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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.”

Bishops urge DOJ to confront the porn industry, protect porn’s victims

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 18:14

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- With pornographic website traffic spiking while countries remain on lockdown, the bishops of the United States are urging the Justice Department to protect victims of human trafficking and exploitation by enforcing obscenity laws and prosecuting producers of violent pornography.

“We write to you today to urge you to confront the ongoing harms wrought by the pornography industry and to protect its victims,” the U.S. bishops wrote in an April 30 letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“This should include enforcement of obscenity laws, investigation of pornography producers and website owners for criminality, national leadership in encouraging states and localities to develop rigorous policies against the industry and in the service of survivors, and more.”

The bishops noted that pornography juggernaut Pornhub has made waves in the past few months by offering free “premium” subscriptions to its content to people in countries on lockdown during the pandemic.

Pornhub claims that on the days that the free premium memberships took effect in Italy, France and Spain, traffic in each country increased by 57%, 38% and 61% respectively compared to an “average day.”

The bishops acknowledged that many people are suffering through lockdowns and isolation alone, and echoed Pope Francis’ call to recognize the importance of “belonging as brothers and sisters” in the midst of crisis.

“Pornography is the antithesis of this. Rather than remembering and loving our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, it objectifies them – often directly exploiting them – and diminishes the health of users’ relationships with others,” the bishops wrote, noting that at least 15 states have declared pornography a public health crisis.

In December 2019, four members of Congress called on Attorney General William Barr to bring back the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force in the DOJ’s Criminal Justice Division.

The task force, founded in 2005 under the George W. Bush administration, was responsible for investigating and prosecuting producers of hard core pornography under obscenity laws. Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, dissolved the task force in 2011.

As the demand for extreme pornography— much of which includes violence— increases, lax or non-enforcement of obscenity laws “may provide a gateway for this demand to metastasize, increasing the incidents of trafficking, child pornography, other abuse, and broader unjust conditions,” the bishops wrote.

Many of the participants in pornographic videos— even if they have legally consented— “have their consent...compromised by desperate circumstances,” while many have not consented at all, the bishops noted.

In addition, pornography can have a devastating effect of families, they wrote. Porn provides a “terrible model and expectation of how persons should treat each other,” especially for the young.

“As pastors, we frequently see the pain that results from a pornography habit,” the bishops concluded.

“Marriages that are injured or even broken by a spouse’s pornography use, which some divorce lawyers report as a factor in over half of their cases, have a ripple effect on children and society. Strong families are necessary for strong, safe communities.”

On March 9, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) called for the attorney general to investigate Pornhub, highlighting the site’s promotion of videos showing the sexual assault and rape of a victim of human trafficking.

During 2019, at least 58 videos of the sexual abuse and rape of a 15-year-old girl appeared on Pornhub. The girl had been missing for a year and reportedly was forced to have an abortion. Her mother found her on the adult website, leading to the arrest of her captor, Christopher Johnson, a 30-year-old Florida man.

As of May 5, more than 862,000 people have signed an online petition at calling for Pornhub to be shut down. The petition also calls for its executives to be held accountable for alleged complicity in human trafficking.

In November, the payment vendor PayPal abruptly cut payment services for Pornhub.

Laila Mickelwait, the creator of the petition and Director of Abolition for Exodus Cry, an anti-trafficking group, told CNA in February that because of the massive amount of content on Pornhub, she believes there are more instances of the sexual exploitation and child pornography than has been reported.

Mickelwait said the company that owns Pornhub has a monopoly on the pornographic industry.

“Everybody's in agreement that children should not be trafficked and raped. Women should not be trafficked and raped for profit, for the sexual pleasure of billions of people who visit that website. There's just no arguing with that,” she said.

Despite coronavirus, virtual town hall to bring L.A. Catholics together

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 18:11

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 04:11 pm (CNA).- A Wednesday live stream “virtual town hall” with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and several Catholic experts aims to hear how Catholics and their families have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and to discuss ways to respond.

“This town hall will give us a chance to come together to pray, to share our experiences, and to talk about how we can strengthen our faith and families as we move forward in these difficult days,” Archbishop Gomez said, according to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' news website Angelus News.

The theme of the event is “Better Together”. The May 6 internet live stream will take place at 12 p.m. Pacific Time.

