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Bishop Paprocki: We must weigh cost of 'extraordinary' shutdowns

Denver Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- In an essay published this month, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois argued that months-long lockdowns in response to the coronavirus are an extraordinary means of saving life, and are therefore not morally obligatory and should not be coerced by the state.

We have “taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of shutting down a major portion of our economy for the past several months, telling people to stay home, not to go to work, and not to go to school,” Bishop Paprocki wrote in “Social Shutdowns as an Extraordinary Means of Saving Human Lives”, an essay in the September edition of Ethics & Medics, a commentary published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“The distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life is important, for if a means is extraordinary—that is, if the burdens outweigh the benefits—then it is not morally obligatory and should not be coerced by state power,” he wrote.

“[I]n the face of a pandemic, do we have a moral obligation to shut down our society, require people to stay at home, put employees out of work, send businesses into bankruptcy, impair the food supply chain, and prevent worshippers from going to church? I would say no,” the bishop concluded, saying that such actions “would be imposing unduly burdensome and extraordinary means.”

Speaking to CNA, Bishop Paprocki drew an analogy with the distinction between ordinary means of preserving the life of a patient in medical care, which are obligatory, and extraordinary means, which are so burdensome that they are not obligatory, in the response to a pandemic.

“It just occurred to me that that very word extraordinary is a word that we use in Catholic medical ethics when we talk about treatments to save life, when you're talking about an individual patient,” he said.

“Looking back, at emails and decisions we were making at that time, we were very much thinking in the middle of March, that this was going to be for a couple of weeks – we'll close our schools until the end of March, and then things will reopen.”

“Obviously that didn't happen that way,” he said, “so the lockdowns got extended another month, and so here we are several months later and this is ongoing.”

“The impact that it's been having on people being able to go to church, receive Communion, go to their jobs, go to school, with all that being basically shut down for a period of time, again, it just struck me as extraordinary, that this had never happened in my lifetime, and probably in the lifetime of most people who are alive today, and so the word extraordinary kept coming back to me,” he explained.

This distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means was first made by Venerable Pius XII in a 1957 address to medical workers, during which he said that “Normally one is held to use only ordinary means … that is to say, means that do not involve any grave burden for oneself or another. A stricter obligation would be too burdensome for most men and would render the attainment of the higher, more important good too difficult. Life, health, all temporal activities are in fact subordinated to spiritual ends.”

Bishop Paprocki asked, “What are the spiritual ends? The spiritual end is eternal life, and so everything else is subordinated to that.”

“Let's take one issue, in terms of being able to go to church and receive the sacraments, Holy Communion; or a person who's dying to receive Anointing of the Sick. All of that is more important than our temporal activities, or even our physical life here on earth. So I thought, 'well, if that applies to … individual people, why can't that same principle apply to society as a whole? Do we have to do everything possible to save every human life? Well not if it's extraordinary.”

He noted that more than 35,000 people die annually in the US in auto accidents.

“How do we save those every year? Let's not drive. Let's close down our highways, don't get in your car,” Bishop Paprocki said.

“We wouldn't do that, because people need to get to work, to school, and other obligations. So what do we do? We don't throw caution to the wind. We take precautions, like seat belts and air bags, and you follow the rules of the road; and if you do that, there's much greater likelihood you won't die in an auto accident, but that's not an absolute guarantee. There are no absolute guarantees in life.”

If this principle of the distinction between extraordinary and ordinary means “applies to individuals, why doesn't it apply to our society as well?” he asked. “And I would argue that it should.”

“When you've got politicians, for example governors and other government leaders, making decisions about shutting things down, I'm not questioning their motivation – it's a good motivation, they're trying to save life, and that’s a good thing – but I'm trying to add a little bit more of a moral analysis to that conversation.”

“It's not that simple to say we have to do everything to save every life possible, because we just don't do that, that's not possible. Instead we take ordinary means, and that's what I'm hoping to contribute to the conversation here.”

The bishop said he is “anticipating that this whole question will come up again,” and he noted that Israel has begun a second lockdown because of coronavirus, which will last three weeks. The country was also locked down from late March to early May.

“In the US if we have another wave of Covid, or even a very severe flu, are we going to lock everything down again?” Bishop Paprocki asked.

“I would be arguing that morally, we don't have to. If someone voluntarily says, 'you know what, it's not safe out there, I'm not going out', fine, that's your decision; but in terms of the government ordering everything to be shut down, I just don't think that's morally required.”

The bishop said he has heard anecdotally that numerous people “are thinking along these lines, but they don't know exactly how to articulate it … people are making this analysis in their own minds that there are a lot of different factors that we have to weigh here, and so what I'm trying to do here is add some vocabulary from our Catholic moral tradition that perhaps could help this conversation.”

In his essay, he cited a July broadcast of NBC Nightly News in which five pediatricians “unanimously and emphatically agreed that the benefits of children’s being back at school outweigh the risks.”

