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USCCB: Call with Trump was about schools, not campaign

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 18:41

Denver Newsroom, May 5, 2020 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference has responded to charges that it might have knowingly facilitated illegal campaigning by the White House and the campaign of President Donald Trump when it notified Catholic leaders of an impending phone call with the president.

A spokesperson for the bishops’ conference told CNA May 5 that when it notified Catholic leaders about an April phone call with the president, its goal was to promote advocacy for Catholic education, and that the call had no connection to the president’s reelection campaign.

On April 24, White House officials invited “Catholic Leaders and Educators” to participate in an April 25 call with Trump about the needs of Catholic schools during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 600 people participated in the call, including USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

During the call, bishops and schools superintendents outlined the work of Catholic schools, and their needs during the pandemic, especially for funding.

The call soon became a matter of controversy.

On April 26, the Crux news website reported that Trump had declared himself the “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church” during the call, and that when Dolan was identified by the president as a “great gentleman” and a “great friend of mine,” the cardinal responded by saying that “the feelings are mutual.”

Critics in Catholic media complained that the bishops on the call did not raise points of disagreement with the president, who has been widely criticized by the U.S. bishops at other times for his stances on immigration and social assistance programs.

Also controversially, Trump appeared during the call to tout his reelection bid, warning that conditions could worsen for Catholics and Catholic schools if a Democratic administration were to take office, and promoting his administration's record on abortion.

The day before the call took place, Lauren McCormack, head of government relations for the bishops’ conference, notified by email some Catholic leaders that the call would take place, and forwarded to them a White House invitation to register for the call.

On May 5, Crux reported that McCormack had warned leaders that “email addresses used to register for the call will be captured by White House and used for additional communication in the future, possibly including from campaign.”

In response to that report, National Catholic Reporter blogger Michal Sean Winters said McCormack’s email was “evidence that Dolan, and at least some key staffers at the bishops' conference, knew that the call was partly a campaign rally.”

Winters alleged it was possible the conference might have aided the White House in illegal or unethical campaign activity, if it knew Trump was planning to campaign from the White House, or that the White House was planning to share with campaign staffers email addresses it had obtained from the call.

But Chieko Noguchi, a U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson, told CNA May 5 the conference had not colluded with the Trump campaign, or been told by anyone that email addresses might be shared with a campaign. Instead, Noguchi said, McCormack’s warning was speculation.

“A small part of a confidential briefing to bishops was a warning: because they would have to provide an email address to register for the call, they might later receive unwanted email messages from the White House, and possibly the campaign. This warning was based on cautious speculation, not on any communications with the White House,” Noguchi told CNA.

In fact, before McCormack notified leaders that that campaign might obtain their email addresses, USCCB general counsel Anthony Picarello speculated in an email to state Catholic conference directors about the same possibility, calling the chance that email addresses could be shared a “nuisance factor” of which they should be aware.

In their emails, which were obtained by CNA, neither Picarello nor McCormack encouraged Catholic leaders to sign up for the call. And Noguchi told CNA that participation in the call was not about politics.

“The purpose of USCCB’s participation in the April 25 call was to advocate directly with the highest government officials on behalf of U.S. Catholic schools, which face an unprecedented crisis because of COVID-19,” Noguchi said.

“USCCB does not support or oppose any candidate for elective office,” she added.

President Trump is well known to mix official business with campaigning.

During his frequent media briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, the president has mixed information about the government’s response with aspersions cast toward Democrats, especially his likely presidential campaign opponent, Joe Biden. But participants said that while Trump mentioned his reelection during the call, Catholic leaders focused their remarks on their concerns about the pandemic.

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, the USCCB’s education committee chair—along with several Catholic diocesan superintendents, noted the importance of the Paycheck Protection Program loans for Catholic schools to continue operating, and asked for tax deductions for parochial schools and direct tuition aid for parents, according to accounts from leaders on the call.

Archdiocese of Denver school superintendent Elias Moo told CNA last week that he spoke to Trump “about the long history of Catholic education in our country, and how our nation needs schools that provide an educational experience that forms the whole child and values the primacy of parents and of the soul of the human person.”

Sources on the call said the president responded with indication that he would find ways to help Catholic schools during the pandemic, and support efforts to find Congressional funding for education assistance.

Since the call, bishops have received criticism for their engagement with Trump. More than 1,500 people have signed online a letter to Dolan that criticizes the cardinal for “aligning” with Trump, and claims the cardinal has given the impression of endorsing Trump.

Among the signatories are Catholic intellectuals, priests, religious, laity, along with representatives from the “Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests” and the “American National Catholic Church,” a group founded, according to Trenton's Bishop David O'Connell “by schismatic leaders who deny the unity of the Roman Catholic Church and its leadership and laws.”

Dolan has responded by telling reporters that he is committed to working with civic leaders of all parties for the good of the Church.

For his part, Moo, who participated in the call, told CNA that dialogue with civil leaders is a part of Catholic leadership.

“Regardless of one’s political affiliation or preference, it is important for the Church to engage with public officials to discuss the issues that are central to our Catholic faith and mission. In this case, it was the importance and value of Catholic schools as a critical part of the educational fabric of our nation.”

Bishops urge DOJ to confront the porn industry, protect porn’s victims

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 18:14

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- With pornographic website traffic spiking while countries remain on lockdown, the bishops of the United States are urging the Justice Department to protect victims of human trafficking and exploitation by enforcing obscenity laws and prosecuting producers of violent pornography.

“We write to you today to urge you to confront the ongoing harms wrought by the pornography industry and to protect its victims,” the U.S. bishops wrote in an April 30 letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“This should include enforcement of obscenity laws, investigation of pornography producers and website owners for criminality, national leadership in encouraging states and localities to develop rigorous policies against the industry and in the service of survivors, and more.”

The bishops noted that pornography juggernaut Pornhub has made waves in the past few months by offering free “premium” subscriptions to its content to people in countries on lockdown during the pandemic.

Pornhub claims that on the days that the free premium memberships took effect in Italy, France and Spain, traffic in each country increased by 57%, 38% and 61% respectively compared to an “average day.”

The bishops acknowledged that many people are suffering through lockdowns and isolation alone, and echoed Pope Francis’ call to recognize the importance of “belonging as brothers and sisters” in the midst of crisis.

“Pornography is the antithesis of this. Rather than remembering and loving our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, it objectifies them – often directly exploiting them – and diminishes the health of users’ relationships with others,” the bishops wrote, noting that at least 15 states have declared pornography a public health crisis.

In December 2019, four members of Congress called on Attorney General William Barr to bring back the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division.

The task force, founded in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, was responsible for investigating and prosecuting producers of hard core pornography under obscenity laws. Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, dissolved the task force in 2011.

As the demand for extreme pornography— much of which includes violence— increases, lax or non-enforcement of obscenity laws “may provide a gateway for this demand to metastasize, increasing the incidents of trafficking, child pornography, other abuse, and broader unjust conditions,” the bishops wrote.

Many of the participants in pornographic videos— even if they have legally consented— “have their consent...compromised by desperate circumstances,” while many have not consented at all, the bishops noted.

In addition, pornography can have a devastating effect of families, they wrote. Porn provides a “terrible model and expectation of how persons should treat each other,” especially for the young.

“As pastors, we frequently see the pain that results from a pornography habit,” the bishops concluded.

“Marriages that are injured or even broken by a spouse’s pornography use, which some divorce lawyers report as a factor in over half of their cases, have a ripple effect on children and society. Strong families are necessary for strong, safe communities.”

On March 9, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) called for the attorney general to investigate Pornhub, highlighting the site’s promotion of videos showing the sexual assault and rape of a victim of human trafficking.

During 2019, at least 58 videos of the sexual abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl appeared on Pornhub. The girl had been missing for a year and reportedly was forced to have an abortion. Her mother found her on the adult website, leading to the arrest of her captor, Christopher Johnson, a 30-year-old Florida man.

As of May 5, more than 862,000 people have signed an online petition at calling for Pornhub to be shut down. The petition also calls for its executives to be held accountable for alleged complicity in human trafficking.

In November, the payment vendor PayPal abruptly cut payment services for Pornhub.

Laila Mickelwait, the creator of the petition and Director of Abolition for Exodus Cry, an anti-trafficking group, told CNA in February that because of the massive amount of content on Pornhub, she believes there are more instances of the sexual exploitation and child pornography than has been reported.

Mickelwait said the company that owns Pornhub has a monopoly on the pornographic industry.

“Everybody's in agreement that children should not be trafficked and raped. Women should not be trafficked and raped for profit, for the sexual pleasure of billions of people who visit that website. There's just no arguing with that,” she said.

Despite coronavirus, virtual town hall to bring L.A. Catholics together

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 18:11

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- A Wednesday live stream “virtual town hall” with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and several Catholic experts aims to hear how Catholics and their families have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and to discuss ways to respond.

