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CRS head says coronavirus pandemic could threaten malaria prevention

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 16:25

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- A Catholic humanitarian agency warned that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to greater cases of malaria-related deaths.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), stressed this week the importance of tackling both COVID-19 and malaria - an infectious disease transmitted by certain mosquitoes. 

“Like malaria, this disease respects no boundaries or borders. The coronavirus has tremendous destructive potential. But we cannot drop our guard on malaria in our fight against the virus. In fact, the danger of coronavirus will be greatly exacerbated if we let it threaten our progress in tackling malaria,” Callahan wrote in an op-ed published April 28.

Between 2000 and 2015, every malaria-affected region succeeded in reducing the number of illnesses and deaths related to malaria, Callahan said. In 2019, malaria prevention and treatment projects of CRS reached 86 million people in 12 countries, he said, noting that there has been a particular focus on children and pregnant women.

Callahan said the timing of the coronavirus spread in areas of West and Central Africa coincides with the high transmission season for malaria, when, between July and October, seasonal rains increase the number of mosquitos.

The Global Malaria Program of the World Health Organization has encouraged that the coronavirus pandemic and malaria be fought together. Even with malaria prevention initiatives in place, malaria will kill hundreds of thousands of people this year, according to WHO officials, and, if malaria is neglected while coronavirus is addressed, the impact will be felt for decades.

In his op-ed, Callahan said that without maintaining aid to malaria-endemic areas, both illnesses may build upon one another overcrowding hospitals and other health facilities.

“If we scale back our planned malaria activities in order to address the coronavirus, this will undoubtedly lead to an increase in malaria cases. This, in turn, will lead to overcrowded health facilities that are already struggling to keep up with the rising surge of the pandemic,” he wrote.

“Fighting two health behemoths at once will require innovation and dexterity. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services have extensive expertise in prevention, testing, treatment, and community engagement,” Callahan wrote.

As the pandemic will likely affect supply deliveries, he said, the organization plans to stock supplies closer to communities in case deliveries are interrupted and unable to reach central stores.

He added that the organization previously used mobile technology to digitize a malaria indicator survey, which was then used to help distribute 50 million nets in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. The data will then be used to “avoid door-to-door household registration” saving money and limiting person-to-person exposure, he said.

Callahan stressed the importance of local partners in the fight against malaria.

“With their support, we are better able to do such things as ensure every child who has a fever is tested and treated for malaria and then referred for follow-up care. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and now with COVID-19, these tested practices are proving especially valuable,” he said.

“Fighting these deadly diseases simultaneously requires attention, creativity, and resources. With our collective commitment - donors, implementers, and policymakers - we can do both at the same time so progress on the malaria front is not lost as we also fight coronavirus. We can, and we must, battle our new enemy without losing ground against an old one,” Callahan wrote.


At least 15 dead from coronavirus in NY religious orders

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- As New York attempts to weather the coronavirus pandemic, religious orders in the state have been hit hard by the disease, with one order of nuns raising money to offset the cost of added medical expenses.

The Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, NY, have lost three of their sisters to COVID-19, and another 30 have tested positive for the virus. A total of 10 members of their staff have also tested positive for the coronavirus, and several more sisters have come down with a low-grade fever and are being monitored. 

There are about 300 sisters living at the Maryknoll Center in Ossining, in Westchester County, about 40 miles away from New York City, widely held to be the front line of the epidemic in the United States.

“We remember the beautiful spirits of our Sisters who have been called home to God and pray our other Sisters and Staff will fully recover and return home soon,” says the Maryknoll Sisters’ website. 

“It remains our top priority to contain this virus as much as we can, to keep our employees and staff at the center safe, and the rest of our Sisters safe. Please know we are doing all we can to face this pandemic head on, and continue to adhere to all procedures advised by the Health Department,” they said.

The sisters are requesting donations for “increased expenses for medical care, medical supplies, proper medical grade cleaning services,” and other new necessities related to the virus. 

Also in Ossining, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have been similarly stricken by the pandemic. Since the start of April, 10 priests of the order have died. Two had tested positive for COVID-19, and the others were experiencing symptoms of the virus. 

There are 123 Maryknoll priests living in New York, nearly half of the order’s 288 total priests. 

Fr. Raymond Finch, the superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, told abc7NY that 15 others had been tested positive for the virus, with three in “very serious condition.” 

The Missionaries of Charity, who have a home in the New York City borough of The Bronx, have lost at least two sisters to COVID-19. The Missionaries of Charity did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.

The Missionaries of Charity were founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, and are known for their distinctive white-and-blue saris. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, posted a video on Twitter on Tuesday, April 27, describing his experience attending the burial of two Missionaries of Charity the previous Saturday. 

“Two things stuck out,” said Dolan, apart from the sadness of the loss of two sisters. Despite the risk of contracting the virus, Dolan was impressed that the sisters had continued on with their charism of serving the poor, and, additionally, he remarked that one of the sisters who died from the virus had been one of the founding members of the religious order. 

At the burial service, the “socially distancing” sisters told Dolan that “we still have our soup kitchen, and the poor and homeless come in every day.” 

This, said Dolan, was a sign that while physical church buildings may be closed, “the Church is active in its love and service to others, like those brave sisters who are putting their life on the lines.”

Sr. Francesca, one of the two sisters who had died from COVID-19, worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and was one of the founders of the order. 

“We mourn them, we miss those two, but we thank God for the example of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity,” said Dolan.

US religious freedom commission highlights India in annual report

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Abuse of Muslims, Christians, and other minorities in India drew the attention of a federal religious freedom watchdog in its annual report released on Tuesday.

“India took a sharp downward turn in 2019,” concluded the 2020 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission that studies religious persecution and adverse circumstances facing religious minorities around the world, and makes policy recommendations to the State Department.

India’s Hindu nationalist BJP  party won elections in 2017 and again in 2019 to gain a majority in the national legislature. The government then “used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims,” USCIRF said.

USCIRF released its annual report on Tuesday, documenting progress and setbacks for religious freedom in 29 countries around the world during the previous year.

The commission recommended that India be designated by the State Department as a “country of particular concern” (CPC)—a designation reserved for the worst violators of religious freedom or the countries where the worst abuses are taking place and the governments do not stop them. USCIRF has not recommended India for the CPC list since 2004.

Of concern is the country’s new policy of fast-tracking citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries which, combined with a National Register of Citizens, could leave many Muslims without legal protections and saddled with burdens of having to prove their citizenship.

This could potentially result in 100 million people, mostly Muslims, being left “essentially stateless,” said USCIRF chair Tony Perkins.

In addition, the report highlighted the enforcement of anti-conversion laws, and acts of violence committed with impunity by non-state actors against religious minorities.

Christians have been subject to increasing attacks by mobs in India, with national and state governments failing to protect them and administer justice to perpetrators. A 2020 Open Doors report noted at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes committed against Christians in India in a year, many of them by radical Hindus.

Three USCIRF commissioners dissented from the report’s CPC recommendation for India, saying that despite abuses that have been committed, it is still the world’s largest democracy and does not have the same level of persecution of religious minorities as China and North Korea.

Among the recommendations USCIRF makes each year are designations of countries to a tier-system of rankings, based on how serious their religious freedom abuses are.

The CPC list is for the worst violators, and the State Department has already designated as CPCs Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

In addition, USCIRF recommended that India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam be added to the list.

The next tier below the CPC designation is the “Special Watch List,” where abuses of religious minorities are taking place but not at a level as severe as in CPC-designated countries.

USCIRF recommended that Cuba, Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, and Sudan be kept on the State Department’s Special Watch List; in addition, the commission recommended that the agency add Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Turkey to the list.

Nicaragua appeared on the list for the first time, commissioner Nadine Maenza said, noting that the government has targeted the Catholic Church and attacks on clergy, laity, and church property have occurred.

Amid coronavirus, 'food deserts' thinly stretch aid groups

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 05:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has heightened the problem of food insecurity in many areas of the US already classified as “food deserts”— swaths of the country where people lack access to affordable, nutritious food.

Dave Barringer, CEO for the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, told CNA that across the country, the organization’s food banks have seen a fourfold increase in demand.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international lay Catholic organization whose members operate food pantries, provide housing assistance, and normally, make house visits to the needy.

"What we're seeing, especially in urban areas where you don't have as many grocery stores to begin with...African American and impoverished neighborhoods— that's where the food crisis is the worst," Barringer told CNA.

"The first people that got laid off were those in minimum wage where they needed to be there every day to be paid. It wasn't a salary. And so they're out of work, they can't go to the store, and they don't have an income," he said.

While the problem of food insecurity on the global scale is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, people in many areas of the US such as inner cities and vast swaths of the west also live in food deserts.

Even before the pandemic, some 11% of US households were food insecure at least some time during 2018, including 4.3% with “very low food security,” according to the US Department of Agriculture.

St. Vincent DePaul has around 4,400 locations across the US, falling into two main categories— those associated with parishes, which are called conferences; and councils, which are organized roughly at the diocese-wide level and tend to be bigger operations with more partnerships.

The smaller, conference-level St. Vincent de Paul operations often depend on donations from parishioners.

"Because we're in those neighborhoods...we're often the first level of response for people to go to for help," Barringer said.

With public Masses still suspended in almost every diocese, most conferences have experienced a large drop in donations.

The councils, because many of them have partnerships with local food banks or grocery stores, tend to have a better grasp on resources, but also are stretched.

Typically, a person coming in for help at a St. Vincent de Paul pantry is given a chance to "shop around" for the food that best suits their needs. With social distancing measures in place across the nation, the pantries have had to adapt. 

"What we tend to be doing is packing food boxes based on the number of people in a family, or taking orders and doing curbside deliveries," Barringer said, adding that the pantries also have to ensure that people waiting in line stay six feet apart.

"A no-contact kind of situation— very labor intensive, but also safe," he said.

An estimated 2.3 million US households, or 2.2%, live more than a mile from a grocery store and lack access to a vehicle, the USDA says, meaning many must rely on public transportation or walk.

Downtown St. Louis, where Barringer lives, is one such area that is in particular need of help, he said. It is a very diverse area, economically and demographically, with many underemployed people, immigrants, and large families.

