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New poll finds President Donald Trump losing Catholic support amid George Floyd protests

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 12:35

CNA Staff, Jun 5, 2020 / 10:35 am (CNA).- President Trump’s favorability rating among white Catholics has dropped almost by half since March, according to a new poll.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reported on Thursday that President Trump’s favorability among white Catholics fell from 60% in March to 48% in April to just 37% in May.

The new poll, released June 4, was taken during a week of widespread civil unrest in several major cities, following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. The poll sampled 1,003 U.S. residents aged 18 or over and was conducted May 26-31.

The findings reflect other national polls showing a general growing disapproval for Trump in recent weeks, andt registering broad disapproval for his handling of the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Though, according to PPRI’s findings, Trump still has the approval of half of overall respondents in election battleground states, with his approval in those states having increased to 50% from 38% in April. 

The PPRI poll was conducted under the direction of SSRS, a polling and research firm widely used by media outlets, political pollsters, and market researchers. PPRI, however, has been the recipient of grants for research supporting LGBT initiatives.

In 2017, CNA reported that PRRI had received around $450,000 from the Arcus Foundation to create “comprehensive state maps” of public attitudes on religious exemptions and non-discrimination policies. 

A list of Arcus Foundation grantees shows a 2019 grant for $150,000 for “nine months” of support for “polling research on LGBT acceptance and other social change issues in the U.S.” In 2018, the foundation also provided a grant of $150,000 for a year of such polling research.

PRRI’s poll numbers among Catholics mark a sharp change from a recent Pew Research Center poll on Trump’s handling of the new coronavirus pandemic, conducted at the beginning of May.

The May Pew report  showed that, while Americans overall characterized Trump’s response to the pandemic as either “fair” or “poor” by a margin of 59%-41%, white Catholics approved of his response as “excellent” or “good” by a margin of 55%-45%. In that same poll, however, 70% of Hispanic Catholics said Trump’s response was “fair” or “poor.”

Earlier in 2020, an EWTN News/RealClearOpinion Research poll showed that almost six-in-ten white non-Hispanic Catholics approved of Trump’s presidency. 

According to the poll of 1,512 Catholic registered voters conducted from Jan. 28 through Feb. 4, 58% of white non-Hispanic Catholics approved of Trump “strongly” or “somewhat,” and 53% said they were either sure to vote for him in November or there was a “strong chance” they would.

Trump’s approval rating among Catholics overall was at less than half in the EWTN poll, in part due to overwhelmingly negative reviews by Hispanic Catholics who disapproved of him 71% to 29%. A smaller subset of devout Catholics, who said they accepted all the Church’s teachings, showed strong approval of his presidency, 63% to 37%.

The Catholic vote has largely mirrored the overall popular vote in recent presidential elections. 

According to initial 2016 election exit polls, Trump won the Catholic vote, but data released since then appears to contest that claim. The American National Election Studies (ANES) in 2017 reported that Clinton won the Catholic vote in 2016, 48% to 45%. And according to the February poll commissioned by EWTN News, Catholics who voted in 2016 favored Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin, 48% to Trump’s 46%.

Bishop Murry of Youngstown dies after stepping down due to leukemia

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 11:21

CNA Staff, Jun 5, 2020 / 09:21 am (CNA).- Just days after submitting his resignation as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, due to a recurrence of leukemia, Bishop George Murry, S.J., has died, the diocese announced Friday.

Murry died on the morning of June 5 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, New York. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

On May 26, the diocese announced the Murry had submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. At age 71, he was four years younger than standard retirement age for bishops.

Bishop Murry was initially diagnosed with leukemia in April 2018. He underwent a month of intensive chemotherapy treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, and was released in late May of that year. His doctors said he responded well to the treatment, and the leukemia cells had been suppressed, although he would need to return to the clinic weekly for monitoring.

In July 2019, he returned to the Cleveland Clinic for a reoccurrence of the leukemia.

He was confirmed to be in remission, but the leukemia returned this past April.

The diocese had said in its May 26 announcement that the bishop was no longer able to carry out his role as head of the diocese.

Following his initial leukemia diagnosis, Murry had stepped down from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, as well as his role as chair of the conference’s Committee on Catholic Education.

Bishop Murry was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1972, and was ordained to the priesthood seven years later. Murry holds a M.Div. degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California, and a Ph.D. in American Cultural History from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He served in administrative roles in two Washington, D.C., high schools, as well as serving as a professor of American Studies at Georgetown University and as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. In 1998, the pope appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and on June 30, 1999, appointed him bishop of the diocese.

Bishop Murry had led the Youngstown diocese since 2007.

Also on Friday, the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan announced that Bishop Emeritus James Murray died peacefully that morning following a decline in health. Bishop Murray was one month away from turning 88. He had retired in April 2009.

Catholic priest, psychologist offer advice for stressful times

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 05:00

Denver Newsroom, Jun 5, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- With disturbing and frightening news dominating the headlines in recent weeks, a psychologist and a priest suggested that Catholics take care to guard their psychological and spiritual health.

Just as much of the country has started easing quarantine restrictions intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many states are now seeing unrest following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in police custody.

A May 25 video that has circulated widely online shows an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes after he was taken into custody. Floyd could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” several times. He died soon after.

Cities across the U.S. have seen widespread protests against police brutality and racism in the wake of Floyd’s death. Some protests have turned to nights of rioting, and conflicts with police. At least five people have died amid the protests.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested May 29, and has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. The other officers present at the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting.

In some cases, the death of George Floyd may affect people more deeply than the pandemic has, said Jennifer Madere, president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (CPA).

“The pandemic was perceived more as external, whereas experiences of injustice, and oppression bring up our own pain and trauma,” she told CNA.

Several members of the CPA noted an increase in feelings of anxiety, confusion, distress, mourning, and anger in recent weeks. Some people may be retreating into themselves as they process the fear and trauma surrounding them.

Dr. Christina Lynch, a supervising psychologist for Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, said that Floyd’s death, and the protests and riots that have followed, have added an additional sense of insecurity to the feeling of turbulence already present due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She stressed the value of staying connected to friends, family, and neighbors during this time, noting that isolation can be detrimental to mental health.

“Isolation leads to loneliness which can increase our stress levels. Constant stress and fear can lead to anger and sadness – which in the end can cause a spike in depression without the person being aware,” she said. “It is important to talk about your concerns and feelings with a trusting person. Seek positive solutions to the current events rather than instilling further fear. Speak to others about what positive outcomes can come from bad situations.”

She also encouraged people to spend time focusing on gratitude, taking time every day to write down five blessings and sharing their appreciation with others.

“It is wise to watch a minimum of news, just enough to stay safe. It is important to exercise, eliminate alcohol (a depressant) and eat less sugar. Take deep breaths and breath out the anxiety physically. If possible, go for walks outside and get some vitamin D, smile at others, this can stimulate our internal joy,” she added.

