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Why priests don't endorse candidates: Experts respond to FEC chair

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 19:00

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).-  

In an interview Wednesday, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission accused Catholic bishops of “hiding” behind the Church’s tax exempt status instead of backing political candidates, and said that priests and lay Catholics have a “right” to conduct political activity on parish premises. 

The Catholic Church has had long-standing policies against endorsing particular candidates for political office. Experts in civil and canon law explained to CNA why Catholic clerics do not endorse political candidates, and why that issue touches on the religious liberty of the Church.

James E. Trainor, a Catholic, was appointed to the bipartisan commission by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate earlier this year. He spoke Wednesday in an interview with the website Church Militant.

In his interview, Trainor questioned the legal and moral authority of bishops to limit the endorsement of candidates from the pulpit and in the pews.

“I don’t think a bishop has the right to tell a priest that he can’t come out and speak… When the priest takes the vow [sic] of obedience to the bishop, it is in the area of faith and morals, but they have a higher duty to our Lord, and if the bishop is putting something out there that is not right then the priest has an obligation to the faithful to correct it,” he said.

Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP, is a civil and canon lawyer who was nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to the Board of Directors of the Congressionally-funded Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding for legal aid programs. 

The priest, who serves as a professor of canon law at St. Patrick’s University and Seminary in California, told CNA it is not the function of clergy to instruct laity on who they should choose in the voting booth.

“The primary end of the Church is not the ordering of civil society,” he told CNA. “The primary end of the Church is the sanctification of humanity,” he said. “While the Church is concerned that secular society be just and moral, the prudential decisions on carrying that out is properly the role of lay people in the world.”

“While it is true, as the Second Vatican Council said in Gaudium et Spes, ‘the Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other,’ that autonomy of the secular world does not mean an autonomy from natural and divine law. The Church must grant to the secular government its legitimate autonomy, and the legitimate freedom of Catholics within a particular country to participate in that governance.” 

“Nonetheless,” he said, “the Church has a right and duty to elucidate the moral precepts that guide a society in properly fostering the common good.”

Trainor also said bishops are too cautious about their ability to engage directly in partisan politics under civil law.

“The bishops are using their nonprofit status as a shield to hide behind,” he said, “from having to make a decision about who to support [in the elections].”

He charged that bishops choose to be silent on political matters out of concern they might lose grants received by Catholic institutions for refugee resettlement and other federal programs. 

Eric Kniffin, an attorney specializing in First Amendment and religious freedom cases, told CNA that, in practice, bishops have little reason to be concerned about government ramifications from political speech.   

“The Internal Revenue Code, on its face, bars tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other religious organizations—from saying anything ‘on behalf of’ or ‘in opposition to’ a political candidate,” Kniffin said.

“This restriction, often referred to as the ‘Johnson Amendment,’ is still on the books, even though President Trump has directed the IRS to be lenient in its enforcement of the law.

“At a practical level, the federal government has not had much appetite to enforce this rule,” Kniffin, who has worked for the Department of Justice and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA.

During the interview, Trainor also said that in his view, civil law prevents bishops from prohibiting their priests from endorsing candidates.

“If you look at it just from a legal perspective, the priest to bishop is still an employer-employee relationship and that’s the employer telling the employee what they can and cannot do.”

“We don’t tolerate that anywhere else, in fact there has been this huge uproar over NFL owners not allowing players on the field to be able to protest.”

But Kniffin told CNA that the comparison to NFL franchises was inapt, and that the legal ability of churches to regulate the actions of clergy is well established.

“The Supreme Court recently affirmed that the First Amendment’s church autonomy doctrine guarantees churches ‘independence in matters of faith and doctrine and in closely linked matters of internal government,’” he told CNA.

“This doctrine prevents government from interfering with the relationship between churches and their members and between churches and their ‘ministerial’ employees.”

Fr. Pietrzyk explained that in the mind and law of the Church, the relationship between a bishop and priest is much more than employer-employee.

“It is completely inappropriate, and a violation of the Church’s legitimate autonomy, an autonomy recognized in the First Amendment to the Constitution, for a federal official to opine, under the cloak of that office, on the duty of obedience owed by a priest to his bishop,” he said.

“There is a tendency among U.S. government officials – whether federal bureaucracies or local judges – to try to fit the Church into a secular category,” he told CNA. 

“Certainly there are aspects of the bishop-priest relationship that look like employment.  The diocese usually pays the priest’s salary, provides him health insurance, etc. But it is an ongoing mistake on the part of secular authority, and indeed a violation of the freedom of religion, to force the employer-employee model as the primary or only way of understanding that relationship,” the priest added.

“The document Christus Dominus, a decree from the Second Vatican Council on the Pastoral Office of the Bishop, said that, ‘[Bishops] should regard the priests as sons and friends.’”

“At the same time,” Pietrzyk told CNA, “the bishop is the head of the diocese, as a father in a family. The ministry of the priest depends on his submission to the legitimate authority of his bishop. Thus, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote, ‘there can be no genuine priestly ministry except in communion with the one's own Bishop, who deserves that filial respect and obedience.’”

“Every Catholic, and even more so a priest, has a duty to submit to the legitimate governance of their bishop,” he said.

George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told CNA that in his view Trainer’s comments reflected a serious misunderstanding of the relationship between priests and bishops in the Church.

“Mr. Trainor seems woefully ill-informed about the relationship between the bishop and priests of a diocese,” Weigel said.

“He also seems to think of his fellow-Catholics as dolts who require specific instructions on voting from their religious leaders.”

Weigel reflected on a longstanding American anti-Catholic stereotype that bishops and priests direct Catholics about how to cast their votes. 

Trainor’s view “mirrors the false charge laid against Catholic immigrants for decades by anti-Catholic bigots, which suggests that Mr. Trainor is also not very well versed in U.S. Catholic history,” Weigel said. 

Fr. Pietrzyk told CNA that as chairman of the FEC, Trainor “is certainly free to opine on freedom, in American law, he is not competent, however, to evaluate the provisions of ecclesiastical law.”

“The ministry of a priest in a sacred place, like a church, may be legitimately directed by a bishop,” Pietrzyk said. 

“In addition, preaching within a sacred place, even a parish church, may be regulated by the diocesan bishop. Absent that guidance, a pastor does exercise that authority within his own parish. However, simply because he is the pastor does not give him the right to act contrary to the directives of his own pastor, the bishop.”

“As Pope St. John Paul II emphasized, the ministry of the pastor is not genuine when it runs contrary to the legitimate direction of his local bishop.”

El Paso cathedral vandal charged with criminal mischief

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 18:01

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A man has been charged after he decapitated a statue of Christ in El Paso, while the NYPD is looking for a man who threw a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe into the sidewalk outside a church in Brooklyn.

Isaiah Cantrell, 30, has been charged with criminal mischief and possession of marijuana after being arrested. Cantrell walked into St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso Sept. 15 and proceeded to smash the nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that was displayed behind the altar.

Mass was not being celebrated during the vandalism, but the cathedral was open for prayer.

Cantrell reportedly told police that “the skin color of the statue was the wrong color,” and that “Jesus was Jewish and therefore should be a darker skin color.” He is being held on a $20,500 bond.

The Diocese of El Paso is raising money to assist with renovations and increased security at the cathedral. Bishop Mark Seitz earlier appealed for people to pray for Cantrell, and that he may get the help he needs.

The Twitter account for the NYPD Crime Stoppers released a video Sept. 15 asking for help identifying a man who threw a statue onto a sidewalk.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-theme="light"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">?WANTED? for a Criminal Mischief in front of 2866 West 17 Street <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#coneyisland</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#brooklyn</a> <a href="">@NYPD60Pct</a> on 9/11/20 @ 11:40AM ?Reward up to $2500? Seen him? Know who he is?☎️Call 1-800-577-TIPS or DM us!?Calls are CONFIDENTIAL! <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#YourCityYourCall</a> <a href="">@NYPDDetectives</a> <a href="">@NYPDShea</a> <a href="">@News12BK</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NYPD Crime Stoppers (@NYPDTips) <a href="">September 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

The video shows two men standing outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Solace, located in Coney Island, New York, Sept. 11. One of the men is seen climbing over a fence, where he then pulled the statue out of the ground.

The man proceeds to then throw the statue onto the sidewalk. The base of the statue was damaged by the vandalism.

According to the NYPD, the man is facing charges of criminal mischief. The NYPD is offering a reward of $2,500 for any information about his identity.

San Francisco archbishop: Worshippers should be treated equally during the pandemic

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 17:25

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- The archbishop of San Francisco penned an op-ed in the Washington Post this week citing the First Amendment as he called for city officials to relax the current restrictions on public worship, which are some of the strictest in the country.

Rather than asking for special treatment, “all we are seeking is access to worship in our own churches, following reasonable safety protocols — the same freedoms now extended to customers of nail salons, massage services and gyms,”  Cordileone wrote in the Sept. 16 op-ed.

