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Updated: 54 min 18 sec ago

Pray-At-Home: How two women were confirmed hours before NYC shut down

1 hour 48 min ago

New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Charlotte Price and Ellen Rogers thought they would be getting confirmed together on April 11, the Easter Vigil, at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan. They thought they would have a crowd of their friends with them, and they thought they would be able to celebrate immediately with their loved ones.

None of that happened.

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, the Archdiocese of New York suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14, meaning that the chances of an Easter Vigil liturgy a month later looked pretty slim. So the Dominicans who taught Price and Rogers’ RCIA classes did what they did best: improvised.

And that is how, over the course of one year of discernment, prayer, and RCIA, Price went from having never been to Mass to being confirmed at a private one; and from never knowing a religious sister to having an audience of 12 of them at her confirmation Mass.

Raised a Congregationalist in Massachusetts, Price, 34, found herself outside of any sort of religion for about two decades. Her journey to the faith took many twists and turns, but she eventually found herself at St. Vincent Ferrer, and emailing Fr. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P., the newly-ordained priest who was in charge of RCIA.

Rogers’ journey to the Catholic faith was nearly the opposite of Price’s--she had always been religious, and had even attended Catholic Mass for years.

Raised an Anglican in Texas, Rogers attended the University of Dallas, where she began to feel the call to enter into full communion with the Church around the age of 19. About four years later, after moving to New York City last June, she began that journey in earnest, and signed up for RCIA at St. Vincent Ferrer.

Neither sought out St. Vincent Ferrer due to its connection with the Dominican Order--the church is the location of the headquarters of the Eastern Province--but both grew to appreciate the Dominican friars at the parish.

Rogers was told by a friend that St. Vincent Ferrer was “the most beautiful church in the city,” which prompted her to take a visit.

“I just fell in love with the liturgy and saw they had a big sign outside like ‘email for RCIA,’ and I said, ‘okay.’”

Price told CNA that before attending St. Vincent Ferrer, she did not know what a Dominican friar was, and thought the name  was a reference to the Dominican Republic.

“I was like, ‘is it gonna be in Spanish?’” she said, laughing. After learning that Mass was, in fact, celebrated in English at St. Vincent Ferrer, she began attending regularly.

The two both told CNA that their RCIA journeys went relatively smoothly--until the first cases of COVID-19 were found in the city and churches around the world began shutting their doors and suspending public Masses.

“I probably started thinking ‘this might not happen’ very early,” Price said. “I think I remember the first time I thought, ‘oh, this probably isn't going to happen’ was Ash Wednesday. And at that point, everyone said I was being ridiculous.”

She said that she took the news of the likely cancelation of Easter Vigil very hard, particularly because she feared the possibility of dying without being confirmed, receiving the Eucharist, or going to confession.

“I was very upset,” Price told CNA. “I mean, I didn’t blame the Church or anything, but especially since I had a much longer period away from any church--like I spent 20 years probably not going to any church at all--so for me, I was like, ‘Oh, I finally figured it out,’ I finally said ‘yes’ to Christ, and now I’m not going to be able to even to join the Church.”

She said because she had read news reports about healthy people her age that were dying of COVID-19, she was particularly concerned about getting her spiritual affairs in order in case she contracted the virus.

“All of a sudden, my mortality is right there,” she said.

“Before, I was like, ‘I’m fine waiting,’” she said. “Whatever God has in mind. But then I was like, if I die, and I haven’t been confirmed, I haven’t gotten to confess my sins, I just absolutely do not want that to happen.”

Price quickly sprung into action, and arranged her first confession. Rogers soon followed suit.

When it became clear that New York was going to implement some sort of shelter-in-place directive, St. Vincent Ferrer moved quickly to accommodate as many people from their RCIA class as possible, but within the city’s guidelines regarding social distancing and canon law. Price responded to the email first, and was confirmed in a private Mass.

The audience was just six friends--the number she was told she could invite--and 12 members of the Sisters of Life, who “sang beautifully,” said Price.

Music, she explained, was one of the things that drew her to the Church, so the experience of getting a private choir at her confirmation Mass was “amazing.”

Fr. Hagan, who celebrated the Mass, preached a homily that was entirely about Price’s journey to the faith. Price took Mary, the Mother of God, as her confirmation saint.

Rogers, who was confirmed at a separate Mass with several others, took St. Catherine of Bologna as her confirmation saint.
Rogers told CNA that her first time receiving the Eucharist was “amazing,” even though it was extremely unusual. Due to archdiocesan regulations aimed at preventing the spread of disease, the candidates had to receive the Eucharist by intinction, which means that the Host was dipped in the Precious Blood before it was given to the communicant.

“All of us were kneeling in the first pew, and Father just came to each of us and brought the sacrament to us,” Rogers said.

“So we were still kneeling, and I will never forget the Precious Body being dunked in the Blood and then looking up and seeing it, and for the first time ever seeing the flesh and blood together and it had never been so real,” she said. “That is the literal flesh and blood of my Savior, and He had just never been so personal, and so real.”

As someone who was raised Anglican, and whose family is very involved in the Anglican communion—her brother is an Anglican seminarian--Rogers said coming to terms with the differences between the communion and rituals she participated in as a child and those in the Catholic Church was one of the hardest parts of her journey into the faith.

“I just decided, it is not for me to worry about anymore,” she said, but she continues to pray that her family will join her across the Tiber.

Both women told CNA that they cried at different parts of their confirmations. For Price, it was when she received the Eucharist. For Rogers, it was when she was reciting the Profession of Faith.

“There's like a single sentence in the (Profession of Faith), ‘I confess and believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church teaches,’ and it was just that, that one sentence that I could feel my voice trembling and just the single, like, soap opera tear down my cheek,” she said 

“And I was like, hold it together. Hold it together.”

One of the six people Rogers invited to her confirmation was Price, who called the experience “such a gift.”

At that Mass, “I could actually receive Communion for the first time like a normal Catholic,” said Price.

She does not yet know when she will be able to do that again.

The continued suspension of public Masses has not been easy for neither Price nor Rogers, but both said that they have taken immense comfort in their last-minute reception of the sacraments.

As someone who regularly attended Catholic Masses before she was received into the Church, Rogers said that she had been “surprised” by how it felt to watch live-streamed Masses as a freshly confirmed Catholic.

“There's almost less distance now than there has been,” she said.

“Just the grace of having received the sacraments, and there's of course longing and sorrow for not being physically present, but knowing that ‘I have received the sacraments. I am in a state of grace. I can recite the act of spiritual communion.’ There is this sense of ‘I am part of the universal Church,’ and that can never be taken from me.”

Price said knowing that she was “really part of a community now” has helped ease her feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“I mean, I'm an only child, but now I have brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere,” she said.

Bishops can do more to provide sacraments despite coronavirus fears, open letter claims

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 19:46

Denver, Colo., Apr 7, 2020 / 05:46 pm (CNA).- In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, the nationwide shutdown of Catholic churches has halted regular Mass attendance and impeded access to other sacraments for the Catholic faithful. Now, some Catholics have endorsed an open letter asking the Catholic bishops to do everything possible to make the sacraments more available.

“We don’t absolutely need to have the Eucharist, but we want to be in the presence of the Eucharist, we want to have Mass said. We want adoration, we want processions, we want all these things,” she told CNA April 2, describing the goals of the open letter and its supporters.

“We're putting our emphasis on the last rites, the Anointing of the Sick, and Mass and Adoration,” said Smith, a retired professor of moral theology at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary. For her, the greatest concern is what she says is “the failure to work extremely hard to make certain that those who are sick and dying can receive the anointing of the sick.”

“Most concerning is the refusal by at least one bishop to permit his priests to give the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick,” Smith told CNA. “I am impressed with one order who offered to make it more available even to those who are not terribly sick. The sacrament does have the power to heal and strengthen.”

Amid the pandemic, some American dioceses have allowed pastors to administer some sacraments and devotions in conformity with government rules banning large assemblies of people. Some priests have implemented “drive-through” confessionals or “drive-in” Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

Some bishops have regularly livestreamed messages and Masses, or adore the Eucharist in public view on cathedral steps.

Other bishops have had a more cautious reaction. Some have locked all church buildings in their diocese, and have attempted to bar the administration of all sacraments except in danger of death, even if not required by law or public health recommendation to do so.

“The precipitous closing of the churches is very concerning.  In Rome within 24 hours after they were closed, they were reopened. In those places where the law has decreed that people must stay home, we should abide, but if churches can be open, they should be. Surely we can ensure that for private prayer and adoration, people can remain 6 ft apart,” Smith said.

“The one size fits all policy seems very wrong headed. In small rural communities with no outbreak of the disease, more freedom to gather should be permitted than in urban communities that are being devastated by the disease,” she added.

For backers of the open letter, more needs to be done for the laity.

“Bishops, we, your faithful flock, implore you to do everything you can to make the sacraments more available to us during this crisis. Something is terribly wrong with a culture that allows abortion clinics and liquor stores to remain open but shuts down places of worship,” the open letter says.

“While safety and cooperation with civil authorities is necessary, we must do everything we can to have access to what is essential for our spiritual lives. We should certainly not voluntarily deprive ourselves of the sacraments.”

Smith said the bishops’ response to the coronavirus pandemic has been about about “trying to protect human life,” and the letter endorsers “share completely” that goal.

