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DOJ files statement of interest in church suit against Virginia governor

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 12:00

CNA Staff, May 4, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Justice Department (DOJ) is backing a small community church suing Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, arguing that the state cannot single out churches for public health restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Virginia’s Eastern Shore filed suit last week against Northam’s stay-at-home order prohibiting church gatherings with more than ten people inside. The DOJ filed a statement of interest on Sunday in the case.

“The United States has a substantial interest in the preservation of its citizens’ fundamental right to the free exercise of religion, expressly protected by the First Amendment,” the brief states.

Although the state can lawfully restrict gatherings during a public health emergency, it must do so without discriminating against religion, the DOJ argued in its brief. So far, Virginia has not shown that it applied restrictions evenly for secular and religious gatherings, as many exemptions exist for various businesses but not for churches, the DOJ said.

The church sued the state after its pastor received a summons for hosting a 16-person Palm Sunday service on April 5 at the church. Gov. Northam had issued a stay-at-home order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, including in churches.

At the Palm Sunday service, a police officer entered the church and told attendees they were in violation of the governor’s order, threatening arrest for attendees who violated the order in the future. Pastor Kevin Wilson faces up to one year in prison or up to $2,500 in fines.

Lawyers representing the church say that its congregation is disproportionately poor and vulnerable, that attendees of the Palm Sunday service were spaced out within the church sanctuary, and that congregants don’t have the means of watching or listening to church services remotely.

“Some of them [congregants] are former drug addicts, that have come out of drug addiction; others are some people who have been in prostitution—not all of the people in the church, but some of them are from that background,” Matt Staver, chairman and founder of the Liberty Counsel which represents Lighthouse Fellowship Church, told CNA in a previous interview.

“For some of those individuals, the church is the only family that they have and they rely upon the church for support.” 

According to the DOJ’s statement of interest, the state has not yet responded to allegations that it treated the church differently than it did other secular establishments such as law and accounting offices that were allowed to hold gatherings of more than 10 people.

For instance, Gov. Northam’s order allows staff gatherings at certain businesses with no limit on the number of employees; it also exempts beer, wine, and liquor stores, hardware and home improvement stores, and laundromats and dry cleaners from restrictions to which churches are subject.

The state does have legitimate authority to take “necessary, temporary measures to meet a genuine emergency,” the DOJ argued, but such restrictions must be “balanced” against constitutional rights and cannot discriminate against religion.

By singling out religious institutions, the state now has the “burden of proof” that its order has “compelling reasons” to treat religious services differently than other secular gatherings, the DOJ argues, and so far the state has failed to prove its case.

The brief is part of Attorney General William Barr's April 27 initiative to clarify constitutional rights during the pandemic.

The DOJ has also supported a Mississippi church in its case against the city of Greenville; the church held drive-in services that were curtailed by the city as a public health risk, with police issuing fines of $500 to participants who remained in their cars even as local restaurants were allowed to serve drive-in patrons. The mayor later said the city would not collect on the fines and would allow such services to continue in future.

Also, on Saturday the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction against a state order to Maryville Baptist Church in Kentucky, saying that “[t]he Governor has offered no good reason so far for refusing to trust the congregants who promise to use care in worship in just the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and laundromat workers to do the same.”

Contagious prayer: Map app tracks viral rosaries during COVID-19

Mon, 05/04/2020 - 11:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 4, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Like a lot of people, Mike Del Ponte found himself getting upset seeing the daily map updates tracking the spread of COVID-19. So he and a few friends decided to create a different map, tracking a different kind of spread: the spread of prayer and hope. 

Launched on April 28, The Map of Hope is a platform where people post their prayer intentions, and offer a rosary for someone else. Users tag their location, which places a dot on the map. The more people are praying in an area, the bigger the dot grows. In less than a week, The Map of Hope has already charted more than 4,800 prayer intentions, spanning all 50 states and over 130 countries.

The site also contains instructions on how to pray the Rosary, links to live recitations of the Rosary, and information about miracles attributed to the Rosary. 

Del Ponte, who is involved with startups in Silicon Valley, joined up with his friends Joe Kim, Joanna Hernandez, and worked out the details of the website. Kim, who serves as the site’s creative director, is also a design teacher at a Catholic school; and Hernandez handles the administration of the website. 

Del Ponte told CNA on May 1 that he was surprised by how quickly the website grew, considering they had no paid media or advertising for the site, and relied on word of mouth to make people aware of the project. 

“The three of us had this idea, and thought it needed to be given to the word,” he said. “So we put our heads down and launched it on Tuesday.” 

Unlike the popular pandemic-tracking maps, which Del Ponte spread “fear and anxiety” as the disease progressed, he said, The Map of Hope offers a visual that can inspire and reassure people.  

“As serious as the pandemic may be, we knew there was a lot of good in the world,” he said. “So we wanted to build something to give people hope; that’s where the idea came from.” 

The three co-founders selected the Rosary as the prayer intention for this project as it is a “significant and substantial prayer that has been proven in the past to bring about miracles, including stopping plagues,” said Del Ponte. 

There are three goals of The Map of Hope, Del Ponte told CNA. The first, he said, is to spark a sense of hope and community during a time of social distancing. The second, is to increase devotion to the Rosary, and the third is to pray to end the current pandemic. 

The website resembles the pandemic maps published by the New York Times, something Del Ponte said was intentional. 

“We wanted this to really rival the New York Times, in terms of how elegant it is, and the user experience and user engagement,” he said. Kim designed the site, and then an agency in New York built the site pro-bono. 

While the map currently only shows prayer intentions from locations in the United States, Del Ponte told CNA that they plan to update the site to include data from around the world, and to translate the website into Spanish, as they have been receiving many hits from Spanish-speaking countries. 

According to Del Ponte, 60% of visitors to the website are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 70% of all visits are from a mobile device. The relatively young age of the people on the site is exciting, he explained, as many young people do not have a deep devotion to the practice. 

“We really believe that if this generation can restore a devotion to the Rosary, it can change the world,” he said. 

In addition to the map, with its growing dots, the website also contains a prayer feed. This feed is a list of intentions that is updated as new ones are added. Users can “like” someone else’s intention as a show of solidarity. 

“We thought it would be so important that you could see the prayer intentions, the person’s (first) name, and their location,” said Del Ponte. “Our hope is that when someone likes someone else’s prayer, they are praying for that person and their intention.” 

Like many people, Del Ponte himself has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic on a personal level. His wedding, which was scheduled for late April, had to be postponed, and his pastor, the 82-year-old Monsignor John Berry, was diagnosed with the disease. Berry had a “miraculous” recovery and was back in the pulpit in time for Holy Week. 

While The Map of Hope was created to help people cope with the current pandemic, Del Ponte said that the site will continue once the virus is abated. 

“The site in and of itself is really to create a deeper devotion to the Rosary regardless,” he said. 

“If the pandemic ended tomorrow we would continue to post this just to get more people praying the Rosary.”

How quaran-teens are coping with losses and disappointments 

Sun, 05/03/2020 - 18:58

Denver Newsroom, May 3, 2020 / 04:58 pm (CNA).- Nikki Shasserre normally gets one, maybe two alerts per week from Bark, a parental monitoring app she uses to track texts and social media on her teenager’s cell phone.

Bark sends Shasserre and her husband snippets of conversations that contain concerning words or phrases, like “guns” or “sex” or “suicide.” They are words that their daughter, Cathy, either typed or received. The idea is to prompt conversations between parents and their kids when something potentially concerning pops up.

Shasserre said they sometimes even get funny ones that the app mistakes as concerning.

“One time it flagged for sexual content (a conversation on) their AP Bio project on fruit flies, because they were doing the mating process and trying to get them to reproduce in their labs,” she said.

But when schools abruptly shut down to curb the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, and Cathy and her classmates’ senior year was cut off without fanfare, Shasserre noticed a huge influx of alerts from Bark.

“Now, there are days that I get 10 to 15 alerts per day,” Shasserre said. “Ninety percent of the alerts that we're getting are for depression. The other day, I got one for suicidal thoughts.”

It wasn’t from Cathy, but from one of her friends. The text was something along the lines of: "I don't know how much longer I can take this. I'm getting so sad."

Shasserre said the text was a wake-up call of sorts for herself and her husband. She said they had already been checking in with their kids every day since the coronavirus shutdowns began, but noticed that Cathy often seemed reluctant to share or would simply say she was fine.

Shasserre said the texts and alerts have made her realize just how much Cathy and her friends, and other teenagers in the pandemic, “are facing a lot of real sadness, a lot of real loss."

“And especially for her, she's a senior. So as all of these dates are approaching...I got a lot of alerts when prom passed, that her friends were all really sad about prom. And for (Cathy), it's missing these different track meets. It's missing awards night. It's all of these things that pop up that we've all had on our calendars, all of these Senior events that...they're still written on our family calendar and they're in most of our phones. And so, you get the alert that pops up. ‘Oh, it's supposed to be awards night.’ Or, ‘Oh, it's supposed to be the parent breakfast coming up.’”

Caroline Doyon is a Catholic teenager finishing up her junior year at Bloomington High School North in Indiana.

Doyon said she first heard that coronavirus might close down her school while she was on spring break with three friends and a parent chaperone in Florida.

“We were all really concerned and so we came home early,” Doyon told CNA.

“And my mom was telling me how we probably won't go back to school, and I really thought it would be just like a week or two. And then after those first two weeks of e-learning at home, they announced the rest of the school year would be over.”

Doyon said she feels lucky that she’s only a junior.

“I feel like if I was a senior I would be devastated. I just know that I would hate to miss graduation.”

There are still things that have made her sad, she said. Prom was canceled and her final dance recital was canceled, as were other end-of-the-year events. And she misses her friends.

“I think for the first couple of weeks of quarantine, it was just really sad. I know that I love school and I love being there with everybody, so it was really hard on me because I like hanging out with my friends,” she told CNA.

Doyon said she’s made a point to check in regularly with her friends, especially when they mention they are feeling especially sad or that their families are driving them crazy.

