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US bishops: Jesus' Sacred Heart is open for you, despite 'bitter affliction' of coronavirus

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2020 / 01:22 pm (CNA).- The novel coronavirus pandemic's effects on victims and the closure of churches have deeply pained the Catholic faithful and clergy, but Holy Week is a time to join together to seek God's mercy and love in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said.

“In the heart of Jesus, pierced as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, we see the love of God for humanity, his love for each one of us,” Gomez said in an April 3 message for Holy Week.

“This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains,” he said. “Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.”

“Because he loves us, and because his love can never change, we should not be afraid, even in this time of trial and testing,” said Gomez. “In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love.”

Gomez said he will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Good Friday, April 10, for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. He asked Catholics to join him via internet livestream at 9 a.m. Pacific Time / noontime Eastern Time. The livestream will be hosted at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles website and the U.S. bishops' conference Facebook page.

“Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy,” said Gomez, who added that Pope Francis has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray the litany for an end to the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has created a situation “almost without precedent” in the Church, he said.

The virus, formally known as COVID-19, has infected over 1.1 million people and killed 63,800 worldwide as of Saturday afternoon, according to figures from the John Hopkins University COVID-19 Map. In the U.S., about 274,000 have tested positive, 36,000 have been hospitalized, and 7,000 have died since the epidemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

More contagious and deadly than influenza, the virus has strained the resources of hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide. The virus has ravaged Italy and Italy's Catholics, whose dead include dozens of priests. It is especially deadly for the elderly and those with health conditions.

Many businesses and social activities deemed non-essential have been ordered closed by government authorities. Catholic churches closed, sometimes in advance of government orders, for fear of spreading the disease. The closures have caused major economic and social disruption, putting millions of people out of work.

The closure of churches and restrictions on the administration of the sacraments have been especially painful for some Catholics, a situation Gomez acknowledged.

“My brother bishops and I are painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments,” he said. “This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. We ache with our people and we long for the day when we can be reunited around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”

“In this difficult moment, we ask God for his grace, that we might bear this burden together with patience and charity, united as one family of God in his universal Church,” he said.  

The Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus draws on centuries-old Christian devotions. It asks mercy from the Heart of Jesus, describing it as the “glowing furnace of charity,” “rich to all who invoke thee,” “desire of the everlasting hills,” “source of all consolation,” “our life and resurrection,” “victim for our sins,” “salvation of those who hope in thee,” and “hope of those who die in thee.”

The indulgence applies to those who pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, pray for the intentions of the pope, are “truly sorry for their sins,” and desire to go to confession as soon as possible. In Catholic teaching, which recognizes that every sin must be purified on earth or in Purgatory, an indulgence remits “the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

Gomez said we should ask the Virgin Mary to intercede for us, that God “might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.”

His April 3 message further reflected on the situation.

“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth,” he said. “As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“But we know that our Redeemer lives. Even in this extraordinary and challenging moment, we give thanks for what Jesus Christ has done for us by his life, death, and resurrection,” said Gomez. “Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.”

The Los Angeles archdiocese website has dedicated a web page to the Good Friday Sacred Heart litany and livestream.

Monks offer free caskets amid coronavirus

Denver, Colo., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- An Iowa monastery of Trappist monks is offering an unusual but necessary act of charity amid the global pandemic - free caskets to financially struggling families who have lost a loved one.

New Melleray Abbey has been making caskets for the public and offering prayers for the deceased since 1999. The monastery announced last week its new initiative to support families affected by COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 virus will visit many families that are financially vulnerable and unprepared. In addition to their grief, they will wonder, ; ‘Where will we lay’ our loved one who has been unexpectedly taken from us,” Father Mark Scott, the order’s abbot, wrote in an announcement of the policy.

“To financially stressed families directly impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the monks of New Melleray offer free of charge pine caskets made from trees from the abbey forest,” he added.
 
New Melleray Abbey supports itself by building solid wood caskets made from fully matured trees harvested at the order’s acreage in Dubuque County, Iowa.

All of the donated caskets will be blessed and, as the order continues to pray for the deceased, the monks will send a card of remembrance to families on the first anniversary of the person’s death. The order also plants a tree for each casket made, as a living memorial.