“We don't want anything to be done that isn’t following the guidelines,” she said.

The open letter encourages bishops to do everything possible t o provide some form of a public Mass, especially for the Easter liturgy, including offering it themselves.

It is unclear whether some gatherings, like “drive-in” Masses offered in parking lots while attendees sit in their cars, would comply with government bans on large public gatherings, a local bishop's ban on public Masses, or public health experts’ recommendations on social distancing.

The open letter asks bishops to “demand that civil authorities permit events such as offering and attending a Mass in a parking lot, if they are currently prohibited.”

Smith said if a state or local government ban on large public gatherings includes people going to a parking lot in their car to hear Mass, “that has to be fought.”

“We want the bishop calling up the governor and the mayor and calling up the legislators and calling up whoever, and saying 'No no no, this is freedom of religion that we have to be allowed to do',” she said.

“We are not asking for anything that would put our neighbors in danger. All due precautions would be observed. How can a parking lot Mass where everyone drives there in their cars and stays in their cars and where there is no distribution of the Eucharist put anyone at danger? That is one of our chief requests to be put under consideration.”

“There is absolutely no way that this relates to the spread of the virus,” Smith told CNA.

Asked if letter organizers had consulted with public health experts on their proposals, Smith said:

“We didn’t consult any, although we have heard from many who have provided more good ideas on what can be done. We are not proposing anything specific but are asking the bishops to do everything they can to provide the sacraments within the parameters determined necessary by experts.”

Smith herself raised and then answered the question of whether organizers should have gone directly to the bishops. She said “it's not possible.”

“They're busy with meetings, and it's hard to get through,” she said. “But if you do a petition that we hope thousands will sign, then I hope we get their attention.”

The open letter advocates that civil authorities recognize religious services as “essential services,” a move which some states have done amid stay-at-home orders.

Referring to emergency declarations' distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” employees and businesses, Smith said she is concerned “the Catholic world does not seem to understand that it is simply wrong to concede that religious services are 'non-essential'.”

“Yes, we can dispense with them as virtually everything can be dispensed with in certain conditions,” she said. “But the conditions we are in right now do not, at least as far as the experts tell us, require all that our bishops have done and have allowed to be done.”

In Smith's view, “the bishops are missing in action in clearly responding to the spiritual needs of their people.” She acknowledged that almost all bishops are streaming Masses on Sunday, saying this is “a good thing” but “not the most important thing.”

While she has seen many priests doing “very innovative things” to make available the sacraments and ensure the spiritual needs of their people are being met, she others are not visibly doing enough. Some, she said, were “almost denying sacraments before they needed to.”

“We need bishops who are trying as hard as priests are to attend to the spiritual needs of people,” she said. “They are making decisions that impact our spiritual lives and we need explanations of them. We need them to tell us how we can keep our spiritual lives alive.”

The “We are an Easter People” open letter said that if the government prohibits priests ministering to the sick in the hospital or their homes, bishops should “make a personal and formal request of civic leaders to permit such ministry with assurances that all due precautions will be taken.” They should find ways for priests to provide the anointing of the sick, “especially to those at risk of dying.”

While priests who minister to the sick are encouraged to take precautions like wearing personal protective equipment, such equipment has been the subject of a nationwide shortage. Smith acknowledged the shortage and said health care professionals should have priority for their use. In many places, she added, there is not a shortage. She added that an increase in manufacturing could eliminate a shortage before long.

The open letter lists more than 20 project endorsers, including Catholic commentators, video bloggers and others. More than 24,000 internet users had signed the letter as of Tuesday afternoon.

Project endorsers include Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute; former abortion clinic manager Abby Johnson; Phillip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News; and Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder and president of the Ruth Institute; Catholic speaker Mary Beth Bonnaci, a Catholic speaker; podcaster Matt Fradd; author and movie producer Steve Ray; and Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh.

In mid-March 2020, after the coronavirus had begun to devastate Italy, Farr told CNA that bans on religious gatherings due to high rates of deadly infection can be justified, but may not target a particular religion or religion in general. They should be based on “overwhelming evidence,” with clear time limits.

“Speaking as a Catholic for whom the sacraments are not optional, and are necessary to health and welfare, however, I would hope that the Italian Church, or the Church in any jurisdiction would do everything it could reasonably do to make the sacraments available in ways that would be consistent with just authority,” Farr said.

“We invited people who have large followings in the Catholic community who would have an interest in having the sacraments and having their bishops explain their choices,” Smith told CNA.

One open letter endorser, Peter Kwasniewski, is an independent scholar who signed a 2019 letter accusing Pope Francis of heresy. Another endorser, YouTube video caster Patrick Coffin has expressed skepticism regarding of media reporting and the government response to the coronavirus.

In a March 28 YouTube video titled “The Truth About the Commie Virus,” Coffin discusses “media-fueled hysteria” and “hyperbole” about coronavirus models. They are “misleading, because they are incomplete,” he said in the video and its description. After presenting his interpretation of a medical journal article co-authored by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Coffin declared "We are burning the house down to kill a termite."

A March 24 video from Coffin is entitled “Did Pope Francis Help Cause the Covid-19 Pestilence?”

Project endorsers have “a wide variety of views,” Smith told CNA. “They are endorsing us; we are not endorsing all their positions.”

Both expert opinion and public opinion about the coronavirus response have changed in recent months. Two separate surveys from a Public Agenda-USA Today-IPSOS and ABC News-IPSOS suggest a vast majority of respondents now support canceling large-scale events. Most Americans now say they are avoiding large gatherings or crowds, and a significant minority now say they avoid religious services.

The letter’s request, Smith told CNA “is one that helps us grow in the virtues that enable us to do all the good things we should be doing now. We should speak of our love for Jesus and our need for Jesus. Our belief that He is truly there in the sacrament and just being close to him is a powerful experience of intimacy with the divine.”

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court takes pass on Washington archdiocese bus case

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear the Archdiocese of Washington’s appeal to place religious ads on public transit in Washington, D.C.

The denial leaves in place the D.C. Circuit Court’s 2018 ruling against the archdiocese, which had sought a mandatory preliminary injunction to place ads on Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains and buses.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who heard arguments in the case at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in March of 2018 but did not join in authoring the opinion of the court in July, also did not partake in the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday.

WMATA first issued guidelines for advertisements on its buses and trains in November of 2015, in which it prohibited ads promoting religion or religious practices and beliefs.

In December of 2017, WMATA rejected an ad proposal by the Archdiocese of Washington during Advent that would have directed people to the archdiocese’s “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign website.

The website contained Mass times, Christmas and Advent traditions, and links to make charitable contributions to various Catholic groups. The archdiocese then went to court to have its ads featured in the WMATA transit system.

The D.C. Circuit Court ruled against the archdiocese in July of 2018, saying that the archdiocese failed to prove viewpoint discrimination in the case, or that WMATA had unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment by rejecting religious ads but allowing for secular ones.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, while respecting the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the appeal, credited it to the inability of the full Court to consider the case.

“Because the full Court is unable to hear this case, it makes a poor candidate for our review,” the justices stated on Monday.

However, they added, in their opinion WMATA engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” and violated the First Amendment by seeking out Christmas-themed advertisements but rejecting religious ones.

“No one disputes that, if Macy’s had sought to place the same advertisement with its own website address, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) would have accepted the business gladly,” the justices wrote.

“So the government may designate a forum for art or music, but it cannot then forbid discussion of Michelangelo’s David or Handel’s Messiah,” they continued. “The First Amendment requires governments to protect religious viewpoints, not single them out for silencing.”

Arlington diocese offers virtual pilgrimage for Holy Thursday

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- It is a pious Catholic tradition to visit seven altars of repose following Mass on Holy Thursday. With churches closed and strict social distancing in force in many places, one diocese has created a virtual pilgrimage to help Catholics offer their spiritual devotion during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Diocese of Arlington will stream a live “pilgrimage” on Thursday evening through its Young Adult Ministry Facebook page. In what the diocese believes to be the first event of its kind, those watching the stream will “visit” seven different churches in the diocese, where a priest will offer a brief reflection and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament will be broadcast. 

Coordinator of Young Adult Ministry Niru De Silva told CNA that the idea for the virtual pilgrimage came after a young adult ministry coordinator asked his pastor if it would be possible to recreate the church walk online. The pastor then went to De Silva with the idea.

The virtual pilrimage will include the churches of St. Anthony's Mission, All Saints, St. Anne, the Nativity, St. John the Apostle, Sacred heart of Jesus, and St. Andrew.

De Silva said the concept reminded him of the recent Urbi et Orbi blessing given by Pope Francis, which was broadcast around the world. He said watching that blessing was a “special grace,” and that he was particularly touched to know that he was praying alongside not only Pope Francis, but everyone around the world who was watching the broadcast. 

After giving the idea of a virtual pilgrimage some thought and prayer, he realized that “there’s a special grace in this too.” 

“We can, while being socially distant, have our different priests just put on a video, give a little reflection, and show Jesus to the people.”

Now, more than normal, people need to see the example of Jesus’ suffering, said De Silva. 

“This is a time when a lot of us are feeling alone; there’s just lots of grief, sometimes agony and confusion. This is where Jesus in the scripture, relates to us in that. He was alone. He felt agony. And I think that can be really powerful for people.”

