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Analysis: Archbishop Gregory promised the truth. Has he told it?

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 15:11

Denver Newsroom, Jun 10, 2020 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- At the press conference announcing his appointment as Washington’s new shepherd, Archbishop Wilton Gregory made a pledge: “I will always tell you the truth as I understand it.”

A year after the archbishop’s installation in Washington, the credibility of that promise has come under scrutiny, during a moment of profound difficulty for the entire country.

"First of all, I believe that the only way I can serve this local archdiocese is by telling you the truth,” Gregory said April 4, 2019.

That day was meant to be a moment of hope for Washington Catholics, who had spent nearly a year at the center of tumult surrounding the abuser Theodore McCarrick, and his successor in D.C., Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who had himself been accused by many Catholics of misdirection, obfuscation, and dishonesty.

Gregory hoped to bring healing to the Church.

While he might not have every answer, he said at the press conference, "transparency includes sharing what you do know.”

In the year since Gregory’s installation, opinion on his commitment to that pledge has been mixed. The archbishop has been credited with calling for an investigation into Msgr. Walter Rossi, a priest in the area accused of grooming college students, and then criticized for the pace of that investigation, and for Rossi’s active ministry during the process.

He has been praised by local leaders for his pastoral presence to priests and lay Catholics, and at the same time maligned because the archdiocese has not yet released any records pertaining to McCarrick.

But last week, Catholic opinion on the archbishop became more sharply divided.

On June 2, Gregory issued a statement critiquing a visit of President Donald Trump to the National Shrine of St. John Paul II, which is located in D.C.

The archbishop called it “baffling and reprehensible” that the shrine was hosting Trump, and said the shrine had been “egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”

Trump’s visit to the shrine was indeed controversial among Catholics.

It came the day after the president said in a speech that he would mobilize active-duty military forces to quell protests and riots across the country, and then federal police officers used an alarming show of force to clear a square of reportedly peaceful protestors, so that the president could pose in front of an Episcopalian church with a Bible in his hand.

After those events, Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the president's own party, accused Trump of using the Bible as a political prop, and numerous religious leaders made similar criticisms.

Gregory is the most prominent African-American Catholic in the U.S., and was by that point already a significant and impactful voice of Catholic leadership on racism, social justice, and police brutality in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd. It is not surprising that he wished to address forcefully the president’s handling of the country’s turmoil.

Gregory's June 2 statement made headlines in major news outlets around the world. And a few days later, Gregory doubled down on his criticism of the visit.

Gregory did not say when he had learned of the event. But many Catholics speculated, given the force of the archbishop’s statement, that he must have been caught by surprise, perhaps learning of it only when the White House had announced it the night before.

On June 7, a Crux analysis of the situation reported that “Gregory was not informed of the visit until Tuesday [sic] night when the White House issued a statement announcing it.” The news agency said it had “independently confirmed” that “widely reported” fact.

Gregory has not disputed that reporting.

But later on June 7, the White House told CNA that Gregory had been invited to the event the week prior, and declined the invitation.

CNA obtained a May 30 note from Gregory’s office, in which the archbishop declined the invite, and which mentioned that Gregory had personally discussed his inability to attend with a White House staffer on May 29.

The Archdiocese of Washington declined to answer questions from CNA about the timeline. A reporter said the archdiocese had not answered questions from the Washington Post as well.

Since CNA’s June 8 report, Gregory has been frequently accused on social media of dishonesty. A small firestorm has begun.

It should be clear: Archbishop Gregory has not said on the record that he did not have prior knowledge of the event.

And some Catholic voices seem to have taken advantage of this controversy to malign Gregory uncharitably and unfairly, for reasons that often seem partisan, in both the ecclesiastical and secular senses. He has been accused of on-the-record lying, while the facts do not support that account. Such demagoguery never proves useful, especially at fractious moments or on difficult issues.

But beyond the demagogues, Gregory is perceived by some Catholics to have misrepresented himself, failed to address competing reports about himself, and declined to answer questions about both the timeline and the reasons for a marked change in his tone, from a polite initial response to a subsequent forceful denunciation.  It is easy to speculate about the archbishop's reasons, but Gregory himself has not been willing to express them.

There is no reason to suspect that Gregory could not offer reasonable responses to the questions he's been asked. It is not clear why he is not willing to do so.

In the calculus of Catholic morality, there are sins of commission, and sins of omission. Gregory has not committed an on-record act of dishonesty. But some Catholics who took his pledge seriously seem now to expect that an archbishop will not fail to omit details from public statements, will clarify competing accounts, and will answer questions on significant and controversial statements.

These are, to be sure, unprecedented times. And Trump’s visit to the shrine touched on a laundry list of controversial, serious and sensitive topics, especially for an African-American bishop in the nation’s capital: The president himself, Catholic institutional alignment with Trump, racism, the protests roiling the country. Disagreement should be expected in a moment like this.

But leadership is tested in moments like these. And Gregory, who promised the truth, now faces a test worth watching.

 

State Department warns governments could exploit coronavirus to close churches

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 14:10

CNA Staff, Jun 10, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- The U.S. ambassador for religious freedom warned on Wednesday that some governments might close houses of worship for good after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Addressing the closure of churches, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship around the world in order to prevent the spread of the virus through religious gatherings, Sam Brownback—the U.S. Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom—acknowledged that governments in some regions would try to keep them closed beyond the current public health emergency, in order to crack down on religious minorities.

“That’s a deep concern that I’ve raised to our [International Religious Freedom] Alliance allies and others,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “We don’t want to see the leftover of this impact the closing of these religious institutions.”

Brownback also expressed his appreciation for religious leaders working with health officials and suspending large religious gatherings, especially during the holy times of Easter, Passover, and Ramadan.

Religious freedom advocates have warned against repression of religious minorities during the pandemic. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the stigmatization of certain religious minorities as scapegoats for purportedly spreading the pandemic. It also listed countries that had already infringed upon religious freedom in their responses to the pandemic, in March.

Brownback spoke at the State Department’s publication of its annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which documents positive and negative trends in countries around the world which are either upholding freedom of religion or repressing and persecuting religious minorities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced the report at the press conference on Wednesday. “While America is not a perfect nation by any means, we always strive toward that more perfect union,” he said.

Pompeo was questioned by a reporter about the moral authority of the United States to raise issues of religious freedom globally, given the recent protests over racial injustice after the death of George Floyd, and the “use of force” against protesters by police in Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1.

The Washington Post has reported that police fired gas canisters and grenades with rubber pellets to dispel protesters from Lafayette Square, shortly before President Donald Trump walked to the outside of St. John’s Episcopal Church, adjacent to the square, and held up a Bible in front of cameras in an apparent photo-op.

Pompeo called the question “so troubling,” and criticized the supposed drawing of moral equivalency between state-enforced repression of religious minorities in Iran and China with American citizens being able to freely call for reforms to law enforcement.

“You can see this debate take place in America,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in nations across the world.”

After another journalist followed up that question by noting reports of police using night sticks against protesters and using force to move journalists out of certain spaces, Pompeo said that “for two-and-a-half years, I have worked for journalists to have the right to say whatever they want.”

Brownback and Pompeo addressed some of the highlights of the report. Brownback said that he was most concerned about the situation in China, given the severity of its persecution of religion, and its actions as an “exporter” of repression.

Speaking about Chinese claims that Muslim Uyghurs detained in camps have been released, Brownback said that “we have no evidence that they’ve been released.” And even if they were released, he said, it would be “into a virtual police state that China has created.”

China has detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). There have been reports of torture, forced renunciations of faith, and forced labor in the camps, with some detainees sent to labor in factories when they are “released” from the camps.

Brownback deplored the “horrific situation” in the region that threatens to become the “future of what oppression is going to look like,” that of a “virtual police state” where religious practice is outlawed.

He also said that in Iran, 109 members of minority religious groups remain imprisoned for their beliefs and noted that, in 2019, two Sunni Ahwazi Arab minority prisoners at Fajr Prison were executed for “enmity against god.” 

The ambassador also said he was “deeply concerned” about the “escalation of violence” in Nigeria and the lack of an “effective response” by the government there.

In the long-term, Brownback said he was concerned by “a lot of communal-level violence” between religious groups that could threaten global security well into the future.

Some of the positive trends that Pompeo noted were Gambia, a member of the International Religious Freedom Alliance, bringing up crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslims before the International Court of Justice.

Pompeo also referenced the February, 2019, visit of Pope Francis to the Arabian Peninsula, which  included the first-ever papal Mass there. The United Arab Emirates, he said, “really did an amazing thing in hosting the pope on a papal visit.”

‘God is inviting us to be part of the solution’- Black Catholic priests on racism and healing

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 05:00

Denver Newsroom, Jun 10, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Two black Catholic priests— one ordained six years, the other 42— shared their thoughts with CNA this week on the sin of racism, and the importance of praying, fasting, and advocating for healing.

