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Memento mori in a time of pandemic

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- As the coronavirus continues to spread, many people find themselves confronted with their mortality for the first time. One religious sister, who has created a ministry helping Catholics find hope in their faith when faced with the reality of death, says they need help.

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, an order dedicated to spreading the faith through modern media. She is also the author of several publications on the theme memento mori, remembering your own death, all of which aim to help the reader develop spiritual practices and disciplines which acknowledge the reality of death. 

She told CNA Tuesday that in the “relatively unprecedented” situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been forced to consider their own deaths “in a different way altogether, almost communally.” 

Catholics have a special role to play in this time, she said.

“As Catholics, we have a special responsibility to live this [time] close to our tradition,” Noble told CNA. 

“I think that it will be beneficial to us spiritually if we live this reality close to our tradition, which gives us a lot of guidance on how to live with fear of death and how to cope with it in a faith-filled way, but also a reasonable way.” 

Personal faith and responsibility are both important, especially now, Noble said, with the “fearful reality” of the coronavirus leaving her concerned for the health and safety of her own loved ones. 

Faced with the unique situation of entire societies experiencing some form of memento mori, Noble said that Catholics should bring their fears and anxieties to Jesus, as well find hope in their faith. 

Noble explained that from a religious perspective, “meditation on death helps us to see those fears, but then bring them to Jesus and help him to fill those fears with this hope.”

A faith-filled approach to death is not about rejecting fear, she said, “it’s natural and real to respond to death with a feeling of fear,” but becoming open to grace at the same time. 

“Because we have the gift of faith from our baptism, we can respond to that fear differently,” said Noble. “We can also have hope in the midst of that fear.” 

Witnessing to this hope, she said, is something Catholics can do to help those who do not have faith and have been left isolated through anxiety and fear during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Personally, I think that's how Catholics can help their secular friends right now. They might not have the faith that we have, but we can keep turning to Jesus in this and finding that hope that our faith really does provide for us, and being that light of hope to others right now.” 

Finding hope in this time is a “special gift that all Christians can be to the world,” she said. 

While many Catholics are struggling to adjust to closed churches and the suspension of public Masses, Noble said that it was important to remember that “in extraordinary circumstances” God provides.

“God provides us with the graces that we need in the time that we need them,” she said, and encouraged people to make acts of spiritual communion, “asking Jesus to give us the graces that He would have us at Mass, and to give us even more to deal with the situation, because He’s going to give us all that we need.” 

Noble emphasized that while memento mori is a beneficial spiritual practice, it does not mean that someone should become “totally fearless of death,” especially not to the point of carelessness.

A Christian approach to mortality is “the balance of extreme caution and value for the preciousness of our lives, with the recognition that the end of our lives is really out of our hands, and it’s in the good and holy will of God,” said Noble. 

“God wants us to use our minds and our intellect to be cautious and careful, and to only take risks when God calls us to and not when the risks outweigh the benefits,” she said.

Hospitals, states consider how to distribute healthcare if coronavirus surges

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- In Italy, which has the most deaths from coronavirus, some doctors have said they have had to overlook older patients to focus on younger ones who are more likely to survive as the virus overwhelmed the healthcare system.

In the US, states and hospitals are considering how to distribute healthcare if demand for limited resources exceeds what can be provided. Worldwide, there are 332,930 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 14,509 deaths. Of those, 31,573 cases are in the US, where there have been 402 deaths due to the virus.

Colorado adopted a Crisis Standards of Care Plan in 2018 as guidelines “to assist healthcare providers in their decision making with the intention of maximizing patient survival and minimizing the adverse outcomes that might occur” when healthcare needs “far surpass” what is available.

“It’s very military-style triage,” Dr. Matthew Wynia of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus told The Colorado Sun's John Ingold. “If we get hit that hard, we are going to have some very difficult decisions to make. And we can’t wait until then to get ready for that … it would be irresponsible not to plan right now for a huge surge of patients.”

Colorado's crisis standards of care would be activated only after the governor declares a public health emergency, and even then, it would implemented locally, depending on the conditions in individual counties or communities.

Among the goals of the state plan is to “minimize serious illness and death by administering a finite pool of resources to those who have the greatest opportunity to benefit from them”.

Guiding ethical elements of Colorado's plan are stewardship of resources, duty to care, soundness, fairness, reciprocity, proportionality, transparency, and accountability.

It focuses especially on fairness, proportionality, solidarity, and being participatory.

The Colorado guidelines say healthcare providers should be fair to all the affected “without regard to factors such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability or region that are not medically relevant.”

With regard to solidarity, the Crisis Standards of Care Plan says that “all people should consider the greater good of the entire community.” It adds that for transparency and accountability, “the community, healthcare providers, and emergency management agencies” should be engaged during the process.

Dr. Charlie Camosy, an associate professor of theology at Fordham University, last week discussed with CNA the principles that should be used as doctors might face choices over healthcare distribution.

“There are virtually no universally agreed-upon principles to do this--excepting, perhaps, the idea that health care providers, first-responders, law enforcement, and others primarily responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the polity should get priority,” he stated.

For Catholics, he said that serving “the most vulnerable first” is a fundamental principal.

“Those people are Christ to us in a special way and we will be judged according to how we treat them. We don't think about, say, how long they might stay on a ventilator vs. how long someone we might encounter next week might stay on a ventilator. We also don't think about how long they might have to live if the treatment is successful vs. how long other someone we might encounter next week might live if their treatment is successful.”

He added that it makes sense among limited resources “to treat those first who are most likely to benefit from the treatment. And there may be a disproportionate number of younger people in the former category. But that is not the same as deciding that we ought to prefer the young to the old because they have longer to live.”

While the US bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services do not directly address resource allocation during crises, they do note that “Catholic health care should distinguish itself by service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination: the poor; the uninsured and the underinsured; children and the unborn; single parents; the elderly; those with incurable diseases and chemical dependencies; racial minorities; immigrants and refugees.”

The directives add that “in particular, the person with mental or physical disabilities, regardless of the cause or severity, must be treated as a unique person of incomparable worth, with the same right to life and to adequate health care as all other persons.”

In Washington, advocates of persons with disabilities have filed a complaint saying that crisis care guidelines issued by the state health department are improperly discriminatory.

“There's been a long history of people with intellectual, development mental disabilities having our medical care denied," Ivanova Smith, one of the complainants, told NPR. "Because we're not seen as valuable. We're not seen as productive or needed. When that's not true. We have people that love us and that care for us. Many people with disabilities work and they do amazing things in their communities but they need that life saving care."

Attorneys representing the Thomas More Society and the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund published a memo March 23 urging that “policies rationing care on the basis of disability or age … would violate federal law regarding invidious discrimination.”

“Anticipated longevity or quality of life are inappropriate issues for consideration. Decisions must be made solely on clinical factors as to which patients have the greatest need and the best prospect of a good medical outcome. Therefore, disability and age should not be used as categorical exclusions in making these critical decisions,” the memo concludes.

Peter Breen, vice president of the Thomas More Society, commented that “The horrific idea of withholding care from someone because they are elderly or disabled, is untenable and represents a giant step in the devaluation of each and every human life in America.”

Other possible criteria for healthcare distribution during crises include first-come-first-served, or a lottery system.

Lives worth living? Why healthcare rationing must be ethical

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- As state health officials plan for health care rationing during the coronavirus pandemic, lawyers, ethicists and theologians are warning that denying care on the basis of age or disability violates federal law. 

“There’s always the temptation when things get rough, and when you’re looking at rationing situations and looking at triage, to fall into the error of devaluing human lives,” Dr. Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University, told CNA on Monday.

While health care rationing may be a “reality” during a crisis, George said, it can never be done on the basis of categories such as age or disability.

“What we think it’s critical to avoid is falling into the trap of making judgments about whose life is and whose life isn’t a life worth living, or falling into the trap of thinking that some peoples’ lives are inherently superior to others,” George said.

George and two other scholars—Fordham theology professor Charles Camosy and Harvard sociology professor Jacqueline Rivers—requested a legal memorandum on federal civil rights protections against age and disability discrimination.

They did so citing reports that health care entities are already planning for “crisis” scenarios in the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has already resulted in more than 46,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.

Health experts have warned that the U.S. healthcare system could soon be overwhelmed with new hospitalizations as the virus spreads, and face a shortage of beds and necessary equipment such as ventilators.

For such “crisis” scenarios, state health officials, hospitals, hospital groups, physicians, and medical teams in several states are already making plans to decide who should be prioritized to receive critical care when there is a shortage of available personnel, beds, ventilators, and other equipment.

“As somebody who has studied bioethics, and who is a professor of bioethics, I know the overwhelming majority of them have virtually no ethics training,” Camosy told CNA. “Those that do have ethics training tend to be more utilitarian in their approach.”

Health officials are reportedly basing health care rationing upon age and disability.

According to the New York Times, Washington state officials and hospital leaders discussed last week a “triage document” for the new coronavirus pandemic to establish limitations on critical care for patients based on their age, health, and likelihood of survival, granting only comfort care to other patients.

Disability rights advocates in Washington have already written to the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), asking them to “act swiftly” and clarify existing civil rights protections before Washington finalizes its triage plan.

Otherwise, “there will be no way to undo the lethal outcome of the discriminatory plans that have been formulated without OCR’s guidance,” the groups stated.

On Tuesday, the OCR told CNA that it did not comment on open or potential investigations.

However, a spokesperson for the office told CNA that OCR director Roger Severino is committed to ensuring no one is left behind during times of emergency.

“Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, or needing religious accommodations should not be put at the end of the line for health services during emergencies. Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism,” Severino said in a quote sent to CNA.

