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Updated: 49 min 28 sec ago

NYC mayor apologizes to Jewish community over social distancing warning

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 17:30

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized on Wednesday afternoon, hours after sending a tweet that singled out “the Jewish community” while warning of consequences for groups if they violate social distancing orders during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I regret if the way I say it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way — it was not my intention," said de Blasio on Wednesday, referring to the past evening’s controversial tweet. De Blasio characterized his comments as “tough love.”

The previous evening, the mayor tweeted that he had instructed the city’s police force to issue summons to or arrest people who congregate in large groups. De Blasio specifically singled out the Jewish population of the city in his warning. 

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.” de Blasio said just after 9:30 p.m. on April 28. 

De Blasio’s tweet was in response to a funeral held earlier in the evening for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died from COVID-19. The funeral service drew a large crowd of members of the Hasidic community to the streets of Williamsburg. The group was dispersed by NYPD officers. No one attending the funeral was arrested. 

The mayor said that when he heard about the funeral, he “went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed.”

“And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus,” he tweeted. 

De Blasio’s tweet drew criticism, with many noting the mayor’s own apparent violations of social distancing, as well as instances of large crowds of non-Hasidic people who were not wearing masks in public. On the day of the funeral in Williamsburg, many people congregated outdoors to watch a flyover tribute by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. The mayor did not comment on this activity. 

Bataya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at the Jewish publication The Forward, pointed out that de Blasio continued to go to the gym despite stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations. 

“Bill de Blasio went to the gym six days after Purim, three days after Lakewood’s rabbinic authorities banned public gatherings,” she said on Twitter. “And he’s out here talking about rounding up Jews.” 

The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League also condemned de Blasio’s tweet, noting that it was not sound policy for the mayor to generalize about 13% of the city’s population. 

“There are 1 million plus Jewish people in NYC. The few who don’t social distance should be called out--but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews,” said Greenblatt. “This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever.” 

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, de Blasio has repeatedly aimed enforcement warnings at faith communities. In March, the mayor threatened to “permanently” close houses of worship that continued to hold services. 

De Blasio’s threat to shut down religious buildings provoked criticism from religious liberty experts, as well as questions about his legal authority to do so given the protections of the First Amendment.

"Mayor de Blasio surely didn’t mean what he said, because there’s no way he or any other government official would ever have the power to shut down a church, synagogue, or mosque permanently,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in March.

Rienzi said that, given the context, the mayor “appears to be talking about the temporary need to ensure proper social distancing in a time of crisis,” which Rienzi said was a “valid governmental interest.” 

Rienzi called the phrasing of de Blasio’s comments “unfortunate,” and said they were not helping to soothe the fears of religious groups, particularly as those same religious groups are providing emergency relief work to those impacted by COVID-19. 

“Right now, we need religious groups and the government to continue working together to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Rienzi. “The First Amendment will protect against any needless targeting of religious groups in a time of crisis.”

Last year, the number of hate crimes against Jewish people in New York City reached the highest number since 1992, the year following the Crown Heights riot.

Don’t forget trafficking victims amid pandemic, congressman cautions

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 16:49

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2020 / 02:49 pm (CNA).- While much of the world’s intelligence forces are focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking victims are at risk of being overlooked, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told a European security organization this week.

“Traffickers are not shut down—they haven’t gone on a holiday,” Smith warned in an April 27 webinar speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE-PA).

“Victims still need to be rescued. Survivors still need assistance. Vulnerable people likely will be made even more vulnerable by both the virus and the economic impact of the response to it,” Smith said.

“And as a result, when things start to open back up, traffickers may have an easier time finding, deceiving, coercing and exploiting victims.”

The New Jersey congressman is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues. He has authored numerous U.S. laws to fight human trafficking.

In his remarks, Smith stressed that the plight of trafficking victims may be worsened by coronavirus lockdowns.

“Victims may be quarantined with their traffickers, and, as a result of quarantine and social distancing practices, are now less likely to come into contact with people who might assist or rescue them,” he said.

In addition, police forces are turning their attention to keeping order and offering assistance to medical personnel amid the ongoing pandemic, meaning that trafficking victims may go unnoticed, he said.

Meanwhile, shelters are decreasing the number of the people they can safely house with social distancing measures in place, and job loss from the pandemic has been widespread, both factors that can leave those who have escaped human trafficking vulnerable, he said.

Smith also pointed to indications that there has been an increased demand for online pornography, which is closely aligned with sex trafficking.

“Sex buyers are quarantined like everyone else and may be turning to online venues,” he said. “Sites are hosting videos of trafficking victims, sexual abuse of children, and rape. There are reports from anti-trafficking groups that webcam sex trafficking is increasing.”

To respond to these worrying trends, lawmakers should work to consider how technology is aiding traffickers, Smith said.

He pointed to the use of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, by traffickers to avoid discovery. Smith said he is looking into ways that law enforcement may be able to better investigate and prosecute the use of these currencies.

The congressman also warned that an increase in online classroom instruction could leave children vulnerable to sexual predators. He called for renewed efforts to teach students and instructors ways to identify and avoid human trafficking and exploitation.

“NGOs, including the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, A21 Campaign, Just Ask, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and others already have developed age-appropriate school courses to educate students on how to avoid trafficking traps, and to educate teachers on how to identify and help students who may be trapped in labor or sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation,” he said. “Now is the time to take advantage of such programs, many of which can be conducted online.”

With public health experts saying the coronavirus crisis will continue over the coming months, Smith stressed the need to ensure that victims of sexual and labor exploitations do not fall through the cracks.

“[W]e must prioritize the fight against human trafficking, even during this crisis,” he said.

White House consults bishops on church reopening guidelines

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 16:22

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 02:22 pm (CNA).- The White House has consulted four Catholic bishops who have reinstated public Masses, as the Trump administration considers issuing guidelines on the safe reopening of churches and religious services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Multiple sources confirmed to CNA that officials from the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Centers for Disease Control conducted a series of conference calls with bishops from three states on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The bishops of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Lubbock, Texas, and Billings-Great Falls and Helena, Montana, spoke to administration officials who asked for feedback on the dioceses’ resumption of public ministry in line with state public health orders.

The initiative for the discussions came from the White House, sources familiar with the talks told CNA.

During the calls Tuesday and Wednesday, various policies put in place across the different dioceses were outlined, including extra measures for maintaining social distancing indoors and outside, and for the distribution of Communion. Administration officials also underscored to the bishops the administration’s ambition to see church buildings reopen whenever and wherever reopening can be done safely.

On April 15, the Las Cruces diocese issued guidelines providing that Masses could resume either outdoors or inside church buildings while conforming to state requirements on social distancing. The Diocese of Lubbock circulated its own guidelines on April 22, including provisions for restoring access to Communion for Catholics.

In their own public statements last week, Montana’s two bishops, Bishop Austin Vetter of Helena and Bishop Michael Warfel of Billings-Great-Falls also issued their own guidance on the phased reopening of churches in line with the governor’s announced plans. 

Bishop Michael Warfel of Billings-Great Falls told CNA Wednesday that he took part in a call with several other bishops and White House officials earlier in the day.

“I was on a phone call just earlier this morning with the director and deputy director for domestic policy for the White House, and we were sharing our experiences [reinstituting public Masses],” he told CNA.

“They were very much interested in our experience and what we were doing.”

The calls were coordinated through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the request of the White House, sources told CNA, but the bishops’ conference did not play an active role in the discussions. 

When contacted by CNA about the calls, White House spokespeople declined to comment. Calls to the USCCB were not returned by the time of posting.

Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, who was the first U.S. bishop to announce the resumption of public Masses during the coronavirus pandemic, released a statement to CNA confirming that he had taken part in a call but declined to elaborate on the discussion.

“I was contacted by some officials at the White House and am grateful for their concern for religious liberty and the responsible resumption of religious worship,” Baldacchino said. “I am always open and grateful for dialogue with civic leaders, regardless of the party.”

“It is my hope that even more government officials, especially at the state level, will come to recognize the essential nature of faith and worship,” Baldacchino told CNA. “I continue to pray that God grant wisdom and discernment to all our government leaders.”

During the calls, according to several people familiar with the conversations, administration officials expressed their hope to be able to support faith communities with “sensitive and respectful guidance” to help restore public worship “as soon as it is feasible,” and asked for details of local guidelines issued by the bishops.

The bishops highlighted their desire to conform with state-level public health regulations, and emphasized the need to protect at-risk populations, including the elderly. At the same time the bishops said they were committed to responding to the spiritual needs of local Catholics.

“We are being cautious,” Warfel said of his own efforts to restore sacramental ministry. “We have protocols and restrictions, this isn’t a turn-key operation where a parish can just open the doors and say ‘y’all can come in,’ there are definite restrictions.”

On the calls, White House officials discussed the significance of state government designations of churches as either “essential” or “non-essential,” and asked about the response from both priests and people in the dioceses to the announcements that public Masses would resume.

Policy officials also discussed ideas for other possible ways of increasing the number of people who could attend Mass at a time, including the enforcement of larger spaces for social distancing rules between families, who could be seated in a group.

