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Posted on 10/27/2020 03:01 AM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso has called for prayer and a small capacity of attendees at Mass, as a coronavirus case surge in the area has overwhelmed local hospitals.
“Our entire community ought to be very concerned about the unprecedented number of positive cases that were reported today. Clearly this virus, which is a mortal threat to many, is spreading unchecked at this time,” Seitz said in a video statement Oct. 22.
According to the AP, El Paso County health officials reported that as of Oct. 25 the county had 772 new coronavirus cases, one day after 1,216 new cases were reported. El Paso county now comprises 20% of the total new coronavirus cases in Texas.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said Oct. 25 that area hospitals had been “stretched to capacity” and issued a stay at home order for El Paso residents, with a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Overwhelmed local hospitals have reported sending overflow patients to San Antonio area hospitals, and the governor has authorized the city’s civic center to be used for at least 50 additional hospital beds.
Seitz noted in his statement that, according to health officials, the main sources of the spread of the coronavirus have been stores and restaurants.
“If any good news came out of the mayor’s press conference today, it is that no cases are known to have originated in any of our Catholic churches,” Seitz said. “We believe our limits to the capacity that may gather in churches, plus the careful safety protocols that are in place will continue to ensure that people can be present for Mass without serious risk.” However, he noted, those who have chronic illnesses or are older and therefore in higher risk categories should “refrain at this time from attending.” The bishop also recommended that pastors consider lowering the capacity of people they allow in their churches from 25% to 15% “if they choose, given the circumstances of their particular church.”
“I urge you to continue to pray for our entire community and especially for those who are ill at this time, and for our leaders. You are in my prayers as well. United in love for one another, we will come through these difficult times. God bless you,” Seitz concluded.
As the U.S. economy slowly reopened this summer, public Masses also resumed in most dioceses, following weeks to months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. Masses reopened with limited capacity and social distancing among other safety protocols, though nearly all dioceses have maintained the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.
Bishops have grappled with the ever-changing status of coronavirus outbreaks, as the fall months have brought about spikes in cases in states such as Texas, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana.
Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay had initially lifted the dispensation from Sunday Mass attendance the weekend of Sept. 19-20, only to reinstate it two weeks later after cases spiked in the area.
On Oct. 19, the five bishops of Indiana announced that they were extending the dispensation from Sunday Mass until further notice. “While commending our pastors and pastoral life coordinators who have gone to great lengths to assure safe worship spaces in our churches, given the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in our state, the Indiana bishops hereby extend the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation beyond Nov.1, 2020, until further notice,” the bishops stated. “The Indiana bishops will continue to monitor the situation to determine when it might be advisable to modify or lift the dispensation,” they added.
Deacon Rob Lanciotti is a permanent deacon in Colorado who holds a doctoral degree in Microbiology. He was employed as a virologist for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for 29 years.
In an Oct. 16 column for the Denver Catholic, Lanciotti said he encouraged Catholics in low-risk coronavirus categories to continue attending Mass, as it has shown to be a relatively safe activity, particularly given the safety protocols that most churches have put in place.
“Back in June as we began returning to Mass, I wrote from my perspective as a virologist with experience in public health that attending Mass for most people was a relatively low risk event.
The past several months have convinced me that this is still the case,” he wrote.
“Overall, the public health response and the media focus has been disproportionate to the threat,” he added. “Catholics should focus on the facts and not be manipulated by the press.”
Lanciotti noted that tests of the rate of infection, done in ten U.S. cities, have shown a low infection rate of 5%, with the exception of New York City at 20%.
Furthermore, he said, “there is a clear age and health relationship between COVID-19 infection and serious outcomes. Coronavirus infection is significantly less serious than annual flu for those in the 0-24 age category, about the same as annual flu for the 25-45 category, more serious than flu for those in the 45-64, and significantly more serious in those over 65; especially with pre-existing health conditions.”
People in lower risk categories, such as young people in good health, should therefore still feel safe attending Mass, he said.
Individuals and families, rather than the government, should be the ones trusted to make decisions about whether to attend church or other activities, he added, following the principle of subsidiarity, which “teaches us that those closest to the situation under consideration are best suited to make correct decisions.”
“For example, a healthy couple with young children should approach returning to Mass differently than an elderly couple with pre-existing health conditions, because the risk is objectively different for the two categories,” Lanciotti wrote.
However, he added, their risk assessment should also take into consideration their potential to infect higher risk populations.
“I can attest from my 30 years of experience in public health that government and public health officials detest subsidiarity, because they believe that it is their role to inform and guide your decisions. Unfortunately, they are unable to assess every situation and therefore generally overreact.”
“Without hesitation, I can say that for the majority of individuals, attending Mass at this time is a low-risk endeavor. Finally, as should be obvious to us, Mass attendance is of paramount importance for our salvation and therefore we should do all we reasonably can to participate in this great liturgy!”
Posted on 10/27/2020 02:26 AM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 06:26 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is helping Catholic students and their families celebrate Día de los Muertos amid the pandemic this year, with online videos and craft kids for Catholic students.