“I especially know, for one of my friends...even before this whole entire lockdown, whenever she was alone or she wasn't in contact with a lot of people she would get, she would fall into a little bit of a state of depression and she would just feel all alone and like nobody cared for her. And so when all of this happened, I made sure to talk to her and we FaceTime pretty often. It’s just maintaining that contact, even though you can't be with them.”

There have been some silver linings, she said. Every student was provided with a laptop so that they could continue learning at home, and without the distractions at school, Doyon said she has been able to get a lot of work done.

“We met in an old K-Mart parking lot, and we parked in a circle. And we all opened up our trunks and we sat in the back facing each other. I think the first time we hung out like that, we stayed there for like four hours, just talking.”

“I definitely know that for teenagers, we like to be social, so it's really hard for us to just sit at home and to have nothing to do.”

Kathleen Kozak is a teacher of teenagers as well as a mother to three teens of her own (and a fourth son who is a pre-teen). Kozak, who teaches high school theology at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, said she has been focusing on bringing some kind of order into the lives of both her students and her teenagers at home.

Both Kozak and her husband have previously served in the military, she told CNA, and during this time, they’ve tapped into their ability to adapt to unexpected situations that would arise in the military.

“So I was thinking, okay, how can we adapt and overcome in this? And how do we want to be remembered in this time? I don't necessarily need to accomplish everything, but what things can we do to create order amongst us having all these variations of emotions?”

Kozak said she’s been inspired by Pope Francis’ example and has been following his lead. When, in March, Pope Francis asked everyone to pray the rosary, Kozak and her family prayed the rosary live on YouTube that night at 9 p.m., joined virtually by friends and family who could not gather together in person.

“My family and I sat at the kitchen table and we prayed the rosary on YouTube Live that night. And then after we finished, many of the people that joined us were like, ‘Well are you going to keep going?’ So actually we've been praying the rosary online every night at 9:00,” she said.

The routine rosary has come with a flood of prayer intentions from friends and family, she said, giving them an even greater sense of purpose as they pray.

Kozak has also been helping her kids and students focus on the things they can do, in light of the things that they cannot.

She said she will first acknowledge their feelings and say, “Okay, this is really hard,” when they talk about their sports seasons or proms being canceled.

“I mean the list can go on and on for all the losses,” Kozak said. But she said based on the experience of her husband’s deployment, when he missed out on several significant family moments, she is encouraging them to focus on the things they can change and can do at this time.

“My husband missed a lot in my kids’ eyes. He was not there for my daughter's eighth grade graduation. There was a ton that we lost in time. And I said, ‘But we were able to create other memories of him being overseas and us being here using technology. So how can you create different things using this gift of technology that we have?’”

She has also been encouraging her kids and students to rely on prayer - something that got her through the loss of one of her children, Liam.

“The question can be asked, how do you feel God in the sense of a pandemic? And I say to them: I have to go to prayer. And for me, the prayer I go to when I have no words, that my grandma taught me, is the rosary. When she had no words, when her husband died or my cousin died, that was her go-to. And so that then became my go-to,” she said.

During her online Zoom classes with her students, Kozak said she has also gotten to know her students in a “whole new way” because of the pandemic. When she is done teaching, Kozak breaks her students up into “family” groups, and she then checks in with each family to see how everyone is doing.

“There's been more sharing of the heart and just the shared experience of it all. It’s allowed us in many ways to get closer than in our other semesters,” she said.

Daniel Johnson is a Catholic marriage and family therapy associate with Divine Mercy Clinic based in Duarte, California, who frequently works with adolescents experiencing depression, suicidal ideation, self harm, and anxiety.

Johnson told CNA that it’s important for families to recognize that teenagers are in many ways facing the same feelings of loss and isolation and fatigue that adults are experiencing during these times of sheltering at home and social distancing.

“What I'm my teenage clients is really the reaction to a dramatic change, and then not knowing the length of time that they have to endure this. Which is really true of all of us,” Johnson said.

“It might be manifested differently in the teens, precisely because so much of their normal development is centered around their peer group and the cues that they get from other teens,” he added.

“Many of them, especially the ones who go to traditional school, or larger schools, they're going to have a particularly difficult time not having those peer groups or the cues that they get from the social setting, which they are very used to,” he said.

Cues like graduation, or end-of-the-year academic or athletic banquets, or final performances that signal the end of something and the completion of a goal, are now gone.

“They had a game plan and they were working towards a goal. And that goal, at least...the sign that they're achieving that goal - prom, graduation, whatever sort of thing schools do to mark the end of the year - those have been ripped away from kids. And so there is isolation and there is that kind of sadness,” he said.

Johnson said the first thing he does with his clients who are struggling with the isolation and the drastic changes brought about by sheltering at home is to acknowledge to them that what they are feeling is normal and understandable.

“It’s just acknowledging the emotions that are going on, or normalizing, to use the clinical term, the fact that you know, ‘yeah, I'm sad and I'm angry and I'm stressed and I don't know what to do.’”

Johnson said the second thing he does to help his clients is to encourage them to connect in new ways to their support group, whether that’s family or friends or a combination of both.

“Things that involve other human beings as the focus, not things that involve being in the same room as other human beings while other stuff is going on, like TV,” he said.

The third thing Johnson said he has found helpful for his adolescent clients is to help them focus on short term goals and establishing a routine - especially since it is currently unclear when and how they will be able to accomplish some of their longer-term goals, such as going to college in the fall when some of those colleges may be closed, either permanently or at least to in-person classes.

“What I mean is really settling into a routine, finding the four or five things that are essential to you having a good day. And let's just make sure we do each of those every day,” he said.

“For a lot of clients, it's something as simple as some daily exercise, talking to one or two other people, doing some prayer, and getting some work done on a class. Those kinds of things. It’s focused on what is necessary for these 24 hours to be a good 24 hours.”

Johnson said he would encourage parents to be on the lookout for especially concerning signs of depression or self-harm, but that some level of depression is probably normal for their teenagers right now.

“In the most clinical mind, we're all probably more or less clinically diagnosable as depressed at the moment….The problem is that, at the moment, there's some darn good reason to be depressed.”

Johnson said parents could look for signs of their child not grooming themselves for more than 24 hours, or spending a lot more time sleeping than usual, as possible signs of concern.

“I think the real difficulty at the moment is, we judge depression and anxiety in relation to a baseline. We judge too much sleep by the last couple months. I've gotten about six hours of sleep every night, suddenly I'm sleeping nine hours. The problem is right now, we're all having a difficult time figuring out what our baseline is. It's even harder to get that baseline for our teenagers.”

The most powerful thing that can help teenagers at this time are parents who remain calm and collected, Johnson said, or who are able to honestly acknowledge their own feelings and experiences with their teenagers.

“I think in some ways the best thing a parent can do really is, take a deep breath, put on a calm demeanor for their kid and then, late at night, go outside and yell at the moon or something...whatever you need to do to decompress,” he said.

“Or alternatively, if it's hard to hide it from the kids, be honest with your kids about the emotion that's going on in that and transparent about one's struggle to keep it together,” he said.

Shasserre said that she has found it helpful for her to acknowledge her own feelings of sadness and loss at the things she is missing out on in Cathy’s senior year.

“It doesn't help when we dismiss it. It's helped when we've been able to talk about it with Cathy also by saying, ‘I am really sad that we won't get to go to the senior parent Mass and breakfast. I was really looking forward to doing that.’”

“And when she responds, ‘Well, it's okay. I understand. There are bigger things in the world,’ I will say, ‘Yes. I'm glad that you can see that. But it doesn't diminish that this is still sad.’ There's a grieving process. There's a loss that they have to go through.”

‘This is the moment to advocate’ for pro-life vaccines, says Archbishop Naumann

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 10:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 2, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure that vaccines developed to combat coronavirus are not “morally compromised” by any connection to cell lines created from the remains of aborted babies. 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in an interview Thursday that “there’s been a history in creating vaccines of—in some cases anyway—of using cell lines from aborted fetuses,” and that it remains important to highlight the complicated ethical concerns in vaccine research. 

“So some of the vaccines that are used today have this ethical problem,” he said in an appearance on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “We as a Church, obviously, we see this as a moral issue, that we don’t want to do anything that—in some way gives support for the idea of abortion.” 

“On the other hand,” the bishops said, “I think in some cases where there are no other ethical choices, or for public health reasons, Catholics may be forced to use these vaccines even though we object to the way they were developed, but the Church says we have an obligation to object to that, and to advocate for ethical vaccines to be developed.” 

Naumann said that at a time when so many resources and so much public attention is being devoted to developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, “this is the moment for us to advocate.”

“There’s no need to really use cell lines from aborted fetuses, there are other cell lines that can be used to develop these vaccines, so that’s why we think it’s very important at this moment to let the voice not only of the Church but other concerned citizens to voice that we want to—we all want a vaccine, we realize that’s important for our public health, but we also want a vaccine that has no ethical problems in the way it’s developed,” he said. 


Archbishop Naumann on protecting the vulnerable:
"I think it's admirable that we as a culture are taking these steps to try to protect those that are most vulnerable to the virus. Hopefully that can translate into a similar concern for the lives of the unborn." #prolife #COVID19

— EWTN Pro-Life Weekly (@EWTNProLife) April 30, 2020  


Naumann said he hopes the FDA will “create incentives for the pharmaceutical companies that are creating these vaccines to use cell lines that are not implicated with abortion” and to issue “strong guidance” to create a vaccine that is developed ethically. 

“I think all we need really is for our pharmaceutical companies to realize that this is offensive to a large number of Americans and give them the encouragement, give our government the encouragement, to make sure these vaccines are not morally compromised in any way,” he said.

Naumann also said that the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has revealed a pro-life ethic in the public mind. 

“It’s interesting because even some figures, public officials, that don’t support us on protecting the lives of the unborn, they’ve made statements in the midst of this crisis that every life is precious, every life is sacred,” he said. 

“As a culture and society, we’re going to enormous lengths to try to protect the elderly and those that might be susceptible to the virus where it’s much more dangerous for them. So I think it’s admirable that we as a culture are taking these steps to try to protect those that are most vulnerable to the virus, and hopefully that can translate into a similar concern for the lives of the unborn as well.”

