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

Sat, 03/28/2020 - 00:21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 22:51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 19:23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


House passes coronavirus relief bill, Trump signs into law

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 17:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diocese permits nurses to anoint during sacrament of the sick

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 16:54

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- A Massachusetts diocese has authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“Effective immediately I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil. If the patient is alert, the prayers may be provided via telephone,” Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Mass., told priests in a March 25 message.

“The hospitals need to control bedside access to patients so as to reduce transmission of COVID-19 as well as to preserve very limited supplies of masks and other personal protection equipment(PPE),” Rozanski explained, noting that the policy was devised in consultation with “pastoral services at both Mercy Medical and Baystate Medical centers.”

Mercy Medical Center is a Catholic hospital, and a part of Trinity Health, a Catholic healthcare system.

The Church teaches that only a priest may validly perform the sacrament.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield told CNA March 27 the permission reflects diocesan policy “for now.” The spokesman said the policy was proposed by the Trinity Health system, and has also been proposed to other dioceses.

Trinity Health has not responded to questions from CNA. 

According to the Church’s canon law, “the anointing of the sick, by which the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord in order that he relieve and save them, is conferred by anointing them with oil and pronouncing the words prescribed in the liturgical books.”

“The celebration of the sacrament includes the following principal elements: the ‘priests of the Church’ - in silence - lay hands on the sick; they pray over them in the faith of the Church - this is the epiclesis proper to this sacrament; they then anoint them with oil blessed, if possible, by the bishop,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains.

“Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of the Sick,” the catechism adds.

The minister of the sacrament, who must be a priest for its valid celebration “is to perform the anointings with his own hand, unless a grave reason warrants the use of an instrument,” according to canon 1000 §2 of the Code of Canon Law.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments has spoken on related questions regarding the sacrament of baptism. In a letter published in 2004 by the Canon Law Society of America, Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect of the congregation, explained that “if a minister administering the Sacrament of Baptism by infusion pronounces the words of the sacramental form but leaves the action of pouring the water to other persons, whoever they may be, the baptism is invalid.”

With regard to the anointing of the sick, in 2005, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained “the Church has identified down the centuries the essential elements of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick...a) subject: the seriously ill member of the faithful; b) minister: "omnis et solus sacerdos"; c) substance: the anointing with blessed oil; d) form: the minister's prayer; e) effects: salvific grace, the forgiveness of sins, the relief of the sick person.”

“The Sacrament is not valid if a deacon or a layman attempts to administer it. Such an action would be a crime of simulation in the administration of a sacrament, to be penalized in accordance with can. 1379, CIC,” the congregation added.

Canon law establishes that a person who “simulates” a sacrament, or celebrates it invalidly, is subject to ecclesiastical discipline.


Ed Condon contributed to this report.


As dioceses face coronavirus money woes, Knights of Columbus offer line of credit

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 16:17

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus have offered a $1 million line of credit to Catholic dioceses to help dioceses and parishes suffering from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is critical for us to support the Catholic Church in the United States at this time, so that the Church can continue to provide irreplaceable spiritual and charitable support, and can keep the staff supporting its mission and outreach employed,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said March 26. “Our fund is designed specifically to help dioceses and their parishes weather this pandemic financially so that they can continue their important work – now and after the pandemic.”

The $100 million fund allows up to $1 million line of credit per Catholic diocese. The program will open March 30 and will be available for 60 days following.

The Knights of Columbus say the interest rate is “very competitive,” equal to the rate of a one-year Treasury bill plus 2.25%.

The line of credit will have a two-year term. At the end of the term, dioceses may convert the line of credit into a Knights of Columbus church loan fully amortized at the prevailing rate for a five, 10 or 20 year period.

These are the same terms offered by the Knights of Columbus' present ChurchLoan program

“The Knights of Columbus has been a key lender to parishes and dioceses for more than a century, and the ChurchLoan program remains a key source of financing for Catholic parishes and institutions,” the Knights of Columbus said.

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members in more than 15,000 local councils worldwide. Its members worked 76 million service hours in 2019 and helped donate more than $185 million in charitable causes.

Its life insurance branch claims about $109 billion life insurance in force. The insurance program helps fund the knights' charitable work and other efforts to support the Catholic Church.

The Knights have many grassroots initiatives responding to the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has asked members to help provide food and other essentials to those in need. It has also urged members to take part in blood drives. The Knights of Columbus helped pioneer nationwide blood drives in the 1930s.

With churches closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, parishes face dwindling cash flow from collections. It is doubtful whether churches will open for the crowds who typically attend Mass on Easter, as some models project the virus will peak at the time.

Some parishes and dioceses have tried to expand online giving. Catholic charitable outreach also faces shortages of funds at a time of great need.

At the same time, the coronavirus has prompted massive layoffs. About 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment and the unemployment rate could have already risen to 5.5%, the highest since 2015, the Washington Post reports.

Dioceses permit meat on Lent Fridays due to coronavirus

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Several dioceses across the United States have dispensed Catholics from the canonical requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in certain food items becoming difficult to acquire.

The Archdioceses of Boston and Dubuque, as well as the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Houma-Thibodeaux, Metuchen, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, have all issued letters stating that Catholics who may find it difficult to obtain other foods are permitted to eat meat on the last two Fridays of Lent. 

In a letter to his diocese published March 26, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodeaux, Louisiana, wrote that while the practices of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence on other Fridays during Lent was the law of the Church, he understood that many people in his diocese may be experiencing difficulty with grocery shopping or obtaining meat alternatives. 

Since President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel between the United States and Europe on March 12, grocery stores have reported instances of increased buying of many items. 

While there is not a shortage in the production of food, toilet paper, or other necessities nationwide, in many places, items have been purchased quicker than supply chains are able to replenish stocks. 

In response to this, some grocery stores have implemented “senior-only” hours, for the elderly or otherwise vulnerable populations to go grocery shopping without fear of having to fight for products. 

“I am being mindful of this and have our people's best interest in my heart. Nevertheless, I am also aware that these Fridays of Lent will remain as days of penance and prayer,” said Fabre. 

The bishop said that those who are able to abstain from meat should continue to abstain, but “for those who sincerely find it difficult to embrace this practice, I hereby grant you dispensation from the obligation to abstain from eating meat for the remaining Fridays in Lent (4th and 5th weeks).”

Fabre instructed Catholics in his diocese to substitute the penance of abstaining from meat with “other forms of penance, especially works of piety and charity.” 