Marjorie Lehmann, director of administration for New Melleray Abbey, told CNA that the order has already received a few requests for free caskets since the initiative was announced March 25.

“The free casket offer is a temporary measure designed to provide some financial relief to families who are undergoing financial distress because of COVID-19,” she said.

While the monks live a hidden life of prayer, she said, they are keenly aware of the current events. She said the order has provided this service to be close to the pandemic victims, and provide a service to those families facing financial difficulties as well.

“In the crisis of COVID-19, [they] make the offer of the casket as an expression of their solidarity with all those who are suffering because of the virus,” Lehmann said.

“They believe that it's a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and … since they are a cloistered group of monks, this is how they can reach out to the world and help in a time of need.”

More than one million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and more 50,000 have died. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks, as mandatory lockdowns have forced numerous businesses and organizations to close their doors.  

Lehmann said the virus is a potential danger for anyone, noting that the full ramifications of the pandemic have yet to be seen.

“[It] could really be anyone who might be out of a job because their workplaces needed to close down because of this pandemic. It really could be anyone finding themselves in financial stress or needing that comfort of burying their loved one and a small part of relief in their life from a donated casket,” she said.

“[It’s] honoring someone's life, respecting the person that passes away is honoring that person's life and validating that person's life,” Lehmann added.

“People need people to show compassion. This is a very small gesture of something that a lot of people would need in this pandemic. So to be compassionate and know that people are not alone, that we're thinking of them, we're praying for them, and we're here to help in this manner. There's no reason not to do it.”

 

How the Phoenix diocese is helping families celebrate Holy Week at home

Phoenix, Ariz., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Holy Week this year is going to look different for almost every Catholic in the United States.

On Palm Sunday, people will wave last year’s palms, or this year’s pine branches, or, if they’re lucky, palms from their parish, from the confines of their home instead of the pews of their parish. On Holy Thursday, feet will be washed by a family member, or not at all. For the veneration of the Cross, Catholics will kiss their personal crucifixes instead of lining up to kiss the crucifix at their parish. Candle-lit Easter Vigils will be celebrated by solitary priests livestreaming Mass from empty chapels.

It’s going to be different, and it’s going to be hard. That’s why a group of priests and laypeople at the Diocese of Phoenix compiled “A Journey Through Holy Week for Families”, an online flipbook resource to guide Catholic families through celebrating Holy Week from their homes.

“We had a meeting last week...specifically about Holy Week and how to enter into Holy Week knowing that we couldn't have public Masses at this time,” Fr. John Parks, the Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix, told CNA. “We just thought - what are ways that we could really strengthen the family and invite the family to pray as the domestic Church?” he said.

“You're not going to be able to see the washing of the feet at Mass. So can we include a little rite from home that a family could do the washing the feet of their family members?” Parks said.

“Or on good Friday, again, you can't see or experience the veneration of the Cross at Mass, could we equip a family to do a little veneration of the Cross from home?”

After the brainstorming session, Parks’ colleague compiled all the readings, prayers and resources into a 150 page online “flipbook” for families. The books covers the Mass readings as well as prayers and other liturgically-themed activities from Palm Sunday through the Triduum and Easter Sunday, as well as the readings and resources for Divine Mercy Sunday, which comes eight days after Easter.

The online book includes links to videos that include everything from livestream Masses from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Phoenix to talks by Bishop Robert Barron to recordings of songs to sing during prayer time at home.

It also includes links to recipes, virtual pilgrimages, coloring pages for kids, a guide to cut out palms from green construction paper, and a Holy Thursday puppet show script.

“There is so much...there's all these different activities and songs you can play. So my only fear that it'd be a little overwhelming. But we’re trying to tell parents, just pick two or three things and have a little game plan for the day,” he said.

“So it’s like reading a playbook for sports - they don't run every play, you just pick the play that you think will help your team, so that's what we're thinking of.”

Parks said while he understands that this Holy Week will be different than what families are used to experiencing, he thinks that this is a special time of grace for families, who are acting as the domestic Church.