“Neurologically one can change their negative thinking by writing down (pen and paper) positive thoughts at least 27 [times]. That can help build positive connections.”

Lynch also stressed the importance of a healthy spirituality. She encouraged Catholics to invite others to pray for peace in the local community and through social media. She also urged people to embrace greater acts of charity.

“My advice would be to make our Catholic faith contagious and choose to positively come against fear and choose to be proactive in promoting hope,” she said. “Pray each morning for internal peace and most of all think positive. Remember thinking is believing. The more positive you think, the more you build positive neurological connections in the brain.”

“Do acts of kindness such as calling people in your church community to see how they are doing,” she added. “The more kind acts we do, the better we feel about ourselves, which will in turn help us to be more proactive in doing more acts of kindness.”

Father John Nepil, a theology professor for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, told CNA that in times of anxiety and fear, it is particularly important to embrace the love of God. He said the world’s turmoil can be an opportunity for greater conversion.

“We have become convinced as Americans that as long as we're comfortable and healthy, everything is fine. We’ve [now] realized that there's no guarantee for that, nor is that always in our best interest,” he said.

“One of the great mistakes we make as Americans is to think that we're the nice people and that this is just evil people who do these things. I think as Christians, we have to deeply understand ourselves as bound to the actions of our brothers and sisters and responsible for them.”

Nepil stressed that racism, like any form of violence, is an inherent violation of human dignity. He encouraged Catholics to offer prayers and penance in reparation for the sins of others, especially those motivated by racial hate.

Above all, the priest said, the current time is one for conversion, and a recognition that we as a society cannot separate ourselves from God and build a perfect utopia.

“We pray for peace and for the end of hatred, but, as I mentioned before, the most important thing is rejecting the godlessness of our own self reliance and learning to depend more on Jesus alone as the salvation of man,” he said.


Catholic fraternal groups call for prayer and justice amid George Floyd protests

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 20:10

CNA Staff, Jun 4, 2020 / 06:10 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus have announced a forthcoming novena for an end to racism, as Catholic fraternal organizations urge prayer and justice amid burgeoning civic unrest that began with the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed while being arrested May 25.

“George Floyd was a man, a human, a being. Not a stat. Not just another one. Not to be forgotten,” the Knights of Peter Claver, a traditionally black Catholic fraternal organization, said in a statement released last week.

“The Knights of Peter Claver condemns the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policemen. There is no explanation to justify the actions taken by the police that ultimately led to Mr. Floyd’s demise. We pray that God will grant his family peace and that the Minneapolis community finds healing during this difficult period,”

The group called for “true respect of the Dignity of Black Lives. These statements should not have to be made. These demands should not have to be made. These lives should not be lost.”

“We call on all who are sworn 'to protect and to serve' - to carry out that very motto. We call on all leaders elected to serve - to listen, to act, to legislate. We call on all of God’s children created to love – to do just that – love.”

“The anger, emotions, and outrage must be followed by effective solutions that do more than just penalize murderous actions, but eliminate future ones. The ink has run dry on writing statements, and it is now time to write laws, to write policies, to write sentences,” the group said.

“George Floyd – let your name be remembered as the murder that sparked effective change.”

The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in 1909 as a fraternal organization of black Catholics. The group has more than 18,000 members and affiliates worldwide.

For its part, The Knights of Columbus on Thursday announced a novena for unity and peace.

“We ask all people to come together in solidarity to forge a path forward — free of discrimination and hate — for our nation,” Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a June 4 statement.

“The Knights join Pope Francis in urging all to express their anger and cries for justice in nonviolent ways to end the sin of racism.”

The Knights of Columbus novena will begin June 7.

“For the two million members of the Knights of Columbus and their families, this understanding starts with prayer,” Anderson said, adding that the novena will ask God “to bring together in your
love all whom hatred and racism have separated.”

“We must show love for one another, praying that all people come to understand that injustice to any black person is injustice to all persons and that all of us, regardless of our differences, are children of God made in his image and likeness,” Anderson said.

The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1882 by Venerable Father Michael MicGivney, said in its release it has always been open to members of all races and nationalities, and that “the Knights was the only organization to run integrated facilities in World War I, and the organization commissioned a black history by W.E.B. Dubois in the 1920s while also openly opposing the racial and religious intolerance of the Ku Klux Klan.”

The Knights of Columbus also sponsored and funded the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, a committee for which Anderson serves as a consultant.


US bishops ask Supreme Court to protect Catholic foster agency in Philadelphia

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 18:27

Washington D.C., Jun 4, 2020 / 04:27 pm (CNA).- In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, the U.S. bishops argued that a Catholic agency should not be banned from participation in the Philadelphia foster care system due to its beliefs on marriage.

“The Catholic Church serves orphans through adoption and foster care not simply because it cares about children, but because it is compelled to do this work—out of obedience to God’s Word, and in response to God’s love toward mankind,” the amicus brief said. “The Church’s theological commitment, present from its inception, to providing this privileged form of ministry helps illustrate the irreparable harm that the Church would suffer should it be blocked from continuing to do so.”

“Across the centuries and up to today, across the world and in the United States, the Catholic Church has been at the forefront of caring for orphans by placing them in loving homes,” the brief continued.

“This history, and the theological basis that animates it, together make clear that providing foster care represents a core religious exercise for Catholics. Although this ministry also serves the common good, and is often carried out in cooperation with government, these considerations do not reduce this ministry to a ’public function’ like picking up garbage or paving roads.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference filed the brief June 3 with the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the case Sharonell Fulton et. al. vs. City of Philadelphia.

In March 2018, Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was informed that the city would no longer refer foster children to the agency for assistance because of its faith-based stance on same-sex marriage. The city then passed a resolution calling for an investigation into religiously-based foster care services, after a same-sex couple claimed they were discriminated against by a different faith-based agency.

Catholic Social Services is barred from making new placements unless it agrees to recommend same-sex couples for the adoption of children.

Before the relationship ended, the agency served about 120 foster children in 100 foster homes. In 2017, the charity says, it helped more than 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area. The city has worked with the agency for over 100 years.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it joined the brief because the case “raises the important question whether churches and other religious organizations can continue to provide critical human services, as organized communities of religious adherents have done for centuries, without surrendering their religious beliefs.” The conflicts in the case are similar to those between Catholics and civil authorities elsewhere in the U.S.

For its part, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference joined the brief because it believes all dioceses in the state have a common interest in the question of whether a Pennsylvania municipality “should impose a substantial burden on the exercise of a fundamental aspect of church ministry.”

Placing abused and neglected children with foster families is “still an important religious activity,” the brief said. It sided with Catholic Social Services’ testimony that its work with foster children is “an important religious ministry” and that Philadelphia’s efforts to block this work “burden its religious liberty.”

The brief objected to the Third Circuit court’s depiction of foster care as “essentially a public service.” It argued against claims that the Catholic agency is just another government contractor, and that facilitating foster care placements is just another public service activity that the agency is “free to undertake or not, as it chooses.”