Unlike a traditional church walk, which requires that the churches be within close distance, the virtual pilgrimage will take “pilgrims” all over the diocese, De Silva told CNA. 

“Each parish is from a different deanery--all seven deaneries of our diocese,” De Silva explained. “In a way, where it would have been really difficult to do a truly dioesean pilgrimage going to all the different parishes, in a way, we’re kind of recreating that by ‘going’ to all of the regions of our diocese.”

He said that this aspect makes it “really special.”  The parishes were selected in part as they are already live streaming services and are already familiar with the technology to stream a video. De Silva hopes that this means the pilgrimage will be an “easy event to pull off virtually.” 

On the day of the pilgrimage, the stream will spend 15 minutes at each of the seven parishes, before switching to the next. The pastor at each parish will provide a reflection for about five minutes, and there will be 10 minutes of silent prayer. A prayer guide, printed in both English and Spanish, will be made available for download so that pilgrims can follow along with the evening. 

Most of all, De Silva hopes the virtual pilgrimage can serve as a way for people to feel connected during a unique and disrupted Lent. 

“I hope that it provides a sense of normalcy,” said De Silva. “I know that this is a tradition of the Church, and to not be able to go to Jesus at this time, I think there will be a sense of loss and grief.” 

By providing the virtual pilgrimage, the Arlington diocese hopes to offer a connection to usual Easter practices in unusual circumstances: “This thing that you used to do; it’s going to be different, but we’re still going to provide it to you,” said De Silva. 

De Silva also said that he hopes the pilgrimage can also be a way back to the faith who would otherwise never enter a church building and would never consider making a devotional pilgrimage.

“This is something that can almost be a passive experience, that they can just click into, and encounter something for the first time--which will hopefully then draw them in deeper into the life of the Church,” he said.

“That’s a huge hope of mine.”  

Christian leaders united in support of Oklahoma abortion order

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 14:00

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic dioceses in Oklahoma joined other Christian leaders on Monday to ask a federal court to let stand a state order halting elective abortions during the pandemic.

“Abortion is not an absolute right,” said a friend-of-the-court brief filed April 6 by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Diocese of Tulsa, the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, leaders of the state’s Baptist churches, as well as an ecumenical group of faith leaders.

“States also have a duty to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this life altering procedure. That is why courts have upheld laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, parental rights notifications for minors, and prohibitions against partial-birth abortions—even before viability,” the brief argued.

Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma issued an executive order halting non-essential surgeries and minor medical procedures in the state during the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) pandemic.

He clarified on March 27 that the order prohibited elective abortions, except in cases where the mother’s life or health was deemed to be at risk, among the non-essential surgeries that were to be halted. The order also stopped “routine dermatological, ophthalmological, and dental procedures, as well as most scheduled healthcare procedures such as orthopedic surgeries.”

On April 1, Gov. Stitt extended the order’s prohibitions until April 30. On March 30, Abortion providers in the state challenged the halt to elective abortions in court. On Monday, Judge Charles Goodwin of Oklahoma’s Western District Court put a temporary stay on Gov. Stitt’s order, allowing some abortions, including medication abortions, to continue.

The court’s restraining order is in effect until April 20, after which the court can let it expire or address the situation again. The brief, which was submitted on behalf of the faith leaders by Alliance Defending Freedom, argues that the state’s order should be allowed to go back into effect at that time.

For cases of women currently seeking an abortion who would not be able to “lawfully obtain an abortion” in the state by April 30, Judge Goodwin prevented the state from enforcing the governor’s order.

“Getting an abortion has never been an absolute right. The coronavirus didn’t suddenly turn it into one,” ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves stated. “Abortionists who seek to put their profit ahead of the well-being of women and staff who could be affected by COVID-19 shouldn’t be allowed to get away with their irresponsible demands.”

Goodwin acknowledged that the state could “impose some of the cited measures delaying abortion procedures,” during the public health emergency, but that it “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.”

Abortion providers, the Catholic and Christian leaders argued, should not be able to bring a case on behalf of women in the state because they are acting in their own self-interest.

Furthermore, they said, states are acting legitimately to curtail certain gatherings during the pandemic, and religious groups and churches are complying.

“As church communities voluntarily comply with prudential judgment of civil authorities, such governmental policies touch upon the constitutional and God given right to assemble for worship,” the brief stated.

“Everyone’s priority during this national crisis should be to protect vulnerable lives. Others seeking elective medical procedures are making that immense sacrifice. So are people of faith. So are public protestors. The abortion industry is demanding special treatment not to save lives, but to end them,” the brief stated.

Recovering from coronavirus, Archbishop Aymond says ‘become part of the story’ in Holy Week

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 03:01

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 01:01 am (CNA).- Recovering from coronavirus, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is encouraging Catholics in a message for Holy Week to “become part of the story.”

“My sisters and brothers...we can be assured that this Holy Week will be one like we have never celebrated before,” Aymond said in his video message, posted on Facebook.

“With the coronavirus and all the ramifications, and the crosses and the crisis and the challenges this has caused, it will be a very different Holy Week,” he said.

But one thing never changes, Aymond added - Holy Week is a time for Catholics to immerse themselves even more deeply in prayer and “being (not) a spectator watching Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection, but being a part of that story as it unfolds.”

Two weeks ago, on March 23, Aymond announced that he had tested positive for coronavirus and that he was in self-quarantine with mild symptoms. He was the first known U.S. bishop to test positive for the virus that has become a global pandemic.

On April 1, the archdiocese gave a brief update on its Facebook page, announcing that while the bishop remained self-quarantined at home he “continues to make good progress. He is feeling much better, and his fever is consistently reducing. His hope and prayer is to be able to celebrate the liturgies of the Holy Triduum and Easter,” services which will be televised and livestreamed.

“He thanks everyone for their prayers and assures all of his continued prayers for our community. In the midst of his recovery, he has not forgotten that the community is suffering and he remains close in prayer to all who are sick, those who care for the sick, those who are grieving, and those who are suffering with fear and anxiety,” the archdiocese’s update added.


The archbishop also continued to post video messages to his Facebook page during his recovery, updating Catholics on the latest coronavirus guidelines and encouraging them in prayer and faith. 

In his Holy Week message, he invited Catholics to become part of the story during Holy Week by choosing one of the Gospel narratives on Christ’s passion, death and resurrection prayerfully and slowly, and to immerse themselves in the story by choosing a character and looking at the scenes through their perspective.

“Perhaps sitting at the Last Supper, you can become one of the apostles,” Aymond said. “Perhaps you will be able to look at Peter as he is in the garden watching Jesus pray.”

“Perhaps we can become like Mary standing at the foot of the Cross, or like John standing next to her, or Veronica wiping his face as he is bleeding, or the women of Jerusalem as they are crying...or perhaps we can be Joseph of Arimathea, asking for the body of Jesus so that we can bury it in a very sacred way,” he added.

“If we do that, my sisters and brothers, we are not spectators of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, we become part of the story. And it is important that we always become part of the story to see God’s love and fidelity, but in a special way as we go through the coronavirus crisis,” he said.

The archbishop also encouraged Catholics to unite “our sufferings, our questions, our loneliness, our uncertainty about the future” to Christ’s sufferings this Holy Week.

In a previous video message, Aymond also asked that all churches in his dioceses ring their bells at 6 p.m. every day, as a reminder to Catholics to pray for healthcare workers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.

“May the sound of the bells remind us to lift our prayers to God for many in this time of crisis, and in a special way for our health care workers who risk their lives for our protection. May our daily bells and prayer give worship to our God,” he said.

Federal courts uphold stay on Ohio elective abortion ban, block Oklahoma restrictions

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 19:00

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday allowed some surgical abortions and medication abortions to continue during the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) crisis. The decision was made in relation to a state-ordered halt to elective abortion procedures in Ohio for the duration of the pandemic.

Ohio had ordered a halt on surgical abortions as “non-essential” medical procedures during the new coronavirus crisis, before a district court in Ohio on March 30 put a temporary restraining order on that policy.

The court allowed for surgical abortions to continue in the state, but on a case-by-case basis. If abortions could not be safely postponed or conducted via chemical prescription, then they could occur, the court said.

On Monday, the Sixth Circuit declined the state’s appeal of the decision, saying it lacked jurisdiction, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

As the district court’s restraining order allowed abortions on a case-by-case basis and did not allow for a wholesale continuation of all surgical abortions, a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit wrote that “we are not persuaded” that the court’s order “threatens to inflict irretrievable harms or consequences before it expires.”

Ohio’s health department had ordered a stop to elective abortions, among other non-essential medical procedures, during the new coronavirus pandemic in order to preserve health care personnel and resources to treat the growing pandemic.

“While all Ohioans are being asked to make sacrifices in order to preserve innocent lives, the larger medical community is sacrificing the most: not only their time, but their equipment, their private practices, and potentially their own lives,” stated Stephanie Ranade Krider, Vice President of Ohio Right to Life, on Monday.

Also on Monday, a federal judge in Oklahoma blocked that state’s restrictions on elective abortions during the coronavirus outbreak from going into effect, CBS News reported.

