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Updated: 34 min 19 sec ago

Biden plans to end contraception exemption for Little Sisters

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 12:30

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Former vice president Joe Biden pledged on Wednesday to reinstate Obama-era policies that would require the Little Sisters of the Poor to ensure access to birth control and abortifacients for employees in violation of their religious beliefs. 

Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, made the promise July 8, following the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, which upheld an exemption for the sisters from the “contraception mandate” which obliges employers to provide for contraceptive coverage for employees through their health care plans.

“If I am elected I will restore the Obama-Biden policy that existed before the [Supreme Court’s 2014] Hobby Lobby ruling: providing an exemption for houses of worship and an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious missions,” said Biden in a statement released by his campaign. 

“This accommodation will allow women at these organizations to access contraceptive coverage, not through their employer-provided plan, but instead through their insurance company or a third-party administrator.” 

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law in 2010, while Biden was serving as vice president. On August 1, 2011, then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebellius announced an interim final rule that required all ACA-compliant insurance plans to cover at least one form of female birth control, including sterilization. At the time the bill was voted on and signed, there was no contraception mandate included.

The rule, finalized on January 20, 2012, contained a narrow religious exemption to the mandate which only covered employees of a church or religious organization. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order dedicated to serving the elderly poor, were one of many groups who were not covered under the religious exemption because they do not exclusively employ or serve Catholics. 

The Little Sisters of the Poor have repeatedly stated that authorizing a “third-party administrator” to provide birth control to their employees is still a violation of their beliefs and is not an acceptable compromise. 

Following an initial 2016 appeal to the Supreme Court, in 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups. Several states filed lawsuits saying that the executive action shifted the burden of providing coverage onto the states and claimed the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.

On Wednesday, the court found that the Trump administration “had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” and “that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

The court’s decision only found in favor of the executive action excusing the sisters and others with conscience objections – action that could be revoked or reversed by a subsequent administration. 

On Wednesday, Biden, who has campaigned on the importance of his Catholic faith, said he did not agree with either the court’s decision or the exemption for the sisters, adding that there is “a clear path to fixing it: electing a new President who will end Donald Trump’s ceaseless attempts to gut every aspect of the Affordable Care Act.”  

“I am disappointed in today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that will make it easier for the Trump-Pence Administration to continue to strip health care from women--attempting to carve out broad exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s commitment to giving all women free access to recommended contraception,” said Biden.

Are Catholic flame wars evangelizing online? Bishop Barron says ‘no’ 

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 21:00

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A California bishop challenged Catholics online to “cut it out” and better represent their Christian faith through their social media engagement.

On Tuesday, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, issued a “pastoral cry of the heart” to encourage Catholics to stop tearing each other apart online and instead provide well structured and charitable arguments.



“I understand that people are passionate, especially about religious matters, but when it comes to this commentary we always must keep truth and love in the forefront,” he said.

Speaking of social media, Barron said that “I must admit the vitriol, negativity, personal attacks, and outright calumny that come regularly from self-professed Catholics is dismaying and disedifying in the extreme.”

The video message followed a June 24 article Barron had written, which he said the drew unhealthy criticism from mobs of Catholics who responded not with arguments, but with vicious insults. For four days, the bishop had to assign co-workers to assess and remove disturbing comments from his different social media pages, he said.

“In the wake of my article,” he said, “armies of commenters, encouraged by certain internet provocateurs, inundated my Twitter and all my social media sites with wave upon wave of the most hateful, vituperative, venomous words that you can imagine.”

“I was called spineless, gutless, cowardly, and that’s just to mention the most benign and unobscene remarks.”

In the article, “Why ‘what are the bishops doing about it?’ is the wrong question,” Barron noted Catholics had been calling for a greater contribution from the bishops against racial injustices, including the death of George Floyd.

He said bishops are lobbying politicians, encouraging legislative changes, and calling on community leaders. However, he said there must be footwork done by the laity as well.

“The crisis precipitated by the brutal killing of George Floyd is one that involves many dimensions of our society: law, the police, education, government, neighborhoods, families, etc. Priests and bishops, to be sure, ought to teach clearly and publicly,” he wrote.

“But I would argue that the lion’s share of the work regarding this massive societal problem belongs to those whose proper arena is the society and whose expertise lies precisely in the relevant areas of concern, namely, the laity.”

As a public figure on social media, Barron said in his recent video, he expects vocal opposition and even welcomes well-formed criticism. He said even the most finely articulated demonstration is susceptible to objections and new suggestions.

But the comments he received last week were a “moral outrage,” he said. Rather than challenges offered in love and truth, the comments were “calumny” - mean spirited accusations that violate both charity and justice.

“There is a sharp distinction between legitimate argument and calumny. A real argument, involving the marshaling of evidence, the citation of authorities, the fair and careful reporting of one’s opponent’s position, etc, is morally praiseworthy,” he said.

“For real argument fosters both truth and love. It seeks to shed light on what is really the case - truth - and to invite others to see more clearly - it’s a type of love. Calumny, on the other hand, is indifferent to truth and inimical to love.”

Among those with whom Barron has clashed in recent weeks is author and YouTube commentator Taylor Marshall, whose book “Infiltration,” claims to outline a plot by which “Modernists and Marxists hatched a plan to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Their goal: to change Her doctrine, Her liturgy, and Her mission,” according to the book’s website.

Marshall has said that bishops should lead defenses of sacred statues at risk of being torn down by rioters. After the bishop blocked Marshall on Twitter, the author has also criticized Barron’s response to criticism.

“What we see here is kinda tone deaf. We feel like we have been bullied, and pushed down and lied to by our bishops for decades,” Marshall said in a July 8 video. 

In the face of attacks against Catholic statues, “we’re looking for the bishops to do something….So when we hear ‘that’s the laity’s job,’ that really ticked off a lot of people, Bishop Barron.”

Marshall said those engaging with the bishop disrespectfully should repent, but also that Barron seems not to understand the frustration of him and his supporters. “That is why you had to make a video yesterday.”

Marshall disputed the idea that he encouraged his supporters to attack Barron online, “but what you saw, Bishop Barron, were tens and tens of thousands of Catholics who want to support you outraged - is that too strong a word?-  confused, bothered, that the bishop who has the biggest platform and the biggest voice would say ‘that’s the laity’s job!’ or ‘Vatican II taught that the secular arena belongs to the laity.’”

In his video, Marshall subsequently criticized Barron because he said that the bishop did not condemn “the sin of idolatry” during the 2019 Amazon synod, and that he did not believe Barron had vigorously enough defended the institution of marriage at the time of the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision. He added that the reason “trolls” antagonize Barron is because he is not sufficiently accessible to answer questions about such criticisms.

Marshall and Barron have clashed previously over theological issues. Marshall has recently criticized other bishops for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, among other things, and is affiliated with the priestly Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church. Barron has reportedly described Marshall as an “extremist.”

In his video, Barron said that online mob comments and abusive reviews do not help promote change but are, instead, anti-evangelical. If non-Catholics who are curious about the faith were to observe such behavior, he said, they would be repelled by the insidious comments of Catholics toward their pastors.

Catholics should be examples of charity, and model respectful disagreement within the Catholic community.

“As Tertullian reminded us long ago, what first attracted many pagans to Christianity was the obvious love that Christians showed to one another,” he said.

“Catholics on social media,” Barron concluded, “you need to pick up your game”

 

What the Supreme Court ministerial exception ruling could mean for LGBT employment lawsuits

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 18:59

Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2020 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court’s ruling today on ministerial exception should encourage Catholic schools expecting teachers to live out Church doctrine on matters of sexual morality, two religious liberty lawyers suggested.

“There’s a lot of public pressure right now on Catholic schools, and on Catholic charities and the Church as a whole, to give up their teaching on marriage and human sexuality,” said John Bursch, Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom.

He told CNA he hopes today’s ruling will embolden the Church - and particularly Catholic schools - to expect their communities to live in accordance with Church teaching.

“This should give them a degree of confidence they maybe didn’t have before, that they will have legal protection when they do that,” Bursch said.

In a 7-2 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that two Catholic school teachers in California are covered by the legal doctrine of “ministerial exception,” which prohibits government interference in religious organizations’ hiring and firing decisions regarding ministers.

The case, Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, involved two teachers in California Catholic schools whose contracts were not renewed. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the principle of “ministerial exception.”

At the heart of the case was a question over what constituted a “minister.” In the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC decision, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld ministerial exception in the case of a teacher at a Lutheran school who was commissioned and given the title of “minister.” In today’s ruling, the justices determined that ministerial exception also applied to the Catholic school teachers in question. They noted that even through the teachers were not given the formal title of “minister” or the same level of formal training, the essence of their job was the same as in the Hosanna-Tabor case - to transmit the faith to students.

Adele Keim, an attorney with the religious freedom legal group Becket, said the court’s decision reinforced the idea that “government should not be in the business of telling religious schools who is qualified to teach the faith to their students.”

Keim, who worked on the case, told CNA this is a “common-sense principle” rooted in the First Amendment, which helps to ensure a healthy separation of church and state.