“I really believe that God is pouring out a grace now to strengthen the domestic Church in the family. And that there's a great thing poured out specifically for parents, to live deeper in their natural authority that they have over their children, to make them saints and to help them,” he said.

“This little book, it's like ‘ut vadat tecum’, in Latin, ‘to go with’ you. It goes with you. It's a tool that we hope to put in the hands of parents and pastors to help them equip families to walk through this week,” he said.

“That would be my desire, is that even though people can't participate in public liturgies, there's still a way to participate, to a lesser degree of course, but from the home. And I think for some families that might be unique. They've never done a washing of the feet. They've venerated the Cross. They've never prayed the Stations of the Cross in their own home. It can be a really beautiful moment of experiencing holy things in the home.”

Palm supplier sees business halved by coronavirus cancelations

Denver, Colo., Apr 3, 2020 / 11:55 pm (CNA).- Thomas Sowell and his wife own Southeast Palm and Foliage in Astor, Florida, in the middle of the state, about 40 miles west of Daytona Beach.

“It's in the middle of nowhere, actually,” Sowell told CNA in January.

Sowell isn’t Catholic, but his business supplies palms to hundreds of Catholic parishes across the country— in every state, as well as in Canada— not to mention the many Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran communities that also use palms.

Last year, the Sowells’ farm shipped over four million palm leaves.

“There's not many of us that do this. There's not many people, not many companies do what we do,” Sowell told CNA.

“I know that there have been, over the past, say, 50 years, quite a few other companies embark upon this, but for whatever reason they couldn't hang in there with it. It's really difficult.”

Sowell never imagined how difficult this year’s harvest would turn out to be.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, and with Mass suspended through Holy Week in every Catholic diocese in the United States, the Sowell’s business is taking a hit.

“We had an incredible number of cancellations up until two weeks ago,” he told CNA April 2.

Most of his orders for Palm Sunday come in during January, he said. This gives the palm suppliers the chance to harvest the palms, package them, and refrigerate them so they stay fresh before they’re shipped.

Normally, some of the biggest challenges to Tom’s business are natural, such as hurricanes and flooding. In terms of the weather, this was a great harvest year, he said, and they were able to gather all the necessary palms to fulfil the Palm Sunday orders they originally had. The process of cutting, cleaning and preparing the strips of palm is incredibly labor intensive.

But then, as the coronavirus pandemic took a hold in the US, parishes started canceling those orders.

“So here we are with an incredible amount of palms left over that were scheduled to be prepared and shipped...we just lost that,” Sowell said.

Altogether, Sowell said his family will likely ship fewer than half the palms they did last year.

“It's unbelievable. It's hard to grasp what's going on globally,” he said.

Though Sowell also uses leftover palms to create ashes for Ash Wednesday, he has such a large enough stockpile of ash— eight to ten years worth, in fact— that he said it doesn’t make sense to burn any more palms, especially since ash doesn’t go bad.

All the extra palms are currently in a dumpster on his property. The only thing he can really do with them, he said, is use them as fertilizer for next year’s crop.

“So we'll just take them out, spend a few days to drive through the areas where they came from and just scatter them back out again,” he said.

Kate Olivera contributed to this report.

US religious freedom ambassador calls for release of prisoners of conscience

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. religious freedom ambassador on Thursday called on governments to release prisoners of conscience during the new coronavirus pandemic.

“In this time of pandemic, religious prisoners should be released.  We call on all governments around the world to do so,” Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said on April 2 during a conference call with reporters.

He said that the “very crowded, unsanitary conditions” faced by some prisoners is a nightmare scenario during a pandemic.

“These are people that should not be in jail in the first place,” he said. “They are simply in jail for peacefully practicing their faith, and yet various regimes put these peaceful prisoners in jail.”

An official U.S. list of global prisoners of conscience was mandated under the 2016 Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that makes policy recommendations to the State Department, is charged with creating the list. USCIRF says the list is “in formation.”

Brownback did note specific areas of concern for prisoners of conscience, however, he praised Iran’s furloughing of 100,000 prisoners of conscience, but added that some “high-profile religious prisoners” are still detained there.

In China, as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Province (XUAR) in the country’s northwest.