The bishops’ amicus brief argued that the court should reject the claim that “foster care placements stopped being a religious exercise in Philadelphia when it became a city-managed ‘public service’.”

“This either-or, all-or-nothing approach is incompatible with this court’s religion clauses jurisprudence,” the brief continued. “It also flies in the face of common sense. It cannot be that an activity, traditionally undertaken by religious groups for religious reasons, loses all religious liberty protections as soon as government encompasses it within a regulatory framework.”

“In whatever sense foster care might today be a ‘public service,’ it cannot be the case that the government can so easily deprive the Catholic Church of the opportunity to continue a ministry that has been a core part of its identity for nearly 2,000 years,” said the brief.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against Catholic Social Services in an April 22 ruling, saying that the city’s non-discrimination policy is “a neutral, generally applicable law.” Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro said “the religious views of CSS do not entitle it to an exception from that policy.” He said the city is “on firm ground” in requiring contractors to have non-discrimination policies and has shown “good faith” in enforcing these laws against discrimination rather than exhibiting an anti-religious bias.

In August 2018 the Supreme Court declined to grant an injunction that would require the city to continue its foster-care placement with the agency during litigation over the matter. Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Supreme Court postponed oral arguments in the case. The postponement could cause continued harm to the agency, which is on a “wind-down” contract and has laid off employees. This is despite the presence of families who want to adopt children through the agency and work with it.

The brief gave an overview of Catholic history and exhortations to care for orphans and children in need in Scripture and other Catholic teaching.

“(T)he Catholic Church has been helping orphans and other vulnerable children in Philadelphia for more than 200 years,” said the brief, adding “the Catholic Church’s commitment to this ministry flows from Scripture and Church teaching, from the early church fathers through Pope Francis.”

The early Christian practice of taking in children who had been put out for exposure under Roman customs was cited in the brief. Some of the Church’s greatest saints and religious orders were devoted to caring for orphans and children in need, it said. In American history, the Catholic Church, especially women religious, played an enormous role in serving orphans. The brief cited the examples of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Frances Cabrini, and Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence, and Father Edward Flanagan of Boys Town.

The plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case include Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch. Fulton has fostered more than 40 children through the agency, while Simms-Busch adopted children she fostered through the agency. The plaintiffs said they chose to work with the agency because it matches their personal beliefs and values.

Becket, a law firm specializing in religious liberty cases, is representing the plaintiffs.

Becket said the Catholic agency has not been the subject of any discrimination complaints by same-sex couples. It had never been asked to certify or endorse a same-sex couple, and no couple had been turned away from fostering because of the agency’s beliefs.

Some 34 amicus briefs have been filed in the case on the side of the plaintiffs. These briefs have been co-signed by over two dozen religious organizations, major faith-based foster-care ministries, 82 state legislators from seven states, 76 members of Congress, law professors and former Attorney General Ed Meese. Thirteen states signed one brief saying the partnership between government and religious ministries is “invaluable” and deserves First Amendment protections. Another three states filed a brief about the dependence of state and local governments on religious foster agencies.

“These groups recognize that Philadelphia’s actions don’t just threaten CSS and its foster families—or even faith-based foster agencies nationwide,” Becket said. “Rather, Philadelphia’s arguments would undermine the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty for all, anywhere.”

Religious organizations backing the plaintiffs include the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the United Sikhs, the Bruderhof, the Islam & Religious Freedom Action Team, and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

“It’s easy to support a foster agency that has been uniting vulnerable children with loving families for over 100 years, so it’s no wonder CSS has received such broad and diverse support at the Supreme Court,” Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket, said June 4.

“Faith-based agencies are some of the best at combating the foster care crisis across the nation, yet across the country, they face threats from those who disagree with their religious beliefs,” said Windham. “I am hopeful that the Court will recognize that faith-based agencies are rightfully part of the solution and shouldn’t be subject to the political appetites of their adversaries.”


NYC Mayor de Blasio: Protests essential, but not religion

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 17:32

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2020 / 03:32 pm (CNA).-  

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that ongoing protests in the city merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not. The mayor’s remarks have drawn criticism from New York’s archdiocese.

“When you see a nation, an entire nation simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” de Blasio said at a June 2 press conference, while defending his policy of allowing mass protests while continuing to restrict religious gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Ed Mechmann, director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York, said the mayor’s policy shows that religious liberty is now considered a low priority in the city.

“It is clear that in the eyes of our government officials, the politically preferred viewpoint of anti-racism is favored and allowed, while the unpopular one of religious worship is belittled and denigrated,” Mechmann wrote on the archdiocesan website June 3.

With the differing standards of the city for protests and religious gatherings, Mechmann said, “we have once again been given proof that religious liberty is a second-class right.”

New York has been under a strict stay-at-home order starting March 22, and it is only in the early stages of reopening public spaces.

According to the state’s public health department, the city will not enter “phase one” of reopening until June 8. New Yorkers are being instructed to “wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance in public.”

Meanwhile, protesters have gathered nightly by the thousands across the city to demonstrate against racism and police brutality following the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody.

Mechmann praised peaceful protests in the city, but noted that Americans also have a right to the free exercise of religion. To honor one right while ignoring the other, he said, is discriminatory.

“This is no longer a question of neutral public health laws that are applied generally to everyone without discrimination. This is indifference and incomprehension at best, bias and discrimination at worst,” Meechmann wrote.

“The right to peaceful assembly, free speech, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances are right there in the First Amendment,” he said. “I’ve marched for the causes I support, so I support others when they do the same.”

Coincidental with the demonstrations, New York City has seen violence, vandalism and looting in the city over a period of several days. NYPD have said they made more than 900 arrests on Monday and Tuesday alone.

According to media reports, Mayor de Blasio’s daughter was arrested on Saturday along with 100 other protestors in a demonstration which saw roads blocked and objects thrown at police. After she was reportedly issued with a ticket for disorderly conduct, Mayor de Blasio said he believed his daughter had peacefully protested and he was “proud of her that she cares so much and she was willing to go out there and do something about it.”

On Thursday, the mayor announced that restaurants in the city will shortly be allowed to serve patrons outdoors.

“New York’s restaurants are part of what make us the greatest city in the world. They’ve taken a hit in our fight against COVID-19 – and there’s no recovery without them,” de Blasio stated. Churches are not slated to fully reopen until stage four of the state’s reopening program, along with schools, theaters, and entertainment venues.

Public Mass in the Archdiocese of New York has been suspended since March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Churches in the city are open for private prayer, but not public Masses of even ten or fewer people.

Mayor de Blasio has already faced criticism for his treatment of houses of worship during the coronavirus pandemic, threatening mass arrests or even permanent closure of churches and synagogues that did not comply with public orders.

On March 27, the mayor called out a "small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues” for continuing to hold services during New York’s stay-at-home order.

If the services continued, he said, “our enforcement agents” would shut them down, and he threatened fines and even permanent closure of houses of worship for further disobedience of the order.