Parents, teachers, and students, he said, have told him they're “very happy to be back in school”; Catholic schools in the diocese, and across Illinois, have reopened. “I'm hearing from people saying it's more important, even if there is some risk … we're weighing the burdens and the benefits here. There is some risk there for the spread of Covid. On the other hand, what's the risk to children if we shut down their education?”

“When I'm saying that shutdowns are extraordinary means, I'm certainly not disregarding the importance of doing what we can to save life, to help people who are sick, to try and deal with the threat of Covid,” Bishop Paprocki emphasized.

“My background in healthcare says to me that these are complicated decisions, but we also have very nuanced ways of trying to look at them and trying to analyse them.”

The bishop comes from a family of pharmacists, with four generations in the business; he is also vice-president of the Illinois Catholic Health Association, and while a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago he served as Liaison for Health and Hospital Affairs.

He also addressed the balance of concerns for the elderly, vulnerable as they are to the coronavirus.

“We're taking steps to make sure the elderly don't get sick, and don't contract Covid, and that's a very important factor, because they're a higher risk group, and more vulnerable than young people; on the other hand, their physical well being, as important as it is, is not the only concern.”

The bishop had related in his essay that his aunt, Marian Jacobs, had her 102nd birthday in March. She would normally celebrate with her family, but was barred from doing so. “Indeed with very limited family visits since March, she has declined rapidly and has been moved from her apartment to assisted living,” he wrote.

“The elderly, they need to be with people, with family, they need social interactions, as much as anybody does,” he told CNA. “And so there we have to try to strike a balance between keeping them physically safe, and at the same time allowing them to be happy. As I wrote in my article, I'm more afraid that my aunt's going to die of a broken heart than she will of Covid.”

Discerning the difference between ordinary and extraordinary means is a “judgement call,” the bishop explained.

“There are no easy benchmarks,” Bishop Paprocki conceded. “If you compare this by analogy to end of life decisions, when a family is talking to a doctor about what to do for a dying person, what kind of treatment, whether to put them on hospice, or palliative care, is there some way to ease their suffering? Those are difficult conversations to have, but they're important conversations. So I'm not downplaying how difficult that is for our government leaders to make these decisions.”

One important criterion, he affirmed, is the duration of a lockdown.

While temporary measures can be good, even essential, “can we shut down our sacraments indefinitely? I don't think so,” he said.

“We could do it for a short period of time, [but if] we can't tell you when you're going to be able to receive the sacraments again, then I think that's subordinating our spiritual ends, as Pope Pius XII talked about, to the physical ends.”

“For those of us who do see eternal life as more important than our physical life on earth, the government shouldn't be interfering with our efforts to practice our faith,” he said, noting that the widespread fear of death remains a call for the church to evangelize.

“Death is part of the natural lifecycle, but if you don't believe in God, in an afterlife, the only thing you believe in is the physical world here and now, well, death becomes much more ominous,” he said.

“Our culture just has a hard time dealing with it. We don't like to talk about death, we use euphemisms; instead of saying someone died, we say someone passed.”

“We don't even like to talk about funerals,” he continued. “It's a 'celebration of life' and that’s fine – there's nothing wrong with celebrating a person's life, but that's looking back, remembering that person's life here on earth. But our Catholic funerals look ahead, we pray for the repose of the soul, we're praying for their eternal life.”

“That's the good news of the Gospel, that Jesus has come to offer us eternal life in his kingdom, so that's where we should put our focus.”

Bishop Michael Bransfield: I do not want to 'do battle' with successor

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:10 am (CNA).- Retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield told CNA Thursday that he is retired, wants to stay retired, and does not want to “do battle” with his successor, after Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston called an apology from Bransfield, “self-serving” and “lacking in any contrition.”

“I’m retired and I want to stay retired, and I do not wish to do battle with my successor, I really don’t,” Bransfield told CNA by telephone Sept. 24.

 “The problem is, when I start to comment, it gets into a battle,” Bransfield added.

After his retirement in 2018, Bransfield was accused of sexual and financial misconduct. A Church investigation followed, and Bransfield was ordered by the Vatican to make financial restitution for funds stolen from the diocese, and to apologize.

In a letter to West Virginia Catholics on Thursday, Bishop Brennan, who succeeded Bransfield as leader of the diocese last year, said  the reaction of local Catholics to Bransfield's Vatican-ordered apology, given in August, has been “mixed.”

Bransfield led the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston from 2004-2018. He is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his thirteen years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.

After the Vatican-ordered investigation, Bransfield released Aug. 15 a letter through his former diocese, in which he apologized for “any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me.”

“For my part, I found his apology self-serving and lacking in any recognition of, or contrition for, actually having offended people,” Brennan wrote Thursday. 

Responding to Brennan’s letter, Branfield told CNA “That is the bishop’s opinion.”