“I have continued the dispensation of Sunday and holy day obligations, and that will continue until we reach phase three [of the governor’s reopening plan], and I have encouraged those who are little more vulnerable to continue to stay home or maybe look at attending smaller events, maybe a weekday Mass,” said Warfel.

At the same time, he said, the absence of regular parish life has been felt keenly by local Catholics.

“The churches have to have the space needed, and have seats roped off [to enforce social distancing]. That’s often the hardest part for people – not being able to sit next to their friends and neighbors, it is a real hardship. People need people, that’s a part of communion, the gathering of the body of Christ to receive the body of Christ.”

Warfel told CNA that while much of the discussion has focused on the resumption of public Masses, other sacramental ministry was also vital to the lives of Catholics.

“Look at funerals,” he said to CNA. “In some areas we haven’t been able to have anything past a burial service recently – we are talking about a very emotional, sensitive time in a family’s life. If you can’t have a funeral Mass it’s very, very difficult.”

According to those involved with the calls, the bishops were asked if they would consider it helpful if the CDC were to provide suggested guidelines for faith leaders to consider when reopening churches in accordance with state laws. The AP reported this week that draft CDC guidelines for religious groups are at the White House this week for review.

“I think they were just looking for guidance,” Warfel told CNA.

“I don’t know all of who they talked to, but my guidance is mostly on a statewide level not federal.” He told CNA that, while it was for bishops to make the final decisions for their dioceses, consultation was important. In addition to taking advice from his own priests and local civil authorities, Warfel said the bishops of his region (USCCB Region XII) had set up a regular Tuesday conference call to share ideas.

“All these areas are so different,” he said, and pointed out that local circumstances were important to consider when looking at options for restoring sacramental life.

Contrasting his own experience in Montana with urban areas hardest hit by coronavirus, like New York City, the bishop noted that “in much of my diocese we don’t actually have any confirmed cases. We have sadly had some cases here in [the city of] Great Falls, but most of the counties are rural – in a few of them the cow population is greater than the people population.”

During the calls, White House officials explained that any forthcoming guidance would be broad in scope, and not look to dictate specific liturgical or ritual religious conduct, such as the reception of Communion.

The bishops were told that the Centers for Disease Control hoped that issuing guidance could help inform state and local leaders about the “essential” nature of religious practice, while still allowing for localized responses to the coronavirus and provide “helpful parameters” for state and local governments who are trying to safeguard public health.

The bishops were also told that the administration hoped to see a discussion between bishops and civil leaders to encourage them to be more “forward leaning” in efforts to promote the “critical importance” of religious faith and practice in daily life.

White House officials also told the bishops that the attorney general had recently issued a memo saying the Justice Department would be paying close attention for any possible violations of civil liberties by state and local governments.

They told the bishops that the attorney general would act if there was evidence of “needlessly aggressive” enforcement of public health measures against religious communities.

Buffalo diocese cuts off 'all financial support' for accused priests

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 15:32

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 01:32 pm (CNA).- During its bankruptcy process, the Diocese of Buffalo has announced it will end financial support and health benefits for priests facing substantiated allegations of sexual abuse. 

"Following discussions and subsequent agreement with the Creditors Committee, which has been appointed as part of the Diocese of Buffalo's Chapter 11 process, the Diocese will cease all financial support and health benefits for priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse,” the Diocese of Buffalo told CNA April 29. 

The decision is scheduled to take effect May 1. It is expected to impact 23 priests who have been receiving “sustenance payments” totalling $600,000 annually, according to Buffalo News. 

Eligible priests will continue receiving pension payments from a priest pension program, which, according to a 2017 statement from the diocese, is managed by a board of trustees and not directly overseen by the diocese. 

“None of the 23 individuals affected currently has faculties to function as a priest within the Diocese. The nature and details of the allegations that resulted in their faculties being suspended relate, in most cases, to allegations raised many years ago,” Greg Tucker, a diocesan spokesman, told CNA.

“The Diocese is directing these individuals to information and available resources elsewhere for their health insurance and other sustenance needs going forward," Tucker added.

Canon law requires that dioceses provide for the "decent support" of all incardinated clerics, with bishops required to offer at least the provision for basic sustenance, even to clerics not in ministry. 

In the wake of the sexual abuse scandals in the United States, several priests either accused or found to have committed sexual abuse of minors have appealed to the Vatican regarding their right to basic sustenance, including access to health care, and that right has been upheld by Vatican officials.

The priests who will lose support from the diocese remain clerics, incardinated in the Buffalo diocese. 

“None have been laicized,” Tucker told CNA. “These are priests whose faculties have been suspended based on substantiated claims of abuse.”

While the priests in question have been accused of sexual misconduct, the diocese did not specify how many have been found guilty, or even how many have been given the benefit of due process or formal trials in either canon or civil law.

“The allegations pertain to many years ago - decades in fact, and precede the formation of the Independent Review Board.  That said, whatever investigative process in place at the time determined that the allegations were ‘substantiated’ either because they admitted the offense or there was a criminal investigation, or allegations were corroborated based on multiple allegations - and those priests were then relieved of their priestly faculties,” Tucker said.

“In later cases (2002 and after), there was an independent investigation and an Independent Review Board recommendation. In some cases, the diocese initiated a canonical process and in other cases it did not,” Tucker added.

The decision was communicated in an April 23 letter to the 23 priests from Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, temporary administrator of the diocese, and in a conference call. 

Scharfenberger told the priests that while sustenance payments and health care coverage will cease, the changes will not affect existing pension payments.

Some priests, however, are concerned those payments will not be enough, and it is not clear whether all those affected by the change qualify for a pension.

Michael Taheri, a lawyer for one affected priest, told Buffalo News that the diocese’s behavior is “unconscionable.” 

“As a Catholic, I’m ashamed,” Taheri said. 

His client, Fr. Samuel Venne, was removed from ministry in 2018 after an allegation of sexual abuse dating back decades. Venne told Buffalo News he was a cancer survivor with no other income beyond $500 per month from social security. 

“How am I going to pay for my medicines? Where am I going to live?” Venne asked Scharfenberger.

The priest also said that he has consistently maintained his innocence, and passed a polygraph test as part of the diocese’s investigation into the allegation against him.

The announcement by Buffalo comes as the diocese has had to make staffing cuts and filed for bankruptcy in recent months.

In February, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization after being named in hundreds of new sexual abuse lawsuits filed in New York state courts. Another RICO lawsuit was filed in August alleging a “pattern of racketeering activity” by the diocese.

The state’s Child Victims Act had set up a one-year lookback window for such lawsuits, as many cases of child sex abuse have long-expired statutes of limitations.

Earlier in the month, the diocese closed its Christ the King seminary which had been running a $500,000 average annual deficit for a decade.

On March 19, the diocese said it would be accelerating cuts to staffing for its Catholic Center, eliminating 21 positions and moving three more from full-time to part-time.

As other Catholic dioceses and parishes applied for, and received, emergency loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester filed a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration saying they were wrongfully excluded from the program because of their bankruptcy debtor status.

Scharfenberger, who is Bishop of Albany, was appointed temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese in December. The last bishop of the diocese, Bishop Richard Malone, resigned after a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation, or investigation, of the diocese under his leadership. 

Lincoln diocese reports on 'wrong and inappropriate conduct' of former vocations director

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 13:50

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 11:50 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska today released the results of an independent investigation into alleged misconduct by a deceased longtime vocations director.

The report concluded that Monsignor Leonard Kalin had engaged in inappropriate behavior, including sexual advances toward seminarians and students.

Though the diocese was aware of Kalin’s habits such as heavy drinking and gambling, the report did not uncover evidence that diocesan leaders knew of Kalin’s sexual impropriety before 1998,  the year some restrictions were placed on Kalin’s ministry. .

“Despite Msgr. Kalin’s many positive contributions to build a faithful community at the Newman Center, the investigation findings regarding his wrong and inappropriate conduct are disturbing and painful,” reads an April 29 letter from Father George Lucas, the diocesan apostolic administrator.

“The exercise of power and authority that leads the faithful to act in a sinful way never should be tolerated. For the harm that has been done, I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the diocese.”

Monsignor Kalin, who died in 2008, was the vocation director for the Diocese of Lincoln and pastor of the University of Nebraska Newman Center from 1970 until the late 1990s.

In August 2018, Peter Mitchell, a former Lincoln priest, publicly accused Kalin of “modeling addictive behaviors” to young people through habits such as heavy drinking, chain smoking, and gambling, as well as making sexual advances toward seminarians and promoting a “homosexual culture” at the Newman Center.

Mitchell, who is now laicized, also alleged in an August 2018 essay in The American Conservative that he had, at one point during his time as a seminarian, complained to the then-bishop of Lincoln about Kalin’s conduct and had received no reply. Mitchell was a seminarian for the diocese from 1994 to 1999. 

Lincoln Bishop James Conley— who is now on medical leave from the diocese— opened a formal investigation into Kalin’s conduct in March 2019. The diocese added Kalin’s name to its list of credibly accused clergy in April 2019.

While some Catholics have said the diocese should have made public decades ago that allegations of impropriety were made against Kalin, a frequently revered figure in the area, the report did not address that question.

The investigation concluded that the Diocese of Lincoln’s chancery leadership was aware of the “culture of socializing, and alcohol and cigarette use at the Newman Center.” It also described Kalin’s leadership style as “demanding and authoritarian.”

