CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 48 min ago

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."

Missouri's last abortion clinic faces 'imminent' decision

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 22:01

St. Louis, Mo., Mar 19, 2020 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Missouri authorities could soon rule on whether the state’s only remaining abortion clinic will remain open despite failures to meet basic patient care standards, and abortion advocates are already publicizing high abortion numbers at the new multi-million-dollar Planned Parenthood clinic built in secret just across the Illinois state line.

In June 2019, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew the license of the clinic, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, to perform abortions.

A Missouri judge and the Missouri Administration Hearing Commission both granted a temporary stay of the health department’s decision, allowing the clinic to remain open while the case was reviewed.

March 16 marked the deadline for written briefs to be filed with the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. The state health department had requested an extension to the original Feb. 28 deadline.

A decision is now “imminent,” advocates in the case told the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

Before Missouri’s health department refused to renew the license, it submitted to court a “Statement of Deficiencies.” It cited an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” on the part of the St. Louis clinic, as well as a “failure to meet basic standards of patient care.” The statement also identified four instances of failed abortion procedures at the clinic.

Planned Parenthood’s attorneys argued that the state “cherry-picked” a “handful of difficult cases” out of an estimated 3,000 abortions performed at the facility. Its defenders have said that state inspectors did not find an unsafe environment.

Planned Parenthood has provided an analysis to National Public Radio reporting that only three abortions were performed at its St. Louis clinic in February 2020, compared to 174 abortions the previous year. However, 323 abortions were performed at the new Planned Parenthood clinic in nearby Fairview Heights, Ill.

Yamelsie Rodriguez, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said that women are seeking abortions in Illinois due to more permissive abortion laws. Missouri also has a 72-hour waiting period for abortion.

“When they are weighing their options, the majority of patients are clearly seeing that abortion access is so unmanageable that they're choosing to cross state lines,” Rodriguez told NPR.

The new clinic, which opened in October 2019, has space of 18,000 square feet and cost about $7 million to build.

Mary Kate Knorr, Illinois Right to Life Executive Director, in October said the facility is a “money-making venture.”

“Make no mistake – this new mega-facility is not a response to an increased demand, nor is it a gesture of care for women. This facility was created to fill the gaping hole they’re seeing in their bottom line,” Knorr said.

“The construction of this new facility was a strategic business move – certainly not a defense of women.”

Planned Parenthood constructed its new abortion clinic in secret just 13 miles from the St. Louis clinic. It used a shell company to hide that the facility would become one of the nation’s largest abortion clinics.

Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told CBS News in October that abortion facilities in other areas had faced public outcry and protest during their construction, hence their decision to build the clinic in secret.

Missouri authorities, however, could have final say over the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic.

According to the Missouri health department's “Statement of Deficiencies,” Planned Parenthood went back on its agreement to perform pelvic examinations as a “preoperative health requirement.” Several doctors at the clinic refused requests to provide interviews with the health department, and the clinic would not have been prepared for a case of a woman who suffered “severe hemorrhaging” at a hospital before being referred to Planned Parenthood.

For its part, Planned Parenthood has accused the state of weaponizing the regulatory process and claimed the state has admitted the pelvic exams are “medically unnecessary.”

Some states have seen strong trends in favor of restricting abortion and providing legal protections to the unborn, expecting possible changes in U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Missouri enacted a comprehensive abortion ban in 2019, which Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed into law. The legislation was supported by Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis.

Missouri’s law set up a multi-tier ban on abortions after eight weeks, 14 weeks, 18 weeks and 20 weeks, as well as bans on abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.

The law was crafted to be able to survive in the courts, but a federal judge in August 2019 struck down all of the bans related to the stages of pregnancy. At present the court left intact the disability, race, and sex-selective abortion bans.

In contrast to Missouri, Illinois law has moved further in a pro-abortion rights direction. In June Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois signed legislation to expand vastly access to abortion in that state.

The Reproductive Rights Act ended a ban on dilation and evacuation abortion, removed regulations for abortion clinics, and ended required waiting periods to obtain an abortion. It also lifted criminal penalties for performing abortions, required all private health insurance plans to cover elective abortions, and eliminated abortion reporting requirements, as well as regulations requiring the investigation of maternal deaths due to abortion.

The legislation was strongly opposed by Illinois’ Catholic bishops.

Quarantined Sunday: How can families keep the day holy when Masses are canceled?

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 18:51

Denver, Colo., Mar 19, 2020 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- The Hernon family just barely makes the cut for the latest coronavirus social distancing measures, which allow only 10 people or less to gather together.

Though Mike and Alicia have 10 children, two of them are married and no longer live at home. They still have eight children under their roof, ranging in age from 7-22.

And now, as Sunday approaches and Masses across the country are canceled, the Hernon family, who run a ministry called The Messy Family Project, are thinking about how they can keep Sunday as a holy day without the liturgical celebration of the Mass.

“My first thought is that this pandemic is Lent for the world,” Mike said.

“It's an imposed sacrifice that we didn't choose, but like Lent, it's stripping us away from things of this world. And it gives us an opportunity to focus on what matters, our faith and our families. Not to make light of anything, but to see...this as a way for us to become more intentional in our family life.

On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Two days later, announcements from Catholic dioceses in the United States started trickling in. Public Masses were suspended in order to stop the spread of the disease. By March 18, every Latin Catholic diocese in the United States had suspended public Masses.

The Hernons were able to attend Mass last Sunday, so this weekend will be their first Sunday without Mass during the coronavirus pandemic.

They said the new situation should encourage Catholic parents to be the spiritual leaders of their homes.

“I think sometimes parents, we rely on (our parish) to kind of help us celebrate Sunday. We're like, ‘Oh, go to Mass, and then we'll come home and just whatever. It's just another day.’ So we were relying on Father, your pastor, to do Mass. Well now that you can’t do that, parents actually have to take that responsibility,” Alicia said.

Mike especially encouraged fathers to take the lead.

He said that on Sunday, their family plans to read the Mass readings for the day, and on to pray morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Mike said fathers could consider leading the family in a simple meditation on the Gospel or another scripture passage of the day.

“Just meditating and spending some time (in silence) as a family. And then discussing it and having a conversation, instead of a homily, but having a little bit of that type of discussion with the family. Particularly dads need to really take some leadership in the way that they lead a time of prayer on Sunday. It doesn't have to be elaborate,” he said.

The Hernons also suggest a family examination of conscience, and a time for family members to apologize to each other if necessary.

“Everybody can modify based upon their kids, and what's age appropriate, if they have older kids or younger kids,” Mike said. Alicia also encouraged dads to take the lead in celebrating Sunday.

“This is a great time for dads to step up and take that mantle that God has given them all along,” Alicia said.

The Hernons encouraged families to set aside the time for silence and family prayer, even if they are also planning on watching a televised Mass. They said younger children are likely to respond best to incorporating physical elements of prayer, such as candles or religious images, into their prayer time.

“Kids, but not even just kids, as people, we are so tangible. We are Catholics, we need physical things,” Alicia said.

“Make up a little altar, light candles, have a picture of Jesus, have a picture of the Blessed Mother. If you don't have a statue or religious things, get them. Buy them on Amazon, immediately,” she said. “Include holy water in your ritual. Have everyone bless themselves.”

Alicia added that keeping Sundays holy should include not only prayer, but the way the rest of the day is lived out.

“If you look in the Catechism about how to celebrate Sunday, it doesn't say just go to Mass. You have Mass, but then you also refrain from unnecessary work, take time to join with other families, take time to focus on each other,” she said.

Obviously, those things will look different in a world of social isolation, Mike and Alicia said, but it can include games and other forms of recreation, as well as special meals.

“You could make a maze out of your home, you could do a treasure hunt, you can get outside for goodness sake, we don't have to stay inside,” Alicia said.

“You can still go on a hike. If there's a lake nearby, you can go swimming, you can go to a beach, you can just get outside and do something with your family.”

The Hernons said they discussed a lot of ideas for how to spend this time of pandemic as a family on their latest podcast episode, and that they plan on coming up with a Sunday guide for prayer time that families can follow on their website.

Adam Barlett is also planning on making a guide to help families lead prayer in their homes on Sundays. Bartlett is the founder and president of Source and Summit, a new Catholic apostolate dedicated to helping parishes elevate the liturgy. He is also a husband and father to two girls, aged 13 and 9.

“Source and Summit exists to serve parishes fundamentally, but by extension to help all Catholics elevate liturgical prayer,” Bartlett told CNA. “So we found it kind of ironic that the moment we launched, parishes and diocese just started shutting down the public celebration of Mass. And so we felt kind of a obligation to respond in some way.”

To respond to canceled public Masses, Bartlett and his team at Source and Summit have begun building a website that can serve as a liturgical guide for families on Sundays during this time of canceled Masses, titled Keep the Lord’s Day.

The site will include a guide and texts of that Sunday’s Morning Prayer, as well as the Liturgy of the Word for Mass, and a prayer to make a spiritual communion. There will also be a musical component guiding families in liturgical chant.

