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St. Joseph the Worker was once out of work, too

Fri, 05/01/2020 - 6:00am

Denver Newsroom, May 1, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Mass unemployment is a deeply unwelcome background for this year’s Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, but the Catholic celebration has lessons for everyone, regardless of job situation, according to two priests with expertise on St. Joseph and the dignity of work.

Citing the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt, devotional writer Father Donald Calloway said St. Joseph is “very empathetic” towards those suffering unemployment.

“He himself at some point would have been unemployed in the Flight to Egypt,” the priest told CNA. “They had to pack up everything and go to a foreign country with nothing. They didn’t plan on that.”

Calloway, author of the book “Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father,” is an Ohio-based priest of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

He suggested that St. Joseph “at some point was surely quite concerned: how is he going to find work in a foreign country, not knowing the language, not knowing the people?”

At least 30.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, in what is perhaps the worst unemployment situation in the country’s history, CNBC reports. Many others are working from home under coronavirus travel restrictions, while countless workers face newly dangerous workplaces where they may be at risk of contracting the coronavirus and taking it home to their families.

Father Sinclair Oubre, a labor advocate, similarly thought of the Flight into Egypt as a period of joblessness for St. Joseph—and also a period that showed an example of virtues.

“He remains focused: stay open, continue to struggle, do not get broken down. He was able to build up a livelihood for him and his family,” said Oubre. “For those who are unemployed, St. Joseph gives us a model of not allowing the difficulties of life to crush one’s spirit, but rather trusting in God’s providence, and in adding to that providence our own attitude and strong work ethic.”

Oubre is pastoral moderator of the Catholic Labor Network and the Beaumont diocese’s director of the Apostleship of the Seas, which serves seafarers and others in sea-based work.

The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker was inaugurated by Pope Pius XII, who announced it on May 1, 1955 in an audience with Italian workers. To them he described St. Joseph as “the humble craftsman of Nazareth” who “not only personifies the dignity of the manual laborer with God and the Holy Church,” but is “also always the provident custodian of you and your families.”

Pius XII encouraged continued religious formation for adult workers and said it was an “atrocious slander” to charge that the Church is “an ally of capitalism against the workers.”

“She, mother and teacher of all, is always particularly solicitous for her children who find themselves in the most difficult conditions, and also in fact has validly contributed to the achievement of honest progress already achieved by various categories of workers,” the pope said.

While the Church has rejected various systems of Marxist socialism, Pius XII said, no priest or Christian can remain deaf to a cry for justice and a spirit of brotherhood. The Church cannot ignore that the worker who seeks to improve his condition but faces obstacles opposed to the “order of God” and God’s will for earthly goods.

May 1 is observed as Labor Day in many countries, though not the United States. Calloway said that at the time of the declaration, communism was a serious threat that sought to take over a longtime celebration of work.

The observance originated in the late nineteenth century in the American labor movement’s May 1 protests against excessively long workdays.

“Workers complained that these long hours were punishing on the body and left them no time to tend to family duties or to improve themselves through education,” Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

Calloway reflected that most people in life are workers, whether outside or at a desk.

“They can find a model in St. Joseph the Worker,” he said. “No matter what your work is, you can bring God into it and it can be beneficial to you, your family, and society as a whole.”

Oubre said there is much to learn from reflecting upon how St. Joseph’s work nurtured and protected the Virgin Mary and Jesus, and so was a form of sanctification of the world.

“If Joseph did not do what he did, there was no way the Virgin Mary, a pregnant single maiden, could have survived in that environment,” Oubre said.

“We come to realize that the work that we do is not just for this world, but rather we can work to help build the kingdom of God,” he continued. “The work that we do cares for our family members and our children and helps build up the future generations that are there.”

Calloway warned against “ideologies of what work should be.”

“It can become enslavement. People can turn into workaholics. There’s a misunderstanding of what work is meant to be,” he said.

For him, the feast day shows the importance of family and the importance of rest, given that God spoke to St. Joseph in his dreams.

St Joseph gave dignity to work “because, as the one chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus, he taught the Son of God to do manual labor,” said Calloway. “He was entrusted with teaching the son of God a trade, to be a carpenter.”

“We’re not called to be slaves to a trade, or to find our ultimate meaning of life in our work, but to allow our work to glorify God, to build up the human community, to be a source of joy to everyone,” he continued. “The fruit of your labor is meant to be enjoyed by yourself and others, but not at the expense of harming others or depriving them of a just wage or overworking them, or having working conditions that are beyond human dignity.”

Oubre found a similar lesson, saying “our work is always at the service of our family, our community, our society, of the world itself.”

While some business owners and workers hope to see a speedy end to restrictions and business closures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Oubre warned that opening a non-essential business to make money might not be prudent. He used the example of a football stadium, excessively focused on opening in August, even if it packs people into a situation that potentially spreads a dangerous disease.

“I don’t know if that’s the most prudent decision coming out of the spirit of service, at this particular time,” he said. “That’s not something we have to do right now.”

“St. Joseph gives us that image of humble service work,” Oubre emphasized. “If we want to go back to work right now, we need to make sure that it grows out of a spirit of humility and service and promotion of the common good.”

Some of those who have jobs are protesting work conditions they believe to be dangerous. They have organized May 1 protests and walkouts at Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, FedEx and others, citing health and safety concerns during the epidemic, the news and commentary site The Intercept reports.

Oubre said these protesters too must recognize the importance of the work in a spirit of humility, service and promoting the common good.

Calloway too reflected on the dueling positions of workers objecting to coronavirus protections, while other workers are protesting to seek improved protections.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “That’s where we move into the spiritual aspect of asking St. Joseph to give us wisdom to help us know what to do in this tricky situation. Be cautious, of course, we don’t want to spread this thing. But at the same time, people have to get their jobs back. We can't go on like this for long. We can’t sustain it.”

Calloway said no worker is meant to work in isolation and “just be selfish about his employment.”

“Work is meant to benefit himself and others,” he said. “It’s when we become stingy and selfish that we begin to hoard, and we take for ourselves gigantic salaries while your workers are getting pennies.”

St. Joseph is described as “the most just” in the New Testament, and would have been a just man in his labor as well, the priest said.

For Oubre, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is a time to remember “invisible workers.”

“No matter how humble work may be, and how much it may be considered low-skilled, or semi-skilled, it is absolutely essential to the quality of life of the nation,” said Oubre. “No matter how society looks upon the job, it becomes a very, very important task. If that task were not done, the more respected, prestigious work can’t happen.”

The coronavirus epidemic has drawn support and recognition to the risky work of doctors and nurses. Oubre noted that housekeepers and cleaners at the hospital may go unnoticed but are critical in keeping infections down and maintaining the safety of doctors, nurses and patients, while other hospital support staff also deserve their due credit.

Grocery store checkers, too, are “literally putting their lives on the line interacting with the public” so that people can continue to feed themselves, the priest said.

“All of a sudden the checkout girl at Kroger’s is not just some high school kid we’re going to deal with, and go on. She becomes an essential person helping people fulfill their needs,” Oubre said. “She’s putting her physical health on the line, by being in a public realm, interacting with hundreds of people a day.”

Calloway noted that many people will consecrate themselves to St. Joseph on the saint’s May 1 feast day, a practice encouraged by his book.

 

 

NY archdiocese prays for repose of attempted arsonist after suicide

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 8:32pm

Denver Newsroom, Apr 30, 2020 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York has offered prayer for the repose of the soul of Marc Lamparello, who committed suicide earlier this month.

Lamparello had tried to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral in April 2019 with four gallons of gasoline, two cans of lighter fluid, and two lighters, but was stopped by security and then arrested. He was charged with attempted arson.

“Every suicide is a tragedy. We pray for the consolation of his family and loved ones, and entrust his soul to the infinite love and mercy of God. May he rest in peace,” Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the New York archdiocese, told CNA.

After his early release from prison, Lamparello was unable to receive psychiatric treatment at a hospital in New Jersey because the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted the mental health system. The month without treatment was a critical time, his family said.

“The hospital dropped the ball tremendously,” said his mother Dolores Lamparello, according to the New York Post. “They did nothing. My son went a whole month without any treatment whatsoever. They cost my son his life.”

Donnalee Corrieri, a spokeswoman for Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, defended the hospital and the care it provided for Lamparello. She said the hospital followed protocol and emphasized the anxiety caused by the pandemic.

“The stress of something as significant as this pandemic will undoubtedly have far-reaching mental health impacts,” said  Corrieri, according to the New York Times. “His interactions with our facility and the treatment we provided followed our protocols.”

A judge ordered Lamparello’s release from Rikers Island March 20 to help stop the spread of coronavirus in prisons. Prior to his three-month stint in jail, he was treated at a psychiatric hospital in upstate New York.

Lamparello had been diagnosed with schizophrenia a month before his arrest and, following his release, was ordered to participate in an outpatient program at Bergen.

A week after his release, his mother dropped him off for his first daily outpatient session, which was expected to last about six hours. However, the hospital demanded that he quarantine for two weeks, and he came home two hours later.

“He was told he had to quarantine for two weeks and was later dropped as a patient without explanation,” she said, according to the New York Post.

His caseworker and family unsuccessfully attempted to reinstate Lamparello into the program. Even after he completed quarantine April 9, the hospital again rejected him without explanation.

Dolores said her son was distraught from the lack of structure. “Mom, I need structure,” he told her, according to the mom, the New York Post reported. “I can’t do nothing.”

After he was rejected the second time, Lamparello was caught trying to jump off the George Washington Bridge, when he was stopped by the police. He was then taken to Bergen, where he was committed to a psychiatric ward for four days and the dosage to his antipsychotic medication was lowered.

