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Polish bishops recall service of priests, nuns during Warsaw Uprising

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:37 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 05:37 pm (CNA).- Commemorating the 76th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, the Catholic bishops of Poland released a reflection on the priests and nuns who ministered to the needs of the Polish people during the historic event.

“During the sixty-three days of the Warsaw Uprising, which was the biggest revolt of the population against the Nazi occupants during World War II, about 150 diocesan priests and many nuns provided the insurgents and civilians with pastoral and medical care, and shelter,” the Polish bishops’ conference said in an August 7 statement.

The Warsaw Uprising took place in the summer of 1944, as Polish resistance forces attempted to free Warsaw from Nazi occupation. For two months, the resistance forces fought against the Germans, who sent in air and artillery reinforcements. They were ultimately unsuccessful, and the Nazis destroyed the city in retaliation for the insurrection.

The Polish bishops recognized the Catholic chaplains who were present in the city during the uprising. These priests, they said, “celebrated Holy Masses among falling bombs and artillery shells, celebrated religious services in the places of alarm gatherings, blessed the flags of the troops, confessed, distributed Holy Communion, absolved in articulo mortis (in the face of death), buried the dead. They also baptized children and blessed marriages.”

One of these chaplains, Fr. Stefan Wyszyński, risked his life to make the sacraments available during the insurgency, including by offering Confession to wounded Germans. He later opposed the Communist authorities and helped catechize the country, before being appointed a bishop and later cardinal. Wyszyński was scheduled to be beatified in Warsaw this summer, but the ceremony was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“About forty chaplains were killed,” the bishops said. Some of these priests’ stories are not well known. Others have become known and celebrated as witnesses of heroism, such as that of Fr. Jozef Stanek, who aided those who were injured and dying before the Germans captured him and killed him, hanging him with his own stole. Stanek was one of 108 Martyrs of World War II beatified in 1999 by Pope John Paul II.

The Polish bishops also highlighted the nuns from more than 20 religious congregations who sacrificed to offer food, shelter, and care to both combatants and civilians in need.

The religious sisters established dozens of field hospitals, often risking their safety to do so. Four members of the Grey Ursulines from Powisle were shot and killed while tending to wounded people in the streets, the bishops said.

In addition, numerous communities of nuns offered their prayers and sacrifices for peace and freedom in Christ. The bishops noted one such community, the Benedictine Nuns of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Thirty-seven of the sisters died when their monastery was bombed in 1944, as did many of the people who had sought shelter with them.

 

 

Questions of abuse cover-up directed at incoming St. Louis archbishop, but details unclear

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:21 PM

Denver Newsroom, Aug 7, 2020 / 05:21 pm (CNA).- Archbishop-designate Mitchell Rozanski is set to take over the Archdiocese of St. Louis, after heading the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts since 2014. Though Rozanski himself backed major changes in the Springfield diocese's handling of abuse, one unnamed abuse victim has asked for a Church investigation into whether the archbishop-designate was involved in covering up abuse.

Olan Horne, an advocate for victims of sex abuse by clergy, said the request to investigate Archbishop-designate Rozanski was made by a Berkshire County resident who had taken part in the Boston archdiocese's multi-million dollar settlement, the Springfield newspaper The Republican reports. Horne said the request had support from “other concerned Catholics here in the diocese.”

The complaint was made through the Catholic Bishops Abuse Reporting Service website, and Horne said he received confirmation that the allegation had been filed.

Mark Dupont, secretary of communications for the Diocese of Springfield, told CNA August 6 that Rozanski had worked to make improvements in responding to sexual abuse allegations since before June 2019, when he commissioned an independent investigation into the mishandling of an allegation about a previous bishop.

“Even prior to commissioning the Judge Velis Report, then-Bishop Rozanski had directed a total revamping of our Safe Environment office, bringing in a new director, hiring new investigators, negotiating an agreement with all local district attorneys' offices, and naming a task force to review all procedures for handling complaints,” Dupont told CNA.

Dupont said the complaint about Rozanski would have been directed to Springfield's metropolitan, the Archdiocese of Boston, but added “to the best of our knowledge no such complaint has been filed.”

CNA sought comment from the Boston archdiocese, the St. Louis archdiocese, and Archbishop-designate Rozanski, but received no response by deadline.

Pope Francis named Rozanski Archbishop of St. Louis in early June. He will be installed Aug. 25.

In June, the Springfield diocese released the final report of an independent investigation led by retired Superior Court Judge Peter A. Velis, an adjunct professor of criminal evidence at Westfield State University who handled Catholic clergy sex abuse cases as a judge.

The report examined the case of an alleged victim, known under the pseudonym John Doe, who said he told the diocesan review board that Springfield Bishop Christopher J. Weldon, who died in 1982, had abused him, as did two priests, when he was an altar boy in the 1960s.

However, Bishop Weldon was not listed on the Springfield diocese's list of clergy credibly accused of abuse. Although at least three witnesses and a letter to Doe from the review board supported Doe's claim that he told the review board about Weldon in 2018, the review board only acknowledged the claim that the two priests had abused him.

On June 24, the diocese released Velis' 373-page report finding that Doe's claim he was molested by Bishop Weldon were “unequivocally credible.”

The Velis report indicated that there were two accounts of the diocesan investigator's findings, one of which was more clear in accusing Weldon of abusing Doe. That version, however, was not shared with the review board. Some diocesan responses, which indicated Doe had never testified about Weldon's abuse, relied on the version which had been shared with the review board.

The Velis report said that “from the inception of the complaint through the follow-up process, the procedure was greatly flawed.”

In June, Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”

“At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured,” the archbishop-designate said at a June press conference, one year after he commissioned Velis to conduct the investigation.

Both a diocesan investigator and a victim's advocate involved in Doe's case are no longer employed by the diocese, and Weldon is now named on the Springfield diocese website as a “deceased bishop who was found to have credible allegations of abuse.”

Horne was still critical of the diocese.

“It should not have taken this herculean effort to get justice for the Weldon survivor,” he said. “Look at the names and the games — they are the same and finally we have had a few investigations to get to the bottom of the claims we all have been making here for years without any results.”

This is not the first time abuse concerns regarding a bishop have surfaced in the Diocese of Springfield. In 2004, Bishop Thomas Dupre became the first Catholic bishop in the U.S. to be indicted on criminal charges for sexual abuse. The case did not go to trial due to the statute of limitations on some charges and because the grand jury decided not to indict on other charges, The Republican reported.

Horne accused the diocese of handling abuse through “an archaic system” that should have been updated after Dupre left, but never was.

The sex abuse victims' advocate also objected to the diocese's delay in naming diocesan priest Father Paul Archambault to its list of credibly accused priests. The priest's name was added in 2016, the year the diocese disclosed its 2011 settlement with an alleged victim. Archambault committed suicide in 2011, after being confronted about his alleged abuse of a teenage boy.

Dupont, the spokesman for the diocese, told CNA the Velis report “had no finding of any cover-up.”

However, Velis said his findings raise questions about whether there was an attempt to conceal the report's contents about Bishop Weldon from the review board or Bishop Rozanski. It was not the scope of his investigation to determine responsibility for the apparent deceptive practice or “if and when the reports were switched.”

Rozanski told Velis he was not aware of the specifics of Doe's allegation of abuse by Weldon and did not know about the different reports about Doe's allegation produced by the diocesan investigator.

Velis reported that Rozanski “immediately felt a call to action” when he was made aware there were possible discrepancies in how the complaint was handled.

However, Rozanski said he knew that Weldon was accused of being “present during incidents of abuse that occurred” and acknowledged to Velis that he considered this to be a form of abuse.

Dupont, the Springfield diocesan spokesman, maintained that the diocese did not cover up allegations against Weldon. He told CNA that “our earliest public responses acknowledged Bishop Weldon was allegedly present where the abuse occurred.”

The Velis report is not unchallenged. The diocese's most recent vicar general, Monsignor Christopher Connelly, has said he was “unfairly and unfavorably portrayed” in the report, according to The Republican.

Connelly has denied the alleged victim's claim to have told him that Weldon abused him.

“I regret that my recollection of that meeting and his are so very different. I am also puzzled that throughout this process there is a lot of discrepancy and confusion. I am puzzled by that as well,” Connelly said.

“The name of Weldon was not divulged to me. Our meeting was not about Bishop Weldon, it was about another deceased priest,” said the monsignor. Connelly said that if Weldon's name had been mentioned, it would have been in a follow-up letter, which only mentions the accusation against Father Clarence Forand.