“It’s a resource for Catholics to help them continue to pray the liturgy, and to unite themselves through the never ending prayer - the liturgy - from their homes when they can't attend Mass at their parish.”

The Bartlett family started praying the Liturgy of the Hours this last week, as Colorado was one of the first states to announce that all Masses were suspended to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“We realize that for a lot of people, the Liturgy of the Hours can be confusing or intimidating. It can be really difficult to navigate. And a lot of times people don't know about it or if they're even doing it correctly. So we thought we could put together a little resource for real liturgical prayer in the home for Sundays to help families unite themselves to this one never ending eternal prayer of the Church, which is a type of liturgy,” he said.

The Liturgy of the Hours are a set of prayers, including Psalms and readings from both the Old and New Testaments, that are prayed multiple times a day throughout the world by Catholic priests, nuns, and religious sisters and brothers, Bartlett said, but the Church also invites lay Catholics to pray the Hours as well.

“All of the lay faithful are invited to join in this prayer,” he said.

While watching a livestream Mass can be a place to start for families, Bartlett said he hopes Catholics will also consider praying the Liturgy of the Hours with their families, because of its sacramental and liturgical nature.

“As Catholics, our worship is sacramental... meaning that God communicates himself to us through physical things. And we're able to worship and to pray not only in a purely spiritual way, but also in a physical way with our bodies, with our voices, with gesture, with things that engage all of our senses,” he said.

Mass, of course, uses all of these things, he added. Catholics sit, stand, speak, sing, listen, smell incense and taste the Eucharist.

“It engages all of our senses,” he said. “And this is the way that Christ chose to draw to himself and to unite us to himself in that, not only the spiritual way but the very real sacramental way.”

But if Catholics only participate in prayer through a screen for the next few months, they will miss out on the sacramentality and the liturgy of the Church, he said.

“That can be a little bit more of a passive engagement rather than a real physical participation in the liturgy itself,” he said.

Another reason he would encourage Catholics to pray the Liturgy of the Hours would be because it would feel set apart from the day-to-day activities, which, during a time of pandemic, will increasingly take place in front of a screen, he said.

“Part of the nature of liturgical prayer is that it's intentionally set apart; and another way of saying that is that it's sacred. We use sacred objects. It's set apart from the ordinary aspects of our life,” he said.

“Now, being in our homes will kind of limit our ability to go into a beautiful church and into a sacred place for prayer. But if we think about watching the Mass in the same place where we watch Netflix, there's a kind of challenge there, in that it's not a time that we're setting apart for the sacred,” he said.

“So really what we're encouraging people to do, particularly on Sundays, on the Lord's Day, is to create a kind of sacred space in their home for prayer and to engage in it themselves,” Bartlett added.

Fr. Ryan Hilderbrand, the pastor of St. Mary's in Huntingburg, Indiana, is streaming and posting his Masses on his new YouTube channel. He said watching Mass on a livestream or on TV on Sundays can be a great start for families, but he also encouraged them to participate in “age-appropriate devotionals.”

“Watching a live stream is a great way to participate in the Mass if someone can't attend. Actual graces are still present and can stir the heart to a deeper relationship with Jesus,” Hildebrand told CNA.

“However, it is clearly different from participating in Mass by one's physical presence. Among other things, Mass is the reunion of Christ the Head with his Mystical Body, the Church. We are all sons and daughters of the Father, coming together as that one body in Jesus for Mass. Additionally, we are made members of one another at Mass - we carry one another's burdens, offer support and prayer, and encourage one another in worshiping the Father,” he added.

Besides prayer and watching Mass, Hildebrand encouraged families to observe Sundays as a day of joy and rest by spending time together.

“For families with kids, they could follow the old rule of ‘spirituality, service, silliness’ - that is, pray together, do something constructive together, and have fun together,” he said.

Service might look different under social distancing, he added, but it could be cleaning out closets together or collecting toys and clothes for future donations.

As for silliness -“Have fun together! Watch a movie, play a board game, joust with pool noodles - what is important is that they do something as a family,” he said.

Calvin Mueller is the coordinator of rural parish evangelization at the Archdiocese of Omaha, which had Mass last weekend, but announced on Monday the “indefinite” suspension of public Masses and other sacraments with 10 or more people present.

That day, Mueller posted to his Facebook page a personalized “Mueller Family Pandemic Plan,” which included plans for worship and prayer, and asked his friends for feedback.

With three children under the age of 5, Mueller said planning a lot of structured prayer time is difficult. Their family plans to say a daily rosary, for example, but they will say only as many decades as they can “until our kids lose it,” he said.

As for Sundays, Mueller said the family plans on watching their local parish’s livestream Mass and making a spiritual communion. Mueller said he also wants to plan his family’s Sundays around three different areas: reverence of holy things, reverence of others, and experiencing the joy of Christ.

Even if a family does not stream Mass, Mueller said they could spend some time in silence and prayer with “engagement in scripture, making a spiritual communion, and the rosary.”

As for reverencing others, Mueller said he would encourage families to think about who they could reach out to either through phone calls or video chats on Sundays.

“That might be grandparents, or other loved ones, in order that you can experience community together,” Mueller said.

Mueller added that even though most restaurants and venues are closed, Sundays should not stop being days to experience the joy of the Lord. “That might mean baking a particular food, or serving a particular drink, or playing a game that you know is going to bring life to your family,” he said.

Ultimately, while this is an “unprecedented time” in the life of the modern Church, Mueller said he is viewing it as a gift that calls for an “unprecedented response” from Christians.

“I see this as a tremendous gift, to actually be able to slow down and reevaluate the sainthood that Christ is calling all of us to. And I'm grateful that people are recognizing the ephemeral pleasures that they're used to...are not adequate for what the Lord has really made us for. So to have this time, to actually have that come to the light, I see it as a tremendous gift and my hope is that the Church, and ourselves as the Church, will seize this opportunity to fill the void.”


Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib to leave office, join the Jesuits

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- The lieutenant governor of Washington announced on Thursday that he will not seek re-election and instead will enter the Society of Jesus this autumn. 

Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib (D), 38, will end his eight-year career in public office after what he described as “two years of careful and prayerful discernment” led him to apply to join the Jesuits.

Habib, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2016, is the highest-ranking Iranian-American elected official in the United States. 

As his discernment process was “almost entirely private,” Habib said that he expected many of his constituents and supporters would find his decision to be a “major surprise,” particularly he was considered by many to have a bright political future.

“Many will be wondering why someone who has spent the last eight years climbing the political ladder and who has a not insignificant chance of acceding to the governorship next year, would trade a life of authority for one of obedience,” Habib said in an essay explaining his decision in America magazine, which is published by the Society of Jesus.

In the essay, he credited his Catholic faith for initially motivating him to enter politics, and for guiding his decisions in office. 

“My priorities in office 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,” he wrote in America. 

Habib lost his sight at the age of eight due to cancer and is a three-time cancer survivor.

“I knew from childhood what it was like to be excluded for being a blind kid from an Iranian family, and I have tried to use the power I have been given by the voters to ensure that we move urgently toward that day when no one will feel left behind or left out in our society.” 

Despite his political successes and bright prospects for the future, Habib told America that recently he felt called to a different lifestyle, “albeit one that is also oriented around service and social justice.” 

“I have felt a calling to dedicate my life in a more direct and personal way to serving the marginalized, empowering the vulnerable, healing those who suffer from spiritual wounds and accompanying those discerning their own futures,” he said. “I have come to believe that the best way to deepen my commitment to social justice is to reduce the complexity in my own life and dedicate it to serving others.” 

And while acknowledging the importance and influence of a role in public life, Habib said he realized that “meeting the challenges our country faces will require more than just policy-making,” and that people “are in dire need of spiritual support and companionship.”

Habib praised the Jesuits for their commitment to education, and said that it is “far too early” to know where his life in the order will lead him, “but I am confident that it will involve teaching, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, advocacy and spiritual accompaniment.” 

Jesuit formation typically takes between eight and 17 years. Habib did not say which of the four American provinces of the Society of Jesus he would be entering in the fall, but he did request prayers. 

“I ask you all to keep me in your prayers as I travel this new road; you will, of course, be in mine,” he said.

'No higher calling': Lipinski says he is proud of pro-life record

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 13:00

Chicago, Ill., Mar 19, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) conceded his primary race on Wednesday, saying that he stood by his pro-life principles even if they led to his defeat.  

“There was one issue that loomed especially large in this campaign, the fact that I am pro-life,” Lipinski, a Catholic eight-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, told reporters on Wednesday as primary election results showed him more than 2,400 votes behind his challenger Marie Newman.

“Over the years I’ve watched many other politicians succumb to pressure and change their position on this issue,” he said, noting that his pro-life stance was based upon his Catholic faith and “on science, which shows us that life begins at conception.”

“I could never give up protecting the most vulnerable human beings in the world, simply to win an election,” Lipinski said.

“My faith teaches—and the Democratic Party preaches—that we should serve everyone, especially the most vulnerable,” he said.

“To stand in solidarity with the vulnerable is to become vulnerable. There is no higher calling for anyone. But politicians don’t like to be vulnerable.”