If healthcare is rationed based on age or disability, ventilators could be denied to COVID-19 patients above a certain age or those with a condition such as muscular dystrophy, Camosy said.

“We’re trying to raise the alarm about this,” George told CNA, saying the scholars will ask Attorney General William Barr to clarify to states that health care rationing must not violate federal civil rights laws.

In response to the academics’ request, a legal memorandum was prepared by attorneys for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund and the Thomas More Society, led by the groups’ special counsel Charles LiMandri, who is also a partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP.

“Federal law requires that decisions regarding the critical care of patients during the current crisis not discriminate on the basis of disability or age,” the memorandum states.

Among the federal civil rights protections in healthcare cited in the document are the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, which forbids age discrimination in federally-funded health programs, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits disability discrimination by private entities and state and local governments.

“The Affordable Care Act extends the above protections against discrimination on the basis of disability or age to individuals participating in any health program or activity administered by HHS or that receives funding from HHS,” the memorandum states.

Critical health care decisions are fast looming as the pandemic grows, particularly in hotspots such as New York City and Seattle.

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned last week that by early May, 110,000 hospital beds would be needed to deal with the virus with a current total capacity of only 53,000 beds.

Unfortunately, health officials and doctors will probably have to ration care, Camosy said, with not enough hospital beds, ICU beds, ventilators and other equipment available to treat all the patients with the virus..

“There’s really no question at this point that we’re going to have to have some kind of plan, even if it’s just first-come-first-serve,” he said.

However, he emphasized, “we ought not to violate people’s fundamental rights by doing so.”

Louisiana governor announces day of prayer and fasting

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 09:40

Baton Rouge, La., Mar 24, 2020 / 07:40 am (CNA).- The Catholic governor of Louisiana has asked fellow citizens to pray and fast on March 24 for those affected by the coronavirus. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced on Monday evening that he and the state’s First Lady will fast on Tuesday, in the middle of both the season of Lent and a global pandemic.

“In this Lenten season where we focus on fasting and prayer, I wanted to let the people of Louisiana know that I will be fasting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24,” Edwards tweeted.

The governor asked others to pray and fast with him “for comfort to those that have lost a loved one to COVID-19, the complete recovery of those that have tested positive, and that God will, as He has done before, heal His people and our land.”

Edwards, a Catholic, was re-elected in November to his second term as Louisiana’s governor. In 2019, he signed a ban on abortions once a baby’s heartbeat can be detected in utero, usually around six to eight weeks.

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in more than 46,000 confirmed cases in the U.S.

Louisiana has the third-highest rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita of any state in the U.S., Edwards said on CNN on Monday evening. There are 1,172 reported cases and 34 deaths from the new coronavirus in the state, and New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond tested positive for the new coronavirus on Monday.

Edwards issued a stay-at-home order to all Louisiana residents, effective at 5 p.m. CT on Monday, limiting the movement of residents outside their homes to activities such as grocery store and pharmacy shopping, medical visits, recreational walks outside, and urgent visits to friends and family.

On Monday evening, he asked others to join him in prayer and fasting on Tuesday.

“[The First Lady] and I believe in the power of prayer and know, based on our Catholic Christian faith, that prayer coupled with fasting is pleasing to God. #lagov #lalege,” Edwards tweeted.

In defiance of CDC guidelines for limited gatherings to slow the spread of the virus, pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, Louisiana held a service on Sunday with more than 1800 people in attendance, according to local news outlet WNEM.

On CNN on Monday, Edwards responded to the gathering that “I’m a person of faith. I absolutely believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe in science.” His stay-at-home order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people in one place at one time.

“In this case, I choose to do what science tells me while I pray for the best possible outcome,” he said.

AA under quarantine: How coronavirus is changing 12-step recovery programs

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 24, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Ian, a 30 year-old living and working in an addiction recovery community in southern Florida, is somewhat used to paradoxical living conditions. Ian has been clean and sober for ten years, and he lives in an area he says is densely populated with recovering addicts. Seven minutes from his house, though, is spring break territory.

Ian finds the contrast puzzling.

“(The surrounding) community is very spring break-esque, but it's also the largest recovery community in the United States. It's the largest recovery community for people that are getting sober or staying it's just weird because it's two polar extremes,” he told CNA. 

Last week highlighted the differences between the communities even more, as the sober living community observed social distancing and isolation per federal coronavirus guidelines, while hordes of spring-break revelers hit the beach and blithely partied on.

“It's really polarized at this point,” Ian said. “There are people that are clearly trying to keep their space, and then there's people that just don't care.”

‘It’s affected everything’

Spring breakers notwithstanding, the addiction recovery community in Florida and across the United States is scrambling to make group and sponsor meetings as available and effective as possible, while observing federal and state guidelines which dictate that no more than 10 people may gather together, and in some cases, that people cannot leave their homes except for essential supplies and emergencies.

“It's really affected everything,” Ian said of the coronavirus restrictions.

Ian told CNA he qualifies for membership in multiple 12-step programs, including Heroin Anonymous, but that he has remained the most active in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Despite what people might think about Alcoholics Anonymous meetings based on movies or T.V. shows, Ian said that the primary reason for in-person meetings is not so much therapy as it is to offer a place for newcomers to meet others in recovery and to find a sponsor.

“The idea is that someone who is brand new has a place to go where they can meet someone who's not brand new, and in that process get involved with the 12 steps,” he said. “It's the catalyst of all other things, i.e., the newcomer really getting involved with the 12 steps.”

“If you bring them to a group that is really enthusiastic...they get almost attacked by people that are trying to help people. And so before you even know it, you've got a sponsor,” and a community, or at least the prospect of onem he added.

Involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous varies from person to person, but typically, a member of AA attends meetings at least once a week (often more frequently), and has regular meetings with a sponsor, who is usually a member with more years in recovery offering guidance through the 12 steps of recovery.

While coronavirus restrictions have put a damper on in-person interactions, Ian said he and his friends anticipated that lockdowns and quarantines were possible in the face of coronavirus, and they worked to put together Zoom online conference meetings, as well as a master spreadsheet of anyone available to sponsor new people.

“We're going to be actually sending this to every local halfway house and treatment center and saying, ‘Hey, if you have new people that need sponsors, all of these people are willing to take as many as possible until it becomes unbearable,’” he said.

Back to the roots

“Father C”, a priest in Pennsylvania who is in recovery from alcohol addiction, spoke to CNA on the condition of anonymity. He said that in some ways, remote ways of connecting people in recovery to one another are a throwback to the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, when the organization, founded in 1935, reached new people primarily by telephone.

“Groups only got organized because one alcoholic reached out to another and shared the message of his own recovery through the practice and the steps,” “Father C” told CNA.

Before they had texting or other digital ways of organizing meetings, “two people meeting together...even on the telephone, was a meeting to them,” he said.

Only after the telephone became more common in American homes, and the word about Alcoholics Anonymous got out, were organizers able to establish bigger group meetings.

Dave, a Catholic father of six in recovery in Maryland, said that mail was also used in the early days of AA.

“So the history is that Bill Wilson got sober in New York and Dr. Bob Smith got sober in Akron, Ohio. And Bill was in Ohio at the time when they started; Bill got Bob sober. And then they hung out and they would go to these Oxford Group meetings. Oxford Group is a Protestant group that had some of the basic tenants of AA,” he said.

“When Alcoholics Anonymous started, it was mainly these disparate groups of people that would exchange letters before there were meetings everywhere. So it's a little bit of how things were in the beginning, but just with a 21st century spin on it,” he added.

More isolation, but more ways to connect

Joelle is a wife and mother in her 50s in Fresno, California who has been in recovery through AA for 10 years. She serves as an event planner for AA (though, all upcoming events have been canceled).

The move to virtual meetings means that newcomers will have to be especially proactive about reaching out for help, Joelle told CNA.

“We have a principle, a little refrain, that we say. It's: ‘When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, we want the hand of AA to always be there. And for that I am responsible.’ Well, in this time, (newcomers) really are going to have to reach out. They're going to have to find us,” Joelle added.

“Because usually somebody drops into a meeting and they don't leave that meeting without some phone numbers and exchanging numbers so that they don't get lost in AA. But, obviously that's not possible right now.”

The “big saving grace” at the moment has been videoconferencing, Joelle said. The groups with which she’s involved have set up online conference meetings via Zoom, and put the word out via Facebook and word of mouth about the change. So far, attendance has been high.

“One of the meetings I go to is an every-morning-meeting, every day of the week, at 6:30 a.m. And a lot of the people who come to that meeting, they're kind of hit-and-miss because some days they need to be at work at 7:30 and coming to a 6:30 meeting doesn't make sense. But now that we're on Zoom, all of them are coming,” she said.

They’re also picking up people from other groups who have not yet organized virtual meetings, she said.

“So our meeting is bigger and more vital than ever. I also think the stressful situation makes people want more AA meetings.”

Joelle said she sees this time as “kind of a mixed bag.”

One the one hand, she said, social isolation can be really bad for addicts. She predicts that a lot of people will discover during their time of social isolation that they are alcoholics or drug addicts.

“There's going to be people who figure out they're alcoholic during this time because being trapped at home, instead of busy with work and activities, heavy drinkers are very likely going to figure out that there's an issue there,” she said. “But how are they going to get ahold of us?”

Because 12-step groups typically happen locally, Joelle said she would encourage those looking for a meeting to do an internet search with the name of their city plus “AA meetings,” or whichever recovery group they need. 

“You're going to find all kinds of meetings,” she said. She encouraged newcomers and those long in recovery to take advantage of extra time at home to connect to even more virtual meetings than they might normally be able to attend in person.

