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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa ( is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
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Biden pledges support for abortion legislation and funding

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 11:35

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2020 / 09:35 am (CNA).- Former vice president Joe Biden reaffirmed his support for taxpayer funded abortion during Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Midway through the debate, after Biden announced that he would select a woman as his vice presidential candidate, Sanders proceeded to attack Biden for his past support of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortion, and was, until June 2019, supported by Biden. 

“Right now, a woman’s right to control her own body is under massive assault, unprecedented assault,” said Sanders, a statement with which Biden signaled his agreement. 

“Joe, you have in the past on more than one occasion, voted for the Hyde Amendment, which says that a woman, low-income woman, could not use Medicaid funding for an abortion. Is that still your view or have you modified it?” 

Biden, a Catholic who made his faith the center of a recent campaign video, replied that this was “not my view,” and that “by the way, everybody who’s been in the Congress voted for the Hyde Amendment at one point or another, because it was locked in other bills.” 

He said the reason his view on the Hyde Amendment had reversed in recent years is because  “if we’re going to have public funding for all healthcare along the line, there is no way you could allow for there to be a requirement that you have Hyde Amendment.”

Sanders replied that he was “glad” Biden had changed his view on the Hyde Amendment.

The 2016 Democratic Party platform, which was adopted at the Democratic National Convention that year, was the first in the party’s history to call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. 

On Sunday, Biden also promised, if elected president, to cement abortion rights in fedral law to ptoect them against future decisions by the Supreme Court. The 77-year-old candidate said he would “send immediately to the desk of the United States Congress (...), a codification of Roe v Wade amended by Casey. Because I think it is a woman’s right to choose. I think it’s a woman’s opportunity to be able to make that decision.” 

Biden then boasted about his 100% voter-rating from NARAL, an abortion-rights organization. 

Sanders described his views on abortion as “consistent,” and that “I’ve always believed in that and you have not.” 

Despite Biden’s suggestion that his past votes for the Hyde Amendment were only to ensure the passage of omnibus spending bills, during his 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president, he has reversed himself a number of times on the issue of abortion. 

While he largely supported the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that found a legal right to abortion, Roe v. Wade, Biden said in 1974 he believed the decision “went too far.”

In 1984, then-Senator Biden supported the Mexico City Policy, which bars taxpayer funding of foreign NGOs that promote or perform abortion as a method of family planning. He was also for years a supporter of the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions in the U.S.  

In 1981, he voted for a constitutional amendment allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade; but the next year he voted against such an amendment.

In the 2008 vice presidential debate, he bragged about spearheading “the fight against Judge Bork,” a Supreme Court judicial nominee in 1987, warning that Bork would have changed Roe v. Wade if he were confirmed to the Court.

In a 2008 interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Biden said Roe is “as close to a consensus that can exist in a society as heterogeneous as ours” in that it left decisions on life to the mother in the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed the states some intervention in the second trimester, and that “the weight of the government’s input” in the third trimester is that the pregnancy is carried to term.

In a 2012 vice presidential debate, Biden warned that the opposing ticket would appoint judges who would outlaw abortion, and promised that a Democratic administration would not do that.

Biden’s 2020 campaign platform calls for the codification of Roe v. Wade as federal law. It also would ensure, as part of a health care “public option,” coverage of “a woman’s constitutional right to choose.”

The topic of gay marriage was also discussed during the debate. Sanders criticized Biden for his vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2013. Sanders voted against the bill. 

Biden, who has officiated at least one same-sex wedding, proceeded to credit himself for helping to change society’s view on gay marriage.

“And by the way, I might add, I’m the first person to go on national television in any administration and say, I supported gay marriage,” said Biden. “I supported gay marriage when asked. It started a ripple effect for gay marriage on national television.”

The debate, which was moved from Arizona to Washington, DC, due to fears of COVID-19, was held without a studio audience. There are three candidates remaining in the Democratic primary. In addition to Biden and Sanders, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) remains in the race.

Washington Catholic priest is first in US known to be diagnosed with coronavirus

Sun, 03/15/2020 - 15:45

Yakima, Wash., Mar 15, 2020 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- A priest in the Diocese of Yakima, Washington, is the first U.S. priest known to be diagnosed with COVID-19, the coronavirus that has become a global pandemic.

Fr. Alejandro Trejo, pastor of Our Lady of the Desert parish in Mattawa, was struck with a high fever March 1, and began on that date to self-quarantine. On March 7 he was admitted to a hospital with the symptoms of pneumonia. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 this weekend.

“Father Alex continues to recover well and we are appreciative of the prayers of many, many parishioners, and the excellent care of the hospital staff,” Bishop Joseph Tyson said in a diocesan statement March 15.

“We also are very thankful for the work of the Grant County Health District,” he said. The diocese has worked closely with the district to identify those with whom the priest has been in close contact for the past month. Two tests earlier this week were inconclusive. A third test requested by the district was positive, the Diocese learned late last night,” he added.

In February, the priest made an eight-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land, returning Feb. 18 to the U.S. Those who were on the pilgrimage have been contacted by public health officials.

Before Trejo was diagnosed, the Diocese of Yakima took precautionary measures, initiating a deep cleaning of the parish church, classrooms, and rectory, and working with Grant County Health District officials to identify those who might have come into close contact with the priest.

Trejo, 48, has been kept in an isolation unit. Bishop Tyson has visited the priest twice, wearing protective medical gear to avoid infection. The bishop plans to visit him again Sunday. Trejo is expected to be released within the week to continue his recovery in a private residence.

In the Diocese of Yakima, Trejo has served as pastor to several parishes, and assisted with the formation of permanent deacons and with RCIA in the diocese.

Trejo has been pastor of Our Lady of the Desert since 2016; Mattawa is a small central Washington community along the east side of the Columbia River. The area has sizable populations of migrant farm laborers.

“Mattawa is a close-knit community, and the parish is the center of many people’s lives,” Tyson said.

“The parish church is small and usually filled to overflowing, especially at the Spanish Masses,” the bishop noted.

Tyson met with parish leaders Saturday to discuss the possibility of a positive coronavirus diagnosis.

Trejo, ordained in 2003, is a native of Mexico City, and became a U.S. citizen eight years ago.

After Washington’s governor prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people in the state, public Masses were suspended across the Diocese of Yakima this weekend; that suspension is expected to continue indefinitely.

The state of Washington has been the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.; the first known U.S. case of the virus was announced Jan. 21 in the state. Since that time, more than 600 people in the state have been diagnosed with the virus, and at least 40 have died. Most of those infections have been documented in the Seattle metropolitan area; roughly 150 miles from Mattawa.

At least one priest in Italy has died of coronavirus, and local media reports that six others may also have died. Earlier this month, a French priest was hospitalized with coronavirus, and last week a priest in Peru was among the first patients to be hospitalized for coronavirus in that country.

Museum of the Bible's Dead Sea Scroll collection fake, scientists say

Sat, 03/14/2020 - 14:00

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Museum of the Bible announced Friday that its entire collection of “Dead Sea Scroll” fragments have been proven to be forgeries, according to tests conducted at its request.  

The museum housed a collection of 16 fragments it claimed to be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are considered to be some of the oldest extant Biblical manuscripts.

However, in 2018 the museum announced that, according to an external analysis, five of the 16 scroll fragments were probably forgeries.

On Friday, National Geographic reported that tests concluded all 16 fragments were forgeries.

A series of scientific tests of the fragments were conducted by Colette Loll, founder and director of Art Fraud Insights, and a team of researchers. The test results were announced at an invitation-only academic symposium on Friday.

“After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is evident that none of the textual fragments in Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic,” Loll stated.

Some of the fragments’ characteristics “suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the twentieth century,” she said.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by Bedouin shepherds in the 1940s, in caves in Qumran.

The Museum of the Bible was opened in 2017 and claims to be the “world’s largest museum dedicated to the Bible.” Its chairman of the board is Steve Green, who is also the president of the craft chain Hobby Lobby.

When the museum was under construction in 2015, Green touted that the museum’s collection of Biblical items was one of the largest private collections in the world.

On Friday, Loll praised what she saw as “transparent” efforts by the museum to publicly announce the forgeries instead of simply removing them from display. The process can be copied elsewhere to identify other fake artifacts, she said.

“The sophisticated and costly methods employed to discover the truth about our collection could be used to shed light on other suspicious fragments and perhaps even be effective in uncovering who is responsible for these forgeries,” stated Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, chief curatorial officer at the Museum of the Bible.

Other items in the museum’s collection have raised questions in recent years.

In 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a civil forfeiture complaint and a stipulation of settlement, in which Hobby Lobby agreed to send back around 3,500 artifacts to Iraq that it had purchased in 2010.

Green had made the purchase of more than 5,500 cuneiform tablets and other artifacts in 2010 after a trip to the United Arab Emirates, despite warnings from experts that some of the items were probably stolen from archeological sites in Iraq.