“It’s only fair, it’s only compassionate, and, unlike with these other activities, it’s what the First Amendment demands.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has said the city will allow indoor services up to a maximum of 25 people by Oct. 1. This is, Cordileone noted, less than 1% of the capacity of San Francisco’s cathedral.

Mayor Breed had announced this week that starting Sept. 14, houses of worship may have 50 people at religious services outdoors. In addition, indoor private prayer is allowed, but only one person at a time is allowed inside a house of worship.

Previously, the limit for outdoor services had been 12 people, with all indoor services prohibited. The archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco— where the cathedral is located— as well as San Mateo and Marin counties.

In contrast, hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms are set to reopen at 10% capacity; and most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while malls are restricted to 25%. Gyms operated in government buildings for police officers and other government employees have already reopened.

“Catholics in San Francisco are increasingly noticing the simple unfairness,” Cordileone wrote.

“As one of my parishioners asked recently, ‘Why can I spend three hours indoors shopping for shoes at Nordstrom’s but can’t go to Mass?’”

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, has a page tracking restrictions on public worship related to the pandemic. By their estimation, six states— California, Nevada, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine— are treating religious activities unequally as compared to similar secular activities.

The City of San Francisco has been closely monitoring Catholic churches in the city and has repeatedly issued warnings to the archdiocese for apparent health order violations.

“I sometimes wonder whether the increasingly secular elites imposing these restrictions understand the pain they are unnecessarily inflicting. The sacraments as we Catholics understand them cannot be live-streamed,” Cordileone wrote.

“People are being denied the religious worship that connects them with God and one another. For hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans facing the simultaneous challenges of a pandemic and economic downturn, the church is their key source of spiritual, emotional and practical help.”

Cordileone said priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.

These outdoor Masses pose their own health challenges, as the Bay Area is experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world, due to smoke and other pollutants coming from wildfires ravaging the West Coast.

Cordileone related the message of Father Moises Agudo, who pastors the predominantly Latino churches in San Francisco’s Mission District. The priest said his people have “lost many things” because of the pandemic but “the consolations of the Mass should not be one of those things.”

This weekend, San Francisco Catholics will participate in Eucharistic processions across the city, which will join together and walk past city hall, in part to protest the city’s revised limits on public worship.

Cordileone said the archdiocese has ordered 100 banners in English, 15 in Spanish, and 5 in Chinese that read: “We Are Essential: Free the Mass!” He asked that parishioners carry the banners during the Eucharistic processions.

While the archbishop said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he added that the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which was submitted in May.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines, adding that “Catholics are not indifferent to the very real dangers posed by covid-19.”

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited a recent article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

By following public health guidelines, Catholic churches have largely avoided viral spread during the more than 1 million Masses that have been celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, the doctors found.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued that houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

In several other states, churches have successfully challenged restrictions against houses of worship, on the grounds that public officials were not able to justify the decision to treat them more strictly than other secular gathering venues.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill into law Sept. 16 that prevents local or state officials from shutting down houses of worship.

'Expedited' investigation ordered over ICE detainee hysterectomies

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 13:30

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 17, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- This story has been updated.

The acting director of U.S. immigration services has ordered an expedited investigation into allegations that hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women in federal custody without their full consent. 

On Monday, The Intercept reported a whistleblower complaint had been filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of a nurse at a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center for migrants in Georgia. 

The complaint was filed with the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On Wednesday, National Review reported that Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, ordered the investigation to be expedited and said he will be conducting a separate, parallel investigation. DHS staff confirmed the report to CNA on Thursday.

The nurse, Dawn Wooten, as well as several immigrant women, claimed that an apparently high rate of hysterectomies were performed on immigrant women while in ICE custody at Irwin County Detention Center, and that some of the women did not understand the procedure they were receiving. The center is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections.

On Thursday, the Daily Caller reported that the doctor identified in the whistleblower report for allegedly conducting the hysterectomies—Dr. Mahendra Amin—was indicted in 2013 by federal prosecutors for Medicaid fraud.

According to the indictment, Amin was believed to be part owner of Irwin County hospital, where patients were given unnecessary medical procedures and the hospital in turn billed Medicare and Medicaid; Amin settled with prosecutors for $520,000 in 2015.

Cuccinelli’s investigation will include a Coast Guard doctor, a medical nurse from the deputy secretary’s office, and a lawyer in the DHS general counsel’s office, National Review reported.

In addition to seeking confirmation, CNA also asked DHS who specifically would be part of Cuccinelli’s separate investigation, and why the parallel investigation was ordered in addition to the inspector general’s review; DHS staff did not address those questions directly.

According to the whistleblower complaint, the immigrant women were referred to one doctor in particular who was allegedly known for performing frequent hysterectomies; Wooten called the doctor “the uterus collector.” Wooten reported that some nurses could not communicate well with Spanish-speaking migrants, even resorting to using Google Translate to talk to them about medical procedures.

A senior ICE official has reportedly disputed the claims that immigrant women were allegedly subject to hysterectomies without full consent. A top ICE medical official said only two women were referred for hysterectomies at Irwin County Detention Center since 2018, according to NPR.

More than 170 members of Congress wrote the DHS inspector general’s office on Wednesday asking for an investigation.

“We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation,” the letter stated.

The private prison company LaSalle, which operates the ICE detention center in Irwin County, is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the family of a deceased woman Holly Barlow-Austin on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. 

In the lawsuit, Barlow-Austin’s family members charged LaSalle with neglect by company guards at an East Texas prison, neglect that resulted in Barlow-Austin leaving the prison “blind, emaciated, and barely able to move.” The family alleges that LaSalle was culpable in Barlow-Austin’s death.

Charlotte Diocese opens new seminary to serve growing Catholic population

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 02:02

CNA Staff, Sep 17, 2020 / 12:02 am (CNA).- As the number of Catholics in the Diocese of Charlotte continues to rise, Bishop Peter Jugis opened a new seminary this week to help prepare future priests in the area.

The bishop blessed St. Joseph College Seminary in Mount Holly with holy water on Sept. 16, officially completing the first phase of the building project, which broke ground in 2018.

“This is an enduring structure that is both traditional and modern, with beauty and function, that we hope will inspire future generations of Catholics in Western North Carolina to continue our mission to share the Gospel,” said Father Matthew Kauth, St. Joseph’s rector, according to the Gaston Gazette.

Seminarians at Tuesday’s opening ceremony - which followed social-distancing protocols - sang “Salve Pater,” a Latin hymn recognizing the loving care of the holy family.

The $20 million project, built in the Gothic architectural style, includes 40 seminarian rooms, a conference room, a refectory and kitchen, classrooms, administrative offices, guest rooms, a temporary chapel, and a meditative cloister walk. Donors have so far contributed $15.5 million to the seminary.

The 27 seminarians at St. Joseph Seminary will also attend classes at nearby Belmont Abbey College.

“St. Joseph is an extraordinary milestone for our diocese and for the Charlotte region,” Jugis said,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

“It’s a sacred place where those who feel called to serve God can be nurtured and grounded in faith that will carry throughout their lives.”

The new seminary is a response to rapid growth of the Church in Charlotte. There are an estimated 400,000 Catholics in the diocese, more than 10 times the number present when the diocese was established in 1972.

When the diocese’s seminary program first opened four years ago at St. Ann Catholic Church, seminarians lived at a former covenant and other housing nearby. Since 2016, enrollment has tripled, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Bishop Jugis voiced gratitude for the 92 priests currently serving in the diocese, while noting the need to increase these numbers to serve the needs of the people. Since becoming bishop of Charlotte in 2003, Jugis has prioritized efforts to increase the number of priests in the diocese, the Charlotte Observer reported.

“Though we’ve been blessed with many good and holy priests, we need more to meet the needs of our rapidly growing flock,” Jugis said in a statement. “So it is essential that we make every effort to help form young men to be ready to serve in our parishes when the time comes.”


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Listen to Black community to build pro-life consensus, Black pro-life leader says

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 20:00

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Pro-life leaders should prioritize listening and understanding in order to make inroads in the Black community, Black pro-life advocate Benjamin Watson said Tuesday.

While white Christians may be comfortable identifying themselves as “pro-life,” some Black Christians who oppose abortion are reluctant to identify themselves as “pro-life” for other reasons, Watson, a former NFL player told an audience of reporters and pro-life leaders on Tuesday evening.

Watson spoke at a screening of his new pro-life movie “Divided Hearts of America” which streams online on Thursday. He and his wife Kirsten are co-executive producers of the movie.

“You look at statistics, the Black community is very, very religious, going back years and decades,” Watson said. “We have a desire to honor life.”

“What we don’t, however, have, is a desire to be affiliated, sometimes, with all the other things that are in the pro-life bucket,” he said.

Pro-lifers, Watson said, should seek to understand other issues of import to the Black community, including the racial wealth gap and unemploymentd disparities, as a means of grounding pro-life positions in broadly shared concerns among the Black community.

“For the pro-life community, it’s not about just throwing out statistics,” he said. “You want to throw the [abortion] stat out, but behind the stat there’s not a caring posture to why that might be the case.”

