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Chicago police fine Pentecostal churches for violating 10-person limit

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 17:10

CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- Three churches in Chicago have been fined after defying an order banning services of more than 10 people on Sunday, May 17. A former mayoral candidate, who attended one of the services, has said that he will pay the fines. 

Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, Philadelphia Romanian Church of God and Metro Praise International Church were cited on Wednesday by the Chicago Police Department for exceeding the state of Illinois’ stay-at-home order and city social distancing policies which currently ban religious gatherings of more than 10 people. The churches were each fined $500. 

“The Chicago Police Department has been working to ensure full compliance with the [stay-at-home] order,” said the police department in a statement. 

“As part of this effort, we continue to ask everyone to help slow the spread of the virus by staying home and practicing social distancing so that once we have begun to recover and reopen, residents can return to their religious services in a safe manner.”

The city further announced that no-parking zones would be established near churches to dissuade potential worshipers from attending. 

On Wednesday, Chicago businessman and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who attended one of the church services last weekend, said he would pay the fines for the churches. 

“The governor and mayor continue to trample on our constitutional rights while hiding behind a Stay at Home Order that treats the church as non-essential,” said Wilson in a statement. “It is shameful that the church is discriminated against, while liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and Home Depot [are] treated as essential businesses.”

Earlier this month, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced a five-part plan for reopening the state. Originally, gatherings of ten or fewer people were not allowed until phase 3, at earliest, on May 29. 

Following a lawsuit by another church in the state, the governor allowed citizens to leave their homes for religious services as long as ten or fewer people are gathered for worship.

Previously, religious services of any kind in the state—including drive-in and in-person services—were curtailed during the pandemic, and even other forms of sacramental practice such as drive-in confessions were not allowed. 

Pritzker has said that gatherings of more than 50 people will not be allowed until a vaccine or effective treatment for the coronavirus is made available, which could potentially be next year.

The Archdiocese of Chicago suspended the public celebration of Mass in March. The archdiocese announced on May 1 that public Masses with 10 or fewer people would resume. On May 13, the archdiocese announced a reopening plan that had been created with the guidance and cooperation of the governor’s office, and has since issued detailed instructions for the wearing of masks during Mass, for the distribution of Communion.

Despite the governor’s order, Metro Praise International Church wrote on its Facebook page earlier this month that they would hold services at their normal times as a “passive resistance” to the continued restrictions. 

"This is a principled stand for our First Amendment rights and, more importantly, our biblical mandate to gather with other Christians in worship and fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25),” said the church. “Therefore, effective May 10, 2020, we will resume our 9am and 11am services as we had before the order.”

The pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church told local media in Chicago that he would continue to hold services, even with the looming threat of arrest. 

"Incarceration? I truly believe the mayor and the governor would not want to go there," said Pastor Cristian Ionescu, adding that the arrest of a pastor would be a “PR disaster” for the city. 

Fox News reported that the church required congregants to meet 13 criteria to attend among them having no coronavirus symptoms and being younger than 65 years old. The congregation was limited to 75 people, less than 10% of church capacity.

Also on Wednesday, the bishops in the state of Minnesota issued a letter announcing that parishes would resume public celebration of Mass in defiance of a state order prohibiting religious gatherings from exceeding 10 people. 

“It is now permissible for an unspecified number of people to go to shopping malls and enter stores, so long as no more than 50 percent of the occupancy capacity is reached. Big-box stores have hundreds of people inside at any one time,” the Minnesota bishops wrote. 

While noting that “there is no state mandate that customers wear masks in those malls or stores, wash their hands consistently, or follow any specific cleaning protocol,” the state continued to bar more that 10 people from gathering in a church of any size.

“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,” the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses said in a May 20 statement.

Planned Parenthood coronavirus loans could face DOJ investigation

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 14:30

CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- More than two dozen senators asked the attorney general on Thursday to investigate Planned Parenthood affiliates that have received emergency federal loans.

A letter from 27 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), asked Attorney General William Barr to investigate 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates that reportedly applied for and received $80 million in emergency small business loans in recent weeks, during the pandemic.

The senators noted that “it seems clear that Planned Parenthood knew that it was ineligible for the small business loans under the CARES Act long before its affiliates fraudulently self-certified that they were eligible,” the senators stated.

“As you know, fraudulent loan applications can trigger both civil and criminal penalties,” their letter stated.

The loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were initially set up in March under the CARES Act, as an emergency measure to help eligible small businesses and non-profits keep employees on payroll during the pandemic. The loans could become grants if certain conditions were met.

To be eligible for PPP loans, businesses and non-profits could not have more than 500 employees. If they were affiliated with a larger national organization under existing Small Business Administration (SBA) rules, then they would be counted together with the larger organization and all its affiliates.

Faith-based groups were exempt from the affiliation requirement, which meant that Catholic parishes and schools—while part of a larger diocese—were not all lumped together and counted as a single entity that would be ineligible for PPP loans. Thousands of parishes have applied for and received PPP loans.

Other national organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which says it has 49 affiliates around the country, were meant to be subject to the affiliation rules and thus were considered ineligible for the emergency assistance.

Funding of Planned Parenthood was part of the negotiations for the CARES Act in March, and the bill passed reportedly with Planned Parenthood locked out of the PPP loan program. On March 27, when the bill passed the House, Planned Parenthood Action decried the “attacks on reproductive care”

“The latest coronavirus relief package expands the Hyde Amendment to a new pot of funds and attempts to target Planned Parenthood health centers — a cruel disservice to the millions of people across the country who are already struggling to access care,” Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill-Johnson stated.

Yet on Tuesday, Fox News reported that 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates applied for and received $80 million in PPP loans. The SBA was seeking for the affiliates to return the loans, Fox News reported.

The letter from the 27 senators cited Planned Parenthood’s “clear ineligibility under the statutory text” of the CARES Act which set up the first round of PPP loans.

“It was also well-publicized at the time that the CARES Act did not allow Planned Parenthood affiliates to utilize these loans,” the letter stated.

Some publicly-traded corporations received PPP loans. CNBC reported in April that more than 245 public companies applied for nearly $1 billion in PPP loans.

US fertility rates fall again, and coronavirus could make it worse

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 10:15

CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 08:15 am (CNA).- The birth rate in the United States fell to a record low last year, with the fewest babies being born in 35 years. Experts are predicting the trend to continue, and warn the coronavirus could cause an even sharper decline in future years.

Statistics released May 19 by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics show that, in 2019, 3.75 million children were born – a drop of 1% from 2018. The figures also show a 2% drop in overall fertility, with only 58.2 births registered for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15-44. This is the lowest rate since records began in 1909.

The overall fertility rate now stands at 1.7, well below the 2.1 needed for population replacement.

Birthrates have been in steady decline for more than a decade following a peak before the 2008 financial crisis. The 2019 statistics show falling fertility across all age groups except one, women in their 40s.

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the data confirms the ongoing trend seen over the last decade, and that the current coronavirus pandemic is likely to further depress fertility.

“The downward trend in birth rates observed in the last several years is not a flash in the pan,” she told CNA. “Unfortunately, the economic devastation ushered in by COVID-19 is likely to make late 2020 worse, and 2021 worse still.”

Many have speculated that months of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders could result in a mini “baby boom,” and that 2020 figures might show a spike in births towards the end of the year. But, Pakaluk warned, this optimism could prove to be unfounded.

“You'll hear lots of people joke about couples on lockdown with nothing better to do than 'make a baby'. But that's just wishful thinking.”

“Plenty of evidence says that unemployment is one of the best predictors of negative fertility shocks. With new jobless claims approaching a staggering 40 million, there are many couples, sadly, who will choose not to have a baby that they already conceived -abortion- and certainly many more who will postpone a baby they were hoping to have this year or next,” she said.

“For some fraction of those, that postponement will end up being permanent. Expect 2020, but especially 2021, to be far worse than what we see here.”

Several trends continued in the data, suggesting that long term fertility rates will continue to drop. Teenage pregnancies have been in sharp decline for decades, with births among women under 20 dropping a further 5%, and declining by 73% overall since a peak in 1991.

Birthrates among Hispanic women also continued to drop, registering 20% fewer births than 2008 projections anticipated. Hispanic women account for nearly 25% of U.S. births.

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate. Programs like social welfare and subsidized medical care rely on growing populations which can contribute to the care of aging generations.

Commenting on these trends in an interview with CNA last year, Pakaluk said that the problems were obvious.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said.

“Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But, she warned, the problems caused by declining births was individual, not just societal.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We do know that children are a tremendous source of satisfaction for both men and women and if you take the net effect of [available data] on happiness and wellbeing - even in very controlled studies - we know that children contribute a tremendous amount of happiness.”

“I would certainly say that we need to look at [how] we have the lowest birthrates on record and the highest rates of addiction and depression on record. I’m not ready to say that is causal, but I think we need to think about it,” Pakaluk said.

“We are living in a fascinating paradox. In the post-feminist age of women’s right and control of reproduction they are not getting what it is that they say they want.”

California can't omit churches from re-opening plans, Justice Department says 

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 02:50

Washington D.C., May 21, 2020 / 12:50 am (CNA).- California Gov. Gavin Newsom's efforts to lift some anti-coronavirus restrictions cannot single out churches for stricter treatment than other similar public activities, the U.S. Department of Justice has said.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Eric S. Dreiband, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said in a May 19 letter to Newsom joined by four U.S. attorneys for California.

“Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans. This is true now more than ever,” the letter continued. “Religious communities have rallied to protect their communities from the spread of this disease by making services available online, in parking lots, or outdoors, by indoor services with a majority of pews empty, and in numerous other creative ways that otherwise comply with social distancing and sanitation guidelines.”

California’s rules allow restaurants and other businesses to reopen under social distancing guidelines, the Associated Press reports. Churches, however, are still limited to online services and similar efforts.

