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Toppling statues of Junipero Serra ‘fails test’ of history, California Catholic bishops say

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 20:40

CNA Staff, Jun 22, 2020 / 06:40 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of California have defended St. Junipero Serra, after statues of St. Junipero were torn down in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The bishops said June 22 that the saint was “ahead of his time” in defending the rights of indigenous peoples and that those who have called for statues of him to be removed or torn down “failed the test” of history.

A statue of Serra was torn down in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park June 20, along with statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant. In Los Angeles the same day, rioters pulled down a statue of Serra in the city’s downtown area.

“The movement to confront racism within our society during these past weeks has been, at times, challenging,” said a statement from the California Catholic Conference of Bishops on Monday, “but it has provided bold new hope for every American that our nation can begin to transform key elements of our racist past and present.”

The bishops said that they “vigorously and wholeheartedly support” efforts to identify, and repair historical instances of racism against members of the African-American and Native American communities, but that on the specific question of removing statues and other public images, the actual history of the individuals must be considered.

“If this process is to be truly effective as a remedy for racism, it must discern carefully the entire contribution that the historical figure in question made to American life, especially in advancing the rights of marginalized peoples,” they said.

“In calling for the removal of images of Saint Junipero Serra from public display in California, and in tearing down his statue in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, protesters have failed that test.”

Serra, who was canonized a saint by Pope Francis in 2015, was an eighteenth century Franciscan missionary who founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California; many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities.

The saint helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Some California activists view Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary, as having contributed to the destruction of Native American way of life through his founding of the first nine of California’s mission churches. Many of the priest’s biographers dispute those claims.

Referring to a statement by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone on Saturday, the state’s bishops defended the saint’s life and mission.

“The historical truth is that Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities,” they said. 

“Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era.”

If that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create,” the bishops observed, “then virtually every historical figure from our nation's past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today's standards.”

On Saturday, Archbishop Cordileone said that Serra made “heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers,” recalling how Serra, despite having an infirm leg, walked to Mexico City to obtain special authority from the Spanish viceroy to discipline the military who were abusing the indigenous people.

“Then he walked back to California,” the archbishop said.

Cordileone it is important not to “deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed. But just as historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden, neither can they be righted by re-writing the history.”


President Trump talks statues, Archbishop Viganò in EWTN News interview

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 20:05

CNA Staff, Jun 22, 2020 / 06:05 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump on Monday said he will issue an executive order designed to protect public statuary, as statues around the country have been torn down or defaced amid protests in recent weeks.

The president spoke during an exclusive June 22 interview with Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN’s “The World Over.” During the interview, Trump also spoke about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and an open letter written to him by former U.S. apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Viganò.

“We’re going to do something very soon,” Trump said. “We’re going to do an executive order. We’re going to make the cities guard their monuments, this is a disgrace.”

Amid protests that began after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, statues of historical figures have been torn down by some demonstrators.

While protesters against racism began by toppling statues of Confederate Civil War figures, demonstrators in recent days have toppled other figures: George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant among them, along with St. Junipero Serra, a Catholic missionary who founded nine missions in California.

Trump emphasized his claim that cities most dramatically impacted by protests, rioters, or looting are those in which Democrats are in power.

“It's all Democrats, usually liberal Democrats. Take a look. Whether it's Chicago, it's Democrat, Seattle, it's Democrat. The state of Washington. It's Democrat. Portland, it's Democrat. All of these places are run by Democrats. Twenty out 20 are Democrat-run,” the president said. “They don’t know what they’re doing. And if Biden got in, this country would be a disaster.”

“Take a look at the way we're running things, we’re running them good. And if I weren't president - talk about the statues - we wouldn't have any statues standing right now. Because I did things that you don't know about to save a lot of them,” the president added.

Arroyo asked Trump about whether presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is pro-life, noting that some Catholics claim Biden is a pro-life candidate because of his opposition to the death penalty and his efforts to end climate change, while claiming Trump is not.

“I am totally in favor of the death penalty for heinous crimes, ok? That’s the way it is,” the president said.

“I’m pro-life, he’s not. And the Democrats -- look who he’s putting on the court.”

“They want to put people on the court- you have no chance. So I’m pro-life, the Democrats aren’t. Nobody can say that Biden is, look at his stance over the years,” the president added, saying that in his view Democratic party operatives will advance a pro-abortion agenda if Biden is elected to the White House.

“Look at the governor of Virginia, look at what he did. He did an execution after. You know, normally you talk about late-term, his wasn’t late-term, his was, the baby was born, and then you can execute the baby. That’s the Democrats. That’s Joe Biden.”

The president referenced a 2019 Virginia bill supported by Gov. Ralph Northam, which opponents said would permit abortion even while a woman was in active labor.

During dispute over the bill, Northam said on a talk radio show that that if a baby were sufficiently disabled at birth, it could be “kept comfortable” and might be resuscitated if the mother wished, and there could be a “conversation” between doctors and the mother regarding what should be done with the baby.

Trump also talked about a June 18 Supreme Court decision that keeps intact the DACA program, which Trump has made efforts to terminate.

On DACA, Trump said that “What we want to do is win the case and then work it out.”

“They’re not going to have anything to worry about,” Trump said of DACA recipients, immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

While the president has said he is willing to make a deal on immigration reform to preserve the DACA program, some U.S. bishops have said that approach amounts to using DACA recipients as leverage in a political debate.

On June 18, the U.S. bishops’ conference urged President Trump “to strongly reconsider terminating DACA,” citing the plight of immigrant families during the new coronavirus pandemic. To end the program “needlessly places many families into further anxiety and chaos,” they said.

Trump was also asked about allegations by former National Security Advisor John Bolton that the president approved of the construction of internment camps in which up to one million Uighur people have been detained in the Xinjiang region of China.

The allegations are contained in “The Room Where It Happened," a memoir by Bolton to be released June 23.

“The book is a total lie, or mostly a lie,” the president said, noting that in his view Bolton violated the law by including classified information in his book.

“Everybody was in the room and nobody heard what Bolton heard,” Trump said of the allegations concerning the internment of the Uighur people in forced labor and “reeducation” camps.

The president also spoke about his concerns that mail-in ballots in the upcoming presidential election could lead to a “rigged election,” and offered comments on police reform and his belief that states which have not reopened their economies amid the coronavirus are keeping health measures intact for partisan political purposes.

Commenting on the country’s racial strife, Trump told Arroyo that because of his efforts on criminal justice reform and other policy initiatives, “I did more for our black population than anybody other than Abraham Lincoln. And nobody’s even close.”

The president remarked on a June 6 open letter written to him by former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Viganò.

The letter said that “it appears that the children of darkness – whom we may easily identify with the deep state which you wisely oppose and which is fiercely waging war against you in these days – have decided to show their cards, so to speak, by now revealing their plans.”

Viganò added that some bishops are “subservient to the deep state, to globalism, to aligned thought, to the New World Order which they invoke ever more frequently in the name of a universal brotherhood which has nothing Christian about it, but which evokes the Masonic ideals of those want to dominate the world by driving God out of the courts, out of schools, out of families, and perhaps even out of churches.”

The president said that he thinks Vigano’s letter is accurate, calling it a ”tremendous letter of support from the Catholic Church.”

Viganò “is highly respected as you know. It was beautiful, it was really three pages long, it was a beautiful letter. Yeah, he’s right in what he says,” Trump said.

Pittsburgh diocese to open personal parish to serve black Catholics

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 18:41

CNA Staff, Jun 22, 2020 / 04:41 pm (CNA).- Black Catholics in Pittsburgh will have a personal parish to respond to their specific needs, Bishop David Zubik has said in response to local requests and a listening session held in early 2020.

“Along with their sincere enthusiasm and passion for their Catholic faith, I heard and felt their desire to have their unique spiritual and cultural needs met,” Zubik said of those who made the request. “I want to raise awareness of the need to walk with our black sisters and brothers as they continue to enrich and be an integral part of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Catholic Church Universal.”

Bishop Zubik will celebrate Mass at Saint Benedict the Moor Church July 12, unless any restrictions related to the novel coronavirus prevent the event. The personal parish will be officially established July 13.

Most Catholic parishes are geographic in nature. A personal parish, however, aims to respond to specific spiritual needs, often to serve a particular culture or an extraordinary need. Anyone who desires may join a personal parish.

“I am committed to the needs of black Catholics in our community. I invite everyone to join me in this effort,” Zubik said June 19. “We need to work together to make sure that black citizens from all walks of life are treated with the same respect that God intends all of us to have.”

The parish will be based at a church named for Benedict the Moor, a 16th century saint born to African slaves in Sicily who became a Franciscan friar famous for his holiness, wisdom, and humility.

The church is across from Freedom Corner, a site with a history of local civil rights advocacy. A memorial was dedicated at the site in 2001.

The church was previously a geographic parish church with African-American roots, but this merged with two others in January to form Divine Mercy Parish as part of the diocese’s reorganization.

Zubik visited the church in February to celebrate Mass and to hold a listening session. Parishioners recounted the church’s 130 years of being present for ministry to black Catholics in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and around the city. They spoke of the systemic disadvantages black Americans have had to face in Pittsburgh, the U.S., and the Catholic Church, the Pittsburgh diocese said.