“I would say we need more connection, not less, when there's stress,” Joelle said. “So home isolation is really rough for an alcoholic. But being able to attend more meetings because you're sitting at home and so you don't have some ways it's more convenient for people now. In other ways, you're still sitting at home by yourself.”

Joelle said she thinks this time might pave the way for more virtual meetings in the future for AA, even after the threat of coronavirus has passed.

“AA already has conference call meetings, which I know is kind of old-fashioned, dial-in meetings...but from my perspective, there's plenty of times when you would want to have someone able to Zoom in, because maybe they've got cancer and they're in chemo, and so they're stuck at home, they can't come. I really believe this will be the wave of the future in terms of giving people more options.”

The steps at a social distance

While being able to host online meetings has been convenient in many ways, Ian said he still had many concerns about people in recovery programs, particularly those who are in early recovery.

Often, those in early recovery will take part-time jobs as restaurant servers or cashiers so they can focus on their recovery, Ian said, but a “huge influx” of people are losing such jobs in his community, he said.

“We're just having a lot of people not only not have an income, but also not be able to participate both in meetings and fellowship, which is as, if not equally, important as meeting attendance,” he said. Fellowship typically involves 40-50 people or so going out for dinner or just hanging out together after meetings. Get-togethers of that size are now banned throughout the country.

Ian said he is also concerned about newcomers who were working the steps for the first time, because, somewhat like the sacraments of the Catholic Church, there is something particularly effective about completing those steps in person.

For example, he said, the fourth step of AA, which is to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” is typically undertaken in person, with one’s sponsor. It is similar to the sacrament of confession, where sins are stated to a priest in person.

“There's something about doing that face to face with someone and seeing someone's face not judging you,” he said. “Like someone looking at you and being like, ‘He doesn't think I'm a scumbag or a loser.’”

“When you remove that facial component, even through FaceTime, you've obviously diminished the effectiveness or efficacy of that step,” he said. “So there's all these other underlying limitations that we're going to tease out over the next few weeks or months potentially.”

Staying close to God when Masses are canceled

Another component of recovery that will be challenging for Catholics at this time will be remaining close to God when all public Masses and other liturgical celebrations have been canceled throughout the United States.

Connecting with a higher power is crucial for all 12-step recovery programs, but doing so can be hard for Catholics who can’t attend Mass or go to confession regularly due to coronavirus restrictions.

Christine N., a Catholic in recovery in Annapolis, Maryland, said she was “devastated” when Masses were canceled, because she had recently been trying to attend daily Mass as well as Sunday Mass. Now, she said, she’s been watching her local parish’s livestream of morning Mass, and she said she might watch Bishop Robert Barron’s streamed Masses as well.

She encouraged fellow alcoholics and others in recovery to stay the course and to trust God.

“I, and all Catholics, need to continue to pray and have faith that God will never abandon us and that he is with us,” she said. “Believe that, and we'll get through it. But it definitely feels like a test.”

Dave said that he and his family are part of a movement, started in France, called Teams of Our Lady, which are small faith groups that meet monthly for a shared meal and fellowship, and they also have a rule of life by which they try to live. Their group just had their first online meeting yesterday.

Dave said he encourages Catholics to find virtual ways to connect and share about their faith with other Catholics or Christians.

“I think we have to be willing to share more openly with other people of our faith of what's going on, share the difficulties, and connect (with each other),” he said, adding that he had also heard of stay-at-home virtual retreats being put on by some priests in Maryland.

Joelle said that for the past few weeks, she has been saying a daily rosary and a morning meditation and turning to prayer more often throughout the day. She encouraged Catholics to “stay out of fear” and to look for ways that God is calling them to be of service every day.

“I am constantly looking for the role that God is assigning me right now,” she said.

“I want to focus on the present and especially on being in service in the present…for me it means using my cooking skills and time to get meals to people who are shut in, especially to people over 65 or who otherwise have health concerns. To be able to take them a meal and leave it on their doorstep and make sure they're okay, and go grocery shopping for them so they aren't exposed. Those are things that help Catholics and they help alcoholics too.”

“Father C” said he thinks it is fitting that Catholics are all experiencing a great spiritual hunger for the sacraments during Lent. He said his advice for Catholics in recovery is similar to his advice for other addicts in recovery: "Keep coming back."

“Stay close, be involved, do service even in the smallest things,” he said. “Think of one another and pray for one another. Even with the social distance, there needn't be spiritual distance.”

“If God will make the greatest good come forth on the greatest evil, the death of the Son, well, would not God be able and willing to make good come out of this, even those lives that end up being lost to it?” he added.

Lt. governor and aspiring Jesuit has long record on 'abortion rights'

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 20:10

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2020 / 06:10 pm (CNA).- While Washington’s governor has praised the decision of his state’s lieutenant governor to enter the Society of Jesus after his term of office ends, the political record of Lt. Gov Cyrus Habib is unusual for an aspirant to Catholic religious life.

After Habib announced March 19 his plans to enter the Jesuits, Governor Jay Inslee led tributes to Habib’s public service, saying his “life and career are an inspiration to many.”

“He has had a meteoric career in elected public service,” Inslee said. “While the news was unexpected, anyone who knows Cyrus is not surprised by his commitment to faith. I have no doubt his future in the Jesuit priesthood will bring much good to a world that needs it right now.”

Speaking to the Seattle Times on Monday, Habib said that the illness and death of his father first brought him to consider religious life.

Habib’s father was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, an event that “really, really rocked my world,” Habib told the Seattle Times.

A priest at the Cathedral of St. James in Seattle recommended Habib read “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” by Fr. James Martin, SJ, which Habib said started him on his path towards the Jesuit order.

Habib’s father died in 2016, the same year his son was elected Washington’s lieutenant governor. Cyrus Habib told The Times that the year was a “real low point for me, emotionally and spiritually,” despite his political success.

“From that place, that low point, I started to really reevaluate and start to really think, is this actually making me happy?” he said.

Before his announcement last week, Habib was widely considered a leading light in state politics and widely tipped to eventually rise to the position of governor. As he leaves behind electoral politics, Habib also leaves behind a longer political record than most seminarians.

Habib’s eight years in public life included support for abortion rights and contraception funding in the state of Washington.

He enjoys an 75% and “B” rating from NARAL, the national abortion rights group, and listed the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington during his 2016 campaign for lieutenant governor on his website, The politician was endorsed by NARAL during his 2014 campaign for legislature as well.

During Habib’s relatively brief career in Washington’s legislature, consisting of two years in the state’s House of Representatives and two years in the state Senate, the lawmaker co-sponsored several bills related to the expansion of abortion rights.

In 2015, he was co-sponsor of the Washington Reproductive Health Act, which mandated insurance cover abortions, sterilization and contraception. This bill did not pass.

Also in 2015, he co-sponsored the Washington Employee Reproductive Choice Act, which would have declared that failing to provide contraceptive coverage in employer-provided health insurance would amount to discrimination. The bill would have established that access to birth control in Washington State is a human right. That bill, also, did not pass.

Similar legislation mandating abortion coverage in insurance plans was passed in Washington state in 2018, once Habib was already the state’s lieutenant governor.

Habib listed Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest & Hawaii’s official endorsement on his 2016 campaign website, and said during that campaign that he was “honored” to have the group’s backing.

In 2017, when the Trump administration announced it would alter the HHS mandate to exempt some employers from covering contraceptive services in their healthcare plans “based on sincerely held religious beliefs,” Habib called the announcement “disgraceful.”

Reposting NARAL’s reaction to the policy shift on Twitter, Habib added “to those who are anti-choice, please recognize that this will increase abortions as well as economic insecurity.”

Habib has also taken positions in suport of both same-sex marriage and so-called transgender rights.

While running for the state legislature in 2012, Habib said he “absolutely support[ed]” a referednum to recognize same-sex marriage.

“I am proud that Washington will lead the way in passing marriage equality at the ballot box,” Habib said during his 2012 campaign.

“Having lost my eyesight at a young age, I have always been particularly sensitive to the dignity and respect owed each individual, and there is no doubt in my mind that denying consenting adults the freedom to marry deprives them of an essential civil right.”

While in the legislature he voted against a bill that would have required people to use the bathroom which corresponds with their biological sex.

During the debate regarding transgender bathroom access, Habib tweeted “Wish you’d been on the right side of history when marriage equality first came up? Here’s another chance: equal transgender bathroom access.”

As recently as last month, Habib posted on his Twitter page a speech given by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in which she offered a response to the decision by a Catholic hospital network in California to refuse to perform a “gender-transition” hysterectomy on a woman who identifies herself as a man.

Cortez complained that ”the only time religious freedom is invoked is in the name of bigaotry and discrimination.”

“There is nothing holy about rejecting medical care to people, no matter who they are, on the grounds of what their [self-ascribed gender] identity is,” the first-term Congresswoman said. “There is nothing holy about turning someone away from a hospital.”

Habib called the speech “a great articulation of Catholic social teaching.”

CNA contacted Habib’s office on Friday, asking if his plans to enter a Catholic religious order signaled any shift in his political views. His office responded on Monday, explaining that Habib is only presently responding to in-state media requests and was unavailable for comment.

In an essay published in America Magazine on Thursday, announcing his plans to enter the religious life, and the Jesuits in particular, Habib wrote that his decision to seek public office in 2012, 2014, and 2016 were ”firmly rooted in Catholic social teaching, which places the poor, the sick, the disabled, the immigrant, the prisoner and all who are marginalized at the center of our social and political agenda.”

