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Aid to the Church in Need sending 250,000 euro in food aid to Lebanon

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 12:47 am (CNA).- International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has announced an emergency 250,000 euro food aid package for victims of the massive August 4 explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.

The ACN grant will focus on poor families most affected by the explosion, which devastated the port area of the Lebanese capital and adjacent areas, including the mostly Christian neighborhoods of Mar Maroun and Achrafieh.

At least 135 people have died and another 5,000 were injured when a warehouse storing some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded Tuesday evening. Officials are investigating the cause of the explosion.

Fr. Samer Nassif, a Lebanese priest, told Aid to the Church in Need that the Christian area of Beirut is “completely devastated,” with at least 10 churches destroyed.

“In one second, more damage was done to the Christian area of Beirut than during the long years of the civil war. We have to rebuild everything again from the ground up.”

ACN estimates some 300,000 people have been left homeless. Additionally, many offices, schools, hospitals, and shops were completely destroyed in the explosion.

The priest stressed that amid the country’s long economic crisis and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon is ill-equipped to face this new emergency. International aid is urgently needed to meet people’s basic needs, they said.

Lebanon is currently facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with corruption and financial mismanagement leading to an unprecedented devaluation of its currency, hyperinflation, rising unemployment and banking restrictions. The health system is also in crisis. Power outages and street protests had rocked the country a few months before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

In recent years, Lebanon has been hosting large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, many of them Christian, as well as Palestinian refugees. According to official data, Lebanon currently hosts almost 2 million refugees, representing about a third of its total population.

Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, has called on the international community for aid.

“Beirut is a devastated city. Beirut, the bride of the East and the beacon of the West, is wounded,” he said. “It’s a war scene: there is destruction and desolation in all its streets, its neighborhoods and houses.”

Aid to the Church in Need also called for prayer for all those affected by the explosion and other challenges.

“We pray for the victims and their families; and we pray for Lebanon so that, with the commitment of all its social, political and religious components, it can face this tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the serious crisis it is going through.”

Biden talks Catholic faith after Trump says former VP is 'against God'

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 11:30 pm (CNA).- Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke about his Catholic faith, in response to comments from President Donald Trump that a Biden presidency would “hurt God.”

“Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life: it's provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it's kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy. And in this moment of darkness for our country — of pain, of division, and of sickness for so many Americans — my faith has been a guiding light for me and a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us,” Biden said in an Aug. 6 statement.

“For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful. It's beneath the office he holds and it's beneath the dignity the American people so rightly expect and deserve from their leaders," he added.

Speaking in Ohio today, Trump said that Biden wanted to "take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He's against God, he's against guns.”

Biden has spoken about his Catholic faith on the campaign trail, and is known to attend Mass when he is at home in Delaware and when he travels. But the former vice president’s positions on some issues, most notably abortion and sexual orientation/gender identity policy, have put him at odds with Catholic teaching.

Brian Burch, president of political advocacy organization CatholicVote, told CNA that Biden’s faith itself should not be called into question, but his position on issues of importance to religious believers should be a matter of consideration.

“Joe Biden says his Catholic faith is important to him, and it's not our place to question that,” Burch told CNA. “It's obvious Biden attends Mass, and it's obvious his Catholic faith has been a comfort to him at critical moments in his life.”

“But the question in this election is about what his plans are for this country, and that's what believers should focus on," Burch said.

“What matters here isn't his devotional life, but his policies. And his policy agenda threatens the freedom of the Church in America," he added, not only on life, but also on religious liberty.

Burch said that in his view, Biden’s positions could impact the Church’s social and charitable ministries.

“I worry that the Catholic Church in America is not taking seriously enough how a Biden presidency might threaten the freedom of the Church in America. Catholic hospitals, schools and charities will surely be forced to choose whether to operate in communion with what we believe as Catholics, compromise the Faith, or shut down altogether. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state grants that serve the poor and vulnerable could be at stake,” Burch said.

In October 2019, Biden was denied Holy Communion at a South Carolina church because of his support for legalized abortion.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, told CNA Oct 28.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that

“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004, explaining the application of Canon Law 915 to the reception of Holy Communion.

The memorandum stated that “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.”

The case of a “Catholic politician” who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter continued.

In such cases, “his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion.

