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Pope Francis establishes new commission to study women deacons

Vatican City, Apr 8, 2020 / 06:30 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis has created a new commission to study the question of a female diaconate in the Catholic Church, after some members of the 2019 Amazon synod requested the pope re-establish a 2016 commission on the subject.

Among the 10 theologians making up the new study commission are two permanent deacons, three priests, and five lay women. They hail from Europe and the United States.

Pope Francis first created a 12-member commission in 2016 to examine the historic question of the role of deaconesses in the early Church.

In May last year, he said that the commission had not reached any consensus which would soon lead to a plan of action, but would continue its study.

Speaking aboard the papal plane returning from North Macedonia and Bulgaria, the pope said “for the female diaconate, there is a way to imagine it with a different view from the male diaconate,” but added that “fundamentally, there is no certainty that it was an ordination with the same form, in the same purpose as male ordination.”

“Some say there is doubt, let’s go ahead and study,” he said in May 2019.

The institution of the new commission also follows the discussion of the female diaconate during the 2019 Amazon synod.

At the end of the Oct. 6-27 meeting, synod members recommended to Pope Francis that women be considered for certain ministries in the Church, including the permanent diaconate, which is an order within the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Pope Francis said in his closing remarks for the Amazon synod Oct. 26 that he would re-open the 2016 commission, possibly adding new members, based on the synod’s request.

But in his apostolic exhortation on the Amazon, published Feb. 12, Pope Francis called for women in the South American region to be included in new forms of service in the Church, but not within the ordained ministries of the permanent diaconate or priesthood.

Francis wrote in Querida Amazonia that when considering the role of women in the Church, “we do not limit ourselves to a functional approach.”

The subject of women deacons has previously been studied by the Church, including in a 2002 document from the International Theological Commission (ITC), an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

In the document, the ITC concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had neither a “liturgical function,” nor a sacramental one. It also maintained that even in the 4th century “the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns.”

According to the April 8 Vatican announcement, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, the archbishop of L’Aquila, Italy, has been named president of the study commission. Fr. Denis Dupont-Fauville, a CDF official, was named secretary.

One of the two US-based members is James Keating, a permanent deacon and the director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) based at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

A theologian, he leads the IPF’s retreats for seminary faculty and seminary formators. Keating is also the author of several books and articles on holy orders and the diaconate.

The second American member of the commission is Dominic Cerrato, a permanent deacon and director of diaconal formation in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

In the past Cerrato has taught theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he established the Distance Learning Masters in Theology program. In 2014, he published a book on the theology of the diaconate based on the personalist thought of Pope St. John Paul II.

Other members of the commission include Fr. Santiago del Cura Elena from Spain and Fr. Angelo Lameri from Italy.

Barbara Hallensleben is a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Freiburg in Switzerland and a former member of the International Theological Commission. She is also a member of the Pontifical Ecumenical Council.

Fr. Manfred Hauke is a German priest teaching theology in Lugano, Switzerland. He has published articles on the possibility of female ordination and feminist theology, among other subjects.

Catherine Brown Tkacz is a professor at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Her research includes women in the Bible and Christian tradition.

Caroline Farey is a diocesan mission catechist for the Diocese of Shrewsbury in the United Kingdom. In the past she has taught at St. Mary’s College, Oscott. She was also one of three lay women to take part in the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization as an expert in 2012. Farey has also worked in the past in the Pontifical Academy for the New Evangelization and Catechesis.

Anne-Marie Pelletier is a French biblical scholar, who was chosen by Pope Francis to write the meditations for the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday 2017. Pelletier was also a 2014 recipient of the Ratzinger Prize.

Rosalba Manes is also a bible scholar, teaching in Viterbo, Italy.

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

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

None of that happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponder Christ’s Passion amid the coronavirus crisis, pope urges

Vatican City, Apr 8, 2020 / 03:30 am (CNA).- Meditating on Christ's Passion can help us as we struggle with questions about God and suffering during the coronavirus crisis, Pope Francis said at his general audience Wednesday.

Speaking via livestream due to the pandemic, the pope urged Catholics April 8 to spend time in Holy Week sitting in silent prayer before a crucifix and reading the Gospels. 

At a time when churches around the world are closed, “this will be for us, so to speak, like a great domestic liturgy,” he said.