The letter to Newsom objected that this is a double standard.

“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.”

Dreiband’s letter said this is an “unfair burden” on religious groups and “unequal treatment” that violates their civil rights protections. The letter does not threaten immediate legal action. It recognizes the duty “to protect the health and safety of Californians in the face of a pandemic that is unprecedented in our lifetimes,” but said leaders must balance competing interests and evaluate the changing information about the coronavirus.

“Laws that are not both neutral toward religion and generally applicable are invalid unless the government can prove that they further a compelling interest and are pursued through the least restrictive means possible,” the letter said.

Newsom has indicated religious institutions could start in-person services in the near future, with improvements in measurements of testing, infection, and hospitalization.

“I want to just express my deep admiration to the faith community and the need and desire to know when their congregants can once again start coming back to the pews, coming back together,” Newsom said May 18, Politico reports.

Two Republican legislators have introduced a resolution to limit the governor’s emergency powers. Assemblymember Kevin Kiley said such powers are meant for “conditions of extreme peril” and are not intended to “give a single person the ability to remake all of California law indefinitely.”

In Sacramento County, health officials have received state approval for a more rapid lifting of limitations. The county will allow “drive-through” religious services. San Diego County supervisors have asked the state for permission for a more rapid reopening, including outdoor religious services with restrictions, the Associated Press said.

Some churches in the U.S. and South Korea are believed to be at the center of so-called “super-spreader” events, when numerous infections from the novel coronavirus result. On May 12, the Centers for Disease Control said 53 of 61 choir members who took part in a March 10 choir practice at a church in Skagit County, Washington contracted a confirmed or probable case of the coronavirus. Three singers were hospitalized and two died, E.W. Scripps News reports.

Dreiband’s letter to Newsom cites the Department of Justice’s promise to act on any abuses of religious freedom after some state and local governments sought to enforce tough restrictions on Easter services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr issued a statement in mid-April saying that governments cannot put special burdens on religious practice that they do not also impose upon other activities. While state and local governments may enact public emergency restrictions, these regulations cannot impede religious practice while allowing exemptions for similar public activities.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco spoke about epidemic restrictions on churches during a May 13 online briefing “The Church, the State and the Pandemic,” hosted by the San Francisco-based Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship. Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell, a former federal appellate court judge, was the main speaker at the briefing.

The archbishop, citing his interactions with government leaders, suggested public officials “don’t understand what we can do to keep people safe.” Church leaders need to reach out to officials and inform them what is possible, he said.

“When they think of a worship service they think of something like a megachurch, 1,000 to 2,000 people jammed in a crowded area,” he said. “They don’t think that we can have distance in our churches, or that we can have outdoor services.”

Cordileone cited suggestions from the Thomistic Institute of the Dominican House of Studies, which published guidance on coronavirus and churches composed by a working group of theologians, liturgists, and health care experts.

“It’s a very thorough and detailed document about what we can do to open up for Mass,” Cordileone said.

The California bishops sent a letter to Gov. Newsom with the Thomistic Institute document attached. A few days later the governor “spoke positively about worship and the necessity of faith” and appeared “more favorable to churches opening up for worship,” said the archbishop.

 

Minnesota bishops will reopen public Masses, defy state order

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 19:05

CNA Staff, May 20, 2020 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Minnesota have permitted parishes to resume public Masses, and to defy a statewide order prohibiting religious gatherings exceeding 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,” the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses said in a May 20 statement.

“Therefore, we have chosen to move forward in the absence of any specific timeline laid out by Governor Walz and his Administration. We cannot allow an indefinite suspension of the public celebration of the Mass,” the bishops added.

“We can safely resume public Masses in accordance with both our religious duties and with accepted public health and safety standards.”

The bishops’ letter permits parishes to resume public Masses May 26.

Parishes are not obliged to begin public Masses that day, the bishops said, and those which do will need to meet stringent requirements established by the Church, including a plan to limit attendance to one-third of church capacity, and follow sanitation protocols. They also said that Catholics remain dispensed from the Sunday obligation.

A May 13 executive order began Minnesota’s second stage of statewide response to the coronavirus pandemic. The order, issued by Governor Tim 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.

The bishops’ decision to contravene a statewide executive order is the first made by U.S. bishops since the coronavirus pandemic began.

But Minnesota’s bishops said the state’s prohibitions on religious gatherings of more than 10 people does not respect the right to the free exercise of religion.

“It is now permissible for an unspecified number of people to go to shopping malls and enter stores, so long as no more than 50 percent of the occupancy capacity is reached. Big-box stores have hundreds of people inside at any one time, and the number of goods that are being handled and distributed in one store by many people—stock staff, customers, cashiers—is astounding. Workers are present for many hours per day, often in close proximity. There is no state mandate that customers wear masks in those malls or stores, wash their hands consistently, or follow any specific cleaning protocol,” the bishops wrote.

“In these circumstances, and given the well-researched protocols that we have proposed (and that are being followed successfully elsewhere in our nation) how can reason require us any longer to keep our faithful from the Eucharist?”

The bishops said they had made efforts to work with state leaders, but will move forward in reopening Masses despite the state’s decision to continue limiting religious services.

“We have attempted to engage in dialogue with the Administration. We have twice sent the Governor letters asking for a dialogue, most recently last Saturday. Though public health and public safety officials have listened to our concerns and have created opportunities for input and conversation, we have not received a concrete timeline and roadmap for resuming public worship that includes reasonable guidance on congregational size,” the bishops wrote.

“The human cost to this pandemic has been extraordinary, not just in terms of lives lost to the virus but the rapidly growing problems of job loss, depression, crime and violence, and substance abuse. As Pope Francis has said, the church must be a field hospital, ministering to all, but especially the poor and vulnerable. He has cautioned that overly drastic measures that limit church life will have a disproportionate impact on “the little ones” and those who have no one to rely on,” they added.

“As we work together, we can provide for the essential sacramental life of our faithful, fulfill our duty to worship God, and do so in a way that also protects the common good of our state.”

 

Pennsylvania bishops urge governor not to divert emergency funds from private schools

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 19:01

CNA Staff, May 20, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is urging Governor Tom Wolf not to divert federal emergency funds, appropriated to help K-12 schools amid the pandemic, away from the state’s private schools.

“That money has been earmarked for ALL schools in our state. Yet, there are efforts underway by the Wolf administration to try to exclude private schools from the benefits of the CARES Act,” Eric Failing, executive director of the PCC, wrote in a May 19 op-ed.

The CARES Act, which Congress passed in March, appropriated $13.2 billion in aid for K-12 education across the country. Approximately $524 million of that aid went to Pennsylvania.

The US Education Department, in guidance issued in April, stated that under the terms of the CARES Act, school districts that receive CARES Act funding must provide “equitable services” to both public and non-public schools.

The American Federation of Teachers, a Washington D.C.-based union, on May 6 issued a statement urging school districts to ignore the Education Department’s guidance, arguing that it is “inequitable, generates dollars for wealthy students in private schools”, and “denies public schools the recovery they desperately need.”

On May 7 Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education wrote a letter to the assistant US Education Secretary, contending that the current formula for appropriating the funds would lead to huge increases in funding for “more advantaged students” at the expense of “most disadvantaged students” across Pennsylvania.

According to PCC Education Director Sean McAleer, Governor Wolf’s administration, under their own formula for appropriating the funds, is calling for roughly $19 million to go to Catholic and non-public schools students, compared to $66 million using the formula put forth by the Education Department.

Failing noted that while some private schools in Pennsylvania are doing well economically, as are some of the state’s public schools, many serve children in economically disadvantaged areas, and in many cases students depend on financial aid in order to attend.

“There are continued stories of private schools having to close or consolidate because, while they are saving students from failed public school systems in financially distressed communities, they also must address rising costs,” he continued.

Failing also urged Pennsylvania’s officials to consider that if non-public schools shut down or if parents are forced to pull their children out, it will mean an even greater burden on the state’s public school system.

“We are urging the U.S. Department of Education not to give in to these demands to squeeze out private school communities, many of which are serving vulnerable children in economically distressed communities throughout the state,” Failing said.

'A wildfire of death': Policy, culture and coronavirus in nursing homes

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 16:45

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 20, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Deaths from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) have soared in U.S. nursing homes, a trend that some advocates say reflects society’s disdain for the elderly.

“The nursing homes have been ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic” said Jim Towey, founder and CEO of the group Aging with Dignity.

Towey warned of a “disturbing undercurrent” in the conversation about the high occurrence of COVID deaths among the elderly, one which downplays the numbers because of the age of the patients and their supposed proximity to death.

“That is a function of a utilitarian view that Pope Francis has consistently criticized,” Towey said.

Overall, the New York Times reported more than 28,000 staff and patient deaths from the coronavirus at nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the U.S., as of May 11.

Nursing homes accounted for 11% of the overall COVID cases in the U.S., but have borne 35% of the COVID deaths, the Times reported.

As the coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly in the U.S. in March, nursing homes were at the epicenter. Early on, Life Care Center in Washington state drew national attention for its outbreak, and by mid-April there were more than 40 COVID-related deaths among the home’s patients.

With the virus fast spreading in the Northeast and on the West Coast, some state officials were concerned about a possible lack of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients. New York, New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania began mandating that nursing homes could not reject patients discharged from hospitals, who had the virus and were stable.

On March 25, New York instructed nursing homes that they could not deny new patients even if they carried a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported.

This, said Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, helped “create an uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death” at nursing homes.

Camosy wrote a Sunday New York Times op-ed on the virus’ toll on nursing homes. He told CNA on Monday that the statistics were “awful,” but a sign of the times.

As nursing homes and long-term care facilities “were already pushed to the margins of our culture, it actually made sense that the dignity of these residents and workers was ignored and their lives discarded,” he said.