“Vice President Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website.

Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.”

During his career as a senator, Biden voted numerous times in favor of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, and opposed public funding for abortions.

But as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination last year, Biden shifted his views on abortion funding.

Over the course of one week in June 2019, Biden went from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment--which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions--to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president.

Previously, Biden supported some aspects of pro-life legislation. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and again in 1997.

On Thursday, Biden said that his Catholic “faith teaches me to love my neighbor as I would myself, while President Trump only seeks to divide us. My faith teaches me to care for the least among us, while President Trump seems to only be concerned about his gilded friends. My faith teaches me to welcome the stranger, while President Trump tears families apart. My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.”

The candidate’s statement did not address his position on abortion.

In July, a grop of 115 Christian leaders, including Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky and other Catholic clergy, religious, and laity, signed a letter to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Platform Committee, asking the party to support pro-life policies including “legal protection for pre-born children.”

“We call upon you to recognize the inviolable human dignity of the child, before and after birth,” the letter stated, asking for a rejection of “a litmus test on pro-life people of faith seeking office in the Democratic Party.”

Biden, who as the 2020 presidential candidate is de facto leader of the Democratic party, did not comment on their letter, and has not responded to other entreaties from pro-life Democrats.

Earlier on Thursday, CatholicVote and former Congressman Tim Huelskamp called on Biden to denounce a recent spate of vandalism and arson at Catholic Churches across the U.S, which they called “a rising climate of anti-Catholicism” in the country. Biden has not spoken out about the matter, and his campaign has not responded to a request for comment on that issue from CNA.

For his part, Trump has faced criticism from U.S. bishops for his positions on the death penalty, immigration and refugee policy, social welfare programs, housing policy, and other issues. At the same time, the president has been praised by bishops and other Catholic leaders for policies that restricted abortion funding, and addressed religious liberty and conscience protections.

Trump has also been criticized by some Christian leaders for incidents they said instrumentalized religious faith, especially a controversial June appearance outside of a Washington, DC church, at which the president displayed a Bible while posing for photographs at the height of protests immediately following the death of George Floyd.

The Trump campaign has made a push in recent weeks for religious voters, after polling showed the president’s favorability declining among some religious voters. Among white Catholics, a crucial voting block for Trump in 2016, support dropped by almost half between March and June. Polling has shown that Catholics who say they attend Mass regularly are more likely to support Trump’s reelection than those who do not.

In addition to his statement on faith, Biden also made efforts on Twitter Thursday night to walk back controversial comments he’d made earlier in the day on race.

In an interview, Biden had told journalists that “what you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things." His tweets Thursday night said that “in no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith -- not by identity, not on issues, not at all."

A campaign adviser told CNN that Biden was “referring to diversity of attitudes among Latinos from different Latin American countries," on some issues, including immigration policy.

SSPX accused of intimidating would-be whistleblowers amid abuse investigation

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- After an official with the Society of St. Pius X told priests and staff they should speak with criminal investigators only in the presence of an attorney provided by the group, the group’s leaders say their message was not intended to suggest anyone should cover up alleged sex abuse.

The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) is a breakaway traditionalist group of priests and bishops with no official canonical status in the Church.

Rev. Scott Gardner, bursar of the U.S. district of the SSPX, told staff and priests at St. Mary’s SSPX chapel and school in Kansas last weekend that they did not have to cooperate with state investigators of alleged child sex abuse.

He added that employees and priest should speak to police only in the presence of a lawyer, who would be provided by the organization.

Some former members of the organization said the message, sent by email, seemed designed to silence witnesses or whistleblowers of abuse.

“It looks like they’re trying to hide things, trying to keep people from speaking and definitely stonewalling,” Kyle White, who has alleged that priests in the organization covered up reports of sexual abuse, told the Kansas City Star Aug. 4.

“They don’t want any more stuff like this getting out,” White added.

Gardner said when he emailed priests and staff, he was simply informing them that they did not have to speak to investigators without a lawyer present.
 
“It was certainly not an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation with the KBI,” Gardner said in an Aug. 5 statement.

“This email was clearly sent to priests and employees and not to people attending our church or school in St Mary’s or elsewhere,” the priest said, adding that it was not “an attempt to intimidate anyone or to discourage cooperation” with investigators.