“The way that you bridge any gap between any communities is when you try to understand the ‘why’,” he said. “It’s been said that when white America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu. And that’s what’s happening with abortion—any negative outcome is worse in the Black community.”

“Many of us do care about life,” he added.

At a University of Notre Dame panel discussion on racism as a “life issue” in July, Watson explained that many African-Americans associate the term “pro-life” with party politics and “a host of other issues that seem to be anti-Black,” rather than with concern about abortion rates and other life issues.

On Tuesday, Watson noted that pro-lifers can more hearts through listening and understanding rather than by arguing from statistics on abortion. “The way the pro-life community bridges the gap is in our rhetoric. It’s in how we embrace. It’s in understanding,” he said.

Watson is the father of seven children and an outspoken pro-life advocate, in addition to playing tight end in the National Football League for 15 seasons. On Tuesday, he said that he and his wife were looking for a way to become more involved in the pro-life movement when they were recruited for the movie, which was directed by Chad Bonham.

“This was a labor of love,” he said of the movie, describing the goal as “just wanting to get to the bottom of what this whole [abortion] debate is about.”

Some of the interviewees in the film are pro-abortion, he said, including the New York legislator who authored the Reproductive Health Act that that Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in 2019, legalizing abortions in some cases up until the point of birth. Watson said on Tuesday that the New York law was part of “the impetus for the film,” with the goal of seeking to understand the issue more deeply and “see the humanity of everybody.”

The documentary explores the life issue from several angles, including racial issues of abortion clinics in majority-Black neighborhoods, and interviews of Black religious and pro-life leaders as well and members of the media.

At the Notre Dame panel event in July, Watson said that pro-lifers should take the life issue “out of the political realm.”

“The Black community is overwhelmingly pro-life in the sense of for-life, against-abortion. We are,” he said, adding that the pro-life label “has come to mean something totally different than the essence of what it is.”

Watson was also one of a coalition of Black leaders who sent a letter to Planned Parenthood head Alexis McGill Johnson, calling out the organization as hypocritical for “targeting” Black communities for abortions while at the same professing to support calls for racial justice.

Advocacy group hails Israel-Bahrain deal as 'positive step' for Middle East Christians

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 19:19

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- An advocacy group for Christians and other religious minorities living in the Middle East this week praised an agreement between Israel and Bahrain, which comes on the heels of a similar agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

“While there are many contentious issues left to be discussed in the Middle East Peace Process and many injustices that Christians in Bahrain, Israel, and across the Middle East continue to face, today’s peace agreement is a positive step for Christians in the Middle East,” Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, said when the deal was announced.

“Politics should not stand in the way of any Christian being able to visit the sites of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain signed the deal to normalize relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a ceremony at the White House Sept. 15.

President Donald Trump had announced the diplomatic accord between Israel and UAE Aug.13, releasing a statement on the normalization of relations which included a provision that Israel will “suspend declaring sovereignty” over some areas of the West Bank.

On Sept. 11, it was announced that Bahrain, too, would normalize relations with Israel.

Jeremy Barker, Director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s Middle East Action Team, told CNA that agreements between governments are an important first step toward peace, but must be followed by concrete action.

“An agreement that commits to the pursuit of living together in peace, despite deep differences, is important and should be commended,” Barker told CNA.

“We hope the steps taken by these Gulf States will encourage others to follow suit in a way that promotes peace for everyone in the Middle East whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or otherwise.”

In February last year, Pope Francis made an historic trip to the UAE, the first by a pope to the Arabian peninsula. While there, Francis signed a joint document on human fraternity with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb. The document condemned “all forms of violence, especially those with religious motivation,” and committed the two leaders “to spreading authentic values and peace throughout the world.”

The UAE has strict laws governing religion, including the death penalty for Muslims who convert to another religion. While Bahrain provides freedom of conscience, the constitution declares Islam to be the official religion and sharia to be a principal source for legislation.

Barker added that the recent agreements between nations and the political, economic, and social relations that they encourage may provide a context that helps to cultivate greater religious freedom in the region.

“The absence of religious freedom, whether through government repression or social hostilities, hurts everyone in society. Any steps that Bahrain, the UAE, Israel, or any other country takes to provide greater respect for religious freedom will also prove to unleash other goods in society as well,” he said.

Trump has suggested that Saudi Arabia may be the next Middle Eastern nation to normalize relations with Israel, since analysts have suggested that Bahrain was unlikely to agree to normalize ties without the blessing of its ally, Saudi Arabia.

The US bishops have called gratifying Israel's decision to suspend the annexation of parts of the West Bank, part of its normalization of relations with the UAE, but reiterated the need for Israel to negotiate directly with Palestine.

Other states in the region have criticized the accord between Israel and the UAE. Iran’s state news agency IRNA quoted the country’s foreign ministry calling the agreement a “strategic act of idiocy” and “dangerous.”

A spokesperson for Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian government “rejects and denounces” the agreement. The UAE, Bahrain, and other Arab countries broadly support Palestine.

“The Palestinian leadership rejects the actions of the Emirati government, considering it to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and Jerusalem and al-Aqsa,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

During the White house ceremony Sept. 15, Palestinians expressed their anger over the agreements by launching rockets into Israel from Gaza, the New York Times reported.

Invalidly baptized Oklahoma priest baptized and ‘re-ordained’ 

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 18:08

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 04:08 pm (CNA).-  

In the second known instance in the United States, a man who believed himself to be a validly baptized Catholic and ordained priest had to “re-receive” all of his sacraments, including ordination, after discovering that his baptism was invalid.

Fr. Zachary Boazman, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, thought he was validly ordained in 2019. But in August, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a doctrinal note, reminding Catholics that baptisms are not valid if the minister of the baptism changed the words, or formula, of the baptism from “I baptize you” to “We baptize you.”

Boazman, who was baptized in another diocese in 1992, reviewed a videotape of his baptism after the announcement from the Vatican and discovered that the deacon ministering his baptism had used the invalid “We baptize you.”

A Sept. 14 letter sent to priests, deacons and staff of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and shared with CNA, said Boazman was “immediately contacted Archbishop Paul Coakley to explain the situation and seek guidance” after his discovery.

Because Boazman’s baptism had not been valid, the subsequent sacraments he received - reconciliation, Holy Communion, confirmation, ordination - were therefore also not valid. His invalid baptism also invalidated many of the sacraments he offered before his valid ordination, including Masses, confessions, and some marriages. A key exception to that are the baptisms ministered by Boazman, as baptisms can be validly performed by anyone using the correct formula (wording) and the right intention.

Within days of Boazman’s discovery, he was validly baptized Catholic and validly ordained as a priest.

“To rectify the issue, Father Boazman was baptized, confirmed and received the Eucharist on Sept. 8 at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Oklahoma City,” the archdiocese stated in the letter. “He was ordained by Archbishop Coakley a transitional deacon and a priest on Sept. 12 also at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church,” the letter added.

“This has been a heart-breaking experience for Father Zak, but one that he handled with grace and patience,” Coakley said in the letter.

“I am certain this past week, as unsettling as it was, will further strengthen Father Zak’s resolve to serve God’s people and develop an even deeper appreciation for the gift of the priesthood.”

Boazman could not be reached for comment on September 16, as he was on retreat.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City noted that Coakley sanated, or validated, the marriages witnessed by Boazman prior to his valid ordination last week. Boazman had not celebrated any confirmations prior to his valid ordination.

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City encouraged anyone with concerns about sacraments they have received from Boazman prior to his valid ordination to call the archdiocese.

Boazman is not the only priest to have recently discovered that he was not even a Catholic, let alone a priest.

In August, soon after the Vatican announcement, Fr. Matthew Hood of the Archdiocese of Detroit remembered from the tape of his baptism that the ministering deacon had said “We baptize you...”

Hood contacted the Archdiocese of Detroit and after he validly baptized and receiving valid sacraments of penance, Holy Communion, confirmation, and diaconal ordination, he was validly ordained a priest on Aug. 17. 

Hood’s story raised concern among some Catholics about whether their own baptisms had been valid, and to what extent they should go to find out. The Catholic Church normally presumes a sacrament is valid, unless there is some proof to the contrary, such as the videos of Boazman’s and Hood’s baptisms.

While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concluded baptisms administered according to the “We baptize” formula are invalid, another Vatican congregation had previously given advice to the contrary.

A letter sent to a diocese from an undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and published in the 2003 issue of “Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions” addressed the “We baptize you” formula.

“Employing the first person plural, rather than the singular...does not cast into doubt the validity of the Baptism conferred. That is, if the three divine Persons are named specifically as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the use of the first person plural does not invalidate the conferral of the Sacrament.”

“The liceity of such a celebration, however, is quite another matter.”

“It is the responsibility of the celebrant of Baptism to confer the Sacrament in a way that is licit as well as valid, and any infraction such as the one you describe should be brought immediately to the attention of the local Bishop.”

But the August letter of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which said such baptisms are always invalid, has set some U.S. bishops assessing what to do about baptisms previously thought illicit but actually invalid.

