Browsing News Entries

Pro-life candidate elected to Congress by six votes

CNA Staff, Dec 1, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- In one of the last results in the 2020 election to be called, another pro-life female candidate won election to the House of Representatives in Iowa’s 2nd district race certified on Monday.

Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks eked out victory over Democratic candidate Rita Hart by the narrowest of margins in the state’s southeast district, winning by only six votes as the election results were certified on Monday: 196,964 to 196,958.

Miller-Meeks’ victory marked took the Republicans’ net gains in the House to ten seats, narrowing the Democratic majority and raising hopes of stalling a slate of pro-abortion legislative priorities. She is the 18th new woman backed by the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List (SBA Lits) to be elected to the House this cycle.

“The exponential growth of pro-life women in the House is reflective of the fact that life has gone from being viewed as a political problem to a winning issue,” said SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser on Monday.

With 11 pro-life women incumbents returning, Dannenfelser noted that 29 women identifying as pro-life will serve in the House come January, and will be “a brick wall against the radical pro-abortion agenda” that includes repealing the Hyde Amendment.

In an election where Democrats won the White House and gained at least one seat in the Senate, the party lost ground in the House while still maintaining control of the chamber. While Speaker Nancy Pelosi had suggested House Democrats could see double-digit gains in the elections, the reverse has proven to be the case.

SBA List-endorsed women were responsible for ten of eleven seats lost by Democrats. Another race in upstate New York’s 22nd district has yet to be called; as of Tuesday morning, Republican candidate Claudia Tenney held only a 12-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Rep. Anthony Brindisi, with votes yet to be certified, according to WBNG.

Speaker Pelosi has said she plans to scrap the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal tax dollars from funding abortions, next year. With a reduced majority in the House, it remains to be seen if she will be able to follow through on that promise. Democrats have also talked about passing the Equality Act, which would recognize sexual orientation and so-called gender identity as protected legal classes, and could expand abortions.

However, Republicans currently hold 50 seats in the Senate with two races going to a January runoff. If they win just one of those seats, they will maintain control of the chamber and could possibly nullify attempts to repeal the Hyde Amendment or pass the Equality Act.

SBA List has already announced a $4.1 million effort to elect the two Republican candidates in Georgia, aiming to reach one million voters through door-knocking, phone calls, digital ads, and voter mail.

Father George Rutler accused of sexual assault, denies allegation

Denver Newsroom, Dec 1, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).-  

A well-known New York City priest is maintaining his innocence amid an investigation into an allegation that he sexually assaulted a female security guard earlier this month.

Father George Rutler, pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan, on Nov. 20 voluntarily stepped aside from his pastoral duties, while prosecutors are investigating the allegations, the Archdiocese of New York told CNA.

Ashley Gonzalez, a 22-year-old security guard with MG Security Services, went public Nov. 26 with an allegation that Rutler forcibly groped her, after she had allegedly seen the priest, late at night, watching homosexual pornography on an office computer in the church rectory.

Rutler is the author of over 30 books and is a well-known public speaker and television commentator on EWTN.  He has also been a frequent contributor to the National Catholic Register. The archdiocese told News12 there have been no other allegations raised against Rutler in the past.

Gonzalez hired Manuel Gomez, a private detective and founder of Black Ops Private Investigators, to help her file a police report following the alleged incident.

Gomez told CNA that the alleged victim's family was familiar with work he had done on a previous case, and that family members had recommended that Gonzalez contact him before contacting police.

The alleged incident happened around 1:20am Nov. 4, Gomez said. He said Gonzalez contacted him at 2:45am asking for help, and that he helped her to file a police report that morning.

The alleged incident took place during Gonzalez’s second night on the job, Gomez said.

According to Gonzalez, Rutler had offered that she could sit in his office when she was not actively doing her rounds. Gonzalez had finished her first set of rounds at around 1:15am and was sitting in the office texting her mother when Rutler entered the office and greeted Gonzalez.

He then sat down at the computer and checked the ongoing General Election results, Gonzalez alleges, before beginning to watch a homosexual pornographic video. Gonzalez said she filmed Rutler with her cellphone as he did so.

In the video obtained by CNA, a bald-headed man— fully clothed and wearing a grey or black sweater or long sleeve shirt— can be seen from behind sitting at a desk in an office decorated with religious photographs and holy cards, watching a video depicting lewd homosexual acts on a desktop computer. CNA could not verify the identity of the man, whom Gonzales claims is Rutler.

Gonzalez alleges that as she tried to exit the office, Rutler stood and slammed the door shut, breaking one of her fingernails. She alleges that he then grabbed her chest before she escaped the office.

Gonzalez sent a text message to her mother telling her that she felt unsafe and claiming that she had “almost” been raped.

In a Nov. 20 letter to his parish, Rutler denied that he “improperly touched” Gonzalez, but said he has offered to “step aside at this moment from my duties” while authorities conduct their investigation.