The Vincentian food pantry for the area is struggling under a demand four to five times greater than usual, Barringer said, and without the regular parish collections the St. Louis council has had to divert funds it would normally use for at-home visits into the food pantry.

The best way to help the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s efforts, he said, is to donate to one’s local council or conference. Cash is always better than food, he said, because many local Vincentian groups are adept at purchasing the most affordable food in the community.

"They'll put it directly toward the need where it's greatest," he said.

Barringer urged prayer for those suffering from food insecurity during the pandemic.

"The main mission of the Society is to get people closer to God," he said.

"Maybe this is an opportunity to see fresh ways to get involved with the Church or get involved with organizations like ours, because the need is there all the time whether it's a crisis or not."

What a prisoner-priest in the USSR learned about isolation: Diocese to livesteam Tuesday lecture on Fr. Walter Ciszek 

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:15

Denver Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. wanted to be a missionary in the Soviet Union. He didn't know he'd spend most of the decades he lived inside the country within the walls of a prison, much of the time in complete isolation. But Ciszek found closeness to God in labor camps and prison cells, never knowing what might happen to him next.

The isolation Fr. Ciszek experienced as a prisoner of the Soviet Union brought out heroic virtues that can help those suffering from the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic today, says a priest who will discuss Ciszek’s life in an April 28 webcast.

“Father Ciszek lived many kinds of isolation,” Father Eugene Ritz told CNA. “He experienced physical isolation from his family, his Jesuit spiritual family, and friends. He often lived in isolation from the sacraments. He lived in isolation from a culture that permitted a notion of God and worship of Him. He lived in interior and spiritual isolation, especially when he could not present himself as a priest or exercise ministry.”

“Many lost faith during their time in the Gulag, including other priests,” said the Pennsylvania priest. However, Ciszek showed the virtue of fortitude in his isolation. Ritz praised Ciszek’s “firmness in difficulty, his constancy in pursuit of the good, and his resolve to resist temptation, conquer fear and face tremendous trials.”

Ritz’s presentation, “Living in Isolation: The Story of Fr. Walter Ciszek,” will be livestreamed Tuesday, April 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. The event is presented by the diocese’s Commission for Young Adults.

Fr. Ciszek was born in 1904 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, in what is now the Allentown diocese.

He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1928 and was ordained in 1937, after training to say Mass in the Russian rite. After two years in Poland, he used the chaos of World War II as cover to enter the Soviet Union so that he could minister to Christians who lived under communist persecution.

He was arrested by the Soviet authorities as a supposed spy in 1941. His imprisonment included torturous interrogation, solitary confinement and years of hard labor near the Arctic Circle. Despite the dangers, he said Mass in secret and heard the confessions of other prisoners.

When he was not imprisoned, he also ministered to several parishes. Ciszek was not released until a 1963 prisoner exchange, when he returned to the United States. He recounted his experiences and their spiritual meaning in his popular memoirs “He Leadeth Me” and “With God in Russia.”

Ritz, who serves as the Allentown diocese’s chancellor, is co-postulator of Ciszek’s canonization. In this role he helps advance the late priest’s case to become a saint through the processes of the Catholic Church.

For Ritz, there is much to learn from the priest’s example.

“One of my favorite lessons of Father Ciszek is that Christ alone guarantees success,” he said. “It was his message to the priests in the labor camp in Siberia that in their struggles of being isolated from their families, friends, parishioners, religious communities, and too frequently the celebration of the Sacraments, Father Ciszek called them to refocus on the person of Christ and his providence.”

The lecture is linked to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed some 200,000 people worldwide.

The pandemic has left many people isolated. Those in the hospital are barred from receiving visits. In dozens of countries authorities have ordered millions more to stay at home, disrupting family life, social life and economic life around the world.

“To those not handling this very well I would tell them that they are in good company, and remind them that what we suffer helps us to grow in virtue, and that in all things trust the providence that God remains with us, and he alone guarantees our success,” Ritz said.

Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown will provide opening remarks for Ritz’s lecture. The bishop, too, reflected on Ciszek’s example in a world rocked by a new disease.

“The people of the Diocese of Allentown, especially those in the area where Father Ciszek was born and raised, pray always that this man who once walked among us, will someday be a saint,” Schlert told CNA April 27. “As a priest, he spent many years in captive isolation in the Russian gulag. Due to the pandemic, we now live in a form of isolation, and so we look to Father Ciszek to teach us what God would want us to learn about our spiritual lives in this time of hardship.”

Father Ritz said the lecture will give an overview of Ciszek’s life and his cause for canonization. His heroic virtue is particularly relevant due to his response to atheistic communism and contemporary Americans’ response to secular relativism. As a priest, Ciszek is a model of holiness and identity for priests today.

Ciszek also escaped his isolation, Ritz told CNA, telling the story of the long-suffering priest’s return home.

“One of my favorite pictures of Father Walter is at JFK Airport, being escorted by his sisters. They have expressions of sheer joy on their faces while Father Walter almost looks startled,” Ritz said. “He recounts being ‘taken back’ when the agent of the U.S. State Department addressed him as Father Ciszek in English. It was the first time he heard that in decades. To my knowledge, he did not know he was returning home until it happened.”

Father Ciszek, who died at Fordham University in 1984, is buried in the Allentown diocese on the grounds of the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. The Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League, the official organization to promote his cause for canonization, is located in his hometown of Shenandoah.

“His accounts of time in Russia speak of his desire to return to Shenandoah,” said Ritz, who reported that Ciszek is “very well remembered there.”

“His grave is a place of pilgrimage, as is the font at which he was baptized, still in use at Saint Casimir Church,” Ritz continued. “To say that he is the most favorite son of the town or a hometown hero would be an understatement. We seek his intercession in ways that are miraculous, and learn heroic virtue from studying his life.”

The Easter season is also a key time to reflect on the Gospel passages that inspired Ciszek.

“The life of Father Walter points us directly to Christ,” Ritz said.

“There are moments we cannot feel the presence of God, especially when absent from usual consolations and especially the sacraments,” the priest continued. “From Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb we learn that at moments of grief Christ is calling to us by name.”

In the gospel account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, when the distraught disciples only recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, “we understand that when we are downcast Jesus is there, even when we don’t recognize him,” said Ritz.

More inspiration can be found in the account of St. Thomas in the Upper Room, or the story of when Peter recognized Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias.

“In that locked room we become certain that in our deepest moments of fear Christ can reach us and offer us peace, even when we can only recognize him by the wounds of his suffering,” said Ritz. “At the Sea of Tiberias we recognize that Christ is still concerned for our earthly needs, and that at times it takes moving closer toward him or even the miraculous to know he is present.”

Ciszek’s canonization cause was opened in March 2012.


Virginia church sues governor over Stay at Home Order

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A small church in Virginia has filed a lawsuit against the governor of the commonwealth, after a pastor received a summons for hosting a Palm Sunday service with 16 people. Lawyers for the pastor say the church serves poor people, many of whom live without internet, and that the state’s Stay at Home Order disproportionately impacts the poor, and churches that serve them.

Pastor Kevin Wilson of Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague, Virginia, faces up to one year in prison or up to $2,500 in fines for violating the state’s Stay at Home order. The order, which was issued on March 30, stated, among other things “All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited.” 

Wilson’s Palm Sunday service was held on April 5, after the state’s stay at home order was issued. During the service, a police officer came into the church, and informed the worshippers that "they could not have more than 10 people spaced six feet apart."

Per a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel, which is representing Wilson, police officers threatened to arrest anyone present at the service if they returned the following week for Easter services. Easter services were then canceled.

Mat Staver, the chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, told CNA that the church was unable to move services online as it lacked internet, and that many of the worshippers who attend services at Lighthouse also do not have access to the internet. 

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

The church has a transportation ministry, where it brings worshipers to medical appointments, and provides assistance in applying for disability and other benefits. Many of its congregation do not have cars. 

These are “things that you cannot do online,” said Staver. 

The 16 people at Palm Sunday service were spaced out in the church’s sanctuary, which seats 293 people. Under Virginia’s Stay at Home order, the size of the building does not matter. Services cannot move outside as outdoor gatherings of more than 10 are similarly prohibited. 

“The pastor is now facing a criminal charge for having six people over the governor’s magic number of 10,” said Staver. He said that the police were regularly patrolling churches to see if they were in violation of the Stay at Home order, which was how they discovered the 16 worshippers at Lighthouse. According to Staver, the church--and other churches in the area--are still monitored by police today to ensure that there are no more than 10 people present. 

Staver told CNA he was particularly perturbed that Wilson faces jail time while businesses deemed “essential” in Virginia--which include hardware stores, abortion clinics, and liquor stores--regularly have more than 10 people in an enclosed area and do not face any sort of reprimand. 

“When you put all those facts together, this (prohibition of more than 10 gathering) is so beyond the constitutional authority of the government, and it reeks with injustice,” said Staver.

“Frankly, I don’t think the government has the authority at all to limit the number of people at a church, other than zoning based upon how many people can fit in a particular building,” he added. “They don’t have the authority to tell people that the form of worship has to be online.” 

Staver said that he believed churches would be willing to take steps to ensure the safety of their congregations, such as limiting the capacity of the building and requiring people to spread apart from each other, but they were not given the chance to do so under this policy.

Most public religious services were suspended following the outbreak of COVID-19 nationwide, and are just beginning to resume. 

In the Diocese of Las Cruces, Bishop Peter Baldacchino was the first to announce that public celebration of Mass would return, albeit in line with the governor’s directives. 

Baldacchino’s April 15 to his diocese letter noted that the state of New Mexico recently updated its Public Health Order, which no longer includes churches as “essential services.”

“I strongly disagree,” he said. “Sadly, the Governor is no longer exempting places of worship from the restrictions on ‘mass gatherings.’ It seems to me that while we run a daily count of the physical deaths we are overlooking those who are dead interiorly.”

To comply with the governor’s directive, guidelines issued to all priests limit attendance at Mass in church buildings to 5 people, including the celebrant, and insist that a minimum safe distance of six feet be observed and all seating sanitized after Mass ends.

