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‘Racism is not a thing of the past’ – US bishops respond to George Floyd killing

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 19:36

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 05:36 pm (CNA).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference responded to the killing of an African American man in Minneapolis this week by stressing that the fight to eradicate racism is a pro-life issue.

“As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue,” they said in a May 29 statement.

“Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on,” the bishops said.

“As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference,” they said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life.”

The statement was released by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee against racism; Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, chair of the cultural diversity committee; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, head of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the pro-life committee; Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, head of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of Los Angeles, chair of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, chair of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

The bishops responded to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody this week. Footage of the incident circulated widely on the internet. It showed Floyd, who is black, subdued and laying on his stomach, saying repeatedly, “I cannot breathe” and groaning as a police officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes, and other officers stood nearby and watched.

Floyd was taken to a local hospital, where he died shortly later. His death has prompted protests in numerous cities, including rioting and looting in some parts of Minneapolis.

After widespread protest, former police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29. The officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis police force.

In their statement, the bishops said they were “broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes.”

“What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences,” they said. “This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”

The bishops called for non-violent protests, while acknowledging that people are understandably outraged.

“Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life,” they said.

Catholics must fight indifference surrounding the issue of racism and speak up to fight it, the bishops said. They pointed to their most recent pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” which calls for greater engagement on the issue.

The bishops encouraged Americans to encounter people of different cultural backgrounds and seek greater understanding and unity.

“Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States,” they said.

Hearing ‘cry of the poor’ is key message of 'Laudato si', Cardinal Turkson says

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Peter Turkson has said that the principle of “non-violence” extends beyond opposing physical violence, and must include the protection human rights from exploitation.

Acknowledging the week's protests and rioting in Minneapolis, the Vatican cardinal made the comments during an event to mark five years since the promulgation of the papal encyclical Laudato si’.

“There’s a lot of talk within the same church about Christian non-violence,” said Cardinal Turkson, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, making reference to the social unrest in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.

“Christian non-violence is not only when you [do not] hold a gun or a knife to the throat of somebody. Christian non-violence is also when you do not do violence to people’s dignity, people’s rights,” he said.

When the conditions necessary for human flourishing are not met in society, then the “cry of the poor” can be heard, he said, pointing to prayers for victims of racism and injustice in the wake of the Minneapolis riots.  

Cardinal Turkson made his remarks as he led an online panel discussion on Friday. The event “Laudato Si After Five Years: Hearing the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor” was co-sponsored by the Vatican and Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Kim Daniels, associate director of the initiative, began Friday’s event with a prayer for George Floyd “and all those who suffer from acts of racism and injustice,” after a “tragic week” where large riots and protests had occurred in Minneapolis, New York, and other cities in the U.S. Daniels was appointed by Pope Francis to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication in 2016.

The protests followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday after a police officer was seen kneeling on his neck for several minutes while arresting him. Floyd, moaning and crying out in apparent pain, said repeatedly that he could not breathe in a video of the incident taken by bystanders. 

Floyd appeared unconscious several minutes into the video, and according to the police department was later taken to a hospital where he died. Four police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired from the department, and one was arrested on Friday and charged with murder and manslaughter.

Noting the prayer for Floyd and other victims of racism and injustice at the beginning of Friday’s event, Turkson said that “it’s just a cry for people to recognize that every human being requires a minimum of social conditions to enable him to live, and live successfully and happily.”

Both human beings and the environment need to be cared for, he said, and when they are not “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” is heard—a key message of Laudato si’.

The “cry of the poor” occurs because “what they need to constitute their thriving, prosperous environment, is denied them,” the cardinal said. “And that’s why we talk about justice.”

The human and economic toll of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has also taught ecological lessons, he said. 

Turkson pointed out that lockdown conditions have resulted in emissions drops, causing cleaner air in India and China, but the sudden unemployment of millions of people as a result of the economic shutdown challenges the very sustainability of the current economic system.

Cardinal Turkson said that Pope Francis’ letter was the “result of a lot of teaching” from previous popes.

Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum progressio stressed care for nature and established ecology as “a set of conditions which constitute an environment which enables something to thrive,” Turkson said, while Pope St. John Paul II talked about human ecology and the environment of moral conditions which one needs to live well, and Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate taught that “society itself also has an environment that needs to be respected.”

Integral ecology, he said, is “ecology of nature, ecology of the human person, ecology of society, ecology of peace.”

After death of George Floyd, Minnesota Catholics pray for justice

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 17:55

Denver Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- While rioters and looters took to the streets, and parts of Minneapolis burned, some Minnesota Catholics called for justice, healing, and unity after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer on Monday.

“I am saddened. I am sickened. I am angered. And I am tired. I am tired of such things happening again and again. ‘How long, O Lord,’ must we endure such things?” Fr. Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Paul, said in a YouTube message May 27, two days after Floyd was killed.

“The love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, clearly shows us that we are all children of one God, and that we are all equally subjects of Christ our King, in the Kingdom of God our Father. We are all brothers and sisters.”

The parish is home to the largest African-American Catholic community in the Twin Cities, and, in 1888, was the first Catholic Church founded by and for African-Americans living in Minnesota.

“Here is a case where white supremacy has cost someone their life. The misguided idea that white people can somehow push other people around, or that we own this country, or that we own Minneapolis, leads to terrible disrespect. Leads to poverty. Leads to, in this case, violence, and in many cases, violence,” Rutten added in his video.

“This particular case is so egregious,” Rutten told CNA Wednesday, “that it’s just maddening.”

“Our faith calls us way beyond racism, into a radical unity, in the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom we're all brother and sisters. I mean truly: Really brothers and sisters,” Rutten added.

“There's a great African-American hymn: 'We've come this far by faith, leaning on his holy Word, he hasn't failed us yet.' It's just enduring faith that God will always be with us through it.”

St. Peter Claver is located in a neighborhood where buildings were damaged by looters on Thursday evening.

“It was a crazy night, with lots going on around here,” Rutten said in a video released Friday morning.

“Just feeling very badly for our community, for so much pain, and hoping we can find ways for healing, reconciliation and peace. I know that won’t be easy.”

The parish will livestream a prayer service Friday evening.

St. Peter Claver parishioners have also called for justice.

Estelle Jones, 75, leads the social justice committee at St. Peter Claver, and facilitates a parish support group for families of incarcerated men and women.

On Tuesday, she told CNA that “I am feeling...it’s very difficult to even want to talk about it.”

“Something has to stop, I hope. It’s sad, but I hope, and it’s too sad, that George Floyd’s death would wake up the community, and the United States of America, that we stop this violence and police brutality, and this racism.”

God made all of us. It’s hard to understand why black people and brown people are hated so much. I’m devastated.”

In 2015, Jones said she watched as police assaulted her own grandson, then in his mid-thirties, while at a traffic stop. She said her grandson “got out of his car, and, um, they— he didn’t resist them at all. In fact, he was standing with his hands in the air. The next thing we knew, they had thrown him on the ground and were tasing him.”

“We were there. My daughter, his mother, and me. This was one of the most horrible, horrific things to ever see happen to a loved one, and we were standing there.”

Jones said her grandson was hospitalized for his injuries.

“Watching what happened to George Floyd just brought back this whole situation to me. To just know what this family must be going through, what the community is going through….Something has to stop this.”

Jones said her social justice and social support work at her parish is part of her effort to help young people in the parish understand the struggle for civil rights, and an ongoing struggle for racial justice. But she says she can’t do that alone.

In his YouTube video, Rutten said the parishioners of St. Peter Claver are called to “agitate both in our Church and in our world for racial justice and peace and healing, and the reality that we truly are brothers and sisters.”

“Remembering George, we need to continue that mission,” Rutten said.

Jones said she hopes for justice after the death of George Floyd.

“To me justice— I feel like everyone else. Too many black men have been murdered, and nothing has been done by the police.”

Jones mentioned the deaths of Phliando Castile, Treyvon Martin, and Eric Garner.

“Enough is enough. And with George Floyd- that is blatant killing somebody in front of the whole world. How can you do that and think you can get away with it? Justice should be them being prosecuted, and serving some prison time.”

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested May 29, and has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. He and the three other officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis police force.

St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda offered a Mass for the soul of George Floyd and for his family May 27.

