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Analysis: Will anything change on pro-choice politicians and holy communion?

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2020 / 09:05 pm (CNA).-  

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been working from home these last few months, like a lot of people have. Biden has been campaigning from his house in Delaware: livestreaming interviews, appearing on radio shows, and releasing videos.

But now that Biden has selected a running mate, and is less than three months from Election Day, the candidate is expected to hit the road again —  while respecting social distance, of course.

Biden, a Catholic, is in the habit of going to Mass while traveling. If he resumes that habit, it will soon raise questions familiar both to bishops and to pundits: Can pro-choice politicians like Biden receive the Eucharist? And will anyone stop Biden if he approaches the communion line?

The norm of canon 915 itself is clear: Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” But debate over that canon, and its application to pro-choice politicians, has vexed the Church in the U.S. every election year since John Kerry’s presidential campaign, and often in between elections, too.

In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops, explaining the application of canon 915 to the question of pro-choice politicians.

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

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

If the individual perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Shortly after Ratzinger wrote that memo, the U.S. bishops agreed the application of those norms should be decided by individual bishops, rather than by the bishops’ conference.

Some bishops have prohibited politicians advocating for “permissive abortion laws” from receiving communion, but others have demurred, or said outright they would not deny such politicians the Eucharist.

Asked by a journalist, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in October that he would not deny Biden the Eucharist. Before that, in January 2019, Dolan had said that he would not deny the Eucharist to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed into law one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country’s history.

Biden’s own shepherd, Bishop William Malooly, has said in the past that he does not want to “politicize” the Eucharist by denying communion to politicians. Washington, D.C.’s ordinary, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, has said that the Eucharist should be denied only as a last resort, and is not on record as ever having done so.

But while bishops are circumspect about the issue, many active Catholics are not. Practicing pro-life Catholics have in recent years lambasted bishops for their reticence to withhold the Eucharist from pro-choice politicians. Some have called the bishops’ approach a scandal. Many young priests have echoed those calls. 

In the frustration of not being heard, and in the wake of the McCarrick scandal, those calls intensified last year as several states passed expansive abortion laws. The controversy widened an already broad gap of distrust between many Catholics and their leaders.

Biden, who supports the federal funding of abortion and in 2016 officiated at a same-sex wedding, is likely to prompt similar calls from lay Catholics in the months to come.

So here’s what’s likely to happen:

At some point between now and election day, a young priest will find Joe Biden in his communion line. Because of the priest’s convictions about the unborn and his sacramental theology, he will deny Biden the Eucharist.

Someone will see it, a report will get out. CNA may well break the story (our reporters are the best in the business.)

Biden will say very little himself, and he won’t have to.

The priest will issue a statement explaining himself, and then be roundly criticized. A cardinal will appear on television, and he’ll disagree with the young priest’s decision. Pro-choice or progressive leaning Catholics will on social media call the priest a fundamentalist, and point out, correctly but as a distraction, that Trump also takes positions contrary to the Church’s teaching. The priest’s diocese will say very little. Other priests will wonder whether their bishops will support them, if they too act to follow the Vatican’s guidance on the matter.

After a news cycle or two, the issue will mostly die down, leaving those who continue to raise their concern ever more alone, and looking ever more like zealots.

In their frustration, some will turn to a growing chorus of anti-episcopal conservative media figures who make a living criticizing the Church’s leaders. Bishops will lament the popularity of those figures.

If that prediction sounds quite specific, that’s because it’s what happened in October 2019, the last time Biden was denied the Eucharist.

Some version of that story will happen again because, as things stand, the policy and the practice of the Church on this issue diverge from each other, dramatically.

That leaves priests who put the policy into practice standing often by themselves. It leaves some Catholics confused about how seriously the Church takes its own teaching and its own sacramental discipline. Other Catholics, those who have watched that cycle play out a few times, are less confused than demoralized, and cynical.

But if election pollsters have it right, this issue isn’t going away. Biden, who would be the second Catholic president, has a big lead over Trump. Unless something changes, he’s likely to be the first Catholic president since Roe vs. Wade, and the first to publicly support abortion.

The U.S. bishops decided on a patchwork, diocese by diocese, approach to canon 915 in 2004, in part under the influence of Theodore McCarrick, who was then the Archbishop of Washington. In some senses, from an ecclesiological perspective, that localized approach might make sense.

But the country may soon find itself with an aggressively pro-abortion president who likes going to Mass, and a piecemeal approach to an important question of sacramental discipline. Practically, that situation is likely to foment further division in the Church, as bishops promulgate dueling policies under a national spotlight.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that any bishop will take up the project of making a nationwide change on this issue, and there are only a few positioned well to do so.