He urged his parishioners to “ignore any misleading accounts should they appear in the media” and asked for prayers.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the New York archdiocese, told CNA that Rutler’s case is in the hands of the district attorney, and that Cardinal Dolan does not plan to open an archdiocesan investigation while the DA’s investigation is ongoing.

Zwilling reiterated that Rutler had “voluntarily stepped away from his duties as pastor.”  He said the archdiocese is “fully cooperating” with the district attorney’s office in its investigation.

The priest has apparently curtailed all public activity.

A spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office told CNA that the office does not confirm whether investigations exist, and declined to comment.

Gomez said he hopes Rutler will soon be brought into the DA's office for questioning, and added that he has forwarded all the evidence he has collected on Rutler's alleged misconduct, including the video allegedly taken by Gonzalez, to the archdiocese.

CNA attempted to contact Father Rutler at the Church of St. Michael to discuss the allegations, but did not receive a response.

A convert from Anglicanism, Rutler was appointed a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in 2016.

 

Diocese of Pittsburgh announces its third round of parish mergers

CNA Staff, Nov 30, 2020 / 06:08 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Pittsburgh has announced that it will initiate its third round of parish mergers early next year, reducing its current 107 parishes to 81.

The mergers will take effect January 4, creating 14 groupings of parishes from 40 current parishes. The merger is the most recent step in the diocese’s “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative.

“This is a pivotal time for our diocese as we plan for the future of the Church of Pittsburgh,” Bishop David Zubik said in a Nov. 28 statement.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania is radically different than it was 100, 50, 20, even 10 years ago, yet the work of the Church and our call from God to bring His love to everyone continues as strong as ever,” the bishop said.

“As we address the challenges we face in the Church today, the witness of working and growing together reflects the unity of the Body of Christ that is essential to our mission.”

Among others, the new parishes will include Mary, Queen of Peace, which brings together the parishes of Saint Mary of the Mount and Prince of Peace; and the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which brings together the parishes of Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Joseph, and Saint Margaret Mary.

Each merger is taking place following consultation with parishioners, and a request by the priest-administrator of each grouping, which was approved by the diocesan Priest Council and Vicars General.

The merger is the latest step in the “On Mission for The Church Alive” initiative, which is reorganizing what began as 188 parishes into what ultimately will be fewer than 60 parish groupings.

The diocese's strategic planning initiative began in 2015 in part as a response to declining Mass attendance, the financial struggles of some parishes, and fewer priests.

The situation was exacerbated by the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which detailed sexual abuse allegations in six of Pennsylvania's eight Latin-rite dioceses, including Pittsburgh. CBS Pittsburgh reported earlier this year that since the report's release, Mass attendance had dropped 9% and offertory donations declined 11%.

In a letter to parishioners, Zubik stressed that the mergers, while difficult, are necessary to strengthen the local Church’s ministries and make them more effective for the future.

“This has not been a simple task. Jesus never promised that it would be easy to carry his message of love and mercy to others. He was clear that sacrifice would be necessary,” the bishop said.

“However, you are positioning your new parish for more effective ministry by addressing financial needs, sharing resources and allowing your clergy to focus on the spiritual work for which they were ordained,” he continued. “With your faith in Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, I invite you to warmly welcome and serve each other as you become one parish family.”

March for Life gears up for pandemic conditions

CNA Staff, Nov 30, 2020 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- With the annual March for Life scheduled to occur in January, how different might it look from previous years due to the ongoing pandemic?

The 48th annual March for Life is scheduled to take place on Jan. 29, 2021, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Normally attended by tens of thousands of pro-life demonstrators from all over the country, the 2021 March will be significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

CNA learned that the March for Life is working with the National Park Service and local officials to ensure a safe protest that will conform with “necessary guidelines.”

While the D.C. government does not have a special set of restrictions for protests, it has barred outdoor gatherings larger than 25 people, as of Nov. 25.

The city has also restricted travel from states where the current virus rate is more than 10 cases per 100,000 people. For travelers from these jurisdictions, they must get a negative test within 72 hours of traveling, and adhere to a mandatory mask policy, among other requirements. Travelers from Maryland and Virginia, and those visiting the city for less than 24 hours, are exempt.

Large protests have occurred in the city throughout the summer, most notably the Aug. 28 “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks” march attended by an estimated tens of thousands. That, too, was affected by the pandemic, as march organizers had to lower their in-person attendance estimate following the issuance of a permit by the National Park Service.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also had travel restrictions in place around the time of the march, altering travel plans of attendees. March for Life participants normally attend from all over the U.S., and may be traveling on busses and airplanes during the height of flu season.

During the March itself, attendees may have to comply with federal guidelines as closely as possible. According to the Washington Post, the August march reportedly required attendees to wear masks and undergo a temperature check before they entered the Mall. It is unclear if the same requirements will be made and enforced by the March for Life.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also listed recommendations for events and gatherings, including that all attendees wear masks, wash hands, cover their coughs and sneezes, and try to maintain a six-foot distance from other attendees.

The website of the March for Life says that the group will announce safety measures “closer to the March,” and will be promoting virtual participation for those who cannot attend in-person.