Other dioceses issued similar letters, citing concerns that parishioners may not have non-meat food on hand, be reliant on meal deliveries, or otherwise be concerned about leaving the house to go to the grocery store. 

“One of the effects of the current events is uncertainty regarding what food products are available on any given day. At this time, we are called to make the best of what we have at hand or is available for purchase,” said a letter from the Archdiocese of Boston. 

“Many people are using what they have stored in their freezers and on their shelves. Others are depending upon pre-packaged meals or food delivered through support agencies, which are providing an important service for individuals and families in our communities, especially for children and our senior citizens,” the letter added. 

Those who are still able to abstain from meat at this time are encouraged to continue this practice.

The Archdiocese of Boston clarified to CNA that, unlike the other dioceses who have dispensed their congregations from the requirement to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays, Catholics there are further dispensed from the requirement to abstain from meat on Good Friday if they are unable to obtain meat-free foods. 

Examples given as substitute penance include abstention from desserts or other food items, volunteering time, donating to charity, or increased personal prayer. 

Abortion groups challenge Texas' coronavirus-driven elective surgery ban

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 14:01

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Texas has said that elective surgeries, including abortions, must halt to free up medical supplies for the response to the coronavirus, but pro-abortion rights groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the order on behalf of the state's abortion clinics.

“It is unconscionable that abortion providers are fighting against the health of Texans and withholding desperately needed supplies and personal protective equipment in favor of a procedure that they refer to as a ‘choice’,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Twitter March 25.

“My office will tirelessly defend Governor Abbott’s Order to ensure that necessary supplies reach the medical professionals combating this national health crisis,” he said.

There are over 1,200 cases of coronavirus in Texas, and at least a dozen people have died. While the infection is not deadly for most people, and requires hospitalization only in a minority of cases, there is still a danger of hospitals exceeding their capacity to care for new patients. Supplies are already short.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide order March 22 barring non-essential surgeries through April 21. The attorney general later said elective abortions would not be considered essential surgeries. Failure to comply with the Texas executive order could mean fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

The lawsuit challenging the order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and the Lawyering Project

“The Texas attorney general’s enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda,” the lawsuit charged.

It argued that the ban on elective abortions does not free up hospital space or supplies of personal protective equipment to respond to the new coronavirus pandemic. Continued pregnancy would “impose far greater strains on an already taxed health care system, as prenatal care and delivery involve much greater exhaustion of hospital health care services and (supplies of personal protective equipment) than abortions.”

“Abortion is essential healthcare, and it is a time-sensitive service,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman´s Health, the Associated Press reports. Her organization's three Texas abortion clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, and McAllen have been forced to cancel more than 150 appointments in the last week. This has left some women “begging for the abortions they needed,” she said.

“It is shameful that our politicians are using emergency actions during a global pandemic to push their anti-abortion agenda,” Miller told reporters, the Austin American Statesman reports.

Paxton told Texas Values March 25 that the governor's emergency order blocking medically unnecessary procedures aimed to make clear “all medical procedures that were unnecessary should be stopped, and that definitely includes elective abortions.”

“The truth is abortion, for the most part, is an elective procedure that can be done later,” he said. While he acknowledged that limiting abortion surgeries would “save some lives,” he focused his remarks on medical resources.

“I don’t even see how people who are on the other side of this issue at this time would dispute that we need our hospitals to take care of the really sick,” Paxton said.

The pro-abortion rights groups' lawsuit further claims the order wrongly singles out abortion providers and their patients for differential treatment, compared to other medical providers and patients. The order “effectively bans abortion in Texas for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said the lawsuit.

Delays in securing abortion for women means “attendant risks to their health, well-being, and economic security,” said the lawsuit, which argued that women should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their wishes.

“COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout do not reduce patients´ needs for abortion; if anything, they make timely access to abortion even more urgent,” it said.

The lawsuit also objects to the ban on medical abortion, saying it is not surgery or a procedure. It argues that this shows the order explicitly aimed to limit abortion access.

Paxton's initial remarks stressed the need for Texans to work together to stop the spread of the coronavirus and to “ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time.”

“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law,” he said.

In Ohio, the state Department of Health canceled all non-essential or elective surgical abortions that use personal protective equipment. Officials said that abortion clinics were not singled out and letters of violation were also sent to a urology group that allegedly continued to perform surgeries.

Ohio’s health department asked the state attorney general to issue a cease and desist order to Preterm, a Cleveland-based abortion clinic that continues to perform elective abortions despite statewide orders against elective surgeries.

In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves said that state directives to postpone elective and non-essential medical procedures apply to abortion. He pledged support for “whatever action we need to to protect the not only the lives of unborn children, but also the lives of anyone who may contract this particular virus,” CBS News reports.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer at the Mississippi Department of Health, said he would review the situation.

In Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, where pro-abortion rights support is strong, officials have said that orders halting elective surgeries do not apply to abortions.

A March 18 joint statement from eight medical groups including the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, which tends to take pro-abortion rights stands, asserted that abortion is “an essential component of comprehensive health care.”

The groups argued that abortion is “a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible.” Not being able to obtain an abortion has consequences that “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

On March 24, the Catholic Medical Association, along with several other medical groups, issued a statement critical of the March 18 pro-abortion rights statement.

The Catholic Medical Association statement said that abortion “generates more patients to be seen in already overburdened emergency rooms.” Abortion providers themselves instruct women to go to an emergency room if they have any concerning symptoms.

“Approximately 5% of women who undergo medication abortions will require evaluation in an emergency room, most commonly for hemorrhage,” the statement said. “Surgical abortions can also result in hemorrhage. Emergency room personnel – who are already struggling to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic – will be further strained to provide care to these women.”

Some abortion providers are seeking medical supplies despite the need to fight the coronavirus.

Planned Parenthood of Keystone, Pennsylvania posted social media posts March 24 soliciting donations of personal protective equipment including hand sanitizer, home sewn masks, shoe covers, and surgical hats.

Abortion, not winning, is top Democratic priority, Lipinski says

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 12:00

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Democratic Party’s extreme support of abortion will damage its chances at the ballot box this fall, one outgoing pro-life Democratic congressman says.

“The Democratic Party asserts that its highest priority right now is to defeat President Trump. The party’s treatment of pro-life voters belies that claim,” Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) wrote on Wednesday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Lipinski is a Catholic eight-term congressman representing Illinois’ third congressional district in Chicago’s southwest and suburbs. He is recognized as one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, and lost his primary election to pro-abortion challenger Marie Newman on March 17.