Hunger in 'wine country' - How one Napa Valley Catholic school is helping needy families

Sat, 05/02/2020 - 09:00

Denver Newsroom, May 2, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A small Catholic school in Napa, California is drawing on community support to run a weekly food pantry for its families and neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers, led by the school board, have adapted Kolbe Academy & Trinity Prep— a K-12 school with just 105 students— into a food pantry for distribution every Wednesday.

Anna Hickey and Eric Muth— both alumni and school board members— helped to develop what they call the Agape Program, aiming to assist the school community spiritually and materially during the pandemic.

The pantry was able to serve more than 50 families on the first day it was open, April 22, Hickey and Muth told CNA.

After the first week, word spread quickly through the community.

"We contacted several local parishes who are now directing people with needs to our school," Hickey said.

Teachers and families from the school have volunteered to help with food distribution— including one family who lined up to receive food, realized more help was needed, and put their food aside in order to volunteer for the rest of the day.

"As people hear about Agape, the generosity is now starting to match the need," Hickey said.

For the first day of distribution, school board members bought a large amount of frozen chicken from a distributor. When they told the distributor it was for a food pantry,he donated nearly 700 additional pounds of steak, turkey, and chicken.

Hickey said the school thought their supply of meat would keep them well-stocked for several weeks, but the number of families seeking help turned out to be "overwhelming."

The extra meat lasted just two and a half hours.

Muth said by the time the school held its second day of distributing food, the number of patrons in line had doubled to more than 100.

In order to comply with California's strict social distancing orders, the school asked that only one family member come to pick up the food. This means that each person in line was likely representing a family of, on average, five people, Muth said.

Despite the additional demand, they also had more volunteers, and more food to give away— including a truck of fresh produce that a parishioner donated.

The Napa Valley is often regarded as an affluent area, but beyond the vineyards and tasting rooms are working class and poor families who are hurt by the economic downturn.

Many of the breadwinners for the Catholic school families in Napa work in the service industry— and in many cases, both parents have found themselves out of work, Hickey said.

In addition, some of the Catholic school families are ineligible for unemployment benefits because of their immigration status, she said.

Hickey and Muth hope to provide tuition assistance to needy families through the Agape initiative, so that families in need don't find themselves forced to pull their children out of the Catholic school.

"Our Catholic schools are in trouble, and we really need to start seeing them as a mission," Hickey said.

"Catholic education in our world today is a critical necessity. It's not something that we should consider a luxury...if we want to change society, if we want to make sure that we have future pro-lifers, then we'd better make darn sure that we keep Catholic education going."

Another phase of the initiate will involve high school students reaching out to the elderly and lonely in the community.

"If we don't help others first, there's no way we can ever ask for help again," she said.

"Our moral obligation is to extend help, even in the fear of us closing down— extend help first, and then ask for help."

That approach has ultimately paid off— the school has received many donations since starting the food pantry, they said, even from non-Catholic members of the community who recognize the good work the school is doing.

"God will take care of us if we have some trust and faith in Him," Muth said.

Accused priests cannot be left 'destitute', Buffalo diocese clarifies

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 18:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Buffalo clarified on Friday that priests accused of sexual abuse cannot be left “destitute,” even as the diocese acts to withdraw financial support payments.

The diocese had announced earlier this week that 23 priests “with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse” would no longer receive financial assistance or health benefits from the Diocese of Buffalo as of May 1. However, the diocese said that pension plans would not be affected by the decision.

Interim communications director for the diocese Greg Tucker told CNA on Friday that “the diocese recognizes that there are certain canonical obligations to ensure that these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.”

The decision to cut benefits was made as part of the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings. The diocese had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in February after it was named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits in recent months; a New York law came into effect in August. 2019, waving the statute of limitations on old abuse cases for one year, allowing for lawsuits on decades-old cases to move forward in court.

On Friday, Tucker told CNA that the diocese was aware of its “canonical obligations” to provide for the sustenance of its priests. Canon law requires that clerics incardinated in a diocese receive “decent support,” and that bishops provide for the sustenance of priests, including those not in active ministry.

None of the accused priests losing their benefits have been laicized, the diocese told CNA on Wednesday; rather, they were removed from active ministry based on various determinations, including admissions of guilt, a criminal investigation, or corroboration of multiple allegations.

In several of the cases, the allegations reached back decades, Tucker told CNA.

The original list of affected priests has been updated during the week, as local news outlet WKBW reported on Thursday that two of the priests originally on the list of affected clergy had already disassociated themselves from the diocese and were no longer receiving benefits.

However, two more priests with “substantiated allegations” were added to the reported list of affected clergy later in the week; they were not originally listed by the diocese because their allegations did not involve minors.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, apostolic administrator of the diocese, originally told the affected priests that their benefits were being cut in an April 23 letter and in a subsequent conference call.

Local news outlet WKBW reported that the diocese’s decision was made as part of its bankruptcy settlement with survivors.

Diocesan pension plans were not affected by the settlement, the diocese said, so the affected priests could continue to draw their pensions if they were already eligible.

All but six of the affected priests were already drawing from their pension benefits, the diocese told CNA on Friday, and three of those priests are eligible for their pension and are now transitioning into the plan.

The pension fund is unaffected by the Chapter 11 proceedings, he said, as it is its own entity and has its own assets separate from the diocese.

The question of whether pension benefits, taken together with other income streams such as Social Security, would be enough to provide sustenance for accused priests is not being determined by the diocese, Tucker said, and the diocese “is not assuming the role of determining what each of these priests requires to cover their monthly expenses given that each individual has his own circumstances and other resources.”

However, Tucker said, “Bishop Scharfenberger is himself a canon lawyer, as is Msgr. Sal Manganello, who is vicar general and judicial vicar [of the diocese.”

“This was a decision taken in discussions with the creditors committee - as Bishop Sharfenberger’s letter [to the affected priests] made clear, the diocese recognizes that there are certain canonical obligations to ensure these individuals are not left destitute and is addressing this.” 

In 2018, the diocese released a list of 42 priests it said had been removed from ministry, retired, or left ministry following allegations of abuse of a minor. However, in October, WKBW reported that the number of priests the diocese had originally listed was actually more than 100.

Survey: Religious Americans say coronavirus crisis has strengthened their faith

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 17:50

Denver Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- A segment of Americans say their faith has grown stronger since the coronavirus epidemic began, including 27% of Catholics, though the rise seems most pronounced among those who were already more religious than most, a survey from the Pew Research Center reports.

“The most religious Americans – those who frequently pray and attend services (at least in typical times), and who rate religion as very important to them – are far more likely than others to say their faith has grown stronger as a result of the coronavirus outbreak,” said Pew Research Center research associate Claire Gecewicz in a April 30 post at the center’s blog Fact Tank.

Gecewicz added “the self-reported strengthening of religious faith has been most pronounced within a segment of the public that was already quite religious to begin with.”

The findings come from a survey released April 30.

About 24% of Americans told Pew that their faith had grown stronger, and 35% of Christians. However, about 47% of Americans said their faith hadn’t grown much.

Of Catholic respondents, 27% said their faith had grown stronger, 35% said it hadn’t changed much, 2% said it had weakened, and 7% said they were not a religious person and this hadn’t changed.

About 42% of evangelicals said their faith had strengthened, compared to 22% of mainline Protestants.

Of all respondents, those who attended religious services at least monthly tended to say their faith had grown stronger. Among those who attended services a few times a year, 26% said their faith had become stronger.

Self-reported strengthening of religious faith was strongest among African-Americans, 41% of whom said their faith had strengthened. As for Hispanic adults, 30% reported stronger faith, while only 20% of whites did.

Breaking down the results by sex, 30% of women said their faith had grown stronger, 46% said it was unchanged, and 21% said they aren’t religious. By comparison, only 18% of men said their faith had grown stronger, 48% said it was unchanged, and 32% said they are not religious.

Those aged 50 and over were more likely to claim a strengthen faith than younger respondents. Only 17% of those aged 18-29 reported a stronger faith, as did only 22% of those aged 30-49.

Among those who self-identify as “nothing in particular,” 11% said their religious faith had strengthened. Among the religiously unaffiliated as a whole, 65% said the question about a stronger faith was not applicable and nothing had changed. About 26% of Americans gave this response.

Efforts to contain the coronavirus epidemic included government bans or restrictions on economic, social and religious life. Catholic churches stopped offering public Mass across the country, and only now are some dioceses beginning to lift restrictions.

The Pew survey also asked whether places of worship were still open for in-person services.

Almost all respondents who regularly attended religious services, 91%, said their place of worship had closed for public religious services, as did 94% of Catholics. However, among all U.S. adults, 45% said they do not attend services or do not know what their house of worship has done, Pew said.

Responses from 79% of Catholics said their church services had moved online, compared to 92% of evangelical Protestants, 86% of mainline Protestants, and 73% of historically black Protestants.

Pew surveyed 10,139 U.S. adults April 20-26. Results for the overall sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

A previous Pew survey, made public at the end of March, found fewer people were attending religious services in person, in line with stay-at-home orders active in many palaces.

Among those who normally attend services at least once or twice per month, 59% said they had scaled back their attendance. Among the same group, a similar percentage, 57%, reported watching religious services online or on TV during the pandemic instead of attending services.

In responses from Catholics who attended Mass at least once or twice a month, 55% said they have attended less often during the coronavirus epidemic, and 46% said they were watching Mass online or on TV instead of attending.

The same survey found 55% of Americans have said they prayed for an end to the pandemic, including about 68% of Catholics.

Five COVID deaths at Wisconsin home for religious sisters with dementia

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 17:28

CNA Staff, May 1, 2020 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Within the past month, a Wisconsin retirement home for religious sisters with dementia has had several sisters die and four staff members test positive.

Our Lady of the Angels Convent in Milwaukee has seen five resident deaths due to the novel coronavirus. In all five cases, the virus was discovered after the time of death.

The five sisters who have died of the virus are Mary Collins, 95; Marie Skender, 83; Mary Sherburne, 99; Annelda Holtkamp, 102; and Bernadette Kelter, 88.

