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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Despite protests, Newark archdiocese supports COVID limits on churches

Thu, 04/23/2020 - 02:24

Denver Newsroom, Apr 23, 2020 / 12:24 am (CNA).- While a New Jersey state senator has launched a petition seeking the “thoughtful” resumption of religious services with “reasonable precautions,” the Archdiocese of Newark has stressed the wisdom of statewide restrictions on gatherings given the prevalence of the novel coronavirus in the region.

“As the New Jersey region unfortunately has the highest number of reported Covid-19 cases in the nation, with increasing reported deaths, it is prudent to continue compliance with statewide mandates for social distancing protocols at this time,” Maria Margiotta, director of communications and public relations for the archdiocese, told CNA April 22.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s executive orders ban gatherings of any size as the state battles the novel coronavirus. Businesses deemed non-essential have shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. While symptoms of infection are nonexistent, mild or moderate for most people, a significant minority require hospitalization. Infection can be fatal in a small percentage of cases, especially where the person is elderly or otherwise has health vulnerabilities.

In New Jersey, the executive order’s limits drew objection from State Sen. Mike Doherty, a Republican from the state’s rural northwest.

“We’re asking Governor Murphy to allow religious services to resume in New Jersey in a thoughtful fashion. It’s the right thing to do, both constitutionally and morally,” Doherty said April 19. In his view, “it’s possible for religious services to resume if reasonable precautions are put in place.”

New Jersey has suffered over 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths as of Wednesday, with over 95,000 known cases statewide. It neighbors New York state, where 250,000 confirmed coronavirus cases include over 15,000 deaths, with New York City the worst-hit urban area in the United States.

Doherty emphasized the benefits of religious gatherings in a time of crisis.

“When many of us could be at Sunday services today replenishing a much needed sense of hope in these uncertain times, we instead remain separated in our homes from the communities of faith that sustain us in good times and bad,” he said.

Doherty has launched an online petition for New Jersey residents who wish to share with the governor “their belief that religion is an essential service and constitutionally protected right that should be allowed to resume immediately.” By 7 p.m. local time Wednesday, the petition had more than 1,700 signatures.

Margiotta, the Newark archdiocese spokeswoman, did not address the petition directly. However, she said Catholic churches would reopen only with the decision of the local bishop.

“The process of how and when to reopen churches will be determined by the ordinary and his diocesan staff,” she said. “The well-being and safety of our clergy, staff, and parishioners remain a priority, and the archdiocese will continue to review guidance from federal and state officials as plans to reopen are considered. Although church buildings remain closed, our prayers and celebration of Mass continue via livestream so that we may remain united as one Church and one people amid this ongoing pandemic.”

Last week, Gov. Murphy cited a Harvard University study published in the journal Science as saying social distancing measures might need to last through 2022. Any sports or entertainment gatherings, and possibly high school and college graduations, might need to be held virtually without anyone in the audience.

“I don’t see a normal, even if it were to take place, a normal gathering in the foreseeable future. I just don’t see it," he said April 15, according to New Jersey 101.5. “I’ll be the happiest guy on the planet if I’m wrong.”

“This is a war. It is the fight of our lives. Wars are not won by one person or one small group. They’re won when millions of people come together in a common cause,” he said. “Our cause right now is totally flattening the curve and then seeing it drop down the other side. Then we can begin the process responsibly along with our neighbors of reopening our state and beginning to live life in our new normal.”

“This is no time to let up. We have got to keep at it,” he said, stressing the need for cases of coronavirus to fall to “a manageable reality” where experts can reconsider social distancing measures. Murphy emphasized “a responsible re-opening” with health care infrastructure and protocols that “frankly, we don’t have at the moment.”

Such protocols include fast and accurate coronavirus testing and the ability to trace the contacts of infected people to prevent contagion from spreading. Citing discussions with experts, Murphy said he thought a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus was unlikely earlier than a year or a year and a half from now.

Doherty's petition, hosted at the website of the New Jersey Senate Republicans, said people have been denied the opportunity to attend religious services that “could provide hope, solace, and a sense of community during this time of social distancing and isolation due to the coronavirus.”

According to the petition, “it is possible for churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues to operate safely through reasonable precautions, including outdoor services, social distancing, and limitations on the size of gatherings.”

The petition cited the constitutional right to practice religion that “should not be impeded through overly restrictive executive orders.”

“Governor Murphy should recognize that religious services are no less essential to people's needs than retail services, such as lottery and liquor sales, that have been allowed to continue,” it said.

CNA sought comment from Senator Doherty but did not receive a response by deadline.

The senator is a strong advocate of lifting New Jersey limitations on small businesses, saying “the state needs to reopen sooner rather than later.”

“The cure is becoming much worse than the disease. The idea that churches will be shut down until July is unacceptable,” he said April 15, according to Insider NJ.

He objected to the governor's refusal to allow churches to conduct “outdoor, open air services with proper spacing” while “allowing the essential service of selling more booze to desperate citizens, and allowing customers to pull up to fast food take out windows where the spacing between the customer and the server is zero inches.”

 

Bankrupt dioceses sue SBA for payroll loan access

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 18:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- Two Catholic dioceses have filed suit against the Small Business Administration (SBA), claiming they were wrongfully denied access to emergency loans during the pandemic because of their bankruptcy status.

The New York dioceses of Rochester and Buffalo said they “will suffer immediate and irreparable harm” from being disqualified from emergency loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), in a lawsuit filed in federal court on April 15.

The $349 billion in emergency loans were part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27.

The bill provided, among other things, short-term relief for small businesses and certain non-profits affected by the disruptions from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The $349 billion in relief under the CARES Act included loans that become grants if recipient employers retain their current workforce and 75% or more of the loan is used for payroll.

An SBA rule, however, stipulated that the funds would not go to bankruptcy debtors. Both the dioceses of Rochester and Buffalo have filed for bankruptcy in the past several months, after being named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits filed under New York’ Child Victims Protection Act.

The two dioceses sued in federal court, saying that the PPP loan funding was running out while they were being ruled ineligible for the critical emergency loans. On April 16, the SBA said it would not be accepting any more PPP loan applications.

Reached by email on Wednesday, the diocese of Rochester told CNA that it declined to comment on the lawsuit “Out of respect for the court process.” A spokeswoman for the Small Business Administration said that “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

Other dioceses and archdioceses, including St. Cloud and Winona-Rochester in Minnesota, Harrisburg in Pennsylvania, and Santa Fe in New Mexico, have either announced they would declare bankruptcy or have started the bankruptcy process.

The diocese of St. Cloud “has applied for a PPP loan” and is “currently not in bankruptcy,” communications director Joe Towalski told CNA on Wednesday, as its discussions with insurance companies and claimants’ attorneys are ongoing “to reach a consensual agreement on a plan before filing.”

In Winona-Rochester, the diocese “remains in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, and has therefore not applied for PPP loans,” communications director Matthew Willkom told CNA.

As the diocese of Harrisburg already filed for bankruptcy in February, it did not apply for a PPP loan, the diocese’s executive director of public relations Rachel Bryson told CNA on Wednesday. However, parishes, Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, and Harrisburg Catholic Administrative Services did apply for loans as they are separate lega entities from the diocese, she said, and several had already received funding.

The dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester allege in their lawsuit that the SBA implemented the PPP relief program “in a manner that unlawfully excludes debtors in bankruptcy,” violating the bankruptcy code by doing so. Furthermore, they said they “have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that could not have been foreseen,” due to a precipitous drop in revenue from parishes whose donations dried up because public Masses were cancelled.

Without a PPP loan, they argue, they “will be forced to lay off or furlough essential employees,” which in turn could permanently affect their bankruptcy estates and the Chapter 11 process.

By late March, many parishes and dioceses were reporting a sudden drop in donations as public Masses were curtailed by bishops, and some diocesan and parish employees had already begun to be laid off or furloughed.

On March 19, the Buffalo diocese said it would be “accelerating” its previously-planned reorganization process for its Catholic Center, eliminating 21 positions and moving three more positions from full-time to part-time.

The dioceses announced they would be filing for bankruptcy after facing hundreds of sex abuse lawsuits in New York courts, starting in August.

New York’s Child Victims Act created a one-year “lookback” window, beginning in August, to allow abuse victims to file lawsuits after their statute of limitations had expired.

One lawsuit filed on August 14 against the Buffalo diocese and other Catholic entities cited federal anti-racketeering laws, or “RICO” statutes, and alleged “a pattern of racketeering activity” that enabled and covered up clerical sexual abuse.

In September of 2019, the Rochester diocese filed for bankruptcy, and on February 28, the diocese of Buffalo announced that it was filing for Chapter 11 reorganization after being the subject of more than 200 abuse lawsuits filed.

Arkansas order limiting abortions can go into effect, court rules

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 17:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- A federal appeals court on Wednesday allowed a state order halting elective surgical abortions in Arkansas to go into effect. The measure was put in place to conserve medical resources during the coronavirus pandemic.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decided 2-1 in favor of Arkansas on Wednesday, which had appealed a lower court’s decision to halt the order. On April 14, a federal district court put a temporary restraining order on the state’s act to stop non-medically necessary surgical abortions during the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.

The state’s health department on April 3 had declared a halt to non-essential surgeries during the pandemic, and surgical abortions not deemed medically necessary by a doctor were included under the order. The Arkansas health department has reported 2,276 cases of COVID-19, as of Wednesday afternoon.

On April 9, health department inspectors arrived at Little Rock Family Planning Services (LRFP) unannounced, and found that the clinic was still providing surgical abortions. The next day, the health department sent the clinic a cease-and-desist letter ordering a stop to surgical abortions “except where immediately necessary to protect the life or health of the patient.”

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

However, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on April 14 ruled that evidence sided with the abortion providers in their claim that the state’s order would “inflict serious physical, emotional, and psychological injuries on (the abortion provider’s) patients by forcing them to delay, or altogether forgo, access to abortion care.” Baker put a temporary restraining order on the state’s directive.

On Wednesday, the Eighth Circuit appeals court sided with Arkansas, granting it mandamus relief from the lower court’s entry temporary restraining order. The state’s directive “is facially neutral,” the judges said, as its ban on non-essential medical procedures “applies to all types of surgical procedures” and not just abortions.

Judges Bobby Shepherd and Ralph Erickson said that the state “has satisfied its burden in demonstrating that it has no other means to obtain the relief that it seeks, that it is clearly and indisputably entitled to the writ, and that entry of the writ is appropriate under the circumstances.” Judge James Loken dissented from the ruling.

After the appeals court decision, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted “This isn't the end.”

Eight states that have issued temporary bans on elective surgical abortions as non-essential medical procedures during the pandemic are fighting in court to keep the bans, many of which have been partially or completely stopped by federal courts.

Some elective abortions in Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, Louisiana, and Tennessee have been allowed to continue.

Abortion supporters in Iowa reached an agreement with a state order outside of court. In Alaska, state officials delayed abortions until June and the action has not been legally challenged, as well as a state order banning non-essential abortions in Mississippi. Louisiana’s order halting elective abortions has not yet been blocked in court.