Most of the artifacts were shipped into the U.S. by foreign antiquities dealers who made false statements on shipping labels and gave fake provenances and invoices, according to the DOJ.

Anxious about the global pandemic? Advice from a Catholic psychologist

Sat, 03/14/2020 - 08:00

Denver, Colo., Mar 14, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- While the coronavirus has Americans scrambling for canned goods, respirator masks, and especially toilet paper, one Catholic psychologist has encouraged people to take deep breaths and remain calm.

The World Health Organization labeled the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, a world-class pandemic this week. Since then, panic and anxiety have become common experiences.

Dr. Christina Lynch, a supervising psychologist for Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, told CNA that fear of the pandemic is normal. But even in the global health crisis, she said, peace is not beyond our reach.

“Being frightened about something that we don't understand is normal. I think the first thing we have to do is normalize our emotions and realize it's okay. We all are uncertain. We don't know what the future holds,” she said. “We fear the unknown. We want to be in control.”

As of March 13, the virus has infected over 140,000 people and claimed nearly 5,400 lives, the NY Times reported. U.S. President Donald Trump declared the crisis a national emergency Friday afternoon.

Coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the situation will worsen, noting that the pandemic will last for several months. The option of a complete social shutdown is not off the table for Americans, he said.

Amid the anxiety, people have rushed to local supermarkets to stock up on medicine, hand sanitizer, and, curiously, toilet paper.

Videos have appeared online under the hashtags #toiletpaperpanic or #toiletpaperapocalypse, which show stores with empty shelves, and even fights breaking out over rolls of two-ply.

Lynch said that the hoarding of toilet paper conveys a panicked mob mentality taking root. But there are means to remain calm in the face of the upcoming storm.

She offered a few techniques to help quell rising anxiety levels.

Lynch encouraged people prone to anxiety to pay close attention to expert advice on avoiding the virus, like washing hands, wiping down surfaces, and limiting interactions with large crowds. She said that for most people, following substantiated advice will help diminish any sense of panic and worry.

She also suggested Catholics can make the practice of handwashing an opportunity for prayer. For example, she said washing hands while saying a Hail Mary takes about 20 seconds, the expert-recommended amount of time at the sink.

Lynch also said anyone can benefit from reflecting on how they’ve already conquered anxiety, and then practicing calming routines that have worked in the past.

“It's a very normal reaction to be fearful or concerned…[but] you don't want to fan the flame of that fear. So what are the steps that you can take, knowing yourself?” she asked.

In general, Lynch said, people can benefit from breathing techniques, which help equalize the body and reduce anxiety.

“Breathing is one of the best self-calming tools we can have. You know, just relaxing and creating a habit twice a day to just take some deep breaths, close our eyes, hold our breath and exhale... You [may] pray a Hail Mary while you're holding your breath and then you calmly exhale.”

Lynch said there are also plenty of spiritual practices to help Catholics handle anxiety.

Lynch suggested Catholics look up the devotional practices recommended by their local diocese. Even if churches have canceled their Masses, she said, Catholics can also watch the Mass on channels like EWTN, or online, she said.

“We're so blessed to have our faith, the Catholic faith because we have so many tools from a spiritual perspective. I think this is a great opportunity because we're so busy in our daily life that we can use this to actually develop some spiritual habits, and incorporate them in this attempt to reduce her anxiety.”

“Maybe develop a habit of just spending five to 15 minutes every morning when you first get up. Maybe get up a little bit earlier and just pray, whether it's silent … read[ing]scripture ... or pray[ing] a decade of the rosary,” she said.

Lynch urged people monitor their intake of media, especially news sources that have politicized the virus or promoted fear.

“Some of the things that we know we can do to counteract fear is limit your media coverage from sources that want to instill fear. Like, those that politicized the virus or those that only focus on the bad stuff that's happening with the virus or what could happen rather than the facts,” Lynch advised.

She acknowledged that the virus is likely to spread and there is a chance that many people will be impacted. She emphasized the value of taking practical steps in being prepared for self-quarantine.

And Lynch encouraged Catholics to see the spiritual opportunity in the weeks ahead.

“We're so used to being in control. This is a great opportunity to know that God's in control and to just give him more control and pray a prayer of trust to God every day.”


Arkansas diocese cancels public Triduum services, but keeps ministry alive

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 19:55

Little Rock, Ark., Mar 13, 2020 / 05:55 pm (CNA).- As efforts to thwart the coronavirus pandemic continue, one diocese has announced that public Masses will be suspended until after the celebration of Easter, and that only new Catholics entering the Church will be permitted at parish and diocesan Triduum Masses and services.

The Easter Triduum is regarded as the high point in the Church’s liturgical year. But the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, told CNA that while it is difficult to keep Catholics away from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, it also seems necessary.

“We made this decision out of an abundance of caution,” Deacon Matt Glover, Little Rock’s diocesan chancellor, told CNA.

“This is a preventative measure for our more vulnerable populations,” Glover added.

The measure was announced in a March 12 letter from Little Rock’s Bishop Anthony Taylor. While numerous dioceses have announced this week the suspension of public Masses, Taylor’s was the first letter to make specific mention of the Easter Triduum. Many other dioceses have suspended public Masses until the weekend of Palm Sunday, apparently hoping to resume services for Holy Week.

“While COVID-19 is unlikely to be serious for most people, we have an obligation to care for the very young, the aged, and those with compromised immune systems. And the best way we can care for them is minimizing large group gatherings for the time being,” Taylor wrote.

Those entering the Church at Easter will be permitted to attend Triduum services, while others will watch online or on television.

Glover acknowledged that there have been only few cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas; as of Friday there are six documented cases in the state. But he said that the diocese wants to be sure not to contribute to the viral spread. He added that if COVID-19 does not become widespread in Arkansas, the diocese will reconsider its decision.

“In two or three weeks time, if things go well, COVID-19 is contained, with no community spread, then there is nothing to say that we wouldn’t lift the prohibition, but we made this decision to be cautious,” he added.

The deacon said that some people in the diocese have expressed gratitude for a proactive decision. But he acknowledged that others have expressed frustration.

“I would be upset if there weren’t people upset,” Glover told CNA. “It’s a sign of people’s strong faith when they’re upset that they can’t go to Mass, receive the Eucharist, or attend Triduum services,” he added.

Glover said that the Diocese of Little Rock is trying to make the best decisions possible, with the information available. He said he thinks that’s true across the Church. But he said he also recognizes the approach of his diocese might not prove correct.

“We recognize that it could be that we’re way too early on this, and it could be that other places are way too late on this. I don’t think anybody would claim to have the definite right way to handle this.”

“I think diocesan leaders across the country are all just doing the best we can to balance the pros and cons, to make best decisions for the faith of Catholics, and for public health,” he said.

The deacon told CNA that Bishop Taylor and chancery staff will continue to watch what’s happening in the state, and they’ll look forward to hearing from pastors.

“We might make pastoral adjustments going forward,” Glover said. “We want to hear from priests in the field, and from other leaders, about what’s working and what’s not.”

The deacon said that while Masses are suspended, Arkansas priests are not sitting idly.

“We’ve seen priests take the initiative on offering confession and on other things. We hope to build on that [across the diocese].  We want to see what works.”

He said that priests have increased their confession times, begun making more home visits, offered more frequent anointing of the sick, live streamed daily Masses, and found other ways to stay connected to their parishioners.

The deacon said pastoral work amid the trial of a pandemic is impressive.

He also said that while Masses are suspended, the Diocese of Little Rock is concerned that parish and diocesan employees not suffer financial consequences.

“The parishes who rely on passing the collection basket, as opposed to electronic giving, will see numbers go down the longer things last,” Glover said, noting that many rural parishes operate on very thin budget margins.

“We just have to keep an eye on things. We don’t want parishes to suffer financially for it, or the lay staff, who are already underpaid in most instances, to be hurt even more.”

Glover said the diocese is “beginning to think about those bigger picture things,” as it responds to the pandemic, and will consider the best ways to help parishes survive the pandemic. The diocese is also concerned for employees, he said.

“We’re advising pastors to allow staff to telecommute, work from home. We don’t want any of our staff people missing wages. That’s the message that we’re sending out,” the deacon said.

While diocesan and parish leaders make decisions about how best to handle an unforeseen circumstance, Glover said he, and Arkansas' bishop, will continue to listen to parishioners, and look for creative ways to serve the Church’s mission.

As the pandemic becomes a national emergency, other dioceses may find themselves looking to Little Rock for lessons.


Trump declares national emergency over coronavirus

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump declared a state of national emergency on Friday, March 13, and outlined the steps that have been taken to fight the spread of COVID-19. According to the president, widespread testing for the virus will be available in the United States in the near future. 