The SSPX is under investigation in the state of Kansas for alleged sex abuse, along with the four Catholic dioceses.

The group was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. When Lefebvre and Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer consecrated four bishops without the permission of St. John Paul II in 1988, the bishops involved were excommunicated.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications of the surviving bishops, while noting that “doctrinal questions obviously remain and until they are clarified the Society has no canonical status in the Church and its ministers cannot legitimately exercise any ministry.”

The group has been in intermittent talks with the Vatican about returning to full communion with the Church. In 2015, Pope Francis extended the faculty to hear confession to priests of the society as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In the group’s U.S. district, however, a number of abuse allegations have surfaced in relation to the large SSPX community at St. Mary’s, Kansas, which includes the society’s K-12 school, as have several allegations that priests engaged in cover-ups of abuse by priests or attendees of SSPX chapels.
 
In 2019, the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) announced it would investigate clerical sexual misconduct in four Catholic dioceses in the state; the investigation was subsequently expanded to include the SSPX.

In May, a spokesperson for the KBI told CNA the investigation is “ongoing” and that as of February 1, the bureau had 186 reports of abuse and had opened 112 investigations. KBI did not say how many of the investigations pertained to the SSPX.
 
In addition to the Kansas City Star, the weekend email from Gardner was reported on the Church Militant website. Gardner’s statement said of that report that “Church Militant has once again tried to wring fake news out of an internal email by falsifying the context.”

Gardner’s statement did not address the Kansas City Star, or indicate whether he perceived that newspaper as well to be reporting “fake news.”

The priest did say that the SSPX is “making any priest, employee, or agent” available to the KBI “without the need for a subpoena.”
 
Gardner said in his correspondence that he has “no indication that the KBI has been intimidating” anyone, but added that “our legal system is adversarial” and thus it is “common sense for the Society to protect itself and its priests and employees by having its attorney present at an interview with law enforcement.”

“I hope that anyone with evidence of abuse will go freely to the KBI or other appropriate authorities,” he said.
 
KBI has said that it is accepting reports of abuse by phone at 1-800-KS-CRIME, or by email. [email protected]

Nicaraguan cardinal says Mass at entrance of firebombed cathedral chapel

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes Solorzano of Managua said Mass Wednesday at the entrance of the Blood of Christ chapel in his cathedral, which was firebombed last week.

"The Church has always suffered and will continue to suffer, but our assurance is that the Lord is with us,” Cardinal Brenes said during the Aug. 5 Mass.

He called the July 31 firebombing "an act of terrorism."

Anti-government protests in Nicaragua began in April 2018. They have resulted in more than 320 deaths. The government has accused many bishops and priests of siding with the opposition.

A small group of priests and religious participated in the Aug. 5 Mass. Behind the cardinal could be seen the large image of Christ crucified that was scorched by the attack. During the Mass, the cardinal showed the face of Christ, which had broken away from the corpus during the fire.

The Archbishop of Managua said there is "an atmosphere of sadness and pain...because what we feel from this nightmare is: When are we going to wake up?" He urged clinging to "the cross, because if we are clinging to his cross, who can separate us from the love of God?”

Cardinal Brenes said that looking at the image of Christ crucified, "we see our Blood of Christ charred, but still standing."

“The image and the cross resisted the forces of the flames as a testimony to us that the cross is not so easily defeated, the cross is not so easily destroyed. That is why today I call on you to cling to the cross, at the foot of the cross like Mary and that small group that accompanied him," the cardinal said.

The Blood of Christ chapel of Managua’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral has been home to a crucifix made in the 17th century.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chair of the US bishops’ international justice and peace committee, said Aug. 5 that the crucifix “has become a poignant image of the country’s suffering Church, which has sustained repeated rhetorical and physical attacks (three in the last three weeks) since attempting to mediate peace in 2018.”

He added that “The Church in the United States stands with the suffering Nicaraguan faithful, and with all people of goodwill striving for peace and reconciliation in Nicaragua.”

Msgr. Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Managua, said Aug. 4 that "the only threats we have gotten have been from the government, they’ve been publicly speaking out against the bishops, calling them  'terrorists' trying to overthrow the president, and they’ve been criticizing the Church."