In his Wednesday op-ed “No Compromise on Life,” Lipinski wrote that “rather than acknowledging” that one-third of Democratic voters identify as pro-life, “party leaders and presidential candidates refuse to tolerate anyone who doesn’t support abortion on demand at any time, paid for by taxpayers.”

His primary opponent, Newman, was supported by national pro-abortion groups including the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List. The groups were part of a coalition that announced a $1.4 million investment in the race late in February, highlighting among other things Lipinski’s pro-life record.

He broke with party leadership on key pro-life votes, including his vote against the Affordable Care Act in 2010 in part because of its abortion funding. He supported “pain-capable” 20-week abortion bans, bills stripping Planned Parenthood of federal funding, and mandating that babies surviving abortions receive medical care.

In his speech on March 18 that unofficially conceded the race to Newman— not every precinct had been officially counted at that time—Lipinski said that abortion was a primary issue in the race, but that he could not compromise his principles on the life issue to win the election.

“There was one issue that loomed especially large in this campaign, the fact that I am pro-life,” he said.

“Over the years I’ve watched many other politicians succumb to pressure and change their position on this issue,” he noted, adding that “I could never give up protecting the most vulnerable human beings in the world, simply to win an election.”

Every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate supports taxpayer-funded abortion. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) said there was no more room in the party for pro-lifers, while former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg and former congressman Beto O’Rourke said that abortion up until the point of birth should be up to the mother and not the state to decide.

“My faith teaches—and the Democratic Party preaches—that we should serve everyone, especially the most vulnerable,” Lipinski said on March 18.

“To stand in solidarity with the vulnerable is to become vulnerable. There is no higher calling for anyone. But politicians don’t like to be vulnerable.”

40 Days under quarantine: Clinic vigils suspended

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 11:00

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The pro-life ministry 40 Days for Life may have ended its public vigils outside abortion clinics, but it is urging its members to still pray and fast for an end to abortion.

“The contemplative always has to come before the active. And we are learning that now more than ever,” the group’s president and CEO Shawn Carney said in an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly on March 26. “It is the foundation, is prayer and fasting.”

“There are so many ways that we can be praying,” he said. “That is our most powerful weapon, against the devil and against the abortion industry.”

The ministry 40 Days for Life is operational in more than 30 countries and in 507 cities worldwide. Operating since 2007, the group orchestrates 40-day spring and fall campaigns of prayer, fasting, and non-stop peaceful public vigils outside abortion clinics.

Carney said Thursday that the group has been monitoring the coronavirus outbreak since the beginning of the year as it prepared to launch its spring campaign.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to 175 countries around the globe, resulting in nearly 500,000 confirmed cases, 70,000 of them in the U.S., as of Thursday.

With the virus spreading fast, by MArch 16, 40 Days for Life had limited all of its events to no more than 50 people at a time. On March 19, Carney limited the public vigils to ten volunteers at a time.

On March 22, the group acted to curtain its public vigils for the spring campaign “effective immediately due to the Coronavirus pandemic.”

As state and local restrictions on social gatherings started coming in “we just came to the conclusion it was time to go,” Carney said. “It’s the last thing I thought I would have to do this spring,” he said. “Certainly not something I ever want to do again.”

Planned Parenthood affiliates are still performing abortions. Two states, Texas and Ohio, have ordered abortion clinics to stop all or most abortions as part of curtailing non-essential medical procedures.

In Texas, Planned Parenthood led a coalition of abortion providers that filed an emergency lawsuit on Wednesday to continue abortions as “an essential, time-sensitive procedure” during the pandemic.  

While 40 Days for Life members kept their vigils outside abortion clinics earlier in the spring, Carney said they had an increase in “saves” from the spring 2019 campaign, or the numbers of women who turned around and decided not to have abortions at the clinic.

The pandemic had brought some unique challenges to those keeping peaceful vigils, including one episode outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pittsburgh where members at a prayer vigil were coughed and sneezed on by antagonists. The behavior was so hostile that 40 Days for Life had to hire full-time security at two locations.

One clinic worker actually coughed on a woman who was praying, Carney said, extended the middle finger at her, and then entered the clinic.

“We took all the precautions” against the virus, Carney said, and the four volunteers of that vigil sought testing for COVID-19.

Prevent healthcare rationing on basis of disability, Congressmen tell HHS

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 09:30

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- Members of Congress are asking the U.S. health department to clarify that states cannot ration patient care for coronavirus on the basis of disability.

A group of 25 members of the House and five senators all wrote Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar on Wednesday, asking them to emphasize that states cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in their plans for dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge your Department to act quickly to notify states that as they review and create their ‘crisis standards of care,’ they must not authorize or promote any form of disability discrimination that would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,” the letter states.

The letter was authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and led by Smith and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) in the House. Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) signed on as well.

“Our nation cannot leave behind Americans with disabilities or pre-existing conditions during this crisis,” Smith stated.

“Especially during times of crisis, we cannot abandon our moral duty to protect vulnerable communities and stand for the value of life,” Lankford stated.

In the letter, the members note that, due to the rapid spread of the new coronavirus and an expected spike in hospitalizations, health care rationing may be inevitable. However, they add, care cannot be denied or limited for a patient because of their disability.

Personnel and supplies “have been overwhelmed” during the spread of the new coronavirus, and with health care rationing reportedly “inevitable,” the HHS needs to “remind States of their obligation to adhere to existing anti-discrimination laws,” the letter states.

Earlier this week, the Thomas More Society and the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund issued a legal memorandum outlining federal civil rights protections against health care discrimination on the basis of disability or age.

Three scholars had requested the memorandum following reports that state health officials and hospitals were considering triage plans for rationing health care for younger or healthier patients.

For instance, in Washington state, health officials and hospitals were reportedly considering a plan to consider the “age, health and likelihood of survival” of COVID-19 patients when administering care and utilizing resources such as hospital beds and ventilators.

Disability rights groups filed a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that the state of Washington’s rationing plan would illegally and “discriminatorily disadvantage people with disabilities.”

Roger Severino, the HHS OCR director, stated to CNA this week that “Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism.”

“Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, or needing religious accommodations should not be put at the end of the line for health services during emergencies,” Severino stated.

Amid coronavirus, EWTN Radio to broadcast more Masses, devotional content

Fri, 03/27/2020 - 01:01

Birmingham, Ala., Mar 26, 2020 / 11:01 pm (CNA).- At a time when Catholic Masses have been closed to the public and efforts to stem the coronavirus epidemic dominate the news, EWTN Radio is temporarily rebranding its EWTN Radio Classics programming as EWTN Radio Essentials to provide more broadcasts of the Mass, devotionals, and spiritual reflections.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Jack Williams, general manager of the EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network, told CNA March 26.