Baldacchino also authorized priests to celebrate Mass outdoors, in compliance with state guidance on social distancing, and specifically recommended setting up an altar in the parish parking lot with parishioners remaining in their cars with an empty space between each vehicle.

Officials for Chincoteague Island, where Lighthouse Fellowship Church is located, were unable to tell CNA if there are any coronavirus cases on the island. The most recent press release from the town, dated April 15, said there were 19 cases identified on Virginia’s eastern shore. 

Data from Virginia shows that there have been fewer than 150 confirmed coronavirus cases in Accomack County, where Chincoteague is located.

Trump talks education on call with Catholic leaders

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 17:37

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2020 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump held a call with more than 600 Catholic leaders on Saturday that focused on education and relief funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Catholic educational leaders on the call touted the work of Catholic educators during the pandemic, and explained the financial difficulties facing Catholic schools.

Bishops, diocesan school superintendents, and other Catholic stakeholders from across the country all participated, according to a briefing on the call provided by the White House, and accounts of participants.

Trump also used the call to tout his credentials on life and religious freedom issues during an election year.

Archdiocese of Denver schools superintendent Elias Moo was selected to speak during the call.

“I spoke to the president 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,” Moo told CNA.

“I also told him of the phenomenal job our Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Denver are doing in serving over 12,000 students from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, countries of origin and economic situations, at three-fourths the cost per student of our public-school counterparts,” he added.

With the mass closures of offices and schools in recent months, Catholic schools have had to make  a rapid transition to distance learning.

Many Catholic schools are facing with a funding shortfall as a result of the economic downturn; and some dioceses have announded school closures.

“The parochial school system is in the middle of enduring a systemic shock to their finances, and certainly to their students and teachers,” said Lou Murray, who was on the White House call. Murray is the chairman of the board of Boston Catholic Radio.

Trump said during the call he worked to include Catholic schools in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the $349 billion emergency loan program for small businesses and non-profits during the pandemic. Initial funding for the program ran out on April 16, and Trump signed legislation to add $320 billion in funding for the program just over a week later.

On Saturday’s call, Catholic bishops— including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, the USCCB’s education committee chair—along with several Catholic diocesan superintendents noted the importance of the PPP 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.

Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, told CNA that he asked Trump on Saturday to work with bishops, and state and local leaders, to quickly resume public Masses and liturgies.

“Mr. President, all of the policy initiatives that have been enacted in response to this crisis are based on a material understanding of the human person. But there is a deeper and more real understanding of the human person and that is the metaphysical understanding,” Check told the president during the question-and-answer portion of the call. 

“What is needed right away and more than anything is a restoration of public worship and a restoration of the dispensing of the sacraments,” he added. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was also on the call, and spoke well of Catholic schools, Murray said, especially as an alternative to public schools.

According to the White House, Catholic leaders also “expressed their appreciation for President Trump’s strong pro-life stance and many bold actions to protect religious liberty, for appointing conservative judges.”

The issue of immigration did not come up on the call, Murray said, even after Trump on April 22 signed an executive order barring many immigrants from entry to the U.S. by suspending access to green cards, during the pandemic.

On Thursday, days before the call, Archbishop Gomez and immigration leaders at the USCCB—Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. — had warned that the order “threatens instead to fuel polarization and animosity” and would prevent immigrant family reunification and religious workers from entering the U.S.

Trump also made note during the call that the November general elections are only months away. Some participants noted that at the end of the call Trump cited the election date and warned that conditions could worsen for Catholics and Catholic schools if a Democratic administration were to take office.

But Moo told CNA that the importance of being on the call was not about politics.

“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,” Moo said.

Shortly after the call, Trump tweeted that he would be “online” for the livestream of Sunday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “Join me,” he said, tweeting out the link to the livestream.

On Sunday, Trump again tweeted to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, “Thank you for a great call yesterday with Catholic Leaders, and a great Service today from @StPatsNYC!”

It was the second consecutive weekend that Trump held a call with religious leaders. Last weekend, Trump hosted an April 17 call with faith leaders including Cardinal Dolan, as well as Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference—and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

A White House briefing on that call said that Trump “expressed his eagerness to get churches, synagogues, mosques and all houses of worship back open as soon possible.”

In accord with federal and state guidelines issued in response to the pandemic, public Masses were curtailed in all U.S. dioceses for several weeks including over Easter. The diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, became the first diocese to announce the resumption of public Masses during the Easter octave, and several U.S. dioceses have followed suit.

Analysis: Did NY Democrats just tank Biden's nomination?

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 16:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- On Monday, officials in New York announced the cancellation of the state’s Democratic presidential primary, calling the event “essentially a beauty contest,” and an unnecessary risk to public health in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York especially hard.  

While New York Democrats cited the inevitability of a Joe Biden’s nomination for the party's candidacy as justification for calling off the primary, it could actually make the former VP's spot on the ticket anything but a forgone conclusion.

Biden is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination to face Donald Trump in November, but New York could become the first domino to fall in an unlikely set up for a contested Democratic convention between two Catholic politicians with national profiles.

Although Bernie Sanders is officially out of the race, Biden does not yet have an overall majority of convention delegates. As of April 27, the former vice president has 1,305 of the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch a first-round coronation at the party’s convention. New York offered 320 delegates up for grabs, 274 pledged to the primary winner; a prize that would have brought Biden closer to the nomination.

If New York’s decision triggers other states to cancel their own primaries, it is entirely possible that Biden could arrive at the Democratic convention without a guarantee of the nomination.  

Assuming the convention begins without a majority of delegates pledged to Biden, the nomination process, during which delegates conduct floor votes, would become a live-fire exercise, rather than a pro forma step in Biden’s coronation as nominee. 

If Biden does not secure a majority on the first ballot, delegates could offer another candidate from the floor.

Official Democratic operatives would likely dismiss talk of a contested convention as fanciful, but it will not stop some of them from quietly acknowledging the benefits of the possibility.

While Biden performs well in head-to-head polling with Trump, especially in key states like Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania, his recent media appearances have been inconsistent. In live interviews from his family home, the presumptive nominee has appeared flustered, even under friendly questioning, and during early state primaries Biden appeared to bristle on the stump at even modest criticism from voters. 

Questions have been asked about how the former vice president would fare in a live head-to-head debate with Trump, an aggressively provocative debater.

More recently, media coverage has begun to re-examine accusations of sexual harassment against Biden by former Hill staffer Tara Reade.

Even as Trump’s own approval numbers are dropping after his initial pandemic bump, Democratic party leaders might quietly welcome the reserve option to field another candidate against the president.

In that event, New York’s own Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks the most likely to benefit from a potentially contested nominating convention. Cuomo has been widely praised for his handling of the coronavirus in New York, so far the state hardest hit by the virus.

As the governor of the state at the pandemic’s frontline, Cuomo also has the campaigning advantage of a daily press platform, perhaps second only to the president’s, at a time when Biden has struggled to remain part of the news cycle.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Cuomo was a regular face on the cable news circuit and an aggressive debater in his own right. Many would see him as a more obvious match for Donald Trump in a televised head-to-head.

Cuomo is having a moment, as they say, but unless he gets the nomination in a convention surprise, he will likely be of little help to Democrats in the presidential election. Biden has pledged to nominate a woman to the ticket’s v.p. slot; Cuomo is not a woman. And if Cuomo has ambition to run in a future election cycle, he might decide there’s little benefit in campaigning for Biden this time around, especially if a Biden win would set up his vice presidential pick for a future election.

From the Catholic perspective, Cuomo represents another pro-choice Catholic politician who has tangled with bishops, not unlike Biden. If New York’s governor ends up with the nomination, it would put a spotlight back on the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has faced calls in the past to formally sanction Cuomo for his aggressively pro-abortion action in the governor’s mansion. But whether Biden secures the nomination, or Cuomo becomes a convention spoiler, bishops this autumn will face the challenge of a candidate who flaunts his Catholicism while flouting Catholic teaching on abortion.

Of course, the New York Democrats’ decision to cancel may prove to be a lone outlier, and motivated mostly by the battle against coronavirus. 

But in whatever cost-benefit analysis was used to make the decision to cancel, it is worth asking if the chance, even a remote one, of leaving open the door for a contested convention was regarded as a potential cost, or as a benefit.

Boston archdiocese assembles teams of priests to anoint coronavirus patients

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 16:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 26, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Boston has assembled groups of priests — living together in strategic locations close to hospitals— to administer the anointing of the sick to COVID-19 patients. 

Father Tom Macdonald, vice-rector of St. John's Seminary in Boston, is one of the priests to have volunteered for the assignment.

"It's a wonderful experience of priestly fraternity to live in the house. It's sort of like— I would imagine— living as a firefighter in a firehouse. We're here, we get calls, we rush out, we come back," he told CNA.

The volunteers live in dedicated houses with other priests whose sole assignment is to be available to administer anointing of the sick, the archdiocese said. The ministry began the weekend of April 18.

"This is what priests's an enormous privilege," Macdonald said.

Suffolk County, where Boston is located, had about 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 24.

“We are grateful that our priests are able to visit with the seriously ill in hospitals who are suffering from the coronavirus and to be able to provide the Sacrament of the Sick,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said in a statement to CNA.

“This is especially comforting to families who are not currently permitted to visit loved ones in the hospital and who are being treated for coronavirus. Our priests consider this to be a blessing in their ministry. In addition we have received feedback that these visits have had a positive impact on hospital staff.”

The archdiocese trained some 80 priests in total to carry out the ministry, with 30 priests actively doing the anointings and the rest serving as backup. 

The backup volunteers have been providing living space for the priests— such as empty rectories— as well as providing food and errands for the participating clergy.

Father Macdonald has been called to anoint several COVID-19 patients already, and each time the hospital staff has assisted him in donning and removing the necessary protective gear according to hospital's protocols.

He said all the priests have been trained to minimize time spent in the patient's room. The priest prays most of the ritual on the doorstep, he said.

The priest then enters the room to perform the actual anointing, which is done with a cotton swab, dipped in the holy oil, and administered on the patient's foot.