At a press conference in September, announcing the theme of the March, Jeanne Mancini—president of the March for Life—said that it was still on, despite the ongoing pandemic.

“Listen, we marched during the blizzard of 2016, we’ve marched during government shutdowns, we marched after 9/11, we will march again this year,” Mancini said.

“We’ve marched for 47 years, and no sacrifice is too great to fight this human rights abuse of abortion.”

Other events traditionally surround the March, such as the annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life held downtown on the morning of the March. In 2021, the rally will be held virtually and Mass will be live-streamed. The March for Life Expo has been canceled, and the annual Rose Dinner will be held virtually.

The theme of the 2020 March will be “Together Strong: Life Unites.”

Jeanne Mancini explained that “[t]his year, with a 2020 that’s been so unusual in many different ways, the idea of uniting together, and how each of us brings something different to the table, how the variety is beautiful and how together we’re stronger - it just seems like the right theme.”

Trump administration in Supreme Court over Census policy

Washington D.C., Nov 30, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday on whether the Trump administration can exclude undocumented immigrants when apportioning congressional representatives based on a state’s population.  

The case of Trump v. New York is based on a July memorandum of President Trump to the Commerce Secretary, noting that undocumented immigrants were to be excluded from the apportionment of representatives to states, based on the 2020 Census.

According to the Constitution, the number of congressional representatives from a particular state depends upon the state’s population, which is tabulated by the Census. According to Article I, Sec. 2, The population is “the whole Number of free Persons” and “three fifths of all other Persons,” a reference to the practice of slavery in many states at the time. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, states that “representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State.”

Trump, however, has stated that his administration “will not support giving congressional representation to aliens who enter or remain in the country unlawfully, because doing so would create perverse incentives and undermine our system of government.”

The U.S. Bishops’ conference has repeatedly opposed the policy. 

In a statement on Monday, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee said that excluding undocumented immigrants from the count of total persons in a state “is counter to the Constitution and makes people feel invisible and not valued as human beings.”

“The Church’s teaching is clear: human dignity is most sacred, regardless of legal status,” stated Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. “For that reason, we once again affirm the need to count all persons in the census, as well as in the apportionment of congressional representatives.” 

The state of New York challenged Trump’s order in court, arguing that excluding people from congressional representation based on their citizenship status was unconstitutional and unprecedented.

On Monday, acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued that the administration is still determining the number of undocumented immigrants, and which ones would be excluded from the apportionment count.

The court should wait and not rule against the decision, he said, as the state of New York has not suffered an injury but is only bringing up “possible future injuries.”

Justices asked Wall if the administration was planning on excluding all undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count, or only select classes such as those being detained in ICE facilities or given final orders of deportation by a judge.

With only a month left in the year, it would be a “monumental task” to count and exclude 10.5 million immigrants from apportionment, Justice Samuel Alito said. Wall admitted it would be “very unlikely” to identify every single undocumented immigrant residing in the U.S.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that, according to her understanding of Trump’s memo, the intent was to exclude all undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count, and that even if the administration included only certain categories of immigrants to exclude, those categories encompass a “substantially large” amount of people.

Justice Elena Kagan questioned why the administration needed the court to wait before ruling, asking Wall if the administration was working to count certain categories of immigrants, such as those who had final orders of removal, or were recipients of the DACA program.

“We can easily get to four to five million [immigrants] you have records on,” she told Wall. “You’re 30 days out, so it seems like you can know whether or not you can do matching.”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett also questioned Wall, citing historical examples to argue that, at the time the Constitution was adopted, an inhabitant of the U.S. was considered a “dweller.” Undocumented immigrants, she said, have never been excluded from the Census as a category.

If an undocumented immigrant has resided in the U.S. for 20 years, she asked Wall, why they would not be considered a resident.

On the merits of the case, Wall argued, undocumented immigrants do not meet the test of being considered lawful residents.

New York’s solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, on Monday called the administration’s argument “flatly inconsistent.” The apportionment of representatives to a particular state has always included the number of people living there, including those ineligible to vote, she said.

People living in a state are not invisible, she said, despite their undocumented status. Their “presence requires attention from the government, and the need for representatives to give that attention,” she said.

Underwood told Chief Justice John Roberts that the state wanted the court to declare the policy in violation of the law and halt the transmission of information from the Commerce Department to President Trump about undocumented immigrants, as part of the Census report.

However, she admitted that a separate communication from Commerce to the President on undocumented immigrants would not violate an injunction from the court.

Underwood also answered Justice Barrett that, if President Trump ultimately decided only to remove some undocumented immigrants from the apportionment count, that would require further litigation from states.

Trump’s memo came after the Supreme Court in 2019 blocked an effort by his administration to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. After that ruling, the administration then demanded records from states, few of which complied with the request.

What is Advent, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Denver, Colo., Nov 30, 2020 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Advent began this year on Sunday, Nov. 30. Most Catholics, even those who don’t often go to Mass, know that Advent involves a wreath with some candles, possibly a “calendar” of hidden chocolates, and untangling strings of Christmas lights.