The Archbishop of Washington and the Bishop of Wilmington, both of whom have a platform as Biden’s shepherd, are among those who could.

If either of those bishops took the initiative to say that in his diocese the Church’s canonical discipline on the Eucharist would be applied fairly and consistently to politicians of all parties who break from the Church on grave and clear matters, a precedent would be set, and easily followed across the country.

Failing that possibility, if Cardinal Dolan had a change of heart, and announced that in the Archdiocese of New York the Church’s sacramental discipline would be applied in accord with the Church’s instructions, other bishops would likely follow suit. Church watchers would likely see that as a recovery of Dolan’s once praised legacy on pro-life issues, which was tarnished amid the controversy over Cuomo.

Bishops don’t like to go first, generally, but many are willing to follow the right leader. If a nationally leading Churchman set a change in motion, many would follow suit. Eventually, only a dozen or so bishops staunchly opposed to “politicizing” the Eucharist might be left.

Both Washington and Wilmington are led by bishops rarely characterized as conservative. Washington’s Archbishop Gregory is struggling to gain trust as a reformer, the job for which he was sent to Washington. Insistence on applying the Church’s law, as written, would likely bolster Gregory’s credibility on that front. But the archbishop led the U.S. bishops' conference in 2004, when he and McCarrick were seen to push for a permissive interpretation of Ratzinger's letter, and there is no evidence to suggest he has changed his thinking on the subject.

Bishop Malooly, who is almost 77, is even less likely to change his long-standing policy than Gregory is. But his successor, who could be appointed as early as September, might be of a different mind. And he would have to his advantage the unique window of time in which a new bishop can make a major change before getting bogged down in the myriad reasons he hears not to make any changes.

If he is appointed before the election, it would be all the easier to make his position clear.

There is one other bishop who might be expected to lead a charge on this issue: Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Gomez, who is both pro-life and a strong advocate for the Church’s moral teaching on immigration, has the credibility among a broad swath of bishops to call for a unified approach to a vexing problem. But the conference has not passed major sweeping policies in recent years, and is still recovering from the shockwaves of McCarrick and 2018. Gomez would have little luck unifying the conference on anything so controversial.

But the L.A. archbishop has personal influence: If he decided to announce a policy for Los Angeles, after lobbying other prominent U.S. bishops to announce the same, a swath of bishops would probably follow them.

For any of those bishops, the media blowback of such a move would be immense, and difficult to get past. But the support among many practicing Catholics, and among priests, who are looking to the Church for leadership, would also be significant. Such a move would not soon be forgotten.

By many estimates, the result of those bishops taking the lead, however unlikely, is that the integrity of the Church’s moral witness might be strengthened. Catholics might grow in respect for their embattled bishops. And, just maybe, a few Catholic politicians who defy the Gospel, from either party, might be moved to conversion.

Whether any bishop will actually decide to break the cycle, or whether Catholics will watch the ‘Communion Wars’ play on for the next several years, is up to the handful of bishops who could meaningfully change the narrative. It seems unlikely they’ll do so. But as America contemplates a change, the Church’s leaders have the chance to make one too.


Too few safeguards, opponents of New Zealand euthanasia, assisted suicide bill say

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- A New Zealand bill that would legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide does not have enough protections against the possible coercion of vulnerable people, opponents of the bill said at a recent public forum.

Renee Joubert, executive officer of advocacy group Euthanasia-Free NZ, said Aug. 10 that she is concerned that the End of Life Choice Act 2019 would allow doctors to counsel patients whom they barely know, allowing them to approve their requests for assisted suicide without properly screening for coercion or without even being required to meet with the patient in person.

“If (doctors and patients) have not met someone before it is hard to know if they have been coerced. If (consultations) can be by phone video not face-to-face then how can they tell if they are free from pressure, their abuser may be out of sight,” Joubert said, according to an article from the Timaru Herald appearing on Stuff, a New Zealand news website.

Joubert was one of five people who spoke for and against the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill at a public forum on the bill, hosted in Timaru and organized by the Timaru Christian Ministers Association, ahead of a September referendum vote on the issue. Timaru is a coastal city in the South Island of New Zealand, located roughly 100 miles south of Christchurch.

The New Zealand Parliament voted in favor of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide last November, sending the End of Life Choice bill to a referendum vote, which will be held Sept. 19.

If passed, it would allow terminally ill citizens or permanent residents of New Zealand age 18 and older, who have six months or fewer to live, to be euthanized or to themselves take a lethal dose of prescribed drugs, on the condition that two doctors agree the person is well-informed. An earlier version of the bill would have also allowed those with severe or incurable conditions to seek euthanasia or assisted suicide.

