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Christ can overcome racism, Minnesota priest says at George Floyd prayer service 

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 08:00 pm (CNA).- The love of Christ can overcome the sin of racism, the pastor of a historic Minnesota African-American parish said Friday, at a prayer service in the aftermath of the protests and riots in St. Paul and Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

“Racism,” said Fr. Erich Rutten said, “is a very deep sin in our souls. In not only our personal souls, but in the soul of our country.”

“To get past it, we need the love of Christ,” he said. “We need to get out of our comfort zones and encounter one another. Pope Francis says so often that we need to truly encounter one another.”



Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver Church, led the service on Friday evening, hours after buildings in the parish neighborhood were set ablaze. The prayer service was also attended by Archbishop Bernard Hebda and auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Because of coronavirus social distancing measures, parishioners attended the prayer service via a Facebook livestream.

St. Peter Claver Church was founded in 1888 as the first African-American Roman Catholic parish in Minnesota.

Rutten read the Gospel passage in which Jesus repeatedly asks Peter if he loves Him and then instructs Peter to feed His sheep.

The priest then preached about the nature of love, the sin of racism, and a need for justice in the world.

In the Gospel, said Rutten, Jesus asks those to love him and to commit to him, and “that the love of God the Father might include all in everything.”

And while people may say that they do desire to love everyone, this is often easier said than done, Rutten added.

“When we think about it in the abstract, sure, we want to love everybody,” said Rutten. “But it’s a little bit harder with family, it’s a little bit harder with our fellow parishioners. It’s even harder with people that we don’t know very well, or people that maybe are different than us, or people that might even frighten us.”

Rutten offered prayers for justice and peace, “because there can be no peace without justice.” To achieve these goals, Rutten said that he thinks “we need to be very humble, we need to be very generous, and we need to seek true reconciliation: restorative justice.”

This Sunday, Pentecost, the world needs “a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” said Rutten.

“Amidst our noisy lives, our noisy world, and especially the energy of the last couple of days, we pray for racial justice and peace,” he added.

Cozzens prayed “Wake Me Up Lord,” a prayer against racism that was published in the 1989 USCCB message “For The Love of One Another.”

At the close of the evening’s service, Hebda spoke of his “great fondness” for the parish of St. Peter Claver, and noted that the church has a unique and important role for the Catholic Church in the Twin Cities in raising awareness of racism and how the Church could be more welcoming.

“I’ve heard more than once in these walls that it can be ‘exhausting’ to teach the rest of the Church about racism, and I’m grateful for your patience and perseverance,” he said.

“We continue to learn from you and your deep prayer. So please, know of my great gratitude, and that of Bishop Cozzens as well, for all that you do,” said Hebda. 

 

New South Wales worship restrictions changed after complaints of unfair treatment

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 05:46 pm (CNA).- Churches in New South Wales will be allowed to open with the same restrictions as other buildings, after Australian Catholics complained that religious services were being treated unfairly.

Over the past few days, 20,000 Catholics signed a petition by the Sydney Archdiocese asking Premier Gladys Berejiklian to offer churches the same treatment as other NSW venues.

When coronavirus restrictions begin to lift on June 1, bars, restaurants, and clubs will be permitted a maximum capacity of 50 people present. Churches, however, were only to be allowed 10 worshipers at any one time.

“I am at a loss to explain to Catholics in Sydney why our reasonable requests to the government are not being granted,” said Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, according to the Catholic Weekly.

Following the launch of the petition, NSW officials announced Friday that places of worship will instead have a 50 person limit like other facilities, as long as social distancing protocols are followed. Weddings will only be allowed to have 20 people in attendance, but funerals will be permitted 50.

Fisher applauded the government's new regulation and expressed gratitude to the Catholics who signed the petition. He said it was “a victory of common sense.”

“The closure of our churches and indeed of all places of worship has been deeply distressing for many people of faith in our community,” Archbishop Fisher said, according to Catholic Weekly. “It added to the isolation and anxiety that so many were feeling.”

“With restrictions easing, many were concerned that the churches were being left behind, and wanted to make their voices heard. People of faith weren’t asking for special treatment, but wanted to be treated equally.”

“I look forward to welcoming them back in greater numbers from Monday,” the  archbishop said. “We will continue to abide by government health directives, and continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and all those affected by it.”