Brennan’s letter, dated Sept. 24, addressed several issues in addition to what he called “the Bransfield saga,” including the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the formation of Catholic consciences ahead of the November general election.

After Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in 2018, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was ordered to investigate allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his tenure. Investigators established that the bishop had engaged in a pattern of sexual malfeasance and serious financial misconduct.

The bishop was eventually ordered by the Vatican to apologize and to repay some $441,000 to the diocese.

In August, Brennan published the text of Bransfield’s apology, in which the former diocesan bishop said he “was reimbursed for certain expenditures that have been called into question as excessive,” but insisted that he “believed that such reimbursements to me were proper.”

During his time there, Bransfield spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, D.C.

He also spent nearly $1 million on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations, and gave large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

“I am writing to apologize for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me during my tenure as Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese,” Bransfield said in his August apology.

“There have been allegations that by certain words and actions I have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel sexually harassed,” he added.

“That was never my intent,” Branfield wrote in August, adding that “if anything I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry.”

In his letter to the diocese on Thursday, Bishop Brennan said that he had published Bransfield’s apology “without alteration or comment, trusting that our people would see it for the non-apology that it was, and they did.”

Brennan also acknowledged that many people in the diocese believe Bransfield “got off far too lightly” for his actions but said further prosecution or punishment was unlikely.

“Only the civil authorities can charge a person with a crime or send him to jail, the Church can do neither,” Brennan said, but added “to be clear the diocese cooperates with civil authorities who are investigating illegal behavior.”

Although Bransfield has repaid more than $400,000, the diocese had originally sought nearly $800,000 from the bishop. Brennan said that any civil suit by the diocese to recover more money was very unlikely to succeed because of First Amendment protections on the internal ordering of churches.

“We did get some satisfaction relative to the Bransfield affair,” wrote Brennan. “To the best of my knowledge, the Holy See has never told a bishop in this country to apologize to his people and to make some financial restitution to them.”

“Rome did that to Bishop Bransfield, even if the ‘apology’ was anemic and the financial restitution, though substantial, was less than we initially sought,” Brennan said, calling it a “shot across the bow” to other American bishops that “outrageous conduct will not be tolerated.”

“As some of you have told me,” Brennan concluded, “we need to put the Bransfield saga behind us and move on to the work before us: making Christ known and loved in the state and serving those in need.”

Archbishop John Myers, retired Newark archbishop, dead at 79

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:08 am (CNA).- Archbishop John J. Myers, emeritus archbishop of Newark, has died at 79.

Myers was from 2001 until 2016 the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. He was before that Bishop of Peoria, the diocese for which he was ordained a priest in 1966.

The archbishop, the oldest of seven children, was the son of an Illinois farmer. He discerned a vocation to the priesthood while in college, and was sent as a seminarian to the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He earned in Rome a licentiate in sacred theology and a doctorate in canon law.

He became coadjutor bishop of Peoria in 1987 and became Peoria’s bishop in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, Myers was known for fostering numerous priestly vocations in the Peoria diocese, for his theological orthodoxy, and for his vigorous defense of the unborn.

Myers surprised many Church-watchers when in 2001 he succeeded Theodore McCarrick as Archbishop of Newark.

The archbishop faced criticism for his handling of several high-profile clerical abuse cases while he was Archbishop of Newark, including allowing priests to remain in parish ministry when they had either confessed to or been credibly accused of abuse.

He was, however, recognized by some Newark priests for his support of campus ministry and vocational discernment initiatives in the archdiocese, and for his theological orthodoxy and acumen.

The archbishop also faced a 2014 outcry against the archdiocesan purchase and expansion of a large home in rural New Jersey in which he planned to retire. The archbishop said the home had been paid for by the sale of other archdiocesan real estate and would be used for archdiocesan purposes, including fundraising.

Myers retired in 2016, and was succeeded by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who said Thursday that “on behalf of my brother Bishops and the entire family of God here in our local Church of Newark, I extend my heartfelt prayers and condolences to his family. Let us thank God for Archbishop Myers’ service and his love of our Church. I entrust him to the loving arms of our Blessed Mother Mary, and I pray that Our Lord grant him peace.”

Since 2018, widespread concern and speculation regarding what Myers might have known about the abuse sexual proclivities of his predecessor, McCarrick, has continued, especially because Myers led the Newark archdiocese when it reached legal settlements with men alleging sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The Archdiocese of Newark has not released the findings of its own investigation into McCarrick’s activities, citing a state attorney general’s investigation into the matter.

In January, the archbishop moved to Illinois to be near his family, as his “physical and mental health” was said to in serious decline.

The archbishop was the coathor of “Space Vulture” a 2008 science fiction novel.

Funeral services for the archbishop, expected to be held in Peoria, have not yet been announced.


Knights of Columbus organize novena for Respect Life Month

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced Tuesday a “Novena for the Cause of Life” as part of Respect Life Month, observed in October.