At the forum on Monday, Joubert added that there was no test to ensure the mental soundness of the person making the decision to end their life, and that unlike other countries with assisted suicide laws, the New Zealand bill did not require any witnesses for the signing of documents in which the patient would agree to death by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Josh Taylor, a minister of St John’s Anglican Church, said at the forum that after New Zealanders went to great lengths to protect the elderly and other vulnerable populations from the coronavirus pandemic, legalizing assisted suicide would put those same populations at risk.

“The act undermines a caring society which protects the vulnerable, it is open to abuse,” Taylor said, according to the Timaru Herald.

Opponents of the bill at the forum also expressed concern that the 48 hour waiting period between receiving the lethal prescription and taking the medication was too short, the Timaru Herald reported.

Hospice groups have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill. Hospice NZ chief executive Mary Schumacher wrote in an opinion piece for Stuff that “people living with a terminal illness should be supported to live in whatever way is important to them, their family and whānau, and make the most of their remaining life and not be subjected to pressure to end their life prematurely.”

“People should have access to good palliative care support regardless of where they live, but we know that this is not the case currently in Aotearoa New Zealand. We need to address issues of access to care, social isolation, and lack of support for family carers before we give people the means to choose death,” she added.

A Christchurch surgeon wrote in a 2019 piece at Stuff that legalized assisted suicide would “erode the trust” between a doctor and their patients.

The Nathaniel Centre, which is the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Center, has posted resources on Church teaching on euthanasia and assisted suicide to their website and social media pages ahead of the referendum.

In 2018 the Catholic bishops of New Zealand released a resource that listed five key reasons to oppose assisted suicide legislation, and encouraged Catholics to stand up for life.

“It is a powerful witness when the entire Catholic community is united around a point of belief and action – the upholding of the dignity of human life – which is so central to our faith and pivotal to an inclusive and caring society,” the bishops said at the time.

In November 2019, leaders from varying religious traditions, including Catholic leaders, wrote a joint letter to members of Parliament to express seven concerns about the “unethical bill”, including the concern that assisted suicide is not a free choice when access to palliative care is not equal in the country.

“Until it is (equal access), there is a strong likelihood that New Zealanders will also choose assisted death because of a lack of other meaningful choices. In such a context, there is the real risk that people in lower socio-economic groups will find themselves being channelled unnecessarily and unjustly towards a premature death,” the leaders said.

Pope Francis has on multiple occasions spoken out against assisted suicide and euthanasia, both of which are “morally unacceptable” according to Church teaching. In 2016, Pope Francis told medical professionals that assisted suicide and euthanasia are part of the “throwaway culture” that offers people “false compassion” and treats human persons like a problem.

Dozens killed, missing after landslide in India

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 05:16 pm (CNA).- A landslide in southern India has killed at least 52 people and destroyed dozens of buildings, including one Protestant church, in recent days.

For nearly a week, Kerala state has faced monsoon rainfalls and flooding, triggering a massive landslide in the Idukki district. Dozens of houses on a tea plantation were demolished, and about 70 people were buried by the mud when a hill collapsed.

More than a dozen people are still missing, and search-and-rescue operations are ongoing.

A 151-year-old Protestant Church of South India building collapsed during the flooding on Aug. 11, UCA News reported.

Local Catholics are now working to help those affected by the flooding.

The Archdiocese of Changanaserry is coordinating relief efforts, with priests, nuns, and lay volunteers assisting.

Fr. Jacob Mavunkal, an official with the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, told UCA News that volunteers have “rushed food, drinking water and other immediate requirements to the affected people.”

Other areas of the state are also suffering with strong winds, heavy flooding, erosion, landslide, and falling trees causing damage, he said. Distributing supplies has been challenging, as many people are hesitant to approach relief camps due to fear of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flooding during the monsoon season is an annual threat for people in certain parts of India. Last year, it was estimated that 17 million people were affected by flooding and landslides throughout the monsoon season.

Caritas India works with local diocesan-level partners throughout the country each year to offer food, shelter, and other assistance to those who have been displaced or affected by the flooding.


Analysis: Was a stack of Bibles burned in Portland, or was it fake news?

Denver Newsroom, Aug 12, 2020 / 03:35 pm (CNA).-  

If you perused the news online on Saturday, Aug. 1, you could be forgiven for believing that large-scale Bible burnings— the kind perpetrated by the Nazis in the 1930s— were taking place in the apparently Godless streets of Portland, Oregon.