Father Josh Johnson, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in the diocese of Baton Rouge, told CNA he has been encouraging prayer for healing from racism for years.

George Floyd’s death on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police spurred protests across the world. Father Johnson said a friend sent him the video of the arrest either the day it happened or the day after.

“I shouldn't have done it, I shouldn't have done it, but I watched the video,” he said.

Johnson says he didn’t just see a fellow black man as he watched Floyd’s death play out on video— he saw a Christian man, a fellow member of the body of Jesus Christ. 

“To watch a human being die, to watch a member of the body of Christ die on camera...He's saying, ‘I can't breathe,’ his calling out for his mom...to watch another human being die on camera was traumatizing,” Father Johnson told CNA.

“As a Christian, as a Catholic priest, I can't watch that happen and not be affected and not grieve, not be sad, not experience anger that I pray was just, and then also just not be reminded of my own experiences, too,” he said.

Johnson’s father was a cop— in fact, he was captain of the Baton Rouge Police Department. Johnson says he has had the opportunity to collaborate with local law enforcement throughout his priesthood.

“However, that does not change the fact that when I'm not wearing my clerics, people in society don't see me as Father Josh, they see me as another black man,” he said.

Johnson said he, like many people of color, has experienced harassment from law enforcement in the past.

“[George Floyd] could have been me. I can't not think that way, because I've had negative experiences” he said.

“It's painful. It's really, really painful to watch that, and it's even more painful for people to just disregard it, for Catholics to just disregard it and say, ‘Oh yeah, it was bad, but other things are bad too.’ It's like, no, let's stop. As disciples of Jesus Christ, let's just stop, and let's grieve together that one of our brothers, one of God's beloved sons, was killed. Can we just please stop and grieve together and not dismiss his life as if it was nothing? This is a life we're talking about.”

For too long, it seemed to Johnson, most Catholics have been inattentive to racism or overly entrenched in a left-or-right political mindset over the issue.

Johnson told CNA that in addition to talking, writing, and preaching about these topics for years, he has been constantly praying and fasting for an end to racism.

A few weeks before the Minneapolis officers killed George Floyd, Father Johnson had been inviting listeners of his podcast to pray a rosary for racial reconciliation.

“Finally now, this is the very first time in my life...that a number of Catholics have come together and decided, "We're going to acknowledge that there's a problem and we're going to acknowledge that God is inviting us to be part of the solution,” Johnson said.

“If the disciples of Jesus Christ could come together, then we could be used by God to combat this evil that has just brought about so much damage to the body of Christ, and to men and women made in the image of God in the United States of America, for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Any effort to combat racism must start in the heart, with prayer, he said.

“Through our prayers— our intentional prayers— through our fasting, through our listening and learning things that we didn't know, and through collaborating with each other, to work together, to bring down and to reform and transform these systems that continue to perpetuate division in the body of Christ."

Johnson said his encouragement toward prayer has garnered positive feedback from people of faith, especially white people, he said, with many realizing “that they could do something— that even though they might not personally have ever said the n-word, or they might not participate in a practice or policy that accommodates white people and alienates black people or brown people, even though they don't participate in that, that they're still responsible to pray against racism.”

Johnson stressed the power of penance and fasting as a way to heal the Body of Christ. Throughout the recent revelations of clerical sexual abuse in the US, Johnson says he has been taking on fasts and sacrifices for the healing of those affected.

He also recommended following black Catholic leaders online, such as Sister Josephine Garrett and Deacon Larry Oney, and also encouraged Catholics to consider making pilgrimages to places like the Equal Justice Initiative Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.

Above all, prayer is the key, he reiterated.

“I believe that the Lord has created me for this time, for a time such as this,” Johnson said.

“I'm so excited to finally have allies and other disciples of Jesus Christ walking with me to fight this battle, to bring about healing in the body of Christ and restoration, renewal and racial reconciliation in our country.”

“This is one that we cannot ignore”

Father James Boddie, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Florida, has been a priest for 42 years.

Christ the King is a very diverse community. In addition to many African Americans— like Father Boddie— there are large numbers of Vietnamese people, Hispanics, families from Haiti, from Africa, and many white parishioners as well.

Like Father Johnson, Father Boddie’s first reaction upon seeing the video of George Floyd’s death was horror, and an immediate desire to pray.

“I went immediately into prayer for Mr. George Floyd, for his family and for the police department,” Father Boddie told CNA.

“The actions of a few police officers does not cast a shadow over the entire police department, but those individuals who acted that way was just...it was unimaginable.”

When he entered St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in Miami back in the 1970s, he was the first African-American seminarian from Florida to study there.

Father Boddie remembers the civil rights movement of the 1960s firsthand. In fact, his father was involved in civil rights efforts in the Jacksonville area.

“He worked very hard in the community, addressing those issues [and] working with others...whether it's for the desegregating schools or issues that affect the African American community, but also issues that affect the community at large, because there's a lot of issues out there that the only way to really approach it is the entire community coming together,” Boddie said.

“I saw [in] the first mobilization that people were marching, from the old, the young people from various cultures, various backgrounds from very different communities,” he said.

Goal setting is an important part of the process, he said. Government leaders, faith leaders, and other community members should work together to plan out what they want to achieve.

When protests begin to turn violent, a re-focusing on the issues is necessary, Father Boddie said.

“When you started to see the violence and destruction taking place, that's when I felt that it began to lose focus. Why is that destruction? Why are particular groups destroying people's property, livelihood?” he said.

“Focus back on what they're marching for: to address the issue of racism, the issue of injustice, but also do it in peaceful means and involving everyone from the community and not going towards destruction of property, of burning down buildings, because that is contrary to everything,” he said.

He also suggested that Catholics read the US bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter against racism, Open Wide Our Hearts, perhaps even in a group study setting at their parish.

“My hope is that everyone comes together— everyone comes together as one— identifying that, yes, this is a problem. This is one that we cannot ignore,” he said.

 

Father Johnson and Father Boddie can be heard on the June 8, 2020 episode of the CNA Newsroom podcast.

 

Kate Olivera contributed to this story.

 

 

Catholics cannot remain indifferent to racism, Phoenix bishop says

Wed, 06/10/2020 - 02:34

CNA Staff, Jun 10, 2020 / 12:34 am (CNA).- Catholics have a key part to play— in cooperation with God’s grace— in overcoming racism, the bishop of Phoenix said at the diocesan Mass for Forgiveness of the Sin of Racism this week.

“George Floyd did not die alone. Jesus was with him—praying with him and for him. At every time and every place, Jesus draws near to every person, especially in times of suffering and at the hour of death,” Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix said in the homily June 8.

As the Church gathers to pray for forgiveness for the sin of racism, Olmsted said, it is important to define what Catholics mean by the term.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers guidance, he said, defining it as “unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race.”

In Paragraph 1935 of the Catechism, it says “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design.”

Olmsted said he has seen racial discrimination manifest itself among some Catholics in Arizona. Nearly half of Phoenix’s pastors were born in other countries, he said, and sadly not all have been received well by Catholics in the diocese.

For example, “on the day that I installed one of our finest pastors, protestors came to the parking lot and distributed flyers on car windows denouncing the bishop for replacing their beloved former pastor with ‘these Africans,’” Olmsted said.

The Church provides, through the Sacrament of Confession, a means by which those who have perpetuated the sin of racism can seek God’s mercy.

“The rich mercy of God restores human dignity, even to the most hardened of sinners, if we have the humility to say six words: ‘I am sorry. Please forgive me,’” he said.

Jesus himself, and saints like Pope John Paul II, have modeled the kind of forgiveness that is necessary for healing from racism, Olmsted said.

“[Racism] is overcome by God, by His mercy. It is not our achievement. We have a key part to play, in cooperation with His grace, but only God can change minds and hearts. That’s why the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist play such vital roles in overcoming the sin of racism,” Olmsted said.

In responding to racism, Catholics— even if they are not themselves racist— must not allow their hearts to harden, frozen by indifference, and simply fail to respond altogether, Olmsted said.

“While racism is a sinful act that prejudice, injustice, and lack of respect for human dignity brings about, racism also hides itself behind indifference. Racists may not get caught because they are doing “nothing.” But, in Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment, found in Matthew 25:4, sin is depicted not as what people did but ‘what they failed to do,’” he said.

Olmsted recalled that during March 2000, Pope John Paul II led the whole Church in a Day of Pardon, in which he asked the entire Church to place itself “before Christ, who out of love, took our guilt upon Himself,” and to make a “profound examination of conscience,” and to “forgive and ask forgiveness.”

“Inspired by the example of St. John Paul II, let us beg the Lord Jesus, at this Mass, for the grace we need to overcome the evil of racism and to build a society of Jesus and solidarity,” Olmsted concluded.

 

Archbishop Gomez says US has work to do in achieving racial equality

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 20:58

CNA Staff, Jun 9, 2020 / 06:58 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles asked the parishes of his archdiocese to toll their bells for eight minutes and 46 seconds on Tuesday to recognize the life of George Floyd on the day of his burial, calling for a renewed commitment to racial justice.