The novena will take place Oct. 4-12. Each day of the novena will include a decade of the rosary, a reflection on a quote from Pope Francis, and a closing prayer to Mary taken from Evangelium vitae, St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life.

"The cause of life is today's preeminent priority, as Pope Francis indicated when meeting with the US bishops in January," said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, according to a Sept. 22 statement.

“The Knights wish to join all Catholics in prayer with Pope Francis for an end to abortion, euthanasia and the many social ills that bring illness, broken families, unhappiness and premature death, especially for the vulnerable.”

The Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month in October and the first Sunday is observed as Respect Life Sunday. During the month, the Church asks Catholics to reflect on the dignity of the person and to take action to spread the pro-life message.

"The theme of this year's national observance, 'Live the Gospel of Life,' says that, with Christ, we are meant to enjoy and foster life, the gift of being fully alive,” said Anderson.

On Respect Life Sunday, priests and deacons are asked by the USCCB to preach on the Church’s teachings on human life during their homilies. The USCCB also encouraged the laity and religious members to pursue activities that contribute toward the pro-life movement.

According to the 2020 Respect Life guide, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides resources to help parishes, families, ministries, and schools to share the pro-life message. Other ministry leaders are urged to use these resources during Bible studies or other ministry gatherings.

The laity and parish staff are encouraged to display the annual “Respect Life Poster” at home, parishes, or in other appropriate public places. The USCCB also suggested that Catholics spend this month in prayer and host an interactive Respect Life activity to help educate others.

Anderson said, as the events of 2020 have taken numerous lives in the United States, abortion continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. He expressed hope that this novena will lead others to be more open to life.

"In 2020, we have lost lives due to the coronavirus pandemic and endured civil unrest, yet abortion remains the leading cause of death in America," said Anderson. "As the year enters its final months, we are prompted to pray more and with greater vigor that hearts may be more open to life in all of its stages,” he said.

Catholic religious sister and migrant advocate named one of 2020's 'Most Influential People'

Washington D.C., Sep 24, 2020 / 09:01 am (CNA).- Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley, this week was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2020.

Pimentel has for the past several years been a visible and highly active advocate for migrants in need of humanitarian aid at the US-Mexico border.

"It's amazing how we see human suffering in such magnitude, right across from the United States,” Sister Pimentel told CNA in an October 2019 interview.

“It's something that we could have handled so [differently]— these are refugees, people who are fleeing violence, asking for protection, and we deny that opportunity to have them come in and wait here.”

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened their first respite center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen in 2014 to provide migrants with basic necessities, including a shower and a bowl of soup.

In need of more space, they later moved to a former nursing home, and eventually in 2019 to a new, larger center in downtown McAllen.

The center has helped hundreds of thousands of migrants over its years of operation, Pimentel says, with donations coming in from around the country and, before the pandemic, many volunteer groups coming to help. 

Pimentel said most of the people they help are women and children who have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date to consider their request for asylum. In earlier years, border agents would typically drop asylum seekers at the McAllen center shortly after being released from the custody of federal authorities.

New Migrant Protection Protocols took effect during January 2019, which require migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico, rather than being allowed to come into the US to await their asylum hearing.

Before the new protocols took effect, Pimentel said the Humanitarian Respite Center was receiving close to 1,000 migrants daily, offering basic aid such as food, clothing, and showers.

Catholic Charities’ role changed drastically after the new protocols kicked in, she said, because the number of migrants actually making it to the US dropped dramatically, to between 10-40 people daily in late 2019.

"And in the meantime, they're stranded there [in Mexico], they're homeless. It's the most horrific human suffering that we see happening to these families, exposed to so many dangers and abuses; cartels and things like that. So it is a very sad, dramatic change that we are seeing," she told CNA.

Donations received at the Respite Center are sorted and distributed to groups working with immigrants along the border, she said. There are several large aid groups working to improve conditions for the migrants in Matamoros, Mexico, right across from Brownsville.

Volunteers working with Catholic Charities frequently went across the border to Matamoros, where the families are camping out, and bring them hygiene items, food, and anything else that they need. There are estimated to be about 650 migrants in the camps currently, down from several thousand at its peak.

The coronavirus pandemic has made helping families along the border even more difficult. In March, President Donald Trump shut down nonessential travel across the US-Mexico border, and indefinitely suspended the asylum system.

In Matamoros, Pimentel says she often would encounter entire families waiting at the border, fleeing persecution in their home countries, who have nothing to eat except what is brought to them by aid groups. Matamoros is one of the world’s most dangerous cities, with frequent kidnappings and murders.

"I really touches my heart to hear that, and to see the children and families hurting so much. It really hurts to see children in such poor conditions," Pimentel said.

In addition to basic supplies, Catholic Charities was helping to provide legal assistance, workshops, and explanations to the migrants, who often have little idea how the US immigration system works, and have no idea how their hearing will go. Often there is not even a translation available for migrants who do not speak English, she said.