He jumped off the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge April 17, and his corpse was found that afternoon in New York Harbor.

He had been reinstated into the outpatient program, with telepsychology sessions scheduled to begin April 20 through Zoom. However, according to this family, it was too late and three weeks without mental care was detrimental to his condition.

“He was failed,” said Lee Nelms, Lamparello’s sister, according to the New York Times. “My brother was a victim not only of his mental illness but also the mental health system.”

Experts offer a path to reopening churches, and the sacraments

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 6:00pm

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As more Catholic dioceses begin to resume public Masses during the coronavirus pandemic, a group of theologians and medical experts has provided guidance for doing so as safely as possible.

“With proper safeguards to prevent infection, and integrating the scientific guidance of public health authorities as outlined below, it is possible to provide the Mass and the sacraments to the faithful in this period,” said a group of Domican theologians and experts on infectious diseases this week.

The Working Group on Infectious Disease Protocols for Sacraments & Pastoral Care, a project of the Thomistic Institute, issued a document this week that aims to give guidance on  “how Catholic sacraments can be provided in the midst of the current pandemic” under U.S. and global health standards.

The April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute outlines a multi-phase proposal for resumption and expansion of public Masses while remaining in conformity with public health guidelines in force in different places.

In “Phase 1,” the “Sunday obligation” to attend Mass should be dispensed, the elderly and those at high risk of COVID-19 should be encouraged to stay home, and those with symptoms should not attend Mass, the working group said.

Other safeguards should be in place, such as requirements for attendees to wear face masks or cloth coverings and an overall limit on the number of attendees. This number depends “on the guidance of public health authorities,” the document says, and could be more than 10 people provided that a church is large enough to seat everyone with at least six feet of distance in between.

Seating should be provided by ushers in designated areas so that all attendees can be seated in an orderly manner and remain spaced apart; after the end of Mass, they could be dismissed row by row so as not to result in a crowd leaving the church all at once, the working group said.

Priests should not offer Mass while wearing gloves and a facemask, especially if they are spaced far enough apart from ministers and attendees.

“A further consideration: the Mass is imbued with powerful sacramental and liturgical symbolism. Wearing a mask and gloves would be a detrimental counter-sign in this context, and it is not warranted by considerations of hygiene if the priest remains a proper distance from the congregation,” the group states.

Mass could be offered without distribution of Holy Communion, or Communion could be distributed at the end of Mass, the group said. After the final blessing, the priest would remove his chasuble, use hand sanitizer, retrieve newly-consecrated hosts from the tabernacle, pray the “Agnus Dei” prayer at the altar while holding up a single host, and then proceed to distribute Communion.

Those who wish to receive could approach the altar, spaced six feet apart. If the priest believed he touched the hands or mouth of a recipient, he could use hand sanitizer that is sitting on a table next to him.

It could be possible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue within public health guidelines, the document states:

“Given the Church’s existing guidance on this point (see Redemptionis Sacramentum , no. 92), and recognizing the differing judgments and sensibilities that are involved, we believe that, with the precautions listed here, it is possible to distribute on the tongue without unreasonable risk.”

In addition to the four dioceses that initially announced the resumption of public Masses, other bishops have followed suit in the last several days.

In Fort Worth, Texas, Bishop Michael Olson announced on Wednesday that public Masses would resume in the diocese the  weekend of May 2-3, and that parishes would again be offering the sacrament of Confession not just on an appointment basis.

Olson reiterated that he has dispensed Catholics from the Sunday obligation, instructed those feeling ill to refrain from attending Mass, and encouraged those over the age of 60 to attend a Mass exclusively for their age group if their parish offered one.

He also encouraged attendees to practice proper safeguards, such as wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing. Once a church reached capacity with the faithful seated at proper distances from each other, overflow seating could be provided in a nearby hall or attendees could stand outside or follow a livestream of Mass from their cars, with Holy Communion offered to all those outside the church at a designated area, and not to be administered on the tongue.

The Diocese of Fargo will also resume public Masses on May 4, although with the Sunday obligation still dispensed. The elderly and those at high risk of COVID-19 “are strongly encouraged to stay home,” according to a letter from Bishop John Folda.

Other common safeguards, such as the wearing of face masks, social distancing, and a limit on the overall number of Mass attendees, will be in force. Masses will not feature singing by the congregation or by choirs, and Holy Communion can only be received in the hand.

Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, said that public Masses are planned for “over Pentecost weekend and then daily following,” but that the Sunday obligation will still be dispensed. Pentecost Sunday falls on May 31 in 2020.

Requirements for Mass attendees include wearing face masks, proper social distancing, and limits on the overall number of attendees.

In Oklahoma, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa said they were setting up a joint task force to establish a timeline for public Masses to resume and would announce a timeline on May 6.

Founded in 2009, the Thomistic Institute is part of the Pontifical Faculty of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.  It has already produced similar guidelines for the sacrament of Confession during the pandemic.

Bishops will 'consecrate' the US and Canada to Mary. Here's what that means

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 4:23pm

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The bishops of both the United States and Canada are set to consecrate their nations to Mary, Mother of the Church on May 1.

In fact, this will be a reconsecration, as both countries have been consecrated to Mary before— as has the entire world, several times.  

Reconsecrating the country, the US bishops said in an April 23 announcement, is meant to serve as a reminder to the faithful of Mary’s witness to the Gospel, and as a way of asking for Mary’s intercession before Jesus on behalf of those in need.

“Every year, the Church seeks the special intercession of the Mother of God during the month of May. This year, we seek the assistance of Our Lady all the more earnestly as we face together the effects of the global pandemic,” Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the US bishops, said in his April 22 letter announcing the consecration.

To Jesus through Mary

A person or nation that is consecrated is set aside for a holy purpose.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship defines consecration to Mary as an overt recognition of the “singular role of Mary in the Mystery of Christ and of the Church, of the universal and exemplary importance of her witness to the Gospel, of trust in her intercession, and of the efficacy of her patronage.”

St. Louis de Montfort, a 17th-century French priest, was “one of the great masters of the spirituality underlying the act of consecration to Mary,” the congregation wrote, noting that de Montfort proposed to the faithful “consecration to Jesus through Mary.”

Pope St. John Paul II— who consecrated the entire Church and world to Mary three times during his pontificate— taught that by consecrating oneself to Mary, we accept her help in offering ourselves fully to Jesus.

“It means accepting her help—by having recourse to her motherly heart, which beneath the cross was opened to love for every human being, for the whole world—in order to offer the world, the individual human being, mankind as a whole, and all the nations to him who is infinitely holy,” the pope said in May 1982.

Renewing Marian entrustments

Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, the first bishop of the United States, promoted devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, and placed the United States under her protection in a pastoral letter of 1792, the US bishops wrote in an April 23 announcement.  

Later, in 1847, Pope Pius IX approved the US bishops’ decision to name the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, as the Patroness of the United States.

The U.S. bishops once again consecrated the nation to Mary during the 1959 dedication of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Canada was first consecrated to Mary at a National Marian Congress in Ottawa in 1947, then again in 1954. The bishops last renewed the consecration on July 2, 2017.

The bishops of many other countries over the years— including, most recently, Mexico and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Easter Sunday— have consecrated their nations to Mary.

After receiving more than 300 letters during the coronavirus pandemic, the bishops of Italy will also consecrate the nation to Mary on May 1, at a shrine in northern Italy.

In addition, several popes have consecrated the entire Church and world to Mary.

Pope Pius XII consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on October 31, 1942, and Pope St. John Paul II renewed that consecration on May 13, 1982, again on March 25, 1984, and once more on Oct. 8, 2000.

Pope Francis during Oct. 2013 renewed the consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and dedicated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima.

Prayers during the pandemic

The May 1 renewal of consecration does not change the designation of Mary as the Patroness of the United States under the title of the Immaculate Conception, the US bishops clarified, but rather “reaffirms and renews previous Marian entrustments.”

The title “Mary, Mother of the Church” was given to the Blessed Mother by Pope St. Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, and a memorial under the title was added to the Church’s liturgical calendar in 2018.

The act of consecration to Mary, Archbishop Gomez said, “will give the Church the occasion to pray for Our Lady’s continued protection of the vulnerable, healing of the unwell, and wisdom for those who work to cure this terrible virus.”

The EWTN network will air the brief liturgy and prayer of reconsecration at 3 p.m. ET, Friday, May 1, live from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.

 

EWTN to broadcast Friday consecration of US and Canada to Blessed Virgin Mary

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 12:40pm

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 10:40 am (CNA).- The EWTN network will air Friday the consecration of the U.S. and Canada to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which will take place in a liturgy celebrated by U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez.

Gomez has invited all U.S. bishops to join him on May 1 in reconsecrating the U.S. to the Blessed Virgin Mary in response to the pandemic. The reconsecration is timed to coincide with the bishops of Canada consecrating their own country to Mary at the same time.

Archbishop Gomez, who is the Archbishop of Los Angeles, said in a letter sent to all American bishops April 22 that the Marian reconsecration would be done under the title of “Mary, Mother of the Church.”

“Every year, the Church seeks the special intercession of the Mother of God during the month of May. This year, we seek the assistance of Our Lady all the more earnestly as we face together the effects of the global pandemic,” he said in his letter.

The bishops of Canada will consecrate the Crown Dominion to Mary under the same title on the same day.

“Based on discussion with the leadership of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Executive Committee of the USCCB met and affirmed the fitness of May 1, 2020, as an opportunity for the bishops of the United States to reconsecrate our nation to Our Lady and to do so under the title, Mary, Mother of the Church,” Gomez said, adding that they would be doing so “on the same day that our brother bishops to the north consecrate Canada under the same title.”