Those who wish to participate by phone can sign up at the Los Angeles archdiocese's website to receive a call at the start of the event.

“These weeks of stay-at-home orders have brought us together as families like never before,” Gomez said. “It is beautiful to be together, and in many ways, our homes have become our domestic churches, where we especially feel the presence of God in our lives. But we also know that we are facing challenges in our families — fear, uncertainty, all sorts of anxieties and stresses.”

Gomez has invited guests to give practical advice and help address challenges. They will also speak about growing in prayer and building community.

The guests are Helen Alvaré, a law professor based at George Mason University who is an advocate for women and families; Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a psychiatrist, Catholic ethicist, and professor at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine who specializes in children and families; and Catholic youth leader Christina Lamas, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

There will be an opportunity for participants in the town hall to ask questions.

Seven coronavirus fatalities at Michigan convent

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 17:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 5, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- At least seven Felician sisters from a single community in Michigan died due to coronavirus in April. As the Church in the United States continues to count the human cost of the pandemic, the body of the first Catholic priest in the United States to die from the virus is being repatriated to his native Mexico for burial. 

During the month of April, 11 Felician Sisters of Livonia, Michigan died, including two who died on Easter Sunday. A spokesperson from the order told CNA that seven of the deceased sisters had COVID-19, and tests are pending for several others. 

According to their Facebook page, one sister, Sr. Mary Patricia Pyszynski, 93, had been in hospice for the past year and died on April 17 for reasons unrelated to the virus. 

The youngest Felician sister to die in Livonia last month was Sr. Victoria Marie Indyk, 69, who died on April 26. Indyk had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The eldest was Sr. Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak, 99. Wawrzyniak, who died on April 10, had been a Felician sister for 80 years, and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while as a novice sister.

According to Bridge Magazine, a Michigan publication, Wawrzyniak’s nephew was contacted two days before her death and informed she was very sick. Two sisters on her floor of the house were confirmed to have COVID-19.  

In the entire North American Province, 14 Felicians total have died since shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Not all of these deaths have been related to coronavirus, and the order was unable to confirm exact numbers to CNA. There are approximately 60 convents in the province, and as of April 20, there had been 35 people, including employees, who had been diagnosed with the virus.  

The Felicians, who are formally known as the Congregation of Sisters of St. Felix and Cantalice Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Assisi (CSSF), have been in Livonia for nearly a century. The order founded Madonna University in 1937. 

Michigan has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus outbreak, and has the seventh-highest number of cases in the nation. 

In New York, the body of the first priest in the U.S. to die from the virus is being returned to his home country to be buried. 

Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, 49, died due to complications from coronavirus on March 27, 2020. At the time of his death, Ortiz-Garay was serving as the pastor of St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn. 

Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark in 2004 and affiliated with the Neocatechumenal Way, he had spent the last 10 years working in various parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

Ortiz-Garay’s remains were initially scheduled to arrive in Mexico City on Monday afternoon, but due to various issues with international travel related to coronavirus, are now set to arrive on Wednesday. His casket left the Scotto Funeral Home in Brooklyn on Sunday, May 3.

“Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and we sent home a good shepherd to Mexico, a son of Our Lady of Gudalupe,” said Msgr. Kieran Harrington, Vicar for Communications of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Harrington gave the final blessing over Ortiz-Garay’s casket as it left the funeral home en route to the airport.

The Diocese of Brooklyn said that transporting Ortiz-Garay back to Mexico amid the pandemic was a challenging task, extended thanks to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the New York Police Department, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for helping make it possible. 

Harrington concluded the blessing praying for the repose of Ortiz-Garya’s soul, and “for the consolation of his family, friends, and all those to whom he ministered to in the Diocese of Brooklyn. May he rest in the peace of Christ, the Risen Lord.” 

Due to the suspension of publicly celebrated liturgies, a memorial Mass will be celebrated at the Diocese of Brooklyn when it is once again safe to do so. 

Pro-life leaders ask for FDA crackdown on illegal sale of abortion drugs

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A group of pro-life leaders on Tuesday asked the Trump administration to crack down on illegal internet sales of abortion-causing drugs.

More than a year after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned certain online providers of abortion-inducing drugs that they were breaking the law, pro-life leaders sent a letter to the FDA asking them to take action against the providers.  

The pro-life coalition included Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action, and Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life.