Under the program changes, Mass will be broadcast eight times a day, every two hours from 8 a.m. through midnight Eastern Time.

EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw said March 25 that the change aims “to assist listeners struggling to cope with the closing of so many churches due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

This will make EWTN Radio Essentials “a one-stop source for Mass and devotions,” Warsaw said. “As people of faith know, prayer is what will get us all through this difficult time," he added.

Williams said that in the wake of church closures, “the outcry for the Mass from the faithful was loud and immediate.”

“In times of trouble our greatest recourse is always to Our Lord and the greatest prayer of the Church is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” he said.

Williams said the programming will be “a resource heavily grounded in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Rosaries, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross and the wisdom of spiritual icons like Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Andrew Apostoli, Fr. George Rutler and, of course, Mother Angelica.”

Both EWTN Global Catholic Radio and EWTN Radio Essentials are available through the EWTN phone app in the “Live Streams” section. The channels can also be found on the website, in the Radio section's Listen Live page, under the “United States” tab.

The programming change came March 25.

Williams said the change replaces some more catechetical offerings to content aiding prayer and devotion.

“The Mass and devotionals were always front and center on EWTN Radio Classics but not nearly in the concentration they are on EWTN Radio Essentials,” he said.

Williams said radio has its own unique qualities for Catholic broadcasting.

“Radio in general is an intimate medium,” he said. “It lends itself to the most intimate of all relationships, that of the Creator of the Universe and creatures he loves above all. EWTN Radio is geared toward establishing, building, nurturing and ultimately sharing that relationship.”

Williams said EWTN programming has a spiritual role in a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

“Crisis can weaken the soul. If we’re not there, especially in time of crisis, the door is wide open for the evil one to gain a foothold in the lives of those enduring the crisis,” he said.

He also emphasized the benefits EWTN Radio listeners find.

“We hear from people at every stage of their pilgrimage here on earth, from the unchurched to the non-Catholic to the fallen away Catholic,” Williams said. “Our programming has the potential to speak a word of encouragement to anyone at any stage.”

“We evangelize the non-believer and fallen away Catholic, catechize and encourage the Catholic faithful and hopefully spur them on to lives of heroic virtue according to their individual state in life,” he added.

For Williams, the programming will help show “that regardless of how secular the culture becomes or how much the human family turns their back on God, the truth about Him and the necessity for recourse to Him is written within the human heart.”

“Sadly, it all too often takes great tragedy before we’ll acknowledge that truth,” he told CNA.

The format change will remain in place until the coronavirus crisis diminishes.

Besides the EWTN Mobile App and EWTN website, EWTN radio services are available on SiriusXM Satellite Radio Channel 130, iHeart Radio, and 380 AM and FM radio station affiliates. EWTN Radio is available on TuneIn Radio Apps, Roku, Amazon Fire, YouTube and Facebook as well as streaming platforms like Apple TV, Amazon Echo and Google Play.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is now in its 38th year. Its 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages to over 300 million households in more than 145 countries and territories.

Its news services include Catholic News Agency and the National Catholic Register. Its book division is EWTN Publishing.

Illinois religious order funds hotel initiative to protect homeless from coronavirus

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 17:38

Chicago, Ill., Mar 26, 2020 / 03:38 pm (CNA).- As homeless shelters have been limited by the coronavirus, the Clerics of Saint Viator will help fund an initiative to house homeless people amid the pandemic.

The religious order based in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb, has donated $63,000 to help over 60 homeless people stay at two hotels in the city. The initiative will last for at least three weeks, but it will likely be extended.

The religious order partnered with Journeys: The Road Home in Palatine to help homeless people have a place to quarantine during this pandemic. As of March 25, over 1,800 cases of the coronavirus have occurred in Illinois, the Chicago Tribune reported.

As the organization has also received donations from numerous other religious organizations in the area, the hotels were able to house 81 people last night with 10 more clients who will be checked-in today.

Suzanne Ploger, Journey’s director of development, told CNA that it is essential to help homeless people protect themselves from the virus as they are unable to self-quarantine.

Not only has the pandemic caused public facilities and businesses to close, but it has closed homeless shelters. Because of the pandemic, the organization’s services and volunteers have been limited. She said a majority of the volunteers for the homeless ministry are elderly people, who also need to be kept safe from the outbreak.

Experts are urging people to “ stay indoors, and then all the restaurants are closing and all the public facilities are closing,” she said.

“If you don't have a home to shelter in place, where are you supposed to be? That's where we were struggling with how we can provide the best services to our clients and keep them safe as well as be able to keep our staff and our volunteers healthy too.”

She said the clients have been chosen by those who are most at risk of COVID-19. She said the organization has prioritized 100 people who normally use their shelters and ranked them in terms of those with advanced age, families, or health issues.

“As we have secured the hotel room and we have secured the amount of funding to house that person in that hotel room for three weeks, then we house them and then we'd go down to the next rank on the list,” she said.

The organization will also help feed the clients in the hotel with a meal delivery system.

“We're packing up food pantry bags, we're packing up meals, some people are donating food again, and we're starting that system of delivering meals to the hotels. Right now we're doing it almost every day,” she said.

The Journey is a homeless service agency that partners with 21 religious organizations that provide emergency shelter. It began 30 years ago and, under normal circumstances, will house about 100 homeless people each night.

Besides the hotel, the organization will keep open a limited number of services including a food pantry, clothing closet, mail services, and emergency case management.

Father Daniel Hall, the provincial superior for the Viatorians, said, without living assistance, this pandemic may cause dozens of homeless people to get sick. He said this project should be important to Catholics and encouraged parishioners to donate.

"This is in line with our mission as a Catholic religious community," said Hall, according to the Daily Herald. "This crisis could lead to between 60 to 80 men, women and children on the verge of living on the streets, and even more vulnerable to the coronavirus."

"It is my hope that you join us in this commitment to care for our most vulnerable sisters and brothers during this crisis.”

DOJ: Sex discrimination laws don't cover transgender athletes

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Justice said Tuesday that biological males who identify as women should not be classified as girls when it comes to athletics. 

Attorney General Bill Barr and several other Department of Justice officials co-signed a statement of interest on March 24 in the case Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools. The suit was filed by three female high school athletes from Connecticut--Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith--who lost races to biological male competitors who identify as girls.

The statement from the Justice Department says that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) was wrong in their belief that Title IX required the organization to permit biologically male athletes to compete alongside and against biological females.