EWTN will broadcast the brief liturgy and prayer of re-consecration at 3 p.m. ET, Friday, May 1, live from Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. The event will also be aired live on EWTN’s Facebook page.

EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw said: “EWTN is honored to be airing this important Re-Consecration of the United States and Canada to Our Lady. As the bishops’ leadership demonstrates, the road out of this pandemic is through the intercession of our Heavenly Mother. May the Lord bless and protect us in these challenging times.”

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

 

 

Let states defund Planned Parenthood, Congressmen tell Supreme Court

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 11:30am

CNA Staff, Apr 30, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- More than 130 members of Congress are asking the Supreme Court to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood.

In an amicus brief filed at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, 108 representatives and 29 senators argued that states should have the flexibility to determine qualified Medicaid providers.

They urged the Supreme Court to hear South Carolina’s case on barring Planned Parenthood affiliates in the state from receiving Medicaid reimbursements.

Four South Carolina Republican members of Congress led the amicus brief: Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Reps. Jeff Duncan and Ralph Norman. In addition, 134 other members signed on.

“This is a battle on two fronts – a fight for the unborn and the conscience of taxpayers, and a fight for states’ authority to decide which providers qualify for funds,” Rep. Duncan stated on Wednesday.

South Carolina’s governor Henry McMaster in 2018 had tried to bar two Planned Parenthood facilities and another abortion clinic from Medicaid funding.

Following McMaster’s July, 2018 order, however, a district court judge put an injunction on the order, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. The case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

Several pro-life groups supported the brief, including Alliance Defending Freedom, March for Life Action, and National Right to Life.

Although federal policy—the Hyde Amendment—has long prohibited taxpayer funding of elective abortions in Medicaid, Rep. Norman argued that any public funding of Planned Parenthood for services other than abortions still frees up other resources to dedicate to abortions.

“For Planned Parenthood, that means Medicaid reimbursements for approved services would, in part, support the same overhead and broader operational costs that makes their life-ending abortion ‘services’ possible,” Norman said.  

Although Republicans in Congress have tried to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, and President Trump made a campaign promise to that effect in 2016, the Senate failed to do so while Republicans controlled the House in 2017 and 2018.

Planned Parenthood’s government funding has actually increased during the Trump administration, according to its 2017-18 and 2018-19 annual reports, after remaining largely stagnant since the 2011 fiscal year. The conservative Heritage Foundation released a report on April 6 showing that Planned Parenthood’s government funding had doubled from 2006 to a high of more than $616 million in FY 2019.

Potential postulants wait and see as COVID puts convent plans in question 

Thu, 04/30/2020 - 5:01am

Denver Newsroom, Apr 30, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- If everything were going according to plan, Jessica would be entering the convent on August 22.

But, thanks to coronavirus, everything is not going according to plan.

“I was accepted to pre-postulancy with an order, and as of right now everything is going according to their schedule still,” she said, as far as the entrance date.

“But because of COVID-19 I haven’t been able to work (I had two jobs on campus which closed) and I lost my summer job opportunities, so I might not be able to enter because of student loan debt,” Jessica told CNA.

Jessica asked that her identity and the order be somewhat concealed because she hasn’t told all of her family and friends of her plans to join the convent - especially now that she’s not sure if it will even happen in the expected timeframe.

“I haven’t told many people about my plans to enter because I’m worried I won’t be able to enter,” she told CNA.

Jessica is not alone. Postulants - new members of a religious community starting the first process of formation before taking vows - are among the myriad of people whose plans have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many women discerning religious life with communities of religious sisters or nuns in the United States are having to settle for tentative plans as their summer or fall entrance dates to their communities are fast approaching. Many otherwise-standard pre-entrance visits or retreats have been canceled or moved online, while some entrance dates have been postponed, and others are - very tentatively - staying in place.

Natalie Ross has been discerning religious life for several years, and decided in October last year to begin the application process with the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, often called the Marianist Sisters.

Ross turned in her application in April and should know if she is officially accepted by late May. If she is accepted, she would theoretically enter shortly thereafter, and move from her home in Austin, Texas to the sisters’ house in Dayton, Ohio.

“Right now there are no concrete plans to delay entrance if I'm accepted, but I think that's the way a lot of people and institutions have been handling all this,” Ross told CNA. “You just keep your plans the way they were before until it gets closer to the time for them to happen, and then re-evaluate if they will really be possible now.”

Ross said while she doesn’t “terribly mind” having plans up in the air, and while she knows other people are facing bigger problems related to the virus, it has left her with a lot of questions.

“Our lease is up around when I would theoretically be moving, and someone else has already leased our apartment - should I look to sign a new lease somewhere? How do you safely move during a pandemic? Should I move back in with my parents (several hours away)? If I leave, what should my roommate do? Also, will I be able to say goodbye to my friends and family?” she said.

Because the Marianist sisters are not cloistered, Ross said she knows she will get a chance to see family and friends again, even if she doesn’t say goodbye before she initially leaves. But she had specific ideas of a “cheerful but slightly teary-eyed goodbye party,” of revisiting some of her favorite parks and restaurants one more time, of heart-to-heart conversations she’d have with friends and siblings in the days before she left.

“And now, I'm sure I'm being melodramatic, but I’m picturing me packing my stuff into my car and abandoning my roommate and driving to Ohio by myself and bawling my eyes out. And that breaks my heart. The idea of this temporary separation from loved ones becoming more permanent is really sad!” Ross said.

“But this situation is a reminder that I have to sacrifice things I really want, even things that are genuinely good, to pursue God’s call,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that she isn’t grieving the things she will miss, she added, “but it does give meaning to it in a way that strengthens me. I was reminded of Jesus’ words, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead’...that passage in Matthew made sense to me in a personal way that it hadn’t before.”

Brianna Farens would have been entering the convent of the Poor Clares in Roswell, New Mexico, a cloistered community, on May 26.

Because cloistered communities have even fewer opportunities for members to see friends and family in person after entrance, Farens had planned out her time before entrance. She had planned to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with her parish in Denver, and then to spend some time with her parents and extended family and friends in Connecticut before her entrance into the cloister, since she had been living in Denver for the past five years.

It started with the Holy Land pilgrimage. What was supposed to be a 10-day trip in mid-March turned into a whirlwind of about three days in Israel and hurrying to get home as countries quickly shut their borders. When Farens got home, she had to self-quarantine at her house in Denver since she had been traveling internationally.

She also learned that both of her parents had contracted coronavirus.

“I found out the day they got the results back, the day I landed back in the U.S. That was horrifying,” Farens said.

While they were both very sick for two weeks, they both have recovered and are doing well, Farens said. But it meant she had to wait until Good Friday to go home, to make sure that they were recovered and that her risk of infection was low. At home in Connecticut, Farens kept in touch with the Mother Superior of her convent. Just recently, they decided to push her entrance date from May 26 to June 30.

“So in that way, it’s giving me some extra time with my family here,” Farens said. “We’re also hoping that things might be a little bit better, it might be a little bit safer to travel a month later. Also we’re just really wanting to make sure I'm not at risk of bringing the virus or anything else there to the monastery, because obviously the sisters being cloistered, they’re very safe, very well-quarantined.”

Even June 30, Farens said, is likely just a tentative plan.

“I think as it gets closer, we're going to have to see how everything is and reevaluate. We might also figure out if I should get tested before going,” she added. Some sisters in the community are older and immunocompromised, and are therefore at greater risk.

One of the hardest parts of this time has been being unable to see the extended family and friends that she wanted to see before entering, Farens said.

“These were going to be some of the last times I get to hug my family and friends here and all my friends' babies. This process of surrendering all of that, realizing that that actually might not be - at least in a way that I was wanting and hoping - it's been really, really hard to let go of,” she said.

But despite the challenges, the changes to her plans haven’t deterred Farens in her conviction of being called to the Poor Clares. “Living in such chaotic times and realizing the brokenness of our world, and hearing the sufferings of so many people and people I know, and especially people dying alone...if anything, I feel even more steadfast and convicted that is my call, this vocation to give my life praying for this world that is suffering so much,” she said.

Sr. Emily Marsh is the national vocations director for the Daughters of St. Paul, an order of religious sisters with convents throughout the United States and Canada.

Typically, new postulants would enter the community in the order’s St. Louis convent in August or September, but there hasn’t been a final decision made yet as to whether the women will enter at the normal time, or at a slightly later time, she told CNA.

“We have not had any conversations with my superior or council for formation regarding that, we don’t have enough information regarding August or September,” she said.

The sisters’ infirmary is housed in a separate convent in Boston, Marsh added, but there is a 92 year-old sister living in the postulancy house who would particularly be at risk for coronavirus. Marsh said she has been keeping in touch with the women who are planning to enter this year, and she said that even if their entrance date were to get bumped back by a few months, it wouldn’t cause major logistical problems for most of the women.

However, “if things get pushed back more than six months we would have some concerns,” she said.

Other than the entrance for postulants being up in the air at the moment, the community has “basically been taking our vocation apostolate online,” Marsh said.

Many of the order’s convents have monthly in-person discernment gatherings, Marsh said, and those have all been moved online in the form of video chats, recorded talks, or live question-and-answer sessions with the sisters.

The sisters also usually host an in-person Holy Week retreat at their convent in Boston. This year, as the retreat approached, the sisters decided to move the event online, particularly out of concern for the sisters in the infirmary at the Boston convent.

Normally, Marsh said, there would be about 6-15 women on any given year at the Holy Week retreat.