 

Archbishop Carlson: Christ 'welcomes and challenges' those wrestling with gender identity

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 10:34 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- Christ draws close with love and compassion, as well as a challenge, for people who experience discord between their gender identity and their biological sex, Archbishop Robert Carlson of Saint Louis said in a reflection dated June 1.

“If you’re uncomfortable with your biological sex, or if you consider yourself as having a gender identity at odds with your biological sex, here’s the first thing I want you to know: God loves you. He loves you right where you are. He has a plan for you,” Carlson said.

“We are beloved sons and daughters of God in our best and worst moments. And when Jesus comes to us with a word of compassion, he always comes with a word of challenge too,” he added. “Yes, he loves us where we are; that doesn’t mean he simply affirms or celebrates where we are.”

The 12-page reflection notes that people who experience gender dysphoria are “uniquely vulnerable” and must be treated with care and compassion. The archbishop also notes that the Church has a duty to teach and affirm a Christian anthropology, which sees the unity of gender identity and biological sex as the path to human flourishing and, ultimately, to heaven.

“God made us male and female. God also made us as a union of body and soul. God has a purpose and a plan in giving us the male or female body we have,” the archbishop noted.

Carlson said he was inspired to write this reflection after a January 2020 visit with Pope Francis and the bishops of his region. During the visit, Pope Francis encouraged the bishops to address the issue of transgender theory, or gender ideology, with the Catholics in their dioceses.

Carlson is one of a small but increasing number of Catholic bishops and Catholic leaders in the U.S. who have issued statements on gender ideology, as well as guidelines for people with gender dysphoria who are participants in diocesan institutions or events. The Vatican has also recently issued recent documents on the subject, including a book released in June by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, as well as the 2019 document Male and Female He Created Them, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Carlson stated that his reflection did not offer a “comprehensive treatment” of the problem, but rather an addressing of a few of its “principal aspects.”

The archbishop said he wanted his reflection to begin and end with thoughts of compassion and care for people who experience transgender dysphoria, which he noted is a condition that puts people “at risk for a whole series of poor health outcomes. They experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and have a much higher rate of suicide attempts than the general population. They are uniquely vulnerable.”

People with gender dysphoria are experiencing hurt, the bishop said. And whether people who believe their gender does not match their biological sex are making the choice freely or feel that it is a condition they experience not of their free will, Christ draws close to those experiencing hurt, he noted.

Some examples of Christ drawing close to hurting people from the Gospels which Carlson pointed to included Zaccheus the tax collector, who is visited by Christ in his home, and the woman with a haemorrhage, who was healed by Christ with a touch of his cloak because of her faith.

“Whether we’re talking about sins we have freely chosen or conditions we have not the Gospels make it very clear: whatever our hurt is, Jesus came for the hurt. He doesn’t draw away there, he draws closer.”

But Christ also challenges people to live according to God’s plan, Carlson noted.

“When the Rich Young Man came to ask about eternal life Jesus both welcomed him and challenged him. He does so repeatedly with various people he encounters in the Gospels. We have to expect him to do the same with us. The welcome and the challenge are both expressions of his love,” Carlson said.

In this Gospel story, a rich young man approaches Christ and asks what he must to do to have eternal life. Christ tells him to follow the commandments, to sell all that he has to the poor, and to follow him. The rich young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions”.

“Do you ever wonder if he came back? I think part of the reason we never hear is that the ultimate point of the story isn’t what happened to him. The point is: I am the Rich Young Man, Jesus asks something of me, and I have to decide how to respond. I can walk away sad, or I can embrace his challenge,” the archbishop said.

The challenge for people with gender dysphoria, then, is to live according to God’s plan for sexuality, which does not separate gender from sex, Carlson noted.

“Based on the unity of the human person, the basic challenge on this matter is articulated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says: ‘Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.’ Long before gender ideology was a cultural topic, the Catechism had already named the central issue: this is a question of reconciling ourselves to the physical facts of sexual identity, not trying to change the facts according to how we think and feel,” he said.

This does not mean that one must live according to rigid stereotypes, he noted.

“How we live our masculine and feminine identity is certainly diverse, and there needs to be room for that. There’s a wide variety of personalities, and they don’t always fit gender-stereotypes. But that doesn’t mean being male or female is negotiable, or that sex and gender can be separated. Being male or female is written into every cell of our body, and is part of the body-soul unity that we are.”

A Catholic understanding of anthropology maintains this unity in the person, Carlson noted, including unity between sex and gender.

“The Catholic understanding of the human person holds that sex and gender cannot be separated, and that there are limits to how we should manipulate our bodies. According to the Catholic understanding there is, and is meant to be, a profound unity in the human person: ‘In fact it is from [their] sex that the human person receives the characteristics which, on the biological, psychological and spiritual levels, make that person a man or a woman, and thereby largely condition his or her progress towards maturity and insertion into society,’” he said, referencing Persona humana, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1975 declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics.

In order for human beings to experience true freedom, the Church teaches that humans must both be able to freely choose, and freely choose what is good.

“We can all name examples of people freely choosing something that’s bad for them and bad for others. Freedom is perfected in the combination of choosing freely and choosing the good,” he said.

“A simple analogy comes from playing a musical instrument. You don’t have more freedom simply because you’ve never had lessons. You’re most free to make beautiful music when you’ve been trained and learned discipline. The same is true for excellence in human living.”

In practical applications of this teaching, Carlson said that people with gender dysphoria must be welcomed into Catholic institutions and events in the archdiocese, but with the understanding that the unity of their gender and sex will be respected, including use of pronouns, as well as restrooms and locker rooms, that match their biological sex, “thereby affording our bodies the healthy modesty and dignity deserved under such circumstances.”

“Those who experience discordance with their biological sex should not be denied admission to Catholic schools or participation in Archdiocesan or Parish events as long as they agree to abide by these guidelines,” he added. “It’s important that we be willing to help people in their struggles and questions. Our solution can’t be to abandon them, and only welcome them after they’ve resolved their questions on their own. We want to be with people, and we need to be there for them and with them in the midst of their questions and struggles.”

In his reflection, Carlson also draws directly from the words of Pope Francis, who has numerous times spoken or written about the problem of gender ideology.

In his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, Pope Francis wrote that accepting one’s biological sex as a gift from God and as the foundation for one’s identity was key to a “geniune human ecology.”

“The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology,”  Francis wrote.

“Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it,” the pope added.

In the end of his reflection, Carlson noted that the Church and her members must always speak the truth about gender and sex with “charity and clarity.” He noted that the Church must always reject violence and unjust discrimination toward people with gender dysphoria, and that they must be treated as “brothers and sisters.” He also added that the Church must be there to care for people who are hurting after choosing medical or hormonal gender interventions, in the same way that the Church offers care to women who are hurting after an abortion.

“As we have experienced the merciful love of Jesus, let’s bring that merciful love to the world,” he concluded. “And let’s remember that his love always has two parts: compassion, and the challenging truth about God’s plan. If we lack either – the compassion or the challenge – our love isn’t fully Christian.”

Updated: DC archdiocese welcomes Maryland county dropping second order to keep Catholic schools closed

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 8:15 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- Update: The Archdiocese of Washington's interim superintendent of schools, Kelly Branaman, expressed gratitude for the county's recognition of "the autonomy of non-public schools to make local decisions on reopening in a safe and appropriate manner."

She said that "we will continue to work with our schools to make the decisions that work best for each of our individual school communities."

The archdiocese noted that its schools are making individual reopening plans, accounting for enrollment, facility size, and parent feedback. Most have a hybrid model incorporating in-person and distance learning, while some have one model or the other.

"It is important that parents have a choice in determining what is best for their child," Brandaman reflected.

--

Catholic schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, can reopen for the coming semester after the county rescinded a second controversial order preventing all non-public schools from welcoming students for in-person learning until at least October 1. 

“Reemphasizing the need to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents as well as parents, students, teachers and staff from the spread of COVID-19, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles today announced that he has rescinded his health order that prohibited nonpublic schools from opening for in-person instruction until after Oct. 1, 2020,” said a statement from the county published Aug. 7. 

An updated executive order published Aug. 7 rescinds the earlier order, although it “strongly advises schools against in-person learning.” 

Gayles said that he “strongly believes that based on the current state of surveillance and epidemiological data, it is neither safe nor in the interest of public health for any school to return for in-person learning this fall.” 

The executive order also requests that the Maryland Department of Health provide “articulable criteria” that would be used to determine if a school should be having in-person learning. 