“The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), however, has adopted a policy that requires biological males to compete against biological females—despite the real physiological differences between the sexes—if the male is a transgender individual who publicly identifies with the female gender. CIAC claims that ‘federal law’ requires this state of affairs,” said the statement of interest.  

“They are incorrect,” The Justice Department said.  

The case involves two biologically male athletes who identify as transgender girls. Since they began racing against girls in 2017, they have won 15 state championships between them. The year before, those titles were shared between nine different female athletes. Both of the biologically male athletes ran at least one athletic season without taking cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers. One athlete ran the indoor track season in the winter on the high school boys’ team, before switching to the girls’ team for the spring outdoor track season. 

“Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy,” the DOJ wrote. They said that to the contrary, requiring that biological males who identify themselves as female compete against biological girls, “would turn the statute on its head.” 

“One of Title IX’s core purposes is to ensure that women have an ‘equal athletic opportunity’ to participate in school athletic programs,” they said. 

“Schools realize that purpose primarily by establishing separate athletic teams for men and women and by ensuring that those teams are on equal footing. Because of the physiological differences between men and women, the existence of women’s sports teams permits women to participate more fully in athletics than they otherwise could.”

According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the female high school athletes in this case, the two biologically male athletes have “taken more than 85 opportunities to participate in higher level competitions from female track athletes in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons alone.” In high school track, top competitors from qualifying meets are eligible to compete at regional or national meets, where they receive increased attention from college recruiters and potential scholarships.

Coronavirus aid bill passes Senate, blocks loans to Planned Parenthood

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Senate passed a massive relief package Wednesday night to counter the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The measure passed unopposed, and contained provisions excluding abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from access to funding for elective abortions.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed the Senate by a vote of 96-0 late Thursday evening. Not voting were Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who reportedly did not attend the vote because he was feeling unwell.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have self-quarantined in recent days, as a precaution after having had contact with Sen. Paul.

The House plans to vote on the package on Friday, as members will need time to travel to Washington, D.C. to vote.

The bailout package includes: direct checks to taxpayers of up to $1200; grants and loans to small businesses for payroll and rent; temporary expansion of unemployment insurance; funding for hospitals and health care clinics; and authorization for the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to send several trillion dollars to “distressed” industries such as the airline industry.

Volunteer health care workers will be protected from liability under the Good Samaritan provision.

On Thursday, the Department of Labor reported that unemployment insurance claims had soared to their highest-recorded seasonally-adjusted levels of almost 3.3 million.

Negotiations over language for funding of abortion providers continued on Thursday, with the final version that passed the Senate including protections against taxpayer funding of elective abortions, as well as a provision blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving small business loans.

Under the provision, non-profits such as Planned Parenthood would not be eligible for small business loans for coronavirus relief if they have more than 500 employees, a requirement which is already a part of affiliation rules for the Small Business Administration.

Planned Parenthood Action tweeted out on Wednesday that senators were “exploiting a public health crisis to target sexual and reproductive care” and that the bill “expands the discriminatory Hyde Amendment.”

The Hyde Amendment—which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions—was specifically extended to certain health care funding provisions in the bill.

It covers $100 billion in supplemental discretionary health funding for hospitals and health care providers, an extension of mandatory funding for community health centers, and $150 billion in a coronavirus relief fund for states.  

“Have been pouring over the text of the relief bill. I’m not happy negotiators took out language that excluded Planned Parenthood from receiving government subsidies. But I have been assured Planned Parenthood will still NOT be eligible,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

The acting president of Planned Parenthood Action, Alexis McGill Johnson, responded that she was “appalled” to see senators “continue to exploit this pandemic to attack reproductive health care.”

Food pantries ramp up distribution, take precautions

Thu, 03/26/2020 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Mar 26, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Despite the closure of churches and lockdowns in place in many areas of the United States due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, many social service agencies are ramping up their efforts to feed the poor, while at the same time taking unprecedented precautions to avoid getting their guests sick.

“The neighbors are mostly just thankful that we have not shut down. Many, many pantries have shut down,” Sister Stephanie Baliga of the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago told CNA.

"In good news, most of the pantries that are associated with either a Catholic or Protestant church have not shut down."

The Mission normally serves around 1,000 families a month, and each month processes around 70,000 pounds of food. The food pantry is set up like a grocery store to allow guests to “shop” for the items they need.

Now, to reduce the potential for contamination, the Mission has switched to a bag-based to-go pantry, distributed outside.

Sister Stephanie said they served 260 families last Tuesday, with the local police delivering boxed food to homebound seniors.

"We weren't spending a lot of time talking to people, as you might guess. We were kind of just like: 'Here's your food, I wish we could spend time with you!' It was kind of a very fast 'Here's your food, thanks be to God,'" Sister Stephanie laughed.

Sister Stephanie said her community is blessed to be able to continue to attend Mass and is praying for all those who cannot currently do so.

Volunteers harder to come by

Many food pantries depend on seniors as their most reliable volunteers. But since the eldery are more susceptible to COVID-19, most are staying home.

The Father McKenna Center, a Catholic day shelter for homeless men in Washington DC, normally acts as a drop in center for homeless men where they can get a meal, do laundry, and avail themselves of case management and other aid.

The center normally has 55 regularly scheduled volunteers from the community, but none are now able to come. Besides a small staff, a Jesuit Volunteer Corps volunteer and a Franciscan Missions volunteer are all who remain.

“This is not what they signed up for, but they’re jumping in,” Kim Cox, president of the center, told CNA.

Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services, the FMC has had to suspend its case management and ask most of the men who come to the center to go elsewhere.

DC’s homeless shelters that house people at night have changed their hours to be open all day, so the homeless can remain there and shelter in place.

The only homeless men that are left at the McKenna Center are a group of ten men who sleep at the center during the hypothermia season, which is coming to a close as spring arrives.

“I think that this is actually a really good opportunity. These guys are more than happy to help us,” Cox said.

In addition to scrubbing and deep cleaning the center’s kitchen, the homeless men have been helping to make masks out of fabric to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

“And they felt good about that…these guys that are currently homeless, it really enhances their dignity for them to do something constructive.”

There are about 120 low-income seniors who live within five blocks of the center, Cox said. The homeless men in the hypothermia program are helping to bag groceries to distribute to the center’s neighbors.

The Capital Area Food Bank asked the McKenna Center to ramp up its food distribution by becoming a community hub, handing pre-made bags of groceries to DC residents who show up, with appropriate precautions taken for social distancing.

“To prepare the first 100 bags of groceries...the men in our hypothermia program helped make that happen,” Cox said.