This year, she said, “we had 7 or 8 confirmed, when we realized we couldn’t have people travel. We decided to at least do something online for those who had signed up, and we started planning an online alternative.”

Word spread, and soon there were five times as many young women registered for the retreat.

“I woke up to 40 emails inquiring about it,” Marsh said. In total, the retreat had 43 registered participants from the U.S. and Canada, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, and one from Australia who had to completely “flip her schedule” in order to participate in the real-time events.

There were also about 150 additional people viewing the discernment videos and downloads that the sisters posted online who were not registered participants, Marsh said.

“I don’t know why it took a pandemic for us to come up with a discernment retreat online,” Marsh said, adding that the sisters are looking into planning another one for this summer.

“I think just from what I’ve been seeing, it’s weird, but it’s been a very fruitful time,” as people have been forced to stay at home because of the virus, Marsh said. “People have a lot of time, and it’s just making people think about life. I think God is giving special graces for vocations and vocational discernment, and we’re basically trying to do what we can in providing women with resources.”

Marsh said while she doesn’t see virtual retreats ever replacing in-person discernment opportunities, she thinks the community will plan on offering a few online discernment events in the coming years, as they can provide a good first step for young women looking into the community who may not be able to afford an expensive plane ticket to a faraway convent.

“It will provide a nice first step, and then from that interaction we can make a mutual discernment of what’s a good next step,” she said.

Sr. Anne Catherine, OP, is a sister with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee. She told CNA that the order typically welcomes the new postulant class in August, and so far those plans have not changed.

“From indications we’re seeing at this time, we do think we can go forward with an August entrance date,” she said, and the current postulant class is still proceeding in their application process.

But if the public health situation regarding coronavirus were to change for the worse, the entrance date could be changed, she noted.

Already, some of the young women in this year’s entrance class have experienced other natural forces throwing off some of their plans, when a tornado blew through Nashville on March 2, just days before a discernment retreat at the convent, knocking out power for most of the weekend.

“It was all very funny, normally they eat in this one dining area, but it was so dark we couldn’t take them down there,” Sr. Anne Catherine said, “so we made a makeshift refectory with candles.” The rest of the weekend went well and the women had a good attitude about everything, even without power, she added.

The week of March 16 is when many non-essential businesses started to shut down and people started to shelter at home in the state of Tennessee due to coronavirus. Since then, Sr. Anne Catherine said, the sisters haven’t been able to have retreats or visitors.

Looking ahead to August, Sr. Anne Catherine said that because the sisters’ convent is so big, it is possible that they would have the young women entering do a kind of quarantine-retreat hybrid in their first two weeks, to ensure that they are not bringing the virus into the community as they’re entering. They would normally have the new members do a retreat upon their entrance anyway, but this one would be a little longer and in a separate part of the house.

“We’d want to protect the young women who are coming to us, to make sure that they feel safe and their families feel safe, and also protect our community,” Sr. Anne Catherine said.

“A vocation is an invitation to put out into the deep and trust the Lord,” Sr. Anne Catherine added. “In the pandemic, the emphasis on God’s plan and trusting his will...it’s even more palpable in this time.”

During pandemic, more abortion drugs dispensed via telemedicine

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 10:30pm

Denver Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 08:30 pm (CNA).- The numbers of women seeking at-home medication abortions through an experimental U.S. telemedicine provider has reportedly doubled under the coronavirus epidemic, though pro-life advocates said there are good reasons for restrictions on the practice.

“Unfortunately women are being influenced by fear right now, and this is being perpetuated by the abortion industry,” Dr. Christina Francis, an Indiana-based OB/GYN and chairman of the board of the American Association of Pro-Life OBGYNs, told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly April 23.

“Certainly all of us are facing uncertain circumstances,” Francis said. “There are a lot of women out there who find themselves pregnant and are not sure what they are going to do. Maybe they are facing the fact that they don’t have a job or they are struggling to put food on the table. But this is not a reason why we should push women into abortions.”

The New York-based Gynuity Health Products is the sponsor of the TelAbortion telemedicine-style abortion project now active in 13 states.

“The ability to get abortion medications from a health care provider by mail is particularly crucial in the COVID-19 crisis,” Gynuity said on Twitter April 29. The organization’s website describes its mission as a development and advocacy group in reproductive and maternal health.

Gynuity’s TelAbortion project reports that, excluding Illinois and Maryland, which are new to the program, the numbers of women seeking abortions through TelAbortion doubled in March and April compared to January and February, the New York Times reported in its April 28 profile of the project and of several women who used it.

The coronavirus epidemic has meant strict stay-at-home orders in many states. Fearing a shortage of medical resources, authorities barred elective surgeries, and some states include elective abortions in the ban.

Francis warned of a push to lift restrictions surrounding medication abortions dispensed by telemedicine methods.

“There are very strict regulations around how this is used for a reason,” Francis told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “We know that the later on in pregnancy this is used, the higher the risks, specifically the risk of hemorrhage, and what we would call an incomplete abortion, where a woman doesn’t pass all of the pregnancy from a result of the drug.”

“Also these women need to be screened to be sure they actually have a pregnancy inside of the uterus, as opposed to an ectopic pregnancy. If that goes undiagnosed, that could be lethal for her.”

A medical abortion, sometimes called a chemical abortion, is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later and induces labor.

While U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules require the first drug to be dispensed in clinics or hospitals by doctors or other medical providers who are specially certified, they do not require that providers see patients in person. Some clinics allow women to consult via video.

Medication abortion was first approved by the FDA in 2000 for women 10 weeks into pregnancy or earlier. About 60% of women who choose abortion in this time frame now choose medication over surgery.

The FDA allows the TelAbortion program by special arrangement, as part of a research study. After women consult with the program’s personnel, they are mailed pills and undergo follow-up appointments.

The program has expanded from five states to 13 in the last year, the New York Times reports. Besides Illinois and Maryland, the project is active in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.

TelAbortion is now “working to expand to as many states as possible,” Dr. Elizabeth Raymond, senior associate at Gynuity Health Products, told the New York Times.

Raymond said that TelAbortion had mailed 841 packages containing abortion pills and confirmed that, as of April 22, 611 abortions had been completed. Another 216 women were either following up or have not contacted TelAbortion about the outcome.

Of the completed abortions, TelAbortion said aspiration was performed to finish the abortion in 26 cases.

Of the women who completed abortions, 46 went to emergency rooms or urgent care centers. Three were hospitalized and successfully treated: two for excessive bleeding and another for a seizure after an aspiration, Raymond said. Fifteen of these women did not need medical treatment. Raymond told the New York Times the issues were just as likely to arise had the women been required to have an in-person consultation.

Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, emphasized a concern for safety.

“Despite guidelines put forth by the FDA to regulate the sale and use of abortion pills, groups like TelAbortion continue to prey on girls as young as 10 years old with complete disregard for their safety,” Quigley told CNA April 29.

Gynuity, the sponsor of the TelAbortion project, has strong links to the abortion industry and influential global NGOs. Its co-founder and president, Beverly Winikoff, is a former assistant director for health services at the Rockefeller Foundation, a major backer of legal abortion. For 25 years, she was director for reproductive health and a senior medical associate at the Population Council.

Under President Donald Trump, the FDA has still allowed TelAbortion to operate. Some lawmakers have sought to change this.

The proposed Teleabortion Prevention Act would make it a federal offense for healthcare providers to perform a chemical abortion without performing a physical examination first. They would have to be present during the procedure and schedule a follow-up visit.

The legislation is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who is a medical doctor. It has 10 co-sponsors, all Republicans.

“Performing an abortion without the presence of a health care provider puts the lives of both the mother and unborn child in serious danger. Chemical abortions present serious risks, and health care providers need to be responsible stewards of that knowledge,” bill co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a February announcement.

Another co-sponsor, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the bill would make “mail-order abortions” a federal offense.

“I firmly believe that advances in medicine should be used to save lives, not take them away,” he said.

 

Catholic university stages a 'digital play' amid quarantine

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 7:13pm

Denver Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- While the coronavirus has shut down universities and artistic events, the drama department of a Catholic university performed a play nevertheless, through a video conference.

A production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” was meant to be staged last week. Because of the pandemic, the Catholic University of America’s Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art instead performed the play on Youtube.

Eleanor Holdridge, chair of the drama department and the play director, told CNA that the play was a blessing, allowing the students a break from isolation and bringing art into homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was great because it was something to be working as a group towards. It was something we didn't have to give up and that we can have hope towards in the midst of this crisis,” she said.

“We sort of had a virtual cast party. We all watched it. It went live on the 23rd, Shakespeare's birthday. So the cast families all watched it together and then we kind of met up afterward to have a real cast party.”

The performance was not streamed live. Instead, each scene was recorded separately and then the actor’s scenes were placed side-by-side as if in a video conference. If the scene was a monologue, then the actor would appear solo on the screen. In between acts, pictures of the sets would appear along with music pieces composed by Roc Lee, a sound designer and composer.

The actors were encouraged to situate themselves in areas of the house with blank walls and good lighting. In one instance, Holdridge said, a student recorded himself huddled in a corner of the house to evoke his character’s imprisonment. Prior to the play, the costume designer video chatted with each cast member and then helped them pick out the best costumes from what they have at home.

She said the online play was also very challenging. While rehearsals usually go for about four hours, it was much more difficult to keep everyone on track while online, and the session had to be shortened. She also said the gestures of acting were too large for the screen and the actors had to focus heavily on speaking with only a little body movement.

As students were feeling distraught and isolated, she said, the play was a unique opportunity for the actors to get back into university life.