“This town hall will give us a chance to come together to pray, to share our experiences, and to talk about how we can strengthen our faith and families as we move forward in these difficult days,” Archbishop Gomez said, according to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' news website Angelus News.

The theme of the event is “Better Together”. The May 6 internet live stream will take place at 12 p.m. Pacific Time.

Those who wish to participate by phone can sign up at the Los Angeles archdiocese's website to receive a call at the start of the event.

“These weeks of stay-at-home orders have brought us together as families like never before,” Gomez said. “It is beautiful to be together, and in many ways, our homes have become our domestic churches, where we especially feel the presence of God in our lives. But we also know that we are facing challenges in our families — fear, uncertainty, all sorts of anxieties and stresses.”

Gomez has invited guests to give practical advice and help address challenges. They will also speak about growing in prayer and building community.

The guests are Helen Alvaré, a law professor based at George Mason University who is an advocate for women and families; Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatrist, Catholic ethicist, and professor at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine who specializes in children and families; and Catholic youth leader Christina Lamas, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

There will be an opportunity for participants in the town hall to ask questions.

Seven coronavirus fatalities at Michigan convent

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 17:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 5, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- At least seven Felician sisters from a single community in Michigan died due to coronavirus in April. As the Church in the United States continues to count the human cost of the pandemic, the body of the first Catholic priest in the United States to die from the virus is being repatriated to his native Mexico for burial. 

During the month of April, 11 Felician Sisters of Livonia, Michigan died, including two who died on Easter Sunday. A spokesperson from the order told CNA that seven of the deceased sisters had COVID-19, and tests are pending for several others. 

According to their Facebook page, one sister, Sr. Mary Patricia Pyszynski, 93, had been in hospice for the past year and died on April 17 for reasons unrelated to the virus. 

The youngest Felician sister to die in Livonia last month was Sr. Victoria Marie Indyk, 69, who died on April 26. Indyk had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The eldest was Sr. Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak, 99. Wawrzyniak, who died on April 10, had been a Felician sister for 80 years, and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while as a novice sister.

According to Bridge Magazine, a Michigan publication, Wawrzyniak’s nephew was contacted two days before her death and informed she was very sick. Two sisters on her floor of the house were confirmed to have COVID-19.  

In the entire North American Province, 14 Felicians total have died since shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Not all of these deaths have been related to coronavirus, and the order was unable to confirm exact numbers to CNA. There are approximately 60 convents in the province, and as of April 20, there had been 35 people, including employees, who had been diagnosed with the virus.  

The Felicians, who are formally known as the Congregation of Sisters of St. Felix and Cantalice Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Assisi (CSSF), have been in Livonia for nearly a century. The order founded Madonna University in 1937. 

Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus outbreak, and has the seventh-highest number of cases in the nation. 

In New York, the body of the first priest in the U.S. to die from the virus is being returned to his home country to be buried. 

Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, 49, died due to complications from coronavirus on March 27, 2020. At the time of his death, Ortiz-Garay was serving as the pastor of St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn. 

Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark in 2004 and affiliated with the Neocatechumenal Way, he had spent the last 10 years working in various parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Ortiz-Garay’s remains were initially scheduled to arrive in Mexico City on Monday afternoon, but due to various issues with international travel related to coronavirus, are now set to arrive on Wednesday. His casket left the Scotto Funeral Home in Brooklyn on Sunday, May 3.

“Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and we sent home a good shepherd to Mexico, a son of Our Lady of Gudalupe,” said Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Vicar for Communications of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Harrington gave the final blessing over Ortiz-Garay’s casket as it left the funeral home en route to the airport.

The Diocese of Brooklyn said that transporting Ortiz-Garay back to Mexico amid the pandemic was a challenging task, extended thanks to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the New York Police Department, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for helping make it possible. 

Harrington concluded the blessing praying for the repose of Ortiz-Garya’s soul, and “for the consolation of his family, friends, and all those to whom he ministered to in the Diocese of Brooklyn. May he rest in the peace of Christ, the Risen Lord.” 

Due to the suspension of publicly celebrated liturgies, a memorial Mass will be celebrated at the Diocese of Brooklyn when it is once again safe to do so. 

Pro-life leaders ask for FDA crackdown on illegal sale of abortion drugs

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A group of pro-life leaders on Tuesday asked the Trump administration to crack down on illegal internet sales of abortion-causing drugs.

More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned certain online providers of abortion-inducing drugs that they were breaking the law, pro-life leaders sent a letter to the FDA asking them to take action against the providers.  

The pro-life coalition included Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, and Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life.

In a letter to FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., they praised the FDA for maintaining its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program - which subjects a drug to enhanced scrutiny and regulation - for the abortion-causing drug Mifeprex. The mifepristone and misoprostol regimen, approved by the FDA in 2000 but kept on the REMS program, induces miscarriages in women before ten weeks of pregnancy.

The FDA’s risk mitigation program “REMS” is reserved for higher-risk medications; it requires a certified health care provider to prescribe them in a hospital, clinic, or medical office setting.

However, the safety guidelines “are meaningless” if the drug is sold “over the internet with impunity,” the letter stated, exhorting the FDA “to act now to stop this predatory and dangerous practice.”

There have been calls for the FDA to loosen its regulations of the abortion pill regimen during the new coronavirus pandemic, notably by the New York Times editorial board. Members of Congress wrote the FDA in April urging the administration to maintain its REMS process for the drugs.

In March of 2019, FDA warned online providers AidAccess and Rablon to stop proscribing chemical abortion drugs online. AidAccess, writes online prescriptions for the drugs that are filled out in India and mailed to women in the U.S., and Rablon is an online pharmacy network with websites such as and that offer mail-order access.

Rablon offered an “abortion pill pack” of mifepristone and misoprostol tablets, while AidAccess was offering “combination” packs of the drugs.

In its letter to AidAccess, the FDA said that the regimen “carries a risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects, including serious and sometimes fatal infections and prolonged heavy bleeding, which may be a sign of incomplete abortion or other complications."

There are possible other online vendors of the abortion-causing drugs, the letter from pro-lifers said; for instance, the website Plan C provides rankings of the “best” online providers for the drugs.

National novena for farmers to be livestreamed this month

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 13:34

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 11:34 am (CNA).- A national novena to St Isidore the Farmer will be livestreamed by Catholic Rural Life this month, beginning May 7 and concluding with a Mass on May 15, the feast of St. Isidore.

For nearly a century, Catholic Rural Life has been supporting Catholic communities in rural areas. The group hosts the Novena to St. Isidore each year.

“Due to the challenges of the current pandemic, we decided to offer the novena virtually this year,” the organization explained. “Each day a Bishop from our Board of Directors will lead us through the novena, lifting up all the intentions of rural communities throughout our country.”

The four bishops on the board of directors are Bishop Brendan Cahill of Victoria, Texas; Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw, Michigan; Bishop John Folda of Fargo, N.D.; and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri.

“We really do believe we need God’s intervention in this as well,” said Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, according to The Catholic Spirit. “We recognize this (pandemic) is causing a lot havoc in a lot of families.”

Farmers have been among the many groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many restaurants, schools, and farmers markets across America closed indefinitely, farmers are now seeing a decline in demand that compounds the often difficult situations they already face from thin margins, low prices, and difficult weather conditions.

St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, was born in Spain in 1070. He worked on a local farm and lived a life of simplicity, prayer, and faith. He died in 1130.

More information on the Catholic Rural Life novena, as well as a printable copy of the novena prayers, can be found on the group’s website. Each day’s prayers will be livestreamed at

Saintly superhero: When Marvel Comics told the life story of John Paul II

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 04:52

Denver Newsroom, May 5, 2020 / 02:52 am (CNA).- Pope St. John Paul II, who led the Catholic Church from 1978 until his death in 2005, is perhaps one of the most compelling figures of the 20th century.

Born nearly 100 years ago on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Woytila— the future pope— endured the loss of most of his family, clandestinely studied for the priesthood while his country was under Nazi rule, and rose through the Church hierarchy while never ceasing to encourage his Polish countrymen to keep the faith while resisting Communist pressure.

He participated in the Second Vatican Council and, upon his election as pope, became the most widely-traveled pontiff ever and likely the most-seen person in the history of the world. He was an academic, and widely regarded as a genius, but also a man of simplicity and humility.

He survived a brutal assassination attempt in 1981, crediting Mary’s intercession for his survival and extending forgiveness to his attacker.

“He's the exemplar of the fact that a life wholly dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Gospel is the most exciting human life possible,” George Weigel, John Paul II’s biographer, told CNA.

“This man lived a life of such extraordinary drama that no Hollywood scriptwriter would dare come up with such a storyline. It would just be regarded as absurd.”

His compelling life story has been told and retold many times, including on the big screen.

But did you know that John Paul II’s life story was once the subject of a Marvel comic book?

Printed in full color and featuring dramatic, stylish visuals, the 1982 comic chronicles the pope’s life, from his childhood in Poland all the way up to the attempt on his life by a would-be assassin.