The investigation also concluded that Monsignor Kalin did “on occasion make sexual advances against some college students and seminarians.”

However, the investigation did not find evidence that chancery leadership “knew of sexual impropriety” by Kalin until 1998, according to the investigative report.

When Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz learned of allegations of sexual misconduct in July 1998, Kalin was “put on restrictions and moved out of the Newman Center.” After he was told about “a sexual issue involving Msgr. Kalin and a seminarian,” Bishop Bruskewitz ordered that two people were to be with Kalin when assisting him, the investigation said.

In September 1998, a lay person of the Lincoln diocese told a priest that Kalin kissed him inappropriately; the priest subsequently confronted Kalin, who admitted it happened, according to the investigation.

The next month, Bruskewitz issued a canonical warning forbidding Monsignor Kalin from being alone with any man under the age of 40 except for priests, close relatives and medical personnel.

An August 2018 statement from the diocese said it had “addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry.”

Mitchell wrote that Kalin would regularly ask seminarians to help him shower, giving the excuse that he was old and needed help, and would then make sexual advances toward them.

He also said Kalin would invite seminarians on trips to Las Vegas and would require them to meet with him late at night at the Newman Center before inviting them to his private quarters for a drink. Those who declined such invitations were subject to inferior treatment, he said.

Mitchell indicated that he avoided showering with Kalin, drinking with him alone late at night, or accompanying him to Las Vegas.

“I experienced profound discrimination as a seminarian and later as a priest because I was a heterosexual in an overwhelmingly homosexual environment where sexually active gay priests protected and promoted each other,” Mitchell wrote.

The investigator stated that all interviewees were asked whether they had any information or had observed a homosexual culture at the Newman Center or the Diocese of Lincoln, and all stated that they had never observed such a culture.

Though the investigator was unable to conclude whether Kalin was actively engaged in homosexual activity, “there was sufficient testimonial and anecdotical information learned during the investigation to confirm Msgr. Kalin did seek out and prefer the company of men.”

Archbishop Lucas in his letter noted that since the diocese promulgated new safe environment policies in April 2019, it also has convened a “Ministerial Conduct Board” whose job is to evaluate claims of inappropriate priest conduct that do not pertain to allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

California legislature likely to skip controversial abortion, parental consent bills

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 22:00

Denver Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- Several controversial bills proposed in the California legislature, including two backed by Planned Parenthood, will likely have no chance to be considered when lawmakers reconvene to address legislation in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.

Legislation expected to stall includes a proposal to eliminate co-pays and deductibles for abortion; a proposal to require insurance companies to hide “sensitive” procedures from parents; and a requirement to ensure foster children as young as 10 are told of their legal right to abortion and to birth control..

Steve Pehanich, director of communications and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, did not comment on the bills individually but reflected on the limits now facing the California legislature.

“Right now, California legislators have been told to significantly reduce the number of bills they introduce. Bills must now be related only to COVID, homelessness or wildfires. Nothing else will be considered,” he told CNA.

“We do not know if any of these bills will see the light of day and, even if they do, they could be significantly altered.”

“The legislature will be focusing on the state budget once they return. They are constitutionally required to enact a budget by June 15 so most of the energies will go toward that end,” he added.

While lawmakers are set to return in early May, Pehanich said, many think that is an “optimistic” return date, given the difficulties of the coronavirus epidemic.

Among the bills proposed in the California legislature is Senate Bill 1004, which would require health insurance companies to hide “sensitive” medical procedures for adult and minor children who are covered under their parents’ health coverage plan.

Such procedures include abortions; sexually transmitted infections treatment; drug abuse and mental health treatment; and sexual assault treatment.

Under state law, minors can already consent to such treatment without consent of a parent or legal guardian. Adult children’s opposite-sex hormones and purported sex-change operations would also be hidden.

“If passed, parents will find themselves obligated to pay for medical bills for their dependents, but they will not know what they are paying for,” the California Family Council said in a release about the bill.

An insurance company that informs parents of such procedures would face criminal charges under the bill.

Planned Parenthood Action listed the bill as a legislative priority.

“When a patient accesses care for a sensitive service, including sexual and reproductive health care, confidentiality is of the utmost importance,” the group said on its website.

Noting that the patient seeking services is not always the health care coverage policy holder, the group said it would prevent parents or an abusive spouse from learning about any sensitive services.

Another Planned Parenthood-backed bill, Assembly Bill 1973, would bar deductibles, co-payments, or other cost-sharing requirements for abortions under Medi-Cal, a health care service plan, or an individual or group disability insurance policy, the California Family Council said.

A.B. 2035 would require social workers to inform children in foster care aged 10 or older about their legal rights to receive free birth control and abortions without their foster parents’ approval or knowledge. County social workers would be required to verify to the court that they have informed foster children of these rights

The bill would require foster families to receive annual training to explain these legal rights of foster children.

Pehanich, while not commenting on specific proposals, outlined general principles.

“All bills are evaluated on the principles embodied in faithful citizenship, respect for life and Catholic social teaching,” he said.

“None of these bills have even had a hearing yet and I think the odds are fairly good they will not. Of course, the California Catholic Conference is in favor of parental consent and opposes legislation that promotes or expands abortion.”

Other proposals likely to be shelved include a $15 million LGBT Transgender Wellness Fund.

The money, as proposed by A.B. 2218, would fund grants to hospitals, nonprofits, health care clinics and other medical providers which provide puberty blockers and opposite-sex hormones for minors.

The grants would also support these provisions for adults, as well as fund purported sex-change operations.

 

Protect vital migrant and farm workers during coronavirus, bishops say

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 18:47

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have called for increased protections and support for farm workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An April 29 statement from the U.S. bishops' coference, co-signed by four bishops, advocated that employers of migrant and farm workers, as well as public health officials, acknowledge that “all workers need access to free testing and care related to the COVID-19 virus.”

The bishops called for renewed commitments from employers to ensure that housing and transportation provided for farm workers is safe and compliant with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, that information on health and hygiene practices is “easily accessible in multiple languages” and that workers be given any appropriate personal protective equipment. 

The statement was signed by Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity; Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, who leads the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT); Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Jose, the PCMRT’s episcopal liaison for migrant farmworker ministry; and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington and leader of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration.

The statement also noted the need for emergency plans, establishing protocols for when a worker is diagnosed with COVID-10. 

“To defeat the virus, no one must be left out,” said the bishops. “The COVID-19 virus teaches us we are one human family, says the Holy Father. ‘We can only get out of this situation together, as a whole humanity.’”

The bishops said it was essential to “honor the dignity of farmworkers and make sure that they are paid a livable wage as well as be eligible for other benefits to help protect their health and the health and safety of their families at this time.” 

Bishop Tyson told CNA on Tuesday that the safety of migrant workers is especially important in his own diocese, where much of the population and economy is connected to the agricultural industry. 

“We’re hoping that [these suggestions] are principles that will guide all the stakeholders --whether that’s ranchers, orchardists [...] owners of the packing plants, government officials, health department people” Tyson told CNA in an interview.

“We’re just offering those as principles for all of the stakeholders, regardless of how they’re involved in the agricultural industry,” he added. 

Tyson told CNA that the statement was “just at the beginning” of a process of developing policy suggestions. He said he and his brother bishops were “trying to be proactive” with their recommendations and best serve the migrant farmworker population, which swells during the state’s bigger harvesting seasons. 

The Diocese of Yakima, where Tyson has been a bishop since 2011, grows by one-third each summer as migrant workers come to work in the area. More than 62% of his diocesan population are considered “essential workers” during summer months, meaning they are at increased risk of contracting the virus as they continue to work ensuring the country’s food supply. 

“We are very concerned that our workers, our parishioners, our fellow Catholics, have the protection they need in order to do their essential work in the fields” said Tyson. “They are the ones harvesting the fruit, cutting the asparagus, pulling the apples off the trees and sorting them.”

Tyson told CNA that there are “many” employers, ranchers, and orchardists who are working to provide equipment to their workers, for which he is grateful. He said that he hopes these policies will become more widespread across the agricultural industry.

“This is all very real to us,” explained Tyson. “It’s a real key issue, our own folks, here.”

Sexual harassment, discrimination suit filed against head of NY Catholic Charities

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 17:25

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal court accuses the head of Catholic Charities of New York of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Sixty-three-year-old former employee Alice Kenny filed the lawsuit on Sunday, New York Daily News reports.

Among other claims, the suit says Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, kept a risqué life-size cutout of Beyonce in his office, visible to all employees.

Sullivan’s preference for young, attractive women was well-known and treated as a joke among Catholic Charities staff members, the lawsuit says, according to New York Daily News.

Kenny charges that she was subject to illegal discrimination because she is not a male and “does not model the physical attributes that catches Mr. Sullivan’s eye.” She said her desk was moved to a hallway and she was rejected for a promotion after she and other female employees complained about sexual harassment by a manager in 2016, New York Daily News reports.

Catholic Charities responded to the lawsuit in a statement, saying, “Ms. Kenny was a valued employee of Catholic Charities, an agency that is unconditionally committed to maintaining a workplace free from all discrimination, harassment, or unlawful retaliation.”