"We condemn both nationally and internationally the irrational actions of the government through its violent repression and not accepting the humanitarian aid which the Church has offered,” he added.

The vicar general said that there is "an undeclared persecution, an open persecution against the Church.”

The identity of the man who perpetrated the attack on the chapel is unknown; he wore a hood while in the cathedral.

Several churches or chapels in Nicaragua have been vandalized in recent weeks.

On July 29, Our Lady of Perpetual Help chapel in Nindirí, about 13 miles southeast of Managua,was attacked. The perpetrators stole the tabernacle and the ciborium, smashed statues, and trampled the Hosts.

There was an attack on Our Lord of Veracruz parish in Masaya district, fewer than 20 miles southeast of Managua, July 25. The chapel was desecrated, and audio equipment and money boxes were stolen.

Nicaragua’s crisis began in 2018 after president Daniel Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega’s authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

The Nicaraguan clergy have not hesitated to call out the government for its violent repression of protests and for human rights abuses, making the Church an adversary in the eyes of the government.

On various occasions both bishops and priests have been physically assailed by pro-government supporters, and other acts of vandalism and intimidation have occurred.

Managua’s cathedral was also the site of a hunger strike in November 2019. The hunger strikers were calling for the release of their relatives, whom they believe to be political prisoners. Pro-government forces besieged the cathedral in response.

Cardinal Pell to speak at virtual Napa Institute conference

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).-  

The Napa Institute has announced an online schedule for its annual conference in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The program includes remarks from Australian Cardinal George Pell. The conference schedule was announced along with an award for Bishop Joseph Strickland, which the organization said it conferred for his defense of moral truth.
 
The conference, the tenth annual session of the event, was originally planned to take place in July in Napa, California. This year it is being convened under the title “Finding Hope in the New America.” Organizers said that although the event could not take place in-person, the schedule would not be “slimmed-down” but instead would feature an expanded speaker list.
 
John Meyer, executive director of the Napa Institute said that as recently as early July, there was “every intention of holding an in-person conference,” but that “things progressed, the lockdown increased in California, and literally overnight we came to a place where we could no longer hold it.”
 
The conference will take place August 14-15. Live streamed sessions will be held with speakers including Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, and author Arthur Brooks.
 
One of the key speakers at this year’s event will be Cardinal George Pell, who will speak on his experience of suffering during the 13 months he spent in an Australian prison before being released earlier this year.
 
The two-day event will also include live web broadcast of Mass and prayer sessions, including sung evening prayer with the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of God.

This year’s schedule also included the announcement of a special award, presented to Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

Bishop Strickland was announced as the recipient of “The St. Thomas Aquinas Award for the Defense of Moral Truth,” presented by the Napa Institute “in recognition of [his] indomitable defense and preservation of Christ’s teachings through Natural Law and for enlightening the reason and faith of generations to come so that they may boldly go forth and proclaim the Gospel with courage and fortitude.”

In addition to leading the Diocese of Tyler since 2012, Strickland is also the founder of the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the diocese.

In a release from the institute following the announcement of the award, Strickland referenced an article he wrote on the occasion of his consecration as a bishop.

Strickland recalled that during the liturgy of his consecration he was asked if he was “resolved to maintain the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the apostles and professed by the Church everywhere and at all times?”

“It was at this point that the deeper meaning of the phrase “deposit of faith” came alive for me. I also began to understand my role in magisterial teaching and my serious call, as a successor of the Apostles, to the ongoing task of “Guarding the Deposit of Faith” given by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to the Apostles and handed down since then,” Strickland wrote.

This, together with his obligation to faithfully preach the Gospel, “continues to guide me in my role as the chief teacher and Shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Diocese of Tyler.”

Maryland county issues second order to stop Catholic schools opening

Washington D.C., Aug 6, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- A Maryland county has issued a second order preventing non-public schools from reopening for in-person instruction, despite a previous effort being immediately overridden by Gov. Larry Hogan. 

“Reemphasizing the need to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents as well as parents, students, teachers and staff from the spread of COVID-19, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles today issued a new Health Officer Directive and Order that continued to direct nonpublic schools in Montgomery County to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1, 2020,” said a release from Montgomery County published on August 5.

Montgomery county is the state’s most populous county and borders Washington, D.C. A previous Health Officer Directive and Order was published on the evening of Friday, July 31, and countermanded by the governor on Monday, August 3. 