When thousands gathered to mourn at the funeral of a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn in late April, de Blasio said the mass gathering was “absolutely unacceptable.”

He threatened future religious gatherings with mass arrests.

“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,” he tweeted.

At the end of a June 3 press conference, de Blasio invoked the 1971 song “Imagine” by John Lennon to discuss the situation in the city while saying “I don’t mean to make light of this.”

The song imagines a more perfect world in which there is “no heaven” and “no religion.” De Blasio said the song asks essential questions “about a world where people got along differently.”

“What about a world where we didn’t live with a lot of the restrictions that we live with now?” he said. “But we’re not there yet. We are making a lot of progress, I truly believe,” he said.


New Orleans Catholic archdiocese, universities sued over alleged Hurricane Katrina aid fraud

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 17:06

CNA Staff, Jun 4, 2020 / 03:06 pm (CNA).- A federal lawsuit alleges that the Archdiocese of New Orleans, as well as two historically black New Orleans universities, improperly applied for and received millions of dollars in federal funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The archdiocese has denied wrongdoing and says its staff worked diligently to be good stewards of the federal money received after the disaster.

The hurricane, which hit New Orleans during August 2005, killed at least 1,800 people and devastated much of the city. In the years since Katrina and Rita, which hit the region the month after, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out nearly $20 billion in relief.

A whistleblower employee of the contractor that handled the reconstruction projects, AECOM, filed a federal suit in 2016, which alleges that inflated claims of damage after the hurricane resulted in millions of dollars for projects at Xavier and Dillard universities and for several archdiocesan properties, the Associated Press reported.

It names Xavier and Dillard, the archdiocese, and an AECOM employee who compiled the damage claims as defendants, and alleges that AECOM intentionally overestimated damages in order to bill its clients for additional time and enhance its perceived productivity.

Last week the U.S. District Court in New Orleans unsealed the lawsuit.

The Department of Justice has joined the lawsuit, seeking the return of the alleged overpayments and the money that the federal government paid to AECOM for consulting work, reported. The DOJ portrays AECOM as the primary culprit; AECOM has denied wrongdoing.

The two projects involving the archdiocese are the former St. Raphael School building and two residential buildings run by the archdiocese’ affordable housing program for seniors in New Orleans.

The suit alleges the archdiocese received about $10 million more in FEMA funding than it should have for the St. Raphael building and about $36 million more for the senior housing complex, the archdiocese said June 3.

According to the suit, the funding claim said the top two floors were catastrophically damaged, which was not the case, reported.

The archdiocese denied in its June 3 statement the allegations that it had improperly received excessive funds.

“In the aftermath of this disaster, the Archdiocese of New Orleans received a significant amount of money from FEMA to restore the extensive damage incurred to property of the parishes, schools and social service ministries of the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” the statement read.

“Our finance office worked diligently and relied upon the knowledge and expertise of FEMA and their designated agencies and field representatives. Our staff was committed to working responsibly and being good stewards of the money received, and our documentation reflects that.”

The archdiocese pledged to cooperate with the government investigation.
“Every dollar of FEMA funds received has gone back into the restoration of parish, school and other properties to serve the people of the Greater New Orleans community. We deny the allegation that the Archdiocese of New Orleans knowingly conspired to submit false information,” it continued.

As of 2018, FEMA had obligated nearly $184 million to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for Katrina-related recovery work. At least 32 archdiocesan facilities sustained damage in the storm, FEMA says.

The suit alleges that Xavier University received $6.6 million from FEMA to repair a concrete gymnasium foundation, when “in fact, the building had no such foundation.”

The university’s attorney declined to comment on specifics to the AP, but said the federal government had relied heavily on the contractor, AECOM, to handle the allegedly fraudulent aid applications. Xavier reportedly has agreed to repay $12 million to the federal government in a settlement.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans declared bankruptcy last month amid a number of lawsuits related to the sexual abuse of minors.

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

Maryland county's new rules lift Communion ban that affected Catholic churches

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 16:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Howard County in Maryland has issued new guidelines for the reopening of houses of worship, bringing its regulations in line with the rest of the state. A previous executive order had prohibited the consumption of any food or drink during religious service, effectively barring the celebration of Mass. 

“Howard County will be aligning its reopening status with the State of Maryland, as well as [Gov. Larry Hogan’s] previous orders, which includes allowing indoor faith services at 50% capacity as outlined by the Governor’s Executive Order” said a release from the county on Wednesday, June 3. The updated guidance goes into effect this weekend. 

Previously, an order from Howard County executive Calvin Ball, issued May 26, limited indoor religious services to 10 people, and limited outdoor services to 250 socially-distanced worshippers who were wearing masks during reopening. That executive order also banned the licit celebration of Mass by prohibiting the consumption of food or drink before, after, or during a religious service, but lifted that restriction following a report by CNA. 

Following the May 26 county order, the Archdiocese of Baltimore expressed “serious concerns” about the restrictions it placed on Mass, noting that “for the Catholic community, the reception of Communion is central to our faith lives and to our public worship.”

A statement released by the county June 3 said that officials had “been in contact with more than 200 faith leaders across the county throughout the pandemic,” and that it is up to individual churches to decide whether or not they plan on holding indoor services. 

An executive order by Gov. Hogan, issued June 3, states that “Subject to applicable Local Orders, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other similar religious facilities of any faith in the State of Maryland (“Religious Facilities”) may open to the general public, provided, however, that the total number of persons permitted in a Religious Facility at any one time shall not exceed 50% of that Religious Facility’s Maximum Occupancy.” 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which includes Howard County, has issued its own reopening plans. Although the state of Maryland will now allow 50% occupancy for indoor religious services, the archdiocese has chosen to limit capacity to 33% for the time being. 

“The number of individuals present at Mass, including liturgical ministers, does not exceed the Archdiocese’s restriction on the number of people able to be gathered: up to 1/3 of the church’s seating capacity with physical distancing required (in many cases this will be far less than 1/3 capacity),” says the archdiocese’s Phase II regulations.

Madison Bishop Hying says he will 'stand on principle' in reopening lawsuit

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 14:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Madison says a lawsuit against Dane County and the city of Madison may be needed to ensure the Church can serve the people of the diocese during the reopening phase of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I don’t want to fight with anybody, but at the same time I think that there is a religious liberty issue here that we need to stand on in principle,” Bishop Donald Hying of Madison told CNA in an interview on Wednesday evening. 

Attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, acting for the diocese, sent a 17-page letter to Dane County officials and the mayor of Madison on Wednesday, June 3, threatening to file suit against the city and county if additional restrictions placed on houses of worship are not lifted by Friday, June 5. 

Emergency Order 3, issued by Dane County May 22, caps all religious services at a 50-person limit during Phase 1 of reopening. But “essential businesses,” including trampoline parks and shopping malls, are permitted to operate at 25% of the listed fire capacity during the same phase. 