Habib also wrote in America that “the Catholic Church has wrestled with difficult social and moral questions for 2,000 years, and while I can be as impatient as anyone when it moves too slowly, I know from personal experience how much we can all benefit from a moral vocabulary that insists on the dignity of each and every person.”

The lieutenant governor also expressed his appreciation for what he called the Jesuit “philosophy of finding God in all people, cultures and things, for their advocacy for a more inclusive church and world” and predicted that his new life in the order “will involve teaching, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, advocacy and spiritual accompaniment.”

Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

Ohio AG: abortion clinics can't use resources needed for coronavirus fight

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 19:13

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 23, 2020 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- Ohio’s abortion clinics are wrongly using resources that should be conserved for health care workers fighting the new coronavirus, and these clinics must halt all “non-essential or elective” surgical abortions, the Ohio Attorney General's Office has said in letters to Planned Parenthood and others.

“This is an unprecedented time in the state’s history and everyone must do their part to help stop the spread of this disease,” Ohio Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson said in a March 20 letter to Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio's Cincinnati surgery center.

“If you or your facility do not immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical elective abortions in compliance with the attached order, the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures.”

The Ohio Department of Health’s March 17 order canceled “all non-essential or elective surgeries” that use personal protective equipment by 5 p.m. March 18.

“The order was issued, in part, to preserve (personal protective equipment) for health care providers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading in our state and also to preserve critical hospital capacity and resources,” Fulkerson’s letter to the Planned Parenthood affiliate said.

However, Ohio’s Planned Parenthood affiliates suggested they believed the health department order did not apply to their work.

“Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on. Our doors remain open for this care,” Iris Harvey and Kersha Deibel, the respective presidents and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said in a statement, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Few states have said whether elective surgical abortions may be performed given the need to conserve medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic. But those states which have spoken are divided.

In Washington and Massachusetts, where pro-abortion rights support is strong, officials have said that orders halting elective surgeries do not apply to abortions, the Washington Post reports. After the Texas governor ordered a halt to non-essential surgeries on Sunday, the Texas Attorney General said the order would apply to most abortions.

As of Saturday, more than 320 Americans had died from the coronavirus, with Washington state suffering the most fatalities. Confirmed cases now total over 25,000, CNN reports.

In Ohio, Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told CNN that abortion providers are among one of many to receive such a letter.

“This is not an abortion issue,” McCorkle said. “A letter was also sent to a urology group that was allegedly performing elective surgeries.”

While officials said that abortion clinics were not targeted, Ohio Right to Life nonetheless welcomed the move.

“We are thankful to Attorney General Yost for protecting Ohio’s most vulnerable populations and holding abortion clinics accountable to the law,” Ohio Right to Life said March 21.

The pro-life group had previously written Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio to complain about what it said was a violation of the order.

“As countless other clinics across the state comply with this health order and prioritize the lives of their fellow Ohioans, Planned Parenthood continues to put profit and abortion above the safety of our society’s most vulnerable members--children and the elderly,” Ohio Right to Life president Michael Gonidakis said March 21.

If the Ohio Department of Health finds its order was violated by any surgical facility in the state, the attorney general office’s spokeswoman said, “they can refer it to our office to pursue legal action on behalf of the Ohio Department of Health.”

In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide order barring non-essential surgeries applied to abortion clinics.

“We must work together as Texans to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time,” said Paxton. “No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”

Failure to comply with the Texas executive order could mean fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

The Ohio letters were sent to facilities only if they were subjects of complaints to the health department, the Washington Post reports. Besides Planned Parenthood Ohio Southwest Region, abortion clinics which received letters included the Women’s Med Center in Dayton and the Preterm facility in Cleveland.

“The Ohio Department of Health has received a complaint that your facility has been performing or continues to perform surgical abortions, which necessarily involve the use of (personal protective equipment),” Fulkerson's letter to the Planned Parenthood affiliate said.

“Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient,” he said, referring to the health department’s criteria.

These criteria for essential procedures include threat to a patient’s life, “threat of permanent dysfunction of an extremity or organ system,” and “risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms” unless the surgery is performed.

Fulkerson said he looked forward to hearing confirmation that Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and its facility are complying with the order.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said abortion is “a time-sensitive medical situation that cannot be significantly delayed without profound consequences.” It accused the attorney general and Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life of “exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to further their agenda to close Ohio’s abortion clinics,” CNN reports.

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

The groups argued that abortion is “a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible.”

“The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being,” said the joint statement, encouraging collaboration between community- and hospital-based clinicians to “ensure abortion access is not compromised during this time.”

Newark archdiocese campaigns for parishes facing coronavirus cash crunch

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 18:00

Newark, N.J., Mar 23, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Newark is working with GoFundMe Charity to encourage Catholics to support their parishes online during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many parishes have suffered a sharp drop in donations following the loss of in-person Sunday collections because of the suspension of public Masses.

To date, Catholics have raised more than $70,000 in response to the appeal.

“Together we will navigate unchartered waters, provide assistance to those in need, and secure the road ahead for the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Newark,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin in a statement published on Saturday, March 21, on the archdiocesan website. 

“We are coordinating with the team at GoFundMe Charity to provide one online platform for the faithful to support continued outreach and the critical needs of their own parish communities and other parishes in need,” Tobin said. 

The archdiocese is the first in the country to launch this type of online crowdfunding platform for its parishes, and Tobin said in his statement that he hopes others follow Newark's lead. 

The archdiocese made the decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass on March 18. Public Masses have now been suspended in every Latin rite diocese in the United States.

GoFundMe Charity is the charitable arm of GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform. All donations made to parishes in the archdiocese through this platform are tax deductible, said Tobin. 

At the archdiocesan campaign landing page, donors are able to select a specific parish to send their contribution, or donate to the “Parishes in Need Fund,” which will go to the parishes that are having the most trouble staying afloat amid the suspension of public Masses. As of press time, $71,032 has been made in donations. 

Tobin announced that he will waive the ordinary archdiocesan assessment of donations in order to allow parishes to benefit directly from all funds raised.

“Our worship avoids becoming empty narcissism if it is based on a real love for God that is manifested in a love for our neighbors, especially those who suffer,” said Tobin. 

The suspension of Masses has hit hardest for parishes not equipped for online giving, able to use electronic databases of parishioners, or who have congregations who are mostly lower-income or elderly. While some parishes do have savings, others do not and have had to make sacrifices to stay afloat, such as lower the heat of the parish building in order to avoid having to lay people off. 

On Monday, March 23, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all residents of the state to remain in their homes in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Prison chaplains adapt as coronavirus limits their ministry

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 17:01

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) is beginning to touch one of the populations in the United States most vulnerable to disease: the incarcerated.

A growing number of prisons in the US have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and most have suspended visits for inmates.

In the face of such precautions, prison chaplains throughout the country have had to adapt their ministry.

Joe Cotton, director of prison ministry in the Archdiocese of Seattle, told CNA that all of his chaplains are currently blocked from entering the facilities where they normally minister.

Seattle has one the highest rates of infection in the United States, with more than 1,600 confirmed cases and more than 90 deaths. Washington State was also the site of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the US.

"So we're trying to be as creative as we can— some of our chaplains are doing things like developing their reflections and Communion services and programming, working from home and getting ahead, and using this time for getting things ready for when we can go back in, so that they're well ahead of the game," Cotton told CNA.

He said his team that normally ministers at a juvenile facility got especially creative, setting up a telephone answering service to forward calls from inmates directly to chaplains' cell phones, depending on a schedule of chaplains' availability throughout the week that they set up.

"Tonight's my night, for example. So between five and nine, I'll have my cell phone on me, and if the answering service calls me, it means someone on the inside wants to talk to a chaplain over the phone. So that's one of the creative things that we're doing to at least make chaplains still available...although that's not happening in every facility."

Art Alvarez, who has ministered at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles for the past 14 years, told CNA that for now, he is still able to go into the facility to minister to the men, but must keep a safe distance to avoid bringing in the virus.

In L.A., chaplains are still able to enter county jails, though that may soon change. In state prisons, all the chaplains’ operations have been canceled.

Alvarez said he has had to adapt to speaking to the men through the doors of their cells through food slots that are no longer used for food, but which are once again serving a purpose.  

He said the inmates are able to have access to the news and have a pretty good idea what is going on.

"They're concerned about their families on the outside. But on the inside, with the deputies, they feel pretty safe," he said.

At at least one major prison— Rikers Island in New York— authorities have released dozens of inmates over fears that they may have contracted the virus. Many county jails are doing the same.

At least 38 people at Rikers Island have contracted COVID-19 and dozens more have likely been exposed to it, the Associated Press reports.

Prison officers and staff in states including California and Michigan have tested positive for the virus, and in Wisconsin, 18 inmates at a prison were quarantined last week after a facility doctor tested positive for the virus, according to reporting from the AP. 

In Los Angeles county, which has the largest prison population of any county in the United States, prisoners with non-violent criminal records and who have between two and three months left of their sentences are being released.

Alvarez said he is also continuing to assist with what are known as “extractions”— per state policy, if an inmate refuses to leave his cell, a doctor, a nurse, or a chaplain must be brought in and try to talk the inmate out of his cell before the deputies are allowed to use force.

He said he was recently asked to assist with an extraction whereby the inmate was informed that he was being released, but he didn’t believe that it was really happening.

"This guy didn't want to go home. He didn't want to leave," Alvarez said. 

Alvarez said the jail has prepared two entire floors for quarantine, but as of March 21, no inmates are there.

He said the inmates’ attitudes are mixed during this time of uncertainty, and he said the chaplains are trying to reassure the inmates that they are in many ways safer inside than jail

“Some want to stay in, some want to go home and be with their families and protect their families,” he said.


