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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 37 min ago

Catholic teen seeks to inspire neighborhood with Marian sidewalk art

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 20:01

Denver Newsroom, May 7, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A young Catholic artist has drawn an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her parents' driveway bringing religious art to her local community during the quarantine.

The Diocese of Fargo posted on Facebook May 4 an image of Our Lady of Lourdes drawn by Maria Loh, a 17-year old who grew up in Fargo. She said it was an enjoyable experience to share her faith and art with her neighborhood.

“Being able to interact with people when they walked by was very moving in a way because a lot of people have never really seen sidewalk art done like that locally. So being able to share in that kind of experience, it was very, very good,” she told CNA.

Loh has recently been inspired by chalk art and pastels, which, she said, have vibrant and beautiful colors. She has drawn on the sidewalks a few times, including two images of Mary - Madonna of the Lillies and the Pieta by William Adolphe-Bouguereau.

Her most recent chalk drawing was Our Lady of Lourdes by Hector Garrido - an image she had seen as a magnet on her grandparents' refrigerator growing up. The picture has always been an inspiration, she said, noting that she decided to replicate it after Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France had temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I heard that the shrine had been temporarily closed off to the public, and I remember … thinking that's really sad because especially in this time, we’re really looking for healing in more ways than one, like physically and mentally and spiritually,” she said.

“It really felt like people wouldn't be able to go to experience that. So I felt like drawing this image of Our Lady of Lourdes would be a good way to remind people that Our Lady is still with us even if we can’t go to her shrine.”

Loh, the oldest of five, has been involved with art projects and drawing for her entire life. She said, growing up in a Catholic family, she has been inspired by her faith and the religious art in churches.

“I see our faith as so precious... Especially in the form of the Eucharist - the actual body and blood of Christ, I've seen that we are very blessed to have that in our faith. It's something that has impacted a lot of my life growing up,” she said.

While she was working on the piece, Loh said, a majority of passersby did not know who the lady in the image was. She expressed hope that the picture would help remind people of Mary and the beauty of the Church, which, she said, is a powerful attraction to the faith.

“One thing that I hope this kind of art and image will evoke is a desire to come to know who Mary is and how rich our faith is. … All the beautiful art that can be seen in Catholic churches, especially like in Rome, there's almost a transcendental beauty to them that draws people into the faith to come to know things that they've never dreamed of before,” she said.

As Loh finishes her junior year of high school, she expressed the possibility of art school after graduation, but, while she is still uncertain of the future, said art will not be dropped anytime soon.

“I can definitely see [art school] being a possibility. I’ll have to spend some time, especially with God trying to figure out what he wants me to do. But, I don't think art is going out of my life anytime soon,” she said.

Data contradicts Harvard professor's assertions about homeschooling

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 19:29

Denver Newsroom, May 7, 2020 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- A Notre Dame sociologist is using data to challenge a Harvard Law professor’s assertions that homeschooling is “dangerous”, and detrimental to society.

The controversy stems from a recent paper by professor Elizabeth Bartholet in which she calls for a presumptive ban on homeschooling in the United States.

Bartholet, as quoted in a Harvard Magazine piece based on her paper, points to unspecified “surveys of homeschoolers” to assert that “up to 90 percent” of homeschooling families are “driven by conservative Christian beliefs, and seek to remove their children from mainstream culture.”

“Some” homeschooling parents are “‘extreme religious ideologues’ who question science and promote female subservience and white supremacy,” she writes.

David Sikkink, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, analyzed surveys of homeschooling families— including a 2016 government survey—  and found that these families are not overwhelmingly Christian nor religious, and are not as universally closed-off to the outside world as Bartholet asserts.

In the analysis Sikkink conducted, just 16% of homeschooling parents said they were homeschooling primarily for religious reasons. The number one reason homeschooling parents cited was a concern about school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.

Eleven percent of parents reported homeschooling because their child has special needs.

While approximately half of the homeschooling parents surveyed mentioned religion as a factor in their decision to homeschool, Sikkink notes that the parents who cited religion as a reason were, on the whole, more highly educated than those parents who did not.

In terms of Bartholet’s assertion that some homeschooling parents “believe that women should be totally subservient to men and educated in ways that promote such subservience,” Sikkink’s analysis did not find evidence that religious households oppose higher education for girls.

Among the homeschooling families in the survey who use a religious curriculum, there was no difference in their self-reported educational expectations— i.e., what education level they expected their children to reach—  for their male children vs. their female children.

Several past studies have shown that homeschool students typically outperform their public and private school counterparts on things like standardized tests and college performance. A 2016 study from the National Council on Measurement in Education showed that, when adjusted for demographic factors, homeschool students were on par academically with their demographically-similar peers.

Moreover, the data Sikkink analyzed suggests that after family background and demographic controls are accounted for, about 64% of homeschoolers “completely agree” that they have much in life to be thankful for, compared to 53% of public schoolers.

On feelings of helplessness, or lack or goals or direction in life, homeschoolers do not substantially differ from their public school counterparts, the analysis suggests.

In the Arizona Law Review, Bartholet argues that while homeschool children may perform as well as their peers on standardized tests or in college, they are also often isolated from their peers and denied experiences and exposures that would make them more productive citizens.

Bartholet claims in her article that “a very large proportion of homeschooling parents are ideologically committed to isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture.”

“Isolated families,” she asserts, “constitute a significant part of the homeschooling world.”

In contrast, Sikkink’s analysis found that among the schooling groups surveyed, homeschooling families had the highest level of “community involvement” of all school sectors.

“Community involvement” activities included attending sporting events, attending concerts, going to the zoo or aquarium, going to a museum, going to a library, visiting a bookstore, or attending an event sponsored by a community, religious, or ethnic group.

Homeschooling graduates are almost identical to their public school counterparts in likelihood to vote in federal and local elections, Sikkink found.

Furthermore, the total number of volunteer and community service hours for homeschooling graduates is very similar to or slightly higher than public school graduates, the analysis found.

Bartholet asserts that some homeschoolers “engage in homeschooling to promote racist ideologies and avoid racial intermingling.”

In contrast: “The reality is that about 41% of homeschooled children are racial and ethnic minorities,” Sikkink writes.

“When asked about four closest friends, about 37% of young adult homeschoolers...mention someone of a different race or ethnicity—exactly the same as public schoolers.”

This diversity also extends to schooling practices— increasingly, Sikkink says, homeschooling adopts new forms, including “hybrids” that combine the benefits of home and institutional schooling.

“About 64 percent of homeschoolers are using some form of instruction outside the family,” Sikkink told CNA in an email.

“That includes using tutors, private or public schools, colleges or universities, or homeschooling coops. That percentage would be higher if we included those who reported obtaining curriculum from formal institutions, such as public schools.”

Moreover, about a third of homeschooling parents obtain their curriculum or books from a public school or school district.

“Altogether, 46% of homeschoolers have some pedagogical relationship with public schools,” Sikkink asserts.

Bartholet argues that homeschooling puts children at risk of abuse by their parents, while if children were in public schools, they would be among teachers who are mandatory reporters of any suspected abuse that may be taking place.

“The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous,” Bartholet asserts in the Harvard Magazine piece.

“I think it’s always dangerous to put powerful people in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority.”

Sikkink says Bartholet’s image of a child confined to the home “24/7...from ages zero to 18” is not consistent with the data.

“When we look at the use of homeschooling for each year of the child's upbringing, we only find a small percentage that report that the child was homeschooled for all their years of schooling,” Sikkink told CNA in an email.

Many of these students are part-time public schoolers— about 25% of homeschoolers receive some instruction in public schools during their school-age careers, he wrote.

Homeschooling regulations vary widely by state. Sikkink told CNA he hopes future studies will examine the effects of state-level variation in regulation on homeschooling quality.

“The question of schooling oversight remains, of course, but it would be short-sighted not to keep homeschooling and other creative schooling options in the mix, including the hybrid models that cross sector boundaries,” Sikkink concludes.

White House hosts service for National Day of Prayer

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 18:30

Washington D.C., May 7, 2020 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- The White House service for the National Day of Prayer on Thursday focused on protection from the coronavirus pandemic. President Trump said Americans will continue to pray for divine assistance as the nation faces “unforeseen and seemingly unbearable hardships.”

Sister Eneyda Martinez of the Poor Sisters of St. Joseph community in Alexandria, Virginia was one of the religious leaders present to lead attendees in prayer.

“Merciful Savior, heal and comfort the sick so that with health restored, they may give you praise. Divine Physician, accompany our caregivers, so that serving you with patience they may heal wisely. And through wisdom, guide our leaders, so that through seeking remedies they may follow your light,” Sister Eneyda Martinez prayed at the service in the White House’s Rose Garden.

The National Day of Prayer was designated by Congress in 1952, and scheduled in 1988 to be observed annually on the first Thursday in the month of May.

In attendance at the White House service were President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, as well as Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence, and Paula White, and other religious leaders from Catholic, Christian, and Mormon churches, and Jewish and Hindu faiths.

The prayer service emphasized prayer for protection from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as prayer for the sick and their families, and health care workers.

“Christ, the Anointed, protect us in body and in spirit, so that free from harm we may be delivered from all affliction,” prayed Sister Eneyda Martinez.

Vice President Pence urged Americans to be “persistent in prayer,” especially for the families of the dead, those sick with the virus, and health care workers, many who have “literally taken the place of loved ones” in being the only close contacts of COVID-19 patients.

On Thursday morning, Trump issued a proclamation, noting the importance of prayer during the pandemic.

“During the past weeks and months, our heads have bowed at places outside of our typical houses of worship, whispering in silent solitude for God to renew our spirit and carry us through unforeseen and seemingly unbearable hardships,” Trump stated.