The order was rescinded by Gayles after a Thursday memorandum from the Maryland Department of Health banning the blanket closure of all non-public schools in a county. 

“At this time, it is the health policy of the State of Maryland that non-public schools not be closed in a blanket manner,” said the Department of Health’s memorandum.

“The State of Maryland’s position is that all schools, including public school systems and non-public schools, be provided with the individualized opportunity to determine how they are able to comply with the federal and state COVID-19 guidance to reopen safely and protect students and staff,” said the department memo. 

“Those determinations should be made in close consultation with the affected schools and local health departments with Maryland Department of Health guidance,” they added. 

The developments of August 7 cap off a week of controversy regarding the safety of opening non-public schools in Montgomery County, the most populated county in Maryland.  

On the evening of July 31, Gayles issued an order banning non-public schools from reopening for inperson tuition before Oct. 1, carrying a punishment of a $5,000 fine or a year in jail for failure to comply. This order came as a surprise to non-public schools in the county, many of whom had already invested in safe reopening plans in accordance with state guidelines. 

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) dismissed the blanket ban on reopening on Monday, August 2, saying that non-public schools should have the same opportunities afforded to public schools in choosing whether or not to open for in-person classes. 

Montgomery County Public Schools were never ordered to have virtual-only learning, and initially planned on having a hybrid model of in-person and online classes. Those plans were scrapped in late July, following pushback from teachers unions throughout the state. Montgomery County Public Schools will be online-only until January 31, the entirety of the first semester. 

Since the announcement to online-only learning, Montgomery County Public Schools have seen steep declines in new student registration as parents have opted for non-public schools or homeschool programs. 

Six Montgomery County families, including four Catholic school families, who were joined by two Catholic schools, filed a federal lawsuit against the county for the forced school closures. 

Despite Hogan’s intervention, on August 5 Gayles once again issued an executive order saying non-public schools must remain closed to in-person classes until October 1. Unlike the previous executive order, non-public daycares and preschools were exempted, and would have been permitted to operate. Additionally, the previous punishments of $5,000 and up to a year in jail were no longer included in the order, which carried no enforcement mechanism. 

The August 7 order goes into effect immediately, and notes that there have been no binding metrics put forward by the state for the safe reopening of schools. Many leading epidemiologists have pointed to a positivity rate of 5% as a standard to be met to shift to in-person learning. The second-largest teacher’s union in the country, the American Federation of Teachers, also is in favor of reopening schools in areas with a sub-5% positivity rate. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that every school in New York would be permitted to re-open in the fall as positivity rates in every state region had dropped below the 5% benchmark and stayed below that level for a set period. Individual districts will have to submit approved reopening safety plans, but they can in theory have in-person classes.  

Montgomery County’s three-day average positivity rate has been below 5% since July 16. It has been declining for 14 days. This drop in positivity has come amid increases in testing.

US sanctions Hong Kong chief executive over National Security Law

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 6:00 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The United States announced sanctions against Carrie Lam, the leader of the government of Hong Kong, as well as other officials in China on Friday, August 7. The sanctions were issued in response to recent actions by the Chinese government to curtail civil liberties in Hong Kong.

“The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and we will use our tools and authorities to target those undermining their autonomy,” said Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin in a statement released on Friday by the Treasury Department. 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was cited for her attempts to pass a controversial extradition law in 2019 which, Mnuchin said, caused “a series of massive opposition demonstrations in Hong Kong” last year, as well as Lam’s role in “developing, adopting, or implementing the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”

On July 1, a new National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong. The law has been harshly criticized by politicians from both major parties in the United States as a clear violation of the civil liberties guaranteed to Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” policy agreed at the time of the territory’s handover from Great Britain. 

The details of the U.S. action were not disclosed in the announcement. The decision follows previous measures by the administration against Chinese government officials who have contributed to the ongoing detention of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The Chinese government responded by sanctioning several prominent U.S. politicians who had spoken out against China’s treatment of ethnic minorities, including Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. 

“When Beijing announced its intention to pass the National Security Law, so-called, we were concerned. It was frightening,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) at a July 1 hearing titled “The End of One Country, Two Systems?: Implications of Beijing’s National Security Law in Hong Kong.”

“[The law] is nothing short of an all-out effort to negate the rights of the people of Hong Kong in violation of the agreements made under the ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ said the California Democrat.  

Pelosi said that Congress had long been concerned about the law’s final form, but the text of the legislation “exceeds even those horrors.” 

The sanctions against Lam and other officials came just hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that effectively banned the popular app TikTok. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance. The executive order banned any transactions between American companies and ByteDance. 

TikTok has been criticized for its extreme amount of personal data collection, its censorship of videos related to the Hong Kong protests and the detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and its promotion of conspiracy theories related to COVID-19. 

“TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories,” said the executive order. “This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”

TikTok has also been criticized for having a lack of child safeguarding features. The app does not have an option to make a profile private, and various safety restrictions on the app automatically turn off after a 30-day period. 

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation cited TikTok for a “lack of moderation” and the ability for children to be sexually groomed, and listed the app in its annual “Dirty Dozen” roundup of the worst companies that are enabling sexual exploitation.

Help Catholic schools to help at-risk families, US bishops tell Congress

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 4:30 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Several leading U.S. Catholic cardinals and bishops urged congressional leaders to provide emergency private school tuition aid to low-middle income families, in a letter on Thursday.  

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, signed the letter to House and Senate leaders, along with USCCB education chair Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland.

They argued that many Catholic schools which serve low-income families are at risk of closing due to economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

“The economic devastation that has hit so many of America’s families has made it impossible for many struggling families to continue paying tuition,” they wrote, adding that school closures in urban areas “are disproportionately harmful to low-income and black children” who attend.

Other U.S. metropolitans with large Catholic school districts signed on to the letter, including Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

They addressed the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Congressional and White House leaders are currently in the middle of negotiations on another coronavirus relief package. Associated Press reported on Wednesday that parties were still debating provisions for food stamps, and renters and jobless assistance.

On Thursday, the bishops said that education aid in the relief package should be “robust,” and should grant “equal consideration” to private school children.

Economic shock from the pandemic has already resulted in the closure of 140 Catholic schools around the country, the bishops said, and with many schools unable to reopen for in-person learning in the fall, there could be a resulting drop in tuition revenue and the closure of more schools.

The Boston archdiocese superintendent told NPR recently that nine of its Catholic schools would be closing, and that 24 more schools were on a “watch list.” The New York archdiocese announced in July that 20 schools would close and three would merge, due to the pandemic.

The bishops asked that non-public schools receive 10% of the emergency education aid given to public schools, noting that emergency tuition scholarships would be “the most effective way to help struggling families stay attached to their schools.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced in July that schools would be reopening in the fall, but then a state public health order required all schools in certain high-risk districts to remain closed for in-person learning. Archdiocesan schools in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties are set to begin the school year with virtual learning.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), there are currently more than 1.7 million students enrolled at 6,183 Catholic schools this year; more that 21% of the students are racial minorities, NCEA says, and 19% are non-Catholic.

“By equally supporting children in the non-public school community, you will maintain the integrity of those strong communities, while helping sustain the positive legacy of Catholic schools and their benefit to the common good for generations to come,” the bishops’ letter said.

Christmas comes early in Indiana with nativity scene court case

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 4:00 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- An Indiana town is defending its Christmas display in court this summer, after a traveller through the area claimed she was offended by the sight of a nativity scene on public land in 2018. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on August 3, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said that a Supreme Court ruling last year meant the display should stay.

The Brownstown Area Ministerial Association purchased a light-up nativity scene in 2003 and began to display it in front of the Jackson County Courthouse during Christmastime. The display is part of a town-wide “Hometown Christmas” event that is sponsored in part by several local businesses, including the Brownstown Chamber of Commerce, the Jackson County Historical Center, and the town’s McDonald’s. 

In 2018, Jackson County was sued by a woman who was traveling through the town, spotted the nativity scene, and claimed she was offended by its presence and that its location amounted to the promotion of Christianity by the county. The nativity scene features both religious and secular figures, including the Holy Family, Santa Claus, and reindeer. 

“The annual nativity isn’t just a beloved holiday tradition, it’s a symbol of unity and God’s ‘goodwill to all men’ during the Christmas season,” Doug Pogue, president of the Brownstown Area Ministerial Association was quoted saying in a press release.

“In a time of such fear and uncertainty in our country, it’s heartbreaking to think that our town could lose this important symbol of hope,” said Pogue. 