"There's nothing more that they can say or do."

In at least two states, Arizona and Minnesota, prison officials have waived copays charged to inmates for medical visits and waived fees for personal hygiene supplies, NPR reports. A California senator is advocating that all low-risk inmates be released nationwide.

In California, prison officials announced that a prisoner at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, has tested positive for COVID-19, and in addition, at least five prison workers have the disease, the LA Times reports.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide, mandatory stay at home order on March 19 that workers in critical sectors should go to work. Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and more will stay open, the governor said.

Gonzalo de Vivero, director of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Restorative Justice, told CNA that he has been getting calls constantly from his chaplains, asking whether they can continue to do their ministry.

Every jail makes its own rules, he said, and for now the county jails are still allowing chaplains in.

"The mayor [of Los Angeles] is asking everybody to stay home, unless your work is essential. Well, the work of a chaplain is extremely essential. But on the other hand, we have families...and that's very hard. And the uncertainties are very hard."

Even before the governor’s order, a lot of the chaplains’ services have had to be reduced, de Vivero said.

As of last week, they could not have more than 10 people in their services in the jails, including the minister; a chaplain last week held a communion service that normally has 35 people, but this time had only nine, de Vivero said.

In Los Angeles County in 2019, de Vivero said, the archdiocesan prison ministry said over 2,000 Masses in jails, with over 25,000 attendants.

de Vivero said he worries that switching to virtual chaplaincy during this time could cause the jails they serve in to be reluctant to allow chaplains into the jails in person after the pandemic ends. He said many of his chaplains are against broadcasting Mass by videoconferencing, and he called it a "dangerous route."

“The institutions will be very happy to say that all Masses should be via video from now on,” he warned.

"People need people. We cannot replace going to Church with watching Mass on TV."

de Vivero related a story of one of his chaplains, who was determined to continue to go and serve inmates in the jails during the pandemic, and whose boss at work threatened to fire him if he continued to do so.

Above all, he said, this situation highlights how difficult it is for Catholics to serve the underprivileged, even in non-crisis times.

"We have two pandemics: the virus, and the fear. And I don't know which one is more dangerous," he mused.

"I am very concerned about the long-term effects in our jails, because people are going to get extremely sensitive, be more prone to violence...the enemy would like to use this opportunity to fuel disagreements, arguments, and they turn into altercations, and then fights, and we have more problems that nobody needs right now."

Senate fails to pass coronavirus stimulus bill

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Monday failed for the second straight day to advance consideration of a stimulus package to respond to the new coronavirus.

The senators failed to deliver the 60 votes necessary to proceed on a shell bill to consider the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the third major piece of legislation in response to the new coronavirus .

The bill would provide recovery checks to eligible taxpayers, defer student loan payments, and grant relief to small businesses.

However, some Democrats on Sunday reportedly opposed the package because it lacked guarantees that companies receiving relief would retain their employees, and lacked sufficient restrictions on the use of relief money for corporate stock buybacks.

The Hill reported on Sunday that, according to a Democratic aide, leading Democrats also opposed the  provision excluding non-profits that receive Medicaid funds from Small Business Administration assistance in the bill. The non-profits reportedly affected by the provision would include Planned Parenthood and community health centers, among other health care entities.

On Monday, Democratic leaders reportedly wanted other provisions unrelated to the pandemic added to the legislation, including tax credits for wind and solar energy. By Monday afternoon, the Senate failed to proceed on consideration of the legislation, by a vote of 49 in favor to 46 against.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), expressed his support on Sunday for limits on executive compensation and stock buybacks

On Sunday evening, Hawley tweeted that “any relief for big corporations must limit executive compensation, ban stock buybacks, & require companies to pay back loans w/ interest. Or I’m not voting for it.” He voted on Sunday in favor of advancing consideration of the legislation.

Several senators missed the votes on both days due to a Coronavirus diagnosis. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has tested positive for the virus, his office announced on Sunday, and other senators who interacted with him were voluntarily self-quarantining, including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also announced on Monday that her husband had coronavirus.

On Monday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would introduce the House Democrats’ version of the third stimulus bill, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.

She said the bill would require corporations to “protect their workers’ wages and benefits,” provide relief to small businesses, bolster unemployment insurance, fund hospitals and health care institutions, expand paid family and medical leave, support food insecurity benefits and provide nearly $40 billion for schools and universities.

Other senators and religious leaders pushed for greater protections for non-profits and Church employees in the legislation.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who is also the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, on Saturday called on California’s Catholics to support an extension of unemployment benefits to Church employees. Non-profit employees in several states currently do not have access to the benefits.

“As we know, the impact of the coronavirus emergency is being felt profoundly in our Catholic

Community,” Archbishop Gomez said, noting nationwide closures of Church-run ministries and offices.

“Please join me in asking Congress to extend unemployment benefits to Church workers who might need this relief. Let us stand together in solidarity for our brothers and sisters in this time of trial and need.”

Archbishop Aymond of New Orleans has coronavirus

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 13:33

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2020 / 11:33 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of New Orleans has tested positive for coronavirus. He is the first U.S. bishop known to have tested positive for the virus, which is now a global pandemic.

“Recently, I had very mild symptoms, which included fever only. Out of an abundance of caution, I took the Coronavirus test which came back positive,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond announced March 23.

“I have notified those with whom I have been in close proximity. Needless to say, I have self-quarantined in order to be responsible and not affect others. I will use this quiet time for additional prayer and sacrifice for all those seriously affected by the virus,” the archbishop wrote.

“I pray to get well soon and continue ministry. In the meantime, I will be present through Facebook and the archdiocesan website with reflection on this crisis and God’s healing power. Our Lady of Prompt Succor, hasten to help us! Blessed Seelos, pray for us!”

Aymond, 70, has been Archbishop of New Orleans since 2009. He was previously Bishop of Austin and an auxiliary bishop in the New Orleans archdiocese.

At least 5 U.S. priests are known to have the virus, and on Friday, an Franciscan friar and deacon became the first U.S. cleric known to have died of the virus.

More than 366,000 people have contracted COVID-19 as of Monday morning. More than 16,000 people have died and 101,000 have recovered from the disease so far.

A priest in the Diocese of Yakima, Washington was the first U.S. priest known to be diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 15, and a second Yakima priest was announced to have the virus March 23. Fr. Stephen Planning, SJ, president of DC's Gonzaga College High School, announced last week he also has the virus. Two priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn were also diagnosed with the virus last week.

On Saturday, Brother John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, became the first American cleric known to have died after contracting the virus. The 59 year-old deacon had been battling leukemia for years when he became ill with the disease.

In Italy, more than 60 priests have died from the virus. On Monday, Avvenire, the newspaper owned by the Italian bishops conference, published the names of 51 diocesan priests who died after contracting COVID-19, and noted that religious communities in Italy had also reported nine coronavirus related deaths.

At least one Italian bishop is known to be recovering from the virus.

The majority of the deceased were over the age of 70 years old, and some of these priests had underlying health conditions.

The youngest priest to die from COVID-19 in Italy was Fr. Paolo Camminati, who died in the hospital on March 21 at age 53.
Every Latin rite diocese in the United States has suspended the public celebration of Mass, and church buildings remain closed to the public in many places, with weddings, funerals and confirmations all indefinitely suspended.

Several states have brought emergency measures to combat the spread of the virus, with California, New York and Maryland acting to close non-essential businesses and encourage people to remain in their homes. Before he was diagnosed with the virus, Aymond called for a “Day of Prayer and Fasting” to take place March 27 in his archdiocese.

“Please spend additional time in prayer seeking God’s healing and compassion in this crisis. Also, we can fast from whatever we wish. Say to the Lord as we are hungry – I hunger for you more than I hunger for food, social media, spending time with others, etc,” Aymond wrote March 19.

“Be assured of my prayers daily and a remembrance at Mass. God is faithful and, in his time, and his way we will come to experience healing and peace. We must wait patiently which is no easy task,” the archbishop added.



Former USCCB president and Archbishop of Cincinnati dies age 85

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 12:30

Cincinnati, Ohio, Mar 23, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- The former head of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference and archbishop emeritus of Cincinnati, Daniel E. Pilarczyk, died on Sunday at the age of 85. 

A statement from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati said that Pilarczyk died “peacefully” on Sunday morning, but did not offer further details. Public funerals are currently suspended in the archdiocese because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, led tributes to the archbishop on March 22.

“He was known as a shepherd close to his flock. The Archbishop led during challenging times but sought reconciliation and reform with humility,” Gomez said of Pilarczyk on Sunday.

“Among his brother bishops, Archbishop Pilarczyk was recognized as one of the outstanding churchmen of his time,” said his successor, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. “They elected him not only president of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, but also chair of every significant committee of the bishops’ conference."

Ordained a priest in 1959, Pilarczyk was consecrated auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati in 1974, serving also as the vicar general for the archdiocese.

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

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

Pilarczyk also served in a number of national positions, including as the chair of the conference’s Committee on Doctrine from 1996 until 2000, chair of the Committee on Liturgy from 1984 to 1986, and chair of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) from 1991 to 1997.

The archbishop also served as the chairman of the board of trustees for the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1988 until 1990.

Reflecting on Pilarczyk’s tenure as archbishop and head of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, Gomez called him “generous also in service to his brother bishops.”

As Cincinnati’s archbishop, Pilarczyk also oversaw the archdiocese’s response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. In 2003, he filed a no-contest plea in court to five misdemeanor counts of failing to report the sexual abuse of children, and the archdiocese established a $3 million victim’s fund on his watch.