Judge Charles Goodwin of the Western District of Oklahoma issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s act to stop non-emergency abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the state can take lawful “emergency measures” during the new coronavirus crisis, Judge Goodwin wrote, such actions should not be “a plain, palpable invasion of rights,” including of “access to abortion.”

He concluded that the state “acted in an ‘unreasonable,’ ‘arbitrary,’ and ‘oppressive’ way—and imposed an ‘undue burden’ on abortion access—in imposing requirements that effectively deny a right of access to abortion.” Regarding its ban on medication abortions, Goodwin said its “minor” contribution to public health is “outweighed by the intrusion on Fourteenth Amendment rights.”

On March 31, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on a district court ruling, regarding Texas’ act to stop abortions except in cases where the mother’s health or life was at stake.

A district court had enjoined the state’s order from going into effect, but the Fifth Circuit put a temporary stay on that ruling to have more time to consider the case. The Texas order is back in effect for now.

Landlord encouraged by prayer waives rent amid coronavirus

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 18:00

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic landlord made the decision March 30 to waive April’s rent for all of his 200 tenants, in the hopes of giving them one less thing to worry about amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I told them not to worry, not to panic, we're going through some very tough times with this monster disease," Brooklyn landlord Mario Salerno told EWTN News Nightly.

"My Catholic faith brought it upon me to make this decision. I pray every day, and when I have extra time, when I'm in quarantine, I pray and I ask the good Lord to please conquer this vicious virus.”

Salerno, 59, owns a mechanic shop, gas station, and an auto body shop as well as 80 apartments in Brooklyn. Many of his tenants have lost their jobs, he said.

"I wanted them to have some peace of mind, not worrying about where their next dollar was. As a human, I felt a lot more comfortable making sure they had food on their table, which several of them didn't, and I felt very honored to tell them that."

Salerno said he’s not overly concerned about the loss of his income— and more concerned about the human lives residing under his roofs. The financial losses are irrelevant to the value of a human life, and “I value people's lives," he said.

“At the end of my journey, when I go and meet the dear Lord and the dear master, I want to ask Him before he could ask me: 'Was I good? How was my faith?'" he said.

Salerno posted notices on all his buildings that April’s rent would be waived. Since then, many of his tenants have approached him offering to help to pump gas at his station, mop his buildings, and offer other help.

Salerno said he has encouraged his tenants to take care of their neighbors first. He said some are still working, and are willing to pay him rent, and he has encouraged them to put their rent money toward food instead.

"We need the good Lord. He can conquer this; we need to pray,” Salerno said.

Almost ten million people in the U.S have filed for unemployment insurance in the last two weeks, a period representing the most catastrophic job loss since the Great Depression. Economists have estimated that national unemployment rate is now roughly 13%, higher than it has been since the 1930s.

 

Christmas lights for Easter? Kentucky diocese encourages 'Easter Lights'

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 17:17

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2020 / 03:17 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Owensboro is encouraging Catholics to decorate their houses with “Easter lights” as a sign of solidarity and as a reminder that through Christ’s resurrection, “the light has come into our world and has conquered even death.”

“Though it is not possible for Catholics of our diocese to gather in our parish churches for the celebration of the Easter Vigil, we can still be united in our prayer,” an April 3 announcement from the diocese reads.

The Owensboro diocese suspended public Masses March 16 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Many across our state and nation are putting up ‘Easter lights’ as a sign of solidarity during this time, so we invite all Catholics of Western Kentucky to engage in this project meant to communicate faith and hope to our neighbors and be a sign of encouragement and support to all who are suffering.”

Catholics are encouraged to display some kind of light – whether strings of Christmas lights, a candle in the window, or something else – on their property beginning at 8:00 PM April 11, Holy Saturday, through May 31, Pentecost Sunday.

The diocese also suggested that each night when people turn on their Christmas-turned-Easter lights, they also could light a candle and say a prayer for an end to the pandemic, recalling that the risen Christ  is the one who, in the words of the Exsultet, “sheds his peaceful light on all humanity.”

The announcement also recalled that the newly baptized receive a lighted candle, and are asked to “keep its flame burning brightly.”

“Let’s unite with one another in prayer this Easter season and remind one another and our neighbors that we are never beyond the reach of God. Let’s light up the world!”

Federal coronavirus financial relief: What Catholic groups need to know

Mon, 04/06/2020 - 16:00

Washington D.C., Apr 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- After the federal government clarified Friday that religious non-profits are eligible for small business loans during the coronavirus pandemic, legal experts have said the news could prove welcome relief for cash-strapped Catholic dioceses and parishes.

“The bottom line is that Friday’s rule is very good news for religious organizations,” said Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, about new federal guidance on coronavirus relief for religious non-profits.

“Parishes should coordinate with their dioceses before moving forward, but this is a huge relief to religious organizations as they seek to support their employees in the midst of this pandemic,” he said.

On March 27, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which provided relief for businesses, non-profits and workers affected by the new coronavirus pandemic.

The law allows eligible non-profits to apply for small business loans. One of the requirements for loan applicants is that they have 500 or fewer employees, which made Planned Parenthood ineligible for the relief.

As some Catholic parishes and institutions have already begun cutting or furloughing employees during the economic downturn from the pandemic, the new federal relief was seen as a possible solution to help Catholic non-profits keep employees on payroll, but many groups had questions about their eligibility under the law’s provisions.

If the Small Business Administration considered Catholic dioceses along with all their related entities—such as parishes, schools, and charities—as one large non-profit entity governed by bishop, then many, if not all, dioceses would exceed the 500-employee limit to apply for relief.

However, if each Catholic parish, school, and charity were eligible to apply for a small business loan under the CARES Act, then it could be a significant boost to their ability to keep employees on payroll as donations dried up.

Over the weekend, the SBA published a document clarifying its new rule on the eligibility of religious groups for paycheck protection and economic injury loans during the pandemic.

While not all questions have been answered, ultimately the updated rule summary is “deferential toward religious groups,” Kniffin said, as “government is prohibited from second-guessing church’s interpretation of their own doctrine or ecclesiology.”

New affiliation rules for the SBA Paycheck Protection Program issued by the Treasury Department clarify that if a smaller entity—such as a parish—and a larger one—a diocese—are tied together on religious grounds, they do not have to be considered as one large entity.

"If the tie between your local entity and a larger entity is the result of your religious beliefs, then you do not have to count that tie when you are counting up your employees,” Kniffin said.

The SBA’s updated guidance is “a grace” for Catholic institutions, said Jeremy Reidy, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg, LLP who is also a member of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocesan review board.

Before the new rule was issued, “I don’t think any diocese across the country would have qualified [for small business loans],” Reidy said. The bishop “has ultimate control over everything” in a diocese including smaller entities such as parishes and Catholic charities, he said, and each diocese could have been considered by the government to be one big organization.

Yet the government now treats the smaller entities as separate from dioceses “so long as they’re tied together for religious purposes,” he said.

Not all dioceses are structured the same, Reidy cautioned. While in “the vast majority” of U.S. dioceses, the parishes and schools are separate non-profit corporations, in some other cases the diocese is the only incorporated entity.

In these select cases, Reidy said, a “potential obstacle” to a parish or school still receiving federal relief might be that they do not file payroll taxes and tax returns separately from the diocese, and thus would be aggregated into the diocese.

A tie between a parish and diocese that is “practical” and not just religious in nature might also pose an obstacle to their obtaining relief, Kniffin said.

Yet, both Kniffin and Reidy said, Catholic institutions should consider applying for the loans under a “good-faith interpretation” of eligibility.

As the rules are “deferential” to the eligibility of religious organizations, Kniffin said, lenders are also being directed “to accept applicants’ good-faith representations at face value.”

As long as Catholic groups have their own employer identification number and 500 or fewer employees, they could apply on their own.

“I think all dioceses, with this new regulation, can make that good-faith certification,” Reidy said.

In its guidance, SBA emphasized that non-profit loan recipients can have a religious mission, and will not be penalized for employing only people who abide by the religious mission of the organization.

Each recipient “will retain its independence, autonomy, right of expression, religious character, and authority over its governance,” SBA said. Loans can be used to pay the salaries of ministers and staff.

The new rules do require that loan recipients do not discriminate when they provide goods and accommodations to the public. Depending on the interpretation of existing civil rights protections, some charities might be ruled ineligible for loans because they do not provide services in certain cases.

Examples of this might include a religious adoption agency refusing to place children with a same-sex couple, or a homeless shelter refusing to house a man identifying as a woman with other women.

The SBA says it “will not apply its nondiscrimination regulations in a way that imposes substantial burdens on the religious exercise of faith-based loan recipients, such as by applying those regulations to the performance of church ordinances, sacraments, or religious practices, unless such application is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

This question of compliance with nondiscrimination provisions is one that religious groups are still asking about, Kniffin said.

Yet with a Catholic group providing social services, such as a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, they most probably have received government funding and would thus would already be in compliance with federal regulations.

The ultimate goal of providing the loans, SBA added, is to ensure quick relief for many small businesses and non-profits which have been severely impacted by the recent coronavirus crisis.

The SBA loan is a “forgivable loan” that “can become basically a stimulus check” if non-profits abide by certain provisions such as keeping the same number of employees on payroll, Reidy said.