‘Racism is not a thing of the past’ – US bishops respond to George Floyd killing

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 05:36 pm (CNA).- Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference responded to the killing of an African American man in Minneapolis this week by stressing that the fight to eradicate racism is a pro-life issue.

“As bishops, we unequivocally state that racism is a life issue,” they said in a May 29 statement.

“Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a throwaway political issue to be bandied about when convenient. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on,” the bishops said.

“As members of the Church, we must stand for the more difficult right and just actions instead of the easy wrongs of indifference,” they said. “We cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities and yet still try to profess to respect every human life.”

The statement was released by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee against racism; Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, chair of the cultural diversity committee; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, head of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the pro-life committee; Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, head of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell of Los Angeles, chair of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry of Chicago, chair of the Subcommittee on African American Affairs.

The bishops responded to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody this week. Footage of the incident circulated widely on the internet. It showed Floyd, who is black, subdued and laying on his stomach, saying repeatedly, “I cannot breathe” and groaning as a police officer knelt on his neck for almost eight minutes, and other officers stood nearby and watched.

Floyd was taken to a local hospital, where he died shortly later. His death has prompted protests in numerous cities, including rioting and looting in some parts of Minneapolis.

After widespread protest, former police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29. The officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis police force.

In their statement, the bishops said they were “broken-hearted, sickened, and outraged to watch another video of an African American man being killed before our very eyes.”

“What’s more astounding is that this is happening within mere weeks of several other such occurrences,” they said. “This is the latest wake-up call that needs to be answered by each of us in a spirit of determined conversion.”

The bishops called for non-violent protests, while acknowledging that people are understandably outraged.

“Too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this deadly treatment is antithetical to the Gospel of Life,” they said.

Catholics must fight indifference surrounding the issue of racism and speak up to fight it, the bishops said. They pointed to their most recent pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts,” which calls for greater engagement on the issue.

The bishops encouraged Americans to encounter people of different cultural backgrounds and seek greater understanding and unity.

“Such encounters will start to bring about the needed transformation of our understanding of true life, charity, and justice in the United States,” they said.

Hearing ‘cry of the poor’ is key message of 'Laudato si', Cardinal Turkson says

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Peter Turkson has said that the principle of “non-violence” extends beyond opposing physical violence, and must include the protection human rights from exploitation.

Acknowledging the week's protests and rioting in Minneapolis, the Vatican cardinal made the comments during an event to mark five years since the promulgation of the papal encyclical Laudato si’.

“There’s a lot of talk within the same church about Christian non-violence,” said Cardinal Turkson, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, making reference to the social unrest in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd.

“Christian non-violence is not only when you [do not] hold a gun or a knife to the throat of somebody. Christian non-violence is also when you do not do violence to people’s dignity, people’s rights,” he said.

When the conditions necessary for human flourishing are not met in society, then the “cry of the poor” can be heard, he said, pointing to prayers for victims of racism and injustice in the wake of the Minneapolis riots.  

Cardinal Turkson made his remarks as he led an online panel discussion on Friday. The event “Laudato Si After Five Years: Hearing the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor” was co-sponsored by the Vatican and Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Kim Daniels, associate director of the initiative, began Friday’s event with a prayer for George Floyd “and all those who suffer from acts of racism and injustice,” after a “tragic week” where large riots and protests had occurred in Minneapolis, New York, and other cities in the U.S. Daniels was appointed by Pope Francis to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication in 2016.

The protests followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday after a police officer was seen kneeling on his neck for several minutes while arresting him. Floyd, moaning and crying out in apparent pain, said repeatedly that he could not breathe in a video of the incident taken by bystanders. 

Floyd appeared unconscious several minutes into the video, and according to the police department was later taken to a hospital where he died. Four police officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were fired from the department, and one was arrested on Friday and charged with murder and manslaughter.

Noting the prayer for Floyd and other victims of racism and injustice at the beginning of Friday’s event, Turkson said that “it’s just a cry for people to recognize that every human being requires a minimum of social conditions to enable him to live, and live successfully and happily.”

Both human beings and the environment need to be cared for, he said, and when they are not “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” is heard—a key message of Laudato si’.