For decades, she said, courts have recognized that Title VII employment discrimination law does not apply in certain cases involving religious institutions.

This principle is important in cases of sexual morality. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that employers cannot fire employees on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, Keim noted that the majority ruling in Bostock gave a nod to religious freedom, acknowledging that there are a special set of legal doctrines that operate in the case of religious organizations, and explicitly mentioning ministerial exception as one of them.

“There’s a protected sphere that gives religious organizations independence in deciding who’s going to carry out core religious functions. And so Title VII doesn’t come in there,” she said.

“If you can show that the employee is carrying out important religious functions, then that’s an area where the state just has to stay out.”

In several high-profile cases in recent years, teachers at Catholic schools who have entered civil same-sex marriages have been fired.

Bursch said today’s ruling could protect schools from lawsuits in these situations, provided they could show that the teachers in question were expected to transmit the faith to students.

“If the teacher is considered a minister at that school, as the Catholic teachers were in the two schools that the court decided today, then Title VII would not apply, no matter what the claim is,” he said. “The ministerial exception simply says that the federal government can’t be involved in regulating appointment law when it comes to religious institutions and their ministers. So the Bostock decision would not apply.”

Non-teacher employees would be similarly evaluated, with courts looking at their job responsibilities to determine whether the role is ministerial in nature. For example, a school janitor who is only present in the building outside of normal school hours and is not responsible for transmitting the faith would likely not be considered ministerial in nature, he said.

In one case in Indianapolis last year, two guidance counselors were dismissed from a local Catholic school for entering civil same-sex marriages, and a social worker then lost her job after publicly defending them.

Bursch said employment decisions such as these would be evaluated based on what the expectations of the employees are, and what job responsibilities they have.

For a guidance counselor, courts may consider questions such as, “Do they have any kind of religious or theological education or training? Is it expected that they’re going to transmit principles of the Catholic faith to students as they work through issues? Are they going to encourage students to consider religious vocations, such as being Catholic priests or being nuns?”

“The more of those types of things you have, the more likely it is that the court would consider the counselor a minister,” Bursch said.

“Each [case] will be a facts and circumstances examination of how much that person is expected to help carry on the faith to others. And if there’s a lot of that, they’re almost certainly a minister. If there’s none of that, then they almost certainly would not be,” he added.

The same principles apply to other Catholic organizations as well, he said. For example, a Catholic Charities social worker who is instructed to avoid religious conversations in his or her work with foster families would likely not be considered a minister. In contrast, a social worker who is instructed to spread the Gospel, and to encourage Mass attendance, prayer, and Catholic schools is more likely to be considered a minister.

“It would all depend on what the organization expects of that person in their job responsibilities,” Bursch stressed.

He also commented on the morality clauses added into teaching contracts in some Catholic dioceses, indicating that teachers accept and agree to publicly abide by Church teaching.

“Even before Our Lady of Guadalupe, they should feel pretty good about those clauses because an employment relationship is at-will,” he said. “[T]he courts have long recognized that wholly apart from the ministerial exception, a religious organization has the ability to hire individuals who share that organization’s faith beliefs. But I think having Our Lady of Guadalupe in place should help them feel even better about those types of clauses.”

Keim agreed that today’s ruling is reassuring for religious schools who ask teachers to abide by basic moral tenets.

“I think the Supreme Court has been very clear,” she said. “Two cases in eight years that have said resoundingly that ‘educating and forming students in the Catholic faith are vital religious duties’…If someone’s engaged in that process, the court has spoken twice and spoken very loudly, 9-0 and 7-2, those are areas where the state cannot be in the business of picking religion teachers.”

Trump administration starts withdrawal from WHO

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 18:01

Denver Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The United States will withdraw from the World Health Organization by July 6, 2021, the Trump administration has told the WHO, launching a yearlong process that will likely require approval from Congress and President Donald Trump’s re-election if it is to come to completion.
 
While the move would end the hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money to the WHO, withdrawal does not necessarily mean a reduction in overall global health aid, Elyssa Koren, director of United Nations advocacy at ADF International, told CNA July 7.
 
“Withdrawal from the WHO does not mean that the U.S. has stopped prioritizing humanitarian assistance, in particular COVID-19 relief, but that instead it can channel these funds directly without going through the U.N.,” Koren said.
 
A draft appropriations bill in Congress would increase overall money for U.S. development spending, and allocate another $10 billion for coronavirus assistance, she added in a July 8 essay in Newsweek.
 
President Donald Trump said he would withdraw from the WHO in a May 29 Rose Garden media briefing. He charged that the agency failed to alert the world when the novel coronavirus emerged. He accused the U.N. agency of helping China cover up the threat.
 
The claims of a cover-up have been questioned by experts, including a report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
 
In April, Trump put a temporary freeze on U.S. funds during a review of U.S. membership. The U.S. had typically given $400 million per year to the organization, whose budget is about $4.8 billion annually.
 
Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, rejected the withdrawal effort.
 
“Americans are safer when America is engaged in strengthening global health,” Biden said on Twitter July 7. “On my first day as President, I will rejoin the WHO and restore our leadership on the world stage.”
 
A State Department spokesperson explained the Trump administration’s perspective.
 
“The President has been clear that the WHO needs to get its act together. That starts with demonstrating significant progress and the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks with transparency and accountability,” a State Department spokesperson told CNBC July 7.
 
“The United States will continue efforts to reform the WHO and other international organizations to ensure they operate with transparency, fulfill their mandates, and hold governments accountable for their commitments under international law,” the spokesperson said.
 
While Koren has backed defunding, rather than disengaging, from the WHO, she characterized the possible end of a U.S. relationship with the WHO as “an important step for the protection of American interests.”
 
“The U.S. spent $900 million on the organization last year alone, and given significant evidence of WHO dysfunction, it is clear that U.S. funds are better spent elsewhere,” she told CNA.
 
There are no reports that the Trump administration action is motivated by abortion.
 
However, Koren, a longtime observer of abortion issues at the U.N., said there is further reason for the U.S. to withdraw given “mounting proof that the WHO is promoting abortion under the guise of coronavirus relief.”
 
The WHO’s coronavirus pandemic plans for Ecuador includes Minimum Initial Service Packages from the United Nations Population Fund, which include instruments used in the context of abortion: vacuum extractors, craniocrasts for the crushing of fetal skills, and drugs to perform abortions. The equipment comes with manuals from the abortion provider IBIS, which explain how the equipment can be used for abortion.
 
“The U.S. is prohibited from the funding of abortion abroad, thus rendering the relationship with the organization untenable,” Koren said.
 
Given recent years’ U.S. leadership on pro-life protections at the United Nations, Koren said that as the U.S. withdraws from the WHO it should “seek avenues to maintain engagement across the U.N. system in the interest of the pro-life cause and other American priorities.” “Continued pressure for reform is needed for the longevity of the international human rights project,” she said.
 
After the president’s May 29 media briefing, the State Department began redirecting funds away from the WHO, instead giving the funds to other global health organizations, CNBC reports.
 
The withdrawal has drawn criticism from Congress, including Republicans in the House of Representatives. They have said the U.S. would be able to have a larger impact on the response to the novel coronavirus epidemic as part of the organization.
 
It is unclear whether Trump has the authority to withdraw unilaterally from the WHO. The draft 2021 foreign aid bill of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriations would renew $200 million in WHO funding.
 
Koren, writing in Newsweek, has said the draft bill’s provision to give $55.5 million to the UNFPA would violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars U.S. funds for organizations with links to forced abortion.
 
Some reports have called into question Trump's claim that the U.N. agency was involved in cover-up. On June 2 the Associated Press reported that while WHO publicly praised China's response to the new coronavirus, it encountered significant delays in collecting data from the Chinese government. WHO officials were frustrated they did not get the information they needed.
 
Experts have debated whether WHO should have been more confrontational, or whether that approach would have put it at risk of being kicked out of China.
 
WHO has agreed to an independent probe of how it handled the global pandemic.
 
A Department of Homeland Security report dated May 1, acquired by the Associated Press, showed that some U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak and the contagiousness of the new coronavirus in order to stock up on medical supplies.

Kanye West says Planned Parenthoods 'do the devil’s work'

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 16:00

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- American hip-hop singer Kanye West has denounced the nation’s largest abortion provider as racist and demonic after announcing an unexpected run for the Oval Office on July 4. 

Excerpts and a summary of an interview with Forbes magazine were published on Wednesday, four days after West announced on Twitter that he would run for president. 

“Planned Parenthood [clinics] have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the devil’s work,” said West, referring to allegations that the nation’s largest abortion chain intentionally focuses on offering abortions to women of color. 

Nia Martin-Robinson, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s director of Black Leadership and Engagement rejected West’s assertion, telling celebrity news website The Blast that “Black women are free to make our own decisions about our bodies and pregnancies, and want and deserve to have access to the best medical care available.” 

Martin-Robinson said that “any insinuation that abortion is Black genocide is offensive and infantalizing,” and that black communities are more threatened due to a “lack of access to quality, affordable health care, police violence and the criminalization of reprooductive health care” by pro-life activists.