“It’s a great deal,” he said. “I encourage every organization to do it.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen was more than the man on television, 92-year-old niece says

Sun, 04/05/2020 - 14:35

Denver, Colo., Apr 5, 2020 / 12:35 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Fulton Sheen's niece has recounted her view of the famous Catholic television personality and author in a new book that aims to show his Christian devotion and his deep concern for the poor, even as he engaged with Hollywood celebrities, American leaders, and an audience of millions.

“I hope that you learn he was not just the man in the red robe on TV. He was a very humble man, and very religious,” Joan Sheen Cunningham, co-author of the book “My Uncle Fulton Sheen,” told CNA March 31. “His whole life was working for the Church. That was the most important thing about him. I certainly think he did his job well!”

Cunningham’s book, published by Ignatius Press, is co-authored by Janel Rodriguez, author of the 2006 book “Meet Fulton Sheen.”

Sheen was the oldest of four brothers. Cunningham was the eldest daughter of Sheen’s brother, a lawyer and father of eight, who was the second oldest to Sheen.

“It’s a history of my life, in a way,” she said. “I’m 92, so that was a long time ago!”

At the suggestion of Sheen, Cunningham left Illinois at a young age to enroll in a private school in New York City, where she lived with friends of Sheen.

This allowed her to take part in weekend outings with her uncle for Mass, confession, and dinners with Hollywood stars and influential politicians.

Venerable Fulton Sheen was born in 1895 in Illinois and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and remained there until he was named Bishop of Rochester in 1966. After he retired in 1969 at the age of 74, he was named titular Archbishop of Newport, Wales. He died at the age of 84, and was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

Cunningham’s book puts Sheen's life in a new perspective. She recounts his family’s devout Catholicism, his excellent academics and talent for public speaking, but also his deep distaste for farm life. He showed great fondness for France and the French language, but was sometimes hospitalized due to overwork.

The clergyman showed a great love for Christmas and for dogs. He famously clashed with the deeply powerful Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.

Sheen is perhaps most famous for his roles as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show, which he started in 1930, and the television shows “Life is Worth Living” and “The Fulton Sheen Program,” which ran in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. For a time, his television show was among the most popular on the airwaves.

Cunningham reflected on his influence.

“He wasn’t teaching the rules of the Church. He was just teaching them how they should be,” she said. “He wanted to follow the teachings of the Church and teach others about that. He was just following what his faith told him to do.”

Cunningham couldn’t think of anyone with as much influence as Sheen, saying this was because “he appealed to all kinds of people.”

“Often the cardinals and the popes can write wonderful things about how one should behave and what you should do and the rules of the Church, but I think he went beyond the rules of the Church. He saw people as people. That was his universal appeal.”

Sheen authored many books explaining Christianity and discussing Christian devotion. Proceeds from the book sales supported foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith for years.

Cunningham said this position was his favorite role. He proved to be capable at raising awareness of the Catholic missions in other countries and in fundraising for them. He would visit the missions in Africa and other parts of the world.

Sheen was also a man of deep Christian devotion.

“I think he prayed every day that he'd do whatever God wanted him to do,” she said.

His life showed a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary and he would speak of her in many of his sermons. He helped popularize the Mary Dixon Thayer poem “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue.”

“I don't know how many statutes of the Blessed Mother I have, because every time he would see one he'd have to buy it,” Cunningham told CNA. “His chapel in his apartment was all done in blue for the Blessed Mother.”

He went to confession weekly, engaged in frequent self-examination, and often prayed before the Blessed Sacrament.

She also recalled his kindness, sympathy, and his ability to listen and to understand people's difficulties.

“We would walk down the street in New York and there would be someone there begging. He couldn’t help but stop and talk to them and give them some money,” Cunningham said. “That was his way. He felt very badly to see so many poor people. He tried to tell people they should have a little sympathy for them and help them out.”

Being in such close contact with her uncle taught her “great faith,” she said.

“I certainly learned not to judge people by their religion or their race or anything like that. He was very open. He taught me that it doesn't matter if someone is important or just a regular person. You should treat them all the same.”

“That I remember very well, growing up. I would meet people and he would never tell me if they were very important. I just had to be gracious and talk to them like anyone else. Then later I would find out they were somebody,” she said.

Cunningham's book recounts meeting various famous people in Sheen's social circles: New York’s Gov. Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for president; the actress and philanthropist Irene Dunne; the famous journalist, radio broadcaster and gossip columnist Walter Winchell; actress Loretta Young; and the former child star Shirley Temple.

Converts aided by Sheen included prominent people like writer and politico Clare Booth Luce, but also ordinary people, like a homeless leper named Victor. Sheen’s work in engaging communists and communist polemics led to conversions of communist activists like Bella Dodd.

Another communist, Louis Budenz, personally attacked Sheen in his paper, and Sheen replied in a pamphlet. A personal encounter with Sheen deeply affected Budenz, Cunningham said, and seven years later he converted.

Cunningham’s account tells of going with her uncle to see the movie “Snow White,” to visit the ice skating rink, and to taste sweets at cafes. She recounts her memories of his vocation story, and how he integrated his work as a broadcaster, professor and author with his priesthood.

“He had a wonderful, wonderful sense of humor. He was very kind and thoughtful about everything,” she said. “I had an awful lot of fun with him, to be sure, from the time I was young to the time I had children. He was always fun.”

In some ways, Sheen was like a second father to Cunningham. He showed an ability to understand her and help her talk over questions and quandaries, even from a young age.

“if you had a quandary, he could help you find an answer to it,” she said. “He was understanding, and I think he wanted everyone to have a great faith in God and rely on God. He led me down the right path, when I would wonder about school, and of course my faith.”

His engagement with people on the street, whether admirers, critics, self-proclaimed relatives, or fallen away Catholics, also touched Cunningham. Sheen was not universally popular. Sometimes he was the subject of an angry confrontation on the street.

“He would just pretend that they were being nice to him. He would overlook it,” Cunningham said. “He always hoped that they would change their mind about it. A lot of people didn't like him, I’m sure, because of what he was teaching.”

For Cunningham, more Catholics need to continue his legacy.

“It's too bad there aren’t more people like him to carry on in the Church like he did. I think the world needs somebody like that,” said Cunningham. “If there were more people who would approach others like he did, maybe things could be turned around.”

She suspected her uncle would have this advice: “Pray to God to turn the world around. My uncle would say ‘just pray pray pray’.”

Cunningham recounts her family life and her marriage to a Georgetown Law student. Sheen gave them a copy of his book on marriage, “Three To Get Married” and helped the newlyweds find and set up their new apartment—drawing on his clergy friends to help furnish the place.

Her book has won praise from Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, Fulton Sheen’s hometown.

“This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in the life and heroic Christian witness of Fulton Sheen,” Jenky said in a foreword to the book. “Reading Joan’s fascinating account of her beloved uncle’s story gives a richly human context to the inspiring life of this good, gifted and holy man.”

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after the Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. Jenky had suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese. A lengthy legal battle followed, in which Cunningham sided with Peoria and Bishop Jenky due to the work they had put into the cause of beatification.

His beatification had been scheduled for Dec. 21, 2019, but it was postponed only weeks prior at the request of Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester, N.Y. The bishop was concerned that Sheen could be cited in investigations into handling of sexually abusive priests and alleged cover-ups during his three years as head of the diocese. Catholic News Agency reported in December that the concern focused on Sheen’s handling of a priest who allegedly committed abuse or misconduct with adults in West Virginia, then returned to New York.

Cunningham hoped the conflict with the New York archdiocese could fade with time. She voiced disappointment with the last-minute cancellation and voiced sympathy with Sheen admirers who lost money on hotel and plane reservations.

She also acknowledged she did not understand the concerns that halted the beatification..

“My uncle had been investigated many times before Rome would even look at him as a possible candidate (for beatification),” said Cunningham.

U.S. bishops: Jesus' Sacred Heart is open for you, despite 'bitter affliction' of coronavirus

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 15:22

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2020 / 01:22 pm (CNA).- The novel coronavirus pandemic's effects on victims and the closure of churches have deeply pained the Catholic faithful and clergy, but Holy Week is a time to join together to seek God's mercy and love in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said.

“In the heart of Jesus, pierced as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, we see the love of God for humanity, his love for each one of us,” Gomez said in an April 3 message for Holy Week.

“This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains,” he said. “Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.”

“Because he loves us, and because his love can never change, we should not be afraid, even in this time of trial and testing,” said Gomez. “In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love.”

Gomez said he will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Good Friday, April 10, for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. He asked Catholics to join him via internet livestream at 9 a.m. Pacific Time / noontime Eastern Time. The livestream will be hosted at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles website and the U.S. bishops' conference Facebook page.

“Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy,” said Gomez, who added that Pope Francis has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray the litany for an end to the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has created a situation “almost without precedent” in the Church, he said.

The virus, formally known as COVID-19, has infected over 1.1 million people and killed 63,800 worldwide as of Saturday afternoon, according to figures from the John Hopkins University COVID-19 Map. In the U.S., about 274,000 have tested positive, 36,000 have been hospitalized, and 7,000 have died since the epidemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

More contagious and deadly than influenza, the virus has strained the resources of hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide. The virus has ravaged Italy and Italy's Catholics, whose dead include dozens of priests. It is especially deadly for the elderly and those with health conditions.