In a letter to FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn, M.D., they praised the FDA for maintaining its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program - which subjects a drug to enhanced scrutiny and regulation - for the abortion-causing drug Mifeprex. The mifepristone and misoprostol regimen, approved by the FDA in 2000 but kept on the REMS program, induces miscarriages in women before ten weeks of pregnancy.

The FDA’s risk mitigation program “REMS” is reserved for higher-risk medications; it requires a certified health care provider to prescribe them in a hospital, clinic, or medical office setting.

However, the safety guidelines “are meaningless” if the drug is sold “over the internet with impunity,” the letter stated, exhorting the FDA “to act now to stop this predatory and dangerous practice.”

There have been calls for the FDA to loosen its regulations of the abortion pill regimen during the new coronavirus pandemic, notably by the New York Times editorial board. Members of Congress wrote the FDA in April urging the administration to maintain its REMS process for the drugs.

In March of 2019, FDA warned online providers AidAccess and Rablon to stop proscribing chemical abortion drugs online. AidAccess, writes online prescriptions for the drugs that are filled out in India and mailed to women in the U.S., and Rablon is an online pharmacy network with websites such as and that offer mail-order access.

Rablon offered an “abortion pill pack” of mifepristone and misoprostol tablets, while AidAccess was offering “combination” packs of the drugs.

In its letter to AidAccess, the FDA said that the regimen “carries a risk of serious or even life-threatening adverse effects, including serious and sometimes fatal infections and prolonged heavy bleeding, which may be a sign of incomplete abortion or other complications."

There are possible other online vendors of the abortion-causing drugs, the letter from pro-lifers said; for instance, the website Plan C provides rankings of the “best” online providers for the drugs.

National novena for farmers to be livestreamed this month

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 13:34

CNA Staff, May 5, 2020 / 11:34 am (CNA).- A national novena to St Isidore the Farmer will be livestreamed by Catholic Rural Life this month, beginning May 7 and concluding with a Mass on May 15, the feast of St. Isidore.

For nearly a century, Catholic Rural Life has been supporting Catholic communities in rural areas. The group hosts the Novena to St. Isidore each year.

“Due to the challenges of the current pandemic, we decided to offer the novena virtually this year,” the organization explained. “Each day a Bishop from our Board of Directors will lead us through the novena, lifting up all the intentions of rural communities throughout our country.”

The four bishops on the board of directors are Bishop Brendan Cahill of Victoria, Texas; Bishop Robert Gruss of Saginaw, Michigan; Bishop John Folda of Fargo, N.D.; and Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri.

“We really do believe we need God’s intervention in this as well,” said Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, according to The Catholic Spirit. “We recognize this (pandemic) is causing a lot havoc in a lot of families.”

Farmers have been among the many groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many restaurants, schools, and farmers markets across America closed indefinitely, farmers are now seeing a decline in demand that compounds the often difficult situations they already face from thin margins, low prices, and difficult weather conditions.

St. Isidore, the patron saint of farmers, was born in Spain in 1070. He worked on a local farm and lived a life of simplicity, prayer, and faith. He died in 1130.

More information on the Catholic Rural Life novena, as well as a printable copy of the novena prayers, can be found on the group’s website. Each day’s prayers will be livestreamed at

Saintly superhero: When Marvel Comics told the life story of John Paul II

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 04:52

Denver Newsroom, May 5, 2020 / 02:52 am (CNA).- Pope St. John Paul II, who led the Catholic Church from 1978 until his death in 2005, is perhaps one of the most compelling figures of the 20th century.

Born nearly 100 years ago on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Woytila— the future pope— endured the loss of most of his family, clandestinely studied for the priesthood while his country was under Nazi rule, and rose through the Church hierarchy while never ceasing to encourage his Polish countrymen to keep the faith while resisting Communist pressure.

He participated in the Second Vatican Council and, upon his election as pope, became the most widely-traveled pontiff ever and likely the most-seen person in the history of the world. He was an academic, and widely regarded as a genius, but also a man of simplicity and humility.

He survived a brutal assassination attempt in 1981, crediting Mary’s intercession for his survival and extending forgiveness to his attacker.

“He's the exemplar of the fact that a life wholly dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Gospel is the most exciting human life possible,” George Weigel, John Paul II’s biographer, told CNA.