Lipinski, representing Illinois’ third congressional district on Chicago’s south side and suburbs, is recognized as the last reliably pro-life Democrat in the House.

In recent years, he joined Republicans in supporting a “pain-capable” 20-week abortion ban, a bill to mandate care for babies who survive botched abortions, and legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funds.

His opponent, Marie Newman, was backed by national pro-abortion groups who targeted Lipinski’s pro-life record in ads during the primary.

“We ran a good campaign against tremendous headwinds,” Lipinski said on Wednesday, acknowledging his defeat and offering his congratulations to Newman. “As I said during the primary, I’ll support the winner of the primary,” he said.

For the second consecutive election cycles, Lipinski faced an onslaught of opposition from progressive and pro-abortion groups. 

Pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List all joined a coalition that invested $1.4 million into the race, targeting him in digital, TV, and mail ads and highlighting his pro-life record.

Even two politically activist nuns from the Sisters of Mercy—Sisters JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy—publicly endorsed Newman in a campaign video. The endorsement was “the most embarrassing, or shameful, moment” in the race, said Joshua Mercer, editor of’s “The Loop.”

Lipinski said on Wednesday that he “was pilloried in millions of dollars of TV ads and mailers” on the abortion issue. He had told CNA in January that he had not seen as much support from pro-life groups as he had hoped for.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List told CNA on Thursday that they spent a total of $45,000 on the race, including a $5,000 direct contribution to the Lipinski campaign and independent expenditures for Lipinski and against Newman.

“The pro-life community doesn’t have as much money as the abortion lobby, for sure,” said Kirsten Day executive director of Democrats for Life in America. Ads from pro-abortion groups also targeted Lipinski for opposing health care, immigration, and the minimum wage, even where he had voted reliably Democrat on an issue. “There was no counter to that,” Day said.

Lipinski’s seat was a symbolical for the abortion industry, Mercer said, and groups like NARAL understood that.

“It’s very few times when abortion legislation in the House would rise or fall on one vote. The abortion industry understood how frustrating it was to their cause to have someone who was a very reliable Democrat say ‘no, I’m pro-life,’” Mercer said.

“They saw him as undermining their cause, and they saw the value in spending millions of dollars to defeat him.”

Some progressive Democratic members of Congress, including freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), officially endorsed Newman.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made headlines in 2019 for backing out of a DCCC fundraiser to support Lipinski after she endured backlash from abortion supporters in the party. On Wednesday, she congratulated Newman on her victory and thanked Lipinski for his service.

Lipinski on Wednesday said that he “was shunned by many of my colleagues and other Democratic Party members and operators. I was shunned because of my pro-life stance.”

“The pressure in the Democratic Party on the life issue has never been as great as it is now,” he said.

Democratic leadership in the House and senators from Illinois “did very little” to back the eight-term incumbent, even as other Democratic members were endorsing Newman, said Day.

Lipinski voted often with his party, so “to receive this kind of treatment over his support for human life, it just is a bad direction for the party,” she said.

Some party leaders, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), have said that there is still room in the party for pro-life Democrats like Lipinski. Endorsements of his colleagues in Congress, however, never materialized as they did for Newman.

“They want the votes of Catholic voters,” Mercer said of Democratic Party leaders. “They don’t want the voices.”

In the wake of Lipinski’s defeat, political commentators said that the Democratic Party’s abortion extremism will come back to haunt them in the general election. Presidential candidates have endorsed abortion-on-demand even until birth, and all the candidates support taxpayer-funded abortions.

Day said that pro-life Democrats need to turn their attention to the general election and the party’s platform, which will be adopted at the 2020 convention in Milwaukee later this summer.

The 2016 DNC platform called for taxpayer funding of abortions in the U.S. and overseas, a significant shift on the issue. Day said that the platform contributed to the party’s extremist shift in favor of abortion, including efforts to unseat Lipinski.

Based on her conversations with moderate Democratic, independent, and Republican voters in Lipinski’s district, Day said the party’s abortion “extremism” had already convinced some of them to stay home on Tuesday rather than vote in the party’s primary.

“If the Democratic Party thinks that they’re going to do well in November with [Joe] Biden, who has really apologized for opposing taxpayer funding of abortion—if they think they’re going to get these independents to cross over and vote for Biden, I think that they’re going to be surprised,” Day said.

Biden, she said, needs to make “concessions” on the issue and there must be “drastic change to the [party] platform.”

Political strategist Jacob Lupfer said the pro-life movement could have done far more to save Lipinski.

“It is strategically insane for the party to move in this extreme direction,” Lupfer said.

While Students for Life volunteers canvassed for Lipinski in the closing days of the race, he noted, “the institutional pro-life movement did not make significant investments in this race commensurate with its wealth and power. The big pro-choice groups did.”

Mercer, however, questioned the lack of support Lipinski received from the “Catholic Left,” some of whom support presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who also endorsed Newman last year.

“It makes you wonder about what’s going on with the Catholic Left, that stuff like this happens,” Mercer said of pro-labor Lipinski’s defeat by the more liberal Newman who advocated for policies such as Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal.

“These are two Democrats. It’s like, what kind of Democratic Party do you want? Do you want it to be a cheerleader for the abortion industry? Then that’s Marie Newman. Or do you want the Democratic Party to say ‘we can be pro-labor, pro-environment, and still be pro-life’? That’s Dan Lipinski,” Mercer said.

Pro-lifers also need to recruit candidates from a more demographically diverse field, Lupfer said, noting that "it doesn't look good for the movement when all the pro-life Democrats in Congress are moderate white men.”

The movement needs to be bipartisan to succeed on the national level, he said, and this means going on offense and running candidates in primaries in moderate and swing districts, targeting vulnerable incumbents.

Pro-lifers should “do what AOC did, but do it in reverse,” he said, referring to the unexpected success of young Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who ousted a Democratic incumbent in a 2018 primary.

“They need to go in and recruit black church leaders to run for Congress. Or go find Hispanic moms in state legislatures who are pro-life Democrats,” Lupfer said. “Go around the country and get 30 or 40 of these candidates and run them in Democratic congressional primaries against complacent, entrenched, or corrupt incumbents.”

Lipinski was one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats because he stood fast by his principles, Mercer said.

“It’s easy to get disappointed by politicians, and the enormous pressures that politicians face between voters and institutional party,” he said.

“Dan Lipinski was somebody who stood strong on the principle of defending the unborn, and was willing to pay whatever political price for it. And that’s a tremendous amount of courage.”

Fort Worth diocese will distribute Communion outside after private Masses

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 20:00

Fort Worth, Texas, Mar 18, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth issued a pastoral letter March 18 detailing directives for the celebration of Mass during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Those directives include a plan for the distribution of the Eucharist after Masses conclude.

While all Masses are to be celebrated without a congregation present, Olson urged the continued distribution of Holy Communion “outside of church in designated spaces after Mass for those who are present in their cars or separated by a safe distance.”

“After consultation with my priests and civic officials at local and state levels, and in cooperating with them for the good of society, I am informing you that Mass will continue to be celebrated at the scheduled times throughout the territory of the Diocese of Fort Worth, but without a congregation physically present in the church,” Olson wrote Wednesday. 

Holy Communion, he continued, “is to be distributed in an open space with safe social distancing, in the hand, and not through a car window.”

In Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, civil authorities have urged the cancellation of gatherings of more than 250 people. 

The Fort Worth area has two confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of March 18. The number of confirmed cases worldwide stands at 200,000. 

Olson told CNA in an interview that each pastor in the diocese will be responsible for devising how to distribute Holy Communion in his parish. 

“There would be a designated place that is open-air, and then people would not be crowding around in a line, but people would come out, receive the Eucharist in a designated spot, make their reverence, and then move forward, and go and make their thanksgiving accordingly in a safe place,” the bishop told CNA. 

“I'm leaving my pastors, having consulted with them and talked with them, to devise how that will be done."

More than 100 dioceses throughout the United States have suspended public Masses entirely amid recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging the cancelation of gatherings of ten or more people and the practicing of social distancing, i.e. remaining at least six feet from other people.

Fort Worth's directives seem to be unique in their provision for the distribution of the Eucharist after Masses.

Olson told CNA that “spiritual needs are often not seen as essential to the human person,” but that his plan for continuing the distribution of the Eucharist in his diocese is a means of “care of soul and body.” 

"This is very much a moving target, and we have used a system of gradualism to cooperate [with secular authorities]," Olson said. 

"But the work of the Church has to go on, and that includes the celebration of Mass. Other dioceses are having the celebration of Mass, albeit privately, so the Mass is going on. We're just connecting this, as well, to the reception of Holy Communion...This is in no way an act of defiance. It's an act of solidarity."

Olson's pastoral letter said that priests and deacons over the age of 60 ought not distribute Communion, and stressed that “the circumstances current in our community are such that attendance at Mass borders on an impossibility and thus there is no obligation to attend.”

Olson has asked that priests celebrate Mass in their churches at the scheduled times and for the published intention, assisted by a deacon or a server or acolyte. 