Many businesses and social activities deemed non-essential have been ordered closed by government authorities. Catholic churches closed, sometimes in advance of government orders, for fear of spreading the disease. The closures have caused major economic and social disruption, putting millions of people out of work.

The closure of churches and restrictions on the administration of the sacraments have been especially painful for some Catholics, a situation Gomez acknowledged.

“My brother bishops and I are painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments,” he said. “This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. We ache with our people and we long for the day when we can be reunited around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

“In this difficult moment, we ask God for his grace, that we might bear this burden together with patience and charity, united as one family of God in his universal Church,” he said.  

The Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus draws on centuries-old Christian devotions. It asks mercy from the Heart of Jesus, describing it as the “glowing furnace of charity,” “rich to all who invoke thee,” “desire of the everlasting hills,” “source of all consolation,” “our life and resurrection,” “victim for our sins,” “salvation of those who hope in thee,” and “hope of those who die in thee.”

The indulgence applies to those who pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, pray for the intentions of the pope, are “truly sorry for their sins,” and desire to go to confession as soon as possible. In Catholic teaching, which recognizes that every sin must be purified on earth or in Purgatory, an indulgence remits “the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

Gomez said we should ask the Virgin Mary to intercede for us, that God “might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.”

His April 3 message further reflected on the situation.

“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth,” he said. “As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“But we know that our Redeemer lives. Even in this extraordinary and challenging moment, we give thanks for what Jesus Christ has done for us by his life, death, and resurrection,” said Gomez. “Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.”

The Los Angeles archdiocese website has dedicated a web page to the Good Friday Sacred Heart litany and livestream.

Monks offer free caskets amid coronavirus

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 14:30

Denver, Colo., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- An Iowa monastery of Trappist monks is offering an unusual but necessary act of charity amid the global pandemic - free caskets to financially struggling families who have lost a loved one.

New Melleray Abbey has been making caskets for the public and offering prayers for the deceased since 1999. The monastery announced last week its new initiative to support families affected by COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 virus will visit many families that are financially vulnerable and unprepared. In addition to their grief, they will wonder, ; ‘Where will we lay’ our loved one who has been unexpectedly taken from us,” Father Mark Scott, the order’s abbot, wrote in an announcement of the policy.

“To financially stressed families directly impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the monks of New Melleray offer free of charge pine caskets made from trees from the abbey forest,” he added.
 
New Melleray Abbey supports itself by building solid wood caskets made from fully matured trees harvested at the order’s acreage in Dubuque County, Iowa.

All of the donated caskets will be blessed and, as the order continues to pray for the deceased, the monks will send a card of remembrance to families on the first anniversary of the person’s death. The order also plants a tree for each casket made, as a living memorial.

Marjorie Lehmann, director of administration for New Melleray Abbey, told CNA that the order has already received a few requests for free caskets since the initiative was announced March 25.

“The free casket offer is a temporary measure designed to provide some financial relief to families who are undergoing financial distress because of COVID-19,” she said.

While the monks live a hidden life of prayer, she said, they are keenly aware of the current events. She said the order has provided this service to be close to the pandemic victims, and provide a service to those families facing financial difficulties as well.

“In the crisis of COVID-19, [they] make the offer of the casket as an expression of their solidarity with all those who are suffering because of the virus,” Lehmann said.

“They believe that it's a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and … since they are a cloistered group of monks, this is how they can reach out to the world and help in a time of need.”

More than one million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and more 50,000 have died. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks, as mandatory lockdowns have forced numerous businesses and organizations to close their doors.  

Lehmann said the virus is a potential danger for anyone, noting that the full ramifications of the pandemic have yet to be seen.

“[It] could really be anyone who might be out of a job because their workplaces needed to close down because of this pandemic. It really could be anyone finding themselves in financial stress or needing that comfort of burying their loved one and a small part of relief in their life from a donated casket,” she said.

“[It’s] honoring someone's life, respecting the person that passes away is honoring that person's life and validating that person's life,” Lehmann added.

“People need people to show compassion. This is a very small gesture of something that a lot of people would need in this pandemic. So to be compassionate and know that people are not alone, that we're thinking of them, we're praying for them, and we're here to help in this manner. There's no reason not to do it.”

 

How the Phoenix diocese is helping families celebrate Holy Week at home

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 14:01

Phoenix, Ariz., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Holy Week this year is going to look different for almost every Catholic in the United States.

On Palm Sunday, people will wave last year’s palms, or this year’s pine branches, or, if they’re lucky, palms from their parish, from the confines of their home instead of the pews of their parish. On Holy Thursday, feet will be washed by a family member, or not at all. For the veneration of the Cross, Catholics will kiss their personal crucifixes instead of lining up to kiss the crucifix at their parish. Candle-lit Easter Vigils will be celebrated by solitary priests livestreaming Mass from empty chapels.

It’s going to be different, and it’s going to be hard. That’s why a group of priests and laypeople at the Diocese of Phoenix compiled “A Journey Through Holy Week for Families”, an online flipbook resource to guide Catholic families through celebrating Holy Week from their homes.

“We had a meeting last week...specifically about Holy Week and how to enter into Holy Week knowing that we couldn't have public Masses at this time,” Fr. John Parks, the Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix, told CNA. “We just thought - what are ways that we could really strengthen the family and invite the family to pray as the domestic Church?” he said.

“You're not going to be able to see the washing of the feet at Mass. So can we include a little rite from home that a family could do the washing the feet of their family members?” Parks said.

“Or on good Friday, again, you can't see or experience the veneration of the Cross at Mass, could we equip a family to do a little veneration of the Cross from home?”

After the brainstorming session, Parks’ colleague compiled all the readings, prayers and resources into a 150 page online “flipbook” for families. The books covers the Mass readings as well as prayers and other liturgically-themed activities from Palm Sunday through the Triduum and Easter Sunday, as well as the readings and resources for Divine Mercy Sunday, which comes eight days after Easter.

The online book includes links to videos that include everything from livestream Masses from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Phoenix to talks by Bishop Robert Barron to recordings of songs to sing during prayer time at home.

It also includes links to recipes, virtual pilgrimages, coloring pages for kids, a guide to cut out palms from green construction paper, and a Holy Thursday puppet show script.

“There is so much...there's all these different activities and songs you can play. So my only fear that it'd be a little overwhelming. But we’re trying to tell parents, just pick two or three things and have a little game plan for the day,” he said.

“So it’s like reading a playbook for sports - they don't run every play, you just pick the play that you think will help your team, so that's what we're thinking of.”

Parks said while he understands that this Holy Week will be different than what families are used to experiencing, he thinks that this is a special time of grace for families, who are acting as the domestic Church.

“I really believe that God is pouring out a grace now to strengthen the domestic Church in the family. And that there's a great thing poured out specifically for parents, to live deeper in their natural authority that they have over their children, to make them saints and to help them,” he said.

“This little book, it's like ‘ut vadat tecum’, in Latin, ‘to go with’ you. It goes with you. It's a tool that we hope to put in the hands of parents and pastors to help them equip families to walk through this week,” he said.

“That would be my desire, is that even though people can't participate in public liturgies, there's still a way to participate, to a lesser degree of course, but from the home. And I think for some families that might be unique. They've never done a washing of the feet. They've venerated the Cross. They've never prayed the Stations of the Cross in their own home. It can be a really beautiful moment of experiencing holy things in the home.”

Palm supplier sees business halved by coronavirus cancelations

Sat, 04/04/2020 - 01:55

Denver, Colo., Apr 3, 2020 / 11:55 pm (CNA).- Thomas Sowell and his wife own Southeast Palm and Foliage in Astor, Florida, in the middle of the state, about 40 miles west of Daytona Beach.

“It's in the middle of nowhere, actually,” Sowell told CNA in January.

Sowell isn’t Catholic, but his business supplies palms to hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country— in every state, as well as in Canada— not to mention the many Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran communities that also use palms.

Last year, the Sowells’ farm shipped over four million palm leaves.

“There's not many of us that do this. There's not many people, not many companies do what we do,” Sowell told CNA.

“I know that there have been, over the past, say, 50 years, quite a few other companies embark upon this, but for whatever reason they couldn't hang in there with it. It's really difficult.”

Sowell never imagined how difficult this year’s harvest would turn out to be.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, and with Mass suspended through Holy Week in every Catholic diocese in the United States, the Sowell’s business is taking a hit.

“We had an incredible number of cancellations up until two weeks ago,” he told CNA April 2.

Most of his orders for Palm Sunday come in during January, he said. This gives the palm suppliers the chance to harvest the palms, package them, and refrigerate them so they stay fresh before they’re shipped.

Normally, some of the biggest challenges to Tom’s business are natural, such as hurricanes and flooding. In terms of the weather, this was a great harvest year, he said, and they were able to gather all the necessary palms to fulfil the Palm Sunday orders they originally had. The process of cutting, cleaning and preparing the strips of palm is incredibly labor intensive.

But then, as the coronavirus pandemic took a hold in the US, parishes started canceling those orders.

“So here we are with an incredible amount of palms left over that were scheduled to be prepared and shipped...we just lost that,” Sowell said.

Altogether, Sowell said his family will likely ship fewer than half the palms they did last year.

“It's unbelievable. It's hard to grasp what's going on globally,” he said.