“Ms. Kenny voluntarily resigned from the Marketing and Communications Office a year ago. Any allegation of discrimination is totally without merit,” Catholic Charities said.

 

CRS head says coronavirus pandemic could threaten malaria prevention

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 16:25

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- A Catholic humanitarian agency warned that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to greater cases of malaria-related deaths.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), stressed this week the importance of tackling both COVID-19 and malaria - an infectious disease transmitted by certain mosquitoes. 

“Like malaria, this disease respects no boundaries or borders. The coronavirus has tremendous destructive potential. But we cannot drop our guard on malaria in our fight against the virus. In fact, the danger of coronavirus will be greatly exacerbated if we let it threaten our progress in tackling malaria,” Callahan wrote in an op-ed published April 28.

Between 2000 and 2015, every malaria-affected region succeeded in reducing the number of illnesses and deaths related to malaria, Callahan said. In 2019, malaria prevention and treatment projects of CRS reached 86 million people in 12 countries, he said, noting that there has been a particular focus on children and pregnant women.

Callahan said the timing of the coronavirus spread in areas of West and Central Africa coincides with the high transmission season for malaria, when, between July and October, seasonal rains increase the number of mosquitos.

The Global Malaria Program of the World Health Organization has encouraged that the coronavirus pandemic and malaria be fought together. Even with malaria prevention initiatives in place, malaria will kill hundreds of thousands of people this year, according to WHO officials, and, if malaria is neglected while coronavirus is addressed, the impact will be felt for decades.

In his op-ed, Callahan said that without maintaining aid to malaria-endemic areas, both illnesses may build upon one another overcrowding hospitals and other health facilities.

“If we scale back our planned malaria activities in order to address the coronavirus, this will undoubtedly lead to an increase in malaria cases. This, in turn, will lead to overcrowded health facilities that are already struggling to keep up with the rising surge of the pandemic,” he wrote.

“Fighting two health behemoths at once will require innovation and dexterity. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services have extensive expertise in prevention, testing, treatment, and community engagement,” Callahan wrote.

As the pandemic will likely affect supply deliveries, he said, the organization plans to stock supplies closer to communities in case deliveries are interrupted and unable to reach central stores.

He added that the organization previously used mobile technology to digitize a malaria indicator survey, which was then used to help distribute 50 million nets in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. The data will then be used to “avoid door-to-door household registration” saving money and limiting person-to-person exposure, he said.

Callahan stressed the importance of local partners in the fight against malaria.

“With their support, we are better able to do such things as ensure every child who has a fever is tested and treated for malaria and then referred for follow-up care. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and now with COVID-19, these tested practices are proving especially valuable,” he said.

“Fighting these deadly diseases simultaneously requires attention, creativity, and resources. With our collective commitment - donors, implementers, and policymakers - we can do both at the same time so progress on the malaria front is not lost as we also fight coronavirus. We can, and we must, battle our new enemy without losing ground against an old one,” Callahan wrote.

 

At least 15 dead from coronavirus in NY religious orders

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- As New York attempts to weather the coronavirus pandemic, religious orders in the state have been hit hard by the disease, with one order of nuns raising money to offset the cost of added medical expenses.

The Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, NY, have lost three of their sisters to COVID-19, and another 30 have tested positive for the virus. A total of 10 members of their staff have also tested positive for the coronavirus, and several more sisters have come down with a low-grade fever and are being monitored. 

There are about 300 sisters living at the Maryknoll Center in Ossining, in Westchester County, about 40 miles away from New York City, widely held to be the front line of the epidemic in the United States.

“We remember the beautiful spirits of our Sisters who have been called home to God and pray our other Sisters and Staff will fully recover and return home soon,” says the Maryknoll Sisters’ website. 

“It remains our top priority to contain this virus as much as we can, to keep our employees and staff at the center safe, and the rest of our Sisters safe. Please know we are doing all we can to face this pandemic head on, and continue to adhere to all procedures advised by the Health Department,” they said.

The sisters are requesting donations for “increased expenses for medical care, medical supplies, proper medical grade cleaning services,” and other new necessities related to the virus. 

Also in Ossining, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have been similarly stricken by the pandemic. Since the start of April, 10 priests of the order have died. Two had tested positive for COVID-19, and the others were experiencing symptoms of the virus. 

There are 123 Maryknoll priests living in New York, nearly half of the order’s 288 total priests. 

Fr. Raymond Finch, the superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, told abc7NY that 15 others had been tested positive for the virus, with three in “very serious condition.” 

The Missionaries of Charity, who have a home in the New York City borough of The Bronx, have lost at least two sisters to COVID-19. The Missionaries of Charity did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.

The Missionaries of Charity were founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, and are known for their distinctive white-and-blue saris. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, posted a video on Twitter on Tuesday, April 27, describing his experience attending the burial of two Missionaries of Charity the previous Saturday. 

“Two things stuck out,” said Dolan, apart from the sadness of the loss of two sisters. Despite the risk of contracting the virus, Dolan was impressed that the sisters had continued on with their charism of serving the poor, and, additionally, he remarked that one of the sisters who died from the virus had been one of the founding members of the religious order. 

At the burial service, the “socially distancing” sisters told Dolan that “we still have our soup kitchen, and the poor and homeless come in every day.” 

This, said Dolan, was a sign that while physical church buildings may be closed, “the Church is active in its love and service to others, like those brave sisters who are putting their life on the lines.”

Sr. Francesca, one of the two sisters who had died from COVID-19, worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and was one of the founders of the order. 

“We mourn them, we miss those two, but we thank God for the example of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity,” said Dolan.

US religious freedom commission highlights India in annual report

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 12:30

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Abuse of Muslims, Christians, and other minorities in India drew the attention of a federal religious freedom watchdog in its annual report released on Tuesday.

“India took a sharp downward turn in 2019,” concluded the 2020 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission that studies religious persecution and adverse circumstances facing religious minorities around the world, and makes policy recommendations to the State Department.

India’s Hindu nationalist BJP  party won elections in 2017 and again in 2019 to gain a majority in the national legislature. The government then “used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims,” USCIRF said.

USCIRF released its annual report on Tuesday, documenting progress and setbacks for religious freedom in 29 countries around the world during the previous year.

The commission recommended that India be designated by the State Department as a “country of particular concern” (CPC)—a designation reserved for the worst violators of religious freedom or the countries where the worst abuses are taking place and the governments do not stop them. USCIRF has not recommended India for the CPC list since 2004.

Of concern is the country’s new policy of fast-tracking citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from neighboring countries which, combined with a National Register of Citizens, could leave many Muslims without legal protections and saddled with burdens of having to prove their citizenship.

This could potentially result in 100 million people, mostly Muslims, being left “essentially stateless,” said USCIRF chair Tony Perkins.

In addition, the report highlighted the enforcement of anti-conversion laws, and acts of violence committed with impunity by non-state actors against religious minorities.

Christians have been subject to increasing attacks by mobs in India, with national and state governments failing to protect them and administer justice to perpetrators. A 2020 Open Doors report noted at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes committed against Christians in India in a year, many of them by radical Hindus.

Three USCIRF commissioners dissented from the report’s CPC recommendation for India, saying that despite abuses that have been committed, it is still the world’s largest democracy and does not have the same level of persecution of religious minorities as China and North Korea.

Among the recommendations USCIRF makes each year are designations of countries to a tier-system of rankings, based on how serious their religious freedom abuses are.

The CPC list is for the worst violators, and the State Department has already designated as CPCs Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

In addition, USCIRF recommended that India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam be added to the list.

The next tier below the CPC designation is the “Special Watch List,” where abuses of religious minorities are taking place but not at a level as severe as in CPC-designated countries.

USCIRF recommended that Cuba, Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, and Sudan be kept on the State Department’s Special Watch List; in addition, the commission recommended that the agency add Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Turkey to the list.

Nicaragua appeared on the list for the first time, commissioner Nadine Maenza said, noting that the government has targeted the Catholic Church and attacks on clergy, laity, and church property have occurred.

Amid coronavirus, 'food deserts' thinly stretch aid groups

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 05:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has heightened the problem of food insecurity in many areas of the US already classified as “food deserts”— swaths of the country where people lack access to affordable, nutritious food.

Dave Barringer, CEO for the National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, told CNA that across the country, the organization’s food banks have seen a fourfold increase in demand.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international lay Catholic organization whose members operate food pantries, provide housing assistance, and normally, make house visits to the needy.

"What we're seeing, especially in urban areas where you don't have as many grocery stores to begin with...African American and impoverished neighborhoods— that's where the food crisis is the worst," Barringer told CNA.

"The first people that got laid off were those in minimum wage jobs...jobs where they needed to be there every day to be paid. It wasn't a salary. And so they're out of work, they can't go to the store, and they don't have an income," he said.

While the problem of food insecurity on the global scale is most acute in sub-Saharan Africa, people in many areas of the US such as inner cities and vast swaths of the west also live in food deserts.

Even before the pandemic, some 11% of US households were food insecure at least some time during 2018, including 4.3% with “very low food security,” according to the US Department of Agriculture.

St. Vincent DePaul has around 4,400 locations across the US, falling into two main categories— those associated with parishes, which are called conferences; and councils, which are organized roughly at the diocese-wide level and tend to be bigger operations with more partnerships.