The bishop asked clergy and parishioners who worship at St. Benedict the Moor to form a task force to make recommendations to him. The task force proposed a personal parish.

“This is not a call for separatism but instead for a pledge of commitment to the Church and to share in her witnessing to the love of Christ,” said the task force.

Their report cited racial and economic disparity, “racial indifference,” disenfranchisement, gentrification, and “distrust of black people, especially black boys and men,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

“Clergy and staff must be able to translate their love for the people into culturally and spiritually appropriate care and action and be able to relate to local and national situations and concerns that impact those of African descent, especially the dynamics of racism and white privilege,” the report continued.

The report cited the need for a pastor “with a demonstrated sensitivity to and a strong understanding of black spirituality, inclusiveness, and community so that they may be more effective pastoral leaders.”

Requirements to establish this type of parish include the presentation of a formal petition by the pastor and members of the parish finance council, and approval by the diocesan priests council and the vicars general of the diocese.

In a June 19 letter to parishioners Zubik said, “I am nothing short of thrilled by your request and by confirming this new chapter in the faith journey of Saint Benedict the Moor Parish.”

The place of black Americans in the Catholic Church and in American life is in the spotlight with the rise of protests against police brutality, following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was detained and held by a Minnesota police officer who placed his knee on his neck to restrain him for nearly nine minutes.

Zubik said the timing of the parish launch is “providential” given the protests and focus on racism.

“It’s my hope that a move like this at this particular time is going to make an impact on all of us,” he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m really hoping this time that all of us are going to take a look at what we need to do to root out racism.”

Who is St. Junipero Serra, anyway?

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 17:20

Denver Newsroom, Jun 22, 2020 / 03:20 pm (CNA).- In Los Angeles and San Francisco over the weekend, protestors tore down two statues of St. Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan priest and missionary who they accused of contributing to the destruction of Native American culture through his founding of the first nine of California’s mission churches.

Who is Junipero Serra, and why has he become such a lightning rod for controversy?

Born on the island of Petra Mallorca in Spain in 1713, Serra joined the Franciscans and quickly gained prominence as a scholar and professor.

He chose to give up his academic career to become a missionary in the territory of New Spain, in which Spanish colonizers had already been active for over two centuries.

A California archeologist, who has studied the missions for over 25 years, told CNA earlier this year that it is clear from Serra’s own writings that he was motivated by a missionary zeal to bring salvation to the Native people through the Catholic faith, rather than by genocidal, racist, or opportunistic motivations.

“Serra writes excitedly about how he had finally found his life’s calling, and that he would give his life to these people and their salvation,” Dr. Reuben Mendoza, an archeologist and professor at California State University-Monterey Bay, told CNA.

Traveling almost everywhere on foot and practicing various forms of self-mortification, Serra founded mission churches all along the coast— the first nine of the 21 missions in what is today California.

Many of the missions would form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

In many ways, the missions were a communal venture between the friars and Native leaders, Mendoza said. Soldiers were typically housed in a garrison just off-site from the compound. The compound itself would include work areas, such as a blacksmith’s shop and places for crafts and weaving.

The Europeans taught the Natives new agricultural techniques, as well as instruction in the faith, performing thousands of baptisms.

There were occasional conflicts, both between the Natives and the friars and between the friars and the Spanish soldiers. Although Serra did not explicitly ban the use of corporal punishment, such as beatings, for Native Americans at the missions, Mendoza said, there is little evidence that Serra ever carried it out himself.

Moreover, Serra specifically advocated for the rights of Native peoples, at one point drafting a 33 point "bill of rights" for the Native Americans living in the mission settlements and walking all the way from California to Mexico City to present it to the viceroy.

The territory of New Spain already encompassed all of present day Mexico, as well as a huge chunk of the present-day US, mostly in the West but also Florida, Cuba and even parts of Canada.

The Spanish would go on to construct some 100,000 churches in the New World, but the Catholic missionaries very often did not share the same goals, tactics, and values as the Spanish military.

Serra often took issue with the harsh methods of Don Pedro Fages, a Catalan military officer who had come to the area in 1769 as part of an expeditionary force. Fages was the founding governor of the presidio, or fortress, of Monterey, California.

Mendoza said the worst abuses against the Native Americans in California took place after the age of the missions ended, when the Spanish government ceased sending funding to the 21 sites and to the Spanish military.

The soldiers, without the support of their faraway benefactors, began to prey on the missionaries and the Natives. Many more Natives died during this time than had in the 60 years that the missions were operational.

Mendoza said there was a time during the transition to the American era when indigenous people were more vulnerable to attacks by settlers and white authorities if they were not Christian. The fact that the missions had converted many Native communities to Christianity actually helped them survive later European abuses, he said.

By the 1820s— nearly four decades after Serra’s death— friars at the now mostly destitute missions were writing letters of grievance to the American and Mexican governments, advocating for better treatment for the Natives, Mendoza said.

The California gold rush in the 1840s saw hundreds of thousands of European settlers come to the area, with little to no protections afforded to the Natives.

While the Native peoples did suffer instances of horrific abuse, Mendoza said many people conflate the abuses the Natives suffered long after Serra’s death with the period when Serra was alive and building the missions.

After California became a state in 1850, the state constitution for years deprived indigenous people of any legal protection, meaning a white person could kill one of them with no consequences.

One of the figures associated with well-documented atrocities against Native Americans was Governor Leland Stanford— the namesake of Stanford University— who while he was governor in the late 1800s had a specific militia to hunt down and slaughter Natives.

In light of this, Mendoza said it is especially ironic that there have been several successful efforts in recent years to expunge Serra’s name from campus buildings and landmarks at Stanford, but relatively few calls to rename the university itself.

The missions had a huge effect on modern-day California. Apart from bringing Catholicism to the area in a big way, the missions also brought California its wine industry, which— pre-pandemic, at least— pumped $50 billion into California’s economy and employed some 325,000 people.

Most importantly to Serra, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles today cares for more souls than any other diocese in the country, with nearly 300 parishes, and millions of Catholics.

“Unlike many of us today, Serra was a man on a mission,” Mendoza said.

“He was absolutely determined to engage the salvation of indigenous communities. And while for some that may be seen as an intrusion, for Serra in his time, that was seen as one of the most benevolent things one could do— to give one’s life over to others, and that’s what he did.”


California mission aims to preserve St. Junipero Serra statue

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 17:08

CNA Staff, Jun 22, 2020 / 03:08 pm (CNA).- While statues of St. Junipero Serra have been taken down by protestors in California cities, the mission church in Ventura, California, founded by the saint, has announced it will work with local officials and indigenous tribal leaders to see a Serra statue outside Ventura City Hall moved to “a non-public location.” 

The announcement came days before a statue of St. Serra was torn down in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park June 20, along with statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant. In Los Angeles the same day, rioters pulled down a statue of Serra in the city’s downtown.

“Some people disagree with the way that I am handling this, and that’s ok. Some people agree. Some people have even asked that I should be pastor of a mission. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Father Tom Elewaut, pastor of the San Buenaventura mission church, said in a homily on June 21.

“The statue is up today, isn’t it? And that is due to not only the joint statement, but the strong position of the elders of the Chumash, who are local here. We want to see the statue preserved. It needs to be relocated— it could have very well been toppled yesterday,” the priest said.

Though protestors rallied at the bronze statue in Ventura on June 20 and reportedly called for it to be torn down, Chumash tribe elders have been adamant that they want a peaceful solution.

“We are going to become a model for the nation so it’s not this riot mob act and desecration, and even having a statue broken into pieces. That is our goal, and that we hope will come to fruition,”  Elewaut added.

Across the country, protestors and rioters this week have pulled down statues of historic figures— some depicting Confederate figures, as part of a call to end systemic racism, but others depicting such figures as George Washington and Grant.

Some California activists view Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan missionary, as having contributed to the destruction of Native American way of life through his founding of the first nine of California’s mission churches. Many of the priest’s biographers dispute those claims.

Elders of the Chumash Native American tribe met last week with Ventura Mayor Matt Lavere and Fr. Elewaut.

“The three of us are confident that a peaceful resolution regarding the Father Junipero Serra statue can be reached, without uncivil discourse and character assassination, much less vandalism of a designated landmark,” the parties said in a June 18 joint statement.

“We all believe that the removal of the statue should be accomplished without force, without anger, and through a collaborative, peaceful process. This process has already commenced through our initial meeting and we look forward to continuing the discussion with the community to help guide further action on this.”

The proposal to remove the statue, which was dedicated in 1989, will need to go before the city council, the parties said, and a formal removal decision has not yet been made.

A similar statue was beheaded at the Old Mission Santa Barbara in 2017, and red paint was used to graffiti the mission in 2018, Ventura’s ABC affiliate reported.

Pope Francis canonized Serra in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2015, saying that “Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,”

Father Elewaut, said in his Sunday homily that while it is true that many Native Americans died after contact with Europeans, “it wasn’t a purposeful or contrived death” because most of them died of disease, which no one at the time fully understood.

Father Elewaut was present at the June 20 rally, and said he hopes the peaceful dialogue in which he and the Chumash elders have so far been engaged can be a model for the nation, to show that controversial statues need not be torn down by force.

The idea that Serra created what were akin to “concentration camps” for the Natives is “categorically false,” Elewaut said.