In some cases in New York, empty homes were transformed into COVID wards as with one former Catholic nursing home near Buffalo, which reopened as a recovery center for COVID patients.

Other nursing homes in the state were devastated by the virus.

At a single health care center in Queens, New York, there have been 82 reported COVID deaths. Confirmed COVID deaths at nursing homes number 432 in Queens and 489 in Suffolk County; there were 484 “COVID presumed deaths” at Queens, and 227 in Suffolk, according to the state health department.

The situation for some homes grew dire so quickly that, by the beginning of April, the CEO of the Archdiocese of New York’s health system ArchCare advised families of nursing home patients to take their loved ones home if possible.

A high-ranking ArchCare chaplain also told CNA there was a critical shortage of PPE in the nursing homes at the time, with staff being asked to use one face mask for a whole week and beyond rather than change the mask in between each patient, as normally advised.

Nursing home outbreaks in other states have also pushed up death tolls there. There were 45 deaths by mid-April at one Virginia nursing home. Carroll County in Maryland reported more than 50 COVID-related deaths at nursing homes by the end of April.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on Tuesday that 81% of the state’s COVID-related deaths occurred at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities; state officials were still allowing infected COVID-19 patients to be discharged to nursing homes to free up more hospital beds.

In a one-week period in Connecticut, nearly 90% of the state’s COVID-related deaths were nursing home patients.

In Florida, according to a National Review report, Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his administration’s response to the pandemic. He said Florida focused attention from the start on vulnerable populations, especially the elderly, and barred symptomatic workers from entering nursing homes. Staff were required to wear PPE, and state inspectors visited homes to provide guidance.

Even with the precautions, however, 938 of the state’s 2,052 coronavirus deaths--46%--have been patients or staff at  long-term care facilities, according to statistics from the state’s health department.

New York reversed its mandate this week, allowing nursing homes to refuse patients who contracted the virus. However, the damage has already been done, Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told CNA last Friday.

“I have some sympathy that, in the midst of the explosion, people were dealing with a true emergency,” Smith said. Yet, he added, “one can’t imagine the thinking that would go behind” the state’s decision, “unless you thought that they didn’t matter as much as other people.”

If an investigation into state policies uncovers “any hint of that” mentality, Smith said, there should be sanctions for “egregious and invidious discrimination.”

One precaution that could have been taken before the pandemic—and must be considered in the future—is to help families plan for long-term care so they don’t have to make drastic decisions for their loved ones during a public emergency, said Towey.

Towey is also the former director of the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiatives during the Bush administration, and served as the legal counsel for Mother Teresa for 12 years.

“In many cases,” he said, there was “negligence” demonstrated by nursing home operators that led to the “premature death of many people.” Proper safeguards were not in place to protect patients from the virus.

Yet when considering future policies to protect the elderly, Towey emphasized that they cannot be isolated indefinitely and “can’t live in a world without hugs.” Any policy must “address this disease of loneliness that’s pervasive.”

“I’m worried more about where we’re headed with long-term care, and how we do this in a humane way, because the elderly need most of all to love and be loved,” Towey said.

“That was the lesson Mother Teresa taught. And you just can’t wrap them up in bubble wrap to protect them from illness.”

And even after the pandemic subsides, the cultural trend of families “warehousing” their elderly members will still need to be addressed.

In some cases, Camosy acknowledged, there is no other choice than for an elderly person to be admitted to a nursing home, due to their family’s financial situation or the lack of a family caregiver.

“But in a large number of cases the social expectation is that ‘the place for mom’ is somewhere outside the home,” he said.

Camosy has written about Pope Francis’ condemnation of the “throwaway culture.” He pointed to a cultural trend of families pushing elderly members into nursing homes and forgetting about them, helping to explain why states failed to protect nursing homes from the pandemic.

“We push those whose dignity is difficult to acknowledge and respect to the margins where we don't have to think about it. We like the consumerist lifestyles and autonomy we've achieved and don't want to mess it up,” Camosy said.

Smith said that the churches need to be at the forefront of fighting the epidemic of loneliness in nursing homes.

“I think that our churches need to step up,” he said.

“There are an awful lot of lonely and semi-abandoned people living in such facilities. And I think that the Christian community, based on their faith, should up its game in reaching out to helping people know they are not alone.”

Catholics protest Missouri execution of death row prisoner

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 14:45

CNA Staff, May 20, 2020 / 12:45 pm (CNA).- Despite objections from Catholic groups, a Missouri death row inmate died by lethal injection May 19, in the first execution carried out in the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Catholics in the state had protested the governor’s decision to allow the execution to go ahead, with the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) helping to gather over 5,000 signatures on a petition asking Governor Mike Parson to stop the execution.

The Washington D.C.-based Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN), which advocates for an end to the death penalty, also condemned the decision to go ahead with the execution.

“Our nation has gone to great lengths to save lives and prevent unnecessary loss of life during the COVID-19 crisis,” Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, CMN’s Executive Director, said May 20.

“It’s tragically contradictory that Missouri put a man to death amidst the herculean efforts we see daily to protect life. This execution was wrong-headed and unconscionable.”

Walter Barton, 64, had been convicted of fatally stabbing an 81-year-old woman, Gladys Kuehler, in 1991.

His death sentence had been overturned and reinstated several times, local media report. There were two mistrials in his case before he was first sentenced to death in 1994; the state Supreme Court later overturned his death sentence, but he was sentenced again in 1998. Finally, after a judge ordered a new trial, he was sentenced to death a third time in 2006.

Barton has maintained his innocence.

No one had been executed in the U.S. since Nathaniel Woods was put to death in Alabama on March 5, the Associated Press reported.

The Missouri Catholic Conference noted the morning of May 19 that Barton had already spent 26 years on death row, and is now confined to a wheelchair and has a severe neurological disorder due to a traumatic brain injury.

Anyone entering the prison where Barton was to be executed would have their temperatures taken and be offered face coverings to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus, a Missouri Department of Corrections spokeswoman told the Associated Press.

No relatives or supporters of Barton were present at his execution, the AP reports.

At least 15 states, including Ohio and Texas, have stayed, rescheduled, or granted reprieves for executions during the pandemic. Texas, in particular, has already delayed six because of the pandemic; the next one is set for June 16.

Attorneys have argued that the pandemic makes it difficult to properly conduct investigations and appeals, and could allow for unnecessary exposure to the virus.

Missouri has executed at least 89 people since 1976, the last one taking place during October 2019.

In 1999, Pope John Paul II personally asked then-Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan that the execution of Darrell Mease, a prisoner who had been convicted for murder, not go forward. Carnahan subsequently commuted Mease’s sentence to life in prison without parole.

Pope Francis in August 2018 ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

The revised text cites “an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes,” as well as the development of “more effective systems of detention…which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.”

Kansas investigating sexual abuse claims in breakaway Society of St. Pius X

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 14:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 20, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is under investigation in Kansas, amid allegations that members of the group perpetrated or covered up clerical sex abuse in the state.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) confirmed to CNA on Monday that it is examining clergy abuse allegations made against the group, as part of its investigation into the four Kansas Catholic dioceses. The SSPX is not overseen by any diocese in Kansas, or elsewhere, because of its irregular status in the Church.

A breakaway traditionalist group, the SSPX was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. When Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer consecrated four bishops without the permission of St. John Paul II in 1988, the bishops involved were excommunicated.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the surviving bishops, while noting that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”

The group has been in intermittent talks with the Vatican about returning to full communion with the Church. In 2015, Pope Francis extended the faculty to hear confession to priests of the society as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In the group’s U.S. district, however, a number of abuse allegations have surfaced in relation to the large SSPX community at St. Mary’s, Kansas, which includes the society’s K-12 school.

In its ongoing investigation of Catholic clergy abuse in Kansas, a KBI spokeswoman said the bureau has received 186 reports of abuse and had opened 112 investigations. She did not indicate how many relate directly to the SSPX.

Jassy Jacas told CNA that her family had been involved with the SSPX since she was eight years old; she attended the Society’s St. Mary’s Academy and College, volunteering in the “tight-knit” community of St. Mary’s.

She told CNA she met with a priest of the society, Fr. Pierre Duverger, in Kansas City and in St. Mary’s in late 2013 and early 2014, to talk about serial sexual abuse committed against her by a family member while she was a child.  When she met with the priest, a decade had passed since the abuse, and Jacas was 22 years old.

Jaces said Fr. Duverger soon began asking her sexually explicit questions that made her uncomfortable, and reportedly asked her to email him details of the abuse that had occurred, along with her sexual thoughts and temptations. He instructed her to text or call him, “especially in times of temptation.”

“I want to help you understand sin,” he reportedly told her.

Eventually, he told her he was going to visit his mother in France, Jacas said. The priest did not respond to her subsequent attempts to reach him.

Jacas said that in early 2018, she met a Catholic therapist who recognized Fr. Duverger’s name. Jacas was put in touch with another alleged victim of the priest. Jacas said the other victim was allegedly instructed by Fr. Duverger to perform a sexual act while he watched via Facetime.

Jacas submitted a report documenting her concerns to the Society, and contacted Fr. Gerald Beck, assistant to the U.S. district superior for the SSPX. She said she met with Fr. Beck in April 2018.

She says she was told during that meeting that Duverger was already under some restrictions due to another situation of “imprudence” with a woman, and that an investigation of him would be likely. According to Jacas, Beck told her that he would talk about her case with two other priests in the SSPX.

After she waited for weeks to hear from Beck, Jacas said she contacted him again; he reportedly reassured her that he took her claims seriously, and that Duverger “had little contact with the faithful” and was in poor health.

Nevertheless, Jacas said she learned in November 2019 that Duverger was serving as principal of St. Thomas More Academy in Sanford, Florida. She also knew that he had led a Christ the King procession at St. Mary’s in Kansas.