But Advent is more than that. Here are a few points that might help you have a great Advent this year:

What is Advent?

The people of Israel waited generations for the promised Messiah to arrive. Their poetry, their songs and stories, and their religious worship focused on an awaited savior, whom God had promised, over and over, would come to them to set them free from captivity, and to lead them to the fulfillment of all that God had chosen for them.

Israel longed for a Messiah, and John the Baptist, who came before Jesus, promised that the Messiah was coming, and could be found in Jesus Christ, God’s son, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting, and longing, for the Messiah. Though Christ has already come into the world, the Church invites us to renew our desire for the Lord more deeply into our lives, and to renew our desire for Christ’s triumphant second coming into the world.

Advent is the time in which we prepare for Christmas, the memorial of Jesus Christ being born into the world. Preparations are practical, like decorating a tree or stringing lights, but they’re also intended to be spiritual.

During Advent, we’re invited to enter more frequently into silence, into prayer and reflection, into Scripture, and into the sacramental life of the Church, all to prepare for celebrating Christmas.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the goal of Advent is to make present for ourselves and our families the “ancient expectancy of the Messiah...by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming.”

 

Cool. So, it’s like four weeks long?

Advent is a slightly different length each year. It starts four Sundays before Christmas. But because Christmas is on a fixed date, and could fall on different days of the week, Advent can be as short as three weeks and a day, or as long as four weeks. Christmas is on a Friday in 2020, so Advent will be three weeks and four days long.

 

Ok, my priest keeps talking about Advent being the “new year.” But Advent is before Christmas. What’s the deal?

The Church’s feasts and celebrations run on a year-long cycle, which we call the “liturgical year.” The “liturgical year” starts on the first Sunday of Advent. So it’s a new liturgical year when Advent starts. But the Church also uses the ordinary calendar, so it would probably be a bit weird to have a “New Year’s Eve” party the night before Advent starts.

Still, if 2020 has been a hard year for you, and I bet it has, you can take some consolation in knowing that, for the Church, we're already in a new year. Good riddance, 2020!

 

And, Advent wreaths. Where do they come from? Is it true that they’re just pagan wreaths borrowed by the Church?

The Catholic Church has been using advent wreaths since the Middle Ages. Lighting candles as we prepare for Christmas reminds us that Christ is the light of the world. And the evergreen boughs remind us of new and eternal life in Christ, the eternal son of the Father. 

It is definitely true that Germanic people were lighting up candle wreaths in wintertime long before the Gospel arrived in their homeland. They did so because, well, candle wreaths in winter are beautiful and warm. That a Christian symbol emerged from that tradition is an indication that the Gospel can be expressed through the language, customs, and symbols of cultures that come to believe that Christ Jesus is Lord.

 

One candle is pink. Why?

There are four candles on the Advent wreath. Three are purple, and they are first lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent. The pink candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, which we call Gaudete Sunday. On that Sunday, in addition to the pink candle, the priest wears a pink vestment, which he might refer to as rose. But rose, from this writer's perspective, is a shade of pink.

Gaudete is a word that means “Rejoice!” and we rejoice on Gaudete Sunday, because we are halfway through Advent. Some people have the custom of throwing “Gaudete” parties, and this is also a traditional day on which Christmas carolers begin caroling door-to-door.

The three purple candles are sometimes said to represent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the three spiritual disciplines that are key to a fruitful Advent.

 

I like the Advent calendars that have chocolate in them. Do you know where they come from?

No. But I like them too. The chocolate is usually pretty waxy, but still. I think the idea is to build up anticipation by having only one little treat each day. But sometimes I eat them all in the first week. Oops.

 

Is it wrong to sing Christmas songs during Advent?

Wrong? No, not immoral or anything. But there are a lot of great Advent hymns and songs: “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “O Come Divine Messiah,” “Come Thou Fount,” “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding”

Wouldn’t you rather sing those than Rudolph? Or the theologically insipid “Mary, Did You Know?”

 

When should we put up our tree?

Look, when to put up the tree is a decision that families should decide on their own, through time-honored holiday traditions like, say, arguing about when to put up the tree. I’m not getting in the middle of that.

Some people put up their tree and decorate it on the first Sunday of Advent, to make a big transformation in their home and get them into “preparing for Christmas” mode. That seems cool.

Some families say especially that this year they “need a little Christmas.” I totally get it.

Some people put up the tree on the first Sunday of Advent, put on lights the next Sunday, ornaments the next, and decorate it more and more as they get closer to Christmas. That seems cool.

Some people put up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, as a kind of rejoicing, and decorate it in the weeks between Gaudate and Christmas. That seems cool

Basically, as you can tell, I’m not going to take a side on that question.

 

What does the word Advent mean?

Oh right. I forgot to mention that, I'm glad you asked. Advent comes from the Latin ad+venire, which means, essentially “To come to,” or “to come toward.” Ad+venire is the root of the Latin “Adventus” which means “arrival.”