Although the country has officially reported only 76 COVID-19 cases in the region, diaspora groups are concerned that the actual number of cases is much higher—and of the potential for the disease to spread in the mass internment camps where hunger and torture have been reported.  

Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong members have also been imprisoned for their faith in China, and should be released, Brownback said.

He also called on the government of Vietnam to release 128 prisoners of conscience, for Russia to release “nearly around 240 prisoners of conscience,” Eritrea to release 40 prisoners, and for Indonesia to release more than 150 people detained for violating the country’s blasphemy laws.

When asked by reporters if he was concerned about any countries in particular, Brownback responded “Iran, simply because it’s got hit big early and you’ve got a number of notorious prisons that are there that are quite overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.”

“North Korea has a very high number [of prisoners],” Brownback said, who “would be under exceeding exposure to COVID.”

Vulnerable religious populations elsewhere could also be at risk of the pandemic, he said, including Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh. “When we talk about a crowded place,” he said, “if COVID got going there it would just spread like wildfire.”

A Nigerian cardinal, he said, also commented that the country would not have the resources necessary to deal with a serious outbreak.

USCIRF has also voiced concerns that governments could use the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities, or violate freedom of religion.

The commission issued a fact-sheet on March 16 outlining some of its concerns, including Muslim Uyghurs being forced to work on factories around China despite health concerns, churches in South Korea subject to harassment for their alleged role in spreading the virus, and Saudi Arabia issuing a travel ban on a predominantly Shi’a Muslim province.

But on Thursday, Brownback said that, according to “anecdotal information,” governments around the world were not citing the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities.

He said that “fortunately the reporting that we are seeing is that governments are, by and large, not doing that and in some cases being more lenient towards religious minorities.”

He also called on churches and religions around the world to practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus.

“I haven’t been to mass myself in several weeks, and it’s the longest period I’ve gone without going to mass, and I think people should be doing this to stop the spread of the virus,” Brownback said.

NY Catholic nursing homes in 'desperate need' of supplies to fight coronavirus

New York City, N.Y., Apr 3, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- The threat of the coronavirus has hit nursing homes of the Archdiocese of New York especially hard, with families now being advised to bring their loved ones home if possible.

Fr. John Anderson, vice president for mission integration at ArchCare, a “post-acute delivery system” of the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA on Friday that the system’s CEO has advised families with loved ones in ArchCare nursing homes to bring them home if they can be cared for there.

NBC News reported on Thursday that ArchCare’s nursing homes have been especially hard-hit by the crisis, with more than 200 COVID-19 cases among residents.

“Our nursing homes are desperately in need of PPE [personal protective equipment],” Fr. John Anderson told CNA.

As to whether families are starting to bring their loved ones home, “I have not seen a lot of that going on,” Fr. Anderson told CNA on Friday.

ArchCare serves 9,000 people each day in nursing homes, a long-term care program, and a specialty hospital.

New York City has become the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic, with the number of confirmed cases skyrocketing from more than 5,700 cases on March 20 to more than 57,000 confirmed cases and 1,584 deaths as of April 3.

Yet a lack of PPE—particularly in nursing homes—poses a critical problem for chaplains. The shortage is so acute in the region that health care staff have been asked to use one mask all week long when they would previously have changed it between patients.

The health department “asked us to not only use it [the mask] all week, but to do whatever we can to use it the week after,” Fr. Anderson said.

Availability of PPE makes the difference between chaplains’ ability to have a face-to-face visit with a sick patient, or to stand in the doorway a safe distance away, he said. Without PPE, priests cannot administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick which requires the direct anointing of the patient with blessed oil.

“Chaplains are there to pray,” he said, but “can only spend so much time with a patient” during the crisis.

Two ArchCare chaplains have tested positive for COVID-19, he said, but other archdiocesan priests have volunteered their services, “very willing to help.” The archdiocese is also monitoring the situation for elderly nuns in convents, who are more susceptible to the virus.

Another difficulty is families of sick patients not being able to visit them in the hospital or nursing home—“hard to see,” Fr. Anderson said.

There are also no funerals, but simply burials with up to 10 people who can attend, spaced apart.