The Fifth Circuit sided with Texas on April 7, but did temporarily allow for chemical abortions in the state to continue. Then on Wednesday it said the state’s ban on chemical abortions could continue. The Sixth Circuit, meanwhile, allowed chemical abortions and some surgical abortions to continue in Ohio, on a case-by-case basis.

New York bishops welcome rollback of state's DNR order

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 16:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The New York State Catholic Conference expressed relief Wednesday, April 22, after the state health department rescinded a statewide do-not-resuscitate order for all patients found without a pulse. 

“We were deeply concerned about these new guidelines for first responders,” Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the NYS Catholic Conference, told CNA.

The conference speaks on policy matters on behalf of the bishops of the state. 

“A human life is a human life," Poust said. "Whether a person is sick with COVID-19 in a hospital or in cardiac arrest in his or her apartment, human dignity demands reasonable effort be made to save that person’s life, absent a do-not-resuscitate order.” 

The order was rescinded on Wednesday. It had previously been issued on April 17, but received widespread media coverage on April 21. 

Before the do-not-resuscitate order was issued, first responders were instructed to spend 20 minutes attempting to revive a patient in cardiac arrest. This was changed, with responders told not to attempt resuscitation at all, after state authorities deemed it “necessary during the COVID-19 response to protect the health and safety of EMS providers by limiting their exposure, conserve resources, and ensure optimal use of equipment to save the greatest number of lives,” said the New York State Department of Health.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department of Health explained that the initial guidance was “in accordance with American Heart Association guidance and based on standards recommended by the American College of Emergency Physicians” and had been adopted in other, unnamed states. 

The new policies, however, “don’t reflect New York’s standards and for that reason DOH Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has ordered them to be rescinded.”

Despite the order to not resuscitate patients in cardiac arrest, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) never changed their policy and its paramedics continued to provide 20 minutes of attempted resuscitation. 

The statewide do-not-resuscitate policy was criticized by the head of the FDNY union. 

“Our job is to bring patients back to life. This guideline takes that away from us,” said Owen Barzilay, union president, in comments published by the New York Post. 

The order was rescinded shortly after it began receiving negative attention in New York media. 

The New York Catholic Conference told CNA they were happy the state moved quickly to change the policy once it became clear that it was deeply unpopular.  

“Clearly the state’s first responders were deeply uncomfortable with this new guidance, and rightly so,” said Poust. 

“We’re grateful the Health Department quickly rescinded this ill-advised order.”

New York, particularly New York City, has been hit harder by COVID-19 than any other part of the country. There have been over 250,000 identified cases of coronavirus, with nearly 15,000 deaths. New York City accounts for about 142,000 of these cases and almost 11,000 deaths.

Archbishop Gomez: In providence, coronavirus is a call to depend on God

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:37

CNA Staff, Apr 22, 2020 / 10:37 am (CNA).- In his column on Tuesday, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles said that in God's providence, the pandemic is calling us to remember our need for God and to deepen our solidarity.

“The deepest questions raised by this pandemic are about God and his designs,” the president of the US bishops' conference wrote April 21 at Angelus News. “Where is he and what is he saying to us in this moment — what is he saying to his Church, to the nations of the world, to each of us in our own personal circumstances?”

“I see God calling us, in a most dramatic way, to realize how much we need him, how we cannot live without him,” he answered. “But I also see God calling us to a deeper sense of solidarity, to realize that we are responsible for one another, that we depend on one another and we have to take care of one another.”

The archbishop recalled that in the early years of Christianity, amid epidemics, non-Christians “marveled at the charity and compassion of Christians” as they cared for the sick.

That service continues today, he said, noting online Catholic education, meals provided for poor children, food pantries, and financial assistance given to those in need of food, clothing, and shelter.

“It is inspiring and beautiful. Through the witness of your love, our neighbors can see the presence of the risen Lord, even in this time of affliction and adversity,” Archbishop Gomez wrote.

“God is asking us to share in the insecurities and deprivations that define ordinary life for millions of people in nations around the world. We are being forced to do without what most of our brothers and sisters never had to begin with.”

He said the struggle caused by the inaccessibility of the sacraments “is a hard cross to bear,” but added that “maybe God is asking us to share in the sufferings of the millions of Catholics who live under regimes that repress or persecute the faith. These brothers and sisters of ours hunger and thirst for the sacraments and cannot receive them. This is their daily reality.”

The archbishop acknowledged that while he is grateful to be connected to the people of his local Church through, for example, livestreamed Masses, “a 'virtual Mass' is still virtual … it is not the same as seeing one another face-to-face, drawn together in the fellowship of Christ.”

Archbishop Gomez urged the people of Los Angeles to “intensify our prayers and sacrifices” for those who live in areas where the Church is repressed or persecuted.

“Let us join our sufferings to Our Lord’s passion in his living Body, his Church. Let us offer our sufferings for every person who is bearing greater burdens than we are.”

Courage International moves 2020 Truth and Love Conference online

Wed, 04/22/2020 - 02:40

Denver Newsroom, Apr 22, 2020 / 12:40 am (CNA).- In the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Courage International has announced that it will host online its annual conference to support Catholics who minister to people with same-sex attraction.

Courage International is a Catholic group for those who experience same-sex attraction and are seeking to live chaste and faithful lives. Its Truth and Love Conference seeks to provide practical and spiritual guidance on the topics of homosexuality and sexual identity to pastoral ministers and lay professionals.

While it was originally scheduled to take place in the Diocese of Arlington, the conference will instead take place for its several hundred participants on the online platform Zoom on April 27-29.

Ann Schneible, communications director for Courage, told CNA that when people register for the conference, they will be given a secure code and detailed instructions on how to participate.

During each talk, she said, participants will be able to type questions directly into Zoom. These questions will then be answered by the speakers during the Q&A period at the end of each presentation.

All of the participants will be invited to Monday's keynote address and the following plenary sessions on Monday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, registrants will be able to choose talks from one of three tracks - pastoral care, mental health, and sexual identity.

The theme of this year’s conference is called “Be not afraid: Affirming the truth about sex and identity.” It will mark the 100th birthday of Pope John Paul II and declare him the official patron of the Truth & Love initiative, the section of the Courage ministry focusing on providing resources to those who minister to people with same-sex attraction.

Schneible said the title is inspired by the beginning words of his 1978 inaugural homily: “Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”

Schneible explained, “This theme is relevant to our work because whenever we are ministering to someone who experiences same-sex attractions or questions about their gender identity, the compassion we show cannot be separated from the truth about human dignity and authentic happiness. With Pope Saint John Paul II as our patron, we pray for his intercession as we continue to speak the truth fearlessly and with love.”

Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, told CNA that the writings and messages of John Paul II are important to the Church’s understanding of human dignity, sexuality, and the human body. He said the pope also had a way of sharing the truth with an essence of love.

“He was able to perceive the trends in the way that the culture looks, and how to answer those kinds of cultural misunderstandings with the perennial truth that comes from the gospel through the Church,” he said.

“He did it with such compassion. That’s [why] he's going to be our model. Not just what to say, but how to say it. How to speak the truth in love.”

The list of speakers at the virtual conference will include experts in pastoral care, theology, and mental health. Speakers include Bishop John Keenan of Paisley, a Courage chaplain in Scotland; Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University; and Suzanne Baars, a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist.

[Bishop Keenan will] talk about his experience over the last few years as a chaplain and how that has affected his understanding of pastoral ministry. We're going to have Helen Alvare... talk about some of the legal implications of the legislation that's being passed … about sexual orientation and gender identity and how that might affect parishes and schools and other institutions,” he said.

Bochanski also highlighted some of Tuesday’s talks, which will be divided into three separate categories: pastoral care, health care, and gender identity discordance.

He said the first track, pastoral care, will look at conveying Church teaching and creating a welcoming environment in parishes and schools. It will also examine how those in pastoral ministry can come to understand the experience of those with same-sex attraction.

The second track, on mental health care, will be directed toward health professionals. He said it will review a psychological experience, involving family dynamics, relationships, and self-identity, of those with same-sex attraction.

The third track will analyze gender discordance - when people view themselves as a different gender than their biological sex. The talks will include insight from healthcare professionals on genetics and body chemistry, as well as a philosophical perspective, Bochanski added.

“I think it reflects the reality that people, in general, are multifaceted and need to be supported and nourished on different levels simultaneously. We tried to keep in mind all those different aspects of pastoral care and family life and just the different ways that we're going to encounter people so that the folks who participate are going to be equipped for all of those,” he said.

 

Sen. Rubio: Post-coronavirus world needs economy for the common good

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 22:00

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- When the coronavirus epidemic passes, Americans can’t simply return to their old habits, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has said.

“We won’t properly absorb the lessons from the coronavirus crisis if we fall back into the traditional Republican and Democratic model of politics. We need a new vision to create a more resilient economy,” the Florida Republican said in an April 20 column in the New York Times.

“The economy should be at the service of the common good,” Rubio said. “It should work for us, not people for the economy.”

The senator called for a renewed focus on the common good, a shift in priorities from short-term economic efficiency to long-term resiliency, and a better model of manufacturing to evaluate and address shortcomings in the response to the COVID-19 virus.

As of Tuesday, the spread of the coronavirus has killed more than 45,4000 people in the U.S., with more than 810,000 known to be infected since early March. The virus usually causes mild or moderate flu-like symptoms, but severe cases can require hospitalization and become fatal.

Civil authorities, fearing that rapid increase in severe cases could overwhelm hospitals, ordered public health measures including orders for most people to stay at home.

Both the arrival of the virus and its response have had major effects on the U.S. economy, with 22 million Americans known to have filed for unemployment claims in recent weeks, CNN reports. Only last week did the Trump administration release a three-stage plan to remove restrictions on social and economic life while also limiting contagion and responding to new cases.

The coronavirus medical response has been severely hindered by a shortage of appropriate protective gear and other medical equipment.

Rubio argued that some of the problems revealed in the epidemic are the consequences of decades-long trends.

“Over the past several decades, our nation’s political and economic leaders, Democratic and Republican, made choices about how to structure our society — choosing to prize economic efficiency over resiliency, financial gains over Main Street investment, individual enrichment over the common good,” Rubio said.

“Any prudent policymaker should recognize that both efficiency and resiliency are values we should prioritize and seek to balance. But that’s not what we have done in recent decades,” he said.

The senator warned that in a crisis, a lack of resilience in the economy can be “devastating.”

“Though I believe resilience is one of the defining traits of an American, I also believe it’s been absent from our public policy for too long. And this has become devastatingly clear in the current crisis,” he said.

Rubio connected the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing to the rise of a national economy dominated by service industries. These services rely on person-to-person activity, which is now restricted.

“And unlike industrial economies, service-based economies lack the flexibility that comes with producing physical goods that can either be sold later or repurposed to meet a sudden shortage. This makes us especially vulnerable to this kind of shock,” he said.

Another factor hampering resiliency was U.S. corporations’ shift away from investing in workers, equipment and facilities and towards “short-term financial gains to shareholders.”

Rubio faulted financial and economic policy for worsening the coronavirus response.