"The blame cannot be put on one person, or one movement...but the hurt that they feel, the the pain that we should join with them in feeling is true, and it remains true, and it will remain true whether our statue stands or not,"

"But if [the removal] brings some healing, if that brings some peace of mind, then so be it...statues come and go, but the truth will be laid bare," the priest said, acknowledging that the statue will be removed from its current location, but the Church's mission will continue.

The mission will continue to be a sign of God's grace, regardless of the location of any particular statue, he said.

"Serra wanted to share what he truly believed to be the great gift of Christianity, of Catholicism, of sacramental life," the priest said.

Elewaut said he has been working with the elders of the Chumash tribe, for whom he has "profound respect." He hopes to continue to work with the Chumash, some of whom are parishioners at the mission.

Elewaut told Ventura’s ABC affiliate that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is open to moving the statue from City Hall to mission grounds. The LA Archdiocese did not confirm this by time of posting.

Serra was instrumental in founding the first nine of the 21 missions in California, many of which would form the cores of what are today the state’s biggest cities— such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

A native of Petra Mallorca in Spain, Serra was a renowned scholar who gave up his academic career to become a missionary in North America.

Serra arrived in Mexico City in 1750, entering the vast territory of New Spain. The Spanish had been in North America for over 200 years at that point, after Hernan Cortez’ conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521.

While many activists today associate Serra with the abuses that the Native Americans suffered, biographies and historical records suggest that Serra actually advocated on behalf of the Natives against the Spanish military and against encroaching European settlement.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco decried “mob rule” that led to the tearing down of Serra’s statue in his city. 

Cordileone said in a statement June 20 that he did not want to “deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed. But just as historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden, neither can they be righted by re-writing the history.”

The archbishop praised the saint’s missionary zeal: “St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts.”

In 2018, San Francisco’s city government removed a statue of the saint from a prominent location outside City Hall. A statue of the saint remains on display in the U.S. Capitol.


Miami archbishop to lead US Catholic bishops on religious liberty

Mon, 06/22/2020 - 15:00

CNA Staff, Jun 22, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami has been appointed as the acting chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, following the death of Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown.

Bishop Murry died on June 5, following a relapse of leukemia. He was 71. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the USCCB, thanked Wenski for accepting the position and described him as “an energetic leader with a truly strong commitment to religious liberty and a servant’s heart for ministry.” 

Shortly after the USCCB announced Wenski as the new acting chairman, the archbishop released a statement requesting prayers for Religious Freedom Week 2020. 

Religious Freedom Week began on Monday, June 22 and continues through June 29 under the theme “For the Good of All.”  

“Religious freedom is under stress throughout the world. Even in our Western liberal democracies, discrimination against religion in general and Catholic Christianity, in particular, is growing — albeit in perhaps more sophisticated and less violent ways,” said Wenski. 

“Political analysts and human rights advocates do include religion on their agenda. But most emphasize ‘tolerance’ as if religion were only a source of conflict. Or, they speak about religion in terms of ‘individual choices,’ as if religion were merely the concern of an individual’s conviction and were devoid of any social consequences,” he added.

Wenski said that protecting institutions of civil society, including libraries, newspapers, and universities is necessary for ensuring religious freedom. 

“Freedom of religion ‘for the good of all’ must also encompass protecting those institutions that nourish the individual’s free exercise of religion,” he said.

“The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person. Religious freedom is the human right that guarantees all other rights — peace and creative living together will only be possible if freedom of religion is fully respected.”

During the 2019 USCCB Fall General Assembly, Wenski and Murry both ran for the position of committee chairman, and the two received the same number of votes from their brother bishops. The tie was broken by the fact that Murry was just under two years older than Wenski, making him the winner of the election by seniority.  

At the 2019 Fall General Assembly, Murry was himself elected to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. Kurtz had stepped down from the committee due to ill health as he continues to battle with bladder cancer. 

Murry was elected for just one year, in order to keep the schedule of the committee elections and to finish out Kurtz’s term. In November he would have been eligible to pursue a full term as chairman of the committee had he wished. 

Wenski will now finish out the remaining five months of what was originally Kurtz’s term, and be able to run for a full three-year term at the 2020 Fall General Assembly. 

Previously, Wenski led the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development from 2013-2016, and in 2005-2008 he was the head of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. From 2002-2006, he was the chairman of the Committee on Migration, and chaired the board of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network during 1998 through 2001. 

He has also been part of the Committee of Pro-Life Activities as well as the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America. 

Wenski was consecrated as the auxiliary bishop of Miami on June 21, 1997, and led the Diocese of Orlando from 2004-2010, before being installed as the Archbishop of Miami on June 1, 2010. 

Virtual conference to promote fatherhood as boon to society 

Sun, 06/21/2020 - 17:48

Denver Newsroom, Jun 21, 2020 / 03:48 pm (CNA).- A New Hampshire Catholic college is hosting a virtual conference this week on “Rediscovering Fatherhood” to help men fulfill their vocation at home.

Dr. William Fahey, president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., told CNA that good fathers are a major part of the solution to the pressing problems of society.

“I cannot think of a single social problem which does not have its origin in the failure of fatherhood, or is not exasperated by the deficiencies in society with respect to fatherhood,” said Fahey.

“Nor can I think of one single social problem that strong fathers will not help to resolve sooner and more dynamically.”

The free conference will include four short lectures and an opportunity for discussion. It will be available to watch live on Zoom on June 22, the day after Father’s Day, at 7:30 p.m. EST.

For those who register but are not able to watch the live stream, the content will also be available to watch afterward. More than 1,000 people are expected to participate.

In addition to a talk from Fahey on lessons from St. Thomas More, discussion topics will touch on virtue, strong marriages and work.

Speakers include C. R. Wiley, author of “Man of the House;” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage; and John Cuddeback, founder of the blog and professor of philosophy at Christendom College.

A press release advertising the conference says it hopes to offer “advice and encouragement” from fathers “who approach their role with wisdom and experience.”

Fahey said the conference was developed by the college’s Center for the Restoration of Christian Culture, which was established several years ago. The center offers reading groups, workshops, and traditional conferences, as well as podcasts, videos and other resources.

This is the second virtual conference. It is “a natural outgrowth of fulfilling our mission in the ‘Age of COVID’,” said Fahey.

Over the past few months, he noted, American fathers have been required to work from home in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This situation may be stressful, but is also an opportunity for men to discover or rediscover their roles in the household, he said.

“Coronavirus has cooped parents up. Yet it has provided a rare opportunity to spend more time with children and spouses. The conference is meant to encourage Catholics, especially fathers, to reflect deeply on this opportunity and to follow Christ in their vocation of fatherhood,” Fahey said.

“The goal is to prompt reflection among adults, especially men, on the centrality of fatherhood; to consider the effects of bad or absent fathers in society; and to present positive models and ideas for implementation and imitation,” he added.

Bishop Olmsted: Fatherhood the 'mission of every man'

Sun, 06/21/2020 - 08:01

CNA Staff, Jun 21, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- In a video message Thursday, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix urged prayers for fathers ahead of Father's Day, saying that fatherhood is the "mission of every man."

"In the time of the current pandemic and social unrest, in a society confused by moral relativism and misinformation, the need is great for men with humility and courage to embrace their God-given mission of fatherhood— so critical to the future of the family and of society,” he said in the June 18 message.

Olmsted's own father, who died only a few years ago, converted to Catholicism after falling in love with an Irish Catholic.

"Dad never had any regrets about making that decision, so I had the great blessing of growing up in a home where praying was as natural as grieving, where we experienced the mercy of God every two weeks as we went to confession as a family, and knelt down each night to pray evening prayers together."

Having his mother and father there throughout his upbringing brought Olmsted and his siblings a sense of security, he said.

"Never did we doubt his love for mom, and his love for each of us, even when we needed his fatherly correction, which happened quite a lot."

Fathers are called to be a "safe harbor" for their children, Olmsted said, adding that a father's love is manifested in his care and concern, as well as his correction and encouragement.

St. Joseph models these values for Catholics, though Olmsted pointed out that the Bible does not record any words that St. Joseph said.

"What mattered was that he was there, attentively present to Mary and Jesus," Olmsted said.

Joseph protected Mary and Christ from King Herod and taught his foster son the family trade; "It's no surprise that Jesus was happy to be called 'the son of the carpenter,'" he observed.

Every father is a "work in progress," a man in need of God's mercy, and thus we do well to pray for our fathers every day, Olmsted said.

Olmsted cited Pope Francis' words from Amoris laetitia: "God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship. And to be close to his children as they grow – when they play and when they work, when they are carefree and when they are distressed, when they are talkative and when they are silent, when they are daring and when they are afraid, when they stray and when they get back on the right path. To be a father who is always present."

After St. Junipero Serra statue is torn down, San Francisco archbishop says protests being ‘hijacked’ by violence

Sat, 06/20/2020 - 22:55

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2020 / 08:55 pm (CNA).- After the toppling of a saint’s statue in San Francisco, the city’s archbishop said Saturday that important protests over racial injustice have been “hijacked” by a mob bent on violence.

“What is happening to our society? A renewed national movement to heal memories and correct the injustices of racism and police brutality in our country has been hijacked by some into a movement of violence, looting and vandalism,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said in a statement June 20.