Marvel, which Disney purchased in a multi-billion dollar acquisition in 2009, is one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and the purveyor of such iconic characters as Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America.

So what persuaded the Marvel executives to green-light a comic book about the then newly-elected pope?

‘Marvel’s Man in Japan’

It all started with Gene Pelc— a New Yorker and Marvel representative living in Japan.

Pelc— whose wife is Japanese— had moved to Japan in the 1970s in order to report back to Marvel on how the comic book company could adapt its products for a Japanese audience.

Pelc was tasked with licensing Spider-Man to play on Japanese television, and was largely successful at what he did, earning the moniker “Marvel’s Man in Japan.”

Pelc told CNA that he and his family went— and still go— to Mass at the Franciscan Chapel Center, a community of English-speaking priests in Tokyo.

Japan was then— and remains today— a very non-Christian country, with Catholics comprising less than half of 1% of the population.

One day, a priest named Father Campion Lally approached Pelc at the Franciscan Chapel Center with an unusual proposition. The eight-hundredth anniversary of St. Francis’ birth was coming up in 1982, Fr. Lally said...what if, to commemorate it, Marvel produced a comic book about the life of St. Francis?

Pelc liked the idea, and wondered whether it would prove popular amongst Catholics in the US. Fr. Lally was adamant, however, that the comic be marketed to non-Catholics as well.

“The real reason I want this done is to reach an audience the Church doesn't normally reach,” Pelc remembers Fr. Lally saying.

“’I want to take St. Francis out of the birdbath’ was his exact comment.”

Pelc called up Stan Lee— a legendary Marvel comic book publisher— who apparently liked the idea. But when Pelc pitched the idea to the higher-ups at Marvel, they weren’t quite so supportive at first.

“They all said: Gene, you’ve been in Japan too long. No one wants to hear about that. They want to hear about superheroes,” Pelc remembers the executives telling him.

Pelc was able to appeal to the financial sensibilities of the executives to help his case, however— the Paulist Press, a U.S.-based Catholic publisher, had expressed interest in purchasing some 250,000 copies of the comic upon its release.

Needless to say, the prospect of a minimum of 250,000 copies sold— when a popular comic at the time could be expected to sell around 150,000 copies— was enough to sway the executives to approve the project.

Father Roy Gasnick, a Franciscan priest and director of communications based in New York, helped Marvel writer Mary Jo Duffy to write the story of St. Francis’ life for the comic. Fr. Gasnik was, by all accounts, a massive comic book fan himself.

Then the artists at Marvel did their magic, and produced the comic entitled “Francis: Brother of the Universe,” which hit stores in 1980.

Helped by the Paulist Press’ large order, “Brother of the Universe” proved to be a hit, both critically and commercially.

A new project

“The next step was pretty obvious to me, being Catholic and being Polish,” Pelc said.

“Pope John Paul II was extremely popular in the world at the time; he was traveling much more than the old popes did previously. And he was actually coming to Japan.”

John Paul II was the first pontiff to visit the country. The pope arrived in Japan in February 1981, to a small but enthusiastic welcome.

The pope’s visit galvanized Pelc, who was still riding high on the success of the St. Francis comic. He began looking into the possibility of producing another religious-themed comic for Marvel.

A friend of Gene’s introduced him to Father Mieczyslaw Malinski, who was a friend of the pope’s back in Poland during the war. Fr. Malinski apparently consulted with the pope himself about what he thought about the idea of turning his story into a comic.

According to Pelc, John Paul II was supportive of the idea, as long as Fr. Malinski himself worked with the comic book team on the project.

So, the Marvel team was off to the races yet again. The first step? Research. And a lot of it.

Most of the information came from Fr. Malinski, but the story still had to be adapted to fit into the panels and speech bubbles.

That task fell to Steven Grant, a young freelance comic book artist who at the time was living in New York and working for Marvel. He had heard that Marvel was producing a second religious-themed comic, but he didn’t think much of it— he assumed that Mary Jo Duffy would be tasked with writing this one, too.

Instead, Marvel’s editor-in-chief called Grant into his office and asked him to take on the task of writing the John Paul II comic book.

“I got involved because I was expendable at the time,” Grant told CNA.

“I wasn’t one of the artists they particularly wanted writing the Fantastic Four that month,” he laughed.

“And they knew I was Catholic— that was my big credential.”

For Grant, working on a comic book about John Paul II— which the team always referred to as “the Pope Book”— was both ordinary, in the sense that the writing process was not markedly different than other comic books; and extraordinary, given that the subject matter was not only a living person, but also the leader of a 1-billion strong worldwide religion.

“No one was worried about offending him, but there was a lot of room to offend a lot of people if we did a bad job with it,” he said.

Bumps in the road

The project experienced two major roadblocks the year before it was released, the first of which was the attempt on John Paul’s life in May 1981, in the midst of the comic’s production.

Instead of dropping the project, the Marvel team wrote the events of the assassination into the book itself.

In addition, communicating with Fr. Malinski would prove more difficult than the team at Marvel had expected.

On Dec. 13, 1981, a general named Wojciech Jaruzelski appeared on television sets throughout Poland. In a video message repeated over and over again, the general declared martial law, and ordered troops to suppress the Solidarity movement, a trade union rooted in Catholic principles that opposed Communism.

Many striking Solidarity workers would die in the next few days, as Polish troops fired into groups of them.

After John Paul’s visit to his native Poland in 1979, it would be another decade before the Solidarity Party in Poland, with the pope’s encouragement, would finally gain a majority in Parliament, and, largely peacefully, the country would shrug off the shackles of Communism.

To make matters worse, the turmoil in Poland was taking place in the middle of the comic book’s production schedule, and the Marvel team needed Fr. Malinski’s insights in order to get the comic book written.

The Communists restricted much of the communications in and out of Poland during that time. Pelc said he remembers receiving smuggled communications from Fr. Malinski, which he brought to his father in New York to have translated from Polish to English.

Apart from Fr. Malinski’s contributions, Grant says he simply put his nose to the grindstone and read up on as much as he could about the pope’s life.

“It was a little pre-internet,” Grant chuckled.

“I figured anything I found three or four references to was probably accurate.”

His total research spanned about two months, he says, but the actual writing process was only a couple of weeks long, spurred on by Marvel’s tight production schedules.


Finally, in 1982, the comic book hit the shelves. Thanks in large part to Catholic agencies buying up the edition, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million copies made their way into the world.

For a young comic book artist, it was quite the windfall. Grant said he was able to pay off his student loans when he received the royalties for the comic the following year.

So, did the pope himself ever get a chance to see himself as a Marvel hero? According to Pelc, he did. A Marvel executive flew to Rome and presented the pope with a leatherbound edition.

The success of the first two religious-themed comic books led to a third, this time about another future saint— and friend of John Paul’s— Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Although Pelc was not able to assist with that project, that comic also proved successful, though it was the last of the major religious-themed comics that Marvel produced. That comic even won a Catholic Press Association award in 1984.

In the four decades since the John Paul II comic book’s release, several members of the team that worked on it, including the artist who created the drawings, have died.

Pelc and Grant have gone their separate ways. Grant is still a freelance comic writer, and does writing work for Marvel “once in a blue moon” when they call him up.

Though the “Pope book” remains just one of the hundreds of projects that Grant has worked on over the years, he said he remembers walking into his local laundromat in New York a few months after the comic’s release, and being surprised to see the comic’s cover framed and hung proudly on the wall.

Though Grant never told the owners of the laundromat— clearly devout Catholics— that he was the author of the comic, he said it brought him pride that they valued it so highly.

Pelc, who still lives in Tokyo, owns a company that sells merchandise for musical artists. He said he still gets asked to this day— mostly by parishioners at the Franciscan Chapel Center— about Marvel’s religious comics, he says.

On the side, Pelc still has a passion for telling compelling Catholic stories. He is currently working on a book about the late 16th-century 26 Christian martyrs of Japan, and hopes eventually to adapt the story into a screenplay.

For his part, Pelc says he thinks it unlikely that a company like Marvel would produce something like this again. But he’s glad that by means of the “Pope book,” he and Grant and the entire team were able to tell a good story, in a world inundated by bad stories.

“That man deserved to be known by more than just people who go to church. He was an everyman pope, and I, being Polish, loved him,” he reflected.

Note: This story was adapted from an episode of Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. Click here to listen to the full story.


'A Storybook of Saints' aims to showcase 'heroic witness' of saints

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 18:00

Denver Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A new children’s book aims to tell the heroic stories of saints in a way that captures the interest, and imagination, of Catholic kids.

Elizabeth Hanna Pham, a Catholic mother of four boys with another on the way, said she decided to write “A Storybook of Saints” when she struggled to find a book on the saints that was relatable and inspiring to her own children.

“I just found that it was really hard to find a saint book that worked for all of their ages and that was engaging, where they really understood the stories and appreciated them. A lot of saint books have a lot of facts and a lot of things that maybe they didn't really understand,” she told CNA

“A Storybook of Saints” was published April 16 by Sophia Institute Press. The book highlights the memorable and heroic aspects of more than 50 saints. Each section includes pictures from illustrator Cecilia Vu.