Instead of the usual in-person cultural events, the archdiocese’s Office of Religious Education and Catholic Cemeteries & Mortuaries will offer pandemic-friendly initiatives to help school children and their families learn about Día de los Muertos.
Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” is a primarily Mexican way of celebrating the feasts of All Souls Day and All Saints Day.
The celebration is an expression of Latin American culture and Catholic beliefs, which makes use of some familiar symbols to teach and celebrate the Church’s teaching on the communion of the saints and the souls in purgatory.
Annual celebrations typically involve skeletal costumes and face makeup, parades and processions, as well as traditional foods such as “pan de muerte” (bread of the dead) and sugar skulls (calaveras).
Over the past 6 years, the archdiocese has hosted special catechetical programs for local Catholic school students on this day. Normally, about 15 local Catholic schools send over 350 third-grade students to Calvary Cemetery & Mortuary in East Los Angeles to learn more about the celebration.
Plans for this year are different, due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Oct. 26, Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries provided 12 local Catholic schools with special Día de los Muertos crafts kits, containing materials for students to create art projects teaching them about the day.
Day of the Dead celebrations traditionally include sugar skulls, picture frames, and paper flowers to decorate shrines for deceased relatives.
This year, the archdiocese will also offer a series of education videos online, so students can learn about the meaning and history of Día de los Muertos with their families. The video will cover topics including the final resurrection, treatment of the dead, and the faith and cultural traditions associated with the Day of the Dead.
“The videos will guide students on creating a sacred space, or altar, in their home to pray and remember family and friends who have passed,” the archdiocese said in an Oct. 26 statement.
Among the schools participating this year will be Our Lady of Guadalupe in East LA, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Rose Hill, Our Lady of Miraculous Medal in Montebello, and Sacred Heart in Lincoln Heights.
Last year, Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Alex Aclan told CNA that the day is a powerful reminder about the communion of saints and a way to help parishioners remember their dead loved ones.
“For Mexicans to celebrate Dia de los Muertos, my experience is the remembering of the dead is really the most important part of it. Making sure that the dead are remembered, that their deceased are remembered, and that we really are one with them even though they're on the other side and we're still here,” the bishop said.
“And that's basically our teaching on the communion of saints. The different parts of the Church: the ones in Heaven, the ones that are still on their way trying to find their way to the gates of Heaven, and us here on Earth, and we are still together as one. We are still one Church.”
Posted on 10/27/2020 02:08 AM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 26, 2020 / 06:08 pm (CNA).- This story has been updated.
The Senate on Monday voted to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice in a White House ceremony shortly after the vote Monday evening.
The 52-48 vote, which fell largely along party lines, came shortly before 8pm Monday evening and after a rare Sunday session day for the chamber in which senators voted to clear the way for Barrett’s confirmation vote on Oct. 26.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins joined Democrats in opposing Barrett’s confirmation. Following the vote, a formal resolution of confirmation is sent to the White House for President Trump’s signature.
Justice Clarence Thomas administered the official Constitutional Oath to Barrett at the White House on Monday night.
Barrett will be the sixth practicing Catholic justice at the Supreme court, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Brett Kavanaugh. In addition, Barrett will join Sotomayor as the only two Catholic female Supreme Court Justices in U.S. history.
Born in New Orleans, Barrett attended the University of Notre Dame Law School before clerking for D.C. Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She then entered private practice, returned to Notre Dame Law School to teach classes in 2002, and became a professor in 2010.
Barrett is a Catholic mother of seven children, including two adopted from Haiti. She is a member of the ecumenical charismatic group People of Praise, and her membership in the group was the subject of some scrutiny in the press during her confirmation process. Some have called the group a “cult” and criticized its former practice of referring to husbands and wives as “heads” and “handmaidens,” both Scriptural references.
However, Bishop Peter Smith, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland, is a member of a group of priests associated with People of Praise. He explained to CNA that the group was one of many lay charismatic movements that emerged in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, and presented an opportunity for Catholic families to live their faith more intentionally.
In 2017, Barrett was nominated to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and faced hostile questions from senators concerning the influence her Catholic beliefs might exert on her judicial reasoning.
During Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned Barrett on her personal faith and values, saying that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”
Barrett in 1998 co-authored an article with law professor John Garvey on the possibility of Catholic judges recusing themselves in capital cases, due to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.
In 2017 and again in 2020, Democratic senators brought up the article. Barrett said in her 2017 written responses that “I cannot think of any cases or category of cases, including capital cases, in which I would feel obliged to recuse on grounds of conscience if confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit.”
Barrett also told committee chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that her faith would not influence her rulings on the Court.
During Barrett’s confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee largely stayed away from references to her faith, instead asking her to opine on existing Supreme Court rulings including those that legalized contraception and abortion.
Barrett clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia and has previously spoken of his influence on her judicial philosophy. Notre Dame law professor Paolo Carozza told CNA that Barrett’s legal philosophy is one of “judicial restraint.”
However, Barrett repeatedly told senators during her confirmation hearing that while she clerked for Scalia and shared his judicial philosophy, she was not the same person as the late justice and would rule on cases based on how she saw fit.
Barrett did consider multiple abortion cases while on the Seventh Circuit.