Dozens of news stories from Aug. 1 repeated a claim from a Malaysia-based journalist that “a stack” of Bibles had been consumed in a bonfire, built by protestors in the middle of the street.

But after more than a week of those stories, the pendulum has swung the other way. Spurred by an extensive analysis of the incident by the New York Times, many media outlets have begun to dismiss the reports of the Bible-burning incident as overblown and misleading; one outlet even labeling the story “Russian propaganda.”

So what’s the truth? 

The evidence suggests that reports of a burning “stack” of Bibles were not accurate. But the Bible-burning incident was not completely fictional, and there is no evidence that what did happen was insignificant or meaningless.

Protestors burned at least two Bibles in the streets of Portland that night. A livestream filmed at the protest shows them burning. That fact is undisputed.

By Aug. 1, large-scale protests and riots had been taking place in Portland for over two months, protestors had set numerous fires amid the demonstrations. On July 26, police even reported that protestors had attempted to burn the courthouse itself to the ground.

The protests often have taken the form of crowds of hundreds of masked people protesting, ostensibly, against racism, police brutality, and fascism. Federal agents responding to the protests have garnered criticism for using tear gas and other forceful methods against protesters.

Some of the protests have been accompanied by riots and looting. In addition to extensive property damage in the city’s downtown, there have been incidents of violence within or adjacent to the protests, including shootings and stabbings.

Danny Peterson, a reporter for KOIN6, a Portland CBS affiliate, who was present at the Aug. 1 burning, told CNA that he personally only saw one book burned that night, and did not get a good look at its cover. He said multiple eyewitnesses told him that it was a Bible, and he reported that a Bible had been burned.

But the initial, widely-shared evidence for the Bible burning originated from a different source— a video released by Ruptly, a video agency whose sole shareholder is a non-profit organization controlled by the Russian government. (Warning: The video contains strong language.)

The Ruptly clip that went viral is a small, edited clip from a nearly five-hour livestream that the news agency posted from the July 31-Aug.1 protest.

The video caught mainstream attention after Ian Miles Cheong— a Malaysian journalist who is consistently active in American conservative political debates— retweeted the video with the caption “Left-wing activists bring a stack of Bibles to burn in front of the federal courthouse in Portland.”

Cheong’s tweet quickly made its way around the internet on Aug. 1, with such political figures as Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. retweeting the video and adding their own commentary. Conservative sites picked up the story from there, almost all of them citing the Ruptly video.

In addition, several conservative commentators online repeated Cheong’s claim that the protestors had burned “a stack” of Bibles.

On the other hand, a NY Times’ Aug. 11 analysis claimed that the truth “was far more mundane”— the protestors had not burned “a stack,” but merely one or two single Bibles as “kindling to start a bigger fire.”

Pointing to the video’s source, and its framing, The Times’ analysis said that “the Portland Bible burnings appear to be one of the first viral Russian disinformation hits of the 2020 presidential campaign.”

According to the Times, Russia has for years been seeking to sow discord in the United States, in part, through what the Times calls “information laundering”— releasing stories and information through channels controlled by Russia, such as RT, which American social media users and news outlets then pick up and disseminate to their followers.

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in a statement last week that according to U.S. intelligence, Russia has been seeking to denigrate Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is seeking to unseat incumbent President Donald Trump in November and who has been publicly supportive of the protests.

For its part, CNA reported at the time that in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, protestors burned at least one Bible in a bonfire in the street. CNA’s source was the KOIN report, but the story mentioned Ruptly’s video in its reporting, while adding the caveat that the video was unconfirmed, and its source was a Russia-controlled news site.

A representative from Ruptly contacted CNA shortly after the story published, requesting that CNA change its characterization of Ruptly as “Russia-controlled.”

The representative told CNA that Ruptly is an “entirely commercially-run, international news agency” that is based in Berlin and “wholly independent of any government.”

But Ruptly’s sole shareholder is ANO TV Novosti, a non-profit organization funded by the Russian government, which the U.S. Department of Justice has designated as a Russian government entity. Information on Ruptly’s ties to Russia is readily available and widely known.

CNA asked the Ruptly representative whether its financial ties to the Russian government make the characterization “Russia-controlled” appropriate. The representative told CNA again that Ruptly is a commercial entity that answers its CEO and its editorial team, “which is made up of 42 different nationalities.”

“Their role in this capacity is to deliver top-quality, neutral reporting on a diverse range of news items from around the world, according to the demands of Ruptly’s clients,” the representative said in an email.

The representative declined to comment directly on the question of Ruptly ties to Russia.