Among the saints featured are St. John the Evangelist, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and the Vietnamese Martyrs.

Growing up, Pham was inspired by stories of heroes and fairy tales, and she wanted to create a similar experience for her children, while focusing on the saints.

“I wanted them to have something kind of more like a fairy tale anthology that just had these awesome stories, because I've seen how much of an effect really, really good stories has on them,” she said.

“It actually was really prompted by Saint Nicholas because my second child is named Nicholas and all of them have a great devotion to Saint Nicholas,” she said “It was hard to find a short, concise story about Nicholas that was as captivating as Santa Claus.”

Pham said her two oldest kids - one seven and the other four - were essential to the writing process.

“I would test some of the stories on them and they really enjoyed that. My oldest, who's pretty analytical, gave critique and helped me decide which stories were best. It was really fun,” she said.

Since she introduced the book to her children, Pham said, she has been amazed by the details they have retained about the saints’ lives. She said some of her children know the stories better than she does.

When she was writing the book, Pham had concerns that some of the saints would be irrelevant and off-putting to her children.

Pham didn’t expect, she said, that St. Gianna Molla, a woman who refused an abortion and sacrificed her life for her unborn child, would capture the attention of young boys. But to Pham’s surprise, her oldest has gravitated to St. Gianna.

“They love her and it's so funny because it's like she's sort of an older woman, like it doesn't seem like it would connect with a seven-year-old boy, but he just thinks she's like the most inspirational, wonderful person,” Pham said.

Pham said she tried to select a diverse group of saints.

“So many children have different personalities and they're going to be inspired by different things. I have one son who's, like I said, very analytical, very passionate. I have another son who's very, very gentle and quiet. They're so different from each other and different things speak to them,” she said.

“Children need heroes and are going to look for heroes, and the saints are the very best heroes. It's even better that they're actually real people that the children can have a relationship with them and ask them to pray for them.”

“I just know that that's had a profound impact on my faith and on so many other people I know on their faith. [It inspires] us to live our lives the way they live their lives and to know that it's possible to live like that.”


USCCB: Ask why coronavirus is 'devastating' black communities

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States are calling for an examination of why the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted African-American communities. 

“Our hearts are wounded for the many souls mourned as African American communities across the nation are being disproportionately infected with and dying from the virus that causes COVID-19,” said a statement released by the USCCB on May 4.

“We raise our voices to urge state and national leaders to examine the generational and systemic structural conditions that make the new coronavirus especially deadly to African American communities,” said the statement, which was signed by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia, and Bishop Joseph Perry, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. 

Fabre leads the USCCB’s ad hoc committee against racism; Coakley is the chairman of the conference’s domestic justice and human development committee; Perez heads the cultural diversity committee, and Perry is the chairman of the subcommittee on African-American affairs. 

The bishops also wrote they “stand in support of all communities struggling under the weight of the impact this virus has had not only on their physical health, but on their livelihoods, especially front line medical and sanitation workers, public safety officers, and those in the service industry,” and that they are praying for the pandemic to end. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, a third of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are African American, even though African-Americans make up about 13% of the national population. 

A study from Johns Hopkins University found that in the 26 states that have released racial breakdowns of their COVID-19 deaths, 34% of deaths were recorded among black or African-Americans -- nearly triple the percentage of the population that is African-American.

In April, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the racial disparity of COVID-19 cases in his state “very disturbing,” and called for an investigation. In Maryland, African-Americans and Hispanics have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at rates far surpassing their percentage of the population. 

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told CNA that it is “both appropriate and responsible” for the Church to call for a “thorough and comprehensive understanding of the underlying causes and the effects of this virus on these communities, which continue to suffer from long-standing inequities in basic human rights such as access to quality healthcare.”

Lori told CNA that he has “great concerns” that the virus will have a major long-term and short-term impact on these communities. 

“The Archdiocese of Baltimore wholly supports the call by the bishops’ conference for a study into the disparate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities,” said Lori. 

“In the City of Baltimore and elsewhere in the State of Maryland we have seen firsthand how this virus has ravaged our brothers and sisters in the Latino and African-American communities.”

Abortion bans prompt legal battles amid coronavirus pandemic

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 17:00

CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Arkansas’ only remaining abortion clinic is suing over a state rule that patients must test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of any elective surgery, claiming that a lack of testing is preventing women from availing themselves of abortions before the state’s 20-week limit.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson had on April 3 suspended all elective surgeries throughout the state, with “non-medically necessary surgical abortions” included in that prohibition. Arkansas already has a 72 hour waiting period for abortions.

On April 27, the state modified the order to allow asymptomatic patients to have elective surgeries if they have had a negative COVID-19 NAAT (Nucleic Acid Amplification) test within 48 hours prior to the beginning of the procedure.

The requirement for COVID-19 testing applies across the board to all elective surgeries, Hutchinson has said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas claims that the abortion clinic has contacted more than 15 testing locations but has been “unable” to find one that will test asymptomatic people and have results within 48 hours.

Despite the initial state order halting abortions, Arkansas health department inspectors on April 9 arrived at Little Rock Family Planning Services unannounced and found that the clinic was still performing surgical abortions.

The next day, the health department sent the clinic a cease-and-desist letter ordering a stop to surgical abortions “except where immediately necessary to protect the life or health of the patient.”

The Diocese of Little Rock’s Respect Life Office told CNA on April 16 of a “particularly troubling” increase in abortions at the clinic, especially by women traveling from neighboring Texas and Louisiana, states which have halted elective abortions.

Though a federal district court had on April 14 put a temporary restraining order on the state order stopping abortions, a federal appeals court on April 22 allowed the state order to go into effect.

Amid national lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, abortion has become a subject of national debate.

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf on May 2 vetoed a bill promoting the use of telemedicine during the pandemic because it did not include provisions for at-home abortions.

An amendment to SB 857 banned the use of telemedicine for procedures that are not approved under the Food and Drug Administration's Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS).

The abortion pill is not approved under REMS and thus would not be allowed via telemedicine under the new bill. At-home medical abortions are already banned under Pennsylvania law.

At least eight states have enacted temporary bans on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic and are subsequently contending with legal challenges. Judges have prevented many of the temporary bans from coming into effect, and some of the temporary orders simply have expired.

Last month in Texas, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state's ban on elective abortions, including medical abortions, could be reinstated, though the order lasted only until April 22.

In Alaska, there was a move by state officials in early April to “delay” abortions until June, but Governor Mike Dunleavy on April 14 allowed elective procedures to resume in the state.

On April 12, a federal judge ruled that the state of Alabama cannot move to limit abortion procedures through measures intended to focus medical resources on fighting coronavirus. Governor Kay Ivey had issued a statewide order March 19 which stopped all medical procedures except for emergencies or those needed to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.”

On April 17, a federal judge ruled that despite Tennessee’s temporary ban on nonessential medical procedures, the state must allow abortions to continue.

Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, though that order only lasted until April 30.

In Ohio and Iowa, most surgical abortions are currently allowed despite state efforts to restrict them.

The Louisiana Department of Health on March 21 ordered all medical and surgical procedures be postponed until further notice, with exceptions for emergencies. Abortion clinics in the state have sued to block the measure.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued an executive order April 10 banning all “elective” medical procedures, including abortions, with the order expiring April 27.

Buffalo diocese seeks permanent injunction of abuse lawsuits

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 15:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 01:35 pm (CNA).- The diocese of Buffalo is asking a federal court to halt all outstanding clergy sex abuse litigation against it as it navigates bankruptcy proceedings.

In a motion filed in federal bankruptcy court on Saturday, the diocese is seeking an injunction on the progress of all child sex abuse lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act (CVA). The diocese has been named in more than 250 such lawsuits.

Once the diocese filed for bankruptcy, all the CVA lawsuits in which it was named a defendant were moved into bankruptcy court and permanently stopped from moving forward. 

However, its bankruptcy proceedings have only temporarily halted the CVA lawsuits against smaller entities named as co-respondents, such as parishes and parochial schools, which have not themselves declared bankruptcy. Such cases could be moved back into the state supreme court against the co-defendants at the end of bankruptcy proceedings, and the diocese is seeking a permanent injunction on litigating these cases in order to reach a “global resolution” for all cases.

Greg Tucker, a spokesman for the diocese, told CNA on Monday that the diocese is looking “to provide the same 'breathing spell' for parishes, schools and other Catholic entities in the hopes of achieving a global resolution” for all the cases, rather than “piecemeal litigation.”

Tucker added that continued litigation would deplete the diocese’s shared insurance reserves, affecting future settlements available to survivors.

Steve Boyd, an attorney representing abuse survivors in some of the CVA cases against the diocese, said on Sunday that by filing for an injunction on all cases, the diocese was trying to prevent survivors having their day in court.