On Monday, Hogan called the initial attempt to prevent all non-public schools from opening “overly broad and inconsistent with the powers delegated to the county health officer.”

Unlike the first order, Wednesday’s new order does not include a penalty of a $5,000 or a year in jail for violators and “explicitly excludes programs licensed or regulated by the Maryland Office of Childcare from the definition of nonpublic schools.” This means that private preschools and daycares, where children may engage in education-related activities, are permitted to operate in person while K-12 schools are not.

The order states that “there continues to be widespread community transmission of COVID-19 and increases in the daily caseload volumes within Montgomery County, the State of Maryland as a whole, and the surrounding jurisdictions,” meaning that non-public schools need to remain closed. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland will have a preliminary injunction hearing on August 14 to potentially block the order and allow schools to open. 

A federal lawsuit, known as Beahn v. Gayles, was filed by four Catholic school families and two Jewish day school families from Montgomery County challenging the original order. Two Catholic schools are also listed as parties in the suit. One of the families in the suit transferred to a Catholic school in response to the announcement that Montgomery County Public Schools would have an online-only first semester. 

Montgomery County has a positivity rate of 2.52%, which has been decreasing since the middle of May. The statewide positivity rate is 4.03%. Epidemiologists, including Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, gave a benchmark of 5% positivity rate for mandating distance learning. 

“Based on CDC best practices for the reopening of schools, County health officials will continue to monitor the epidemiological surveillance data and that will guide the decision as to when it is safe to reopen nonpublic and public schools,” says the release from the county. 

The Centers for Disease Control stated that schools should move to reopen as children are unlikely to be severely impacted by the coronavirus, and that there are significant detrimental effects associated with ongoing social isolation. 

Until the middle of July, Montgomery County Public Schools were set to re-open with a hybrid model of distance and in-person learning. That plan was scrapped after teachers unions in Maryland argued that it would not be safe for teachers to teach in-person. 

Montgomery County Public Schools announced in late July that the entire fall semester would be online-only. Starting February 1, in-person classes will resume. No governmental order was ever given to the county’s public schools forbidding in-person school.

Many non-public schools in Montgomery County had elected on their own to use a virtual or hybrid model in the fall. Others had begun to implement new safety measures for in-person learning. 

In Monday’s statement nullifying the original order closing non-public schools, Gov. Hogan reiterated that “Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics,” and that any school who is capable of following the state and CDC’s safety guidelines should be permitted to reopen. 

The governor’s intervention followed claims on social media by Montgomery County residents that the decision to force non-public schools to close may have been linked to a large drop in the number of new students who enrolled in Montgomery County’s public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The county expected approximately 2,500 new students enrolled in grades K-12 for the fall; instead, only 300 new students enrolled. 

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes Montgomery County, told CNA on Thursday that the archdiocese is reviewing the latest announcements by the county.

Responding to the initial order last week, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement Sunday that the archdiocese “continues to have the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty, and parents uppermost in mind and heart as we make our decisions regarding the reopening of our Catholic schools.” 

“We will continue to strive to be both good citizens as well as to be faithful to our religious principles, pastoral mission and our obligations to our families,” Gregory said. 

Knights of Columbus to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced a new initiative Thursday to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria, where at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades.

Since 2014, the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization has spent more than $25 million on behalf of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities targeted for elimination in the Middle East, the organization says, which includes the rebuilding of the majority-Christian town of Karemlesh on the Nineveh Plain.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims.

Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamic extremist groups.

“The effort is similar to what we have done in Iraq and is based in the hope that greater attention by American diplomacy and humanitarian aid can make a difference there,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in an Aug. 6 announcement of the new initiative.

Multiple Nigerian Catholics have told CNA in recent days that attacks on Christians by Fulani Muslim herders, as well as by the militant group Boko Haram, have not slowed in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The worst of the persecution, in the north, comes at the hands of Muslim terrorists against the majority-Christian population, CNA has been told.

Such incidents include attacks in late July on four Christian villages in Southern Kaduna, in which more than 62 Christians were killed by Islamic terrorists. Last month, an Islamic extremist group boasted of killing five international aid workers, three of whom were known employees of Christian aid agencies.