The archbishop’s statement came after a statue of St. Junipero Serra was torn down in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park Friday, along with statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant.

“The toppling and defacing of statues in Golden Gate Park, including that of St. Junipero Serra, have become the latest example,” of that shift in the protest movement, the archbishop added.

“The memorialization of historic figures merits an honest and fair discussion as to how and to whom such honor should be given. But here, there was no such rational discussion; it was mob rule, a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country.”

Cordileone emphasized the importance of calls for racial justice and an end to police brutality, which began after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

“Everyone who works for justice and equality joins in the outrage of those who have been and continue to be oppressed,” the archbishop said.

“It is especially true that followers of Jesus Christ – Christians – are called to work tirelessly for the dignity of all human beings,” he added, noting that St. Francis of Assisi, for whom San Francisco was named, is “one of history’s most iconic figures of peace and goodwill.”

“For the past 800 years, the various Franciscan orders of brothers, sisters and priests that trace their inspiration back to him have been exemplary of not only serving, but identifying with, the poor and downtrodden and giving them their rightful dignity as children of God,“ Cordileone said.

“St. Junipero Serra is no exception.”

Serra, who was canonized a saint by Pope Francis in 2015, was an eighteenth century Franciscan missionary who founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California; many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities.

Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies.

Critics have lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and have characterized the missions as engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Bl. Serra himself was abusive.

But Serra’s defenders, including Cordileone, say that Serra was actually an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights.

“St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers. Even with his infirmed leg which caused him such pain, he walked all the way to Mexico City to obtain special faculties of governance from the Viceroy of Spain in order to discipline the military who were abusing the Indians.  And then he walked back to California,” the archbishop said Saturday.

 “And lest there be any doubt, we have a physical reminder to this day: everywhere there is a presidio (soldiers’ barracks) associated with a mission in the chain of 21 missions that he founded, the presidio is miles away from the mission itself and the school.”

Cordileone said he did not want to “deny that historical wrongs have occurred, even by people of good will, and healing of memories and reparation is much needed. But just as historical wrongs cannot be righted by keeping them hidden, neither can they be righted by re-writing the history.”

The archbishop praised the saint’s missionary zeal: “St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts.”

“Anger against injustice can be a healthy response when it is that righteous indignation which moves a society forward. But as Christ himself teaches, and St. Francis modeled, love, and not rage, is the only answer,” the archbishop concluded.


Catholic leaders: Don’t forget refugees during pandemic

Sat, 06/20/2020 - 16:01

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- People around the world have practiced solidarity during the pandemic, and they should do the same for refugees, Catholic humanitarian leaders said on World Refugee Day.

“COVID-19 has taught us an important lesson, the need for global solidarity to fight against any thing that affects humanity,” said Aloysius John, the secretary general for Caritas International, in advance of World Refugee Day on June 20.
“This year, 2020, must lead us to a new way of responding to the refugees and their plight,” he said.
While the U.S. has tightened its immigration policies during the new coronavirus pandemic, it should still be accepting refugees who are the most vulnerable, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Services/USA.
She noted that “with one in every 97 people displaced in our world, we must do more to respond.”
June 20 is annually observed as World Refugee Day. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was established in 1950 and has continued to operate through ongoing migration crises such as the decolonization of Africa, wars in Asia, Latin America, and the Balkans, and other conflicts and natural disasters.
The number of persons displaced around the world has reached a record high again at the end of 2019, with nearly 80 million people displaced from their homes around the world—an increase of almost 10 million from the previous year’s tally. The annual number of those displaced has nearly doubled in the last decade, when there were 41 million displaced in 2010.
Among these, 29.6 million are refugees, and 4.2 million are waiting on the outcome of their asylum claims, the UN says. Some of the displacement “hot spots” include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sahel, Yemen, and Syria, which has had an ongoing civil war since 2011 which accounts for one-sixth of the global number of displaced. The crisis in Venezuela has also been particularly acute, the UN said.
The causes of displacement vary, but include sectarian conflicts, violence by extremist groups, religious persecution, and natural disasters—some caused by climate change—are also causing people to leave their homes, the UN says.
However, two-thirds of those displaced come from just five countries, Catholic Relief Services says: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Burma.

And the current pandemic has only exacerbated the suffering of migrants and refugees, who are even more vulnerable due to a lack of access to proper housing, nutrition, and medical care, John said.
“On this day of the refugees, how can the international community turn deaf ears to the cries of these refugees and displaced who suffer in silence?” he asked.
With the number of displaced at an all-time high, he challenged Catholics to see the person behind the statistic.
“We seldom care about their stories of untold sufferings, of enduring pain, and above all stories of dehumanisation wherein they people live in very precarious conditions,” he said. John urged governments to receive refugees safely, ensure their basic needs are met, and provide access to safe living conditions during the pandemic.

St. Junipero Serra statue torn down in San Francisco Park

Sat, 06/20/2020 - 11:41

CNA Staff, Jun 20, 2020 / 09:41 am (CNA).- A statue of Catholic missionary St. Junipero Serra was toppled in a San Francisco park Friday, along with statues of Francis Scott Key and Ulysses S. Grant.

The statues were torn down Friday evening from Golden Gate Park, by a group of about 100 people.


Activists just toppled the Junipero Serra statue in Golden Gate Park here in San Francisco

Now they’re onto Francis Scott Key, slave owner and writer of the Star Spangled Banner

— Joe Rivano Barros (@jrivanob) June 20, 2020  

During the eighteenth century, the saint founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California, many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities.

Serra helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies. The statue in Golden Gate Park was first placed in 1907, and was crafted by well known American sculptor Douglas Tilden.

Critics have lambasted Serra as a symbol of European colonialism and said the missions engaged in the forced labor of Native Americans, sometimes claiming Bl. Serra himself was abusive.

But Serra’s defenders say that Serra was actually an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights. They note the many native people he helped during his life, and their outpouring of grief at his death.

Biographers note that Serra frequently intervened for native people when they faced persecution from Spanish authorities. In one case, the priest intervened to spare the lives of several California natives who had attacked a Spanish outpost.

In one letter urging fair treatment of native people, Serra wrote that “if the Indians were to kill me...they should be forgiven.”

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said in 2015 that Serra had “deep love for the native peoples he had come to evangelize.”

“In his appeals, he said some truly remarkable things about human dignity, human rights and the mercy of God,” the archbishop added.

In 2017, Gomez praised Serra as an overlooked American founder.

“Remembering St. Junípero and the first missionaries changes how we remember our national story. It reminds us that America’s first beginnings were not political. America’s first beginnings were spiritual,” Gomez said in a 2017 homily.
Pope Francis canonized the Franciscan missionary Pope Francis in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2015.

“Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it,” the pope said in his homily at the Mass of canonization. “Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people.”

“Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life,” the Pope continued. “He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God’s life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters.”

In 2018, San Francisco’s city government removed a statue of the saint from a prominent location outside City Hall. A statue of the saint remains displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

Around the country, protestors and rioters this week have pulled down statues of historic figures. While some protests have torn down the statutes of Confederate figures, as part of a call to end systemic racism, other figures have also been turn down from prominent locations, including George Washington.

Grant, whose statue was removed, urged ratification of the 15th Amendment, which assures African-Americans the right to vote, and in 1870 created the federal Department of Justice in order to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan.


Two years since McCarrick allegations: A CNA timeline

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- June 20 marks two years since the announcement that credible allegations of sexual abuse had been raised against then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. In the months that followed, a major crisis of abuse and cover up within the Church in the U.S. was revealed, and Church officials have responded with new policies and pledges of transparency. Here is a timeline of major events in the last two year:



June 20
The Archdiocese of New York announces that an allegation of sexual abuse by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been found to be “credible and substantiated.” In the following months, additional allegations will be raised against McCarrick, including claims that McCarrick had a widely-known reputation for sexual advances toward seminarians.

July 3
The Diocese of Cheyenne says Emeritus Bishop Joseph Hart has been credibly accused of sexually assaulting two boys after he became bishop of the diocese in 1976. A third credible allegation is confirmed a few weeks later.

July 28
Pope Francis accepts the resignation of McCarrick from the College of Cardinals and suspends him from the exercise of any public ministry. He directs McCarrick to observe a life of prayer and penance, pending the canonical process against him.

August 14
A grand jury report in Pennsylvania details allegations against some 300 priests, from more than 1,000 victims in six of the state’s Catholic dioceses over a 70-year period. The report was met with national outcry and prompted more than a dozen other states to follow suit.

August 16
The U.S. bishops’ conference calls for a Vatican-led investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up surrounding McCarrick.

August 25
Former apostolic nuncio to the U.S. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano releases a “testament” claiming that Pope Francis knew about sanctions imposed on McCarrick by Benedict XVI but chose to repeal them.

August 26
Asked during an in-flight interview about Vigano’s letter, Pope Francis says he “will not say a single word” on the subject and instructs journalists to use their “journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.”

September 12
Pope Francis calls for all the presidents of the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the world to meet at the Vatican Feb. 21-24 to address the protection of minors.

September 19
The administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announces new accountability measures, including a code of conduct for bishops and the creation of an independent reporting mechanism for complaints against bishops. The committee also calls for a full investigation into the allegations against McCarrick and the Church’s response to these allegations.