In a public statement issued Wednesday, Hying said that "In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the racial injustice of the past week, our community is crying out for unity, for grace, and for spiritual healing. We are ready and able to answer that call, but the 50-person cap has unjustly stifled our pastoral mission."

The previously-issued Emergency Orders 1 and 2 did not include the 50-person cap on attendance, and instead said that houses of worship would be subject to the 25% occupancy limit. Phases 2 and 3 of the reopening plan will also impose an as-of-yet undetermined numerical limit on attendances at religious services. 

In their letter, lawyers for the diocese noted that "in no event, not even in the largest synagogue, mosque, church, or temple, and no matter how carefully spaced or protected, shall more than 50 people gather for worship."

"This unequal and unfair treatment violates the Church’s cherished constitutional freedoms and, more importantly, hobbles unconscionably its pastoral mission," they said. 

Hying told CNA that the change in policy came despite extensive work done by the diocese to accommodate the previous versions of the reopening plan.

“We had carefully worked, meditated on (Emergency) Order number 2, to come up with a plan that was very safe, very prudential, very clear in its guidelines for 25% occupancy for our churches in our 11-county diocese,” he said. The bishop added that he trusted his priests to be prudential in matters related to safety. 

Within 24 of the release of diocesan reopening plan, Emergency Order 3 was issued, “which, for Dane County, put us in a whole different situation,” said Hying. 

The bishop said that there was “no dialogue, no conversation” between the diocese and Dane County in creating any of the reopening guidelines for houses of worship, although the Diocese of Madison had spoken a few times with officials throughout the pandemic. 

Dane County has designated all religious services as “planned gatherings,” placing them on the same footing as a concert or festival event, rather accommodating the everyday operations of a house of worship. Hying told CNA that he disagreed with this interpretation. 

“Our fundamental business is Sunday Mass,” he said. “So what’s the difference between having 25% capacity at Sunday Mass at a church that seats a thousand people, versus 25% capacity in a restaurant or any other establishment?” 

The bishop said he was “very confident” that the parishes in Dane County would be able to safely operate at 25% capacity, as the parishes in the other 10 counties in the diocese had done so the previous weekend. 

“There’s no restrictions on [the other 10 counties] whatsoever, but we asked them to observe the 25%, just so we’d have our gradual approach to reopening,” he said. “And there were no problems at all.”

Brooklyn Bishop DiMarzio denies ‘libelous’ accusations of abuse

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 12:05

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 4, 2020 / 10:05 am (CNA).- Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn has denied a second allegation of sexual abuse, and said he is considering taking legal action for libel against his accusers. Both allegations relate to the bishop’s time as a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark in the 1970s.

On Thursday, Associated Press reported that Samier Tadros had accused Bishop DiMarzio of sexual abuse, allegedly committed in the 1970s while DiMarzio was a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey. 

“This is clearly another attempt to destroy my name and discredit what I have accomplished in my service to God and His people, including my efforts to fight the scourge of sexual abuse,” DiMarzio said in a statement June 4. 

“I have retained counsel and am contemplating filing a lawsuit against those responsible for these accusations, which have no basis in fact. I am ready, willing, and able to go to trial to defend myself.”

DiMarzio is already the subject of a Vatican ordered investigation, following the first allegation, made in November, 2019, which DiMarzio has also categorically denied.

In his statement on Thursday, Bishop DiMarzio said that “there is absolutely no truth to this allegation,” which he characterized as “outrageous and libelous.”

DiMarzio’s lawyer, Joseph Hayden said in a statement released by the diocese that “We have uncovered conclusive evidence of Bishop DiMarzio’s innocence.”

“Both allegations against my client are more than 40 years old, and the accusers are each seeking 20-million dollars from the Newark Archdiocese. We have been investigating these claims and we have uncovered conclusive evidence of Bishop DiMarzio’s innocence.”

Hayden said he and the bishop “look forward to challenging these allegations in court or in any other proceeding. These 40-year-old allegations in pursuit of two 20-million-dollar legal claims are simply untrue and Bishop DiMarzio will never agree to a settlement of these claims.”

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian is representing both accusers; Garabedian is known for providing legal representation to clerical sexual abuse victims. Despite making the accusations in public, the Diocese of Brooklyn confirmed to CNA that neither alleged victim has filed suit in court. 

In January, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Bishop DiMarzio’s metropolitan archbishop, announced that the Vatican had instructed him to begin an investigation into the first accusation made against DiMarzio by Mark Matzek, a 56 year-old man, who claims that DiMarzio and another priest, now deceased, repeatedly abused him while he was an altar server at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Diocese of Newark in the 1970s.

Dolan’s investigation is proceeding under the norms of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a law promulgated by Pope Francis in 2019, which provides for accusations of abuse or related misconduct against a bishop to be undertaken on behalf of the Holy See by the local metropolitan. Associated Press reported on Tuesday that both accusers were prepared to cooperate with Dolan’s investigation.

In January, a spokesman for Cardinal Dolan told CNA that the cardinal would be using experts to assist him in his task, but did not give a timeline for the investigation into DiMarzio.

“As is our practice, the cardinal will rely on outside professional forensic investigators to assist him in this matter,” he said.

“The archdiocese will have no further comment on the matter while the investigation is undertaken.”

According to the New York Post, Dolan has retained a risk management company founded by former FBI director Louis Freeh to assist in the investigation. 

The first allegation was made in November last year, shortly after DiMarzio himself had concluded a Vatican-ordered investigation of the Buffalo diocese which was mired in scandal and accusations of then-diocesan Bishop Richard Malone mishandling sexual abuse claims.

At the time of the November accusation, DiMarzio said that “[i]n my nearly 50-year ministry as a priest, I have never engaged in unlawful or inappropriate behavior and I categorically deny this allegation.”

Tadros, DiMarzio’s second accuser, said he was repeatedly sexually abused by DiMarzio at Holy Rosary Church in Jersey City; Tadros said he was 6 years old when the abuse began.

In his statement on Thursday, DiMarzio said his record showed him to be a proven “leader in the fight against sexual abuse,” noting that he was selected by the Vatican to investigate the Buffalo diocese last fall because of his “exemplary record.”

DiMarzio also said that as bishop of Brooklyn he had created an independent reporting line that would send abuse claims in his diocese straight to the district attorney.

How one Catholic priest responded to the ’92 LA riots

Thu, 06/04/2020 - 05:11

Denver Newsroom, Jun 4, 2020 / 03:11 am (CNA).- In the spring of 1992, then-Father David O’Connell was comfortable in parish life in south LA. The Irish-born priest had served the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for more than a decade by then, and he was familiar with the conflicts and tensions that existed in the area.

But O’Connell wasn’t ready for the riots that would break out on April 26, 1992, after the acquittal of four police officers who had been videotaped beating an unarmed black man, Rodney King.

O’Connell – who is now an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – was pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Parish when the 1992 riots took place. More than 60 people were killed in the violence, with over 2,000 more injured, and $1 billion of property damaged.