Macdonald said he and his fellow priests are constantly "sharing notes" on their experiences at the hospitals, since each institution has slightly different protocols and equipment.

"It's very hard being a priest and not being able to celebrate the sacraments for the people, so this opportunity is a great relief in a sense— to do what we were ordained to do," he said.

"We teach the men at St. John's [Seminary] that priests run into the burning building, not away from it."

Father Michael Zimmerman, assistant vocation director for the seminary and another priest volunteer, told CNA that he hopes the word will spread throughout Boston about the availability of anointing for coronavirus patients.

Father Zimmerman started on the team last weekend, covering the Cambridge, Everett, and Mount Auburn hospitals in Boston. So far he has responded to one anointing call, and his fellow priest in the house where they are now living has responded to two.

"Once we're there, the nurses and the medical staff are very appreciative to have us there," he said.

He said he and his fellow priest— a religious— have developed a routine of prayer in their house, as well as eating meals together and celebrating Mass.

Father Zimmerman asked for prayers for the patients and the priests and medical staff ministering to them.

"We can't save everyone— medicine can only do so much. To some degree we have to recognize that we're not the masters of our own fate, and we have to put it in God's hands," he said.

"The medical staff is doing great work, but we also have to recognize that they can't do everything, and that hopefully takes some pressure off of them, recognizing that this is in God's hands."

'This is exactly what we want to be doing': A friar's life in Brooklyn during coronavirus

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 25, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Fr. Brendan Buckley, OFM. Cap., had never heard of the Zoom before this past March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. After his home in the Diocese of Brooklyn became a center of COVID-19 illness in the United States, he learned. 

With the help of two parish employees, he has now shifted much of his parish ministry online, caring for his flock at the parish of St. Michael-St. Malachy despite the outbreak. 

"They've got something [streaming] every day of the week," he said. This includes fitness programming for children, meetings of the parish’s young adult group, First Communion classes, all in addition to live-streams of Masses.

The vast majority of Buckley’s parishioners are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and other Central American countries, he told CNA on Friday, April 24. Many of them “don’t have jobs that necessarily have unemployment insurance attached,” he said, or medical benefits. They have been especially hard-hit by the economic effects of the virus, and are his chief concern when trying to deliver practical help. 

“People like that are what our main concern is here, because they don't have anything to back them up,” he said.

On April 24, his parish staged a pop-up food distribution with Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens. Opened in addition to the existing 34 food pantries operated by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, the parish event saw a total of 9,360 meals distributed to 1,040 families in need, with an additional $2,500 in grocery vouchers given to 100 families. 

Buckley told CNA that as a Capuchin Franciscan friar, his work ministering in Brooklyn during the COVID-19 pandemic is following in the tradition of his religious order. The boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens contain about 60% of the COVID-19 cases in New York City, which has more cases than anywhere else in the country.

Several priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn have fallen ill, and died, from the coronavirus. 

"From my perspective as a Capuchin Franciscan, this is exactly what we want to be doing: directly helping people in need," he said. "Throughout the difficult times in Europe, the Capuchins were right there on the front lines. When leadership in different cities fled to the hills during plagues, the Capuchins stayed, and ministered, and died.”

Buckley heaped praise on the work of Catholic Charities, which he said have been meeting ever tougher challenges during this crisis, enabling him to more fully live out his vocation as a Capuchin. 

“Catholic Charities has been such a help in allowing us to have the resources to be able to do this kind of outreach," he said.  

Buckley explained to CNA that he had two main areas of concern when it came to his parish: providing food to his parishioners, and ensuring their psychological health. Hence the pop-up event at the parish on Friday. 

"Catholic Charities has been just amazing in terms of their outreach. They have provided over 1,000 families with food today," he said. The pop-up pantry was organized with other Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and Ancient Order of Hibernians. 

"They have been exceptional in their care for those in need," he said. "I'm just so proud of them." 

Buckley has not neglected the spiritual needs of his flock, even while he is still not able to celebrate Mass publicly. He is hard-of-hearing--and without one of his hearing aids that he sent for repairs pre-pandemic--he had to work with the diocese to figure out a way for him to continue safely, and literally, hearing confessions. 

While the diocese recommended a space of at least six feet between penitent and confessor, that would not work for Buckley’s situation. He is now hearing confessions twice a week, for two hours at a time, in his office with the door closed. A penitent must make an appointment for confession in order to ensure that the church would not become crowded. 

Buckley said he’s “very excited” to resume hearing confessions. 

"The need for the Sacraments is so important,” he said. "Especially confession and the reception of the Eucharist." 

Once Buckley is permitted to have public Masses again, he will have a backlog of at least 15 memorial Masses he promised to celebrate for parishioners who have died from COVID-19. 

“We’ve had one after another of parishioners, or family members of parishioners[...] that have died. It’s been a lot,” he said. He has regularly posted prayer requests on social media, to the point where “I worried that people are going to get sick of me asking for prayers for somebody else.” 

In dealing with the pandemic, Buckley said that the most challenging spiritual aspect for his parish is the inability to mourn in the standard manner. 

“They can't go to wakes and funerals. So, it's very hard on them. They can't say goodbye," he said. He told CNA that he has been dealing with much of the grieving process on the phone with parishioners.  

Despite everything, Buckley insists that his parish has been blessed; blessed with a small, yet smart and capable staff who moved programming online, and blessed with the outpouring of assistance from others. 

"I'm very grateful that there's so many incredible people out there that are willing to help, volunteer, sacrifice themselves to help others,” he said. 

"We’re so blessed and so touched. God is good." 

Tornado devastates new Oklahoma Catholic Church, but Rother window unharmed 

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 06:00

Denver Newsroom, Apr 25, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- On May 4, the parish community of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Madill, Oklahoma would have celebrated the first anniversary of their new church building.

But on April 22, an EF2 tornado pummeled the small-town church, blowing out most of the stained glass windows and tearing off half the roof. It completely destroyed the parish rectory.

One thing spared though, was a stained-glass window of an Oklahoma native son, Blessed Stanley Rother, a priest of Oklahoma City who was beatified in 2017.


Fr. Oby, Fr. Don Wolf and Archbishop Coakley stand with the stained glass piece of Blessed Stanley Rother, which was undamaged.

Posted by Archdiocese of Oklahoma City on Thursday, April 23, 2020  

Holy Cross Pastor Fr. Oby Zunmas told CNA that around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday he returned to his rectory after delivering a rosary to an elderly patient at the hospital. As he arrived, he heard the tornado sirens and started getting weather alerts on his phone.

Zunmas went to turn on his T.V. to get a better idea of the path of the storm, but it wasn’t working.

“As I was going towards the kitchen to see if I have a spare battery or something, then I looked up from my back door and windows in the back and saw how the trees were moving violently. So I knew that that was not normal,” he said.

Zunmas said he immediately ran to the safest room of his house - an interior laundry room. Once inside, he heard a loud bang and the sound of the glass of his windows shattering. When everything was quiet, he came out.

“The first thing I noticed - there was no roof,” he said. The house’s back wall had collapsed on his breakfast table; his three-car garage was compressed, and leaning on his bedroom closet.

The church, he said, looked like someone “took something and scratched it all off.” Most of the windows were blown out; part of the roof was gone. The priest said he’s still not sure if the $4 million new building sustained any structural damage.

“And then the house is almost a $400,000 home, and it's a total write-off,” he added.

But that wasn’t what went through his mind as he first emerged from his laundry room.

“My first prayer was a prayer of thanksgiving. I thanked God that I was alive,” he said. Since hearing of the two deaths from the storm, Zunmas added, he has also been praying for their souls.

After the storm, Zunmas said, he received calls and texts from concerned parishioners who saw the tornado heading for the church.

Among them were Paul and Kathie Westerman, parishioners of Holy Cross for about eight years. The Westermans live about 15 miles south of town, and they worried as they saw the tornado form and head toward the church. They called Father Zunmas immediately after it stopped.

“We called to see how he was, and his first words were, ‘I'm alive,’” Paul told CNA.

The Westermans said they could not drive to the church that night - all surrounding roads were blocked due to downed power lines. But they came two days in a row to help out and to support their pastor.

“We just ran over and gave him a big hug and said, ‘Thank God, he's alive,’” Kathie said.

A hug “in the time of coronavirus!” Fr. Zumnas added.

“I don’t care, he’s alive,” Kathie said.

On Friday, the Westermans and other clean-up crews were helping to clean out the debris, salvage furniture from the rectory, and cover the part of the church where the roof was torn off to prevent it from getting wet in the next storm.

The Westermans said they were “very heartbroken” when they saw the damage to their church, but there was one thing that gave them hope.

“The best thing that ever happened was (a stained glass window of) Stanley Rother was still there. He was undamaged,” Kathie said. “Something went through the window right beside him, but his stained glass is still there.”


Posted by Holy Cross Madill on Friday, April 24, 2020  

Blessed Fr. Stanley Rother, a native Oklahoma farm boy turned priest and missionary to Guatemala, was beatified in Oklahoma City in 2017.

Zunmas said he has felt supported by the parish and by the Catholic community, including Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who drove to the parish the day after the tornado.

“People have been very, very supportive,” Zunmas said. “My bishop came down yesterday and then my mentor, my first pastor, Father Tom Wolf. And so many people from the community, our parishioners and members and pastors, everybody came by to help out.”

“I toured the tornado destruction in Madill today with Fr. Oby Zunmas whose rectory was destroyed while he took shelter in a safe room. Holy Cross Catholic Church sustained damage, but is repairable. Please keep them in your prayers,” Coakley said Thursday on Twitter.

Zunmas said he is grateful to God he is alive and the damage wasn’t worse, and that he has been encouraged by the goodness of people at this time.

“We do have generous people who are willing to help. Maybe sometimes they don't think about it, but when something happens, they want to come together. They want to make sure you're okay,” Zunmas said.

“And as a pastor, I see that more often maybe than regular people, but I wish that people would know that there's a lot of good people in this world. I think we know that, but sometimes we just don't act like we do because we're so suspicious of everybody. But I think there's a lot of nice people in this world, and I want people to know that.”