Jacas eventually met with U.S. district superior Fr. Jürgen Wegner in December, and presented her concerns about Fr. Duverger. She said she was told that no investigation of Duverger had been conducted, only that the priest had been giving “apostolic restrictions” — prohibited from hearing the confessions of women or giving them spiritual direction. Fr. Wegner told her he would travel to Florida to see for himself if anything else could be done at the school to protect children.

After that meeting, Jacas saw a flyer at the SSPX chapel in St. Mary’s, advertising a pilgrimage in France led by Fr. Duverger. “It hit me then that the restrictions were not as severe as Fr Wegner led me to believe,” she told CNA. Jacas took a picture of the flyer and sent it to Fr. Wegner.

She said she also saw pictures on Facebook of Duverger at camps for children. She contacted friends in Florida who told her that Fr. Duverger worked with an all-female faculty at a school and had contact with children, playing with them at recess, going for walks with them, and hosting them in his office.

In January 2020, Jacas sent Fr. Davide Pagliarani, superior general of the SSPX, her email exchanges with the SSPX priests and told him that no investigation had been conducted of Fr. Duverger. She said she was told by his secretary in response that “he [Pagliarani] measures your sorrow, however, the decision is still Fr. Wegner’s.”

Jacas said that, meanwhile, Fr. Wegner told her he did not have power to remove Duverger from his position. She said she would go public with her story.

On Jan. 19, she posted her story on Facebook. Jacas said that communications staff for the SSPX contacted her family before she made the post, trying to reach her, expressing sympathy for her yet attempting to dissuade her from posting her story publicly.

After she posted her story, Jacas said she has heard from other alleged victims with “different situations, all over the states.” She also learned of the KBI investigation into the SSPX, and she reached out to agents at the bureau. She said she was told a half dozen agents were part of the investigation in Kansas, as of May 1.

On May 19, Durverger is still listed on SSPX websites as principal of St. Thomas More Academy.

Abuse allegations made against the SSPX were reported by the website Church Militant on April 22. Some accusations reported by the site had initially been reported by Fidelity Magazine in the 1990s, or in other publications.

The site said it had spoken with Fr. John Rizzo, FSSP--formerly an SSPX priest--as well as Theresa Gonzalez and Kyle White who claimed an immediate relation to victims of SSPX priests. The site also suggested that in addition to sexual abuse or misconduct, priests of the SSPX had caused harm to marriages or families through manipulative behavior.

On May 17, the Kansas City Star reported that the KBI was examining claims made by a number of other alleged victims of society priests. According to the newspaper, the SSPX was working with law enforcement officials to provide documentation requested in the investigation.

An April 28 communique of the SSPX U.S. district stated in response to the Church Militant report that the Society “is committed to transparency,” and that “[j]ustice is dispensed impartially and according to the rules of law, not before a ‘media court’ that exclusively investigates charges and distils its information with the aim of dividing or destroying, and by multiplying false and malicious insinuations.”

The Church Militant articles “mix and match real facts with false or unbelievable accusations, in an abhorrent manner,” the SSPX stated, noting that it had put a “protection plan” in place for abuse victims.

“The society deeply regrets that some of its members may have engaged in serious misconduct and, in the worst cases, criminal or delinquent behavior,” the communique stated, noting that the society could exercise various punitive tools through canonical procedures.

These punishments could include “deprivation of office, times of probation and penance, restrictions or prohibitions of apostolate, suspension a divinis, reduction ad missam, resignation or dismissal, and even laicization, if necessary.”

“For the most serious cases, which could constitute crimes or felonies, it collaborates with the civil authorities, either by warning them or by sharing the elements in its possession,” the SSPX stated.

The SSPX said it “has experienced several cases of false accusations by unbalanced or self-seeking persons.”

Because the Society of St. Pius X is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, its administrative governance is not overseen by diocesan bishops, Vatican offices, or any authorities outside its own hierarchical structure.

The group has announced it will form an independent review board that will include “a married couple, a civil lawyer, a doctor, and a canonist priest.” Further details have not yet been forthcoming.

The SSPX has not yet responded to requests from CNA for comment.

The Archdiocese of Kansas-City, in which St. Mary’s is located, declined to comment on questions from CNA.

 

NIH head Francis Collins wins Templeton Prize for witness to faith and science

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 13:10

Denver Newsroom, May 20, 2020 / 11:10 am (CNA).- A scientist on the front lines of developing a vaccine for COVID-19 today was selected as the recipient of this year’s Templeton Prize, an award recognizing his contributions to insight about religion through his work as a scientist.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, told CNA that working to develop the coronavirus vaccine is one of the biggest challenges of his career, and that these days when he is not working, he is finding solace in prayer and reading the psalms.

“Like all crises, like all occasions of suffering, this is an opportunity where we can learn and grow. And I'm glad that I worship a God who knows about suffering,” Collins, an evangelical Christian, told CNA.

The Templeton Prize, established in 1972 by global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, is an annual cash award of £1.1 million ($1.3 million) to a living person who has made “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta was the inaugural recipient of the award in 1973.

Before joining the NIH in 2009, Dr. Collins had been professor of internal medicine and human genetics at the University of Michigan, leading research that had discovered the genes responsible for diseases such as cystic fibrosis; neurofibromatosis; Huntington’s disease; and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare form of premature aging.

In 1993, he was appointed director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, overseeing the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration that in 2003 succeeded in sequencing the three billion DNA “letters” in the human genome.

Now, Collins is overseeing the NIH’s collaboration with several pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. At least one potential vaccine will be ready to begin large-scale testing by July with others to follow soon, Collins told The Associated Press last week.

“I pray for wisdom, for guidance, I pray for forgiveness for making mistakes along the way,” Collins told CNA.

“I've been involved in so many large-scale science projects over the last 30 years, from finding the gene for cystic fibrosis, to the genome project, to cancer immunotherapy; and somehow the burden of responsibility here— we can't afford to lose a day of progress in finding treatments and a vaccine and better tests— is just there every minute.”

“And here I am in my home office, but barely ever going outside, and probably working 110 hours a week just trying to do everything I can to marshal all of those resources and praying to God that they are used wisely to bring hope and healing,” he said.

A rational case for God’s existence

A Virginia native, Collins was homeschooled until age 10 and studied chemistry at the college and graduate level, earning a bachelor’s, Ph.D., and later his M.D., after which he was named a Fellow in Human Genetics at Yale Medical School.

Veering between agnositcism to atheism until age 27, Collins has said that he was “very happy with the idea that God did not exist and that he had no interest in me.” 

“That was where I was— if somebody tried to raise that topic [of religion], I would be quick to dismiss it and want to move on to something else, having perhaps had too many instances of feeling like a target for some person who was trying to sell me their faith,” Collins said.

Collins converted in part thanks to C.S. Lewis’ classic book Mere Christianity, which lays out a rational case for God’s existence.

Collins said one thing that caught his attention in the opening chapters of the book is Lewis’ examination of the basis of morality— in other words, why is there such a thing as good and evil, and why does it matter?

“This is where I think the most strict atheists find themselves in a real quandary,” Collins argued.

“Because if they try to argue that our ideas about good and evil are solely driven by evolutionary pressures that have helped us survive, the ultimate consequence of that are that those are fictional concepts— that we've all been hoodwinked into imagining that there is such a thing as good and evil, and that we should stop paying attention to that and do whatever we please. And even the most ardent atheist has trouble with that conclusion.”

“Understanding God's works in nature”

Today, Collins is outspoken about his Christian faith. He wrote a book in 2006 entitled “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” in which he describes how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research.

He and his wife in 2007 founded the non-profit BioLogos Foundation, which aims to foster discussion about harmony between science and biblical faith through articles, podcasts, and other media.

Collins is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, having been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Though Collins said he has only been able to attend one meeting of the Academy at the Vatican since his appointment, he described the meeting as “a fascinating gathering of really world-class scientists of multiple different disciplines.”

“I've found such joy in the ability to bring together the spiritual and the scientific perspectives that I feel this urge to share,” he said.

“Not to turn it into too dry an intellectual, philosophical discourse, but to talk about the joy that I have experienced and by God's grace, in being able to read God's word in the Bible and understand God's works in nature.”

Faith and bioethics

Amid the global race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, some pro-life advocates and ethicists have expressed concern that in some cases, scientists may use human fetal tissue derived from aborted babies in their research.

One proposed line of research, led by immunologist Kim Hasenkrug at the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, aimed to find treatments for COVID-19 by implanting mice with fetal lung tissue, infecting the mice with coronavirus strains similar to COVID-19, and testing for successful treatments.

The Department of Health and Human Services, NIH’s parent agency, last year imposed a moratorium on NIH fetal tissue research derived from elective abortions, meaning Hasenkrug’s research will not go forward barring any changes in NIH guideleines.

The new guidelines, which NIH released in July 2019, halt new NIH research with aborted fetal tissue and limited funding of “extramural” research— or tests conducted outside the NIH— on aborted fetal tissue. Grant applicants to the NIH must indicate why their research goals “cannot be accomplished using an alternative to HFT” and what methods they have used to determine that no alternatives can be used.

For his part, Collins says he considers the question of whether it is ethical to use human embryos and aborted fetuses for research is an “important issue to think through carefully.”

“I would be the first to say we should not be creating or destroying embryos— human embryos— for research, and we should not be terminating pregnancies for research,” Collins told CNA.

Collins differs from Catholic teaching on research involving frozen embryos.

“But if there are embryos that are left over after in vitro fertilization— and the hundreds of thousands that are never going to be used for anything, they'll be discarded— I think it is ethical to consider ways in which research might make it possible to utilize that information to help somebody.”

“And likewise, if there are hundreds of thousands of fetuses that are otherwise being discarded through what is a legal process in this country, we ought to think about whether it is more ethical to throw them away, or in some rare instance to use them for research that might be life saving.”

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis personae states that “the obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo…invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit.”