“This man lived a life of such extraordinary drama that no Hollywood scriptwriter would dare come up with such a storyline. It would just be regarded as absurd.”

His compelling life story has been told and retold many times, including on the big screen.

But did you know that John Paul II’s life story was once the subject of a Marvel comic book?

Printed in full color and featuring dramatic, stylish visuals, the 1982 comic chronicles the pope’s life, from his childhood in Poland all the way up to the attempt on his life by a would-be assassin.

Marvel, which Disney purchased in a multi-billion dollar acquisition in 2009, is one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and the purveyor of such iconic characters as Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America.

So what persuaded the Marvel executives to green-light a comic book about the then newly-elected pope?

‘Marvel’s Man in Japan’

It all started with Gene Pelc— a New Yorker and Marvel representative living in Japan.

Pelc— whose wife is Japanese— had moved to Japan in the 1970s in order to report back to Marvel on how the comic book company could adapt its products for a Japanese audience.

Pelc was tasked with licensing Spider-Man to play on Japanese television, and was largely successful at what he did, earning the moniker “Marvel’s Man in Japan.”

Pelc told CNA that he and his family went— and still go— to Mass at the Franciscan Chapel Center, a community of English-speaking priests in Tokyo.

Japan was then— and remains today— a very non-Christian country, with Catholics comprising less than half of 1% of the population.

One day, a priest named Father Campion Lally approached Pelc at the Franciscan Chapel Center with an unusual proposition. The eight-hundredth anniversary of St. Francis’ birth was coming up in 1982, Fr. Lally said...what if, to commemorate it, Marvel produced a comic book about the life of St. Francis?

Pelc liked the idea, and wondered whether it would prove popular amongst Catholics in the US. Fr. Lally was adamant, however, that the comic be marketed to non-Catholics as well.

“The real reason I want this done is to reach an audience the Church doesn't normally reach,” Pelc remembers Fr. Lally saying.

“’I want to take St. Francis out of the birdbath’ was his exact comment.”

Pelc called up Stan Lee— a legendary Marvel comic book publisher— who apparently liked the idea. But when Pelc pitched the idea to the higher-ups at Marvel, they weren’t quite so supportive at first.

“They all said: Gene, you’ve been in Japan too long. No one wants to hear about that. They want to hear about superheroes,” Pelc remembers the executives telling him.

Pelc was able to appeal to the financial sensibilities of the executives to help his case, however— the Paulist Press, a U.S.-based Catholic publisher, had expressed interest in purchasing some 250,000 copies of the comic upon its release.

Needless to say, the prospect of a minimum of 250,000 copies sold— when a popular comic at the time could be expected to sell around 150,000 copies— was enough to sway the executives to approve the project.

Father Roy Gasnick, a Franciscan priest and director of communications based in New York, helped Marvel writer Mary Jo Duffy to write the story of St. Francis’ life for the comic. Fr. Gasnik was, by all accounts, a massive comic book fan himself.

Then the artists at Marvel did their magic, and produced the comic entitled “Francis: Brother of the Universe,” which hit stores in 1980.

Helped by the Paulist Press’ large order, “Brother of the Universe” proved to be a hit, both critically and commercially.

A new project

“The next step was pretty obvious to me, being Catholic and being Polish,” Pelc said.

“Pope John Paul II was extremely popular in the world at the time; he was traveling much more than the old popes did previously. And he was actually coming to Japan.”

John Paul II was the first pontiff to visit the country. The pope arrived in Japan in February 1981, to a small but enthusiastic welcome.

The pope’s visit galvanized Pelc, who was still riding high on the success of the St. Francis comic. He began looking into the possibility of producing another religious-themed comic for Marvel.

A friend of Gene’s introduced him to Father Mieczyslaw Malinski, who was a friend of the pope’s back in Poland during the war. Fr. Malinski apparently consulted with the pope himself about what he thought about the idea of turning his story into a comic.

According to Pelc, John Paul II was supportive of the idea, as long as Fr. Malinski himself worked with the comic book team on the project.

So, the Marvel team was off to the races yet again. The first step? Research. And a lot of it.

Most of the information came from Fr. Malinski, but the story still had to be adapted to fit into the panels and speech bubbles.