On a more practical note, the priest added, if anyone is building a home in tornado alley, “they need to consider having a safe place. It might be your closet. It might be your bathroom. It might be your safe room, which my safe room is my laundry room…I recommend that people think about not just a pretty home, but a home that is safe.”



Texas ends emergency ban on elective abortions, but questions remain

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 20:00

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The controversy over whether Texas abortion clinics must comply with coronavirus-related emergency orders to halt elective surgeries statewide has now been rendered outdated by a new executive order allowing some surgeries to take place.

However, there are continued questions about abortion clinics’ refusal to comply with the ban when it was in effect. And in Forth Worth, medical professionals have filed a lawsuit which says the city’s current emergency orders banning surgeries should also ban abortion.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an April 22 federal court filing said there is “no case or controversy remaining” for pro-abortion rights groups seeking legal injunction,, given that abortion providers have certified their compliance with the governor’s new order, Reuters reports.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s new order, which took effect April 22, allows elective medical procedures for health care facilities if they reserve 25% of hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients and do "not request personal protective equipment from any public source throughout the pandemic.”

The original ban on elective surgeries, implemented in late March, aimed to preserve hospital capacity and protective equipment for medical personnel in the face of rising hospitalizations of victims of the novel coronavirus. Violations of the ban were punishable by up to $1,000 in fines or 180 days in jail.

When Paxton said that this ban included elective abortion surgeries that are “not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” many abortion clinics refused to comply and filed legal challenges, arguing that the U.S. constitution guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.

In separate rulings, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the general ban and overturned a federal judge’s follow-up temporary injunction to allow medication-induced abortions.

Abortion providers whole Women’s Health and Planned Parenthood were among the challengers to the earlier order. The new order, they said, “allows patients--once again--to get an abortion in the state.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, characterized elective abortion as “essential health care,” CNN reports.

“We will be vigilant in ensuring there are no future interruptions to services, including by assessing the appropriate next steps to take in the case,” said Northup, whose organization represents some of the affected abortion clinics.

Some pro-life leaders praised the state limit on surgical abortion, even though it was no longer in place.

In an April 24 video, Texas Alliance for Life director Joe Pojman praised the delay on elective surgeries as “decisive action” to delay the spread of the coronavirus and part of “a strategy that has worked.”

Pojman cited Texas’ relatively low COVID-19 rates compared to large states and its hospitals’ continued capacity to treat patients.

As of Friday afternoon, there were over 22,800 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Texas, including over 590 deaths. About 9,000 people are estimated to have recovered, statistics from the Texas Department of Health said.

“We believe Gov. Abbott’s actions have protected the public and especially health care workers from the coronavirus,” Pojman said. He stressed the importance of Fifth Circuit Court’s order to “delay all abortions, surgical and drug induced, except for the handful that would not be possible to delay.”

“Meanwhile many abortion providers appeared to violate that order and performed a number of abortions across Texas, when those should have been delayed,” Pojman added. “We are addressing that issue now.”

Public health experts have stressed the need for widespread testing capacity before restrictions are lifted. The White House has said there are enough coronavirus tests to begin the first phase of lifting social and economic restrictions.

However, Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN last week that there needs to be about 10 to 20 times more tests to meet this capacity.

In Fort Worth, a city-level ban on elective surgeries is still in effect.

Several doctors and dentists and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists have filed suit against the City of Fort Worth, seeking to clarify whether this ban includes elective abortion.

The lawsuit, filed in Tarrant County District Court by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, seeks a temporary injunction that would block the city from enforcing its stay-at-home order unless it is amended to bar abortions.

The complaint accuses Fort Worth abortion clinics of “selfishly consuming personal protective equipment on elective and unlawful abortions at a time when every piece of personal protective equipment must be conserved,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

The medical professionals alleged that “they are suffering discriminatory treatment by having their lawful practices shuttered while illegal abortion providers are allowed to continue operating.”

“The City of Fort Worth cannot order a suspension of all ‘elective’ surgeries and procedures and then carve out special dispensations for abortion providers,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society. “If the city is halting elective procedures to preserve personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic, then elective abortions must be stopped as well. That is especially true when the law of Texas continues to define abortion as a criminal offense unless the mother’s life is in danger.”

Judges have so far intervened to allow abortions in some form in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, Louisiana, and Tennessee, after public officials in those states attempted to classify elective abortions as non-essential procedures.

Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which have not introduced any kind of bans on abortion, have seen increases in patients traveling from Texas to obtain abortions.

Arkansas officials tried to ban elective abortions in part because patients were traveling from out of state and posed a risk of bringing more coronavirus infections. A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against the ban, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit allowed it to take effect in an April 22 decision.


Following Trump's halt to US immigration, bishops call for solidarity

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 19:13

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2020 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- As the Trump administration suspends immigration to stem the spread of coronavirus, the United States’ bishops encouraged global solidarity, saying the order promotes hostility instead.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order April 22 which would block a large portion of immigrants from accessing green cards.

“In this moment, our common humanity is apparent more now than ever. The virus is merciless in its preying upon human life; it knows no borders or nationality,” read an April 23 statement issued by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of US bishops’ conference; Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration; and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, chair of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

“The President’s action threatens instead to fuel polarization and animosity. While we welcome efforts to ensure that all Americans are recognized for the dignity of their work, the global crisis caused by COVID-19 demands unity and the creativity of love, not more division and the indifference of a throw-away mentality.”

The Migration Policy Institute reported that the order could block an estimated 52,000 green cards over the next 60-day period. The executive order may also be renewed after this period is over.

According to the order, the temporary halt to immigration will apply to those who “do not have an immigrant visa that is valid on the effective date of this proclamation” or “do not have an official travel document other than a visa that is valid on the effective date of this proclamation or issued on any date thereafter that permits him or her to travel to the United States and seek entry or admission.”

The order will not pertain to healthcare professionals, any member of the US military, minor children and spouses of US citizens, and those entering for national security reasons. 

According to the New York Times, as of April 24, the coronavirus has infected over 2.7 million people and killed 186,832 people worldwide.

Numerous countries throughout the world have tightened restrictions on borders and traveling. In the past month, there have been several changes to the United States immigration system, including delays to immigration hearings and suspended refugee admissions, CNN reported.

The bishops expressed concerns that this order will not only negatively affect immigrants but religious workers as well. This order will be detrimental to the Church and other denominations, they further added.

“The proclamation prevents certain immigrant family members from reuniting with their loved ones living in the United States. Additionally, it bars religious workers seeking to come to the United States as lawful permanent residents from supporting the work of our Church, as well as many other religions, at this time,” they said.

“This will undoubtedly hurt the Catholic Church and other denominations in the United States, diminishing their overall ability to minister to those in need,” the bishops wrote.

The bishops emphasized the dignity of all people and said that immigrants are a positive influence on society.

“There is little evidence that immigrants take away jobs from citizens. Immigrants and citizens together are partners in reviving the nation’s economy. We must always remember that we are all sons and daughters of God joined together as one human family.”

“Pope Francis teaches us that to live through these times we need to employ and embody the 'creativity of love,’” they said.

2020 priest ordination class is slightly smaller, more diverse, survey finds

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 12:15

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2020 / 10:15 am (CNA).- A survey of the 2020 priestly ordination class was published by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference (USCCB) on Thursday, a slightly smaller class than in 2019.

Sponsored by the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, the survey is conducted annually of U.S. seminarians who are about to be ordained to the priesthood. The USCCB collaborates with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) to produce the survey.

Ordination class sizes have varied over time, according to previous CARA reports. In 2006, there were 359 potential ordinands identified by the survey (though not all responded), a number that rose to 475 in 2007 before dipping to 401 for the class of 2008—many of whom would have entered seminary in 2002, the year that clergy sex abuse scandals in the U.S. were widely reported.

In subsequent years that number rebounded, with an average class size of 474 from 2009-14.

The ordination class size peaked in 2015 at 595, dipping slightly to 548 in 2016 before jumping again to 590 in 2017.

However, the number of potential ordinands has dipped in the past three years; from 2018-2020, CARA said it sent surveys to 430, 481, and 448 priestly ordinands, respectively.

For its reports, CARA calculates the ordination class sizes by contacting all theologates, houses of formation, dioceses, archdioceses, eparchies, and institutes of men religious in the United States.

Of the 2020 ordination class, the vast majority (82%) will enter the diocesan priesthood, with others entering religious life or a society of apostolic life.

Ordination classes have been trending slightly younger: in the last decade the average age of priestly ordinands fell from 37 years old in 2010 to 34 years old in 2020.

Demographically, a slightly smaller share of the classes have identified as Caucasian in recent years, while the percentage of ordination classes identifying as Hispanic or Latino has grown from 10% in 2005 to 15% from 2012-2014, and is currently at 16% for 2020.

The percentage of potential ordinands identifying as African, African-American or black has stayed relatively the same over time with a slight increase in the last two classes that have peaked in consecutive years at 6%.

The percentage of ordinands who are foreign-born has varied from anywhere between 24 and 33% since 2005. One-in four (25%) of the 2020 class is foreign-born, with the most common countries of birth being Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, and Columbia.

For education, between 35% and 44% of the 2020 class attended a Catholic school at some point in their lives. Slight majorities received an undergraduate or graduate degree (54%) and had a full-time job (55%) before entering seminary.

Those who have been homeschooled at some point in their lives make up only a small part of each class, but their share has grown in recent years. In 2005, those homeschooled at some point made up only 3% of the ordination class, and that percentage never climbed above 5% until 2015 when it reached 7%.

For the 2019 and 2020 classes, however, 11% and 10% of potential ordinands had been homeschooled at some point, respectively.

A large majority of potential ordinands have reported frequent Eucharistic Adoration and previous experience as an altar server before entering seminary.

For 2020, more than seven-in-ten, 72%, prayed regularly at Eucharistic Adoration before they entered seminary, and 73% were altar servers at some point. 

In 2010, the first year the question featured on the survey, 65% of oradinands said they were regular adorers before entering seminary; that percentage jumped to 70% in 2014, and the last five years have featured an average of 74% for each class.