Planned Parenthood performs approximately 345,000 abortions in the United States each year. In 2016, the Guttmacher Institute found that Black women had 28% of the nation’s abortions, despite being approximately 14% of the population. 

Planned Parenthood was founded by noted eugenicist Margaret Sanger, who once said that “before eugenists and others who are laboring for racial betterment can succeed, they must first clear the way for birth control. Like the advocates of birth control, the eugenists, for instance, are seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.”

Planned Parenthood has come under renewed scrutiny regarding racial issues in recent weeks. The CEO of Planned Parenthood’s largest affiliate, Planned Parenthood Greater New York, recently left the company after complaints that she mistreated Black employees and had a “Trumpian” style of leadership. 

In Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores condemned the organization on July 4 after they used a racial slur in its attack ad against a pro-life state senator of Mexican descent. Flores said he was “not surprised” by the attack on the pro-life record of state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

For his part, West affirmed that he is “pro-life, because I’m following the word of the Bible,” and that he is against the death penalty. Previously, the rapper, who has released an album titled Jesus is King, has spoken out in favor of abortion rights.

During the interview, West offered less mainstream views on other topics, especially vaccines. The singer said he believes a coronavirus vaccine could be part of a global plot to implant microchips in the human population during the discussion of his political motivations and ambitions.

West said that he had contracted coronavirus in February, and that he was not in favor of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, or any vaccines, and voiced his support for a number of conspiracy theories on the subject. 

“It’s so many of our children that are being vaccinated and paralyzed… So when they say the way we’re going to fix Covid is with a vaccine, I’m extremely cautious. That’s the mark of the beast,” said West, referring apparently to an interpretation of Revelation 13:16-17 prominent among some vaccine opponents.  

West further also said that “they” - he did not specify who -  had a plan to implant microchips in the global population and “to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven.” He also said he believes that the coronavirus was sent from God as a punishment to humanity. 

“We pray. We pray for the freedom. It’s all about God. We need to stop doing things that make God mad,” said West. 

In the past, West has spoken openly about his struggles with bipolar disorder, a condition for which he has said he is under a doctor’s care. On the cover of his 2018  album “Ye”, West included the statement “I hate being bi-polar it’s awesome.”

Regarding his presidential ambitions, West said that he would work to “reinstate in God’s state, in God’s country, the fear and love of God in all schools and organizations,” and that he believes that the devil is behind spikes in the suicide and murder rate in his hometown of Chicago.

“The human beings working for the devil removed God and prayer from the schools,” said West, adding “that means more drugs, more murders, more suicide.”

West said that if President Donald Trump were not the incumbent, he would run as a Republican, but that instead he will run as an independent candidate. While he is no longer a vocal Trump supporter, West said that Trump “is the closest president we’ve had in years to allowing God to still be part of the conversation.”

At the 2015 MTV Music Video Awards, while accepting the lifetime achievement Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, West announced that he would be running for president in 2020. Following Trump’s election in 2016, West amended his plans to say he would now run in 2024. 

In the interview with Forbes, he stated that he believes that “God appoints the president” and that if he were to win in 2020, it would be the result of God appointing him as president.

'We are overjoyed': Little Sisters of the Poor react to Supreme Court decision

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 12:40

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 10:40 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders and religious liberty advocates have welcomed the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor on Wednesday, calling it a victory for freedom of conscience and the freedom of religious people to serve the poor.

“We are overjoyed that, once again, the Supreme Court has protected our right to serve the elderly without violating our faith,” said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters in a statement July 8.

“Our life’s work and great joy is serving the elderly poor and we are so grateful that the contraceptive mandate will no longer steal our attention from our calling.”

The Little Sisters’ victory at the Supreme Court on Wednesday comes nine years into their legal fight against the Obama-era “contraception mandate” which obliges employers to provide cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and “emergency birth control” in employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups, but then the states of Pennsylvania and California filed lawsuits saying that the burden of providing coverage was being shifted onto the states and claiming that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.

On Wednesday, the court found that the Trump administration “had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” and “that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, the religious freedom legal group which represented the sisters, said Wednesday that “America deserves better than petty governments harassing nuns.”

“The court did the right thing by protecting the Little Sisters from an unnecessary mandate that would have gutted their ministry,” Rienzi said. “Governments don’t need nuns to distribute contraceptives. But they do need religious groups to care for the elderly, heal the sick and feed the hungry.”

Referring to the states of California and Pennsylvania, which initiated the latest round of legal action against the sisters, he said that “these governments all have real work they ought to be doing rather than dividing people with old and unnecessary culture wars.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, also issued a statement together with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who chairs the committee on pro-life activities, calling the verdict “welcome.”

“This is a saga that did not need to occur. Contraception is not health care, and the government should never have mandated that employers provide it in the first place,” the bishops wrote.

“There were multiple opportunities for government officials to do the right thing and exempt conscientious objectors,” they said. “Time after time, administrators and attorneys refused to respect the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Catholic faith they exemplify, to operate in accordance with the truth about sex and the human person.”

The bishops said that the Little Sisters are “committed to building a culture of life. They care for the elderly poor. They uphold human dignity. They follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Church. The government has no right to force a religious order to cooperate with evil.”

The court’s decision Wednesday was widely hailed as a final victory for the sisters after nearly a decade of legal battles, including two trips to the Supreme Court. However, the court’s decision only found in favor of the executive action excusing the sisters and others with conscience objections – action that could be revoked or reversed by a subsequent administration.

The bishops ended their statement on a note of caution:

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision. We hope it brings a close to this episode of government discrimination against people of faith. Yet, considering the efforts we have seen to force compliance with this mandate, we must continue to be vigilant for religious freedom.”

Catholic school teachers are 'ministers', SCOTUS rules

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 10:55

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 08:55 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a long-awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in religious schools. 

The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers exception” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case. 

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

The two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of the teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine under which government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions regarding the hiring and firing of ministers.

In both cases, the teachers’ suits were dismissed by federal courts, and then reinstated by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. 

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined case in May, lawyers for the schools argued that “for hours on end over the course of a week,” teachers in Catholic schools were the “primary agents” by which the faith was taught to students. Argument - and questions from the bench - focused on how broadly the ministerial exception could be applied to the employees of religious schools.

The decision comes just weeks after the court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion in that case, acknowledged that religious freedom cases related to the decision would probably come before the Court in the future. 

The decision about who qualifies as a minister could directly impact future cases in which teachers might be dismissed for failing to adhere to Church teachins on same-sex marriage or transgender issues, both of which have been subjects of controversy in recent months.

“Requiring the use of the title [minister] would constitute impermissible discrimination,” the court ruled. Referencing the previous decision in Hosana Tabor, Altio wrote that there must be “a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

The verdict also explicitly referenced the policy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, home to both of the schools designating all teachers in Catholic schools as being effectively ministers.

“Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e., “a teacher of religion,” Alito noted in his decision for the majority. 

“There is abundant record evidence that [both teachers] performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility.”

The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”  

Joining Alito in the majority decision were Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Sotomayer and Ginsburg dissented.

Little Sisters have big win in Supreme Court decision

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 10:42

Washington D.C., Jul 8, 2020 / 08:42 am (CNA).-  

The Little Sisters of the Poor had a victory at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, nine years into the religious order’s bouts of litigation over the Obama-era “contraception mandate” which obliged employers to provide for contraceptive coverage for employees through their health care plans.

“For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas for the majority.

“But for the past seven years, they—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision— have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

In a 7-2 decision, the Court’s majority sided with the sisters in the latest round of lawsuits against them over the mandate, this time brought by the states of Pennsylvania and California, who argued that the exemption crafted by the Trump administration for organizations with religious or moral objections to the mandate shifted the cost of providing contraceptive coverage to the states and was procedurally flawed.

“We hold today that the Departments had the statutory authority to craft that exemption, as well as the contemporaneously issued moral exemption,” the majority found. “We further hold that the rules promulgating these exemptions are free from procedural defects.”

The near decade-long court battle of the Little Sisters of the Poor dates back to 2011, when the Obama administration required employers to provide cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and “emergency birth control” in employee health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Although the Obama administration granted an “accommodation” to the Little Sisters and other objecting religious non-profits, the sisters sued the government in 2013 saying the process still required them to essentially give a “permission slip” for contraceptive coverage to be delivered through their health plans.

In 2016, a divided Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts and instructed both the administration and the non-profits to reach a compromise where cost-free contraceptive coverage could still be offered to employees while respecting the moral objections of religious groups.

In 2017, the Trump administration granted a religious and moral exemption to the mandate for the sisters and other objecting groups, but then the states of Pennsylvania and California filed lawsuits saying that the burden of providing coverage was being shifted onto the states and claiming that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act in setting up the exemption.

The Supreme Court took up their case against the states in January, hearing arguments by phone in April following the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Catholic builds a shrine to St. Junipero Serra on the site of destroyed Sacramento statue

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 05:00

Denver Newsroom, Jul 8, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).-  

After rioters pulled down a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento on July 4, a local Catholic told CNA that she felt compelled, after prayer and reflection, to clean the spot where the statue once stood, to pray there, and to defend the 18th-century missionary’s legacy.