October 6
The Vatican announces that Pope Francis has ordered a review of all Holy See files pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The results of that review have not, to date, been released.

November 12
U.S. bishops gather for an annual fall meeting in Baltimore; the Vatican instructs them to delay until after the February meeting a vote on two proposals intended to be the foundation of the U.S. Church’s response to the abuse crisis.

November 14
The U.S. bishops fail to pass a resolution that would have “encouraged” the Holy See to release all documents on the allegations of misconduct against McCarrick.



January 2-8
At the suggestion of Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops hold a retreat to consider how to respond to the still ongoing sexual abuse crises facing the Church.

January 11
McCarrick is laicized. Also known as dismissal from the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except in the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death. In addition, he no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church. A statement from the Vatican announcing the laicization is released Feb. 16.

February 21 - 24
The Vatican holds a sex abuse summit with the heads of bishops’ conference from countries around the world. The summit’s stated purpose is to educate the world’s bishops on their responsibility for protecting minors from abuse within the Church.

April 4
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith upholds a 2018 verdict finding Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Agana, Guam, guilty of several abuse related charges. Apuron is deprived of his office as archbishop and forbidden to use the insignia of a bishop or live within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese. He is not removed from ministry or the clerical state, and is not instructed to live in prayer and penance.

April 4

Archbishop Wilton Gregory is appointed to replace Cardinal Donald Wuerl in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where McCarrick had been archbishop and lived in retirement. Gregory promises “I will always tell you the truth.”

May 9
Pope Francis issues new experimental norms for the handling of some sex abuse allegations. The norms place seminarians and religious coerced into sexual activity through the abuse of authority in the same criminal category as abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. They also establish obligatory reporting for clerics and religious, require that every diocese has a mechanism for reporting abuse, and put the metropolitan archbishop in charge of investigations of accusations of abuse or negligence against suffragan bishops.

June 4
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, is accused of mishandling an allegation of sexual coercion made against his former vicar general by permitting the priest to transfer to another diocese and continue in ministry. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston disputes the claim, saying the priest underwent a rehabilitation process, and was recommended to be returned to ministry by the professionals who assessed him.

June 5
An investigation finds credible allegations of sexual harassment and coercion of adults by former Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, as well as the fostering of “a culture of fear of retaliation and retribution” that prevented his conduct from being discovered or reported. Pope Francis had accepted Bransfield’s resignation the previous September when he turned 75.

June 12-13
At their annual spring meeting, the U.S. bishops approve the creation of a national third-party reporting mechanism, directives to apply the pope’s new norms, protocol for a diocesan bishop to restrict the ministry his predecessor when needed, and a set of non-binding moral commitments pledging to hold themselves to the same standards applied to priests.

June 12

Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne announces that the Vatican has begun a penal process against Bishop Emeritus Joseph Hart of Cheynne amid allegations that he sexually abused minors and covered up sexual abuse.

July 19

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, bishop emeritus of Wheeling-Charleston, was barred by the Vatican from living within his former see and was banned from public ministry in response to reports of sexual and financial misconduct. The Vatican wrote that Bransfield has “the obligation to make personal amends for some of the harm he caused.”

July 23

Bishop Mark E. Brannan, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, is appointed to replace disgraced Bransfield in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Brannan is installed on August 22.

August 15

A one-year window allowing for survivors of abuse to file claims against the institutions which enabled their abuse opens in New York. Over 400 lawsuits are filed on the first day, including many against the Church. Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston is named as a perpetrator in one of the lawsuits. Guglielmone denies all allegations, but dialed down his public appearances in the immediate aftermath. A similar window opened in New Jersey in December 2019.

September 3

 Slate publishes the first interview with McCarrick since he was laicized and removed from the clerical state. In the interview, McCarrick refuses to admit any wrongdoing and insisted that  he is “not as bad as they paint me,” and he stated that “I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of.”

September 10

Archbishop Bernard Hebda authorizes the first investigation under the norms in Vos estis lux mundi, into Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston. Hebda told CNA at that time that he had “been authorized by the Congregation for Bishops to commence an investigation into allegations that the Most Reverend Michael Hoeppner, the Bishop of Crookston, carried out acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct in the Diocese of Crookston.”

November 11

Cardinal Sean O’Malley told his brother bishops at the USCCB Fall General Assembly in Boston that the McCarrick report would be released “if not before Christmas, soon in the new year.”

November 13

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn reveals that he has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor dating back to the 1970s.

November 26

Bishop Brennan orders Bishop Bransfield to apologize for his misdeeds and pay $792,638 in restitution for his financial misconduct.

December 4

Pope Francis accepts the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo. Malone was accused of mishandling allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

December 10

Pope Francis told Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing that the McCarrick report would be published “probably after the beginning of the new year.”

December 23

The Washington Post makes public the report of the investigation into the financial and sexual misconduct of Bishop Bransfield.



January 7

Reports emerge that McCarrick has left the friary in Kansas where he had been staying. It is unclear where he currently resides.

January 18

The Archdiocese of New York confirmed that Cardinal Timothy Dolan had been asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to conduct an investigation into the allegations against DiMarzio.

February 4

The Vatican orders additional investigation into the actions of Bishop Hoeppner.

February 13

McCarrick’s coat of arms was removed from his former cathedral in Washington, DC. Previously, the coat of arms had been covered up.

May 7

Pope Francis accepts the resignation of Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, an auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati. Binzer had mishandled an abusive priest and did not properly report the situation to appropriate authorities.

June 4

Another man accuses Bishop DiMarzio of sexual abuse when he was a minor. DiMarzio referred to the new accusation as “outrageous and libelous” and mused filing suit against his accusers.  

June 9

Prosecutors announce that they will not be pursuing criminal charges against Hart due to insufficient evidence.

US bishops ask Catholics to pray for Brownsville diocese border wall fight

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 18:27

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 19, 2020 / 04:27 pm (CNA).- For Religious Freedom Week 2020, the U.S. Catholic bishops are highlighting an unusual case—a Texas chapel that could be demolished or cut off by construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The historic La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas, built in 1865 and owned by the Diocese of Brownsville, is administered by the nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. In 2018, the Trump administration informed the diocese that it planned to survey the property where the chapel is located to possibly construct the U.S.-Mexico border wall on the property.

The Diocese of Brownsville has fought the construction and the surveying of the land in court, and on June 26, during Religious Freedom Week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will ask Catholics to pray for their case.

Beginning on June 22, the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, and running through June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the week will advocate the Church’s work “For the Good of All” in ministries such as education, social services, and health care.

“The freedom of the Church is a foundational aspect of religious freedom,” Chieko Noguchi, a spokeswoman for the conference, told CNA.

“Freedom of the Church means that the Church cannot be impeded by the civil authorities from engaging in her mission. That mission includes ministry to those fleeing violence and poverty,” she said.

Religious Freedom Week is an annual time of advocacy by the bishops’ conference to draw attention to religious freedom issues of the day. The effort began in 2012 with the Fortnight for Freedom, a period of prayer, fasting, and advocacy from June 21 until July 4, Independence Day.

The initial fortnight called attention to the HHS contraceptive mandate which threatened Catholic charities and orders such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as state laws that forbade churches from “harboring” undocumented immigrants in ministering to them.

Now, the fortnight has become Religious Freedom Week, and this year’s week focuses on issues including religious freedom in health care, the persecution of Catholics and of ethnic Uighur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Hui Muslims in China, and religious conflict in the Central African Republic.

And on June 26, the Brownsville diocese case will be highlighted by the USCCB.

According to the government’s plan for surveying the diocesan property, the chapel could end up on the southern side of the border wall, which would pose serious difficulties for those looking to access the chapel from the north.

“I don’t want to use church property to say that no matter how dire your life is, you cannot be received here,” Bishop Daniel Flores told the Wall Street Journal in December. “The government is going to have to take the land. The church is not going to give it them.”

The diocese opposed the plan in court under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). That 1993 law requires the government to, when it places a substantial burden on someone’s free exercise of religion, prove that its action has a “compelling governmental interest” and is the least-restrictive means of advancing that interest. Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection represented the diocese in court.

In February of 2019, a federal district court judge ruled that the government could survey the land for the possible construction, as it would not necessarily need access to the chapel to do so.

Shortly after the decision, a congressional funding compromise appropriated more than $1 billion for the border wall but included a clause prohibiting construction of a wall on the La Lomita property, as well as several other locations on the border.

President Trump, however, declared a national emergency after he signed the compromise into law, which allowed him to divert more funding toward the wall and which technically was not subject to the limitations of Congress against constructing the wall in certain areas.

Trump’s declaration, as a justification for funding the border wall, is still being considered by courts. In February of 2020, he extended the national emergency declaration for another year.

On June 26, the USCCB is asking Catholics to pray for the diocese’s case that the chapel not be affected by the border wall.

The bishops’ conference is also calling on Catholics to educate themselves about the law in question, RFRA, which it says is “under attack” by proposed legislation in Congress that would undermine it.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) has provided persons of all faiths with protection against government intrusion,” the conference says, noting that the proposed Equality Act and Do No Harm Act would threaten RFRA.


Ahead of election, political advocacy group says it aims to encourage Catholic turnout

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 17:00

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- After an Arizona bishop expressed concern about political organizations engaging with local parishes, the leader of one such group said some perceptions about his organization do not square with the facts.