The United Nations refugee agency says in 2019, there were about 70,000 who filed for asylum in the US from Mexico, up from 2,000 in 2014.

Pimentel wrote a July 2020 op-ed in the Washington Post, warning that squalid conditions at the Matamoros camp and a lack of water and sanitary supplies made the camp “a potential outbreak waiting to happen.”

To Pimentel, helping the destitute migrants in the area is part and parcel of the charity that the Catholic faith demands of every believer.

"If we believe in a God of love, a God who tells us that we must welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked— Jesus was very specific in saying 'Look for me and you will find me in them, in those people who are hurting and suffering,'" she said.

"How else do we want to receive Jesus if he is telling us already: 'This is where you will find me.' And so if we don't do that, I think we are failing to understand Jesus in our lives, and what He is calling us to do."

The Catholic bishop of Brownsville praised Sister Pimentel’s work Sept. 22 and congratulated her on her distinction.

“Thank you, Sister. You help us all come together in the Valley to face our challenges,
you help us learn how to help each other, how to protect the vulnerable, to not lose hope...and to be a sign of Christ in the world,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Browsville said Sept. 22.

President Trump visited McAllen during January 2019 in an effort to drum up support for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico. Pimentel said after the visit that she was “truly disappointed” that she did not get a chance to speak during a roundtable discussion with the president.

Pimentel said at the time that if she had had the opportunity to speak, she would have emphasized that she understands the importance of border security and keeping the country safe, and that the Border Patrol - with whom she says she has always had a good relationship, and prays for daily - should be supported.

”We also must recognize that there are a lot of families, innocent victims of violence, that are suffering,” she said.

“And we find them here in our community, and we as a community are so generous in responding to help them, to be there for them. It’s a part of who we are as Americans, very compassionate. And that is a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listening to.”

Louisville archbishop pleads for justice and peace after Breonna Taylor decision

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After a controversial grand jury decision regarding the death of Breonna Taylor, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville called for unity to work for racial justice and to combat racism, while many in the city of Louisville braced for protests. 

The archbishop made his plea on Wednesday, September 23, shortly after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision to indict one of the police officers involved in Taylor’s death. 

“I again join with citizens throughout our community and the nation in mourning the tragic death of Breonna Taylor,” said Kurtz in the statement, which was distributed to clergy and leaders within the Archdiocese of Louisville and provided to CNA. 

Taylor, 26, was killed March 13 in Louisville during a police raid of her apartment. Taylor, a Black woman, was shot five times by the police after her boyfriend initially fired at the officers who breached Taylor’s apartment’s door to execute a warrant. The officers involved were white. An issue of contention is whether, and how loudly, the officers announced themselves when entering the apartment.  

Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, acknowledged firing the first shots, and claimed that he thought the police were intruders. Walker has said he did not hear officers announce themselves as police. 

On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted one of the officers who served the warrant, Brett Hankison, with three counts of “wanton endangerment” for firing three shots into and near Taylor’s apartment. Hankinson was fired from the Louisville Police in June. The other two officers were not indicted. None of the shots fired by Hankinson were those which struck Taylor. 

“Whatever our reaction to the decision by the Grand Jury and the Attorney General’s Office, we must now come together to work for racial justice,” Kurtz said Wednesday.

“There is no question that our nation’s original sin of racism continues to destroy the lives of persons of color and that racism extends through so many systems of our society... educational, economic, religious, housing, criminal justice, voting, and employment,” said the archbishop.  

The Church, said Kurtz, “stands ready to work with civic, community, educational, business, and non-profit partners to address these issues.”

No officer was directly charged with Taylor’s death. The charges of “wanton endangerment” carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison each. 

Taylor’s mother received a $12 million wrongful death settlement from the City of Louisville. 

The city declared a state of emergency before the grand jury’s decision was announced. The phrase “Justice for Breonna Taylor” has become one of the most prominent rallying cries of the Black Lives Matter movement, and her portrait has been frequently featured on posters and banners at protests. 

Kurtz said he respects the First Amendment right to protest, but pleaded for peace “and the rejection of violence” during demonstrations. 

“Let us all join in prayers for Breonna Taylor’s family and friends and for justice, peace, and healing in our community,” said Kurtz.

Pastor urges prayer, forgiveness after Florida man tries to burn down Catholic church

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).-  

Police are searching for a man who broke into a Catholic church in Florida on Friday and tried to burn it down. The church’s pastor in a Sept. 20 video urged prayers for the man and thanked God that the church survived the attack. 

Surveillance video shows a young man, shirtless and wearing a surgical mask and white gloves, breaking into the church and pouring a jug of clear liquid on several of the wooden pews before setting them alight. He fled as the flames erupted, apparently without stealing anything.