“[College is] about what you're learning, obviously, but you're also learning how to be your own person away from your parents and you're learning how to be a member of society. You're learning how to work with your friends and peers towards something,” she said.

“I feel like they very much needed to feel like they were working, not just with faculty but with each other towards a goal.”

Holdridge also said the event was an opportunity to promote art within the household during the pandemic. She highlighted the importance of acting as a promotion of empathy.

“The art of acting and theater … is a really wonderful way in which to teach or learn empathy. You can't do what we do without feeling empathy … You have to imagine yourself to be many different characters or find the motivations of many different characters,” she said.

“So in terms of having empathy towards other people and not having a rigid scorn or scoff at other ways of being is, I think, one of the great things that theater is and what it can do.”

Marie Kottenstette, a senior English and drama major who played Isabella, said it was a valuable learning experience, and, although it was not ideal, it was an important opportunity.

“Being able to work and act, even if it isn't exactly what we're used to, was important,” she said. “I feel like we're still learning and growing. We're in college so we're constantly learning and this was definitely a learning experience.”

Planned Parenthood president hails 'silver lining' to coronavirus

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 6:00pm

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Planned Parenthood’s president has hailed an increase in telehealth services, including access to chemical abortions, as a “silver lining” of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is actually a silver lining in this pandemic, that Planned Parenthood and many other health providers have actually been able to really lean into telehealth infrastructure and provide service,” said Alexis McGill-Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, interview with Democracy Now! published Monday.

McGill-Johnson noted that by the end of April, the organization would be providing telehealth services in all 50 states, from “STI screenings, to family planning, to HIV PEP and PrEP, and, in much the same way as I said, to provide some wraparound service around getting access to abortion.”

In the interview, Johnson noted how an expansion of telehealth through apps like Skype increased access to chemical abortions where “that patient will come and pick up the prescription and go home and take that medication safely at home. And then we are able to do follow-up care, again via telehealth.”

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services announced in March that it would not enforce penalties against health care providers for potential privacy violations resulting from using technologies such as Skype to communicate with patients.

“OCR is exercising its enforcement discretion to not impose penalties for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth using such non-public facing audio or video communication products during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency,” OCR stated in March.

Pro-life leaders have warned of an increase in chemical abortions during the pandemic; a letter from members of Congress to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urged that current regulations of chemical abortions not be loosened.

An April 14 op-ed by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, warned that remote chemical abortions “via telemedicine and the mail” represented “the next frontier” of the abortion industry.

McGill-Johnson on Monday also called temporary state bans on elective abortions during the pandemic “unconscionable.” Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have been fighting state orders including in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee, that seek to curtail elective abortions during the COVID-19 outbreak as part of limiting non-essential medical procedures and conserving resources to fight the pandemic.

Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion provider, with 345,672 abortions reported during the 2019 fiscal year—receives hundreds of millions of dollars annually in taxpayer funds, through federal, state and local health grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements.

Federal policy—the Hyde Amendment—has long prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion, but the grants and Medicaid reimbursements are meant to be used for services other than abortion, such as contraceptives.

In 2019, the Trump administration tightened up the restrictions for the Title X family planning program. Under the new Protect Life Rule, which was meant to cut down on access to taxpayer money for abortion providers, Title X recipients could not refer for abortions as a method of family planning, and could not be co-located with abortion facilities.

The Title X program was created in 1970 with the stipulation that funds could not be used for abortion as a method of family planning; the regulations governing the funding, however, have been altered over time; the Clinton administration allowed for recipients to refer for abortions and co-locate with abortion clinics.  

Planned Parenthood sued the Trump administration over the new rule, but then voluntarily withdrew from the Title X program in August; it had received an average of around $60 million annually from the program.

Before withdrawing from Title X, however, Planned Parenthood had actually seen its public revenues increase during the Trump administration after remaining largely stagnant for years under the Obama administration.

In its most recent annual report, Planned Parenthood reported more than $616 million in government funding for the 2019 fiscal year, a raise of more than 8% from its figure of $563.8 million for FY 2018.

Efforts by Congress to strip the organization of federal funding derailed despite Trump promising to see it through during his 2016 campaign. While the House voted to defund Planned Parenthood, the Republican-led Senate failed to do so.

The organization saw its government funding double between FY 2006 and FY 2019, according to an analysis by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Planned Parenthood received a spike in public funding from 2009-2010, and another increase in 2011, but its public funding remained largely the same throughout the rest of the Obama administration until an increase in 2018 and again in 2019, according to Heritage’s report.

Johnson also said on Monday that some women had driven “thousands of miles” to obtain pills for chemical abortions after Texas banned all elective abortions, including chemical abortions, during the pandemic. The state lifted its temporary abortion ban last week.

NYC mayor apologizes to Jewish community over social distancing warning

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 5:30pm

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio apologized on Wednesday afternoon, hours after sending a tweet that singled out “the Jewish community” while warning of consequences for groups if they violate social distancing orders during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I regret if the way I say it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way — it was not my intention," said de Blasio on Wednesday, referring to the past evening’s controversial tweet. De Blasio characterized his comments as “tough love.”

The previous evening, the mayor tweeted that he had instructed the city’s police force to issue summons to or arrest people who congregate in large groups. De Blasio specifically singled out the Jewish population of the city in his warning. 

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.” de Blasio said just after 9:30 p.m. on April 28. 

De Blasio’s tweet was in response to a funeral held earlier in the evening for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died from COVID-19. The funeral service drew a large crowd of members of the Hasidic community to the streets of Williamsburg. The group was dispersed by NYPD officers. No one attending the funeral was arrested. 

The mayor said that when he heard about the funeral, he “went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed.”

“And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus,” he tweeted. 

De Blasio’s tweet drew criticism, with many noting the mayor’s own apparent violations of social distancing, as well as instances of large crowds of non-Hasidic people who were not wearing masks in public. On the day of the funeral in Williamsburg, many people congregated outdoors to watch a flyover tribute by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. The mayor did not comment on this activity. 

Bataya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at the Jewish publication The Forward, pointed out that de Blasio continued to go to the gym despite stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations. 

“Bill de Blasio went to the gym six days after Purim, three days after Lakewood’s rabbinic authorities banned public gatherings,” she said on Twitter. “And he’s out here talking about rounding up Jews.” 

The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League also condemned de Blasio’s tweet, noting that it was not sound policy for the mayor to generalize about 13% of the city’s population. 

“There are 1 million plus Jewish people in NYC. The few who don’t social distance should be called out--but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews,” said Greenblatt. “This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever.” 

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, de Blasio has repeatedly aimed enforcement warnings at faith communities. In March, the mayor threatened to “permanently” close houses of worship that continued to hold services. 

De Blasio’s threat to shut down religious buildings provoked criticism from religious liberty experts, as well as questions about his legal authority to do so given the protections of the First Amendment.

"Mayor de Blasio surely didn’t mean what he said, because there’s no way he or any other government official would ever have the power to shut down a church, synagogue, or mosque permanently,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in March.

Rienzi said that, given the context, the mayor “appears to be talking about the temporary need to ensure proper social distancing in a time of crisis,” which Rienzi said was a “valid governmental interest.” 

Rienzi called the phrasing of de Blasio’s comments “unfortunate,” and said they were not helping to soothe the fears of religious groups, particularly as those same religious groups are providing emergency relief work to those impacted by COVID-19. 

“Right now, we need religious groups and the government to continue working together to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Rienzi. “The First Amendment will protect against any needless targeting of religious groups in a time of crisis.”

Last year, the number of hate crimes against Jewish people in New York City reached the highest number since 1992, the year following the Crown Heights riot.

Don’t forget trafficking victims amid pandemic, congressman cautions

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 4:49pm

Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2020 / 02:49 pm (CNA).- While much of the world’s intelligence forces are focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking victims are at risk of being overlooked, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told a European security organization this week.

“Traffickers are not shut down—they haven’t gone on a holiday,” Smith warned in an April 27 webinar speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE-PA).

“Victims still need to be rescued. Survivors still need assistance. Vulnerable people likely will be made even more vulnerable by both the virus and the economic impact of the response to it,” Smith said.

“And as a result, when things start to open back up, traffickers may have an easier time finding, deceiving, coercing and exploiting victims.”

The New Jersey congressman is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues. He has authored numerous U.S. laws to fight human trafficking.

In his remarks, Smith stressed that the plight of trafficking victims may be worsened by coronavirus lockdowns.

“Victims may be quarantined with their traffickers, and, as a result of quarantine and social distancing practices, are now less likely to come into contact with people who might assist or rescue them,” he said.

In addition, police forces are turning their attention to keeping order and offering assistance to medical personnel amid the ongoing pandemic, meaning that trafficking victims may go unnoticed, he said.

Meanwhile, shelters are decreasing the number of the people they can safely house with social distancing measures in place, and job loss from the pandemic has been widespread, both factors that can leave those who have escaped human trafficking vulnerable, he said.

Smith also pointed to indications that there has been an increased demand for online pornography, which is closely aligned with sex trafficking.

“Sex buyers are quarantined like everyone else and may be turning to online venues,” he said. “Sites are hosting videos of trafficking victims, sexual abuse of children, and rape. There are reports from anti-trafficking groups that webcam sex trafficking is increasing.”

To respond to these worrying trends, lawmakers should work to consider how technology is aiding traffickers, Smith said.

He pointed to the use of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, by traffickers to avoid discovery. Smith said he is looking into ways that law enforcement may be able to better investigate and prosecute the use of these currencies.