The smaller, conference-level St. Vincent de Paul operations often depend on donations from parishioners.

"Because we're in those neighborhoods...we're often the first level of response for people to go to for help," Barringer said.

With public Masses still suspended in almost every diocese, most conferences have experienced a large drop in donations.

The councils, because many of them have partnerships with local food banks or grocery stores, tend to have a better grasp on resources, but also are stretched.

Typically, a person coming in for help at a St. Vincent de Paul pantry is given a chance to "shop around" for the food that best suits their needs. With social distancing measures in place across the nation, the pantries have had to adapt. 

"What we tend to be doing is packing food boxes based on the number of people in a family, or taking orders and doing curbside deliveries," Barringer said, adding that the pantries also have to ensure that people waiting in line stay six feet apart.

"A no-contact kind of situation— very labor intensive, but also safe," he said.

An estimated 2.3 million US households, or 2.2%, live more than a mile from a grocery store and lack access to a vehicle, the USDA says, meaning many must rely on public transportation or walk.

Downtown St. Louis, where Barringer lives, is one such area that is in particular need of help, he said. It is a very diverse area, economically and demographically, with many underemployed people, immigrants, and large families.

The Vincentian food pantry for the area is struggling under a demand four to five times greater than usual, Barringer said, and without the regular parish collections the St. Louis council has had to divert funds it would normally use for at-home visits into the food pantry.

The best way to help the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s efforts, he said, is to donate to one’s local council or conference. Cash is always better than food, he said, because many local Vincentian groups are adept at purchasing the most affordable food in the community.

"They'll put it directly toward the need where it's greatest," he said.

Barringer urged prayer for those suffering from food insecurity during the pandemic.

"The main mission of the Society is to get people closer to God," he said.

"Maybe this is an opportunity to see fresh ways to get involved with the Church or get involved with organizations like ours, because the need is there all the time whether it's a crisis or not."

What a prisoner-priest in the USSR learned about isolation: Diocese to livesteam Tuesday lecture on Fr. Walter Ciszek 

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:15

Denver Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J. wanted to be a missionary in the Soviet Union. He didn't know he'd spend most of the decades he lived inside the country within the walls of a prison, much of the time in complete isolation. But Ciszek found closeness to God in labor camps and prison cells, never knowing what might happen to him next.

The isolation Fr. Ciszek experienced as a prisoner of the Soviet Union brought out heroic virtues that can help those suffering from the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic today, says a priest who will discuss Ciszek’s life in an April 28 webcast.

“Father Ciszek lived many kinds of isolation,” Father Eugene Ritz told CNA. “He experienced physical isolation from his family, his Jesuit spiritual family, and friends. He often lived in isolation from the sacraments. He lived in isolation from a culture that permitted a notion of God and worship of Him. He lived in interior and spiritual isolation, especially when he could not present himself as a priest or exercise ministry.”

“Many lost faith during their time in the Gulag, including other priests,” said the Pennsylvania priest. However, Ciszek showed the virtue of fortitude in his isolation. Ritz praised Ciszek’s “firmness in difficulty, his constancy in pursuit of the good, and his resolve to resist temptation, conquer fear and face tremendous trials.”

Ritz’s presentation, “Living in Isolation: The Story of Fr. Walter Ciszek,” will be livestreamed Tuesday, April 28 at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. The event is presented by the diocese’s Commission for Young Adults.

Fr. Ciszek was born in 1904 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, in what is now the Allentown diocese.

He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1928 and was ordained in 1937, after training to say Mass in the Russian rite. After two years in Poland, he used the chaos of World War II as cover to enter the Soviet Union so that he could minister to Christians who lived under communist persecution.

He was arrested by the Soviet authorities as a supposed spy in 1941. His imprisonment included torturous interrogation, solitary confinement and years of hard labor near the Arctic Circle. Despite the dangers, he said Mass in secret and heard the confessions of other prisoners.

When he was not imprisoned, he also ministered to several parishes. Ciszek was not released until a 1963 prisoner exchange, when he returned to the United States. He recounted his experiences and their spiritual meaning in his popular memoirs “He Leadeth Me” and “With God in Russia.”

Ritz, who serves as the Allentown diocese’s chancellor, is co-postulator of Ciszek’s canonization. In this role he helps advance the late priest’s case to become a saint through the processes of the Catholic Church.

For Ritz, there is much to learn from the priest’s example.

“One of my favorite lessons of Father Ciszek is that Christ alone guarantees success,” he said. “It was his message to the priests in the labor camp in Siberia that in their struggles of being isolated from their families, friends, parishioners, religious communities, and too frequently the celebration of the Sacraments, Father Ciszek called them to refocus on the person of Christ and his providence.”

The lecture is linked to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed some 200,000 people worldwide.

The pandemic has left many people isolated. Those in the hospital are barred from receiving visits. In dozens of countries authorities have ordered millions more to stay at home, disrupting family life, social life and economic life around the world.

“To those not handling this very well I would tell them that they are in good company, and remind them that what we suffer helps us to grow in virtue, and that in all things trust the providence that God remains with us, and he alone guarantees our success,” Ritz said.

Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown will provide opening remarks for Ritz’s lecture. The bishop, too, reflected on Ciszek’s example in a world rocked by a new disease.

“The people of the Diocese of Allentown, especially those in the area where Father Ciszek was born and raised, pray always that this man who once walked among us, will someday be a saint,” Schlert told CNA April 27. “As a priest, he spent many years in captive isolation in the Russian gulag. Due to the pandemic, we now live in a form of isolation, and so we look to Father Ciszek to teach us what God would want us to learn about our spiritual lives in this time of hardship.”

Father Ritz said the lecture will give an overview of Ciszek’s life and his cause for canonization. His heroic virtue is particularly relevant due to his response to atheistic communism and contemporary Americans’ response to secular relativism. As a priest, Ciszek is a model of holiness and identity for priests today.

Ciszek also escaped his isolation, Ritz told CNA, telling the story of the long-suffering priest’s return home.

“One of my favorite pictures of Father Walter is at JFK Airport, being escorted by his sisters. They have expressions of sheer joy on their faces while Father Walter almost looks startled,” Ritz said. “He recounts being ‘taken back’ when the agent of the U.S. State Department addressed him as Father Ciszek in English. It was the first time he heard that in decades. To my knowledge, he did not know he was returning home until it happened.”

Father Ciszek, who died at Fordham University in 1984, is buried in the Allentown diocese on the grounds of the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. The Father Walter Ciszek Prayer League, the official organization to promote his cause for canonization, is located in his hometown of Shenandoah.

“His accounts of time in Russia speak of his desire to return to Shenandoah,” said Ritz, who reported that Ciszek is “very well remembered there.”

“His grave is a place of pilgrimage, as is the font at which he was baptized, still in use at Saint Casimir Church,” Ritz continued. “To say that he is the most favorite son of the town or a hometown hero would be an understatement. We seek his intercession in ways that are miraculous, and learn heroic virtue from studying his life.”

The Easter season is also a key time to reflect on the Gospel passages that inspired Ciszek.

“The life of Father Walter points us directly to Christ,” Ritz said.

“There are moments we cannot feel the presence of God, especially when absent from usual consolations and especially the sacraments,” the priest continued. “From Mary Magdalene weeping at the tomb we learn that at moments of grief Christ is calling to us by name.”

In the gospel account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, when the distraught disciples only recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, “we understand that when we are downcast Jesus is there, even when we don’t recognize him,” said Ritz.

More inspiration can be found in the account of St. Thomas in the Upper Room, or the story of when Peter recognized Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias.

“In that locked room we become certain that in our deepest moments of fear Christ can reach us and offer us peace, even when we can only recognize him by the wounds of his suffering,” said Ritz. “At the Sea of Tiberias we recognize that Christ is still concerned for our earthly needs, and that at times it takes moving closer toward him or even the miraculous to know he is present.”

Ciszek’s canonization cause was opened in March 2012.
 

 

Virginia church sues governor over Stay at Home Order

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- A small church in Virginia has filed a lawsuit against the governor of the commonwealth, after a pastor received a summons for hosting a Palm Sunday service with 16 people. Lawyers for the pastor say the church serves poor people, many of whom live without internet, and that the state’s Stay at Home Order disproportionately impacts the poor, and churches that serve them.

Pastor Kevin Wilson of Lighthouse Fellowship Church in Chincoteague, Virginia, faces up to one year in prison or up to $2,500 in fines for violating the state’s Stay at Home order. The order, which was issued on March 30, stated, among other things “All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited.” 

Wilson’s Palm Sunday service was held on April 5, after the state’s stay at home order was issued. During the service, a police officer came into the church, and informed the worshippers that "they could not have more than 10 people spaced six feet apart."

Per a lawsuit filed by Liberty Counsel, which is representing Wilson, police officers threatened to arrest anyone present at the service if they returned the following week for Easter services. Easter services were then canceled.

Mat Staver, the chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, told CNA that the church was unable to move services online as it lacked internet, and that many of the worshippers who attend services at Lighthouse also do not have access to the internet. 

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

The church has a transportation ministry, where it brings worshipers to medical appointments, and provides assistance in applying for disability and other benefits. Many of its congregation do not have cars. 