“Why didn’t we have enough N95 masks or ventilators on hand for a pandemic? Because buffer stocks don’t maximize financial return, and there was no shareholder reward for protecting against risk,” he said. The senator characterized both business and government as focused more on “just-in-time” supply models rather than “just in case” models prepared for disruptions.

“Today, we see the consequences of this short-term, hyperindividualistic ethos,” Rubio argued. “Americans cannot leave their homes. Neighbors are unable to shake hands. Places of worship are closed. The labor market, especially for working-class Americans in those service industries, is in free-fall.”

In his recent writings on the subject, Rubio has become perhaps the first U.S. senator to cite Pope Leo XIII as an inspiration for his economic vision, highlighting especially the 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum.

“It was an interesting encyclical because he wrote it in reaction to the disruptions the world was facing after industrialization – there were some of the same fears then, machines replacing people, mass economic displacement. He wrote about that balance of obligations between the worker and the employer and I think this is a good time to revisit that balance in the light of the post-industrial disruptions we now face,” the senator told CNA last year.

Rubio, himself a Catholic, told CNA that Catholic social teaching influences his own concept of dignity and work “more than it used to.”

“The more you dig into it, you realize that there is an extraordinary wisdom. For example, St. John Paul II wrote about the obligation of a worker to work - which is something that people on the political right, myself included, have talked about – but it is built upon the assumption that such work has dignity. It’s something you can only insist upon if the economy we’ve put in place fosters the creation of those jobs.”

Rubio’s April 20 essay strongly criticized China’s politics and U.S. policy towards China. His experience on the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said, made clear to him that many serious problems originate in the United States’ relationship with China.

“As did many, I believed capitalism would change China for the better; instead, China changed capitalism for the worse,” he said.

Rubio was critical of policies and choices to outsource manufacturing to China, often in search of cheap labor. He said China’s government, unlike the United States, provided more business assistance in “long-term capital development,” which seemed irrational at the time. Rubio was also critical of the decision to allow China into the World Trade Organization.

The consequences of these changes were revealed in the COVID-19 pandemic, Rubio said. He charged that the Chinese government had monopolized “critical supply chains” and directed supplies to its own country.

“It ensured that face masks being manufactured in China, for example, went to domestic consumption and their own fight against the virus,” he said.

“Largely unable to import supplies from China, America has been left scrambling because we by and large lack the ability to make things, as well as the state capacity needed for reorienting production to do so,” he continued.

These failures in imports and in production, Rubio said, forced medical staff to ration key medical equipment, to the point where they worked without critical protective equipment.

The senator’s New York Times essay on a more resilient economy echoed his previous remarks. In November 2019, he told CNA that there are problems in the asymmetrical nature of prosperity in the U.S. Rubio said a new economic vision is needed to respond to contemporary realities.

 

Bans on religious gatherings cannot last indefinitely, warn law professors

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 20:00

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Public religious services cannot be stopped “indefinitely” during the pandemic, especially when liquor stores are considered “essential” businesses, two law professors argued in the New York Times on Tuesday.

“In the early weeks of the crisis, it made sense to enforce sweeping closure rules against all public gatherings — no exceptions,” wrote Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at the Stanford Law School, and Max Raskin, an adjunct professor of law at New York University, in a New York Times op-ed published on Thursday.

“But in the days ahead,” the professors said, religious and political leaders will need to come to agreements that uphold public safety while allowing for the free exercise of religion to the maximum extent possible.

They went on to point out that other “important activities — from shopping in hardware stores to voting — manage to take place with appropriate safeguards against the spread of the disease,” they said.

“Religious leaders and congregations will have to remember that the First Amendment is not an exemption from law applicable to all. And government officials must not forget that religious exercise is at the apex of our national values.”

“Mass is not a football game,” the professors wrote. “Worship cannot shelter in place indefinitely.”

Due to the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), religious services have been largely curtailed throughout the country along with other public gatherings. 

Catholic dioceses began cancelling public Masses in March, with the Archdiocese of Seattle the first to do so on March 11. On April 15, however, Las Cruces became the first diocese to announce it was resuming celebration of public Masses during the pandemic--just days after New Mexico’s governor restricted “non-essential” gatherings to no more than five people. Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces said that priests of the diocese still needed to observe the restrictions. 

Various state orders have limited the sizes of public gatherings in accordance with guidelines of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), including at churches. The state of Virginia, for example, criminalized any gathering of 10 or more people—including at church.

However, some lawsuits and complaints have already been filed by churches against state and local governments for singling out churches, or applying public health restrictions to religious services but not similar public gatherings.

The Justice Department recently filed a statement-of-interest in support of Temple Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi in its case against the city. Greenville had barred “drive-in” religious services where attendees would listen to sermons in the church parking lot with car windows rolled up, but the church pointed out that a nearby SONIC drive-in fast-food restaurant was still allowed to operate during the pandemic.

The Justice Department argued that the city’s ordinance was singling out religious groups while exempting restaurants.

Over Easter weekend, Kentucky’s Governor Andy Beshear (D) threatened that state police would record the license plates of attendees of mass religious gatherings, for them to be contacted later by local health departments and ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.

In Kansas, the group Alliance Defending Freedom filed for a temporary restraining order against the governor’s 10-person restrictions on religious gatherings, saying that the state was restricting religious services but not other public accommodations. A district court judge in Kansas granted the restraining order, noting that the state had published “a long list of activities and facilities that were exempt from the prohibitions in the order.”

It is not unprecedented for governments to place certain restrictions on religious activity during a public health emergency, McConnell and Raskin argued in their Times op-ed.

However, government cannot “single out” churches unfairly, particularly “when California and Colorado deem marijuana dispensaries essential businesses.” Citizens should also be free to practice religion to the maximum extent possible while safeguarding public safety, they said.

As an example of this, they noted that New York City allows for hospital chaplains in the Archdiocese of New York to enter the rooms of COVID-19 patients to give them Communion, so long as they wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

In a recent interview with CNA, one hospital chaplain for the Archdiocese of New York cited a lack of available PPE as an obstacle to chaplains being able to safely administer Anointing of the Sick to patients. 

Another First Amendment expert, Professor Rick Garnett of Notre Dame, said that state restrictions of religious gatherings through stay-at-home orders and limits on the number of attendees were legitimate if certain conditions were met. 

“The issue is, is the government allowed to pursue this very important compelling interest in public health as a temporary measure to try and combat the spread of the disease?” Garnett told The Indiana Lawyer. “And I think the answer is yes, so long as it does so in a neutral way.”

Catholic University provost named to National Science Board

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The provost of The Catholic University of America is one of four people named on Monday, April 20, to serve on the National Science Board. 

Dr. Aaron Dominguez, who is also a physics professor at the school, was appointed by President Donald Trump to the National Science Board for a six-year term. 

The National Science Board is a committee established in 1950 to advise the White House and Congress on matters related to science and engineering. It is responsible for the policies of the National Science Foundation. Past board members include members of academia as well as executives in the technology fields. 

Dominguez, a particle physicist, told CNA he was "really grateful" for the opportunity.

"I am really humbled by this opportunity to serve the president, Congress and our nation, especially at this time," he said.

"Coincidentally, today was also our university's Research Day, where we showcase the great research and creative work done by our students and faculty." 

"This event, and this nomination to the National Science Board, are beautiful examples of our mission to serve the nation and the Church as a Catholic research university," Dominguez said. "I am very thankful."

He explained in a profile published by the university how his Catholic faith impacts his teaching and research. 

“The universe has evolved in a way that is perfect for you and me to exist. Mathematically, physically, we have this perfect situation where atoms can exist, stable matter can exist, which means we can have stars, more complicated elements, you and me,” he said.

“And if you were to change a few things in the physics equations or in the physical constants, that wouldn’t be true. I see the hand of God everywhere, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn't still try to understand the physics and mathematics behind that. In fact, we should be searching because of this.”

University President John Garvey called the inclusion of Dominguez on the Board “a proud moment for The Catholic University of America,” and said he was “deserving of the nomination” and an internationally recognized expert in his field.

Dominguez “is an accomplished particle physicist and an experienced researcher who leads a team in the construction of the next generation of particle detectors at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland,” said Garvey.

Garvey told CNA that Dominguez is “a man of great faith, who lives out the mission of Catholic University,” and that “we are proud to have him serving as our provost.” 

Dominguez was promoted to university provost in 2019, having previously been the dean of the University’s School of Arts and Sciences. 

In his address to the 2016 Freshman Convocation, Dominguez said that his position at the school was his “dream job,” and that he was thrilled he was able to work in a laboratory and explore the origins of the universe. 

Dominguez has highlighted the importance of faith in academic life, calling Catholic University “a place where I can be truly free. I can unite faith and reason, science and the church, academia and the search for truth in one place.” 

At the time of his arrival at Catholic, he called the university “a place where we can be free to do this together, you and me, without fear; to have these discussions in class, in our studies, in the cafeteria, in symposia, in cafes,” he said.

Coronavirus hits priests’ retirement home in Missouri

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 17:01

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Several priests located at a retirement home in Missouri have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, but those who have been hospitalized are likely to be released soon. 

The Archdiocese of St. Louis announced April 20 that nine of the 30 retired priests at the Regina Cleri Home in Shrewsbury, a St. Louis suburb, have contracted COVID-19.

The first case was discovered April 18, and two of the residents have since been hospitalized. These residents are likely to be released within 48 hours.

Father Bill Kempf, the pastor of the nearby St. Joseph Martyr Parish, expressed sorrow for the news. He stressed the danger of the coronavirus, noting that people may be carriers of coronavirus without knowing it.

“I just got news from the Archdiocese that I hoped I would not hear during this pandemic.  Namely, that the first resident of Regina Cleri, our retirement home for priest[s], has tested positive for the Corona[virus],” he said, according to an April 18 message.

“They, like all nursing homes and extended care facilities have been so careful, and yet… So prayers are appreciated for the residents there. As you know, by virtue of their age, they are ALL in the high risk group.”

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for elderly people and those with pre-existing medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that 80% of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people ages 65 years and older.

According to the St. Louis Review, the archdiocese’s newspaper, the retirement home has continued to take multiple precautions so as not to spread the virus among the elderly.

This includes restrictions on visitors and non-essential personnel, which excludes health care workers and hospice care. The retirement home has also instituted daily screenings of all residents and employees and reinforced hand-hygiene practices.

Regina Clarities has offered greater access to hand sanitizers, face masks, and non-touch receptacles for disposal. It has also increased regular professional cleanings and required the staff to wear all the proper personal protective equipment.

“Residents will continue to be closely monitored for symptoms, and the community’s leadership and the archdiocese will continue to be in communication with health officials to ensure all guidelines and protocols are followed,” the St. Louis Review reported.

Analysis: Can bishops lead the faithful and follow the lawmakers?

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 15:00

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Last week, Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces became the first bishop in the United States to roll back the ban on the public celebration of Masses.

His decision, and the reasons he gave for it, have highlighted a growing tension: while Church leaders try to comply with state regulation, some local authorities insist that any religious practice should be curtailed.