She joined the court’s majority in upholding Chicago’s eight-foot “buffer zone” rule that prohibited pro-life sidewalk counselors from approaching within eight feet of an abortion facility. The majority opinion cited the “binding” Supreme Court ruling in Hill v. Colorado, another “buffer zone” case.
The group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to Pittsburgh’s 15-foot “buffer zone” rule; the Court has yet to accept or refuse the case of Nikki Bruni and other pro-life sidewalk counselors.
Barrett will join the Court a week before oral arguments are scheduled in a key religious freedom case, Fulton v. Philadelphia; the case could decide other court battles where local governments have required faith-based adoption agencies to match children with same-sex couples
The Catholic Social Services (CSS) of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia saw its contract for foster care placements halted by the city of Philadelphia in 2018 because of its faith-based stance on marriage.
The city had told Catholic Social Services and Bethany Christian, another group providing foster care placements, that they had to work with same-sex couples on foster care placements in order to continue their contracts. While Bethany Christian maintained its organizational support of traditional marriage, it agreed to work with same-sex couples on foster care placement; Catholic Social Services would not, and has had no new placements through the city.
Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have fostered more than 40 children and who partnered with Catholic Social Services, brought the case against the city that is currently before the Supreme Court.
Posted on 10/27/2020 01:06 AM (CNA Daily News)
Denver, Colo., Oct 26, 2020 / 05:06 pm (CNA).-
Coloradans are preparing for a ballot referendum that would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy in the state. While abortion advocates argue that such abortions are “extremely rare,” statistics recorded by a longtime Colorado abortionist shed light on the late term abortions performed at one Boulder clinic.
The data reveals hundreds of late-term abortions performed over a 20-year period on babies with fetal abnormalities such as Down syndrome.
Warren Hern, an abortionist who has been active in Boulder, Colorado since 1975, released a paper in 2014 which included many self-reported statistics about the abortions his clinic performed between 1992 and 2012.
The statistics show that Hern's clinic performed hundreds of abortions between 1992-2012 on women who were at or past 24 weeks pregnant, including several performed on women between 38 and 39 weeks gestation.
Nearly 240 of those late-term abortions were performed on babies with Down syndrome.
The self-reported statistics only cover abortions Hern performed for reasons of fetal abnormality, which in some years made up just 2.5% of the thousands of abortions he performed.
Colorado remains one of the only a handful of states that does not have some legislation on late-term abortion. As a result, abortions can take place in the state up until birth.
The Boulder Abortion Clinic is one of just a handful of clinics in the U.S. that publicly accept patients seeking late-term abortions from anywhere in the world.
Colorado voters are set to decide on Proposition 115 in November, which asks voters whether to ban abortion in the state after 22 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases where a mother’s life is threatened.
More than 150,000 Coloradans signed a petition to put Prop. 115 on the ballot, which has garnered bipartisan support.
A poll conducted in early October by 9 News / Colorado Politics found that among 1,021 registered likely voters, 42% of respondents said they are certain to vote yes on Prop. 115; 45% said no, while 13% are uncertain.
If the late-term abortion ban passes in November, it would mark the first time since 1967 that Colorado would impose voter-approved restrictions on abortion.
While some abortion supporters claim the phrase “late-term abortion” is “imprecise and misleading,” Hern uses the term “late abortion” throughout his paper.
Hern reports that between Jan. 4, 1992 and Oct. 31, 2012, just more than 1,000 women requested a “late abortion” for reasons of fetal disorder.
Abortion supporters frequently cite CDC data from 2016— data which excludes abortion hotspots like California, Illinois, New York state, and Washington DC— to argue that abortions after 21 weeks gestation make up only 1.2% of all abortions performed in the US and are thus “extremely rare.”
In Colorado, the percentage of abortions performed after 21 weeks is higher than the national average, at 3.3%— a figure higher than any other state in the CDC’s data except New Mexico.
The statistics do not account for the fact that women have traveled from other states to Boulder for decades to avail themselves of Hern’s late-term abortion services. At least 11% of all abortions performed in Colorado are on out-of-state residents, according to the CDC data.
Each year, about 200 to 300 babies are aborted after 21 weeks gestation in Colorado. Dilation and evacuation abortions are typically used in the second trimester of pregnancy, and result in the crushing of the head and eventual dismemberment of an unborn child.
The trend in Hern’s statistics suggest that the proportion of all patients seeking abortions because of fetal disorders increased over time from 2.5% to 30%.
Hern credited this increase to “gradual change in clinic policy to accept patients with more advanced gestations, more requests for late termination of pregnancy because of fewer options being available elsewhere, and advances in fetal diagnosis.”
“Genetic disorders”— as opposed to “structural anomalies”— were the most common disorders among the babies aborted, appearing in 40% of cases.
Of those cases, 63% of the genetic disorders were Trisomy 21, commonly known as Down syndrome. Hern reported 237 total abortions of babies with Down syndrome.
The most common “structural anomalies” reported were neural tube defects such as anencephaly and spina bifida; but some of the babies were aborted for reasons such as extra fingers or toes, cleft hands or lips, or because two twins were conjoined.