That task fell to Steven Grant, a young freelance comic book artist who at the time was living in New York and working for Marvel. He had heard that Marvel was producing a second religious-themed comic, but he didn’t think much of it— he assumed that Mary Jo Duffy would be tasked with writing this one, too.

Instead, Marvel’s editor-in-chief called Grant into his office and asked him to take on the task of writing the John Paul II comic book.

“I got involved because I was expendable at the time,” Grant told CNA.

“I wasn’t one of the artists they particularly wanted writing the Fantastic Four that month,” he laughed.

“And they knew I was Catholic— that was my big credential.”

For Grant, working on a comic book about John Paul II— which the team always referred to as “the Pope Book”— was both ordinary, in the sense that the writing process was not markedly different than other comic books; and extraordinary, given that the subject matter was not only a living person, but also the leader of a 1-billion strong worldwide religion.

“No one was worried about offending him, but there was a lot of room to offend a lot of people if we did a bad job with it,” he said.

Bumps in the road

The project experienced two major roadblocks the year before it was released, the first of which was the attempt on John Paul’s life in May 1981, in the midst of the comic’s production.

Instead of dropping the project, the Marvel team wrote the events of the assassination into the book itself.

In addition, communicating with Fr. Malinski would prove more difficult than the team at Marvel had expected.

On Dec. 13, 1981, a general named Wojciech Jaruzelski appeared on television sets throughout Poland. In a video message repeated over and over again, the general declared martial law, and ordered troops to suppress the Solidarity movement, a trade union rooted in Catholic principles that opposed Communism.

Many striking Solidarity workers would die in the next few days, as Polish troops fired into groups of them.

After John Paul’s visit to his native Poland in 1979, it would be another decade before the Solidarity Party in Poland, with the pope’s encouragement, would finally gain a majority in Parliament, and, largely peacefully, the country would shrug off the shackles of Communism.

To make matters worse, the turmoil in Poland was taking place in the middle of the comic book’s production schedule, and the Marvel team needed Fr. Malinski’s insights in order to get the comic book written.

The Communists restricted much of the communications in and out of Poland during that time. Pelc said he remembers receiving smuggled communications from Fr. Malinski, which he brought to his father in New York to have translated from Polish to English.

Apart from Fr. Malinski’s contributions, Grant says he simply put his nose to the grindstone and read up on as much as he could about the pope’s life.

“It was a little pre-internet,” Grant chuckled.

“I figured anything I found three or four references to was probably accurate.”

His total research spanned about two months, he says, but the actual writing process was only a couple of weeks long, spurred on by Marvel’s tight production schedules.


Finally, in 1982, the comic book hit the shelves. Thanks in large part to Catholic agencies buying up the edition, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 million copies made their way into the world.

For a young comic book artist, it was quite the windfall. Grant said he was able to pay off his student loans when he received the royalties for the comic the following year.

So, did the pope himself ever get a chance to see himself as a Marvel hero? According to Pelc, he did. A Marvel executive flew to Rome and presented the pope with a leatherbound edition.

The success of the first two religious-themed comic books led to a third, this time about another future saint— and friend of John Paul’s— Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Although Pelc was not able to assist with that project, that comic also proved successful, though it was the last of the major religious-themed comics that Marvel produced. That comic even won a Catholic Press Association award in 1984.

In the four decades since the John Paul II comic book’s release, several members of the team that worked on it, including the artist who created the drawings, have died.

Pelc and Grant have gone their separate ways. Grant is still a freelance comic writer, and does writing work for Marvel “once in a blue moon” when they call him up.

Though the “Pope book” remains just one of the hundreds of projects that Grant has worked on over the years, he said he remembers walking into his local laundromat in New York a few months after the comic’s release, and being surprised to see the comic’s cover framed and hung proudly on the wall.

Though Grant never told the owners of the laundromat— clearly devout Catholics— that he was the author of the comic, he said it brought him pride that they valued it so highly.

Pelc, who still lives in Tokyo, owns a company that sells merchandise for musical artists. He said he still gets asked to this day— mostly by parishioners at the Franciscan Chapel Center— about Marvel’s religious comics, he says.

On the side, Pelc still has a passion for telling compelling Catholic stories. He is currently working on a book about the late 16th-century 26 Christian martyrs of Japan, and hopes eventually to adapt the story into a screenplay.