“This is another legal financial maneuver by the diocese designed to keep juries from hearing what the priests and bishops did, and what they failed to do to protect kids,” Boyd said in a video posted on Facebook on Sunday.

The diocese has been named in more than 250 lawsuits under the Child Victims Act which created a one-year “lookback” window for child sex abuse lawsuits.

The window, which began in August of 2019, allows a year-long period for lawsuits to be filed in cases of alleged child sex abuse where the statute of limitations had already expired.

In February, already facing hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits, the diocese filed for bankruptcy.

As part of its bankruptcy proceedings, the diocese cut off around two dozen accused priests from financial assistance and health benefits on May 1; the priests had “substantiated” allegations of the sexual abuse of children and had been removed from active ministry, but had not been laicized, leaving the diocese with a canonical obligation to provide for their basic sustenance.

In its filing for a stay, the diocese argued that it would not be regarded as distinct from the parishes and schools in court, and that it “is the real target defendant in the CVA cases.”

The “core allegations” in the lawsuits that were filed against parishes or schools “make no distinction” between their actions and those of the diocese, the motion stated. Furthermore, “moving forward” with the cases “would force the Diocese to participate in each CVA Case to the detriment of its estate’s assets and the reorganization process.”

“Continuing the CVA Cases during the pendency of this Chapter 11 Case will be burdensome on the Diocese and will disrupt the administration and expeditious reorganization of the Diocese’s estate to the detriment of all creditors,” the motion stated.

Indiana 'hopeful' Supreme Court will hear case on defunding abortion clinics

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 13:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The state of Indiana is hopeful the Supreme Court will hear their case on whether the state can block Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from receiving Medicaid funding. 

State Solicitor General Tom Fisher told CNA that Indiana is once again petitioning the Supreme Court to grant certioari in a case to determine if it is lawful to exclude abortion providers from receiving Medicaid funds after state Attorney General Curtis Hill filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on April 30. 

“States have authority to determine who is a qualified Medicaid provider,” Fisher told CNA in an interview on Friday, May 1. Fisher said that Indiana had decided to exclude abortion providers from the list of qualified Medicaid providers as they did not wish to subsidize abortions, “even indirectly,” with state money.  

“Every dollar that goes to a clinic is going to support whatever they do, even if they can’t charge separately for abortion,” he said. Under the Indiana law, organizations like Planned Parenthood, which is a single legal entity, cannot receive government funding even for clinics that do not perform abortions. 

Fisher said the central question of the case concerns who can sue the state under the Medicaid Act. 

“We’re hoping to get the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the question of whether abortion clinics have that right [to sue] under the Medicaid Act, or if that has to come from the secretary of [Health and Human Services],” he said.  

While the Supreme Court previously declined to hear similar cases originating in Kansas and Louisiana, Fisher told CNA that he is “hopeful” the court will consider taking the case this time around. 

“We pointed out to them this time that the lower courts are in conflict over whether Planned Parenthood or other Medicaid providers who get disqualified can sue a government,” he said. 

In 2018, when the Supreme Court declined hear the past cases, three justices--Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas--filed a dissent saying that they thought the court should have taken the matter up. 

The dissenters noted that there have been differing opinions in lower courts regarding who is permitted to sue a state over Medicaid disqualifications. 

“Five Circuits have held that Medicaid recipients have such a right, and one Circuit has held that they do not,” wrote Justice Thomas. “The last three Circuits to consider the question have themselves been divided. This question is important and recurring.” 

Thomas chided the court for refusing the case, saying that it was their role to fix these differences. 

“We are responsible for the confusion among the lower courts, and it is our job to fix it. I respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision to deny certiorari,” wrote Thomas in 2018 in the dissent. 

Now, said Fisher, he hopes the case “will get an even better look, and the court will realize that they need to step in and provide some guidance on this.”

Four votes from the Supreme Court justices are needed to consider a case. In 2018, the Kansas and Louisiana cases only received three. 

“We’re only one vote short,” said Fisher.  “This is an important issue. It’s not only an abortion-related issue, it’s also related to other qualification determinations a state can make, and indeed it’s related to other Medicaid enforcement efforts that states have to deal with.” 

This case is “not simply an abortion issue,” said Fisher. 

He hopes the Supreme Court will realize that they “need to provide guidance” to states and federal courts.

DOJ files statement of interest in church suit against Virginia governor

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 12:00

CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Justice Department (DOJ) is backing a small community church suing Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, arguing that the state cannot single out churches for public health restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore filed suit last week against Northam’s stay-at-home order prohibiting church gatherings with more than ten people inside. The DOJ filed a statement of interest on Sunday in the case.

“The United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of its citizens’ fundamental right to the free exercise of religion, expressly protected by the First Amendment,” the brief states.

Although the state can lawfully restrict gatherings during a public health emergency, it must do so without discriminating against religion, the DOJ argued in its brief. So far, Virginia has not shown that it applied restrictions evenly for secular and religious gatherings, as many exemptions exist for various businesses but not for churches, the DOJ said.

The church sued the state after its pastor received a summons for hosting a 16-person Palm Sunday service on April 5 at the church. Gov. Northam had issued a stay-at-home order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, including in churches.

At the Palm Sunday service, a police officer entered the church and told attendees they were in violation of the governor’s order, threatening arrest for attendees who violated the order in the future. Pastor Kevin Wilson faces up to one year in prison or up to $2,500 in fines.

Lawyers representing the church say that its congregation is disproportionately poor and vulnerable, that attendees of the Palm Sunday service were spaced out within the church sanctuary, and that congregants don’t have the means of watching or listening to church services remotely.

“Some of them [congregants] are former drug addicts, that have come out of drug addiction; others are some people who have been in prostitution—not all of the people in the church, but some of them are from that background,” Matt Staver, chairman and founder of the Liberty Counsel which represents Lighthouse Fellowship Church, told CNA in a previous interview.

“For some of those individuals, the church is the only family that they have and they rely upon the church for support.” 

According to the DOJ’s statement of interest, the state has not yet responded to allegations that it treated the church differently than it did other secular establishments such as law and accounting offices that were allowed to hold gatherings of more than 10 people.

For instance, Gov. Northam’s order allows staff gatherings at certain businesses with no limit on the number of employees; it also exempts beer, wine, and liquor stores, hardware and home improvement stores, and laundromats and dry cleaners from restrictions to which churches are subject.

The state does have legitimate authority to take “necessary, temporary measures to meet a genuine emergency,” the DOJ argued, but such restrictions must be “balanced” against constitutional rights and cannot discriminate against religion.

By singling out religious institutions, the state now has the “burden of proof” that its order has “compelling reasons” to treat religious services differently than other secular gatherings, the DOJ argues, and so far the state has failed to prove its case.

The brief is part of Attorney General William Barr's April 27 initiative to clarify constitutional rights during the pandemic.

The DOJ has also supported a Mississippi church in its case against the city of Greenville; the church held drive-in services that were curtailed by the city as a public health risk, with police issuing fines of $500 to participants who remained in their cars even as local restaurants were allowed to serve drive-in patrons. The mayor later said the city would not collect on the fines and would allow such services to continue in future.

Also, on Saturday the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction against a state order to Maryville Baptist Church in Kentucky, saying that “[t]he Governor has offered no good reason so far for refusing to trust the congregants who promise to use care in worship in just the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and laundromat workers to do the same.”

Contagious prayer: Map app tracks viral rosaries during COVID-19

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Like a lot of people, Mike Del Ponte found himself getting upset seeing the daily map updates tracking the spread of COVID-19. So he and a few friends decided to create a different map, tracking a different kind of spread: the spread of prayer and hope. 

Launched on April 28, The Map of Hope is a platform where people post their prayer intentions, and offer a rosary for someone else. Users tag their location, which places a dot on the map. The more people are praying in an area, the bigger the dot grows. In less than a week, The Map of Hope has already charted more than 4,800 prayer intentions, spanning all 50 states and over 130 countries.

The site also contains instructions on how to pray the Rosary, links to live recitations of the Rosary, and information about miracles attributed to the Rosary. 

Del Ponte, who is involved with startups in Silicon Valley, joined up with his friends Joe Kim, Joanna Hernandez, and worked out the details of the website. Kim, who serves as the site’s creative director, is also a design teacher at a Catholic school; and Hernandez handles the administration of the website. 

Del Ponte told CNA on May 1 that he was surprised by how quickly the website grew, considering they had no paid media or advertising for the site, and relied on word of mouth to make people aware of the project. 

“The three of us had this idea, and thought it needed to be given to the word,” he said. “So we put our heads down and launched it on Tuesday.” 

Unlike the popular pandemic-tracking maps, which Del Ponte spread “fear and anxiety” as the disease progressed, he said, The Map of Hope offers a visual that can inspire and reassure people.  

“As serious as the pandemic may be, we knew there was a lot of good in the world,” he said. “So we wanted to build something to give people hope; that’s where the idea came from.” 