So Advent is the season of arrival: The arrival of Christ in our hearts, in the world, and into God’s extraordinary plan for our salvation.

 

This explainer was initially published in November 2019. It has been updated to reflect, well, the 2020 of everything.

 

Archbishop Cordileone: New COVID church closures violate right to worship

CNA Staff, Nov 28, 2020 / 09:07 pm (CNA).- As surging COVID-19 cases lead to new restrictions in the San Francisco area, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said the treatment of churches is discriminatory and violates the right to worship.

“[W]orship is both a natural and a Constitutional right. My people want to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; they need it, and have every right to be free to do so,” the archbishop said in a November 28 statement.

He criticized a new health order from the state of California placing San Francisco and San Mateo Counties into a more restrictive tier of coronavirus restrictions, resulting in a ban on indoor worship services.

The health order treats religious worship as a “non-essential” activity, while allowing hair and nail salons, massage parlors, and tattoo parlors to remain open, Cordileone noted.

“This is precisely the kind of blatant discrimination to which the Supreme Court gave injunctive relief in New York,” he said, referencing a decision Wednesday which blocked New York from similarly closing houses of worship while allowing secular retail venues to remain open.

Cordileone criticized the government for “demoting worship” by designating it as “non-essential.” He stressed that the archdiocese has been meticulous about following regulations regarding masks, social distancing, ventilation and sanitation measures. He said indoor worship services have not resulted in any known cases of COVID-19 transmission in San Francisco.

“But the government still chooses to treat worship as less important than shopping for shoes,” he continued.

The archbishop recognized concerns over rising COVID hospitalizations, and said he is discerning the proper course of action, with advice from his fellow bishops, archdiocesan lawyers, and infectious disease specialists.

Cordileone has been an outspoken critic of San Francisco’s restrictions on religious worship, which he described as “an insult” and “mocking God.” In September, he led Eucharistic processions outside city hall, with banners reading, “Free the Mass!” A petition calling for the lifting of Mass restrictions has drawn more than 40,000 signatures.

Until Sept. 14, public worship in San Francisco was restricted to 12 participants outdoors, with indoor services prohibited. Restrictions were gradually loosened, allowing 50 people at outdoor worship services. However, only one person at a time was allowed inside a house of worship, regardless of the building’s size.

On Sept. 25, the U.S. Department of Justice warned San Francisco officials that the city’s restrictions on public worship may be unconstitutional. The DOJ noted that other venues where people share enclosed spaces - such as gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares - were being allowed to operate at 10-50% capacity, provided that sanitary measures and 6-foot distancing were followed.

Days later, the office of San Francisco's mayor announced that places of worship would be permitted to hold services indoors at 25% capacity, up to 100 people. The change was attributed to a decline in COVID-19 cases.

Cordileone thanked the mayor for the changes at the time, but said further changes were needed.

“California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building is still unjust,” he said in late September. “We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols. But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities.”

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited an article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to the celebration of the Mass, despite more than 1 million Masses being celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines.

“Do not show a lack of compassion for people who are afraid of catching a disease that is quite deadly to many people with comorbidities and the elderly, which we Catholics should particularly respect and protect,” he stressed earlier this year.

Advent at Home: How Catholics are preparing for a season of joy - even in 2020 

Denver Newsroom, Nov 28, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- Wry jokes and memes about the decided awfulness of the year 2020 - with the pandemic, ensuing lockdowns and economic distress, as well as civil unrest in a turbulent election year - are well known to just about anyone on social media.

Now, Christians find themselves entering into Advent, a season that is supposed to be one of joyful preparation for the celebration of Christmas, as well as preparation for the eventual Second Coming of Christ.

Much like Easter 2020, which landed almost exactly one month after the country shut down in March, this Advent and Christmas season will likely look quite different than normal. With coronavirus cases resurging in many parts of the country, access to the sacraments and Mass may be restricted or blocked, and family plans and other seasonal events canceled.

CNA talked to several Catholics about how to still enter into this Advent season, and live it well, from home.

“What I love most is that Advent is designed to shake us; to wake us up to the extraordinariness of the ordinary,” Fr. Ryan Kaup, a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. “God became man, but then the next day, Mary had to change diapers and shortly after flee for their lives.”

Kaup said his favorite book for the Advent season is “Advent of the Heart”, a collection of reflections written by Fr. Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II and eventually killed for his work with the resistance.

The reflections, written by someone experiencing intense suffering, can prompt Catholics today to think about how God may be trying to shake them during these unprecedented times, Kaup noted.

“One of my favorite quotes from Advent of the Heart is: ‘Perhaps what we modern people need most is to be genuinely shaken...So now, God lets the earth resound, and now He shudders it, and then He shakes it, not to call forth a false anxiety…he does it to teach us one thing again: how to be moved in spirit. Much of what is happening today would not be happening if people were in that state of inner movement and restlessness of heart in which man comes into the presence of God the Lord and gains a clear view of things as they really are.’”