“The video of George Floyd in police custody Monday evening is gut wrenching and deeply disturbing. The sadness and pain are intense. Let us pray for comfort for his grieving family and friends, peace for a hurting community and prudence while the process moves forward. We need a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and veritable justice,” Hebda said in a May 27 statement.

“Particularly at this time when human fragility has been brought into focus by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are called to respect the worth and dignity of each individual, whether they be civilians in need of protection or law enforcement officers charged with providing that protection. All human life is sacred.”

“Please join our Catholic community in praying for George Floyd and his family, and working for that day when ‘love and truth will meet [and] justice and peace will kiss,’” Hebda added, quoting Psalm 85.

For her part, Estelle Jones told CNA she hopes Catholics across the country will pray for George Floyd.

She also said she hopes Catholics will remember that “God created us all as equals, and to recognize that we all should love each other no matter what the color of our skin is, our economic status, or anything that would make us seem different from anybody else. To accept us all as human beings. As God would want us to do.”

 

Last Missouri abortion clinic will stay open, despite state’s safety concerns

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 17:15

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- The last abortion clinic in Missouri will be allowed to continue operating, despite the state’s decision not to renew its license last year because of health and safety concerns. 

The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis had been battling the state of Missouri in court for over a year after the state Health Department argued that the clinic— the last one allowed to perform surgical abortions in the state— is unsafe. 

Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commissioner, issued a ruling May 29 stating that Planned Parenthood has “substantially complied” with Missouri state law, and that “in over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” the Associated Press reports. 

The hearing, presided over by Dandamudi, began last October.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services initially refused to renew the clinic’s abortion license in June 2019, following a inspection that March that found evidence of at least four “failed abortions”— meaning they took multiple procedures to complete— at the clinic. 

The Health Department submitted a “Statement of Deficiencies” in court, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” on the part of the St. Louis clinic, and a “failure to meet basic standards of patient care.”

In one instance, inspectors found that a woman had undergone an abortion that took five attempts to complete, the AP reports. In another instance, a Planned Parenthood physician reportedly failed to notice that a woman seeking an abortion was pregnant with twins.

The Health Department also said Planned Parenthood went back on an agreement to perform pelvic examinations as a “preoperative health requirement,” and that several doctors at the clinic refused requests to provide interviews with the department. 

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

When the clinic’s license expired in June, 2019, lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order from Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis to allow the clinic to continue performing abortions without a license.

Missouri enacted a comprehensive abortion ban in 2019, which Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed into law. Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis supported the measure.

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

The law was crafted to be able to survive successive challenges in the courts, but a federal judge in August, 2019, struck down all of the bans related to every stage of pregnancy. The following months, the same judge also struck down the part of the Missouri law banning Down Syndrome abortions while the legal challenges continue to be heard. 

In the adjacent state of Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker (D) signed legislation to expand access to abortion in that state.

In response to the possible closure of the St. Louis clinic, Planned Parenthood announced in October, 2019, the opening of an 18,000 square foot, $7 million “mega” abortion clinic in southern Illinois, just a dozen miles from the Missouri site.

Planned Parenthood reportedly arranged construction through a shell company, shielding the nature of the building from public view - and even from workers helping in the construction.

CDC removes faith guidance discouraging choirs, shared cups 

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 14:56

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 12:56 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has removed guidance on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website which discouraged, among other things, singing, choirs and “shared cups” at religious services.

Despite the CDC’s backtrack, Catholic medical professionals and other experts with whom CNA has spoken continue to recommend that singing and the Communion cup ought to be discouraged at Mass for the time being.

Religious communities should “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition,” the guidelines, posted May 22, originally read.

“The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”

CNA learned from a person familiar with the deliberations that the White House did not approve the original CDC guidance before it was published.

That guidance was reportedly met with concern by many people of faith for certain provisions that seemed to intrude on the autonomy of religious groups, such as one recommendation that Jews should be allowed to use electronic devices on the Sabbath to stream services online.

A new CDC guidance page went live May 23. The new guidance, CNA was told, was to have the input of lawyers with experience in religious freedom cases. It was to be more sensitive to the autonomy of churches and religions and apply a “lighter touch” to them, functioning as a set of recommendations rather than instructions, and implying that actions taken by state and local governments that go beyond the federal recommendations are inappropriate.

The new guidance page contains no specific guidance related to singing or choirs. A recommendation to suspend the use of “shared cups” and passed or shared objects such as collection plates also was removed in favor of a recommendation to “clean and disinfect” such objects between uses.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous administration officials, has reported that the White House pushed against the CDC issuing guidance for churches, with the concern that it did not want to unnecessarily limit their freedom under the First Amendment.

The new guidance states at the top that it is not “intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other federal law.”

It goes on to say that the federal government may not prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship, and that in accordance with the First Amendment, no faith community “should be asked to adopt any mitigation strategies that are more stringent than the mitigation strategies asked of similarly situated entities or activities.”

As the novel coronavirus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease. However, beginning in mid-April, dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses.

An April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., written by medical professionals, researchers, and theologians and distributed to dioceses by the U.S. bishops’ conference, recommends that singing at Mass ought to be discouraged.

The Thomistic Institute’s document also recommends that the Precious Blood ought not be distributed at Mass.

To date, dioceses that have developed Church reopening plans have called for suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood. The Catholic Church teaches that reception of either the host or the chalice is a complete act of Eucharistic reception.

The Thomistic Instutute’s website does state, however, that the  guidelines “will be updated as the situation changes and as the WHO/CDC guidance changes.”

Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely if they observe CDC protocols.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.

If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.

“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a plan entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.”

That group of doctors concluded that “choirs and singing should be avoided” due to the aerosol risk.

They also concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue. The plan does not contain specific guidance on the use of the cup at Mass.

The doctors’ plan calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

Churches have been the focus of concern during the epidemic because of the close proximity of church attendees, socialization before, during and after services, and singing. Some churches have older congregations and so are believed to be more vulnerable to extreme consequences from coronavirus infection.

A May 22 article from the CDC reported that among the 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church, 38% developed a laboratory-confirmed case of infection after a pastor and his wife, who had the virus, attended several events there in early March.

Twenty-six additional cases— including one death— in the community also were linked to the church.

The CDC had also, earlier this month, released a report chronicling a COVID-19 “superspreader” event, whereby a single symptomatic person infected more than 50 people— two of whom died— at a choir practice in Washington state in March.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti, a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, told CNA that in his opinion, the Washington state “superspreader” example does not entirely exclude the possibility of singing in church.

“The key issue here is that a symptomatic individual practiced for 2.5 hours in close contact with others with no facial coverings,” Lanciotti pointed out.

That individual also engaged in close-contact activities such as eating and talking, he said in an email to CNA.

“I think that it is likely that this individual infected others primarily by singing in close contact with others. However, it may still be safe to sing in a church in which symptomatic people stay home and those present are wearing masks.”

 

DC parishes expected to reopen with 10 person limit

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 11:30

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- After the mayor of Washington, D.C., lifted a stay-at-home order on Wednesday, public Masses in the Archdiocese of Washington are expected to resume with a limit of 10 people.

Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday lifted the city’s stay-at-home order and allowed some businesses and public spaces to begin reopening by Friday.

Bowser still limited public gatherings, indoor and outdoor, to no more than 10 people. The mayor’s office confirmed to CNA on Wednesday that the 10-person limit applied to religious gatherings.

The Archdiocese of Washington said on its website that, starting May 25, all parishes could resume public Masses in areas where local governments had lifted stay-home restrictions; other parishes still subject to a local stay-home order would not offer public Masses until the order would be lifted.

As the archdiocese spans not only D.C. but also several adjacent Maryland counties, some Maryland parishes have already begun offering public Masses. The state began lifting stay-at-home restrictions in mid-May, but two counties bordering the city kept the original restrictions in place.

According to the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic Standard knowledged that parish reopenings remained limited as “the District of Columbia and Montgomery and Prince George's counties are maintaining limits on the sizes of public gatherings to 10 people.”

On May 15, the archdiocese had released guidance for parishes on reopening, saying it “will continue to reflect the various limitations that those jurisdictions impose on public assemblies.”