"To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency," said Trump. He stated that “no resource will be spared, nothing whatsoever” in fighting the disease. 

The president said that “through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” although he declined to provide an estimated timeline. 

Trump said that there has been “tremendous progress” made in the efforts against coronavirus. 

By declaring the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency, up to $50 billion in funds will become available to fight the illness. 

In a press conference Friday in the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced that some regulations could be waived in order to allow medical professionals to practice in areas with the highest need, and permit hospitals to more effectively treat patients. This could include relaxing laws on telemedicine as well as adjusting licensing requirements. 

The president ordered every state to create emergency operation centers, and requested that every hospital in the country “activate its emergency preparedness plan so that they can meet the needs of Americans everywhere.” 

At the press conference, CEOs from large retail chains such as Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, along with medical companies Quest Diagnostics and Roche, spoke briefly at the podium to outline what their companies are doing in the fight against coronavirus. According to the CEOs, drive-through testing sites similar to those found in South Korea may soon become available. 

Google, said Trump, will help create a website that will pre-screen people and determine if they should seek a test for coronavirus, and how they can acquire said test. The president stated that about half a million tests will become available by Monday, and that within a month, there will be 5 million tests available. 

Trump, when questioned, said that he did not accept responsibility for the present shortage of coronavirus tests. The United States has lagged behind other countries in the number of tests that have been administered, which he is seeking to address in the near future. 

Additionally, the president announced that student loan interest on federally-held loans would be paused, and that the Department of Energy would purchase crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. 

“We’re going to fill it right up to the top, saving the American taxpayer billions and billions of dollars, helping our oil industry,” said Trump, referring to the strategic reserve.

The stock market, which on Thursday registered one of the sharpest drops in 30 years, rose nearly 2,000 points after Trump’s speech.

House readies coronavirus response bill

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The House on Friday readied a bill for passage to fund a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, including free virus testing and paid sick leave.

In a press conference on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted the “grave and accelerating challenge” of responding to the virus, and pushed for the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201). 

Republican leadership was working with House Democrats on Friday afternoon to resolve issues with the text of the legislation, but was holding on to concerns that the legislation would not accomplish enough regarding family medical leave.

Earlier concerns over abortion funding in the bill were reportedly resolved Thursday.

On March 12, the Daily Caller had reported that White House officials accused Pelosi of setting up a funding stream in the bill that would be exempt from the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions. POLITICO then reported later on Thursday that the abortion issue would be resolved in a separate bill to be voted on by the House at the same time as the Coronavirus stimulus.

By Friday, the issue had been resolved: “Abortion funding is not an issue anymore,” an aide to Republican leadership told CNA on Friday afternoon.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Friday, there are more than 1,600 cases of Coronavirus in the U.S. in 46 states and the District of Columbia, with 41 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

The three most important parts of the bill, Pelosi said, are “testing, testing, testing,” with free virus testing for those in need, including the uninsured. The initial U.S. response to the virus has been criticized for a lack of availability of effective testing.

Pelosi also noted that the bill includes two weeks paid sick and family medical leave for those affected by the virus, as well as support for unemployment insurance and strengthening food assistance for children who rely on school lunches, and food banks.

President Trump declared a National Emergency on Friday, saying it would open as much as $50 billion in aid to U.S. states and territories.

In a statement on Thursday, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City highlighted various policies in the legislation that had been previously supported by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, including provisions for food security, paid sick leave, and assistance for the unemployed, low-income workers, and the homeless.

Archbishop Coakley also encouraged Congress to suspend work requirements for food stamp benefits in light of the instability of certain industries due to the pandemic.

European Court of Human Rights declines to hear cases of pro-life midwives

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 16:12

Strasbourg, France, Mar 13, 2020 / 02:12 pm (CNA).- The European Court of Human Rights has declined to hear the case of two Swedish nurses denied midwife jobs because of their refusal to perform abortions.

“We are very disappointed by the Court’s decision not to take up the cases of Ms. Grimmark and Ms. Steen. A positive judgment from the Court would have been an important step in the protection of the right to freedom of conscience,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of Alliance Defending Freedom International.

The court, based in Strasbourg, France, declined to hear their cases March 12.

“Medical professionals should be able to work without being forced to choose between their deeply held convictions and their careers.  Although freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental right in almost every other European country, the decision today marks a missed opportunity to uphold this important protection in Sweden,” Clarke continued.

Though the court declined to hear the nurses’ cases, a committee ruled that the government’s refusal to employ the women as midwives was “not disproportionate or unjustified,” saying that since Sweden’s national health system performs abortions, the government has a right “to request that employees perform all duties inherent to the post.”

Linda Steen started her studies to become a midwife in 2014. According to her application, in March 2015 she informed the childbirth and delivery section at the women’s clinic in Nyköping, Sweden, where she was studying, that she would be unable to assist in carrying out abortions. She was told that she could not start at the clinic unless she agreed to perform abortions.

Steen sought a job interview at Mälar Hospital in Eskilstuna, but according to the application, the Human Resources Department of the County canceled the interview as the County had “a common policy not to employ midwives who would not perform abortions.”

Ellinor Grimmark’s situation was similar. After studying to become a midwife, she applied for a job at Värnamo Hospital, but when recruiters at the hospital found out she was unwilling to perform abortions, they withdrew a previous offer of employment.

Religious freedom advocates have argued that midwives – who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth – often choose their profession because they want to bring new life into the world, and they should not be forced to end life against their beliefs.

For her part, Grimmark said that is exactly why she chose to study to be a midwife.

“I chose to become a midwife because I wanted to help bring life into this world. I cannot understand why the Swedish government refuses to accommodate my conscientious convictions. I am now working in Norway, where my conscience is respected, but no-one can explain why Sweden cannot do the same,” Grimmark said.

Ultimately, Grimmark charged that three different medical clinics in Sweden’s southern Joenkoeping County unjustly denied her employment because of her objections to assisting in abortions.

In November 2015, a district court said her right to freedom of opinion and expression was not violated. She was required to pay the local government’s legal costs, nearly $106,000.

After losing their cases in Swedish courts, both women lodged their complaints with the ECHR during 2017, alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There is no appeals process for the ECHR’s decision to decline to hear the case. The Court hears only 6 percent of cases brought before it, ADF International says.

Sweden has one of the highest abortion rates in Western Europe, with approximately 19 abortions for every 1,000 women in 2018 according to government figures.

Archdiocese of Washington ‘directs’ National Shrine to suspend public Mass

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 14:32

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 12:32 pm (CNA).- The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception announced Friday afternoon it will suspend the public celebration of Mass and the hearing of confessions until further notice, just hours after the shrine said it would keep to its public Mass and confession schedule unless ordered to close by civic authorities.

A statement from the shrine, released Friday afternoon, said that the change came at the instruction of the Archdiocese of Washington, which announced Thursday the suspension of public Masses in DC parishes.

“The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will suspend the public celebration of Mass and there will be no scheduled Confessions effective Saturday, March 14, until further notice, as directed by the Archdiocese of Washington,” the statement said.

“Beginning this Sunday, March 15, and continuing every Sunday, the Basilica will livestream its 12 noon Solemn Mass with the Choir of the Basilica from the Great Upper Church on its website so the faithful may participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

The Friday afternoon statement from the shrine said that the basilica will remain open for private prayer from 9 am to 5 pm daily, but that tours were suspended until further notice.

“We, at America’s Catholic Church, pray for all affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception, to intercede for us during these unprecedented times,” the statement said.

The decision marked a reversal in plans for the basilica, which is the largest Catholic church in the U.S.

Earlier on Friday, shrine staff told CNA that the basilica would maintain its public ministry schedule, even after the Archdiocese of Washington announced Thursday that public Mass would be suspended in the archdiocese in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Jackie Hayes, director of communications for the National Shrine, confirmed to CNA on Friday morning that, notwithstanding Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s decision to close the archdiocese’s Catholic schools and cancel all public Masses, the shrine would continue operations as normal. 

Hayes also told CNA that the shrine’s decision to keep offering public Mass had been made after consultation with the archdiocese.

While the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located within the territorial bounds of the Archdiocese of Washington, it is not a diocesan church. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, as Washington archbishop, is ex officio chairman of the shrine’s board of directors.

On Thursday, shrine rector Msgr. Walter Rossi released a statement saying that unless the church is ordered by the government to cease operations, Mass and other sacraments will continue on their normal schedule.

“We are committed to keeping the doors of America’s Catholic Church open. However, should circumstances change and government authorities require us to close to the public, we intend to continue with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” said Rossi. 

Rossi’s statement was released about five hours before Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington announced that all public Masses in the archdiocese would be canceled until further notice. 

'God does not abandon us': US bishops urge prayer, state action over coronavirus

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Catholic bishops in the United States offered prayers and encouragement as Congress considers a relief package for the Coronavirus.

Conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles released a statement Friday invoking Our Lady of Guadalupe and encouraging Catholics to pray.

“God does not abandon us,” Gomez said. “He goes with us even now in this time of trial and testing. In this moment, it is important for us to anchor our hearts in the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to intensify our prayers and sacrifices for the love of God and the love of our neighbor. Let us draw closer to one another in our love for him, and rediscover the things that truly matter in our lives.”

“United with our Holy Father Pope Francis, let us pray in solidarity for our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are sick. Let us pray for those who have lost loved ones to this virus. May God console them and grant them peace,” Gomez said.

“We pray also for doctors, nurses, and caregivers, for public health officials and all civic leaders. May God grant them courage and prudence as they seek to respond to this emergency with compassion and in service to the common good.”

On Thursday, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, the chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, encouraged lawmakers to provide aid to those hardest-hit by the coronavirus.

“We are grateful for the efforts by lawmakers during this difficult time and urge them to go forward in finding a path to bring greater relief to everyone suffering from coronavirus and its effects on society, especially those most in need,” said Coakley Thursday.

“May the Divine Physician be with all those affected by this illness and restore us quickly to health and peace,” he said.

The archbishop’s statement came as the spread of the coronavirus in the United States prompted widespread cancellations or postponements of public events and restrictions on public Masses in a growing number of dioceses.

The director-general of the World Health Organization on Wednesday called the virus a pandemic. In the U.S., there were more than 1,200 total cases and 36 deaths from the Coronavirus, according to Thursday numbers of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“We pray especially for those who are ill and for those who have died,” Archbishop Coakley said. “We also offer prayers for those affected by disruptions, such as quarantines and closures of workplaces and schools. Finally, we pray for health care workers, and express our gratitude for their service in combating this disease.”  

Several Catholic colleges and universities have cancelled in-person classes, and are making preparations to conduct courses online.

The Trump, Biden, and Sanders campaigns began cancelling public events and professional and collegiate sports organizations canceled sporting events indefinitely.

Congress is considering a stimulus package to respond to the Coronavirus, and the legislation is scheduled for a vote later on Friday.

Coakley noted that the bishops’ conference has previously supported some of the policies under consideration in the legislation, “such as increased food security measures, paid sick leave, adequate care for immigrants regardless of status, and greater assistance for low-income workers, the unemployed, and those experiencing homelessness or housing instability.”

The archbishop asked Congress to consider suspending work requirements for food stamp benefits given the instability of some industries affected by the virus.

Coakley also called for no immigration enforcement at locations such as hospitals and health clinics, and for a federal disaster declaration to free up additional federal funding of the pandemic response.

Do we have Mass? Coronavirus closures and dispensations in US dioceses

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 12:50

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 10:50 am (CNA).- This story is developing and will be regularly updated.

Last updated: 12:27 PM MT.

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, bishops across the country have taken steps to curtail the spread of the illness, and many dioceses have announced restrictions on public Mass and other liturgies. 

Below is CNA’s rolling coverage of restrictions and special measures taken by dioceses, organized by province, and the status of public Masses and school closings. This list will be updated regularly as news comes in, but check with your diocese for any to-the-minute changes where you live.

To let CNA know about closings or dispensations in your diocese, email us here. Try to include a link to official notification if you can.

Province of Anchorage (Archdiocese of Anchorage, Dioceses of Juneau, and Fairbanks):

There have been no ordered changes to Mass schedules due to the coronavirus within the Archdiocese of Anchorage or any of its suffragan dioceses in Alaska. 

Province of Atlanta (Archdiocese of Atlanta, Dioceses of Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte):  

The Archdiocese of Atlanta issued a statement saying that “People who are ill should not attend Mass, but may participate from home by watching a televised or broadcast Mass. Remind your parishioners, if they are sick or if they are the caretaker for someone who is sick, their obligation to attend Mass is dispensed.” Mass schedule remains unchanged. 

Public Masses will continue as scheduled in the Dioceses of Charleston, Charlotte, Raleigh, and Savannah, but those who are sick or fearful of getting sick have been dispensed of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.

Province of Baltimore (Archdiocese of Baltimore, Dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston, Willmington, Richmond, Arlington): 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore closed Catholic schools from March 16-27, but Mass will continue on a normal schedule. Those who are sick or fearful of getting sick have been dispensed of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.

The Dioceses of Arlington, Richmond, Wheeling-Charleston, and Wilmington have not canceled public Mass, although some diocesean events have been canceled or postponed. 

Province of Boston (Archdiocese of Boston, Dioceses of Burlington, Fall River, Manchester, Portland, Springfield Ma., Worcester): 

Mass will occur as scheduled throughout the Archdiocese of Boston. Cardinal Sean O’Malley has ordered other public gatherings within the archdiocese to be canceled or postponed, but made an exception for Mass as it is “a necessary source of support for the community.” 

The Dioceses of Burlington, Fall River, Manchester, Portland, Springfield in Massachusetts, and Worcester will have Mass as normally scheduled, but the sick and those caring for the sick are instructed to stay home. 

Province of Chicago (Archdiocese of Chicago, Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield Ill.): 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has suspended all public liturgies and closed all archdiocesan schools “until further notice.” 

Province of Cincinnati (Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Dioceses of Cleveland, Columbus, Steubenville, Toledo, Youngstown): 

The Catholic Conference of Ohio has issued a joint statement signed by all the bishops in the state stating that all Catholics in the state of Ohio are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for the next three weekends. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has published the decree in the archdiocese.

Province of Denver (Archdiocese of Denver, Dioceses of Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, Pueblo): 

Public celebration of the Mass has been suspended across the entire state of Colorado.

  Province of Detroit ( Archdiocese of Detroit, Dioceses of Gaylord, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Marquette, Saginaw): 

The Archdiocese of Detroit has closed all Catholic schools from March 13 through April 6. Daily and weekend Masses will, per the archdiocesan website, continue as scheduled. 

Province of Dubuque (Archdiocese of Dubuque, Dioceses of Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City): 

The Archdiocese of Dubuque has published no information or changes regarding COVID-19 on its website. The Dioceses of Des Moines, Davenport and Sioux City have also not published any new information. 

Province of Galveston-Houston (Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Dioceses of Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Tyler, Victoria): 

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston issued a statement saying, “At this time when the faithful need to maintain some degree of normalcy in the midst of the current health crisis, the Archdiocese is recommending that each parish continue to maintain their regular Mass schedules for all those who wish to participate.  Any parishioners who are uncomfortable about attending Sunday Mass due to the coronavirus are excused from the obligation to attend.” 

Province of Hartford (Archdiocese of Hartford, Dioceses of Bridgeport, Norwich, Providence): 

The Archdiocese of Hartford issued precautions similar to those in other archdioceses, but did not adjust Mass schedules.

The Diocese of Providence has not suspended public Masses, but said in a statement that “in light of the serious health crisis caused by the coronavirus, the Diocesan Bishop hereby dispenses Catholics in the Diocese of Providence from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass beginning immediately and continuing through Sunday, March 29, 2020.”

The Diocese of Bridgeport has dispensed Catholics of their Sunday obligation through the end of March.

Province of Indianapolis (Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Dioceses of Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary, Lafayette): 

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis will be celebrating Mass as scheduled, but Catholics residing within the archdiocese are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until further notice. 

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has dispensed Catholics of their Sunday obligation through the end of March.

Province of Kansas City (Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, Dioceses of Dodge City, Salina, Wichita): 

The Archdiocese of Kansas City is instructing its parishioners to “don’t panic” and “be informed.” Schools are staying open and Mass will be celebrated as scheduled.  

Province of Los Angeles (Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego): 

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will be keeping schools open and Mass will be celebrated as scheduled. The Archdiocese dispensed Catholics from attending Sunday Mass for the remainder of the month of March. 

Province of Louisville (Archdiocese of Louisville, Dioceses of Covington, Knoxville, Lexington, Memphis, Nashville, Owensboro): 

In the Archdiocese of Louisville, Masses will go on as scheduled, but those who are sick are encouraged to stay home. 

The Diocese of Lexington dispensed Catholics from their Sunday obligation for the weekend of March 14-15.

Province of Miami (Archdiocese of Miami, Dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Venice): 

The Archdiocese of Miami has not canceled Mass or closed schools, but has encouraged those planning on traveling abroad for spring break to make other plans. 

Province of Milwaukee (Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Dioceses of Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Superior): 

Mass will continue to be celebrated in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but all Catholics are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass for the next three Sundays. 

Province of Mobile (Archdiocese of Mobile, Dioceses of Biloxi, Birmingham, Jackson):

The Archdiocese of Mobile and the Diocese of Jackson have dispensed anyone with a serious underlying medical condition from attending Mass “for the foreseeable future.”

The Diocese of Biloxi has not changed Mass schedules. 