The congressman also warned that an increase in online classroom instruction could leave children vulnerable to sexual predators. He called for renewed efforts to teach students and instructors ways to identify and avoid human trafficking and exploitation.

“NGOs, including the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, A21 Campaign, Just Ask, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and others already have developed age-appropriate school courses to educate students on how to avoid trafficking traps, and to educate teachers on how to identify and help students who may be trapped in labor or sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation,” he said. “Now is the time to take advantage of such programs, many of which can be conducted online.”

With public health experts saying the coronavirus crisis will continue over the coming months, Smith stressed the need to ensure that victims of sexual and labor exploitations do not fall through the cracks.

“[W]e must prioritize the fight against human trafficking, even during this crisis,” he said.

White House consults bishops on church reopening guidelines

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 4:22pm

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 02:22 pm (CNA).- The White House has consulted four Catholic bishops who have reinstated public Masses, as the Trump administration considers issuing guidelines on the safe reopening of churches and religious services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Multiple sources confirmed to CNA that officials from the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Centers for Disease Control conducted a series of conference calls with bishops from three states on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The bishops of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Lubbock, Texas, and Billings-Great Falls and Helena, Montana, spoke to administration officials who asked for feedback on the dioceses’ resumption of public ministry in line with state public health orders.

The initiative for the discussions came from the White House, sources familiar with the talks told CNA.

During the calls Tuesday and Wednesday, various policies put in place across the different dioceses were outlined, including extra measures for maintaining social distancing indoors and outside, and for the distribution of Communion. Administration officials also underscored to the bishops the administration’s ambition to see church buildings reopen whenever and wherever reopening can be done safely.

On April 15, the Las Cruces diocese issued guidelines providing that Masses could resume either outdoors or inside church buildings while conforming to state requirements on social distancing. The Diocese of Lubbock circulated its own guidelines on April 22, including provisions for restoring access to Communion for Catholics.

In their own public statements last week, Montana’s two bishops, Bishop Austin Vetter of Helena and Bishop Michael Warfel of Billings-Great-Falls also issued their own guidance on the phased reopening of churches in line with the governor’s announced plans. 

Bishop Michael Warfel of Billings-Great Falls told CNA Wednesday that he took part in a call with several other bishops and White House officials earlier in the day.

“I was on a phone call just earlier this morning with the director and deputy director for domestic policy for the White House, and we were sharing our experiences [reinstituting public Masses],” he told CNA.

“They were very much interested in our experience and what we were doing.”

The calls were coordinated through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the request of the White House, sources told CNA, but the bishops’ conference did not play an active role in the discussions. 

When contacted by CNA about the calls, White House spokespeople declined to comment. Calls to the USCCB were not returned by the time of posting.

Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces, who was the first U.S. bishop to announce the resumption of public Masses during the coronavirus pandemic, released a statement to CNA confirming that he had taken part in a call but declined to elaborate on the discussion.

“I was contacted by some officials at the White House and am grateful for their concern for religious liberty and the responsible resumption of religious worship,” Baldacchino said. “I am always open and grateful for dialogue with civic leaders, regardless of the party.”

“It is my hope that even more government officials, especially at the state level, will come to recognize the essential nature of faith and worship,” Baldacchino told CNA. “I continue to pray that God grant wisdom and discernment to all our government leaders.”

During the calls, according to several people familiar with the conversations, administration officials expressed their hope to be able to support faith communities with “sensitive and respectful guidance” to help restore public worship “as soon as it is feasible,” and asked for details of local guidelines issued by the bishops.

The bishops highlighted their desire to conform with state-level public health regulations, and emphasized the need to protect at-risk populations, including the elderly. At the same time the bishops said they were committed to responding to the spiritual needs of local Catholics.

“We are being cautious,” Warfel said of his own efforts to restore sacramental ministry. “We have protocols and restrictions, this isn’t a turn-key operation where a parish can just open the doors and say ‘y’all can come in,’ there are definite restrictions.”

On the calls, White House officials discussed the significance of state government designations of churches as either “essential” or “non-essential,” and asked about the response from both priests and people in the dioceses to the announcements that public Masses would resume.

Policy officials also discussed ideas for other possible ways of increasing the number of people who could attend Mass at a time, including the enforcement of larger spaces for social distancing rules between families, who could be seated in a group.

“I have continued the dispensation of Sunday and holy day obligations, and that will continue until we reach phase three [of the governor’s reopening plan], and I have encouraged those who are little more vulnerable to continue to stay home or maybe look at attending smaller events, maybe a weekday Mass,” said Warfel.

At the same time, he said, the absence of regular parish life has been felt keenly by local Catholics.

“The churches have to have the space needed, and have seats roped off [to enforce social distancing]. That’s often the hardest part for people – not being able to sit next to their friends and neighbors, it is a real hardship. People need people, that’s a part of communion, the gathering of the body of Christ to receive the body of Christ.”

Warfel told CNA that while much of the discussion has focused on the resumption of public Masses, other sacramental ministry was also vital to the lives of Catholics.

“Look at funerals,” he said to CNA. “In some areas we haven’t been able to have anything past a burial service recently – we are talking about a very emotional, sensitive time in a family’s life. If you can’t have a funeral Mass it’s very, very difficult.”

According to those involved with the calls, the bishops were asked if they would consider it helpful if the CDC were to provide suggested guidelines for faith leaders to consider when reopening churches in accordance with state laws. The AP reported this week that draft CDC guidelines for religious groups are at the White House this week for review.

“I think they were just looking for guidance,” Warfel told CNA.

“I don’t know all of who they talked to, but my guidance is mostly on a statewide level not federal.” He told CNA that, while it was for bishops to make the final decisions for their dioceses, consultation was important. In addition to taking advice from his own priests and local civil authorities, Warfel said the bishops of his region (USCCB Region XII) had set up a regular Tuesday conference call to share ideas.

“All these areas are so different,” he said, and pointed out that local circumstances were important to consider when looking at options for restoring sacramental life.

Contrasting his own experience in Montana with urban areas hardest hit by coronavirus, like New York City, the bishop noted that “in much of my diocese we don’t actually have any confirmed cases. We have sadly had some cases here in [the city of] Great Falls, but most of the counties are rural – in a few of them the cow population is greater than the people population.”

During the calls, White House officials explained that any forthcoming guidance would be broad in scope, and not look to dictate specific liturgical or ritual religious conduct, such as the reception of Communion.

The bishops were told that the Centers for Disease Control hoped that issuing guidance could help inform state and local leaders about the “essential” nature of religious practice, while still allowing for localized responses to the coronavirus and provide “helpful parameters” for state and local governments who are trying to safeguard public health.

The bishops were also told that the administration hoped to see a discussion between bishops and civil leaders to encourage them to be more “forward leaning” in efforts to promote the “critical importance” of religious faith and practice in daily life.

White House officials also told the bishops that the attorney general had recently issued a memo saying the Justice Department would be paying close attention for any possible violations of civil liberties by state and local governments.

They told the bishops that the attorney general would act if there was evidence of “needlessly aggressive” enforcement of public health measures against religious communities.

Buffalo diocese cuts off 'all financial support' for accused priests

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 3:32pm

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 29, 2020 / 01:32 pm (CNA).- During its bankruptcy process, the Diocese of Buffalo has announced it will end financial support and health benefits for priests facing substantiated allegations of sexual abuse. 

"Following discussions and subsequent agreement with the Creditors Committee, which has been appointed as part of the Diocese of Buffalo's Chapter 11 process, the Diocese will cease all financial support and health benefits for priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse,” the Diocese of Buffalo told CNA April 29. 

The decision is scheduled to take effect May 1. It is expected to impact 23 priests who have been receiving “sustenance payments” totalling $600,000 annually, according to Buffalo News. 

Eligible priests will continue receiving pension payments from a priest pension program, which, according to a 2017 statement from the diocese, is managed by a board of trustees and not directly overseen by the diocese. 

“None of the 23 individuals affected currently has faculties to function as a priest within the Diocese. The nature and details of the allegations that resulted in their faculties being suspended relate, in most cases, to allegations raised many years ago,” Greg Tucker, a diocesan spokesman, told CNA.

“The Diocese is directing these individuals to information and available resources elsewhere for their health insurance and other sustenance needs going forward," Tucker added.

Canon law requires that dioceses provide for the "decent support" of all incardinated clerics, with bishops required to offer at least the provision for basic sustenance, even to clerics not in ministry. 

In the wake of the sexual abuse scandals in the United States, several priests either accused or found to have committed sexual abuse of minors have appealed to the Vatican regarding their right to basic sustenance, including access to health care, and that right has been upheld by Vatican officials.

The priests who will lose support from the diocese remain clerics, incardinated in the Buffalo diocese. 

“None have been laicized,” Tucker told CNA. “These are priests whose faculties have been suspended based on substantiated claims of abuse.”

While the priests in question have been accused of sexual misconduct, the diocese did not specify how many have been found guilty, or even how many have been given the benefit of due process or formal trials in either canon or civil law.

“The allegations pertain to many years ago - decades in fact, and precede the formation of the Independent Review Board.  That said, whatever investigative process in place at the time determined that the allegations were ‘substantiated’ either because they admitted the offense or there was a criminal investigation, or allegations were corroborated based on multiple allegations - and those priests were then relieved of their priestly faculties,” Tucker said.

“In later cases (2002 and after), there was an independent investigation and an Independent Review Board recommendation. In some cases, the diocese initiated a canonical process and in other cases it did not,” Tucker added.

The decision was communicated in an April 23 letter to the 23 priests from Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, temporary administrator of the diocese, and in a conference call. 