“They helped to bag the groceries and move them where we need’s terrific that they have this desire to help other people, and that we have this opportunity to give them something to do.”

"We've ramped up our services tremendously”

Walter Ritz, director of HOPE Community Services in New Rochelle, New York, told CNA that the center typically runs a soup kitchen, almost five days a week, and food pantry open every other week.

That was until New Rochelle became a relatively early epicenter of the virus in the United States. Most churches in the area had to suspend services nearly three weeks ago when Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 10 instituted a one-mile radius “containment zone” to try to stop the spread of the virus beyond a local synagogue.

Though the number of new COVID-19 cases has slowed since the restrictions were implemented, like in most parts of the country, places of worship— which typically provide many  volunteers and donations for HOPE— remain shuttered.

“One of the biggest changes we've done is ramp up our services tenfold, in terms of our food pantry," Ritz said.

"We went from serving every other week to serving three times a week so that people have much more opportunity to come to us in this time of great need....Food insecurity is a major concern, and it's the last thing people need to be concerned about at this moment."

Instead of operating the food pantry once a day, like usual, HOPE is now serving every weekday, because other soup kitchens in the area had to close down.

"We've ramped up our services tremendously...we're fortunate to have the national guard here to help out, but it's just been a tremendous change for us."

The second drastic change has been doing everything outdoors. The pantry and the kitchen are both outside, serving in to-go containers.

"HOPE's volunteer base has always been seniors. A large portion of our volunteers are seniors, and we made a call a while back when this started hitting New Rochelle that for the safety of our volunteers, we asked that anyone who was in the high-risk category, for their own safety, not to come into HOPE,” Ritz said.

“So that, right off the bat, reduced our ability to have as much help as we normally do. Even our pantry manager, who typically coordinates how our pantry restocks and goes out, we haven't been able to have her in. So this has all been done with a skeleton crew here, and we're certainly feeling the pinch. It's been very difficult to support the community, but we are still committed to doing it for as long as we can."

"We certainly don't have enough to sustain the level of giving that we have been doing. And we feel that we are going to have to ramp it down very shortly,"

At this time, what HOPE needs most are donations, Ritz said. One major impact on their organization— and on other nonprofits— is that their annual gala, which is a major fundraiser for them each year, has been pushed back to October.

"It's cost us a fairly dependable revenue stream that we've always been able to utilize during the spring and summer," Ritz said.

"We are working more, with less, at the moment. We're committed to our community, and again, we are going to be here as long as we can."

Cincinnati archbishop's funeral to take place in empty cathedral

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 19:00

CNA Staff, Mar 25, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The funeral of the former head of the United States bishops’ conference and archbishop emeritus of Cleveland will take place behind closed doors. A Mass of Christian burial will be said for Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk in Cincinnati's Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains on Friday.

The funeral arrangements were announced by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on Wednesday, and the Mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr on March 27 at 11 am.

“Due to the current pandemic, the Mass will be private,” a statement from the archdiocese said. “However the clergy and faithful of the archdiocese are encouraged to join in prayer for Archbishop Pilarczyk by joining in the Mass that will be live-streamed to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati website. A memorial Mass open to the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese will be held at a later date.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati told CNA on Wednesday that the burial would take place privately and the archbishop would not be interred at the cathedral.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said on Monday that he was deeply disappointed that the current pandemic conditions prevented him from attending the Mass.

“If this were an ordinary moment, I would plan to attend Archbishop Pilarczyk's funeral in Cincinnati,” Gregory said via Twitter.

“He was a dear friend & mentor for me. His wit and wisdom were legendary and will be missed. Alas his funeral liturgy will be private. I pray the Lord reward him with peace.”

Pilarczyk died on Sunday at the age of 85. Ordained a priest in 1959, Pilarczyk was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati in 1974, serving also as the vicar general for the archdiocese.

In 1982, he became the archbishop of Cincinnati, succeeding Joseph Bernardin, who was appointed Archbishop of Chicago. At the time of his retirement in 2009, Pilarczyk was then the longest-tenured archbishop in the U.S., having served for 27 years.

During that time, he also served as vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, from 1986 until 1989. That was followed by a three-year term as president of the conference until 1992, as the U.S. prepared to host its first World Youth Day in Denver in the summer of 1993.

While archbishop, Pilarczyk was also rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology, also called the Athenaeum of Ohio.

On Sunday, Archbishop Schnurr said that Pilarczyk would be remembered as a “teacher.”

“Some seminarians told me they thought he was stern, but I explained he never forgot to be the teacher, always in control, tolerating no nonsense and always ready to correct,” Schnurr said.

“He was regarded by his fellow bishops as an intellectual, a scholar. He was one of the few bishops who could carry on a conversation in Latin,” said Schnurr.

NY bishops worry state would go up in smoke after marijuana legalization

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 16:17

CNA Staff, Mar 25, 2020 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- The New York State Catholic Conference on Monday indicated its opposition to a bill that would legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana.

“New York’s medical, education and law enforcement communities have urged the state to reject recreational marijuana legalization, and so does the New York State Catholic Conference,” the conference said in a March 23 memo.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act is currently in committee, and has been supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of his proposed budget. The governor has said it would generate $300 million in tax revenue.

"There are many policy issues that I laid out back in January and we're going to pursue all of them," he said, according to The Post-Star.

Medical marijuana has been legal in New York since 2014.

The Catholic conference noted that the state is now “in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, and said that “it would be the height of irresponsibility for the state to legalize a substance designed to be inhaled deeply into the lungs of the user at this time in particular.”

“Science has not told us yet the impact of marijuana smoke on coronavirus patients. Our health care system is poised to be flooded with patients; we must not take any action that could potentially increase bad outcomes for those who are sick.”

The conference also pointed out that coronavirus has led to the closure of the capitol to visitors.

“To pass controversial legislation on major social issues at such a time when public hearings cannot be held and advocates cannot make their case would give the impression that the voice of opposition has been silenced,” it said. “This is too important an issue for government officials to determine in the absence of full and open debate.”

The memo referred also to the arguments in its 2019 statement opposing plans to legalize recreational marijuana.

At that time, the bishops said egalization would be disastrous, and accused the state of “encouraging destructive behavior” to raise tax revenue.

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use would be akin to opening a “Pandora’s Box that will have multiple deleterious effects on individuals, families, and all of society,” said the statement.

“Vice is not an appropriate economic development engine for a state that prides itself as a national progressive leader,” said the bishops. “Our state motto is Excelsior (ever upward), but policies that exploit addiction instead lead us ever downward.”