Province of New Orleans (Archdiocese of New Orleans, Dioceses of Alexandria La., Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette La., Lake Charles, Shreveport): 

Many archdiocesan events have been canceled or postponed in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and some fish fries are going to “take-out only” Mass will be said and schools remain open. 

Province of New York Archdiocese of New York, Dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, Syracuse): 

Elementary schools in the Archdiocese of New York are closed. Masses will continue to be celebrated. 

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn on March 13 "dispensed the faithful from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until further notice." Sunday Masses will still be said publicly, but "the faithful are urged to exercise caution if they are to attend."

The Diocese of Albany suspended the Sunday obligation for all Catholics.

Province of Newark (Archdiocese of Newark, Dioceses of Camden, Metuchen, Paterson, Trenton): 

Sunday Masses in the Archdiocese of Newark have been suspended. The faithful of Newark are dispensed from the obligation to attend. 

Province of Oklahoma City (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Dioceses of Little Rock, Tulsa) : 

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will not be changing Mass schedules or closing schools. 

The Diocese of Little Rock will suspend all public Masses from the weekend of March 21-22, “except for small groups at the discretion of the priest.” Churches will remain open during daylight hours with Eucharistic Adoration. 

Province of Omaha (Archdiocese of Omaha, Dioceses of Grand Island, Lincoln): 

The Archdiocese of Omaha is encouraging parishes to cancel fish fries, and those who are sick are instructed to stay home. 

Province of Philadelphia (Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Dioceses of Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton): 

The bishops of Pennsylvania have dispensed all Catholics in the state from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Fish fries in the Diocese of Pittsburgh will shift to “take-out” only. 

Province of Portland in Oregon (Archdiocese of Portland, Dioceses of Baker, Boise, GreatFalls-Billings, Helena): 

The Archdiocese of Oregon issued a statement saying that “a general dispensation is offered to anyone else in the Archdiocese of Portland who sincerely and seriously think they might be at risk. This dispensation may be used by anyone of any age.” This dispensation will remain in effect until April 8. 

Province of St. Louis (Archdiocese of St. Louis, Dioceses of Jefferson City, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Springfield-Cape Girardeau): 

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has not suspended public Masses, but said that "parishioners who are sick or have a compromised immune system to refrain from attending Mass, school or church activities."

Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Dioceses of Bismarck, Crookston, Duluth, Fargo, New Ulm, Rapid City, Saint Cloud, Sioux Falls, Winona): 

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis issued a statement saying “Archbishop Hebda has dispensed the faithful of this Archdiocese from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Mass will, however, continue to be celebrated in our parishes as regularly scheduled.” 

Province of San Antonio (Archdiocese of San Antonio, Dioceses of Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Laredo, Lubbock, San Angelo): 

Classes at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of San Antonio will resume on March 16. Mass will continue to be celebrated. 

Province of San Francisco (Archdiocese of San Francisco, Dioceses of Honolulu, Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Stockton): 

The Archdiocese of San Francisco will close all schools for a period of two weeks. Mass will be celebrated per usual. 

The Diocese of Honolulu announced that Mass will not be canceled, and the elderly, if they desire to attend Mass, should be permitted to do so. The Diocese of Honolulu did, however, suspend the traditional practice of kissing the cross on Good Friday.

The Diocese of Salt Lake City has suspended all public Masses.

Province of Santa Fe (Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Dioceses of Gallup, Las Cruces, Phoenix, and Tucson): 

All churches and schools are closed in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe until further notice. 

The Diocese of Phoenix will have regularly scheduled Mass, but the sick are encouraged to stay home. 

Province of Seattle (Archdiocese of Seattle, Dioceses of Spokane, Yakima): 

The Archdiocese of Seattle has canceled all public Masses and closed Catholic schools. 

Province of Washington (Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands: 

All Catholic schools are closed and the celebration of public Masses has been suspended in the Archdiocese of Washington. The National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception remains open.

'The doors of America's Church are open': National Shrine keeps public Masses after DC shutdown

Fri, 03/13/2020 - 10:30

Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., will remain open with a normal Mass and confession schedule.

The shrine said it is maintaining its public ministry schedule even after the Archdiocese of Washington announced Thursday that public Mass will be suspended in the archdiocese in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Jackie Hayes, director of communications for the National Shrine, confirmed to CNA on Friday, March 13, that despite Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s announcement Thursday evening, which closed the archdiocese’s Catholic schools and canceling all public Masses, the shrine will continue operations as normal. 

While the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located within the territorial bounds of the Archdiocese of Washington, it is not a diocesan church. 

On Thursday, shrine rector Msgr. Walter Rossi released a statement saying that unless the church is ordered by the government to cease operations, Mass and other sacraments will continue on their normal schedule.

“We are committed to keeping the doors of America’s Catholic Church open. However, should circumstances change and government authorities require us to close to the public, we intend to continue with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” said Rossi. 

The shrine is known as “America’s Catholic Church” as it is the largest Catholic church in North America and it is designed to represent the various cultural traditions that make up the Catholic population in the United States. It has a seating capacity of 10,000 people, making it the third-largest Catholic church in the entire world. 

While Mass will go on as scheduled, Rossi announced on Thursday that “reasonable precautions” would be taken to stymie the spread of COVID-19. These include the removal of holy water from the many fonts at the shrine, as well as the ceasing of the sign of peace and distribution of the Eucharist under the species of wine. 

“These precautionary measures are constantly under review and as circumstances change, we will take extra precautions,” said Rossi. 

Additionally, Mass will be live-streamed on the shrine’s website, for those who are unable to attend Mass due to illness or fear of contracting illness. 

In the statement, Rossi said that it was important to “balance our responsibility to care for the faithful with the need to provide a place of prayer and pilgrimage for those who seek it.” 

“As we have seen this week from increased attendance at our daily Masses, there are many who are seeking the solace that can only be found in the celebration of the Holy Mass. We will take prudent and rational steps to protect ourselves and our visitors, while also seeking God’s guidance and protection through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” he said. 

There was some confusion among the faithful in the DC area regarding if the basilica was to remain open. Rossi’s statement was released about five hours before Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington announced that all public Masses in the archdiocese would be canceled until further notice. 

“We are aware of the rapidly developing district and state guidelines regarding the coronavirus.  My number one priority as your Archbishop is to ensure the safety and health of all who attend our Masses, the children in our schools, and those we welcome through our outreach and services. Please know that this decision does not come lightly to close our schools or cancel Masses,” Archbishop Gregory said in the March 12 statement. 

“We are profoundly saddened that we are not able to celebrate our sacraments as a community for the time being but we know Christ remains with us at all times – specifically in times of worry like this.”

“I have made available pastoral and spiritual resources as well as TV Mass on our website that I encourage you to use. I also invite you to join us for Mass and prayer via livestream in our social media,” said Gregory. 

“May the peace of Christ settle any anxieties and fear we may have. Let us continue to pray for the people whose lives have been impacted by the coronavirus as well as those who continue to care for them.”

Full US appeals court considers Ohio Down syndrome abortion ban

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 20:01

Cincinnati, Ohio, Mar 12, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The full Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 11 heard arguments over an Ohio law that prohibits abortions on the grounds of a diagnosis of Down syndrome, and which has been blocked for over two years.

Former Governor John Kasich signed the law during December 2017, but it has not yet been able to come into effect, as a U.S. Court of Appeals panel upheld the law’s blockage during October 2019.

The office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said at the time that the state would seek a review by the full 6th Circuit, as the decision was handed down 2-1 by a U.S. Court of Appeals panel.

The law would ban abortions in cases where there was a positive test result or prenatal diagnosis indicating Down syndrome. Physicians convicted of performing an abortion while aware that the diagnosis is affecting the decision could be charged with a fourth-degree felony, stripped of their medical license, and held liable for legal damages. The mothers would not be held liable.

Federal Judge Timothy Black first blocked the law from taking effect in March 2018. It was set to go into effect on the 23rd of that month.

Supporters of the law have questioned Black’s impartiality. He had served as president of Cincinnati’s Planned Parenthood in 1988 and as its director from 1986-1989. He recused himself from a case involving Planned Parenthood in 2014.

Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Utah all in 2019 enacted measures restricting abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses. Kentucky, Missouri, and Arkansas have also passed measures restricting abortions based on the sex or race of the child.

While Missouri’s bans remain in effect, the bans in Arkansas and Kentucky are blocked in the courts, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute.

According to the Wall Street Journal, attorneys advocating for the Ohio law say that the law is advancing a compelling interest, namely protecting the Down syndrome population from discrimination and elimination.

The state’s attorneys in the case, Preterm-Cleveland, et al. v. Amy Acton, et al., also argue that because of how the law is structured, it only impedes doctors, not pregnant women, and thus is constitutional.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in January with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Department of Justice said that Ohio’s law is constitutional, protects vulnerable individuals and mothers from coercive abortions, and upholds the integrity of the medical profession.