Ruptly’s characterization and promotion of the video may be part a broader disinformation campaign. It was at least misleading and incendiary, not meeting ordinary ethical standards for journalism. But it is not the only storytelling that raises questions.

The NY Times account also deserves scrutiny. The Times analysis argued that the Bible burning was merely an overblown, isolated incident.

“A few protesters among the many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible — and possibly a second — for kindling to start a bigger fire. None of the other protesters seemed to notice or care,” the NY Times said.

But it seems clear from the videotape that whoever set the first Bible alight intended to make a statement. One protestor standing around the burning Bible removed her mask and blew on the flames performatively, making a show of warming her hands from the fire’s heat.

“Best use of a Bible ever,” an unseen voice comments as the flames rise.

As the first Bible slowly burns, another voice can be heard saying: “Hey, there’s more free Bibles over there.”

“We need another Bible,” another voice says a few minutes later. “Let’s keep this s*** going,” another shouts.

Protestors later added several American flags, newspapers, a pizza box, and twigs to the fire, and chanted vulgar slogans, including “F*** the Police.”

The Times’ analysis reports that “there [was] no discernible reaction from the crowd as the [second] book is put in the flames along with twigs and branches, notebook pages and newspapers.” This is not true.

As the second Bible is ripped apart by a masked protester and added to the flames, a voice on the videotape can be heard saying clearly “A Bible, yeah!” in approval. There are also several excited whoops, and even a cry of “Hail, Satan.”

Yellow-clad members of the group Moms United for Black Lives Matter went over to the fire and put it out with bottles of water and stamping around 1 am, according to the KOIN6 report.

Protestors later built a new fire; it remains unclear whether the second fire consumed more Bibles.

A “stack” of Bibles was not burned in Portland Aug. 1. Nevertheless, Bibles were burned, and seemingly not by accident.

Whether “fake news” comes from Russia or from New York, misleading reports— whether exaggerating the truth, or downplaying it— are likely to intensify in months to come. Astute news consumers should be attentive to both.


'Deeply flawed': Catholics react to Harris VP selection

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Catholics and pro-life organizations offered a range of reactions to the selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as former vice president Joe Biden’s running mate for the 2020 election. 

Biden announced his selection on Aug. 11, triggering a wave of reactions among political and Catholic commentators

Fordham University professor Charles Camosy, who left the Democratic Party earlier this year over the party’s stance on abortion, called Harris a “deeply flawed” choice for VP.

“It is very good that a Black woman has been nominated for VP. And I can understand a desire to choose the lesser of two evils,” said Camosy on Twitter Wednesday.

“But for Catholics in favor of prenatal justice, and of government defending these children from terrible violence, we must say that Harris is a deeply flawed candidate. Unreserved praise of her VP candidacy is, in effect, yet another example of erasure of the prenatal child,” Camosy said. 

Democrats for Life of America also criticized Harris’s selection, saying in a statement that she “does not provide pro-life Democrats with any assurances and will, in fact, further alienate 21 million Democratic voters who have been left out of the party for quite some time.” 

Harris’ position on abortion is “far out of line with the majority of Democrats and Americans on this sensitive issue,” the organization said, and encouraged Biden and Harris to reach out to pro-life Democrats and adjust the party’s platform stances on abortion. 

Michael Sean Winters, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter and the author of “Left At the Altar: How Democrats Lost The Catholics And How Catholics Can Save The Democrats,” also expressed his reservations about Harris. 

“[Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth] Warren was the person I wanted Biden to choose,” said Winters on Wednesday. 

“After the racial tensions the nation experienced this summer, putting a Black woman on the ticket is to be commended,” Winters said, but called the selection of Harris a “setback for progressives.”

Winters was critical of Harris’ 2018 questioning of a judicial nominee over his membership of the Knights of Columbus, calling her treatment of Brian C. Buescher “embarrassing in both its ignorance and its bigotry.” 

“Whatever difficulties I have with the leadership at the K of C, they do not excuse her dismissiveness towards a religion held by millions of fellow citizens, including her new running mate,” Winters said Wednesday, after the announcement of Harris' selection was made. 

At the time CNA broke the story of Buescher's ordeal, America Magazine published an editorial saying Harris’ questions to the prospective judge had shown "a surprising ignorance of the Knights’ many religious, charitable and civic activities beyond their direct political advocacy, not to mention a complete disregard for their history in opposing virulent anti-Catholicism in the nation’s past."

National Review writer Alexandra DeSanctis made a similar observation, saying Harris’s time on the Senate judiciary committee had shown “reprehensible anti-Catholic bigotry, and there’s no reason to believe her views have changed.”