"I express my sorrow and shame at the suffering that priests and other church employees have inflicted on young parishioners," Pilarczyk said at a press conference after the plea, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“The Ohio bishops wanted a resolution. It was a difficult time for the Church,” Pilarczyk’s successor Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati reflected on the decision on Sunday in an interview with Sacred Heart Radio.

“The agreement was that the Archbishop of Cincinnati would enter the plea and that a fund for victims would be established,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “I know he [Pilarczyk] put his heart into it. It was a tragic moment.”

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

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

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

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

A Franciscan friar is DC’s first known coronavirus fatality

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 18:07

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2020 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- A Franciscan friar is the first person known to have died as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the District of Columbia.

Br. John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, was hospitalized with the virus last week, and died Friday, the Washington Post reported.

The friar had been in residence at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America since the 1980s, Father Larry Dunham, superior of the monastery, told the Post March 21. Laird-Hammond, 59, had been battling leukemia for years, Dunham added.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser had announced the District’s first death related to the virus on Friday but did not reveal the person’s identity.

Laird-Hammond was Secretariat of the monastery’s board of directors, according to the monastery's website. The friar had been running the monastery’s day-to-day operations as business manager for the past 14 years, Dunham told the Post.

The friar had recently been approved for a transfer to a friary in New York, where he was going to be involved in fundraising efforts for missions in Central America, according to the Washington Post.

“It was going to be like a whole new focus and life for him,” Dunham told the Post.

“That was to be his new assignment that never quite materialized.”

The monastery, which is a national shrine, has not yet been reached by CNA for comment.

A priory of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans, has had a mission to support Christians in the Holy Land, and to serve as custodians, or guardians, of the sacred sites of the Holy Land since 1342. The Franciscan Monastery in Washington, DC is affiliated directly with that mission.

Washington D.C. had 72 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 20. In the greater Washington area, which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia, the talley stood at 338 confirmed cases as of March 20.

A priest in the Diocese of Yakima, Washington was the first U.S. priest known to be diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 15. A second U.S. priest, Fr. Stephen Planning, SJ, president of DC's Gonzaga College High School, announced this week he also has the virus.   In Italy, at least 30 priests so far have died of the coronavirus.

The global tally of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus worldwide is now over 300,000.


Douthat: Decadent societies lack babies, and hope

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Mar 21, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic author and commentator Ross Douthat said that a “decadent society” plays a role in declining birth rates, as cultures and couples lose a sense of hope in the future.

Discussing his new book, “The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success,” the New York Times columnist said, in an interview Thursday on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, that a “decadent” society is marked by “stagnation, repetition, and sterility,” but also “a high level of wealth and technological development.”

Douthat argued that the United States and parts of Europe are experiencing “a sort of loss of the sense of possibility, hope for the future,” and that this shows itself in slowing economies, gridlocked politics, and declining birth rates.

In his book, Douthat wrote that “amid all of our society's material plenty, one resource is conspicuously scarce. That resource is babies.”

During the interview, Douthat said that some factors, such as a shift away from an agrarian economy and lower infant mortality rates, can help explain declining birth rates but cannot account for why birthrates have fallen below the replacement rate.

“If you ask people how many kids they would like to have, even in a secular society where most people don’t have Humanae Vitae on the shelf, people still say they want between two and three kids,” Douthat said. 

“But if you look at how many kids they’re having, our birth rate is at 1.6, 1.7, in places like South Korea it’s at one—that has the potential to cut your population in half without immigration over a couple generations.”

Increasing secularization alone, Douthat said, does not explain the shift, because parents in some secular countries, like Sweden, have more children than some religious ones, like Poland, but that broadly “there is something about the idea that you are embedded in a story that extends beyond yourself and your own moment, to the next chapter and next development, that makes people more likely to start families and so it helps to think that your story has a capital A author.”

Thinning family trees present a host of socioeconomic consequences, he said, creating a society that is older, more resistant to change. It also creates families with fewer members, and children experience experience fewer interpersonal relationships with siblings and cousins.

“Large families, they toughen kids up in interesting ways,” Douthat said. 

“Like if you’re a four-year-old in a family with a six-year-old and an eight-year-old, you can’t afford to be too special of a snowflake and you get used to sort of managing interpersonal tensions, you know, if the family is healthy.”

Douthat noted the similarity between his own arguments about a decadent society and Pope Francis’ criticisms of a “throwaway culture.”

“It’s a society that doesn’t have a strong idea of the future or of the past,” Douthat said. “So it’s sort of lost faith, it thinks that the past was bad and unprogressive and corrupt, but it doesn’t have a lot of confidence about the future, so it does, I think, tend towards very disposable forms of culture.” 

“You don’t get people, building the great cathedrals, and writing the great operas,” in a decadent or throwaway culture, he said, “not that I attend opera all the time, I mean, I myself am decadent too.”  

Kate Scanlon is a producer for EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

Hospital chaplains prepare for “tsunami” of COVID-19 patients

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 15:00

New York City, N.Y., Mar 21, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the United States, the ministry of hospital chaplains is essential for patients and health care professionals. One New York priest told CNA on Thursday that hospitals are the front line for saving souls, as well as lives.

“The hospital situation in the last five to ten years is one of the best places that we are doing evangelization,” Fr. John Anderson of ArchCare, a health care ministry of the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA March 19. 

“A lot of folks we see haven’t seen a priest, or been in a church in five, ten, 15, maybe even longer, years,” he said. “So when we train priests for hospital ministry, we really talk a lot about welcoming people back, being hospitable. And we certainly want that to continue during this crisis.”

Fr. Anderson oversees the 25 priests who serve as hospital chaplains in the Archdiocese of New York, and is the vice president for mission integration at ArchCare, a “post-acute delivery system” that serves 9,000 people per day in settings including nursing homes, an advanced long-term care program for Medicaid enrollees, and a specialty hospital.

As the new coronavirus pandemic progresses, hospital chaplains are in ever-greater demand. The number of confirmed cases of the virus jumped to more than 14,000 in the U.S. on Friday morning, with scientists warning the number is likely much higher due to a widespread lack of testing.

New York has been one of the states hardest-hit by the crisis, with more than 5,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 38 deaths as of Friday morning, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

“In about 42 days, we’re expecting the virus to really hit us,” Fr. Anderson said Thursday. According to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, as many as 110,000 hospital beds could be needed by early May to deal with the expected spike in new coronavirus cases, but only 53,000 beds currently exist.

While chaplains are ministering to patients right now, they face a unique challenge, because they lack the personal protective equipment (PPE) that would allow them to have a face-to-face encounter with sick patients.

Hospitals have been restricting use of the limited PPEs, such as N95 respirators, face masks, and gowns, to nurses, physicians, and aides, even though “every hospital system would love to have their chaplains visiting face-to-face people with COVID-19,” he said.

“We are having a difficult time with the sacrament of the anointing of the sick” because of the lack of PPE, he said.

While other sacraments, such as confession, can be administered by priests from a slight distance, “that sacrament in particular can only be given by a priest, and it actually has to be the anointing.”

The “biggest thing” for many priests, Fr. Anderson said, has been the prohibition on priests offering public Masses. For “a lot of us,” he said, “that’s a big deal, to be honest with you.”

“That’s what I miss more than anything, is just being able to have Mass with the different groups of folks that I celebrate Mass with.”

Chaplains have also had to help people cope with the stress of the ever-growing pandemic.

“Peoples’ anxiety, stress, worry, has been high,” Anderson said, and chaplains are now preparing for a “tsunami” of COVID-19 patients expected in coming weeks.

Yet “priests have been amazing so far” in still ministering to patients and those requesting the sacraments, he told CNA.

“They don’t think twice when someone comes to the door, or even to go to the home, someone’s home,” he said, which is why archdiocesan priests will be participating in a webinar on Friday with the chaplains’ chief medical officer.

The webinar will hopefully inform priests of measures they can take to protect themselves so they “can still be compassionate, but know enough” to put on protective equipment.

“At the end of the day, our job is to bring the sacraments to people and to comfort them, and to comfort their families,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

How to stay quarantined, stay married, and keep your friends

Sat, 03/21/2020 - 06:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 21, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The policy of social distancing means that the newly-homebound are seeing less of coworkers than they did just weeks ago. They’re seeing fewer friends too. But they might be seeing a lot more of their family, or their roommates. And that isn't easy.

For some, especially those who live alone, social distancing can bring with it a sense of isolation and loneliness. But for those who live with family or roommates, staying home means spending a lot of time together. After a few days of fun, being “alone together,” all the time, can become difficult.

Neither living alone nor with other people is easy in a time of great stress, Dr. Christina Lynch told CNA. But there are ways to build and maintain healthy relationships during the coronavirus pandemic.

A supervising psychologist at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Lynch offered CNA a few suggestions for maintaining friendships, and family relationships, under quarantine, “shelter in place” orders, or social distancing policies. 

Lynch suggests accepting that losing control is a difficult feeling.

“When we can't be in control, we become agitated. This is part of our survival mechanism that God gave us so that we do whatever it takes to survive. Unfortunately, [through] the negative[ty] of social media and the internet, it's made us so attached to the world and to what others think and to comparing ourselves that we think we have to always be busy,” she said.

It is difficult to be restricted to a house, Lynch said. It is difficult not to be busy. To address that, she emphasized the importance of building a routine, especially one that includes prayer, and recreation.

Lynch emphasizes that the “family is the first Church,” and suggests households - families or roommates- set daily routines of prayer, which might included Bible studies, morning and night prayers, or daily rosaries. She encouraged Catholics to bless each other with holy water, and to set up a prayer corner with statues and pictures of the saints.

“A prayer sets the tone for the whole day,” she said.