Floyd, 46, was buried in his hometown of Houston. He died on May 25, after an officer in the Minneapolis Police Department knelt on his neck for a period of eight minutes and 46 seconds. The arrest was filmed by onlookers, and the officers have since been arrested and charged with murder.

In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, large protests erupted throughout the country demanding justice for Floyd, as well as for other people of color who have been killed by the police.

“We need to make sure that George Floyd did not die for no reason. We should honor the sacrifice of his life by removing racism and hate from our hearts and renewing our commitment to fulfill our nation’s sacred promise — to be a beloved community of life, liberty, and equality for all,” said Archbishop Gomez in a statement released by the archdiocese.

“Let us pray together for the soul of George Floyd, and for his family. And let us pray for all those who are working to put an end to racial injustice in our society.”

Gomez requested that the parishes of his archdiocese celebrate a Mass in memory of Floyd, and pray for the repose of his soul and for his family.

Drawing on the Gospel reading, which spoke of a “city set on a mountain,” Gomez said in his homily at Mass on Tuesday that the United States still has much work to be done.

“America’s founders used these words of Jesus today to describe their hopes for this new nation. They wanted this country to be a shining city on a hill, a light to other nations,” said Gomez, in a homily that was delivered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“America’s founders dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, religion and national background could live in equality, with dignity. My brothers and sisters, it is our responsibility to keep building this city on the hill,” he said.

The history of the United States, said Gomez, “is not pure.”

“We have not always lived up to our deepest values or our highest ideals. We all know that,” he said.

The archbishop called on people to “renew our sense of purpose” and to “commit ourselves again to making America a land of freedom and opportunity for every person.”

“God does not see black or white. God sees only his children. And he loves each one of us, no matter what the color of our skin is,” he said. It is the duty of Christians and Catholics “to bring this truth to our society,” he added.

In Tuesday’s first reading, the prophet Elijah told the widow “do not be afraid.”

Gomez explained that people should take the words of the prophet Elijah to heart and “not be afraid, either.”

“God goes with us in this moment. Let’s ask him for courage and wisdom,” he said. “God is calling us to be a light to our neighbors.”

“We need to stand together and walk together, as brothers and sisters. We need to strengthen our families, give hope to our children,” he said. “We need to create a new culture of virtue and communities of compassion and care, in which we cherish our common humanity.”

 

Catholic bishops of Oklahoma support Medicaid expansion ballot measure

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 18:51

CNA Staff, Jun 9, 2020 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Oklahoma have voiced support for a ballot measure that would expand Medicaid in the state.

“Our state’s SoonerCare program currently provides critical health coverage to Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and children,” the bishops said in a statement this week. “This program plays a vital role in sustaining the health care delivery system in our state, particularly in rural areas where access to quality health care is increasingly unavailable.”

“However, based on the clients we help through the work of Catholic Charities and with patients seeking care at our Catholic hospitals, it is apparent that access to affordable health care coverage — which is so necessary for human flourishing — is becoming less available over time,” they continued.

Oklahoma remains one of 14 states that has not yet expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

On June 30, Oklahomans will be asked to cast their votes in a primary election ballot. State Question 802 is a voter-initiated referendum that would alter the Oklahoma constitution to expand Medicaid coverage. The federal government would pay for 90% of the expansion, while the state would cover the other 10% of costs.

“While we agree that amending the state constitution is a method that should be reserved for special circumstances, our present health care crisis demands action that cannot wait for a political solution,” the state bishops said in their statement.

They noted that their support for the effort is conditional upon Hyde Amendment protections remaining in place to ensure that taxpayer money does not go to pay for elective abortions.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt had put forward an alternate expansion plan that would have increased eligibility for Medicaid coverage while also capping federal spending, instituting premiums, and establishing work requirements.

Last month, however, the governor vetoed a bill that would have raised hospital fees to help fund his plan. He said the state had not anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting rise in unemployment rates, which are expected to create a significant increase in the number of people enrolled in Medicaid.

Local media reported this month that the Oklahoma Health Department has withdrawn its plan amid funding uncertainties.

Pa. Catholic Conference appeals diversion of coronavirus relief from private schools

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 17:50

Denver Newsroom, Jun 9, 2020 / 03:50 pm (CNA).- The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is asking the U.S. Department of Education to reverse state authorities’ decisions that the conference says gives insufficient coronavirus relief funds to Catholic and other private schools.
 
“We are appealing the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s decision because Congress was clear when it unanimously passed the CARES Act education funding,” Sean McAleer, education director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told CNA June 9. “The funding is emergency funding and the allocations were to be made to all teachers and students negatively affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Since Governor Wolf closed all schools in Pennsylvania. public and private, all teachers and students were affected by Governor Wolf’s order.”
 
The funding came from the $523.8 million in K-12 aid Pennsylvania received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March. The non-public schools are not funded directly. Rather, the money goes to school districts or intermediate units, which then perform services for private schools.
 
McAleer said $66 million should go to Catholic schools and other private schools, not just $19 million.
 
However, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Division of Federal Programs said its funding distribution followed federal guidelines. The Catholic conference’s complaint, it said in a June 3 letter, was based on “nonregulatory guidance” issued by the U.S. Department of Education that said reservations for services for non-public schools should be based on total enrollment of these schools. State officials said the CARES Act and the U.S. Department of Education follow a longstanding interpretation which bases reservation numbers on the number of low-income children in each participating non-public school.
 
“There was plenty of money to go around and help every child,” McAleer told the Wilkes-Barre, Penn. newspaper The Citizen’s Voice. “Our kids’ lives matter, too.”
 
Funding, in the state’s interpretation, is proportional to Title I money. This means districts with larger populations of low-income students received more money.
 
While public schools do not have to demonstrate academic needs to receive funding, Catholic and other private schools must show that their low-income students need additional academic support.
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the learning process of all students, regardless of what school they attend,” the Diocese of Scranton said, according to The Citizen’s Voice. “The Diocese of Scranton Catholic School System could potentially lose approximately $800,000 because of this decision, which would be a tremendous loss for the 4,500 students and families that rely on our schools for a quality, faith-filled education.”
 
Catholic schools need to acquire online learning platforms and technology and must implement more health and safety precautions if its physical buildings reopen for students. Some Catholic schools could close with drops in fundraising and in parents’ ability to pay tuition due to the pandemic.
 
Eric Failing, executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, said last month that many private serve children in economically disadvantaged areas, and in many cases students depend on financial aid in order to attend.
 
Some private schools face closure or consolidation in response to rising costs. If non-public schools shut down or if parents are forced to pull their children out, he said, it will mean an even greater burden on the state’s public school system.
 
The American Federation of Teachers, a nationwide teachers’ union, on May 6 issued a statement urging school districts to ignore the U.S. Department of Education’s guidance, arguing that it is “inequitable, generates dollars for wealthy students in private schools”, and “denies public schools the recovery they desperately need.”

HHS: Hospital restrictions mean ‘too many dying alone’ during coronavirus

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Jun 9, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Federal health officials say they hope the resolution of a disability rights case will help ensure hospital patients are not deprived of necessary support during treatment, or left to die alone.

“We’ve heard too many heart-wrenching stories of people literally dying alone during this crisis,” Roger Severino, head of the HHS Office of Civil Rights told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.

Respecting public health concerns through visitation restrictions should be balanced with other critical needs, Severino said, such as disabled patients having access to support persons and all patients having “access to clergy in their last moments.”

The HHS, he said, has already issued guidance that “there should be access to persons in those end-of-life situations.” In a bulletin published on March 28, OCR instructed hospitals and other health care providers to respect “requests for religious accommodations in treatment and access to clergy or faith practices as practicable.”

During the call on June 9, HHS announced it had resolved a complaint with the state of Connecticut regarding a 73 year-old woman with aphasia, a condition which limits a person’s ability to communicate, who was admitted to Hartford Hospital without her support person on April 19.

Her daughter, Susan Fandacone, told reporters that her mother survived a brain aneurysm 11 years ago, but suffered from short-term memory loss and had lost her voice. When family members rushed her to the hospital, concerned that she had sepsis, they were told that they could not enter with her due to visitor limitations put in place to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

With her mother’s short-term memory loss and inability to speak, Fandacone said she and her family feared for her mother’s well-being without an advocate to assist her.

“She had no opportunity to be able to advocate for herself in any way,” Fandacone said. When “she started to fight for her life,” Fandacone said, “what they chose to do was to tie her down and to sedate her.”

Disability rights advocates filed a complaint with the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR), alleging that the state limits on hospital visitations during the new coronavirus pandemic did not accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities.

Without the presence of support persons to act as an advocate, the groups said, those with disabilities would not have equal access to the health care they needed; with support persons essential for informed consent procedures and communication with doctors and nurses.