Kaup said this quote can be a good starting point of reflection for Catholic families and individuals for Advent.

“Where is God shaking me in my life? Where is He calling my family to refocus on the profound simplicity of the ordinary?” he said.

The Gospel reading on the Sunday before the start of Advent this year is about the corporal works of mercy, Kaup added, which can be a different way to use the tradition of the Advent calendar, by “thinking of one corporal work of mercy that you can perform each day, as an individual or as a family.”

The Sunday before Advent is also celebrated as the Feast of Christ the King, Kaup noted, which invites Catholics to see that “as the things we have placed our hope and security in, these goods that can become idols in our lives, fall by the wayside, we recognize that the only sure foundation in our lives is Jesus Christ. His Kingdom of power, love and peace is where we can live at all times - recognizing that living in his kingdom means we are free from the greatest evil, sin itself.”

“I don’t pretend to completely know the mind of God, but maybe, in part, that’s what He’s telling us: you may be suffering from many things, but you can be free from the power of sin through the incarnation. Do we recognize the greatness of that gift?” he said.

Sr. Katherine Marie Chiara McCloskey, HMSS, said she has been meditating on the image of the Holy Family as Advent approaches.

“With all the uncertainty and the craziness in the world right now, I think a lot of us need comfort and nurturing right now,” she said. “And so you can go to Mary and Joseph and let them be mom and dad to you...if I'm having a day where I'm just really not okay, I’m going to let Mary and Joseph take care of me.”

While Advent and Christmas are joyful liturgical seasons, she added, that doesn’t mean that Catholics should ignore any suffering they are experiencing.

“You have to feel your feelings. The worst thing you can do is suppress them. Jesus wants authenticity, he wants to know how you're really doing. I think about the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem - that wasn't easy. God really wants us to tell him how we're really doing,” she said.

McCloskey said that it is also important to have a place prepared for prayer, especially if Masses are restricted or canceled.

“Create a place (for prayer) wherever you're living, whether it's a house or apartment...or for some people like myself, I like to be outside,” she said.

Sr. Kathryne of the Holy Trinity Lopez, HMSS, said that she would encourage Catholics to select one priest or ministry that speaks to them and follow their Advent homilies or reflections.

“I recommend only choosing one to avoid information overload,” she said.

Lopez added that Advent during a pandemic can help Catholics evaluate what they are really waiting for.

“St. Bernard of Clairvaux talks about this third coming of Christ - his coming into our daily lives. And so I really want to challenge us to have a deeper Advent season,” she said. “What are we waiting for? Are we just waiting to get out of quarantine, waiting to just be ‘free again,’ to go back to what we knew, or are we waiting for (Christ) to come, are we preparing for him?”

On their website this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has compiled numerous resources that Catholics can use for Advent at home, including prayers, saint biographies, and activities, as well as social media posts and bulletin inserts for parishes.

Allison Rubio, the marketing and content coordinator for the USCCB, said she and her team hoped that the resources would be a source of hope and connection for people during this pandemic Advent season.

“We've been thinking a lot about Easter, which was very different. So with this pandemic continuing into the Advent season, how do we ensure that the faithful are still being reached? And how do we help parishes who have maybe cut down on staff or are working remotely and they don't have that collaboration that they're used to?” she said.

The resources include more traditional things, like an Advent calendar and a blessing for the family Nativity scene. It also includes ideas for new traditions, like creating a Gift of Hope Tree, in which a family thinks about what kinds of gifts Jesus’ family may have needed, as a poor family with a new baby. Those gifts are then placed on the tree, and then donated to Catholic Relief Services for families in need.

“I hope that people find them very useful and that they can bring some sense of community to their Advent season this year,” Rubio said.

Dr. Jared Staudt serves as the director of formation for the Archdiocese of Denver’s offices of evangelization and Catholic Schools, and is a husband and father of six children. Staudt told CNA there are many ways that Catholics can prepare at home for the coming of Christ.

“Advent is a time to trace the story of salvation history so that the coming of Jesus makes sense as the culmination of a long preparation,” he said.

One way to learn more about salvation history is by creating a Jesse Tree, which traces the coming of Jesus through the old testament, he said, and children can help make the ornaments for the tree in order to engage their imaginations. Reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah can also be a helpful way to see the different ways Jesus’ coming was prophesied, he added.

Sacrifices can also be offered during Advent, as it is also a penitential season, Staud noted.

There are also several feast days throughout the season that Catholics can celebrate, Staudt said, including the Immaculate Conception and feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“On December 13, we celebrate a saint of light, St. Lucy. It’s a day of candles and crowns, wearing white and red for her purity and martyrdom, and for special food, such as St. Lucy buns. Advent is also a time to reclaim Santa Claus, who arose from the traditions surrounding the gift-giving St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6. He is the patron saint of children for providing a dowry for three destitute young girls, dropping gold down their chimney. Traditionally boys would dress up like bishops and there’d be a procession of the saint (laying the foundation for today’s parades). Putting out their shoes for a gift from their patron saint will brighten up Advent for our kids,” he said.