The archdiocese has said that a team “has been planning for liturgical celebrations in the future,” but did not respond to requests for comment on a likely timetable for any further action.

The Washington transition out of a stay-at-home order allows for outdoor seating at restaurants, non-essential retail businesses to offer curbside service, barber shops and nail salons to serve customers by appointment only, and certain parks and public spaces to open.

The archdiocese is home to 139 parishes and mission parishes, and 655,000 Catholics. It is also home to major Catholic pilgrimage sites, including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. 

Early in the pandemic, a friar at the Franciscan Monastery in the city’s northeast succumbed to the new coronavirus and was the city’s first reported COVID-19 death.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is not a diocesan church, despite being located within the boundaries of the archdiocese. On March 12, the basilica announced it was continuing public Masses just hours before D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory curtailed public Masses in the archdiocese. 

On the next day, March 13, a spokeswoman for the basilica confirmed to CNA that public Masses would still continue at the shrine notwithstanding Archbishop Gregory’s announcement; later on March 13, the basilica said it would suspend public Masses at the instruction of the archdiocese.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the Basilica said the shrine "remains closed to the public."

"Though the stay at home order was lifted, the state of emergency remains in effect limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer," Jacquelyn Hayes, director of communications for the shrine told CNA.

"On this account, we unfortunately are still unable to open to the public."

Some experts split from Fauci on Holy Communion recommendation

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 10:00

Denver Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- As dioceses across the United States start to reopen public Masses, the scientist leading the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic recommended that Catholic Churches ought not resume distribution of Holy Communion. But other medical experts told CNA there are ways that Communion can be distributed safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told America magazine May 26 that he does not consider the distribution of Holy Communion to yet be safe— even if distributed in the hand.

“I think for the time being, you just gotta forestall that,” Fauci said regarding Communion, calling for “common sense” measures to protect worshippers and the wider community such as masks, social distancing, and prohibiting singing.

“As many times as a priest can wash his hands, he gets to Communion, he puts it in somebody’s hand, they put it in their mouth...it’s that kind of close interaction that you don’t want when you’re in the middle of a deadly outbreak,” he told America.

Fauci’s recommendation on the Eucharist came a month after he said it could be possible for Americans to connect with people through dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Grindr.

“If you’re willing to take a risk...you could figure out if you want to meet somebody,” Fauci told Snapchat’s “Good Luck America.”

“If you want to go a little bit more intimate, well, then that’s your choice regarding a risk,” he added.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti is a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado. Lanciotti told CNA that Fauci’s call for “common sense” measures to mitigate the risk of infection does not exclude the possibility of distributing Communion.

“The primary way that this virus is spread is by direct person to person contact; droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes that land on another person and then enter the respiratory tract,” Lanciotti told CNA in an email.

“Maintaining a 6-foot distance or wearing a cloth mask are both methods that disrupt this process. Utilizing one of these measures in a group setting where infected symptomatic people are not present should be a sufficient level of risk reduction.”

Lanciotti, a graduate of Loyola College, was ordained a deacon in 2017.

He took issue with Fauci’s concerns regarding Communion in the hand.

“With the use of hand sanitizer immediately prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, and being careful not to directly touch the communicant, there is virtually no risk in the distribution of Communion,” Lanciotti told CNA.

Deacon Lanciotti pointed to an April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., written by medical professionals, researchers, and theologians.

That group recommended that out of respect for the Mass, the priest ought not wear a mask or gloves during the Mass, and neither should anyone distributing Communion.

Under the group’s recommended guidelines, those who wish to receive could approach the altar, spaced six feet apart; if the priest believed he touched the hands or mouth of a recipient, he could use hand sanitizer sitting on a table next to him.

According to the Thomistic Institute's recommendations, the Precious Blood ought not be distributed at Mass.

To date, dioceses that have developed Church reopening plans have called for suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood. The Catholic Church teaches that reception of either the host or the chalice is a complete act of Eucharistic reception.

The Thomistic Institute’s document, distributed to bishops by the U.S. bishops’ conference, also recommends— as did Dr. Fauci— that singing ought to be discouraged.

It also states that it could be possible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue “without unreasonable risk.”

The document recommends that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions ought not attend Mass anyway, as they are at especially high risk.

“I completely agree with this statement...In the setting of a church service, the single most important safety measure is for symptomatic individuals to stay home,” Lanciotti told CNA.

“I would argue that having sick individuals stay home, followed by adopting one more measure— masks or social distancing— is a reasonable approach. Utilizing both masks and social distancing represents a safety redundancy that is excessive and counter to ‘common sense,’” he said.

At St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Masses resumed May 18, after more than two months of closure amid Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

Visitors are advised to keep two meters apart, hand sanitizer is available at kiosks in the basilica, and, at the church’s entrance, the body temperatures of visitors are checked with scanning thermometers.

The Eucharist is distributed during Masses at the basilica.

Fauci, a Catholic, attended a Jesuit secondary school and Jesuit university.

In 2015, he told C-Span that he is no longer “a regular church-attender. I have evolved into less a Roman Catholic religion person to someone who tries to keep a degree of spirituality about them. I look upon myself as a humanist. I have faith in the goodness of mankind."

He similarly told America that he appreciates his Catholic education, and especially the values he was taught at the Jesuit institutions he attended.

“I identify more, much more, with that than the concept of organized churches, religions,” he told America.

Other Catholic medical professionals have weighed in on the question of whether Holy Communion can be distributed safely.

An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a document entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.” That group of doctors concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.

The document calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Singing should be avoided, and those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

One member of that committee is Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health.

Baccarelli told CNA that he agrees with and appreciates Fauci’s suggestions, and that there is a risk to the distribution of Holy Communion.

“Our committee wrote a plan to minimize the risk to distribute communion. That doesn’t mean that there will be no risk nor that we advised on whether it was safe to do it now or in the future,” Baccarelli added. “We just provided a document to guide masses and distribute Communion whenever it will be safe enough to do so.”

“If Dr. Fauci suggests it is not time yet to distribute communion, I think we should listen to him and wait before doing that again,” Baccarelli said.

Another member of the committee told CNA last week that he believes Catholics can attend Mass safely, and sacraments can be administered with appropriate precautions.

“I think that if we just use common sense to compare apples to apples for metrics that we know matter - like density, for example - then there’s no real kind of objective scientific reason why Mass is any more dangerous than going to the grocery store. I think the difference here is a perceived risk,” Dr. Andrew Wang, an immunobiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine and one of the plan’s co-authors, told CNA.

The plan calls for confessions to be held in outdoor or well-ventilated indoor areas, with the use of masks, an impermeable barrier between the priest and penitent, and frequent sanitization of surfaces.

Wang said that distributing Holy Communion on the hand, rather than on the tongue, represents an appropriate precaution for churches, especially while some things about the coronavirus spread are not yet completely understood.

Acknowledging that some people may object to that recommendation, Wang said that in his perspective, “it boils down to, is it better to not have communion at all - and by extension not have Mass at all?”

Ultimately, Wang said, going to church at this time is not risk-free, just as any other public activity is not without risk during a pandemic. He noted that dioceses throughout the country have granted dispensations from the Sunday obligation for those who are unable to attend or are not comfortable with the risk involved.

Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely - if they observe CDC protocols.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.

If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.

“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

“If somebody makes an arbitrary judgment that a church is not going to follow that guidance, without any evidence, that is biased and there is no evidence for that,” he said.

Flanigan questioned the categories of some governors who classified religious gatherings as “non-essential,” compared to more “essential” activities like grocery stores.

“Being able to come together and pray together, being able to receive the sacraments, to encounter the Lord, right there in the sacraments, is so important,” Flanigan said.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, just as important as spiritual health,” he said. “We are a whole self, which has a mind, a body, a heart a soul. To be able to pray together, to be able to support each other, to be able to worship together, to be able to receive the Lord in Communion, is so important for us to be healthy and to thrive.”

“That is why our churches are essential,” Flanigan told CNA.

 

 

Illinois church reopening restrictions 'not mandatory'

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 08:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- The state of Illinois relaxed its restrictions on churches on Thursday, after Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ordered the state to respond to three lawsuits brought by churches.