In early April, the home had temporarily stopped testing its residents, who are mostly dementia patients, because the experience was traumatic for them, the New York Times reports. At the time, the only test that was available in the area involved a cotton swab inserted through the nostril into the back of the throat. The test can be painful, and some residents were reportedly combative when it was administered.

There have been nearly 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wisconsin, and more than 300 deaths as of April 30. Health officials have emphasized the importance of monitoring the residents of retirement homes, as the elderly and those with underlying conditions are particularly at risk from the virus.

Sister Collins initially developed a mild cough on April 3. She passed away three days later, but only received a coronavirus test postmortem, which came back positive. The New York Times reported that the staff had attempted to administer the test earlier but, due to her dementia, she was “too combative to tolerate” it.

Michael O’Loughlin, a spokesman for the home, said the assisted living facility has strictly followed guidelines in caring for the residents.

“They are very aware that the convent’s residents, who are elderly and receive specialized memory care, are a vulnerable population, which is why the convent suspended all communal activities and enforced social distancing long before any of the residents tested positive for Covid-19,” he said, according to the New York Times.

Darren Rausch, the director for the Greenfield Health Department, said Our Lady of the Angels has kept in close contact with his office and, from the beginning, followed the advice from his department. This includes isolating those who tested positive for COVID-19, monitoring residents’ temperatures and symptoms, and using personal protective equipment.

“It’s definitely very challenging,” Rausch told the New York Times, noting that the patients’ dementia has added a layer of difficulty, as “[t]hey can’t always vocalize what’s going on.”

Since the deaths, the convent has resumed testing for every resident of Our Lady of the Angels, and some have even been tested multiple times, O’Loughlin said.


Archdiocese of New Orleans files for bankruptcy

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 16:54

CNA Staff, May 1, 2020 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Under financial pressure from clerical abuse litigation compounded by the coronavirus crisis, The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced May 1 that its administrative offices are filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The filing will affect only the administrative office of the archdiocese and will not impact schools, Masses, and other ministries. Archbishop Gregory Aymond said the decision was made after prayer and consultation.

“I, along with a team of advisors, believe that reorganization will create an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the faithful and the New Orleans community by restructuring our financials, increasing our transparency and creating a path forward in hopes that we can continue and strengthen our core mission: bringing Christ to others,” he said.

The archbishop said the move will allow funds to be given directly to sex abuse victims rather than being tied up in prolonged litigation efforts. “The healing of victims and survivors is most important to me and to the church,” he said.

In a letter to members of the archdiocese, Aymond explained that recent years have seen financial struggles.

“The resurgence of the clergy abuse crisis has been particularly challenging, especially as it has played out regularly in the local media,” he said.

“The prospect of more abuse cases with associated prolonged and costly litigation, together with pressing ministerial needs and budget challenges, is simply not financially sustainable,” he continued. “Additionally, the unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have added more financial hardships to an already difficult situation.”

The filing makes the Archdiocese of New Orleans the latest U.S. diocese to declare bankruptcy, following the wave of sexual abuse revelations made public in 2018. Earlier this year, the Dioceses of Harrisburg and Buffalo also filed for bankruptcy.

In late 2018, Aymond released a list of priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The archdiocese said last year that it had allotted more than $8 million for payment of abuse claims.

The archbishop clarified that “[f]iling for Chapter 11 does not mean the Archdiocese of New Orleans is closing, and we will certainly continue to pay our bills responsibly.”

He stressed that the move “only affects the archdiocesan administrative offices and will not affect the individual parishes, their schools, schools run by the various religious orders, or ministries of the church.”

Aymond said he believes Chapter 11 reorganization will allow for a timely resolution to abuse claims, contributing to the healing of those who have been harmed by members of the clergy.

“Very importantly, taking this action will allow us to address remaining clergy abuse claims, all of which stem from allegations dating back several decades ago, in a way that will allow funds to go directly to victims,” he said. “No money from parish collections will be used to resolve claims. Parish funds are separate from archdiocesan accounts and the pastor decides how those are used for parish ministry.”

Fr. Patrick Carr, vicar of finance for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, elaborated in a May 1 statement on what the bankruptcy filing will mean.

“Filing for Chapter 11 is a voluntary action that will allow the Archdiocese to implement a financial reorganization plan detailing how available assets and insurance coverage will be used to settle claims and negotiate reasonable settlements,” he said.

“Under the Court’s supervision, we will continue to minister to the people of our local church and to responsibly meet our payroll obligations and other costs,” Carr said. “Current creditors of the Archdiocese will be assured payment via a Chapter 11 plan of reorganization that will be approved and controlled by the Court.”

There is no concrete timeline for the reorganization to take place.

Archbishop Aymond asked for prayers during the process, asking for God’s grace that “the Archdiocese of New Orleans will emerge from this experience stronger with a renewed commitment to our mission.”


'We entrust to her all our fears': US Bishops reconsecrate country to Mary

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 16:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Dioceses across the United States and Canada joined together on May 1 to reconsecrate themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary in an act of united prayer for delivery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, led the American bishops in a liturgy broadcast from the cathedral of Los Angeles on Friday afternoon.

The reconsecration was announced last week by the USCCB, together with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a joint effort to entrust the two countries to the Blessed Mother during the suffering caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Bishops across both countries were encouraged to participate via live stream and to encourage the faithful of their dioceses to do the same. 

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto led the bishops of Canada in their own prayers of consecration earlier on Friday morning. 

“Today, we ask our Blessed Mother to turn her eyes of mercy towards us — to help her children in this time of trial, when many are dying and our faith is being tested. We ask her to intercede with her Son, to protect us and deliver us from this evil of the coronavirus,” said Gomez on Friday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. 

Gomez said Mary has always accompanied the United States even before the country was incorporated, and that in “this difficult hour” it was once again time to renew this consecration. 

“We entrust to her motherly heart, all our sufferings and anxieties, all our fears for the future,” said the archbishop. 

The United States was first consecrated to Mary in 1792, by Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore. Carroll was the first Catholic bishop in the United States. In 1847, the consecration was renewed, and under the title of the Immaculate Conception Mary was named as the Patroness of the United States of America.

As Mary was the first person to be consecrated to Jesus Christ by virtue of being His mother and submitting fully to His will, “today, we ask God to give to us that same faith, that same courage,” said Gomez.

“We ask His mercy and pardon. We ask Him to purify us and strengthen us to follow Jesus in seeking His holiness and His Kingdom,” he added.

Mary, said Gomez, teaches the world about how to trust in God’s plan, and to open their hearts to Jesus. 

“So,” he said, “let us give our hearts to Jesus, through the heart of his mother. All for Jesus through Mary.” 

“May she who is the Mother of God and Queen of the Angels, continue to guide the whole Church in America,” said Gomez. “May we keep in our hearts what she told us: that God has done great things for us, and His mercy is from generation to generation.”

Across the border in Canada, bishops echoed the prayers for Mary’s intercession on Friday, as they consecrated the Crown Dominion to Our Lady.

Earlier in the day, Archbishop Christian Lépine of Montreal praised Mary as the “model of holiness” and the ultimate guide for someone to emulate in their relationship with God. 

Mary is “our model for living according to God’s plan,” said Lepine. 

“Through the simplicity of her life, we can contemplate God’s active presence in our life. Mary becomes a bridge, a channel between God and us. She prays with us and for us. Mary leads a simple life, but also a difficult one: Mary knows pain, and suffering.”

Lepine described Mary as someone “immersed in life and its difficult moments,” who can “understand our trials and give us the strength to hold firm, to be faithful, to continue on our path.

The date of May 1 was chosen for the re-consecrations as “May is traditionally considered a Marian Month,” Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington said in a statement released ahead of a liturgy which he led from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. timed to coincide with Gomez’s dedication on the other side of the country. 

“We often have held special ceremonies declaring our love and devotion to the mother of God,” Gregory said, and this year is no different. 

At the consecration in Los Angeles, Gomez reiterated Pope Francis’ suggestion that families should take time to pray the rosary together each day in May. 

“So, maybe we can all offer this little gift to Mary in the month of May,” said Gomez. 

“Maybe we can dedicate ourselves to finding time to come together every day, to pray the Rosary in our families and in our homes.” 

“And may Mary our Mother continue to help us to stay close to her Son and to trust in his love.”

St. Joseph the Worker was once out of work, too

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 06:00

Denver Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Mass unemployment is a deeply unwelcome background for this year’s Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, but the Catholic celebration has lessons for everyone, regardless of job situation, according to two priests with expertise on St. Joseph and the dignity of work.

Citing the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt, devotional writer Father Donald Calloway said St. Joseph is “very empathetic” towards those suffering unemployment.

“He himself at some point would have been unemployed in the Flight to Egypt,” the priest told CNA. “They had to pack up everything and go to a foreign country with nothing. They didn’t plan on that.”

Calloway, author of the book “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father,” is an Ohio-based priest of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

He suggested that St. Joseph “at some point was surely quite concerned: how is he going to find work in a foreign country, not knowing the language, not knowing the people?”

At least 30.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, in what is perhaps the worst unemployment situation in the country’s history, CNBC reports. Many others are working from home under coronavirus travel restrictions, while countless workers face newly dangerous workplaces where they may be at risk of contracting the coronavirus and taking it home to their families.

Father Sinclair Oubre, a labor advocate, similarly thought of the Flight into Egypt as a period of joblessness for St. Joseph—and also a period that showed an example of virtues.

“He remains focused: stay open, continue to struggle, do not get broken down. He was able to build up a livelihood for him and his family,” said Oubre. “For those who are unemployed, St. Joseph gives us a model of not allowing the difficulties of life to crush one’s spirit, but rather trusting in God’s providence, and in adding to that providence our own attitude and strong work ethic.”

Oubre is pastoral moderator of the Catholic Labor Network and the Beaumont diocese’s director of the Apostleship of the Seas, which serves seafarers and others in sea-based work.