With Easter approaching, nursing home residents and hospital patients may not be able to attend Mass in person but are still ministering to patients as best they can.

“We have gotten palms” for nursing home residents, Fr. Anderson said ahead of Palm Sunday, with accompanying prayer cards in English and Spanish. Priests will also offer Holy Week Masses in a chapel to be filmed and projected onto living room TVs for the elderly patients.

The Order of Malta is making Easter cards for residents in one program, Fr. Andreson said, while the Knights of Columbus are also making Easter cards for patients.

“Folks have been very generous and have really come forward,” he said.

New York uses budget bill to legalize commercial surrogacy during coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 3, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The state of New York legalized commercial surrogacy as part of a budget bill passed on April 3. The law was condemned by the state Catholic conference. There are now just three states where commercial surrogacy is not legal. 

“The action by the legislature and governor to legalize monetary contracts for surrogate motherhood stands in stark contrast to most other democratic nations across the globe,” Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement Friday.

“[Other countries] have outlawed the practice because of the exploitation of women and commodification of children that inevitably results from the profit-driven surrogacy industry,” she said.

The New York State Catholic Conference represents the bishops of New York state in matters related to public policy. 

Gallagher criticized the inclusion of legal commercial surrogacy in a budget bill during the COVID-19 pandemic. New York has more cases of coronavirus than any other U.S. state, and has seen nearly 3,000 people die from the disease. 

“We simply do not believe that such a critical legal and moral decision for our state should have been made behind the closed doors of a Capitol shut off to the public,” she said. “The new law is bad for women and children, and the process is terrible for democracy.” 

In January, Gallagher was critical of the bill, calling it “a dangerous policy that will lead to the exploitation of poor, vulnerable women, and has few safeguards for children.” There are no safeguards such as residency requirements and background checks for surrogate parents, the conference points out.

“The surrogacy legislation is designed mainly to benefit wealthy men who can afford tens of thousands of dollars to pay baby brokers, at the expense of low-income women,” said Gallagher in a January 8 statement. 

Previously, New York was one of four states that prohibited contracts that would pay surrogate mothers to carry and deliver an unrelated child that would be then placed with a different family. 

Louisiana, Michigan, and Nebraska are the only states that now do not allow commercial surrogacy.

Gestational surrogacy typically uses a “donor” egg, rather than the surrogate’s ovum, to avoid legal complications if the surrogate were to decide she no longer wants to surrender the child to the “intended parents.” 

The donor egg is then fertilized and implanted in the surrogate using in-vitro fertilization (IVF). 

Regarding the practice of IVF, the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2376 teaches that:

“Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' ‘right to become a father and a mother only through each other.’”

Previously, all surrogacy in New York was known as “altruistic” surrogacy as the surrogate mother could not be paid for carrying the child. 

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale), said that the passage of commercial surrogacy was a move to “bring New York in line with the needs of modern families, while simultaneously enacting the strongest protections in the nation for surrogates.” 

Under the new law, those wishing to use a surrogate must pay for her life insurance during the pregnancy and for one year after giving birth, and the “intended parents” must pay for legal counsel for the surrogate mother. Surrogates must be at least 21 years of age. 

Paulin has worked on legalizing commercial surrogacy for 14 years, and first introduced legislation to legalize the practice in 2012. 

She said her bill would provide “the opportunity to have a family in New York and not travel around the country, incurring exorbitant costs simply because they want to be parents.” 

Surrogacy costs range from $55,000 to nearly a quarter of a million dollars. 

In addition to the legalization of commercial surrogacy, the budget bill also banned plastic foam containers and flavored vaping products, instituted new paid sick leave requirements, expanded wage mandates, and introduced new policies that make it more difficult for third parties to qualify for ballots. 

The legalization of commercial surrogacy goes into effect on February 15, 2021.

'Catholics for Trump' launches with online broadcast

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The “Catholics for Trump” coalition was officially launched on Thursday evening in an online broadcast.

The coalition, led by American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and political consultant Mary Matalin, says it aims to “energize” the Catholic community in the U.S. to re-elect Donald Trump.