In other areas, many Christians, especially clergy, suffer kidnappings at the hands of terrorists seeking ransom. In many cases, for kidnapped priests, their parishioners band together to raise the ransom money.

In a high-profile case from earlier this year, gunmen abducted four seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, holding them for random. The kidnappers eventually released three of the seminarians, but killed 18-year-old Michael Nnadi after he refused to renounce his faith.

Fr. Charles Uganwa, communications director of the south-central Issele-Uku diocese, said six priests of the diocese have been kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen in the past two years. The most recent priest kidnapping took place in June.

“He was released after about four days in captivity. He was so injured. He was beaten with clubs and with stones, with the butt of their gun. He was seriously injured. He had to be in the hospital for many weeks,” Uganwa told CNA.

Father Joseph Fidelis, a priest of the northeastern diocese of Maidugui, told CNA this week that he estimates that since 2009, Boko Haram has driven out half of the 300,000 Catholics who used to live in the diocese. Though Catholics there still celebrate Mass openly, they have to take stringent security measures against suicide bombers.

“Boko Haram is still very active, not in the city so much [as] in the outskirts...They still do the kidnapping, they still do the bombing. They still set mines on the road,” Fidelis said.

The problem of internally displaced people (IDP), mostly Christians who have been driven from their homes, is especially acute in the north, where thousands of the destitute live in refugee camps.

“Around here, around Maiduguri, over 1.2 million are displaced. About 1.4 million, and the number keeps rising on a daily basis. [In] the entire country, you have over 2.4 million people internally displaced. Now that's quite huge,” Fidelis said.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

“The most important issue is that unfortunately, the government in Nigeria does not show enough will, either in speech or in action, to help to curb the violence and the bloodshed that we see, either from the terrorists or from bandits or from a headsman, because we have so many sorts of groups running riots all over the Northeast of Nigeria,” Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the southern diocese of Oyo told CNA.

Bishop Badejo said although his diocese is more peaceful than some in the north, with Muslims and Christians largely co-existing peacefully, there are some means of persecution that are more systemic and subtle, with government appointments and written laws seeming to favor Islam over Christianity.

“It's no secret that in Nigeria, especially with the [President Muhammadu] Buhari government, there are all written laws that have not favored Christians at all, that have favored, in other words, the Muslims,” Badejo said.

“The Christian Churches have protested, Christian leaders have protested, but the federal government has not said any word in order to show any desire to protect the Christian religion.”

The Knights hope to raise greater awareness of Nigerian Christians’ plight by means of their new initiative.

In addition to financial aid, the Knights of Columbus have in the past advocated for persecuted Christians before the U.S. government, sending researchers to Iraq in 2016 to compile a 300-page report on the crimes of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) against Christians in the country.

Anderson has also testified multiple times before Congress, urging action to protect the Middle East’s Christians from potential extinction.

Later that year, both houses of Congress unanimously passed resolutions declaring ISIS’ targeting of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East to be a genocide.

Christianity had been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between the city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and Iraqi Kurdistan– since the first century. ISIS’ brutal invasion six years ago displaced at least 125,000 Christians from the area, and to date only about 40,000 have been able to return.

The Knights have worked closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to ensure funds reach persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The Knights are in the midst of their 138th annual convention, which this year is being held virtually for the first time, due to restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Founded in New Haven in 1882, the Knights of Columbus was originally intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands. It has grown into a worldwide Catholic fraternal order, with more than 2 million members carrying out works of charity and evangelization across the globe. The Knights also offer life insurance policies to their members.

The convention comes a few months after the Vatican announced that Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be beatified following Pope Francis’ approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession.

 

US government considers ethics of aborted tissue research

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- A new federal ethics advisory board for fetal tissue research has convened to consider future federally-funded research proposals that involve tissue from aborted babies.

The Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) met for the first time on July 31, to advise the Health Secretary on the ethics of research proposals involving fetal tissue of aborted babies.

The board was first announced in June of 2019, when the Trump administration decided to halt new research with aborted fetal tissue at NIH facilities, and limited funding of such research conducted outside the NIH.

For the research conducted outside the NIH, or “extramural” research, the administration announced that an ethics advisory board would be appointed to consider such funding and advise the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the proposals.

