page CDC report that included an “Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith.”

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the White House pushed against the CDC issuing guidance for churches, with the concern that it did not want to unnecessarily limit the freedom of churches.

The CDC, meanwhile, has published a report this week warning that “COVID 19 spreads easily in group gatherings” and citing the case of a rural Arkansas church where 35 of 92 attendees of services between March 6 and 11 ended up testing positive for COVID-19, with three deaths.

On Thursday, however, Trump spoke several other times of his desire to see churches open again soon.

“I saw a scene today where people are trying to break into a church to go into the church -- not to break in and steal something, to break in -- they want to be in their church,” Trump said on Thursday afternoon.

“I said, ‘You better put it out,’” he added, referring to the CDC guidance. “And they [the CDC] are doing it and they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We got to get our churches open.”

There have been more than 1.5 million cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S., and more than 93,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

As the virus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease. However, beginning in mid-April, dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses.

In Minnesota, the state’s Catholic bishops decided on Wednesday to resume public Masses on Pentecost weekend, in defiance of a state order. As the order had allowed some businesses to begin reopening, but not churches, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis said on Thursday that Catholics “really depend on the Eucharist to get through the challenges of their lives” in defense of the decision to reopen.

Masses will be offered in churches at no more than 33% capacity, the bishops said, and with safety precautions.

Trump hosted a conference call with administration officials and 1,600 “pastors and faith leaders,” the White House said on Thursday. The participants included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church.

According to the White House readout of the meeting, Trump said the right of church congregations to hold services was part of America’s “transition to greatness.”

Speaking with reporters before he boarded the Marine One helicopter on Thursday afternoon, the president said that “One of the other things I want to do is get the churches open.”

“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors,” he said. “I want to get our churches open. And we’re going to take a very strong position on that very soon.”

When a reporter asked if he wanted mosques to reopen as well, Trump said that he did.

In the listening session with African-American leaders in the afternoon, Trump repeated his desire to have churches reopened swiftly.

When asked if he “prioritizing the reopening of churches over other establishments,” Trump answered “No, not at all.”

Regarding churches, he said “they’re so important, in terms of the psyche of our country,” and that they “are essential.”

“It’s wonderful to sit home and watch something on a laptop, but it can never be the same as being in a church and being with your friends.”

 

Hebda: Catholics ‘depend on the Eucharist,’ and Masses will resume

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 19:36

Denver Newsroom, May 21, 2020 / 05:36 pm (CNA).- The day after announcing that parishes in Minnesota can ignore a statewide order on religious gatherings, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis explained the pastoral motive for his decision.

Catholics “really depend on the Eucharist to get through the challenges of their lives,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda told reporters May 21.

“The reception of the Eucharist is extremely important,” the archbishop added. “We can’t have the opportunity for communion by livestreaming.”

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon, Hebda said the May 20 decision of Minnesota’s bishops to ignore a prohibition of religious gatherings of more than 10 people was a pastoral decision.

“We have this responsibility to take care of the spiritual needs of our people,” Hebda said.

The archbishop’s remarks came one day after a historic decision that Minnesota’s six dioceses would permit parishes to resume public Masses amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to flout statewide pandemic orders.

The bishops said that parishes can open for Mass next week, if attendance is no more than 33% of building capacity, and if parishes follow rigorous sanitary and liturgical protocols designed in consultation with public health experts.

Missouri Synod Lutherans in Minnesota have also announced that services will resume under similar strictures.

Speaking on Thursday, Hebda said that he had not had the opportunity to speak with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in the days leading up to the bishops’ decision, but that he would be doing so on Thursday. Walz said last night that he would be speaking to the state’s bishops alongside state public health authorities.

“These are very challenging times, and I recognize that he has a very difficult job,” Hebda said of the governor. “We want to help all of Minnesota get through this pandemic. I look forward to our conversation, but I can tell you I hope the governor changes his mind.”

It is not clear whether priests or bishops who begin celebrating public Masses next week could face civil penalties. Hebda said his “hope is that there won’t be a conflict, and that we will come to some kind of agreement.”

“I’m hoping that when we actually have this opportunity to speak with the governor that we might find more common ground,” he added.

The archbishop also said he believes the bishops are “on solid footing” from a legal perspective. On May 20, Becket Law, a religious liberty advocacy law firm, sent Walz a letter laying out a legal case arguing that Minnesota’s Catholic and Lutheran parishes have First Amendment protections ensuring continued public worship.

In a California fight over reopening churches, federal Department of Justice officials intervened this week, to argue that unless states can prove that churches pose some specific risk for spreading the virus, they can’t be held to more stringent measures than other places of public assembly.

In Minnesota, retail businesses will be permitted to open at 50% capacity on June 1, salons and tattoo parlors will reopen, and restaurants will gradually reopen.

On Thursday, Hebda said equality in law is important.

“Obviously, part of our faith is that we want to respect always legitimate civil authority, so that’s one of the reasons why we have really been trying to reach out to the govern and his administration to explain the needs of our Church, which are kind of particular,” Hebda told reporters,

“And really as we’ve seen other openings and plans for other openings, it makes us feel much more comfortable with what we’re doing, because we see a parallel that’s there and we see that we need to be treated equally.”

There has not yet been any official response from the apostolic nuncio in the United States or from the Holy See to the Minnesota announcement. Officials at the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have not yet answered questions from CNA about whether Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative in the U.S., had been consulted before the bishops announced their decision.

When Italian bishops raised objections in late April to continued strictures on public Masses in the country, Pope Francis did not address the matter directly, but did praise the virtue of obedience at a Mass a few days later.

For his part, Hebda acknowledged that no sanitary precautions are enough to completely stem the spread of the virus, and acknowledged that a parish outside Minneapolis had announced May 20 that at least one priest in the community had tested positive for the coronavirus.

But the archbishop said he appreciated the speed and clarity with which the parish had made the announcement. And he emphasized the risk inherent to life in a global pandemic.

“We’re living in a dangerous time and we can expect that we’re going to have priests and faithful who are infected with COVID, that’s going to be part of life, what’s important is how we handle that,” Hebda said.

“I think we can expect in all dimensions of life, right now, that there are those risks that are there.” Even in the supermarket, he said, “there’s always that risk.”

More than 800 people have died of the coronavirus in Minnesota, and more than 18,000 have been diagnosed with it. Nearly 100,000 people have been recorded dead from the virus across the U.S., with more than 1.6 million positive coronavirus tests.

To Hebda, the difficulty of the pandemic emphasizes the need for pastoral ministry.

“Please remember, we bishops have a solemn duty, really a responsibility, to provide spiritual care and religious services to our faithful, and that responsibility includes doing it in a way that is safe and responsible,” the archbishop said.

Hebda told reporters about a man who had managed a years-long recovery from addictions.

“What makes that possible is that he goes to Mass every morning and receives communion,” the archbishop said.

 

 


 

 

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