For his part, Pelc says he thinks it unlikely that a company like Marvel would produce something like this again. But he’s glad that by means of the “Pope book,” he and Grant and the entire team were able to tell a good story, in a world inundated by bad stories.

“That man deserved to be known by more than just people who go to church. He was an everyman pope, and I, being Polish, loved him,” he reflected.

Note: This story was adapted from an episode of Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. Click here to listen to the full story.


'A Storybook of Saints' aims to showcase 'heroic witness' of saints

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 18:00

Denver Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A new children’s book aims to tell the heroic stories of saints in a way that captures the interest, and imagination, of Catholic kids.

Elizabeth Hanna Pham, a Catholic mother of four boys with another on the way, said she decided to write “A Storybook of Saints” when she struggled to find a book on the saints that was relatable and inspiring to her own children.

“I just found that it was really hard to find a saint book that worked for all of their ages and that was engaging, where they really understood the stories and appreciated them. A lot of saint books have a lot of facts and a lot of things that maybe they didn't really understand,” she told CNA

“A Storybook of Saints” was published April 16 by Sophia Institute Press. The book highlights the memorable and heroic aspects of more than 50 saints. Each section includes pictures from illustrator Cecilia Vu.

Among the saints featured are St. John the Evangelist, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and the Vietnamese Martyrs.

Growing up, Pham was inspired by stories of heroes and fairy tales, and she wanted to create a similar experience for her children, while focusing on the saints.

“I wanted them to have something kind of more like a fairy tale anthology that just had these awesome stories, because I've seen how much of an effect really, really good stories has on them,” she said.

“It actually was really prompted by Saint Nicholas because my second child is named Nicholas and all of them have a great devotion to Saint Nicholas,” she said “It was hard to find a short, concise story about Nicholas that was as captivating as Santa Claus.”

Pham said her two oldest kids - one seven and the other four - were essential to the writing process.

“I would test some of the stories on them and they really enjoyed that. My oldest, who's pretty analytical, gave critique and helped me decide which stories were best. It was really fun,” she said.

Since she introduced the book to her children, Pham said, she has been amazed by the details they have retained about the saints’ lives. She said some of her children know the stories better than she does.

When she was writing the book, Pham had concerns that some of the saints would be irrelevant and off-putting to her children.

Pham didn’t expect, she said, that St. Gianna Molla, a woman who refused an abortion and sacrificed her life for her unborn child, would capture the attention of young boys. But to Pham’s surprise, her oldest has gravitated to St. Gianna.

“They love her and it's so funny because it's like she's sort of an older woman, like it doesn't seem like it would connect with a seven-year-old boy, but he just thinks she's like the most inspirational, wonderful person,” Pham said.

Pham said she tried to select a diverse group of saints.

“So many children have different personalities and they're going to be inspired by different things. I have one son who's, like I said, very analytical, very passionate. I have another son who's very, very gentle and quiet. They're so different from each other and different things speak to them,” she said.

“Children need heroes and are going to look for heroes, and the saints are the very best heroes. It's even better that they're actually real people that the children can have a relationship with them and ask them to pray for them.”

“I just know that that's had a profound impact on my faith and on so many other people I know on their faith. [It inspires] us to live our lives the way they live their lives and to know that it's possible to live like that.”


USCCB: Ask why coronavirus is 'devastating' black communities

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States are calling for an examination of why the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted African-American communities. 

“Our hearts are wounded for the many souls mourned as African American communities across the nation are being disproportionately infected with and dying from the virus that causes COVID-19,” said a statement released by the USCCB on May 4.

“We raise our voices to urge state and national leaders to examine the generational and systemic structural conditions that make the new coronavirus especially deadly to African American communities,” said the statement, which was signed by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia, and Bishop Joseph Perry, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. 

Fabre leads the USCCB’s ad hoc committee against racism; Coakley is the chairman of the conference’s domestic justice and human development committee; Perez heads the cultural diversity committee, and Perry is the chairman of the subcommittee on African-American affairs. 

The bishops also wrote they “stand in support of all communities struggling under the weight of the impact this virus has had not only on their physical health, but on their livelihoods, especially front line medical and sanitation workers, public safety officers, and those in the service industry,” and that they are praying for the pandemic to end. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, a third of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are African American, even though African-Americans make up about 13% of the national population. 