Worse, Severino told reporters Tuesday, narrowly-tailored visitation policies mean persons with disabilities could be left to die alone—an unacceptable situation.

As part of the settlement, Connecticut’s acting health commissioner Deidre Gifford issued an executive order on Monday amending the policy.

The order allows for persons with disabilities at short-term hospitals and outpatient clinics, dialysis units, and surgical facilities to have a designated support person with them, so long as that person is asymptomatic or has not tested positive for the coronavirus.

Severino said the development was “a big step forward to making sure that people with disabilities are not left alone, and are not left to fend for themselves when reasonable modifications can be made.”

Sen. McConnell condemns First Amendment 'double standard' for churches

Tue, 06/09/2020 - 14:30

CNA Staff, Jun 9, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that a “constitutionally dubious” double standard is being applied to religious communities and protestors during a Senate session on Tuesday. 

“I have no criticism for the millions of Americans who peacefully demonstrated in recent days. Their cause is beyond righteous,” said McConnell. “It is the inconsistency from leaders that has been baffling.” 

The senator said that while he supports the recent large protests and the goals they seek, there is also “a different pressing problem that concerns Americans’ Constitutional rights.” 

It has become “clear,” he said, that there is a “double standard” present in society: large protests are both allowed and praised, but many Americans are not presently allowed to go to religious services or run their small businesses as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus. 

“For weeks, the mainstream media heaped scorn on any small citizen protest, outdoor gathering, or even the suggestion that other important values might require a reappraisal of certain restrictions,” said McConnell.  

McConnell empathized with the people who “did their part” to stop the spread of the virus, and are continuing to observe strict prevention measures, but have been left confused that the standards they adhered to have “disappeared.” 

“A month ago, small protest demonstrations were condemned as ‘reckless and selfish,’” he said. “Now, massive rallies that fill entire cities are not just praised, but, in fact, are called ‘especially brave’ because of the exact same health risks that brought condemnation when the cause was different.” 

McConnell singled out local leaders, including Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who have praised large-scale protests yet have not allowed for the resumption of basic activities like church services. 

“Here in the District of Columbia, the mayor celebrates massive street protests. She actually joins them herself. But on her command, churches and houses of worship remain shut,” McConnell said. 

In Washington, houses of worship are not permitted to hold indoor or outdoor services with more than 10 people present. This includes the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church building in North America. The Archdiocese of Washington resumed public Masses throughout the entire archdiocese on Tuesday, June 9. Masses in the District of Columbia and immediately surrounding counties of Prince George and Montgomery are limited to a maximum of 10 people present.

“The rights of free speech and free assembly and religion are First Amendment rights,” said McConnell. 

“They have the same Constitutional pedigree,” he said, insisting there could be no “picking and choosing” of which parts of the First Amendment to support. 

McConnell cited a public health order in Contra Costa County, California, allowing protests of up to 100 people, but banning outdoor religious or social gatherings of more than 12 people. 

“These governments are acting like the coronavirus discriminates based on the content of the people’s speech, but it is the leaders who are doing that.” 

The senator said it was “impossible to avoid the conclusion” that governmental leaders are “using their powers to encourage constitutionally protected conduct which they personally appreciate while continuing to ban constitutionally protected conduct which they personally feel is less important.” 

These politicians, said the senator, “do not get to play ‘Red light/green light’ with the First Amendment.” 

McConnell praised the American people’s compliance with coronavirus regulations and lockowns as “courageous and patriotic,” and said that they “sacrificed a great deal.” 

“Politicians must not repay that sacrifice with constitutionally dubious double standards.” 

Texas Supreme Court to hear case of former deacon suing diocese for abuse claim

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 22:01

Denver Newsroom, Jun 8, 2020 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- The Texas Supreme Court will hear the Diocese of Lubbock’s appeal of a legal decision allowing a former deacon to sue the diocese for defamation for including his name on a list of clergy credibly accused of sex abuse.
 
“We are committed to transparency for the trust and safety of the members of our parishes,” Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock said June 8. “At a time when many religious messages are being shared digitally, courts must protect churches’ ability to communicate effectively with their members.”
 
“Churches should not be punished for doing the right thing,” Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director at the legal group Becket, said June 8. “Clergy hold a unique position of trust within their communities, and churches should be free to notify members and other affected individuals when clergy violate that trust. That is true even when the warning goes beyond the four walls of the church building.”
 
Lower courts have sided with the deacon’s lawsuit. Because local media broadcast the list beyond the confines of the Church, the diocese had no legal defense, the courts said.
 
Legal briefs filed by Becket on behalf of the diocese argue that lower courts’ decisions violate the principle that civil courts may not adjudicate matters of theology, Church discipline, ecclesiastical government, and compliance with Church moral teaching. The former deacon has the right to restore his reputation under the law of the Church, said the briefs.
 
The former deacon, Jesus Guerrero, 76, has filed a lawsuit that rejected claims he had ever been accused of sex abuse or misconduct. The lawsuit described him as “a faithful servant of God in the Catholic Church his entire life.”
 
The Diocese of Lubbock released its list Jan. 31, 2019 after the list was compiled by a retired police officer and an attorney. The diocese said Guerrero had been credibly accused of “sexual abuse of a minor.” It reported that he had been permanently removed from ministry in 2008.
 
The plaintiff charged that the diocese committed libel and defamation against him. His lawsuit said his reputation was destroyed and he has become the object of contempt and ridicule.
 
The plaintiff’s brief said he suffered severe anxiety and stress after the diocese listed him as credibly accused of abuse. This stress and anxiety in part led to a stroke, the lawsuit charged. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages.
 
In December 2019 Chief Justice Brian Quinn of the Texas Court of Appeals declined to overturn a lower court’s ruling against the diocese, United Press International reports. Quinn said that while matters of Church discipline are ecclesiastical and outside the jurisdiction of civil courts, the diocese “placed the controversy in the realm of Caesar or the secular world by opting to leave the confines of the church.”
 
“What we have before us is not an incidental public disclosure of internal church disciplinary matter,” said the judge, who noted the diocese published the list on a public website, issued a news release about the list, and gave media interviews about the list.
 
According to Quinn, statements from the diocese acknowledge that the issue goes beyond the Church, such as statements like “our dioceses are serious about ending the cycle of abuse in the church and in society at large.”
 
The lawsuit said that before Guerrero’s name appeared on the list, he “had never been accused of sexual abuse and/or misconduct against a minor, nor had he ever been investigated for any sexual abuse and/or misconduct against a minor.”
 
His accuser was in her 40s and said Guerrero did not abuse her, his attorney Nick Olguin said, according to United Press International. Two witnesses claimed to have seen Guerrero leaving the same room as the woman while adjusting his clothes. Guerrero denies ever abusing anyone.
 
After the lawsuit was filed, the Lubbock diocese on April 10, 2019 said the alleged accuser is a person who “habitually lacks the use of reason” and is considered equivalent to a minor under canon law. It said the diocese has “no information of a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor below the age of eighteen (18) by Jesus Guerrero.”
 
“The Diocese of Lubbock has concluded there is a credible allegation against Jesus Guerrero of sexual abuse of a person who habitually lacks the use of reason. The Diocese of Lubbock regrets any misunderstanding that may have arisen from the Jan. 31 posting.”
 
Olguin questioned whether the woman is a vulnerable adult. In a brief, he said she lives independently and has never been found incompetent, UPI reports. The plaintiff’s brief cited a Catholic spokesperson who in a television interview said a credible allegation means the accused admits to it, the accused is found guilty in court, or someone who witnessed abuse testified about it. Olguin said none of these apply.
 
However, in the material accompanying the Lubbock diocese’s January 2019 list, the diocese said a name “only appears on the list if the diocese possesses in its files evidence of a credible allegation.” The diocese said its standard of a credible allegation means that “after review of reasonably available, relevant information in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board or other professionals, there is reason to believe is true.”
 
With the diocese’s clarification, Olguin argued, “the church continued its assault on Jesus by claiming that he has sexually abused a vulnerable adult without any credible evidence whatsoever.” He said the clarification did not get as much attention as the original list.
 
In comments to CNA, Olguin said that from the beginning Guerrero wanted an apology.
 
“We are not saying that the Church has no right to warn it’s members, we are saying that when you go outside the confines of your church and seek out the secular media – you better be right or you will be accountable,” the attorney said.
 
He said the right thing to do is “to admit that a mistake was made and apologize.”
 
According to Olguin, “the Diocese of Lubbock told me that they would not apologize and threatened to disparage his name even more if we filed a suit.”
 
“The lawyers for the Diocese of Lubbock, Becket law group, want to cloud the issue and state that the issue is the ‘Church’s ability to warn members.’ That is simply not true,” the attorney continued. “Deacon Guerrero does not have a problem with the Church warning members of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor – the issue for Deacon Guerrero was that it was not true and the Diocese of Lubbock knew that he had never been accused of sexual abuse against a minor and put his name on the list anyway.”
 