“Even though we have been unable to gather together in fellowship with our church families, we are still connected through prayer and the calming reassurance that God will lead us through life's many valleys.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control was reportedly drafting guidance for states to reopen public accommodations and religious services, but according to the Associated Press on Thursday, the document was buried by the administration.

That document reportedly advised against churches holding services if they were not in a “community no longer requiring significant mitigation.”

However, if that and other certain conditions were in place, churches should take precautions such as ensuring social distancing, wearing of masks by congregants, and intensifying cleaning of churches, the CDC document reportedly said.

State orders have varied in their restrictions on public gatherings during the pandemic; a Kansas stay-at-home order allowed religious gatherings of 10 or fewer people, while Illinois prohibited all religious gatherings.

After every U.S. diocese stopped public Masses during March, Catholic dioceses have started offering public Masses, beginning with the diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, with several other dioceses following suit in ensuing days.

Officials from the CDC and the White House spoke with four of the bishops on April 28 and 29 about the resumption of public religious services.

Fatima confirms no pilgrims for May 13 feast day celebrations

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 17:48

Denver Newsroom, May 7, 2020 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- For the first time in over a century, the annual May 13 celebrations at the Fatima shrine will take place without the physical presence of pilgrims, the bishop of Fatima confirmed this week.

Cardinal Antonio Marto said in a May 3 statement that the celebrations for the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima “will take place as was announced April 6, without the physical presence of pilgrims, in the name of prudence to avoid the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.”

“As planned in conjunction with the civil authorities, the May 12 and 13 celebrations for this year cannot have the physical presence of the pilgrims and will be transmitted by broadcast and digital media,” he continued.

The cardinal explained that hosting “an unpredictable multitude of people” gathering at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still a serious threat would go against the efforts of health authorities to gradually lift restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the virus.

“We therefore respect, in an attitude of collaboration with the competent civil authorities, the guidelines for these celebrations to be held with a symbolic presence of participants,” Marto said.

The clarification over the Fatima feast day came as the Portuguese government gradually begins to ease restrictions that had been put in place in response to the pandemic, prompting speculation over whether the May 13 celebrations would be able to take place as normal. The annual event typically draws hundreds of thousands from around the world to the shrine.

The Portuguese Bishops’ Conference had announced earlier this month that public Masses could tentatively resume the weekend of Pentecost, May 30-31, in accordance with guidelines to be established by the country’s health department and the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Marto stressed that the decision to suspend public religious celebrations was based in a sense of responsibility toward the public health, as a way of loving one’s neighbor.

“[A]s much as our hearts would like to be in Fatima celebrating together in the same place, as has been the case since 1917, prudence counsels us not to do so this time,” he said, adding that Catholics can look forward to an end to the pandemic and an opportunity to gather together joyfully in the future.

Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, encouraged pilgrims who are unable to physically attend the events to make an interior pilgrimage, participating in the events of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Fatima through the internet or social media.

“This is a painful time: the shrine exists to welcome the pilgrims and we cannot do so, this is a cause for great sadness; but this decision is also an act of responsibility toward the pilgrims, protecting their health and welfare,” the priest said.

The shrine’s website offers four steps to guide people on this interior pilgrimage.

According to the website, “the celebrations of May 12 and 13 will maintain the usual schedule with recitation of the Rosary at 9:30 p.m. followed by the Candlelight Procession. On the 13th the Rosary will be prayed at 9:00 a.m. followed by the International Mass and the Farewell Procession.”

In March, 24 countries were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima.

At that ceremony, Cardinal Marto recalled that Saints Francisco and Jacinto Marto, shepherd children to whom an angel, and then the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1916 and 1917 at Fatima, both died amid the victims of the Spanish flu pandemic.

To date, Johns Hopkins University has reported 26,182 cases of novel coronavirus in Portugal, with 1089 deaths.

 

Illinois churches may not fully reopen for a year as White House shelves CDC plan

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 16:40

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 7, 2020 / 02:40 pm (CNA).- The governor of Illinois has said he will continue to ban public gatherings of more than 50 people—including religious services—until a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus is available.

The announcement comes as the White House is reported to have shelved guidance from the Centers for Disease Control on gradually reopening sections of the American economy and society.

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that gatherings of more than 50 people in the state would not be allowed until a coronavirus vaccine “or highly effective treatment” is “widely available.”

Public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have cautioned that a COVID-19 vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months from being developed and made available.

According to Pritzker’s five-part plan for reopening the state, gatherings of ten or fewer people are not even allowed until phase 3, the “recovery” phase that can begin, at earliest, May 29. However, following a lawsuit last week, the governor has allowed citizens to leave their homes for religious services as long as ten or fewer people are gathered for worship.

Previously, religious services of any kind in the state—including drive-in and in-person services—were curtailed during the pandemic, and even other forms of sacramental practice such as drive-in confessions were not allowed.

The Archdiocese of Chicago announced on May 1 that public Masses with 10 or fewer people would resume.

Other dioceses across the United States have already begun rolling back total suspensions on the public celebration of Mass. 

Last week, CNA reported that the White House Domestic Policy Council held a series of conference calls with bishops who had begun the process of reopening churches in line with local public health orders.

During the calls, administration officials expressed their hope to be able to support faith communities with “sensitive and respectful guidance” to help restore public worship “as soon as it is feasible.”

The bishops were told that the Centers for Disease Control hoped that issuing guidance could help inform state and local leaders about the “essential” nature of religious practice, while still allowing for localized responses to the coronavirus and provide “helpful parameters” for state and local governments who are trying to safeguard public health. But, on Thursday, AP reported that the Trump administration had shelved a 17-page report titled “Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework.”

That document included a section on “Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith.”

According to AP, CDC officials expected the guidance to be released at the end of last week but were instead told it “would never see the light of day.” 

Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society,  told CNA that “policymakers that are making plans based on the development of a vaccine or other cure to this coronavirus are engaging in magical thinking.”

“While there is always a possibility that some miracle cure may emerge, that is entirely uncertain and should not be the basis for setting policy, especially policy in relation to our communities of faith,” Breen stated.

On April 30, the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Beloved Church in Lena, Illinois, and by that night, attorney Peter Breen told CNA, a paragraph had been added to an executive order of Pritzker’s allowing for people to leave their home for religious services.

“He [Pritzker] has at least brought churches out of the abyss of ‘non-essential,’ but he has not fully elevated them to the heights of being an ‘essential’ business or operation,” Breen told CNA on Wednesday, noting that businesses deemed “essential” to remain open were not subject to the 10-person rule.

Bishops: Our Lady of America not 'objective private revelation'

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 13:50

CNA Staff, May 7, 2020 / 11:50 am (CNA).- Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend said Thursday that the alleged visions and revelations known as “Our Lady of America” cannot be said to be of supernatural origin, and that he cannot approve or support public devotion to “Our Lady of America.”

Sister Mary Ephrem Neuzil of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus began having what seemed like mystical experiences, including inner locutions and visions of the spirit, around 1938. She revealed these to her confessor in 1948, and they became a devotion to Mary as “Our Lady of America” in 1954.

Sr. Neuzil said the Blessed Virgin began appearing to her in 1956 in Rome City, Ind., about 40 miles northwest of Fort Wayne.

The alleged visions and messages from Mary and from St. Joseph continued through 1959, in a number of locations. After 1959, she said Our Lady communicated with her primarily by locutions, until her death in 2000.

Bishop Rhoades agreed in 2017 to conduct an investigation into the alleged apparitions. The bishop issued to other U.S. bishops a statement May 7 on the investigation, which was obtained by CNA, along with a July 2019 decree on the matter.

In the statement, Rhoades said that Sr. Neuzil “was honest, morally upright, psychologically balanced, devoted to religious life and without guile.” He added that she had “signs of imperfection, but no evidence that she was the perpetrator of a hoax or the victim of delusion.”

“What she communicated about her alleged experiences, she believed to be true, and her communication of those experiences are filled with humility and forthrightness,” he added.

The bishop noted there are numerous reports of conversions, spiritual refreshments and consolations, and even some physical healings related to the alleged apparition. He added, though, that “we cannot conclude that any of these events are conclusive enough to warrant certification as miracles. It seems likely that in such personal contexts of faith and prayer, God's graces were received.”

While “much of what is expressed” in the alleged revelations “does not contain any doctrinal error,” Bishop Rhoades wrote that there is a claim of St. Joseph as “'co-redeemer' with Christ for the salvation of the world … which has never been expressed as Catholic doctrine and must be seen as an error.”

He reported that Sr. Neuzil's spiritual director, Archbishop Paul Leibold, wrote in 1970 that he was unable to make a judgement on the supernatural nature of her visions, and that while he had helped her in promoting them as a “private devotion,” he had never acted “to promote her devotion publicly.”

“Looking at the nature and quality of the experiences themselves, we find that they are more to be described as subjective inner religious experiences rather than objective external visions and revelations,” Bishop Rhoades wrote.

“Thus, while it may be said that there is possibly an authenticity to Sister Neuzil's subjective religious experience, we do not find evidence pointing to her experience as being in the category of objective private revelation.”

The bishop and his investigatory commission found that “her experiences were of a type where her own imagination and intellect were involved in the formation of the events. It seems that these were authentically graced moments, even perhaps of a spiritual quality beyond what most people experience, but subjective ones in which her own imagination and intellect were constitutively engaged, putting form to inner spiritual movements. However, we do not find evidence that these were objective visions and revelations of the type seen at Guadalupe, Fatima and Lourdes.”

Bishop Rhoades' judgement was issued in the July 29, 2019 decree, which was signed also by Fr. Mark Gurtner, then-chancellor of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The five other bishops where the purported visions were said to have occurred – Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette in Indiana, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, and Bishop Daneil Thomas of Toledo in Ohio – each concur with Bishop Rhoades' findings and conclusions.