If inclement weather prohibits the distribution of Communion outdoors, he said, “Holy Communion may be distributed in the church with safe social distancing and without crowding with due respect for the limits on gathering size.”

The directives are set to go into effect March 19. The diocese is working with local authorities to assess whether to proceed with weddings and funerals in the coming weeks, Olson said.

Confession by phone, Skype, or emoji? Could it happen during coronavirus pandemic?

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 18:35

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- As much of the world faces quarantines, social distancing, and “shelter in place” orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, Catholics have faced unexpected challenges in accessing - and offering - the sacraments of the Church.

Catholics in some places impacted by the pandemic have learned that the sacrament of confession - the remedy for sin and a conduit of God’s mercy - has become rather difficult to find.  

The sacrament of penance requires a number of practical conditions. The penitent must make a manifestation of sins to a priest acting in the person of Christ, express true contrition and resolve to sin no more. It also requires the conferral of absolution - forgiveness, from the priest, according to the sacramental formula of the Church. And a valid sacramental confession requires that all of those things happen in one place, the Church has long taught.

But as the pandemic continues, and social prohibitions grow stricter, some Catholics are wondering why they can’t confess their sins virtually - over the phone, via text, or on Skype.

Father James Bradley, assistant professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that the coronavirus epidemic had created a new kind of pastoral urgency which many bishops and priests are trying to meet.

He told CNA on Wednesday that “the pastoral needs of the faithful,” have to be met “especially in this extraordinary time,” and that pastors are seeking new approaches to deliver spiritual care, including the sacraments.

“Canon law is clear: the faithful have a right to the sacraments, and the Church’s ministers should do all they can to provide them.”

Bradley noted the importance of online resources for Catholics. But he cautioned that innovation in ministry must be coupled with an understanding and respect for the nature of the sacraments.

“Digital communications can and do assist people in deepening their faith, especially through catechesis and formation,” he said. “We see wonderful examples of the internet as a tool for evangelization. We can appreciate this all the more in the present crisis, with dioceses and parishes encouraging and supporting their people through online ministries.”

“At the same time, the nature of the sacraments is not simply juridical. The law governs the celebration of the sacraments, but it does so by reason of the nature of the sacraments themselves.”

“The Pontifical Council for Social Communications puts it clearly: ‘Virtual reality is no substitute for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, and shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community. There are no sacraments on the Internet; and even the religious experiences possible there by the grace of God are insufficient apart from real-world interaction with other persons of faith.’”

Bradley told CNA that there are limits to what can be done online.

“Some laws regarding the sacraments are flexible, for instance the norm of hearing confessions in a church or oratory. Others are not, for instance that absolution requires a validly ordained priest,” he said.

Father Giorgio Giovanelli, a professor of canon law at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, told Catholic News Service this week that he believes confession could take place over the phone, if  Pope Francis would extend his permission.

“Some would object that the priest must be present. OK. That’s the kind of thing people would say in the 1980s, but the development of technology has allowed us to have other kinds of presence,” the priest told Catholic News Service.

“Am I less present by telephone? Virtual presence is real. Who could say that the celebrative dimension of the sacrament in these very particular, narrowly defined situations is lacking?” he asked.

But Bradley told CNA that innovative approaches to ministry have to be grounded in the Church’s teaching. Underpinning canon law, he said, is the essential theology of the sacraments, often rooted in a necessary person-to-person encounter.

“The nature of confession, like all the sacraments, involves a personal and ecclesial encounter with Jesus Christ, who is the Word made Flesh. A virtual reality can never replace the reality of the incarnation. We can deepen our faith through watching a livestream of Mass, but we all know: it’s not the same as being physically present.”

The canon lawyer also noted secondary concerns which should be considered when discussing new or adapted forms of sacramental ministry.

“There are also practical issues that relate to the nature of the sacrament of confession. A telephone call or online meeting raises serious concerns about privacy, anonymity, and safeguarding,” Bradley said.

Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM Cap, a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, told CNA that “physical presence is absolutely for the validity of the enactment of the sacrament.”

“The reason I say that is because the sacrament is the action of Christ performed by the minister, and for that action to take place, the priest and the penitent must be in communion with one another, in a physical manner.”

Weinandy said that all sacraments involve a physical dimension. In marriage, that dimension is expressed in the sexual union of husband and wife. In other sacraments, it is expressed in the rites and rituals themselves, he said.

“You can’t baptize someone who’s not actually present, you can’t participate in the sacrifice of the Mass -- a priest can’t confect the Eucharist— without being physically present,” the theologian added.

Weinandy told CNA that confession is an “interpersonal exchange.” The physical presence of confessor and penitent point to the significance of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

“The sacraments flow from the Incarnation, and because of that, there has to be a bodily presence of the one who is enacting the sacrament, and the one who is receiving the sacrament. They’re doing the sacrament together,” Weinandy said.

“The Incarnation sets the framework for the sacramental order. Sacraments by their very nature, are incarnational signs that effect what they symbolize and symbolize what they effect, and one must be a part of that sign and reality to participate in the sacrament,” he said.

“Even in the Old Testament, Moses had to be in front of the burning bush to know he was in the presence of God,” Weinandy said.

In the 17th century, the Church declared that confession by letter would be invalid. More recently, in 2011, papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, responded to the proposition that sacramental confession might one day take place by iPhone app.

"It is essential to understand well that the sacrament of penance requires necessarily the rapport of personal dialogue between penitent and confessor and absolution by the present confessor,” Lombardi said at the time.

One cannot speak in any way of 'confession by iPhone,'” Lombardi added.

Priests in some parts of the world have devised creative ways to offer the sacrament of confession during the pandemic, among them “drive-up” confessionals and confession through a rectory window. While the Church is not going to change the essential elements of the sacrament, Weinandy said, creative pastoral ministry will find new and creative ways to extend the gift of God’s mercy.



Congress passes coronavirus aid bill

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 17:35

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2020 / 03:35 pm (CNA).- Congress has passed a second bill responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including paid leave for coronavirus-related reasons for many Americans.

On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), a $2.5 billion stimulus package. The White House has previously said that President Trump would sign the legislation.

The House passed the stimulus package early on Saturday morning by an overwhelming vote of 363 to 40. Of those voting in favor, 140 Republicans joined 223 Democrats while 40 other Republicans voted against the bill.

Although the bill received broad bi-partisan support, Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), James Lankford (D-Okla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) all voted against the bill.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared to be a pandemic by World Health Organization (WHO) officials last week. There are more than 7,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 97 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday.

Among other provisions, the bill helps fund free Coronavirus testing for all Americans and requires commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Indian Health service and TRI-CARE plans to cover testing diagnosis without cost-sharing.

Additionally, the legislation requires businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide 14 days of paid sick leave for employees who are infected with the virus, are under quarantine, are caring for a family member with the virus, or who have children sent home from school closings.

“The vast majority” of businesses with more than 500 employees already provide paid sick leave, House Republican leadership said, commenting on the bill, but the New York Times editorial board reported on Saturday that some large corporations did not have an across-the-board provision for paid sick leave in their company policies.

Technical changes were made to the bill on Monday allowing for expanded tax credits for small businesses to provide paid leave, reportedly at the request of the Trump administration. Speaker Pelosi on Tuesday called for expanded paid leave in an expected third stimulus package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that the chamber planned to pass the House bill, but that the Senate would not adjourn for the week until “a far bolder package” was passed. 

Congress previously passed a $8.3 billion response package that was signed into law by President Trump on March 6.

Most people think of 'the pope,' not 'God,' when they hear 'Catholic'

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 15:30

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- When asked about Catholicism, most people think of the pope, according to a newly released survey from the Pew Research Center. 

The survey, published on Tuesday, March 17, found that over half of respondents--54%--replied with either “the pope,” “Pope Francis,” or “Pope John Paul II” when asked who is the first person to come to mind when they heard the word “Catholic.” Of that number, 47% replied with simply “the pope,” and only 5% said “Pope Francis.” 

A further 18% of respondents named a figure from the Bible when asked what came to mind when they heard the term Catholic. Of that percentage, 12% replied “Jesus,” and 5% said the Virgin Mary. An additional 2% said “God.” 

Six percent of respondents cited themselves or a Catholic family member as the first person to come to mind, while 13% either refused to answer or said they could not think of anyone.

Pew also asked people to name the first person who came to mind for other religions, including Buddhism, evangelical Protestantism, Islam, and Judaism. 

For evangelical Protestantism, the person who was named the most was televangelist Billy Graham, who was named by 21% of respondents. Jesus and Martin Luther were each named by 5% of respondents.

A total of 46% of respondents declined to answer or said they did not know when asked who came to mind when they heard the term “evangelical Protestant.” 

Fittingly, 55% of respondents said that “Buddha” was the first person who came to mind when they heard the term Buddhism. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, came in second with 7% of responses. Mahatma Gandhi, who was not a Buddhist, was named by 3% of respondents. 

Just over a quarter--26%--of respondents said that “Mohammad” was the first person who came to mind for Islam. The second-highest response was “God” at 8%, followed by “Osama Bin Laden” with 5%. Mahatma Gandhi, who was not a Muslim, was cited by 1% of respondents. 