"I know enough about him to know that he was not a bad man, and that he doesn't deserve the inaccurate histories that were being portrayed in our local media. I'm not going to be silent about that when given an opportunity." Audrey Ortega told CNA.

Ortega, a homemaker from Sacramento and a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, set up a makeshift shrine to Serra on the statue's empty plinth July 5, and led other Catholics in cleaning graffiti from the site.

On July 4, a rioter burned the face of the Serra statue with an ignited spray from an aerosol can, before a crowd pulled the statue from its base using tow straps. After the statue fell, members of the crowd struck it with a sledgehammer and other objects, dancing and jumping upon it.

Ortega said it hurt her especially that the rioters waited for the cover of darkness to destroy the statue, which according to an eyewitness took less than ten minutes to accomplish before the rioters scattered.

St. Serra’s detractors have accused him in recent years of perpetrating abuses against Native Americans. The statue, installed on the grounds of California's state capitol in 1965, was the third figure of the missionary saint to be torn down by crowds in California in recent weeks.

Ortega was not present at the protest, but watched the coverage that evening on the local news. She resolved to go to the site to, in her words, put "something beautiful on this marred, awful place."

Her 12-year-old son had made a simple wooden cross for their family's door during Holy Week, she said. She decided it would be an appropriate item to use to honor Serra, along with holy water, an Our Lady of Guadalupe candle, and holy dirt from Chimayo, New Mexico.

Ortega said she was scared at first to approach the former statue site— which is now little more than a "stump" with rebar sticking up, she said— but soon had her "prayer spot" set up on the stump with a lit candle, and she began to pray the rosary and the stations of the cross.

"I was just praying for peace, and praying for the safety of everybody involved," she said. "I'm standing on firm ground as a Catholic...I don't want to live with anger or bitterness in my heart. That's what caused the statue to be torn down in the first place."

She said praying the stations of the cross at the site was particularly powerful for her.

"I felt so connected to the sufferings of Christ, and to the sufferings of St. Serra, because I do know his story of how he suffered, of the deprivation he went through and the sacrifices he made," referring to Serra’s practices of self-mortification and the health issues he endured as a missionary in New Spain.

During the eighteenth century, Serra founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California.

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

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

But Serra’s defenders say the priest actually was an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights.

While Ortega was praying at the stump July 5, a reporter from the Sacramento Bee approached Ortega and asked to interview her about why she was there. The reporter later posted the video, which shows Ortega passionately speaking in defense of Serra, online.

“Pope Francis canonized him in 2015. He’s not going to canonize a rapist. There were rapists, yes, but it was not St. Serra,” Ortega said in the Sacramento Bee video.

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

Serra often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over treatment of native people, and point to the outpouring of grief from native communities at his death.

Ortega lamented the fact that the statue was removed with due process, or a rational discussion. She said the groundskeepers have told her that the statue has been recovered, but she does not know if there are plans to put it back up again.

"The city has to decide: are we going to pretend like this isn't happening? Or are we going to do better than this?" she said, suggesting that the city could hold a community forum to talk about the issue.

"At least people are now learning [Serra's] story, even if it's a little late for this statue," she laughed.

On July 6, Ortega said she decided to go and scrub graffiti from the plinth, which she and her children did for two hours straight. She said many passers-by, including some state employees, thanked them for what they were doing.

Today, she said, the plinth looks nearly back to normal thanks to the cleaning efforts. But she worries that, because of the apparent inaction of the city government, it may be vandalized again.

A statue of Serra was torn down by demonstrators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on June 19, and one was torn down in Los Angeles on the same day. Other California cities have moved Serra statues to avoid their toppling, or plan to do so.

Ortega said she plans to pray at the statue site for a few minutes each day for as long as she can.

"Anybody can walk around the capitol grounds and pray the rosary and pray for peace. And anybody can go and pray at the Serra statue, or pray the stations of the cross like I did...you can do that without a permit and without drawing...counter protestors."

In a July 5 statement, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said that while “the group’s actions may have been meant to draw attention to the sorrowful, angry memories over California’s past,” their “act of vandalism does little to build the future.”

“All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America’s founding ideals. The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down,” the bishop added.

 

Tucson diocese again halts public Masses to curb rise of coronavirus cases

Wed, 07/08/2020 - 02:08

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 12:08 am (CNA).- As cases of COVID-19 spike in Arizona, the Diocese of Tucson has once again suspended the public celebration of Mass to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“I wish to inform you that after a careful review of the medical situation, and hearing the recent concerns of our Governor and civic leaders on television, I have been advised by Diocesan leadership to suspend public worship,” Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson announced July 1.

“This returns us temporarily to those protocols we were following just prior to the reopening of our parishes. You should anticipate a suspension of approximately four weeks but the matter will be reviewed daily and the suspension could be for a shorter or longer duration.”

According to KVOA, Arizona health officials reported 3,352 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Total cases reported have now surpassed 100,000, with nearly 2,000 deaths. As of Tuesday, about 25% of tests were coming back positive, a number that experts say far exceeds the 5% goal indicating adequate testing levels.

“Those who follow national news are aware that the State of Arizona has been referenced across the nation for our substantial spike in Covid-19 cases,” Weisenburger said.

“When the pandemic began I stressed that a primary factor on reopening would be the ability of our hospitals and medical personnel to respond adequately to the sick,” he noted, adding that the medical community has now said they are at a crisis point, with changes needed to prevent shortages in care.

The Diocese of Tucson had reopened Catholic parishes with added precautions on May 29, after parish-based public gatherings, including Masses, had been suspended beginning March 16 as part of national efforts to flatten the curve of the pandemic.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson area has been hit particularly hard in the spike following the state’s reopening, pushing the healthcare system to the brink of being overloaded and forcing some patients to seek medical care at out-of-town hospitals. Residents of Pima County suffering from COVID-19 have been sent to hospitals in Albuquerque, San Diego, and Las Vegas.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County health director, said the availability of beds in intensive care varies throughout the day, but, as of Monday, there are about 11 remaining beds in the Tucson area that are staffed with a critical care physician.

“We are in a critical situation right now. That doesn’t mean we’re unstable because you can be critical and stable. But our numbers keep increasing,” Cullen said, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

She said hospitals are referring patients when the staff does not believe long-term care can be adequately provided at their facility. Cullen said officials have discussed an alternate care site in Pima County, but no pop-up hospitals have yet been erected.

Bishop Weisenburger said parishes in the diocese will offer livestreaming videos of Mass online, noting that the only public Masses will be funerals and weddings, which will have a limit of 10 persons in the congregation. He said confessions will only be heard outdoors.

“The protocols we instituted for our parishes at the time of our reopening were sensible, thorough, and implemented with care and sensitivity,” he said. “When we are able to open up once again these protocols will be reinstated. But for now, where it is safe, pastors will arrange for an outdoor distribution of Holy Communion after members of the faithful have observed a Mass via technology.”

The bishop called for solidarity with those who are sick, scared, or unemployed, as well as the healthcare workers treating those who have been infected. He expressed his appreciation for the clergy and ministers who have fulfilled their vocations with fidelity and zeal even in the midst of the pandemic.

He also encouraged prayer for a quick resolution to the pandemic and asked Catholics to be examples of good social health practices.

“Let us pray that this suspension is brief and that we can soon be in one another’s company,” Weisenburger said. “Let us also be unified in our resolve to lead the way in battling this pandemic. The witness and example of our lives and the intensity of our prayers will surely help to heal the world.”

 

'Roe' abortion decision could still be overturned at SCOTUS, law professor says

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 19:00

Denver Newsroom, Jul 7, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).-  

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court's overturned a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, one law professor says that longstanding abortion precedents could still be overturned, even if the makeup of the court does not change.

“Given the right case, a strong enough factual record developed by state legislatures and supported at trial, I believe that the current majority on the Supreme Court could overturn Roe and Casey, and return the question of abortion to the states to resolve through the usual political processes,” University of Notre Dame law professor O. Carter Snead told CNA July 7.

On June 29 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana law holding abortion clinics to the same standards as other surgical centers.

Its 5-4 decision in the case June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo ruled that the state’s law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital posed substantial obstacles to a woman’s access to abortion, without significant benefits to the safety of women.

The decision was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, with Chief Justice Roberts filing a concurring opinion. In his concurrence, Roberts said that Louisiana’s law imposed restrictions “just as severe” as those of a Texas law struck down by the court in 2016. Thus, according to the “legal doctrine of stare decisis,” he said, Louisiana’s law “cannot stand” because of the court’s previous ruling in 2016.

The Supreme Court heard a similar case about Texas safety regulations for clinics in the 2016 ruling Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Roberts, long considered a skeptic of pro-abortion rights jurisprudence, had dissented from that 2016 ruling against the Texas law. He joined the dissent of Justice Clarence Thomas which criticized “the Court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.’”

For Snead, the latest decision was disappointing, but also a “road map” for continued efforts.

He lamented that Roberts failed to join four other justices in “affirming the constitutionality of a modest health and safety law for women seeking abortions, namely, the requirement that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges within thirty miles of where the abortion is performed.”