The incident happened around 10:36pm Sept. 18 at Incarnation Catholic Church in Town 'n’ Country, Florida, immediately northwest of Tampa.

Fire crews responded swiftly to put out the fire, but the sanctuary sustained significant damage, including the loss of the front section of pews. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is leading a search for the suspect.

Pastor Michael Cormier said during his Sept. 20 Sunday homily that initially he considered closing down the church for the weekend to have work done to restore the pews, canceling the weekend’s Masses.

“But we thought: if we did that, evil would win,” Cormier said.

“We wouldn’t have Mass for one weekend, and evil would win...we have been struck down by this, but not destroyed. In the end, evil never wins.”

Cormier reminded the congregation of the Gospel readings at daily Mass on Sept. 10, from Luke 6:27-38: “ your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

He led the congregation in a prayer of thanks that the “act of evil” did not destroy the church, praying for the assailant “that [God] remove the malice and hatred from his heart.”

“May this terrible act cause us to unify, to love one another more than ever, and to continue to make [our parish] the bedrock of faith and strength it has always been,” Cormier prayed. 

Bishop Gregory Parks of St. Petersburg sent his regards and prayers to the parish Sept. 19.

The arson in Town 'n’ Country is the latest in a spate of attacks against Catholic churches in Florida this year, and across the country.

On the morning of July 11, a man crashed a minivan through the front door of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida. He then set the church aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.

Police arrested Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, of Dunnellon, Florida later that day. He has been charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest.

Also in July, an as-yet unidentified assailant beheaded a statue of Christ the Good Shepherd at a parish in the Archdiocese of Miami, in Southwest Miami-Dade County.

In 2019, the co-cathedral of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was damaged by fire, with several of the chairs in the sanctuary set ablaze using an accelerant. A 32-year-old man with a history of mental illness was later arrested in connection with the arson.

Elsewhere in the US, several Catholic statues and church buildings have been vandalized this year, including several statues in California of St. Junipero Serra that have been pulled down by mobs.

On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens. The next day, local police in Boston confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage.

Also on July 11, an arson attack gutted the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Serra.

In September, a man broke at least six windows, beat several metal doors, and broke numerous statues around grounds of a Louisiana parish in a late-night vandalism attack that lasted over two hours. The assailant has since been arrested and confessed to the crime.

Also in September, a vandal entered the sanctuary of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in El Paso, Texas and destroyed a nearly 90-year-old statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts, including those against the images of the Virgin Mary and Christ, have not been identified.

Archbishop Hebda: Minnesota priest’s coronavirus homily ‘inappropriate’

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 01:20 pm (CNA).-  

The Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis has said that priests should not “present medical or scientific speculation” in their homilies, in response to a controversial homily on the coronavirus pandemic preached by Minnesota priest Fr. Robert Altier, which has become widely circulated on social media.

“The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is blessed with many fine priests. We have reason to expect them to teach the truth of the Gospel, faithfully passing on the teachings of our Church. None of our priests or bishops, however, is an expert in public health, infectious disease, epidemiology or immunology. It would be a mistake to attribute any expertise in these areas to us simply on the basis of our ordination,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda wrote in a Sept 22 letter.

Altier preached September 6 a homily at St. Raphael Parish in Crystal, Minnesota, saying the COVID-19 coronavirus is a “ man-made virus, whose work had begun at a lab in North Carolina, then they shipped it to China to finish the work, then it was released so that people would get sick.”

“All this is being done on purpose.”

Altier said that he wanted to tell his congregation “the truth, because that’s what God is going to hold me responsible for.”

“We are being lied to. We have been lied to in a huge way.”

“I have an obligation to stand here and speak the truth, even when people don’t like to hear.”

The priest, who is parochial vicar at the parish, said that only 9,200 people have died of the coronavirus pandemic, which is recorded to have killed more than 200,000 in the U.S., and that the virus was launched in order for unnamed figures to create propaganda networks and disinformation campaigns.

He said the goal of those campaigns is to achieve social control, by inducing people, out of fear, to receive a vaccine that is “designed to change the RNA in your body.”

Altier said he had told his elderly parents, “do not, under any circumstances allow them to put one of these vaccines in your body. The only way that I would allow it to happen to me is if they arrest me and hold me down and force it on me. There is no way.”

“It’s time we start to recognize that we are being lied to….This is all engineered. This is all an agenda. And it’s pointing in a certain direction. So far, like the good sheeple that we are, we’ve all put on our masks and we’re all staying six feet apart, but there comes a part where we have to draw the line.”

The priest said that for himself, the “line” would be refusal to submit to a vaccine. He encouraged parishioners to do their own research on the matter.

The 20-minute homily was posted on YouTube and has been viewed more than 400,000 times.

Some claims in Altier’s homily echoed claims made in a May “appeal” circulated by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, former apostolic nuncio to the U.S.