The median age of all 1,005 patients in Hern’s study was 32, and the median gestational age was 24 weeks, or five and a half months. He said many patients who request abortions after 30 weeks have had their fetus evaluated as “normal” around 18 to 20 weeks.
Patients seeking particular kinds of abortions at Hern’s clinic tended to request abortions, on average, around eight months into their pregnancies.
For example, some patients carrying twins requested an abortion for one of the twins—“selective termination”— usually because of a fetal abnormality.
Hern writes that in these cases, the abortions were generally done after 32 weeks— more than seven months— gestation to “permit optimum development and survival probability for the healthy twin.”
Patients seeking “selective termination” or “induced fetal demise”— an injection to kill the fetus before the abortion operation— tended to be in their mid-30s in age. Hern said these patients typically request abortions between 33 and 36 weeks— over eight months— gestation.
Several of his patients suffered major complications, including major unintended surgery, hemorrhage requiring transfusion, and pelvic infection, he reported.
A Nebraska couple filed a lawsuit against Hern and the Boulder Abortion Clinic in 2015, alleging that Hern left a nearly two-inch piece of a fetus’ skull inside a patient’s uterus during a late-term abortion, apparently forcing a patient to undergo a hysterectomy.
In 2016, Hern was the subject of a congressional investigation into the practices of late-term abortionists. The panel requested information on any infants who were born alive at his clinic and the babies’ records thereafter. According to the Denver Post, Hern refused to provide any of the requested documentation, calling the panel a “witchhunt.”
During May 2019, Hern argued in a New York Times op-ed that because women are more likely to die in childbirth than from complications related to an abortion, “pregnancy is dangerous; abortion can be lifesaving.”
Dr. Mary Jo O’Sullivan, a high-risk obstetrician and Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami, responded at the time that although any pregnancy carries some risk, it is not a “serious” threat to a woman’s health, especially in the United States where maternal deaths are still very rare, even in rural areas.
Opponents of Colorado’s late-term abortion ban, including groups like Abortion Access for All, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have raised millions of dollars to attempt to defeat the proposition.
If the ballot measure becomes law, doctors would face a three-year license suspension for performing or attempting to perform an abortion of an unborn child beyond 22-weeks of gestation. Women would not be charged with seeking or obtaining an abortion.
The Catholic bishops of Colorado asked voters to support the ban in a June 30 letter and placed the ballot measure under the patronage of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini, who aided orphans and immigrants in her time in Colorado.
In addition, the Catholic Medical Association and a group of more than 130 medical professionals and scientists in Colorado have backed Proposition 115.
Colorado was the first state in the nation to decriminalize abortion. The initial legislation, signed into law April 25, 1967, allowed abortion in certain limited cases: rape, incest, or a prediction of permanent mental or physical disability of either the child or mother. Six years later, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade declared abortion a constitutional right nationwide.
Abortion-rights groups in Colorado have touted the fact that for a time during the pandemic, many women from other states were traveling to Colorado to take advantage of the state's permissive abortion laws.
Abortion clinics in states like Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico, which did not introduce any pandemic-related restrictions on abortion, saw increases in patients traveling from other states, such as Texas, to undergo the procedure during spring 2020.
Posted on 10/27/2020 01:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Florida State University’s Student Supreme Court has reinstated Jack Denton as president of the Student Senate. Denton was removed from his post in June over comments in a private chat group for Catholic students which were subsequently circulated to a member of the senate.
In a decision issued Monday, the university court wrote that Denton “contends that his removal as Senate President was improper because the vote of no-confidence was based on unconstitutional retaliation for his private statements in the Catholic Student Union group chat, expressing his religious beliefs, and thus was in violation of his First Amendment rights to Freedom of Speech and Expression.”
“We agree,” the court found.
In the group chat, Denton had expressed concerns that policy positions of certain groups, such as the ACLU and BlackLivesMatter.com, contradicted Church teaching on abortion, marriage, sexuality, and policing, and cautioned students to be aware of those positions before they donated to the groups.
He was subsequently accused of transphobia and racism by fellow students and, after a first vote of no-confidence in him failed, he was removed in another vote of the student senate June 5. Denton filed suit against the student senate’s decision in both the university court and in federal court.
The student court found Oct. 26 that “the discussion did not mention the Senate or Student Government Association once, but, in contrast, mentioned religion and God a number of times. As a private citizen, [Denton] was endowed the privileges guaranteed by the Constitution and thus is not barred from bringing this claim under the First Amendment,” the court said.
The court ruled that “the Student Government Association at Florida State University, with its robust network of student advocates and their vast knowledge of public policy and the ever-changing mores of society, [declared that it] possesses such authority as to decide in which cases the United States Constitution is to apply, and in which cases it is not. Unfortunately, for Jack Denton, his case was one in which the Senate felt these rights did not apply.”
Tyson Langhofer, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been representing Denton in his claims, responded to the announcement on Monday, calling it “commendable.”
“All students should be able to peacefully share their personal convictions without fear of retaliation. As the FSU Supreme Court concluded, the senators ‘during debate reveal that they were neither tolerant nor respectful’ of Jack’s religious beliefs, ” said Langhofer.