That document also strongly criticized aborted fetal tissue research, but regarding common vaccines—such as those for chicken pox and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)—that are derived from cell lines of aborted babies, the Vatican said they could be used by parents for “grave reasons” such as danger to their children’s health.

The document goes on to state that “everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.”

A committee of four Catholic bishops wrote a letter to the Trump administration in April asking them to “help to ensure that Americans will have access to vaccines that are free from any connection to abortion.”

Collins says he has found it fascinating to observe how much the modern field of bioethics rests on a Judeo-Christian foundation.

“The fact that we do value such things as benevolence, non-maleficence— that is, don't hurt somebody on purpose— as autonomy, as equity, as justice; all of those principles come directly out of the bible,” Collins said. 

“And so, a secular ethicist who adheres to those— and they will— may not have quite the same sense that I do about the foundation on which they rest, which for me is very much God-given.”

Sharing faith in the lab

Collins says when President Obama first nominated him as NIH director, there were some voices in the media— particularly, outspoken atheists— who objected to the idea of a Christian leading the nation’s biomedical research effort.

Although Collins said he certainly believes anyone working in the sciences wishing to share their faith with others ought to feel free to do so, he acknowledged that it was much easier for him to share his faith openly after he had already achieved the rank of full professor and led high-profile research projects.

He said even in a setting like the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, held at the Vatican, he sensed that some of his fellow scientists were reluctant to speak openly about their religious beliefs— perhaps because they so often felt they could not share their religious beliefs in the labs where they normally worked.

“I do think, particularly for trainees, or junior faculty, there's a little bit more anxiety about ‘How will I be viewed’ if I talk about my belief in God. Which is really a terrible tragedy, because as I tried to argue in Language of God— these ought not to be seen as in any way conflicting,” Collins said.

Collins said if he could go back in time to talk to his 27-year-old atheist former self, he would encourage that young man to begin contemplating questions like: Why is there something instead of nothing? Is there a God, and how would you know if there were? What is love about? What is beauty about? Why are we here?

“Those are not questions where the scientific approach is going to give you much of an answer at all,” Collins said, adding that he would tell his past self: “Let's think about whether it's worth, before you die, giving a few minutes contemplation to that, and seeing if there's any other direction from which answers might come, other than the science lab.”

Collins will accept the Templeton Prize in a virtual ceremony later this year.

 

 

 

Facebook oversight panel prompts questions about free speech, abortion advocacy

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 12:14

Denver Newsroom, May 20, 2020 / 10:14 am (CNA).- Facebook says it is responding to long-standing questions about content moderation and censorship by appointing an independent oversight board to help set policy.

American pro-life advocates have voiced concern about protections for their free speech, and at least one member of the oversight board has links to a group that halted a pro-life billboard campaign in Kenya.

“Facebook is a place where many people exchange ideas and share their lives,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said May 18. “The policies of Facebook should mirror broader society, in which speech that does not incite violence is embraced. It’s ironic that pro-life speech is ever censored considering that we advocate against the violence of abortion and for women and their pre-born children.”

In Hawkins’ view, there is a bias in favor of abortion on most platforms.

Hawkins said that “pro-life and pro-faith people must be included” on the Facebook oversight board. These people are most often affected by speech codes, she said, citing Students for Life’s experiences on college and university campuses.

“Allowing only people who support abortion to fact-check will create a flawed system that will inherently lead to pro-abortion positions, which is especially troubling as both sides have very strong opinions and the science needs to be discussed,” she said.

In 2019 the pro-life investigative group Live Action objected to penalties on its Facebook social media reach after a third-party fact-checker labeled a post “false” for saying that “abortion is never medically necessary.” The third party, Facebook fact-checking partner Science Feedback contended that removal of ectopic pregnancies are medically necessary and should be considered abortions. Live Action said that removing a Fallopian tube or a portion of it is not an abortion because it does not aim at the death of the child--an explanation echoing Catholic ethics’ treatment of ectopic pregnancy.

Live Action also objected that the doctors who authored the fact-check also performed abortions, and one served as a board member of the pro-abortion group NARAL.

Appeals of such judgements could soon go to a Facebook oversight board, which will have the power to overrule content moderation decisions by the social media giant. The board could also help Facebook set policy for its website and for Instagram, which it also owns. Facebook has over 2.6 billion monthly users, and some 1.7 billion daily users, Yahoo Finance reports.

Among its issues will be hate speech, harassment, safety, and privacy. Board co-chairs said the process would be transparent and accessible.

Facebook set up a $130 million independent trust to manage the oversight board, and then named four co-chairs. These co-chairs then worked with Facebook to name the 16 other initial board members, announcing them May 6. This selection process will continue until the board reaches 40 members, at which time the board will lead the process itself.

Members will serve terms of three years, for a maximum of three terms. A board committee will select candidates, and Facebook and the public may propose board candidates. All are compensated for their service.

“The board members come from different professional, cultural and religious backgrounds and have various political viewpoints,” the four co-chairs wrote in a May 6 opinion essay in the New York Times.

“We are all independent of Facebook. And we are all committed to freedom of expression within the framework of international norms of human rights. We will make decisions based on those principles and on the effects on Facebook users and society, without regard to the economic, political or reputational interests of the company.”

One co-chair is Stanford Law School professor Michael J. McConnell, a former federal judge on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and a Catholic.

He briefly spoke about Facebook at a May 13 briefing titled “The Church, the State and the Pandemic,” hosted by the San Francisco-based Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship.

A participant in the briefing asked about free speech and social media, citing YouTube and Facebook’s removal of dissenting medical opinions on quarantine and treatment protocols and interviews with practicing physicians.

“Google and Twitter and Facebook are private companies,” McConnell replied. “They are not the government, and so their policies about what they take down and keep up are extremely important for free speech, and we have every right as Americans and as users of those services to protest when we think that they’re doing something wrong. But it isn’t a legal matter. It’s not governed by the First Amendment.”

Critics of the oversight board include the Free Speech Alliance, a coalition of over 60 organizations hosted by the conservative-leaning Media Research Center.

In their May 7 statement, they said any oversight mechanism was “fraught with danger,” charging it would be “too international and unwilling or unable to embrace America’s First Amendment ideals of free speech.” The coalition said the oversight board was “likely to make Facebook’s restrictive content policies even worse.”

It cited oversight board co-chair Catalina Botero-Marino, a Colombian law school dean and former special rapporteur on freedom of expression of the Organization of the American States. As recently as May 5, she was listed as a board member of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“That is especially infuriating to pro-life groups that are regularly targeted on social media for their beliefs. No pro-life leader need apply to this board,” the coalition claimed.

While the Free Speech Alliance statement did not go into detail, the Center for Reproductive Rights also appears to oppose some censorship. On its website its issues page lists the cause “information about reproductive health that is free from censorship.” The center considers abortion and contraception to be reproductive health.

Despite its anti-censorship statement, the group’s advocacy efforts include a successful effort last year to remove a Nairobi billboard campaign against abortion put up by an ecclesial community.

Kathy Kageni-Ogang, lead pastor at the Sozo Church of God, a Pentecostal community in the Nairobi suburbs, had set up 13 billboards on major Nairobi streets targeting pregnant women, Religion News Service reported in May 2019. The billboards showed pictures of unborn children and listed alternatives to abortion and contact information for houses for pregnant women and adoption agencies.

“Your mother gave you a chance, it wasn’t easy then too. Give your baby a chance!” said one. Another said “Abortion is Murder!” while another said “Shut down abortion clinics!”

The Center for Reproductive Rights said the billboards came down due to action from the Nairobi County Government, though Religion News Service said an advertising company took the billboards down.

“The billboards fuel stigma and misinformation on abortion, creating an environment that adversely affects reproductive health providers and women seeking these services.” Evelyne Opondo, senior regional director for Africa for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a May 2, 2019 statement.

The pro-abortion rights group did not detail specific misinformation, but implied the ecclesial community wrongly claimed abortion is illegal in Kenya. The abortion backers said abortion is legal in Kenya “when the life or health of a woman is at risk.” The group said stigmas against abortion led to the government’s revocation of guidelines that informed health care providers about when abortions are legal. The group also objects to the government’s ban on abortion provider Marie Stopes International from providing abortions and information.

CNA sought comment from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Facebook oversight panel but did not receive a response by deadline.

In a May 22 blog post on the Students for Life website, Matt Lamb, director of strategic engagement and outreach, said oversight board member Stanford law professor Pam Karlan is “radically pro-abortion” and backs abortion through nine months of pregnancy. She co-authored an amicus brief in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed most Supreme Court precedent requiring legal abortion nationwide.

For Hawkins, who signed the Free Speech Alliance statement, the pro-life movement is the target of “misinformation and bias from the media, mainstream culture, and politicians across the country.”

“And defending the facts about the life issue and reaching our peers is a full time job. At a bare minimum, pro-life people should have access to the free marketplace of ideas, where the First Amendment guarantees our freedom of speech and should protect us from view point discrimination,” she said.

The Free Speech Alliance statement worried the oversight board might control “conservative” speech, including speech that defends marriage, religious freedom, the lives of the unborn, gun rights, and free enterprise, under the pretext that it constituted “hate speech.”

The coalition contended that the oversight board had only “one traditional conservative and one libertarian.” The critics objected to board co-chair Jamal Greene, a Columbia Law professor, who was an aide to U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

They also criticized links that several board members and the board administrator Thomas Hughes share with the influential billionaire George Soros.

Soros organizations like the Open Society Foundations help advance his vision of human rights, which includes expansive legal abortion. The Soros network also backs LGBT advocacy, another possible flash point in debates about Facebook oversight and content moderation.

Facebook oversight board member Afia Asantewaa Asare-Kyei, a human rights lawyer with Ghanaian and South African citizenship, is program manager for the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. The oversight board website says her background includes LGBTQ rights.