Several commentators from across the political divide also noted Harris’ noted support for unlimited access to abortion.

Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, described Harris as “staunchly pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty,” and said that she “favors radical abortion policies including late-term abortion paid for by taxpayers, as well as forcing Catholic religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide abortion drugs in their healthcare plans.” 

On Twitter, CatholicVote called Harris a “devout anti-Catholic.” 

Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence said on Twitter that, in effect, Biden’s selection of Harris pointed to an absence of Catholic values by the Democratic candidate.

“Biden-Harris. First time in a while that the Democratic ticket hasn’t had a Catholic on it. Sad.” Tobin tweeted on Tuesday.

Biden, a Catholic who was on the Democratic ticket in 2008 and 2012, has come under sustained criticism from many Catholic leaders for his increasing support for abortion and for his having officiated at a same-sex wedding.

Pope Francis meets with bishop newly consecrated to lead Mongolia’s Catholics

Vatican City, Aug 12, 2020 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met Wednesday with an Italian missionary who was recently consecrated a bishop to lead Mongolia’s apostolic prefecture.

Bishop Giorgio Marengo, 46, served as a Consolata missionary priest in Mongolia for 17 years before Pope Francis appointed him Prefect of Ulaanbaatar April 2.

His episcopal consecration took place in Turin Aug. 8, with Cardinal Luis Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as his principal consecrator.

“I am very grateful to the Pope for this great grace that has granted me to meet him personally and to receive a word of encouragement for this mission,” Marengo told Vatican News after his Aug. 12 meeting with the pope.

Pope Francis is “very interested in the … the Church in Mongolia and of the Mongolian people in general. We know how much the pope cares about the entire Church, even those areas where there are not large numbers, indeed precisely where the Church is more in the minority,” he said.

At the Mass of episcopal consecration, Tagle said: “May your heart, your words, your smiles whisper Jesus to the people, the poor, the suffering, the steppe, the rivers, the eternal blue skies of Mongolia.”

“A bishop can only boast of the compassionate love of Jesus,” Tagle added.

Marengo was born in northern Italy’s Piedmont region and grew up in Turin. He studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and later obtained a license and doctorate from the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

While serving as a Consolata missionary in Mongolia, Marengo established a new catechesis program. He told CNA in 2014 that the program sought to form young adults into future catechists by providing lessons in theology and the Church and its mission.

Mongolia has a population of 1,300 Catholics in a country of more than 3 million people. The Prefecture Apostolic of Ulaanbaatar serves the entire country.

“I believe being a bishop in Mongolia is very similar to the episcopal ministry of the early Church,” Marengo said. “The Church is a very small reality, it is a minority but there is this group of Mongolian faithful who have chosen, with great courage and also a sense of responsibility, to follow the Lord and become part of the Catholic Church.”

The first modern mission to Mongolia was in 1922 and was entrusted to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But under a communist government, religious expression was soon thereafter suppressed, until 1992.

In 2002, the Ulaanbaatar mission was elevated to the present apostolic prefecture. The mission's superior, the late Fr. Wenceslao Padilla, a priest of the Immaculate Heart congregation, was appointed prefect, and was consecrated a bishop the following year. Padilla died in September 2018. Mongolia’s first native priest was ordained in 2016.

Marengo told Vatican News that because Mongolia’s Catholic community is so small it is especially important to pay attention to interreligious dialogue and the cultural traditions of the Mongolian people.

“It means dedicating time to know and study the language, to refine those tools that allow us to enter into a true dialogue with people, to understand their points of reference, their history, their cultural and religious roots,” he said. “And at the same time, in all this, to be faithful to the Gospel itself … to offer with great humility, with great sincerity this precious pearl we have received which is the Gospel of the Lord.”

The new bishop chose “Respicite ad eum et illuminamini” as his episcopal motto, which means “Look to him and you will be radiant.”

Marengo expects to return to Mongolia in September if coronavirus restrictions allow.

Former employee charged with stealing $472,000 from Archdiocese of Washington

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 02:07 pm (CNA).- The former assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in Washington, D.C., has been charged with embezzling close to half a million dollars from the archdiocese over an eight-year period.

Kenneth Gaughan, 41, has been charged in two separate schemes to steal money from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the federal Paycheck Protection Program put in place to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will not tolerate exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin in a press release.

“This Office will not allow fraudsters to steal taxpayer money intended to help small businesses that are currently struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The criminal complaint, unsealed Aug. 11, charges Gaughan with bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and theft of government funds. He is accused of seeking and accepting $2.1 million in small business loans for companies that falsely claimed to register emotional support animals.