“We commend the FSU Supreme Court for acting swiftly and decisively to reinstate Jack to his position as FSU’s Student Senate president while his federal lawsuit continues and for acknowledging the violations of his constitutionally protected right to free speech.”
The FSU court’s decision to reinstate Denton followed an earlier federal court decision which said ordering his return to office “could produce tumult and chaos” and “would, in fact, cause more harm than good.” The student court disagreed, finding that if Denton was not reinstated it “would only deter participation’ in the university’s student government” by other students of faith.
On Oct. 9, a federal court ruled that Denton’s claim of a violation of his free speech rights had a likelihood of success, and ordered FSU to pay Denton for six hours of work a week, for the remainder of what would have been his term as student senate president.
The judge granted Denton’s motion for preliminary injunction in part on Friday, ordering that he resume receiving his salary; however, he did not order that Denton be reinstated as president of the student senate.
The federal case is ongoing. University officials have not disputed the facts of the case, but challenged their liability.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, called Denton’s removal part of a “soft despotism” of anti-religious intolerance in the U.S., in June.
Even though he had privately posted “defenses of, basically, Catholic moral teachings,” Wenski said, “that was a step too far for many of these new Jacobins we see around.”
Posted on 10/27/2020 00:00 AM (CNA Daily News)
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 26, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As Lebanon continues to deal with fallout from the massive August explosion that devastated parts of the capital, Beirut, advocates for Lebanese Christians call for continued U.S. aid and collaboration with local NGOs, while one State Department official says that conversations about additional aid have stalled.
On Oct. 19, the Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut, reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Lebanese President Michel Aoun by phone that the United States would send additional aid to rebuild areas damaged by the port explosion in Beirut earlier this year.
An official State Department read-out of the call between the leaders did not mention such a pledge, and a spokesperson for the State Department did not return a request for comment on whether Pompeo had pledged additional aid to the president, but an official within the State Department said conversations about a second round of aid have stalled within the government.
Lebanese authorities attributed the Aug. 4 blast in the port of the country’s capital and largest city to “highly explosive material stored unsafely.” The explosion left 190 dead, more than 6,500 injured, and three people missing, as well as approximately $15 billion in direct damage.
In the aftermath of the explosion, the United States pledged more than $17 million in initial aid for Lebanon for food assistance and medical supplies. Some advocates called for additional relief funds in response to the disaster, pointing to approximately 300,000 people officials said have been displaced from their homes. Al Jazeera reported 70,000 homes were among the buildings damaged in the explosion.
Advocates for Lebanese Christians told CNA that funds dedicated specifically to reconstruction were vital, because much of the damage occurred in neighborhoods with a Christian majority. If these Christians are unable to return to their homes, it could shift the demographics of the city—and the country—by destabilizing the Christian community there.
They also stressed that working with established partners in NGOs would safeguard funds from Lebanon’s corrupt government.
A State Department spokesperson told CNA that the U.S. government provided more than $750 million to Lebanon last year, and that the United States has provided more than $41.6 million in supplemental foreign assistance and redirected $11.5 million in USAID Mission funding to help Lebanon respond to the COVID-19 crisis. According to data from the Department of State, the United States has provided more than $4 billion total in foreign assistance to Lebanon since 2010.
“American assistance to Lebanon saves lives, strengthens our strategic partners, ensures key services reach the Lebanese people and refugees, and counters Hezbollah's narrative and influence,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The spokesperson added that the U.S. government “directly supported the Lebanese people in the aftermath of the port explosion,” by providing “immediate humanitarian assistance to meet emergency needs,” including emergency food, shelter, and medical assistance.
“We continue to work with our partners in Beirut to identify additional recovery needs,” the spokesperson said.
Despite those remarks, a senior state department official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told CNA that discussions about an additional round of reconstruction aid have stalled, over concerns from some U.S. officials that the funds would end up in the hands of the Lebanese government, which has close ties to Hezbollah. The group, a political party in Lebanon, is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States.
“The idea that any aid to Lebanese Christians confers a benefit on Hezbollah is deeply problematic,” the official said. “That’s not the policy of the administration or the [State] Department or Secretary Pompeo.”
“Lebanon’s political leaders need to end their association with Hezbollah. The U.S. won’t achieve this end by withholding aid to blast victims,” the official told CNA.
Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, told CNA it is crucial for American relief funds to go directly to local NGOs and not through the Lebanese government due to its corruption and ties to Hezbollah.
“We want to make sure that people on the ground are receiving the aid and rebuilding their homes,” Baaklini said, adding that he thinks the administration is committed to finding the best way of getting aid “directly to the people.”
Baaklini said he hopes the aid comes through soon because “the winter season is coming.”
Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn told CNA in an interview that following the blast “the need is great.”
“We don’t want to lose the special character of Lebanon,” if Christians are forced by circumstance to leave, Mansour said.
“It’s very clear to every Christian of the Middle East: outside of Lebanon they are minorities,” he added. “They don’t have those freedoms in other parts of the Middle East.”
Mansour said he thinks the administration seems “to understand the importance of helping Lebanon even though Hezbollah is present in the government.”