The three co-founders selected the Rosary as the prayer intention for this project as it is a “significant and substantial prayer that has been proven in the past to bring about miracles, including stopping plagues,” said Del Ponte. 

There are three goals of The Map of Hope, Del Ponte told CNA. The first, he said, is to spark a sense of hope and community during a time of social distancing. The second, is to increase devotion to the Rosary, and the third is to pray to end the current pandemic. 

The website resembles the pandemic maps published by the New York Times, something Del Ponte said was intentional. 

“We wanted this to really rival the New York Times, in terms of how elegant it is, and the user experience and user engagement,” he said. Kim designed the site, and then an agency in New York built the site pro-bono. 

While the map currently only shows prayer intentions from locations in the United States, Del Ponte told CNA that they plan to update the site to include data from around the world, and to translate the website into Spanish, as they have been receiving many hits from Spanish-speaking countries. 

According to Del Ponte, 60% of visitors to the website are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 70% of all visits are from a mobile device. The relatively young age of the people on the site is exciting, he explained, as many young people do not have a deep devotion to the practice. 

“We really believe that if this generation can restore a devotion to the Rosary, it can change the world,” he said. 

In addition to the map, with its growing dots, the website also contains a prayer feed. This feed is a list of intentions that is updated as new ones are added. Users can “like” someone else’s intention as a show of solidarity. 

“We thought it would be so important that you could see the prayer intentions, the person’s (first) name, and their location,” said Del Ponte. “Our hope is that when someone likes someone else’s prayer, they are praying for that person and their intention.” 

Like many people, Del Ponte himself has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on a personal level. His wedding, which was scheduled for late April, had to be postponed, and his pastor, the 82-year-old Monsignor John Berry, was diagnosed with the disease. Berry had a “miraculous” recovery and was back in the pulpit in time for Holy Week. 

While The Map of Hope was created to help people cope with the current pandemic, Del Ponte said that the site will continue once the virus is abated. 

“The site in and of itself is really to create a deeper devotion to the Rosary regardless,” he said. 

“If the pandemic ended tomorrow we would continue to post this just to get more people praying the Rosary.”

How quaran-teens are coping with losses and disappointments 

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 18:58

Denver Newsroom, May 3, 2020 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- Nikki Shasserre normally gets one, maybe two alerts per week from Bark, a parental monitoring app she uses to track texts and social media on her teenager’s cell phone.

Bark sends Shasserre and her husband snippets of conversations that contain concerning words or phrases, like “guns” or “sex” or “suicide.” They are words that their daughter, Cathy, either typed or received. The idea is to prompt conversations between parents and their kids when something potentially concerning pops up.

Shasserre said they sometimes even get funny ones that the app mistakes as concerning.

“One time it flagged for sexual content (a conversation on) their AP Bio project on fruit flies, because they were doing the mating process and trying to get them to reproduce in their labs,” she said.

But when schools abruptly shut down to curb the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, and Cathy and her classmates’ senior year was cut off without fanfare, Shasserre noticed a huge influx of alerts from Bark.

“Now, there are days that I get 10 to 15 alerts per day,” Shasserre said. “Ninety percent of the alerts that we're getting are for depression. The other day, I got one for suicidal thoughts.”

It wasn’t from Cathy, but from one of her friends. The text was something along the lines of: "I don't know how much longer I can take this. I'm getting so sad."

Shasserre said the text was a wake-up call of sorts for herself and her husband. She said they had already been checking in with their kids every day since the coronavirus shutdowns began, but noticed that Cathy often seemed reluctant to share or would simply say she was fine.

Shasserre said the texts and alerts have made her realize just how much Cathy and her friends, and other teenagers in the pandemic, “are facing a lot of real sadness, a lot of real loss."

“And especially for her, she's a senior. So as all of these dates are approaching...I got a lot of alerts when prom passed, that her friends were all really sad about prom. And for (Cathy), it's missing these different track meets. It's missing awards night. It's all of these things that pop up that we've all had on our calendars, all of these Senior events that...they're still written on our family calendar and they're in most of our phones. And so, you get the alert that pops up. ‘Oh, it's supposed to be awards night.’ Or, ‘Oh, it's supposed to be the parent breakfast coming up.’”

Caroline Doyon is a Catholic teenager finishing up her junior year at Bloomington High School North in Indiana.

Doyon said she first heard that coronavirus might close down her school while she was on spring break with three friends and a parent chaperone in Florida.

“We were all really concerned and so we came home early,” Doyon told CNA.

“And my mom was telling me how we probably won't go back to school, and I really thought it would be just like a week or two. And then after those first two weeks of e-learning at home, they announced the rest of the school year would be over.”

Doyon said she feels lucky that she’s only a junior.

“I feel like if I was a senior I would be devastated. I just know that I would hate to miss graduation.”

There are still things that have made her sad, she said. Prom was canceled and her final dance recital was canceled, as were other end-of-the-year events. And she misses her friends.

“I think for the first couple of weeks of quarantine, it was just really sad. I know that I love school and I love being there with everybody, so it was really hard on me because I like hanging out with my friends,” she told CNA.

Doyon said she’s made a point to check in regularly with her friends, especially when they mention they are feeling especially sad or that their families are driving them crazy.

“I especially know, for one of my friends...even before this whole entire lockdown, whenever she was alone or she wasn't in contact with a lot of people she would get, she would fall into a little bit of a state of depression and she would just feel all alone and like nobody cared for her. And so when all of this happened, I made sure to talk to her and we FaceTime pretty often. It’s just maintaining that contact, even though you can't be with them.”

There have been some silver linings, she said. Every student was provided with a laptop so that they could continue learning at home, and without the distractions at school, Doyon said she has been able to get a lot of work done.

“We met in an old K-Mart parking lot, and we parked in a circle. And we all opened up our trunks and we sat in the back facing each other. I think the first time we hung out like that, we stayed there for like four hours, just talking.”

“I definitely know that for teenagers, we like to be social, so it's really hard for us to just sit at home and to have nothing to do.”

Kathleen Kozak is a teacher of teenagers as well as a mother to three teens of her own (and a fourth son who is a pre-teen). Kozak, who teaches high school theology at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, said she has been focusing on bringing some kind of order into the lives of both her students and her teenagers at home.

Both Kozak and her husband have previously served in the military, she told CNA, and during this time, they’ve tapped into their ability to adapt to unexpected situations that would arise in the military.

“So I was thinking, okay, how can we adapt and overcome in this? And how do we want to be remembered in this time? I don't necessarily need to accomplish everything, but what things can we do to create order amongst us having all these variations of emotions?”

Kozak said she’s been inspired by Pope Francis’ example and has been following his lead. When, in March, Pope Francis asked everyone to pray the rosary, Kozak and her family prayed the rosary live on YouTube that night at 9 p.m., joined virtually by friends and family who could not gather together in person.

“My family and I sat at the kitchen table and we prayed the rosary on YouTube Live that night. And then after we finished, many of the people that joined us were like, ‘Well are you going to keep going?’ So actually we've been praying the rosary online every night at 9:00,” she said.

The routine rosary has come with a flood of prayer intentions from friends and family, she said, giving them an even greater sense of purpose as they pray.

Kozak has also been helping her kids and students focus on the things they can do, in light of the things that they cannot.

She said she will first acknowledge their feelings and say, “Okay, this is really hard,” when they talk about their sports seasons or proms being canceled.

“I mean the list can go on and on for all the losses,” Kozak said. But she said based on the experience of her husband’s deployment, when he missed out on several significant family moments, she is encouraging them to focus on the things they can change and can do at this time.

“My husband missed a lot in my kids’ eyes. He was not there for my daughter's eighth grade graduation. There was a ton that we lost in time. And I said, ‘But we were able to create other memories of him being overseas and us being here using technology. So how can you create different things using this gift of technology that we have?’”

She has also been encouraging her kids and students to rely on prayer - something that got her through the loss of one of her children, Liam.

“The question can be asked, how do you feel God in the sense of a pandemic? And I say to them: I have to go to prayer. And for me, the prayer I go to when I have no words, that my grandma taught me, is the rosary. When she had no words, when her husband died or my cousin died, that was her go-to. And so that then became my go-to,” she said.

During her online Zoom classes with her students, Kozak said she has also gotten to know her students in a “whole new way” because of the pandemic. When she is done teaching, Kozak breaks her students up into “family” groups, and she then checks in with each family to see how everyone is doing.

“There's been more sharing of the heart and just the shared experience of it all. It’s allowed us in many ways to get closer than in our other semesters,” she said.

Daniel Johnson is a Catholic marriage and family therapy associate with Divine Mercy Clinic based in Duarte, California, who frequently works with adolescents experiencing depression, suicidal ideation, self harm, and anxiety.

Johnson told CNA that it’s important for families to recognize that teenagers are in many ways facing the same feelings of loss and isolation and fatigue that adults are experiencing during these times of sheltering at home and social distancing.