The “cry of the poor” occurs because “what they need to constitute their thriving, prosperous environment, is denied them,” the cardinal said. “And that’s why we talk about justice.”

The human and economic toll of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has also taught ecological lessons, he said. 

Turkson pointed out that lockdown conditions have resulted in emissions drops, causing cleaner air in India and China, but the sudden unemployment of millions of people as a result of the economic shutdown challenges the very sustainability of the current economic system.

Cardinal Turkson said that Pope Francis’ letter was the “result of a lot of teaching” from previous popes.

Pope St. Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum progressio stressed care for nature and established ecology as “a set of conditions which constitute an environment which enables something to thrive,” Turkson said, while Pope St. John Paul II talked about human ecology and the environment of moral conditions which one needs to live well, and Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate taught that “society itself also has an environment that needs to be respected.”

Integral ecology, he said, is “ecology of nature, ecology of the human person, ecology of society, ecology of peace.”

After death of George Floyd, Minnesota Catholics pray for justice

Denver Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 03:55 pm (CNA).- While rioters and looters took to the streets and parts of Minneapolis burned, some Minnesota Catholics called for justice and unity after the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a police officer on Monday.

“I am saddened. I am sickened. I am angered. And I am tired. I am tired of such things happening again and again. ‘How long, O Lord,’ must we endure such things?” Fr. Erich Rutten, pastor of St. Peter Claver Parish in St. Paul, said in a YouTube message May 27, two days after Floyd was killed.

“The love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, clearly shows us that we are all children of one God, and that we are all equally subjects of Christ our King, in the Kingdom of God our Father. We are all brothers and sisters.”

The parish is home to the largest African-American Catholic community in the Twin Cities. In 1888, it was the first Catholic Church founded by and for African-Americans living in Minnesota.

“Here is a case where white supremacy has cost someone their life. The misguided idea that white people can somehow push other people around, or that we own this country, or that we own Minneapolis, leads to terrible disrespect. Leads to poverty. Leads to, in this case, violence, and in many cases, violence,” Rutten added in his video.

“This particular case is so egregious,” Rutten told CNA Wednesday, “that it’s just maddening.”

“Our faith calls us way beyond racism, into a radical unity, in the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom we're all brother and sisters. I mean truly: Really brothers and sisters,” Rutten added.

“There's a great African-American hymn: 'We've come this far by faith, leaning on his holy Word, he hasn't failed us yet.' It's just enduring faith that God will always be with us through it.”

St. Peter Claver is located in a St. Paul neighborhood where buildings were damaged by looters on Thursday evening.

“It was a crazy night, with lots going on around here,” Rutten said in a video released Friday morning.

“Just feeling very badly for our community, for so much pain, and hoping we can find ways for healing, reconciliation and peace. I know that won’t be easy.”

The parish will livestream a prayer service Friday evening.

St. Peter Claver parishioners have also called for justice.

Estelle Jones, 75, leads the social justice committee at St. Peter Claver, and facilitates a parish support group for families of incarcerated men and women.

On Tuesday, she told CNA that “I am feeling...it’s very difficult to even want to talk about it.”

“Something has to stop, I hope. It’s sad, but I hope, and it’s too sad, that George Floyd’s death would wake up the community, and the United States of America, that we stop this violence and police brutality, and this racism.”

God made all of us. It’s hard to understand why black people and brown people are hated so much. I’m devastated.”

Jones said she watched in 2015 as police assaulted her own grandson, then in his mid-thirties, while at a traffic stop. She said her grandson “got out of his car, and, um, they— he didn’t resist them at all. In fact, he was standing with his hands in the air. The next thing we knew, they had thrown him on the ground and were tasing him.”

“We were there. My daughter, his mother, and me. This was one of the most horrible, horrific things to ever see happen to a loved one, and we were standing there.”

Jones said her grandson was hospitalized for his injuries.

“Watching what happened to George Floyd just brought back this whole situation to me. To just know what this family must be going through, what the community is going through….Something has to stop this.”

Jones said her social justice and social support work at her parish is part of her effort to help young people in the parish understand the struggle for civil rights, and an ongoing struggle for racial justice. But she says she can’t do that alone.

In his YouTube video, Rutten said the parishioners of St. Peter Claver are called to “agitate both in our Church and in our world for racial justice and peace and healing, and the reality that we truly are brothers and sisters.”