The six bishops had in 2017 asked the US bishops' conference to investigate the alleged apparitions, considering that inquiries were being received about the alleged apparition and its purported request for a procession of the nation's bishops and that a statue of Our Lady of America be placed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith advised that it be conducted by one of the bishops, and Bishop Rhoades agreed to do so.

He received documentation of Sr. Neuzil's correspondence the following year, and he conducted the evaluation with a commission of theological and canonical experts. They also gathered personal interviews with witnesses who knew Sr. Neuzil.

The procedure for the investigation was carried out in accordance with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's 1978 "Norms regarding the manner of proceeding in the discernment of presumed apparitions or revelations."

Some bishops have permitted the public display of statues of Our Lady of America, and then-Msgr. Liebold had given an imprimatur to a prayer attached to the devotion in 1963.

The six bishops wrote May 7 that “given this history of prayers and religious articles being given approval by competent ecclesiastical authority, the use of such prayers religious articles may continue as a matter of private devotion, but not as a public devotion of the Church.”

“Indeed, such private devotion would be consistent with the history of the United States of America being dedicated to Our Lady,” they added.

However, “such private devotion should in no way imply approval or acceptance of purported revelations, visions, or locutions attributed to Sister Mary Ephrem (Mildred) Neuzil other than as her own subjective inner religious experiences.”

 

Senior nurse says prayer life is essential during COVID-19 crisis

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 12:48

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 7, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- A Catholic nurse said the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges she has never encountered before—and that a prayer life is critical to get her through her shift.

“If I don’t have my faith in me, I cannot give what I don’t have,” said Maria Arvonio, a registered nurse for almost 40 years and a board member of the National Association of Catholic Nurses. 

As the current night shift supervisor at Virtua Willingboro Medical Center in southern New Jersey—a COVID-19 “hot spot,” she says—Arvonio told CNA she and her colleagues were facing a new kind of disease.

Over the decades she has had experience treating previous diseases including the AIDS epidemic, before which nurses didn’t wear gloves. “I’m still standing—that is God,” she said.

Yet the new coronavirus pandemic is something unprecedented, she admitted. “It’s different in that it appears that no matter what we’re doing, it seems to just multiply,” she said.

As she treats COVID-19 patients, Arvonio told CNA that she leans on her prayer life to lead the team of nurses at the hospital.

“I cannot help those other nurses stand strong, if they look at me and I look afraid. Why would they want us to continue to work? I cannot show fear,” she said.

“I start my job with prayer. Before I even go into the workplace, I’ve already been either doing the rosary with someone, praying ‘Jesus, come and seal me in your most Precious Blood, Blessed Mother help me,’” Arvonio said.

Arvonio was one of several nurses to appear at the White House on Wednesday for National Nurses Day, and told President Trump of her experience treating patients in a COVID-19 “hot zone.” New Jersey has been one of the hardest-hit states by the virus, with nearly 132,000 confirmed cases and more than 8,500 deaths.

Treating the person, and not just the sickness, is part of the mission of nurses, she said at the event. “It’s not just our science, it’s our compassion.”

In an interview with CNA after her White House appearance, Arvonio said she pressed an official close to the President on the need for the administration to push for more access to COVID patients by hospital chaplains.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reportedly been working on guidelines for restarting religious services as states begin to loosen stay-at-home restrictions. CNA reported that on April 28 and 29, officials from the White House domestic policy council and the CDC had discussed the matter with four Catholic bishops who are resuming public Masses.

New Jersey, Arvonio said, has allowed golf courses and liquor stores to be open, but Catholics do not have public Mass. “That’s a problem,” she said.

The spiritual needs of the COVID-19 patients are just as real as their physical needs, she said. As a board member of the National Association of Catholic Nurses, U.S.A., Arvonio says that organization’s mission is critical now more than ever, to emphasize caring for the spiritual needs of patients. 

In the case of one patient who was heading to hospice, a priest could only talk to her remotely, on Zoom.

“She was in tears, an elderly woman worried to leave on hospice because her priest wasn’t there to give her the last rites. This is wrong! This is our right as a Catholic!” Arvonio said.

For some hospitals, chaplains cannot administer the sacramental anointing because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) available for them. Yet, Arvonio said, she has seen staff wearing PPE in situations where it’s not necessary.

“Look at how we’re using our equipment and give it to the essential personnel, which is the priest,” she said. “We need him in the hospital more than ever.”

“We need to start thinking about getting the spiritual care back to these patients. They need their priests, they need their pastor.”

She has started making care packages for patients to provide something tangible in the absence of the sacraments; for one patient she assembled a care bag with holy water, blessed oil, and plastic rosaries. “I said ‘he’s not alone. God always has somebody for every person,” she said.

Cincinnati auxiliary bishop resigns after failing to act on allegations

Thu, 05/07/2020 - 09:55

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 7, 2020 / 07:55 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Joseph Binzer, Cincinnati's auxiliary bishop, who was accused in August of failing to act on allegations made against a priest. 

A statement from the Holy See press office May 7 said the pope had accepted the 65-year-old bishop’s resignation but gave no reason for the decision. 

In a statement released by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr said the pope accepted Binzer’s resignation after conversations between the bishop and the Holy See. 

The archdiocese also included a brief statement from Binzer in which he said he was “deeply sorry for my role in addressing the concerns raised about Father Drew, which has had a negative impact on the trust and faith of the people of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.”  

“In April, having studied this matter since last summer, the Holy See informed me that it agreed with this assessment. As a result, and after much prayer and reflection, I offered my resignation from the Office of Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati,” said Binzer. ”I believe this to be in the best interest of the archdiocese.”

Archbishop Schnurr said that although retired, Binzer will continue to serve in the archdiocese with the title of “Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus.” 

“What exactly that ministry will look like will be determined after discussions between Bishop Binzer, the Priest Personnel Board, and me,” Schnurr said. “In this difficult and unfortunate time, please keep Bishop Binzer and all the people of the archdiocese in your prayers.”

Archbishop Schnurr removed Binzer from his position as head of priest personnel in August, after CNA presented officials with its investigation into claims that Binzer failed to pass on reports that a priest had engaged in inappropriate behavior with teenage boys.

In August last year, Schnurr told CNA that “We obviously made serious mistakes in our handling of this matter, for which we are very sorry.”

While Schnurr’s public comments did not address Binzer’s role directly, senior sources in the archdiocese told CNA in August that Schnurr had “gone nuclear” when he discovered the situation.

“The archbishop was as mad as I have ever seen him. When he was told that Bishop Binzer had withheld information, well, he used words I have never heard him use before,” one senior source told CNA, saying Schnurr called Binzer’s actions a “firestorm” for the archdiocese.

In September, 2019, an archdiocesan spokesperson told CNA that Schnurr had sent a "full report to Rome on the whole case and he is waiting for the Vatican’s response,” and he expected "a full investigation” to be conducted by the Vatican.

Binzer later resigned as a member of the U.S. bishops’ conference committee for the protection of children and young people, on which he represented Region VI.

CNA reported in August last year that Binzer was told in 2013 about allegations concerning a recently suspended priest, Fr. Geoff Drew, and failed to disclose them to Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and other archdiocesan officials.

While the archdiocesan victims’ assistance coordinator, who reported to Binzer, was aware of the allegation, the information was not made known to the diocesan priest personnel board or Archbishop Schnurr. 

In 2015, similar allegations were again made against Drew. The matter was forwarded to Butler County officials, who determined that the activity was not criminal. Again, Binzer reported neither the complaints nor the investigation to the archbishop or informed the priest personnel board.

Sources in the archdiocesan chancery told CNA in August that Binzer met with Drew twice, was assured by him that he would reform his conduct, and considered this sufficient.

In early 2018, Drew applied for a transfer to St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish in Green Township, which is attached to the largest Catholic school in the archdiocese.

As head of priest personnel, Binzer was in charge of the process that considers requests and proposals for reassignment, in conjunction with the priest personnel board.

Neither the board nor the archbishop were made aware of the multiple complaints against Drew, and the transfer was approved.

The allegations were also reportedly not recorded by Binzer in the priest’s personnel file that would have been available to the archdiocesan personnel board as part of the process.

A month after Drew’s arrival at St. Ignatius, a parishioner at Drew’s former parish resubmitted the 2015 complaints about the priest, but this time it was also brought to the attention of Archbishop Schnurr.

Also in 2018, Binzer received an additional complaint of similarly inappropriate contact by Drew, dating to his time as a high school music teacher, before his ordination as a priest. 

Following a diocesan investigation, Drew was ordered to attend counselling with a psychologist.

On July 23, Drew was removed from ministry, when it emerged that he had sent a series of inappropriate text messages to a 17-year-old. 

Chancery sources told CNA in August that it was only after the recent incident at St. Ignatius that archdiocesan officials discovered that the otherwise undisclosed complaints about Drew had been made to Binzer, and that the auxiliary bishop had failed to report them to other diocesan officials, or raise them during the decision to approve his transfer in 2018.

Coronavirus and Catholic family life: Gomez urges prayer during online town hall

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 23:45

Denver Newsroom, May 6, 2020 / 09:45 pm (CNA).- Catholic families can respond to the coronavirus epidemic through prayer, connection with each other, and care for their spiritual, mental and physical health, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and several guests said in a Wednesday town hall.

“As we all know we are going through great challenges with the coronavirus pandemic,” the archbishop said. “This is so challenging for all of us, priests and bishops, and to you all the faithful, not to be able to participate in the celebration of the Mass and receive holy communion and also participating in the other sacraments.”

Gomez said it has been very sad for him to celebrate Mass but see the church “totally empty.”

“No matter where we are,” he said, “Jesus Christ is in our lives. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God.”

The town hall, based on the theme “Better Together,” was conducted by phone and livestreamed May 6. Several guest speakers gave practical advice and helped address challenges.