He added that while it’s tempting to start listening to Christmas music, there are many Advent hymns and carols that can help prepare Catholics for Christmas.

“In England, it’s traditional to have lessons and carols, and it’s also popular to listen to Handel’s Messiah (as the first of its three parts focuses on the coming of Christ). There are a lot of great Advent albums, but I would recommend Advent at Ephesus from the Benedictines of Mary Queen of the Apostles,” he said.

Fr. Edward Looney, a priest in Door County, Wisconsin, told CNA that he would encourage Catholics to take advantage of the ways social media can connect them to Advent resources they may not have had access to otherwise, such as online talks and retreats.

Looney said he recommended an online advent pilgrimage with Parousia Media in Australia, as well as an online three-day Marian retreat starting on Sunday, Nov. 29, with Father Joel Laramie from the World Apostleship of Prayer. The retreat is being recorded and will be available all Advent. For reading, Looney recommended Oriens: A Pilgrimage through Advent and Christmas by Fr. Joel Sember.

Looney added that Catholics who are feeling discouraged by this year can meditate on the message of Advent which is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”

“Whatever it is that we’re going through during this Advent season, we want to prepare for Christmas. We don't want to ignore it because then, what spiritual benefit is that to us, if we just ignore it? So we want to engage the season, and it's a unique year unto itself,” he said.

“God is with us, so we can't forget that. We can't forget that God is with us right now in this moment and He hasn't abandoned us. That He's with us in our suffering, He's with us in our pain and everything. And if that means right now, I'm lonely, I'm sad, I'm angry - whatever it is, acknowledge that God is with you right now.”

 

'Tolton' play in spotlight as Church addresses racial division

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).-  

During the U.S. bishops' meeting last week, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said his diocese had hosted a one-man play honoring the first African-American slave to become a Catholic priest, as part of its efforts to address racism.

The play is “Tolton: From Slave to Priest,” the work of St. Luke Productions. It has been performed in front of thousands of people since it was released three years ago.

Leonardo Defilippis, director and president of St. Luke Productions, told CNA that the witness of Fr. Augustus Tolton is important at a moment of racial division, especially Tolton gives witness to Christian unity beyond racial barriers.

“We're the only show in the whole country and it's the only instrument like it in the Catholic Church,” he told CNA. “It's so powerful. [It helps] you realize all men are created equal.”

Fr. Tolton is played by Jim Coleman - a television and film actor of almost 30 years. During the show, Tolton engages with memories of his past, meeting his mother, his friends and enemies, and the devil himself.

Since it opened in 2017, the play has been performed over 200 times at Catholic venues across the United States. The goal of the play is to bear witness to a holy man who confronts hatred and segregation with charity, said Defilippis.

He said this show provides the best example of a persecuted person who encountered trials with compassion and faith. Rather than with violence or revenge, Tolton responded to racial hatred with the virtues of a saint, Defilippis added.

Speaking of facing injustice, Defilippis said that “saints have a way of showing you how to do it.”

“You have to do it through love. You have to do it through forgiveness. You have to have faith. You have to have hope. That’s what leads us to that oneness, that unity.”

Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri, in 1854. During the Civil War, Tolton and his family escaped slavery.

He entered St. Peter’s Catholic School in Quincy, Illinois, when he was young. The school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr eventually instructed him for his first Holy Communion and recognized his vocation to the priesthood.

Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept an African-American student. When he returned to the U.S. after his ordination in 1889, he was greeted by thousands of people. A brass band played hymns, and black and white people processed together into the local church.

Tolton served for three years at a parish in Quincy before moving to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics, St. Monica's, where he remained until his death in 1897.

Coleman has performed as Tolton for the past two years. He said he was reluctant to audition at first because he was not interested in theater roles. But he said he’s glad for the experience.

“The experience of doing a true story [about] someone's life and actually using the words that he said, ... I started to take on a lot of the things that he experienced … I always pray before every show in rehearsal to allow Fr. Tolton to tell his story,” he told CNA.

Coleman expressed hope that the play might be a catalyst for racial healing. He said the show pushes the audience to see past the color of a person’s skin, and to see the unity of the human race.

“The goal of this show is to let people know that we are all one in the spirit, we are all one in Christ. Racism is a divide to the human family … In order to heal that divide, we have to heal our hearts as well as our minds of racism,” he said.

“It lets you know that in order for us to achieve, it's not going to always be the people of the same race. It takes all of us to create greatness. It takes all of us to succeed.”

 

 

Warning of donor harassment, Trump administration backs foes of Calif. disclosure rule

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review a challenge to a California requirement that charitable organizations disclose their major donors to the state attorney general, siding with groups like the Thomas More Law Center that say the requirement will make their donors vulnerable to retaliation, harassment, and violence.