“Remembering George, we need to continue that mission,” Rutten said.

Jones said she hopes for justice in the case of George Floyd.

“To me, justice— I feel like everyone else. Too many black men have been murdered, and nothing has been done by the police.”

Jones mentioned the deaths of Phliando Castile, Treyvon Martin, and Eric Garner.

“Enough is enough. And with George Floyd- that is blatant killing somebody in front of the whole world. How can you do that and think you can get away with it? Justice should be them being prosecuted, and serving some prison time.”

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested May 29, and has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. He and the three other officers present at Floyd’s arrest were fired from the Minneapolis police force.

St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda offered a Mass for the soul of George Floyd and for his family May 27.

“The video of George Floyd in police custody Monday evening is gut wrenching and deeply disturbing. The sadness and pain are intense. Let us pray for comfort for his grieving family and friends, peace for a hurting community and prudence while the process moves forward. We need a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and veritable justice,” Hebda said in a May 27 statement.

“Particularly at this time when human fragility has been brought into focus by the Covid-19 pandemic, we are called to respect the worth and dignity of each individual, whether they be civilians in need of protection or law enforcement officers charged with providing that protection. All human life is sacred.”

“Please join our Catholic community in praying for George Floyd and his family, and working for that day when ‘love and truth will meet [and] justice and peace will kiss,’” Hebda added, quoting Psalm 85.

For her part, Estelle Jones told CNA she hopes Catholics across the country will pray for George Floyd.

She also said she hopes Catholics will remember that “God created us all as equals, and to recognize that we all should love each other no matter what the color of our skin is, our economic status, or anything that would make us seem different from anybody else. To accept us all as human beings. As God would want us to do.”

 

Last Missouri abortion clinic will stay open, despite state’s safety concerns

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).- The last abortion clinic in Missouri will be allowed to continue operating, despite the state’s decision not to renew its license last year because of health and safety concerns. 

The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis had been battling the state of Missouri in court for over a year after the state Health Department argued that the clinic— the last one allowed to perform surgical abortions in the state— is unsafe. 

Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commissioner, issued a ruling May 29 stating that Planned Parenthood has “substantially complied” with Missouri state law, and that “in over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” the Associated Press reports. 

The hearing, presided over by Dandamudi, began last October.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services initially refused to renew the clinic’s abortion license in June 2019, following a inspection that March that found evidence of at least four “failed abortions”— meaning they took multiple procedures to complete— at the clinic. 

The Health Department submitted a “Statement of Deficiencies” in court, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” on the part of the St. Louis clinic, and a “failure to meet basic standards of patient care.”

In one instance, inspectors found that a woman had undergone an abortion that took five attempts to complete, the AP reports. In another instance, a Planned Parenthood physician reportedly failed to notice that a woman seeking an abortion was pregnant with twins.

The Health Department also said Planned Parenthood went back on an agreement to perform pelvic examinations as a “preoperative health requirement,” and that several doctors at the clinic refused requests to provide interviews with the department. 

For its part, Planned Parenthood has accused the state of weaponizing the regulatory process and claimed the state has admitted the pelvic exams are “medically unnecessary.”

When the clinic’s license expired in June, 2019, lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order from Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis to allow the clinic to continue performing abortions without a license.

Missouri enacted a comprehensive abortion ban in 2019, which Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed into law. Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis supported the measure.

Missouri’s law set up a multi-tier ban on abortions after eight weeks, 14 weeks, 18 weeks and 20 weeks, as well as bans on abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.

The law was crafted to be able to survive successive challenges in the courts, but a federal judge in August, 2019, struck down all of the bans related to every stage of pregnancy. The following months, the same judge also struck down the part of the Missouri law banning Down Syndrome abortions while the legal challenges continue to be heard. 

In the adjacent state of Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker (D) signed legislation to expand access to abortion in that state.

In response to the possible closure of the St. Louis clinic, Planned Parenthood announced in October, 2019, the opening of an 18,000 square foot, $7 million “mega” abortion clinic in southern Illinois, just a dozen miles from the Missouri site.

Planned Parenthood reportedly arranged construction through a shell company, shielding the nature of the building from public view - and even from workers helping in the construction.