“The federal government has an interest in the equal dignity of those who live with disabilities,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division stated.

“Nothing in the Constitution requires Ohio to authorize abortion providers to participate in abortions the providers know are based on Down syndrome.”

In contrast, a number of parents of children with Down syndrome have filed an amicus brief in opposition to the abortion ban, writing that the law “politicizes a specific diagnosis―Down syndrome―and seeks to commandeer the resources, support, and interests of a community in order to advance an anti-abortion agenda,” and claiming that “the freedom to choose whether to create a family that might include a child with Down syndrome is critically important.”

Portland archdiocese will not cancel public Masses, after Oregon gov bans large gatherings

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 18:11

Portland, Ore., Mar 12, 2020 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Portland will not cancel public Sunday Masses, after Oregon’s governor responded to the coronavirus pandemic by announcing a statewide prohibition on gatherings of more than 250 people.

Portland’s archbishop encouraged parishes with high Sunday Mass attendance to consider adding more Masses.

“The celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. It is in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we encounter the mystery of our redemption, are nourished by God’s Word, and receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Alexander Sample announced in a March 12 statement.

“The governor of the state of Oregon, Kate Brown, has cancelled all public gatherings of more than 250 people. The fact is that most of the Masses celebrated on the weekends in the Archdiocese of Portland are far below that number,” Sample added, while announcing several dispensations from the obligation of Catholics to attend Sunday Mass in the archdiocese.

Sample encouraged Catholics over 60 not to attend Mass, along with “persons who are not feeling well, no matter how mild the symptoms,” and Catholics “who sincerely and seriously think they might be at risk.”

“Persons who have underlying medical issues that put them at risk, or persons with compromised immune systems, are asked not to attend Mass,” the archbishop said, dispensing from their Sunday obligation Catholics in each of those groups.

The archbishop’s letter said his dispensations would remain in effect until April 8, as the governor had directed. Easter is April 12.

Sample also noted that “The faithful who are in attendance at Mass are reminded to avoid all physical contact with others and should attempt to keep a safe distance from each other.”

In addition, the archbishop canceled all parish gatherings of more than 250 people, and urged that “parishes should break down school Masses so as to keep the numbers below 250.

“Even with the above directives in place, some parishes may still have difficulty keeping Mass attendance below 250,” the archbishop noted.

“Pastors are encouraged to be creative in managing this situation. Some possibilities would be to encourage the faithful to attend Masses in the parish that are known to be less attended,” he wrote.

“Another possibility would be to add Masses to help spread out the numbers at each Mass.”

Sample encouraged those who do not attend Sunday Mass to consider attending daily Mass in the parish, and to watch Mass on television or on line. The archbishop also encouraged those not at Mass, or those who do not feel comfortable receiving the Eucharist “due to a fear of contamination” to “make an act of Spiritual Communion.”

“This is a beautiful devotional practice in the Church and is a real source of grace in communion with our Lord” the archbishop wrote.

Sample’s decision came one day after the Archdiocese of Seattle, which borders the Portland archdiocese, cancelled all public Masses in compliance with a directive from the governor of Washington prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people.

Oregon has 20 documented cases of coronavirus and no recorded deaths, while in Washington, 377 people have contracted the virus and 30 have died.

Across the country, at least 1,504 people have contracted coronavirus, and 39 have died.





State Department releases annual human rights report

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The State Department released its annual human rights report on Wednesday, offering the administration’s summary of the situation in nearly 200 countries worldwide for the last year.

“We’re blessed that the unalienable rights are secure here at home.  But we all know the rights of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness don’t just belong to Americans, they belong to everyone everywhere,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday at the release of the report.

“Today this report sheds light on dark places where rights like the ones I described are infringed upon,” Pompeo stated.

The State Department released its 2019 human rights report on Wednesday, its 44th annual report which summarizes the human rights situation in 199 countries and territories around the world.

Robert Destro, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Labor, and Human Rights, noted that the report focuses on “internationally recognized human rights” that enjoy a broad consensus, such as those enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“It’s easy for governments to say that they support human rights; it’s harder actually to do so year after year,” Destro said on Wednesday.

The report includes details of abuses in countries including China, Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba.

China employs a high-tech surveillance system to monitor the movements of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang; as many as 1.8 million people have been or are detained in camps in the region, and there are reports of abuses in the camps and forced labor for current and former detainees.

“As I’ve said before, the [Chinese Communist Party’s] record in Xinjiang is the ‘stain of the century.’  It tries to hide what it’s doing by intimidating journalists,” Pompeo said on Wednesday.

The report also details “extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary detentions” of Nicholas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela, Pompeo said.

In Cuba, citizens are arbitrarily detained and their rights are violated by the Castro regime, he said.

Chinese state media claimed a drop in the number of forced abortions as a result of the country’s coercive two-child family planning policy. However, Uyghur women reported being forcibly sterilized while in detention.

In Hungary, there were reports of political intimidation and state corruption, and human trafficking remained a problem.

Civilians were killed at the hands of Russian-led forces in occupied parts of Ukraine; there were reports of politically-motivated arrests and torture of Ukrainian citizens in those areas.

In Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, the report detailed targeted killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers, arbitrary detention, and restrictions on non-Israelis living in Jerusalem as well as the freedom of movement.

Iranian-backed militia groups continued detaining minorities in Nineveh, Iraq, including Christians who were also victims of kidnapping by ISIS.

“Together, we support human rights defenders in a wide variety of environments who risk their lives to instill in their own societies the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that we as Americans hold dear and take for granted,” Destro stated.

In 2018, the agency removed the “reproductive rights” section from its 2017 human rights report, and replaced it with statistics on “coercion in population control.”

Secretary Pompeo also announced that the Commission on Unalienable Rights—an advisory commission headed by the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon—will send its work to him around July 4. The commission was charged with reviewing human rights as part of U.S. foreign policy.

Chinese forced labor is in US supply chain, Congressional report finds

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 17:00

Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Political, ethnic and religious prisoners are being used as forced labor in China, making goods that end up in U.S. supply chains, a new report from the U.S. China Commission has found.

As many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are or have been detained in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a situation which groups like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are now calling a “crime against humanity.”

Victims or families of victims of the camps have reported numerous abuses in the camps, including political indoctrination, starvation, torture, beatings, and forced sterilizations.

The new report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), released on March 11, alleges that current and former detainees in the region have been forced to work in factories and in the agriculture industry, and that goods made with this labor are in the supply chains of major U.S. companies.

“Satellite imagery, personal testimonies, and official documents indicate that the XUAR

authorities are systematically forcing predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and others, to engage in forced labor in the XUAR,” the report states.

Members of Congress on Wednesday condemned the abuses and introduced legislation to hold U.S. companies accountable for their supply chains.

“It’s injected forced labor into American and global supply chains. It’s injected forced labor under the Christmas tree. It’s injected forced labor in the boxes we give over for birthdays. And it’s injected forced labor in many of the things that we buy on a daily basis,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co-chair of the China Commission, said upon release of the report on Wednesday.

“And this is a disturbing reality, and it’s one that we need to confront and we need to face.”

The new bill, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, sets up accountability mechanisms to ensure U.S. supply chains are free of forced labor.

It grants sanctions authority for those complicit in forced labor in Xinjiang, requires SEC disclosures for companies engaged with certain entities in Xinjiang, and mandates that the Secretary of State to determine whether “atrocities” are taking place there.

The bill also includes a provision creating a “rebuttable presumption”—meaning that any imported goods sourced from Xinjiang will be presumed to have been created with forced labor. Companies wishing to import these goods must present “clear and convincing” evidence otherwise to U.S. Customs.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a commissioner and former chair of the China Commission, noted that as early as 1991, it was known that imprisoned democracy activists from Tiananmen Square were forced to make shoes in a Beijing prison. Despite evidence that prisoners in Chinese camps were forced to make goods exported elsewhere, Smith said that a subsequent “memorandum of understanding” of the U.S. against importation of such goods “wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

“This is a horrific tragedy,” he said of the ongoing treatment of Muslim Uyghurs.

The bill’s rebuttable presumption is key, he said, in that “the presumption of innocence shifts” to companies to prove that “their supply chain is clear and clean of this kind of horrific behavior.”

“It’s hard for anybody in America to believe that there’s forced labor camps. People being forced to work with no pay,” Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.), a commissioner, stated on Wednesday.

“The only thing that the Chinese government will recognize is if we prevent them from continuing to export these goods, using forced labor, into our marketplace,” he said.

Some of these forced labor cases in the report occur within the internment camps, while others involve detainees being sent to factories upon their release from the camps. In still other cases, minorities are forced into labor without even being sent to the camps.

All this labor is done under the guise of “job training” or “poverty alleviation,” as the Chinese government claims.