About half of the respondents cited a figure from the Bible as the first person they thought of when they thought about Judaism. Twenty-one percent said “Jesus,” followed by 13% saying “Moses.” An additional 8% said “Abraham.” 

Asked about the term “atheism,” the top four people respondents cited were Richard Dawkins, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, physicist Stephen Hawking, and television host Bill Maher.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was one of the founders of American Atheists, and brought several cases to the Supreme Court against prayer in public schools.

Former French priest convicted of sexual abuse of minors

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 13:42

Lyon, France, Mar 18, 2020 / 11:42 am (CNA).- Bernard Preynat, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Lyon, was convicted and sentenced by a civil court Monday for the sexual abuse of minors.

He abused dozens of minors between 1971 and 1991, and he had been found guilty by an ecclesiastical tribunal last year.

He was charged with sexual assault of 10 minors from 1986 to 1991.

He was found guilty, and sentenced March 16 to five years in prison. He could have been sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, and prosecutors sought eight years.

Allegations against Preynat, 75, became public in 2015. Prosecutors dropped the case the following year after an initial investigation, but a victims’ group with more than 80 members who say they were abused by Preynat led to a reopening of the case.

Preynat led a scouting camp until 1991, when parents accused him of abuse to the Lyon-Vienne archdiocese. He was then banned from leading scouting groups, but remained in ministry until being removed by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, then-Archbishop of Lyon, in 2015.

An ecclesiastical trial against Preynat was opened in August 2018, and he was convicted in July 2019 of committing delicts of a sexual character against minors under the age of 16. He was sentenced to dismissal from the clerical state.

“In view of the facts and their recurrence, the large number of victims, the fact that Father Bernard Preynat abused the authority conferred on him by his position within the scout group that he had founded and which he led since its creation, assuming the dual responsibility of head and chaplain, the tribunal decided to apply the maximum penalty provided for by the law of the Church, namely dismissal from the clerical state,” the Lyon archdiocese stated July 4, 2019.

At his civil trial in Lyon Jan. 14, Preynat acknowledged “caressing” boys, saying, “it could be four or five children a week.”

“I have heard the suffering of these people, which I'm guilty of causing,” he said. “I hope that this trial can take place as quickly as possible.”

He has been accused of abusing some 80 boy scouts who were between 7 and 15, beginning in the 1970s, but many of the incidents had passed the statute of limitations.

Preynat's trial was to have begun Jan. 13, but was delayed a day so lawyers could participate in a protest of planned pension reforms.

In 2017, Cardinal Barbarin told Le Monde that he did not conceal allegations against Preynat, but that his response to the allegations had been “inadequate.” He said he opened an investigation against Preynat after becoming aware of the allegations against him.

Cardinal Barbarin was convicted by a French civil court in March 2019 on charges of failing to report the allegations against Preynat, but his conviction was overturned on appeal Jan. 30.

The appeals court had accepted evidence from one of Preynat's victims, who had thanked the cardinal for his advice in bringing the former priest to justice. Cardinal Barbarin had told the victim that while his abuse had passed the statute of limitation, he should find more recent instances to bring to court.

Jean-Felix Luciani, the cardinal's lawyer, told reporters that “the court has just acquitted the cardinal on the fundamentals of the case, by indicating that no offence has been committed, for a number of reasons...and for one key reason in particular: that the cardinal never intended to obstruct justice.”

“This wrong was today righted … Cardinal Barbarin is innocent.”

Cardinal Barbarin, who is 69, offered to resign as Archbishop of Lyon after his 2019 conviction and he stepped back from the governance of his local Church. The acceptance of his resignation was delayed.

Papal spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in March 2019 that Francis had chosen to not accept the resignation of the cardinal as Archbishop of Lyon but, aware of the “difficulties” of the archdiocese at the present moment, “left Cardinal Barbarin free to make the best decision for the diocese.”

After his successful appeal, Cardinal Barbarin's resignation was accepted March 6.

Bishop Michel Dubost, 77, who is Bishop Emeritus of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes, has served as apostolic administrator of Lyon since June 2019.

Lipinski loses primary

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 10:00

Chicago, Ill., Mar 18, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), one of the last pro-life Democrats in Congress, lost his primary election to pro-abortion challenger Marie Newman on Tuesday.

Election results from the New York Times showed Newman with a 2,365-vote lead over Lipinski, with 99% of precincts reporting, early Monday morning. Newman successfully reversed her 2018 result, in which she fell around 2,000 votes short of upsetting the incumbent.

Lipinski is a Catholic eight-term representative of Illinois’ third congressional district, on the south side of Chicago. He is recognized as the last reliably pro-life Democrat in the House of Representatives, bucking the party whip to support pro-life legislation, including supporting “pain-capable” 20-week abortion bans and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Late Tuesday evening, his campaign released a statement via Facebook saying that “there are still votes to be counted in this race. It is very close. We may have to wait overnight or into the morning for the final vote count. I want to thank everyone for their support. Please stay safe and take care of yourselves and your families.”

Newman, a pro-abortion candidate making her second consecutive challenge against Lipinski, tweeted on Tuesday evening that she was “bursting with pride and gratitude for the amazing coalition that helped bring about much needed change in our district.”

“We are going to work together to lower health care costs, to fight climate change, and to build an economy that works for everyone. #NewDayInIL03 #IL03,” Newman tweeted. 

The president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Ilyse Hogue, tweeted on Tuesday that Lipinski was “anti-choice, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ,” and that the party should end “these oppressive views.”

While Newman herself tried to highlight her support for other policies during the primary, such as Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal, she received substantial support from many national pro-abortion groups, including pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and EMILY’s List.

Together, those groups and others formed a coalition that invested $1.4 million into the race in late February to buy digital and TV ads and send direct mail to voters in Newman’s favor.

NARAL said that the ad campaign would target Lipinski’s pro-life record, including his signing an amicus brief in favor of Louisiana’s safety regulations of abortion clinics at the Supreme Court, and his voting seven times to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding.

Newman also criticized Lipinski for not supporting policies such as Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal, and said that he opposed the Affordable Care Act. While Lipinski voted against the health care bill before it became law in 2010 for reasons including its funding of elective abortions, he has since defended the law from the House Republicans repeal-and-replace measure introduced in 2017.

The president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, offered her “condolences” to Lipinski on Wednesday.

“Congressman Lipinski has long been a profile in courage, bucking the sad trend of Democrat leaders vying to be the greatest advocate of abortion. We are deeply grateful for his bravery in standing strong,” Dannenfelser said. 

“The expulsion of this pro-life hero from Congress by his own party is an ominous sign for pro-life Democrats and all who long to see both major parties hold a principled stance in favor of life,” she said.

Lipinski in January also told CNA that he had wished for more support from pro-life groups. He had narrowly edged out Newman in 2018 in a race that saw around $2.5 million spent on campaign ads and mailings, and was facing a tough rematch. Newman had already secured the backing of several of Lipinski’s congressional colleagues including freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.) who endorsed the challenger back in September.

The spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) also played a role in the election, with election judges in Cook County reportedly not showing up to verify results at polling places. Lipinski’s campaign spokesman Phil Davidson told CNA on Monday that the spread of the virus, and the resulting decision of many residents to stay home had “really flipped the script” and that “turnout is going to be lower.”

Democrats for Life of America told CNA on Monday they had canvassed in the district for Lipinski with volunteers from Students for Life, with around 20 volunteers working on Sunday. National Right to Life said earlier in March that they had sent direct mail to “thousands of pro-life supporters in the district” in favor of Lipinski.

Susan B. Anthony List made the maximum-allowable $5,000 direct contribution to Lipinski’s campaign in December, and said they were “bundling” for his campaign as well. The group’s partner Women Speak Out PAC spent nearly $10,000 in “independent expenditures” for Lipinski and against Newman, according to

Newman said that she was baptized Catholic at a local parish, in a campaign video that highlighted her ties to the district. She also secured the support of two nuns, Sisters JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy of the Sisters of Mercy, who endorsed her in a campaign video.

Why have Mass with no one there?

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 09:00

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- With public Masses suspended in over 100 dioceses across the United States, many Catholics have been told to stay home, make a spiritual communion, and maintain a prayer routine until the coronavirus pandemic passes. 

Masses are still being celebrated privately, but what does that mean? What is the significance and power of Mass without the laity present? CNA spoke to experts to get a better understanding of why Masses celebrated in private are spiritually beneficial to all Catholics.

The Mass “is not something we do,” Fr. James Bradley, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, told CNA. 

“We participate in the Mass when we come to the Mass, either as priest or as people, but it’s first and foremost the action of Christ. The Catechism says that Christ is the principal actor in the liturgy, so this is something that the Lord does and in which we participate, because we participate in His life through baptism.” 

Catholics participate in God’s communion with the Church whenever Mass is celebrated, whether they are physically present for it or not, explained Bradley. 

Mass is “not something that the priest does as a private individual. He does it as a minister of the Church, involving the whole of the Church. Every Mass that is celebrated, anywhere at any time, is for everyone who is part of the Church.” 