“I see a lot of blessings in what is happening, just by the fact that we are able to communicate more and in different ways,” Gomez said.

The event aimed to discuss various issues, including the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Catholics and their families, how to pray as a family, how to build community through prayer, and how to face other challenges of the epidemic.

Archbishop Gomez had opened the town hall with a Hail Mary and other prayers for those affected by the coronavirus

“In my own personal experience, there is time to really work on my own prayer life and the way in which I try to serve God and the people of God in the archdiocese,” he said.

The archbishop pointed to important events of prayer, like the Good Friday Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the U.S. bishops’ May 1 consecration of the United States to Mary Mother of the Church

Helen Alvare, a law professor based at George Mason University who advocates for women and families, said the lack of a long commute under the coronavirus restrictions has given her time to pray, to communicate with loved ones, and to share a glass of wine with her husband.

She encouraged parents to ask themselves why they want their children to be practicing Catholics. It should be motivated by “an actual desire to have Christ in your life” and to have a faith that helps explain the world.

Alvare said she takes care to narrate and share what she is doing in her spiritual life with her children and her husband. Catholicism is not “just in the air” anymore and Catholics “have to be explicit” about what they believe and why.

Participants in the town hall could ask questions and answer several poll questions about how they practice the Catholic faith.

One caller asked Alvare about advice for her situation, where four adults in her home with different political views.

“There’s so much information you don’t know what to believe,” the caller from Whittier, Calif. said.

“This should not be political but it has come political,” she said. “We’re all over the place with information. It's confusing, it's stressful. We’re arguing over what is real, not real, what is true news, what is not true news. It’s messed up.”

Alvare replied that while one cannot dismiss politics as unimportant without proving further disagreement, you can say something like “there is a lot of misinformation on both sides” and “it would be a shame if politics gets in the way of family.” She suggested acknowledging that there are big questions that a family won’t be able to solve, but families should realize “we were given to one another in some particular way.”

“Our children were given to us. It was not to argue about politics. It was to love and care for one another,” she said. “Don’t let it divide us.”

In her remarks Christina Lamas, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, suggested parents reflect on the question “What kind of faith do you want your children to have 30 years from now?” She also had another question for parents: “Knowing what you know now, thinking 30 years into this future, what would you like to be remembered?”

Lamas’ own mother did everything possible to nurture a religious vocation in Lamas and her sister. While her mother’s desire was not fulfilled, Lamas said, “I give thanks to my mom for that desire. The seed that she planted in my heart allows me to have a strong relationship with Christ right now.”

Holiness is found in the family, a “domestic church,” with parents “the first teachers of the faith,” through their words, their actions and examples, said Lamas

With many families now forced to communicate remotely, Lamas stressed the importance of reaching out to family members, including those who are not necessarily devout. She herself took a risk and encouraged everyone to gather together to pray and to connect. They all responded positively to the idea, and the family now has a Bible study every Sunday even though they live on different coasts.

“It’s a beautiful experience to see each other break open the Scriptures, and to turn to a six-year-old, or a five-year-old, and be catechized by them. They have an entirely different way of looking at things. It moves us to know that this is how we are passing on the faith,” said Lamas.

In addition to Bible study, her family members play games like Simon Says and Bingo over internet video. Technology provides “ways to connect and interact that we haven’t done before,” she said.

Lamas asked parents to ask how their families continue to embrace their faith and welcome Christ into their families. When epidemic restrictions are lifted, they should think how parishes can support this “domestic church.”

According to Lamas, families should “nurture faith in homes so that they can share it outwards, evangelizing so that Christ can be known to others as Christ has been revealed to us.”

Archbishop Gomez addressed a question on reopening churches for Mass.

“We want to do it as soon as possible but our main concern is the protection of our brothers and sisters,” he said, citing the importance of the advice of public health experts. He counseled patience and the need to pray to God to end the threat.

Those who have time should “really take advantage of this moment” and think how they can be “true disciples” faithful to their vocation, the archbishop said. “What is our call? What is our vocation?” he asked.

Another speaker at the town hall was Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatrist, Catholic ethicist, and professor at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine who specializes in children and families

Half of Americans say in surveys that the coronavirus epidemic is harming their mental health in some way, he reported.

“If you’re dealing with challenges, you’re not alone. What we’re going through is not normal for human beings,” commented Kheriaty.

He encouraged parents to continue “loving your children very much.” Children could be absorbing secondary stress from overhearing the news or phone conversations. Children need help to come to an understanding of events within their own ability. They also need a sense of security and safety.

“Look at this as an opportunity to grow closer as a family,” he said. “the fact that they’re worried or concerned is a good sign, it's a sign they care.”

He encouraged parents to help children pray for the world, for the sick, and those who died. This will help remind them of God’s providence and of “the loving, caring presence of God in their life.”

Kheriaty warned against destructive patterns he had observed, as when someone stays up until 2 a.m. to binge on Netflix movies and snack, then rolls out of bed at 11 a.m. and stays home, isolated, with no face-to-face conversations, “much less meaningful work.”

There is an “unhealthy recipe” of disruptions in sleep and physical activity, too much screen time, misuse of alcohol or drugs to manage stress, boredom, or the anguish of unemployment or financial strain. These have a long-term risk to physical and mental health.

He recommended reintroducing structure to one’s life, including a daily or weekly schedule. He emphasized the importance of good sleep, mealtimes, work or a hobby of some kind, regular prayer, regular physical activity, maintaining social connections, and work in service to others.

He said a family meal should be a “centerpiece” under the epidemic.

“The most important school that your children will attend is the family dinner table,” Kheriaty said.

US bishops denounce racism, encourage solidarity amid coronavirus pandemic 

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 18:54

CNA Staff, May 6, 2020 / 04:54 pm (CNA).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference have denounced acts of racial prejudice against Asian Americans as the world continues battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our hearts go out to all those who have been victims of these vile displays of racism and xenophobia,” said a May 5 statement by Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, chair of the bishops' Committee for Cultural Diversity in the Church; Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, head of the Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs; and Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

“These dreadful occurrences are a reminder that, in an environment of increased anxiety and fear, racial profiling and discrimination continue to negatively impact the lives of certain populations, adding to the pain and suffering already caused by the pandemic,” they said.

The bishops said that the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, has prompted acts of charity and courage, but has also led to tension, impacting social interactions and racial perceptions.

“The pandemic resulting from the new coronavirus continues to sweep across the world, impacting our everyday behavior, practices, perceptions, and the way we interact with one another,” they said.

“We are also alarmed to note the increase in reported incidents of bullying and verbal and physical assaults, particularly against Americans of Asian and Pacific Island heritage.”

As examples, the bishops pointed to a significant percentage of Asian Americans who work in health care, risking their lives to do so. In some cases, they said, these people have experienced rejection as patients request to be treated by health practitioners of a different race. They also noted some large cities, prior to the economic shutdown, saw a sharp decrease in patronage toward business operated by Asian Americans.

“These are only a few painful examples of the continuing harassment and racial discrimination suffered by people of Asian and Pacific Islanders and others in our country,” they said.

“As Catholic bishops, we find these actions absolutely unacceptable. We call on Catholics, fellow Christians and all people of good will to help stop all racially motivated discriminatory actions and attitudes, for they are attacks against human life and dignity and are contrary to Gospel values.”

The bishops pointed to the 2018 pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts, which condemns racism as a failure to acknowledge others as children of God.

In their May 5 statement, Archbishop Pérez, Bishop Solis, and Bishop Fabre warned that given the United States’ history of racial prejudice, if the current acts of unjust discrimination are uncontested, it could lead to “normalization of violence and abuse against particular groups.”

“It would be a tragedy for the United States to repeat this history or for any American to act as if it is appropriate to do so,” they said.

In response to the recent incidents of racism throughout the country, the bishops urged Americans to reject racial categorizations, verbal assaults, and all forms of violence. They also challenged elected officials and public institutions to promote peace.

“We encourage all individuals, families and congregations to assist in promoting a greater appreciation and understanding of the authentic human values and cultural contributions brought by each racial heritage in our country,” they added.

The bishops voiced their hope that the pandemic will become an opportunity for Americans to build solidarity by embracing acts of harmony and compassion, contributing to a stronger and more unified country.

“The reality of the times and all the suffering caused by this pandemic call for a stronger resolve towards unity, demonstrated through acts of solidarity, kindness and love toward one another, so that we can emerge from this crisis renewed and stronger as one American people; a people that places value in every human life, regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender or religious affiliation,” they said.

Flowers of the fairest: How to plant a Mary garden

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 18:49

Denver Newsroom, May 6, 2020 / 04:49 pm (CNA).- Because of the ongoing pandemic, most Catholic parishes in the United States have had to forgo a treasured spring tradition this year: crowning Mary with flowers to honor her during the Marian month of May.

But planting a Mary garden can be another way of honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary with flowers this spring and summer while staying at home.

The tradition of planting Mary Gardens goes back centuries. In the Middle Ages, when much of the population was illiterate, priests and religious brothers and sisters would plant gardens and give the flowers and herbs religious names and symbolism in order to teach people about the faith, in the same way they would use stained glass windows to tell stories of the bible or the saints.

Katrina Harrington, a Catholic artist and mother living in California, has always loved flowers and her middle name - which is Rose. While she doesn’t consider herself a master gardener, she is a watercolor artist, and for a long time, flowers have been her favorite subject.

But several years ago, Harrington was seeking new inspiration and meaning for her art.

“I was trying to find some hidden meaning that I could add to it,” she said. “I have always loved hidden meanings, that's one of the things I love about Catholic churches. For example, on the altar at the church I grew up in, I remember seeing that there were five marks, for the five wounds of Jesus.”