The bishops said that no increase in state revenue would be worth the “increased teenage and childhood usage, harmful effects on developing brains, addiction, natural progression to harder drug use, increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths, and other potential public health and safety issues.”

A sickness and a silver crown: How Saint Louis University survived the cholera epidemic of 1849

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 15:30

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 25, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- In the basement of St. Francis Xavier College Church on the campus of Saint Louis University stands a statue of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus.

Cut from plain white stone, the statue stands smaller-than-life on a pedestal across from a small chapel. It bears some obvious signs of age: the fingers on the child’s hand, extended in blessing, have eroded away, and the corner of Mary’s lips displays a darkened blemish. It appears, on first sight, rather unremarkable.

Unremarkable, that is, until one learns its place in the history of the school.

“Today, I don't get the impression that many know the story or know the history of the statue when they walk past it in the vestibule of the Lady Chapel at College Church,” Fr. David Suwalsky, S.J., head of the Department of Theological Studies at SLU, and a historian, told CNA.

A bronze plaque across from the chapel chronicles the statue’s story. The plaque explains the role the statue played for the university in a time of crisis — a crisis averted, some say, due to Our Lady’s intercession and the prayers of the community. A story of prayer amid pestilence, it is an episode of history worth recalling amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Epidemic in a growing city

In the 1840s, the city of St. Louis, originally a small French trading post along the Mississippi River, was booming. It had become the gateway to the expanding American West, with land to grab and gold to be dug. By 1849, inhabitants of the city numbered around 77,000.

Then came the cholera epidemic.

“The city was very fearful,” said Christopher Alan Gordon, Director of Library & Collections at the Missouri Historical Society, who wrote a book on the epidemic’s effect on St. Louis entitled Fire, Pestilence, and Death: St. Louis 1849.

The cholera spread of that year originated in Europe and made its way to the United States via trade and immigration. At the time, many new arrivals to America were making their way to St. Louis,to settle there or to continue westward.

The earliest deaths from the epidemic in St. Louis occurred in January, and the disease reached its peak from late April to mid-July.

“Once it began to take hold in spring, people began to flee the city,” Gordon said.

Even government officials took refuge in the surrounding countryside, forcing the mayor to appoint an emergency Committee of Public Health in June with near-total control over the city, to halt the spread of disease.

Such was the city’s desperation that they even took to banning vegetables and sauerkraut, which were erroneously thought to spread cholera through rotting. The city removed garbage and refuse, and citizens burned barrels of pitch and tar in hopes of cleansing the atmosphere of “miasma,” a Greek word for “bad air.”

Only later would germ theory allow medical scientists to discover that cholera spreads through bad water; at the time, St. Louis lacked proper sewage.

Some efforts, however, amounted to what would be recognized today as effective anti-contagion measures. Arrivals in the city were screened for symptoms, and a makeshift hospital was constructed on an island in the Mississippi River, dubbed “Quarantine Island.”

“Given what’s going on in the world” with the spread of coronavirus, Gordon said, “I think people should look back on these epidemics and realize that there are real lessons that were learned, and there was progress that came out of them that has really helped us in our daily lives today.”

Even as the city filled Quarantine Island, however, the disease continued to spread, and at the peak of the epidemic, 200 funerals a day were recorded.

“You read these accounts, particularly in May and June of 1849, where people talk about the streets becoming empty,” said Gordon.
“It was a scary time, it was a scary place to be.”

Saint Louis University & the silver crown

Documents preserved in the Jesuit Archives & Research Center in St. Louis, as well as the Saint Louis University Libraries Archives, provide a window into life at the school during the epidemic — and how the Madonna statue of St. Francis Xavier College Church factored into that period of Saint Louis University’s history.

In 1849, Saint Louis University, then an all-male institution, had a population of more than 200 student boarders, many of whom came from wealthy homes in the South and along the East Coast. There was also a population of “day-scholars” who travelled to the university from their own homes in St. Louis to attend the school each day. Just over 30 years old, the university was one of the larger educational institutions west of the Mississippi.

Whispers of the coming pestilence had reached St. Louis via newspaper before the disease claimed its first victims in January 1849. Preemptive fear gripped the city, including the university. An undated petition signed by 16 students sometime in the latter half of 1848, exclaims “Le Choléra!!!” and implores in French that students be allowed to smoke, claiming that “the smoke of tobacco is capable of repulsing this enemy.”

By May 1849, the situation had grown dire. A letter from Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet, S.J., then second-in-command of the local Jesuit province, records that in that month, prayers against the calamity were “said every evening in our churches and novenas said in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Among these churches was St. Francis Xavier.

With students living so close together on a campus in the thick of the growing city and the epidemic pressing from all sides, anxieties mounted high at Saint Louis University.

Fearful for the school, the students’ Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary club was among the groups praying daily for safety from the epidemic at St. Francis Xavier. Sometime in May, at the behest of Fr. Isidore Boudreaux, S.J., the head of the Sodality, the group gathered the student body in the chapel.

Fr. De Smet records that there, in front of the statue that now rests outside the current church’s daily Mass chapel, the students gathered to ask Mary’s protection on the whole student body from the plague:

"Assembled in the chapel of the Sodality, which is specifically dedicated to Our Lady, with lips which gave utterance to the deepest feelings of their hearts, they implored her divine protection; on their knees, with filial confidence and affection, they besought Mary, their heavenly Mother, to shield them from the coming pestilence, and with a loving, childlike simplicity, they promised that if none of them, or of those living in the University, should fall victims to the cholera, they would place on her statue a silver crown, which would be to them a continual memorial of her love."

The school also placed medals of the Immaculate Conception on the gates and doors of the school, a brief biography of Boudreaux located in the Jesuit Archives notes.

This promise to Mary “seemed to have dispelled all fear” among the students, Fr. Thomas Chambers, S.J., said in a letter dated October 1899, 50 years after the plague. He records that some students, when asked if they were worried about the epidemic, replied, “No! The cholera durst not enter those College walls. The Bl. Virgin keeps it off.”

Throughout the course of the epidemic, the Jesuits focused much of their ministry on serving the sick. “Our Fathers were night and day, for months together, among the dead and dying,” Fr. De Smet recorded in the months following the epidemic.

One in particular, Fr. Arnold Damen, was recognized by the city of St. Louis for his efforts against the contagion. Also assisting the sick around the clock from the university faculty was Dr. Moses Linton, a decorated professor at the medical school.

In June, students were sent home for fear of the illness, and the university closed until September. Commencement exercises were canceled. The year instead concluded with the annual dinner on the feast of John the Baptist.