Gaughan reportedly used forged bank records and other paperwork to obtain the loans. Prosecutors say he used the funds to buy a yacht, $1.3 million D.C. rowhouse, and luxury car.

He is also being charged with separately embezzling $472,000 from the Archdiocese of Washington from 2010-2018. According to prosecutors, Gaughan, who served as assistant superintendent, persuaded the archdiocese to pay invoices to companies he owned under an alias for services that had not actually been provided, included anti-bullying programs and messaging software.

The Archdiocese of Washington told the Washington Post that it planned to “fully cooperate in the prosecution of the scheme to defraud.”

Gaughan has pled not guilty, the Washington Post reported.


Catholic Archbishop of Minsk calls for end to violence after Belarus election

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev called Tuesday for an end to the violent clashes occurring across Belarus following a disputed presidential election.

“At this crucial moment in our history, in the name of the God of boundless mercy, love, and peace, I call on all parties to the conflict to end the violence. May your hands, created for peaceful work and fraternal greetings, lift neither weapons nor stones. Let the force of argument, based on dialogue in truth and mutual love, prevail over the argument of force,” Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who chairs the Belarusian bishops' conference, wrote Aug. 11.

Protests began Aug. 9 after president Alexander Lukashenko was declared to have won that day's election with 80% of the vote. Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since the position was created in 1994.

Electoral officials said that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, earned 10% of the vote. She was detained for several hours after complaining to the electoral committee, and has fled to Lithuania.

Protests have taken place across the country, and thousands of protesters have been detained.

Belarusian athorities say demonstrators have used metal rods, and police forces have used tear gas, stun grenades, and batons on them. Police in Brest, 110 miles west of Pinsk, shot live bullets at protesters Aug. 11.

Journalists from the BBC were harassed by police in Minsk, and other journalists were reportedly detained there and in Brest and Grodno.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Aug. 10 that the election “was not free and fair,” citing “severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation tactics employed against opposition candidates, and the detentions of peaceful protesters and journalists.”

“We urge the Belarusian government to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force, and release those wrongfully detained. We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters,” he added.

Archbishop Kondrusiewicz wrote that Belarus has “witnessed unprecedented tensions” related to the election, saying: “There were clashes between citizens and law enforcement officers. As a result of the active confrontation, unfortunately, the first blood has been shed and there are victims on both sides. For the first time in the modern history of Belarus, a brother raised his hand against his brother.”

“Why do we, a nation with more than a thousand years of Christian history, today seem to have forgotten about love of neighbor and our inherent tolerance towards dissenters,” he asked.

Appealing to the Slavic tradition of veche, or popular assemblies, the archbishop said, “I propose to convene immediately an emergency round table to decide the future of our fatherland behind it, and not at the barricades,” so as “to overcome the crisis in society and stop the violence as soon as possible.”

“I encourage all people of good will to pray fervently for peace and harmony in our country,” Archbishop Kondrusiewicz concluded.

Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia have also offered to mediate between the government and protesters.

Tsikhanouskaya entered the presidential race after her husband, Siahei Tsikhanouski, was blocked from running and was arrested. Tsikhanouski is a pro-democracy activist.

NY COVID-19 stats could hide real nursing home death toll

CNA Staff, Aug 12, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- Official figures from New York state likely under-represent the real number of nursing home residents who died as a result of COVID-19, according to a new report on Tuesday.

Officially, New York claims to have lost 6,600 nursing home residents to COVID-19, which would be just over 20% of the state’s total deaths. In neighboring New Jersey, nursing home residents account for 44% of the state’s total death toll, and in Pennsylvania, that figure rises to 68% of the total number of COVID-19 deaths. 

Unlike other states, New York only tallies nursing home deaths from COVID-19 if they actually occurred in a nursing home. A resident of a nursing home who died from COVID-19 after being transported to a hospital for intensive care would not be considered a nursing home death in New York. 

In an August 12 report by Associated Press, the New York statistics do not appear to tally either with regional patterns or with the current occupancy rates in nursing homes.

Geriatrics expert Thomas Perls told AP that the numbers given by New York do not make sense: “Whatever the cause, there is no way New York could be truly at 20%,” Perls said. 

If New York’s nursing home death percentage were the same as New Jersey, over 14,000 nursing home residents would have died from COVID-19. If it were the same as Pennsylvania, the number of nursing home residents who died from COVID-19 would rise to 22,012. 

According to the AP report, there are 21,000 empty nursing home beds in New York state this year. That number is 13,000 higher than the expected vacancy rate. 