Another board member, Kenyan human rights activist Maina Kai, presently heads Human Rights Watch’s Alliances and Partnerships Program. He served as a special investigator for the U.N. Human Rights Council. In this role, he backed a Botswana court decision overturning a ban on gay activist groups, Reuters reported in 2014.

While in the U.S. and other Western European countries LGBT advocacy has become so dominant that Christians and others who disagree can face strong social and legal pressures, in other parts of the world LGBT advocacy is seen as a vanguard of unwanted social change that promotes immorality and undermines religion and traditional values.

At present, Facebook’s anti-hate speech policy bars direct attacks on people based on “protected characteristics” such as “race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.” Such an attack is defined as “violent or dehumanizing speech,” “statements of inferiority,” or “calls for exclusion or segregation.”

In a two-month period in early 2017, Facebook deleted on average 288,000 posts per week globally on grounds of hate speech, Facebook executive Richard Allen said in a June 27, 2017 blog post.

During the development of the oversight board, Facebook launched a public consultation process to solicit opinions and recommendations. On the matter of board member diversity, participants in the consultation prioritized diversity cultural and linguistic knowledge, ideological or political views, race or ethnicity, nationality, and other characteristics such as gender and sexuality. Only 46% thought religious views of board members should be an extremely important priority when considering diversity, according to Facebook’s report on the consultation published June 27, 2019.

Some American Catholics have run afoul of content moderation. Facebook in 2018 apologized to the Franciscan University of Steubenville for a “mistake” in rejecting its theology programs ad, on the grounds that an image of the cross was too violent and sensational.

Catholic fundraisers reported “critical” delays in Facebook ad approvals in the key donation period between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2017. Facebook had begun to give new scrutiny to ads aimed at religious audiences, following claims that ad campaigns backed by the Russian government used Facebook and other social media to increase religious and political tensions in the U.S. ahead of the 2016 elections.

Senators demand investigation into Planned Parenthood PPP loans

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 10:45

CNA Staff, May 20, 2020 / 08:45 am (CNA).- Planned Parenthood affiliates reportedly received $80 million in emergency coronavirus loans, despite congressional regulations that were intended to disqualify them.

Fox News reported on Tuesday that 37 of the organization’s affiliates applied for and received $80 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), designed to help small businesses and non-profits stay open and maintain payroll during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The emergency loan program set up under the CARES Act required that small businesses or non-profits applying for loans have 500 or fewer employees.

For smaller entities that are affiliated with a large national organization, existing Small Business Administration (SBA) affiliation rules would be applied, tabulating the employee count of all the affiliates together with the national organization.

Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion provider with around 330,000 abortions performed annually and nearly $2 billion in net assets—was supposed to be ineligible for PPP loans.

Upon the news that Planned Parenthood received PPP loans, Republican senators voiced their disapproval on Tuesday, calling for an investigation.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), chair of the Senate small business committee, said that there was "no ambiguity in the legislation," and that "organizations such as Planned Parenthood, whose parent organization has close to half a billion dollars in assets, is not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.”

"Those funds must be returned immediately," Rubio said. "Furthermore, the SBA should open an investigation into how these loans were made in clear violation of the applicable affiliation rules."

The senator said that if there was evidence that SBA, Planned Parenthood, or bank staff "knowingly violated the law" then "all appropriate legal options should be pursued." 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said on Twitter that “The money needs to be recovered and if anybody knowingly falsified applications, they need to be prosecuted.”

Religious organizations—such as Catholic parishes and schools that are part of larger dioceses—were not subject to the SBA affiliation rules, and 9,000 parishes had received PPP loans as of May 8.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said that “it is rich” that Planned Parenthood received emergency loans despite affiliates remaining open for business during the pandemic, and nearly $2 billion in net assets for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

According to the Fox News report, Planned Parenthood affiliates in California and Washington received $7.5 million and more than $1.3 million under the program, respectively. The SBA was reportedly demanding that the loans be returned and threatened sanctions if PPP applications were falsified.

Even after the CARES Act was passed, some members of Congress asked for reaffirmations that the organization was not getting PPP funding. On April 30, 94 members of Congress wrote SBA administrator Jovita Carranza asking her to clarify whether Planned Parenthood affiliates were eligible for the funding.

“In order to ensure the finite appropriations for the PPP are directed towards the many deserving and eligible entities who need it, we ask for a determination as to whether the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), and any of its affiliates are eligible for these loans,” the members wrote.

Under the SBA’s affiliation rules, they added, “PPFA, and each of its affiliates, should be deemed ‘affiliated’ due to their common management, and thereby disqualified from PPP loans based on their aggregated size of around 16,000 employees nationwide.”

Initially, $349 billion was distributed through the PPP but by April 16 the SBA was no longer accepting applications. A second round of $310 billion was approved by Congress later in April.

Planned Parenthood is not the first institution asked to return its PPP loan meant for small businesses and non-profits. The burger chain Shake Shack, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, returned its $10 million PPP loan in April.

Notre Dame to start fall semester early as colleges weigh in-person options

Wed, 05/20/2020 - 02:47

Denver Newsroom, May 20, 2020 / 12:47 am (CNA).- The University of Notre Dame announced this week that students will return to campus in the fall, with the semester starting two weeks earlier than usual and no fall break in order to complete the semester by Thanksgiving.

In addition to social distancing and mask requirements, the plan will include “comprehensive testing for COVID-19” and “enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces,” university president Father John Jenkins said in a May 18 announcement.

“Bringing our students back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed. We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet,” Jenkins said.

Teachers have been asked to prepare to offer their courses both in person and online, so that students who are sick or quarantined can continue to participate, he continued.

The university sent students home in mid-March amid the expanding pandemic to complete the spring semester online. Jenkins said the university had consulted with medical experts from the Cleveland Clinic and country health officials to develop the reopening plan.

Though Notre Dame is one of the first large universities to announce a reopening strategy for the fall, it is not the first Catholic university to do so.

Officials at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington D.C. are planning for in-person instruction in the fall, but have not yet announced whether there will be adjustments to the semester start or end dates.

Starting with a phased reintroduction of faculty and staff, the return to campus will include social distancing, testing, and cleaning, and other cautionary measures, President John Garvey said in a May 7 announcement.

In addition, the university is investing in video equipment and virtual technology to enable professors to offer all courses both in person and online if necessary, Garvey said.

Christopher Lydon, who oversees enrollment at CUA, told CNA that the university is continuing to evaluate the range of contingencies the university will need to have in place as new health information becomes available from the government and the CDC.

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas is also set to reopen with in-person classes for the fall semester, starting the semester “on time” August 26, president Stephen Minnis announced May 5.

Among the strategies Benedictine’s administrators are considering to allow the campus to reopen include social distancing in the classroom, “adjusted classroom or course schedules,” the use of masks, the possibility of testing, rules for use of common areas, and rules for watching athletic events, the announcement states.

Steve Johnson, a spokesman for Benedictine College, told CNA last month that before the pandemic, the university was expecting a record freshman class and record enrollment.

“So far we’re not seeing anyone falling off and we are anticipating opening in August with face-to-face classes as close to normal as possible...We are not expecting any major drop in enrollment,” Johnson told CNA April 23.

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, announced in April that tuition costs for all incoming freshmen and transfer students in fall 2020 would be covered by the university’s reserves.

Franciscan has not yet announced its reopening strategy for next semester. Joel Recznik, Franciscan’s vice president for enrollment, told CNA in April that barring unfortunate circumstances, such as a second wave of the pandemic, the university is anticipating full enrollment and normal university operations in the fall.

As colleges across the country grapple with an unknown future in planning for the upcoming semester, the New York Times notes that the California State university system already has announced that it will not reopen as usual for the fall semester, and that classes will be held primarily online.

At least one Catholic college—  Holy Family College in Wisconsin— has had to shut its doors permanently amid enrollment and fundraising challenges.

The 'painful journey' of Jane Roe and the pro-life movement

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 21:10

Denver Newsroom, May 19, 2020 / 07:10 pm (CNA).- A forthcoming documentary is expected to show that Norma McCorvey, the woman at the center of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, was paid by pro-life groups to say things she did not believe in opposition to abortion.

A priest who says he was close to her for decades told CNA that while McCorvey was a complicated person, he believes her pro-life convictions were sincere.

“This is my deathbed confession,” Norma McCorvey says in a trailer for “AKA Jane Roe,” an FX documentary premiering Friday. Interviews with McCorvey were filmed before her 2017 death.

When she died, McCorvey had been in the spotlight, and at the center of the nation’s divide over abortion, for decades. Born in 1947 in eastern Louisiana, McCorvey moved to Houston as a child, and endured an unstable and abusive family life. She spent several years living in state-run institutions, and has reported that she was sexually abused as a child.

She married at 16, had a daughter, and then left her husband. By 1969, she had had two children, both of whom had been placed for adoption, and McCorvey was pregnant for a third time. She attempted to procure an abortion, which was illegal in Texas at that time. She filed a lawsuit, which became Roe vs. Wade, and placed her third child for adoption.

McCorvey had by then developed substance abuse problems. She began a lesbian relationship that continued for decades. She claimed at one point that she had become pregnant through rape, but recanted that claim in 1987.

McCorvey was for a time an advocate for pro-abortion causes and was employed by an abortion clinic, until, in 1995, she had a conversion to Protestant Christianity. She was baptized by a prominent Evangelical pro-life advocate, and began campaigning against abortion.

In 1998, McCorvey was confirmed and entered the Catholic Church. McCorvey continued to practice Catholicism throughout her life, and received the anointing of the sick before her death.

After her baptism, McCorvey was an outspoken opponent of abortion. She also spoke about struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Trailers for “AKA Jane Roe” suggests that McCorvey’s pro-life activism was insincere, and motivated by money.

“I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” McCorvey can be heard saying in the documentary.