In his letter, Hebda said that Altier “remains firm in his opinions on the pandemic situation, but he has acknowledged that his remarks were inappropriate in the context of a homily during Mass.”

Citing the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and other Church texts, Hebda said that homilies should be used to explain some aspect of Sacred Scripture or other texts of the Mass.

“The use of a homily to present medical or scientific speculation does not serve that noble purpose and could be seen as an abuse of the cleric’s position of authority to address an issue unrelated to the liturgical celebration.”

“In the context of the liturgy, no member of the assembly, even if the world’s greatest expert in this area, would have been in a position to contradict Fr. Altier or to offer alternative points of reference,” the archbishop added.

Hebda included in his letter responses to some of Altier’s points offered, at the archbishop’s request, by the Minnesota Department of Health. He said that the archdiocesan chapter of the Catholic Medical Association also “considered some of Fr. Altier’s affirmations to be ‘erroneous.’”

Hebda noted that there are legitimate concerns about ethical vaccine production, and pointed to resources regarding the ethical concerns surrounding the use of fetal stem cell lines in vaccine productions.

Altier was ordained a priest in 1989 and has served in various capacities in the Minneapolis archdiocese. A 2018 homily from the priest also went viral online, in which Altier said in his view the Theodore McCarrick crisis and similar incidents in the Church had been caused by the systemic infiltration of the priesthood by predatory “homsexual networks” and by communist agents intent on harming the Church.

Hebda concluded his letter requesting prayers “for all those who are sick with COVID-19, those who care for them, those who are working on vaccines, and all those individuals and families affected in any way by the pandemic. Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.”


Trump, Barr, Barron speak at National Catholic Prayer breakfast

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 11:50 am (CNA).- Attorney General William Barr warned of “a new orthodoxy that is actively hostile to religion” in his remarks to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday. 

Speaking on the separation of Church and state, Barr said that “militant secularists have long seized on that slogan” to try to move religion out of the public square and out of conversations on the common good. They are replacing religion “with a new orthodoxy that is actively hostile to religion” which, he said, has resulted in “urban violence,” drug abuse, and broken families.

Barr addressed the annual event, held virtually in 2020, as he accepted its Christifideles Laici Award. 

“Separation of church and state does not mean—and never did mean—separation of religion and civics,” said Barr, as he insisted Catholics should be more involved in public life through advocating for religious freedom.

It is “never too late” to work in God’s vineyard, he said.

Barr addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (NCPB) on Wednesday through a pre-recorded video. The event is an annual gathering of Catholic leaders held in Washington, D.C., begun in 2004 to promote Pope John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization. 

Pope Francis sent a greeting to the event through the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christopher Pierre.

“Knowing the difficulties the nation is facing in the midst of civil unrest, racial tension, political polarization, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pierre said, “it is certainly hoped that pausing for prayer and invoking the divine mercy of God will lead to healing, reconciliation, and spiritual renewal.”

The archbishop encouraged listeners to “enter deeply into prayer” and “beseech the Eternal Father for an outpouring of grace that will lead to happiness and victory” in the present challenges, “according to His will and His plan.”

President Donald Trump was the second sitting president to address the gathering on Wednesday; President George W. Bush, a Methodist, attended the prayer breakfast each year from 2005 until 2008. Vice President Mike Pence, a baptized Catholic who later identified as an “Evangelical Catholic,” also addressed the event in 2017.

Trump announced at the breakfast plans to sign a “Born-Alive” executive order to ensure that babies surviving abortions get needed medical care.

“Our nation is strong because of Catholics and all people of faith,” the president said, adding that “every child, born and unborn, is made in the holy image of God.”

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, delivered the keynote address.

Barron pointed to two historical figures, the legacies of which are “under attack” today, Thomas Jefferson and St. Junipero Serra, and warned against the tendency to “privatize religion.”

“A privatized religion is bad for religion, it’s bad for democracy,” he said, calling on Catholics to “follow the promptings of the Second Vatican Council” and bring their faith into the public arena.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, also addressed the gathering, noting that the pandemic had affected the Christians in the Holy Land. “Our Holy Sites lie empty” and local families “now struggle to feed their families,” he said.

NCPB board member Mark Randall stated at the outset that “our only agenda is prayer.” The event was originally scheduled for March, but, because of the pandemic, was rescheduled to Wednesday, prompting media focus on the participation of political figures, including Trump and Barr, six weeks before the 2020 presidential election.

Neither Barr’s remarks nor Trump’s made mention of the election itself.  

Board member Leonard Leo introduced both Trump and Barr on Wednesday at the non-partisan event.

Trump, he said, has “fiercely defended the culture of life” and “more than any other president in my lifetime, and he’s done so much more to embrace policies that reflect the morals, teachings, and objectives of our faith.” He cited religious freedom and pro-life protections of the administration.