Bradley said the language of the Mass as illustrates that it is never never a solo activity for the celebrant. 

“We talk about the angels and saints and they all are always present in every celebration of the Mass, the whole of the Church is present on earth, present in heaven,” he said. “So, in a sense, the priest is never alone when he stands at the altar. He’s always surrounded by the clouds of witnesses.”

Fr. Thomas Petri, a theologian and the vice president and academic dean of the Dominican House of Studies, trains Dominicans preparing for ordination to properly celebrate Mass. He said that Mass is about God, not the people. 

“The Mass is never, should never, be seen as something that's about me as the priest or something that's about the parishioner or something that's about the community,” Petri told CNA. 

“It's about the adoration and the worship of God and giving him the glory and in that, because that's what we were made to be, to do. That's how we are fulfilled and that's how we become happy and holy and more fully alive as human beings.”

“It may seem to many that the Mass is purely a sort of performance of worship of God and for one’s own spiritual benefit for the benefit of parishioners,” Petri said. And while the spiritual value aspect is certainly part of it, “it’s not the only thing, and I would say it’s not even the primary thing.” 

“The primary thing that the Mass does or is, is that it’s the sacramental representation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross,” Petri told CNA. “It’s the way Christ has deigned or willed that the effects of His sacrifice between the graces of His sacrifice, His suffering and death, but then also His resurrection would be made manifest.” 

Every time Mass is celebrated, explained Petri, “you are present sacramental at the cross of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of graces of the paschal mystery are flooding into the world.” 

This is true regardless of the number of people who are physically present for the Mass, he said. 

“Every Mass has an infinite, spiritual value to it, because it's the exact same value of the cross of Jesus Christ, which it represents.” 

Fr. Bradley characterized the Mass as something very different from Protestant worship services, because Mass is “our participation in the offering of God the Son to God the Father in God, the Holy Spirit,” not just “a kind of horizontal relationship where we stand before God and we offer worship or we offer sorrow for our sins.” 

While there are aspects of worship and contrition in the Eucharistic liturgy, Bradley said the Church’s sacramental participation in the life of Christ is the key differing factor. 

“So, for Catholics, not being able to participate in the Mass, it’s serious,” Bradley said, “because they can’t just simply sit at home and do what they would otherwise do in church, the way Protestants would see that worship in church as being something which is them presenting something to God, either sorrow or joy or thanksgiving.”

Those things, said Bradley, “can be offered anywhere at any time,” but “in the Mass, we do something greater than that.”

Petri agreed, telling CNA that Catholics should never consider Mass a performance, as it is not about them.  

“The Mass is efficacious and powerful,” he said. “If you celebrate it according to the ritual that the Church has laid down, the Mass isn't a show because it's not something we have invented. It's not meant to be entertainment. Even though in the 21st century we all like to be entertained.”

Instead, Mass should be viewed as worshipping God “the very way he wants to be worshipped, the way he wants to be adored; which is to say through the suffering, death, and resurrection--the sacrifice--of His Son, Jesus Christ.” 

“We do not have a right to expect to be entertained at Mass,” said Petri. “You don't have a right to in fact worship God the way we want to worship God. In the Bible and in tradition, God always tells us how we are to worship Him. And the Mass is how he wants to be worshiped.”

Both Petri and Bradley expressed sorrow and dismay at the widespread suspension of Masses, but both priests said they understood why the actions were taken, even if they are upsetting for many Catholics.

“First of all, the Church always wants to take care of her flock. And that means that sometimes she has to do things which she wouldn’t want to do, but which are necessary,” Bradley told CNA. He characterized the suspension of publicly celebrated Mass as “ultimately an act of solicitude” and “a kindness of the bishop.” 

“He’s trying to protect his flock, and it’s an extraordinary circumstance,” he said. “It’s not a giving in, it’s not a concession to civil society. It’s the bishop acting responsibly on the advice of civil society when it’s offered, when it presents a reasonable law.” 

‘Bless me, Father - but from 6 feet away!’ Coronavirus and confession

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 06:00

Lincoln, Neb., Mar 18, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Demand for confessions at St. Mary’s in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, has always been high: it’s a centrally-located church with convenient, daily confession times and often multiple confessors.

During the parish’s normal 11:30-noon weekday confession times, penitents on their lunch breaks line up, often 20 people or more deep, for absolution and sacramental grace, before returning to work, or before attending the 12:10 p.m. Mass.

“It's a big ministry,” Fr. Douglas Dietrich, the pastor of St. Mary’s, told CNA. “And then we have a lot of people who come by the door and call up and just want to go to confession; that's great.”

“I always joked about how I should just put up a walk-up confessional” available outside his rectory office window, Dietrich told CNA.

These days, the usual daily confession lines would violate new state and federal coronavirus guidelines, which dictate that no more than 10 people should be gathered in any space. To further complicate matters, the Diocese of Lincoln announced on Monday that public Masses would be suspended until further notice, also in an effort to combat coronavirus.

But Fr. Dietrich is not deterred.

What started out as a joke has now become a reality, in an effort to keep the sacraments available to Nebraska’s Catholics during this uncharted time of restrictions on public gatherings.

“When we got the word that they were suspending all public liturgies and the churches were basically shut down, that was my first concern was - what about people who have to get to confession?”

Starting just one day after the new restrictions, Fr. Dietrich set up shop at his office window, and advertised the new set-up to his parishioners. The line was a little shorter than usual, but Dietrich said he heard confessions until a little past noon.

Dietrich is not the only priest getting creative at this time of unprecedented closures of liturgies and churches in the United States and beyond.  Over the weekend, a photo circulated on social media of Fr. Scott Holmer of St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Bowie, Md., offering drive-up confessions.


BRILLIANT! Drive-through confessions.... perfectly legal, good social-distancing. Awesome idea, Fr, way to adapt! I gotta figure how to do this at ASU ... works with cars, skateboards, bikes, scooters, I s’pose. #ASUCatholic #coronapocalypse

— Fr Rob Clements (@Fr_RobC) March 16, 2020  

Holmer sat on a chair outside in the church parking lot, a safe six feet away from cars, which lined up behind traffic cones for the sacrament.

In a note on his parish website, Holmer said that while it was a “great sorrow” to be unable to offer public Mass, the “drive through confessional” was one way he could offer sacraments to the people at this time.

“As we go through this Coronavirus, I hope to be in daily communication with you to create a sense of being connected as a parish throughout these uncertain days,” he said.

The drive-up confessions will be available every day at varying times posted on the parish website, with an extended time of confessions from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. A seminarian has been recruited to direct traffic, the priest noted, and the confessional will only be closed in cases of inclement weather, like heavy rain.

“This is turning out to be a Lent unlike any other. I believe the Lord is inviting us to an increased concern for the welfare of our neighbors and offering us the opportunity to make sacrifices for them. What a great Lenten penance for us all,” Holmer said in the letter to parishioners on the parish website.

“Be assured of my prayers for you. Please pray for the health and welfare of all in our parish and in the surrounding community. I miss you all terribly,” he added. The photo of Holmer’s creative confessional inspired Fr. Ryan Salisbury of Syracuse, Nebraska to think about what he could offer his parishioners.

“A number of parishioners kept sharing that photo with me, and it was like, yeah, this is something we need to do.”

Like Dietrich, he decided to set up a walk-up confessional through a window of the parish social hall.

“The way our social hall is designed, we have a classroom (where) the roof overhangs it. That way they're kind of protected even if it would rain or anything like that. And it has a direct line of sight from the parking lot. So, I can open a window, be inside and be there with my back to the window to remain anonymous for confession,” Salisbury told CNA.

Salisbury said he planned on posting the new available confession times on the parishes website and social media pages, and that he planned on offering even more times than normal.

The priest said so far he has had about seven or eight parishioners ask him how they will be able to access confessions while ordinary Masses are suspended, so he knows it’s something on the mind of many Catholics. He encouraged people to use the walk-up confessional even if they just wanted to talk.

“We as priests, we are praying for (Catholics) and during this time we're always there to offer anything that you need,” he said.

He added that he would encourage people “not to be afraid, to reach out with any concerns or questions or ideas that they might have. But most of all, (they should) know of our love for them and our prayer for them. And as difficult as this is for everyone, on our priestly hearts it's also very difficult not being able to administer to them in the way that we're used to. But we offer it up in every little sacrifice that we do,” he said.

Fr. Cassidy Stinson, a priest at St. Bede Catholic Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, told CNA that his parish has “really big confessionals with good ventilation”, so he is still offering confessions with or without a privacy screen, but at a safe distance of 6 feet or more.

Stinson has been promoting his still-open confessions on Twitter.

“We’re trying to be creative to stay safe,” he told CNA.

Fr. Carl Arcosa, like Fr. Holmer, is offering his parishioners at St Michael Parish in Livermore, California, a drive-up confessional, as well as “parking lot Benediction”, starting on Thursday, the feast of St. Joseph.