Harrington also remembered that, when she had been in high school, there was a club for Mary gardens - but it was one of the few activities she wasn’t involved in. She decided to do some research to see what Mary gardens were all about.

“I googled Mary gardens, just thinking, ‘What was that club even about? Is there anything that I can learn from it?’ And it turns out that the University of Dayton has a library focused just on Mary gardens. Their archives are full of so much information about Mary gardens. And I went down that rabbit hole - or I guess flower hole - and I've read so much about Mary gardens through that.”

Harrington said she also ordered about every book on Mary gardens that she could find.

“It's really helped my faith, and it's helped me to teach our faith to my children when we're out walking.”

There are many different kinds of flowers and herbs that take on Marian significance that can be planted in a Mary garden, Harrington said.

Perhaps the most obvious flower associated with Mary is a rose.

“Our Lady is called The Mystical Rose. And also, when you hear about the beginnings of the rosary that was given to Saint Dominic, you hear about different legends where, as different saints prayed, roses would float up to Our Lady and she would gather them. So, every time we pray a rosary, I tell my children that ‘you are giving Our Lady a beautiful bouquet. We're giving our Blessed Mother a crown of flowers,’” she said.

Columbines are another flower that can be planted in Mary gardens. Depending on their color, they can take on different religious meanings.

“Columbines that are red can often be called the Pentecostal Holy Spirit flower because, if you've ever seen them, they kind of point upside down with petals that look like...tongues of fire pointing up. So they look like the Holy Spirit coming down at Pentecost upon the Apostles' heads,” she said.

But if the columbines are white, they are called “Our Lady’s Shoes”

“Another legend associated with the columbine is when Our Lady found out that her cousin Elizabeth was expecting Saint John the Baptist, and she walked to go take care of her,” Harrington said.

Legend has it “that everywhere Our Lady's shoes or her slippers touched, little white columbines sprouted out of the earth marking her path. So, the other name for columbine would be ‘Our Lady's Shoes,’” she explained.

Pansies have been given the Marian name “‘Our Lady's Delight,’ and with that, we can tell our kids to think of how Our Lady delighted in Christ, in having him so close in her life,” Harrington explained.

Sunflowers have also been called “Mary’s Gold,” and can be reminiscent of Mary’s golden crown as Queen of Heaven and Earth, she said.

In her home state of California, bright fuchsia bougainvillea flowers grow abundantly on bushes, and have the religious name of “trinitaria, for Trinity, because in the middle of those flowers are three little white petals, and that's surrounded then by the three pink pedals,” Harrington said.

“So when we walk by, I tell my children, ‘Oh, this is trinitaria. What prayers should we pray?’ And they know that then, we'll pray the Glory Be. That's been really great, to always be pointing my children to the Divine and having fun stories that could help them really lock in that image” and lead them into prayer, she said.

Rosemary and lavender are two herbs that have traditionally been called “Our Lady’s drying plants,” Harrington noted.

“The legend goes that when Our Lady was doing laundry for the Christ child, she laid his swaddling clothes upon the rosemary plant or the lavender bush and that is how they dried. And then that's also how they got their sweet heavenly scents.”

Harrington paints and sells prints of various Marian flowers, including prints that have specific flowers representing the various mysteries of the rosary.

While her grandmother and parents have been the true gardeners of the family, Harrington said this year, because of the extra time at home due to coronavirus, she was inspired to start planting her own Mary garden.

“I am just very much a novice, but I'm excited to try during this shelter in place, social distancing time. I'm really excited to plant a Mary garden for my kids to help tend to and for us to be inspired by the beauty of God's creation,” she said.

And she’s not the only one. Harrington said this year, she has noticed an uptick in interest in Mary gardens from followers of her social media and art website.

“Since the pandemic and the accompanying shelter in place that has led to an extraordinary amount of time at home, I think people are paying more attention to what surrounds them in their home,” she said.

“They want their home to be a place of refuge, a place of harboring health, and a place that points them to the divine. A Mary garden is a way to tend to beauty and is a perfect conduit to Jesus as the Blessed Mother always leads us to her Son. There have been many questions as to where to purchase a Mary statue for their garden and what flowers to include,” she said.

Harrington said to start a Mary garden, she advises people to look up what plants and flowers are native to their area, and which of those have Marian meanings. She then recommends that people either order seeds online or call their local nurseries to see what plants are available. It’s important to take into account factors like sunlight, and whether the plants will be indoors or outdoors, she said.

Harrington added that anyone could start a Mary garden, even if they don’t own land.

“It's important to remember that when you're trying to use flowers as a prayer guide, to not be so stuck on the word ‘garden’ and that you have to have land. My family and I, we rent. We don't really actually have a big yard. We don't have any grass. But we can plant in pots,” she said.

“If you have only an indoor space or a small outdoor space, I would try to find a great plant that doesn't need a ton of sunlight that can be on a windowsill,” she said. “And if you can, just put your statue of Our Lady next to that.”

Harrington said she hopes to publish guides to Marian gardens sometime soon, and more information on those or her art can be found on her website.

She said now in particular is a good time for people to slow down and enjoy the leisure of gardening, since most people have to stay at home much more than they are used to due to the pandemic, and she hopes that Mary gardens can be a source of joy and rest for those who plant one.

“As Saint Paul of The Cross said: ‘Let everything in creation draw you to God. Refresh your mind with some innocent recreation and needful rest. If it were only to saunter through the garden or the field, listening to the sermon preached by the flowers, the trees, the meadows, the sun, the sky, and the whole universe, you will find that they exhort you to love and praise God, that they excite you to extol the greatness of the sovereign architect who has given them their being.’”

Bankruptcy filing stalls case involving New Orleans Saints, archdiocese

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 18:11

CNA Staff, May 6, 2020 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans archdiocese’ recent declaration of bankruptcy will freeze a court case alleging executives for the New Orleans Saints football team helped the archdiocese, through public relations efforts, “conceal” the crimes of abusive clergy.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans declared bankruptcy May 1, a move which Archbishop Gregory Aymond said will allow funds to be given directly to sex abuse victims rather than being tied up in prolonged litigation efforts.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy declaration also freezes the numerous sexual abuse lawsuits the archdiocese currently is facing, including the suit involving New Orleans Saints executives. There is no concrete timeline for the reorganization to take place.

At the center of the suit in question is George Brignac, a deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans who was removed from ministry in 1988 after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The New Orleans archdiocese has already settled several lawsuits involving Brignac, and in September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape.

Attorneys representing an alleged victim of the abusive deacon say the archdiocese failed to protect the minor from Brignac. Brignac was listed among a November 2018 report of New Orleans archdiocesan clergy who were removed from ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

As part of the case, the attorneys accused Greg Bensel, the Saints’ Senior VP of Communications, and other employees, of assisting the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior” by means of advising Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiff’s attorneys say that Bensel helped the archdiocese craft its list of accused clergy.

Lawyers for the Saints “acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure,” the AP reported.

The football team's lawyers called the assistance “the opposite of concealment” and called claims it had abetted the coverup of crimes “outrageous.”

The plaintiffs in the case are seeking to have the communications between the Saints and archdiocese made public, a move both parties oppose. The AP has filed a motion in support of the communications’ release.

Judge Carolyn Jefferson, a retired judge of the Civil District Court for Orleans, during February 2020 presided over a hearing on whether email correspondence between the two parties should be made public.

A separate lawsuit against the archdiocese, also frozen, alleges that Aymond and his three predecessors systematically concealed the crimes of Father Lawrence Hecker, an 88-year-old priest removed from active ministry in 2002 after accusations that he abused “countless children,” the Associated Press reports.

Analysis: The US Church is going broke. Here's why, and what it could mean

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 16:50

Denver Newsroom, May 6, 2020 / 02:50 pm (CNA).- Well into the pandemic’s grip on American public life, parishes and dioceses are preparing a return to some new kind of normal.

Masses are resuming, albeit for small numbers in limited circumstances. Catholic schools and universities are making plans to reopen in the fall. Regrettably, even the ordinary fault lines and debates among Catholics, somewhat muted in recent months, are beginning to be revived.

But while some acute effects of the pandemic will shape the Church in the months to come, the collapsing global economy will have a far more enduring and dramatic impact on parishes, chanceries, and other Catholic ministries.

In other words, barring some kind of miraculous economic recovery, the Church, at least in the U.S., ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  

Despite some difficult bumps in the early weeks, many U.S. bishops seem to have found a reasonable balance between the spiritual needs of their flocks and the legitimate demands of public health officials.

Nevertheless, while dioceses are doing many things right, or at least better than they were at the beginning of the quarantines, few have found effective ways to continue raising money. And the cash crunch has already begun reshaping what the life of the Church will look like after the pandemic.

Parishes are funded mostly by their weekly collections, with some additional contribution to operational expenses from endowments or bequests that generate predictable revenue each year. Special projects like construction or renovation are usually funded by pledge drives, and financed through loans.

Even in ordinary times, Catholics are not generally known for generosity to parish collection plates: the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates that Catholic families registered in a parish give an average of $10 per week to that parish. By most estimates, that number has been on the decline since the 2018 sexual abuse scandal, which has prompted widespread frustration with bishops among active Catholics.

From that $10, parishes pay their priests and lay personnel, including insurance and retirement costs, fund religious education and other ministries, maintain old buildings, and, if they have a school, subsidize the school. Parishes also give some portion of their annual revenue to their diocese, in the form of a tax, although in some dioceses the parish goal for annual diocesan fundraising drive takes the place of a direct assessment.

In some parishes, costs to the diocese are the single biggest expense each month.

In recent years, parishes have made efforts to increase their online giving support, not in anticipation of a pandemic, but because income that comes from online giving is more predictable than parish offertory, and predictable income makes it easier to budget. Still, most studies suggest that online giving makes up only a small fraction of revenue for most parishes.