The Archdiocese of Detroit issued some pastoral guidance for anyone with concerns, that addressed many questions surrounding the issue.

“...theology is a science that studies what God has told us and, when it comes to sacraments, there must not only be the right intention by the minister but also the right ‘matter’ (material) and the right ‘form’ (words/gestures – such as pouring or immersion in water by the one saying the words),” the Archdiocese of Detroit stated on its website.

“As far as God ‘taking care of it,’ we can trust that God will assist those whose hearts are open to Him. However, we can have a much greater degree of confidence by strengthening ourselves with the sacraments He has entrusted to us,” the archdiocese added.

“Indeed, all the other sacraments increase and fortify sanctifying grace in the soul. One can see then, that sanctifying grace is a treasure of treasures and we should do everything we can to protect the integrity of the sacraments and stay very close to them – receiving them as often as possible.”


Pennsylvania bishop tells Catholics: Vote with life ‘uppermost in mind’

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 17:15

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- Defense of innocent human life should be “uppermost” in the mind of Catholic voters at election time, the bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has told Catholics in his diocese.

In a letter issued Sept. 9 on voting in the upcoming presidential elections, Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown said that “abortion and euthanasia are the ‘preeminent’ issues in forming an opinion about how to vote,” citing Catholic teaching as outlined by the U.S. bishops and Pope Francis.

Schlert cited Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici to underline this point; that document stated that “the right to health, to home, to work, to culture is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”

Catholics, Schlert said, should be voting with the intent of protecting innocent human life “uppermost” in their minds.

“While there is no initiative on the part of the Church to support one candidate over another,” said Schlert, “it is an indispensable obligation of bishops, priests, and deacons to inform the faithful about the hierarchy of issues that must be considered in conscience by every voting Catholic.”

“Hence, a Catholic voter is to approach the ballot box with the defense of innocent human life uppermost in his/her mind and conscience,” he wrote, adding that Catholic voters should consider whether their vote would constitute cooperation “with a candidate’s promotion of the grave sins of abortion and euthanasia.”

The voting document of the U.S. bishops, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” says that Catholics may vote for a candidate for political office who takes “unacceptable” positions on intrinsically evil acts; they may vote this way only “for truly grave moral reasons,” and “not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

Bishop Schlert exhorted Catholics to vote, but to do so in a serious manner and with a “well-formed conscience.”

“A ‘well-formed conscience’ for the Catholic is one that has been formed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer, studying Scripture, and honestly informing oneself about the moral teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Voters could be faced with “many challenges and much soul-searching” in this election cycle, he noted, as “[t]here never are, and are not now, perfect candidates for office.”

Nevertheless Catholics should form their consciences according to the teaching of the Church, “especially on the overriding, foundational issues of abortion and euthanasia,” he said.

Abortion has been addressed extensively by both presidential candidates, President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. 

Trump has promised to “fully defund the big abortion industry of our taxpayer dollars” and “overcome Democratic filibusters in Congress” to sign a 20-week abortion ban and legislation protecting babies who survive abortion attempts. 

Biden supports taxpayer-funded abortion, and has said that his health care “public option” would fund abortion and contraception, and has promised to review state laws regulating abortions, such as ultrasound or parental consent requirements.

The issues of euthanasia or of doctor-prescribed suicide do not appear in the 2020 Democratic Party platform; the 2020 Republican Party platform, recycled from 2016, states its opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

The word “preeminent” regarding abortion appears in the U.S. bishops’ 2020 introductory letter for their voting document “Faithful Citizenship”; it was also the subject of some discussion at their fall, 2019, meeting.

According to the bishops’ letter, “[t]he threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”

The letter goes on to add that “we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

At their November meeting in Baltimore last year, the U.S. bishops voted to approve the draft language of the letter.

During a parliamentary discussion about the letter, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego then brought up the use of the word “preeminent” before the mention of abortion in the bishops’ draft letter. McElroy objected to use of the word, and said that if it stayed in the document, a more extensive quotation from Pope Francis should also be included to summarize his full social teaching more accurately.

“It is not Catholic that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not,” Bishop McElroy said.

After that remark, Archbishop Charles Chaput weighed in: “I am against anyone stating that our saying [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. Because that isn’t true,” he said. “It sets an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.”

“I think it has been very clearly the articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the preeminent issue,” Chaput said. “It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity, it’s just time, in the certain circumstances of our Church, in the United States.”

Catholics in Los Angeles invited to prayer and pilgrimage for migrants, refugees

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 16:45

CNA Staff, Sep 16, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is inviting Catholics to join in a novena and to watch Masses online this weekend in preparation for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

“This has been another challenging year for our immigrant community, made more complicated
by the restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Archbishop José Gomez.

“I am really looking forward to this time for us to come together as one family of God, even if it
can only be virtually this year, to pray and share God’s love and compassion.”

Catholics are invited to participate in a Sept. 18-26 novena meant as spiritual preparation for the 2020 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, observed Sept. 27.

Catholics are invited also to watch Gomez celebrate Masses via livestream Sept. 20, at 7am PT in Spanish and 10am PT in English.

The Masses and prayers in Los Angeles are part of the archdiocese’ Day in Recognition of All Immigrants, which it has held annually since 2013.

Each year, celebration includes a 60-mile walking pilgrimage tracing the path St. Junipero Serra walked as he founded the first nine mission churches of California.

This year, the pilgrimage begins Sept. 21. Because of the pandemic, the pilgrimage leader, Don Antonio, is set to walk the route alone, but the archdiocese is encouraging Catholics to join the pilgrimage virtually.

The festivities will also include a testimony delivered by a 16-year old immigrant who entered the US as an unaccompanied minor to reunite with her mother in Los Angeles. Her family sought asylum in the U.S. due to violent crimes against them in their home country, the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese is urging donations to Catholic Charities Los Angeles to support migrant and refugee aid in the city.

Internally displaced persons are the topic of Pope Francis’ message for the 2020 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, published May 15, in which the pope said the situation of internally displaced persons is an “often unseen tragedy that the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated.”

Cardinal Tobin says Biden remarks not 'endorsement' of candidate

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 15:45

CNA Staff, Sep 16, 2020 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said on Tuesday that voters could choose Joe Biden in good conscience, and suggested he would have difficulty voting for President Donald Trump. The cardinal told CNA Sept. 16 that his comments were not intended to endorse any political candidate for office, but declined to say whether he believes a Catholic could vote in good conscience for Donald Trump.

While the cardinal’s remarks Tuesday recognized that the Democratic party platform seeks to “remove the unborn child from the equation,” Tobin did not indicate what issues he thought might justify a vote for Biden, in light of the U.S. bishops’ conference teaching that ending abortion is the “preeminent priority” in public life.

“I neither endorsed nor opposed anyone running for office. I simply reminded Catholics of our responsibility to take part in the elective process,” Cardinal Tobin said in a statement to CNA on Wednesday.

Cardinal Tobin spoke Tuesday on a panel on “The Church and Catholic Voters in the 2020 Election,” hosted by Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life on Tuesday. 

During the panel, the cardinal said of the November presidential elections that “a person in good conscience could vote for Mr. Biden,” the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. The statement provoked backlash from Catholics who pointed to Biden’s expansive abortion agenda as a reason not to vote for the candidate.

But Tobin said Tuesday that “I, frankly, in my own way of thinking, have a more difficult time with the other option,” in apparent reference to Trump.  

The cardinal added that "[t]here are serious reasons to not consider either [political] party as being representative of the Catholic tradition," but added that “the problem is we have to vote. We should vote."

In a statement to CNA from the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Tobin echoed the USCCB's guidance to Catholics in the document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," saying that he “recognizes that Catholics often face difficult decisions about how to vote as well as the need for a properly formed conscience in order to make a selection that respects the tenets of our faith.” 

“A Catholic cannot vote for a political candidate because he or she supports an issue considered an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions or assisted suicide,” the statement said. 

“At the same time” the statement continued, “a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.”  

The archdiocese directly cited “Forming Consciences,” which states that “A Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permitted only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

CNA asked Cardinal Tobin about the possibility of Catholics voting for a third party candidate, and whether he believed a Catholic could, in good conscience, vote for President Trump.

The cardinal did not directly address those questions, but emphasized that he had not endorsed any candidate for office, and that Catholics have a responsibility to vote. In fact, “Faithful Citizenship” teaches that a Catholic can, in good conscience, choose not to vote in a particular race if the voter judges there to be no acceptable candidates.

Tobin did not offer the “grave moral reasons” that he thought might justify a vote for Biden, whose campaign has said his administration would to codify abortion protections into federal law, permit direct federal funding of abortion through the repeal of the Hyde Amendement, restore federal funding to abortion providers, and attempt to prevent the passage of limitations on abortion by state legislatures. 

Biden has also said that he would repeal the religious exemption to the HHS contraceptive mandate, which granted relief to opposing groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor; a repeal could reignite the Sisters’ years-long legal battle against the mandate.

Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA last week that Biden has taken “the most extreme stance he could on the abortion issue,”

During the panel, Tobin said Catholics should vote in favor of the common good, exercise prudence, and avoid reducing an election to “how a candidate stands on a single issue,” at least, he said “within the current panorama of issues.”

"I suppose if somebody was running on a nuclear war platform, advocating a holocaust, worldwide incernation, that might be the single issue that could make the discernment a lot easier,” Tobin said.

Critics of Biden’s agenda note that it would reinstate foreign aid to providers of abortion, and support United Nations efforts to expand protections and public funding of abortion globally. According to the Guttmacher Institute there are 73 million worldwide abortions globally. 

For his part, Cardinal Tobin has been critical of the Trump administration’s immigration policies and resumption of federal executions.

In a January 2019 op-ed in the New York Times, he criticized Trump’s policy of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; Tobin said the president “is not acting with concern for the impact of the wall” on the lives of migrant families and has tried to justify its construction by using “lies and smears against the vast majority of immigrants who are law-abiding and moral.”

In 2017, Cardinal Tobin told CNA that Vice President Pence and President Trump addressing the March for Life “was very encouraging,” but that Trump’s immigration policy “needs to be challenged and needs a respectful debate.”

As Archbishop of Indianapolis in 2015, Tobin’s archdiocese resettled a Syrian refugee family in Indiana despite then-governor Mike Pence’s suspension of accepting Syrian refugees in the state.

Then-archbishop Tobin met with Pence over the matter and “prayerfully considered” the governor’s policy before deciding to move ahead with resettling the family; Pence said he respectfully disagreed with the decision.

Cardinal Tobin in July also asked for clemency for one of the federal death row inmates executed by the U.S. this summer, Dustin Honken. 

As Trump’s administration resumed the federal government’s use of the penalty in 2020, Cardinal Tobin warned that Honken’s execution “will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways.”

Tobin said he had known Honken for seven years, dating back to his time as archbishop of Indianapolis; the archdiocese includes Honken’s federal prison of Terre Haute in its territorial jurisdiction.

Other U.S. bishops have also raised objections to Trump’s resumption of the federal death penalty. Biden supported the death penalty until 2019, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, has been criticized for her defense of California’s death penalty during her stint as the state’s attorney general.

Asked what Pope Francis would say to voters, Tobin speculated Tuesday that the pope “would encourage people to make their political decisions in light of their faith, and not try to even use a pope as a prop for their own moral discernment.”

El Paso cathedral suffers vandalism attack

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 14:35

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 12:35 pm (CNA).- A vandal destroyed a statue of Jesus at St. Patrick Cathedral in El Paso, Texas on Tuesday, the latest in an ongoing series of attacks on churches across the United States. 

According to the diocese, someone entered the sanctuary of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Tuesday morning and destroyed a nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The statue had been placed behind the main altar of the church, which was open for prayer at the time of the vandalism. 

According to the diocese, the statue is an “irreplaceable loss” and cannot be repaired. 


We were saddened to announce the vandalism at St. Patrick Cathedral. Visit this link to read more: @BishopSeitz

— The Catholic Diocese of El Paso (@elpasodiocese) September 16, 2020  

“This statue is one of my favorite representations of Jesus—his arms open wide in welcome, his heart aflame with love for us. I would often take inspiration from this image as I prepared for Mass,” said Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso in a statement by the diocese. Seitz added that he was glad, however, that nobody was hurt by the vandal. 

According to the diocese, a suspect has been detained and an investigation by the city’s police is ongoing. Seitz urged people to pray for the vandal, as “he certainly must be a person who is greatly disturbed to have attacked this peaceful place in our city and this image of the King of Peace.”

“I hope this might be the impetus for him to receive the help he needs. He will be in my prayers,” he said. 

“In this moment we will reach out in confidence to the One this statue represented and I know he will console us,” said the bishop. 

The attack in El Paso is the latest in months of vandalism and arson attacks on churches.

Earlier this week, a parish in Midvale, Utah, saw back to back attacks. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church had its namesake statue beheaded followed by burglary on subsequent nights. 

“Sometime last night our statue of St. Therese of the Child Jesus outside of the Main Church was broken and vandalized. We are currently in contact with the police,” the parish wrote on its Facebook page on Monday, September 14. The statue was pushed off its pedestal and the head was broken off. A planter by the statue was also smashed. 

The parish urged people to “pray for the person who did this, that they may get the help they need,” and said the vandalism was an “unfortunate situation.” 

On Tuesday, the parish once again reported vandalism.  

“As an update to our parishioners, we are upset to report that one of the houses on our parish property was vandalized and broken into last night,” said the parish in a Tuesday post to its Facebook page. 

“We have contacted the police and they are forming an investigation. We are planning on taking new measures to keep our parish safe. St. Therese, pray for us!”

Vatican laments inclusion of ‘reproductive rights’ in UN resolution on coronavirus

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 05:00

CNA Staff, Sep 16, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- A Vatican representative has said that the inclusion of a reference to “reproductive rights” in a United Nations resolution on combating the coronavirus is “deeply concerning and divisive.”

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia made the remark Sept. 11 after the UN General Assembly in New York endorsed the resolution, entitled “Comprehensive and coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The resolution appealed to states “to take all measures necessary to ensure the right of women and girls to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights.”

Caccia, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said that “the Holy See considers it most unfortunate that the adopted resolution includes the deeply concerning and divisive reference to ‘sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights.’” 

He continued: “In line with its reservations expressed at the international conferences held in Beijing and Cairo, the Holy See reiterates that it considers the phrase ‘reproductive health’ and related terms as applying to a holistic concept of health, which embraces the person in the entirety of his or her personality, mind and body.” 

“In particular, the Holy See rejects the interpretation that considers abortion or access to abortion, sex-selective abortion, abortion of fetuses diagnosed with health challenges, maternal surrogacy, and sterilization as dimensions of ‘reproductive health,’ or as part of universal health

The archbishop’s criticisms were echoed by a representative of the United States, which voted against the resolution.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said Sept. 11 that it objected to the resolution’s inclusion of “reproductive rights.”

"We do not accept references to ‘sexual and reproductive health,’ ‘sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,’ or other language that suggests or explicitly states that access to legal abortion is necessarily included in the more general terms ‘health services’ or ‘health care services’ in particular contexts concerning women,” it said. 

“The United States believes in legal protections for the unborn, and rejects any interpretation of international human rights to require any State Party to provide safe, legal, and effective access to abortion.” 

The U.S. also voted against the resolution because it endorsed the World Health Organization’s “key leadership role” in fighting the virus. 

The Vatican’s permanent observer offered several other criticisms of the resolution, which was adopted by 169 votes in favor, two against (the U.S. and Israel) and two abstentions (Hungary and Ukraine.)

Caccia said: “Because the international community needs to stand together in the face of the pandemic, the Holy See supported the idea of this ‘omnibus resolution’ from the beginning and during the negotiations emphasized the need for a common and consensus-based approach.”

“It is unfortunate that this omnibus resolution, launched as a means of showing the world that the General Assembly stands as one and of bringing together many COVID-related initiatives, is adopted lacking consensus.”

He endorsed resolution’s appeal for “extensive immunization” to fight COVID-19, but underlined the importance of vaccines that are “free from ethical concerns” and available to all.

He regretted “the exclusion of faith-based organizations from the list of those who play an important role in response to the pandemic.”

While he welcomed the text’s references to human rights issues, he said they were “hampered by a lack of precision in terminology and in its grounding in international human rights law.”

He also suggested that references to the elderly, who were especially vulnerable to the virus, were inadequate.

“This concern should have been buttressed by stressing that healthcare decisions affecting older persons should always respect their right to life and never be interpreted otherwise,” he said.

Caccia called for “stronger language” related to reform of the international financial system, underlining the need for the  “reduction, if not cancellation, of the debt burdening the poorest nations.”

Finally, he welcomed the inclusion of “comprehensive language about climate change” in the resolution.

“The pandemic should not reduce our attention on the climate crisis, which continues to be one of the most serious global emergencies,” he said.

'Crisis' podcast seeks to help clergy, laity understand abuse scandals 

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 02:52

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2020 / 12:52 am (CNA).- A new podcast launched this month out of The Catholic University of America seeks to help laity and clergy better understand and address the problem of abuse within the Church.

The podcast, “Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church,” is produced by The Catholic Project, an initiative at CUA aimed at bringing healing and reform to the Church after the sex abuse crisis.

The first of 10 episodes was released September 9. Future episodes will be released weekly.

The podcast is hosted by Karna Lozoya, executive director of strategic communications at CUA, and Stephen White, the director of the Catholic Project. The hosts described the effort as a collaboration between clergy and laity to build up and renew the Church.

“The goal of the podcast is to help Catholics get their heads around what has happened in the Church in the last few years, how we got to this point, and hopefully where we might go from here,” White told CNA.

“The scourge of sexual abuse has afflicted the Catholic Church in a particular way, but it is a society-wide problem,” he said.