The suffering unleashed by the virus raises questions about God, the pope noted. “What is He doing in the face of our pain? Where is He when everything goes wrong? Why does He not solve our problems quickly?"

"The account of the Passion of Jesus, which accompanies us in these holy days, is helpful to us," he said.

The people acclaimed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. But they rejected him when he was crucified because they had expected "a powerful and triumphant Messiah," rather than a gentle and humble figure preaching a message of mercy. 

Today we still project our false expectations on to God, the Pope said. 

"But the Gospel tells us that God is not like that. He is different and we could not know Him with our own strength. That is why he came close to us, he came to meet us and precisely at Easter he revealed himself completely.”

"Where? On the cross. There we learn the features of God's face. Because the cross is God's pulpit. It will do us good to look at the Crucified One in silence and see who our Lord is.”

The cross shows us that Jesus is “He who does not point the finger at anyone, but opens his arms wide to everyone”, the pope said. Christ does not treat us as strangers, but rather takes our sins upon himself.

"To free ourselves from prejudices about God, let us look at the Crucified One,” he advised. “And then we open the Gospel." 

Some might object that they prefer a "strong and powerful God," the pope said.

"But the power of this world passes, while love remains. Only love guards the life we have, because it embraces our frailties and transforms them. It is the love of God who at Easter healed our sin with his forgiveness, who made death a passage of life, who changed our fear into trust, our anguish into hope. Easter tells us that God can turn everything to good, that with Him we can truly trust that all will be well."

"That is why on Easter morning we are told: 'Do not be afraid!' [cf. Matthew 28:5]. And the distressing questions about evil do not suddenly vanish, but find in the Risen One the solid foundation that allows us not to be shipwrecked." 

At morning Mass April 8, in the chapel of his Vatican residence, the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis prayed for those who were taking advantage of others during the coronavirus crisis.

"Today we pray for people who in this time of pandemic exploit the needy," he said. "They take advantage of the needs of others and sell them: the mafia, loan sharks and many others. May the Lord touch their hearts and convert them."

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, the Church focuses on Judas, the pope said. He encouraged Catholics not only to ponder the life of the disciple who betrayed Jesus, but also to "think of the little Judas that each one of us has inside of us".

"Each of us has the ability to betray, to sell, to choose for our own interest," he said. "Each one of us has the possibility of letting ourselves be attracted by the love of money, or goods, or future well-being."

After Mass, the pope presided at Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, leading those watching around the world in a prayer of spiritual communion. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court takes pass on Washington archdiocese bus case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving elderly from coronavirus ‘a priority,’ Vatican’s laity dicastery says

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2020 / 02:35 pm (CNA).- During the coronavirus pandemic, saving the elderly must be just as important as saving others, the Vatican’s Laity, Family, and Life dicastery has said.

In an April 6 statement, the dicastery said “despite the complexity of the situation we live in, it is necessary to clarify that saving the lives of the elderly who live within residential homes or who are alone or sick, is a priority as much as saving any other person.”

“Faced with the scenario of a generation hit so severely, we have a common responsibility, which stems from the awareness of the invaluable value of every human life and from gratitude to our fathers and grandparents,” it continued.

The statement noted that in Italy, one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is estimated that 80% of the people who have so far lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 70.

As of Tuesday, over 17,000 people have died in Italy from the coronavirus, with victims having an average age of 78 and a median age of 80. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 78,000 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide.

The dicastery warned that loneliness is an added threat to the elderly; and said that loneliness could be the “previous pathology” which weakens an older person and makes the virus “more lethal” for him or her.

“It is no coincidence that we are witnessing the death, in terrible proportions and ways, of many people who live far from their families, and in truly debilitating and disheartening conditions of solitude,” the laity office underlined.

The dicastery said it is important for the Church to serve the elderly and find ways to combat loneliness in this difficult time, especially when in-person visits are not possible.

It praised those who are making calls and sending video messages and letters to those who are alone, as well as the parishes which are delivering food and necessities to those who cannot go out.

It also noted that “almost everywhere, priests continue to visit homes to dispense the sacraments.”

“But the gravity of the moment calls all of us to do more,” the statement urged.