And the vast majority reported a Catholic upbringing that dates to their infancy, as 90% were baptized Catholic as infants and 85% reported that both their parents were Catholic when they were children.

Nearly nine-in-ten also said that someone encouraged them to consider the priesthood, while a slight majority (52%) said they were dissuaded from the priesthood by someone.

Unemployed due to coronavirus? There’s a saint for that.

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 05:00

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, at least 26 million people have filed for unemployment. Economists say the U.S. now has levels of unemployment close to those of the Great Depression

As with most things, the Catholic Church has a saint for these times. St. Cajetan, the patron saint for the unemployed, knew something of poverty and pestilence.

He was the son of a nobleman, worked for a pope, became a priest, was a conduit of miraculous healings, founded a bank, and was a friend to the poor.

St. Cajetan was born on October 1, 1487 in Vicenza, Italy. He was the youngest of three sons born  to Gaspar, Count of Thiene, and Maria Porto, a devout woman who consecrated Cajetan to the Blessed Virgin Mary at a young age and saw to it that he received a religious education and upbringing. His father died when he was just two years old.

In his 20s, Cajetan received degrees in both civil and canon law from the University of Padua, and shortly thereafter moved to Rome, where he worked in the court of Pope Julian II and assisted at the Fifth Lateran Council.

When Pope Julius II died, Cajetan resigned his position in order to study for the priesthood, and he was ordained in 1516 at the age of 36.

Soon after he became a priest, Cajetan and a small group of like-minded priests founded the Congregation of Clerics Regular, a community of priests seeking to live like the apostles.

Like their contemporary, Martin Luther, Cajetan and his companions were seeking to reform the Church, and especially the clergy - but unlike Luther and his followers, they believed this reformation could take place from within the Church itself.

The Congregation of Clerics Regular became known as the Theatines, after the title of one of the co-founders, Giovanni Pietro Caraffa, the Bishop of Chieti (Theate in Latin), who later became Pope Paul IV.

The order took their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience seriously.

St. Cajetan asked that the order live poverty so strictly that they not even beg for alms, but that they rely totally on the providence of whatever God chose to send them to sustain themselves.

“His principal aim was to save souls,” Father Francis Xavier Weninger wrote of St. Cajetan in 1876.

Cajetan and his order sought to save souls primarily through living moral lives, through sacred studies, through preaching, and through tending to the sick and the poor.

St. Cajetan was particularly severe with himself, Weninger noted, always wearing a hair shirt and partaking in prayers and devotions late at night and early in the morning with just a short rest on a bed of straw in between.

He was also known to have visions of Mary. In particular on one Christmas Eve, Cajetan had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary carrying the Christ child, and placing him in St. Cajetan’s arms.

Cajetan was also known for some miraculous cures in his lifetime, including the curing of the foot of a priest of his order that had been scheduled to be amputated.

The Theatine order became known as strong Catholic reformers even before the Protestant Reformation had fully taken hold.

In 1527, the house of the Theatine order in Rome was sacked by troops of Emperor Charles V, and the members fled to Venice. According to some accounts, one of the soldiers had been acquainted with Cajetan, and believed the priest was hiding riches from his past life of nobility, and thus treated him cruelly and imprisoned him before he was allowed to rejoin his order.

At the age of 42, Cajetan founded a hospital for “incurables” in Venice, and worked to comfort and heal the sick during times of “pestilence”, Weninger wrote.

Likely, many of the sick he tended to were victims of the bubonic plague, which resurfaced frequently in the town of Venice, an international trade hub.

In 1533, the pope sent Cajetan to Naples, where he founded another oratory. The corresponding church, San Paolo Maggiore, became an important hub of Catholic reformation.

While in Naples, Cajetan also founded a charitable nonprofit bank designed to protect the poor from usury - or lending money at exorbitant rates of interest. Eventually, the bank became the Bank of Naples.

While in Naples, Cajetan became dangerously sick, and offered his sufferings for the conversion of the people of Naples, reportedly refusing to be transferred from the planks of wood that served as his bed, so that he had more suffering to offer. He died on August 6th 1547, the feast of the Transfiguration, and is buried in the San Paolo Maggiore Basilica in Naples.

According to some accounts, the spiritual, political and social strife in the city of Naples ceased shortly after Cajetan’s death, confirming to many the holiness of his life.

St. Cajetan was beatified by Urban VIII in 1629. Before he was a canonized saint, Cajetan was invoked when the plague struck Naples hard in 1656.

According to a testimony written by the leader of a hospital in Naples at the time, and commemorated in an artistic depiction, 600-700 people were dying of the plague daily, when the city celebrated the feast of then-Blessed Cajetan with a Mass and music and confession. That day, there was no death recorded, and the plague soon subsided from the city.

St. Cajetan was canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671. He is the patron saint of job-seekers and the unemployed, as well as multiple countries, including Italy, Argentina, Brazil and El Salvador.

St. Cajetan’s order, the Theatines, continues to serve the Church today. In the U.S., Theatines serve primarily as parish priests in Colorado.

Prayer to Saint Cajetan:

Glorious St. Cajetan, acclaimed by all people to be the Father of Providence because you provide miraculous aid to all who come to you in need, I stand here before you today, asking that you present to the Lord the requests that I confidently deposit in your hands.

May these graces that I know request help me to always see the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, knowing that God who dresses with beauty the flowers of the field and abundantly feeds the birds of the sky will give me all other things.



Three more US bishops announce return of public Masses

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 22:45

CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2020 / 08:45 pm (CNA).- Three further Catholic dioceses have announced they will resume public celebration of Mass, subject to the requirements of public health orders and social distancing.

The Montana dioceses of Great Falls-Billings and Helena both announced the re-openings on Thursday, April 23, one day after the bishop of Lubbock, Texas told his priests to prepare to restore access to Communion for Catholics in the diocese.

The public celebration of Mass has been prohibited in dioceses across the United States for over a month as part of efforts to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The decisions come one week after Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, New Mexico, became the first bishop in the United States to lift the ban on public celebration of Mass in his diocese.

In a short video posted on the diocesan website Thursday, Bishop Austin Vetter of Helena noted that the governor of Montana had initiated “phase one” of a readjustment of closure orders. “That does allow us to begin gathering for Mass,” the bishop said.

Governor Steve Bullock’s phased reopening plan permits limited reopening for some retail venues and public gathering places, including bars and casinos.

“Beginning on Sunday, those parishes that are able to comply with all that is necessary in phase one for a gathering are able to celebrate Mass,” said Vetter.

The bishop added that it was not possible to guarantee that every church in the diocese would be able to open this weekend, owing to the limitations of space in some places and of sourcing necessary cleaning materials to comply with state regulation in others.

“It is so important that you understand that not all parishes will be able to [reopen immediately]. Not because of lack of effort or desire,” he said. “I ask all of you good people of God to be patient with us. To be patient with us and with each other as we start phase one, to see how this goes.”

Noting that on some occasions more Catholics would want to attend Mass than it will be possible to accommodate in compliance with social distancing, Vetter said “It’s so important that you realize that the Sunday obligation is still suspended for you. It is so important, if you are vulnerable, to stay at home – if you are elderly, if you are [just] not comfortable yet, don’t come. Come only when you are ready.”

Vetter also said that parents with small children who would find it harder to observe social distancing may find it easier to remain home, or attend Mass as they are able individually, “at least until we can get a rhythm going and become more comfortable with how this is going to work.”

Mass from the Helena cathedral will continue to be streamed live, he said, but would now be moved to the main altar since there will be a congregation.

In a letter posted on the Billings-Great Falls diocesan Facebook page Thursday evening, Bishop Michael Warfel announced that he was lifting the ban on the public celebration of all the sacraments.

“Public celebrations of the Sacraments are permitted as long as adequate spacing and social distancing are managed and maintained,” he wrote.

In addition to Mass, the new directive also covers confirmations and first Communions, which are to be scheduled at the parish pastor’s determination, and baptisms, which are to be limited to immediate family and godparents.

“Weddings may be celebrated with the limitations stated above,” the letter said, and made similar provision for funerals.

Priests were instructed to consult with county health departments about precautions when administering the sacrament of anointing of the sick to patients with COVID-19.

“All priests are encouraged to provide reasonable and prudent measures to ensure everyone’s safety, including their own,” Warfel said. “Everyone is encouraged to continue to practice good hygiene. People who feel sick should remain at home, as should vulnerable and at risk-populations.”

In a video posted on YouTube on April 22, Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock, Texas, said that, following new guidelines from the state Attorney General, it was now possible for churches to provide for the distribution of Communion through drive-up services. 

The video was accompanied by a letter on the diocesan website.

"Therefore," Coerver said, "I am asking that our parishes make preparations, as soon as possible, that Communion be made available to people at the conclusion of live stream Masses or at the conclusion of Masses which might be offered outdoors."

In his own provisions, issued last week for Las Cruces, Bishop Baldacchino emphasized his own preference for outdoor Masses, which could accommodate larger numbers of the faithful in a safe way – either in spaced, parked cars, or elsewhere on parish property.

“We have to be creative, we have to respond to the times and the needs of the people,” Baldacchino told CNA. “I was very inspired by our Holy Father, Pope Francis. He spoke about how drastic measures are not always good. He opened the churches of Rome – in a safe way, of course – and warned us that we must remain very close to the Lord’s flock at this time. We cannot wall ourselves off.”

"Of course," Coerver said, parishes could only hold outdoor Masses "observing social distancing guidelines."

"The best prevention of the spread of the virus continues to be staying at home," he cautioned. "Those over 60 years of age, or those with pre-existing medical conditions which make them more vulnerable to the effects of the virus should not attend church services at this time."

The bishop reiterated that the suspension of the Sunday obligation remained in effect.

All attendees at an outdoor Mass in Lubbock must wear masks, the bishop emphasized, and he said he would be providing the clergy of the diocese with "very specific instructions" on the distribution of Communion. 

"We need to continue being extremely cautious about the spread of the virus," Coerver said. "I have consistently followed the directives of the civil authorities and will continue to do so, even if I might personally disagree with some of the aspects of reopening which they might be implementing."