On May 1 this year, Judge Tanya Wilton Pratt of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled against the county in the case Woodring v. Jackson County and said that the nativity scene was an unconstitutional display. The county has appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Becket, which is representing the Brownstown Area Ministerial Association, disagrees, and noted in the brief that the Supreme Court had regularly permitted religious-themed monuments on public land. 

In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that a war memorial containing a cross was constitutional, even though it was on publicly-maintained land. In that case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the court ruled 7-2 that the Bladensburg Peace Cross in Maryland did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and could remain on public land and be maintained by public funds.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that “a government that roams the land tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”

“The Supreme Court has already protected religion in the public square,” Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket told CNA in a statement Wednesday. “This is a no brainer. The Seventh Circuit should follow suit and protect this nativity scene.”

Vatican cardinal promotes rural tourism as sector projected to lose billions

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 3:30 PM

Rome Newsroom, Aug 7, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- As the global economy braces to lose billions in international tourism in 2020 due to coronavirus travel restrictions, a Vatican cardinal is encouraging travelers to explore “hidden places.”

Tourism and rural development, the theme of the 2020 World Day of Tourism, could indicate a way forward for the industry once the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic ends, Cardinal Peter Turkson said in a message Aug. 7.

“It begins with the invitation to take seriously and put into practice sustainable development which, in the field of tourism, means a greater interest in extra-urban tourist destinations, small villages, hamlets, roads and little-known and less frequented places,” the cardinal said, “those most hidden places to discover or rediscover precisely because they are more enchanting and unspoiled.”

The United Nation’s 41st World Tourism Day will be September 27.

Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, noted the grave impact the coronavirus pandemic has and will have on the tourism industry and on those whose livelihoods depend on it.

“The suspension of international flights, the closure of airports and borders, the adoption of severe travel restrictions, including domestic ones, are causing an unprecedented crisis,” he said.

The cardinal cited “fears that in the worst-case scenario, at the end of 2020 there will be a decrease of about one billion international tourists, with a global economic loss of about 1.2 billion dollars.”

“The result would be a huge loss of jobs in the entire tourism sector,” he said.

Turkson also quoted the secretary general of the World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, who said “tourism has been the sector most affected by the global lockdown, with millions of jobs at risk in one of the most labor-intensive sectors of the economy.”

Despite these facts, Turkson encouraged people to remain optimistic and to consider how sustainable development can be put into practice through a slower, more “rural” tourism.

“It is, therefore, the promotion of sustainable and responsible tourism which, implemented according to principles of social and economic justice and in full respect of the environment and cultures, recognizes the centrality of the host local community and its right to be a protagonist in the sustainable and socially responsible development of its territory,” he stated.

It is “a tourism, therefore, that favors the positive interaction between the tourism industry, the local community and travelers.”

This would in turn also help the rural economy, on which many farmers, families, and small businesses depend, he argued.

According to Turkson, traveling in a “conscious and sober way” can also help people to “grasp the differences, small or large, among the traditions, places and communities encountered.”

“So why not turn to tourism that enhances rural and marginal areas by meeting them while walking?” he said. “This will allow us to slow down and avoid the risks of frenzy.”

Pope Francis sends donation to Beirut for explosion recovery

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 2:30 PM

Rome Newsroom, Aug 7, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has sent a donation of 250,000 euros ($295,488) in aid to the Church in Lebanon to help with recovery efforts after the devastating explosion which occurred in the capital city of Beirut earlier this week.

“This donation is intended as a sign of His Holiness’s attention and closeness to the affected population and of his fatherly closeness to people in serious difficulty,” a Vatican press release stated Aug. 7.

More than 137 people were killed and thousands injured in a blast near Beirut’s port Aug. 4. The explosion caused extensive damage to the city and flattened buildings near the port. Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, said around 300,000 people were left temporarily homeless.

Church leaders have warned that the city and nation are on the brink of total collapse, and pleaded with the international community for aid.

Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, and Bishop Elias Zeidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles described Beirut as an “apocalyptic city” in a joint call for assisstence on Wednesday.

“This country is at the verge of a failed state and total collapse,” they said. “We pray for Lebanon, and we ask for your support for our brothers and sisters at this difficult time and in response to the catastrophe.”  

Pope Francis’ donation, made through the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, will go to the apostolic nunciature of Beirut “to meet the needs of the Lebanese Church in these moments of difficulty and suffering,” according to the Vatican.

The explosion destroyed “buildings, churches, monasteries, facilities and basic sanitation,” the statement continued. “An immediate emergency and first aid response is already taking place with medical care, shelters for the displaced and centres of basic needs made available by the Church through Caritas Lebanon, Caritas Internationalis and several Caritas sisters organizations.”

Lebanese officials say the blast appears to have been caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of the chemical ammonium nitrate, which is commonly used in fertilizer and mining explosives, stored in an unsecured warehouse on the docks for six years.

Pope Francis made an appeal for prayer for the people of Lebanon after his general audience address Aug. 5.

Speaking via livestream, he said, “let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon, so that, through the dedication of all its social, political, and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing.”

Aid to the Church in Need sending 250,000 euro in food aid to Lebanon

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 6:47 AM

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 12:47 am (CNA).- International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has announced an emergency 250,000 euro food aid package for victims of the massive August 4 explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.

The ACN grant will focus on poor families most affected by the explosion, which devastated the port area of the Lebanese capital and adjacent areas, including the mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

At least 135 people have died and another 5,000 were injured when a warehouse storing some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded Tuesday evening. Officials are investigating the cause of the explosion.

Fr. Samer Nassif, a Lebanese priest, told Aid to the Church in Need that the Christian area of Beirut is “completely devastated,” with at least 10 churches destroyed.

“In one second, more damage was done to the Christian area of Beirut than during the long years of the civil war. We have to rebuild everything again from the ground up.”

ACN estimates some 300,000 people have been left homeless. Additionally, many offices, schools, hospitals, and shops were completely destroyed in the explosion.

The priest stressed that amid the country’s long economic crisis and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon is ill-equipped to face this new emergency. International aid is urgently needed to meet people’s basic needs, they said.

Lebanon is currently facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with corruption and financial mismanagement leading to an unprecedented devaluation of its currency, hyperinflation, rising unemployment and banking restrictions. The health system is also in crisis. Power outages and street protests had rocked the country a few months before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

In recent years, Lebanon has been hosting large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, many of them Christian, as well as Palestinian refugees. According to official data, Lebanon currently hosts almost 2 million refugees, representing about a third of its total population.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, has called on the international community for aid.

“Beirut is a devastated city. Beirut, the bride of the East and the beacon of the West, is wounded,” he said. “It’s a war scene: there is destruction and desolation in all its streets, its neighborhoods and houses.”

Aid to the Church in Need also called for prayer for all those affected by the explosion and other challenges.

“We pray for the victims and their families; and we pray for Lebanon so that, with the commitment of all its social, political and religious components, it can face this tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crisis it is going through.”

Biden talks Catholic faith after Trump says former VP is 'against God'

Fri, 08/07/2020 - 5:30 AM

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 11:30 pm (CNA).- Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke about his Catholic faith, in response to comments from President Donald Trump that a Biden presidency would “hurt God.”

“Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life: it's provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it's kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy. And in this moment of darkness for our country — of pain, of division, and of sickness for so many Americans — my faith has been a guiding light for me and a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us,” Biden said in an Aug. 6 statement.

“For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful. It's beneath the office he holds and it's beneath the dignity the American people so rightly expect and deserve from their leaders," he added.

Speaking in Ohio today, Trump said that Biden wanted to "take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He's against God, he's against guns.”

Biden has spoken about his Catholic faith on the campaign trail, and is known to attend Mass when he is at home in Delaware and when he travels. But the former vice president’s positions on some issues, most notably abortion and sexual orientation/gender identity policy, have put him at odds with Catholic teaching.

Brian Burch, president of political advocacy organization CatholicVote, told CNA that Biden’s faith itself should not be called into question, but his position on issues of importance to religious believers should be a matter of consideration.

“Joe Biden says his Catholic faith is important to him, and it's not our place to question that,” Burch told CNA. “It's obvious Biden attends Mass, and it's obvious his Catholic faith has been a comfort to him at critical moments in his life.”

“But the question in this election is about what his plans are for this country, and that's what believers should focus on," Burch said.

“What matters here isn't his devotional life, but his policies. And his policy agenda threatens the freedom of the Church in America," he added, not only on life, but also on religious liberty.

Burch said that in his view, Biden’s positions could impact the Church’s social and charitable ministries.