Some researchers have called for the administration to end its moratorium, saying that research with aborted fetal tissue could be vital to developing treatments and a cure for the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

In February, the HHS announced that it would begin accepting nominations to the board, and during that time period, some researchers at an NIH research laboratory told the Washington Post that the administration’s moratorium on fetal tissue research was hindering possible advances in research on treatments for the coronavirus.

Dr. David Prentice, now a member of the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board, told CNA in March that the timing of the comments was peculiar as it could have been related to the consideration of appointments to the board.

Several leading coronavirus vaccine candidates are using cell lines from aborted babies, including some funded by the U.S.; other candidates have been determined to be “ethically uncontroversial” by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.

One candidate in particular—being developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—is not using fetal cell lines directly in production, but is based on research that involved aborted fetal cell lines. As Moderna was not involved in that research, CLI said that the vaccine candidate is “ethically uncontroversial.”

The NIH ethics board members are appointed for a duration that lasts as long as the board is convened; the board’s charter says that “[t]he estimated annual person-years of staff support required is 0.7.” Appointments to the board are made by the HHS secretary.

Heading the advisory board is Paige Cunningham, interim president of Taylor University, an evangelical Christian university in Indiana.

Several Catholic bioethicists are on the board, including Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. The co-chair of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) ethics committee, Greg Burke, is a member, along with CMA member Dr. Ashley Fernandes of the Ohio State University medical school.

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) is also represented on the board, with CLI vice president Dr. David Prentice and associate scholars Ingrid Skop and Maureen Condic as members.

Some board members, such as Dr. Lawrence Goldstein of the University of California San Diego, support fetal tissue research; he called cell lines from fetal tissue “critical in vaccine development,” along with stem cell research and the use of “humanized mice” to develop “immune cell-forming tissues.”

Two members testified in 2016 before the House select investigative panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee, in a hearing on “bioethics and fetal tissue.”

Cunningham said at the hearing that “[t]he fetus is a human subject entitled to the protections that both traditional and modern codes of medical ethics provide to human subjects.”

Kevin Donovan, MD, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, also testified, noting the current “moral ambiguity” in the nation’s discourse on abortion.

“We have decided that we can legally abort the same fetus that might otherwise be a candidate for fetal surgery, even using the same indications as justification for acts that are diametrically opposed,” he said. “We call it the fetus if it is to be aborted and its tissues and organs transferred to a scientific lab. We call it a baby, even at the same stage of gestation, when someone plans to keep it and bring it into their home.”

“If we cannot act with moral certainty regarding the appropriate respect and dignity of the fetus, we cannot morally justify its destruction,” he said.

During the public portion of the July 31 meeting, board members were introduced and then heard from several researchers who were either in support of or in opposition to research using fetal tissue from elective abortions.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitatis Personae addressed the topic of aborted fetal tissue research, saying that “there is a duty to refuse to use such ‘biological material’ even when there is no close connection between the researcher and the actions of those who performed the artificial fertilization or the abortion, or when there was no prior agreement with the centers in which the artificial fertilization took place.”

“This duty springs from the necessity to remove oneself, within the area of one’s own research, from a gravely unjust legal situation and to affirm with clarity the value of human life,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document stated.

Atomic bombs contrary to peace: Pope Francis 75 years after Hiroshima attack

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2020 / 10:04 am (CNA).- Nuclear weapons are not compatible with the flourishing of peace, Pope Francis said in a letter to Hiroshima to mark the 75th anniversary of the release of an atomic bomb over the city.

“It has never been clearer that, for peace to flourish, all people need to lay down the weapons of war, and especially the most powerful and destructive of weapons: nuclear arms that can cripple and destroy whole cities, whole countries,” Pope Francis said in a letter to the governor of Hiroshima, Hidehiko Yuzaki.

The year 2020 marks 75 years since the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese.

Pope Francis visited the hypocenters of the bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima during his apostolic visit to Japan in November 2019.

He said his visit to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial and to Hypocenter Park in Nagasaki allowed him to reflect “on the destruction of human life and property wrought in these two cities during those terrible days of war three quarters of a century ago.”

“Just as I came to Japan as a pilgrim of peace last year, so I continue to hold in my heart the longing of the peoples of our time, especially of young people, who thirst for peace and make sacrifices for peace,” the pope said.