Leo praised Barr’s “integrity,” “honesty,” “humility,” and “sincere and wise counsel” before Barr was honored with the Christifideles Laici Award. Named for Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the lay vocation, the award honors lay Catholics who promote the New Evangelization and the Church’s mission in their life and work.

Barr, who also served as the attorney general from 1991-93 in the George H.W. Bush administration, is Catholic. He has been criticized by some Catholics - including the bishops’ conference - for resuming executions of federal death row inmates, ending a nearly two-decade moratorium on the federal use of the death penalty.

On Tuesday, the day before Barr was to be honored, the chairs of the pro-life and domestic justice committees of the U.S. bishops’ conference condemned two federal executions scheduled for later this week.

“We say to President Trump and Attorney General Barr: Enough. Stop these executions,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City .

Archbishop Charles Chaput, who retired as Archbishop of Philadelphia this year, was scheduled to address the prayer breakfast in March but was “unavailable” for the Sept. 23 event, communications staff for the event told CNA.

Chaput’s prepared remarks were published by the journal First Things on Monday. Chaput acknowledged in those remarks “many challenges” that face Catholics in the U.S., from within and without the Church.

“But don’t be fooled. God never loses,” he wrote. “And his Church can never lose when we, as her sons and daughters, remember our history, our Christian identity, and our mission to speak God’s truth with love.”

Regarding the honor given to Barr, Chaput’s remarks said: “Amen.”

“Throughout my life, the men and women I’ve most admired have all had the same qualities: a thinking Catholic brain, a character of substance, and a moral spine. General Barr has all three,” he said. “As an added bonus, he’s disliked by all the right people. I want to thank the various and interesting critics of General Barr for confirming me in that judgment.”

The conferral of the award on Barr was criticized by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Wednesday she was “expressing dismay” that Barr was being honored. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the lobbying group Network, also criticized the recognition of Barr. Campbell, who spoke at the Democratic National Convention last month, told CNA ahead of the convention that the question of abortion’s legality was “above her pay grade.”

Activist group Faithful America said it gathered more than 22,000 signatures protesting Barr’s award.

The group has previously run petition campaigns against Christian groups it sees as “right-wing,” but has also opposed actions of bishops, schools, and churches upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage, claiming those efforts are anti-LGBT.

Trump announces 'Born Alive' executive order for abortion survivors

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 10:40 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced an executive order that would require medical care be given to infants who are born alive after failed abortion attempts.

“Today I am announcing that I will be signing the Born-Alive Executive Order to ensure that all precious babies born alive, no matter their circumstances, receive the medical care that they deserve. This is our sacrosanct moral duty,” said Trump Sept. 23, speaking in a pre-recorded video address during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast virtual even. 

The Born-Alive Infant Abortion Survivors Act has been introduced several times in Congress, but has failed to become law. The bill stalled in the House of Representatives in 2019-2020 because an insufficient number of members signed a discharge petition which would have triggered a vote on the bill. 

The proposed law would not have created any new limit or restriction on access to abortion, but would require that infants born alive after an attempted abortion be given appropriate medical care consistent with that given to a child of the same gestational age born under a different circumstance. Several states have passed their own version of the bill.

The full text of the executive order has yet to be released, but is expected to mirror the attempted federal legislation on the issue. 

Trump also announced that his administration would be “increasing federal funding for neonatal research, to ensure that every child has the very best chance to thrive and to grow.” September is Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Awareness month. 

The National Catholic Prayer Breakfast had been rescheduled from March 30 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and was held as an online broadcast. This was Trump’s first time speaking at the event, although administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and former acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, have addressed the breakfast in past years. 

"I want to express my deep gratitude everyone who prays for me, for the First Lady, and for our great country," Trump said.

The president also spoke of how he grew up near a Catholic church in the New York City borough of Queens, and had seen for himself the “incredible work” the Church does for the marginalized.

"I grew up next to a Catholic church in Queens, New York and I saw how much incredible work the Catholic Church did for our community. These are amazing people. These are great, great people," the president said. 

"Catholics of all backgrounds share the love of Christ with the most vulnerable, as they care for the elderly, the homeless, and neighbors in need. Our nation is strong because of Catholics and all people of faith," he added.

Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the Federalist Society and board president of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, introduced Trump. Leo praised the Trump administration’s efforts to protect religious schools and religious liberty.

Leo also praised Trump’s commitment to life issues. The president has taken an active and vocal stance in opposition to abortion; he become the first sitting president to address the March for Life earlier this year, has prohibited domestic abortion providers from receiving some federal funds, and has announced plans to expand the Mexico City policy that prohibits federal foreign aid from being given to organizations that promote or perform abortions.

The president’s administration has garnered praise from the U.S. bishops’ conference for those efforts, while facing criticism from them for ending a moratorium on the federal death penalty, and authorizing the executions of several inmates in recent months.

The virtual event featured a keynote address from Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles, and the conferral of the annual Christifideles Laici Award to Attorney General Bill Barr.