“Nothing in the Constitution forbids Louisiana from enacting such a law. But Chief Justice Roberts felt bound to strike it down under the prudential doctrine of stare decisis because it was so factually similar to a Texas law invalidated four years ago in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (in which Chief Justice Roberts dissented).”

Snead thought the four justices who dissented in the Louisiana case were right that stare decisis did not require rejecting the law.

However, even with the Supreme Court's apparent dedication to a recent precedent, Snead was hopeful that pro-abortion rights decisions like 1973's Roe v. Wade and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey could be overturned.

“No one in June Medical Services asked for Roe or Casey to be overturned, and Chief Justice Roberts applied Planned Parenthood v. Casey without affirming or endorsing it,” said Snead.

“He made it explicitly clear that he does not believe the Court can or should balance a woman's self-determination against a state's interest in the life of an unborn child. But this is the very calculus from whence the right to abortion came in Roe and Casey. So it's clear that Chief Justice Roberts believes that Roe and Casey are conceptually unsustainable.”

“That leaves the issue of stare decisis as the final obstacle to convincing him to undo the injustice of Roe and Casey. It is clear from his concurrence that pro life litigants need to explain why principles of stare decisis do not require Casey and Roe to be sustained,” he said.

In a July 4 essay for the First Things website, “The Way Forward After June Medical,” Snead argued that Roberts' concurrence is “the controlling opinion for purposes of precedent” and “leaves pro-life litigants on a better jurisprudential footing than before.”

“Most important, June is a road map for tailoring arguments to the new swing vote on abortion, Chief Justice Roberts,” Snead said. “It is certainly tempting to give up because there is still so far to go. But in the face of setbacks in the struggle for the equal protection of the law for every member of the human family, born and unborn, we must remind ourselves that none of it matters. We must find a way to win.”

Roberts' concurrence acknowledged that the 2016 law was wrongly decided. For Snead, a case can be “readily made” to address Roberts' concerns about precedent because of the unstable place of abortion in constitutional law. He wrote “it is built on outdated and dubious factual predicates.”

Snead told CNA that American jurisprudence on abortion “has never offered a stable, coherent, or predictable legal framework; it has been re-theorized multiple times, thus reducing its precedential standing; and there is no evidence that women have structured their lives around access to abortion, nor evidence that their personal or social flourishing depends on it.”

He said Roberts' concurrence puts forward a “new standard.” If a state's abortion restrictions face legal challenge, the state needs only “to demonstrate that it is pursuing a legitimate purpose via rational means.”

“This is a very low standard that states can almost always meet,” said Snead, saying this standard allows states “far more latitude to restrict and regulate abortion than before.”

“Indeed, the Supreme Court just vacated and remanded for reconsideration two cases where lower courts had previously struck down a parental notice law and a law requiring an ultrasound 18 hours prior to an abortion,” Snead told CNA.

“States should continue to pass laws that respect and protect the intrinsic equal dignity of all human beings, born and unborn, and extend the basic protections of the law to unborn children and their mothers,” Snead said. He advised a combination of abortion restrictions and laws that strengthen “the social safety net” for pregnant mothers and families.

States should make it easier for men and women to care for their babies or, where not possible, to make an adoption plan, he suggested.

“And in our own lives, we all have the duty to extend to all our brothers and sisters, born and unborn, love, respect, and radical hospitality,” he said.

 

Catholic military archbishop laments US Navy ban on 'off-base indoor religious services'

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 18:07

Denver Newsroom, Jul 7, 2020 / 04:07 pm (CNA).- The US Navy is reportedly loosening some restrictions on some sailors attending “off-base indoor religious services,” which it had promulgated in late June and which the archbishop for the military service had called “particularly odious to Catholics.”

The Navy had issued an order June 24 stating that "service members are prohibited from visiting, patronizing, or engaging in...indoor religious services,” according to First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom advocacy group.

Timothy Broglio, Archbishop for the Military Services USA, had on Sunday lamented the Navy’s policy, noting that the orders also add that “civilian personnel, including families, are discouraged from” indoor church services.

Broglio said upon learning about the order, he had immediately contacted the Navy Chief of Chaplains’ Office, which he said was not able to offer any relief from the Navy’s provisions. His attempt to contact the Chief of Naval Operations had not been acknowledged as of July 5.

“Certainly, the Navy personnel who fall under this restriction are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, because no one can be required to do what is impossible,” Broglio said.

“However, given the great lengths to which Catholic churches...have gone in order to ensure social distancing in seating, receiving Holy Communion, and even adjust the liturgy to avoid any contagion, I wonder why the Navy has decided to prohibit the faithful from something which even the Commander in Chief has called an essential service.”

The Navy’s director of Fleet Public Affairs told Fox News July 6 that if “conditions are met locally”— which the director did not specify— "Sailors are not prohibited from attending off-base indoor religious services.”

The Navy had on June 25 established a surveillance testing program, called Sentinel Surveillance Testing, to test asymptomatic service members for COVID-19.

Broglio called the Navy’s original order “particularly odious to Catholics,” because, he said, frequently there is no longer a Catholic program on naval installations due to budgetary constraints, or many installation chapels simply are still closed.

“Participation in the Sunday Eucharist is life blood for Catholics.  It is the source and summit of our lives and allows us to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord,” he said.

“I want to assure the Navy Catholic faithful of my prayerful solidarity, invite them to continue to participate in Masses that are broadcast or live-streamed, and to be fervent in their faith.  This situation will pass and, as Pope Francis reminded us, Christ is in the boat with us.”

CNA was unable to reach the Archdiocese for the Military Services USA for further comment today.

Mississippi bishops denounce racism in 4th of July letter

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 15:12

CNA Staff, Jul 7, 2020 / 01:12 pm (CNA).- The bishops of Mississippi’s two Catholic dioceses called on their priests to preach about racism and highlighted the Church’s anti-racism teachings in a letter to the state’s Catholics on July 4. 

Bishop Louis Kihnemann of Biloxi and Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson issued an unequivocal call for all Catholics to reject racism in society in their joint Independence Day letter.

“We join our voices to vehemently denounce racism, a plague among us. It is an evil and a force of destruction that eats away at the soul of our nation. Ultimately, it is a moral problem that requires a moral remedy—a transformation of the human heart—and compels us to act,” said the letter. 

The bishops offered a list of “practical suggestions and goals” for the two dioceses in Mississippi on how to work to end racism. These include, on the parish level, a reading of the USCCB’s “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love -- A Pastoral Letter Against Racism”; homilies speaking against racism and promoting “personal responsibility to eradicate it and encourage dialog”; prayers to end racism and injustice at Mass; listening seminars for members of the parish and wider community; and invitations for chaplains and police departments “to join seminars and discussions on racism.”

Individually, the bishops suggested that Catholics read Open Wide Our Hearts and other texts concerning Catholic Social Teaching; to learn more about history and causes of racism; vote; to “not take part in racial or discriminatory humor”; work on strengthening family life; and to “speak out whenever you see injustice, racism or discrimination.” 

The bishops’ letter comes at a time when many monuments and artifacts of the Confederacy are being removed around the country, including Mississippi. Last month, lawmakers in Mississippi voted to change the state flag, which included an emblem of the Confederate battle flag. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) signed the bill altering the flag into law on June 30. 

The flag had flown in its previous form since 1894. 

The bishops said that an honest appraisal of history is necessary to “recognize our participation in the chains of racism,” and to acknowledge that “significant numbers of African Americans are born into economic and social disparity.” 

“Generations of African Americans were disadvantaged by slavery, wage theft, ‘Jim Crow’ laws, and the systematic denial of access to numerous wealth-building opportunities reserved for others,” they added. These effects, when added up, have led to “social structures of injustice and violence,” they said. 

Pointing to the recent widespread protests and rallies “against the tyranny of racism” in response to the “heartless killing of George Floyd,” the bishops stated that a “critical mass” has been reached that has “exploded across our nation and beyond.” 

In their Independence Day letter, the bishops acknowledged that “for many of our fellow citizens, interactions with the police are often fraught with fear and even danger,” but that they also “reject harsh rhetoric that belittles and dehumanizes our law enforcement personnel as a whole,” as well as violence and riots. 

At the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly in November 2018, the bishops endorsed the Cause for Canonization of Sr. Thea Bowman, an African-American religious sister from Mississippi who often spoke out in favor of racial justice. In their July 4 letter, the bishops repeatedly cited Bowman’s work, and agreed with her declaration that low self-esteem due to repeated criticisms from “racist society” was “one of the great problems of the black community.” 

“The enduring call to love is the heart of the matter and the antidote to this toxin,” said the bishops.  

“Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. For many in Mississippi who strive to live by the Word of God, we cannot ignore the prophets,” they added.

The bishops vowed to “recommit ourselves to continue to liberate the Church from the evil of racism,” which “severely compromises our mission to make disciples of all nations in the name of Jesus Christ.” 

“With the ordained priests and deacons, religious and laity in our diocese we pledge ourselves to strengthen our Catholic tradition to educate, to serve, and to empower all who are on the margins in our communities, especially those who are oppressed by the yoke of racism,” they said. 