Scharfenberger told the priests that while sustenance payments and health care coverage will cease, the changes will not affect existing pension payments.

Some priests, however, are concerned those payments will not be enough, and it is not clear whether all those affected by the change qualify for a pension.

Michael Taheri, a lawyer for one affected priest, told Buffalo News that the diocese’s behavior is “unconscionable.” 

“As a Catholic, I’m ashamed,” Taheri said. 

His client, Fr. Samuel Venne, was removed from ministry in 2018 after an allegation of sexual abuse dating back decades. Venne told Buffalo News he was a cancer survivor with no other income beyond $500 per month from social security. 

“How am I going to pay for my medicines? Where am I going to live?” Venne asked Scharfenberger.

The priest also said that he has consistently maintained his innocence, and passed a polygraph test as part of the diocese’s investigation into the allegation against him.

The announcement by Buffalo comes as the diocese has had to make staffing cuts and filed for bankruptcy in recent months.

In February, the diocese filed for Chapter 11 reorganization after being named in hundreds of new sexual abuse lawsuits filed in New York state courts. Another RICO lawsuit was filed in August alleging a “pattern of racketeering activity” by the diocese.

The state’s Child Victims Act had set up a one-year lookback window for such lawsuits, as many cases of child sex abuse have long-expired statutes of limitations.

Earlier in the month, the diocese closed its Christ the King seminary which had been running a $500,000 average annual deficit for a decade.

On March 19, the diocese said it would be accelerating cuts to staffing for its Catholic Center, eliminating 21 positions and moving three more from full-time to part-time.

As other Catholic dioceses and parishes applied for, and received, emergency loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the dioceses of Buffalo and Rochester filed a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration saying they were wrongfully excluded from the program because of their bankruptcy debtor status.

Scharfenberger, who is Bishop of Albany, was appointed temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese in December. The last bishop of the diocese, Bishop Richard Malone, resigned after a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation, or investigation, of the diocese under his leadership. 

Lincoln diocese reports on 'wrong and inappropriate conduct' of former vocations director

Wed, 04/29/2020 - 1:50pm

CNA Staff, Apr 29, 2020 / 11:50 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska today released the results of an independent investigation into alleged misconduct by a deceased longtime vocations director.

The report concluded that Monsignor Leonard Kalin had engaged in inappropriate behavior, including sexual advances toward seminarians and students.

Though the diocese was aware of Kalin’s habits such as heavy drinking and gambling, the report did not uncover evidence that diocesan leaders knew of Kalin’s sexual impropriety before 1998, the year some restrictions were placed on Kalin’s ministry.

“Despite Msgr. Kalin’s many positive contributions to build a faithful community at the Newman Center, the investigation findings regarding his wrong and inappropriate conduct are disturbing and painful,” reads an April 29 letter from Archbishop George Lucas, the diocesan apostolic administrator.

“The exercise of power and authority that leads the faithful to act in a sinful way never should be tolerated. For the harm that has been done, I offer a sincere apology on behalf of the diocese.”

Monsignor Kalin, who died in 2008, was the vocation director for the Diocese of Lincoln and pastor of the University of Nebraska Newman Center from 1970 until the late 1990s.

In August 2018, Peter Mitchell, a former Lincoln priest, publicly accused Kalin of “modeling addictive behaviors” to young people through habits such as heavy drinking, chain smoking, and gambling, as well as making sexual advances toward seminarians and promoting a “homosexual culture” at the Newman Center.

Mitchell, who is now laicized, also alleged in an August 2018 essay in The American Conservative that he had, at one point during his time as a seminarian, complained to the then-bishop of Lincoln about Kalin’s conduct and had received no reply. Mitchell was a seminarian for the diocese from 1994 to 1999. 

Lincoln Bishop James Conley— who is now on medical leave from the diocese— opened a formal investigation into Kalin’s conduct in March 2019. The diocese added Kalin’s name to its list of credibly accused clergy in April 2019.

While some Catholics have said the diocese should have made public decades ago that allegations of impropriety were made against Kalin, a frequently revered figure in the area, the report did not address that question.

The investigation concluded that the Diocese of Lincoln’s chancery leadership was aware of the “culture of socializing, and alcohol and cigarette use at the Newman Center.” It also described Kalin’s leadership style as “demanding and authoritarian.”

The investigation also concluded that Monsignor Kalin did “on occasion make sexual advances against some college students and seminarians.”

However, the investigation did not find evidence that chancery leadership “knew of sexual impropriety” by Kalin until 1998, according to the investigative report.

When Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz learned of allegations of sexual misconduct in July 1998, Kalin was “put on restrictions and moved out of the Newman Center.” After he was told about “a sexual issue involving Msgr. Kalin and a seminarian,” Bishop Bruskewitz ordered that two people were to be with Kalin when assisting him, the investigation said.

In September 1998, a lay person of the Lincoln diocese told a priest that Kalin kissed him inappropriately; the priest subsequently confronted Kalin, who admitted it happened, according to the investigation.

The next month, Bruskewitz issued a canonical warning forbidding Monsignor Kalin from being alone with any man under the age of 40 except for priests, close relatives and medical personnel.

An August 2018 statement from the diocese said it had “addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry.”

Mitchell wrote that Kalin would regularly ask seminarians to help him shower, giving the excuse that he was old and needed help, and would then make sexual advances toward them.

He also said Kalin would invite seminarians on trips to Las Vegas and would require them to meet with him late at night at the Newman Center before inviting them to his private quarters for a drink. Those who declined such invitations were subject to inferior treatment, he said.

Mitchell indicated that he avoided showering with Kalin, drinking with him alone late at night, or accompanying him to Las Vegas.

“I experienced profound discrimination as a seminarian and later as a priest because I was a heterosexual in an overwhelmingly homosexual environment where sexually active gay priests protected and promoted each other,” Mitchell wrote.

The investigator stated that all interviewees were asked whether they had any information or had observed a homosexual culture at the Newman Center or the Diocese of Lincoln, and all stated that they had never observed such a culture.

Though the investigator was unable to conclude whether Kalin was actively engaged in homosexual activity, “there was sufficient testimonial and anecdotical information learned during the investigation to confirm Msgr. Kalin did seek out and prefer the company of men.”

Archbishop Lucas in his letter noted that since the diocese promulgated new safe environment policies in April 2019, it also has convened a “Ministerial Conduct Board” whose job is to evaluate claims of inappropriate priest conduct that do not pertain to allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

California legislature likely to skip controversial abortion, parental consent bills

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 10:00pm

Denver Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- Several controversial bills proposed in the California legislature, including two backed by Planned Parenthood, will likely have no chance to be considered when lawmakers reconvene to address legislation in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.

Legislation expected to stall includes a proposal to eliminate co-pays and deductibles for abortion; a proposal to require insurance companies to hide “sensitive” procedures from parents; and a requirement to ensure foster children as young as 10 are told of their legal right to abortion and to birth control..

Steve Pehanich, director of communications and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, did not comment on the bills individually but reflected on the limits now facing the California legislature.

“Right now, California legislators have been told to significantly reduce the number of bills they introduce. Bills must now be related only to COVID, homelessness or wildfires. Nothing else will be considered,” he told CNA.

“We do not know if any of these bills will see the light of day and, even if they do, they could be significantly altered.”

“The legislature will be focusing on the state budget once they return. They are constitutionally required to enact a budget by June 15 so most of the energies will go toward that end,” he added.

While lawmakers are set to return in early May, Pehanich said, many think that is an “optimistic” return date, given the difficulties of the coronavirus epidemic.

Among the bills proposed in the California legislature is Senate Bill 1004, which would require health insurance companies to hide “sensitive” medical procedures for adult and minor children who are covered under their parents’ health coverage plan.

Such procedures include abortions; sexually transmitted infections treatment; drug abuse and mental health treatment; and sexual assault treatment.

Under state law, minors can already consent to such treatment without consent of a parent or legal guardian. Adult children’s opposite-sex hormones and purported sex-change operations would also be hidden.

“If passed, parents will find themselves obligated to pay for medical bills for their dependents, but they will not know what they are paying for,” the California Family Council said in a release about the bill.

An insurance company that informs parents of such procedures would face criminal charges under the bill.

Planned Parenthood Action listed the bill as a legislative priority.

“When a patient accesses care for a sensitive service, including sexual and reproductive health care, confidentiality is of the utmost importance,” the group said on its website.

Noting that the patient seeking services is not always the health care coverage policy holder, the group said it would prevent parents or an abusive spouse from learning about any sensitive services.

Another Planned Parenthood-backed bill, Assembly Bill 1973, would bar deductibles, co-payments, or other cost-sharing requirements for abortions under Medi-Cal, a health care service plan, or an individual or group disability insurance policy, the California Family Council said.

A.B. 2035 would require social workers to inform children in foster care aged 10 or older about their legal rights to receive free birth control and abortions without their foster parents’ approval or knowledge. County social workers would be required to verify to the court that they have informed foster children of these rights

The bill would require foster families to receive annual training to explain these legal rights of foster children.

Pehanich, while not commenting on specific proposals, outlined general principles.

“All bills are evaluated on the principles embodied in faithful citizenship, respect for life and Catholic social teaching,” he said.

“None of these bills have even had a hearing yet and I think the odds are fairly good they will not. Of course, the California Catholic Conference is in favor of parental consent and opposes legislation that promotes or expands abortion.”

Other proposals likely to be shelved include a $15 million LGBT Transgender Wellness Fund.

The money, as proposed by A.B. 2218, would fund grants to hospitals, nonprofits, health care clinics and other medical providers which provide puberty blockers and opposite-sex hormones for minors.