Bishop Edward Weisenburger wrote to priests of the Tucson diocese earlier this month, reflecting on the upcoming election season.

The bishop’s email, obtained by CNA, said that two pastors in the diocese had been approached by local members of a Wisconsin-based group called CatholicVote. They reportedly “wanted to connect with the parish and/or local Councils of the Knights of the Columbus.”

No political organization, the bishop said, can “be allowed to meet or advertise on parish property. Likewise, they may not share their communications through any parish or Catholic-sponsored entities in the Diocese of Tucson.”

“In short,” political organizations “may not be on our property,” Weisenburger wrote.

A representative of Weisenburger’s office confirmed the email to CNA, but declined to answer further questions.

Brian Burch, CatholicVote president, told CNA he respects Weisenburger’s concerns and decision. But in Arizona, he said, there might have been some misunderstanding about his organization’s work.

“Our program does not include any activities on church property or the use of church resources,” he said.

Burch said his organization has “thousands of volunteers” and it is possible that some “may indeed have contacted their local pastor or parish priest in order to solicit their participation in encouraging Catholics in their parish to register to vote, or to vote.” 

“However, there has never been any directive or recommendation that volunteers request or seek parish data files or lists -- or that they engage in any partisan activity on parish property, or with parish staff,” he added.

“Our program is designed to operate entirely as a lay-organized effort, independent of church property and resources, and without the participation of pastors, priests, or diocesan staff.” 

“We understand many bishops and pastors have concerns over the prohibition of political activities by tax-exempt entities, and we respect their concerns.  They have nothing to fear from our work,” Burch said.

CatholicVote is organized as a lobbying organization and both a related political action committee and 501(c)(3) non-profit. Burch told CNA the group aims “to achieve historic turnout among Catholics in the upcoming November election.”

In particular, Burch said, the group is “focused on turning out every active (practicing) Catholic voter.”

CatholicVote says it is non-partisan and aims to encourage voter registration and voting among practicing Catholics.

“These voters, according to polling, are likely to vote for pro-life candidates, which no doubt frustrates some so-called progressives,” Burch told CNA.

Still, the group’s own platform is not completely aligned with either major party platform.

On its website, a section entitled “What We Believe” notes the importance of “a culture that celebrates life,” says that “marriage is between one man and one woman,” notes that “we are all called to help the poor,” calls for environmental stewardship, and adds that “the death penalty is an unnecessary legal penalty in the developed world.”

The group, however, in Facebook and web posts, regularly promotes decisions or policies of President Donald Trump and other Republican lawmakers, and regularly criticizes Democratic lawmakers.

CatholicVote has run social media posts and spoken in favor of Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski, regarded as one of the last pro-life Democrats in Congress, who was defeated in a recent primary race and will lose his Congressional seat in January.

And while the group has sometimes been characterized as a Trump campaign operation, Burch said that’s not accurate.

In a 2016 column, Burch explained that “CatholicVote members have been clear: secure as many commitments from Trump as possible” on issues that matter to Catholics.

“If he has any hope of getting elected, he needs our votes, and we must work constructively in a very imperfect situation to advance our ideals as best as we can.”

As to 2020, Burch said CatholicVote will likely offer an endorsement, but it hasn’t yet.

“As of today Catholic Vote has not yet formally endorsed a candidate for 2020.  As you know we did not endorse Donald Trump (nor Hillary) in 2016. We have however been very outspoken supporters of Trump policies, and critics of Biden. It’s fair to presume that we likely will endorse the President soon, even if some of our programs, especially our field efforts, continue to focus exclusively on turnout.”

Some aspects of the group’s efforts, like mobile targeting initiatives that allowed CatholicVote to target ads to mobile users who had attended a church in the months prior, have been criticized in Catholic circles. Mobile targeting technology has become commonplace in modern political advocacy, but some Catholics characterized it as invasive.

Burch has said technology is a way of helping Catholics get organized, and helping pro-life advocates compete in political races.

“Our priority now is reaching out and encouraging as many Catholic voters as possible to vote,” he told CNA.

The CatholicVote leader told CNA that the organization’s mission is appropriate to the vocation of lay Catholics.

“Politics is the responsibility of the laity. We have always honored and will continue to respect the limits of what churches and priests are permitted to do under existing law.  While church officials cannot engage in certain political activities, there are no such restrictions for lay Catholics operating outside of Church property,” Burch said. 

“We do not operate as an organization claiming to authoritatively teach the Faith.  We have never claimed to speak on behalf of any bishop or the United States Conference of Bishops and explicitly disclaim any such role.  Our work is focused on public policy and law, and encouraging Catholics to live out their Faith in public life,” he said.

In his email to priests, Weisenburger criticized CatholicVote’s name, noting “it is against canon law to use the word ‘Catholic’ in an organization that is not sponsored by the Church.” 

The bishop’s remark apparently is a reference to canon 300, which deals with associations erected under the auspices of canon law. Of those groups, the canon says that “No association is to assume the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.”

Burch told CNA that “we have consulted canonists on the question of our name, and there is a diversity of opinion as to whether the particular canon even applies.”

“There are hundreds of organizations that use the name ‘Catholic’ in their work without formal approval, including some like the National Catholic Reporter who have been explicitly told to cease using the name but chose instead to ignore it,” Burch added. In 1968, the National Catholic Reporter was directed by Bishop Charles Helmsing of Kansas City to remove the word ‘Catholic’ from its name, and did not comply.

In any case, Burch said that CatholicVote has made efforts to work with bishops, and build relationships with them.

“When we incorporated in Madison, Wisconsin, we met personally with the Bishop and presented our mission and work. He was careful to distinguish between our unique role as laypersons and his leadership as bishop. He wanted to ensure that our work was faithful to church teaching and that we make clear that we were not speaking in his name or any other bishop. He approved of our work admitting that the need for formal canonical approval was uncertain. We have never published or advocated anything that we understand to be in violation of the teachings of the Church.  If anyone can show me otherwise, we'd be happy to correct the error,” Burch told CNA.

While Burch told CNA he understands there have been misperceptions about CatholicVote’s work, “there is no confusion among anyone that has actually spoken with us. Unfortunately, in some cases, false information has been spread to try and harm our efforts.  We would hope that those who have concerns about our work would seek understanding first.”

Burch also told CNA that ahead of a contentious election year, he hopes more clerics will also encourage lay political activity.

“I believe it is not only appropriate, but essential that pastors and priests encourage their parishioners to register and to vote. According to our research, as much as 30% or more of most parishes include voters that are not registered, or are infrequent voters. Given the stakes of this election, every pastor in America should be preaching on the importance of Catholic participation in our electoral process,” Burch said.

“You don't need to be partisan, or endorse any candidates, to remind Catholics of this moral duty,” he added. 

“With the likelihood of many parishes and schools closing, our charities under attack, our social service programs being shut down, and public policies that take direct aim at the Church itself, you would think our bishops and priests might muster the courage to at least ask people to vote?” 

Weisenburger himself has a record of encouraging Catholics to vote, and offering guidance for the voting booth.

In a video released ahead of the 2016 election, the bishop told Catholics it is “essential that we have judges who respect the right to life and marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, and who will protect religious freedom and rights of conscience.”

In his 2020 email to priests, Weisenburger affirmed his committment to forming Catholics to vote.

“Our task as ministers of the Gospel is to preach the Gospel and the values that flow from it. Many of our Church’s teachings on ethics, morality, and justice pertain to the common good and therefore are rightly known as political issues.  It is our task to speak to the issues and thus to help form correctly the conscience of our people. Likewise, we are to urge them to appropriate political involvement and especially to exercise their right to vote. Experience has taught that we are quite capable of influencing the common good by influencing the conscience of our people. This does not require us to take a partisan stand,” the bishop wrote.

What is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart? A CNA Explainer

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 15:20

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 19, 2020 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- Today, June 19, is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But what does that mean? 

Why are Catholics today spending time today venerating the heart of Jesus?

“Devoting ourselves to the Sacred Heart is one of the easiest, fastest, and most pleasant ways to grow in holiness,” Fr. Ambrose Dobrozsi, a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, told CNA.

“Many saints have done many things to grow close to Jesus Christ, but no way is more sure and more pleasing to Him than to consecrate ourselves to his Sacred Heart through the Immaculate Heart of his Mother,” he added.

Where does devotion to the Sacred Heart come from?

The story behind the modern iteration of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, however, begins on December 27, 1673 at a monastery belonging to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary (Visitandines) in eastern France.

There, a nun named Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque began experiencing visions of the Sacred Heart.

Those visions continued for 18 months.

During her visions, Sr. Margaret Mary learned ways to venerate the Sacred Heart of Christ.

These devotions including the concept of a holy hour on Thursdays, the creation of the Feast of the Sacred Heart after Corpus Christi, and the reception of the Eucharist on the first Friday of every month.

As with many mystics, many people were skeptical of Sr. Margaret Mary’s claims of visions. Her confessor, the then-Fr. Claude La Colombière, S.J., (now St. Claude La Colombière, S.J.) believed her, and eventually the mother superior of her community began to believe as well.

The first Feast of the Sacred Heart was celebrated privately at the monastery in 1686.

Sr. Margaret Mary died in 1690, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XV on May 13, 1920.