In short, even when people can actually go to Mass, the margins in most parishes are thin.

Those thin margins are why parish lay employees across the country have already faced layoffs or furloughs. While staff size in American parishes varies widely, in 2015 nearly 40,000 lay ministry professionals were employed in roughly 17,000 American parishes; an average of more than two such professionals, often religious education coordinators or youth ministers, per parish.

To avoid layoffs, some dioceses and parishes have applied for, and received federal payroll aid, but some applied after initial funding had run out, and others simply haven’t applied.

In any case, federal payroll aid is intended to cover a short-term decrease in revenue stemming from the immediate work stoppages of recent months. It is not designed to cover a long-term decrease in giving that could be occasioned by a lengthy faltering of them American economy. And while the stock market tends not to impact parish offertory, unemployment rates are generally thought to have more significant impact on the collection plate. This means that alongside a long road to job recovery for the country, most parish jobs will be slow to come back, and some are unlikely to come back at all.

While payroll is an ongoing cash obligation for most parishes, building maintenance is an ever-looming parish liability that, many pastors know, can quickly become expensive.

Parishes tend to spend what they have to do the ministry in front of them. Except in dioceses where building maintenance is regularly audited, or when pastors are especially zealous, routine maintenance on old buildings is often delayed or neglected. Few parishes account for depreciation. When something breaks, the cost is high. And with dramatically decreased collections this year, what little maintenance might have been done is likely to be deferred.

When a boiler breaks or a roof starts leaking, parishes will turn to their dioceses for help.

Indeed, many U.S. dioceses have already begun looking for ways to provide emergency cash grants to parishes with immediate need. That need includes emergencies, but in some places, it also includes payroll assistance, and loan repayments for outside construction loans. Those cash grants are a hit to diocesan cash reserves, which, in many places, are themselves already insufficient.

Meanwhile, dioceses are, like parishes, anticipating significant revenue reductions in the current quarter and in the next fiscal year. Dioceses are funded through taxes or assessments, which are sometimes linked to annual appeals, in addition to the earnings from investment portfolios, real estate holdings, and endowments or foundations. Some cash is unrestricted, but some may be spent only on certain things. Some dioceses also charge parishes fees for some shared services, though in other places no such fees are assessed.

Also like parishes, dioceses across the country have begun announcing layoffs and furloughs. But those measures may not be enough. Several dioceses have announced the end of their diocesan newspapers, reduction in priest salaries, or begun passing on a greater share of healthcare costs to employees.

If, as projected, the economic downturn is long-lasting, there will be other measures- Dioceses are likely to halt all renovation projects or new constructions, sell off properties, shutter ministry centers, and neglect long-term obligations, including self-funded priest pension plans, many of which are already underfunded. Some of those measures simply pass the costs of the present into the future; they nevertheless will need eventually to be paid.

Many dioceses operate small savings-and-loan operations, in which parishes can deposit their savings and earn interest, and cash can be loaned to other parishes for construction or renovation. If parishes pull their cash reserves, dioceses will halt loans. If they halt loans, they’ll also have difficulty paying interest on deposits, and parishes will be less likely to put new money on deposit.

The mutual aid of non-profit savings-and-loan will likely dry up, and future parish projects will require bank loans, at far higher interest rates, and under much harsher terms. There will be simply fewer of those projects permitted.

Not all dioceses will be impacted equally, but several have already begun announcing the layoffs and closures that signal their financial positions.

As dioceses find themselves increasingly strapped, many bishops will become, almost certainly, less eager to send money to the bishops’ conference in Washington, DC.

In January, the U.S. bishops approved an increase on the amount of money they must send to the USCCB - but barely. The measure, similar to one passed in 2017, barely got the two-thirds majority it required, something conference officials attributed to the financial challenges and giving downturn of the 2018 sexual abuse scandal.

But in November 2019, Archbishop Charles Chaput offered another objection to increasing funding to the USCCB. “I don’t think that some of the work of the USCCB is essential to the mission of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he said.

With diocesan revenues on the decline, the conference can surely expect to see its unrestricted revenues drop, considerably, and to see more bishops raise questions about whether the offices of the USCCB are providing a meaningful return for the Catholics in their pews.

While the USCCB has given no indication of its financial situation, some conference staffers tell CNA they are expecting a round of layoffs.

In short, from parish to conference, the Church in the U.S. should expect to see considerable reductions in staff in months to come, and a long road to rehiring. Maintaining properties will become more difficult for the Church, and meeting debt and other long-term obligations will also become a challenge.

The economic downturn likely forecasts more diocesan bankruptcies, the closure and sale of parish and diocesan properties, a financially poorer presbyterate, and considerably smaller ministry staffs at every level. What those things mean for the future of the Church is a matter of perspective.

Few will be glad to see ministry professionals lose their livelihoods, or to see the families of Church workers face uncertain futures. Few will be glad to see churches paid for by past generations fall into disrepair or be sold. Few will be glad to see retreat centers or schools shuttered.

Some will likely praise the winnowing of the Church’s bureaucratic class. But those with day-to-day experience of ministry professionals will acknowledge, even while criticizing a tendency towards bureacratic bloat, that the individuals who fill Church positions usually do so because of a desire to serve Christ and the People of God, and usually do so after ample investment in their own education for ministry.

Nevertheless, barring some dramatic change in forecasts, those things seem practically inevitable.

They will require a new way of living the Church’s life, or the rediscovery of old ways.

A poorer U.S. church, even one made poor through tragedy, might find that it meets the vision of Pope Francis' hope of a "poor Church for the poor."

Such a Church will require more Catholics to take personal responsibility for the mission of the parish, the diocese, and, ultimately, the Gospel.

The downturn may well occasion a rise in prominence and influence of ecclesial movements, whose lay members generally far more time than other Catholics, and often with more evangelical fervor. It may also occasion the development of small tight-knit faith communities within parishes, who meet regularly in small groups, in homes, rather than in large parish events. It might even occasion a rise in the frequency of catechesis undertaken mostly at home, by parents themselves.

The downturn might also occasion a new opportunity for evangelization, as people shaken by the pandemic and its aftershocks find themselves looking for meaning. That evangelization will likely be done organically, which is say to cheaply, rather than by large-scale initiatives driven by expensive and time-consuming pastoral plans.

None of those things are new, but all of them might seem like novelties in the months to come. But whether bishops encourage embracing a new way of seeing the Christian vocation, or instead try to get back to “business as usual,” remains to be seen.

The U.S. is facing an unprecedented time in its history. But the Church is not: she has faced plagues, pandemics, and depressions before.

This pandemic, and the economy, will disrupt the typical parish experience of American Catholics for a long-time to come. But bishops might just begin to look to the Church’s past, to articulate a vision of hope for her future. 

 

'It’s not just our science, it’s our compassion', Catholic nurse tells White House

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 16:45

Washington D.C., May 6, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- A Catholic nurse shared her experience treating new coronavirus patients at a White House event for National Nurses Day on May 6.

Maria Arvonio, a registered nurse and board member of the National Association of Catholic Nurses USA for ten years, was one of several nurses present at the White House on Wednesday to share her experience of treating patients with COVID-19 at her hospital in South Jersey.

She recalled her first time with a patient being transferred to the ICU, “this patient was so scared, you should have seen her face,” said Arvonio, who supervises the night shift at Virtua Willingboro Medical Center in a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia.

The town of Williamsboro, in Burlington County, NJ, is in a COVID-19 “hot zone,” Arvonio noted.

With the nurses dressed in gowns, masks, and other protective equipment—“we look like we’re going to the moon, basically,” Arvonio said—she recounted touching the patient’s hand and telling her she would be “okay.”

“She didn’t wind up on the ventilator, we got her out of there,” Arvonio said. “I know it’s prayer, I know it’s the compassion of the nurse. It’s not just our science, it’s our compassion.”

Arvonio spoke directly to President Trump at the White House event for National Nurses Day. Other administration officials present included Vice President Mike Pence, coronavirus response coordinator Ambassador Debbie Birx, M.D., health secretary Alex Azar, and president of the American Nurses Association Ernest Grant.

“This is really the worst attack we've ever had. This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There's never been an attack like this," Trump said of the new coronavirus pandemic, according to the Wednesday White House pool report.

He signed a proclamation for National Nurses Day, stating that “nurses reflect the character of America and epitomize the inexhaustible capacity of the human spirit.  These remarkable caregivers exhibit professional expertise, selfless dedication, unrelenting advocacy, and unsurpassed mercy, strength, and compassion.”

Burlington County has seen more than 3,200 positive cases of the virus and 177 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the New Jersey health department.

Nationwide, there have been more than 1.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 68,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday.

“Throughout these years, I administer nursing care to patients with contagious diseases,” Arvonio said in her written statement for the White House, but said that the current COVID-19 is the most “concerning” of them all.

“Yet, myself and all the beautiful nurses I am blessed to work with, continue to report to work with the same dedication and love for their patients regardless of this deadly virus,” she stated.

According to the pool report, another of the event’s participants—Sophia Thomas, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners—spoke to the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) health care workers are facing around the country. Thomas said she had been reusing her N95 respiratory mask for several weeks.

With social distancing in place, Archbishop Hartmayer installed in Atlanta

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 14:15

CNA Staff, May 6, 2020 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Installation Masses typically see cathedrals filled to the brim with members of the Catholic faithful, with hundreds of priests attending.

But the installation of Archbishop Gregory Hartmayer as head of the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Wednesday took place in a nearly-empty church.

Just a handful of priests and bishops concelebrated the Mass, their seats spaced out to follow social distancing guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic continues to prevent large gatherings of people. Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, delivered a greeting and read the papal bull with Hartmayer’s appointment via video rather than in person.

Maureen Smith, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said it was a challenge to maintain the tradition of the installation Mass without many of the normal people who be present, according to the Associated Press.