When he became the first bishop to reinstitute the public celebration of Mass during the coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Baldacchino noted that many civil jurisdictions, including the state of New Mexico, had prioritized liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries as “essential services” ahead of churches, calling the priorities "totally upside down."

“I hope that this might be a glimmer of Easter hope for all of us,” Coerver said.

Franciscan University to cover fall 2020 tuition costs for incoming students

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 21:00

Denver Newsroom, Apr 23, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- Franciscan University of Steubenville will be covering tuition costs for all incoming freshmen and transfer students in fall 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

President Father Dave Pivonka announced April 21 that the university would cover the remainder of incoming full-time undergraduates’ tuition costs, after scholarships and grants.

“We’ve heard from many students whose concerns over the pandemic are making the decision to leave home for college more difficult. Also, many families and students have seen their ability to pay for college evaporate due to the economic impact of the coronavirus,” Pivonka told CNA.

“We hope this unique response will help them to overcome these obstacles and uncertainties and step out in faith with us.”

Joel Recznik, Franciscan’s vice president for enrollment, told CNA that barring unforeseen circumstances, such as a second wave of the pandemic, the university is anticipating full enrollment and normal university operations in the fall.

The Ohio university uses a rolling admissions process throughout the year, and thus numbers may change as more students apply or enroll throughout the summer, he said.

"The idea was to really provide an opportunity for these new students— who are uncertain and their lives have been turned upside down— that they wouldn't miss out because of the negative impact of this virus," Recznik told CNA.

"We've talked to families who the parents have lost their jobs, and talked to people who have had the virus, and we don't want that to be a barrier...So for every new student, we're making sure that we cover 100% of tuition after scholarships and grants for the fall semester."

The funds to cover the tuition costs will come from the university’s reserves. The university will be providing an additional $1,000 for returning undergraduates and $500 for graduating seniors.

Father Pivonka noted that although the additional financial assistance will be provided to all students regardless of their ability to pay, he encouraged those who are able to donate to the Step in Faith Fund to help to finance the aid.

“Our patron, St. Francis of Assisi, had a deep concern for those in need, and as a Franciscan university, we seek to follow his example in caring for those entrusted to us. While we always strive to keep our tuition affordable, we decided we needed to do more in light of the severe difficulties so many are facing this year,” he said.

Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. are two Catholic universities that have extended their application deadlines to June 1. Representatives for both schools told CNA that they, like Franciscan, are not anticipating a major drop in enrollment at this time.

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

“Benedictine College was having the best recruiting year in history heading into March and our numbers have remained strong to this point,” Johnson told CNA in an email.

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

Christopher Lydon, who oversees enrollment at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that student registration for the fall semester has progressed in line with what he would normally expect to see.

“That’s obviously a good sign, that we’re not seeing the beginning of an exodus,” Lydon said.

Lydon did see that graduating high school seniors do seem to be deferring college decisions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are behind on deposits, but we've also given families an additional month to make an enrollment decision,” Lydon told CNA.

"I'm appropriately worried, but it is a little soon to know for certain."


Coronavirus aid for undocumented workers protects all Californians, Catholic bishops say

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 20:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 23, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- California’s aid packages to undocumented and low-wage residents has not gone far enough, the state’s Catholic bishops have said, emphasizing the necessity of more aid for these Californians to ensure a successful recovery from the novel coronavirus epidemic.

“This is an emergency situation that demands an effective and Christ-like response,” Steve Pehanich, director of communications and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA April 23. The Catholic bishops recognize “that it’s important from a public health perspective to treat and support everyone so that the entire community can stay healthy and we minimize the risk of infection for all.”

“No one in a lifeboat asks to see documentation before rescuing people,” he said.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom has extended aid to undocumented California residents, the California Catholic Conference said in an April 20 letter to Newsom that aid needs to be increased “because the virus doesn’t know the difference between someone who has the right legal documents and those who do not.”

On April 15 Newsom announced a $125 million disaster assistance fund for about 150,000 undocumented Californians. Adults will receive a one-time cash benefit of $500 per adult, capped at $1,000 per household. These residents do not benefit from expanded employment or the federal stimulus program.

The bishops said these payments are not enough to support those who are doing vital work.

“Many immigrants continue to work – and pay taxes – in the agricultural and service sectors, literally putting their lives at risks in the front line of dealing with the virus,” Pehanich continued. “Their labor keeps essential businesses open and provides food for us all.”

“Like anyone else, they shouldn’t be forced to choose between risking their lives for a paycheck or protecting their families and all Californians by sheltering in place,” he said. “The fact is, people who are undocumented are doing essential jobs and have to be counted among our most essential workers. We are obliged, as part of our Gospel calling, to care for the least among us.”

Successful efforts to prevent the spread of the virus require extending aid to all residents, the bishops said in their letter to the governor. Extending aid to those who lack permanent resident status “will help to protect all Californians,” they emphasized.

The bishops called for an expansion of state disability insurance eligibility to workers who are ineligible for unemployment insurance but who have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic. Coronavirus treatment, not only testing, should be covered under Emergency Medi-Cal, which provides medical care for people in need of sudden treatment but have limited income or resources.

The state should expand no-cost or low-cost hotel options to workers essential to maintaining the food supply, the Catholic bishops said. Food banks and schools need more funding to provide food and information about relief programs to families in need.

Further, aid payments of $1,200 should go to all Californians who qualified for the California Earned Income Tax Credit in their filings last year or this. This aid should also go to any filer who used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and meets the same income levels that qualify for the tax credit. This tax credit should go to all such filers permanently, the bishops said.

The Catholic bishops cited Pope Francis’ Easter Sunday message, in which he asked governments “to recognize that the equal and fundamental human dignity of every human person -- not economic class or status of documentation -- must be the central principle of forging assistance programs in this moment of crisis.

Newsom’s April 22 daily briefing announced that hospitals could once again schedule surgeries, which have been delayed to prepare for a surge of coronavirus patients. Newsom hopes to improve the numbers of coronavirus tests to 25,000 per day by the end of April, and believes the state needs to increase capacity to 60,000 to 80,000 tests per day. The state aims to add 86 testing sites, especially in under-served and minority communities that tend to suffer more from the virus.

As of April 22, there were over 33,200 confirmed positive cases and 1,268 deaths from coronavirus in California.

Some 3,357 people were hospitalized for coronavirus treatment, a slight decrease from the previous day. Newsom said coroners have been directed to revisit autopsies in light of reports that a Santa Clara woman is now believed to have been the first coronavirus death in the U.S., possibly changing experts’ understanding of the disease and its spread in the country.

Pehanich, the Catholic conference spokesman, discussed the response to COVID-19 in the state.

“The social distancing and shelter-in-place orders that our public health officials have instituted and the sacrifice that millions have made to stay at home during Lent up through now appear to have succeeded in lowering the death toll and infection rate here in California,” he told CNA. “It has been tough, but it has saved lives and our numbers are significantly less than they could have been considering what happened in Italy, Spain and New York City.”

“Our parishes and dioceses are doing superb work to stay in contact with the faithful. Many parishes are expanding their ability to communicate with parishioners like never before using email, social media and good, old-fashioned telephone calls,” Pehanich continued. “We are eager to re-open the Churches and are working with public health officials on the best way to proceed. Californians, in general, have apparently done a great job of social distancing and flattening the curve. Catholic social services everywhere are working to serve those in need now and when the crisis eases.”

US and Canada to be consecrated to 'Mary, Mother of the Church'

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 11:00

CNA Staff, Apr 23, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, is inviting all U.S. bishops to join him on May 1 in reconsecrating the U.S. to the Blessed Virgin Mary in response to the pandemic. The reconsecration is timed to coincide with the bishops of Canada consecrating their own country to Mary at the same time.

Archbishop Gomez, who is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, said in a letter sent to all American bishops April 22, that the Marian reconsecration would be done under the title of “Mary, Mother of the Church.” He invited all the bishops of the country to join him in prayer on May 1 at 12 p.m. PDT, or 3 p.m. EDT.

“Every year, the Church seeks the special intercession of the Mother of God during the month of May. This year, we seek the assistance of Our Lady all the more earnestly as we face together the effects of the global pandemic,” he said in his letter.

The announcement follows similar plans made by the bishops of Canada, who will consecrate the Crown Dominion to Mary under the same title on the same day. 

“Based on discussion with the leadership of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Executive Committee of the USCCB met and affirmed the fitness of May 1, 2020, as an opportunity for the bishops of the United States to reconsecrate our nation to Our Lady and to do so under the title, Mary, Mother of the Church,” Gomez said, adding that they would be doing so “on the same day that our brother bishops to the north consecrate Canada under the same title.”

Gomez said that the appropriate offices of the bishops' conference—the Secretariat for Divine Worship and the communications office—will provide liturgical direction and logistical information for the reconsecration.

The bishops of Italy said on April 20 that they would consecrate their own country to Mary after receiving more than 300 letters requesting the consecration.

The title “Mary, Mother of the Church” was given to the Blessed Mother by Pope St. Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, and a memorial under the title was added to the Church’s liturgical calendar in 2018.

Pope Francis declared that the Monday after Pentecost should be celebrated as the memorial of “Mary, Mother of the Church.” Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, said that the addition of the memorial aimed to encourage growth in “genuine Marian piety.”

Celebrating the memorial in 2018, Archbishop Gomez said that “when Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, Mary became the maternal heart of his Church.”

Archbishop Gomez also said the May 1 reconsecration will be timely in asking for the intercession of Mary during the pandemic. There are more than 2.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world and almost 185,000 deaths due to the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center on Thursday morning.

“This will give the Church the occasion to pray for Our Lady’s continued protection of the vulnerable, healing of the unwell, and wisdom for those who work to cure this terrible virus,” Gomez said.

“In this Easter season we continue to journey with our Risen Lord that among the graces of this time may be healing and strength, especially for all who are burdened by the many effects of the COVID pandemic,” he said in his letter to bishops.

Is homeschooling ‘dangerous’? Parents, former students respond to Harvard professor 

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 05:00

Denver Newsroom, Apr 23, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Mary Ellen Barrett, a mom living on Long Island, has been homeschooling her children since before coronavirus made it cool (read:necessary) to go to school at home.