“If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”

The priest who says he knew her well, Fr. Frank Pavone, head of the Priests for Life organization, told CNA May 19 that in his view, what McCorvey said in the documentary’s trailer doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Her story, and really anybody’s story, especially if they’ve been on a journey, can’t be told by an interview, a snapshot. It has to be told through a look at the whole journey.”

Pavone himself is no stranger to controversy. The priest has been criticized for his engagement, as a cleric, in the political campaigns of President Donald Trump. In 2016, Pavone made a video in which he showed the body of an aborted baby on a table on which Mass was regularly celebrated, while he advocated for the election of Donald Trump, an act which his own bishop called a “desecration.”

CNA has previously covered those controversies, and has raised questions yet unanswered about Pavone’s diocese of incardination and status in the Church.

But the priest spoke with CNA May 19 only about his relationship with McCorvey.

Pavone said he met McCorvey when she was baptized, and the two struck up a friendship. A few years later, when McCorvey told him she’d decided to become a Catholic, the friendship deepened. Pavone concelebrated the Mass at which she was confirmed and received into the Catholic Church.

Pavone told CNA that just weeks before McCorvey died, she spoke with him about a message she hoped he’d convey at the annual March for Life, encouraging young people to oppose abortion.

“There was no indication whatsoever, at the end of her life,” that she had recanted her pro-life positions, he said.

He wondered about the context of the quotes shown in advance of the documentary’s release.

“What was said before that? What was said after that? What does the raw footage show?” he asked.

Pavone said that in his view, McCorvey carried a lot of pain, from the difficulty of her life, and a sense of responsibility for the Roe vs. Wade decision, and its consequences.

During her life, McCorvey said the same in public speeches and remarks.

But, the priest said, during their friendship he was humbled by “the effort that she made day-by-day, to strive to get beyond that pain.”

“You know when you know a person. And that was our experience of her,” he said.

As to charges that McCorvey was used by the pro-life movement, Pavone said that from his perspective, “I’ve never subscribed to the idea that the pro-life movement used her.”

The priest conceded, however, that “one would have to say that, as in any movement, when there’s a convert, you’ve got to be careful not to put them into the lights and the cameras before they’ve had the healing that they need.”

McCorvey was often thrust into situations for which she wasn’t ready, he said, as she also had been during her alliance with abortion advocates, and that caused her considerable hardship. 

As to McCorvey’s apparent suggestion that her pro-life advocacy was a charade, Pavone said, “I can even see her being emotionally cornered to get those words out of her mouth, but the things that I saw in 22 years with her— the thousands and thousands of conversations that we had -- that was real...Her conversion was very, very sincere, and she paid a price for it.”

Pavone said that McCorvey was never on the payroll of his organization, Priests for Life. He said the organization did help her to arrange speaking engagements, until McCorvey decided that frequent travel and speeches were too emotionally difficult.

“When we were helping her cut down on her travels, we, and a number of other pro-life people and groups, knew that she was close to destitute, so we would help her” financially, Pavone said.

“She needed help, she asked for help in various ways, she accepted it, but if the person helping gave the impression that they were trying to control her, or if she felt that the person helping her was smothering her, she would push back,” Pavone said, adding that the two had difficult moments at various points of their affiliation, but, he said “you could always work things out and resolve it.”

“She suffered in so many ways. As she went through Rachel’s Vineyard, she was so very wounded,” Pavone said.

“It was a painful journey.”

Pavone said that in his view, McCorvey struggled in her final years, especially after a move from Dallas to Katy, Texas.

“In that final year, she was outside of the support network that a lot of her friends were providing in Dallas,” he said.

“There were a lot of people in those last years— even at her funeral— who were pushing themselves into her life. It was a bit of chaos in that last year of her life,” he added.

The priest said he can’t speculate about what McCorvey might have said in the forthcoming documentary, or why. He said he will be watching, from the perspective of a person who knew McCorvey for decades.

As with most of Norma McCorvey’s life, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates will be carefully watching the documentary, looking to understand the complicated truth- whatever it is- about the woman who began Roe vs. Wade.

“AKA Jane Roe” premieres May 22 on FX, and May 23 on Hulu. 

 

 

 

Our Lady in the weeds: Knights of Columbus find forgotten grotto

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 19:00

CNA Staff, May 19, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The St. Scholastica Council 14485 of the Knights of Columbus thought they were doing a routine community service project, clearing out vegetation at a summer camp. They did not expect to stumble upon a long-forgotten shrine to the Virgin Mary. 

The local knights’ council in Lecanto, Florida, has worked with the Our Lady of Good Counsel Camp for years. The camp, which is located in Floral City, is a co-ed youth camp in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and it is run by the pastor of St. Scholastica Parish. 

According to the Knights of Columbus, “it was natural that when the grounds needed some sprucing up and physical improvements, the Knights were called into action,” they said in a release. 

The knights were instructed to build a path that would improve accessibility to the camp and chapel for campers with physical disabilities. While they were working on that project, they happened upon “a clump of rocks covered with vegetation.”

“Upon closer inspection, we found a grotto and pond, which had been covered with vegetation for decades,” said Les McGlothlin, the spokesman for the council. 

Realizing what they had found, approximately a dozen knights  worked for three days to unearth the forgotten shrine. The rocks of the grotto were pressure washed and restored, and the statue of the Virgin Mary was repainted and fixed up. The knights built a path leading up to the statue out of stones from a former mess hall at the camp. 

McGlothlin said that the council moved to restore the grotto in order to “preserve an important part of the history of the camp and of Citrus County.”

To prevent the grotto from being lost to nature once again, the knights were sure to spray weed killer to prevent the overgrowth from returning. 

In addition to the statue of Mary, the knights also restored and repainted four other statues at the camp, and has in the past worked to provide additional maintenance to the camp’s facilities. The council also works each year to raise funds in order to send disadvantaged children to the camp. 

The Marian statue at the grotto wasn’t the only religious image to get a makeover from the knights. Recently they refurbished and repainted four other large religious statues on the grounds. 

“We returned them in their original glory,” McGlothlin said, adding that the St. Scholastica Council stood ready to respond the next time the camp called for help.

Catholic Charities in Louisiana appeals for aid after major spike in homelessness 

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 18:49

Denver Newsroom, May 19, 2020 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic hitting the United States in mid-March, thousands of Americans were either furloughed or laid off from their jobs as non-essential businesses shuttered or restricted their operations in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

One of the harder-hit areas of the country has been Acadiana, Louisiana, a region in the southern third of the state that got its name from the Acadian population of the area, also known as Cajun or Creole Louisianans, who have French roots in the area of Acadia.

According to a 2019 report from Louisiana Association of United Ways, nearly half of Acadian Louisianans live paycheck to paycheck. For people in this situation, every pay period can mean the difference between having a place to live and being homeless.

That’s why Catholic Charities in Acadiana, Louisiana is appealing to the local mayor for additional funding from a federal grant to help shore up housing, after seeing a 58% spike in people experiencing homelessness in the region since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

This week, Catholic Charities wrote a letter to the Lafayette Consolidated Government, as well as the Lafayette City and Parish council members, appealing to them for aid from a federal grant given to the local government from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory has said he plans to use the $852,935 grant to help small businesses in the area who have suffered from the widespread shutdowns.

But Ben Broussard, the chief communications officer for Catholic Charities of Acadiana, said he hoped the funding could be used to help the rapidly increasing number of homeless people in the area.

“We have seen the rise in that instability; the calls to our services have gone up drastically,” Broussard told CNA.

The nearly 60% spike in homelessness in Acadiana is high, even compared to what is anticipated across the rest of the nation due to the pandemic. According to an analysis by a Columbia University economist, reported in the Los Angeles Times, the United States expects could see up to a 45% increase in homelessness due to fallout from the coronavirus.

Even before the virus hit Acadiana, Broussard said, “roughly 30% to 35% of folks are experiencing that level of poverty where they're one missed paycheck away from (homelessness).”

“That's just during normal times. And we have a very heavy retail and service economy in southern Louisiana, and those are some of the parts of the economy that have been hardest hit,” he said.

“So our concern has always been with housing stability and with food access. It doesn't matter who you are...if you're having to choose between putting food on the table or paying your bills, that's a hard choice to make for a family or for an individual who's reeling from not having the work that they had before,” he said.

Louisiana has been one of the harder-hit states when it comes to coronavirus, with 34,709 total cases and 2,440 deaths so far, according to reporting by the New York Times. Acadiana was one of the hotspots for the virus, Broussard added, and increasing the homeless population in the area could contribute to its spread.

“It is a rule of thumb that those who are chronically homeless...the longer you spend on the street, the harder it is on the human body. It ages you. It is taxing. And so we have always seen those that we serve who are experiencing homelessnes are part of a vulnerable clientele. They are those who were most susceptible to getting sick and suffering due to any virus, flu outbreaks, all those things,” he said.

Broussard said that while he wanted to make it clear that Catholic Charities wants to work with Mayor Guillory, he also wanted to make it clear that money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should first go toward housing, and that there was other money available for relief for small businesses, for example from the Small Business Association.

“As an organization that responds (to emergency needs), our desire is to see those funds be used for what they were intended to be used for, which is shoring up housing stability in the wake of a crisis,” Broussard said.

“There is money available for businesses through the Small Business Association, SBA. But we can't access SBA money to fund shelters and to provide for people who are in crisis,” he added.

Besides social distancing making some processes of Catholic Charities more difficult - like serving soup kitchen meals or spreading out people staying in shelters - it has also meant that Catholic Charities has had to forgo all in-kind donations such as donated food or clothing, in order to prevent bringing the virus into its facilities.

“That's tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations that people bring us every year” that Catholic Charities in Acadiana is currently having to forgo, Broussard said. “And so that added to the economic hardship on the organization.”