While some of the “missing” nursing home patients were removed from nursing homes by concerned relatives, or died from other causes, the AP report suggests that it is likely some if not many of these “missing” patients died from COVID-19 but were not counted in state figures.

Even with the potential under-counting, New York’s reported number of nursing home deaths is already the highest in the country. 

On March 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that nursing homes accept residents who had previously been hospitalized with COVID-19, but who had not yet fully recovered. Approximately 6,300 COVID-19 patients were sent to nursing homes, which Cuomo has defended as an attempt to free up beds in hospitals. 

Cuomo’s March 25 order stated that “no resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the (nursing home) solely based” on their COVID-19 status. Over a month later, on April 29, nursing homes were given the go-ahead to deny COVID-19 patients if the residence did not think it was properly equipped to care for the patient.

The order was revoked on May 10. By that point, New York’s COVID-19 deaths had peaked and were on a steady decline. 

In the weeks following, Cuomo has condemned questions of his handling of the nursing home situation and dismissed calls for an independent assessment as “all politics.” 

By New York’s own metrics, the state ranks 35th nationally on percentage of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. 

COVID-19 ravaged at least one Catholic religious order during the time Cuomo’s order was in place. At least 10% of the 300 Maryknoll Sisters who live at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining, New York tested positive for COVID-19, plus 10 members of the center’s staff also tested positive. 

A total of 13 Maryknoll Sisters died from COVID-19, per the order’s Instagram page. According to obituaries posted on the order’s website, at least two of these sisters died in a hospital, meaning that their deaths would not be included in the nursing home tally. 

Nationally, approximately 164,000 people in the United States have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pope Francis: Human dignity has serious political implications

Vatican City, Aug 12, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that Christian faith demands conversion from individualism and a commitment to defending the inherent dignity of every person.

“While we work for the cure of a virus that affects everyone without distinction, faith urges us to work seriously and actively to fight indifference in the face of violations of human dignity,” Pope Francis said Aug. 12.

“We want to recognize the human dignity in every person, whatever his or her race, language or condition might be,” the pope said at his general audience.

Speaking via livestream from the library of the Vatican’s apostolic palace, Pope Francis emphasized that this “renewed awareness of the dignity of every human being has serious social, economic and political implications.”

He said that the pandemic has “shed light on broader social ills,” including “a distorted view of the person” that ignores human dignity and “fosters an individualistic and aggressive throw-away culture, which transforms the human being into a consumer good”.

“In the light of faith we know, instead, that God looks at a man and a woman in another manner. He created us not as objects but as people loved and capable of loving; He has created us in His image and likeness. In this way He has given us a unique dignity, calling us to live in communion with Him, in communion with our sisters and our brothers, with respect for all creation,” Pope Francis said.

“The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected we are all. If we do not take care of each other, starting with the least, with those who are most affected, including creation, we cannot heal the world,” he said.

Following the general audience, Pope Francis met with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the Vatican.

In recent months, Bachelet, the former president of Chile, has spoken out about child marriage in Somalia, human rights violations in Yemen, and the Iranian government’s repression of civil society.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson has also expressed concern over the application of China’s National Security Law in Hong Kong and Lebanon’s socio-economic crisis. The Vatican has not released further details of the content of the pope’s meeting with Bachelet.

Pope Francis had said at his general audience that humans have “inalienable dignity” because humanity was created in the image of God, quoting the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution, Gaudium et Spes. He said that this lies at “the foundation of all social life and determines its operative principles.”

“In modern culture, the closest reference to the principle of the inalienable dignity of the person is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Saint John Paul II defined as a ‘milestone on the long and difficult path of the human race’ and as ‘one of the highest expressions of the human conscience,’” Pope Francis said.

“Rights are not only individual, but also social; they are of peoples, nations. The human being, indeed, in his or her personal dignity, is a social being, created in the image of God, One and Triune,” he said. “We are social beings; we need to live in this social harmony, but when there is selfishness, our outlook does not reach others, the community, but focuses on ourselves, and this makes us ugly, nasty and selfish, destroying harmony.”

The pope’s reflection on human dignity is part of a weekly series of catechesis on Catholic social teaching, which he began last week. Pope Francis said that he wants to “tackle together the pressing issues that the pandemic has highlighted, especially social diseases.”

“Let us ask the Lord to give us eyes attentive to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are suffering. As Jesus’s disciples we do not want to be indifferent or individualistic,” he said.

“May the Lord ‘restore our sight’ so as to rediscover what it means to be members of the human family. And may this sight be translated into concrete actions of compassion and respect for every person and of care and safeguarding of our common home.”