“I worry that the Catholic Church in America is not taking seriously enough how a Biden presidency might threaten the freedom of the Church in America. Catholic hospitals, schools and charities will surely be forced to choose whether to operate in communion with what we believe as Catholics, compromise the Faith, or shut down altogether. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state grants that serve the poor and vulnerable could be at stake,” Burch said.

In October 2019, Biden was denied Holy Communion at a South Carolina church because of his support for legalized abortion.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, told CNA Oct 28.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that

“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004, explaining the application of Canon Law 915 to the reception of Holy Communion.

The memorandum stated that “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.”

The case of a “Catholic politician” who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter continued.

In such cases, “his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion.

“Vice President Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website.

Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.”

During his career as a senator, Biden voted numerous times in favor of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, and opposed public funding for abortions.

But as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination last year, Biden shifted his views on abortion funding.

Over the course of one week in June 2019, Biden went from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment--which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions--to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president.

Previously, Biden supported some aspects of pro-life legislation. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and again in 1997.

On Thursday, Biden said that his Catholic “faith teaches me to love my neighbor as I would myself, while President Trump only seeks to divide us. My faith teaches me to care for the least among us, while President Trump seems to only be concerned about his gilded friends. My faith teaches me to welcome the stranger, while President Trump tears families apart. My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.”

The candidate’s statement did not address his position on abortion.

In July, a grop of 115 Christian leaders, including Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky and other Catholic clergy, religious, and laity, signed a letter to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Platform Committee, asking the party to support pro-life policies including “legal protection for pre-born children.”

“We call upon you to recognize the inviolable human dignity of the child, before and after birth,” the letter stated, asking for a rejection of “a litmus test on pro-life people of faith seeking office in the Democratic Party.”

Biden, who as the 2020 presidential candidate is de facto leader of the Democratic party, did not comment on their letter, and has not responded to other entreaties from pro-life Democrats.

Earlier on Thursday, CatholicVote and former Congressman Tim Huelskamp called on Biden to denounce a recent spate of vandalism and arson at Catholic Churches across the U.S, which they called “a rising climate of anti-Catholicism” in the country. Biden has not spoken out about the matter, and his campaign has not responded to a request for comment on that issue from CNA.

For his part, Trump has faced criticism from U.S. bishops for his positions on the death penalty, immigration and refugee policy, social welfare programs, housing policy, and other issues. At the same time, the president has been praised by bishops and other Catholic leaders for policies that restricted abortion funding, and addressed religious liberty and conscience protections.

Trump has also been criticized by some Christian leaders for incidents they said instrumentalized religious faith, especially a controversial June appearance outside of a Washington, DC church, at which the president displayed a Bible while posing for photographs at the height of protests immediately following the death of George Floyd.

The Trump campaign has made a push in recent weeks for religious voters, after polling showed the president’s favorability declining among some religious voters. Among white Catholics, a crucial voting block for Trump in 2016, support dropped by almost half between March and June. Polling has shown that Catholics who say they attend Mass regularly are more likely to support Trump’s reelection than those who do not.

In addition to his statement on faith, Biden also made efforts on Twitter Thursday night to walk back controversial comments he’d made earlier in the day on race.

In an interview, Biden had told journalists that “what you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things." His tweets Thursday night said that “in no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith -- not by identity, not on issues, not at all."

A campaign adviser told CNN that Biden was “referring to diversity of attitudes among Latinos from different Latin American countries," on some issues, including immigration policy.

SSPX accused of intimidating would-be whistleblowers amid abuse investigation

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 11:00 PM

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- After an official with the Society of St. Pius X told priests and staff they should speak with criminal investigators only in the presence of an attorney provided by the group, the group’s leaders say their message was not intended to suggest anyone should cover up alleged sex abuse.

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is a breakaway traditionalist group of priests and bishops with no official canonical status in the Church.

Rev. Scott Gardner, bursar of the U.S. district of the SSPX, told staff and priests at St. Mary’s SSPX chapel and school in Kansas last weekend that they did not have to cooperate with state investigators of alleged child sex abuse.

He added that employees and priest should speak to police only in the presence of a lawyer, who would be provided by the organization.

Some former members of the organization said the message, sent by email, seemed designed to silence witnesses or whistleblowers of abuse.

“It looks like they’re trying to hide things, trying to keep people from speaking and definitely stonewalling,” Kyle White, who has alleged that priests in the organization covered up reports of sexual abuse, told the Kansas City Star Aug. 4.

“They don’t want any more stuff like this getting out,” White added.

Gardner said when he emailed priests and staff, he was simply informing them that they did not have to speak to investigators without a lawyer present.
 
“It was certainly not an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation with the KBI,” Gardner said in an Aug. 5 statement.

“This email was clearly sent to priests and employees and not to people attending our church or school in St Mary’s or elsewhere,” the priest said, adding that it was not “an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation” with investigators.

The SSPX is under investigation in the state of Kansas for alleged sex abuse, along with the four Catholic dioceses.

The group was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. When Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer consecrated four bishops without the permission of St. John Paul II in 1988, the bishops involved were excommunicated.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the surviving bishops, while noting that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”

The group has been in intermittent talks with the Vatican about returning to full communion with the Church. In 2015, Pope Francis extended the faculty to hear confession to priests of the society as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In the group’s U.S. district, however, a number of abuse allegations have surfaced in relation to the large SSPX community at St. Mary’s, Kansas, which includes the society’s K-12 school, as have several allegations that priests engaged in cover-ups of abuse by priests or attendees of SSPX chapels.
 
In 2019, the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) announced it would investigate clerical sexual misconduct in four Catholic dioceses in the state; the investigation was subsequently expanded to include the SSPX.

In May, a spokesperson for the KBI told CNA the investigation is “ongoing” and that as of February 1, the bureau had 186 reports of abuse and had opened 112 investigations. KBI did not say how many of the investigations pertained to the SSPX.
 
In addition to the Kansas City Star, the weekend email from Gardner was reported on the Church Militant website. Gardner’s statement said of that report that “Church Militant has once again tried to wring fake news out of an internal email by falsifying the context.”

Gardner’s statement did not address the Kansas City Star, or indicate whether he perceived that newspaper as well to be reporting “fake news.”

The priest did say that the SSPX is “making any priest, employee, or agent” available to the KBI “without the need for a subpoena.”
 
Gardner said in his correspondence that he has “no indication that the KBI has been intimidating” anyone, but added that “our legal system is adversarial” and thus it is “common sense for the Society to protect itself and its priests and employees by having its attorney present at an interview with law enforcement.”

“I hope that anyone with evidence of abuse will go freely to the KBI or other appropriate authorities,” he said.
 
KBI has said that it is accepting reports of abuse by phone at 1-800-KS-CRIME, or by email. ClergyAbuse@kbi.ks.gov.

Nicaraguan cardinal says Mass at entrance of firebombed cathedral chapel

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 9:46 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua said Mass Wednesday at the entrance of the Blood of Christ chapel in his cathedral, which was firebombed last week.

"The Church has always suffered and will continue to suffer, but our assurance is that the Lord is with us,” Cardinal Brenes said during the Aug. 5 Mass.

He called the July 31 firebombing "an act of terrorism."

Anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April 2018. They have resulted in more than 320 deaths. The government has accused many bishops and priests of siding with the opposition.

A small group of priests and religious participated in the Aug. 5 Mass. Behind the cardinal could be seen the large image of Christ crucified that was scorched by the attack. During the Mass, the cardinal showed the face of Christ, which had broken away from the corpus during the fire.

The Archbishop of Managua said there is "an atmosphere of sadness and pain...because what we feel from this nightmare is: When are we going to wake up?" He urged clinging to "the cross, because if we are clinging to his cross, who can separate us from the love of God?”

Cardinal Brenes said that looking at the image of Christ crucified, "we see our Blood of Christ charred, but still standing."

“The image and the cross resisted the forces of the flames as a testimony to us that the cross is not so easily defeated, the cross is not so easily destroyed. That is why today I call on you to cling to the cross, at the foot of the cross like Mary and that small group that accompanied him," the cardinal said.

The Blood of Christ chapel of Managua’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral has been home to a crucifix made in the 17th century.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chair of the US bishops’ international justice and peace committee, said Aug. 5 that the crucifix “has become a poignant image of the country’s suffering Church, which has sustained repeated rhetorical and physical attacks (three in the last three weeks) since attempting to mediate peace in 2018.”

He added that “The Church in the United States stands with the suffering Nicaraguan faithful, and with all people of goodwill striving for peace and reconciliation in Nicaragua.”