Initially, the Vatican was hesitant to declare a Feast of the Sacred Heart, but did allow the Visitandines to celebrate a Mass special to this day. As the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus spread throughout France, the Vatican granted the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to France in 1765.

In 1856, after much lobbying by French bishops on behalf of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Pope Pius IX designated the Friday following the Feast of Corpus Christi as the Feast of the Sacred Heart for the entire Latin rite Church.

On May 25, 1899, Pope Leo XIII promulgated the encyclical Annum sacrum, which consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This encyclical was written after a nun, Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, sent two letters to the pope requesting that he consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart wrote the letters, she said, after Jesus made the request to her. Pope Leo XIII called this encyclical and the subsequent consecration the “great act” of his papacy.

“Finally, there is one motive which We are unwilling to pass over in silence, personal to Ourselves it is true, but still good and weighty, which moves Us to undertake this celebration. God, the author of every good, not long ago preserved Our life by curing Us of a dangerous disease,” wrote Leo XIII.

“We now wish, by this increase of the honor paid to the Sacred Heart, that the memory of this great mercy should be brought prominently forward, and Our gratitude be publicly acknowledged.”

But why consecrate the world--or anyone--to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? What does that mean?

Pope Leo XIII described the act of consecration as one that will “establish or draw tighter the bonds which naturally connect public affairs with God,” which was especially needed for the world at the turn of the century.  
“While many see religion as unnecessary in a world with more and more technology and resources, swearing allegiance and consecrating ourselves to Christ the King in his Sacred Heart shows that humanity still needs and longs for a compassionate and all-powerful God,” Dobrozsi, the Cincinnati priest, told CNA.

“In a society where some live in decadence and prideful luxury while others are destitute, the burning love of Christ’s Sacred Heart reminds us that the fires of his mercy are also fires of justice. And when the culture, and so many of us, feel hopeless that we could ever change after falling to sins of the flesh, the Heart of our Lord beats with powerful love, eternally declaring that true charity has triumphed over sin and death,” he added. 


Catholic Diocese of Syracuse to file for bankruptcy amid Child Victims Act suits

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 14:16

CNA Staff, Jun 19, 2020 / 12:16 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Syracuse announced Friday it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid the financial impact of numerous sexual abuse lawsuits.

New York’s Child Victims Act, which passed early last year, opened a one-year window for adults in the state who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits against their abusers.

The CVA also allows child abuse victims to file criminal charges up to age 28, and lawsuits up to age 55. Previously, they had until the age of 23 to file charges or a civil claim.

Bishop Douglas Lucia— who has led the diocese for less than a year— said in a June 19 letter that without the reorganization, alleged victims who filed their abuse claims under the CVA first, or pursued their claim more aggressively, would deplete the dioceses’ resources and leave the diocese unable to pay other alleged victims.

“The challenge this situation presents our Diocese is simply that one jury award could so diminish our assets that we would have little or nothing with which to resolve the other claims or carry on the important ministries of our diocese,” he wrote.

The bankruptcy filing will create a process where claims are treated in a “just and equitable way,” so that “available funds will be allocated to all victims fairly,” Lucia said.

“Today’s action will require the Diocese to be under court supervision in its Chapter 11 case for many months. However, after an exhaustive study by myself and those in Diocesan Administration, I feel it is the only way we can address victims’ claims in the most fair and equitable manner, while maintaining the vital ministries and mission of the diocese,” he wrote.

Lucia said at a June 19 press conference that the decision to file bankruptcy was primarily in reaction to the number of sexual abuse lawsuits— over 100— that the diocese currently is facing.

“All claims of abuse are decades old, dating back from 1949 to the 1990s,” he said.

Future sexual abuse claims will have to be brought before the Northern Distrct of New York bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court will set a final date when claimants can file sexual abuse claims against the diocese, diocesan lawyer Charles Sullivan said, and a court-appointed person will evaluate the claims.

Lucia said only the diocese itself has filed for Chapter 11; the parishes, foundation, Catholic Charities, and Catholic schools of Syracuse are separate corporations and are not affected by the bankruptcy filing.

Stephan Breen, the diocese’s CFO, said the filing would not affect the parishes and schools because parishes are primarily supported by collections, and schools by tuition, rather than from contributions from the diocese.

The diocese has 158 employees in total and Breen said no layoffs are expected at this time.

Lucia requested prayers for victims of abuse on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“I can’t apologize enough for the heinous acts that were perpetrated against the young of our diocese, and I ask you to join me in the diocesan commitment that this will never happen again,” Lucia said.

Syracuse joins several other New York dioceses in declaring bankruptcy, as well as dozens across the country, many in response to sexual abuse lawsuits.

The dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester both have declared bankruptcy in the past year— Rochester during September 2019 and Buffalo during Feb 2020.  

In April, the Buffalo and Rochester dioceses sued the Small Business Administration after they were blocked from emergency small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program because of their bankruptcy status. Earlier this month, a federal judge rejected the lawsuit.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre has requested a pause in the proceedings of numerous sex abuse lawsuits it is facing, and said it may have to declare bankruptcy if it is not granted.

The CVA “window” is expected to be extended until August 2021; Governor Andrew Cuomo had previously extended it to January 2021. Statewide, alleged victims have filed over 1,700 lawsuits.

Christopher Columbus name won't be changed at Wisconsin Catholic high school

Fri, 06/19/2020 - 02:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 19, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic high school in Wisconsin will not change its name from “Columbus Catholic High School” after a petition from alumni and other members of the community requested the change. But with Columbus statues coming down in cities across the country, one expert says the explorer has been mischaracterized.

The Wisconsin petition, which was started by three recent graduates of the high school, demands that the name of the school be changed and that a statue of Christopher Columbus be removed from the front of the school.

The petition charged that Columbus “acted in deeply racist ways,” mistreated and enslaved indigenous people, and “represents racism and hatred.”

But David Eaton, the president of Columbus Catholic Schools, explained in a letter several reasons why the schools would not be changing their name. Eaton’s letter was initially published on a Facebook page for alumni of the school, and was subsequently re-published in local media.

Columbus Catholic Schools includes two schools--Columbus Catholic High School and Columbus Catholic Middle School--both named after Christopher Columbus.

The reason the schools were named, Eaton explained, was not out of blind admiration for the 15th-century Italian explorer. Rather, it was done to honor the people who funded the construction of the school — local Knights of Columbus.

“Like all histories, the history of Columbus Catholic Schools is long and somewhat complicated,” Eaton began his letter. He explained that in 1882, the first Catholic church in the town of Marshfield, Wisconsin was completed, with the city’s first Catholic school coming six years later.

In 1915, the Knights of Columbus chartered a council in the town, and the area’s Catholic population grew until it became clear there was a need for a new high school.

“Which brings us back to the Knights of Columbus,” Eaton wrote. “The KCs played a role in funding the construction of the new school. While each parish, and private donors, also made significant contributions to Columbus High School, the support of the Knights of Columbus was critical.”

As a sign of the school’s history and ties with the Knights of Columbus, the school’s mascot was at some point changed to the “Don”-- a term which refers to a Spanish or Italian noble.

“The mascot, therefore, is quite literally a “Knight of Columbus,” said Eaton.

“Those who chose the name likely did so more to honor the help and legacy of the Knights of Columbus than to honor Columbus the man. Like Father McGivney, they hoped to provide a place for Catholics to escape from the prejudices they faced in secular society even at that time,” he said.

While Eaton acknowledged that Columbus is not today universally regarded as a positive role model, one expert on the explorer has written that Columbus is frequently mischaracterized or misunderstood.

Columbus, cultural anthropologist Carol Delaney told CNA in 2017, has been “terribly maligned.”

“I think a lot of people don’t know anything much, really about Columbus,” said Delaney, an anthropology professor emerita at Stanford University and the author of the 2011 book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem.”

In 1492, the explorer, as American schoolchildren are taught, sailed the ocean blue.

But contrary to popular belief, Delaney said Columbus had a favorable impression of many of the Native Americans he met, and instructed the men under his command not to abuse them, but to trade with them. At one point Columbus hung some of his own men who had committed crimes against native people.

Columbus was not hell-bent on genocide, slavery, and rape of the native population he encountered in his travels, Delaney told the Knights of Columbus in 2017. In fact, the explorer was deeply religious, and hoped to evangelize the indigenous people in America, by teaching the Catholic faith.

“His relations with the natives tended to be benign. He liked the natives and found them to be very intelligent,” she said.

“He also described them as ‘natural Christians’ because they had no other ‘sect,’ or false faith, and believed that they could easily become Christians if they had instruction.”

“When I read his own writings and the documents of those who knew him, he seemed to be very much on the side of the Indians,” Delaney added in a 2017 interview with CNA.

“They’re blaming Columbus for the things he didn’t do. It was mostly the people who came after, the settlers,” she added.

The call to rename Columbus Catholic High School comes at a time when statues of many historical figures--including Columbus--have been taken down by protestors and rioters.

One statue of Columbus was removed from the grounds of the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul. The statue, which was created by an Italian-American and was intended as a show of support for the Italian immigrant population of Minnesota, was toppled on June 10.

No charges have been filed against the people who brought down the statue.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, told CNA that the statue’s fall is a sign of “negligent failure by public officials.”