“Only one occupant per car. Drive up to the courtyard driveway and remain in your car. A priest will keep a 6-foot distance from your car window to hear your confession and absolve you,” say the instructions for drive-up confession, sent in an email to parishioners.

Drive-up confessions will be offered every day from March 19-April 7 at two different times, including bilingual confessions. Drive-up Benediction will be offered twice daily, at 8:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Directions for drive-up Benediction read: “Park in St Michael's parking lot and remain in your car. Our clergy will process with Jesus present in the Eucharist and pass by all cars.  While in your car pray this prayer three times: 'O Sacrament most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving, Be every moment Thine.'”

Arcosa said that the priests will use their phones in order to hear people confess their sins but maintain distance, and then will bless and absolve the penitents from a safe six-foot distance.

Arcosa told CNA that he wanted his people to be “spiritually and pastoral supported” during this time, even if he cannot offer them public Masses.

The church doors are also being kept open during the day so that people may pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or pray the Stations of the Cross, which is normally offered publicly every Friday during Lent.

“This a very Catholic parish, they love the Eucharist and everything,” Arcosa said. “So that's why we’re giving the sacraments back to them, and the Blessed Sacrament, and opening the church, (it) makes them feel that the church is there for them. Their priest is there pastorally, spiritually.”

“I believe that the sacraments are really important for us Catholics,” Arcosa added.

“In the midst of all the other Christian churches locking their doors or canceling their services, we're still doing (what we can) because we know that Jesus still walks with us and Jesus wants to be with us and support us and give us our sacraments, even in this time of crisis.”

Pittsburgh procession will ask for divine protection from coronavirus

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 17:55

Pittsburgh, Pa., Mar 17, 2020 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- Fr. Nick Vaskov wanted to do something. He wanted to invoke God’s protection against the pandemic of the coronavirus, and call for the protection of the saints. He wanted to give witness to faith. So he decided to have a procession.

The procession was to take place after a Mass in Pittsburgh, where Vaskov is diocesan director of shrines. Both procession and Mass would call for divine protection from plagues, epidemics, and contagious diseases. And there would be a lot of relics.

The priest scheduled everything for March 22. And then on March 16, the diocese suspended public Masses, in response to the guidance of public health officials. And gatherings of more than just a few people were discouraged.

So Fr. Vaskov’s plans had to change.

The Mass will still take place on March 22nd, but now it will be livestreamed, and Catholics encouraged to watch online.

The procession will still take place too. Catholics are invited to stand on the sidewalk along the procession route, keeping a safe distance from each other. Pittsburgh priests will carry the Blessed Sacrament, along with relics from the True Cross, St. Rocco, and St. Rosalia, through a Pittsburgh neighborhood. They’ll pray, and invite onlookers to do the same.

“The celebration of Holy Mass, obviously it's a participation in the liturgy of heaven. So whether we are present or not, as the body of Christ, it has a powerful effect for the intentions that we bring there - that we want to be transformed and made new and healed, certainly in a time of a health crisis for people's health and protection,” Vaskov told CNA.

“[The] procession … [is] bringing God into the world and bringing people hope and faith and trust. We have a great opportunity to do that,” he told CNA.

Vaskov said the idea for the Mass and procession started with the large collection of relics at St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh.  Among the collection are relics from intercessors against contagious diseases, like Saints Rocco and Rosalia. Those saints will be important intercessors during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, the priest said.

“We have that opportunity here since we have the relics of many saints that are invoked in times of plague and epidemic … We just have a great opportunity on our hands to be able to do something, show people that we do trust in God in moments like this to heal and to protect,” he told CNA.

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has infected nearly 190,000 people worldwide, and killed almost 8,000. Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported that there have been 76 cases of the viruses in the state.

As many dioceses have closed their churches in response to the pandemic, Vaskov said there is need to be creative ways to involve people in prayer and spiritual practices, even if those are digital opportunities.

The priest told a story about Saint Charles Borromeo who, during a plague in 1500s Italy, would set up Mass on the street corners and people would pray through the windows of their apartments.

“That was a creative way to allow people to draw near to the Lord. We look now to digital ways to do that, and maybe other ways,” he said.

“Just because the church is closed doesn't mean that we're sitting here doing nothing, we're going to do all the more.

“If nothing [else], this is going to be our own prayer for our people during this time. So praying with and for each other is going to be such an important part of this.”

Vaskov said the Mass for protection, streamed online, will not replace the reception of the Eucharist, but it will still be a powerful experience of prayer and unity. He told CNA he hopes the event will bring peace to people who feel stress or anxiety over the virus.

“It doesn't replace for them what it means to go to Mass and to receive the Eucharist, but it certainly is a help, during challenging days, for so many people with anxiety and worry,” he said.

“[This event is a way] to have interactions with people digitally or opportunities for people to ask questions. People are worried and anxious and they look to the Church, they look to saints,” he said.


How are Catholics coping with school closures?

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Mar 17, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has caused Catholic schools across the United States to close. With no clear timeline for when they might reopen, parents, students, teachers and schools are finding innovative ways to balance distance learning and home life.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization last week, after spreading to more than 100 countries worldwide. In the U.S., there were more than 5,200 confirmed cases of the virus as of Tuesday afternoon.

Dioceses have halted public Masses indefinitely, and states are beginning to shut down public events, impose curfews, and order the closure of restaurants and bars. Many Catholic universities and schools have already closed their campuses and have begun to transition to distance learning.

While many colleges and universities have offered online courses for years, many Catholic elementary and high schools are having to adapt quickly to accommodate distance learning en masse, with teachers, parents, and students facing unforeseen challenges.

Tim Hruszkewycz, a high school English teacher at Villa Madonna Academy in Northern Kentucky, told CNA that he received notice late last Thursday that the school would be transitioning to remote courses, because of the pandemic.

Despite preconceptions that working from home might be easier, “it’s not easy,” he said. “It’s way more work, it’s way more stressful.”

Hruszkewycz, however, said he had expected the eventual closure of the school campus for weeks and had already mentally prepared the students for distance learning.

He teaches five classes of students in grades 10 through 12, and planned virtual lessons and courses for each class. “On Thursday, I basically made a million packets” for the students, he said, before they went home.

While initially told that the campus would be closed for two weeks, Hruszkewycz has been preparing for a month-long exercise in remote teaching. He conducts classes through video conferencing on Google Hangout, which has video chat and text chat functions for students to interact with him.

He still wears a shirt and tie to mimic a normal classroom environment as closely as possible, and has assigned novels for the students to read so they have plenty of material to discuss when they return to in-person classes.

“I have really motivated kids,” he said, “but even the most successful kid” will have challenges to study hard at home. “It’s really tempting to find ways to blow off this time,” he said. “It’s just one giant impediment between student success and just the ease of moving on with life.”

In the Archdiocese of Washington, which has 18 high schools and 54 elementary schools, Wendy Anderson, associate superintendent of academics and leadership in the archdiocese, told CNA that a significant challenge to distance learning has been lack of internet access for some of the younger children.

“It’s a lot easier for high school kids to kind of get online and keep up, but for younger children we have to have some pretty creative solutions,” Anderson said.

Most importantly, she said, teachers are acting as “ministers” in praying with the students, even in this extraordinary time.

“I think it’s important that they’re incorporating Catholic identity through this, that teachers are doing prayer with kids, keeping the faith up, giving the families alternatives, prayer services as alternatives to Mass,” she said. “We’re not going to lose sight of our mission through this.”

High schools were “pretty quick” to transition to digital learning, Anderson said, but with the elementary schools “we don’t assume that all children will have access to the internet.”

A “majority” of the archdiocesan schools are utilizing digital learning, she said, with platforms such as Google Classroom.

“The schools are closed, and we’re not trying to say we’re open completely for academics, but all of our schools are offering things to keep kids busy and up-to-date on their studies as much as possible,” she said.

In the case of Don Bosco Cristo Rey high school in Takoma Park, Maryland, students are also enrolled in a work-study program, so they are having to work remotely as well.

In the diocese of Brooklyn, there was “anxiety” about having to make mass changes in the pandemic, said district superintendent Michael LaForgia.

However, he said the feedback so far has been “extremely positive” as “faculty and principals have gotten together” and “rolled up their sleeves.”

“We have a very diverse diocese,” LaForgia said, with both affluent and poor sections, and the diocese wanted to ensure schools would receive an equitable distribution of resources and attention.

One school in Queens has a large immigrant population with English as a second language, he said, so the school principal hosted families last week for a more interactive presentation about using the app Zoom so their children could learn electronically.

The diocesean communications and technology arm, DeSales Media, had already begun partnering with schools to provide them devices for remote learning before the coronavirus became an issue, LaForgia said.

Some parents do worry that an extended break from in-person classroom settings could mean that their child falls behind in grades or certifications. It is a concern, LaForgia said, but one shared by parents of students at both public and Catholic schools, and one which will be confronted as a community “as the days turn into weeks.”

“What we’re finding is, everybody is collaborating, and everybody is working for the same goal,” he said.

Meanwhile, many parents now working from home face the additional challenge of ensuring their children are still learning.