Quoting an old adage, Lynch said it’s true that “the family that prays together stays together.”

“Ask each member each day what they need prayers for, so you can start a tradition of writing down on a piece of paper each family member's prayer intention.”

Families and roommates should also be proactive about building an atmosphere of healthy communication, where thoughts and feelings have a safe place to be shared, she said.

People need to be sensitive to one another, especially during this anxious time, and foster a positive environment, Lynch added.

“Reframe thoughts and feelings of anxiety to how you can do good for others,” she said.

“Communicate with each other. This is really important when you live together in close quarters, especially when you can't escape from each other. So you need to set up a place and a time to actually share your feelings and thoughts, and process them out loud,” she said.

“If there's a dispute, start with something positive about that person or about what they do. Then mention [about] the behavior, how that behavior has affected you or the household or the family. But, don't accuse, don't be accusatory or blaming about anything. It's good to be constructive in that communication.”

Lynch added that shared recreational activities can have a positive effect on the mood of everyone during a period that feels like confinement. She suggested board games, making collages, or watching movies together.

“Use board games, cards or even invent a board game,” she further added. “This is a great thing to use our creativity that God intended and to start doing things for good.”

Lynch offered a few suggestions for people living alone during the quarantine. She emphasized the importance of maintaining a schedule that involves exercise, community, and prayer.

She also suggested keeping a journal, and keeping in daily contact with friends or relatives.

“If you live alone, it's very important to make sure you have connections with others if you can't every day. So whether you set up a schedule with a friend or a family member to FaceTime or just talk to them on the phone. Maybe each day pick two people that you'd like to talk to and make a phone call to them, [or] ask your family to check in with you,” she said.

“Why not write some letters to your friends and your family? You could write emails too. Start making the connection with those we've lost connections with, possibly, or with people we still have connections with.”

The global pandemic is difficult, Lynch said. But she said that looking for opportunities to be grateful will help keep relationships stable, and help quell a sense of anxiety.

“Be grateful for your blessings. Have each member of the household write a list of what they're grateful for each day. It can even be the same things as days go on, because it'll start to really connect the positive neurons in your brain where you will begin to start to think positively first before you think negatively,” she said.




Detroit archdiocese sees spiritual confusion among LGBT Catholic dissenters

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 20:01

Detroit, Mich., Mar 20, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A dissenting Catholic LGBT advocacy group rejects Church teaching and confuses the Christian path to holiness, Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby of Detroit has said.

While the bishop's March 9 letter to the Detroit archdiocese's priests forbids Mass for Dignity Detroit members, it stresses that the Dignity Detroit members are invited to join the Catholic faithful to affirm Church teaching and “missionary transformation.”

A Mass for the group and its members is not possible “in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility,” said the bishop. “This will no doubt be difficult for some to hear, but it arises from heartfelt pastoral concern for members of Dignity Detroit.”

“As you know, Dignity Detroit has long operated its ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit while rejecting some of the Church’s teachings on sexual morality,” said Bishop Battersby. “These teachings, though challenging, promote human flourishing and bring joy when received with open hearts. This situation is thus a source of sadness, for those who reject the teachings deprive themselves of the blessings that come with living a life in Christ.”

The Dignity Detroit group on its website describes itself as “a faith community of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics, their families and friends who unite to celebrate God's love for all persons.” It is a chapter of Dignity USA, which is headquartered in Massachusetts.

Dignity USA put out a March 18 statement including responses from both national and chapter leaders.

Dignity Detroit's leadership council said that Bishop Battersby had contacted the chapter leaders in mid-January and asked to meet with them to discuss the pastoral letter and the archdiocese's initiatives for people with same-sex attraction. The meeting was set for late March.

Frank D’Amore, President of Dignity Detroit, said it was “extremely disappointing” that the measures were sent out before the meeting.

“We truly believe that it is impossible to learn anything about our community and not be moved by the love our members have for the Catholic faith, and the integrity with which they live their lives,” he said, according to Dignity USA. “It is hard to understand why church officials would cast out people struggling to remain connected with the Church while so many are leaving.”

“Archdiocesan officials clearly do not understand the truth of what it means to be gay or transgender, and how integral these components of our identities are,” D'Amore continued. “For many of us, it took years of struggle with what we’d been taught to be able to embrace our identities as grace, as blessings from our loving God. Dignity Detroit’s work helps save many people from shame, and many families from the kinds of divisions that used to be the rule among Catholics. Our ministry literally saves lives.”

For Battersby, however, the possibility of confusion about holiness is also a paramount issue.

“As we endeavor to provide a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the Archdiocese according to the light of the Gospel, it is essential that the Church not seem to condone Dignity Detroit’s competing vision for growth in holiness,” he said in his letter to priests.

He asked the priests to refrain from offering Mass for Dignity Detroit members anywhere in the archdiocese “lest we confuse the faithful by seeming to endorse an alternative and contradictory path to sanctity.”

While the bishop did not go into detail about the history of Dignity Detroit chapter or its national organization, Dignity USA has called for major changes in the Church and has been backed by major, politically powerful LGBT organizations.

In 2015 Dignity USA called for same-sex unions to be blessed as sacramental marriages in the Catholic Church, a position far at the fringes of historic Christianity. It also advocated for the ordination to the priesthood of women, those of same-sex sexual orientation, and those of variant gender identity. The Church has never recognized the ordination of women as valid and has explicitly barred the ordination of men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

Dignity USA's annual convention in 2015 included as a keynote speaker the pornographic sex columnist Dan Savage, a critic of monogamy and of Benedict XVI.

As of March 20 the Dignity Detroit website publicized a Mass held every Sunday night at Sacred Heart Chapel of Marygrove College. The private graduate college was run by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary until December 2019, when it announced its closure.

Dignity Detroit said that the chapel is still open despite the college's closure, though it is unclear whether this information has been updated in light of new closures and other precautions since the coronavirus pandemic began to dominate U.S. life.

The bishop commended Dignity Detroit's outreach to the poor. However, he said the group's rejection of Church teaching on chastity is “incompatible with the path of sanctification on which Christ bids his Church to travel and is at odds with the important work of the Courage and EnCourage apostolates.”

Courage is a Catholic apostolate intended for people with same-sex attraction who want to live according to Church teaching. EnCourage is a partner apostolate for parents and families of Courage members.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, said almost all Dignity chapters have been expelled from Catholic space. As far back as the 1970s and 1980s Catholic priests were barred from serving Dignity chapters.

“There are few experiences as devastating as being kicked out of your family home and being told you are not worthy of being fed,” she said.

Duddy-Burke said Dignity USA is supporting the Detroit chapter during the controversy.

Bishop Battersby said he has communicated the problems with Dignity with “respect and genuine affection” for the membership. He has extended to them a “heartfelt invitation” to “join us in our missionary efforts to promote the New Evangelization and to participate in a ministry to the same-sex attracted that is faithful to the teachings of Christ’s Church.”
He said such a step is needed as part of the “missionary pivot” underway in the Archdiocese of Detroit, following its 2016 archdiocesan synod and Archbishop Allen Vigneron's pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel.”

“As we seek to leave no one behind in our missionary transformation and to help everyone entrusted to our care find salvation, please know that your support for the Courage and EnCourage apostolates, your prayers, and your pastoral concern for the men and women of Dignity Detroit, are greatly appreciated and will surely bear fruit for the kingdom of God.”

Bishop Battersby, who has been an auxiliary bishop since January 2017, discussed why the matter wasn't previously addressed. He said he presumed it was addressed in a pastoral approach applying the principle of the “law of graduality.”

While Bishop Battersby did not expand on his meaning, such approaches generally refer to accommodating individuals' or groups' gradual growth towards the fullness of morality and living a more consistent Christian life.

“No matter how you view that earlier approach, I pray that you recognize the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the present decision,” he told the archdiocese's priests.

Bishop Battersby spoke in his role as the archbishop's delegate for the pastoral implementation of the synod action step dedicated to providing “resources for developing a culture of empathy and understanding throughout the Archdiocese, according to the light of the Gospel” so that people who experience “the challenges of gender identity and same sex attraction will find support for growing as a human person in the virtue of Christ–like chastity.” The action step is numbered 3.3B2 in Vigneron's pastoral letter.

As CNA has previously reported, Dignity USA has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from wealthy LGBT funders to support the Equally Blessed Coalition, which currently includes the dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA, New Ways Ministry, and Call to Action.

Funding has come from the Arcus Foundation, founded by the billionaire heir Jon Stryker, who is not Catholic. Its U.S. strategy includes funding Christian groups which work for pro-LGBT doctrinal change within their denominations. It has funded groups in other Christian communities, including Episcopalian groups and Methodist groups, before and during their churches' global fracturing over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality.

Darren Walker, president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation, was a longtime board member of the foundation.

A 2014 grant of $200,000 supported Dignity USA and the Equally Blessed Coalition “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates,” grant listings from the foundation showed. The effort was linked to the Catholic Church's Synod on the Family and World Youth Day

In 2012 the Equally Blessed Coalition issued a report attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus for their work to maintain the legal definition of marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The report’s funders included the LGBT advocacy leader the Human Rights Campaign.

We don't need aborted fetal tissue to fight coronavirus, say ethicists

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus should not be used to override ethical restrictions on the use of aborted fetal tissue in medical research, Catholic bioethicists warned on Thursday. The warning came after some scientists called for the lifting of a ban on use of tissue from elective abortions.

“The effort is still somewhat speculative, it seems to me,” Dr. John Brehany, director of institutional relations at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) fetal tissue research proposal to seek treatments for the new coronavirus.