“What I'm my teenage clients is really the reaction to a dramatic change, and then not knowing the length of time that they have to endure this. Which is really true of all of us,” Johnson said.

“It might be manifested differently in the teens, precisely because so much of their normal development is centered around their peer group and the cues that they get from other teens,” he added.

“Many of them, especially the ones who go to traditional school, or larger schools, they're going to have a particularly difficult time not having those peer groups or the cues that they get from the social setting, which they are very used to,” he said.

Cues like graduation, or end-of-the-year academic or athletic banquets, or final performances that signal the end of something and the completion of a goal, are now gone.

“They had a game plan and they were working towards a goal. And that goal, at least...the sign that they're achieving that goal - prom, graduation, whatever sort of thing schools do to mark the end of the year - those have been ripped away from kids. And so there is isolation and there is that kind of sadness,” he said.

Johnson said the first thing he does with his clients who are struggling with the isolation and the drastic changes brought about by sheltering at home is to acknowledge to them that what they are feeling is normal and understandable.

“It’s just acknowledging the emotions that are going on, or normalizing, to use the clinical term, the fact that you know, ‘yeah, I'm sad and I'm angry and I'm stressed and I don't know what to do.’”

Johnson said the second thing he does to help his clients is to encourage them to connect in new ways to their support group, whether that’s family or friends or a combination of both.

“Things that involve other human beings as the focus, not things that involve being in the same room as other human beings while other stuff is going on, like TV,” he said.

The third thing Johnson said he has found helpful for his adolescent clients is to help them focus on short term goals and establishing a routine - especially since it is currently unclear when and how they will be able to accomplish some of their longer-term goals, such as going to college in the fall when some of those colleges may be closed, either permanently or at least to in-person classes.

“What I mean is really settling into a routine, finding the four or five things that are essential to you having a good day. And let's just make sure we do each of those every day,” he said.

“For a lot of clients, it's something as simple as some daily exercise, talking to one or two other people, doing some prayer, and getting some work done on a class. Those kinds of things. It’s focused on what is necessary for these 24 hours to be a good 24 hours.”

Johnson said he would encourage parents to be on the lookout for especially concerning signs of depression or self-harm, but that some level of depression is probably normal for their teenagers right now.

“In the most clinical mind, we're all probably more or less clinically diagnosable as depressed at the moment….The problem is that, at the moment, there's some darn good reason to be depressed.”

Johnson said parents could look for signs of their child not grooming themselves for more than 24 hours, or spending a lot more time sleeping than usual, as possible signs of concern.

“I think the real difficulty at the moment is, we judge depression and anxiety in relation to a baseline. We judge too much sleep by the last couple months. I've gotten about six hours of sleep every night, suddenly I'm sleeping nine hours. The problem is right now, we're all having a difficult time figuring out what our baseline is. It's even harder to get that baseline for our teenagers.”

The most powerful thing that can help teenagers at this time are parents who remain calm and collected, Johnson said, or who are able to honestly acknowledge their own feelings and experiences with their teenagers.

“I think in some ways the best thing a parent can do really is, take a deep breath, put on a calm demeanor for their kid and then, late at night, go outside and yell at the moon or something...whatever you need to do to decompress,” he said.

“Or alternatively, if it's hard to hide it from the kids, be honest with your kids about the emotion that's going on in that and transparent about one's struggle to keep it together,” he said.

Shasserre said that she has found it helpful for her to acknowledge her own feelings of sadness and loss at the things she is missing out on in Cathy’s senior year.

“It doesn't help when we dismiss it. It's helped when we've been able to talk about it with Cathy also by saying, ‘I am really sad that we won't get to go to the senior parent Mass and breakfast. I was really looking forward to doing that.’”

“And when she responds, ‘Well, it's okay. I understand. There are bigger things in the world,’ I will say, ‘Yes. I'm glad that you can see that. But it doesn't diminish that this is still sad.’ There's a grieving process. There's a loss that they have to go through.”

‘This is the moment to advocate’ for pro-life vaccines, says Archbishop Naumann

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 10:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 2, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that vaccines developed to combat coronavirus are not “morally compromised” by any connection to cell lines created from the remains of aborted babies. 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in an interview Thursday that “there’s been a history in creating vaccines of—in some cases anyway—of using cell lines from aborted fetuses,” and that it remains important to highlight the complicated ethical concerns in vaccine research. 

“So some of the vaccines that are used today have this ethical problem,” he said in an appearance on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “We as a Church, obviously, we see this as a moral issue, that we don’t want to do anything that—in some way gives support for the idea of abortion.” 

“On the other hand,” the bishops said, “I think in some cases where there are no other ethical choices, or for public health reasons, Catholics may be forced to use these vaccines even though we object to the way they were developed, but the Church says we have an obligation to object to that, and to advocate for ethical vaccines to be developed.” 

Naumann said that at a time when so many resources and so much public attention is being devoted to developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, “this is the moment for us to advocate.”

“There’s no need to really use cell lines from aborted fetuses, there are other cell lines that can be used to develop these vaccines, so that’s why we think it’s very important at this moment to let the voice not only of the Church but other concerned citizens to voice that we want to—we all want a vaccine, we realize that’s important for our public health, but we also want a vaccine that has no ethical problems in the way it’s developed,” he said. 


Archbishop Naumann on protecting the vulnerable:
"I think it's admirable that we as a culture are taking these steps to try to protect those that are most vulnerable to the virus. Hopefully that can translate into a similar concern for the lives of the unborn." #prolife #COVID19

— EWTN Pro-Life Weekly (@EWTNProLife) April 30, 2020  


Naumann said he hopes the FDA will “create incentives for the pharmaceutical companies that are creating these vaccines to use cell lines that are not implicated with abortion” and to issue “strong guidance” to create a vaccine that is developed ethically. 

“I think all we need really is for our pharmaceutical companies to realize that this is offensive to a large number of Americans and give them the encouragement, give our government the encouragement, to make sure these vaccines are not morally compromised in any way,” he said.

Naumann also said that the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has revealed a pro-life ethic in the public mind. 

“It’s interesting because even some figures, public officials, that don’t support us on protecting the lives of the unborn, they’ve made statements in the midst of this crisis that every life is precious, every life is sacred,” he said. 

“As a culture and society, we’re going to enormous lengths to try to protect the elderly and those that might be susceptible to the virus where it’s much more dangerous for them. So I think it’s admirable that we as a culture are taking these steps to try to protect those that are most vulnerable to the virus, and hopefully that can translate into a similar concern for the lives of the unborn as well.”

Hunger in 'wine country' - How one Napa Valley Catholic school is helping needy families

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 09:00

Denver Newsroom, May 2, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A small Catholic school in Napa, California is drawing on community support to run a weekly food pantry for its families and neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers, led by the school board, have adapted Kolbe Academy & Trinity Prep— a K-12 school with just 105 students— into a food pantry for distribution every Wednesday.

Anna Hickey and Eric Muth— both alumni and school board members— helped to develop what they call the Agape Program, aiming to assist the school community spiritually and materially during the pandemic.

The pantry was able to serve more than 50 families on the first day it was open, April 22, Hickey and Muth told CNA.

After the first week, word spread quickly through the community.

"We contacted several local parishes who are now directing people with needs to our school," Hickey said.

Teachers and families from the school have volunteered to help with food distribution— including one family who lined up to receive food, realized more help was needed, and put their food aside in order to volunteer for the rest of the day.

"As people hear about Agape, the generosity is now starting to match the need," Hickey said.

For the first day of distribution, school board members bought a large amount of frozen chicken from a distributor. When they told the distributor it was for a food pantry,he donated nearly 700 additional pounds of steak, turkey, and chicken.

Hickey said the school thought their supply of meat would keep them well-stocked for several weeks, but the number of families seeking help turned out to be "overwhelming."

The extra meat lasted just two and a half hours.

Muth said by the time the school held its second day of distributing food, the number of patrons in line had doubled to more than 100.

In order to comply with California's strict social distancing orders, the school asked that only one family member come to pick up the food. This means that each person in line was likely representing a family of, on average, five people, Muth said.

Despite the additional demand, they also had more volunteers, and more food to give away— including a truck of fresh produce that a parishioner donated.

The Napa Valley is often regarded as an affluent area, but beyond the vineyards and tasting rooms are working class and poor families who are hurt by the economic downturn.

Many of the breadwinners for the Catholic school families in Napa work in the service industry— and in many cases, both parents have found themselves out of work, Hickey said.

In addition, some of the Catholic school families are ineligible for unemployment benefits because of their immigration status, she said.

Hickey and Muth hope to provide tuition assistance to needy families through the Agape initiative, so that families in need don't find themselves forced to pull their children out of the Catholic school.

"Our Catholic schools are in trouble, and we really need to start seeing them as a mission," Hickey said.

"Catholic education in our world today is a critical necessity. It's not something that we should consider a luxury...if we want to change society, if we want to make sure that we have future pro-lifers, then we'd better make darn sure that we keep Catholic education going."