At a press conference May 28, Gov. JB Pritzker said that the state’s public health department would be issuing “guidance, not mandatory restrictions” for faith leaders to hold religious services, loosening the state’s restrictions on religious gatherings during the pandemic.

The Thomas More Society, which had filed several lawsuits on behalf of several Illinois churches against the state’s public health restrictions, said the announcement was a victory for religious freedom.

“By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he [Pritzker] has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois,” said vice president and senior counsel Peter Breen.

The three lawsuits alleged that the state had illegally discriminated against religion and violated the U.S. and Illinois state constitutions, as well as the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of several churches on May 27, the Thomas More Society said the state had placed churches “on the second shelf,” subject to stricter rules than even liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries. Pritzker had exceeded his lawful authority by issuing restrictions that would last for months into the future instead of a fixed 30-day period, the society added.

The group appealed its cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday ordered the state to respond to the churches’ complaints.

Now, the state’s guidance will include suggestions for capacity limits, cleaning protocols, sharing food, and safe conduct of outdoor services, Pritzker said. “For those that want to conduct in-person activities, IDPH is offering best practices,” he said.

PReviously, on May 6, Pritzker announced a five-phase plan for reopening the state where churches would not be able to hold religious services with more than 50 people until “phase 5,” where a vaccine or treatment would be made widely available, or after a sustained period of no new cases of the virus.

Illinois’ plan was one of the strictest in the country in terms of its limits on public gatherings. Public health officials have cautioned that a vaccine might not be available until at least the end of 2020, if not midway through 2021.

Until “phase 4” of Pritzker’s plan, religious services could only be held with 10 or fewer people in attendance. Strict health requirements would need to be met for the state to advance to that phase, including a low test positivity rate, no increase in hospital admissions for 28 days, and widespread testing and contract tracing.

Earlier in the pandemic, the state placed residents under a strict stay-at-home order that did not allow for in-person religious services. Health department director Ngozi Ezike warned churches in early April not to hold in-person services.

On April 30 the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Beloved Church in Lena, Illinois, to allow for citizens to be able to leave their homes for religious services. By that night, the governor’s order included a paragraph listing religious services as permitted “essential” activities for which people could leave their homes.

The next day, May 1, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it would begin resuming public Masses with no more than 10 people in attendance.

The Thomas More Society subsequently challenged Pritzker’s ongoing health restrictions on churches, which limited religious gatherings to no more than 10 people, resulting in the decision from the Supreme Court.

Amid transgender pressure, Australian medical conference to defend Christian vision

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 19:12

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- The stakes are surprisingly high for the Australian Catholic Medical Association as it holds an online conference this Saturday on Christian approaches to sex, gender and the human person.

Several Australian states have considered proposals to mandate the medical affirmation of transgender identity and sexual orientation that, the Catholic association says, could in effect outlaw the Christian vision of human health and psychology in medical care, in the name of banning “conversion therapy.”

“The Christian tradition to healthcare brings with it a very long and rigorous intellectual tradition to understanding to the human condition,” Dr. Eamonn Mathieson, chair of the Australian Catholic Medical Association organizing committee, told CNA May 28. This tradition is “a perspective that is founded in love and radically rejects the use of any person as a means to an end or as a means to serve the goals of any peculiar ideological agenda.”

The Catholic medical association is hosting an online medical and bioethics conference May 30 on the topic “Sex, Gender and the Human Person.” Co-sponsors are the Australian Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia. International participants are encouraged to register and attend online or watch recordings after the event.

“This conference will especially examine the issue of transgenderism in the young given the sudden surge of cases of rapid onset gender dysphoria, in Australia and around the world,” Mathieson said.

“In particular, we will discuss the issue of ‘gender affirmation only’ strategies now widely used in gender clinics, and now being considered by legislatures to be made compulsory and enforceable by law, including fines and imprisonment. Such developments have very serious implications for health workers as well as teachers, parents, not to mention children presenting with this condition.”

He said there is a growing risk of “outlawing healthcare based on Christian anthropology” given legislative developments and “the prevailing ideologies that are reflected in the position statements of a growing number of medical organizations and healthcare governing and representative bodies.”

The conference will take place Saturday May 30 at 10 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time. The time was chosen so that Americans and others overseas could take part in the event. The conference start time is Friday 5 p.m. Pacific Time and 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

The conference, which is open to non-members, costs $AUD5. Registered participants can watch live or on delay. Sessions will be recorded and will be available to attendees after the event. More information is at the medical association website www.catholicmedicine.org

“We are hoping to reach as many people as possible,” Mathieson said.

The conference’s first session examines the issue of affirmation-only approaches from medical, legal and psychological perspectives. It will consider “some of the potential problems and harms of endorsing this approach to gender dysphoria in the young,” Mathieson told CNA.

The second session will examine the transgender movement’s history and “its underlying philosophical, anthropological and ideological premises which are at variance with Judeo-Christian understanding of the human person as well as the beliefs of many other religious and philosophical traditions.”

Speakers include Prof. John Whitehall, a professor of pediatrics and chairman of the Australian Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship; Prof. Patrick Parkinson, academic dean and head of the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland; Father Paschal Chorby, O.F.M. Conv., a moral theology lecturer and bioethicist; researcher, writer and speaker Elisabeth Taylor; consultant psychologist and psychotherapist Prof. Diana Kenny; and Dr. Caroline Norma, a senior research fellow at RMIT University.

Topics include whether gender therapies are experimental and harmful, whether there is evidence behind the affirmation-only approach, whether the law requires someone to accept a child’s gender identity, a feminist critique of transgender ideology, and information about the advocacy behind the transgender movement.

According to Mathieson, the Christian approach sees the human person as “a unity of body, mind and spirit” which “provides a rich depth of understanding of the human condition that respects the unique dignity of each of human being.”

This understanding “has informed the practice of good medicine for millennia,” Mathieson said, and challenges “the prevailing materialistic or dualist understanding of the human person.”

A backgrounder for the conference notes the Victorian legislature’s consideration of a ban on “conversion therapy” as regards sexual orientation and gender identity. The Queensland government attempted to enact such legislation on the Christmas holidays “with as little scrutiny as possible.”

“In the end they were unsuccessful,” the backgrounder said. The proposed legislation defined conversion therapy as “a treatment or other practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The medical association said the wording of “conversion therapy” is “an emotive Trojan horse” that will introduce transgender ideology into law and seek to enforce health workers to participate in and endorse “gender identity affirming strategies” such as puberty-blocking drugs and surgery even in the case of children and adolescents.

“If such laws are enacted they will effectively outlaw the traditional Hippocratic and Christian anthropological approach to health and psychology,” the backgrounder continued.

“There is also a concern that if such legislation is enacted even conferences critical of the ’gender affirming model,’ such as ours, may not be permitted by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, our medical licensing body, due to the transgression of ’professional standards and expectations’ and by bringing the profession into disrepute. This is not an exaggeration.”

“Therefore, we believe it is paramount that we publicly articulate the issues and problems concerning this important matter, which we believe has profound implications for healthcare and the care of children generally,” the Australian Catholic Medical Association’s backgrounder said.

Mathieson cited the Queensland Health and Other Legislation Amendments Bill, which would require affirmation of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Parliament in the state of Queensland recently sought to enforce ’affirmation only therapy’ for children on all health workers,” he said. “Dissident practitioners would have faced an 18 month prison term for failing to abide by the state decrees in managing gender dysphoric children.”

Whitehall, one of the conference speakers, submitted a briefing on the Queensland legislation. While voicing sympathy for those with gender dysphoria, he said the vast majority of children confused over gender will “re-orientate to an identity in accordance their chromosomes, through puberty, with traditional support of individual and family psychotherapy.” He criticized the side-effects of puberty-blockers and cross-sex hormones, given that children and adolescents who undergo purported gender transitions will receive them for life.

“Why get involved in this medical matter?” he asked. “Why force a crisis of conscience on therapists aware of grave side effects and unconvinced of advantages of hormonal and surgical intervention in confused and vulnerable children, most of whom are known to revert to an identity in accordance with chromosomes with traditional support?”

The Australian Catholic Medical Association website has a resource page on Sex and Gender, including articles, documents, videos and news.

Mathieson encouraged Catholics to get informed on the topic.

“Understand what is behind this ideological movement and what is at stake. Especially parents should look into what is being taught to children in their schools, especially with sex education, among other subjects.”