Good commonly made with forced labor include textiles such as clothing, bedding, and carpet, shoes, tea, electronics, and food products such as noodles and cakes.

Companies suspected of directly employing forced labor, or sourcing from suppliers suspected of using forced labor, include Adidas, Calvin Klein, Coca-Cola, Costco, H&M, Kraft Heinz, Nike, Patagonia, and Tommy Hilfiger.

The company Badger Sportswear announced in January of 2019 that it was ending its partnership with Hetian Taida Apparel because of its suspected ties to forced labor of detainees in Xinjiang.

Audits of which factories in the region are using forced labor will prove difficult, the report said, due to residents and detainees who may be afraid to speak out about poor conditions. Companies should instead assume that any goods sourced to the region are made with forced labor.

On March 5, an AP investigation reported that “mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs” detained in camps were afterwards forced in work in a heavily-guarded factory within the supply chains of U.S. tech companies.

A document leaked in February from a local government authority in Xinjiang listed the names of around 3,000 Uyghurs under surveillance, with 484 being detained. Many of those were imprisoned for religious reasons or for family the religious or political behavior of family members. 

In Seattle, public Masses suspended, but prayer and ministry continue

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 15:20

Seattle, Wash., Mar 12, 2020 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Seattle has suspended public Masses and closed some Catholic schools, but priests in the archdiocese have been encouraged to keep churches open for prayer, to continue celebrating Mass privately, and to find ways to offer the sacrament of penance.

In a letter to priests and school leaders, Seattle’s auxiliary bishop encouraged pastors to “set specific hours for the church to be open for private prayer, to “reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the Church for private prayer,” and to “be available for pastoral emergencies, private meetings, anointing of sick, and so on.”

“At the end of the day, we want to ensure we are slowing the spread of the coronavirus and protecting the vulnerable in our community, while also serving the needs of our parishioners,” Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg wrote March 11, the same day public Masses were suspended in the archdiocese.

The decision to suspend Masses, Mueggenborg wrote, “was made for the common good and for the people of God entrusted in our care — many of whom are considered high risk and vulnerable. We must do our part to slow down this epidemic.”

Even while Masses are suspended, “we do not want parish life to come to a screeching halt,” the bishop added.

A spokeswoman for the diocese told CNA March 12 that the archdiocese also wants to ensure Catholics are able to make use of the sacrament of confession.

Pastors have been advised to move confession from confessionals into larger rooms where confidentiality can still be maintained, to use a screen to block airflow between priest and penitent, and to ensure a space of six feet between priest and penitent whenever possible.

 The archdiocese has said that conditions do not exist which would allow for “general absolution,” in which penitents are sacramentally absolved of their sins without the practice of individual confession first. General absolution requires a situation of grave necessity before it can be permitted, according to the Church’s canon law.    

Mueggenborg’s letter also encouraged that Catholics “manifest Christ’s love more than ever during these challenging times.”

He suggested phone calls to homebound neighbors and nursing home residents, giving to food banks, and grocery shopping for the homebound, among other ideas.

The first known U.S. case of coronavirus was announced Jan. 21 in Washington. To date, 341 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Washington, and 29 have died. Across the nation, more than 1,400 people have contracted the virus, and at least 38 have died.


Places of worship caught in New Rochelle coronavirus 'containment area'

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 13:55

New York City, N.Y., Mar 12, 2020 / 11:55 am (CNA).- Places of worship in a New York City suburb are facing unprecedented measures to fend off the spread of coronavirus after the governor on Tuesday announced the creation of a 1-mile radius “containment zone” to limit the virus’ spread.

Under the rules of the containment zone in New Rochelle, which is fewer than 10 miles from the center of The Bronx, schools, houses of worship and large gathering places will be closed for two weeks beginning March 12. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said March 10 that the National Guard will be called in to help clean facilities and deliver food to people in need.

“The difficulty is the elderly [parishoners] aren’t all that computer savvy, so they’re very concerned, and we’re getting an awful lot of phone calls,” Monsignor Dennis Keane, pastor of Holy Family parish in New Rochelle, told CNA.

“I think safety is so important, especially when you’re dealing with elderly people,” he said.

Msgr. Keane said the parish’s regular scheduled Masses and Stations of the Cross will proceed as normal, but without a choir. The eldery or anyone concerned about getting sick ought to stay home, he said.

Holy Family is just outside the 1-mile containment area, but Msgr. Keane said the bulk of the parishioners live within the zone. The parish is already canceling numerous events, announcing on Facebook that all non-essential meetings, including religious education classes, have been canceled “until further notice.” As of March 13, the parish elementary school will be closed for the indefinite future.

A parish dinner dance scheduled for March 14 also has been canceled, and the parish last weekend emptied the holy water fonts and suspended the sign of peace during Mass. They also placed hand sanitizer at each entrance.

Msgr. Keane said he’s also had at least one bride call the parish office asking if her upcoming wedding can still take place at the church.

“I said, you know – we’re here, we’ll perform the wedding, it’s really your decision, as you get closer, to see how healthy it is to bring people together … things change very quickly in two weeks. But as far as the church is concerned, we’ll be open for the wedding, I’ll perform that wedding.”

He said one family, mostly of elderly members, this week decided not to have a funeral Mass at the church for a loved one who died, opting instead for a prayer service at the funeral home.

A local soup kitchen called HOPE Community Kitchen, also located outside the zone, benefits from food donations from the parish, Msgr. Keane said, and the parish will continue to cook food for the kitchen for now.

“What I’m concerned about is— parishes supply a lot of food to them. And if we have fewer people coming to church, we’ll be able to supply less food.”

HOPE Community Kitchen announced on its website that as a precautionary measure, its guests would receive take-out meals rather than gathering in its dining room until further notice.

Father Robert DeJulio, pastor of the city's Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish, told CNA that his parish church has also done away with the holy water and is encouraging people to receive Communion in the hand.

They are also canceling the upcoming parish mission and a parish dinner – anything having to do with food preparation, he said. Fr. DeJulio said he has been contacting parishioners by email to update them on the situation.

Since Our Lady of Perpetual Help is outside the strict containment zone, the parish is continuing to hold religious education classes, and the school is still open.

In contrast, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church lies just within the containment zone. Father Nicholas Anctil, the pastor, said the governor's announcement came as a surprise, and that getting the word out to his parishioners was not the easiest of tasks.

Although he is able to contact parishioners via a "robocall," he said he has to be sure that he records one in English and one in Greek, for his non-English speaking parishioners.

"A lot of them don't speak English, believe it or not, still," Fr. Nicholas said. "Or they don't have internet."

Holy Trinity runs a small nursery school, a Greek afternoon school, and a catechism school, and a gym that hosts various sports activities – all of which have been canceled.

The church also hosts education classes for retirees in conjunction with Iona College multiple times a week.

"They're all senior citizens, and most of them live in the area," Fr. Nicholas said.

"So we've had a lot of people in the building that actually live in the containment area as well."

All liturgies at the parish have been canceled, said, including all the Sunday liturgies.

"Today I did my last liturgy here until March 25," Fr. Nicholas said.

Anctil said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Greek Orthodox archdiocese, has asked the parishioners of Holy Trinity not to go to a different parish outside the containment zone for fear of further spreading the virus.

"I wanted to go to our sister church up the block – we have a sister church in Rye – and I am not supposed to, you know? Because we don't know what our symptoms are going to be and we don't know what the incubation period is, really," he said.

Fr. Nicholas said the containment causes a lot of hardship for his parish, especially in the middle of Lent, not to be able to hold services.

In addition, the church often provides food for a local homeless shelter, and since their kitchen is locked down, they will be unable to provide those meals.

"It chokes a lot of the parish life," he said.

The Greek Orthodox church in Rye provides a livestream of Divine Liturgy, he said, and he hopes his parishioners will take advantage of that.

Despite other congregations canceling their services – the local Lutheran church has also canceled services until March 25 – Fr. DeJulio is confident that Mass will continue in the area. He said he has not received any orders from the Archdiocese of New York to cancel Mass.

"I don't think anybody's going to cancel Mass," Fr. DeJulio said.

"I don't think we do that. I think we have Mass and tell people to talk precautions, and if they feel uncomfortable, not to come. People have to take responsibility – they're adults. This idea that Father has to tell me not to come to church is archaic."

He did say parishioners over 60, in particular, should consider staying home.

"That doesn't mean I have to cancel to make that happen," he said.

CNA contacted the Archdiocese of New York to ask whether Mass cancelations were being considered as an option to limit the spread of the virus in the area around the containment zone, and did not receive an answer by press time.

The zone centers around the Young Israel of New Rochelle synagogue, believed to be the epicenter of the outbreak near New York City.