Amid that tension, bishops face the challenge of balancing competing goods, and as they tackle that challenge, new ecclesial leaders could emerge.

In line with New Mexico’s public health order, Baldacchino reinstated indoor Masses last Wednesday, but limited numbers to five people at a time. The bishop encouraged outdoor liturgies – either in parking lots or in other open-air parts of church property like cemeteries, with no cap on attendance.

Baldacchino’s plans, which include strict guidelines for the distribution of Communion and unambiguous instructions to adhere to state regulations on social distancing and public health, did not meet with the governor’s approval.

While conceding that the Las Cruces plans were within the law, a spokesperson for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said “it is concerning that they would be 're-opening' at all.”

“Any kind of gatherings that are not absolutely essential to one's health or welfare are strongly discouraged,” the governor’s office said, illustrating the chief fault line between the bishop and the state.

In an interview with CNA on Thursday, Baldacchino said he disagreed with the governor’s characterization of the Church as “non-essential” to public welfare, noting that drive-in Masses under his guidelines were significantly more regimented than a McDonald’s drive-through, and that the state’s definition of “essential” was debatable, at best.

“We have our priorities totally upside down,” Baldacchino said. “Here in New Mexico, you can buy all the liquor you want, this is essential… you can buy marijuana, this is an essential service… but the Eucharist – the summit of our Christian life, the sacrament of our salvation – this is not worth any risk, it’s too dangerous.”

“We take risks to buy destructive things and call it essential while denying ourselves the true medicine,” Baldacchino said.

Many bishops across the United States have issued near-total sacramental bans in their dioceses, seeking to comply with state public health measures and help halt the spread of coronavirus.

The first instinct in many places has been to defer to state and local leaders, trusting that they have an eye on the common good. But, as weeks of lockdown wear on, Baldacchino’s point about inverted priorities has been taken up by a growing number of Catholics.

Liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries remain largely exempt from orders on businesses to close, with patrons lining up for entry in many places. In states across the country, Catholics have asked why would or should bishops support a different standard applied to churches.

Some local authorities, as in Louisville, Kentucky, and Greenville, Mississippi, have gone out of their way to close down drive-in religious services, fining and harassing people socially isolating in their cars, while permitting local restaurants to operate drive-through services.

Mendocino County, California, has ruled that there can be "no singing” during live streamed church liturgies.

The apparent targeting of religious observance in some places, and the deference shown to institutions like Planned Parenthood in others, presents a difficulty for the bishops.

On the one hand, the desire to lead by example on matters of public health and safety is real. No bishop wants a church to become a locus for spreading disease, and many believe they are setting a powerful local example by closing churches, putting pressure on other denominations, including some less concerned with observing social distancing, to follow suit.

On the other hand, it is increasingly difficult for bishops to lend their moral authority to the diktats of civic leaders that prioritize alcohol, marijuana, and abortion as essential for public welfare – especially over the sacraments and spiritual needs of the faithful.

Many bishops want to present a united front with their governors and mayors. But, when those same officials offer absurdist schedules of what is necessary for the public welfare, Catholics will more frequently question the impression of total support for those policies.

Some bishops have proactively barred exactly the kind of flexible ministry championed by Baldacchino. Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee recently banned his priests from offering Mass in parish parking lots, claiming that “parking lot Masses are not possible if we want to maintain our priorities of keeping people safe (including ourselves and our staff), preserving the dignity of the Eucharist, and sustaining unity among ourselves, as ministers and leaders.”

But the principle of subsidiarity, and the dictates of common sense, suggest that there is no one size to fit all for the Church in the United States. The wide-open spaces of Las Cruces bear little resemblance to city blocks in Brooklyn, where the coronavirus has taken such a terrible toll.

Still, bishops will try to balance competing priorities during the pandemic. They want to comply with civil regulations, and play their part in guarding public health. They will have to weigh this with, perhaps at times even against, their obligation to lead their flocks with courage and faith – and when necessary speak out against public policies which go against the basic principles of life, even under the guise of “sustaining life.”

It is an unenviable task in unprecedented circumstances.

Some U.S. bishops will undoubtedly seek safety in consensus, as they have tried to in the past. But consensus is hard to form, and it will be harder to hold as different circumstances continue to develop across the country.

As the second stage of the pandemic unfolds, and public life is eventually restored, new leaders could begin to emerge in the Church in the United States. Time – and the faithful – are likely to favor those who did the most to stand closest to their flock.

Pavone: With transfer pending, campaign work a matter of 'conscience'

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 13:25

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2020 / 11:25 am (CNA).- Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, says he will serve in leadership positions in the 2020 campaign to reelect President Donald Trump. The priest told CNA that concerns about his political and ecclesiastical activity have been resolved, but his home diocese has not clarified lingering questions about Pavone’s status in the Church.

An outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, Pavone serves as co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition, and a member of the “Catholics for Trump” advisory board. At an April 2 online launch, Pavone said the group would aim to tell Catholic voters how the Trump administration is putting the Church’s social teaching into practice.

“This coalition is going to be truly a movement where Catholics rise up and say, ‘Hey look, everything that the Church has been saying, we’re seeing it unfold before our eyes, not like magic, but with strong effort and united effort under this president’,” Pavone said during the online event. 

Ordained a priest by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York in 1988, Pavone has served in pro-life leadership positions full-time since 1993. In addition to being national director of Priests for Life, he is national pastoral director of the ministries serving post-abortive mothers, Silent No More and Rachel’s Vineyard. He has also served on the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Council for the Family.

In 2005, the priest transferred to the Diocese of Amarillo, with plans to begin a pro-life religious order of priests. Those plans did not materialize, and Pavone found himself at odds with Bishop Patrick Zurek after the bishop was installed in 2008. 

In 2011, the dispute between Pavone and Zurek of Amarillo became public, after the priest was recalled to the diocese and suspended by the bishop. Pavone appealed to the Vatican, and the suspension was eventually lifted in 2012.

Pavone’s role in partisan politics is unusual for a priest. Members of the clergy require permission to “have an active part in political parties.”

Speaking to CNA on April 17, Pavone was asked whether he had the permission of his bishop for campaign activity. The priest declined to answer directly, but suggested he did not need such permission because, he said, his focus on opposing abortion.

“Right now, all the advice I have been given is that, from the perspective of permissions and so forth, all the advice I have been given is not ‘Oh no, don’t do this,’” the priest told CNA.

Pavone added that he thinks engaging with his bishop is “a dysfunctional process,” and that “you can’t very well ask or receive anything, because there’s no relationship, there’s no communication.”

“It just hasn’t been workable to even ask a clear question or get a clear answer,” Pavone added.

Still, Pavone said that from his view, his campaign activity is a matter of conscience, regardless of canonical norms or the permission of his bishop. 

“It’s like, ‘Hey the house is on fire!’ I’m not going to ask anybody’s permission to go scream that the house is on fire…that’s the distinction that I would make,” the priest told CNA.

Speaking with CNA April 20, Pavone’s canon lawyer, Fr. David Deibel, disputed the notion that Fr. Pavone was engaging in partisan politics. 

“I would take issue with the word ‘political activity,’ the phrase,” Deibel said. “Affirming the Church’s teaching” on faith and morals “comes with the ordination to priesthood, and the ordination to diaconate, and of course is ultimately supervised in a particular church by a bishop,” he said. Pavone’s talking about abortion and politics “is not political activity,” he said. 

On Monday afternoon, before he spoke with CNA, Pavone tweeted that “In Jan, @realDonaldTrump was taking aggressive action re  #coronavirus” and asked “What were #Democrats doing? Sham #impeachment proceedings.”

#Pelosi and her crowd are unfit to govern. #Vote them out!” he tweeted. 

 

In Jan, @realDonaldTrump was taking aggressive action re #coronavirus

including issuing #China travel restrictions and declaring a public health emergency.

What were #Democrats doing?

Sham #impeachment proceedings.#Pelosi and her crowd are unfit to govern.#Vote them out!

— Fr. Frank Pavone ?? (Text LIFE to 88022) (@frfrankpavone) April 20, 2020  

The USCCB’s statement on political life, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” explains that in the discharge of their duties, “the Church’s leaders avoid endorsing or opposing candidates.” Asked about that statement, Pavone told CNA he believes his focus is on issues.

The Diocese of Amarillo did not respond to repeated requests from CNA for clarity about Pavone’s political activity or ecclesiastical status, including requests to clarify if he has faculties to publicly minister as a priest. 

Pavone told CNA that he is in the process of “transferring” from the Diocese of Amarillo, where he has been incardinated since 2005, to a new diocese, adding that he considers himself to be already under the authority of a different bishop. 

“The new bishop, to whom I’ve been transferred, is the one whose authority I am under right now,” he said, describing himself as a “priest in good standing,” which he told CNA meant that he is not subject to any canonical penalties or prohibitions.

The Priests for Life website says that “By a decree of the Vatican dated November 11, 2019 (Congregation for the Clergy, Prot. N. 2019 4532), [Pavone] was transferred out of the Diocese of Amarillo and granted the opportunity to continue to carry out his pro-life work under a new and supportive bishop.”

Pavone said he is not at liberty to name the diocese or bishop under whose authority he will operate in future, saying only that his political advocacy is well-known, and unopposed.

“They know—‘they’ being the old bishop, the new bishop, the Vatican—they all know,” he said.

Pavone said that his transfer follows a series of appeals to Rome’s Congregation for Clergy, and it will be for his new bishop to consider his situation. Pavone told CNA that his work does not fit neatly into the Church’s existing structures, which is part of the reason he has had difficulty with bishops. 

Nevertheless, the priest told CNA that his new bishop will review his affiliation with Catholics for Trump, his “help with the campaign’s outreach to pro-lifers and Catholics,” as he put it.

It “is something that, as we transition under another authority, that authority looks at and gives guidance,” Pavone told CNA. 

Pavone told CNA that in 2016, he sought a transfer to the Diocese of Colorado Springs. Asked whether his pending transfer is to Colorado Springs, Pavone declined to confirm or deny it.

The “new bishop is going to announce that himself. I don’t want to get ahead of that announcement, because he has to talk to his priests first, and then he’ll make an announcement about that,” Pavone said.

“I’m just waiting for him to say it first,” the priest added.

The Diocese of Colorado Springs told CNA that Bishop Michael Sheridan has not received information from the Congregation for Clergy to indicate that Pavone is being transferred to Colorado. 

Pavone is “not under the authority of Bishop Sheridan,” the Colorado Springs diocese told CNA, and the priest “does not have priestly faculties in the Diocese of Colorado Springs.”

CNA also asked Pavone to clarify a controversial moment from his past.

Ahead of the 2016 election, during which he also served as co-chair of Trump’s pro-life coalition, Pavone filmed a video at the Priests for Life headquarters, urging support for Trump.  The video was staged with the body of an aborted baby laid before Pavone on what appeared to be an altar. 

Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo said soon after the video’s release that he would open an investigation into the incident, calling it “against the dignity of human life” and “a desecration of the altar,” and adding that “the action and presentation of Father Pavone in this video is not consistent with the beliefs of the Catholic Church.”