“They’ve been very careful; nobody wants to fund a government that has close ties to Hezbollah, I don’t blame them,” Mansour said. “But at the same time, they haven’t let the good people of Lebanon feel like they have to swim on their own.”
Marc Malek, the founder of Conquest Capital Group and an advocate for Lebanese Christians, said the matter is of great importance to Lebanese Americans and Christians in the United States.
“We’ve been trying to make a push here as Christians and Lebanese Americans to dedicate some of that money for shelter,” Malek said, arguing that in some cases a small refurbishment can make a home damaged by the blast habitable again.
Robert Nicholson, president and executive director of The Philos Project, told CNA that he would urge a “robust response to the crisis in Lebanon.”
“There’s actually an opportunity in Lebanon to do some of these things we could never have accomplished in other countries,” Nicholson said, pointing to the country’s “historical, cultural, and religious connection to the West.”
Nicholson called for a “creative and strategic” response to the crisis, “using our dollars to help our friends.”
“There is a way for the US government to spend our aid—which we should give—but to do it in a way that actually advances our mission in the country, which is to raise up the good guys and disempower the bad guys,” Nicholson said. “We need to be clever.”
Posted on 10/26/2020 21:00 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Chinese government continued to enforce sweeping restrictions on religious freedom in the weeks prior to the renewal of a deal with the Vatican on October 22.
According to Bitter Winter, an Italian magazine that focuses on religious freedom in China, the Communist government has recently ramped up enforcement of the prohibition on the sale and distribution of religious texts. Religious texts are not permitted to be mailed in China as they are considered to be “contraband.”
Bitter Winter reported on October 13 that the owner of a publishing shop was visited by officials one month earlier to ensure that he was not printing religious materials.
“They checked my storehouse, scrutinized all records, and even looked at paper sheets on the floor, to see if they have prohibited content,” the printing house manager located in Luoyang, a prefecture-level city in the central province of Henan. “If any such content is found, I’ll be fined, or worse, my business will be closed,” he said.
The manager told Bitter Winter that he had to refuse any order that involves religious materials, saying that he could lose his business if he was discovered to have printed the papers. The manager said that “the only faith [people] can practice freely is that in the Communist Party.”
Other printing shops maintain similar policies, citing government prohibitions on the publishing of religious texts, particularly Christian texts. A publishing shop was recently closed down and its staff arrested after authorities discovered they had published Christian books.
Photocopying religious materials is similarly prohibited, and a worker at a copy shop told Bitter Winter that he was instructed to report anyone who was looking to make copies of religious material.
“If businesses are discovered, they could be fined as much as ten times their monthly income; or worst of all, workers could even be arrested,” the worker Bitter Winter. “If we are not sure if a text is religious, we must keep its copy and report it to authorities.”
According to ChinaAid, a Christian NGO, Chinese publications have started to replace the words “Christ,” “church,” and “Jesus” in their books with the initials of the pinyin terms for those words to avoid censorship. Some book titles, ChinaAid reported on October 20, obscured religious words with color blocks.
Pinyin is a Romanization system for Mandarin Chinese.
By replacing these words, Christians are hoping to evade the censors that would otherwise block their books from being read online. Bibles do not have an ISBN number in China and cannot be purchased at normal bookstores.
Last year, the Chinese Communist Party took down displays of the 10 Commandments in churches in several parts of the country, and replaced them with altered texts to better reflect Communist principles. Communist Party officials have also announced they are working on a Communist-approved version of the Bible.
Even long-dead Christians have been subject to persecution in China. Bitter Winter reported on October 16 that the previous month Chinese authorities authorities had demolished the tombstones of 20 Swedish missionaries, some of whom died over 100 years ago.
The missionaries were buried in Xiezhou town, which is administered by the Yanhu district of Yuncheng, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi. Swedish Christian missionaries first established a presence in Yuncheng in 1888, and eventually built schools and hospitals in the area. Many people converted to Christianity as a result of the work of the Swedish missionaries, and their renovated gravesites had recently become an attraction for Christian tourists.
According to Bitter Winter, the Yanhu district government sent over 100 police personnel to the cemetery on the morning of September 12. The gravesites, and a house containing photographs of the missionaries, were bulldozed two hours later. Plants were planted on top of the gravesites.
Members belonging to the church that erected the tombstones were blacklisted, Bitter Winter reported. Those who lived near the cemetery were also taken in for questioning.
These reports of Christian persecution in China arose around the same time a high-ranking Vatican official chided a reporter for asking about Christian persecution in China.
Despite the ongoing persecution of Christians in China, which has also seen Communist authorities bulldoze churches, arrest bishops, and offer bounties for information on underground religious services, on Oct. 22 the Vatican announced that it had agreed “to extend the experimental implementation phase” of the two-year provisional agreement first signed with the Chinese government on Sept. 22, 2018,
“The Holy See considers the initial application of the agreement -- which is of great ecclesial and pastoral value -- to have been positive, thanks to good communication and cooperation between the parties on the matters agreed upon, and intends to pursue an open and constructive dialogue for the benefit of the life of the Catholic Church and the good of Chinese people,” a communique from the Vatican Secretariat of State said.