O’Connell told CNA that when the riots began, he was actually in Washington, D.C., where he was testifying before a Congressional committee on violence in urban America. He said he turned on the TV at his motel and saw footage of a restaurant being attacked, just blocks from his parish back home.

When he flew home the next day, O’Connell said his plane had to be rerouted because of concerns about people shooting at airplanes landing at LAX.

By the time he arrived home, he found widespread destruction. “There was a huge devastation of businesses – large ones, small ones, burnt to the ground,” he said.

O’Connell reached out to local Catholic, Baptist, and Muslim leaders, to start a conversation and to pray together while waiting for the nightly riots to calm down.

He also helped in local clean-up efforts. He said that work was mostly cosmetic, but he viewed it as a symbolic gesture “to show that we were going to come out of it.”

While he was still trying to assess the damage and process the trauma of the unfolding events, he also started thinking about ways to begin reconciliation in the community.

“Right away, we said that our churches were open for people, if they had taken stuff, to bring it back,” he said.

The idea worked. Some people involved in the looting later regretted their role in the riots.

“People brought things back, and we tried to give them to the stores which they had come from,” O’Connell said.

About a year before the 1992 riots, O’Connell had been involved in initiatives to build trust between the local community and the police. But the efforts had not made much progress.

In the months that followed the riots, however, O’Connell realized he needed to focus on those efforts if the community was ever to heal. He and other local faith leaders held meetings with sheriffs and members of the LAPD in people’s homes. At those meetings, police and civilians practiced talking to each another about their concerns and finding ways to disagree civilly.

“That was part of our work as a Church, to try to provide spaces for conversations,” he said. “And we thought we really had achieved a lot of progress. Killings were way down in south Los Angeles. There was a trust built up between LAPD and residents. This level of trust has helped us over many different crises over the last almost 30 years to be able to talk things through.”

Today, O’Connell fears that the killing of George Floyd and other recent incidents of police brutality have eroded much of the trust that had been established.

“This [Floyd’s killing] is so egregious, it’s just heartbreaking. It’s like the work that the community leaders have tried to do over the years is falling apart,” he said.

“For all those years we were doing this in the ‘90s, the early 2000s, we kept trying to convince people that we have to trust each other, you have to trust the police department, and convince the police how to deal with problems, de-escalate, respect people, build relationships so that when conflicts happen, they don’t result in violence, and you can deal with things in a more humane way, a decent way, a civil way,” he said.

“It’s harder now to go back and say, ‘Ok, we broke that trust, and now we want you to trust us again… it didn’t work last time, but trust us again next time’.”

O’Connell said he understands the anger of many communities in the wake of police brutality. Their suffering is real, and their anger justifiable, he said.

“People [in 1992] felt – and the African American population in particular felt – very grieved that they were able to do this and there were no repercussions for the officers involved,” the bishop said, adding that he sees similar sentiments today.

However, he said, if he could share one message with people rioting, it would be that dialogue, not violence, is the best way to solve underlying problems.

“I know it’s hard for them to hear right now, but violence is never the answer,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem so right now, but if we can do the work of negotiation and politics and building trust, we can achieve a lot more good out of that than we can out of any violence.”

The process of reconciliation in communities will undoubtedly be a long and difficult one, the bishop acknowledged.

“But we have to do it. It has to be done,” he said. “There’s no other way forward than to try again as best we can…to try to build these conversations and maybe even this time, take it as a national project, not just a local project.”


Why this Spokane Catholic school is going classical

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 20:30

Spokane, Wash., Jun 3, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).- St. Charles Catholic School in Spokane, Washingon adds its name to a growing list of Catholic schools across the country that hope to find a renewal through an embrace of a classical liberal arts educational model.

St. Charles sits in a part of the Spokane metro area that is thick with Catholic schools. Four other parochial schools are within a ten minute drive from St. Charles. With so many Catholic schools in the area, the question for each school is, “what sets us apart?”

St. Charles’ decision to embrace a classical liberal arts model follows a track record of schools making the same transition. In Denver, Colorado, Our Lady of Lourdes School had only 104 students enrolled when it decided to switch to a classical curriculum. The following year, enrollment increased to 180 and the growth has continued. In the fall of 2018, Lourdes opened a second campus.

St. Charles’ move to classical was not a forgone conclusion; the school has had several changes of leadership over the last few years. In 2019, the school welcomed a new pastor and principal, Fr.  Esteban Soler and principal Heather Schlaich. As school leaders looked at the future of the school, they hoped to bring stability and growth to the school.  

Soler said he “has a heart” for classical liberal education and for the humanities. Growing up in Argentina, the priest was classically educated from 6th grade through high school. For Schlaich, the appeal of a classical liberal arts curriculum was multifaceted.

"In doing our research, we found it is an idea that is spreading nationwide," she said. The emphasis on the arts also impressed Schlaich, whose background is music education.

“Knowing that we needed something new and exciting in our community, and knowing that there is a need to fill because there isn’t a Catholic elementary school that is classical in Spokane, we felt this is a niche we could fill,” she added.

The decision to fill a niche role with a classical curriculum is expected to help neighboring Catholic schools. Rather than competing for the same pool of students, St. Charles hopes to bring new families into the Catholic school system.

“I’m hoping we meet that need and get more kids into Catholic school,” Schlaich said.

For those who are not familiar with it, the idea of classical education can seem mysterious.  But Schlaich said there is a simple way to define the underlying principle of classical liberal arts education: “I would describe it as an integration of subjects with the faith.”

Explaining further, Soler stressed the unity of the curriculum, all subjects are rooted in faith and in the Catholic vision that all truth comes from God.

“The curriculum is oriented to help the kids to grow in a coherent base, where everything is understood as a whole, before they can go to different specifications.”

A classical education can seem old-fashioned to many, and in a way, it is. The roots of classical curriculum go right back to ancient Greece. The educational model continued to develop in Mediterranean and European countries. The curriculum is not stuck in the past though; technology is incorporated into the classroom on an as-needed basis and the curriculum meets current educational standards, school leaders told CNA.

What about Latin? The students at St. Charles will learn Latin, starting in kindergarten. The study of one or more of the classical languages, Greek or Latin, is a hallmark of classical schools. Soler will teach the students Latin himself, having an extensive background in Latin himself, studying the language for 10 years both in Argentina and in Rome.

Schlaich said that compared to a typical secular, modern school, the focus of a classical school is on “cultivating wisdom and virtue.” The school does this by “teaching the students Latin, exposing them to high quality literature, and focusing on appreciation of beauty, goodness, and truth.”

After the change was announced in the spring of 2020, those in the school community had many questions.  

“I have had a lot of positive feedback, [but] there is anxiety in some people, I would say, because it is a change, and there is anxiety with any change,” Soler noted.

Priest and principal met with families to explain the changes, and while many families are supportive, some have decided to move to neighboring schools.