Two homeschooling mothers—Elizabeth Foss, a Catholic mother of nine children, and Stephanie Weinert, a mother of four children—who are both bloggers and active on Instagram, co-hosted a virtual discussion on Sunday night for mothers whose children will be transitioning from school to learning at home.

“This is qualitatively different from homeschooling,” Foss said of the current situation.

Many mothers are still working from home, but now have to attend to the educational needs of their children as well. The schoolwork many of the students have been given is not enough to fill eight hours a day, it is closer to three or four hours, she said, leaving a significant gap of time for parents to fill.

The virtual discussion on Sunday emphasized the need of parents to limit children’s unnecessary screen time, reserving it for more scholastic endeavors.

“In order to do that, we have to model that ourselves,” she said, urging parents to practice moderation in use of the internet as an example for their children. “We don’t need the continuous drip of anxiety,” she said of reading constant Coronavirus news updates.

Foss said that the forced drastic shift in home life brought on by the coronavirus could be an opportunity for a much-needed shift in societal priorities: Parents now might have more time to make family dinners and involve the children in household chores and affairs—a chance to “slow down and really acknowledge relationship-building,” she said.

“Maybe the bigger question is why are we so out of touch with the rhythm of family, and can we see this as an opportunity to reestablish that rhythm as a culture?” Foss asked.

“I can’t imagine any other scenario where an entire culture has stopped and said, okay, who are the people who I am going to be confined with, and how is that set of people my family? And what are we to one another, and how do we best help and bring out the best in each other? Whether that’s school or not.”

Coronavirus and the collection basket: Parishes feel quarantine cash crunch

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 14:20

Denver, Colo., Mar 17, 2020 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- While dioceses across the country have canceled public Masses in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus, many parishes are remaining open for prayer, Eucharistic adoration, and confession, and continuing charitable work in the community.

But some parishes, especially those serving poor communities, have already begun feeling a financial pinch as they lose access to in-person parish collections.

For Father Joseph Lajoie, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Denver, dwindling cash flow during the coronavirus crisis constitutes a “potentially crippling, if not mortal, blow” to the parish. 

"We are as antiquated as our registration system. It's a three-ring binder," Lajoie told CNA.

The Archdiocese of Denver suspended public Masses March 13.   

"So we're looking at this past Sunday, and the next three at least, with no Mass, no collection at all," Lajoie said.

Sacred Heart is one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese, occupying a 140-year-old building. It is also one of the poorest, and its congregation is largely elderly and low-income.

The parish has no online giving portal, no electronic database of registered parishioners, and no way to communicate with the entire community electronically, except through social media.

Lajoie said that in recent days he’s been able to lead Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament from a balcony of the church for those in the community who are able to come outside.

Though many parishes keep reserves on hand— and Lajoie stressed that Sacred Heart does have some savings— the prospect of months without passing the basket has Lajoie worried about being able to pay his small staff, especially after the few weeks.

Nearly 100 dioceses in the United States have canceled public liturgies until further notice.

"I think a lot of the things in our country, and in our Church, are going to look very different when we're allowed to have public Mass again," Lajoie said.

Small and large parishes affected

The financial implications of canceling Mass are not just affecting small parishes, either.

Father Ronald Cattany, rector of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver, said over the first weekend after Masses were suspended, in-person donations at the cathedral were down about 75% from a typical weekend. What did come came from those going to confession at the cathedral, or stopping to pray.

Online giving for that weekend totaled about $800, he said, but Cattany stressed that the cathedral basilica is not funded like most other parishes in Denver.

Despite its large size, Cattany said the parish has only about 600 registered parishioners, many of whom are elderly or low-income. A large portion of each Sunday’s congregation is made up of visitors, or what Cattany calls “Friends of the Cathedral” who attend on Sunday, but do not live in the area and are registered at other parishes.

For some other large parishes in the Denver area, the number of registered parishioners could range anywhere from 2,500 to over 6,000.

At the cathedral, "the populations here are very different," Cattany said.

The cathedral has remained open for Eucharistic adoration. The confession schedule will— for now— remain the same, Father Cattany said.

The priest said the cathedral canceled its entire order of palms for Palm Sunday, and he fears that the palm supplier may go out of business. Still, he has been seeking to reassure parishioners that Jesus will be waiting for them in Eucharist when the pandemic ends.

“Despite the lack of liturgy, He’s still there, and he wants to see them,” Cattany said.

“The Blessed Mother’s helped us before, and she’s going to get us through this.”

The cathedral’s breakfast sandwich line for the homeless and the food pantry will continue to operate for the time being, he said. But the local chapter of St. Vincent DePaul, which typically provides about $5,000 worth of support per month to families in need, is “out of money.”

Catholics will likely help parishes first

Mario Enzler, program director for the Online Masters of Science in Ecclesial Administration and Management at the Catholic University of America, told CNA he recommends to priests that a parish keep on hand enough money for at least one month of operations.

He said parish priests— many of whom are former students in his program— have been calling him asking for advice during the coronavirus crisis.

"Yes, cash flow will suffer...but as I told several priests, you'll be blown away by how your parishioners will become a force for unity," Enzler said.

He said he also recently spoke to a diocesan vicar general, who is concerned about the diocesan annual appeal. That's different, he said.

"Parishioners will, first and foremost, identify themselves as a member of a specific parish, rather than of a diocese," Enzler said.

"So people will help the pastor before they think, I have to also help the bishop and the chancery and so on and so forth."

Enzler said he has been telling priests who have been reaching out to him asking for advice on how to communicate with parishioners simply not to go into "panic mode."

Talking to the priests who have contacted him, he said, "I did not sense a panic. There is a concern, they are aware of the financial repercussions, but at the same time with good crisis management skills, with good communication skills, with good use of digital platforms, they're not going to be penalized."

Reserves can help

Parishes in many dioceses have the option of depositing funds with the diocese as a kind of savings account. 

Father Ryan Hilderbrand, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntingburg, Indiana, told CNA that in the Diocese of Evansville, parishes sends excess money to a reserve fund managed by diocese which functions like a bank for parishes; he told CNA deposits can be withdrawn at any time for any reason.

Hilderbrand said this method of saving keeps the parish’s cash safe from market fluctuations.

“Generally speaking, if I ask the diocese for cash out of our savings, I will have a check in-hand within 48 hours,” he said.

Hilderbrand said his savings at diocese, along with endowments from parishioners has allowed the parish to build up a reserve fund. The priest estimates he could pay for parish staff and upkeep of the parish for six months, even if all income dried up. 

‘My parish has been blessed with great financial stability in the past. We have not had to use those proceeds [from the endowments] for many years,” he said.

“Thus, those proceeds have been building up over the years. If we need to tap into them, we can.”

Enzler said many priests throughout the country will have to make a similar calculation, and many people will likely have to share resources to keep parishes afloat during the coronavirus crisis.

He recommended that parishes especially well-prepared for a crisis ought to call up struggling parishes and offer to share resources. Dioceses, too, ought to do the same for fellow dioceses, he said.

“If a pastor knows that a neighboring parish is suffering, and he has an abundance of assets or goods, yes, he should share them with common sense. Because the goods of the parish belong to the people of God,” he said. 

Ultimately, Enzler said, if parishes don't have access to an emergency fund, it's simply time to turn the heat in the church down to 50— something Father Lajoie said he plans to do as soon as he can.

"If we have to all sacrifice, this is what we as Catholics are called to," Enzler said.

"This is an amazing opportunity for all of us to come together and help one another and love one another, and to not leave our priests alone."

Prosecutors appeal dismissal of Pittsburgh priest's conviction for sex abuse

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 14:01

Pittsburgh, Pa., Mar 17, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Allegheny County prosecutors are appealing a judge's decision to vacate the conviction of Fr. Hugh Lang, who is accused of having assaulted a boy in 2001.

On March 9 Allegheny County Commons Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani said he was granting Fr. Lang a new trial.

He said the priest had been denied a fair trial because the previous judge had allowed prosecutors to submit evidence that Fr. Lang had searched the internet for defense attorney shortly before the 2018 release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on allegations of clerical sex abuse of minors.

Prosecutors have said the internet search demonstrated “consciousness of guilt,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, while Mariani responded that the search could have been for other reasons, such as looking on behalf an accused colleague, or out of fear of being falsely accused.

He also said there is a right to search for and receive attorneys, which can't be used to demonstrate guilt.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Assistant District Attorney Gregory Stein “said the evidence wasn’t the same as evidence that a suspect actually hired or consulted with an attorney, which appellate court rulings have said can’t be used against a defendant.”

Mariani had sentenced Fr. Lang to 9-24 months in jail, but delayed implementation.

The priest's accuser said that he was assaulted during an altar boy training at St. Therese of Lisieux parish in Munhall when he was 11. He said Fr. Lang molested and photographed him.

Fr. Lang, 89, has denied the abuse.

He was ordained in 1956, and retired in 2006.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh received the allegation against Fr. Lang in August 2018. His faculties are restricted.

Following Mariani's decision to grant Fr. Lang a new trial, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said that “the Church … will wait until all court proceedings are completed before moving forward in its canonical process.”