The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker was inaugurated by Pope Pius XII, who announced it on May 1, 1955 in an audience with Italian workers. To them he described St. Joseph as “the humble craftsman of Nazareth” who “not only personifies the dignity of the manual laborer with God and the Holy Church,” but is “also always the provident custodian of you and your families.”

Pius XII encouraged continued religious formation for adult workers and said it was an “atrocious slander” to charge that the Church is “an ally of capitalism against the workers.”

“She, mother and teacher of all, is always particularly solicitous for her children who find themselves in the most difficult conditions, and also in fact has validly contributed to the achievement of honest progress already achieved by various categories of workers,” the pope said.

While the Church has rejected various systems of Marxist socialism, Pius XII said, no priest or Christian can remain deaf to a cry for justice and a spirit of brotherhood. The Church cannot ignore that the worker who seeks to improve his condition but faces obstacles opposed to the “order of God” and God’s will for earthly goods.

May 1 is observed as Labor Day in many countries, though not the United States. Calloway said that at the time of the declaration, communism was a serious threat that sought to take over a longtime celebration of work.

The observance originated in the late nineteenth century in the American labor movement’s May 1 protests against excessively long workdays.

“Workers complained that these long hours were punishing on the body and left them no time to tend to family duties or to improve themselves through education,” Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

Calloway reflected that most people in life are workers, whether outside or at a desk.

“They can find a model in St. Joseph the Worker,” he said. “No matter what your work is, you can bring God into it and it can be beneficial to you, your family, and society as a whole.”

Oubre said there is much to learn from reflecting upon how St. Joseph’s work nurtured and protected the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and so was a form of sanctification of the world.

“If Joseph did not do what he did, there was no way the Virgin Mary, a pregnant single maiden, could have survived in that environment,” Oubre said.

“We come to realize that the work that we do is not just for this world, but rather we can work to help build the kingdom of God,” he continued. “The work that we do cares for our family members and our children and helps build up the future generations that are there.”

Calloway warned against “ideologies of what work should be.”

“It can become enslavement. People can turn into workaholics. There’s a misunderstanding of what work is meant to be,” he said.

For him, the feast day shows the importance of family and the importance of rest, given that God spoke to St. Joseph in his dreams.

St Joseph gave dignity to work “because, as the one chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus, he taught the Son of God to do manual labor,” said Calloway. “He was entrusted with teaching the son of God a trade, to be a carpenter.”

“We’re not called to be slaves to a trade, or to find our ultimate meaning of life in our work, but to allow our work to glorify God, to build up the human community, to be a source of joy to everyone,” he continued. “The fruit of your labor is meant to be enjoyed by yourself and others, but not at the expense of harming others or depriving them of a just wage or overworking them, or having working conditions that are beyond human dignity.”

Oubre found a similar lesson, saying “our work is always at the service of our family, our community, our society, of the world itself.”

While some business owners and workers hope to see a speedy end to restrictions and business closures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Oubre warned that opening a non-essential business to make money might not be prudent. He used the example of a football stadium, excessively focused on opening in August, even if it packs people into a situation that potentially spreads a dangerous disease.

“I don’t know if that’s the most prudent decision coming out of the spirit of service, at this particular time,” he said. “That’s not something we have to do right now.”

“St. Joseph gives us that image of humble service work,” Oubre emphasized. “If we want to go back to work right now, we need to make sure that it grows out of a spirit of humility and service and promotion of the common good.”

Some of those who have jobs are protesting work conditions they believe to be dangerous. They have organized May 1 protests and walkouts at Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, FedEx and others, citing health and safety concerns during the epidemic, the news and commentary site The Intercept reports.

Oubre said these protesters too must recognize the importance of the work in a spirit of humility, service and promoting the common good.

Calloway too reflected on the dueling positions of workers objecting to coronavirus protections, while other workers are protesting to seek improved protections.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “That’s where we move into the spiritual aspect of asking St. Joseph to give us wisdom to help us know what to do in this tricky situation. Be cautious, of course, we don’t want to spread this thing. But at the same time, people have to get their jobs back. We can't go on like this for long. We can’t sustain it.”

Calloway said no worker is meant to work in isolation and “just be selfish about his employment.”

“Work is meant to benefit himself and others,” he said. “It’s when we become stingy and selfish that we begin to hoard, and we take for ourselves gigantic salaries while your workers are getting pennies.”

St. Joseph is described as “the most just” in the New Testament, and would have been a just man in his labor as well, the priest said.

For Oubre, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is a time to remember “invisible workers.”

“No matter how humble work may be, and how much it may be considered low-skilled, or semi-skilled, it is absolutely essential to the quality of life of the nation,” said Oubre. “No matter how society looks upon the job, it becomes a very, very important task. If that task were not done, the more respected, prestigious work can’t happen.”

The coronavirus epidemic has drawn support and recognition to the risky work of doctors and nurses. Oubre noted that housekeepers and cleaners at the hospital may go unnoticed but are critical in keeping infections down and maintaining the safety of doctors, nurses and patients, while other hospital support staff also deserve their due credit.

Grocery store checkers, too, are “literally putting their lives on the line interacting with the public” so that people can continue to feed themselves, the priest said.

“All of a sudden the checkout girl at Kroger’s is not just some high school kid we’re going to deal with, and go on. She becomes an essential person helping people fulfill their needs,” Oubre said. “She’s putting her physical health on the line, by being in a public realm, interacting with hundreds of people a day.”

Calloway noted that many people will consecrate themselves to St. Joseph on the saint’s May 1 feast day, a practice encouraged by his book.



NY archdiocese prays for repose of attempted arsonist after suicide

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 20:32

Denver Newsroom, Apr 30, 2020 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York has offered prayer for the repose of the soul of Marc Lamparello, who committed suicide earlier this month.

Lamparello had tried to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral in April 2019 with four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters, but was stopped by security and then arrested. He was charged with attempted arson.

“Every suicide is a tragedy. We pray for the consolation of his family and loved ones, and entrust his soul to the infinite love and mercy of God. May he rest in peace,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the New York archdiocese, told CNA.

After his early release from prison, Lamparello was unable to receive psychiatric treatment at a hospital in New Jersey because the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted the mental health system. The month without treatment was a critical time, his family said.

“The hospital dropped the ball tremendously,” said his mother Dolores Lamparello, according to the New York Post. “They did nothing. My son went a whole month without any treatment whatsoever. They cost my son his life.”

Donnalee Corrieri, a spokeswoman for Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, defended the hospital and the care it provided for Lamparello. She said the hospital followed protocol and emphasized the anxiety caused by the pandemic.

“The stress of something as significant as this pandemic will undoubtedly have far-reaching mental health impacts,” said  Corrieri, according to the New York Times. “His interactions with our facility and the treatment we provided followed our protocols.”

A judge ordered Lamparello’s release from Rikers Island March 20 to help stop the spread of coronavirus in prisons. Prior to his three-month stint in jail, he was treated at a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York.

Lamparello had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a month before his arrest and, following his release, was ordered to participate in an outpatient program at Bergen.

A week after his release, his mother dropped him off for his first daily outpatient session, which was expected to last about six hours. However, the hospital demanded that he quarantine for two weeks, and he came home two hours later.

“He was told he had to quarantine for two weeks and was later dropped as a patient without explanation,” she said, according to the New York Post.

His caseworker and family unsuccessfully attempted to reinstate Lamparello into the program. Even after he completed quarantine April 9, the hospital again rejected him without explanation.

Dolores said her son was distraught from the lack of structure. “Mom, I need structure,” he told her, according to the mom, the New York Post reported. “I can’t do nothing.”

After he was rejected the second time, Lamparello was caught trying to jump off the George Washington Bridge, when he was stopped by the police. He was then taken to Bergen, where he was committed to a psychiatric ward for four days and the dosage to his antipsychotic medication was lowered.

He jumped off the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge April 17, and his corpse was found that afternoon in New York Harbor.

He had been reinstated into the outpatient program, with telepsychology sessions scheduled to begin April 20 through Zoom. However, according to this family, it was too late and three weeks without mental care was detrimental to his condition.

“He was failed,” said Lee Nelms, Lamparello’s sister, according to the New York Times. “My brother was a victim not only of his mental illness but also the mental health system.”

Experts offer a path to reopening churches, and the sacraments

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 18:00

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As more Catholic dioceses begin to resume public Masses during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of theologians and medical experts has provided guidance for doing so as safely as possible.

“With proper safeguards to prevent infection, and integrating the scientific guidance of public health authorities as outlined below, it is possible to provide the Mass and the sacraments to the faithful in this period,” said a group of Domican theologians and experts on infectious diseases this week.

The Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments & Pastoral Care, a project of the Thomistic Institute, issued a document this week that aims to give guidance on  “how Catholic sacraments can be provided in the midst of the current pandemic” under U.S. and global health standards.

The April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute outlines a multi-phase proposal for resumption and expansion of public Masses while remaining in conformity with public health guidelines in force in different places.

In “Phase 1,” the “Sunday obligation” to attend Mass should be dispensed, the elderly and those at high risk of COVID-19 should be encouraged to stay home, and those with symptoms should not attend Mass, the working group said.

Other safeguards should be in place, such as requirements for attendees to wear face masks or cloth coverings and an overall limit on the number of attendees. This number depends “on the guidance of public health authorities,” the document says, and could be more than 10 people provided that a church is large enough to seat everyone with at least six feet of distance in between.

Seating should be provided by ushers in designated areas so that all attendees can be seated in an orderly manner and remain spaced apart; after the end of Mass, they could be dismissed row by row so as not to result in a crowd leaving the church all at once, the working group said.

Priests should not offer Mass while wearing gloves and a facemask, especially if they are spaced far enough apart from ministers and attendees.

“A further consideration: the Mass is imbued with powerful sacramental and liturgical symbolism. Wearing a mask and gloves would be a detrimental counter-sign in this context, and it is not warranted by considerations of hygiene if the priest remains a proper distance from the congregation,” the group states.

Mass could be offered without distribution of Holy Communion, or Communion could be distributed at the end of Mass, the group said. After the final blessing, the priest would remove his chasuble, use hand sanitizer, retrieve newly-consecrated hosts from the tabernacle, pray the “Agnus Dei” prayer at the altar while holding up a single host, and then proceed to distribute Communion.