“I carry too the cry of the poor, who are always among the first victims of violence and conflict,” he added.

In his letter, Francis repeated his words in Nagasaki in 2019, that “the use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral.”

“May the prophetic voices of the hibakusha survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continue to serve as a warning to us and for coming generations!” he said.

“To them, and to all who work for reconciliation, we make the words of the psalmist our own: ‘For love of my brethren and friends, I say: Peace upon you!.’”

Pope Francis has several times condemned the use of nuclear weapons, including in a video message to Japan ahead of his 2019 visit.

Calling use of the weapons “immoral,” he said he was praying they will never be used again.

Japan “is very aware of the suffering caused by war,” the pope said. “Together with you, I pray that the destructive power of nuclear weapons will never be unleashed again in human history. Using nuclear weapons is immoral.”

Congressman writes to DOJ after attacks on Catholic churches

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic congressman is asking the U.S. Attorney General to respond to a spate of acts of vandalism against churches around the country.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) urged the Justice Department “to protect religious freedom and combat religious discrimination in the United States.”

Fleischmann cited “nearly a dozen” acts of vandalism at Catholic churches in the U.S. as the impetus for his letter.

“There is something to be said about how the rise in vandalism happening in places of worship could correspond with a rise of hostility towards religion,” the congressman told CNA in a statement on Wednesday. “We must be vocal in condemning any act of vandalism to any house of worship, for any religion.”

“These are sacred places, which is why I asked the DOJ to continue to protect religious freedom and combat these instances of religious discrimination,” the congressman said.

“Since June, there have been nearly a dozen reported attacks on Catholic churches around the nation. These disturbing attacks range from arson to the beheading of a statue of the Virgin Mary,” said Fleischman in his letter.

“I find these attacks to be a disturbing trend, happening in multiple areas across the nation, including within my own congressional district.”

“In times of uncertainty we naturally turn to religion for comfort and peace,” the congressman wrote, “something many Americans are seeking as we combat COVID-19, but these attacks add another level of distress for many across our nation.

Quoting a speech by Barr at the University of Notre Dame last year, Fleischmann agreed with the attorney general that “We must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith.”

There has been a series of attacks on Catholic churches and statues this summer.

Most recently, local police have been investigating two fires at Sacred Heart Church in Weymouth, Massachusetts that occurred over the weekend, as arson. In July, Queen of Peace church in Ocala, Florida was set on fire and a man has been charged with arson. In Los Angeles, Mission San Gabriel Arcángel church suffered a fire in the predawn hours of July 11.

Other Catholic statues and memorials have been vandalized, including a monument to unborn children at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Bloomingburg, New York, a crucifix at St. Bernadette Parish in Rockford, Illinois, a statue of Christ at a Montana ski resort, and a statue of Mary in Gary, Indiana.

Demonstrators also pulled a statue of St. Junipero Serra in Sacramento, California, and beat it with sledgehammers on July 3; in San Francisco, protesters pulled down another statue of St. Junipero Serra.

As state and local governments have imposed various restrictions on businesses, assemblies, and churches during the pandemic, officials at the Justice Department have repeatedly stated that churches and religious gatherings cannot be singled out for greater restrictions than those imposed on similar institutions.

Attorney General Barr, in an April 14 statement, said that the constitution allows for a temporary suspension of freedoms during an extraordinary circumstance when the public safety requires it, but that freedom of religion cannot be treated more severely than other freedoms of assembly.

In cases “when the community as a whole faces an impending harm of this magnitude, and where the measures are tailored to meeting the imminent danger, the constitution does allow some temporary restriction on our liberties that would not be tolerated in normal circumstances,” Barr said.

He added that “government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity that do not also apply to similar nonreligious activity. For example, if a government allows movie theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other comparable places of assembly to remain open and unrestricted, it may not order houses of worship to close, limit their congregation size, or otherwise impede religious gatherings.”

Later in the summer, when New York City allowed mass protests against racism in spite of its restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings, Justice Department officials wrote Mayor Bill de Blasio reminding him that he could not enforce a double standard for churches and protests.

Fleischmann, in his August 5 letter to Barr, said that religion is a source of “comfort and peace” during troubled times, “but these attacks add another level of distress for many across our nation.”