“Hopefully, the Church can learn from our many, many failures, but also from a few things we have gotten right. And hopefully other organizations can, too. If others can learn from the Church’s mistakes, that would be a great thing.”

The podcast was created in response to the anger and betrayal felt by many Catholics, as well as the division in the Church, especially after former nuncio Archbishop Carlo Viganò wrote an open letter accusing Church officials of complicity and cover-up in regards to McCarrick. White expressed hope that the podcast would offer a sober insight into the scandal.

“Catholics had a lot of questions and not too many answers. We thought that a sober, even-handed, but unvarnished look at what was going on might help people make sense of it all. And understanding what was going on in the Church and why is a necessary step in figuring out what the Church ought to do next,” he said.

The first episode covers the scandals of 2018, including discussion of the abuse of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and Archbishop Vigano’s open letter. It also discusses the response by bishops in both the U.S. and Rome.

In subsequent episodes, White said, the podcast will dive into the scandals of 2002 and go back even farther to some of the earliest warnings the bishops received about clergy sexual abuse in the 1950s.

One episode discusses the case of Father Gilbert Gauthe, the first priest to face a publicized criminal trial for sexual abuse of minors. The hosts talk to Jason Berry, who pioneered investigative reporting into the clergy sex abuse, and Ray Mouton, the lawyer who defended Gauthe.

White said the podcast will not focus solely on stories of abuse, but seeks to offer a broader perspective.

“We explore the causes of the crisis and the stories of how victims are learning to live after abuse. We talk to bishops and priests about how the crisis has changed the way they see their ministries and affected their relationships,” he said. “We look at how the crisis has changed the way we think about the mission of the laity. We look closely at what the Church is doing to protect children now, and how the Church handles allegations against priests and bishops.”

The podcast will address cases of high-profile predatory priests. Lozoya said discussing these specific cases will help listeners understand the broad picture of the abuse crisis and the steps that need to be taken to address the problem.

“I think before the laity can respond adequately to the sex abuse crisis, we really have to understand it. So that's what this podcast is. It's a 10-part audio documentary on the sex abuse crisis, to help the laity understand the sex abuse crisis in an honest and transparent way,” she told CNA.

“We're not here to vilify anyone...or to make the bishops or the institutional Church our enemy,” she said. “We say some tough things, and from the early feedback that I've gotten, mostly from people close to me, it's been very helpful.”

“One of our inspirations for the podcast was [the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium], where it talks about how the clergy and the laity are co-responsible in the mission of the church,” Lozoya said. “We really feel like the bishops can't, nor should the bishops try, to solve this problem on their own. We have to be involved.”

White also stressed the importance of both clergy and laity addressing this issue. He said it is necessary for the entire body of the Church to take the problem seriously in order to prevent further abuse and restore trust in the Catholic Church.

“This crisis puts souls in peril by separating people from the Church and destroying the trust of the faithful. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a Church that has earned a reputation for lying, is not a Church that can credibly proclaim the Good News,” he said.

“As I mentioned before, the scourge of sexual abuse has afflicted the Catholic Church in a particular way, but it is a society-wide problem. Hopefully, we can learn from our many, many failures, but also from a few things we have gotten right. And hopefully, other groups and organizations outside the Church can, too.”


West coast Catholic charities prep for long-haul recovery from wildfires

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 19:11

Denver Newsroom, Sep 15, 2020 / 05:11 pm (CNA).- “Level one, which is get ready. Level two, get set. And level three - go, get out of there,” Bishop Peter Smith, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, told CNA.

The people of Oregon and California are now all too familiar with those warning levels, as wildfires in both states continue to rage, burning millions of acres and killing at least 36 people, with dozens more missing.

Smith said while he was not yet aware of a Catholic church that had burned to the ground, there were several that reached level three evacuations, leaving some pastors hop-scotching to avoid the next blaze.

“We've had cases where pastors have had to pack what they immediately need and then take the Blessed Sacrament and the sacred vessels with them and leave, and move to another location,” Smith said. “I believe we have one pastor that is now in the process of a second move from one location to another, and then from that location to another location, in southern Oregon.

The blazes choked the air with so much ash and smoke that the skies turned orange, and the clouds of smoke were visible on satellite images.

“It's just weird. Occasionally in winter, you'll have days with this cool thick fog that comes on the city, and you get used to driving in fog,” Smith said. “But this isn’t fog, it’s smoke.”

Catholics in both Oregon and California are facing the loss of homes, property, and possibly loved ones to the fires, Smith said, while Church-sponsored charities gear up to assist both with immediate needs and in the long-haul recovery to come.

“I do know that there's been some wonderful charity in some of our parishes where they're organizing to take people in, to care for people, to provide a place for them to evacuate,” Smith said.

“As always in a major tragedy or crisis like this, you sometimes see the worst in people (like looters), and then you see the best in people,” Smith said. “Suddenly the neighbor who you just sort of said hi to you, now you're trying to help them in a way that you wouldn't have done before. These things bring out a lot of the inherent goodness in people to help support one another in moments of crisis.” Deacon Rick Birkel, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon, told CNA that it was too soon to know the full extent of the damage of the fires, as some of the worst-hit areas were still inaccessible by government agencies.

“In some of the worst impacted communities we haven't even been able to get in,” he said. “The National Guard, Red Cross, no one has been able to even get into those locations yet, it's still too hot.” “There is this grave concern that we're going to find mass casualties and we're preparing for that possibility,” he added.
Birkel said as with most crises, the wildfires were going to have the worst impact on the poor and the vulnerable.

“The people who are being impacted by the fires are very diverse, of course, but you still have the farm workers out working in this weather...they’re some of the most vulnerable people not able to shelter, they're out working,” he said. Prior to the fires, Catholic Charities had been working on the streets to serve the homeless, “which now is just so much harder, but also so much more urgent because all these people sleeping outside are already vulnerable and now...the only way they're going to get off the street is through the emergency room,” Birkel said. Catholic Charities has been partnering with agencies such as the Red Cross as well as local parishes to provide food and shelter during the fires, Birkel said. In both the short and long term, one of the biggest needs is going to be housing, he added, and so they are raising funds for a privately-funded emergency shelter as well as for longer-term housing solutions. “Housing is the critical, fundamental intervention that people need when things get really bad, whether it's COVID or fires or whatever,” he said.

Catholic Charities USA also has a wildfire relief fund accessible online, while the Knights of Columbus in Oregon are also taking donations for relief, The Catholic Sentinel, a local publication, reported. In California, where wildfires have been burning since August, relief efforts are still “just barely scratching the surface” as more needs arise and the level of damage is assessed, Ashlee Wolf, development director for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fresno, told CNA. Through partnerships with The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities has helped with both food and clothing distributions for these fires, Wolf said, though one of their current needs is for more volunteers to help organize the donations.
In an email to the Board of Directors of Catholic Charities of Fresno, shared with CNA, Wolfe noted multiple ways the charity has already responded to the immediate needs of those affected by the fires, including a call they received about the La Quinta Inn in nearby Clovis, which has become a shelter for numerous survivors and firefighters. “After speaking with the hotel manager, we learned that the hotel was housing 23 families displaced by the fires, as well as 20 firefighters who are staying there in between shifts. Many of the families were brought there by (a local) bus and had no transportation to be able to get to any of the other resource centers with access to food. Each room had a refrigerator and microwave, so Jeff and I called one of our most reliable food vendors, purchased two car loads full of microwavable and non-perishable food, and personally delivered it to the hotel for those evacuees and firefighters staying there,” Wolf shared in the email.

Judy Dietlein, President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Sacramento council, told CNA that while she has experience working in wildfire disaster relief, this year has been a “unique disaster” in that the fires are so spread out, making relief difficult to centralize.

“In the (2018) Camp Fire, there was a disaster recovery center in Chico. Everybody went there and found out what they needed to do and FEMA was there and we were there. And it's not the case now. There are these little offices here and there,” she said.
“These are so spread out that it's really hard to find the people to get them the help that they need. They are being evacuated to hotels versus shelters, as they would be in the past,” she added. Dietlein said the council is “doing what they can” right now, including handing out gift cards, helping with resource referrals, and taking down contact information of the displaced. She said while St. Vincent de Paul isn’t necessarily equipped to be a first responder agency, they are gearing up to help people in the long-term, in the months and years after the fires when they are trying to rebuild their lives. Something the case workers of St. Vincent de Paul have learned from working with previous wildfire survivors is that they need a way to keep all of their paperwork organized, Deitlein said, and so they have been handing out binders to the survivors. “(Wildfire survivors) talk to so many people. They get names of people, they get forms to fill out from they're handing out these binders so they can put all of their important papers in one place. And that came out of experience from the Camp Fire,” she said.