“We are not powerless, and the witness of Sister Thea’s life is an icon of hope that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Catholic bishops join 1,000 faith leaders to oppose federal executions

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 12:10

CNA Staff, Jul 7, 2020 / 10:10 am (CNA).- Several U.S. bishops, along with clergy and religious brothers and sisters from around the country, have signed a statement opposing federal executions that are scheduled to resume this month.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates who is the apostolic administrator of Joliet, Illinois, all joined more than 1,000 faith leaders in calling for a stop to scheduled executions of four federal death row inmates.

“As faith leaders from a diverse range of traditions, we call on President Trump and Attorney General Barr to stop the scheduled federal executions,” the statement read.

Catholic priests and religious, deacons, and lay leaders signed on to the statement, as well as members of Christian denominations, Reform Judaism and Conservative Jewish congregations, and Buddhist leaders, among others.

“As our country grapples with the COVID 19 pandemic, an economic crisis, and systemic racism in the criminal legal system, we should be focused on protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions,” the faith leaders stated.

Bishop Pates issued his own statement in addition to the joint letter, saying that “[t]he Church believes that just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

Last summer, Attorney General William Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to resume execution of federal prisoners on death row for the first time since 2003.

The inmates scheduled for execution are Daniel Lewis Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken, and Alfred Bourgeois, convicted of the murders of children and adults and, in some cases, torture.

Four of the inmates—Lee, Purkey, Honken, and Bourgeois—challenged the execution protocol, and in November a federal judge granted them an injunction so they could appeal to the Supreme Court.

The BOP had not conducted an execution since 2003, after the Obama administration decided to review the old three-drug execution protocol for lethal injection. Although Barr proposed a one-drug execution method of pentobarbital, the inmates challenged the new protocol.

The D.C. Circuit Court ruled against the inmates and vacated the injunction in April, and the Supreme Court on June 29 declined to hear their appeal, allowing for the executions to continue. The first of four executions has been scheduled for July 13, and the last on August 28.

The executions are scheduled to occur in Terre Haute, Indiana, within the archdiocese of Indianapolis. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis opposed the executions on June 18, noting his jurisdiction with regard to the location of Terre Haute federal prison and stating that “the supreme law of the Church, the salvation of souls, demands that I speak out on this very grave matter at hand.”

“Since the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II, it has been the Catholic position that today’s prison system is quite adequate to protect society from inmates escaping or being unlawfully set free,” he said. While the crimes of the federal inmates cannot be ignored, he said, “humanity cannot allow the violent act of an individual to cause other members of humanity to react in violence.”

“While the Church is certainly concerned with the soul of every person, including those on death row, I make this plea against the death penalty out of ultimate concern for the eternal soul of humanity,” he said.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, has also called for the government to stop the executions.

He noted that Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all called for an end to the death penalty, and that the U.S. bishops’ overwhelmingly voted in favor of Pope Francis’ new language in the Catechism calling the death penalty “inadmissible.”

Spokane bishop responds to Catholic Charities racism video

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 18:58

CNA Staff, Jul 6, 2020 / 04:58 pm (CNA).-  

Both the Bishop of Spokane and the leader of a Washington state Catholic Charities organization have spoken out about a controversial video in which the charity leader said that he, his organization, and the Catholic Church are racist, and that the Catholic Church is premised on the idea that Jesus Christ was white.

“I am a racist. That’s the hard truth. I am a racist. How could I not be? As a white person living in America, where every institution is geared to advantage people who look like me, it’s seemingly impossible for me to be anything other than a racist,” Rob McCann, CEO of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, said in a video posted to YouTube June 19.



“My Catholic Church, and my Catholic Charities organization, is racist. How could they not be? Our Catholic faith tradition is built on the premise that a baby, born in a manger, in the Middle East, was a white baby. So how can we be surprised to know that we must still fight against racism,” McCann added in the video.

Jesus Christ was a Jewish man, born to Jewish parents in the Middle East, centuries before contemporary categories of racial identification emerged amid European colonization in various parts of the world. The Catholic Church teaches that the Jewish and Israelite identity of Jesus are central aspects to his role in salvation.

McCann's video also said that “the Catholic Church in America has its own long, terrible history of owning slaves, staying silent about others who did the same, and being part of the institutionalization of racism.”

The CEO said that Catholic Charities has been “unknowingly part of the institutionalization of racism,” because its board and staff is primarily composed of white people, while those it serves are “disproportionately people of color.”

The video garnered national attention after its release. McCann is also vice chair of Catholic Charities USA, the umbrella organization for Catholic Charities organizations in dioceses across the country.

On July 5, McCann posted a set of “clarifications” on the website of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington.

In his clarifications, McCann wrote that in his video, “instead of engaging in a discussion about race, I spoke in a way that some heard as a critical rant against the Church. For that, I am deeply and truly sorry.”

He noted that by identifying himself as a racist, he meant: “I realize that due to my upbringing and my membership in the majority race in this country, I certainly have areas of both known and unknown bias in my heart that I need to work on, and that in my lifetime I have struggled with those biases in ways that are so subtle I may not have fully realized them.”

“As an individual with white privilege, I certainly have had moments where I could and should have done more to be actively anti-racist.  I am not saying that all white people are racists or that all Catholics are racist.  I am acknowledging that I need to deeply evaluate my own sin in this area every single day and that I hope others will do the same.”

On his charge that the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington are racist organizations, “what I intended to convey is that my experience of my own flawed faith life and my experience inside human organizations, lead me to know that there are areas of both known and unknown bias, as well as areas of historical mis-steps that should be acknowledged in order to be a positive force for change.”

McCann’s clarifications also addressed his charge that Catholicism is premised on the notion that Jesus Christ was white.

“My description of our Catholic faith tradition being built on the premise that a baby born in a manger in the Middle East was a white baby has also caused pain, and here I must admit I misspoke and was wrong to say it that way,” McCann wrote.

McCann said that after the video's released, his pastor had reminded him “that in other parts of the world, and in some places in the U.S., artistic and pictorial representations of Jesus are in the images and likenesses of the local culture. Jesus, and the entire Holy Family, are consistently, artistically, beautifully represented as members of every race and culture around the globe where there are Catholic churches,” he wrote.

The letter came after a meeting between McCann and Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly.

In a July 5 statement, Daly said of that meeting that “our conversation was candid and frank – and hopefully productive.”

In response to the controversy, in the Diocese of Spokane “the Annual Catholic Charities Christmas Collection will either be replaced by or taken in conjunction with the Black and Indian Missions Collection,” Daly said, adding that Catholic Charities will be asked “to sponsor a series of speakers, approved by me, to address the subject of Church and Race.”

The organization will also “address the issue of abortion and its detrimental effects on the Black community. In places such as New York City, more Black babies are aborted each day than are born. As Catholics, we believe in the sanctity of life from conception to natural death,” the bishop added.

While McCann’s “letter answers some of my concerns, others remain. His support of the Black Lives Matter organization (BLM), albeit now modified, puzzles me. BLM is in conflict with Church teaching regarding marriage, family and the sanctity of life. Moreover, it is disturbing that BLM has not vocally condemned the recent violence that has torn apart so many cities. Its silence has not gone unheard. One need not stand with BLM to stand for Black lives. I will address this and other issues with Dr. McCann in future meetings,” Daly said.

The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has become the rallying cry for a broad social movement. But there are also specific organizations which take the slogan into their name, the largest and best-funded of which is the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation aims to “foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking,” the group’s website says.

Some Black Catholic Leaders in recent weeks have told CNA they support the Black Lives Matter social movement, even while they do not support the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation or other particular groups.

In his statement of clarification, McCann wrote that “Our support of the important non-violent racial justice advocacy elements of Black Lives Matter is specifically support for human dignity, which has a clear connection with Catholic Social Teaching. To be clear, we support the concept of Black Lives Matter, but that does not mean we support any elements of that movement that promote violence or violate Church teachings.”

“We affirm the life and dignity of every human person from conception to natural death. We stand firmly against abortion, poverty, violence, and the death penalty. Racial justice and equality are values inherent to life and dignity, and Catholic Charities is not only dedicated to upholding those values, we stand willing to work in strength and in peace to see those values realized in our world.”

McCann was appointed executive director of Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington in 2005, after serving as the organization’s associate director, and as an employee of Catholic Relief Services. He has a doctorate in the field of “leadership studies” from Gonzaga University.

In 2006, he told The Fig Tree newspaper that his understaning of the “the core values of the Catholic tradition, values shared by most other traditions—Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths, as well as other Christian,” namely “respect, compassion, collaboration and justice,” animate his approach to Catholic charity.

Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington is a distinct entity from the Diocese of Spokane. Bishop Daly sits on the board, but is not the chairperson. In 2018, the latest year for which date is available, the organization ran a budget deficit of $614,836.

Daly concluded his letter with prayer “that Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician, will heal any divisions that yet might persist among us.”

 

 

 

Catholic parish rallies for young girl hit by truck

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 17:01

Minneapolis, Minn., Jul 6, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Last week, 8 year old Rosie Sajevic was riding her bike a couple blocks from her house in Hibbing, Minnesota, when a FedEx truck hit her, severely damaging her legs.