A study from Johns Hopkins University found that in the 26 states that have released racial breakdowns of their COVID-19 deaths, 34% of deaths were recorded among black or African-Americans -- nearly triple the percentage of the population that is African-American.

In April, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called the racial disparity of COVID-19 cases in his state “very disturbing,” and called for an investigation. In Maryland, African-Americans and Hispanics have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at rates far surpassing their percentage of the population. 

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told CNA that it is “both appropriate and responsible” for the Church to call for a “thorough and comprehensive understanding of the underlying causes and the effects of this virus on these communities, which continue to suffer from long-standing inequities in basic human rights such as access to quality healthcare.”

Lori told CNA that he has “great concerns” that the virus will have a major long-term and short-term impact on these communities. 

“The Archdiocese of Baltimore wholly supports the call by the bishops’ conference for a study into the disparate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities,” said Lori. 

“In the City of Baltimore and elsewhere in the State of Maryland we have seen firsthand how this virus has ravaged our brothers and sisters in the Latino and African-American communities.”

Abortion bans prompt legal battles amid coronavirus pandemic

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 17:00

CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Arkansas’ only remaining abortion clinic is suing over a state rule that patients must test negative for COVID-19 within 48 hours of any elective surgery, claiming that a lack of testing is preventing women from availing themselves of abortions before the state’s 20-week limit.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson had on April 3 suspended all elective surgeries throughout the state, with “non-medically necessary surgical abortions” included in that prohibition. Arkansas already has a 72 hour waiting period for abortions.

On April 27, the state modified the order to allow asymptomatic patients to have elective surgeries if they have had a negative COVID-19 NAAT (Nucleic Acid Amplification) test within 48 hours prior to the beginning of the procedure.

The requirement for COVID-19 testing applies across the board to all elective surgeries, Hutchinson has said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas claims that the abortion clinic has contacted more than 15 testing locations but has been “unable” to find one that will test asymptomatic people and have results within 48 hours.

Despite the initial state order halting abortions, Arkansas health department inspectors on April 9 arrived at Little Rock Family Planning Services unannounced and found that the clinic was still performing surgical abortions.

The next day, the health department sent the clinic a cease-and-desist letter ordering a stop to surgical abortions “except where immediately necessary to protect the life or health of the patient.”

The Diocese of Little Rock’s Respect Life Office told CNA on April 16 of a “particularly troubling” increase in abortions at the clinic, especially by women traveling from neighboring Texas and Louisiana, states which have halted elective abortions.

Though a federal district court had on April 14 put a temporary restraining order on the state order stopping abortions, a federal appeals court on April 22 allowed the state order to go into effect.

Amid national lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, abortion has become a subject of national debate.

Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf on May 2 vetoed a bill promoting the use of telemedicine during the pandemic because it did not include provisions for at-home abortions.

An amendment to SB 857 banned the use of telemedicine for procedures that are not approved under the Food and Drug Administration's Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS).

The abortion pill is not approved under REMS and thus would not be allowed via telemedicine under the new bill. At-home medical abortions are already banned under Pennsylvania law.

At least eight states have enacted temporary bans on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic and are subsequently contending with legal challenges. Judges have prevented many of the temporary bans from coming into effect, and some of the temporary orders simply have expired.

Last month in Texas, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the state's ban on elective abortions, including medical abortions, could be reinstated, though the order lasted only until April 22.

In Alaska, there was a move by state officials in early April to “delay” abortions until June, but Governor Mike Dunleavy on April 14 allowed elective procedures to resume in the state.

On April 12, a federal judge ruled that the state of Alabama cannot move to limit abortion procedures through measures intended to focus medical resources on fighting coronavirus. Governor Kay Ivey had issued a statewide order March 19 which stopped all medical procedures except for emergencies or those needed to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition or disease, or necessary as part of a patient’s ongoing and active treatment.”

On April 17, a federal judge ruled that despite Tennessee’s temporary ban on nonessential medical procedures, the state must allow abortions to continue.

Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, though that order only lasted until April 30.

In Ohio and Iowa, most surgical abortions are currently allowed despite state efforts to restrict them.

The Louisiana Department of Health on March 21 ordered all medical and surgical procedures be postponed until further notice, with exceptions for emergencies. Abortion clinics in the state have sued to block the measure.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued an executive order April 10 banning all “elective” medical procedures, including abortions, with the order expiring April 27.