When asked how Catholics can help, Dietlein said that prayers are always welcome. She said when it comes to donations, money is usually the best, because it can be difficult to organize donations of physical items like food and clothing. Bishop Smith asked Catholics to specifically pray that the weather would change in Oregon to be more favorable for the firefighters. The area was expecting rain Sept. 15, but then that got pushed back a few days. “Pray for the weather to change. Oregonians complain about the rain, but we could do with a bunch of it right now. And pray for the winds to die down to help the firefighters,” he said. “And pray for people affected by the fires, for their wellbeing and consolation. And then there are also other ways that you can support folks financially or with other resources...we will need to get a better sense of what the needs are and what people have lost through all this to help them move forward,” he said. He also encouraged Catholics not to despair, even though things may seem heavy right now. “We'll get through this,” he said. “The Church has been through a whole lot worse than this, but the thing is when you're in the middle of the storm, most of the time, all you comprehend is the storm. And when you're in that storm, it's like, when will this ever end? Because all your energy is focused on getting out of the storm and getting through the storm alive.” 

“You lose sense that it was calm before the storm, and there'll be calm afterwards and life will go on. There is a bigger picture, but we have to get through the storm first, and help people get through the storm and serve them as best we can.”

Catholic aid groups decry court decision that allows deportations

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 18:54

Denver Newsroom, Sep 15, 2020 / 04:54 pm (CNA).- Catholic aid groups are expressing disappointment at a recent court decision that furthers the end of temporary protected status for immigrants from certain countries, saying that ending TPS will likely lead to the separation of thousands of families.

The 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled Sept. 14 that the Trump administration can end the TPS program, which affects several hundred thousand immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan, many of whom have children who are American citizens.

TPS is an immigration benefit that allows persons who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary conditions to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves. It protects them from deportation and grants them permission to work.

“We urge the administration and Congress to find solutions that help families affected by TPS to remain together in the United States,” Catholic Charities USA said in a Sept. 15 statement.

“More than 270,000 U.S citizens have parents with TPS. If appeals are not granted, this decision will likely lead to more family separations within our borders.”

Since Congress established temporary protected status in 1990, U.S. immigrants with the designation from countries suffering natural disasters, armed conflict, or other major problems are not deported. There are about 200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, 2,500 Nicaraguans and 1,000 Sudanese in the United States who have temporary protected status.

The Trump administration had terminated the TPS designations of El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan in 2017 and 2018. The administration said the residents from the four countries no longer merited TPS, arguing that natural disasters from years previously should not continue to justify irregular residency.

At the time, U.S. bishops from California and Texas spoke out about the DHS decision. Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, called the decision “heartbreaking.” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles called for a permanent path to residency and citizenship for the affected families.

The Haitian population with protected status arrived in the U.S. after a 2010 earthquake killed 200,000 and displaced 1 million people. In addition, the landfall of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 destroyed much of the island’s infrastructure.

Beth Caroll, Head of Programs for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti, told CNA that conditions in Haiti remain dire, and the country’s problems would be greatly compounded if 50,000 people return there from the US.

Hurricane Laura, which passed over Haiti as a tropical storm in late August, caused extensive damage and loss of life on the island, and recovery efforts are still underway.

Compounding Haiti's already poor economy, the coronavirus pandemic has caused a major economic hit to the country.

Catholic leaders in Haiti have been warning that the combination of economic woes, the pandemic, and natural disasters make this a "terrible time" to be considering an influx of 50,000 Haitians back to the island, Carroll said, especially since so many of those immigrants now consider the United States their home.

Another effect of so many Haitians leaving the US would be a loss of remittances from the US to families in Haiti, which by some estimates makes up nearly 34% of Haiti's income, one of the highest percentages in the world.

A large influx of returning Haitians would likely frustrate the country's efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic, Carroll said. In addition, many of those returning would likely have difficulty finding work.

Nobody wants to leave their family or home, Carroll noted, and the Haitians who left the island in 2010 left out of necessity, because of root causes— in this case the earthquake— in Haiti.

Carroll said CRS remains committed to addressing those root causes in Haiti through humanitarian aid, with the goal of keeping Haitians from having to leave their home again.

The rejection of TPS for Haitians was “a sad decision,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told CNA in November 2017. Haitians “cannot go back to a situation that still is very difficult,” said Tomasi, who has served as the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva and as a counselor for the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

In April 2018 a group of Salvadoran bishops and other Church officials visited the U.S. and asked the Trump administration to reconsider its decision ending the protected status for Salvadorans, who received TPS status after a massive earthquake in 2001.

The situation in El Salvador is still dangerous due to gang violence and severe poverty, they said. It is unsafe for people to live in the country and there are very few employment opportunities.

The influx of people returning to El Salvador from the United States could overwhelm the already-fragile economy, they warned. Additionally, many Salvadorans living in the United States send remittances to El Salvador, which provides a boost to their economy. These remittances would end if they were forced to leave.

The administration has extended the validity of work permits for El Salvadorans with TPS through Jan. 4, 2021, and has said that Salvadorans will have one additional year after the end of TPS-related lawsuits to return to their home country.

‘Catholics for Biden’ co-chairs include pro-choice defenders of abortion protections

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 17:15

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).-  

The Biden campaign announced on Monday a panel of co-chairs for its “Catholics for Biden” outreach. Among the Catholics chairing Biden’s Catholic coalition are several politicians who have advocated for laws permitting or promoting abortion, along with the former head of the U.S. bishops’ global relief organization.

Biden, himself a Catholic, has made efforts to win the votes of Catholics in November’s presidential election, especially in the swing states where Catholic demographic groups could be the difference in the election.

The “Catholics for Biden” co-chairs, reported Monday by the National Catholic Reporter, include 2016 vice-presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and several members of Congress.

Kaine, a senator from Virginia, has said that despite his “personal opposition” to abortion, he supports legal protection for abortion, opposes laws that challenge Roe vs. Wade, and opposes efforts to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

In 2017, Kaine sponsored legislation that would have permanently repealed the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits U.S. foreign aid from supporting global organization that provide abortions or refer women to abortion providers.

While Kaine has supported laws requiring parental consent before minors can undergo abortions, and a prohibition on late-term abortions, the senator has received perfect legislative ratings and endorsements from Planned Parenthood and abortion lobbyist NARAL.

Becerra, California’s attorney general, opposed a bill that would penalize doctors performing sex-selective abortions, and has received perfect ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

As California’s attorney general, Becerra defended state mandates requiring insurers to cover abortions, even after Catholic nuns complained to the civil rights office of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and the state faced major cuts to federal HHS funds.

“California has the sovereign right to protect women’s reproductive rights,” Becerra said in February, defending the state’s abortion insurance mandate.

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, another co-chair, identifies as a pro-life Democrat and has voted for late-term abortion bans, though in 2011 he voted against defunding Planned Parenthood, earning himself a 100% rating from NARAL, a distinction he has matched in several subsequent years.

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, a U.S. Senator since 1997 and a “Catholics for Biden” co-chair, was in 2004 prohibited from receiving Holy Communion in his home Diocese of Springfield in Illinois because of his support for legally protected abortion; in 2018, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield said that prohibition remains in effect.

Six members of Congress announced as co-chairs, Reps. Boyle, DeLauro, Kaptur, Lieu, Suozzi, and Vargas have all received 100% ratings from NARAL.

Biden has pledged to support taxpayer-funded abortion and codify legal abortion in law. His “public option” health care plan would also cover elective abortions. The National Abortion Rights Action League has endorsed his candidacy, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund said they were “thrilled” at his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.

Pope Francis has made forceful denunciations of abortion. He has likened it to “hiring a hitman,” and has condemned selective abortion of the disabled as “the same as the Nazis to maintain the purity of the race, but with white gloves.”

In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis wrote that “defence of unborn life is closely linked to the defence of each and every other human right.”

Amid the 2020 campaign, pro-life Democrats have decried the party’s “extreme” support of abortion in its 2020 platform. Biden has not responded to their call for a platform that would welcome pro-lifers to the party.

Biden has also said that he would repeal new religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate, which had granted relief to Catholic organizations including the Little Sisters of the Poor. If the exemptions are repealed, the sisters could once again have to appear in court.

Also among the co-chairs of Catholics for Biden is Dr. Carolyn Woo, who from 2012 to 2016 was CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ conference international humanitarian aid organization.

While Biden has hoped to attract practicing Catholics to his campaign, his broad support for abortion protections and funding is likely to draw ire from the U.S. bishops, and deter some Catholics from supporting his candidacy.

The Trump campaign’s Catholic voter outreach began with its online launch in April, which emphasized Trump’s efforts to appoint federal judges who were not “activist,” his administration’s pro-life policies and measures to protect religious freedom, and his record on the economy and on the coronavirus pandemic—which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.

Trump has been criticized by the U.S. bishops for his policies on immigration and refugee resettlement, housing, and the federal death penalty, which the administration reinstated after a 17-year hiatus on federal executions. But the president has mostly drawn praise from Church leaders for his efforts on abortion and religious liberty.

Trump targeted pro-life voters last week, sending a letter to pro-life leaders outlining his policy priorities for his second term. The letter contained some of the same promises he made to pro-life voters in 2016.

Trump’s 2020 letter promises to build upon “our transformation of the federal judiciary” with judges who will “not legislate an abortion agenda from the bench.”