“I was riding my bike and I saw the FedEx truck and then it went black out, and then I woke up on the ground,” Rosie told CNA.

Rosie’s mom, Teresa Sajevic, heard sirens and wondered what they were responding to. She soon received a call from the police, dropped the laundry she had been folding, and ran to the scene of the accident.

“Her legs were totally mangled,” Teresa told CNA. “Her femurs were totally broken. I couldn't see her moving and I was just really afraid that she was dead.”

But when she got closer to her daughter, she realized that the girl was praying the Hail Mary.

The Catholic faith is very important to the Sajevics, and homeschooling allows the faith to be built into Rosie’s curriculum. Teresa said that Rosie recently did a consecration to the Virgin Mary, and now thinks of Mary as her heavenly mother.

“She likes to read stories of the saints in comic book style, she is your average kid. But she knows that this world has more,” said Teresa.

Rosie credits Christ, her guardian angel, and the intercession of her five deceased siblings with her life.

“Mom, they must have all come around me like a bubble with my guardian angel,” Theresa recalled Rosie telling her after the accident. Rosie told her mom that her guardian angel must be “really tired.”

Christ “has been with me so much. He could have let me get run over but He didn’t, which is really helpful to me, and I’m so thankful,” Rosie told CNA.

The Catholic community of Hibbing and the neighboring town of Virginia, Minnesota, immediately reached out to the Sajevics with help and prayers.

When Father Brandon Moravitz, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Virginia, heard about Rosie’s accident, he quickly rallied his parishioners to offer aid.

“It took a couple days but I realized they were going to need some kind of ramp to get into their house,” said Moravitz. 24-hours later, it was built, in part due to the contributions of local Catholic-owned small businesses such as Pohaki Lumber.

“I couldn't believe it,” said Teresa. “We’re united in the Eucharist as brothers and sisters, but we’re not their parishioners. Just that they reached out like that, it’s so overwhelming.”

The ramp will allow Rosie, who just returned home from the hospital, to go outside during Minnesota’s summer months. The parish will also install a door that will allow her to go outside on her own.

“If we didn't have that ramp, I don’t know how she would handle being home, you know, being locked up inside,” said Teresa. It was a financial burden that she and her husband would never have dreamed of making a reality.

Helping those in need is nothing new for Holy Spirit parish.

Last year, Holy Spirit rented and furnished an apartment for a single mother whose house burnt down. They also bought a car for a young woman with cancer.

“(The parishioners) are just big hearts and want to help people in need, and they really rise to the occasion every time that I tend to ask. And it has done some really life changing things for families in our area,” said Moravitz.

The Catholic small business owners in his parish have been especially generous.

“I think, like all economic situations in our country right now, people are struggling,” said Moravitz. “I think they witness Catholic small businesses in such a beautiful way. They’ve got a heart for the Lord, and they’re using their businesses to build up the kingdom of God.”

Moravitz said that although we often think that “we’re going to be the hands and feet of the Lord,” we rarely actually put our prayer into action.

“I hope this might be an example to other parishes, other priests, other lay people, not just to talk about doing it but actually stepping out and doing it. Because there are people in every community across this country that are in need of the light of Christ and the light of the faith and we can bring that to anybody through the gift of service,” said Moravitz.

Teresa is acutely aware of how much these parishioners sacrificed to build the ramp, in resources and time.

“They gave up a Saturday in Minnesota, and we don’t have a lot of nice summer (days). They could have been fishing, but they came together to work for my baby. And that means so much,” Teresa said.

Over the course of her accident and hospitalization, Rosie herself has thought of others first.

Teresa said that Rosie’s first concern was if the driver was okay.

“Mom, they have to feel so much worse than you did,” Teresa recalled Rosie saying after the incident. They have been keeping the driver in their prayers.

And although Rosie was excited to use the new ramp, her first thoughts were for her three brothers, who she said would have fun sledding and riding their bikes down the slope.

Rosie, who sometimes tells her mom to “trust more,” is confident in the future. She is excited to be able to walk on crutches in a few months, and is even more excited to meet her new baby brother or sister around Thanksgiving.

When asked what she would tell any kid who complains about his or her life, Rosie said, “I’d be like, you’re alive!”

Teresa also trusts that God has a plan for Rosie’s future. Rosie will turn 9 years old this month.

“Even though there are so many bad things that happened, and she has such a long road ahead, God is already there. He's already in the future, he has already got it,” said Teresa.

Coronavirus comes to a migrant tent city at US border

Mon, 07/06/2020 - 16:07

CNA Staff, Jul 6, 2020 / 02:07 pm (CNA).-  

More than 1,500 people live in a tent city without running water or adequate sanitation at the border of Texas and Mexico, while they apply for asylum in the U.S. Coronavirus has arrived in the camp, a religious sister has said, which should call attention to the condition in which asylum seekers are living.

“These families are living in donated tents at the mercy of extreme weather. Here, the temperatures can rise above 100 degrees, and when it rains, the downpours knock down their only refuge and leave them in mud pits,”Sr. Norma Pimentel wrote in a July 5 op-ed for the Washington Post.

“Imagine living in such uncertainty, where even such basics as running water and a place to shower are nonexistent; where you have to depend on outside organizations for food, which you have to cook over a campfire. Like the prisons and nursing homes that have been breeding grounds for the virus in the United States, the camp is crowded with people who for now are not going anywhere.”

Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas.

“Do not ignore the suffering occurring here,” she urged, explaining that the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, has more than 1,500 men, women, and children, in a make-shift tent city, as they wait for their applications for admittance to the United States to be processed.

The camp has been in existence since last summer, after the federal government initiated the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which allow U.S. officials to return undocumented migrants to Mexico pending adjudication of their claims for asylum.

Addressing the situation is more, not less urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said, noting that the camp recorded its first positive case last week.

That the camp has remained free of coronavirus for so long was, she said, was “remarkable” and a testament to the dedication of volunteers working to serve the people enduring emotional and practical hardship.

While the one patient in the camp, a woman from the interior of Mexico, was quickly isolated and removed to a nearby medical center run by Doctors Without Borders, Pimentel said that the conditions make the camp a potential outbreak waiting to happen, and that because of the pandemic, the camp has become less safe.

Because of the pandemic, volunteer activity in the camp is limited to a small number, who are able to provide assistance with nourishment and some health care needs, Pimentel wrote.

“All this makes it even harder to keep the camps safe from the cartels and gangsters who continue to prey on these largely defenseless asylum seekers.”

The camp’s existence, said Pimentel, was the unnecessary consequence of the government’s asylum protocols, which itself fail to “address people with dignity.”

“We should not have people forced to wait for asylum — trying to find safety for themselves and their families — while camped outside in the elements for months at a time. It is contrary to our laws and the dictates of humanity.”
 
Pimentel said that “the story of these asylum seekers has faded from the front pages of U.S. newspapers and from television screens but the cruel and unfair situation continues.”

“It is time that we put an end to it, and to end the MPP policy. Until that happens, we will continue to help those who are defenseless, whose only real ‘crime’ is trying to seek protection for themselves and their families.”

The Trump administration has made several changes to asylum and immigration policy over the past 18 months, all of which have come under sustained criticism from the bishops of the United States.

In September 2019, after the Trump administration announced a rule limiting asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in those countries passed through on their way to the U.S, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a strong critique of the change.

Vásquez said the rule “jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity” and “undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need.”

In November 2019, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency signed a joint statement on the Trump administration’s changes to asylum policy.

Administration policy “undermines U.S. moral leadership in protecting vulnerable populations and risks further destabilizing the region,” they said.

“To preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, we cannot turn our back on families and individuals in desperate need of help.”

“In light of the Gospel, let us always remember we are invited to embrace the foreigner and to take care of this human person.”

St. Junípero Serra statue destroyed at California state capitol

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 22:28

CNA Staff, Jul 5, 2020 / 08:28 pm (CNA).-  

On the evening of Independence Day, a crowd in Sacramento tore down a statue of St. Junipero Serra, set fire to it, and beat it with sledgehammers.

The statue, on the grounds of California's state capitol, was the third figure of the missionary saint to be torn down by crowds in California in recent weeks. Sacramento’s bishop responded by saying that Serra worked to promote the dignity of indigenous people.

A large crowd gathered around the statue in Capitol Park at around 9 p.m. on July 4, according to media reports.

One man burned the face of the Serra statue with an ignited spray from an aerosol can, before it was pulled from its base using tow straps. After the statue fell, members of the crowd struck the statue with a sledgehammer and other objects, dancing and jumping upon it.

 

while you you were watching the fireworks ? . On this day the 4th of You Lie 2020 , Junipero Serra was removed from his statue ??? . WELCOME TO THE REVOLUTION! ?#4thofyoulie #sacramento pic.twitter.com/DeBOPPopz5

— Jae' Montgomery (@luv_jae_) July 5, 2020  

The crowd chanted “Rise up, my people, rise up,” while destroying the statue.

They dispersed when California Highway Patrol officers intervened, the Sacramento Bee reported.