Heather Morrisson, a parent of St. Charles' students said she is excited for the change in curriculum. "I love that we are integrating religion into every aspect of the curriculum and I like that we are encouraging critical thinking in the students."

Schlaich said the response from teachers has also been enthusiastic.

“Our teachers are very loyal," she said. "They are excited we are going to be digging deeper, looking at deeper meanings.”

Soler said he is looking forward to the adventure of undertaking this change.

“We will be the only Catholic school in the area – not in the state because we have St. Monica on Mercer Island, and there are other schools in the Seattle area looking to make the change – but we will be the only one in the area to make the change.”

Looking to the future, both Soler and Schlaich are hopeful about the transition.

“We are excited,” Fr.  Soler said. “It is a challenge, but overall, I think it will be good. I think it will attract families who are not served by Catholic schools now. The school is part of the life of the parish. The mission of the parish, like every Catholic parish, is to evangelize. I hope the school will help bring the students to a deeper knowledge of Christ.”


Delaware lifts controversial rules for reopening churches

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 19:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 3, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- The governor of Delaware has amended controversial restrictions on houses of worship after a local church threatened a lawsuit. 

In an updated guidance released by Gov. John Carney (D) on the evening of June 2, the number of people who are allowed to gather in a house of worship was adjusted to match that of other businesses during the phased reopening. Additionally, previous limitations on baptisms and the distribution of Communion are now encouraged, but not mandatory, according to the June 2 guidance. 

“Special services, such as baptisms, initiations, weddings, and funerals are permitted, but pose significant health threats if strict social distancing, hygiene and other measures are not taken to decrease the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” says the updated guidance.

The only express prohibitions in the updated guidance are the sharing of microphones, the sharing of food or beverages between people who do not reside in the same household, and the passing of a collection plate. 

The changes came after a lawsuit was filed by the Rev. Dr. Christopher Alan Bullock, who is the pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in New Castle. Bullock argued that the restrictions that had been placed on houses of worship, but not other categories of essential businesses, were unconstitutional. 

Previously, the houses of worship were held to a hard limit of 10 people allowed inside, instead of a percentage of the listed fire capacity. Services were encouraged to be outdoors if possible, choirs were banned, masks were required, and those who were over the age of 65 were instructed to stay away from a house of worship. Additionally, the older guidance prohibited a worship leader from holding a congregant, including for a baptism. 

These things are now discouraged, but not banned. 

Bullock’s lawyer argued that the guidance prohibiting a pastor from touching someone being baptized was discriminatory, as there was no similar ban on person-to-person contact for a Jewish circumcision or for a childcare worker taking care of a child. 

Earlier on Tuesday, attorneys for the governor said that there would be changes made to the guidance for houses of worship in order to comply with the First Amendment. 

Robert Krebs, the director of communications for the Diocese of Wilmington, told CNA that the diocese had “been working very closely with the governors” of states in its territory, and has “tried our best to comply” with various orders and regulations. 

The Diocese of Wilmington includes the entirety of the state of Delaware as well as the eastern shore of Maryland. 

Krebs remained hopeful that the diocese would be able to continue collaborations with state authorities as reopenings continue. 

“We found that both Governor Carney’s administration and Governor Hogan’s in Maryland have been very willing to listen and open to suggestions,” said Krebs. “We have no reason to believe that won’t continue.”

Racial justice is a pro-life issue, says leading pro-life legislator

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 3, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life advocates must speak out in defense of all human life--including issues of racial justice and deaths at the hands of police, a prominent pro-life lawmaker told CNA Wednesday.

Louisiana state Senator Katrina Jackson told CNA in a June 3 interview that the pro-life movement “has made great strides in becoming more racially diverse” and should now be speaking out against racism and the killings of black men by police or by other people who target them for their race.

A nationally known pro-life Democrat, Jackson addressed the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. in 2019 and 2020. She served eight years in the Louisiana House before she became a state senator this year. 

Jackson, who is black and a Baptist, spoke to CNA about racism, and the nationwide demonstrations that have taken place, including violence in some cities, in the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25.

The lawmaker said pro-lifers cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. She quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., noting that “a time comes when silence is betrayal.”

Jackson, who has been lauded for her bipartisan efforts to pass some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on abortion, told CNA that she is “pro-life from conception until death.” 

“I tell people that it’s not enough that we ask someone not to have an abortion and keep going.”

Protests began in Minneapolis last week after Floyd’s death in police custody. Video of his arrest showed Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as Floyd groaned, cried out, and repeatedly said he could not breathe. Chauvin has since been charged with murder, and other officers on the scene charged as his accomplices. 

Demonstrations, along with rioting and looting, have followed in numerous U.S. cities and suburbs last week and into this week, with more than 9,000 people arrested. Protesters have clashed regularly with police forces in some cities, while in other cities, police leaders have supported or joined in peaceful protest marches.

Floyd’s death, Jackson said, came as he was arrested “by those who took an oath to protect and serve,” 

She lamented the “alarming amount of African-American males that are killed by murderous hands,” including those killed by police officers. Such deaths, she said, are “a life issue.”

Racism, and the deaths of young black men, have been “plaguing our nation for years,” she said.

“It has to stop, because it goes directly against the pro-life stance that every life has value.”

“Right now, the pro-life movement could be holding very diverse online townhall meetings to discuss this issue,” she said, to “talk about life being important at every stage of life.”

Jackson also called for a more visible presence by pro-life advocates in peaceful protests, holding signs with language such as “life matters at every stage.”

“It’s as simple as that. Those are two things that we could be doing immediately, that I’m doing, to make sure people understand that we believe that innocent life should not be taken, at any stage,” she said.

While Jackson appeared with President Donald Trump at the 2020 March for Life, and has praised pro-life measures enacted by his administration, she expressed concern about the president’s response to the riots and protests.

“President Trump is doing more to incite and to perpetuate anger over this issue than he is doing to calm it down,” Jackson told CNA.

Last week, while threatening to deploy the U.S. military to quell riots, Trump tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Jackson said the president’s words, under the guise of upholding law and order, might have exacerbated lawlessness.

“Of course I stand against the looting, but I also stand against lawless actions of those who are put in positions to protect and serve, and to serve constituencies—which he is,” she said of Trump. “And what he did when he stated that, he basically promoted a lawless action himself. And that’s what’s so problematic.”

The next day, Trump offered an explanation for his use of the phrase, saying that violent riots could lead to other acts of violence. “Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night,” he tweeted.

The tweet was nevertheless interpreted by many to justify police firing rubber bullets or live rounds at those protesters who are looting stores. “What the president needs to understand is that—as the leader of the free world—what he tweets, what he says, has great consequences,” Jackson said, adding that, in her view, Trump “needs to understand that.”

“And it’s becoming very disturbing,” she added, that “he seems not to.”

Jackson said that the idea a person might be shot in response to a theft “goes directly against what American laws, every criminal justice system in America stands for.” 

She told CNA that the president’s comments could encourage some people to take the law into their own hands: “There may be someone who goes out and shoots someone who’s looting because the president said it’s okay,” Jackson worried.