Though Sowell also uses leftover palms to create ashes for Ash Wednesday, he has such a large enough stockpile of ash— eight to ten years worth, in fact— that he said it doesn’t make sense to burn any more palms, especially since ash doesn’t go bad.

All the extra palms are currently in a dumpster on his property. The only thing he can really do with them, he said, is use them as fertilizer for next year’s crop.

“So we'll just take them out, spend a few days to drive through the areas where they came from and just scatter them back out again,” he said.

Kate Olivera contributed to this report.

U.S. religious freedom ambassador calls for release of prisoners of conscience

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 21:00

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. religious freedom ambassador on Thursday called on governments to release prisoners of conscience during the new coronavirus pandemic.

“In this time of pandemic, religious prisoners should be released.  We call on all governments around the world to do so,” Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said on April 2 during a conference call with reporters.

He said that the “very crowded, unsanitary conditions” faced by some prisoners is a nightmare scenario during a pandemic.

“These are people that should not be in jail in the first place,” he said. “They are simply in jail for peacefully practicing their faith, and yet various regimes put these peaceful prisoners in jail.”

An official U.S. list of global prisoners of conscience was mandated under the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that makes policy recommendations to the State Department, is charged with creating the list. USCIRF says the list is “in formation.”

Brownback did note specific areas of concern for prisoners of conscience, however, he praised Iran’s furloughing of 100,000 prisoners of conscience, but added that some “high-profile religious prisoners” are still detained there.

In China, as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province (XUAR) in the country’s northwest.

Although the country has officially reported only 76 COVID-19 cases in the region, diaspora groups are concerned that the actual number of cases is much higher—and of the potential for the disease to spread in the mass internment camps where hunger and torture have been reported.  

Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong members have also been imprisoned for their faith in China, and should be released, Brownback said.

He also called on the government of Vietnam to release 128 prisoners of conscience, for Russia to release “nearly around 240 prisoners of conscience,” Eritrea to release 40 prisoners, and for Indonesia to release more than 150 people detained for violating the country’s blasphemy laws.

When asked by reporters if he was concerned about any countries in particular, Brownback responded “Iran, simply because it’s got hit big early and you’ve got a number of notorious prisons that are there that are quite overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.”

“North Korea has a very high number [of prisoners],” Brownback said, who “would be under exceeding exposure to COVID.”

Vulnerable religious populations elsewhere could also be at risk of the pandemic, he said, including Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh. “When we talk about a crowded place,” he said, “if COVID got going there it would just spread like wildfire.”

A Nigerian cardinal, he said, also commented that the country would not have the resources necessary to deal with a serious outbreak.

USCIRF has also voiced concerns that governments could use the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities, or violate freedom of religion.

The commission issued a fact-sheet on March 16 outlining some of its concerns, including Muslim Uyghurs being forced to work on factories around China despite health concerns, churches in South Korea subject to harassment for their alleged role in spreading the virus, and Saudi Arabia issuing a travel ban on a predominantly Shi’a Muslim province.

But on Thursday, Brownback said that, according to “anecdotal information,” governments around the world were not citing the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities.

He said that “fortunately the reporting that we are seeing is that governments are, by and large, not doing that and in some cases being more lenient towards religious minorities.”

He also called on churches and religions around the world to practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus.

“I haven’t been to mass myself in several weeks, and it’s the longest period I’ve gone without going to mass, and I think people should be doing this to stop the spread of the virus,” Brownback said.

NY Catholic nursing homes in 'desperate need' of supplies to fight coronavirus

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 19:30

New York City, N.Y., Apr 3, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- The threat of the coronavirus has hit nursing homes of the Archdiocese of New York especially hard, with families now being advised to bring their loved ones home if possible.

Fr. John Anderson, vice president for mission integration at ArchCare, a “post-acute delivery system” of the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA on Friday that the system’s CEO has advised families with loved ones in ArchCare nursing homes to bring them home if they can be cared for there.

NBC News reported on Thursday that ArchCare’s nursing homes have been especially hard-hit by the crisis, with more than 200 COVID-19 cases among residents.

“Our nursing homes are desperately in need of PPE [personal protective equipment],” Fr. John Anderson told CNA.

As to whether families are starting to bring their loved ones home, “I have not seen a lot of that going on,” Fr. Anderson told CNA on Friday.

ArchCare serves 9,000 people each day in nursing homes, a long-term care program, and a specialty hospital.

New York City has become the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases skyrocketing from more than 5,700 cases on March 20 to more than 57,000 confirmed cases and 1,584 deaths as of April 3.

Yet a lack of PPE—particularly in nursing homes—poses a critical problem for chaplains. The shortage is so acute in the region that health care staff have been asked to use one mask all week long when they would previously have changed it between patients.

The health department “asked us to not only use it [the mask] all week, but to do whatever we can to use it the week after,” Fr. Anderson said.

Availability of PPE makes the difference between chaplains’ ability to have a face-to-face visit with a sick patient, or to stand in the doorway a safe distance away, he said. Without PPE, priests cannot administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick which requires the direct anointing of the patient with blessed oil.

“Chaplains are there to pray,” he said, but “can only spend so much time with a patient” during the crisis.

Two ArchCare chaplains have tested positive for COVID-19, he said, but other archdiocesan priests have volunteered their services, “very willing to help.” The archdiocese is also monitoring the situation for elderly nuns in convents, who are more susceptible to the virus.

Another difficulty is families of sick patients not being able to visit them in the hospital or nursing home—“hard to see,” Fr. Anderson said.

There are also no funerals, but simply burials with up to 10 people who can attend, spaced apart.

With Easter approaching, nursing home residents and hospital patients may not be able to attend Mass in person but are still ministering to patients as best they can.

“We have gotten palms” for nursing home residents, Fr. Anderson said ahead of Palm Sunday, with accompanying prayer cards in English and Spanish. Priests will also offer Holy Week Masses in a chapel to be filmed and projected onto living room TVs for the elderly patients.

The Order of Malta is making Easter cards for residents in one program, Fr. Andreson said, while the Knights of Columbus are also making Easter cards for patients.

“Folks have been very generous and have really come forward,” he said.

New York uses budget bill to legalize commercial surrogacy during coronavirus

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 19:00

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The state of New York legalized commercial surrogacy as part of a budget bill passed on April 3. The law was condemned by the state Catholic conference. There are now just three states where commercial surrogacy is not legal. 

“The action by the legislature and governor to legalize monetary contracts for surrogate motherhood stands in stark contrast to most other democratic nations across the globe,” Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement Friday.

“[Other countries] have outlawed the practice because of the exploitation of women and commodification of children that inevitably results from the profit-driven surrogacy industry,” she said.

The New York State Catholic Conference represents the bishops of New York state in matters related to public policy. 

Gallagher criticized the inclusion of legal commercial surrogacy in a budget bill during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York has more cases of coronavirus than any other U.S. state, and has seen nearly 3,000 people die from the disease. 

“We simply do not believe that such a critical legal and moral decision for our state should have been made behind the closed doors of a Capitol shut off to the public,” she said. “The new law is bad for women and children, and the process is terrible for democracy.” 

In January, Gallagher was critical of the bill, calling it “a dangerous policy that will lead to the exploitation of poor, vulnerable women, and has few safeguards for children.” There are no safeguards such as residency requirements and background checks for surrogate parents, the conference points out.

“The surrogacy legislation is designed mainly to benefit wealthy men who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay baby brokers, at the expense of low-income women,” said Gallagher in a January 8 statement. 

Previously, New York was one of four states that prohibited contracts that would pay surrogate mothers to carry and deliver an unrelated child that would be then placed with a different family. 

Louisiana, Michigan, and Nebraska are the only states that now do not allow commercial surrogacy.

Gestational surrogacy typically uses a “donor” egg, rather than the surrogate’s ovum, to avoid legal complications if the surrogate were to decide she no longer wants to surrender the child to the “intended parents.” 

The donor egg is then fertilized and implanted in the surrogate using in-vitro fertilization (IVF). 

Regarding the practice of IVF, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2376 teaches that:

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’”

Previously, all surrogacy in New York was known as “altruistic” surrogacy as the surrogate mother could not be paid for carrying the child. 

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), said that the passage of commercial surrogacy was a move to “bring New York in line with the needs of modern families, while simultaneously enacting the strongest protections in the nation for surrogates.” 

Under the new law, those wishing to use a surrogate must pay for her life insurance during the pregnancy and for one year after giving birth, and the “intended parents” must pay for legal counsel for the surrogate mother. Surrogates must be at least 21 years of age. 

Paulin has worked on legalizing commercial surrogacy for 14 years, and first introduced legislation to legalize the practice in 2012. 

She said her bill would provide “the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents.” 

Surrogacy costs range from $55,000 to nearly a quarter of a million dollars. 

In addition to the legalization of commercial surrogacy, the budget bill also banned plastic foam containers and flavored vaping products, instituted new paid sick leave requirements, expanded wage mandates, and introduced new policies that make it more difficult for third parties to qualify for ballots. 

The legalization of commercial surrogacy goes into effect on February 15, 2021.

'Catholics for Trump' launches with online broadcast

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The “Catholics for Trump” coalition was officially launched on Thursday evening in an online broadcast.

The coalition, led by American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and political consultant Mary Matalin, says it aims to “energize” the Catholic community in the U.S. to re-elect Donald Trump.