Swiss accounts frozen in Vatican property deal probe

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Tens of millions of euros have been frozen in Swiss banks as part of the investigation into a Vatican property investment, according to a Swiss media report. Swiss authorities have also forwarded documents to Vatican prosecutors, as part of an investigation into investments made by the Holy See Secretariat of State.

On May 23, NZZ am Sonntag reported that Holy See prosecutors sent Swiss authorities a formal request for help examining the Holy See Secretariat of State’s investment of more than $300 million in a luxury London property development.

"The Federal Office of Justice received a request for legal assistance in this matter," spokesman Raphael Frei told NZZ. "With a diplomatic note dated April 30, 2020, the Federal Office sent the Vatican a first part of the requested documents." 

The newspaper also reported that its sources had confirmed tens of millions of euros have been frozen in several Swiss banks as part of the investigation.

Vatican investigators are examining the Secretariat of State’s purchase of the building at 60 Sloane Avenue, London.  In October 2019, four officials at the department were suspended following a raid by Vatican gendarmes in which they seized files and computers. A further raid on a former senior official at the secretariat was conducted in February.

CNA has reported that that deal was at least partially financed with loans from several Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and BSI.

BSI was the subject of a damning report by Swiss banking authorities in 2016, which found that the bank was in “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.” The bank was ordered into an extinctive merger with EFG Group in 2017, on condition that no BSI officer retain a management role.

Credit Suisse acknowledged to NZZ that it was involved in the investigation, but said that it was not the subject of any accusation by either Swiss or Vatican authorities. 

"Credit Suisse is not the subject of the Vatican's investigation, but is working with the authorities in compliance with the applicable regulations," said bank spokeswoman Anitta Tuure.

The London building was purchased by the Secretariat of State in stages, over a period of years, from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, who at the time was managing hundreds of millions of euros of secretariat funds.

When it sold to the secretariat 30,000 of 31,000 shares in the project, Minicone’s holding company retained the 1,000 voting shares needed to control the holding company which owned the building. Mincione eventually offered to part with those, at greatly inflated prices.

To complete the sale, in 2018 the Secretariat of State enlisted the help of another businessman, Gianluigi Torzi, who acted as a commission-earning middleman for the purchase of the remaining shares. Torzi earned 10 million euros for his role in the deal.

Earlier this month, CNA reported that one of the five suspended employees, Fabrizio Tirabassi, who was charged with managing the secretariat’s investments, was made a director of a Luxembourg-registered holding company belonging to Torzi.  

Sources close to the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that Tirabassi has been involved in managing several financial transactions at the secretariat that are now being examined by financial investigators at the Vatican.

CDC removes faith guidance discouraging choirs, shared cups 

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 12:56 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has removed guidance on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website which discouraged, among other things, singing, choirs and “shared cups” at religious services.

Despite the CDC’s backtrack, Catholic medical professionals and other experts with whom CNA has spoken continue to recommend that singing and the Communion cup ought to be discouraged at Mass for the time being.

Religious communities should “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition,” the guidelines, posted May 22, originally read.

“The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”

CNA learned from a person familiar with the deliberations that the White House did not approve the original CDC guidance before it was published.

That guidance was reportedly met with concern by many people of faith for certain provisions that seemed to intrude on the autonomy of religious groups, such as one recommendation that Jews should be allowed to use electronic devices on the Sabbath to stream services online.

A new CDC guidance page went live May 23. The new guidance, CNA was told, was to have the input of lawyers with experience in religious freedom cases. It was to be more sensitive to the autonomy of churches and religions and apply a “lighter touch” to them, functioning as a set of recommendations rather than instructions, and implying that actions taken by state and local governments that go beyond the federal recommendations are inappropriate.

The new guidance page contains no specific guidance related to singing or choirs. A recommendation to suspend the use of “shared cups” and passed or shared objects such as collection plates also was removed in favor of a recommendation to “clean and disinfect” such objects between uses.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous administration officials, has reported that the White House pushed against the CDC issuing guidance for churches, with the concern that it did not want to unnecessarily limit their freedom under the First Amendment.

The new guidance states at the top that it is not “intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other federal law.”

It goes on to say that the federal government may not prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship, and that in accordance with the First Amendment, no faith community “should be asked to adopt any mitigation strategies that are more stringent than the mitigation strategies asked of similarly situated entities or activities.”