Those who wish to receive could approach the altar, spaced six feet apart. If the priest believed he touched the hands or mouth of a recipient, he could use hand sanitizer that is sitting on a table next to him.

It could be possible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue within public health guidelines, the document states:

“Given the Church’s existing guidance on this point (see Redemptionis Sacramentum , no. 92), and recognizing the differing judgments and sensibilities that are involved, we believe that, with the precautions listed here, it is possible to distribute on the tongue without unreasonable risk.”

In addition to the four dioceses that initially announced the resumption of public Masses, other bishops have followed suit in the last several days.

In Fort Worth, Texas, Bishop Michael Olson announced on Wednesday that public Masses would resume in the diocese the  weekend of May 2-3, and that parishes would again be offering the sacrament of Confession not just on an appointment basis.

Olson reiterated that he has dispensed Catholics from the Sunday obligation, instructed those feeling ill to refrain from attending Mass, and encouraged those over the age of 60 to attend a Mass exclusively for their age group if their parish offered one.

He also encouraged attendees to practice proper safeguards, such as wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing. Once a church reached capacity with the faithful seated at proper distances from each other, overflow seating could be provided in a nearby hall or attendees could stand outside or follow a livestream of Mass from their cars, with Holy Communion offered to all those outside the church at a designated area, and not to be administered on the tongue.

The Diocese of Fargo will also resume public Masses on May 4, although with the Sunday obligation still dispensed. The elderly and those at high risk of COVID-19 “are strongly encouraged to stay home,” according to a letter from Bishop John Folda.

Other common safeguards, such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing, and a limit on the overall number of Mass attendees, will be in force. Masses will not feature singing by the congregation or by choirs, and Holy Communion can only be received in the hand.

Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, said that public Masses are planned for “over Pentecost weekend and then daily following,” but that the Sunday obligation will still be dispensed. Pentecost Sunday falls on May 31 in 2020.

Requirements for Mass attendees include wearing face masks, proper social distancing, and limits on the overall number of attendees.

In Oklahoma, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa said they were setting up a joint task force to establish a timeline for public Masses to resume and would announce a timeline on May 6.

Founded in 2009, the Thomistic Institute is part of the Pontifical Faculty of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.  It has already produced similar guidelines for the sacrament of Confession during the pandemic.

Bishops will 'consecrate' the US and Canada to Mary. Here's what that means

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 16:23

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The bishops of both the United States and Canada are set to consecrate their nations to Mary, Mother of the Church on May 1.

In fact, this will be a reconsecration, as both countries have been consecrated to Mary before— as has the entire world, several times.  

Reconsecrating the country, the US bishops said in an April 23 announcement, is meant to serve as a reminder to the faithful of Mary’s witness to the Gospel, and as a way of asking for Mary’s intercession before Jesus on behalf of those in need.

“Every year, the Church seeks the special intercession of the Mother of God during the month of May. This year, we seek the assistance of Our Lady all the more earnestly as we face together the effects of the global pandemic,” Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the US bishops, said in his April 22 letter announcing the consecration.

To Jesus through Mary

A person or nation that is consecrated is set aside for a holy purpose.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship defines consecration to Mary as an overt recognition of the “singular role of Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession, and of the efficacy of her patronage.”

St. Louis de Montfort, a 17th-century French priest, was “one of the great masters of the spirituality underlying the act of consecration to Mary,” the congregation wrote, noting that de Montfort proposed to the faithful “consecration to Jesus through Mary.”

Pope St. John Paul II— who consecrated the entire Church and world to Mary three times during his pontificate— taught that by consecrating oneself to Mary, we accept her help in offering ourselves fully to Jesus.

“It means accepting her help—by having recourse to her motherly heart, which beneath the cross was opened to love for every human being, for the whole world—in order to offer the world, the individual human being, mankind as a whole, and all the nations to him who is infinitely holy,” the pope said in May 1982.

Renewing Marian entrustments

Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, the first bishop of the United States, promoted devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and placed the United States under her protection in a pastoral letter of 1792, the US bishops wrote in an April 23 announcement.  

Later, in 1847, Pope Pius IX approved the US bishops’ decision to name the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the Patroness of the United States.

The U.S. bishops once again consecrated the nation to Mary during the 1959 dedication of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Canada was first consecrated to Mary at a National Marian Congress in Ottawa in 1947, then again in 1954. The bishops last renewed the consecration on July 2, 2017.

The bishops of many other countries over the years— including, most recently, Mexico and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Easter Sunday— have consecrated their nations to Mary.

After receiving more than 300 letters during the coronavirus pandemic, the bishops of Italy will also consecrate the nation to Mary on May 1, at a shrine in northern Italy.

In addition, several popes have consecrated the entire Church and world to Mary.

Pope Pius XII consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on October 31, 1942, and Pope St. John Paul II renewed that consecration on May 13, 1982, again on March 25, 1984, and once more on Oct. 8, 2000.

Pope Francis during Oct. 2013 renewed the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and dedicated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima.

Prayers during the pandemic

The May 1 renewal of consecration does not change the designation of Mary as the Patroness of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception, the US bishops clarified, but rather “reaffirms and renews previous Marian entrustments.”

The title “Mary, Mother of the Church” was given to the Blessed Mother by Pope St. Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, and a memorial under the title was added to the Church’s liturgical calendar in 2018.

The act of consecration to Mary, Archbishop Gomez said, “will give the Church the occasion to pray for Our Lady’s continued protection of the vulnerable, healing of the unwell, and wisdom for those who work to cure this terrible virus.”

The EWTN network will air the brief liturgy and prayer of reconsecration at 3 p.m. ET, Friday, May 1, live from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.


EWTN to broadcast Friday consecration of US and Canada to Blessed Virgin Mary

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 12:40

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 10:40 am (CNA).- The EWTN network will air Friday the consecration of the U.S. and Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which will take place in a liturgy celebrated by U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Gomez has invited all U.S. bishops to join him on May 1 in reconsecrating the U.S. to the Blessed Virgin Mary in response to the pandemic. The reconsecration is timed to coincide with the bishops of Canada consecrating their own country to Mary at the same time.

Archbishop Gomez, who is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, said in a letter sent to all American bishops April 22 that the Marian reconsecration would be done under the title of “Mary, Mother of the Church.”

“Every year, the Church seeks the special intercession of the Mother of God during the month of May. This year, we seek the assistance of Our Lady all the more earnestly as we face together the effects of the global pandemic,” he said in his letter.

The bishops of Canada will consecrate the Crown Dominion to Mary under the same title on the same day.

“Based on discussion with the leadership of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Executive Committee of the USCCB met and affirmed the fitness of May 1, 2020, as an opportunity for the bishops of the United States to reconsecrate our nation to Our Lady and to do so under the title, Mary, Mother of the Church,” Gomez said, adding that they would be doing so “on the same day that our brother bishops to the north consecrate Canada under the same title.”

EWTN will broadcast the brief liturgy and prayer of re-consecration at 3 p.m. ET, Friday, May 1, live from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. The event will also be aired live on EWTN’s Facebook page.

EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw said: “EWTN is honored to be airing this important Re-Consecration of the United States and Canada to Our Lady. As the bishops’ leadership demonstrates, the road out of this pandemic is through the intercession of our Heavenly Mother. May the Lord bless and protect us in these challenging times.”

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.



Let states defund Planned Parenthood, Congressmen tell Supreme Court

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 11:30

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- More than 130 members of Congress are asking the Supreme Court to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 108 representatives and 29 senators argued that states should have the flexibility to determine qualified Medicaid providers.

They urged the Supreme Court to hear South Carolina’s case on barring Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state from receiving Medicaid reimbursements.

Four South Carolina Republican members of Congress led the amicus brief: Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Reps. Jeff Duncan and Ralph Norman. In addition, 134 other members signed on.

“This is a battle on two fronts – a fight for the unborn and the conscience of taxpayers, and a fight for states’ authority to decide which providers qualify for funds,” Rep. Duncan stated on Wednesday.

South Carolina’s governor Henry McMaster in 2018 had tried to bar two Planned Parenthood facilities and another abortion clinic from Medicaid funding.

Following McMaster’s July, 2018 order, however, a district court judge put an injunction on the order, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

Several pro-life groups supported the brief, including Alliance Defending Freedom, March for Life Action, and National Right to Life.

Although federal policy—the Hyde Amendment—has long prohibited taxpayer funding of elective abortions in Medicaid, Rep. Norman argued that any public funding of Planned Parenthood for services other than abortions still frees up other resources to dedicate to abortions.

“For Planned Parenthood, that means Medicaid reimbursements for approved services would, in part, support the same overhead and broader operational costs that makes their life-ending abortion ‘services’ possible,” Norman said.  

Although Republicans in Congress have tried to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, and President Trump made a campaign promise to that effect in 2016, the Senate failed to do so while Republicans controlled the House in 2017 and 2018.

Planned Parenthood’s government funding has actually increased during the Trump administration, according to its 2017-18 and 2018-19 annual reports, after remaining largely stagnant since the 2011 fiscal year. The conservative Heritage Foundation released a report on April 6 showing that Planned Parenthood’s government funding had doubled from 2006 to a high of more than $616 million in FY 2019.

Potential postulants wait and see as COVID puts convent plans in question 

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 05:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 30, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- If everything were going according to plan, Jessica would be entering the convent on August 22.

But, thanks to coronavirus, everything is not going according to plan.

“I was accepted to pre-postulancy with an order, and as of right now everything is going according to their schedule still,” she said, as far as the entrance date.

“But because of COVID-19 I haven’t been able to work (I had two jobs on campus which closed) and I lost my summer job opportunities, so I might not be able to enter because of student loan debt,” Jessica told CNA.

Jessica asked that her identity and the order be somewhat concealed because she hasn’t told all of her family and friends of her plans to join the convent - especially now that she’s not sure if it will even happen in the expected timeframe.

“I haven’t told many people about my plans to enter because I’m worried I won’t be able to enter,” she told CNA.