Msgr. Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Managua, said Aug. 4 that "the only threats we have gotten have been from the government, they’ve been publicly speaking out against the bishops, calling them  'terrorists' trying to overthrow the president, and they’ve been criticizing the Church."

"We condemn both nationally and internationally the irrational actions of the government through its violent repression and not accepting the humanitarian aid which the Church has offered,” he added.

The vicar general said that there is "an undeclared persecution, an open persecution against the Church.”

The identity of the man who perpetrated the attack on the chapel is unknown; he wore a hood while in the cathedral.

Several churches or chapels in Nicaragua have been vandalized in recent weeks.

On July 29, Our Lady of Perpetual Help chapel in Nindirí, about 13 miles southeast of Managua,was attacked. The perpetrators stole the tabernacle and the ciborium, smashed statues, and trampled the Hosts.

There was an attack on Our Lord of Veracruz parish in Masaya district, fewer than 20 miles southeast of Managua, July 25. The chapel was desecrated, and audio equipment and money boxes were stolen.

Nicaragua’s crisis began in 2018 after president Daniel Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega’s authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

The Nicaraguan clergy have not hesitated to call out the government for its violent repression of protests and for human rights abuses, making the Church an adversary in the eyes of the government.

On various occasions both bishops and priests have been physically assailed by pro-government supporters, and other acts of vandalism and intimidation have occurred.

Managua’s cathedral was also the site of a hunger strike in November 2019. The hunger strikers were calling for the release of their relatives, whom they believe to be political prisoners. Pro-government forces besieged the cathedral in response.

Cardinal Pell to speak at virtual Napa Institute conference

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 8:00 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).-  

The Napa Institute has announced an online schedule for its annual conference in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The program includes remarks from Australian Cardinal George Pell. The conference schedule was announced along with an award for Bishop Joseph Strickland, which the organization said it conferred for his defense of moral truth.
 
The conference, the tenth annual session of the event, was originally planned to take place in July in Napa, California. This year it is being convened under the title “Finding Hope in the New America.” Organizers said that although the event could not take place in-person, the schedule would not be “slimmed-down” but instead would feature an expanded speaker list.
 
John Meyer, executive director of the Napa Institute said that as recently as early July, there was “every intention of holding an in-person conference,” but that “things progressed, the lockdown increased in California, and literally overnight we came to a place where we could no longer hold it.”
 
The conference will take place August 14-15. Live streamed sessions will be held with speakers including Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, and author Arthur Brooks.
 
One of the key speakers at this year’s event will be Cardinal George Pell, who will speak on his experience of suffering during the 13 months he spent in an Australian prison before being released earlier this year.
 
The two-day event will also include live web broadcast of Mass and prayer sessions, including sung evening prayer with the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of God.

This year’s schedule also included the announcement of a special award, presented to Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

Bishop Strickland was announced as the recipient of “The St. Thomas Aquinas Award for the Defense of Moral Truth,” presented by the Napa Institute “in recognition of [his] indomitable defense and preservation of Christ’s teachings through Natural Law and for enlightening the reason and faith of generations to come so that they may boldly go forth and proclaim the Gospel with courage and fortitude.”

In addition to leading the Diocese of Tyler since 2012, Strickland is also the founder of the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the diocese.

In a release from the institute following the announcement of the award, Strickland referenced an article he wrote on the occasion of his consecration as a bishop.

Strickland recalled that during the liturgy of his consecration he was asked if he was “resolved to maintain the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the apostles and professed by the Church everywhere and at all times?”

“It was at this point that the deeper meaning of the phrase “deposit of faith” came alive for me. I also began to understand my role in magisterial teaching and my serious call, as a successor of the Apostles, to the ongoing task of “Guarding the Deposit of Faith” given by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to the Apostles and handed down since then,” Strickland wrote.

This, together with his obligation to faithfully preach the Gospel, “continues to guide me in my role as the chief teacher and Shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Diocese of Tyler.”

Maryland county issues second order to stop Catholic schools opening

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 7:30 PM

Washington D.C., Aug 6, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- A Maryland county has issued a second order preventing non-public schools from reopening for in-person instruction, despite a previous effort being immediately overridden by Gov. Larry Hogan. 

“Reemphasizing the need to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents as well as parents, students, teachers and staff from the spread of COVID-19, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles today issued a new Health Officer Directive and Order that continued to direct nonpublic schools in Montgomery County to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1, 2020,” said a release from Montgomery County published on August 5.

Montgomery county is the state’s most populous county and borders Washington, D.C. A previous Health Officer Directive and Order was published on the evening of Friday, July 31, and countermanded by the governor on Monday, August 3. 

On Monday, Hogan called the initial attempt to prevent all non-public schools from opening “overly broad and inconsistent with the powers delegated to the county health officer.”

Unlike the first order, Wednesday’s new order does not include a penalty of a $5,000 or a year in jail for violators and “explicitly excludes programs licensed or regulated by the Maryland Office of Childcare from the definition of nonpublic schools.” This means that private preschools and daycares, where children may engage in education-related activities, are permitted to operate in person while K-12 schools are not.

The order states that “there continues to be widespread community transmission of COVID-19 and increases in the daily caseload volumes within Montgomery County, the State of Maryland as a whole, and the surrounding jurisdictions,” meaning that non-public schools need to remain closed. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland will have a preliminary injunction hearing on August 14 to potentially block the order and allow schools to open. 

A federal lawsuit, known as Beahn v. Gayles, was filed by four Catholic school families and two Jewish day school families from Montgomery County challenging the original order. Two Catholic schools are also listed as parties in the suit. One of the families in the suit transferred to a Catholic school in response to the announcement that Montgomery County Public Schools would have an online-only first semester. 

Montgomery County has a positivity rate of 2.52%, which has been decreasing since the middle of May. The statewide positivity rate is 4.03%. Epidemiologists, including Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, gave a benchmark of 5% positivity rate for mandating distance learning. 

“Based on CDC best practices for the reopening of schools, County health officials will continue to monitor the epidemiological surveillance data and that will guide the decision as to when it is safe to reopen nonpublic and public schools,” says the release from the county. 

The Centers for Disease Control stated that schools should move to reopen as children are unlikely to be severely impacted by the coronavirus, and that there are significant detrimental effects associated with ongoing social isolation. 

Until the middle of July, Montgomery County Public Schools were set to re-open with a hybrid model of distance and in-person learning. That plan was scrapped after teachers unions in Maryland argued that it would not be safe for teachers to teach in-person. 

Montgomery County Public Schools announced in late July that the entire fall semester would be online-only. Starting February 1, in-person classes will resume. No governmental order was ever given to the county’s public schools forbidding in-person school.

Many non-public schools in Montgomery County had elected on their own to use a virtual or hybrid model in the fall. Others had begun to implement new safety measures for in-person learning. 

In Monday’s statement nullifying the original order closing non-public schools, Gov. Hogan reiterated that “Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics,” and that any school who is capable of following the state and CDC’s safety guidelines should be permitted to reopen. 

The governor’s intervention followed claims on social media by Montgomery County residents that the decision to force non-public schools to close may have been linked to a large drop in the number of new students who enrolled in Montgomery County’s public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The county expected approximately 2,500 new students enrolled in grades K-12 for the fall; instead, only 300 new students enrolled. 

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes Montgomery County, told CNA on Thursday that the archdiocese is reviewing the latest announcements by the county.

Responding to the initial order last week, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement Sunday that the archdiocese “continues to have the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty, and parents uppermost in mind and heart as we make our decisions regarding the reopening of our Catholic schools.” 

“We will continue to strive to be both good citizens as well as to be faithful to our religious principles, pastoral mission and our obligations to our families,” Gregory said. 

Knights of Columbus to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 7:00 PM

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced a new initiative Thursday to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria, where at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades.

Since 2014, the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization has spent more than $25 million on behalf of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities targeted for elimination in the Middle East, the organization says, which includes the rebuilding of the majority-Christian town of Karemlesh on the Nineveh Plain.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims.

Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamic extremist groups.

“The effort is similar to what we have done in Iraq and is based in the hope that greater attention by American diplomacy and humanitarian aid can make a difference there,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in an Aug. 6 announcement of the new initiative.

Multiple Nigerian Catholics have told CNA in recent days that attacks on Christians by Fulani Muslim herders, as well as by the militant group Boko Haram, have not slowed in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The worst of the persecution, in the north, comes at the hands of Muslim terrorists against the majority-Christian population, CNA has been told.