The 2020 Catholics for Trump group said it aims to focus on its view that the president’s policies model and reflect Catholic social teaching.

“The best president we’ve ever had for Catholics and Catholic values—and by that I mean those are American values—has been President Trump,” Matalin said.

The 2020 presidential election is predicted to be a tight race, and recent polling shows Catholics split over Trump’s reelection.

In February, polling conducted by RealClear Opinion Research for EWTN News asked Catholics about their plans for the 2020 election.

Among all Catholics surveyed, Trump had a 47% net approval rating and 46% said they would certainly or likely vote for him in November. 46% of Catholics also said they would not vote for Trump, or it was unlikely they would do so.

Those numbers broke down differently amongst various demographics. Among Catholics who said they accept all the Church’s teachings, 63% strongly or somewhat approved of Trump’s job as president and 59% said they would certainly vote for him in November.

Among Hispanic Catholics, Trump had a 29% net approval rating, and 34% said they would certainly or likely vote for him in November. 

In the lead-up to his reelection campaign, the president has been widely praised by some Catholics, especially those edified by his appearance at the 2020 March for Life - the first time a president has appeared at the event, and those who praise the administration’s initiatives on issues related to religious liberty and education. Other Catholics, however, have criticized Trump’s policy positions on immigration, and his personal comportment, which many characterize as divisive.

The U.S. bishops have issued both statements of criticism and praise for the Trump administration.

The president has had a rocky relationship with Catholics from the start of his candidacy in the 2016 election. When Pope Francis made a February, 2016 visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Trump called the pope “political” and a “pawn” of the Mexican government, and talked of building a border wall.

During an inflight news conference on his trip back to Rome, Pope Francis said that “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel.”

While Trump drew support from some prominent Catholics during his 2016 campaign, especially those advocating for pro-life policies, others, including some prominent conservative Catholics, were critical of the Trump campaign. 

In March 2016, as Trump’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate gained momentum, prominent Catholic intellectuals Robert George and George Weigel wrote “an appeal to our fellow Catholics,” arguing that Trump “is manifestly unfit to be President of the United States.” They cited the “vulgarity” of his campaign, “appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice,” and a lack of confidence in his pro-life and pro-religious freedom credentials.

Although initial reports claimed that Trump won the Catholic vote in 2016, a 2020 RealClear Opinion Research poll sponsored by EWTN found that, of the Catholics surveyed nationwide, Hillary Clinton won the Catholic vote in 2016 with 48% to Trump’s 46%.

Just after Trump was elected president in November 2016, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles noted the fears of immigrants at a prayer service, saying that “men and women are worried and anxious, thinking about where they can run and hide. This is happening tonight, in America.” He pledged to “our brothers and sisters who are undocumented – we will never leave you alone.”

U.S. bishops, including Gomez, have continued to raise concern about the administration’s immigration policy, though in 2018, Gomez did praise an executive order from the White House calling for an end to family separation policies, and called for bipartisan congressional action on immigration reform.

In 2017 Pope Francis received Trump in a Vatican audience.

According to a May 24, 2017 Vatican communique, Pope Francis and Trump expressed satisfaction "for the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of worship and conscience."

Earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence also met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

On Thursday, Catholics for Trump leaders promised to make the group a “movement,” and to demonstrate that Trump is upholding Catholic social teaching by preventing “activist” judges in the courts, protecting religious institutions from coercive government mandates, upholding pro-life policies, and strengthening the economy.

“I think the most important thing we can do is to be a vehicle to deliver the truth,” Matt Schlapp said, to share “how Catholics should adjudicate the issues that our society faces.”

In an era when many are weary of “fake news,” Schlapp said, “let’s make sure that we’re a place where people can quickly find the facts and figure out what’s going on.”

One of the group’s priorities will be to emphasize Trump’s leadership during the global COVID-19 pandemic, leaders said.

“President Trump does talk about hope,” Mercedes Schlapp said on Thursday.

Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life and a co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition, is also a member of the Catholics for Trump advisory board.

Pavone said on Thursday’s broadcast that “this coalition is going to be truly a movement where Catholics rise up and say, ‘hey look, everything that the Church has been saying, we’re seeing it unfold before our eyes, not like magic, but with strong effort and united effort under this president.’”