Pavone told CNA on Friday that “nothing happened” after the incident, and the Amarillo diocese has not responded to questions about its investigation or its outcome.

“He [Zurek] told me the narrative that he thought happened. I pointed out he was assuming things and jumping to conclusions and failing to ask me any questions,” Pavone said, “which is an interesting way to conduct an investigation. And that was it. There was nothing.”

Of the incident, Pavone told CNA that: “I had done similar things in the past with no complaint,” he said. In 2013 and in 2011, Pavone conducted open-casket funerals of babies killed by abortion.

Asked whether he regrets the use of an aborted baby in the 2016 video, Pavone told CNA that “the showing of the babies is absolutely essential” and added that he did not use a consecrated altar, only a table that was sometimes used to offer Mass. 

He said he could have worked to ensure that the table did not look like an altar. 

“The altar was not part of my message,” he said, adding that he is “liturgically sensitive” enough to know not to use a consecrated altar for that purpose. Pavone said the video was not technically filmed in a chapel--the group never received their requested permission to dedicate a space as a chapel--but in a multi-use room used for Mass, among other things. 

According to Pavone, Bishop Zurek requested a letter from him clarifying the details of the incident. He said he sent the letter to the bishop who, he said, did not acknowledge it. 

Pavone also disputed the assertion that the presence of the body of an unborn baby would “desecrate” an altar. 

“That just shows people’s—their crappy view of the unborn, when you come right down to it, when they think that a baby’s body desecrates,” he said. “A baby’s body is holy, and we honored that body, we honored that body that day and we honored the body with burial.”

“But I did say in the letter, would I do it again? Absolutely. But you don’t put it on an altar,” he said. “The point is, you show the public the baby.”

“We honored this baby. It was the abortion industry that dishonored the dignity of that child. We honored that baby with proper burial, and honored that baby by letting that baby be seen by the world.”

While Zurek has criticized Pavone, he has also spoken in opposition to abortion and in support of efforts to defend the unborn.

“A right to do something evil simply cannot be a right all. Never! That simply defies logic,” Zurek said in February 2019 in reference to abortion.

“The blood of our innocents is crying to us for help. Now is the time to rise up!  We need much prayer and actual witness and manifestation, and most concretely to constantly be a people who promote life,” the bishop added. 

For his part, Pavone said his situation is about more than himself. 

“It’s not about canon law. It’s not about bishops and decrees and suspensions that were later declared invalid, or the authority of bishops over priests,” he said. “This is about the Church. I am not the one on trial. It is the Church, and the response that we’re going to make or not make about abortion.”

“There are some in the Church who—they’re radically opposed to what a lot of us in the pro-life movement do. And ultimately, a lot of it is rooted in what we were just talking about…political alliances, political affiliations, and this leads to efforts to silence the people who are calling out these problems,” the priest said.

Shortly after he was asked by CNA on Friday about canonical permission for his political work, Pavone tweeted that “the modern day Pharisees are here. Canon 287: Clerics are not to have an active part in political parties. The #Catholic #Church can be fined and shut down by #Democrat mandates, & all you want is that priests keep their mouths shut? Over my dead body, you hypocrites.”

 

The modern day Pharisees are here.

Canon 287: Clerics are not to have an active part in political parties.

The #Catholic #Church can be fined and shut down by #Democrat mandates, & all you want is that priests keep their mouths shut?

Over my dead body, you hypocrites.#KAG

— Fr. Frank Pavone ?? (Text LIFE to 88022) (@frfrankpavone) April 17, 2020  

Pavone told CNA that his support for the Trump campaign is an advisory role, with the goal of furthering pro-life policies.

The priest added that his partisan advocacy is justified by the gravity of the situation facing the Church in the U.S.,  and that Catholic organizations face threats of heavy fines for resistance to objectionable government mandates— citing the example of the HHS contraceptive mandate.

Pavone’s take on the stakes of the 2020 election is stark.

“Anybody who doesn’t see that the survival of church activity and the survival of America—not to mention the tens of millions of lives of children—depends on re-electing the president, they’ve got a problem,” he said.

Priests for Life was the subject of a Vatican investigation after Bishop Zurek of Amarillo recalled Pavone to the diocese from New York in 2011, citing “deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization.”

At the time, Priests for Life was running a $1.4 million deficit, and Zurek said that persistent questions had been raised about the way donations were handled. He charged that Pavone was disobedient and had refused to allow Priests for Life to be audited.

Zurek announced in a Sept. 9 letter to his fellow bishops that he had suspended Fr. Pavone from public ministry outside the diocese, beginning Sept. 13, 2011.

 Pavone appealed the suspension to the Vatican.

Pavone told CNA that the organization provided the diocese “full and complete annual audits” yearly, and that independent audits of the organization were conducted between 2005 and 2010 but the diocese never acknowledged receipt.

According to Pavone, in 2011 Bishop Zurek invited him to his office for a meeting, but that on the advice of his canon lawyer he refused to attend and asked instead for mediation.

In 2012, Fr. Pavone said his suspension had been lifted by the Vatican, and an apostolic visitation of Priests for Life was conducted in 2013.

In 2014, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote a letter to fellow bishops disavowing Priests for Life. claiming that he tried to work with Priests for Life to enact Vatican-mandated reforms of the group, but that Fr. Pavone refused to permit a forensic audit or allow the appointment of an independent board.

Pavone claims that “there were no reforms that were required of us,” adding that the Vatican made “suggestions” to the group after its visitation but that “none of these are obligatory.”

Although Pavone told CNA that he is “a priest in good standing,” the website of Priests for Life does not list a current letter of good standing, or an enumeration of his faculties.

One page, headed “Fr. Frank Pavone is a priest in good standing,” contains links to several documents, the most recent of which was issued in 1988 for the Archdiocese of New York, where Pavone is no longer incardinated.

When asked by CNA where he has priestly faculties, Pavone answered that he was “in transition” and said that he has the support of the Vatican for his priestly work. Deibel clarified that “the particulars of the transition are not public and are not suitable for publication at this point.” 

Fr. Pavone has the freedom to celebrate private Masses, for himself and “any congregation that happens to be with Priests for Life,” Deibel said. 

“Yes, Fr. Frank remains incardinated in the Diocese of Amarillo. Period. Yes, a transition is in process. Period. That transition was authorized through a process that was concluded in Rome. Period,” Fr. Deibel said. 

Providence bishop calls for evangelization, renewal after coronavirus

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 05:01

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence reflected Sunday on the potential outcome of the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging Catholics to develop plans for evangelization.

“When our churches re-open for public worship, how will the faithful respond? … Will they have grown accustomed to watching the Mass on TV or online, and find that it’s not necessary to attend in person, or will they have missed the sense of community, their parish family, and realize that ‘virtual participation’ can never replace the grace of being personally present?” he asked in his April 19 pastoral message “The State of the Church in the Diocese of Providence in the Age of Coronavirus”.

“I’m convinced that as a Church community – in the diocese, in our parishes, schools and organizations – this post-crisis moment invites us to redouble our commitment to evangelization.”

Bishop Tobin decried the negative impacts of the virus, especially the absence of regularly available sacraments.

He said it is uncertain how the coronavirus will affect the future, but the Diocese of Providence will be changed as a result. While this is a confusing time, he said, it is still an opportunity to conduct evangelization efforts and pursue personal holiness. 

“We have a new opportunity to reach out to and welcome back our own faithful Catholics whom we’ve desperately missed, as well as Catholics who have drifted away, (especially so many younger adults), those who have been alienated from the Church for any reason, and those who have never been members of the Church,” he said.

“We should be emboldened to employ every legitimate strategy and tactic we can think of: door-to-door visits, parish receptions, continuing education, Sunday bulletins, public advertising, and social media.”

He said the task can be carried out by people of all ages, that some parishioners have continued to tithe during this crisis, and that the Catholic Charity Appeal, while financially debilitated by the quarantine, has continued to provide assistance to those with immediate needs. 

He said the final goal of evangelization is not to increase the number of people in Church, although this is an important aspect, but to share and embrace an authentic experience of Catholicism. He said people should begin preparations now by praying, practicing virtue, and trying to imitate Christ.

“This moment in history is a new opportunity to appreciate the goodness, truth and beauty of our Catholic Faith, and to share with others the blessings that have been ours.”

“In short, let’s resolve to turn the coronavirus crisis into a moment of purification, rebirth and renewal for the entire Church. It’s something we should start talking about and planning for right now.”

As the virus has placed a lockdown on religious services worldwide, Tobin decried the absence of the sacraments in recent weeks, especially during the Easter season. He expressed hope that church communities will be able to gather for Pentecost.

“It is my fond hope, my prayer, my ‘aspiration,’ that by May 31st, the Solemnity of Pentecost, we will be able to gather in our churches again, even with a limited number of worshippers if necessary, for the public celebration of Holy Mass and to invoke the healing grace of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Kansas governor can't single out churches in COVID rules, judge says

Tue, 04/21/2020 - 02:31

Denver Newsroom, Apr 21, 2020 / 12:31 am (CNA).- The Kansas governor’s emergency restrictions on church services wrongly treated religious gatherings more strictly than similar activities, a federal judge said.

The judge granted a temporary injunction to two Baptist churches which challenged the order.

“Churches and religious activities appear to have been singled out among essential functions for stricter treatment,” U.S. District Judge John Broomes said in an April 18 ruling, saying the restrictions are “more severe than restrictions on some comparable non-religious activities.”

Gov. Laura Kelly’s rules “basically eliminated” association for the purpose of public worship, the judge said. The governor did not argue that church gatherings pose unique health risks, he said, and “the exemption for religious activities has been eliminated while it remains for a multitude of activities that appear comparable in terms of health risks.”

The judge said that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their case and will suffer religious freedom violations because the order was not “narrowly tailored” enough to further the “compelling” state interest in countering the spread of the coronavirus.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, told CNA April 20 that the Catholic bishops have tried to be a partner in the coronavirus response and commended the governor’s previous efforts, but found the restrictions imposed on religious gatherings in the days before Easter to be “troublesome.”

“We are grateful for this challenge and will be following the legal developments,” Weber said.

The plaintiffs are two churches and their pastors from different parts of Kansas: First Baptist Church in Dodge City in western Kansas, joined by Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City in northeast Kansas. Both churches are practicing social distancing measures at services, but say they believe engaging in “corporate” prayer is a call from God, the Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit from the two churches said the governor could have used less restrictive measures and that the presence of numerous exceptions for “essential” businesses, but not churches, meant her policies unfairly targeted churches.

Gov. Kelly, however, defended the restrictions and characterized the judge’s decision as “preliminary.”

“This is not about religion. This is about a public health crisis,” she said, adding that six deaths and 80 cases of coronavirus originated at religious gatherings. As of Monday, there have been more than 100 coronavirus deaths and almost 2,000 confirmed cases in the state.

“We all want to resume our normal lives as soon as possible, but for now the data and science tell us there’s still a serious threat from COVID-19 – and when we gather in large groups, the virus spreads,” the governor continued. “My executive order is about saving Kansans’ lives and slowing the spread of the virus to keep our neighbors, our families and our loved ones safe. During public health emergencies, we must take proactive measures to save lives.”