“I don’t think that we have to reject that ethical standard,” he said of the administration’s current moratorium on NIH fetal tissue research derived from elective abortions.

According to the Washington Post on Wednesday, immunologist Kim Hasenkrug at the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana has been appealing for “nearly a month” for approval of experiments using fetal tissue from aborted babies.

The proposed research reportedly aims to find treatments for the coronavirus (COVID-19) by implanting mice with fetal lung tissue, infecting the mice with coronavirus strains similar to COVID-19, and testing for successful treatments.

Researchers speaking anonymously to the Post said that the research could be successful, but Hasenkrug’s request has not been granted because of a federal moratorium on NIH research involving fetal tissue from elective abortions.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told CNA on Thursday that, regarding Hasenkrug’s particular request, “no decision has been made.”

The administration “has activated a whole-of-government, whole-of-America approach to prepare for and respond to COVID-19,” the HHS spokesperson said, including “kick-starting the development of vaccines and therapeutics through every possible avenue.”

The federal moratorium on aborted fetal tissue research was first announced in June, 2019, when HHS halted new NIH research with aborted fetal tissue and limited funding of “extramural” research on aborted fetal tissue, or tests conducted outside the NIH.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration,” HHS stated in the 2019 announcement.

In addition, the administration said that federal funding of extra research would be subject to federal ethics advisory boards, and applicants would have to provide a justification for their research on fetal tissue.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 10,000 people worldwide. There were more than 14,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of Friday morning, although some scientists say the number is likely much higher due to lack of widespread testing.

Despite some claims that restrictions on aborted fetal tissue research could cost lives during a pandemic, a bioethicist and a professor of molecular genetics both cautioned that Hansenkrug’s proposal is no guarantee of COVID-19 treatments or a vaccine.

“There’s a lot of ‘maybes’ along the line,” Dr. David Prentice, vice president and research director for the Charlotte Lozier Institute and an adjunct professor of molecular genetics at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., told CNA. “It’s a totally unproven, unvalidated technology.”

Researchers would have to successfully implant fetal lung tissue in mice, confirm that mice can be infected, and then test for treatments of the new coronavirus. 

There are ethical alternatives to fetal tissue research, Prentice and Brehany said.

“People are working on other ways of curing the sickness brought on by this virus,” Brehany said. “There are some ideas out there.”

 “In other words, should we conclude that perhaps we’re all going to die, or many people will die, because of this restriction? And honestly, I think the short answer is ‘no’,” he said.

Clinical trials are almost underway on “humanized mice” with human genes, to develop antibodies to the coronavirus infection, Prentice said. A French study found that a combination of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine with the antibiotic azithromycin helped reduce the duration of the new coronavirus.

Another study found that the transplantation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in patients in a Beijing hospital with severe COVID-19 pneumonia helped significantly improve their lung condition within two days.

Brehany said the current pandemic should not necessitate the removal of existing ethical standards.

“Even as we try to grapple with this pandemic,” he said, “survival at all costs, including the costs of acting in an unethical manner, is not right.”

The timing of the researchers’ complaints is conspicuous, Prentice said, as HHS announced on Feb. 20 that it was establishing a Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board to review grant applications for aborted fetal tissue research, and would be accepting nominations within 30 days.

“It’s not about reviewing the science, it’s about reviewing ethics of this kind of research,” Prentice said of the board.

The discussion also raises the ethical concerns around aborted fetal tissue research, and other treatments or vaccines derived from questionable or immoral acts.

Research on aborted fetal tissue is not the same level of moral evil as the abortion itself, Brehany said, but it is still wrong. Fetal tissue harvesters “have to work very closely with people who do abortions,” he said. “And yet, getting that tissue, while it is bad, it’s not as bad as killing someone—it’s not as bad as the abortion itself.”

There is also the issue of the ethics of vaccines derived from questionable or immoral acts, he said.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis Personae strongly criticized aborted fetal tissue research, but regarding common vaccines—such as those for chicken pox and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)—that are derived from cell lines of aborted babies, the Vatican said they could be used by parents for “grave reasons” such as danger to their children’s health.

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

In a 2017 document on vaccines, the Pontifical Academy for Life noted a “moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others…,especially the safety more vulnerable subjects such as pregnant women and those affected by immunodeficiency who cannot be vaccinated against these diseases.”

“The Church certainly thinks this shouldn’t happen,” Brehany said of the existing vaccines for measles and chicken pox that are derived from cell lines of aborted babies. “But until there are alternatives, can people benefit at least from the current cell lines being used of the current vaccines being developed? The short answer is ‘yes’.”

NY Catholic hospital to become specialist COVID-19 center

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 12:30

Buffalo, N.Y., Mar 20, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- A Catholic hospital in western New York will become the state’s first hospital entirely dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients, it announced on Thursday.

Catholic Health, a hospital network serving the western New York area, said on March 19, that the Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Buffalo, NY, will become a designated COVID-19 treatment center. The announcement was made on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

There are presently over 4,000 coronavirus cases in New York state. In Erie County, where the hospital is located, there are 29 confirmed cases, and several hundred patients waiting for test results. While the majority--an estimated 80%--are likely to be mild in nature, about one-fifth of patients are expected to require hospitalization and of those, 5% could require intensive care. 

Catholic Health’s President and CEO Mark Sullivan said in an article published in The Buffalo News that the St. Joseph Campus was chosen for its location, flexibility and “the ability to act expeditiously and get the site up and running.” 

Sullivan said that the transition would be completed “soon.” 

Prior to the announcement, Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph’s Campus was a typical hospital, and included specialized centers for wound healing and sleep health. In 2014, US News and World Report named it as one of the region’s best hospitals. 

Once set up, there will be approximately 60 critical care beds for COVID-19 patients, plus about 60 additional beds for those with the virus who do not need intensive care. As part of the transition, patients who require ventilators will be grouped together to allow for more efficient treatment and consolidated use of supplies. 

Sullivan said that money was not a consideration or a worry when making the decision to convert the hospital. He was quoted in The Buffalo News as saying that it was “imperative we take action” and that “we’ll figure out the cost at a later date.” 

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz praised Catholic Health for their quick action in creating the COVID-19 unit. 

“They cut it on a dime. They got this done in a very short period of time,” said Poloncarz. On Twitter, Poloncarz said the hospital’s work was “very encouraging.” 

“They have our full support, and we appreciate Catholic Health’s support,” he tweeted on Thursday.

How could a market downturn affect Catholic giving? A look at the data

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 05:01

Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is, by most accounts, leading the United States toward a financial crisis.

According to Bloomberg, the global pandemic has caused the biggest decline in consumer confidence in the US economy since October 2008. The S&P 500 economic index sits at its lowest level since 2017, unemployment is rising, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is tumbling.

How might the market downturn affect how much US Catholics give to their parish and other Catholic causes?

While the economic outlook is changing day-by-day, two experts in fundraising for Catholic causes pointed to historical data that suggests that pastors and bishops ought not be reticent to continue fundraising efforts.

Steve Manno, managing director for CCS Fundraising, a firm that has fundraised for numerous U.S. Catholic dioceses, told CNA that while fundraising is difficult, pastors should not give up amid a market downturn.

Manno said that giving to Catholic causes could face some real obstacles in years to come.

Data from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy suggests philanthropy tends to track with the stock market, with some of the more precipitous drops coming in the last economic downturn of 2008-2009, he told CNA.

The Lilly School data also suggests that while in terms of dollars, overall giving by Americans to charity has risen over the decades, the amount given per household actually is decreasing. Major gifts from high-net worth donors skews the data, Manno said.

In addition, the data show that in 2000, 66% of American households gave to charitable causes overall. By 2016, it was 53%.

Another study by Lilly Family School found that overall, 46% of American households gave to religious congregations in 2000, compared with 32% in 2016. The year 2019, Manno said, was unprecedented for faith-based giving in general.

“It dropped below 30% of all US philanthropy for the first time,” he said.

But Manno also pointed to data from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy that looks at the effects of natural disasters on charitable giving, which he said could provide relevant insights given the crisis at hand.

The data suggests that when an event such as a major natural disaster takes place, most households who donate to disaster relief will not donate less to other causes— in fact, a small percentage (12%) may increase their giving to other causes in addition to donating to disaster relief.

That data could suggest that the coronavirus pandemic itself might not lead to additional decreases in giving.

And there are bright spots on the fundraising landscape. Among them is online giving.

Overall, online giving to Catholic causes is up 2.6% from previous years, Brad Patterson, corporate vice president of CCS, told CNA.

He said development offices are better in general at driving toward online giving than they have been in the past.

In the face of the suspension of public Mass— which all Latin rite dioceses in the United States have now done amid the coronavirus pandemic— many parishes do not yet have an online giving portal set up are likely to feel the pinch of several weeks of no in-person donations. The current crisis will likely spur pastors to make online giving a priority, Patterson said.

Manno said in his experience, a time of financial uncertainty is the time for pastors and bishops to communicate with their flocks as much as possible. That communication is key, he said.

He said that if necessary, asking via videoconferencing for donations is a legitimate option.

"It may feel like now is a moment to pause, or delay activity, but it's really important to take note that in previous economic downturns, those who continued to push forward in their [fundraising] efforts ultimately succeeded. And those who took a step back lost ground," Manno told CNA.

He noted that some Catholics are giving less to the Church for reasons unrelated to the stock market, but such drops are highly regionalized. The Archdiocese of Washington, for example, took in millions of dollars less in its annual appeal this year, likely because of fallout from the sexual abuse crisis.

Still: “Catholics remain generous,” Manno said.

"When asked, Catholics give. When invited, they give. When shown what the specific need is, here's what this money can do, then they tend to respond very favorably."