As the novel coronavirus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease. However, beginning in mid-April, dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses.

An April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., written by medical professionals, researchers, and theologians and distributed to dioceses by the U.S. bishops’ conference, recommends that singing at Mass ought to be discouraged.

The Thomistic Institute’s document also recommends that the Precious Blood ought not be distributed at Mass.

To date, dioceses that have developed Church reopening plans have called for suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood. The Catholic Church teaches that reception of either the host or the chalice is a complete act of Eucharistic reception.

The Thomistic Instutute’s website does state, however, that the  guidelines “will be updated as the situation changes and as the WHO/CDC guidance changes.”

Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely if they observe CDC protocols.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.

If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.

“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a plan entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.”

That group of doctors concluded that “choirs and singing should be avoided” due to the aerosol risk.

They also concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue. The plan does not contain specific guidance on the use of the cup at Mass.

The doctors’ plan calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

Churches have been the focus of concern during the epidemic because of the close proximity of church attendees, socialization before, during and after services, and singing. Some churches have older congregations and so are believed to be more vulnerable to extreme consequences from coronavirus infection.

A May 22 article from the CDC reported that among the 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church, 38% developed a laboratory-confirmed case of infection after a pastor and his wife, who had the virus, attended several events there in early March.

Twenty-six additional cases— including one death— in the community also were linked to the church.

The CDC had also, earlier this month, released a report chronicling a COVID-19 “superspreader” event, whereby a single symptomatic person infected more than 50 people— two of whom died— at a choir practice in Washington state in March.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti, a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, told CNA that in his opinion, the Washington state “superspreader” example does not entirely exclude the possibility of singing in church.

“The key issue here is that a symptomatic individual practiced for 2.5 hours in close contact with others with no facial coverings,” Lanciotti pointed out.

That individual also engaged in close-contact activities such as eating and talking, he said in an email to CNA.

“I think that it is likely that this individual infected others primarily by singing in close contact with others. However, it may still be safe to sing in a church in which symptomatic people stay home and those present are wearing masks.”

 

Some experts split from Fauci on Holy Communion recommendation

Denver Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- As dioceses across the United States start to reopen public Masses, the scientist leading the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic recommended that Catholic Churches ought not resume distribution of Holy Communion. But other medical experts told CNA there are ways that Communion can be distributed safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told America magazine May 26 that he does not consider the distribution of Holy Communion to yet be safe— even if distributed in the hand.

“I think for the time being, you just gotta forestall that,” Fauci said regarding Communion, calling for “common sense” measures to protect worshippers and the wider community such as masks, social distancing, and prohibiting singing.

“As many times as a priest can wash his hands, he gets to Communion, he puts it in somebody’s hand, they put it in their mouth...it’s that kind of close interaction that you don’t want when you’re in the middle of a deadly outbreak,” he told America.

Fauci’s recommendation on the Eucharist came a month after he said it could be possible for Americans to connect with people through dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Grindr.

“If you’re willing to take a risk...you could figure out if you want to meet somebody,” Fauci told Snapchat’s “Good Luck America.”

“If you want to go a little bit more intimate, well, then that’s your choice regarding a risk,” he added.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti is a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado. Lanciotti told CNA that Fauci’s call for “common sense” measures to mitigate the risk of infection does not exclude the possibility of distributing Communion.

“The primary way that this virus is spread is by direct person to person contact; droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes that land on another person and then enter the respiratory tract,” Lanciotti told CNA in an email.

“Maintaining a 6-foot distance or wearing a cloth mask are both methods that disrupt this process. Utilizing one of these measures in a group setting where infected symptomatic people are not present should be a sufficient level of risk reduction.”

Lanciotti, a graduate of Loyola College, was ordained a deacon in 2017.

He took issue with Fauci’s concerns regarding Communion in the hand.

“With the use of hand sanitizer immediately prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, and being careful not to directly touch the communicant, there is virtually no risk in the distribution of Communion,” Lanciotti told CNA.

Deacon Lanciotti pointed to an April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., written by medical professionals, researchers, and theologians.

That group recommended that out of respect for the Mass, the priest ought not wear a mask or gloves during the Mass, and neither should anyone distributing Communion.