Diocese of Pittsburgh announces next round of parish mergers

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 18:17

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- This summer, the Diocese of Pittsburgh will initiate another round of mergers, bringing its current 152 parishes down to 106. While the consolidation is difficult, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said, it will allow the Church to more effectively carry out its ministry.

“This has not been a simple task. Jesus never promised that it would be easy to carry his message of love and mercy to others. He was clear that sacrifice would be necessary,” the bishop said in a letter to affected parishioners.

“However, you are positioning your new parish for more effective ministry by addressing financial needs, sharing resources and allowing your clergy to focus on the spiritual work for which they were ordained. With your faith in Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I invite you to warmly welcome and serve each other as you become one parish family.”

This round of mergers will take place on July 1, 2020. It will consolidate over 60 parishes into 15 parishes.

The merger is the latest step in the “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative, which is reorganizing what began as 188 parishes into what will be fewer than 60 parish groupings.

The diocese's strategic planning initiative began in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests.

The situation was exacerbated by the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. Earlier this year, CBS Pittsburgh reported that since the report's release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.

“Since 2018, you have journeyed together on a road that is intended to unite you on the mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to your neighbors and to strengthen all of you in faith,” Bishop Zubik said.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania is radically different than it was 100, 50, 20, even 10 years ago, yet the work of the Church and our call from God to bring His love to everyone continues as strong as ever,” he said. “As we address the challenges we face in the Church today, the witness of working and growing together reflects the unity of the Body of Christ that is essential to our mission.”

Among other parish combinations, Holy Angels in Hays, Holy Apostles in South Pittsburgh, and Saint Sylvester in Brentwood will merge into the Blessed Trinity Parish; and two Wexford churches - Saint Alexis and Saint Alphonsus - will merge into Saint Aiden Parish.

The diocese will also reorganize the four regional vicariates into two regional vicariates - a North and South Vicariate - which will be used to assist future parish groupings. Father John Gizler III has been appointed Regional Vicar for the North Vicariate, and Father Joseph Sioli will be Regional Vicar for the South Vicariate.

Bishop Zubik expressed gratitude for the clergy and church leaders who have helped the “On Mission” project become a reality.

“Their examples of collaboration, courage and compassion have inspired me. Their collective efforts have gone beyond the practical matters related to merging parishes. They have encouraged their parishioners to deepen their relationship with Jesus and with each other,” he said in a statement.

The bishop added that as the “On Mission” plan unfolds, the Church will need to rely heavily on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

“[M]ay we unceasingly rely on the will and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who gives us life as we come together for vibrant worship, responsive pastoral care and powerful evangelization,” he said.

 

Catholic colleges work together to help students hit by closure

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., May 28, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Two Catholic universities have struck up a plan to help students complete their degrees after one of the schools announced it would be unable to reopen for class in the next academic year.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to accept students from the recently-shuttered Holy Family College, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and was working to allow students to complete their studies – including online, if necessary. 

On May 4, the Wisconsin school announced it would be suspending operations at the end of August, 2020. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who administer the school, decided to close the college due to a combination of declining enrollment and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This announcement left Holy Family’s roughly 450 students scrambling for a way to continue their academic careers. 

“Under the new partnership, all eligible Holy Family College student credits will be accepted toward an equal or comparable degree program at Catholic University,” said a press release from The Catholic University of America on Wednesday.  

“Catholic U. will develop a pathway to graduation, offering the student the opportunity to complete his or her program over the same timeframe as was possible at Holy Family College,” said the school.  

While other universities nearby in Wisconsin also offered to open their doors to the former students of Holy Family College, none were Catholic. Catholic University of America president John Garvey said he hopes that his school can provide an option for students seeking to stay in a Catholic environment.  

Garvey told CNA that the president of Holy Family College contacted him, looking for possible arrangements for their students. 

“Being the national university of the Catholic Church, we were naturally anxious to help,” said Garvey. He described the decision to partner with the school as a “no-brainer, in the sense that being a good Samaritan is always a no-brainer.” 

Garvey described The Catholic University of America as “a kind of a natural home” for the students of the shuttered school, and potentially other schools facing financial crises. 

As the school is a large research university, Garvey said that Catholic University could be a “landing place for most any student, particularly those at other Catholic universities, if they want to find a place to finish their degree.” 

Garvey said they are still working out the details for many Holy Family College students transferring to Catholic U. The university does not offer all of the same programs as Holy Family College, and Washington is far from Wisconsin, where 80% of Holy Family’s students are from. But, Garvey said, the COVID-19 outbreak has actually created new pathways for these students through online learning. 

“Ironically, one of the upsides of dealing with the coronavirus in the springtime is that we have made huge investments in technology and in online education, so the investment that we’ve made will, in the future, enable many students like the kids from Holy Family to finish their degrees without leaving Wisconsin,” he said. 

This increased emphasis on technology has been a “bright side” to everything, he said. 

The Catholic University will be as “flexible” as possible in taking in students, provided they have met a certain GPA requirement that indicates they are likely to succeed in the university’s coursework. 

“We’re doing our best to slot people in, where they can finish out,” said Garvey.

St. Cloud diocese reaches settlement on abuse claims, will file for bankruptcy

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 15:01

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota will pay $22.5 million into a trust for sexual abuse survivors, under a plan that involves filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The diocese announced Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with abuse survivors on a framework for settling all abuse claims filed against the diocese and local parishes.

“This framework for resolution represents the diocese’s commitment to finding a fair resolution for survivors of sexual abuse while continuing its ministry to those it serves throughout the 16-county diocese,” it said.

“I am particularly grateful to the survivors of abuse for their courage in coming forward and sharing their experiences, and I again apologize on behalf of the Church for the harm they suffered,” Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud said in a statement.

He thanked the people of the diocese for their prayers and reiterated his commitment to aiding in the healing process for those who have been abused, including by meeting with any victims who wish to meet with him.

“Reaching an agreement on a framework for resolution prior to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy significantly reduces administrative fees in the bankruptcy and preserves a larger estate to fund the trust for survivors,” he said.

The diocese said it will be filing for bankruptcy “in the near future.” Under the plan, money to compensate abuse victims will come from insurance settlements and cash and property contributions from the diocese and local parishes, it said.

The diocese stressed its dedication to accountability and healing from past abuse, as well as efforts to prevent abuse in the future. Safe environment training and background checks are required for clergy, parish, school, and diocesan employees. Allegations are reported to authorities swiftly, and clergy are carefully screened starting in their seminary years before they are permitted to serve in the diocese, the statement said.

As part of its commitment to transparency and accountability, the diocese said it has committed to releasing the names and files of all clergy members who have been credibly accused of abuse. That list currently contains 41 names, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

The Diocese of St. Cloud first announced its plan to declare bankruptcy in March 2018, faced with 74 civil claims alleging the sexual abuse of minors, some dating back to the 1950s. It said parishes, schools and ministries should not be affected by the filing.

St. Cloud was the fourth diocese in Minnesota to declare bankruptcy after the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act in 2013, which lifted the civil statute of limitations for child abuse allegations until May 2016, giving alleged victims three years in which to file claims for abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago.

During the three-year window provided for by the Minnesota Child Victims Act, more than six hundred claims were filed against Catholic dioceses in Minnesota leading to bankruptcy announcements from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Diocese of New Ulm, and Diocese of Duluth.

Transgender athlete policy violates Title IX, Education department rules

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 14:30

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Connecticut high school sports policy allowing biologically male athletes to compete in female events is a Title IX violation, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ruled on Thursday.  

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) adopted a policy in 2017 allowing high school student athletes to compete in sports based on their “preferred gender identity.”

Several female track athletes filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last year, alleging that the policy violated Title IX. They have been represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

On Thursday, the office ruled that the policy was indeed a violation, Associated Press reported.

After the policy was implemented by CIAC, two male students who identified as female--Terry Miller of Bloomfield High School and Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell High School--were allowed to compete during the 2018 outdoor track season; one of them had previously competed in the 2018 male indoor track season.

One of the two male runners now holds 10 state records for female track that were previously held by 10 different female runners; the two runners have won 15 women’s state championship titles.