Weber said Kansas’ Catholic bishops have “tried to reach out and be a partner in navigating these admittedly complex situations.”

“The Kansas Catholic Bishops certainly recognize that Governor Laura Kelly has a duty and responsibility to protect the public health of citizens and make use of executive orders to accomplish that goal,” he said, noting that the bishops' early comments on these orders commended her actions.

“In times like this it can become easy to forget that separation of church and state is a two-way street--a 'street' that should be shared by the government and faith communities,” he added.

The governor's initial executive orders banned gatherings of more than 10 people, with religious gatherings among the exemptions as long as appropriate social distancing was practiced.

Then, in an April 7 executive order, the governor stressed the need for enhanced measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For the first time the governor listed “churches or other religious facilities” as venues where mass gatherings were banned, alongside auditoriums, theaters, stadiums, and other venues. The order had specific restrictions on religious activities, barring more than 10 congregants in “the same building or confined or enclosed space.” It allowed those who conduct or perform a religious service to exceed the 10-person limit so long as appropriate safety protocols are followed.

In an April 8 statement, the bishops noted their own suspension of public Catholic worship and large public gatherings at Catholic Church facilities predated state and local orders in Kansas. However, they said the order was “troubling” because “it specifically singles out restrictions on churches and religious activities while granting numerous exemptions to other public gatherings that present the same risk to public health.”

“We question the constitutionality of this order,” they said.

Broomes, the federal judge, said the numerous exceptions for businesses were “arbitrary.” He said the order included a “long list” of exempt activities and facilities: most governmental operations; airports; childcare locations; hotels; food pantries; shopping malls; and other retail establishments with large numbers of people but “not within arm's length of one another for more than 10 minutes”; restaurants, bars and grocery stores, provided social distancing is maintained; office spaces; and manufacturing, distribution and production facilities.

The temporary injunction, which applies only to the two churches, will last until May 2. A Thursday hearing will weigh whether the injunction should be lengthened or broadened.

The Baptist churches’ lawsuit has the backing of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Singling out churches for special punishment while allowing others to have greater freedom is both illogical and unconstitutional,” Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Ryan Tucker said April 18.

He added that the judge’s decision said the churches are to follow their own social distancing practices, “which these churches are obviously happy to do, since they proposed those rules themselves for everyone’s health and safety.”

Tucker voiced hope that the governor will “act quickly to remedy the unconstitutional provision of her mass gathering ban and avoid the need for continued litigation.”

Republican legislators had sought to remove Kelly’s order on church gatherings, but the governor contested their efforts before the state Supreme Court, which declined to rule on the merits of the case.

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Republican, told the Associated Press that people need to stay home but “the state cannot and should not set up a double standard.”

State Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, appeared sympathetic to the argument that churches faced more severe restrictions.

“I think a very persuasive case can be made that a number of clusters in Kansas are related to places of worship,” Carmichael said, according to KWCH News. “The problem, of course, is though, if you treat other types of gatherings differently or less stringently than a church, then you have a problem.”

Weber reflected on the situation in the state. The Diocese of Salina in northwest Kansas had not yet reported any COVID-19 case, but metro Kansas City and other populated areas have suffered hundreds of cases.

“No one—and I mean no one—wants a return to ‘normal’ any more than the four Catholic Bishops of Kansas,” he said. “This has been brutal on faithful Catholics, but also on our Catholic priests who have experienced a separation from the flocks they love and seek to serve.”

The bishops have reiterated that public Masses may not take place in Kansas. Funeral Masses, baptisms, wedding Masses are allowed only with no more than 10 people present, and only with appropriate precautions.

These measures will remain in place as long as the bishops deem them necessary, relying upon “the best advice of medical professionals,” Weber said.

 

Faith in the 'back row'- An interview with Chris Arnade

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 20:05

Denver Newsroom, Apr 20, 2020 / 06:05 pm (CNA).- Chris Arnade is the author and photographer of “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America.”

His book is a look at how many Americans - in rural and urban communities across the country- live. Chris got to know people who often lack a voice in American public life, and his work aims to give them a voice, and a face.  He talked with CNA about his book, his faith, and “Back Row America.”

Below is an excerpt, edited and condensed, from CNA’s interview with Arnade. The entire conversation can be heard here.


Chris, what is “Back Row America?”

“Back Row America” describes, in my simple framework, American communities that don't necessarily define themselves by their resumes or their education.

It's the part of America that has traditionally gone from high school to, to a job, a lifelong job that gave them the stability to build a family and then attend church regularly and stay in their community. That isn't a red state or blue state thing. That's true all across the country.

It's African-American communities in northern cities, it's working class rural communities in places like Iowa and Nebraska.

It's in contrast to what I think is the much more powerful group of people, which I would call, using the classroom analogy, “the front row.”

The elites, if you will, who have spent their career or chasing building a resume, going to all the right institutions and ultimately ending up probably in a few handful of neighborhoods across the United States.

They generally have very large influences in academics, the media and politics and the business world. And I think so much of how we think about America is defined by the front row, when in fact the bulk of Americans would probably find themselves to be more familiar with the back row.

 

How did you get to know "Back Row America?"

While working on Wall Street in finance, I spent time walking in neighborhoods across New York City. Those walks became a way to meet people I might otherwise never meet. Eventually, I quit my job and spent three and a half or four years in one neighborhood in particular, the poorest neighborhood in New York called Hunts Point in the Bronx.

It was a wonderful neighborhood, I was immediately drawn in by the strong sense of community. At an artistic level as a photographer and it was just simply a great place to photograph because it faces the south, it has good light.

And then it just drew me in.

I spent time with a group of, to use a derogatory term because there's no other terms, of homeless addicts, who lived in cars or lived in abandoned buildings, under bridges and spent their time making their money by either being a prostitute or stealing things or begging. And many used that money to buy heroin.

And they became the community that taught me for three and a half years.

And then from there I went in my car across the United States, I've put roughly about 400 000 miles over four years, just driving all the, around the United States, visiting places that people would tell me not to go to.

Visiting as much of the United States as I could, the parts that I call “back row America” that are not in the news in any other way other than negative. Towns that have lost their industry, inner cities that have never had industry, all sorts of places.

What I try to do in my book is both show what is common in this condition, but that there are variations, so to speak, on the theme and how people reflect their frustration and attempt to find dignity in different ways.


What were the things that you had found in Hunts Point and wanted to look for in other places?

One theme of my book is that the most salient and the biggest division in America right now is the educational divide. We all talk about class divide. We all talk about the racial divide. But I think the education divide is as important, if not stronger currently.

And that division is not just about how we vote, but it's about how we view the world, and how we think about what is valuable in this world, and how we think about what gives us meaning. So, at a very deep level, what's our philosophy? And what is our worldview?

And then that, if you are in the back, and that the front row controls things now. They generally are the “in” group. They define stuff. And it's the back row who is the one who is suffering from the decisions made by the front row, who have a very narrow worldview that they can't seem to think beyond.

If they do think beyond it, it usually means they either want to study the back row as sort of a scientific specimen or they want to pity them and save them without questioning their worldview.

And people know when they're being laughed at. The front row isn't directly laughing at people. But there is this sense of, again, when they view the back row, it's often viewed as people who are wounded, to be pitied and helped, as opposed to people to be listened to as equals.


Your book talks about some values that exist more clearly in the back row, a sense of place, a sense of obligation to the family, and people, and connectedness. Even a different sense of what matters in life; what it’s for.

Yeah. I mean, I always use the example of the young woman I met in a McDonald's in East L.A. And, if you read the book, you'll know that I spent a lot of time in McDonald's.

Because a lot of people who don't have a lot of money spend a lot of time in McDonald's because it has free wifi, and inexpensive food, and cheap.

So, I would see this young woman at McDonald'ss. I would be there each night to type up my notes and she was there because... I had seen her all over the country, variations of her, she was there to use the free wifi because she didn't have wifi at home. She or her family was too poor.

So, she would come in every night with her Game Boy and her computer, and charge both of them, and play on the internet, or do homework, or mostly just play her Game Boy, or her Switch, or whatever she had.

And so, eventually she got curious about me and asked and said, "You're from New York City." I told her I was from New York City.

She said she would love to go there. And I said, "Well, you're college age."

She said, "Well, I'm going to college here at East L.A. Community College. And I need to stay here because I'm my mother's translator."

Her mother was a Mexican-American immigrant. And, like a lot of immigrants, the oldest child is the one who speaks both languages and is necessary to fill out forms, navigate the country.

So, she was making a decision that I think we as a broader culture should applaud. She was staying there for her family.

But I think we look at people's decisions in what I would call a "resume arms race." Everybody has to be building a resume. And, in that process, which is a very narrow way of thinking about success, it's all about getting credentialed so you can make more money.

It's a very, very material definition of success.

For people who don't value that, who don't want the value of that very narrow framework, you have to give up the non-material forms of meaning like place, family, and faith, because those are considered to be in opposition to this arms race of building the best resume. And so, I think it's particularly an elitist view.

Being materialistic is very much an elitist view of the world because one of the things we're all gifted at birth is these values and these meanings that don't require a resume to have, like family, like place, and like faith. You don't need a resume into the church. You don't need a resume to find beauty in your local community or to be a member of your family.


Chris, could you talk about faith in the back row?

I came into this project an atheist. I certainly wasn't a nasty atheist. I was very always respectful of other people's faiths and views. But, in the back of my mind, I would have laughed at somebody who was religious, or at least thought maybe they should learn a little. And then, certainly by the end of the project, I wouldn't call myself religious, but I do go to church.

In the project I spent a lot of time in McDonald's because that's where the people I was learning from spent time. And likewise with churches, I spent a lot of time in churches because that's where the people I spent time with went.

I went to every denomination. I tried to try to go to the denominations that were most reflective of the community I was in. I tried to go to the churches that I guess, I think, theologically would probably be considered in the back row.

Places that had improvised spaces. So, there was one that was a former... I think it was a former Kentucky Fried Chicken, had been turned into a church. Another was an old gas station that had been turned into a church. Another was an old furniture store in a strip mall. Another was someone's house.

I came away personally moved by the experience... this was a very important part of people's lives. It was just wrong of me at many levels to dismiss it as nothing more than just a silly way of living, but also, at a personal level, I came away realizing that there was a lot there that I didn't appreciate.

 

What is important when churches minister to back row America?

I mean, I think from a purely pragmatic standpoint, I think the most important thing about the church is that they get people they're preaching to.

You go into a nonprofit in these communities or you go into these secular institutions, and they're not made up of people from the community. They're often outsiders who are well-intentioned. There's nothing wrong with that, being an outsider who's well-intentioned, but with a few exceptions, most of them haven't gone through a rough life, haven't experienced a lot.

You go in the churches, and it's their people. It's their community. They get them, at not just at an intellectual level but a lived reality level.

Also, that faith is a way to live that gives people guidance. Answers that give people a structure.