“Further, Deacon Guerrero has an issue with the Church accusing him of something (they knew was untrue) and then trying to hide behind the pulpit,” Olguin said.
 
“The issue here is that the Diocese of Lubbock gave interviews to the local media, issued a press release saying ‘list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse against a minor’ is coming soon, when the list came out, the Church sought the secular media to disseminate their list and they put Deacon Guerrero’s name on the list without any clarification of what they meant by ‘minor’,” he added.
 
“The church says this is what we meant by ‘minor’ – when really there was not ever a credible allegation of sexual abuse by Deacon Guerrero to begin with,” said the attorney.
 
CNA sought comment from Becket but did not receive a response by deadline.
 
The legal group said briefs in support of the diocese have come from Jewish and Protestant leaders, state legislators, and legal scholars.
 
Texas legislators, and prominent legal scholars, filed briefs supporting the diocese.
 
“They ask the Court to uphold the right of all religious groups to demonstrate transparency on issues arising from clergy discipline,” Becket said.
 
The diocese said Guerrero was assigned to Our Lady of Grace parish in Lubbock from 1997 to 2003, suspended for unstated reasons in 2003, then assigned to San Ramon parish in Woodrow from 2006 to 2007. He was permanently removed from ministry the next year.
 
The Lubbock diocese covers 25 counties in west Texas, with 63 parishes serving more than 136,000 Catholics, the diocese website says.
 
The Lubbock case is not the only lawsuit against a Catholic diocese in Texas.
 
As of January, three priests named as credibly accused of sexual abuse by the Diocese of Corpus Christi had filed defamation lawsuits against their diocese. A fourth priest’s lawsuit was dismissed, the Caller Times reports.

Catholic nuns in Hawaii shaken but hopeful after robbery

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 20:01

Denver Newsroom, Jun 8, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A community of Dominican nuns in Hawaii is shaken but hopeful after a burglar broke into their convent last week and stole a minivan that the nuns use for their ministry.

"It was still a good running car, even if it was 13 years old," Sister Bernarda Sindol told CNA.

Donations have poured in from far and wide to help the nuns replace the stolen vehicle.

"It's a blessing in disguise, because now we're going to buy a new car," she laughed. 

The sisters awoke May 30 to find their convent had been broken into during the night.

No one was hurt in the robbery; the nuns live on the upper floor, and for their safety have a heavy gate on the door leading upstairs.

In addition to stealing most of the nuns’ food from the kitchen, the assailant took the keys to their minivan— which were hanging on a bulletin board downstairs— and made off with the vehicle.

Six Dominican Sisters of the Rosary live at the convent, which is located behind St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and School in Aiea, about 10 miles northwest of Honolulu on Oahu.

The police are still investigating and have not yet located the stolen vehicle.

The minivan was important for the nuns’ ministry, Sister Bernarda said, because many of them teach at the school adjacent to the convent— which the order has managed since the 1960s— and also at other schools around town.

Having the car made it easier for the nuns to get around, for their ministry and also for things like shopping and errands, without them having to rely on public transportation.

Sister Bernarda said the robber must have known which windows and areas of the convent were not alarmed, and broke in with relative ease.

The thief removed a painting of the Last Supper hanging in the nuns’ dining room, apparently hoping to find a wall safe.

The town lies on Pearl Harbor in a relatively safe area, Sister Bernarda said, so they never really expected a break-in like this.

"Some people just don't have any respect for the Church. And those are the people we have to pray for," she said.

As of Monday, a GoFundMe page set up by St. Elizabeth’s pastor had collected more than $31,000 toward a new vehicle for the nuns.

Sister Bernarda said donations have poured in from all over— the last one she saw was from a trucker in Nebraska, who donated $20.

"Twenty dollars is twenty dollars. It's from people's hearts, and we appreciate it. People are just so generous," she said.

Sister Bernarda asked for prayers for an end to the pandemic, as she suspects the thief likely broke into their convent out of desperation.

"People are frustrated, they've lost their jobs, they have to feed their families. So we just pray that this coronavirus will go away so that people can live more normally," she said.

Former diocesan employee charged with tax, wire fraud

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 19:19

CNA Staff, Jun 8, 2020 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- A former employee for the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida has been charged with wire fraud and tax fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced June 4. Federal prosecutors say he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a scheme involving diocesan property sales.

Charles Jon David, 57, was paid more than $200,000 in kickbacks for selling diocesan property below market value from 2012-2018, according to the indictment. He has been charged with three counts of wire fraud and four counts of tax fraud.

David was in charge of selling various pieces of diocesan property during his more than six years as Director of Construction of Business Operations for the diocese. The indictment says he gave two individuals exclusive opportunities to buy pieces of property for less than market value, in exchange for a series of at least five kickbacks from the individuals.

In addition, the indictment says, David fraudulently presented a third individual to the diocese as a bona fide purchaser of a diocesan property, while arranging for a separate person to purchase the property from that individual at a higher price on the same day. David allegedly received a $44,000 payment upon the close of the sale.

Prosecutors say David did not report the kickbacks or the $44,000 payment on his federal income tax returns in 2015, 2016, and 2018, and that he underreported income in 2013.

If he is convicted, David could face up to 72 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. He would also have to forfeit at least $273,500 and two pieces of property, which he allegedly purchased with the proceeds of the scheme.

Online forum aims to form Catholic women in faith

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 18:15

CNA Staff, Jun 8, 2020 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- The GIVEN Institute has announced a free online event “Discover the Gift,” seeking to empower women to realize their worth and unique gifts. The event by the group, which works to foster leadership in young Catholic women, was made after the in-person GIVEN Forum was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While not being able to gather together in Washington, this unfolds an opportunity for wider engagement of the entire GIVEN Network to activate the gifts of women across the globe,” said Rachel Harkins Ullmann, the executive director of the GIVEN Institute in a press release announcing the event. 

“Now more than ever, the dignity and vocation of women needs to be unleashed into the Church and the world, to protect the vulnerable, provide direction in a time of crisis, and mentor the next generation of female leaders,” she said. 

The free online conference is scheduled for June 10-14, the original dates of the GIVEN Forum, and will be open to any woman of any age who signs up. Each day will feature a keynote speaker, reflection questions for discussion, and time for prayer. 

“The days of Discover the Gift will be structured around the three-fold theme of helping the women attendees ‘receive the gift they are; realize the gifts they’ve been given; and respond with the gift that only they can give,’” said the release.

The website for Discover the Gift says that the event will be “retreat-like,” with no obligation to attend all of the sessions. A person can stream whatever sessions best work into their schedules. 

Women who were previously accepted into the in-person 2020 GIVEN Forum will be able to access an exclusive Q&A each day of the Discover the Gift, and will be able to attend the 2021 Forum. 

Speakers who are confirmed for Discover the Gift include Sister Virginia Joy SV, Mother Gloria Therese OCD, Debbie Herbeck, Berni Neal, Sister Josephine Garrett CSFN, Dr. Grazie Christie, Montse Alvarado, and Jenna Guizar.

The institute was launched on Sept. 12, in response to what it says are bleak statistics on female involvement with the Church. According to a 2018 study published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, only about 17 percent of young Catholic women attend Mass each week, while only about one-third of those women say they pray every day.

"At a time where millennial women are disaffiliating from the Church in increasing numbers, it would be really important for the Church to turn its attention to shoring up the faithfulness of the women who do want to serve the Church, so that they can carry on the legacy of faithful women who have gone before them," GIVEN founding executive director Elise Italiano told CNA in 2018.

Archbishop Gregory invited to JPII Shrine Trump event days before public statement

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 15:50

Denver Newsroom, Jun 8, 2020 / 01:50 pm (CNA).-  

The White House said Sunday that Washington’s archbishop was invited to attend an event with President Donald Trump several days before it took place, amid media reports that the archbishop did not learn of the event until it was announced publicly the night before it took place.

White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere told CNA June 7 that “Archbishop Gregory received an invitation to the President’s event at the St. John Paul II Shrine the week prior to the President’s visit. He declined due to other commitments.”

Correspondence between Archbishop Wilton Gregory's office and the White House indicates the same.

In correspondence dated May 30th and obtained by CNA, Gregory’s office declined “the kind invitation to attend the event celebrating International Religious Freedom on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at the Saint John Paul II Shrine.“

The correspondence further stated that the archbishop had “a prior commitment on his schedule at Catholic University and unfortunately must decline,” and added that Archbishop Gregory had personally conveyed his regrets at being unable to attend, when he spoke to a member of the White House staff directly on the evening of Friday, May 29th.

Crux reported June 7 that Gregory had not been told of the visit until June 1, when it was publicly announced by the White House.

Trump’s June 2 visit to the shrine has been the subject of considerable controversy.

On the day of Trump’s visit, the shrine said that the White House had “originally scheduled this as an event for the president to sign an executive order on international religious freedom.”

The visit was cut into a shorter event following Trump’s controversial visit the night before to St. John’s Episcopal Church adjacent to the White House.