The 2020 Catholics for Trump group said it aims to focus on its view that the president’s policies model and reflect Catholic social teaching.

“The best president we’ve ever had for Catholics and Catholic values—and by that I mean those are American values—has been President Trump,” Matalin said.

The 2020 presidential election is predicted to be a tight race, and recent polling shows Catholics split over Trump’s reelection.

In February, polling conducted by RealClear Opinion Research for EWTN News asked Catholics about their plans for the 2020 election.

Among all Catholics surveyed, Trump had a 47% net approval rating and 46% said they would certainly or likely vote for him in November. 46% of Catholics also said they would not vote for Trump, or it was unlikely they would do so.

Those numbers broke down differently amongst various demographics. Among Catholics who said they accept all the Church’s teachings, 63% strongly or somewhat approved of Trump’s job as president and 59% said they would certainly vote for him in November.

Among Hispanic Catholics, Trump had a 29% net approval rating, and 34% said they would certainly or likely vote for him in November. 

In the lead-up to his reelection campaign, the president has been widely praised by some Catholics, especially those edified by his appearance at the 2020 March for Life - the first time a president has appeared at the event, and those who praise the administration’s initiatives on issues related to religious liberty and education. Other Catholics, however, have criticized Trump’s policy positions on immigration, and his personal comportment, which many characterize as divisive.

The U.S. bishops have issued both statements of criticism and praise for the Trump administration.

The president has had a rocky relationship with Catholics from the start of his candidacy in the 2016 election. When Pope Francis made a February, 2016 visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump called the pope “political” and a “pawn” of the Mexican government, and talked of building a border wall.

During an inflight news conference on his trip back to Rome, Pope Francis said that “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.”

While Trump drew support from some prominent Catholics during his 2016 campaign, especially those advocating for pro-life policies, others, including some prominent conservative Catholics, were critical of the Trump campaign. 

In March 2016, as Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate gained momentum, prominent Catholic intellectuals Robert George and George Weigel wrote “an appeal to our fellow Catholics,” arguing that Trump “is manifestly unfit to be President of the United States.” They cited the “vulgarity” of his campaign, “appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice,” and a lack of confidence in his pro-life and pro-religious freedom credentials.

Although initial reports claimed that Trump won the Catholic vote in 2016, a 2020 RealClear Opinion Research poll sponsored by EWTN found that, of the Catholics surveyed nationwide, Hillary Clinton won the Catholic vote in 2016 with 48% to Trump’s 46%.

Just after Trump was elected president in November 2016, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles noted the fears of immigrants at a prayer service, saying that “men and women are worried and anxious, thinking about where they can run and hide. This is happening tonight, in America.” He pledged to “our brothers and sisters who are undocumented – we will never leave you alone.”

U.S. bishops, including Gomez, have continued to raise concern about the administration’s immigration policy, though in 2018, Gomez did praise an executive order from the White House calling for an end to family separation policies, and called for bipartisan congressional action on immigration reform.

In 2017 Pope Francis received Trump in a Vatican audience.

According to a May 24, 2017 Vatican communique, Pope Francis and Trump expressed satisfaction "for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."

Earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence also met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

On Thursday, Catholics for Trump leaders promised to make the group a “movement,” and to demonstrate that Trump is upholding Catholic social teaching by preventing “activist” judges in the courts, protecting religious institutions from coercive government mandates, upholding pro-life policies, and strengthening the economy.

“I think the most important thing we can do is to be a vehicle to deliver the truth,” Matt Schlapp said, to share “how Catholics should adjudicate the issues that our society faces.”

In an era when many are weary of “fake news,” Schlapp said, “let’s make sure that we’re a place where people can quickly find the facts and figure out what’s going on.”

One of the group’s priorities will be to emphasize Trump’s leadership during the global COVID-19 pandemic, leaders said.

“President Trump does talk about hope,” Mercedes Schlapp said on Thursday.

Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life and a co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition, is also a member of the Catholics for Trump advisory board.

Pavone said on Thursday’s broadcast that “this coalition is going to be truly a movement where Catholics rise up and say, ‘hey look, everything that the Church has been saying, we’re seeing it unfold before our eyes, not like magic, but with strong effort and united effort under this president.’”

“Thank God he’s the one leading us through this,” Fr. Pavone said, in reference to the pandemic. 

Trump is bringing together various federal agencies, the private sector, and state and localities, the priest said, and “is articulating what we’re all feeling” right now

In contrast, Pavone said, Democrats “keep attacking and keep complaining and keep criticizing and keep lying,” Pavone said.

“But the President is setting exactly the right tone. He’s not ignoring how serious the problem is. Very much the opposite. He’s leading in responding to it.”

Pavone is one of two clerics on the board of Catholics for Trump, the other being Deacon Keith Fournier, a married permanent deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Va. 

The priest’s campaigning work has previously drawn scrutiny. During the 2016 election campaign, Pavone served as a member of a Catholic advisory group for Trump, and posted a video in which he asked for votes for Trump while standing behind an altar on which he had laid the body of an aborted baby. 

At the time, Bishop Patrick Zurek of Pavone’s home Diocese of Amarillo said the stunt was "against the dignity of human life," and that he would investigate Pavone’s actions. The results of that investigation have not been announced.

Canon law provides that clerics “are not to have an active part in political parties” unless their bishop judges that “the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.”

CNA asked the Diocese of Amarillo if his active role in the president’s reelection campaign had been authorized by the bishop. No response was received by the time of press.

Trump has protected the right to life, Pavone said, but “is protecting the strength of our military,” the “right to work, and the “economy and the free market from the threat of socialism” and from “unfair trade practices,” and is also protecting “borders from criminal aliens.”

All of these, Pavone said, are Catholic values.

The coalition leaders have especially emphasized the president’s pro-life credientials.  

In 2016, Trump’s campaign announced the launch of a pro-life advisory board, headed by Marjorie Dannenfelser who is also president of the Susan B. Anthony List. Dannenfelser is co-chairing the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition with Fr. Pavone, and is also a member of the Catholics for Trump advisory board.

Trump made four specific pro-life promises in his 2016 campaign letter to pro-lifers: that he would nominate “pro-life justices” to the Supreme Court, sign the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law, strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding “as long as they continue to perform abortions,” and codify the Hyde Amendment in law. The Hyde Amendment bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions, and is passed each year as a budget rider. Trump promised to make it permanent law.

Of the four promises, Trump has not has not codified the Hyde Amendment as law, nor signed a pain-capable bill, which failed to pass both chambers of Congress before Republicans lost the House in the 2018 elections. 

The administration has strengthened protections against taxpayer funding of abortion providers in Title X family planning funds, and in overseas global health assistance. Because a measure to defund Planned Parenthood failed to pass the Republican-led Senate in 2018, Trump has not completely divested Planned Parenthood and abortion providers of federal funding. 

The 2019 Protect Life Rule clarified that Title X recipients could not refer for abortions as a method of family planning, nor could they co-locate with abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood announced in August it would leave the program rather than comply with the new regulations.

The administration has reinstated the Mexico City Policy’s ban on funding of abortion promoters and providers overseas, and expanded it to include $8.8 billion in global health assistance.

Trump nominated two justices to the Supreme Court who were praised by Dannenfelser and other pro-life leaders, although no major abortion case has yet been decided by the two new justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The current Supreme Court term was slated to feature the first significant abortion case at the Court since 2016, Louisiana’s safety regulations of abortion clinics. However, the court’s schedule is expected to be significantly altered in the coming weeks due to the new coronavirus.

Supreme Court delays Little Sisters of the Poor hearing because of coronavirus

Fri, 04/03/2020 - 17:30

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court announced Friday that oral arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were originally scheduled for April 29, but the court announced on Friday that they would be postponed “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19,” together with other cases due to have been heard that week and the previous week.

The case of the Little Sisters involves their religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate.

The states of Pennsylvania and California have sued the Trump administration to strip the religious community of their exemption to the mandate. In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the sisters to intervene in the states’ lawsuits.

“In this trying time for our nation, the Little Sisters of the Poor are dedicated to protecting their elderly residents from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket which represents the sisters in court, in a statement released Friday. 

“Now more than ever the Sisters need the freedom to focus solely on that mission.”

On Friday, the court announced that it “will consider a range of scheduling options and other alternatives if arguments cannot be held in the Courtroom before the end of the Term.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor have spent years in litigation related to the mandate. The 2010 Affordable Care Act mandated certain preventive coverage in health care, and the Obama administration interpreted the mandate to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilizations.

Afterward, the administration announced a process by which non-profits with religious or conscientious objections could notify the government, which in turn would direct their insurer or third-party plan administrator to provide the coverage in employee health plans.

Religious institutions, including the Little Sisters and Catholic dioceses, said that the “accommodation” still forced them to violate their religious beliefs in the provision of morally-objectionable procedures in employee health plans.

The case of the Little Sisters, bundled together with other cases, was heard by the Supreme Court which, in 2016, sent the case back down to lower courts, instructing the religious entities and the government to come to an agreement whereby the wishes of both parties could be attained.

In 2017, the Trump administration issued a rule exempting the Little Sisters and other religious entities from the mandate. State attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California then challenged the exemption in court.

The Little Sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July of 2019, and lost their case against California at the Ninth Circuit Court in October. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear their case.

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