On October 21, the day before it was announced the deal had been renewed, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told journalists that while he was “happy” with the agreement, he also acknowledged “there are also many other problems that the agreement was not intended to solve.”
The cardinal said that the goal of the agreement is “unity of the Church” and that through this unity “it will become an instrument of evangelization,” according to a transcript provided by Italian newspaper Avvenire.
When asked about the persecution of Christians in China, Parolin responded: “But, what persecutions?”
“You have to use the words correctly. There are regulations that are imposed and which concern all religions, and certainly also concern the Catholic Church.”
In China, religious education of any person under the age of 18 is illegal. This means that catechism classes have been closed and minors are not allowed to enter church buildings. Catholic churches registered with the Chinese authorities are closely monitored via CCTV cameras connected to the public security network. Priests have been forced to attend government training courses.
The Chinese government continues to imprison Catholic clergy who refuse to support the Communist Party, according to a September report out of the province of Jiangxi.
China is also reported to have interred more than one million ethnic Uyghurs in a network of concentration camps in Xinjiang Province. Ostensibly for the purposes of combating religious “extremism,” multiple reports from international bodies and human rights watchdogs have recorded instances of torture, forced labor, forced abortions and sterilizations, and anti-religious Communist indoctrination.
Human rights groups have repeatedly called the Chinese actions against the Uyghurs “genocide.”
Posted on 10/26/2020 19:13 PM (CNA Daily News)
Vatican City, Oct 26, 2020 / 11:13 am (CNA).- Pope Francis' Christmas liturgies at the Vatican will be offered without public participation this year, as countries continue to react to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a letter seen by CNA which was sent by the Secretariat of State to embassies accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis will celebrate the Vatican liturgies of the Christmas season "in a private form without the presence of members of the diplomatic Corps."
The letter, which was sent by the section for general affairs Oct. 22, said the liturgies will be streamed online. Diplomats accredited to the Holy See usually attend papal liturgies as special guests.
Due to pandemic measures, including a two month nation-wide lockdown of Italy, Pope Francis also offered the 2020 Easter liturgies without the presence of the public.
Italy has seen a dramatic increase in positive coronavirus cases, as well as increased hospitalizations and deaths, in recent weeks, leading the government to issue new containment measures, including the full closure of gyms and theaters, and a 6pm closure for bars and restaurants except for takeout. Parties and receptions are also suspended. Since earlier this month, it has been mandated to wear face masks at all times in public, including outside.
During Advent and Easter, the pope's schedule of public liturgies and Masses is usually particularly full, with thousands participating in Masses at St. Peter's Basilica.
In past years the pope has offered a Dec. 12 Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Dec. 8 ceremony and prayer at Rome's Piazza di Spagna for feast of the Immaculate Conception.
According to the 2020 schedule of public papal events published on the Vatican website, instead of a Mass Dec. 8, the pope will lead the Angelus in St. Peter's Square to mark the day.
During the Christmas season, the pope usually says Midnight Mass for the Nativity of the Lord in St. Peter's Basilica Dec. 24, and on Christmas Day he gives the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing from the central loggia of the basilica.
In past years he has also prayed First Vespers on Dec. 31 followed by a Mass on Jan. 1 for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, both in St. Peter's Basilica.
These events are not listed on Pope Francis' public schedule for 2020, except for the Christmas Day "Urbi et Orbi" blessing. The pope is still slated to give all of his typical Angelus addresses and to hold the Wednesday general audience every week, except that of Christmas.
The schedule of public events does not extend past December 2020, so it is unclear whether Pope Francis will publically celebrate any of the liturgies of January 2021, including Mass for Epiphany Jan. 6.
It is also unknown if Pope Francis will next year baptize the children of Vatican employees and say a private Mass for them and their families for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, per his tradition.
Posted on 10/26/2020 18:30 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).-
A Jesuit priest arrested in India on charges of sedition will remain in jail for at least another two weeks, after the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences has called for his release, along with other international organizations.
Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J., was arrested Oct. 8 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counter-terrorism task force. The 83-year-old priest is accused of being involved with a Maoist group, and inciting violence in the town of Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018. One person was killed and others injured during mob violence that day.
Swamy denies all charges and says that he has never even been to Bhima-Koregaon. The priest is the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, an organization that assists those who are being held in prison but have not been yet been convicted of a crime, and are still undergoing a trial. It is estimated that 70% of India’s prison population is in this category.
On Oct. 26, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) issued a statement in support of Swany, and calling for his release.
“It is with great shock and agony the FABC heard of the arrest of the 84-year-old Father Swamy and his incarceration and we are surprised at the charges brought against him,” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Burma, the president of the FABC, said in a statement on October 26.
“The arrest and cold-hearted incarceration of Father Swamy reminds us of the treatment meted out to Mahatma Gandhi when he stood up for the rights of the Indian people,” said Bo.
In a video posted to social media prior to his arrest, Swamy described being interrogated for 15 hours by the NIA. He said that because of his history of activism, the state “wanted to put me out of the way, and one easy way [to do that] was to implicate me in some serious cases.”