Trump stood outside that church in front of cameras holding a Bible in one hand in an apparent photo-op. The church had suffered fire damage during protests on Sunday night.

Before the president arrived at the episcopal church, crowds had stood across from Lafayette Square behind the White House, protesting the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Those demonstrators were cleared from the square by police shooting pepper balls and other non-lethal weapons, before Trump walked across the square to visit the church.

On June 2, before Trump arrived at the John Paul II Shrine, Gregory issued a statement denouncing the visit.

“I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree,” the archbishop wrote.

“Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” Gregory added.

The White House soon responded to the archbishop; Deere told the Washington Post that “It’s shameful for anyone to call themselves a person of faith yet question the President’s own deeply-held faith or motives for going to mark an important milestone for Catholics.”

"President Trump’s visit gave comfort and hope to Catholics in this country and all over the world that this President is a man of God who will always protect the sanctity of life and promote religious freedom.”

On June 5, Gregory addressed the controversy during an online panel sponsored by Georgetown University.

“That shrine is a holy place because of the man that it honors,” Gregory said, and it never should have been used as a “political statement.”

After some Catholics criticized Gregory’s outspoken response, he said Friday that he found the reactions “reminiscent, in my mind, to the criticism that people gave to Catholic priests and nuns that they saw marching during the civil rights period.”

The Archdiocese of Washington has not responded to requests for comment from CNA.

 

DC Catholic priests invited to 'prayerful protest' at White House

Mon, 06/08/2020 - 12:20

Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2020 / 10:20 am (CNA).- Priests in the Archdiocese of Washington will demonstrate outside of the White House on Monday as a “prayerful protest” against hatred and institutional discrimination of all kinds. 

The June 8 protest will be led by Fr. Cornelis Ejiogu, SSJ, pastor of St. Luke Church in Washington, DC. 

“Our mission: to pray for a change of heart, an end to hatred and institutional discrimination of all kinds,” said an email sent to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington by Fr. Daniel B. Carson, the vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese on June 5. 

“Please join the Catholic faithful in a public witness to pray for the soul of George Floyd and the soul of America,” said Carson. Floyd was a man who died in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. The officers who arrested Floyd have been arrested and charged with homicide. 

In the email, Carson invited priests to “join local Catholic bishops, clergy and lay faithful as we pray and move with Christian solidarity to lift our country up in prayer.” 

“Let us gather to rededicate ourselves to the defense of all life and recommit ourselves to an anti-racism agenda,” Carson said. 

Clergy were instructed in the email to “please wear (a) cassock, habit, or black clerical shirt,” and to bring a bottle of water, a mask, and a hat, as well as “appropriate signs/posters.” 

The protest is set to start at 11 am at Lafayette Park, before moving to the White House at noon. 

The  email from the vicar general’s office inviting priests to attend the event included the reminder that “social distancing may be difficult, so do not forget your mask.” 

Public Masses have not resumed in much of the archdiocese. Guidance on the archdiocesan website for the reopening of churches stresses that when and where public Masses resume, “social distancing will still be in place,” and “the six feet separation restriction will likely still be required.”

While some websites and social media posts have indicated that the archdiocese had ordered priests to attend the protest, the email - obtained by CNA - extended an invitation and contained no requirement to attend. 

Several priests of the archdiocese told CNA they were surprised by the invitation, given the potentially volatile atmosphere that has accompanied some demonstrations outside the White House in the past week.

Two priests of the archdiocese, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for ecclesiastical repercussions, told CNA that the event was “very unexpected,” and not consistent with diocesan guidelines regarding social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We have been told for weeks that we cannot meet groups of the faithful, open our churches, serve in our parishes. Now they want us to take to the streets,” one priest told CNA.

A priest planning to attend the event expressed to CNA his concern that photos of priests in clerical garb outside the White House could be used for partisan purposes.  

“I’ve been a priest here for more than a decade,” the priest told CNA. “I cannot remember ever being invited to wear a cassock to a public event organized by the chancery. It seems like they [just] want some good pictures.”

Neither the Archdiocese of Washington nor Fr. Ejiogu responded to CNA’s requests for comment on the event in time for publication. 

Mass in the Archdiocese of DC has been restricted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In Washington D.C., religious services are classed as “nonessential” in the District of Columbia and Mass is limited to a total of 10 people, including outdoor services. In an update to priests, circulated by the office of the vicar general last week,  the archdiocese said it was “pursuing a potential waiver application to try and make progress towards reopening.”

Other dioceses faced with similar restrictions, including in Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin, were able to reopen after religious groups threatened or filed lawsuits citing religious freedom protections.

George Floyd’s death shows need for ‘sanctity of life’ police training, researcher says

Sun, 06/07/2020 - 17:54

Washington D.C., Jun 7, 2020 / 03:54 pm (CNA).- A researcher who studies policing best practices told CNA this week that George Floyd’s arrest and death in Minneapolis reaffirm the need for de-escalation training and, ultimately, a culture of policing that recognizes “the sanctity of all human life.”

In the video of the May 25 arrest, an officer with the Minneapolis Police Department can be seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes after he was taken into custody. Floyd could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” several times. He died soon after.

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF)— a Washington D.C.-based independent research and policy organization that studies best practices in policing— in 2016 released a report detailing 30 Guiding Principles on the Use of Force and training guide for police departments.

“Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life,” the opening line of the report reads.

“It's so important because it really, in one term, one sentence, really crystallizes what policing is all about: the sanctity of human life, the importance of putting others before yourself, recognizing that even though someone may have committed a crime, they deserve to be treated decently and with respect,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF, told CNA June 4.

The report does not deal with situations where a suspect is using deadly force— such as when a person is shooting at officers or bystanders— in which case, a police officer must act to protect themselves or members of the public.

Instead, it focuses on incidents where a suspect is unarmed, or armed with a weapon other than a gun— what it describes as “incidents where officers do have time to assess the threat and develop a response that best protects everyone, including themselves.”

In the vast majority of these cases, Wexler said, a suspect may be suffering from mental illness, a disability, or may be impaired because of alcohol or drugs.

Though all the details of George Floyd’s arrest are not yet clear, videos of the incident seem to show that Floyd was in some way impaired, Wexler says. He was not armed.

“There was something going on in his life that was altering his behavior,” Wexler observed.

“He looked like he was having trouble standing; he's definitely impaired in some way...I didn't see any violent behavior. I didn't see the necessity of what they did, of having to hold him down.”

No shots were fired during George Floyd’s arrest, but nevertheless, Wexler said he “didn't see at all the necessity for the force that was used on him.”

“It's a tragedy. It's just a tragedy on so many levels,” Wexler commented.

He added that another of their guidelines is “Duty to Intervene.” He explained, “if someone was doing something wrong and there were other officers there, the other officers had a duty to intervene, meaning to try to change what that officer was doing.”

Wexler said in the case of a person behaving erratically, officers should be trained to slow down the situation, keep a safe distance, and above all, communicate as clearly as they can with the suspect.

Wexler himself was inspired, in part, by UK police departments, who usually have to respond to incidents without using deadly force. In Scotland, fewer than 2% of the country’s 17,000 officers are armed.

As part of the process, PERF took 25 police chiefs from the United States to Scotland to learn de-escalation techniques.

Scottish officers have to rely on their communications skills, tactical defense skills, and typically non-lethal equipment such as a baton, chemical spray, and handcuffs.

“They step back, and then they start talking and communicating, because they don't have a gun. In the United States, if someone pulls out a knife, the first thing a police officer will do was reach for his gun and aim it at the person. There's a big difference in approach,” he said.

In addition to impairment or mental illness, a suspect may also have other disabilities that officers have not been trained to handle appropriately.

In 2013, a man with Down syndrome named Ethan Saylor died of injuries sustained after three off-duty sheriff deputies forcibly removed him from a Maryland movie theater when he tried to enter without a ticket.

The report recommends that police departments coordinate with local mental health professionals to train officers on how to engage with people with disabilities.

PERF’s 2016 report contains many evidence-based recommendations to reduce the number of people killed by police, and the number of officers killed in the line of duty.

For example, the report recommends a ban on police shooting at moving vehicles unless the suspect is using deadly force from the vehicle— a move which greatly reduced the deaths of both suspects and officers in New York City after it was implemented in 1972. Cities like Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. have since adopted similar policies.

In crafting the original report, PERF consulted with hundreds of police chiefs over the course of two years, and looked at countless case studies and reports to put together their findings and then their training program.

PERF also consulted with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York— who was at that time the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities— as well as with Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, who lent his support in helping the group's training programs for the Chicago Police Department.

Wexler said Cardinal Dolan was particularly supportive of the language of “sanctity of life” in the report. Over the years, he said, “I've gotten some really wonderful feedback about the sanctity of human life.”

The report emphasized that most officers involved in controversial use-of-force incidents should not be faulted, because their actions reflected the training they received.