According to local ABC affiliate KATC 3, the Lafayette City and Parish Councils were holding an emergency joint meeting to discuss increasing grant revenues on Tuesday.

Can bishops require Communion on the hand?

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 19, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As dioceses across the United States begin to resume public Masses amid the coronavirus pandemic, many are taking additional precautions to stay within guidelines from local health officials. In some instances, bishops have prohibited the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

But can a bishop order that the Eucharist be distributed only on the hand? 

Timothy Olson, a canonist for the Diocese of Fargo and the secretary of the Canon Law Society of America, told CNA that a bishop does have the authority to restrict the distribution of Holy Communion to in the hand alone, when it is a matter of necessity.

“Ordinarily, there is no doubt that a bishop lacks the authority to restrict the reception of communion to the hand only,” Olson said. “Redemptionis sacramentum [a Vatican instruction on Eucharistic matters] is explicit about this fact.”

“At the same time,” Olson continued, “canon law, including liturgical law, is the Church’s practical expression of her theology and philosophy. Thus, sometimes it is necessary to make recourse to sources beyond the mere and obvious legal texts.” 

Olson pointed to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas as instructive on the matter.

“In this case, Thomas Aquinas is a valuable source for understanding how human law operates looking at the Summa Theologiae, I-II, Q. 96,” Olson said. 

“Aquinas teaches that every law is directed to the common good of man. He also teaches that, unlike the Divine Lawgiver, a human lawgiver is incapable of foreseeing every circumstance in which the law will be applied.” 

“As a result, a human law that in most circumstances promotes the common good, can in an individual situation actually harm the common good. Aquinas concludes that in such a case, the observance of the human law is able to be dispensed.” 

Fr. James Bradley, assistant professor at the School of Canon Law at The Catholic University of America, disagreed, arguing that that the decision to prohibit the distribution of the Eucharist on the tongue should lie with Rome, not with diocesan bishops.

“The liturgical discipline of the Church, because of its importance in relation to the nature of the sacraments and the deposit of faith, is generally reserved to the Apostolic See,” Bradley told CNA. 

“Since the Second Vatican Council there has been a broadening of what the diocesan bishops and episcopal conferences can regulate in the liturgy, but what this entails is quite narrowly defined in the law,” said Bradley.

Olson agreed that “ordinarily, the dispensation of a law is reserved to the authority who issued the law.” 

“However,” he said, “Aquinas notes that in the case of necessity where action must be taken urgently in order to prevent the harm, ‘the mere necessity brings with it a dispensation, since necessity knows no (human) law.’”

Olson offered Aquinas’ example of a city whose ruler orders the city gates closed at a certain time, but an army of the city’s defenders become stuck outside the gate with an enemy force in pursuit.

“Aquinas concludes that if the rightful authority can be reached in time to open the gates with his permission, it ought to be done,” Olson said. “However, if there is danger in the delay caused by referring the matter, necessity itself allows the gates to be opened.”

Olson said when it comes to the liturgy, there are “some aspects that are of divine law, and thus never subject to dispensation, such as the matter and form of a sacrament.” 

“Other aspects of the liturgy, however, are of human law, such as which readings are to be read, or the manner of reception of Communion,” he said. “Although these human laws are written to protect the dignity and efficacy of the liturgy, they are able to be dispensed in cases of urgent necessity.”

He added that there is precedent for such decisions.

“A stark example of liturgical laws being dispensed by necessity occurred in the concentration camps of WWII,” Olson said. “Priests, such as St. Maximilian Kolbe, always observing the matter and form for the confection of the Eucharist, held extremely truncated Masses while imprisoned, only observing those rubrics that were possible in the situation.”

Olson said that “provided that a true urgent necessity is present, a diocesan bishop can recognize that a human law, even if it is liturgical, or ordinarily reserved to a higher authority, has been dispensed.”

But Bradley cautioned against presuming the ability to dispense with liturgical laws in the Church.

“It seems to me that the fact that the liturgical law is specifically reserved to the Apostolic See, except in limited cases defined by the law, means that changes to liturgical discipline and practice are not within the competence of the diocesan bishop unless the law prescribes such,” Bradley said. 

“Of course,” Olson told CNA, “canonists will always present different opinions on how the law can be interpreted and applied, that’s the job of lawyers. In the end, the final authority of interpretation lies with Rome, and it will be for Rome to intervene - or not - as they decide.”

New members of Congress call for Born Alive abortion vote

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, May 19, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Two newly-elected members of Congress signed a petition on Tuesday to bring a key pro-life bill to the House floor for consideration.

Reps. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) and Tom Tiffany (R-Wisc.) were both sworn in to the House on Tuesday morning, and signed the discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act afterward according to the office of Minority WHIP Steve Scalise (R-La.).

The petition needs 218 member signatures to force consideration of the bill. While most bills do not advance out of committees to the House floor, a successful discharge petition would force consideration of the measure by the entire body.

Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-Mo.) Born-Alive Act requires that, in cases of babies surviving abortion attempts, the attending doctor or health care worker gives them the same standard of care as they would to any other newborn born prematurely at the same gestational age.

Wagner’s legislation has 192 cosponsors, with a Senate version having been introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

While Congress in 2002 passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act defining abortion survivors as people, Wagner’s 2019 bill gives an enforcement mechanism for the babies to receive necessary care.

It criminalizes refusal of such care, requires health care workers to report any refusal of care to authorities, and gives the mother a civil cause of action if care is denied, as well as protection from prosecution.

Currently, the discharge petition for the Born-Alive act has 205 signatures, including Tiffany’s and Garcia’s. It expires at the end of the 116th Congress in January of 2021.

Tiffany was sworn in to replace former congressman Sean Duffy in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional district, while Garcia won the May 12 special election for California’s 25th district seat. That seat was formerly held by congresswoman Katie Hill who resigned in October amid allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior with office and campaign staffers.

Labor Department issues new religious freedom guidelines

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, May 19, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Labor (USDOL) issued new protections for federal employees and faith-based grant recipients last week, with religious freedom groups praising the move.

On Friday, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia issued a directive that agency leaders should incorporate respect for religious freedom into the daily operations of the department.

The agency also clarified protections for faith-based organizations and religious non-profits applying for federal grants, emphasizing equal treatment for both religious and secular groups applying for grants.

Gregory S. Baylor, senior cousel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said the new guidance "affirms the value of religious liberty but goes one important step further to make these protections real and concrete."

"We commend Secretary Scalia for recognizing the immense value that religious organizations contribute to our communities and setting up a mechanism by which these groups may seek protection if they are unconstitutionally and unfairly targeted for their religious character—the very thing that motivates them to do the good work they do,” Baylor said.

Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO, and chief counsel for the First Liberty Institute, praised the new directive and guidance, saying that without them, “religious organizations risk facing discrimination for making employment decisions that are consistent with their beliefs.”

“Religious organizations should never be forced to abandon their religious character and mission in order to be eligible to contract with the federal government,” Shackelford said.

Scalia’s directive said that agency officials should ensure “reasonable religious accommodations” for employees and job applicants, and enforce relevant anti-religious discrimination provisions of federal law.

It also called on the department to treat religious groups seeking federal assistance as they would secular organizations, putting them on an equal footing.

Guidance issued by the agency also calls on the department to “respect the full scope of legal religious exemptions, including the ministerial exception.”

The ministerial exception to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act allows for religious groups to be largely exempt from employment discrimination claims brought by clergy and others who have “essentially religious functions.”

The guidance also says that neither the agency nor anyone administering USDOL assistance can discriminate on the basis of a recipient’s religion. It also lists protections of faith-based grant recipients under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Scalia stated that the DOL’s actions “acknowledge the central role that religion and religious freedom play in civil society.” The agency said the actions were taken in response to previous guidance issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in January.

In that guidance, OMB directed the relevant government agencies to come up with policies whereby they would administer federal grants in accordance with a previous executive order of President Trump’s on free speech and religious freedom. That order made it the “policy” of the executive branch to promote federal religious freedom protections, and instructed agencies to protect religious freedom.

Houston parish closes again after priests test positive for coronavirus

Tue, 05/19/2020 - 12:01

CNA Staff, May 19, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- Priests and brothers of the Redemptorist community who live and work at a Houston parish have tested positive for coronavirus, leading the parish to close after having reopened earlier this month.

Five out of seven members of the Redemptorist community at Holy Ghost parish tested positive for COVID-19 this weekend, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston. Two of them were priests.

“All Masses at Holy Ghost Church are canceled until further notice,” said the parish. “We ask you to please keep everyone in your prayers impacted by this illness.”

“While the individuals themselves are asymptomatic, they, and the other members of the community, are in quarantine in the residence isolated from the others. All members of the household have been tested and are awaiting results.”

The Masses were canceled the day after May 13, when another member of the community, Fr. Donnell Kirchner died at his parish home after possibly being exposed to the virus.

The community said one of the members who tested positive for the coronavirus since has regularly celebrated Mass since the parish reopened on May 2. They encouraged Mass attendees to monitor their health.

“If anyone has attended Masses in person at Holy Ghost Church since the reopening, we strongly encourage you to monitor your health for any symptoms and be tested for COVID-19, as a precautionary measure.”

The church has been in contact with the Houston health department and will be providing more updated information.

Parishes of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston were permitted to resume public Masses May 2. Requirements for reopening included a 25 percent capacity threshold in each church; wearing masks; social distancing; and church personnel properly sanitizing commonly used surfaces between each service.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the pandemic has fostered numerous trials including illnesses, financial hardships, and isolation. He said that while the closure of the churches has helped stem the spread of the virus, there is now a need for spiritual nourishment among the community.

“I have heard the continued pleas of so many of the faithful and priests for access to the spiritual strength and nourishment of the sacraments after enduring so many weeks of stay-at-home orders. Therefore, I believe the time has arrived to look forward to how this local church can cautiously resume some of its essential activities,” he said April 29.

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