Chelsea Mitchell, one of the athletes who filed the complaint, said she was “extremely happy” at the ruling. 

“It feels like we are finally headed in the right direction, and that we will be able to get justice for the countless girls along with myself that have faced discrimination for years,” Mitchell said. 

“It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something. Finally, the government has recognized that women deserve the right to compete for victory, and nothing less.”

ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement that “girls shouldn’t be reduced to spectators in their own sports.” 

“We’re encouraged that the Department of Education has officially clarified that allowing males to compete in the female category isn’t fair, destroys girls’ athletic opportunities, and clearly violates federal law. Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls—that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place. In light of the department’s letter, we’re asking Connecticut schools and the CIAC to update their problematic policies and comply with federal law,” Holcomb said

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs.  

According to AP, which obtained a copy of the ruling, the office said it might withhold federal funding over the violation.

When the original complaint was filed with the Department of Education last year, Miller and Yearwood both spoke out, saying they were victims of discrimination.

“I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community and meaning in my life,” Miller said. “It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored.”

The three female track athletes who filed the Title IX complaint— Selina Soule of Glastonbury High School, senior Chelsea Mitchell of Canton High School, and sophomore Alanna Smith of Danbury High School—also filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Their complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools says that “biological differences,” not gender identity, has always determined sex-specific sports “because those differences matter for fair competition.”

Speaking on Fox News in 2018, Soule said that she had received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”

In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.

Earlier this month, lawyers for the complainants asked the federal judge hearing the case to recuse himself after he instructed them to refer to the gender identity, not biological sex of the male athletes during the trial.

In an April 16 conference call for the case, district court judge Robert Chatigny instructed attorneys for ADF to refer to the males identifying as female as “transgender females,” rather than as “males,” National Review reported.

“Referring to these individuals as ‘transgender females’ is consistent with science, common practice and perhaps human decency,” the judge said. 

Chatigny said that referring to the biologically male athletes as “males” is “not accurate” and is “needlessly provocative.”  

When an ADF attorney responded on the call that by referring to them as “males,” they were simply complying with human “physiology,” the judge said that terminology was “unfortunate.” If the attorneys persisted in doing so, he said, “maybe we’ll need to do something.”

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case in March, saying that Title IX did not apply to claims of transgender discrimination.

Attorney General Bill Barr and several other Department of Justice officials co-signed the statement of interest on March 24, saying that “Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy.”

“One of Title IX’s core purposes is to ensure that women have an ‘equal athletic opportunity’ to participate in school athletic programs,” they wrote, saying that requiring that biological males who identify themselves as female compete against biological girls, “would turn the statute on its head.”

Maryland county lifts ban on Communion 

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 12:48

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Howard County, Maryland, has reversed a policy that banned consumption of any food or drink during religious services, effectively preventing the licit celebration of Mass. 

A county spokesman told CNA May 28 the prohibition will be removed, and faith leaders will be consulted on future guidelines for church reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball issued an executive order delineating reopening regulations and conditions for houses of worship and other entities deemed “non-essential” by the state of Maryland. 

“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” that order said. 

The executive order was due to go into effect May 29. 

On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said it had “serious concerns” about the policy, and that the “Eucharist is central to the faith lives of Catholics.” 

The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.

After CNA reported on Wednesday about the terms of Howard County’s executive order, and the archdiocese responded, the policy was reversed.

“As we move closer to a full Phase 1 Reopening, we will be lifting food consumption restrictions for faith institutions. We are currently working through the next wave of policy changes and are continually analyzing the criteria for re-opening and the need for temporary restrictions,” Howard County spokesperson Scott Peterson told CNA May 28. 

“Now that Governor Hogan announced a modified reopening of restaurants yesterday, Howard County is revisiting all food consumption restrictions,” Peterson added. 

Peterson added that the county wil “continue to work with our faith leaders to provide guidelines that will allow residents to worship safely and all religious leaders to resume practices safely.”

“We continue to evaluate best practices and consider recommendations across all faith institutions,” he said, noting that the Archdiocese of Baltimore had already published its own plans for the safe reopening of their churches and the resumption of public Masses.  

“We will consider these guidelines, as well as any other guidelines or recommendations for re-opening provided by other religious leaders or institutions, in adopting a plan for the County’s move into full Phase 1 Reopening and, when appropriate, into Phase 2.”   

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore said Thursday that she was “very pleased” by the county’s policy reversal.

“We are grateful to County Executive Ball and his team for working closely with our community and many others to ensure the health and safety of all while respecting essential elements of our faith traditions,” Mary Ellen Russell of the Baltimore archdiocese told CNA. 

“These are unchartered waters for all in leadership, and it is essential that we continue to work together for the common good,” she added. 

Other parts of the executive order remain in effect, including a requirement that worshippers wear masks and a limit on the number of people who can enter a building used for a religious service.

Congress passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 11:00

Washington D.C., May 28, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The House on Wednesday evening passed legislation to respond to the mass detention and other human rights violations against Uyghurs in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

“We cannot be silent,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on Wednesday before the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed the House. “Xi Jinping is smashing and obliterating an entire people. He is presiding over genocide.” Smith authored the House version of the legislation which had 136 cosponsors.

The bill (S. 3744) was passed by the Senate on May 14, where it was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). It requires the administration to report on the scope and details of abuses committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities, and to sanction the officials complicit in the abuses through actions such as visa denial and blocking an individual’s financial transactions.

“Congress is sending a strong message of support to Uyghur Muslims worldwide that the United States stands with you and will not sit idly by as the Chinese government and Communist Party commit egregious human rights abuses and crimes against humanity,” Sen. Rubio, the co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), stated.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 413-1, with Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) the lone vote against. In December, when Massie opposed the passage of the House version of the legislation, he tweeted that “[w]hen our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”

According to the CECC, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained by Chinese authorities in camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Former detainees or their relatives have reported torture, beatings, forced sterilizations, and other abuses committed in the camps, with detainees sometimes sent to work in factories upon their release. The Chinese government denied the existence of the camps but later said they existed to provide vocational training.

There have also been reports of mass surveillance of residents in the region, forced labor in factories producing goods that end up in the supply chains of U.S. companies, and abuses of religious freedom with mosques and shrines being destroyed.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China concluded in 2019 that the abuses in the region may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

The Chinese government’s crackdown in the region has been conducted as part of its enforcement of a Counter-Terrorism law.

A report by UN human rights officials in November said that the application of the law “and related practices raises serious concerns regarding increasing practices of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, absence of judicial oversight and procedural safeguards and restrictions of the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to education and the right to freedom of movement within an increasingly securitized environment, particularly for designated minorities, notably Uyghurs and Tibetans.”

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has now passed both the House and the Senate and heads to President Trump’s desk for signature.

“The world has stood by for too long as the Chinese government detained millions of Muslims in concentration camps,” Nury Turkel, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), stated. “Hopefully, other countries will follow the U.S. government’s lead and take action on this issue.”

“I call on the President to sign the legislation quickly and take swift action to sanction Chinese officials and businesses engaged in mass internment, surveillance, and forced labor,” stated Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

St. Augustine bishop calls for end to Florida death penalty

Thu, 05/28/2020 - 05:00

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- All of Florida’s death row inmates live in the Diocese of St. Augustine. Many are Catholic. At least twice a year St. Augustine’s Bishop Felipe Estevez goes to visit death row inmates himself.

So when Estevez issued a pastoral letter this week chronicling the efforts of Catholics in Florida to end the death penalty, and laying out the Catholic case for its abolition, the issue was personal.

"Justice needs to be restorative, not out of vengeance," Estevez told CNA May 27.

"We don't want anyone in society to be in danger because of these criminals, but we don't think that death is the answer. Killing them because they have killed would perpetuate the cycle of violence."

Jesus, on the cross, stopped a cycle of violence, Estevez said, by forgiving his killers.

"We need to put a stop to the death penalty because, as John Paul II said, it is not necessary. We can put all our energy into having the best prison system so that these prisoners who are a danger to society will not do any harm to anybody."

Estevez notes that no death row inmate in Florida has been granted clemency since 1983, and with 350 death row inmates, Florida has the largest active death row in the United States— indeed, in all the Americas.

California has more prisoners on death row, but the state’s death penalty is currently under moratorium. 