On Wednesday, Pope Francis noted that he had “witnessed with great concern the disturbing social unrest in your nation in these past days, following the tragic death of Mr. George Floyd.”

“We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life,” the pope said. “At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost.”

Detroit archdiocese's parish restructuring aims for more than mergers

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 18:01

CNA Staff, Jun 3, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Detroit has announced a major restructuring process that could combine over 200 parishes into “family” groupings that aim to alter and, perhaps, avoid, aspects of the parish merger model.

“Even before the pandemic, we knew God wanted to renew our parishes. The structures we inherited served our mission well in the past, but they need to be renewed and aligned for mission,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron said in a May 31 announcement.

“And so, in prayer and in consultation with others, I’ve discerned that this is the time to respond in faith to our new reality and to better equip our parish communities for mission,” he said.

The changes envision groupings of three to six parishes, in what the archdiocese is presenting as a “family of parishes” model. The archdiocese expects about 60 to 80 “family” groupings to be formed from its 218 parishes. These parishes serve about 1.4 million Catholics.

Among the difficulties for the archdiocese is the aging of its clergy.

Almost two-thirds of the 382 priests in the archdiocese are older than 60. With an average age of 64 in 2018, many of the priests are near retirement. The coronavirus epidemic could worsen the problem, if older priests become ill from the disease or retire early due to health concerns, the archdiocesan news site Detroit Catholic reported.

The “parish family” model differs from a parish-merger model because each parish in a “family” group would retain its identity under canon law, the Detroit Catholic reports. However, it would share a leadership team that could include priests, deacons, pastoral ministers, and other parish staff.

This model would not make one priest responsible for multiple communities, which can cause burnout and isolation. Rather, several priests and deacons would work together to administer the parishes and serve parishioners’ sacramental needs, providing better bonds among clergy.

The changes are presented at the Families of Parishes website.

According to its frequently asked questions section, the merged parish model “leaves the parishioners feeling as if they do not have the support that they want and need from clergy.”

In the planning process, teams of clergy and lay leaders will discuss various options for how to lead and govern parish families. This discussion will follow models like that of the neighboring Diocese of London.

The new model could still mean parish closures.

“As each ‘family’ discerns how to best align resources, they may decide to retain their separate identities and worship spaces,” the Families of Parishes’ frequently-asked questions said. “Others, after a careful and honest review of existing resources, may opt to close worship spaces or merge with partnering parishes.”

Some staff could be cut, for instance, if each grouping opts to share a single bookkeeper. The archdiocese said it is possible some groupings could add positions to better serve their mission.

The groupings of parishes will be announced in Advent.

The archdiocese plans for half of the parishes to begin to operate in the new model by July 2021, with the other half intended to shift to the model by July 2022. Six months of preparation are planned for the parish change.

In this time, each group of parishes will discuss practical problems about clergy, staff, and parish interaction. They will finalize leadership structure and staff positions, and consider changes to Mass and confession schedules to help accommodate parishioners.

Archbishop Vigneron asked for prayers for this “very important step in the life and mission of our local Church.”

Madison diocese says it will sue over religious restrictions

Wed, 06/03/2020 - 16:10

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 3, 2020 / 02:10 pm (CNA).- Attorneys representing the Diocese of Madison sent a letter to Dane County and City of Madison officials on Wednesday, June 3, notifying officials they will file suit if parishes in the diocese are not permitted to operate at the same capacity as retail outlets. 

Under Dane County’s reopening guidelines, retail businesses are permitted to operate at 25% capacity. Places of worship, however, are limited to a maximum of 50 people regardless of the capacity of the building, with regular religious services classified as “mass gatherings,” similar to concerts or music festivals. 

“Under the Order, thousands of people may shop together at a mall; hundreds of employees may arrive at an office or factory every morning to conduct the business’s everyday operations; and hundreds of children may spend a few hours bouncing off each other at trampoline parks,” said the June 3 letter sent by lawyers from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. 

“But, because religious services have uniformly been deemed ‘Mass Gatherings,’ no more than 50 of the 1,225 seats in Saint Maria Goretti Church may be filled.”

Madison Bishop Donald Hying said Wednesday that the Church had an urgent mission to serve the community, one the reopening plan was preventing. 

“In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the racial injustice of the past week, our community is crying out for unity, for grace, and for spiritual healing. We are ready and able to answer that call, but the 50-person cap has unjustly stifled our pastoral mission,” the bishop said.

“Our diocese has been, and remains, committed to promoting and protecting the health and safety of our fellow Madisonians, but the county and city have wrongly subordinated the spiritual needs of the community to the operations of non-essential businesses,” he added. 

Places of worship are the only category capped in Madison by a specific number for “everyday operations” rather than by a general capacity restriction. Violators will be subject to fines and citations, and the Department of Health in Madison and Dane County threatened to send enforcement officers to monitor the congregation size at Masses. 

The letter is signed by attorneys from The Becket Fund and three other law firms. It is addressed to Dane County Executive Joseph T. Parisi, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, and Janel Heinrich, the director of public health for the City of Madison and Dane County. 

“Throughout this pandemic, the Church has been a good public citizen. It suspended public worship before the law required, and continues to impose greater operational restrictions than required,” the letter said, adding that the Church has continued to tend to the sick, poor, and incarcerated during this time. 

But, the lawyers argued, local Emergency Order 3, issued May 22, “treats religious interests unequally and unfairly.” 

“In no event, not even in the largest synagogue, mosque, church, or temple, and no matter how carefully spaced or protected, shall more than 50 people gather for worship. This unequal and unfair treatment violates the Church’s cherished constitutional freedoms and, more importantly, hobbles unconscionably its pastoral mission.” 

The first two reopening plans issued by Dane County did not contain the 50-person limit for houses of worship; churches were expected to reopen on the same level as other businesses and operate at 25% capacity. The Diocese of Madison developed a reopening plan that assumed they would be allowed to have congregations of this size. 

The third version, Executive Order 3, removed this parity and, the lawyers argue, “there is no valid, nondiscriminatory reason to maintain far stricter restrictions on houses of worship.” 

The letter requests that the county and city change the policy by June 5 and allow for churches to operate at 25% capacity, otherwise they will file suit. 

“To be clear, the Church has no particular interest in litigation or in a protracted dispute or an uncooperative relationship with civil authorities,” said the letter. 

“However, the Church is legally and morally entitled to be treated equally with other similarly situated nonreligious associations that have been permitted to reopen up to 25 percent capacity,” they added, asserting that the Diocese of Madison “stands ready” to once again safely hold Mass.

The complaint by the Madison diocese is similar to challenges against state rules issued in Minnesota and Illinois. 

After they were challenged by the state’s bishops, who announced they would defy the governor, Minnesota rules were amended May 23. After three lawsuits and the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, Illinois Governor JB Prtizker announced May 28 that state guidelines for churches would be non-binding.