Such incidents include attacks in late July on four Christian villages in Southern Kaduna, in which more than 62 Christians were killed by Islamic terrorists. Last month, an Islamic extremist group boasted of killing five international aid workers, three of whom were known employees of Christian aid agencies.

In other areas, many Christians, especially clergy, suffer kidnappings at the hands of terrorists seeking ransom. In many cases, for kidnapped priests, their parishioners band together to raise the ransom money.

In a high-profile case from earlier this year, gunmen abducted four seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, holding them for random. The kidnappers eventually released three of the seminarians, but killed 18-year-old Michael Nnadi after he refused to renounce his faith.

Fr. Charles Uganwa, communications director of the south-central Issele-Uku diocese, said six priests of the diocese have been kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen in the past two years. The most recent priest kidnapping took place in June.

“He was released after about four days in captivity. He was so injured. He was beaten with clubs and with stones, with the butt of their gun. He was seriously injured. He had to be in the hospital for many weeks,” Uganwa told CNA.

Father Joseph Fidelis, a priest of the northeastern diocese of Maidugui, told CNA this week that he estimates that since 2009, Boko Haram has driven out half of the 300,000 Catholics who used to live in the diocese. Though Catholics there still celebrate Mass openly, they have to take stringent security measures against suicide bombers.

“Boko Haram is still very active, not in the city so much [as] in the outskirts...They still do the kidnapping, they still do the bombing. They still set mines on the road,” Fidelis said.

The problem of internally displaced people (IDP), mostly Christians who have been driven from their homes, is especially acute in the north, where thousands of the destitute live in refugee camps.

“Around here, around Maiduguri, over 1.2 million are displaced. About 1.4 million, and the number keeps rising on a daily basis. [In] the entire country, you have over 2.4 million people internally displaced. Now that's quite huge,” Fidelis said.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

“The most important issue is that unfortunately, the government in Nigeria does not show enough will, either in speech or in action, to help to curb the violence and the bloodshed that we see, either from the terrorists or from bandits or from a headsman, because we have so many sorts of groups running riots all over the Northeast of Nigeria,” Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the southern diocese of Oyo told CNA.

Bishop Badejo said although his diocese is more peaceful than some in the north, with Muslims and Christians largely co-existing peacefully, there are some means of persecution that are more systemic and subtle, with government appointments and written laws seeming to favor Islam over Christianity.

“It's no secret that in Nigeria, especially with the [President Muhammadu] Buhari government, there are all written laws that have not favored Christians at all, that have favored, in other words, the Muslims,” Badejo said.

“The Christian Churches have protested, Christian leaders have protested, but the federal government has not said any word in order to show any desire to protect the Christian religion.”

The Knights hope to raise greater awareness of Nigerian Christians’ plight by means of their new initiative.

In addition to financial aid, the Knights of Columbus have in the past advocated for persecuted Christians before the U.S. government, sending researchers to Iraq in 2016 to compile a 300-page report on the crimes of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) against Christians in the country.

Anderson has also testified multiple times before Congress, urging action to protect the Middle East’s Christians from potential extinction.

Later that year, both houses of Congress unanimously passed resolutions declaring ISIS’ targeting of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East to be a genocide.

Christianity had been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between the city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and Iraqi Kurdistan– since the first century. ISIS’ brutal invasion six years ago displaced at least 125,000 Christians from the area, and to date only about 40,000 have been able to return.

The Knights have worked closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to ensure funds reach persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The Knights are in the midst of their 138th annual convention, which this year is being held virtually for the first time, due to restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Founded in New Haven in 1882, the Knights of Columbus was originally intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands. It has grown into a worldwide Catholic fraternal order, with more than 2 million members carrying out works of charity and evangelization across the globe. The Knights also offer life insurance policies to their members.

The convention comes a few months after the Vatican announced that Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be beatified following Pope Francis’ approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession.

 

US government considers ethics of aborted tissue research

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 6:00 PM

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A new federal ethics advisory board for fetal tissue research has convened to consider future federally-funded research proposals that involve tissue from aborted babies.

The Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) met for the first time on July 31, to advise the Health Secretary on the ethics of research proposals involving fetal tissue of aborted babies.

The board was first announced in June of 2019, when the Trump administration decided to halt new research with aborted fetal tissue at NIH facilities, and limited funding of such research conducted outside the NIH.

For the research conducted outside the NIH, or “extramural” research, the administration announced that an ethics advisory board would be appointed to consider such funding and advise the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the proposals.

Some researchers have called for the administration to end its moratorium, saying that research with aborted fetal tissue could be vital to developing treatments and a cure for the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

In February, the HHS announced that it would begin accepting nominations to the board, and during that time period, some researchers at an NIH research laboratory told the Washington Post that the administration’s moratorium on fetal tissue research was hindering possible advances in research on treatments for the coronavirus.

Dr. David Prentice, now a member of the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board, told CNA in March that the timing of the comments was peculiar as it could have been related to the consideration of appointments to the board.

Several leading coronavirus vaccine candidates are using cell lines from aborted babies, including some funded by the U.S.; other candidates have been determined to be “ethically uncontroversial” by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.

One candidate in particular—being developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—is not using fetal cell lines directly in production, but is based on research that involved aborted fetal cell lines. As Moderna was not involved in that research, CLI said that the vaccine candidate is “ethically uncontroversial.”

The NIH ethics board members are appointed for a duration that lasts as long as the board is convened; the board’s charter says that “[t]he estimated annual person-years of staff support required is 0.7.” Appointments to the board are made by the HHS secretary.

Heading the advisory board is Paige Cunningham, interim president of Taylor University, an evangelical Christian university in Indiana.

Several Catholic bioethicists are on the board, including Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The co-chair of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) ethics committee, Greg Burke, is a member, along with CMA member Dr. Ashley Fernandes of the Ohio State University medical school.

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is also represented on the board, with CLI vice president Dr. David Prentice and associate scholars Ingrid Skop and Maureen Condic as members.

Some board members, such as Dr. Lawrence Goldstein of the University of California San Diego, support fetal tissue research; he called cell lines from fetal tissue “critical in vaccine development,” along with stem cell research and the use of “humanized mice” to develop “immune cell-forming tissues.”

Two members testified in 2016 before the House select investigative panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a hearing on “bioethics and fetal tissue.”

Cunningham said at the hearing that “[t]he fetus is a human subject entitled to the protections that both traditional and modern codes of medical ethics provide to human subjects.”

Kevin Donovan, MD, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, also testified, noting the current “moral ambiguity” in the nation’s discourse on abortion.

“We have decided that we can legally abort the same fetus that might otherwise be a candidate for fetal surgery, even using the same indications as justification for acts that are diametrically opposed,” he said. “We call it the fetus if it is to be aborted and its tissues and organs transferred to a scientific lab. We call it a baby, even at the same stage of gestation, when someone plans to keep it and bring it into their home.”

“If we cannot act with moral certainty regarding the appropriate respect and dignity of the fetus, we cannot morally justify its destruction,” he said.

During the public portion of the July 31 meeting, board members were introduced and then heard from several researchers who were either in support of or in opposition to research using fetal tissue from elective abortions.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis Personae addressed the topic of aborted fetal tissue research, saying that “there is a duty to refuse to use such ‘biological material’ even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilization or the abortion, or when there was no prior agreement with the centers in which the artificial fertilization took place.”

“This duty springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document stated.

Atomic bombs contrary to peace: Pope Francis 75 years after Hiroshima attack

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 4:04 PM

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2020 / 10:04 am (CNA).- Nuclear weapons are not compatible with the flourishing of peace, Pope Francis said in a letter to Hiroshima to mark the 75th anniversary of the release of an atomic bomb over the city.

“It has never been clearer that, for peace to flourish, all people need to lay down the weapons of war, and especially the most powerful and destructive of weapons: nuclear arms that can cripple and destroy whole cities, whole countries,” Pope Francis said in a letter to the governor of Hiroshima, Hidehiko Yuzaki.

The year 2020 marks 75 years since the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese.

Pope Francis visited the hypocenters of the bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima during his apostolic visit to Japan in November 2019.

He said his visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial and to Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki allowed him to reflect “on the destruction of human life and property wrought in these two cities during those terrible days of war three quarters of a century ago.”

“Just as I came to Japan as a pilgrim of peace last year, so I continue to hold in my heart the longing of the peoples of our time, especially of young people, who thirst for peace and make sacrifices for peace,” the pope said.

“I carry too the cry of the poor, who are always among the first victims of violence and conflict,” he added.

In his letter, Francis repeated his words in Nagasaki in 2019, that “the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral.”