Another phase of the initiate will involve high school students reaching out to the elderly and lonely in the community.

"If we don't help others first, there's no way we can ever ask for help again," she said.

"Our moral obligation is to extend help, even in the fear of us closing down— extend help first, and then ask for help."

That approach has ultimately paid off— the school has received many donations since starting the food pantry, they said, even from non-Catholic members of the community who recognize the good work the school is doing.

"God will take care of us if we have some trust and faith in Him," Muth said.

Accused priests cannot be left 'destitute', Buffalo diocese clarifies

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Buffalo clarified on Friday that priests accused of sexual abuse cannot be left “destitute,” even as the diocese acts to withdraw financial support payments.

The diocese had announced earlier this week that 23 priests “with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse” would no longer receive financial assistance or health benefits from the Diocese of Buffalo as of May 1. However, the diocese said that pension plans would not be affected by the decision.

Interim communications director for the diocese Greg Tucker told CNA on Friday that “the diocese recognizes that there are certain canonical obligations to ensure that these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.”

The decision to cut benefits was made as part of the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings. The diocese had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in February after it was named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits in recent months; a New York law came into effect in August. 2019, waving the statute of limitations on old abuse cases for one year, allowing for lawsuits on decades-old cases to move forward in court.

On Friday, Tucker told CNA that the diocese was aware of its “canonical obligations” to provide for the sustenance of its priests. Canon law requires that clerics incardinated in a diocese receive “decent support,” and that bishops provide for the sustenance of priests, including those not in active ministry.

None of the accused priests losing their benefits have been laicized, the diocese told CNA on Wednesday; rather, they were removed from active ministry based on various determinations, including admissions of guilt, a criminal investigation, or corroboration of multiple allegations.

In several of the cases, the allegations reached back decades, Tucker told CNA.

The original list of affected priests has been updated during the week, as local news outlet WKBW reported on Thursday that two of the priests originally on the list of affected clergy had already disassociated themselves from the diocese and were no longer receiving benefits.

However, two more priests with “substantiated allegations” were added to the reported list of affected clergy later in the week; they were not originally listed by the diocese because their allegations did not involve minors.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, apostolic administrator of the diocese, originally told the affected priests that their benefits were being cut in an April 23 letter and in a subsequent conference call.

Local news outlet WKBW reported that the diocese’s decision was made as part of its bankruptcy settlement with survivors.

Diocesan pension plans were not affected by the settlement, the diocese said, so the affected priests could continue to draw their pensions if they were already eligible.

All but six of the affected priests were already drawing from their pension benefits, the diocese told CNA on Friday, and three of those priests are eligible for their pension and are now transitioning into the plan.

The pension fund is unaffected by the Chapter 11 proceedings, he said, as it is its own entity and has its own assets separate from the diocese.

The question of whether pension benefits, taken together with other income streams such as Social Security, would be enough to provide sustenance for accused priests is not being determined by the diocese, Tucker said, and the diocese “is not assuming the role of determining what each of these priests requires to cover their monthly expenses given that each individual has his own circumstances and other resources.”

However, Tucker said, “Bishop Scharfenberger is himself a canon lawyer, as is Msgr. Sal Manganello, who is vicar general and judicial vicar [of the diocese.”

“This was a decision taken in discussions with the creditors committee - as Bishop Sharfenberger’s letter [to the affected priests] made clear, the diocese recognizes that there are certain canonical obligations to ensure these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.” 

In 2018, the diocese released a list of 42 priests it said had been removed from ministry, retired, or left ministry following allegations of abuse of a minor. However, in October, WKBW reported that the number of priests the diocese had originally listed was actually more than 100.

Survey: Religious Americans say coronavirus crisis has strengthened their faith

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 17:50

Denver Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- A segment of Americans say their faith has grown stronger since the coronavirus epidemic began, including 27% of Catholics, though the rise seems most pronounced among those who were already more religious than most, a survey from the Pew Research Center reports.

“The most religious Americans – those who frequently pray and attend services (at least in typical times), and who rate religion as very important to them – are far more likely than others to say their faith has grown stronger as a result of the coronavirus outbreak,” said Pew Research Center research associate Claire Gecewicz in a April 30 post at the center’s blog Fact Tank.

Gecewicz added “the self-reported strengthening of religious faith has been most pronounced within a segment of the public that was already quite religious to begin with.”

The findings come from a survey released April 30.

About 24% of Americans told Pew that their faith had grown stronger, and 35% of Christians. However, about 47% of Americans said their faith hadn’t grown much.

Of Catholic respondents, 27% said their faith had grown stronger, 35% said it hadn’t changed much, 2% said it had weakened, and 7% said they were not a religious person and this hadn’t changed.

About 42% of evangelicals said their faith had strengthened, compared to 22% of mainline Protestants.

Of all respondents, those who attended religious services at least monthly tended to say their faith had grown stronger. Among those who attended services a few times a year, 26% said their faith had become stronger.

Self-reported strengthening of religious faith was strongest among African-Americans, 41% of whom said their faith had strengthened. As for Hispanic adults, 30% reported stronger faith, while only 20% of whites did.

Breaking down the results by sex, 30% of women said their faith had grown stronger, 46% said it was unchanged, and 21% said they aren’t religious. By comparison, only 18% of men said their faith had grown stronger, 48% said it was unchanged, and 32% said they are not religious.

Those aged 50 and over were more likely to claim a strengthen faith than younger respondents. Only 17% of those aged 18-29 reported a stronger faith, as did only 22% of those aged 30-49.

Among those who self-identify as “nothing in particular,” 11% said their religious faith had strengthened. Among the religiously unaffiliated as a whole, 65% said the question about a stronger faith was not applicable and nothing had changed. About 26% of Americans gave this response.

Efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic included government bans or restrictions on economic, social and religious life. Catholic churches stopped offering public Mass across the country, and only now are some dioceses beginning to lift restrictions.

The Pew survey also asked whether places of worship were still open for in-person services.

Almost all respondents who regularly attended religious services, 91%, said their place of worship had closed for public religious services, as did 94% of Catholics. However, among all U.S. adults, 45% said they do not attend services or do not know what their house of worship has done, Pew said.

Responses from 79% of Catholics said their church services had moved online, compared to 92% of evangelical Protestants, 86% of mainline Protestants, and 73% of historically black Protestants.

Pew surveyed 10,139 U.S. adults April 20-26. Results for the overall sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

A previous Pew survey, made public at the end of March, found fewer people were attending religious services in person, in line with stay-at-home orders active in many palaces.

Among those who normally attend services at least once or twice per month, 59% said they had scaled back their attendance. Among the same group, a similar percentage, 57%, reported watching religious services online or on TV during the pandemic instead of attending services.

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

The same survey found 55% of Americans have said they prayed for an end to the pandemic, including about 68% of Catholics.

Five COVID deaths at Wisconsin home for religious sisters with dementia

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 17:28

CNA Staff, May 1, 2020 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Within the past month, a Wisconsin retirement home for religious sisters with dementia has had several sisters die and four staff members test positive.

Our Lady of the Angels Convent in Milwaukee has seen five resident deaths due to the novel coronavirus. In all five cases, the virus was discovered after the time of death.

The five sisters who have died of the virus are Mary Collins, 95; Marie Skender, 83; Mary Sherburne, 99; Annelda Holtkamp, 102; and Bernadette Kelter, 88.

In early April, the home had temporarily stopped testing its residents, who are mostly dementia patients, because the experience was traumatic for them, the New York Times reports. At the time, the only test that was available in the area involved a cotton swab inserted through the nostril into the back of the throat. The test can be painful, and some residents were reportedly combative when it was administered.

There have been nearly 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin, and more than 300 deaths as of April 30. Health officials have emphasized the importance of monitoring the residents of retirement homes, as the elderly and those with underlying conditions are particularly at risk from the virus.

Sister Collins initially developed a mild cough on April 3. She passed away three days later, but only received a coronavirus test postmortem, which came back positive. The New York Times reported that the staff had attempted to administer the test earlier but, due to her dementia, she was “too combative to tolerate” it.

Michael O’Loughlin, a spokesman for the home, said the assisted living facility has strictly followed guidelines in caring for the residents.

“They are very aware that the convent’s residents, who are elderly and receive specialized memory care, are a vulnerable population, which is why the convent suspended all communal activities and enforced social distancing long before any of the residents tested positive for Covid-19,” he said, according to the New York Times.

Darren Rausch, the director for the Greenfield Health Department, said Our Lady of the Angels has kept in close contact with his office and, from the beginning, followed the advice from his department. This includes isolating those who tested positive for COVID-19, monitoring residents’ temperatures and symptoms, and using personal protective equipment.

“It’s definitely very challenging,” Rausch told the New York Times, noting that the patients’ dementia has added a layer of difficulty, as “[t]hey can’t always vocalize what’s going on.”

Since the deaths, the convent has resumed testing for every resident of Our Lady of the Angels, and some have even been tested multiple times, O’Loughlin said.