Jessica is not alone. Postulants - new members of a religious community starting the first process of formation before taking vows - are among the myriad of people whose plans have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many women discerning religious life with communities of religious sisters or nuns in the United States are having to settle for tentative plans as their summer or fall entrance dates to their communities are fast approaching. Many otherwise-standard pre-entrance visits or retreats have been canceled or moved online, while some entrance dates have been postponed, and others are - very tentatively - staying in place.

Natalie Ross has been discerning religious life for several years, and decided in October last year to begin the application process with the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, often called the Marianist Sisters.

Ross turned in her application in April and should know if she is officially accepted by late May. If she is accepted, she would theoretically enter shortly thereafter, and move from her home in Austin, Texas to the sisters’ house in Dayton, Ohio.

“Right now there are no concrete plans to delay entrance if I'm accepted, but I think that's the way a lot of people and institutions have been handling all this,” Ross told CNA. “You just keep your plans the way they were before until it gets closer to the time for them to happen, and then re-evaluate if they will really be possible now.”

Ross said while she doesn’t “terribly mind” having plans up in the air, and while she knows other people are facing bigger problems related to the virus, it has left her with a lot of questions.

“Our lease is up around when I would theoretically be moving, and someone else has already leased our apartment - should I look to sign a new lease somewhere? How do you safely move during a pandemic? Should I move back in with my parents (several hours away)? If I leave, what should my roommate do? Also, will I be able to say goodbye to my friends and family?” she said.

Because the Marianist sisters are not cloistered, Ross said she knows she will get a chance to see family and friends again, even if she doesn’t say goodbye before she initially leaves. But she had specific ideas of a “cheerful but slightly teary-eyed goodbye party,” of revisiting some of her favorite parks and restaurants one more time, of heart-to-heart conversations she’d have with friends and siblings in the days before she left.

“And now, I'm sure I'm being melodramatic, but I’m picturing me packing my stuff into my car and abandoning my roommate and driving to Ohio by myself and bawling my eyes out. And that breaks my heart. The idea of this temporary separation from loved ones becoming more permanent is really sad!” Ross said.

“But this situation is a reminder that I have to sacrifice things I really want, even things that are genuinely good, to pursue God’s call,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that she isn’t grieving the things she will miss, she added, “but it does give meaning to it in a way that strengthens me. I was reminded of Jesus’ words, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead’...that passage in Matthew made sense to me in a personal way that it hadn’t before.”

Brianna Farens would have been entering the convent of the Poor Clares in Roswell, New Mexico, a cloistered community, on May 26.

Because cloistered communities have even fewer opportunities for members to see friends and family in person after entrance, Farens had planned out her time before entrance. She had planned to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with her parish in Denver, and then to spend some time with her parents and extended family and friends in Connecticut before her entrance into the cloister, since she had been living in Denver for the past five years.

It started with the Holy Land pilgrimage. What was supposed to be a 10-day trip in mid-March turned into a whirlwind of about three days in Israel and hurrying to get home as countries quickly shut their borders. When Farens got home, she had to self-quarantine at her house in Denver since she had been traveling internationally.

She also learned that both of her parents had contracted coronavirus.

“I found out the day they got the results back, the day I landed back in the U.S. That was horrifying,” Farens said.

While they were both very sick for two weeks, they both have recovered and are doing well, Farens said. But it meant she had to wait until Good Friday to go home, to make sure that they were recovered and that her risk of infection was low. At home in Connecticut, Farens kept in touch with the Mother Superior of her convent. Just recently, they decided to push her entrance date from May 26 to June 30.

“So in that way, it’s giving me some extra time with my family here,” Farens said. “We’re also hoping that things might be a little bit better, it might be a little bit safer to travel a month later. Also we’re just really wanting to make sure I'm not at risk of bringing the virus or anything else there to the monastery, because obviously the sisters being cloistered, they’re very safe, very well-quarantined.”

Even June 30, Farens said, is likely just a tentative plan.

“I think as it gets closer, we're going to have to see how everything is and reevaluate. We might also figure out if I should get tested before going,” she added. Some sisters in the community are older and immunocompromised, and are therefore at greater risk.

One of the hardest parts of this time has been being unable to see the extended family and friends that she wanted to see before entering, Farens said.

“These were going to be some of the last times I get to hug my family and friends here and all my friends' babies. This process of surrendering all of that, realizing that that actually might not be - at least in a way that I was wanting and hoping - it's been really, really hard to let go of,” she said.

But despite the challenges, the changes to her plans haven’t deterred Farens in her conviction of being called to the Poor Clares. “Living in such chaotic times and realizing the brokenness of our world, and hearing the sufferings of so many people and people I know, and especially people dying alone...if anything, I feel even more steadfast and convicted that is my call, this vocation to give my life praying for this world that is suffering so much,” she said.

Sr. Emily Marsh is the national vocations director for the Daughters of St. Paul, an order of religious sisters with convents throughout the United States and Canada.

Typically, new postulants would enter the community in the order’s St. Louis convent in August or September, but there hasn’t been a final decision made yet as to whether the women will enter at the normal time, or at a slightly later time, she told CNA.

“We have not had any conversations with my superior or council for formation regarding that, we don’t have enough information regarding August or September,” she said.

The sisters’ infirmary is housed in a separate convent in Boston, Marsh added, but there is a 92 year-old sister living in the postulancy house who would particularly be at risk for coronavirus. Marsh said she has been keeping in touch with the women who are planning to enter this year, and she said that even if their entrance date were to get bumped back by a few months, it wouldn’t cause major logistical problems for most of the women.

However, “if things get pushed back more than six months we would have some concerns,” she said.

Other than the entrance for postulants being up in the air at the moment, the community has “basically been taking our vocation apostolate online,” Marsh said.

Many of the order’s convents have monthly in-person discernment gatherings, Marsh said, and those have all been moved online in the form of video chats, recorded talks, or live question-and-answer sessions with the sisters.

The sisters also usually host an in-person Holy Week retreat at their convent in Boston. This year, as the retreat approached, the sisters decided to move the event online, particularly out of concern for the sisters in the infirmary at the Boston convent.

Normally, Marsh said, there would be about 6-15 women on any given year at the Holy Week retreat.

This year, she said, “we had 7 or 8 confirmed, when we realized we couldn’t have people travel. We decided to at least do something online for those who had signed up, and we started planning an online alternative.”

Word spread, and soon there were five times as many young women registered for the retreat.

“I woke up to 40 emails inquiring about it,” Marsh said. In total, the retreat had 43 registered participants from the U.S. and Canada, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, and one from Australia who had to completely “flip her schedule” in order to participate in the real-time events.

There were also about 150 additional people viewing the discernment videos and downloads that the sisters posted online who were not registered participants, Marsh said.

“I don’t know why it took a pandemic for us to come up with a discernment retreat online,” Marsh said, adding that the sisters are looking into planning another one for this summer.

“I think just from what I’ve been seeing, it’s weird, but it’s been a very fruitful time,” as people have been forced to stay at home because of the virus, Marsh said. “People have a lot of time, and it’s just making people think about life. I think God is giving special graces for vocations and vocational discernment, and we’re basically trying to do what we can in providing women with resources.”

Marsh said while she doesn’t see virtual retreats ever replacing in-person discernment opportunities, she thinks the community will plan on offering a few online discernment events in the coming years, as they can provide a good first step for young women looking into the community who may not be able to afford an expensive plane ticket to a faraway convent.

“It will provide a nice first step, and then from that interaction we can make a mutual discernment of what’s a good next step,” she said.

Sr. Anne Catherine, OP, is a sister with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. She told CNA that the order typically welcomes the new postulant class in August, and so far those plans have not changed.

“From indications we’re seeing at this time, we do think we can go forward with an August entrance date,” she said, and the current postulant class is still proceeding in their application process.

But if the public health situation regarding coronavirus were to change for the worse, the entrance date could be changed, she noted.

Already, some of the young women in this year’s entrance class have experienced other natural forces throwing off some of their plans, when a tornado blew through Nashville on March 2, just days before a discernment retreat at the convent, knocking out power for most of the weekend.

“It was all very funny, normally they eat in this one dining area, but it was so dark we couldn’t take them down there,” Sr. Anne Catherine said, “so we made a makeshift refectory with candles.” The rest of the weekend went well and the women had a good attitude about everything, even without power, she added.

The week of March 16 is when many non-essential businesses started to shut down and people started to shelter at home in the state of Tennessee due to coronavirus. Since then, Sr. Anne Catherine said, the sisters haven’t been able to have retreats or visitors.

Looking ahead to August, Sr. Anne Catherine said that because the sisters’ convent is so big, it is possible that they would have the young women entering do a kind of quarantine-retreat hybrid in their first two weeks, to ensure that they are not bringing the virus into the community as they’re entering. They would normally have the new members do a retreat upon their entrance anyway, but this one would be a little longer and in a separate part of the house.

“We’d want to protect the young women who are coming to us, to make sure that they feel safe and their families feel safe, and also protect our community,” Sr. Anne Catherine said.

“A vocation is an invitation to put out into the deep and trust the Lord,” Sr. Anne Catherine added. “In the pandemic, the emphasis on God’s plan and trusting his’s even more palpable in this time.”

During pandemic, more abortion drugs dispensed via telemedicine

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 22:30

Denver Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 08:30 pm (CNA).- The numbers of women seeking at-home medication abortions through an experimental U.S. telemedicine provider has reportedly doubled under the coronavirus epidemic, though pro-life advocates said there are good reasons for restrictions on the practice.

“Unfortunately women are being influenced by fear right now, and this is being perpetuated by the abortion industry,” Dr. Christina Francis, an Indiana-based OB/GYN and chairman of the board of the American Association of Pro-Life OBGYNs, told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly April 23.

“Certainly all of us are facing uncertain circumstances,” Francis said. “There are a lot of women out there who find themselves pregnant and are not sure what they are going to do. Maybe they are facing the fact that they don’t have a job or they are struggling to put food on the table. But this is not a reason why we should push women into abortions.”

The New York-based Gynuity Health Products is the sponsor of the TelAbortion telemedicine-style abortion project now active in 13 states.