A 50-year-old member of the synagogue last week was the second person in the state diagnosed with the disease, but is believed to have spread the virus to the synagogue community. Around 1,000 members of the synagogue community are under self-imposed quarantine.

The synagoge announced in its March 6-7 bulletin that the rabbi’s wife tested positive for the virus.

A call to the synagogue March 11 went unanswered.

A pro-life pregnancy center, The Elinor Martin Residence for Mother & Child, is located within the zone. The center is listed as an agency of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, though a CCNY spokesperson told CNA that the center is not owned by the archdiocese.

The Elinor Martin Residence did not respond by press time to CNA’s inquiry as to whether the center was still operating during the containment period.

Though grocery stores and other businesses are allowed to remain open within the zone, CNN reported Wednesday that many small businesses in New Rochelle are planning to shut their doors for two weeks in an attempt to mitigate financial losses.

The governor confirmed 20 additional cases March 11, most emerging in New Rochelle, bringing the state total to nearly 200.

In addition, nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area will not be permitted to accept visitors until further notice. St. Joseph’s, a nursing home in New Rochelle run by the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, confirmed to CNA that they were not currently taking visitors.

As of yet there are no travel restrictions for residents of the area and no one is mandated to self-quarantine.

Though New York has not had any deaths from coronavirus, nearby New Jersey announced a 69-year-old man with underlying health problems died of the virus March 11.

Around the world, Catholic dioceses have responded differently to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Archdiocese of Seattle, centered around the first and largest outbreak in the United States, announced March 11 that it will indefinitely suspend public Masses.

Masses across Italy are cancelled and churches are closed, in compliance with a mandate of the Italian government. Most dioceses in Japan have canceled Masses. The president of Polish Bishops’ conference has encouraged more Masses in his country. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznań said there should be more Sunday Masses so that services will be less crowded and parishioners will be able sit farther apart from one another.

Kentucky’s Governor Andy Beshear on Wednesday encouraged churches to cancel their services in fear of the spreading coronavirus. The archdiocese in the state does not plan to cancel Masses this Sunday.

Why this group performs ultrasounds in Nebraska schools

Thu, 03/12/2020 - 06:00

Omaha, Neb., Mar 12, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Pregnancy ultrasounds are often intimate moments, performed in the privacy of a doctor’s office. But pregnant volunteers, and one Nebraska group, have begun performing ultrasounds in schools: aiming to give students a live, real-time look at the miracle of life.

The organizer of the group, Heart of a Child Ministries, told CNA that ultrasounds can impact students, and their families.

"It’s an experience of the Lord speaking to a child, and then that child feeling compelled to come home and talk to his parents about it," Nikki Schaefer, Director of Heart of a Child Ministries, told CNA.

Since 2016, volunteers with Heart of a Child have presented live ultrasound images, performed on a volunteer who is between 10 and 30 weeks pregnant, in both private and public schools in the Omaha area.

In addition to the live ultrasound, the presentation includes information about adoption, generally offered by a person with a personal experience of adoption.

Schaefer said the work started when a teacher asked her to come to her classroom to talk about pro-life ministries.

Soon after she began those presentations, Nebraskans United for Life approached her and offered the use a mobile ultrasound unit.

Now, two ultrasound technicians volunteer their time to operate the unit for the presentations. Schaefer said she also hears from many pregnant women willing to volunteer to show their babies on ultrasound.

Parents are sometimes reticent about allowing students to attend presentations, Schaefer said, with the two most common concerns being whether the presentation will feature graphic images of aborted fetuses, and whether human sexuality will be discussed with younger children.

Schaefer, who holds a Master's in Social Work and Art Therapy, said the group’s presentation does not include either, and instead focuses on the humanity of the unborn child, as well as the importance of adoption.

The key question after the ultrasound presentation, Schaefer said, is: "What did you see that tells you that that is a human being?"

Though individual parents often express concerns and may refuse to allow their children to attend, Schaefer said, a parish in Omaha recently rescheduled the entire presentation, reportedly after complaints from parents.  

Father Ralph O’Donnell, pastor at St, Margaret Mary, told CNA that parents brought forward questions because they did not know what the presentation was going to be about. He said Schaefer’s group will hold a presentation for parents later this month, to give them a sense of what her ministry brings to schools.

“Our rescheduling of the Heart of a Child Ministry [presentation] was not a rejection of the program at all, actually in doing so it provided us the opportunity to work with Nikki to allow for what we feel is an important addition; adding a step, giving us the opportunity for the parents to experience the presentation first,” he said.

The school will hold the presentation for the parents the evening of March 25, O’Donnell said.

Schaefer said the group tailors presentations to the age of students in attendance, whether they are in elementary, middle, and high school. Each presentation, regardless of the audience, begins with facts about fetal development.

Presentations have had unexpected results, Schaefer said.

On one occasion, a birth mother presented to a school group and told the story of choosing to place her child for adoption rather than choose abortion, even after she was encouraged to abort. A girl approached the speaker afterward, Schaefer said, saying “thank you so much for sharing, I was adopted and now I know how much my birth mom loved me.”

Schaefer said she is not aware of any other groups doing what Heart of a Child is doing, but she hopes to provide training to any group around the country seeking to start a similar project.

Seattle archdiocese suspends all public Masses amid coronavirus pandemic

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 19:45

Seattle, Wash., Mar 11, 2020 / 05:45 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Seattle will indefinitely suspend public Masses in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has left at least 31 dead in Washington, along with 375 people in the state who have tested positive for the virus.

“I want to acknowledge the best science that is out there, that basically says despite our best efforts, this epidemic is going to continue to spread, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing everything we possibly can to restrict the spread of this virus and of this epidemic,” Archbishop Paul Etienne said in a video released Wednesday afternoon.

“So I am going to ask that all of our parishes in western Washington, in the Archdiocese of Seattle, effective today, suspend the celebration publicly of the Eucharist.”

“As we all know, this is out of an extreme measure of caution,” he added. “Out of an extreme caution, we want to do our part to prevent the spread of this virus.”

The archbishop encouraged Catholics to stay at home if they are ill, to practice good hygiene and social distancing. He also encouraged prayer for medical providers and caretakers.

On March 11, Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties. King County contains the city of Seattle. 235 people have tested positive for the virus in King County, and 26 have died; many of the sick and deceased were residents of nursing facilities.

Seattle’s public schools have also been closed.

“I want to just encourage you, in a very deeply spiritual way, to pray with confidence, to pray with faith, to pray with hope, that the Lord accompany us during this, and that the Lord protect us as well,” Etienne added in his video message.

The archbishop also mentioned that “every priest has an obligation to celebrate the Eucharist, and I want our priests to continue to do that.”

The first known U.S. case of coronavirus was announced Jan. 21 in Washington. In total, at least 1,209 people in the U.S. have been diagnoses with coronavirus, and at least 37 have died.

The Archdiocese of Seattle is the first U.S. diocese to take such a step. More than half of all Japenese dioceses have suspended the public celebration of the Mass, however, and churches are shuttered in Italy, as the entire country is under strict quarantine regulations.

The Archbishop of Louisville said Wednesday he did not plan to cancel Sunday Masses in his diocese this weekend, despite a request from the governor to do so. Eight people in Kentucky have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and the state has experienced no deaths; while Washington state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S.

Responding previously to the virus, on March 3  Etienne “said that holy water should be removed from fonts” and “that Communion hosts should be received only in the hand, not on the tongue.”

The Archdiocese of Seattle added that Communion should be under one species, that the sick should stay home from Mass, and that everyone should practice good hygiene and “avoid hand-to-hand contact during the Our Father and the sign of peace.”

In a March 10 document, issued the day before the suspension of all public Masses, the Seattle archdiocese said that it encourages “every parish community to closely follow the requests of local health authorities.”

It said that health officials in three counties were advising against “larger group gatherings”, i.e. those with more than 10 people.

“Out of protection for the people who are at high-risk and to ensure we are doing our part to slow the spread of the virus for the common good, we recommend postponing any large non-essential ministry gatherings and parish events,” the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese canceled some Catholic school sports games in two counties, but permitted practices to continue. “For this, we rely on the discretion of the principal and pastor to make the decision for their community – given the rapidly changing nature of local public health recommendations,” it added.

In its March 10 policy update, the archdiocese barred the reception of Communion on the tongue, saying that “this requirement is being enacted out of our love and care for the most vulnerable in our midst. It may be important to remind concerned parishioners that the greatest divine law is that we love God and our neighbor. All other laws and individual rights are subordinate to that supreme divine law.”

Regarding the remission of sins, the archdiocese said that “even though we are in a heightened health alert state, the conditions do not yet exist for general absolution. Therefore, we will continue to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on an individual basis only.”

The territory of the Archdiocese of Seattle includes 19 counties in western Washington state.

The archdiocese has not indicated whether schools will be closed. The archdiocese has not yet responded to repeated March 11 requests for comment from CNA.