The Mass was broadcast live on EWTN from the Cathedral of Christ the King, so that members of the diocese could watch from home.

In his homily, Hartmayer acknowledged the unusual circumstances.

“I am somewhat distressed that those I love, those I revere, those I have been asked to tend in [Christ’s] name are not gathered around me,” he said. “This cathedral is empty. And yet is it filled with the presence of the guiding force of the Holy Spirit.”

He emphasized the need to trust in God’s loving guidance as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

“I stand before you today as both sheep and shepherd,” he said, stressing his own reliance on Christ as he moves forward as head of the diocese.

Hartmayer reflected on his calling to imitate Christ as he takes over leadership of the archdiocese.

“Shepherds are called to love unconditionally…True shepherd give their lives to those who have been entrusted to them. They do not live for themselves.”

A member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Archbishop Hartmayer had previously served as bishop of Savannah since 2011.

In Atlanta, he follows Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who was appointed to head the Archdiocese of Washington in early 2019, after leading the Georgia archdiocese for almost 15 years.

Hartmayer was born in 1951 in Buffalo, New York, one of four children.

He joined the Conventual Franciscan novitiate in Ellicott City, Maryland in 1969 and made his solemn profession in 1973.

He was ordained a priest for the Franciscan order in 1979.

In addition to a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Massachusetts, Hartmayer holds three master's degrees: a master of divinity degree from St. Anthony-on-Hudson, in Rensselaer, New York; a master of arts degree in pastoral counseling from Emmanuel College, Boston and a master of education degree from Boston College.

Prior to being named bishop of Savannah, Hartmayer had spent 16 of his 32 years of priesthood in Catholic high school education, with the remaining in parish ministry.

He spent many years in New York and Massachusetts, but in 1995, he moved south to teach at a Catholic high school in Florida, before being asked to serve as pastor of St. Philip Benizi Church in Jonesboro, Georgia. He was appointed bishop of Savannah in 2011.

The Archdiocese of Atlanta covers 21,445 square miles in the northern half of Georgia. The archdiocese has over 100 parishes and serves around 1.2 million Catholics, according to 2018 stats.
 

Little Sisters make call for justice to Supreme Court

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 14:08

Washington D.C., May 6, 2020 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- During a week in which the Supreme Court heard arguments via telephone for the first time, the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor came back before the justices on Wednesday.

The court decided to hold oral arguments via conference call as Washington, D.C., is under a stay-at-home order and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends gatherings of no more than 10 people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Oral arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, originally scheduled to be held in-person at the Court on April 29, were rescheduled and held remotely on May 6.

Justices heard from attorneys representing the Trump administration, the Little Sisters, and the state of Pennsylvania, as the nuns were back at the Supreme Court four years after their case against the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate was first considered.

“For nearly a decade, we have been in a battle for the soul of our ministry,” said Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, in a telephonic press conference after the arguments.

“We could not comply with the mandate. To do so would undermine our most important belief: that all life is valuable,” she said. “We cannot hold the hands of the elderly dying, while at the same time facilitating the ending of unborn life.”

The case dates back nearly a decade when, in 2011, the Obama administration finalized rules requiring employers to offer cost-free contraceptives, sterilizations, and emergency birth control in employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Later, the administration announced an “accommodation” for objecting religious non-profits that involved them notifying the government of their objection to providing the contraceptive coverage; the government would then direct their insurer or third-party plan administrator to provide the coverage.

The Little Sisters and other Catholic groups, including Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, sued in 2013, saying that the accommodation still substantially burdened their free exercise of religion.

Mark Rienzi, president of Becket which represents the sisters, explained on Wednesday why the accommodation was still a “substantial burden” on the nuns’ religious mission.

“Signing the piece of paper is what authorizes the government and authorizes other parties to use your plan in a way that violates your religion,” he said, and by signing the form stating their objection the sisters were essentially giving a “permission slip” for the provision of contraceptives to employees in their health plan.

In 2016, a divided Supreme Court sent the case back down to lower courts and instructed both the objecting Catholic groups and the Obama administration to come to an agreement upholding both the government’s “compelling interest” of offering cost-free contraceptive coverage and the Catholic groups’ desire to remain free of objectionable participation in such coverage.

During oral arguments on Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer both expressed confusion as to why an accommodation had not been reached in the case.

“I didn’t understand the problem at the time of [the first hearing], and I don’t think I understand it now,” Roberts said. Later on, Breyer echoed his confusion, “I don’t understand why this can’t be worked out.”

Paul Clement, representing the Sisters, responded to Roberts that by filling out the form expressing their religious objection to the government, the nuns were essentially giving a “permission slip” for birth control to be provided to employees. Given the threat of heavy fines if they didn’t comply with the accommodation, this put a substantial burden on their religious practice, he said.

There was no mechanism, outside of a religious exemption, to come to an agreement, Clement said, because the requirement of the ACA mandate for “seamless” contraceptive coverage through the Little Sisters’ health plans.

The Trump administration in 2017 offered a religious and a moral exemption to the mandate, but the states of Pennsylvania and California subsequently sued, saying that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in carving out the religious exemptions which they said contradicted the compelling state interest in providing contraceptive coverage.

In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the Little Sisters to intervene in the cases in California and Pennsylvania; both the Third and Ninth Circuit Courts ruled against them, and in January the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter.

The states “dragged us back to court to defend our hard-won religious exemption,” Sister Loraine said on Wednesday, noting that for seven years, the legal battle over the mandate has “hung over our ministry like a storm cloud.”

Clement told the court on Wednesday that there is a lack of injury from the sisters refusal to comply with the mandate, noting that “we have not heard of even a single employee who views this as a problem.”

Michael Fischer, chief deputy attorney general for the state of Pennsylvania, said the sisters’ health insurance plans were not “being hijacked” by the state, noting that the order is protected by an injunction, and that the state’s case was against the Trump administration’s religious exemptions which put a cost on the states.

Fischer argued for a more restrictive view of religious exemptions than the Obama administration’s original mandate which initially exempted churches and their integrated auxiliaries. Fischer argued that health plans of church ministers could be religiously exempt from the mandate, but not those of church employees like janitors.

Some justices were critical of the religious exemption and the nuns’ argument.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the Trump administration’s religious exemption “tossed to the wind entirely Congress’ instructions” that women receive “seamless, no-cost, comprehensive coverage” for contraceptives and sterilizations.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Clement whether an employer could refuse to provide mandatory COVID-19 vaccine coverage if they had a religious objection to vaccination. Clement replied that they could.

World is 'washing its hands' of Lebanon, Maronite bishop warns

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 12:00

Washington D.C., May 6, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Supporting Lebanon’s Christian population is key to ensuring the political survival of the country and wider regional security, a Maronite bishop said Tuesday. 

Bishop Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles said that the prospect of one of the few democratic nations in the Middle East becoming a failed state would have dire consequences for its Christian community and for wider regional stability.

The bishops made the comments during a discussion organized by the group In Defense of Christians, titled “President Trump’s Middle East Priorities Intersecting in Lebanon,” and hosted by IDC policy director Peter Burns. 

Bishop Zaidan was joined by Robert Nicholson, the founder and executive director of the Philos Project, and Alberto Fernandez, president of Middle East Broadcasting Networks. 

“It is in the best interest in the whole world to keep Lebanon as free, as democratic, as independent and sovereign as much as possible,” said Zaidan. 

“And the only way you can make this happen [is by] strengthening the presence of Christians,” he added. 

Zaidan explained that it was not a question of privileging Christians in Lebanon over other religious groups in the country “making them servants,” but that Christians need to have an equal footing with every other group in the country and the same rights and voice in the political sphere. 

Lebanon has the largest Christian population in the Middle East, with Christians making up about a third of the population of Lebanon. Most Lebanese Christians are Maronite or Eastern Orthodox.

Zaidan said that the rising instability is causing Christians a steady exodus from the region and adding to instability in the country. 

“As a Christian, [they] would start giving up right away,” he said. “They fear ‘the country is not mine, and I’m leaving.’”

A stable and more democratic Lebanon would be a boon to its neighbor Israel, he said, as the two countries are now constantly “at the edge of war.” And he suggested that a pluralistic Lebanon with a strong Christian population would serve to de-escalate tensions in the region. 

“As for Israel, you don’t need another fanatic country that could threaten the presence of Israel as well,” said the bishop. Israel and Lebanon are the two most democratic countries in the Middle East, Zaidan explained, but he expressed concern at how the country’s mullahs are able to swing elections toward a certain candidate. 

The bishop said that it was “obvious” that Lebanon is “becoming more and more hostage to Iranian interests,” and to Hezbollah, an Islamist militant political party - designated a terrorist actor by the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.

Lebanon remains in the grip of civil unrest, with mass protests ongoing since October 2019. The economy has collapsed and its currency has crashed. Zaidan said it is essential that the international community take steps to support the country’s democratic institutions.

“If the American government let the state fall, it would be disastrous,” he said. “That’s when Hezbollah can take over, easily. And the Christians will give up right away.” 

Zaidan said it was crucial to ensure that Lebanon “doesn’t collapse at every level,” from economics to society, and he does not think enough is being done.

“I feel like right now, Lebanon is in intensive care. It’s a patient, and I don’t think anybody is visiting them,” likening the situation to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The whole world, they’re washing their hands.”

'Virtual rally' and rosary will pray for Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court hearing

Wed, 05/06/2020 - 01:05

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 11:05 pm (CNA).- Catholics will pray the rosary online Wednesday morning as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments by telephone in the latest chapter of Little Sisters of the Poor’s ongoing legal battle against the HHS contraceptive mandate.

“Join me and many others in prayerful support of the Little Sisters of the Poor. As you may know, the Little Sisters of the Poor are preparing to meet with the Supreme Court of the United States in a fight for religious freedom,” said Sr. Maria Juan, RSM, in an online message posted by the Conference of Major Superiors of Women.