“I assure you it was a happy thought to break up [the school term],” reads a letter dated June 9, 1849 from Boudreaux. “Most of the parents were on the point of recalling their sons.”

The official death toll for the city from cholera that year stands at 5,547. The actual number is almost certainly far higher due to the inexactitude of many records and the fact that many of the dead were buried outside the city proper. Many estimates, Gordon said, place the actual number between 7,000 and 8,000. Either way, it amounts to a sizable fraction of the 77,000 population in the city.

The contagion reached its height in St. Louis that July, with 2,211 deaths, and at the start of August, the Committee of Public Health declared that the emergency in the city had officially ended. That same month, only 54 died of the disease.

When Saint Louis University resumed session in September, the epidemic had well died off.

With students back at the school, they were all of them safe from the effects of cholera, and all priests remained in good health despite their constant ministry to the sick.

The epidemic that had claimed around a tenth of the population of the city and wreaked havoc across the world had not crept into campus walls. The student body remained whole, and none of the Jesuits had not fallen sick despite their vigorous ministry to the infirm.

The school took this as a sign of their vow to the Blessed Mother. On the evening of October 8 that year, the university gathered for a two-and-a-half hour ceremony to uphold their promise and crown the statue.

Fr. De Smet records that the church was decorated in evergreen garlands and flowers, white wreaths, and “numberless” lamps ranged in the shapes of “hearts, crowns, and crosses.” The ceremony included Benediction, hymns, and a talk “every way well suited to the occasion” by a Rev. Gleizal, whom he describes as “a most devoted servant of Mary.” Students carried lighted candles wrapped in small wreaths.

At the climax of the coronation ceremony, the crown was blessed and processed twice around the church, a scene De Smet described as “beautiful and imposing,” before the crowd sang the the Te Deum and, “[a]mid a most deathlike silence,” crowned the statue of the Mother to whom they attributed their survival.

The silver crown today

Today, the crown rests separate from the statue, occasionally trading homes between its current location at St. Francis Xavier and a museum on SLU’s campus. The students of the 1840s also dedicated a marble plaque in Latin that described the history of the statue and crown. That plaque today lies in storage, too heavy for the walls of the current chapel. A bronze version with a translation of the original marble display hangs beside the statue instead. The parish has moved location in the elapsing century and a half, and the statue, crown, and plaques are some of the few remains of the original church.

The SLU population of 1849 had several temporal factors working in its favor, Fr. Suwalsky noted.

“Poverty meant that families couldn't afford doctors which meant that they were not subjected to the horror that was medicine in those days,” he said. “No dirty hands, instruments or wacky potions... Plus the students were male, young and healthy and therefore less susceptible to illness.” Suwalsky also noted that the university population also likely had access to better-quality water than did many poorer parts of the city.

“Still,” he said, “it is an amazing thing that a disease as virulent as cholera which took the lives of as many as 10% of St. Louis' population didn't reach into the university community. I am willing to call that a miracle.”

Of course, not all prayers are so explicitly answered.

“They were trusting that placing themselves under the protection of the Virgin would bring about a very positive thing,” Fr. Suwalsky said, “and I’m not sure that they had any sort of guarantee that they would emerge unscathed. But, they trusted that it was the right thing to do, and I think that’s all we can do. Trust that the Lord provides for us, and we will continue to believe that God’s help and grace is always present and available to us.”

The story of the Mary statue at St. Francis Xavier College Church bears relevance today in the face of another global epidemic, with the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“These things aren’t, sadly, unique” from a historical perspective, Fr. Suwalsky said. “We should understand that you do the right things and you keep working.” Today, in measures against COVID-19, SLU is one of a number of universities that has transitioned to online coursework for the remainder of the semester for most students.

“There’s always been the practice in the Church to place ourselves under the patronage, under the beneficial, beneficent care of the Virgin,” he said. “And that was exactly what they were doing in 1849, and probably something that Catholics should still do today.”

“It’s this idea that the caring Mother of God will take care of us, and that helps us to get out of our own selves and our own fears.”


Virginia governor makes attending church a criminal offense

Wed, 03/25/2020 - 13:00

Richmond, Va., Mar 25, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Virginia governor Ralph Northam has made it a criminal offense to attend church services of more than 10 people. An executive order went into effect in the commonwealth on Tuesday, March 24, making any non-essential gatherings a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of $2,500.

Executive Order 53 states “All gatherings of more than 10 people are banned statewide, beginning at 11:59 PM on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. This does not include gatherings that involve the provision of health care or medical services, access to essential services for low-income residents, such as food banks; operations of the media; law enforcement agencies; or operations of government.”

The executive order expires at 11:59 p.m. on April 23, 2020, and is subject to change at any time in response to ongoing concerns for public health during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In the order, Gov. Northam (D) ordered all restaurants, breweries, food courts, farmers markets, and bars to close to the public, and shift to delivery and takeout only. Only retail businesses deemed “essential” were permitted to remain open.

Essential businesses include grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, medical supply stores, gas stations, pet stores, laundromats, and liquor stores.

“Any brick-and-mortar retail business not listed above must limit all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons per establishment, adhere to social distancing recommendations, sanitize common surfaces, and apply relevant workplace guidance from state and federal authorities."

"If any such business cannot adhere to the 10-patron limit with proper social distancing requirements, it must close,” said the order.

Businesses that are found to be in violation of Executive Order Fifty-Three “may be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.” In Virginia, Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable with “confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both."

Unlike other jurisdictions where similar shutdown orders have been issued, places of worship--of any creed or belief--have not been labeled as essential in Virginia, and are subject to this order. 

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

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

Both of Virginia’s Catholic dioceses have already suspended the public celebration of Mass in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and parishes are instructed to allow no more than 10 worshippers in the church at one time. Parish buildings largely remain open for private prayer, and some parishes have continued to offer confessions. Others have not. 

Many parishes have opted to live-stream liturgies in lieu of in-person attendance. 

Many evangelical mega-churches in Northern Virginia have also shifted their services to online-viewing only.

In a press release about the executive order, Northam called the pandemic an “unprecedented situation” which “requires unprecedented actions to protect public health and save lives.” 

“I know the next several weeks will be difficult. These restrictions on non-essential businesses will create hardships on the businesses and employees affected. But they are necessary, and we do not undertake them lightly. I am calling on Virginians to sacrifice now, so that we can get through this together,” he said. 

Virginia has had 391 identified cases of COVID-19, with nine deaths, as of Wednesday morning.