One of the biggest problems in changing the culture of policing is the patchwork of 18,000 police departments all across the country, each with its own training for officers.

“There are no national guidelines on de-escalation,” Wexler said.

“When people would say, ‘We want to de-escalate this situation,’ that term hadn't been defined. What we did is we operationalized that term and we now teach it.”

When PERF first released its guidelines in March 2016, they were met with harsh criticism from both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police.

“We cannot reasonably expect law enforcement officers to walk away from potentially dangerous situations and individuals in the hope that those situations resolve themselves without further harm being done,” the organizations said at the time in a joint response to PERF’s initial report.

Wexler said today, after four years, the report’s recommendations are “no longer controversial.”

“Many of the larger agencies have adopted them. The number one guideline, the sanctity of human life guideline, has been embraced by many departments,” he said.

Many U.S. police departments that have already incorporated de-escalation techniques into their training have seen positive results.

The report points to the Seattle police department, whose officers interact with some 10,000 people a year with mental illness and, thanks to their training, very rarely have to resort to force of any kind.

Seattle has a large number of people experiencing homelessness, and Wexler said training that helps officers understand their situation can help to avoid fatal conflicts.

For example, some homeless people sleep with a knife for protection, he said. So if an officer confronts them, their first reaction may be to go for their knife— not to attack the officer, but as a measure of self-defense.

“In those kinds of situations, we ask the police to step back, begin communicating, get cover, get yourself safe. We don't want any police officers to get hurt,” he said.

In addition, it recommends a prohibition on deadly force on suspects who pose a danger only to themselves; that departments document use of force incidents and report them to the public; and that departments make de-escalation a core theme of their training programs.

Wexler said he hopes police departments will use the various videos from the George Floyd incident to assess what went wrong and determine how such an incident can be prevented in future.

“This unfortunate video in Minneapolis will be a ‘training video,’ in the sense that they will ask officers to look at [the video], and then say, ‘Pick this apart. Tell me what happened here. Tell me what should have happened.’ That's what's different today— there's a sense that we need to learn from these situations,” he said.

 

Catholic priests may be feeling ‘nonessential’ during the pandemic- here’s how you can help

Sat, 06/06/2020 - 19:06

Denver, Colo., Jun 6, 2020 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- As restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus have forced churches to close or limit their activity in recent months, priests across the U.S. may be feeling “nonessential” as they struggle to support or even engage with their parish community, one psychologist said.

Dr. Christina Lynch, a supervising psychologist for Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, told CNA the quarantine measures around the country may be causing priests to feel unneeded and to struggle with their priestly identity. She said priests need encouragement to overcome these challenges.

“Shepherds have been removed from their flocks, and flocks and been removed from their shepherds. They're losing their sense of priestly identity and purpose. A newly ordained priest [told me], ‘I am not a minister without a community, and it's been really hard,’” she said.

“This is the time God created [these priests] to be here, at this juncture in this country during the terrible time of pandemic and riots. There's a purpose and a mission for [priests who were] ordained for that, to bring the sacraments to the people of the Catholic Church, and they need to support each other in that.”

As the novel coronavirus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease.

Beginning in mid-April, many dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses, although with limitations on attendees and regulations including the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Other dioceses have not yet resumed public Masses.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Lynch issued a questionnaire to about a dozen priests, representing different parts of the country and different priestly demographics - including vocation directors and seminary rectors, middle-aged pastors and recently ordained priests.

The survey asked questions about how the pandemic has affected the priests’ mental health, what type of support they need, and what pressures they expect to arise in the future. Lynch expressed hope that the questionnaire would help her better understand the current condition of priests, so she can help prepare psychologists to support them.

The results, she found, were that clergy said they were experiencing a greater psychological strain from the pandemic, resulting in loneliness, depression, cynicism, anger, and fear.

“The number one message I heard was that this quarantine has brought to the surface a growing crisis in priestly identity,” she said.

Being without parishioners over the last few months has in some cases led to a feeling of isolation and purposelessness among priests, Lynch explained. Because priests are limited in their interactions and ministerial duties, she said, they may feel like they are trapped and lacking control.

While marijuana dispensaries, abortion clinics, and porn shops have remained open, she said, religious institutions have been deemed nonessential by state governments. In some cases, state regulations have demanded that churches open more slowly, or with a smaller number of people than other social gatherings. In many cases, courts have rejected these rules, although the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a regulation on churches in California.

“They're getting that message from the secular. In other words, the governments. They're opening all these other kinds of stores and saying they're essential. [But] the churches can't open… They don't consider the spiritual, and yet people thrive when they have faith and when they're in community,” Lynch said.

She said the pandemic has also caused “decision fatigue” and forced priests to make choices they may never have faced before, such as large staff cutbacks. The lack of normalcy and community may also increase temptations among priests, who find it more difficult to pray.

To combat these difficulties, she said, parishioners need to show their appreciation for their pastors, and priests need to offer fraternal support to one another. She said it is important to remind priests that things will be back to normal and highlight the value of their ministry during these difficult times.

“The laity needs to reach out and send them notes and tell them they're essential and tell them how important they are,” she said.

Priests can also play a role in helping one another recognize that they are essential, she said.

“I think building comradery, calling priests in your fraternity when you're friends with them or not, and just reaching out and supporting each other. I think that's one of the best things priests can do to help each other.”

 

Catholic law school offers free help to arrested protesters

Sat, 06/06/2020 - 08:01

St. Paul, Minn., Jun 6, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Since Friday, there have been 612 arrests in the Twin Cities metroplex associated with protests following the killing of George Floyd, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

In response to the arrests, the University of St. Thomas School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced that it would defend those arrested for non-felony offenses associated with the protests free of charge. The school ranks second in the nation for practical training, according to a 2020 ranking by the National Jurist.

Defending the marginalized of society, who otherwise would not be able to afford representation, has been a long-standing goal of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, which is taking on the cases associated with the protests.

The center will defend anyone charged with “gross misdemeanors, misdemeanors, petty offenses, delinquency offenses” that are associated with the protests, such as curfew violation. The center will not defend those charged with burglary and arson, which accounted for some of the arrests accompanying the protests.

“There have been a lot of cases coming in regarding violations of the curfew and other peaceful violations,” said University of St. Thomas School of Law Dean Robert Vischer. “That’s been the focus, rather than destruction of property.”

While the charges these defendants face are petty, if a defendant does not pay the fees associated with their arrest, their charges can quickly accumulate.

“There are huge collateral consequences for a juvenile who gets a misdemeanor charge or even an adult who gets a misdemeanor charge,” said Leyla Bari, a 2020 graduate from St. Thomas School of Law and an alumna of the clinic.
 
“The way that Minnesota law is written means [that] your driver's license will get suspended, and then often people will still have to drive to work… and when your license gets suspended, that results in more fees, and often people will have to drive out of necessity, and it just creates a whole cycle of debt that it makes really difficult to get out of,” Bari said. “So it's a small, little, tiny charge that just snowballs.”
 
Sarah Koziol, a rising third year law student who has been responding to calls made to the clinic, said that these kinds of cycles “plague poor people.”
 
“These types of fines create a pathway for criminalizing people who weren't even found guilty in the first place,” Koziol said.
 
“It is critical to perpetuating the mission of St. Thomas [and] perpetuating Catholic social teaching pillars in the community in a very tangible, real way, to make sure we stand up for each protestor, each indigent person who is down there fighting for their rights, to make sure these small, little minute charges do not snowball and ruin their life,” Bari said.

Although the commitment to serving the under-represented is part of the center’s mission, this particular initiative arose in immediate response to community need and will require the volunteer work of a team of 13 law students over the summer, during a time when the center does not usually accept new cases.

“We were not planning on this being our summer, but who was?” said Rachel Moran, who founded and directs the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic. “It was just a very organic response to community need.”

On the second night of protests following the death of George Floyd, Moran received a message from Bari asking if the clinic would be able to provide representation for protesters who were being arrested.

“I saw protesters out on the streets very early on, and I was very distraught at seeing so many young black and brown youth who were the first on the front lines to be picked out by officers, being intimidated by officers, getting arrested, getting maced, and sprayed with tear gas, and I wanted to do something, so I reached out to Professor Moran,” said Bari.

“I said yes,” said Moran. “We are a clinic that prioritizes being responsive to community need.”

Vischer said that the response of the community has been “largely enthusiastic.”

“Of course, whenever you’re delving into the representation of participants in controversial social actions, it won’t be uniformly enthusiastic,” he said. “But that's part of being a criminal defense attorney; you are representing those who may not otherwise have a voice, and you may not be embraced by the larger community.”

The calls of complaints he has received from the public have expressed concern that the center is “supporting the protesters,” Vischer said.

“I point out that representing someone who is accused of a crime is separate from whether you support the underlying action that they have been arrested for,” said Vischer. “Ensuring that someone has representation doesn't mean that the person will escape all punishment for violating the law.”