“Since at this time we are unable to gather together in large crowds, we are hosting an online virtual rally, and we hope you will join us, wherever you are,” Sr. Maria Juan added.

“Friends of the Little Sisters of the Poor will offer messages of support,” before the praying the rosary “in preparation” for Supreme Court oral arguments that will take place the same morning.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Women, along with Becket, the nonprofit law firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, are organizing the rally and rosary, which will be livestreamed at 8:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday morning on Becket’s Facebook page.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments over the telephone at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with the public invited to listen in live.

Oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were scheduled originally for April 29, but the court announced in early April that the arguments would be postponed “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19,” along with other cases due to have been heard that week and the previous week.

The case of the Little Sisters involves their religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate.

The states of Pennsylvania and California have sued the Trump administration to strip the religious community of their exemption to the mandate. In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the sisters to intervene in the states’ lawsuits.

“In this trying time for our nation, the Little Sisters of the Poor are dedicated to protecting their elderly residents from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket which represents the sisters in court, in a statement released Friday.

“Now more than ever the sisters need the freedom to focus solely on that mission.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor have spent years in litigation related to the mandate. The 2010 Affordable Care Act mandated certain preventive coverage in health care, and the Obama administration interpreted the mandate to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilizations.

Afterward, the administration announced a process by which non-profits with religious or conscientious objections could notify the government, which in turn would direct their insurer or third-party plan administrator to provide the coverage in employee health plans.

Religious institutions, including the Little Sisters and Catholic dioceses, said that the “accommodation” still forced them to violate their religious beliefs in the provision of morally-objectionable procedures in employee health plans.

The case of the Little Sisters, bundled together with other cases, was heard by the Supreme Court which, in 2016, sent the case back down to lower courts, instructing the religious entities and the government to come to an agreement whereby the wishes of both parties could be attained.

In 2017, the Trump administration issued a rule exempting the Little Sisters and other religious entities from the mandate. State attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California then challenged the exemption in court.

The Little Sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July of 2019, and lost their case against California at the Ninth Circuit Court in October. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear their case.

Kalamazoo bishop urges prayers, support for parishes during coronavirus

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 19:01

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo released a pastoral letter Friday encouraging support for parishes during the pandemic, and announcing the diocesan-wide bishop’s appeal would be rescheduled for later in the year.

“As I have said many times before, strong Parishes make a strong Diocese and we are working to ensure our Parishes are financially secure,” Bishop Bradley wrote May 1.

Many parishes are experiencing budget shortfalls due to decreased in-person donations. Data from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate suggests that throughout the US, collections may only be about 42% of what they would have been without the pandemic.

“Although we have been forced to change the way we have been providing our ministries, our mission remains the same. We are committed to proclaiming the Gospel, to prayer and worship, to lifelong faith formation, and to serving the needs of all God’s people,” Bradley wrote, noting that the diocese has set up a dedicated parish fund where people can donate.

In his letter, “From Darkness to Light: Hope for a new Pentecost”, Bishop Bradley also announced that the first event he will schedule when public liturgies do eventually resume will be a Mass of Thanksgiving.

“This special Mass of Thanksgiving will be an opportunity to bring together our priests, deacons and our Lay Faithful in a prayerful expression of our thanks to God for the blessings we continue to receive here in southwest Michigan,” he said.

He noted that the diocese is in the midst of observing a Year of the Eucharist.

He prayed that the time spent without public celebration of the Eucharist would foster a renewed devotion to the Real Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and that Catholics would “never take the Eucharist for granted again.”

“None of us ever dreamed that during this year when we anticipated a deeper love for and celebration of the Holy Eucharist, that most of us would be without the Body and Blood of Christ for an extended period of time,” Bishop Bradley wrote.

“I pray that our weekly attendance at Mass … and the regular reception of the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance and the reception of the Eucharist, will be our new normal.”

Bishop Bradley noted that the US bishops had reconsecrated the country to Mary on the day of his letter’s release.

He expressed his hope that the Holy Spirit, who emboldened the disciples at Pentecost, would also “transform us from passive participants to active promoters of our faith.” When the pandemic ends, he wrote, he hopes that everyone will have experienced a “profound renewal of our faith in God.”

“While in some way we look forward to a return to a time of normalcy, we all know that we will never be quite the same,” he wrote.

“May Mary, the Mother of the Church, and the Mother of God, bless our Diocese, and all the people we serve, with her compassion and her courage. May she inspire us to avoid returning to business as usual, but rather that we embrace the mission of her Son Jesus, to move forward in hope.”

USCCB: Call with Trump was about schools, not campaign

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 18:41

Denver Newsroom, May 5, 2020 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference has responded to charges that it might have knowingly facilitated illegal campaigning by the White House and the campaign of President Donald Trump when it notified Catholic leaders of an impending phone call with the president.

A spokesperson for the bishops’ conference told CNA May 5 that when it notified Catholic leaders about an April phone call with the president, its goal was to promote advocacy for Catholic education, and that the call had no connection to the president’s reelection campaign.

On April 24, White House officials invited “Catholic Leaders and Educators” to participate in an April 25 call with Trump about the needs of Catholic schools during the coronavirus pandemic. More than 600 people participated in the call, including USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.

During the call, bishops and schools superintendents outlined the work of Catholic schools, and their needs during the pandemic, especially for funding.

The call soon became a matter of controversy.

On April 26, the Crux news website reported that Trump had declared himself the “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church” during the call, and that when Dolan was identified by the president as a “great gentleman” and a “great friend of mine,” the cardinal responded by saying that “the feelings are mutual.”

Critics in Catholic media complained that the bishops on the call did not raise points of disagreement with the president, who has been widely criticized by the U.S. bishops at other times for his stances on immigration and social assistance programs.

Also controversially, Trump appeared during the call to tout his reelection bid, warning that conditions could worsen for Catholics and Catholic schools if a Democratic administration were to take office, and promoting his administration's record on abortion.

The day before the call took place, Lauren McCormack, head of government relations for the bishops’ conference, notified by email some Catholic leaders that the call would take place, and forwarded to them a White House invitation to register for the call.

On May 5, Crux reported that McCormack had warned leaders that “email addresses used to register for the call will be captured by White House and used for additional communication in the future, possibly including from campaign.”

In response to that report, National Catholic Reporter blogger Michal Sean Winters said McCormack’s email was “evidence that Dolan, and at least some key staffers at the bishops' conference, knew that the call was partly a campaign rally.”

Winters alleged it was possible the conference might have aided the White House in illegal or unethical campaign activity, if it knew Trump was planning to campaign from the White House, or that the White House was planning to share with campaign staffers email addresses it had obtained from the call.

But Chieko Noguchi, a U.S. bishops’ conference spokesperson, told CNA May 5 the conference had not colluded with the Trump campaign, or been told by anyone that email addresses might be shared with a campaign. Instead, Noguchi said, McCormack’s warning was speculation.

“A small part of a confidential briefing to bishops was a warning: because they would have to provide an email address to register for the call, they might later receive unwanted email messages from the White House, and possibly the campaign. This warning was based on cautious speculation, not on any communications with the White House,” Noguchi told CNA.

In fact, before McCormack notified leaders that that campaign might obtain their email addresses, USCCB general counsel Anthony Picarello speculated in an email to state Catholic conference directors about the same possibility, calling the chance that email addresses could be shared a “nuisance factor” of which they should be aware.

In their emails, which were obtained by CNA, neither Picarello nor McCormack encouraged Catholic leaders to sign up for the call. And Noguchi told CNA that participation in the call was not about politics.

“The purpose of USCCB’s participation in the April 25 call was to advocate directly with the highest government officials on behalf of U.S. Catholic schools, which face an unprecedented crisis because of COVID-19,” Noguchi said.

“USCCB does not support or oppose any candidate for elective office,” she added.

President Trump is well known to mix official business with campaigning.

During his frequent media briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, the president has mixed information about the government’s response with aspersions cast toward Democrats, especially his likely presidential campaign opponent, Joe Biden. But participants said that while Trump mentioned his reelection during the call, Catholic leaders focused their remarks on their concerns about the pandemic.

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, the USCCB’s education committee chair—along with several Catholic diocesan superintendents, noted the importance of the Paycheck Protection Program loans for Catholic schools to continue operating, and asked for tax deductions for parochial schools and direct tuition aid for parents, according to accounts from leaders on the call.

Archdiocese of Denver school superintendent Elias Moo told CNA last week that he spoke to Trump “about the long history of Catholic education in our country, and how our nation needs schools that provide an educational experience that forms the whole child and values the primacy of parents and of the soul of the human person.”

Sources on the call said the president responded with indication that he would find ways to help Catholic schools during the pandemic, and support efforts to find Congressional funding for education assistance.

Since the call, bishops have received criticism for their engagement with Trump. More than 1,500 people have signed online a letter to Dolan that criticizes the cardinal for “aligning” with Trump, and claims the cardinal has given the impression of endorsing Trump.

Among the signatories are Catholic intellectuals, priests, religious, laity, along with representatives from the “Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests” and the “American National Catholic Church,” a group founded, according to Trenton's Bishop David O'Connell “by schismatic leaders who deny the unity of the Roman Catholic Church and its leadership and laws.”

Dolan has responded by telling reporters that he is committed to working with civic leaders of all parties for the good of the Church.

For his part, Moo, who participated in the call, told CNA that dialogue with civil leaders is a part of Catholic leadership.

“Regardless of one’s political affiliation or preference, it is important for the Church to engage with public officials to discuss the issues that are central to our Catholic faith and mission. In this case, it was the importance and value of Catholic schools as a critical part of the educational fabric of our nation.”

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