These are “things that you cannot do online,” said Staver. 

The 16 people at Palm Sunday service were spaced out in the church’s sanctuary, which seats 293 people. Under Virginia’s Stay at Home order, the size of the building does not matter. Services cannot move outside as outdoor gatherings of more than 10 are similarly prohibited. 

“The pastor is now facing a criminal charge for having six people over the governor’s magic number of 10,” said Staver. He said that the police were regularly patrolling churches to see if they were in violation of the Stay at Home order, which was how they discovered the 16 worshippers at Lighthouse. According to Staver, the church--and other churches in the area--are still monitored by police today to ensure that there are no more than 10 people present. 

Staver told CNA he was particularly perturbed that Wilson faces jail time while businesses deemed “essential” in Virginia--which include hardware stores, abortion clinics, and liquor stores--regularly have more than 10 people in an enclosed area and do not face any sort of reprimand. 

“When you put all those facts together, this (prohibition of more than 10 gathering) is so beyond the constitutional authority of the government, and it reeks with injustice,” said Staver.

“Frankly, I don’t think the government has the authority at all to limit the number of people at a church, other than zoning based upon how many people can fit in a particular building,” he added. “They don’t have the authority to tell people that the form of worship has to be online.” 

Staver said that he believed churches would be willing to take steps to ensure the safety of their congregations, such as limiting the capacity of the building and requiring people to spread apart from each other, but they were not given the chance to do so under this policy.

Most public religious services were suspended following the outbreak of COVID-19 nationwide, and are just beginning to resume. 

In the Diocese of Las Cruces, Bishop Peter Baldacchino was the first to announce that public celebration of Mass would return, albeit in line with the governor’s directives. 

Baldacchino’s April 15 to his diocese letter noted that the state of New Mexico recently updated its Public Health Order, which no longer includes churches as “essential services.”

“I strongly disagree,” he said. “Sadly, the Governor is no longer exempting places of worship from the restrictions on ‘mass gatherings.’ It seems to me that while we run a daily count of the physical deaths we are overlooking those who are dead interiorly.”

To comply with the governor’s directive, guidelines issued to all priests limit attendance at Mass in church buildings to 5 people, including the celebrant, and insist that a minimum safe distance of six feet be observed and all seating sanitized after Mass ends.

Baldacchino also authorized priests to celebrate Mass outdoors, in compliance with state guidance on social distancing, and specifically recommended setting up an altar in the parish parking lot with parishioners remaining in their cars with an empty space between each vehicle.

Officials for Chincoteague Island, where Lighthouse Fellowship Church is located, were unable to tell CNA if there are any coronavirus cases on the island. The most recent press release from the town, dated April 15, said there were 19 cases identified on Virginia’s eastern shore. 

Data from Virginia shows that there have been fewer than 150 confirmed coronavirus cases in Accomack County, where Chincoteague is located.

Trump talks education on call with Catholic leaders

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 17:37

Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2020 / 03:37 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump held a call with more than 600 Catholic leaders on Saturday that focused on education and relief funding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Catholic educational leaders on the call touted the work of Catholic educators during the pandemic, and explained the financial difficulties facing Catholic schools.

Bishops, diocesan school superintendents, and other Catholic stakeholders from across the country all participated, according to a briefing on the call provided by the White House, and accounts of participants.

Trump also used the call to tout his credentials on life and religious freedom issues during an election year.

Archdiocese of Denver schools superintendent Elias Moo was selected to speak during the call.

“I spoke to the president about the long history of Catholic education in our country, and how our nation needs schools that provide an educational experience that forms the whole child and values the primacy of parents and of the soul of the human person,” Moo told CNA.

“I also told him of the phenomenal job our Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Denver are doing in serving over 12,000 students from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, countries of origin and economic situations, at three-fourths the cost per student of our public-school counterparts,” he added.

With the mass closures of offices and schools in recent months, Catholic schools have had to make  a rapid transition to distance learning.

Many Catholic schools are facing with a funding shortfall as a result of the economic downturn; and some dioceses have announded school closures.

“The parochial school system is in the middle of enduring a systemic shock to their finances, and certainly to their students and teachers,” said Lou Murray, who was on the White House call. Murray is the chairman of the board of Boston Catholic Radio.

Trump said during the call he worked to include Catholic schools in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the $349 billion emergency loan program for small businesses and non-profits during the pandemic. Initial funding for the program ran out on April 16, and Trump signed legislation to add $320 billion in funding for the program just over a week later.

On Saturday’s call, Catholic bishops— including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, the USCCB’s education committee chair—along with several Catholic diocesan superintendents noted the importance of the PPP loans for Catholic schools to continue operating, and asked for tax deductions for parochial schools and direct tuition aid for parents, according to accounts from leaders on the call.

Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, told CNA that he asked Trump on Saturday to work with bishops, and state and local leaders, to quickly resume public Masses and liturgies.

“Mr. President, all of the policy initiatives that have been enacted in response to this crisis are based on a material understanding of the human person. But there is a deeper and more real understanding of the human person and that is the metaphysical understanding,” Check told the president during the question-and-answer portion of the call. 

“What is needed right away and more than anything is a restoration of public worship and a restoration of the dispensing of the sacraments,” he added. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was also on the call, and spoke well of Catholic schools, Murray said, especially as an alternative to public schools.

According to the White House, Catholic leaders also “expressed their appreciation for President Trump’s strong pro-life stance and many bold actions to protect religious liberty, for appointing conservative judges.”

The issue of immigration did not come up on the call, Murray said, even after Trump on April 22 signed an executive order barring many immigrants from entry to the U.S. by suspending access to green cards, during the pandemic.

On Thursday, days before the call, Archbishop Gomez and immigration leaders at the USCCB—Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. — had warned that the order “threatens instead to fuel polarization and animosity” and would prevent immigrant family reunification and religious workers from entering the U.S.

Trump also made note during the call that the November general elections are only months away. Some participants noted that at the end of the call Trump cited the election date and warned that conditions could worsen for Catholics and Catholic schools if a Democratic administration were to take office.

But Moo told CNA that the importance of being on the call was not about politics.

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

Shortly after the call, Trump tweeted that he would be “online” for the livestream of Sunday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “Join me,” he said, tweeting out the link to the livestream.

On Sunday, Trump again tweeted to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, “Thank you for a great call yesterday with Catholic Leaders, and a great Service today from @StPatsNYC!”

It was the second consecutive weekend that Trump held a call with religious leaders. Last weekend, Trump hosted an April 17 call with faith leaders including Cardinal Dolan, as well as Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles—president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference—and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus.

A White House briefing on that call said that Trump “expressed his eagerness to get churches, synagogues, mosques and all houses of worship back open as soon possible.”

In accord with federal and state guidelines issued in response to the pandemic, public Masses were curtailed in all U.S. dioceses for several weeks including over Easter. The diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico, became the first diocese to announce the resumption of public Masses during the Easter octave, and several U.S. dioceses have followed suit.

Analysis: Did NY Democrats just tank Biden's nomination?

Mon, 04/27/2020 - 16:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 27, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- On Monday, officials in New York announced the cancellation of the state’s Democratic presidential primary, calling the event “essentially a beauty contest,” and an unnecessary risk to public health in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York especially hard.  

While New York Democrats cited the inevitability of a Joe Biden’s nomination for the party's candidacy as justification for calling off the primary, it could actually make the former VP's spot on the ticket anything but a forgone conclusion.

Biden is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination to face Donald Trump in November, but New York could become the first domino to fall in an unlikely set up for a contested Democratic convention between two Catholic politicians with national profiles.

Although Bernie Sanders is officially out of the race, Biden does not yet have an overall majority of convention delegates. As of April 27, the former vice president has 1,305 of the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch a first-round coronation at the party’s convention. New York offered 320 delegates up for grabs, 274 pledged to the primary winner; a prize that would have brought Biden closer to the nomination.

If New York’s decision triggers other states to cancel their own primaries, it is entirely possible that Biden could arrive at the Democratic convention without a guarantee of the nomination.  

Assuming the convention begins without a majority of delegates pledged to Biden, the nomination process, during which delegates conduct floor votes, would become a live-fire exercise, rather than a pro forma step in Biden’s coronation as nominee. 

If Biden does not secure a majority on the first ballot, delegates could offer another candidate from the floor.

Official Democratic operatives would likely dismiss talk of a contested convention as fanciful, but it will not stop some of them from quietly acknowledging the benefits of the possibility.

While Biden performs well in head-to-head polling with Trump, especially in key states like Michigan, Florida, and Pennsylvania, his recent media appearances have been inconsistent. In live interviews from his family home, the presumptive nominee has appeared flustered, even under friendly questioning, and during early state primaries Biden appeared to bristle on the stump at even modest criticism from voters. 

Questions have been asked about how the former vice president would fare in a live head-to-head debate with Trump, an aggressively provocative debater.

More recently, media coverage has begun to re-examine accusations of sexual harassment against Biden by former Hill staffer Tara Reade.

Even as Trump’s own approval numbers are dropping after his initial pandemic bump, Democratic party leaders might quietly welcome the reserve option to field another candidate against the president.