The dicastery said “as individuals and as local churches, we can do much for the elderly: pray for them, cure the disease of loneliness, activate solidarity networks and much more.”

This generational impact calls the Church to “a common responsibility,” the laity office said, underlining that the coronavirus “affects the future of our ecclesial communities and our societies because, as Pope Francis recently said, 'the elderly are the present and tomorrow of the Church.’”

“So let us join in prayer for grandparents and the elderly around the world. Let us gather around them with our thoughts and hearts, and when possible, let’s act, so that they are not alone,” the statement concluded.

 

Arlington diocese offers virtual pilgrimage for Holy Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a huge hope of mine.”  

Christian leaders united in support of Oklahoma abortion order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinn Féin leader in N Ireland calls for at-home medical abortions

CNA Staff, Apr 7, 2020 / 11:54 am (CNA).- After laws permitting elective abortion in Northern Ireland came into force last week, the region's deputy First Minister is urging that women there be allowed to perform medical abortions at home.

Home administration of medical abortions has been permitted in Scotland and Wales for some time, and it was approved in England March 30.

Michelle O'Neill, deputy First Minister and vice president of Sinn Féin, said April 6 that “I support telemedicine. What we’re talking about is compassionate healthcare, modern healthcare for women.”

Sinn Féin is an Irish nationalist party that has historically enjoyed significant Catholic support. It supported the liberalization of abortion laws in Northern Ireland imposed by the British parliament, and its party members endorsed the repeal of the Republic of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which protected unborn children.

O'Neill continued: “What we’re talking about is responding to women’s need at the time of global crisis – women shouldn’t be left out in terms of supports that are put in place. And so the regulations that have went through Westminster, the legislation that’s went through, needs to be implemented here.”

She said that “the health minister has an obligation to put in place those regulations and to put in place the mechanisms in order to make sure those supports are there for women as has been legislated for.”

In contrast, First Minister Arlene Foster, who is also leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, stated that “The health minister will bring papers forward and we will have discussions, but I don't think it's any secret that I don't believe abortion on demand should be available in Northern Ireland.”

“I think it’s a very retrograde step for our society here in Northern Ireland. Instead of supporting people who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, we’re not even having any discussion around that and how we can support people in those circumstances, how we can provide perinatal care,” Foster added.

The First Minister and deputy First Minister are jointly the heads of government in Northern Ireland, forming a diarchy.

The DUP have emerged as a leading pro-life party in Northern Ireland. However, the unionist party has had links to the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, an ecclesial community particularly hostile to the Catholic Church.

Francie Brolly, a former Sinn Féin politician who resigned the party in 2018 for its abortion support, has said he anticipates that Catholics in Northern Ireland will “go against their religious beliefs to vote for Sinn Fein for various other reasons... fundamentally to keep the [Democratic Unionist Party] down.”

Sinn Féin's abortion policy has allowed for some political realignments among Catholics in Ireland.

Michael Kelly, editor of The Irish Catholic, told CNA in 2018 that pro-life voters “have been left unrepresented by the mainstream political establishment” and that “Ireland is crying out for a new political movement.”

Kelly noted that “many pro-life voters remain reluctant voters for their traditional political party,” but that “there is some evidence that this is changing and that people are willing to set aside old tribal loyalties.”

Peadar Tóibín, a deputy to the Republic of Ireland's Dáil, was twice suspended from Sinn Féin for breaking with the party's platform on legalized abortion. He resigned the party in 2018, and launched Aontú as a pro-life, nationalist party last year.

Aontú contested seven of the 18 Northern Ireland seats in last year's UK general election, but won none. Its members stood for 26 constituencies in the 2020 Irish general election, and Tóibín was the sole member to win a seat.

The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020, which allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother's physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal fetal abnormality.

Abortions may be performed at General Practitioners premises, and Health and Social Care clinics and hospitals, while the region's Health Minister will be able to approve further locations for medical abortions.

The Health Minister, Robin Swann, is a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, but according to the Press Association, a news agency in the UK and Ireland, approval of at-home medical abortions “will require the agreement” of the Northern Ireland Executive.

At-home medical abortions were discussed by the power-sharing executive April 6. “Stormont sources said it had led to a row between the parties,” the BBC reported.

Previously, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

The regulations allowing elective abortion in Northern Ireland came into force March 31, but they have not yet been implemented by the region's Department of Health.