“We cannot allow persons or activists of politically favored groups to destroy property, public or private, simply because an object or building causes offense,” Adkins said in a statement to CNA.
“The celebration by many in the community of the statue’s lawless removal also shows the prevalence of fake history. Columbus is not a canonized saint, but he is not a villain, either. As described by Pope Leo XIII, his motives were exemplary, and it was an extraordinary achievement to connect the peoples of two hemispheres. To say Columbus was a perpetrator of genocide makes a mockery of the term,” he added.
Adkins said that he had “made inquiries” for a transparent process on restoring the statue to its previous location.

“The statue should be restored to public view,” he said.


What the Supreme Court LGBT decision could mean for Catholic employers

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 21:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- After the Supreme Court recognized protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in federal law this week, Catholic employers shouldn’t assume they will be protected from future lawsuits, says the Catholic Benefits Association.
The Catholic Benefits Association, which helps ensure that Catholic organizations’ employee benefits are consistent with the faith, says that organizations need to have a consistent religious mission to be given the best chance for a legal religious exemption.
If they don’t have a clearly-defined religious mission, which is implemented in policies throughout the organization, then courts can decide they do not merit religious freedom protections, says Shannon Syzek, director of HR Consultative Services for the association.
“Saying that you’re Catholic doesn’t mean that you qualify for all the things,” Syzek told CNA. “It does have to do with how your organization is structured, and what is your mission,” she said, which is manifested through “a mission statement, how does the organization operate and does it adhere to its own stated purpose.”
Syzek’s remarks follow a Monday ruling by the Supreme Court that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and the Court on Monday interpreted that to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Legal experts warn that the decision will have a broad and deep impact on religion, religious employers, and employees, and expect other discrimination lawsuits to make their way to the courts regarding other fields such as public accommodations and athletics.
In his majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch acknowledged that religious employers will have concerns about the effects of the decision, but cited statutory religious protections such as those within Title VII, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as avenues of recourse for religious employers faced with a discrimination lawsuit.
“Because RFRA operates as a kind of super statute, displacing the normal operation of other federal laws, it might supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases,” Gorsuch wrote.
While Catholic employers might think they are protected against such lawsuits by federal religious freedom statutes—such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—Syzek says that they first need to make sure they would be regarded by the courts as a Catholic institution.
Employers could start by making their religious mission clear in company handbooks and in job descriptions, with workplace codes-of-conduct.
It’s about “what do you have in place that makes sure that you get the rights that are yours to have as a religious employer,” she said. “And it’s as basic as things like a handbook and a job description.”
Yet employers need to make sure their mission is consistent throughout the organization. If a Catholic group wants to be exempt from a government mandate that they provide contraceptive coverage to employees, but a court finds that they offer such coverage in employee health plans, then they might lose their court battle.
A Catholic organization’s health plan could cover “morally non-compliant care” or recognize a same-sex domestic partnership without the knowledge of the employer, she said.
And employers need to be aware of such details as insurance coding systems. Someone at a Catholic diocese might claim its employee health plan does not cover contraceptives or abortions, “but then in a different code” within the plan, “it’s covered,” Syzek said.
And Congress is being advised to examine details such as these when considering which religious institutions might be exempt from government mandates, she said, pointing to a report by the Congressional Research Service on the religious exemption to the federal contraceptive mandate.
While the Trump administration issued a religious exemption to the mandate in 2017 that included the Little Sisters of the Poor, the CRS report says that Congress could help determine the scope of religious exemptions in the case at hand, and in future religious freedom cases. 
“Additionally, federal agencies—not Congress—have thus far determined the scope of the related exceptions (i.e., the exemption and accommodation) through implementing regulations associated with the statutory requirement,” the report states.
“Importantly, however, these decisions could be defined by statute, meaning that Congress could set the scope of coverage of preventive health services or the scope of related exceptions, rather than delegating to the agencies.”
The expected slew of religious freedom court cases will probably “start highlighting why the HR rule is so vitally important to Catholic employers,” she said, “and that you have someone that is looking at the comprehensive culture and infrastructure of an organization with respect to being Catholic.”



Eucharist and tabernacle stolen from North Carolina Catholic Church

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 16:18

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 18, 2020 / 02:18 pm (CNA).- Police are appealing to the public for help and a parish is requesting prayers after a tabernacle containing the Eucharist was stolen from a church in Boone, North Carolina on June 16.

“We are calling for prayers and the safe return of the Blessed Sacrament after the tabernacle was stolen from the church Tuesday night,” said a message posted on the website of Saint Elizabeth of the Hill Country Catholic Church.

The parish said the theft occurred “sometime after 9 p.m. Tuesday night,” and that the thief entered the church through a window.

Nothing apart from the tabernacle was stolen or damaged, said the parish.

“Please pray and offer reparation for the desecration of the church and the theft of the Blessed Sacrament,” the statement said.

Fr. Brendan Buckler, pastor of St. Elizabeth’s, appealed to the thief in a statement.

"We pray that your hearts may be moved to please return the tabernacle to us, but most especially the contents,” said Buckler in a statement provided to CNA by the Diocese of Charlotte.

The parish will hold a Holy Hour of Reparation on Thursday night.

Masses at the church on Wednesday and Thursday were canceled. The parish website states that prayers of reparation must be done before Mass can resume at the church.

The tabernacle is described as being approximately two feet tall and one foot wide, and is made of brass. The tabernacle contained a ciborium, which contains the Eucharist.

Police are requesting anyone who lives near the church to examine any surveillance footage that may have captured the thief.

No other churches in the area have experienced thefts or vandalism.

The Diocese of Charlotte declined to comment to CNA about a possible motive for the theft, and directed CNA to contact the Boone Police Department. The Boone Police Department has not yet responded to questions from CNA.

This is the second time in two months that St. Elizabeth’s has made headlines.

At Easter, a parishioner reportedly made claims to the local health department that the pastor at St. Elizabeth’s had celebrated Mass on Easter Sunday with more than 10 people, in apparent violation of public health norms.

The parishioner, Karen James, told the National Catholic Reporter that she had counted a total of 22 people who entered the church building, which, she said, prompted her to call the local health department. James also voiced her objections to the priest’s celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, which is celebrated in the parish in addition to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, offered in both English and Spanish.

The parish said the Easter Mass was celebrated privately, and in conformity with both diocesan norms and health regulations.


US Catholic bishops praise Supreme Court DACA decision

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 12:55

Washington D.C., Jun 18, 2020 / 10:55 am (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference (USCCB) praised the Supreme Court on Thursday for a decision that keeps the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program intact — for now.

“First, to DACA youth, through today’s decision and beyond, we will continue to accompany you and your families. You are a vital part of our Church and our community of faith. We are with you,” said USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and the USCCB’s migration committee chair in a June 18 statement.

In a majority opinion written mostly by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan, the Court said that that the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) standard of providing “a reasoned explanation” for its ending DACA in September of 2017. Roberts wrote the opinion except for Part IV; Justice Sonia Sotomayor also joined the opinion except for that section.

Justice Clarence Thomas, meanwhile, concurred with the judgement in part and dissented in part, and his opinion was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Justices Alito and Brett Kavanaugh wrote separate opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part from the majority opinion.

Leading U.S. bishops praised the Court’s decision on Thursday.

The DHS “failed to consider” the impact its rule would have on DACA recipients, the Court said, as well as “whether to retain forbearance.”
“That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner,” the ruling stated.
The Court sent the matter back to DHS, saying it could end the program but had to do so in a lawful fashion.

Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville urged President Trump “to strongly reconsider terminating DACA,” citing the plight of immigrant families during the new coronavirus pandemic. To end the program “needlessly places many families into further anxiety and chaos,” they said.

DACA was created by the Obama administration in 2012 through an executive memorandum, to allow for the delayed deportation of certain immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children; with a two-year deferral of deportation, they could apply for work authorizations and certain federal benefits. Around 800,000 immigrants were DACA recipients.
In September of 2017, the Trump administration announced that the program would be phased out and would not accept new applicants; President Trump gave Congress a six-month timeframe to enact parts of the program into law, but Congress failed to do so by March 2018.
In their statement, Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Dorsonville asked the Senate to pass legislation granting a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.

On Thursday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor concurred with the majority opinion in part, adding that as the Court “forecloses any challenge to the rescission under the Equal Protection Clause,” that action was “unwarranted.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, concurred with the majority opinion in part and dissented in part.
The Obama administration, he said, created the DACA program in 2012 “without any statutory authorization and without going through the requisite rulemaking process,” after Congress repeated tried and failed to pass legislation granting legal status to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
The Trump administration also acted “unilaterally, and through a mere memorandum” in ending the program, he wrote. Rather than rule that the program was unlawful to begin with, the Court simply sent the matter back to DHS to be reworked rather than leave the policymaking to Congress, he said.
“The Court could have made clear that the solution respondents seek must come from the Legislative Branch. Instead, the majority has decided to prolong DHS’ initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own,” he wrote.

When the current case was accepted by the Supreme Court in November, then-USCCB migration chair, Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, told CNA that while the conference had pushed for Congress to enact a legislative solution, the bishops did not want to see the program end and immigrants separated from their families. Around 256,000 children have at least one parent with DACA status.
“The Church is always going to advocate on the side of the family, because the family is very important," Vasquez said.