The first level of academica getting religion is pragmatic. They'll simply view it as something that's useful. I think the second level, which is much deeper and much more real, is to see it as something that isn't just useful but also so powerful and true. My own intellectual journey was getting beyond the first level of, "Oh, it's just a useful thing," a scientific solution, like, "Oh, these poor people have religion. That's good for them because it's useful," and moving on to the next, which is to see a religious worldview as equally valid to how I think about things.



I think to a large degree that the Catholic Church has done a pretty good job of understanding the people it serves.

I often went to Catholic churches as well, because I consider myself Catholic, and when traveling, I would like to go to different churches, and I think one of the things that did frustrate me is I can walk into a church and within half a minute tell you how wealthy the neighborhood around me is. You can just see by the amount of donations given. I mean, the donation differences are just staggering. You get some churches that collect $7,000 a week and others that collect $35 a week.

I think some outreach between [rich and poor Catholics] would be helpful. I think... and certainly, the people in the wealthier congregations and parishes having a little more understanding of their privilege and how the experience of being a Catholic might be different if you're in El Paso, for instance.

 

Do you have expectations for how things might change for the back row as a result of where we are right now, in terms of the pandemic and the resulting economic collapse? I’ve hoped it will lead to a greater sense of solidarity among people.

I'm probably about as cynical as I've ever been about it right now. I hate to try to throw water on your fire, but I mean, I'm looking at how the pandemic's playing out, and it's becoming a disease of the poor. All the solutions we proposed, as much as I agree with them, are pretty comfortable for the wealthy and pretty uncomfortable for the poor.

Sheltering in place, I think the word “place” covers a lot of ground there that we tend not to think about, but I certainly hope at a philosophical level that we come out of this, that people who can shelter in a nice place maybe understand that that's a privilege and that it's much easier for them to do that — come out of this with a greater awareness of how hard this is for a lot of people.


What can people do?

I mean, that's the problem is, with a pandemic, there's not much we can do right now other than recognize privilege and hopes going forward that we take that into account when we think about judging other people for not doing what we're doing, or scolding them for taking walks outside, or wanting to go to church in some capacity when the pandemic eases going to some sort of limited service.

I think we need to get back to being social again, probably before the credentialed experts tell us is a good time. I respect people enough to believe that they can make their own choices and see what's right.

I think, in the longer term though, one of my biggest frustrations with my book, and I think a lot of readers’ frustrations is I don't offer solutions, because I'm not sure I know them.

I don't know how you get people en masse to start saying, okay we need to value things differently. I think, one person at a time. If somebody in a comfortable suburb recognizes that their parish or their congregation is well off and others aren't, I mean that's the first step. Make a personal decision about how you think you can best address that.

I think it's important to treat people, everybody you meet, with respect, and again not pity them. I think many people look at those who are in the back row as people who need to be saved or changed, and maybe the best thing to do is just listen to them and give them the dignity of actually treating them like an equal.

That means sometimes not liking them. You don't have to like everybody. When people ask "What can I do with the homeless person?" And I say like, "Have a conversation with them. Treat them like a normal person. If you don't like them, you don't like them."

 

Chris, if you don't mind my asking, having gone through this experience, what do you pray for and what do you encourage other people to pray for?


What I pray for changes. I still hear from a lot of people who I wrote about in the book, who have my phone number and text me all the time. I pray for them, and for my family.

I guess, my greatest hope from this whole thing is that the reader comes away with an understanding that, in very rare instances, almost everybody who reads this book is going to have more privilege than the people in the book. And so, a little perspective. When it comes down to it, it's the old phrase, "Before you judge somebody, walk a mile in their shoes." I pray that message gets into people, that they can see that they themselves probably have a lot better than they realize.

And before you judge somebody, again, know what they've gone through.

This was an edited excerpt from a longer conversation between Chris Arnade and CNA. The entire conversation can be heard here.

 

Why you should remember the missions when you miss the sacraments

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Many U.S. Catholics have limited or no access to the sacraments during the coronavirus pandemic, bringing to many parishes a reality faced in other parts of the country on a regular basis.

Kevin Day, director of the Catholic Home Missions national collection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), told CNA on April 20 that Catholics in American many dioceses were experiencing circumstances “not unlike” the situation in mission territories around the world where Catholics might see a priest once or twice a year to hear confessions, bless marriages, and offer Mass in person.

“One of the things that I find interesting, is that everyone is facing this reality of being cut off from the sacraments, the physical sacraments, and the physical communion of the Church community,” Day said. 

He added that it’s an “educational opportunity” for U.S. Catholics to learn about life in “mission” territory—including “mission” dioceses in their home country.

“Home missions” are U.S. dioceses that require outside assistance to provide basic pastoral care to Catholics, often because they are located in rural parts of the country or in the predominantly-Protestant South where Catholics are a small minority.

These situations are more common than one would think, Day told CNA, making up around 40 percent of U.S. dioceses. They include dioceses in more sparsely-populated regions like Alaska, the Mountain West, and West Texas, but also in other areas such as Alabama, Mississippi, Northern Louisiana and Appalachia.

These dioceses do not have the “critical mass” for an independent financial foundation, Day said, and they rely on outside financial assistance for pastoral needs, for which the USCCB set up the Catholic Home Missions Appeal in 1998.

Normally held on the last weekend of April, the special collection provides millions of dollars—more than $9.4 million in 2019 grants—of aid for purposes such as Hispanic ministry, evangelization, aid to mission parishes, and seminary education.

The 2020 collection was scheduled for the weekend of April 25-26, but as the recent pandemic forced the cancellation of public Masses across the U.S., “we expect this year to have a significant decline in revenue,” Day said.

For many dioceses reliant on outside funding, with parishes which are perhaps not equipped for online giving, the pandemic could pose another significant funding problem. Parishes in dioceses not considered mission territory were already feeling the squeeze in March once public Masses were cancelled, with parish staff already reporting furloughs and cuts.

Some parishes are better equipped than others to survive the economic downturn, Day said, as some mission parishes have no reserves and a small congregation.

The bishops’ conference has already been working with home mission dioceses to help them weather the storm, expediting the delivery of FY 2020 grant payments and allowing them to pay for pastoral needs or general operating expenses rather than the original specific purposes, said Day, and dioceses have already expressed appreciation for this “flexibility.”

Some of the unique challenges facing mission dioceses during this time are technological—“the learning curve that the dioceses and the parishes are going through to go online,” he said.

In many parishes, pastors eligible for retirement are still serving out of necessity. These in particular may not have the technological expertise to conduct video conferencing or virtually communicate with parishioners and staff, and in some cases some younger high school and college-age parishioners have already stepped in to help them get up to speed, Day said.

Ultimately, the current pandemic and the resultant social distancing and spiritual communion of the faithful is a lesson that the church is “more than the structures of our buildings,” he said.

“If anything we’re coming to understand that yes, the sacraments and being cut off from the Eucharist is something that we haven’t experienced, and we’re going to value the Eucharist more. But at the same time, we know now that our church is more than the structures of our buildings and the walls that contain the tabernacle. Our church is greater than that.”

Capitol Hill parish takes adoration to the streets for Divine Mercy Sunday

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 17:10

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- Catholics around the world marked Divine Mercy Sunday at home, as public liturgies remain cancelled in many dioceses due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But one parish in Washington, D.C., found a way to bring the Lord to people even amidst the citywide stay-at-home order. 

Msgr. Charles Pope, pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, has been organizing a daily Rosary walk during the quarantine, together with six religious sisters of the Servants of the Lord the Virgin of Matará (Servidoras) who live nearby, and the three seminarians who live at the parish.  

For Divine Mercy Sunday, they switched up their routine: instead of departing at their usual 12:30 p.m., they met up in the church, prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and, at 3 p.m., the hour of mercy, they turned their daily walk into a procession with Msgr. Pope carrying the Eucharist in a monstrance. 

There was a “lot of beautiful response” to seeing the Eucharistic procession, Pope told CNA on Monday, April 20. He said people came out of their homes to adore the Eucharist, made the sign of the cross, and some even pulled over in their cars for a brief moment of prayer.

"For whatever reason we hit a good time when there were a lot of Catholics out in Lincoln Park," he said with a laugh.

After the procession returned to the parish, Pope displayed the Eucharist on a table outside of the building, and the group prayed for “an end to the plague.” 

As the Servidoras wear full habits with veils and Pope wears a cassock, he said they form “a pretty visible group” as they walk through the neighborhood. Despite their visibility, Pope said he has had zero negative interactions with the police, and very minimal negative interaction with passers-by. 

“They’re used to us,” he explained. Washington regulations limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people, the size of the Rosary group. 

Pope told CNA that he has been careful to follow whatever norms and laws are in place regarding social distancing, even though the sisters are technically exempt, as they all live in the same household. 

“We don't want people to misunderstand,” he said. “We do follow the six feet rule." 

The Rosary walk was the brainchild of the Servidoras, shortly after the suspension of public liturgies. 

“We just thought we still needed to be out in the neighborhood,” said Pope. 

The suspension of public liturgies and the inability to minister in person to his parish has been “utterly emotionally crushing” for Pope, but he told CNA that he has made adjustments to continue serving those in need.

The quarantine “has opened up these other opportunities, like walking in the neighborhood more,” he said, and he has been hosting Bible studies and meetings on Zoom. His parish has been offering unannounced, informal Eucharistic adoration each day, and, he noted, the Archdiocese of Washington has not issued any decree regarding the availability of confession so penitents can still receive the sacrament. 

Pope told CNA that he thinks that some of these changes may continue on even after the quarantine has lifted.

"I'm hoping a lot of the stuff that we've done, we can continue doing,” he said. 

“Maybe this is one of the ways the Lord kind of gave us a kick in the pants. 'I need you to be out in the neighborhood more, I need you to be online more, I want you to find more creative ways to reach people.'"

Still, Pope said that being unable to distribute communion to the faithful has been one of the biggest challenges of the quarantine. 

"The prohibition of giving communion out at all is problematic," he said, wondering why he would be prohibited from celebrating Mass with just nine other people. He told CNA that he was willing to wear gloves, a mask, or shift liturgical practices to ensure that people can safely receive the sacraments. 

"I would [take whatever precautions were necessary],” he said. “Because I care about God's people. It may feel a little humiliating, but I'm willing to humiliate myself to give them Holy Communion. I want to feed them, I want them to have communion."

Two states' coronavirus abortion bans remain after court interventions

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 15:19

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2020 / 01:19 pm (CNA).- Eight states that have enacted temporary bans on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic are contending with legal challenges, and judges have prevented many of the temporary bans from coming into effect.

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

In Iowa, abortion advocates had filed a lawsuit against the state’s order, but reached an agreement with the state outside of court before the lawsuit could progress.

In Alaska, a move by state officials to “delay” abortions until June has not been legally challenged; and in Mississippi, the state’s order banning all “elective” medical procedures also has not been challenged. Louisiana’s order to stop elective abortions is facing a lawsuit but has not been blocked.

Many states have suspended medical procedures deemed non-emergency or non-essential in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus among healthcare professionals, and to free up medical resources and hospital capacity.