Northern Irish women had been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017. They are allowed to travel to the rest of the UK to procure abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Though in England, Wales, and Scotland, two medical professionals must certify in all cases that there were lawful grounds for abortion, in Northern Ireland only one medical professional is needed for certification in elective abortions or in cases of immediate necessity where there is a risk to the life of the mother.

The lower threshold in Northern Ireland was adopted at least in part because “it is likely that there will be a more significant number of people raising conscientious objections than in other parts of the UK.”

Consientious objection is allowed for direct participation in abortion, but not for ancillary, administrative, or managerial tasks associated with the procedure, because that “would have consequences on a practical level and would therefore undermine the effective provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland.”

Buffer zones have not been set up around locations where abortions are procured, barring protest in the locations' immediate vicinity. The government has decided to wait and see what the situation will be, keeping the matter under review so it can “respond to any challenges as needed at the time.”

The new framework was adopted to implement Westminster's Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which was passed while the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended, though the legislature resumed meeting in January.

Northern Ireland rejected the Abortion Act 1967, which legalized abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland; and bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

John Hayes, the Conservative MP for South Holland and The Deepings, said ahead of the regulations' introduction that the process was “overriding devolution.”

“It seems likely this will be interpreted as the UK Government imposing its will on a reluctant part of the Kingdom which is doubtless disdainfully regarded by Whitehall’s liberal elite as antediluvian,” he wrote earlier this month.

The amendment to the NI EF Act obliging the government to provide for legal abortion in Northern Ireland was introduced by Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents a London constituency.

In October 2019, the High Court in Belfast had ruled that the region's ban on the abortion of unborn children with fatal abnormalities violated the UK's human rights commitments.

‘Prayer has been the great source of strength to me’: Cardinal Pell looks forward to Easter 

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2020 / 08:54 am (CNA).- After more than 14 months in prison, Cardinal George Pell said he was always hopeful about the High Court decision which acquitted him of all charges and released him from incarceration on April 7.

Shortly after his release from prison, the cardinal told CNA that, while he had kept faith he would be eventually exonerated, he tried not to be “too optimistic.”
 
On Tuesday morning, the High Court issued its decision, granting Cardinal Pell’s request for special leave to appeal, quashing his convictions for sexual abuse, and ordering that he be acquitted of all charges.

As the decision was announced by the court, several hundred miles away the cardinal watched from his cell in HM Prison Barwon, southwest of Melbourne.

“I was watching the television news in my cell when the news came through,” Pell told CNA, in an exclusive interview shortly after his release on Tuesday.

“First, I heard that leave was granted and then that the convictions were quashed. I thought, ‘Well that’s great. I’m delighted.’”
 
“Of course, there was no one to talk to about it until my legal team arrived,” Pell said.

“However, I did hear a great cheer from somewhere within the jail and then the three other inmates near me made it clear they were delighted for me.”

After his release, Pell said he spent the afternoon at a quiet location in Melbourne, and enjoyed a steak for his first “free” meal in more than 400 days.

“What I am really looking forward to is celebrating a private Mass,” Pell told CNA before he had the opportunity to do so. “It has been a very long time, so that is a great blessing.”

The cardinal told CNA that he had lived his time in prison as a “long retreat,” and a time for reflection, writing, and, above all, prayer.

"Prayer has been the great source of strength to me throughout these times, including the prayers of others, and I am incredibly grateful to all those people who have prayed for me and helped me during this really challenging time.”

The cardinal said the number of letters and cards he had received from people both in Australia and from overseas was “quite overwhelming.”

“I really do want to thank them most sincerely.”

In a public statement at the time of his release, Pell offered his solidarity with victims of sexual abuse.

“I hold no ill will to my accuser,” Pell said in that statement. “I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough.”

“The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.”

The cardinal told CNA on Tuesday that as he readjusts to his life as a free man and prepares for Holy Week, he is focused on what lies ahead, especially Easter, and not behind.

“At this stage I don’t want to comment further on the last few years, only to say I have always said I am innocent of any such crimes,” he said.

“Holy Week is obviously the most important time in our Church, so I am especially pleased this decision came when it did. The Easter Triduum, so central to our faith, will be even more special for me this year.”