Under the group’s recommended guidelines, those who wish to receive could approach the altar, spaced six feet apart; if the priest believed he touched the hands or mouth of a recipient, he could use hand sanitizer sitting on a table next to him.

According to the Thomistic Institute's recommendations, the Precious Blood ought not be distributed at Mass.

To date, dioceses that have developed Church reopening plans have called for suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood. The Catholic Church teaches that reception of either the host or the chalice is a complete act of Eucharistic reception.

The Thomistic Institute’s document, distributed to bishops by the U.S. bishops’ conference, also recommends— as did Dr. Fauci— that singing ought to be discouraged.

It also states that it could be possible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue “without unreasonable risk.”

The document recommends that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions ought not attend Mass anyway, as they are at especially high risk.

“I completely agree with this statement...In the setting of a church service, the single most important safety measure is for symptomatic individuals to stay home,” Lanciotti told CNA.

“I would argue that having sick individuals stay home, followed by adopting one more measure— masks or social distancing— is a reasonable approach. Utilizing both masks and social distancing represents a safety redundancy that is excessive and counter to ‘common sense,’” he said.

At St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Masses resumed May 18, after more than two months of closure amid Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

Visitors are advised to keep two meters apart, hand sanitizer is available at kiosks in the basilica, and, at the church’s entrance, the body temperatures of visitors are checked with scanning thermometers.

The Eucharist is distributed during Masses at the basilica.

Fauci, a Catholic, attended a Jesuit secondary school and Jesuit university.

In 2015, he told C-Span that he is no longer “a regular church-attender. I have evolved into less a Roman Catholic religion person to someone who tries to keep a degree of spirituality about them. I look upon myself as a humanist. I have faith in the goodness of mankind."

He similarly told America that he appreciates his Catholic education, and especially the values he was taught at the Jesuit institutions he attended.

“I identify more, much more, with that than the concept of organized churches, religions,” he told America.

Other Catholic medical professionals have weighed in on the question of whether Holy Communion can be distributed safely.

An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a document entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.” That group of doctors concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.

The document calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Singing should be avoided, and those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

One member of that committee is Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health.

Baccarelli told CNA that he agrees with and appreciates Fauci’s suggestions, and that there is a risk to the distribution of Holy Communion.

“Our committee wrote a plan to minimize the risk to distribute communion. That doesn’t mean that there will be no risk nor that we advised on whether it was safe to do it now or in the future,” Baccarelli added. “We just provided a document to guide masses and distribute Communion whenever it will be safe enough to do so.”

“If Dr. Fauci suggests it is not time yet to distribute communion, I think we should listen to him and wait before doing that again,” Baccarelli said.

Another member of the committee told CNA last week that he believes Catholics can attend Mass safely, and sacraments can be administered with appropriate precautions.

“I think that if we just use common sense to compare apples to apples for metrics that we know matter - like density, for example - then there’s no real kind of objective scientific reason why Mass is any more dangerous than going to the grocery store. I think the difference here is a perceived risk,” Dr. Andrew Wang, an immunobiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine and one of the plan’s co-authors, told CNA.

The plan calls for confessions to be held in outdoor or well-ventilated indoor areas, with the use of masks, an impermeable barrier between the priest and penitent, and frequent sanitization of surfaces.

Wang said that distributing Holy Communion on the hand, rather than on the tongue, represents an appropriate precaution for churches, especially while some things about the coronavirus spread are not yet completely understood.

Acknowledging that some people may object to that recommendation, Wang said that in his perspective, “it boils down to, is it better to not have communion at all - and by extension not have Mass at all?”

Ultimately, Wang said, going to church at this time is not risk-free, just as any other public activity is not without risk during a pandemic. He noted that dioceses throughout the country have granted dispensations from the Sunday obligation for those who are unable to attend or are not comfortable with the risk involved.

Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely - if they observe CDC protocols.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.

If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.

“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

“If somebody makes an arbitrary judgment that a church is not going to follow that guidance, without any evidence, that is biased and there is no evidence for that,” he said.

Flanigan questioned the categories of some governors who classified religious gatherings as “non-essential,” compared to more “essential” activities like grocery stores.