The move from the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office drew praise from John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

“Charitable entities shouldn’t be required to disclose confidential donor information to state officials who do not need it and who fail to adequately protect donor identities from disclosure to the public,” Bursch said Nov. 24. “We are pleased that the United States agrees that this case presents critically important issues that the Supreme Court should decide immediately. Forced donor disclosure is a threat to everyone and discourages both charitable giving and participation in the marketplace of ideas.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center’s complaint in the case. The center promotes issues related to religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life, Alliance Defending Freedom said in August 2019. Another challenger to the California rules is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which tends to take conservative or libertarian positions on questions of economics and other issues, including opposition to labor unions.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to grant a hearing on the case, which was victorious in federal district court but suffered a defeat in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

“As this court’s precedents make clear, compelled disclosures that carry a reasonable probability of harassment, reprisals, and similar harms are subject to exacting scrutiny, which requires a form of narrow tailoring,” said the brief to the Supreme Court. The solicitor general’s office said the appeals court ruling “compromises important associational interests protected by the First Amendment.”

“Petitioners alleged that their contributors had in the past suffered harassment, reprisals, and similar harms because of their association with petitioners,” the brief said. Disclosure would likely “expose their substantial contributors to those harms, and thereby deter those contributors and others from making future contributions.”

At issue is a matter of non-profit tax forms and the crucial information they contain.

Qualified tax-exempt organizations already must submit to the IRS a Form 990 federal information form, including the names of “all substantial contributors” in a section called Schedule B. Substantial donors are defined as those who give $5,000 or more to the organization in a year or 2% of total annual contributions. However, the information about these donors must be kept confidential on pain of civil and criminal law.

Non-profits that ask for donations in California must file their tax returns with California’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, administered by the state attorney general, currently Xavier Becerra.

Beginning in 2010, the California attorney general said that disclosures must include this Schedule B. The incoming U.S. vice-president Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and the rule change began under her predecessor Jerry Brown.

Both the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation have alleged that there is a high risk their information will be made public and disrupt their freedom of association.

Alliance Defending Freedom alleged that in March 2012, the California Attorney General’s Office began to “harass the law center and demand the names and addresses of its major donors even though the center’s donors, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even assassination attempts from ideological opponents.”

The legal group said that for those associated with charities like the Thomas More Law Center that “speak on contentious matters,” the disclosure of donor information “poses an imminent danger of hate mail, violence, ostracization, and boycotts.”

“Only the most stalwart supporters will give money under such a toxic cloud. Most will reasonably conclude that the risk of association is too great, with the result that groups who make the most threats will effectively shut down those with whom they disagree,” said the legal group’s request for Supreme Court review.

“Charities will continue to find as-applied exemptions impossible to achieve, and support for groups advocating contentious ideas will dry up,” the legal group said. “This Court should intervene now while there are still dissenting voices left to save.”

The request said California law has “deprived charities of resources, chilled their speech for nine years, and blocked dissemination of their ideas in our Nation’s most populous state.”    

Alliance Defending Freedom has cited the Supreme Court’s 1958 ruling in the case NAACP v. Alabama, which ruled against the Alabama Attorney General’s demands that the civil rights group produce its membership list or cease operations. The restrictions on the group crippled the organization in Alabama at a key time when black Americans sought to secure civil rights.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The district court found that California’s required disclosures were not “substantially related” to its interest in regulating charities, as auditors and attorneys seldom use the Schedule B section when they audit or investigate charities. Even when the information was relevant, it could be obtained from other sources. The disclosure requirement was not narrowly tailored.

The district court said petitioners presented “ample evidence” that their contributors had previously suffered “harassment, reprisals, and similar harms” when their involvement became known. The California attorney general’s office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of Schedule B forms.” This failure included making hundreds of the forms available on its registry website.

The court of appeals, however, overturned the district court. It said confidentiality measures had been tightened and said California had a compelling interest in policing fraud in charitable organizations, and disclosing major donors advances this interest, Reuters reported.
It compared the rule to political disclosure cases such as Doe v. Reed, where the Supreme Court said that the disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition referendum was relevant to state interests in protecting the electoral process.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s summary of the case said, “the California Attorney General’s office has a history of posting supporter’s information online and offers no protection against employees, contractors, or summer interns downloading, e-mailing, or printing supporters’ names and addresses and then disclosing them publicly.”

“We’ve already seen how publicly revealing political donors with the intent of doing harm (or 'doxing') can ruin careers and corrode civil discourse,” the legal group said. “Givers would have good reason to fear being doxed—especially in today’s toxic cultural climate.”

The Thomas More Law Center's president and chief counsel is Richard Thompson, who came to prominence for opposing prominent assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. Thompson co-founded the law center in in 1998 with Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza who continues to be a prominent Catholic philanthropist. Alliance Defending Freedom said about 5% of donors to the law center are California residents.

Besides issues related to religious freedom and family values, the law center’s website also provides resources for critics of the Common Core curriculum. It names other key issues as “confronting the threat of radical Islam” and “defending national security.”

The similarly-named Thomas More Society, based in Illinois, is not connected to the law center.

For its part, Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004. It has had strong financial support from two wealthy brothers, David and Charles Koch, whose combined net worth is in the billions of dollars.