In that event, New York’s own Gov. Andrew Cuomo looks the most likely to benefit from a potentially contested nominating convention. Cuomo has been widely praised for his handling of the coronavirus in New York, so far the state hardest hit by the virus.

As the governor of the state at the pandemic’s frontline, Cuomo also has the campaigning advantage of a daily press platform, perhaps second only to the president’s, at a time when Biden has struggled to remain part of the news cycle.

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Cuomo was a regular face on the cable news circuit and an aggressive debater in his own right. Many would see him as a more obvious match for Donald Trump in a televised head-to-head.

Cuomo is having a moment, as they say, but unless he gets the nomination in a convention surprise, he will likely be of little help to Democrats in the presidential election. Biden has pledged to nominate a woman to the ticket’s v.p. slot; Cuomo is not a woman. And if Cuomo has ambition to run in a future election cycle, he might decide there’s little benefit in campaigning for Biden this time around, especially if a Biden win would set up his vice presidential pick for a future election.

From the Catholic perspective, Cuomo represents another pro-choice Catholic politician who has tangled with bishops, not unlike Biden. If New York’s governor ends up with the nomination, it would put a spotlight back on the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has faced calls in the past to formally sanction Cuomo for his aggressively pro-abortion action in the governor’s mansion. But whether Biden secures the nomination, or Cuomo becomes a convention spoiler, bishops this autumn will face the challenge of a candidate who flaunts his Catholicism while flouting Catholic teaching on abortion.

Of course, the New York Democrats’ decision to cancel may prove to be a lone outlier, and motivated mostly by the battle against coronavirus. 

But in whatever cost-benefit analysis was used to make the decision to cancel, it is worth asking if the chance, even a remote one, of leaving open the door for a contested convention was regarded as a potential cost, or as a benefit.

Boston archdiocese assembles teams of priests to anoint coronavirus patients

Sun, 04/26/2020 - 16:01

Denver Newsroom, Apr 26, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Boston has assembled groups of priests — living together in strategic locations close to hospitals— to administer the anointing of the sick to COVID-19 patients. 

Father Tom Macdonald, vice-rector of St. John's Seminary in Boston, is one of the priests to have volunteered for the assignment.

"It's a wonderful experience of priestly fraternity to live in the house. It's sort of like— I would imagine— living as a firefighter in a firehouse. We're here, we get calls, we rush out, we come back," he told CNA.

The volunteers live in dedicated houses with other priests whose sole assignment is to be available to administer anointing of the sick, the archdiocese said. The ministry began the weekend of April 18.

"This is what priests do...it's an enormous privilege," Macdonald said.

Suffolk County, where Boston is located, had about 9,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 24.

“We are grateful that our priests are able to visit with the seriously ill in hospitals who are suffering from the coronavirus and to be able to provide the Sacrament of the Sick,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said in a statement to CNA.

“This is especially comforting to families who are not currently permitted to visit loved ones in the hospital and who are being treated for coronavirus. Our priests consider this to be a blessing in their ministry. In addition we have received feedback that these visits have had a positive impact on hospital staff.”

The archdiocese trained some 80 priests in total to carry out the ministry, with 30 priests actively doing the anointings and the rest serving as backup. 

The backup volunteers have been providing living space for the priests— such as empty rectories— as well as providing food and errands for the participating clergy.

Father Macdonald has been called to anoint several COVID-19 patients already, and each time the hospital staff has assisted him in donning and removing the necessary protective gear according to hospital's protocols.

He said all the priests have been trained to minimize time spent in the patient's room. The priest prays most of the ritual on the doorstep, he said.

The priest then enters the room to perform the actual anointing, which is done with a cotton swab, dipped in the holy oil, and administered on the patient's foot.

Macdonald said he and his fellow priests are constantly "sharing notes" on their experiences at the hospitals, since each institution has slightly different protocols and equipment.

"It's very hard being a priest and not being able to celebrate the sacraments for the people, so this opportunity is a great relief in a sense— to do what we were ordained to do," he said.

"We teach the men at St. John's [Seminary] that priests run into the burning building, not away from it."

Father Michael Zimmerman, assistant vocation director for the seminary and another priest volunteer, told CNA that he hopes the word will spread throughout Boston about the availability of anointing for coronavirus patients.

Father Zimmerman started on the team last weekend, covering the Cambridge, Everett, and Mount Auburn hospitals in Boston. So far he has responded to one anointing call, and his fellow priest in the house where they are now living has responded to two.

"Once we're there, the nurses and the medical staff are very appreciative to have us there," he said.

He said he and his fellow priest— a religious— have developed a routine of prayer in their house, as well as eating meals together and celebrating Mass.

Father Zimmerman asked for prayers for the patients and the priests and medical staff ministering to them.

"We can't save everyone— medicine can only do so much. To some degree we have to recognize that we're not the masters of our own fate, and we have to put it in God's hands," he said.

"The medical staff is doing great work, but we also have to recognize that they can't do everything, and that hopefully takes some pressure off of them, recognizing that this is in God's hands."

'This is exactly what we want to be doing': A friar's life in Brooklyn during coronavirus

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 14:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 25, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Fr. Brendan Buckley, OFM. Cap., had never heard of the Zoom before this past March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. After his home in the Diocese of Brooklyn became a center of COVID-19 illness in the United States, he learned. 

With the help of two parish employees, he has now shifted much of his parish ministry online, caring for his flock at the parish of St. Michael-St. Malachy despite the outbreak. 

"They've got something [streaming] every day of the week," he said. This includes fitness programming for children, meetings of the parish’s young adult group, First Communion classes, all in addition to live-streams of Masses.

The vast majority of Buckley’s parishioners are immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and other Central American countries, he told CNA on Friday, April 24. Many of them “don’t have jobs that necessarily have unemployment insurance attached,” he said, or medical benefits. They have been especially hard-hit by the economic effects of the virus, and are his chief concern when trying to deliver practical help. 

“People like that are what our main concern is here, because they don't have anything to back them up,” he said.

On April 24, his parish staged a pop-up food distribution with Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens. Opened in addition to the existing 34 food pantries operated by Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens, the parish event saw a total of 9,360 meals distributed to 1,040 families in need, with an additional $2,500 in grocery vouchers given to 100 families. 

Buckley told CNA that as a Capuchin Franciscan friar, his work ministering in Brooklyn during the COVID-19 pandemic is following in the tradition of his religious order. The boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens contain about 60% of the COVID-19 cases in New York City, which has more cases than anywhere else in the country.

Several priests of the Diocese of Brooklyn have fallen ill, and died, from the coronavirus. 

"From my perspective as a Capuchin Franciscan, this is exactly what we want to be doing: directly helping people in need," he said. "Throughout the difficult times in Europe, the Capuchins were right there on the front lines. When leadership in different cities fled to the hills during plagues, the Capuchins stayed, and ministered, and died.”

Buckley heaped praise on the work of Catholic Charities, which he said have been meeting ever tougher challenges during this crisis, enabling him to more fully live out his vocation as a Capuchin. 

“Catholic Charities has been such a help in allowing us to have the resources to be able to do this kind of outreach," he said.  

Buckley explained to CNA that he had two main areas of concern when it came to his parish: providing food to his parishioners, and ensuring their psychological health. Hence the pop-up event at the parish on Friday. 

"Catholic Charities has been just amazing in terms of their outreach. They have provided over 1,000 families with food today," he said. The pop-up pantry was organized with other Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and Ancient Order of Hibernians. 

"They have been exceptional in their care for those in need," he said. "I'm just so proud of them." 

Buckley has not neglected the spiritual needs of his flock, even while he is still not able to celebrate Mass publicly. He is hard-of-hearing--and without one of his hearing aids that he sent for repairs pre-pandemic--he had to work with the diocese to figure out a way for him to continue safely, and literally, hearing confessions. 

While the diocese recommended a space of at least six feet between penitent and confessor, that would not work for Buckley’s situation. He is now hearing confessions twice a week, for two hours at a time, in his office with the door closed. A penitent must make an appointment for confession in order to ensure that the church would not become crowded. 

Buckley said he’s “very excited” to resume hearing confessions. 

"The need for the Sacraments is so important,” he said. "Especially confession and the reception of the Eucharist." 

Once Buckley is permitted to have public Masses again, he will have a backlog of at least 15 memorial Masses he promised to celebrate for parishioners who have died from COVID-19. 

“We’ve had one after another of parishioners, or family members of parishioners[...] that have died. It’s been a lot,” he said. He has regularly posted prayer requests on social media, to the point where “I worried that people are going to get sick of me asking for prayers for somebody else.” 

In dealing with the pandemic, Buckley said that the most challenging spiritual aspect for his parish is the inability to mourn in the standard manner. 

“They can't go to wakes and funerals. So, it's very hard on them. They can't say goodbye," he said. He told CNA that he has been dealing with much of the grieving process on the phone with parishioners.  

Despite everything, Buckley insists that his parish has been blessed; blessed with a small, yet smart and capable staff who moved programming online, and blessed with the outpouring of assistance from others. 

"I'm very grateful that there's so many incredible people out there that are willing to help, volunteer, sacrifice themselves to help others,” he said. 

"We’re so blessed and so touched. God is good." 