He also promised to “overcome Democratic filibusters in Congress to pass and finally sign into law” a 20-week abortion ban. He pledged to sign legislation protecting infant abortion survivors and blocking all taxpayer funding of abortion providers, and promised to “fully defund the abortion industry” of taxpayer dollars.

The president has also issued a list of candidates for judicial positions that could become vacant in his second term, and promised to dramatically expand the Mexico City Policy if he is reelected.


Catholic bishops in California launch initiative to tackle racism

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 16:21

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 02:21 pm (CNA).- The California bishops met Wednesday African American Catholic leaders to begin a year-long initiative meant better to understand and combat racism.

The Sept. 9 meeting occurred on the feast of St. Peter Claver, which numerous U.S. dioceses and Catholic organizations observed as a day of fasting and prayer to end racism.

The bishops said they were “meeting with African American Catholic leaders to begin a journey aimed at converting our hearts to more fully understand the extent and nature of the sin of racism in ourselves, our Church and our nation.”

“This journey is intended to offer tangible change, in which the Bishops, together with the clergy, religious and faithful of California participate,” they said.

For three hours last week, the 25 bishops of California listened to two laywomen and a priest convey moments of racism they experienced either inside or outside the Catholic Church.

“The people shared from their heart. Some of the things were pretty tough to listen to,” said Steve Pehanich, director of communications for the California Catholic Conference.

“The bishops were touched. There were some tears. There were some hard to bear moments, but I think they really appreciated it,” he added, according to Angelus News.

The bishops said the first step of the initiative is to listen to the accounts of racism. They said it is important to first understand internal sins before addressing the sins of society.

The bishops’ statement quoted from both Sollicitudo rei socialis, St. John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical on the 20th anniversary of Populorum Progressio, and Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship, the US bishops’ guide to political engagement.

They said that “over the next year, the dioceses of California are committing to measures aimed at understanding and combating the sin of racism by examining our own conscience and probing civil society and our own institutions for signs of the structures of sin.”

The next step of the initiative is dialogue. The bishops have encouraged Catholics in California to take the results of these sessions and discuss the topic of racism within the home, Church, and groups of friends.

The final step of the project is action. They said that during 2021, the Church will implement strategies formed by the discussions in previous months. These strategies will seek to “root out racist thinking and practices and foster a ‘culture of encounter,’” the bishops said. The action plan will include education, advocacy, and dialogue sessions that aim better to identify racism.

In the fight against racism, the bishops said, it is important to first bring about a change of heart and foster new habits. They said, while these changes will be difficult to implement, it is important to trust in God and prayer.

“We realize the road ahead will be challenging but these are steps we as a Church must take. We rely on the Good Shepherd to guide all of us in this journey, asking for the gifts of his charity, wisdom, humility and forgiveness. May the Lord Jesus lead us in constant prayer, with an abiding spirit of conversion and reconciliation. We urge the faithful to continue to pray to end racism and for a new beginning of hope,” they said.

US Commission: Vatican-China deal should focus on religious freedom

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 15:15

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- Religious freedom must be the result of any renewed Vatican agreement with China, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom emphasized on Tuesday, noting that underground Catholics in the country remained “persecuted.”

On Monday, Sept. 14, the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that a renewal of the Holy See’s 2018 deal with China on the appointment of bishops was likely and would help “normalize the life of the Church” there.

In response, Gary Bauer—a commissioner with USCIRF, a bipartisan federal advisory body—warned Tuesday that the persecution of underground Catholics by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must stop if the Vatican-China deal is renewed.

"Communist China continues to persecute Chinese Catholics. USCIRF hopes any future deal between the Vatican and China is rooted in the protection of religious freedom,” the commission’s Twitter account stated on Tuesday, quoting Bauer and citing Cardinal Parolin’s comments.

The agreement between the Holy See and China was signed on Sept. 22, 2018, and is set to expire in October. The agreement was pursued by the Vatican as a means to unify the Church in China and support the appointment of bishops.

Although text of the arrangement was not released to the public, it has been widely reported that the Chinese Communist Party was given an ability to weigh in on episcopal appointments for the Church in China. 

Vatican officials have recently expressed optimism and support for a renewal of the agreement. Parolin said on Monday that the Vatican intends “that [the deal] be prolonged, that we continue to adopt it ad experimentum,” as reported by the Italian news agency AgenSIR.

Catholics in China have long been divided between underground Catholics who remained in full communion with Rome and whose bishops were frequently not acknowledged by the CCP, and members of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the state-sanctioned church. After the deal was reached in 2018, eight illicitly-ordained bishops of the CPCA were then recognized by the Holy See.

Two underground Catholic bishops were also recognized by the CCP and installed in June.

However, there have been reports of ongoing harassment of other underground Catholics and bishops in China since the deal was signed, despite Vatican guidance respecting the choice of underground Catholics, including clergy bishops, who refuse to register with the government and sign documents acknowledging the CCP ideology of sinicization. Many underground Catholics and bishops have reportedly been reluctant to register with the CPCA.

USCIRF, in its most recent annual report, said that persecution of religions in China worsened in 2019.

“Local authorities continued to harass and detain bishops, including Guo Xijin and Cui Tai, who refused to join the state-affiliated Catholic association,” the commission reported, adding that “[m]ost of the country’s estimated 70 million Christians refuse to join the state-run churches” including the CPCA. There have also been reports of churches being demolished or crosses being removed.

Another reported tension has been that of a lack of episcopal appointments in the mainland; there are currently more than 50 Catholic dioceses in China that do not have sitting bishops, and candidates who have been appointed are past the Church’s retirement age of 75. 

Vatican sources have reported silence from Beijing in response to lists of episcopal candidates, and in response to reports of missing priests.

In July, U.S. congressional leaders held a hearing which highlighted the persecution of Chinese Catholics and the disappearance of a bishop.

Bishop James Su Zhimin of the Diocese of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, was arrested by Chinese authorities in 1997. He was last seen by family at a hospital in 2003 while he was in government custody.

“President Xi Jinping: Where is Bishop Su, and what have you done to him?” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the commission, asked in his opening remarks of a July 30 hearing of the bipartisan Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

According to Bishop Su’s nephew, Chinese officials have reportedly asked the Vatican to appoint a new bishop of Baoding, UCA News reported on July 22. Their preferred candidate is Coadjutor Bishop Francis An Shuxi, a member of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-sanctioned church.

The 2018 Vatican-China agreement, which ceded a measure of control over episcopal appointments in China to the Communist government, is set to expire in the coming weeks. Negotiations to extend that deal could determine the nomination of Su’s successor and influence the current treatment of Catholics in China, both on the mainland and in Hong Kong, where the imposition of a National Security Law in July has led to crackdowns on free speech and warnings from the local diocese to Catholic schools and clergy to avoid contentious political issues.

According to a report, released July 28, a Chinese state-sponsored group has targeted the Vatican and other Catholic organizations with cyberattacks to gain an advantage in negotiations and monitor the Holy See’s communications with the Diocese of Hong Kong.

Texas senator calls for investigation of Netflix over 'Cuties'

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 14:25

CNA Staff, Sep 15, 2020 / 12:25 pm (CNA).- US Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, is among those who have called for an investigation into Netflix over its release of Cuties, a French independent film that he said sexualizes young girls.

“I urge the Department of Justice to investigate the production and distribution of this film to determine whether Netflix, its executives, or the individuals involved in the filming and production of ‘Cuties’ violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography,” Cruz wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to attorney general William Barr.

Cruz said the film “sexualizes young girls, including through dance scenes that simulate sexual activities and a scene exposing a minor's bare breast.”

He added that some scenes in the film “in and of themselves are harmful,” and said, “it is likely that the filming of this movie created even more explicit and abusive scenes, and that pedophiles across the world in the future will manipulate and imitate this film in abusive ways.”

The senator said that “Although the First Amendment provides vigorous protection for artistic expression, it does not allow individuals or for-profit corporations to produce or distribute child pornography.”

A spokesperson for Cruz told the AP that the senator has not seen the film.

Cuties, whose original French title is “Mignonnes”, was released Aug. 19 in France, and internationally on Netflix Sept. 9.

Cuties’ director, Maïmouna Doucouré, won an award for her work on the film at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Netflix apologized last month for a promotional poster of the film, saying, “It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which premiered at Sundance.”

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic Congresswoman from Hawaii, tweeted Sept. 11 that “child porn ‘Cuties’ will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”

US Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, tweeted Sept. 12 he finds’ Netflix’ “decision to peddle child pornography disgusting”, and called on the Justice Department to act.

Ken Buck, a Republican Congressman from Colorado, has also called for an investigation by the Justice Department.

Doucouré has said she was inspired to make Cuties after noticing that some “very young girls” had hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.

"There were no particular reasons [for the number of followers], besides the fact that they had posted sexy or at least revealing pictures: that is what had brought them this 'fame,’” she said in an interview in August with CineEuropa.

She told CineEuropa that it is “urgent” that this matter be discussed, and that she thinks “a debate be had on the subject.”