“Thank God he’s the one leading us through this,” Fr. Pavone said, in reference to the pandemic. 

Trump is bringing together various federal agencies, the private sector, and state and localities, the priest said, and “is articulating what we’re all feeling” right now

In contrast, Pavone said, Democrats “keep attacking and keep complaining and keep criticizing and keep lying,” Pavone said.

“But the President is setting exactly the right tone. He’s not ignoring how serious the problem is. Very much the opposite. He’s leading in responding to it.”

Pavone is one of two clerics on the board of Catholics for Trump, the other being Deacon Keith Fournier, a married permanent deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Va. 

The priest’s campaigning work has previously drawn scrutiny. During the 2016 election campaign, Pavone served as a member of a Catholic advisory group for Trump, and posted a video in which he asked for votes for Trump while standing behind an altar on which he had laid the body of an aborted baby. 

At the time, Bishop Patrick Zurek of Pavone’s home Diocese of Amarillo said the stunt was "against the dignity of human life," and that he would investigate Pavone’s actions. The results of that investigation have not been announced.

Canon law provides that clerics “are not to have an active part in political parties” unless their bishop judges that “the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.”

CNA asked the Diocese of Amarillo if his active role in the president’s reelection campaign had been authorized by the bishop. No response was received by the time of press.

Trump has protected the right to life, Pavone said, but “is protecting the strength of our military,” the “right to work, and the “economy and the free market from the threat of socialism” and from “unfair trade practices,” and is also protecting “borders from criminal aliens.”

All of these, Pavone said, are Catholic values.

The coalition leaders have especially emphasized the president’s pro-life credientials.  

In 2016, Trump’s campaign announced the launch of a pro-life advisory board, headed by Marjorie Dannenfelser who is also president of the Susan B. Anthony List. Dannenfelser is co-chairing the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition with Fr. Pavone, and is also a member of the Catholics for Trump advisory board.

Trump made four specific pro-life promises in his 2016 campaign letter to pro-lifers: that he would nominate “pro-life justices” to the Supreme Court, sign the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law, strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding “as long as they continue to perform abortions,” and codify the Hyde Amendment in law. The Hyde Amendment bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions, and is passed each year as a budget rider. Trump promised to make it permanent law.

Of the four promises, Trump has not has not codified the Hyde Amendment as law, nor signed a pain-capable bill, which failed to pass both chambers of Congress before Republicans lost the House in the 2018 elections. 

The administration has strengthened protections against taxpayer funding of abortion providers in Title X family planning funds, and in overseas global health assistance. Because a measure to defund Planned Parenthood failed to pass the Republican-led Senate in 2018, Trump has not completely divested Planned Parenthood and abortion providers of federal funding. 

The 2019 Protect Life Rule clarified that Title X recipients could not refer for abortions as a method of family planning, nor could they co-locate with abortion clinics. Planned Parenthood announced in August it would leave the program rather than comply with the new regulations.

The administration has reinstated the Mexico City Policy’s ban on funding of abortion promoters and providers overseas, and expanded it to include $8.8 billion in global health assistance.

Trump nominated two justices to the Supreme Court who were praised by Dannenfelser and other pro-life leaders, although no major abortion case has yet been decided by the two new justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The current Supreme Court term was slated to feature the first significant abortion case at the Court since 2016, Louisiana’s safety regulations of abortion clinics. However, the court’s schedule is expected to be significantly altered in the coming weeks due to the new coronavirus.

Supreme Court delays Little Sisters of the Poor hearing because of coronavirus

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court announced Friday that oral arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania were originally scheduled for April 29, but the court announced on Friday that they would be postponed “in keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19,” together with other cases due to have been heard that week and the previous week.

The case of the Little Sisters involves their religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate.

The states of Pennsylvania and California have sued the Trump administration to strip the religious community of their exemption to the mandate. In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the sisters to intervene in the states’ lawsuits.

“In this trying time for our nation, the Little Sisters of the Poor are dedicated to protecting their elderly residents from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket which represents the sisters in court, in a statement released Friday. 