She started 18 years ago, when she decided that her oldest son Wyatt, who had autism, was not being served well in his public school. At the time, she had Wyatt, a first grader, a toddler, and another child on the way. She decided to try homeschooling.

“So we just did it and we loved it, and Wyatt caught up to grade level in many of his subjects and we kept going,” she said.

Six years later, Wyatt died of a grand mal seizure.

“I'm very grateful that I had that time with him,” Barrett said. “But he also had friends. He had kids who just didn't think he was weird, he wasn't picked on at all, which would happen (in public school). It just worked for our family.”

Barrett has thus far graduated two of her children from high school via homeschool, and is now teaching five more at home. One of her children has special education needs, and homeschooling has allowed her to tweak the curriculum for him. Barrett also works with Seton Home Study School, the Catholic homeschooling program she uses, as a consultant helping other parents using the program.

While coronavirus is forcing most families to make school at home work whether they want to or not, Elizabeth Bartholet, Wasserstein public interest professor of law at Harvard University and faculty director of the law school’s Child Advocacy Program, has argued that homeschooling is “dangerous.” Her views were featured in the May-June issue of Harvard Magazine

Among other things, Bartholet argues that homeschooling puts children at risk of abuse by their parents, while if children were in public schools, they would be among teachers who are mandatory reporters of any suspected abuse that may be taking place.

Barrett said she read the article and wondered if Bartholet had “ever met somebody who actually homeschooled.”

“(The article) seems to be based on the premise of...if you keep your child home, you could abuse them,” Barrett said.

To support her claims about abuse, Bartholet pointed to the story of an abusive family in Idaho portrayed in “Educated,” a memoir by Tara Westover. The children in the family of the memoir were given no formal education and were subjected to dangerous work conditions - something Bartholet said could happen any place where homeschooling is allowed.

For her part, Barrett said Bartholet seems to gloss over the abuse children could face in a more traditional school setting.

“I live in New York - barely a day goes by that there's not some story of some public school child being abused either in school or at home,” she said. On the other hand, Barrett said she knows of many homeschooling families on Long Island, both religious and secular, who are committed and loving parents who simply want what is best for their children’s education.

Statistics on rates of abuse among homeschooled children versus public and private school children are difficult to come by.

A 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education estimated that roughly 10% of students will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee by the time they graduate. A 2017 study published by Homeschooling Backgrounder found that when adjusted to account for legally homeschooled students, rather than truant families not complying with regulations, legally homeschooled students were 40% less likely to die of child abuse or neglect than the national average student. The CDC notes multiple risk factors for child abuse, including non-biological caregivers or a history of subtance abuse, but education method is not listed either as a protective factor or risk factor when it comes to child abuse.

Barrett said the most concerning thing about Bartholet’s stance is the professor’s characterization of “power” in the context of a family.

“The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous,” Bartholet told Harvard Magazine. “I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

Barrett said that Bartholet seems to be arguing against the very thing for which she is advocating. “(She) wants to have the government in charge of how families decide what's best for their children. I mean, what’s a more powerful entity than the United States government? Talk about power over the powerless. That is a frightening thought.”

Melissa Moschella is an assistant professor of philosophy at Catholic University of America, and a visiting scholar at The Heritage Foundation's Feulner Institute. She is also the author of the book “To Whom Do Children Belong?”, which she described as a “philosophical defense of the rights of parents as primary educators.”

In her book, Moschella said she makes “a natural law case for why the special nature of the parent-child relationship implies the special obligation on the part of parents to provide for the wellbeing of their children, which of course, includes and requires making decisions on behalf of their children because children are too young to be able to make those decisions themselves.”

Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that “‘The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.’ The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.”

Moschella said that the arguments presented by Bartholet - that homeschooling is dangerous, isolating, and a threat to democracy - are “really nothing new.”

“These are all things that I've argued against in my book on this topic and in various other articles.” Moschella said.

“I think the perspective (of the article) is typical of a lot of these kinds of perspectives on this issue, which is that the author forgets that somebody has to be in charge of children and that there are always going to be many controversial decisions that need to be made about what is in a child's best interest. There's not one right answer to that question. There's no obvious answer to that question,” Moschella said, because children come from varying backgrounds and have a wide variety of needs.

Moschella said Bartholet’s concerns about children’s rights to an education and to a safe environment are good, and that she supports a certain amount of regulation of homeschooled children, to ensure that real learning takes place and to ensure that children - especially those in households with a history of abuse - are not being subjected to further abuse.

“I think the worst of those risks can be mitigated in terms of homeschooling by having very reasonable regulations in place,” she said. “But to take that right away from everybody because a few bad parents are abusing that right - that doesn't make any sense.”

Homeschooling regulations vary widely by state.

Barrett said that her home state, New York requires submitting annually an individual home instruction plan to the state, which has 10 days to give Barrett feedback and allow her to make adjustments. She said starting in third grade, her children also take standardized tests every other year, and submit other assessment material in the off years. Every quarter, she reports her children’s learning progress to the state.

“So there's quite a bit of regulation, and they can call me out at any time,” Barrett said, though they haven’t, because she said she makes careful note of the state requirements.

Moschella also questioned Bartholet’s assumption that the state will always know what is in the best interest of children.

“Any time you take authority away from parents to make those controversial decisions about the best way to educate their children, you're just giving more power to the state. And then it's highly questionable that the state knows better than those parents what's in the best interest of a particular child,” she said.

Parents know their children best, Moschella said, and because of their strong emotional bonds to their children, they often are much more motivated and invested in their child’s wellbeing “in a way that no great bureaucrat is going to be.”

Several past studies have shown that homeschool students typically outperform their public and private school counterparts on things like standardized tests and college performance. A 2016 study from the National Council on Measurement in Education showed that, when adjusted for demographic factors, homeschool students were on par academically with their demographically-similar peers.

In a recent paper published in the Arizona Law Review, Bartholet offered a more developed take on the ideas mentioned in the Harvard Magazine article. In the Arizona Law Review, Bartholet argues that while homeschool children may perform as well as their peers on standardized tests or in college, they are also often isolated from their peers and denied experiences and exposures that would make them more productive citizens.

“Also, academic success says nothing about success in terms of preparing students for civic engagement. Many homeschooled children miss out on exposure to others with different experiences and values. Most all miss out on extracurricular activities like student government. A very large proportion of homeschooling parents are ideologically committed to isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture,” she said.

Felix Miller is a 27 year-old doctoral student in philosophy living in Washington, D.C. He was homeschooled with his family in New York from kindergarten through high school, an experience he said he “really liked.”

Miller said homeschooling gave his family the time and flexibility to engage in some travel and cultural activities that he may have missed out on were he in a public or private school.

“(M)y parents did a lot to instill a sense of wonder and willingness to try new things. We lived about an hour and a half from Montreal, so every few weeks we would go up, and we might go to the jazz festival that happens there every year, or we'd go to the opera, we'd go to the Biodome or the Museum of Fine Arts,” he said.

The family also frequently attended local Shakespeare performances and did a lot of hiking in the Adirondacks, along with formal schooling in subjects like literature and science.

“I think that being homeschooled allowed me to have a lot of opportunities .. .intellectual and cultural opportunities that many of my public and private school peers didn't have the chance for,” he said.

As for being isolated from peers, Miller said he and his siblings participated in several extracurricular activities, like a speech and debate team, Boy Scouts, and science competitions at the local high school that frequently put him in contact with students from public schools and a variety of backgrounds. Miller said in his junior year, he dated a girl from a local public school that he had met through speech and debate.

“I always had a pretty easy time meeting and making friends with both homeschoolers and public schoolers. I think (the Harvard Magazine article paints) a pretty isolationist picture of the way that most homeschooling occurs. I don't see that to be the case,” Miller said.

“While it is true that my parents have certain disagreements with the dominant view on certain cultural public schooling, especially through things like sex education...I think in general in terms of socialization, they were always perfectly happy for me to have friends regardless of background,” he said.

Laura Aumen is a 27 year-old medical radiation expert who was homeschooled in Omaha, Nebraska and now lives and works in the Dallas area in Texas.

Aumen said that most families are probably painfully experiencing isolation during this time of coronavirus, and that most homeschool families she knew growing up participated in a lot of group and extracurricular activities in order to avoid isolation.

“We were part of a very large homeschool group, there were all sorts of parent-run activities,” she said. “A lot of these parents had a lot of expertise to offer, as far as homeschool co-ops, sports programs, drama programs.”

There were “people who did these things professionally, and just wanted to teach it to their kids and their kids' friends. You have a lot of really great activities, extracurriculars, in the homeschool community, just because people don't like to feel isolated,” she added.

Bartholet also claimed in Harvard Magazine that homeschooling is a threat to democracy.

“From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” Bartholet said, which in part entails educating children so that they may support themselves in adulthood.

“But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” Bartholet added.

Miller said that besides being exposed to students from a variety of backgrounds, he also “couldn't count the number of times I had to read the Declaration (of Independence), or the Constitution,” and that homeschooling families typically spend much more time learning about civics than most students do in public school.

Anecdotally, Miller said his friends who were homeschooled are more likely to vote even in non-Presidential elections or to volunteer for activities that promote the common good than their public schooled peers.

“We went to the National Archives and read primary documents. We went to Lexington and we went to Boston and we did all of those things. We didn't learn history from the history books. We learned it from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton,” she said.

Aumen said she also didn’t think her homeschooling experience taught her to be undemocratic.

“We were raised with respect for our government leaders and love for our country. We said the Pledge of Allegiance every day,” she said. “It seems like (Bartholet) wants the government to be able to control what the citizens think from a very early age. And to me, that seems like the opposite of democracy.”

Aumen said she thought that on the whole, parents who choose to homeschool their children often discover how difficult it actually is, and the ones who stick with it are those who are highly motivated and invested in their children’s education.

“I think homeschooling parents have to be courageous, and very patient, and it takes extra patience and virtue to maintain good family relationships. And so I think that for the most part, the people who can't handle it, they self select out, or they never attempted in the first place.”