In a July 5 statement, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said that while “the group’s actions may have been meant to draw attention to the sorrowful, angry memories over California’s past,” their “act of vandalism does little to build the future.”

“There is no question that California’s indigenous people endured great suffering during the colonial period and then later faced the horror of government-sanctioned genocide under the nascent State of California. This legacy is heartbreaking. Yet, it is also true that while Fr. Serra worked under this colonial system, he denounced its evils and worked to protect the dignity of native peoples,” Soto said.

“Understanding the efforts of Fr. Serra to bring light into the bitter, bleak darkness of colonial ambition is the difficult task of history. So is the present arduous work to chart the future with hope. The strenuous labor of overcoming the plague of racism should not be toppled by nocturnal looting. Dialogue should not abdicate to vandalism. Nor should these unnerving episodes distract us from the duties of justice and charity upon which a better California can be built.”

“All monuments are imperfect as are our efforts to live up to America’s founding ideals. The primary task is to build up our community, not tear it down,” the bishop added.

The Sacramento Bee reported that some protestors on the Capitol grounds carried signs saying “decolonize the streets,” and that advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement and American Indian Movement referred amid their protests to Independence Day as the “Farce of July.”

The California Highway Patrol is reportedly investigating the statue’s toppling.

The statue was installed on the state capitol grounds in 1965. At the base of the statue is a map of the 21 missions founded by Franciscan missionaries to California in the eighteenth century.

Serra, a Franciscan priest, has become a target of California vandals amid Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks, even while biographers say the missionary was an advocate for the rights of native people.

A statue of Serra was torn down by demonstrators in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on June 19, and one was torn down in Los Angeles on the same day. Other California cities have moved Serra statues to avoid their toppling, or plan to do so.

During the eighteenth century, the saint founded nine Catholic missions in the area that would later become California.

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

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

But Serra’s defenders say the priest a was actually an advocate for native people and a champion of human rights. They note that he often found himself at odds with Spanish authorities over treatment of native people, and the outpouring of grief from native communities at his death.

On June 27, San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone held a prayer service at the base of San Francisco’s toppled Serra statue.

“Evil has made itself present here. So we have gathered together to pray for God, to ask the saints...for their intercession, above all our Blessed Mother, in an act of reparation, asking God's mercy on us and on the whole city, that we might turn our hearts back towards him,” Cordileone said in a June 27 video.

“The presence of so many wonderful people here was of great comfort for me,” the archbishop said. “I feel such a great wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy disparaging the memory of Serra who was such a great hero, such a great defender of the indigenous people of this land.”

Cordileone said the San Francisco statue was “blasphemously torn down”

“An act of sacrilege occurred here. That is an act of the Evil One,” he said in the video.

“We came together to say the prayer of the rosary, and also the prayer of exorcism, the St. Michael Prayer, because evil is here, this is an activity of the evil one, who wants to bring down the Church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers,” he said.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez wrote June 29 that “The real St. Junípero fought a colonial system where natives were regarded as ‘barbarians’ and ‘savages,’ whose only value was to serve the appetites of the white man. For St. Junípero, this colonial ideology was a blasphemy against the God who has ‘created (all men and women) and redeemed them with the most precious blood of his Son.’”

“He lived and worked alongside native peoples and spent his whole career defending their humanity and protesting crimes and indignities committed against them,” he said. “Among the injustices he struggled against, we find heartbreaking passages in his letters where he decries the daily sexual abuse of indigenous women by colonial soldiers.”

For his part, Soto wrote July 5 that Serra’s “holiness as a missionary should not be measured by his own failures to stop the exploitation or even his own personal faults.  Holiness, in the end, is more a result of God’s grace and our willingness to cooperate with His mercy.”

 

 

Faith-based groups ask Congress to fund international pandemic assistance 

Sun, 07/05/2020 - 06:23

CNA Staff, Jul 5, 2020 / 04:23 am (CNA).- A coalition of faith-based organizations is asking Congress to take immediate action to help fund efforts to help fight the coronavirus pandemic overseas.

“If we don’t beat COVID-19 everywhere, we can’t beat it anywhere,” said Catholic Relief Services, one of the letter’s signatories, in a recent press release.

“CRS is urging an authorization of $10-15 billion, which equates to about 0.005% of the $3 trillion Congress has authorized so far for domestic pandemic relief.”

The letter was sent to leaders of both parties in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Other signatories included representatives of three dozen organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, World Relief, the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision US, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Sudan Relief Fund.

They cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that over 70% of countries do not have the public health structure to handle outbreaks of disease.

“A recent report estimated that up to 3 million deaths could occur in these countries without additional humanitarian assistance, and millions more stand on the brink of starvation given the economic upheaval in the world’s poorest countries,” the letter reads.

It says America’s humanitarian efforts can play a key role in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19, as well as obtaining personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines around the world.

The letter also argues that without the additional funds, many countries may see serious economic consequences and food insecurity, as well as hampered efforts to treat malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS, and to promote religious freedom.

“As leaders of faith-based organizations and communities, we implore you to take urgent action to support a robust international response to address the impacts of COVID-19 as part of any new emergency funding legislation,” the signatories said.

“We pray that as our nation’s duly elected representatives of a generous people, you will collectively find a way to meet our nation’s responsibility to serve those less fortunate.”

According to a recent poll by U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and Morning Consult, 72% of American voters support international assistance to countries with vulnerable populations.

The letter emphasized the Christian responsibility to aid the vulnerable and pointed to the words of Christ in Luke chapter 12: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

“At this critical moment, we cannot turn our back on our brothers and sisters around the world,” the letter said. “As a nation, we have both the ability and obligation to provide resources which will prevent the worldwide spread of this disease and alleviate the suffering of those afflicted – and in so doing, we are certain it will also protect us here at home as well.”

 

Texas' Bishop Flores criticizes Planned Parenthood for anti-Mexican ethnic slur

Sat, 07/04/2020 - 17:58

CNA Staff, Jul 4, 2020 / 03:58 pm (CNA).-  

The Bishop of Brownsville, Texas has criticized Planned Parenthood and pro-choice political organizations in the state for use of anti-Mexican ethnic slur in its campaign against the reelection of pro-life state Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.

“While not surprised that Planned Parenthood would attack State Senator Eddie Lucio’s pro-life record, I am deeply discouraged that Texas Freedom Network and others would join in this malicious kind of attack, using such derogatory language to disparage him and his family,” Bishop Daniel Flores said in a July 3 statement.

The statement came after the Planned Parenthood Texas Votes PAC and the Texas Freedom Network reportedly used the term “Sucio Lucio” to describe the state senator in a direct mailing campaign.

“‘Sucio’ is an unacceptable word when associated with a Mexican American family name. Maybe they know not what such words mean in South Texas. Now more than ever it is imperative that words be used with care, with an awareness of their impact,” Flores added.

Lucio’s campaign issued a press release July 2, in response “to a recent direct-mail piece issued by Planned Parenthood & Texas Freedom Network attacking Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. using the term 'Sucio Lucio,' to describe the Hispanic senator and his traditional Catholic values of support for life.”

The release included a statement from state Sen. Lucio’s son, Texas state Representative Eddie Lucio III.

“I’m truly disheartened, given all that’s happening in the world today, that Planned Parenthood, Texas Freedom Network, Texas Rising, and others continue to disparage our family name with derogatory and racial slurs. These big special-interests groups from outside our border community should comprehend the deeper connotations behind the word 'sucio' ('dirty Mexican') and the association with a person of Hispanic descent,” the younger Lucio said.

“Mexican-Americans are hard-working, family-oriented individuals, never should the word dirty or its Spanish-language equivalent be used to describe one of us. Given current events and the social awareness on being accepting of all races and cultures, the continued use of this term is insensitive and in poor taste. We can respectfully disagree on issues without being offensive to an entire culture,” Lucio III added.

In his statement, Bishop Flores said that “Representative Eddie Lucio III’s statement accurately reflects my sentiments.”

The senior Lucio, a pro-life Democrat, has been a member of the Texas Senate since 1991. The senator faces attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera in a July 14 runoff election. Stapleton Barrera has campaigned to the left of Lucio, calling herself a “true Democrat,” and has been endorsed by gay rights and pro-choice groups in the state.

“Dirty Mexican” has been an anti-Mexican slur in use in the United States since at least the 1950s, as have derivatives which target particular Hispanic names. By some accounts, the word “sucio” is sometimes, but not always, used as slang to refer to a person who is either sexually immoral or homosexual.

Planned Parenthood has used the slur in the past against Lucio. In January, it tweeted the hashtag #SucioLucio while advertising a candidate’s forum.

Some defenders of the the hashtag, said on Friday it was meant only to denote the senator’s apparently “dirty political tactics.”

But the younger Lucio, who identifies his politics as “progressive” and has disagreed with his father on issues related to sexuality and gender identity, has insisted in recent days that the term is “derogatory.” Several Latino state legislators have agreed with him, and denounced Planned Parenthood's use of the phrase.

On Friday, the Mexican American Legislative Council said that political campaigns should “steer clear of political name calling that plays on racial, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and every form of discrimination when our country is working for social justice.”

 

 

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