Tornado devastates new Oklahoma Catholic Church, but Rother window unharmed 

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 06:00

Denver Newsroom, Apr 25, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- On May 4, the parish community of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Madill, Oklahoma would have celebrated the first anniversary of their new church building.

But on April 22, an EF2 tornado pummeled the small-town church, blowing out most of the stained glass windows and tearing off half the roof. It completely destroyed the parish rectory.

One thing spared though, was a stained-glass window of an Oklahoma native son, Blessed Stanley Rother, a priest of Oklahoma City who was beatified in 2017.

 

Fr. Oby, Fr. Don Wolf and Archbishop Coakley stand with the stained glass piece of Blessed Stanley Rother, which was undamaged.

Posted by Archdiocese of Oklahoma City on Thursday, April 23, 2020  

Holy Cross Pastor Fr. Oby Zunmas told CNA that around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday he returned to his rectory after delivering a rosary to an elderly patient at the hospital. As he arrived, he heard the tornado sirens and started getting weather alerts on his phone.

Zunmas went to turn on his T.V. to get a better idea of the path of the storm, but it wasn’t working.

“As I was going towards the kitchen to see if I have a spare battery or something, then I looked up from my back door and windows in the back and saw how the trees were moving violently. So I knew that that was not normal,” he said.

Zunmas said he immediately ran to the safest room of his house - an interior laundry room. Once inside, he heard a loud bang and the sound of the glass of his windows shattering. When everything was quiet, he came out.

“The first thing I noticed - there was no roof,” he said. The house’s back wall had collapsed on his breakfast table; his three-car garage was compressed, and leaning on his bedroom closet.

The church, he said, looked like someone “took something and scratched it all off.” Most of the windows were blown out; part of the roof was gone. The priest said he’s still not sure if the $4 million new building sustained any structural damage.

“And then the house is almost a $400,000 home, and it's a total write-off,” he added.

But that wasn’t what went through his mind as he first emerged from his laundry room.

“My first prayer was a prayer of thanksgiving. I thanked God that I was alive,” he said. Since hearing of the two deaths from the storm, Zunmas added, he has also been praying for their souls.

After the storm, Zunmas said, he received calls and texts from concerned parishioners who saw the tornado heading for the church.

Among them were Paul and Kathie Westerman, parishioners of Holy Cross for about eight years. The Westermans live about 15 miles south of town, and they worried as they saw the tornado form and head toward the church. They called Father Zunmas immediately after it stopped.

“We called to see how he was, and his first words were, ‘I'm alive,’” Paul told CNA.

The Westermans said they could not drive to the church that night - all surrounding roads were blocked due to downed power lines. But they came two days in a row to help out and to support their pastor.

“We just ran over and gave him a big hug and said, ‘Thank God, he's alive,’” Kathie said.

A hug “in the time of coronavirus!” Fr. Zumnas added.

“I don’t care, he’s alive,” Kathie said.

On Friday, the Westermans and other clean-up crews were helping to clean out the debris, salvage furniture from the rectory, and cover the part of the church where the roof was torn off to prevent it from getting wet in the next storm.

The Westermans said they were “very heartbroken” when they saw the damage to their church, but there was one thing that gave them hope.

“The best thing that ever happened was (a stained glass window of) Stanley Rother was still there. He was undamaged,” Kathie said. “Something went through the window right beside him, but his stained glass is still there.”

 

Posted by Holy Cross Madill on Friday, April 24, 2020  

Blessed Fr. Stanley Rother, a native Oklahoma farm boy turned priest and missionary to Guatemala, was beatified in Oklahoma City in 2017.

Zunmas said he has felt supported by the parish and by the Catholic community, including Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who drove to the parish the day after the tornado.

“People have been very, very supportive,” Zunmas said. “My bishop came down yesterday and then my mentor, my first pastor, Father Tom Wolf. And so many people from the community, our parishioners and members and pastors, everybody came by to help out.”

“I toured the tornado destruction in Madill today with Fr. Oby Zunmas whose rectory was destroyed while he took shelter in a safe room. Holy Cross Catholic Church sustained damage, but is repairable. Please keep them in your prayers,” Coakley said Thursday on Twitter.

Zunmas said he is grateful to God he is alive and the damage wasn’t worse, and that he has been encouraged by the goodness of people at this time.

“We do have generous people who are willing to help. Maybe sometimes they don't think about it, but when something happens, they want to come together. They want to make sure you're okay,” Zunmas said.

“And as a pastor, I see that more often maybe than regular people, but I wish that people would know that there's a lot of good people in this world. I think we know that, but sometimes we just don't act like we do because we're so suspicious of everybody. But I think there's a lot of nice people in this world, and I want people to know that.”

On a more practical note, the priest added, if anyone is building a home in tornado alley, “they need to consider having a safe place. It might be your closet. It might be your bathroom. It might be your safe room, which my safe room is my laundry room…I recommend that people think about not just a pretty home, but a home that is safe.”

 

 

Texas ends emergency ban on elective abortions, but questions remain

Fri, 04/24/2020 - 20:00

CNA Staff, Apr 24, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The controversy over whether Texas abortion clinics must comply with coronavirus-related emergency orders to halt elective surgeries statewide has now been rendered outdated by a new executive order allowing some surgeries to take place.

However, there are continued questions about abortion clinics’ refusal to comply with the ban when it was in effect. And in Forth Worth, medical professionals have filed a lawsuit which says the city’s current emergency orders banning surgeries should also ban abortion.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an April 22 federal court filing said there is “no case or controversy remaining” for pro-abortion rights groups seeking legal injunction,, given that abortion providers have certified their compliance with the governor’s new order, Reuters reports.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s new order, which took effect April 22, allows elective medical procedures for health care facilities if they reserve 25% of hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients and do "not request personal protective equipment from any public source throughout the pandemic.”

The original ban on elective surgeries, implemented in late March, aimed to preserve hospital capacity and protective equipment for medical personnel in the face of rising hospitalizations of victims of the novel coronavirus. Violations of the ban were punishable by up to $1,000 in fines or 180 days in jail.

When Paxton said that this ban included elective abortion surgeries that are “not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother,” many abortion clinics refused to comply and filed legal challenges, arguing that the U.S. constitution guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion.

In separate rulings, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the general ban and overturned a federal judge’s follow-up temporary injunction to allow medication-induced abortions.

Abortion providers whole Women’s Health and Planned Parenthood were among the challengers to the earlier order. The new order, they said, “allows patients--once again--to get an abortion in the state.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, characterized elective abortion as “essential health care,” CNN reports.

“We will be vigilant in ensuring there are no future interruptions to services, including by assessing the appropriate next steps to take in the case,” said Northup, whose organization represents some of the affected abortion clinics.

Some pro-life leaders praised the state limit on surgical abortion, even though it was no longer in place.

In an April 24 video, Texas Alliance for Life director Joe Pojman praised the delay on elective surgeries as “decisive action” to delay the spread of the coronavirus and part of “a strategy that has worked.”

Pojman cited Texas’ relatively low COVID-19 rates compared to large states and its hospitals’ continued capacity to treat patients.

As of Friday afternoon, there were over 22,800 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Texas, including over 590 deaths. About 9,000 people are estimated to have recovered, statistics from the Texas Department of Health said.

“We believe Gov. Abbott’s actions have protected the public and especially health care workers from the coronavirus,” Pojman said. He stressed the importance of Fifth Circuit Court’s order to “delay all abortions, surgical and drug induced, except for the handful that would not be possible to delay.”

“Meanwhile many abortion providers appeared to violate that order and performed a number of abortions across Texas, when those should have been delayed,” Pojman added. “We are addressing that issue now.”

Public health experts have stressed the need for widespread testing capacity before restrictions are lifted. The White House has said there are enough coronavirus tests to begin the first phase of lifting social and economic restrictions.

However, Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN last week that there needs to be about 10 to 20 times more tests to meet this capacity.

In Fort Worth, a city-level ban on elective surgeries is still in effect.

Several doctors and dentists and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists have filed suit against the City of Fort Worth, seeking to clarify whether this ban includes elective abortion.

The lawsuit, filed in Tarrant County District Court by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, seeks a temporary injunction that would block the city from enforcing its stay-at-home order unless it is amended to bar abortions.

The complaint accuses Fort Worth abortion clinics of “selfishly consuming personal protective equipment on elective and unlawful abortions at a time when every piece of personal protective equipment must be conserved,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

The medical professionals alleged that “they are suffering discriminatory treatment by having their lawful practices shuttered while illegal abortion providers are allowed to continue operating.”

“The City of Fort Worth cannot order a suspension of all ‘elective’ surgeries and procedures and then carve out special dispensations for abortion providers,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society. “If the city is halting elective procedures to preserve personal protective equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic, then elective abortions must be stopped as well. That is especially true when the law of Texas continues to define abortion as a criminal offense unless the mother’s life is in danger.”

Judges have so far intervened to allow abortions in some form in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, Louisiana, and Tennessee, after public officials in those states attempted to classify elective abortions as non-essential procedures.

Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which have not introduced any kind of bans on abortion, have seen increases in patients traveling from Texas to obtain abortions.

Arkansas officials tried to ban elective abortions in part because patients were traveling from out of state and posed a risk of bringing more coronavirus infections. A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order against the ban, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit allowed it to take effect in an April 22 decision.

 

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