The grants would also support these provisions for adults, as well as fund purported sex-change operations.

 

Protect vital migrant and farm workers during coronavirus, bishops say

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 6:47pm

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 28, 2020 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States have called for increased protections and support for farm workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

An April 29 statement from the U.S. bishops' coference, co-signed by four bishops, advocated that employers of migrant and farm workers, as well as public health officials, acknowledge that “all workers need access to free testing and care related to the COVID-19 virus.”

The bishops called for renewed commitments from employers to ensure that housing and transportation provided for farm workers is safe and compliant with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, that information on health and hygiene practices is “easily accessible in multiple languages” and that workers be given any appropriate personal protective equipment. 

The statement was signed by Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity; Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, who leads the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT); Bishop Oscar Cantu of San Jose, the PCMRT’s episcopal liaison for migrant farmworker ministry; and Bishop Mario Dorsonville, an auxiliary bishop of Washington and leader of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration.

The statement also noted the need for emergency plans, establishing protocols for when a worker is diagnosed with COVID-10. 

“To defeat the virus, no one must be left out,” said the bishops. “The COVID-19 virus teaches us we are one human family, says the Holy Father. ‘We can only get out of this situation together, as a whole humanity.’”

The bishops said it was essential to “honor the dignity of farmworkers and make sure that they are paid a livable wage as well as be eligible for other benefits to help protect their health and the health and safety of their families at this time.” 

Bishop Tyson told CNA on Tuesday that the safety of migrant workers is especially important in his own diocese, where much of the population and economy is connected to the agricultural industry. 

“We’re hoping that [these suggestions] are principles that will guide all the stakeholders --whether that’s ranchers, orchardists [...] owners of the packing plants, government officials, health department people” Tyson told CNA in an interview.

“We’re just offering those as principles for all of the stakeholders, regardless of how they’re involved in the agricultural industry,” he added. 

Tyson told CNA that the statement was “just at the beginning” of a process of developing policy suggestions. He said he and his brother bishops were “trying to be proactive” with their recommendations and best serve the migrant farmworker population, which swells during the state’s bigger harvesting seasons. 

The Diocese of Yakima, where Tyson has been a bishop since 2011, grows by one-third each summer as migrant workers come to work in the area. More than 62% of his diocesan population are considered “essential workers” during summer months, meaning they are at increased risk of contracting the virus as they continue to work ensuring the country’s food supply. 

“We are very concerned that our workers, our parishioners, our fellow Catholics, have the protection they need in order to do their essential work in the fields” said Tyson. “They are the ones harvesting the fruit, cutting the asparagus, pulling the apples off the trees and sorting them.”

Tyson told CNA that there are “many” employers, ranchers, and orchardists who are working to provide equipment to their workers, for which he is grateful. He said that he hopes these policies will become more widespread across the agricultural industry.

“This is all very real to us,” explained Tyson. “It’s a real key issue, our own folks, here.”

Sexual harassment, discrimination suit filed against head of NY Catholic Charities

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 5:25pm

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 03:25 pm (CNA).- A lawsuit filed in a Manhattan federal court accuses the head of Catholic Charities of New York of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Sixty-three-year-old former employee Alice Kenny filed the lawsuit on Sunday, New York Daily News reports.

Among other claims, the suit says Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, kept a risqué life-size cutout of Beyonce in his office, visible to all employees.

Sullivan’s preference for young, attractive women was well-known and treated as a joke among Catholic Charities staff members, the lawsuit says, according to New York Daily News.

Kenny charges that she was subject to illegal discrimination because she is not a male and “does not model the physical attributes that catches Mr. Sullivan’s eye.” She said her desk was moved to a hallway and she was rejected for a promotion after she and other female employees complained about sexual harassment by a manager in 2016, New York Daily News reports.

Catholic Charities responded to the lawsuit in a statement, saying, “Ms. Kenny was a valued employee of Catholic Charities, an agency that is unconditionally committed to maintaining a workplace free from all discrimination, harassment, or unlawful retaliation.”

“Ms. Kenny voluntarily resigned from the Marketing and Communications Office a year ago. Any allegation of discrimination is totally without merit,” Catholic Charities said.

 

CRS head says coronavirus pandemic could threaten malaria prevention

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 4:25pm

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- A Catholic humanitarian agency warned that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to greater cases of malaria-related deaths.

Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), stressed this week the importance of tackling both COVID-19 and malaria - an infectious disease transmitted by certain mosquitoes. 

“Like malaria, this disease respects no boundaries or borders. The coronavirus has tremendous destructive potential. But we cannot drop our guard on malaria in our fight against the virus. In fact, the danger of coronavirus will be greatly exacerbated if we let it threaten our progress in tackling malaria,” Callahan wrote in an op-ed published April 28.

Between 2000 and 2015, every malaria-affected region succeeded in reducing the number of illnesses and deaths related to malaria, Callahan said. In 2019, malaria prevention and treatment projects of CRS reached 86 million people in 12 countries, he said, noting that there has been a particular focus on children and pregnant women.

Callahan said the timing of the coronavirus spread in areas of West and Central Africa coincides with the high transmission season for malaria, when, between July and October, seasonal rains increase the number of mosquitos.

The Global Malaria Program of the World Health Organization has encouraged that the coronavirus pandemic and malaria be fought together. Even with malaria prevention initiatives in place, malaria will kill hundreds of thousands of people this year, according to WHO officials, and, if malaria is neglected while coronavirus is addressed, the impact will be felt for decades.

In his op-ed, Callahan said that without maintaining aid to malaria-endemic areas, both illnesses may build upon one another overcrowding hospitals and other health facilities.

“If we scale back our planned malaria activities in order to address the coronavirus, this will undoubtedly lead to an increase in malaria cases. This, in turn, will lead to overcrowded health facilities that are already struggling to keep up with the rising surge of the pandemic,” he wrote.

“Fighting two health behemoths at once will require innovation and dexterity. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services have extensive expertise in prevention, testing, treatment, and community engagement,” Callahan wrote.

As the pandemic will likely affect supply deliveries, he said, the organization plans to stock supplies closer to communities in case deliveries are interrupted and unable to reach central stores.

He added that the organization previously used mobile technology to digitize a malaria indicator survey, which was then used to help distribute 50 million nets in Sierra Leone and the Gambia. The data will then be used to “avoid door-to-door household registration” saving money and limiting person-to-person exposure, he said.

Callahan stressed the importance of local partners in the fight against malaria.

“With their support, we are better able to do such things as ensure every child who has a fever is tested and treated for malaria and then referred for follow-up care. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and now with COVID-19, these tested practices are proving especially valuable,” he said.

“Fighting these deadly diseases simultaneously requires attention, creativity, and resources. With our collective commitment - donors, implementers, and policymakers - we can do both at the same time so progress on the malaria front is not lost as we also fight coronavirus. We can, and we must, battle our new enemy without losing ground against an old one,” Callahan wrote.

 

At least 15 dead from coronavirus in NY religious orders

Tue, 04/28/2020 - 2:00pm

CNA Staff, Apr 28, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- As New York attempts to weather the coronavirus pandemic, religious orders in the state have been hit hard by the disease, with one order of nuns raising money to offset the cost of added medical expenses.

The Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, NY, have lost three of their sisters to COVID-19, and another 30 have tested positive for the virus. A total of 10 members of their staff have also tested positive for the coronavirus, and several more sisters have come down with a low-grade fever and are being monitored. 

There are about 300 sisters living at the Maryknoll Center in Ossining, in Westchester County, about 40 miles away from New York City, widely held to be the front line of the epidemic in the United States.

“We remember the beautiful spirits of our Sisters who have been called home to God and pray our other Sisters and Staff will fully recover and return home soon,” says the Maryknoll Sisters’ website. 

“It remains our top priority to contain this virus as much as we can, to keep our employees and staff at the center safe, and the rest of our Sisters safe. Please know we are doing all we can to face this pandemic head on, and continue to adhere to all procedures advised by the Health Department,” they said.

The sisters are requesting donations for “increased expenses for medical care, medical supplies, proper medical grade cleaning services,” and other new necessities related to the virus. 

Also in Ossining, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers have been similarly stricken by the pandemic. Since the start of April, 10 priests of the order have died. Two had tested positive for COVID-19, and the others were experiencing symptoms of the virus. 

There are 123 Maryknoll priests living in New York, nearly half of the order’s 288 total priests. 

Fr. Raymond Finch, the superior general of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, told abc7NY that 15 others had been tested positive for the virus, with three in “very serious condition.” 

The Missionaries of Charity, who have a home in the New York City borough of The Bronx, have lost at least two sisters to COVID-19. The Missionaries of Charity did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication.

The Missionaries of Charity were founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, and are known for their distinctive white-and-blue saris. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, posted a video on Twitter on Tuesday, April 27, describing his experience attending the burial of two Missionaries of Charity the previous Saturday. 

“Two things stuck out,” said Dolan, apart from the sadness of the loss of two sisters. Despite the risk of contracting the virus, Dolan was impressed that the sisters had continued on with their charism of serving the poor, and, additionally, he remarked that one of the sisters who died from the virus had been one of the founding members of the religious order. 

At the burial service, the “socially distancing” sisters told Dolan that “we still have our soup kitchen, and the poor and homeless come in every day.” 

This, said Dolan, was a sign that while physical church buildings may be closed, “the Church is active in its love and service to others, like those brave sisters who are putting their life on the lines.”

Sr. Francesca, one of the two sisters who had died from COVID-19, worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and was one of the founders of the order. 

“We mourn them, we miss those two, but we thank God for the example of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity,” said Dolan.

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