Swamy said he was “raided twice” by authorities who “put before me certain extracts, supposedly taken from my computer, extracts which showed Maoists were communicating with each other, and in some extracts even my name was mentioned,” he said. Swamy said that authorities were unable to tell him who sent the emails, who received the emails, on which date the emails were sent, and if there was any sort of signature on the emails.
“So I just denied and disowned every single extract that was put before me, except one,” which he said was a message from him and the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee to other human rights organizations in India. That letter explained the purpose of their organization and requested that other groups join them in their efforts.
“What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone,” he said. “It is part of a broader process that is taking place all over the country.”
Swany said it is common knowledge that figures from all walks of life--from lawyers to student leaders--are jailed for expressing dissent or questioning “the ruling powers of India.” The priest said he was “ready to pay the price, whatever be it.”
Following his arrest on Oct. 8, Swany was flown from his home in the city of Ranchi, located in the eastern state of Jharkhand, to Mumbai, for additional questioning. In the video posted prior to his arrest, Swany said that he was apprehensive about going to Mumbai as he is elderly and infirm, and did not want to be exposed to the coronavirus. Swany has Parkinson’s Disease and is hard of hearing.
Swany has been jailed in Mumbai ever since, and was denied bail on October 23. He has since reportedly been transferred to a prison hospital.
Both religious and secular organizations have called for Swany’s release from jail.
Jesuit provincials and leaders from across the world have issued statements requesting that the Indian government release Swany.
“We ask that the United States strongly condemn the incarceration of Fr Stan Swamy, ask the Indian Government to ensure his immediate release, and ask it to refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent citizens,” said Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J. in an October 20 letter addressed to Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on behalf of Jesuits from the United States.
Throughout India, thousands have gathered to peacefully protest for Swany’s release. Vatican News reported that on October 16, over 1,000 people, including priests, nuns, an archbishop, and an auxiliary bishop, formed a 3.2 mile human chain in Ranchi as a protest.
On October 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement to the Indian government condemning the “vaguely defined laws” that are “increasingly being used to stifle” those who speak up against injustices.
The press release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner mentioned Swany by name.
"I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India's robust civil society," said Bachelet.
Posted on 10/26/2020 16:45 PM (CNA Daily News)
CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 08:45 am (CNA).- Amy Coney Barrett is expected to be confirmed to the Supreme Court on Monday evening, after the Senate held a rare Sunday session during which a majority of senators moved to advance her nomination to a full vote.
In a 51-48 vote on Sunday, senators moved to invoke cloture on Barrett’s confirmation—setting a time limit on the debate over her confirmation, with a final vote at the end to confirm her to the Supreme Court. She was nominated by President Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Court, on Sept. 26.
Barrett, a Catholic, currently serves as a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and is a former professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Law. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, she would be the sixth Catholic on the bench, with a seventh, Neil Gorsuch having been baptized Catholic but now practicing as an Episcopalian.
Sunday’s cloture vote fell largely along party lines, with two Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—voting with Democrats against bringing up the final vote on Barrett. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Angus King (I-Maine) also voted “No.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, did not vote on Sunday as she was campaigning in Michigan ahead of election day on Nov. 3. She told reporters on Saturday that she would vote against Barrett in the final confirmation vote.
Senators spoke from the Senate floor on Barrett’s confirmation throughout Sunday afternoon and evening, and into Monday morning.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that Barrett “represents a threat to women’s reproductive rights” and warned that if confirmed, “she would likely be the court’s most extreme member on reproductive rights.”
When the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering Barrett’s appointment to the Seventh Circuit in 2017, Feinstein opined that Barrett’s Catholic faith could improperly influence her judicial opinions on matters like abortion. Feinstein told Barrett “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”
Last week, Barrett’s nomination advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous favorable recommendation, after 10 committee Democrats boycotted the vote.
From Oct. 12-15, the committee held four days of hearings featuring statements from senators and from Barrett herself, questioning of Barrett, and witness testimonies for or against Barrett’s confirmation.
Senators grilled Barrett on a number of issues including health care, voting rights, and abortion and contraception.
Barrett repeatedly refused to opine on previous Supreme Court rulings, saying that she did not want to influence any possible case she might have to consider as a justice; she explained that she wanted to offer “no hints, no previews, no forecasts.”
Senators asked Barrett multiple times about Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court’s 1965 ruling that legalized contraception; while Barrett refused to opine on the ruling, she emphasized that “Griswold is very, very, very, very, very, very unlikely to go anywhere.”
Regarding the Court’s legalization of abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Barrett would not say that it is “super precedent,” or a legal theory that certain Supreme Court rulings have been upheld so many times and are seen as institutional and cannot be challenged.
Some senators warned on Sunday that Barrett could undo legal contraception on the Court.
“I can’t even imagine going back to Griswold v. Connecticut—a time when we had to fight just to have contraception,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that Barrett could rule on contraception cases such as those of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which businesses and religious non-profits including the Little Sisters of the Poor challenged in court.
He also said she could rule with other “conservative” justices “as a bulwark against further expanding privacy protections in family life.” As an example, he noted the case Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, for which oral arguments are scheduled at the Court in November.
That case involves the Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which had contracted with the city on foster care placements but saw its contract stopped in 2018 when the city demanded that it work with same-sex couples.