At least 50 of the men on Florida’s death row are Catholic, Estevez told CNA.

Estevez said he wanted his letter to reflect the commitment and care of those involved in prison ministry to death row inmates. There are over 27 prisons in the St. Augustine diocese.

Prison ministers provide much-needed accompaniment to prisoners, he said, helping provide an opportunity for them to repent.

"As they are being treated with love...something happens within their hearts, that tenderness transforms their hearts. And it is a very slow process...they have been damaged by violence. And so gentleness, mercy, accompaniment, and friendship and dialogue, all of that creates a culture of peace," he said.

"I think the reason why [the volunteers] persevere, and they are so committed, it is because they witness that transformation."

He said he sees the decline over the past few decades in executions throughout the country as a sign that more and more people are embracing a culture of life.

Society often tends to meet acts of violence with more violence, Estevez said.

"We need to heal that reaction— violence needs to be tempered by mercy," he said.

"We don't need to be engaged in vengeance, we don't need to be involved in killing. We need to be involved in restoration."

The bishop pointed to instances where the families of murder victims have asked that their loved one's killer not receive the death penalty.

"They who have been hurt the most are thinking and acting as Christians," he observed.

Estevez’s letter lays out a recent history of the development of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

The letter quotes a speech that Pope St. John Paul II delivered in St. Louis in 1999, in which he called for an end to the death penalty, calling it “cruel and unnecessary.”

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation,” John Paul II said.

“A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”

\John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae notes that cases in which executing an offender is an “absolute necessity” are, thanks to improvements in the penal system, “very rare if not practically nonexistent,” and reaffirms the Catechism’s teaching that “bloodless means” are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

“Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this,” John Paul II wrote.

Pope Benedict XVI, too, continued to support the limitation and eradication of the death penalty during his pontificate, Estevez writes.

During August 2018, Pope Francis ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Many Christians attempt to use Bible passages to justify the death penalty, but the death penalty as it exists in the United States, Estevez says, is particlarly contrary to a biblical view.

Dale Recinella, a Catholic death row chaplain in Florida and frequent collaborator with Bishop Estevez, used his skills as a lawyer to analyze how the death penalty, as applied in the US, compares to the requirements found in the Bible.

Recinella identified 44 requirements of the biblical death penalty when it was the law of the land in Israel. He found that the death penalty, in Florida and the US, scored zero out of 44 on the requirements of the biblical death penalty.

Estevez noted that the bishops of Florida have collectively expressed their opposition to the death penalty ever since the US Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that forced states to resses their statutes for capital offenses.

At the time, the Florida bishops acknowledged that those who could pay for lawyers and appeals would likely avoid the death penalty, while “circumstantial evidence and discrimination in jury selection would inordinately affect the poor and minorities.”

John Sullivan, a Catholic inmate executed in 1983, received spiritual support and advocacy from Bishop John J. Snyder, Estevez’s predecessor.

The bishops continued to speak out as Florida scheduled more executions, issuing public pleas for stays of execution and mercy in every case of a scheduled execution in the 2000s.

The pastor of St. Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, in Macclenny, Florida has had the primary responsibility for the church’s ministry at death row since 1976, Estevez said, with volunteers making themselves available for a quiet prayer vigil with the inmate’s family during the execution, and the pastor available to celebrate Mass at the church immediately following the execution.

The prison ministers at St. Mary’s also make the rounds in the death row prisons to bring the sacraments to those who are Catholic.

In June 1999, St. Marys’ parish council unanimously voted to formally pass a moratorium resolution on the death penalty, making it one of only two parishes in the country to have done so.

Defending human life at all costs requires courage and can be dangerous, Estevez said, recalling the story of Father Rene Robert, a St. Augustine priest who in 2016 attempted to help a troubled young man who subsequently kidnapped and murdered him.

Father Robert had, in 1995, signed a “Declaration of Life” asking that his killer not be put to death should he ever die by homicide. As a result, his killer was sentenced to life in prison.

Prisons are human institutions, and thus are fallible, Estevez writes, and thus “there is a great need for vigilance toward the effectiveness of prison security, even in well-developed societies, so these systems do not deteriorate or become corrupt and endanger their citizens.”

But:

“Our system of incarceration needs to change from inhumane punishment to hopeful rehabilitation. Everyone must be concerned that not a single innocent human is condemned to deadly execution,” he wrote.

“Our pastoral experience in caring for inmates has revealed that many of them have experienced a conversion of heart, and society can benefit from a reunion with their families and re-entry to society,” he concluded.

Estevez invoked the intercession of Our Lady of La Leche— who is honored at the newly-elevated national shrine at Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine— consecrating to her the effort to end capital punishment in Florida.

 

Baltimore archdiocese has ‘serious concerns’ about county Communion ban

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 20:02

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore said it has “serious concerns” about public health guidance from Howard County, Maryland, which prohibits the reception of Communion as a condition for churches to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For the Catholic community, the reception of Communion is central to our faith lives and to our public worship,” said a statement from the archdiocese, released to CNA on Wednesday.

“Since learning of the concerns of Howard County officials, we have shared our guidelines for the distribution of Communion and express our own serious concerns about their recent guidance preventing Catholic churches in Howard County from distributing Communion.”

Howard County’s Executive Order #2020-09, published on May 26, outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses--which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship--to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

The order provides that “there shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service.”

Since the consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite, the order effectively bans the licit celebration of Mass in the county.

The executive order was reported by CNA May 27. 

The archdiocese said it is committed to ensuring churches reopen safely after closure amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The archdiocese has “developed thorough and carefully thought-out guidelines for resuming public Masses, including detailed guidance on the safe distribution of Communion.”

“These guidelines respect both the sanctity of the Sacrament and the need for abundant caution to protect the health and safety of both those receiving and distributing Communion,” the archdiocese said.

“While we recognize and value the urgent desire to guard the health and safety of local communities that is guiding the decisions of our government leaders, we are committed to engaging in dialogue with them to work together towards a policy going that balances the need for free expression of religious faith and the public’s health and safety interests.”

Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori is well known for his advocacy on religious liberty issues, and was the inaugural and longtime chair of the U.S bishops’ conference ad hoc committee on religious freedom. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA that "Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department."

"With this said," Peterson added, "we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1." 

“Regarding religious services,” Peterson said, “we have allowed for outdoor services. However, public health officials continue to describe the ongoing risks associated with hand-shaking, singing, and consumption of food of any kind thereby continuing the need for restrictions on these types of activities out of an abundance of safety precautions to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community.”

The executive order limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, while allowing outdoor services for up to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks – though the prohibition of food or drink, including Communion, is not limited to indoor celebrations.

The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the reception of Communion before, after, or during Mass. 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore's reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue--but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.

In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.

43% of US coronavirus deaths in nursing homes

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 17:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A new report on Tuesday says that more than 40% of deaths from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States have occurred in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

“Much more attention must be paid to the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in nursing homes, especially through nursing home staff who work at multiple facilities,” wrote Avik Roy and Gregg Girvan for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

“Nursing homes must use best practices for testing and cleanliness,” they wrote.

Analyzing state data on COVID-19 deaths, Roy and Girvan noted that, of the states reporting coronavirus deaths in long-term care centers, 43% of the overall deaths from the virus occurred in the centers; outside of New York state, that percentage rose to 53%.

New York, they said, may be an “outlier” among state reports because the volume of deaths outside of nursing homes may have driven the percentage share of nursing home deaths down. New York also reportedly changed how it was counting COVID nursing home deaths in early May; nursing home patients who died from the virus at a hospital were not counted as nursing home deaths.

The death rates at nursing homes were particularly high in the Northeast. In New Jersey, almost one in ten nursing home residents died from the virus, with 954 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes per 10,000 residents. In Connecticut, the number of fatalities per 10,000 residents was 827; in Massachusetts, it was 703.

However, in some other states such as Minnesota, the percentage of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes—as a share of overall deaths from the virus—was extremely high.

In Minnesota, more than 81% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes, as of May 22. In Rhode Island, 77% of virus deaths happened in nursing homes; in Ohio, 70% of COVID-19 deaths occurred at nursing homes, and New Hampshire was close behind at 69.8%. Pennsylvania saw 69.2% of its deaths from the virus occur in nursing homes.