“Defense attorneys broadly have to represent everyone,” said Bari. “That is our duty as attorneys. We have to represent people, we have to give people a fair shot at justice in our justice system.”
 
Koziol said that the voices that criticize the clinic often point to the destruction that ensued with protests, often saying, “look at the destruction of Minneapolis and other cities, you are supposed to be taking care of creation, not destroying it,” Koziol reported.
 
Bari challenged that assertion, saying that “by amplifying and standing up for communities who have traditionally been pushed down and silenced, we’re helping to not just keep our gardens and yards looking nice, we’re helping to actually deliver true justice, which is the fulcrum that any kind of creation needs to be premised on.”
 
“The protests are legitimate and the tactics that have turned violent were turned violent by police,” said Koziol. “When protestors can speak up, they can create meaningful change.”

As a former public defendant in Chicago, Moran said that she is accustomed to being criticized for her work.

“I’d like to have a longer conversation with them,” said Moran. “We have a duty to advocate for the marginalized and we have a duty to stand up for those who have been wronged, particularly when they have been wronged by an abusive authority. That should be very consistent with Catholicism.”

The center believes that in defending the protesters it is living its Catholic identity.

“I think a Catholic law school should be instrumental in helping provide a voice for the voiceless and that the views of those on the margins of society are heard, and I think that a criminal defense clinic, generally, is aligned well with that mission, and that includes protesters who are arrested for protests,” Vischer said.

“By protecting freedom of speech and expression, that doesn't just help one person, it helps all of us, which is directly tied to our mission, which is ‘for the common good,’” said Bari, quoting the University of St. Thomas motto. “It's not isolated as one incident.”

“It is deeply Catholic to affirm the dignity of every person, and that's really the starting point for what we’re doing here,” said Moran. “We are affirming the dignity of George Floyd. After the police denied that dignity and treated him as if he had no value, we are affirming that his life mattered.”

Cardinal Turkson: Racism driving some Catholics from Church

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 17:08

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 5, 2020 / 03:08 pm (CNA).- A Vatican cardinal intervened in an online discussion of racism on Friday to warn that a lack of welcome in U.S. churches is driving young African Catholics away from the Church.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, a Ghanaian cardinal and prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, made a guest appearance during an online panel discussion on “Racism in Our Streets and Structures” that featured Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., along with other black Catholic leaders.

Turkson noted that “bishops and pastors from parts of Africa” have expressed concern that young Catholics leaving the continent to attend schools in Europe and the U.S. return home having left the Church.

“Feeling welcome in some of our traditional churches over here is an issue,” Cardinal Turkson said. The students reporting having had difficulty being accepted in Catholic communities, he said, and so they go to where they find “fellowship,” driven “into the fold of Evangelical movements and groups.”

The online discussion on Friday was hosted by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, and moderated by the director of the initiative, John Carr.

Panelists included Archbishop Gregory of Washington, D.C., the only African-American archbishop in the United States, Gloria Purvis, host of the EWTN radio show “Morning Glory,” Ralph McCloud, director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and Dr. Marcia Chatelain a professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown.

The event was held amid national protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, in police custody. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February and Breonna Taylor in Louisville were also discussed at Friday’s panel.

Archbishop Gregory said that watching video footage of George Floyd saying “I can’t breathe” as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck reminded him of attending the open-casket viewing of Emmett Till as a young man.

Till, a 14 year-old African-American male, was lynched by white men in Mississippi in 1955, and his mother chose to have an open-casket wake to exhibit the brutality of his murder.

Chauvin has since been dismissed from the force and arrested on charges of second degree murder.

The recent killings of Arbery and Floyd are part of a “collage of individuals who have been assassinated,” Gregory said, “for no other reason than the color of their skin.”

Purvis said that she watched the video of Floyd’s arrest in horror, wanting to yell at the police officer kneeling on his neck, “Stop in the name of God! Stop!”

“I just thought the image of God is being abused right here in front of me,” she said on Friday. “It’s like watching an abortion being performed, and you can do nothing.”

Gregory also discussed a recent statement of his that criticized a visit of President Donald Trump to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C. as a political photo-op during the mass protests against racism and police brutality.

The archbishop had said the morning of the visit that it was “baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”

The White House and shrine both said that the visit had been planned in advance of the demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and other cities. A spokesperson for the shrine said on Tuesday that the White House “originally scheduled this as an event for the president to sign an executive order on international religious freedom.” Trump signed the executive order later that day.

On Friday, Gregory said that Pope St. John Paul II “was a man of incredible concern about the dignity of human beings” and even before his pontificate “was battling systems” that were intended to “deny human dignity.”

“That shrine is a holy place because of the man that it honors,” Gregory said, and it never should have been used as a “political statement.”

After some Catholics criticized Gregory’s outspoken response, he said Friday that he found the reactions “reminiscent, in my mind, to the criticism that people gave to Catholic priests and nuns that they saw marching during the civil rights period.”

“The Church lives in society,” he said. “The Church does not live behind the four doors of the structures where we worship.”

Panelists also discussed the intersection of racism and the new coronavirus pandemic. Gregory said that racism is similar to a virus in that both “are things that impact our lives that frighten us, but also come in silent and oftentimes undiscoverable ways.”

African-American communities were some of the last U.S. communities to have available testing for the virus, McCloud said. Even zoo animals and star athletes were being tested for the virus before the “equitable testing of African-American communities,” he said.

Purvis addressed the arguments that mass protests might put lives in danger by spreading the virus. Participants are well aware of the dangers of catching the virus, she said, but this speaks to the gravity of the issues of racism and police brutality they are protesting.
 
“The Lord is calling the entire nation to repentance,” Purvis said. Catholics should examine their consciences to see how they might have demeaned their neighbor in thought, word, or act. Catholics can always ask God, “please show me my brokenness,” she said. “He will do that.”
 
Offering a concrete way for Catholics to fight racism, she said “Listen to people of color. Just listen.”

The pro-life movement should also get involved to fight racism, she said, as the “Gospel imperative” behind the movement “is about the human person.”

“The call of this movement is to say we don’t want the power of the state used against us,” she said of the racial justice movement.

In her remarks, Chatelain, the Georgetown professor, asked whether Catholics are really willing to sacrifice, and to change their own attitudes, to address racial injustice.

Gregory offered that he is hopeful about change, because “if you look at the faces of so many of the protesters, the quiet, gentle, peaceful protesters—they’re white faces. There are many more white faces involved in this response than I ever saw before. And that gives me a spirit of hope that somehow this is more than just a passing moment. I pray that it’s more than just a passing moment.”

 

 

 

Catholic bishops urge US Senate to pass a delayed immigration reform bill

Fri, 06/05/2020 - 16:19

CNA Staff, Jun 5, 2020 / 02:19 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ migration chairman called on Congress to advance a bill that would help “Dreamers” and other immigrants gain a pathway to citizenship.

Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, issued a statement June 4 challenging the Senate to reconsider the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R.6).

“One year ago, today the House of Representatives passed H.R.6, a bill offering a pathway to citizenship to Dreamers, TPS and DED holders. Today, sadly, Dreamers and TPS holders remain vulnerable and without permanent legal status,” he said.

“As we await a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the legality of ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, we again call on the Senate to push forward with legislation that provides a path to citizenship for these individuals, who are essential to our communities, our Church and our country.”

The bill had passed the House by a 237-187 vote June 4, 2019. It seeks to make citizenship an easier option for “Dreamers,” children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents; immigrants with Temporary Protected Status; and Deferred Enforced Departure holders.

Dorsonville said the lack of certainty that such migrants face is a particular stress during the coronavirus pandemic, as many of them work in health care or other sectors that may expose them to the virus.

“This continued uncertainty for Dreamers and TPS holders comes at a time during the COVID-19 pandemic when many Dreamers and TPS holders are, alongside U.S. citizens, on the frontlines providing essential work for our country in health care, food supply, and transportation. For example, currently, more than 62,000 workers. . . who are DACA-eligible are working in healthcare,” he said.

If it became law, the bill would immediately grant qualifying childhood arrivals 10 years of legal residence. With two years of higher education or military service, or three years of employment, they could then receive permanent legal residence.

In the cases of armed conflict, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions, TPS allows people who are unable to return safely to their home countries to remain in the United States until the disaster is resolved. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work. TPS is available to qualified individuals from 10 foreign countries, including El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti.

Similarly, DED protects from deportation people from countries or regions facing political violence or natural disaster, and allows them to work. The status is currently given only to Liberians.

Under the bill, those with TPS or DED could apply for lawful permanent residence if they have been in the country for at least three years and have passed background checks. After five years of lawful permanent residence, they would apply for citizenship.

Over a year ago, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston decried an alternative immigration plan from the Trump Administration. The plan prioritizes immigration status based on skills rather than family ties. It would not provide legal status for “Dreamers” nor does it provide a clear path to citizenship for TPS holders.

“We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system,” they said. “Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system.”

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