“The ability to get abortion medications from a health care provider by mail is particularly crucial in the COVID-19 crisis,” Gynuity said on Twitter April 29. The organization’s website describes its mission as a development and advocacy group in reproductive and maternal health.

Gynuity’s TelAbortion project reports that, excluding Illinois and Maryland, which are new to the program, the numbers of women seeking abortions through TelAbortion doubled in March and April compared to January and February, the New York Times reported in its April 28 profile of the project and of several women who used it.

The coronavirus epidemic has meant strict stay-at-home orders in many states. Fearing a shortage of medical resources, authorities barred elective surgeries, and some states include elective abortions in the ban.

Francis warned of a push to lift restrictions surrounding medication abortions dispensed by telemedicine methods.

“There are very strict regulations around how this is used for a reason,” Francis told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “We know that the later on in pregnancy this is used, the higher the risks, specifically the risk of hemorrhage, and what we would call an incomplete abortion, where a woman doesn’t pass all of the pregnancy from a result of the drug.”

“Also these women need to be screened to be sure they actually have a pregnancy inside of the uterus, as opposed to an ectopic pregnancy. If that goes undiagnosed, that could be lethal for her.”

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

While U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules require the first drug to be dispensed in clinics or hospitals by doctors or other medical providers who are specially certified, they do not require that providers see patients in person. Some clinics allow women to consult via video.

Medication abortion was first approved by the FDA in 2000 for women 10 weeks into pregnancy or earlier. About 60% of women who choose abortion in this time frame now choose medication over surgery.

The FDA allows the TelAbortion program by special arrangement, as part of a research study. After women consult with the program’s personnel, they are mailed pills and undergo follow-up appointments.

The program has expanded from five states to 13 in the last year, the New York Times reports. Besides Illinois and Maryland, the project is active in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.

TelAbortion is now “working to expand to as many states as possible,” Dr. Elizabeth Raymond, senior associate at Gynuity Health Products, told the New York Times.

Raymond said that TelAbortion had mailed 841 packages containing abortion pills and confirmed that, as of April 22, 611 abortions had been completed. Another 216 women were either following up or have not contacted TelAbortion about the outcome.

Of the completed abortions, TelAbortion said aspiration was performed to finish the abortion in 26 cases.

Of the women who completed abortions, 46 went to emergency rooms or urgent care centers. Three were hospitalized and successfully treated: two for excessive bleeding and another for a seizure after an aspiration, Raymond said. Fifteen of these women did not need medical treatment. Raymond told the New York Times the issues were just as likely to arise had the women been required to have an in-person consultation.

Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, emphasized a concern for safety.

“Despite guidelines put forth by the FDA to regulate the sale and use of abortion pills, groups like TelAbortion continue to prey on girls as young as 10 years old with complete disregard for their safety,” Quigley told CNA April 29.

Gynuity, the sponsor of the TelAbortion project, has strong links to the abortion industry and influential global NGOs. Its co-founder and president, Beverly Winikoff, is a former assistant director for health services at the Rockefeller Foundation, a major backer of legal abortion. For 25 years, she was director for reproductive health and a senior medical associate at the Population Council.

Under President Donald Trump, the FDA has still allowed TelAbortion to operate. Some lawmakers have sought to change this.

The proposed Teleabortion Prevention Act would make it a federal offense for healthcare providers to perform a chemical abortion without performing a physical examination first. They would have to be present during the procedure and schedule a follow-up visit.

The legislation is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is a medical doctor. It has 10 co-sponsors, all Republicans.

“Performing an abortion without the presence of a health care provider puts the lives of both the mother and unborn child in serious danger. Chemical abortions present serious risks, and health care providers need to be responsible stewards of that knowledge,” bill co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a February announcement.

Another co-sponsor, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the bill would make “mail-order abortions” a federal offense.

“I firmly believe that advances in medicine should be used to save lives, not take them away,” he said.


Catholic university stages a 'digital play' amid quarantine

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 19:13

Denver Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- While the coronavirus has shut down universities and artistic events, the drama department of a Catholic university performed a play nevertheless, through a video conference.

A production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” was meant to be staged last week. Because of the pandemic, the Catholic University of America’s Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art instead performed the play on Youtube.

Eleanor Holdridge, chair of the drama department and the play director, told CNA that the play was a blessing, allowing the students a break from isolation and bringing art into homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was great because it was something to be working as a group towards. It was something we didn't have to give up and that we can have hope towards in the midst of this crisis,” she said.

“We sort of had a virtual cast party. We all watched it. It went live on the 23rd, Shakespeare's birthday. So the cast families all watched it together and then we kind of met up afterward to have a real cast party.”

The performance was not streamed live. Instead, each scene was recorded separately and then the actor’s scenes were placed side-by-side as if in a video conference. If the scene was a monologue, then the actor would appear solo on the screen. In between acts, pictures of the sets would appear along with music pieces composed by Roc Lee, a sound designer and composer.

The actors were encouraged to situate themselves in areas of the house with blank walls and good lighting. In one instance, Holdridge said, a student recorded himself huddled in a corner of the house to evoke his character’s imprisonment. Prior to the play, the costume designer video chatted with each cast member and then helped them pick out the best costumes from what they have at home.

She said the online play was also very challenging. While rehearsals usually go for about four hours, it was much more difficult to keep everyone on track while online, and the session had to be shortened. She also said the gestures of acting were too large for the screen and the actors had to focus heavily on speaking with only a little body movement.

As students were feeling distraught and isolated, she said, the play was a unique opportunity for the actors to get back into university life.

“[College is] about what you're learning, obviously, but you're also learning how to be your own person away from your parents and you're learning how to be a member of society. You're learning how to work with your friends and peers towards something,” she said.

“I feel like they very much needed to feel like they were working, not just with faculty but with each other towards a goal.”

Holdridge also said the event was an opportunity to promote art within the household during the pandemic. She highlighted the importance of acting as a promotion of empathy.

“The art of acting and theater … is a really wonderful way in which to teach or learn empathy. You can't do what we do without feeling empathy … You have to imagine yourself to be many different characters or find the motivations of many different characters,” she said.

“So in terms of having empathy towards other people and not having a rigid scorn or scoff at other ways of being is, I think, one of the great things that theater is and what it can do.”

Marie Kottenstette, a senior English and drama major who played Isabella, said it was a valuable learning experience, and, although it was not ideal, it was an important opportunity.

“Being able to work and act, even if it isn't exactly what we're used to, was important,” she said. “I feel like we're still learning and growing. We're in college so we're constantly learning and this was definitely a learning experience.”

Planned Parenthood president hails 'silver lining' to coronavirus

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 18:00

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood’s president has hailed an increase in telehealth services, including access to chemical abortions, as a “silver lining” of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is actually a silver lining in this pandemic, that Planned Parenthood and many other health providers have actually been able to really lean into telehealth infrastructure and provide service,” said Alexis McGill-Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, interview with Democracy Now! published Monday.

McGill-Johnson noted that by the end of April, the organization would be providing telehealth services in all 50 states, from “STI screenings, to family planning, to HIV PEP and PrEP, and, in much the same way as I said, to provide some wraparound service around getting access to abortion.”

In the interview, Johnson noted how an expansion of telehealth through apps like Skype increased access to chemical abortions where “that patient will come and pick up the prescription and go home and take that medication safely at home. And then we are able to do follow-up care, again via telehealth.”

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services announced in March that it would not enforce penalties against health care providers for potential privacy violations resulting from using technologies such as Skype to communicate with patients.

“OCR is exercising its enforcement discretion to not impose penalties for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth using such non-public facing audio or video communication products during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency,” OCR stated in March.

Pro-life leaders have warned of an increase in chemical abortions during the pandemic; a letter from members of Congress to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urged that current regulations of chemical abortions not be loosened.

An April 14 op-ed by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, warned that remote chemical abortions “via telemedicine and the mail” represented “the next frontier” of the abortion industry.

McGill-Johnson on Monday also called temporary state bans on elective abortions during the pandemic “unconscionable.” Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have been fighting state orders including in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee, that seek to curtail elective abortions during the COVID-19 outbreak as part of limiting non-essential medical procedures and conserving resources to fight the pandemic.

Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion provider, with 345,672 abortions reported during the 2019 fiscal year—receives hundreds of millions of dollars annually in taxpayer funds, through federal, state and local health grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements.

Federal policy—the Hyde Amendment—has long prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion, but the grants and Medicaid reimbursements are meant to be used for services other than abortion, such as contraceptives.

In 2019, the Trump administration tightened up the restrictions for the Title X family planning program. Under the new Protect Life Rule, which was meant to cut down on access to taxpayer money for abortion providers, Title X recipients could not refer for abortions as a method of family planning, and could not be co-located with abortion facilities.

The Title X program was created in 1970 with the stipulation that funds could not be used for abortion as a method of family planning; the regulations governing the funding, however, have been altered over time; the Clinton administration allowed for recipients to refer for abortions and co-locate with abortion clinics.  

Planned Parenthood sued the Trump administration over the new rule, but then voluntarily withdrew from the Title X program in August; it had received an average of around $60 million annually from the program.

Before withdrawing from Title X, however, Planned Parenthood had actually seen its public revenues increase during the Trump administration after remaining largely stagnant for years under the Obama administration.

In its most recent annual report, Planned Parenthood reported more than $616 million in government funding for the 2019 fiscal year, a raise of more than 8% from its figure of $563.8 million for FY 2018.

Efforts by Congress to strip the organization of federal funding derailed despite Trump promising to see it through during his 2016 campaign. While the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, the Republican-led Senate failed to do so.

The organization saw its government funding double between FY 2006 and FY 2019, according to an analysis by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Planned Parenthood received a spike in public funding from 2009-2010, and another increase in 2011, but its public funding remained largely the same throughout the rest of the Obama administration until an increase in 2018 and again in 2019, according to Heritage’s report.

Johnson also said on Monday that some women had driven “thousands of miles” to obtain pills for chemical abortions after Texas banned all elective abortions, including chemical abortions, during the pandemic. The state lifted its temporary abortion ban last week.