Texas

In Texas, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit Court ruled April 7 that Texas has the authority to halt elective abortions as non-essential medical procedures during a public health emergency. Governor Greg Abbott had on March 22 issued a statewide order halting abortions, and abortion clinics in the state immediately sued.

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

On April 14, a federal appeals court ruled that so-called medication abortions can continue in Texas despite the order. Most surgical abortions are still prohibited in Texas, except for emergencies or pregnancies “nearing the state's 22-week cutoff,” NPR reports.

Tennessee

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

Governor Bill Lee had issued an emergency order April 8 banning abortions for three weeks, with the goal of freeing up protective medical equipment for doctors caring for COVID-19 patients and limiting interactions between patients and abortionists.

The reason the judge gave for allowing abortions, according to the AP, is that the defendants did not show that an appreciative amount of protective medical equipment would be saved by halting abortions in the state.

Alabama

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

Granting a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson wrote that “efforts to combat COVID-19 do not outweigh the lasting harm imposed by the denial of an individual’s right to terminate her pregnancy, by an undue burden or increase in risk on patients imposed by a delayed procedure, or by the cloud of unwarranted prosecution against providers.”

Oklahoma

Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stitt clarified March 27 that the order prohibited elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at risk, among the non-essential surgeries that were to be halted. The order also stopped “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.”

On April 1, Stitt extended the order’s prohibitions until April 30. On March 30, abortion providers in the state challenged the halt to elective abortions in court. On April 7, Judge Charles Goodwin of Oklahoma’s Western District Court put a temporary stay on Stitt’s order, allowing some abortions, including medication abortions, to continue.

The court’s restraining order is in effect until April 20, after which the court can let it expire or address the situation again.

Ohio

On April 6, a court ruled that Ohio cannot stop abortion clinics from operating due to COVID-19.

Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the pandemic, before a district court put a temporary restraining order on that policy March 30.

Arkansas

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on April 14 granted a temporary restraining order against the state of Arkansas’ order to halt elective abortions.

Iowa

Governor Kim Reynolds issued an order March 30 classifying abortion as an elective procedure and banning them during the pandemic, but the state later acknowledged that the order only suspends "nonessential" surgical abortions that can be delayed without undue risk to the health of the patient, the Des Moines Register reports.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa had filed a lawsuit against the state’s order but voluntarily withdrew its motion for an emergency injunction after the state responded to the lawsuit.

Louisiana

The Louisiana Department of Health on March 21 ordered all medical and surgical procedures be postponed until further notice, with exceptions for emergencies.

Abortion clinics in the state have sued to block the measure.

Mississippi

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

Alaska

Governor Mike Dunleavy on March 19 added surgical abortions to a list of procedures that should be delayed until June 15.

The state’s list, updated April 7, includes several other types of surgeries including cancer, cardiac, and children’s procedures, including circumcisions, that could be postponed, Alaska Public Media reported.

Michigan Catholic Conference calls governor's abortion stance 'removed from reality'

Mon, 04/20/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Michigan Catholic Conference has condemned Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent claim that abortion is “life sustaining” and should remain available throughout the state, even as other medical procedures are limited to conserve medical resources to fight the coronavirus. 

“We call on Governor Whitmer to pause and reflect on the wounds her comments have created for countless people in this state and elsewhere. We all need the governor’s sole focus right now to be on the needs of the people of Michigan, not the demands of the abortion industry,” said an April 19 statement from the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state.

In an April 16 appearance on the podcast “The Axe Files,” Whitmer was asked by host David Axelrod to react to efforts by some states to limit abortions as part of their efforts to conserve medical resources and combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“A woman’s healthcare, her whole future, her ability to decide if and when she starts a family is not an election, it is a fundamental to her life. It is life sustaining and it’s something that government should not be getting in the middle of,” the governor said.  

The conference said it had “expressed its appreciation to the governor for her efforts to keep residents of the state safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” but that “her comments on the podcast, however, clarify how bifurcated and confusing her understanding of human life has become.”

The idea that abortion sustains life is “removed from reality,” said the MCC. 

“Night is not day; war is not peace. How can Governor Whitmer on the one hand prohibit medical surgeries and the growth of food through gardening yet refer to a procedure that intentionally destroys a developing human person as ‘life sustaining?’” 

Whitmer has ordered stores greater than 50,000 square feet to close off their flooring, furniture, gardening, paint, and carpeting sections, ruling that these items are “not essential” during the pandemic. Seeds can still be purchased at smaller stores or online. 

The MCC said that they were not surprised by Whitmer’s abortion advocacy, as “for most if not all of her political career the governor has carried the banner for abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy,” and added “her comments indicate how easily candidates for higher office are pushed into a dark corner by the abortion industry.” 

Michigan has over 31,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,300 deaths attributed to the virus.

Advocates lament exclusion of those with criminal records from business loan program

Sun, 04/19/2020 - 17:01

Denver, Colo., Apr 19, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- After receiving more than 1.6 million applications, a key part of the US government’s economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, known as the Paycheck Protection Program, ran out of money Thursday and will no longer be accepting new applications.

In the two weeks the Paycheck Protection Program was active, the application process for the loans excluded small business owners with criminal records from applying— potentially hurting both business owners with criminal records and their employees, advocates and those with personal experience told CNA.

What is the PPP?

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act March 27 to help relieve the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Among various measures, including expansions to unemployment benefits, the CARES Act authorizes some $350 billion in loans to small businesses, intended to allow these businesses to continue to pay their employees. The loans were given on a first come, first serve basis.

The loans were capped at $10 million, were open to businesses with fewer than 500 employees per location, and were intended to cover two months of payroll costs.

The federal government promised to forgive the loans if a business used at least 75 percent of the funds to maintain its payroll at “pre-pandemic levels” for eight weeks after the loan is disbursed, the New York Times reports.

The remaining money could be used only to pay for certain expenses, such as a mortgage, rent, and utilities, according to the Times.

Those with criminal records left behind

The most recent guidelines from the Small Business Administration regarding the PPP stated that business owners will be denied a loan if they are facing criminal charges, or have had a felony conviction in the past five years.

This policy is, according to a group of nonprofit social justice organizations who wrote an April 10 letter to Congress, more restrictive than the SBA’s existing regulations regarding criminal record restrictions for small business loans.

Applicants are asked about criminal history for regular SBA loans. A typical small business loan application from the SBA allows applicants to provide details about their criminal history beyond a simple "yes" or "no”— unlike the emergency loan application, which explicitly states that the loan will not be approved if the applicant answers “yes” to either of the two questions pertaining to criminal records.

“With one in three Americans having some sort of record, and people with records experiencing an unemployment rate five times higher than the average rate, these restrictions will have a significant and detrimental impact on individuals, families, and communities across the United States,” the group of nonprofits said in their letter.

The application form for the PPP itself had more restrictions, such as mandating that no one owning 20% or more of the business be subject to any “means by which formal criminal charges are brought in any jurisdiction.”

A similar loan from the SBA called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan also asked for the applicant’s criminal history, and seems to exclude those who have “ever” been convicted, pleaded guilty, pleaded no contest, been placed on pretrial diversion, parole, or probation for “any criminal offense.”

The small business hustle

James Blum, a Catholic who runs a community in Aurora, Colo., that assists men coming out of prison, told CNA that people with criminal records already face major challenges finding employment and getting loans.

Blum— who himself spent time in prison and has a felony on his record— considered applying for the PPP himself, but knew his felony would exclude him.

Many guys with criminal records hope, Blum said, that it would be easier to start their own company rather than try to get hired. The truth is, he said, most businesses, even if you're not a felon, don't succeed. There's a lot of money that must be invested, and there's an attitude of hustle that you have to have.

Reporting from the non-profit Marshall Project bears out Blum’s experience, suggesting that because people with felonies, in particular, often cannot get jobs, many start their own businesses.

Blum said he knows a man with a criminal record who started his own janitorial business, and found some success doing that until the company eventually went under.

Another man he knew started a company doing custom tile, and took on several employees, but "he's working like a dog" to make ends meet.

"Many guys think, 'Oh I'll just work for myself.' And that sounds good, but it's very difficult to be successful as a small business owner in this country," he said.

“The call never comes”

Blum’s organization, My Father's House, helps men gain the skills they need to be successful post-prison. He said at least three of the men who frequent the house are currently out of work, one of whom was just released from prison and did not have a chance to look for a job before the pandemic began.

The other two, he said, have been laid off and are filing for unemployment.

"When they first get out of prison, men, especially those convicted of sexual offenses, aren't even allowed to access the internet, and they have to have permission, and that can take months to build the trust with the parole officer and the treatment providers and let them access the internet, and even have an email address," Blum said.

"To try to apply for a job in this world without an email address is just ridiculous. Every time you go on a website, the first thing they ask you is what's your email address. And so even if you can get permission to go to a monitored computer site, like at the parole office, and you go to a website, the very first thing they're going to ask you is for your email address."

At some point the parole officer will allow them to create an email address, but they can only access that email at the parole office, Blum said. The logistics are difficult, partly because they have to create a resume on a computer they're not familiar with, and they can't access their email every day.

When an employer finally gives someone with a criminal record a job interview, you can explain a felony as best you can, but it may not always make a difference, Blum said. The interview could be going well, and the interviewer could be impressed with the applicant's knowledge and experience, but it may end up being moot once they learn of the applicant’s record.

"The answer is just: 'Well, we'll give you a call.' And the call never comes," Blum said.

Though a recruiter may interview a candidate with a criminal record, most Human Resources departments will step in after that. Success in the interview is not a predictor of success in getting the job, Blum said.

"There's a whole series of decision makers that you never even get to meet," he said.

"At some point you end up with a whole class of people that have served their sentence, they've supposedly paid their debt to society, and yet they cannot enter into the economy, and into society at a regular level."

Blum noted that he himself is very blessed to be able to work full-time hours from home during the pandemic, and not be laid off, but "I'm in the minority, for sure, among felons."

“How does that make any sense?"

Brian, a Catholic living in Denver who is working to start a software consulting business, told CNA that he tried to apply for the emergency loan, but a misdemeanor on his record automatically excluded him.

Brian is on a diversion program and has a misdemeanor harassment charge on his record. While he does not have a felony on his record, he has found it difficult to find employment since his misdemeanor charge, despite being an experienced computer programmer.

"Now I'm going to have to suffer financially for it, as if I haven't suffered enough," he told CNA.

While it may be politically expedient to include a clause excluding those with criminal records from the emergency loan program, Blum said it ends up hurting not only the bosses, but the workers as well.

"By stopping the business owner— who was convicted of a felony five, six, seven years ago and served his time and paid his debt to society— by stopping that man from getting the loan, you're punishing another guy who's never committed a crime in his life, and that guy's family,” Blum said.

“[The worker] is going to lose his job because the business owner can't afford to pay the payroll. How does that make any sense?"

If the purpose of the emergency loan program is to relieve the American economy, he said, he doesn't see why a business owner's criminal history is important.

"They think they're punishing the business owner, but really they're punishing these other people," he said.

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