“Being able to come together and pray together, being able to receive the sacraments, to encounter the Lord, right there in the sacraments, is so important,” Flanigan said.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, just as important as spiritual health,” he said. “We are a whole self, which has a mind, a body, a heart a soul. To be able to pray together, to be able to support each other, to be able to worship together, to be able to receive the Lord in Communion, is so important for us to be healthy and to thrive.”

“That is why our churches are essential,” Flanigan told CNA.

 

 

Vatican offers online book for parents facing difficult prenatal diagnosis

Vatican City, May 29, 2020 / 07:10 am (CNA).- The Vatican has published a free book online that can be a resource for parents facing a difficult or fatal diagnosis for their unborn child during pregnancy. 

The nearly 300-page ebook is a compilation of speeches given at a Vatican conference held last year dedicated to the medical care and ministries that support families who receive a prenatal diagnosis indicating that their baby will likely die before or just after birth. 

“Yes to Life: Caring for the precious gift of life in its frailness,” a conference organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life in May 2019, brought together medical professionals, bioethicists, ministry providers, and families from 70 countries to discuss how best to provide medical, psychological, and emotional support for parents expecting a child with a life-limiting illness.

“Sometimes people ask me, what does perinatal hospice look like? And I answer, ‘It looks like love,’” author and mother Amy Kuebelbeck shared at the conference. 

Kuebelbeck was 25 weeks pregnant when she received the diagnosis that her unborn son had an incurable heart defect. She carried her pregnancy to term and had a little more than two hours with her son, Gabriel, before he died after birth.

“It was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Kuebelbeck said. She wrote a memoir of her experience of grief, loss, and love called Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby’s Brief Life.

“I know that some people assume that continuing a pregnancy with a baby who will die is all for nothing. But it isn’t all for nothing.  Parents can wait with their baby, protect their baby, and love their baby for as long as that baby is able to live. They can give that baby a peaceful life -- and a peaceful goodbye. That’s not nothing. That is a gift,” Kuebelbeck wrote in Waiting with Gabriel.

Kuebelbeck’s testimony at the conference is included in the ebook in English, as is a transcript of the presentation provided by Dr. Byron Calhoun, a medical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who first coined the term “perinatal hospice.” 

Calhoun’s research has found that allowing parents of newborns with a terminal prenatal diagnosis the chance to be parents can result in less distress for the mother than pregnancy termination. 

Other speeches from the conference are also published in Italian and Spanish, such Sister Giustina Olha Holubets’ Italian presentation. The Ukrainian religious sister, who works as a geneticist at the University of Lviv, helped to found “Imprint of Life,” a perinatal palliative care center in Ukraine.

“Imprint of Life” offers grief accompaniment, individualized birth plans, the sacrament of baptism, and burial, as well as respectful photos, footprints, and memory books to help families cherish their brief moments with their child. Their motto is “I cannot give more days to your life, but I can give more life to your days.”

There are now more than 300 hospitals, hospices, and ministries providing perinatal palliative care around the world.

Many families facing these diagnoses have to decide if they will seek extraordinary or disproportionate medical care for their child after birth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘overzealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.”

Ministries like Alexandra’s House, a perinatal hospice in Kansas City, Missouri, provide counsel and grief support to parents as they face these difficult medical decisions. They also connect families with a network of other parents who have had a terminal prenatal diagnosis.

“Most of the families stay in contact indefinitely,” said MaryCarroll Sullivan, nurse and bioethics adviser for the ministry.

The book, published by the Vatican’s Publishing House, includes Pope Francis’ speech from his meeting with the conference participants in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

In this speech, Pope Francis said that selective abortion of the disabled is the “expression of an inhumane eugenic mentality that deprives families of the chance to accept, embrace and love the weakest of their children.”

“Fear and hostility towards disability often lead to the choice of abortion, presenting it as a practice of ‘prevention,’” the pope said on May 25, 2019.

Pope Francis also thanked the perinatal hospice providers for creating “networks of love” to which couples can turn to receive accompaniment with the undeniable practical, human, and spiritual difficulties they face.

“Your witness of love is a gift to the world,” he said.

“Caring for these children helps parents to process their mourning and to understand it not only as loss, but also as a stage in a journey travelled together. They will have had the opportunity to love their child, and that child will remain in their memory forever,” Pope Francis said.

“Those few hours in which a mother can cradle her child in her arms leave an unforgettable trace in her heart.”