In the wake of reports of the high number of deaths in nursing homes, some have pointed to policies of several states that sent positive COVID patients to nursing homes, to free up hospital beds. New York, New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania instructed nursing homes that they could not refuse COVID patients discharged from hospitals.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that nursing homes already had problems of poor training or funding before the pandemic struck.

Sending patients who had COVID to nursing homes started an “uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death,” he told CNA. However, he added, as nursing homes and long-term care facilities “were already pushed to the margins of our culture, it actually made sense that the dignity of these residents and workers was ignored and their lives discarded.”

The high percentage of U.S. nursing home deaths from the virus was reflected in other countries, Roy and Girvan wrote.

They cited a study by the International Long Term Care Policy Network that analyzed COVID deaths in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In those countries, more than 40% of reported COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes.

“States and localities should consider reorienting their policy responses away from younger and healthier people, and toward the elderly, and especially elderly individuals living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” Roy and Girvan wrote.

Maryland county bans Eucharist in church reopening order

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 14:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- An executive order issued Tuesday in Maryland’s Howard County outlines public health rules under which churches may reopen. The order prohibits the distribution and consumption of any food or drink as part of any religious service, effectively outlawing the distribution of Communion and the celebration of the Mass. 

Howard County Executive Order #2020-09 outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses--which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship--to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” the order says in a section delineating norms and restrictions on religious services. 

The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.

The Howard County public affairs office has not yet responded to questions from CNA regarding how the rule aligns with First Amendment religious freedom and free exercise rights.

The executive order also limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, limits outdoor services to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks, forbids the passing of collection plates, and bans handshakes and physical contact between worshippers. 

In contrast to the 10-person limit for churches, establishments listed in the order that do not host religious services are permitted to operate at 50% capacity. 

The order also states that “singing is permitted, but not recommended,” and that only the person leading the service or a choir may sing. Those who are singing without masks should, per the order, “maintain a 12-foot distance from other persons, including religious leaders, other singers, or the congregation.” 

The sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel contains the well-known “Bread of Life” discourse, in which Jesus teaches at a Capernum synagogue that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Catholics believe that teaching constitutes part of Christ's revelation of the Eucharist.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, whose territory includes Howard County, did not respond to requests for comment on the Howard County executive order by the time of posting.

The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the distribution of food or beverages before, after, or during Mass. 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore's reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue--but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.

In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.

The Department of Justice has recently issued a number of letters concerning cases of state and local public health orders which affect churches and houses of worship. In the last week, the department sent letters to the governors of California and Nevada, emphasizing the need to respect religious freedoms while working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Eric S. Dreiband, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said in a May 19 letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

The DOJ has also filed statements of interest in cases involving conflicts between churches and local authorities, including a lawsuit against the Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, after members of the Temple Baptist Church were fined $500 for attending a service in their cars in the church's parking lot. The mayor later rescinded the fines and amended the city’s stay at home order.

LA archdiocese announces reopening plan

Wed, 05/27/2020 - 12:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 10:35 am (CNA).- After California relaxed public health restrictions on churches on Monday, the nation’s largest diocese announced its plan on Tuesday to resume public Masses.

In a two-step plan for parishes to reopen and offer the sacraments, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Tuesday provided a checklist for each parish to observe. The state’s dioceses and archdioceses have all curtailed public Masses since March, but starting June 3 the archdiocese will allow for public Masses.

While Governor Gavin Newsom’s four-step reopening plan for the state had initially placed churches in stage 3 of reopening, that of “higher-risk workplaces,” on Monday the state announced that churches could begin reopening subject to county restrictions. The state is currently in stage 2 of Newsom’s reopening plan, where manufacturing and some retail businesses have been allowed to reopen.

Now, California has allowed churches to open at 25% capacity with a maximum of 100 people.

The state’s Catholic Conference called the new state guidelines “positive, constructive and fundamentally in alignment” with the diocesan reopening plans, and expressed gratitude for being “a part of the consultation.”

Individual dioceses and archdioceses would make the decisions on reopening parishes in consultation with local authorities, the conference said.

“We look forward to collaborating even further with Governor Newsom and our county leaders in the coming weeks to make social distancing the determining criterion for attendance for public worship so that our communities can undertake a pattern of worship that is both sustainable and safe,” their statement read.

For the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “Step 1” of its reopening plan for parishes allows for silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and individual confessions heard upon request inside a church, with social distancing measures in place.

Churches must be deep cleaned before reopening and cleaned again after each use, and volunteers should be present to open the doors, keep count of the number of those inside the church, usher the faithful to designated seating, and help clean the church.

Parishes can “advance” to Step 2 of the archdiocese’s plan starting June 3, when public Masses, sacraments of initiation, scheduled confessions, and weddings, funerals and quinceañeras can resume. Choirs at Masses will be replaced by a cantor and accompanist, and Holy Communion can be received in the hand only.

For infant baptisms, “[t]he use of the Oil of Catechumens and the ‘Ephphatha’ rite are to be omitted,” the archdiocesan guidelines state.

While the state’s Catholic Conference offered a positive commendation of the state’s reopening plan, one Pentecostal church is still challenging the plan in court, saying it arbitrarily subjects churches to stricter limits than businesses are subject to.

The Thomas More Society, representing South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego, sent a letter to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Tuesday stating that the state’s reopening plan was still unacceptable for churches.

Justice Kagan handles emergency requests from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to SCOTUSBlog.com.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t go far enough for the simple reason that they’re placing arbitrary and unconstitutional restrictions on churches that they’re not placing on secular organizations,” attorney Charles LiMandri told CNA on Wednesday.

South Bay church had already filed for an emergency injunction on the state’s order requiring churches to remain closed—Newsom’s original plan that placed churches in “stage 3” of the reopening. The church had asked for relief by Pentecost Sunday, May 31.

Then on Monday, May 25, the state’s health department announced that churches could resume religious services at a maximum of 25% capacity or 100 people.

The allowance is still not acceptable, the church argued in its letter to Kagan, as individual counties can still maintain stricter regulations than the state’s “ceiling” that was announced on Monday.

Furthermore, for larger churches such as South Bay which seats 600 congregants in its sanctuary, the 100-person limit is an “arbitrary cap,” the church argued.

“Some of these churches will seat over 1,000 people, so it makes no sense to have an arbitrary minimum cutoff” of 100 people, LiMandri said.

“They’re not doing that in any other organization or facility,” he added, noting that shopping malls are allowed to open at 50% capacity and warehouse stores like Costco do not have a customer limit.

The state’s allowance for churches is also legally suspect, the Thomas More Society argued, as it did not move churches to stage 2 of the original reopening plan “but has created an entirely new regime to regulate them alone.”

As various federal circuit courts have disagreed on the extent to which states may restrict religious practice during the pandemic, the Thomas More Society asked the Supreme Court to intervene and offer clarity.

“In light of these continued exigencies, it is imperative that states receive consistent and uniform guidance on this matter of utmost importance from Your Honor or the entire Court,” the letter stated.

“The deepening conflict between and among the various Circuit Courts of Appeal has triggered serious uncertainty as to what legal standard applies when citizens consider whether and under what circumstances they may freely exercise their religious faith by attending services at their church, temple, mosque or other place of worship.”

The U.S. Department of Justice warned California in a May 19 letter that it could not single out churches for burdensome restrictions during the pandemic. 

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential e-commerce, are included on the list as being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not,” stated a letter by Eric S. Dreiband, head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, joined by four U.S. attorneys for California.

That letter is one of several recent interventions by the DOJ, warning state and local authorities of the need to respect religious freedoms while making efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus.

On Monday, Nevada U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Deibrand wrote to Governor Steve Sisolak regarding the standing prohibition on gathering of more than 10 people for religious purposes.

"We understand these directives were issued in the midst of an uncertain situation, which may have required quick decisions based on changing information," the DOJ lawyers said. 

"We are concerned, however, that the flat prohibition against ten or more persons gathering for in person worship services — regardless of whether they maintain social distancing guidelines — impermissibly treats religious and nonreligious organizations unequally."

The letter asked Sisolak “to balance competing interests and make your best judgments” in drafting guidelines which accommodate both public health and religious freedom concerns.

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