“May the prophetic voices of the hibakusha survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to serve as a warning to us and for coming generations!” he said.

“To them, and to all who work for reconciliation, we make the words of the psalmist our own: ‘For love of my brethren and friends, I say: Peace upon you!.’”

Pope Francis has several times condemned the use of nuclear weapons, including in a video message to Japan ahead of his 2019 visit.

Calling use of the weapons “immoral,” he said he was praying they will never be used again.

Japan “is very aware of the suffering caused by war,” the pope said. “Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history. Using nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Congressman writes to DOJ after attacks on Catholic churches

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 3:00 PM

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic congressman is asking the U.S. Attorney General to respond to a spate of acts of vandalism against churches around the country.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) urged the Justice Department “to protect religious freedom and combat religious discrimination in the United States.”

Fleischmann cited “nearly a dozen” acts of vandalism at Catholic churches in the U.S. as the impetus for his letter.

“There is something to be said about how the rise in vandalism happening in places of worship could correspond with a rise of hostility towards religion,” the congressman told CNA in a statement on Wednesday. “We must be vocal in condemning any act of vandalism to any house of worship, for any religion.”

“These are sacred places, which is why I asked the DOJ to continue to protect religious freedom and combat these instances of religious discrimination,” the congressman said.

“Since June, there have been nearly a dozen reported attacks on Catholic churches around the nation. These disturbing attacks range from arson to the beheading of a statue of the Virgin Mary,” said Fleischman in his letter.

“I find these attacks to be a disturbing trend, happening in multiple areas across the nation, including within my own congressional district.”

“In times of uncertainty we naturally turn to religion for comfort and peace,” the congressman wrote, “something many Americans are seeking as we combat COVID-19, but these attacks add another level of distress for many across our nation.

Quoting a speech by Barr at the University of Notre Dame last year, Fleischmann agreed with the attorney general that “We must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith.”

There has been a series of attacks on Catholic churches and statues this summer.

Most recently, local police have been investigating two fires at Sacred Heart Church in Weymouth, Massachusetts that occurred over the weekend, as arson. In July, Queen of Peace church in Ocala, Florida was set on fire and a man has been charged with arson. In Los Angeles, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel church suffered a fire in the predawn hours of July 11.

Other Catholic statues and memorials have been vandalized, including a monument to unborn children at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bloomingburg, New York, a crucifix at St. Bernadette Parish in Rockford, Illinois, a statue of Christ at a Montana ski resort, and a statue of Mary in Gary, Indiana.

Demonstrators also pulled a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento, California, and beat it with sledgehammers on July 3; in San Francisco, protesters pulled down another statue of St. Junipero Serra.

As state and local governments have imposed various restrictions on businesses, assemblies, and churches during the pandemic, officials at the Justice Department have repeatedly stated that churches and religious gatherings cannot be singled out for greater restrictions than those imposed on similar institutions.

Attorney General Barr, in an April 14 statement, said that the constitution allows for a temporary suspension of freedoms during an extraordinary circumstance when the public safety requires it, but that freedom of religion cannot be treated more severely than other freedoms of assembly.

In cases “when the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances,” Barr said.

He added that “government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.”

Later in the summer, when New York City allowed mass protests against racism in spite of its restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings, Justice Department officials wrote Mayor Bill de Blasio reminding him that he could not enforce a double standard for churches and protests.

Fleischmann, in his August 5 letter to Barr, said that religion is a source of “comfort and peace” during troubled times, “but these attacks add another level of distress for many across our nation.”

What does it mean to 'actively participate' in Mass?

Thu, 08/06/2020 - 2:00 PM

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- In 1903, Pope St. Pius X wrote that it was the liturgy where the laity acquire the Christian spirit “from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.” 

But what does that mean? How can a layperson “participate” in Mass? Must a person have some sort of role in the liturgy, such as that of a Eucharistic minister, choir singer, or altar server, to “actively participate” in Mass? 

With the public celebration of Mass still limited in many parts of the country, and with widespread dispensations from the requirement to physically attend Mass still in place across dioceses, many Catholic have been watching a livestream or recording of Mass. But what does it mean to participate in the liturgy? 

CNA talked to two experts about what “active participation” means, and how it is still possible to be a participant in Mass during a pandemic.

According to Fr. Thomas Petri, dean and acting president of the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, a layperson still participates in Mass even if they are not lectoring, altar serving, or distributing Holy Communion.

“In short, Pope St. Pius X thought active participation was the assimilation of the divine mysteries, particularly the Blessed Sacrament itself, so that the faithful could be more and more configured to Jesus Christ in their lives outside of Mass,” Petri told CNA. 

Pius’ ideas were expanded upon and developed during the Second Vatican Council, Petri explained. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the council’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, “emphasized that participation should increase the vigor of the Christian life, and was more than just either external or internal participation,” he said. 

“Participation must be both because we are both body and soul,” Petri said. The constitution gave examples of participation, including songs, responses, gestures, and, interestingly enough, “sacred silence.” 

“The Mass is meant to cultivate silence during the celebration so that the very mysteries we celebrate can be pondered and prayed,” said Petri. 

Petri told CNA that participation, while being manifested in the exterior sense, should “flow from an interior disposition to be attentive to the sacred mysteries that are celebrated and to receive the graces that God wills to impart.” 

Fr. James Bradley, assistant professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that by virtue of baptism, participation in Mass is “the first place objective” for Catholics.  

“It is rooted in our baptism and in our continued life in Christ. Of course when we separate ourselves from Christ and the Church through serious sin, it is by means of sacramental Confession that we resume that participation,” said Bradley. 

Bradley told CNA that “an authentic understanding of this concept of active participation” is something not explained well enough to Catholics, and it is neither just external acts nor “something so spiritual that our presence at Mass becomes unimportant.” 

“In the first place we should reclaim that essential link between baptismal identity and participation in the liturgy,” said Bradley. 

But people cannot always receive the Eucharist, either because Mass is unavailable, or they have not had access to Confession. What must they do then? 

“We first of all participate in the liturgy by our attendance at the Mass. This is why the Sunday obligation is about attendance, not about receiving Holy Communion,” said Bradley. However, he noted the reception of Communion is “essential” for a person’s spiritual life. He encouraged those who cannot receive to make an Act of Spiritual Communion, but to strive for actual reception if at all possible. 

Many parishes have taken the step of offering live-streams or recordings of Masses for people while the Sunday obligation to attend has been dispensed. Both Bradley and Petri agreed that while the live-streams are good, in that they maintain a connection between a parishioner and their parish and encourage prayers, they cannot be viewed as a substitute for regular Mass attendance in non-pandemic times. 

Live-streaming “is not a waste of time--it can offer a chance to unite ourselves in some way to the action going on--but it is not the same as attending Mass and can never replace it,” Bradley told CNA. 

Petri concurred, saying that there is “no substitute for attending and participating in Mass physically,” and that sacramental graces can only be conferred in person. 

“While graces are certainly to be had by quieting oneself to watch Mass online, they are not, properly speaking, the sacramental graces that one receives by participating in Mass in person,” said Petri. He suggested that as an alternative to watching a live-stream of Mass--which is not required, as there is no obligation to do so--those who are unable to attend Mass in person should “treat Sundays differently” than the other days, read scripture, and meditate on the day’s Mass readings. 

“I suspect families with children would have an easier time with a Sunday routine like this rather than insisting that children passively watch Mass on the television,” he said. 

And what about those of who get distracted during Mass, either by daydreaming or because they are watching children? Does it “count” as participation even when other things are happening?

Fr. Petri says yes, but with a caveat. 

“Distractions during Mass, or during any prayer, are as old as original sin itself,” he said. Remaining focused is “a battle that I’m afraid we will all be fighting until that day, when, God-willing, we see Him face-to-face.” 

Petri differentiated between “willful distraction,” which would be letting one’s mind wander, and distractions that come from other sources, such as children. 

“If I’m willfully distracting myself, then I don’t think I can claim I’m participating interiorly as I should, even if exteriorly I’m going through the motions,” he said. “Of course, the Lord meets us where we are and so there’s still graces to be gained by even this minimal participation in the liturgy--but we know we should try to do better.” 

As for those who may be distracted at Mass by say, a toddler or other child, Petri says that these occurrences are part of what comes with having a family. 

“It seems the vocation of parenthood means that a person will necessarily be giving less attention and participation to the holy mysteries at liturgy for a significant amount of time in their lives,” he said. “But they, too, are receiving graces not only because of the participation they can muster, but because of the sacrifice they make in acclimating their children to the worship of God.”