“Now more than ever the Sisters need the freedom to focus solely on that mission.”

On Friday, the court announced that it “will consider a range of scheduling options and other alternatives if arguments cannot be held in the Courtroom before the end of the Term.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor have spent years in litigation related to the mandate. The 2010 Affordable Care Act mandated certain preventive coverage in health care, and the Obama administration interpreted the mandate to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilizations.

Afterward, the administration announced a process by which non-profits with religious or conscientious objections could notify the government, which in turn would direct their insurer or third-party plan administrator to provide the coverage in employee health plans.

Religious institutions, including the Little Sisters and Catholic dioceses, said that the “accommodation” still forced them to violate their religious beliefs in the provision of morally-objectionable procedures in employee health plans.

The case of the Little Sisters, bundled together with other cases, was heard by the Supreme Court which, in 2016, sent the case back down to lower courts, instructing the religious entities and the government to come to an agreement whereby the wishes of both parties could be attained.

In 2017, the Trump administration issued a rule exempting the Little Sisters and other religious entities from the mandate. State attorneys general for Pennsylvania and California then challenged the exemption in court.

The Little Sisters lost their case against Pennsylvania at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in July of 2019, and lost their case against California at the Ninth Circuit Court in October. They appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed in January to hear their case.

Coronavirus crisis cannot justify discrimination, bishops say

Washington D.C., Apr 3, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic does not justify abandoning medical ethics, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops told medical professionals in an urgent warning issued on Friday.

“Every crisis produces fear, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception,” said a joint statement issued April 3 in response to reports of healthcare rationing plans being drawn up in different parts of the country. 

“However, this is not a time to sideline our ethical and moral principles. It is a time to uphold them ever more strongly, for they will critically assist us in steering through these trying times.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoads of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who leads the USCCB’s doctrine committee, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, head of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s domestic justice and human development.

The bishops praised the “courage, compassion, and truly remarkable professional care” shown by medical workers “in a time of growing crisis.” At the same time, they encouraged them to steadfast in their principles, in the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic, including the shortage of essential medical supplies.

At least two states, Alabama and Washington, have been accused of drafting discriminatory guidance that would prioritize patients without disabilities over those with them, should there be a shortage of medical equipment, such as ventilators.

The several Catholic groups, as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have condemned these proposals, pointing out they would violate human rights and anti-discrimination laws. 

“Our belief in evidence-based clinical care and public health measures should be translated through the lens of Catholic medical ethics and social teaching with respect to justice and the just distribution of scarce resources,” said the Catholic Medical Association in a statement.  

“Catholic social teaching is therefore predicated on these key principles: (1) the inherent and fundamental principle of the dignity of human life; (2) the principle of subsidiarity; and (3) the principle of solidarity.” 

The Catholic Medical Association stressed in their statement that “God does not make man the arbiter of the value of life” and that “in humility the Catholic health care worker recognizes that no choice should be made that sacrifices the innate dignity of the individual human person, even when questions about scarce resources arise.” 

The bishops said they were “grateful” for these statements, particularly the one from the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

On Saturday, the civil rights office at HHS issued a bulletin stating that “In this time of emergency, the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently must be guided by the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and compassion that animate our civil rights laws.” 

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities,” the bulletin said.

“We also commend the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for issuing a reminder that in a time of crisis we must not discriminate against persons solely on the basis of disability or age by denying them medical care,” said the bishops. 

“Good and just stewardship of resources cannot include ignoring those on the periphery of society, but must serve the common good of all, without categorically excluding people based on ability, financial resources, age, immigration status, or race.”

The bishops also wrote that even in a time of limited resources, medical professionals must keep the dignity of their patients in mind when making healthcare decisions. This care, they said, will often require that medical professionals consult with the patient and their loved ones in order to provide the best and most appropriate care. 

“Foremost in our approach to limited resources is to always keep in mind the dignity of each person and our obligation to care for the sick and dying,” they said. 

“Such care, however, will require patients, their families, and medical professionals to work together in weighing the benefits and burdens of care, the needs and safety of everyone, and how to distribute resources in a prudent, just, and unbiased way.”