Catholic News Service

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.
  1. IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

    By Julie Asher

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A prohibition by some U.S. Navy commands against active service members participating in off-base indoor religious services over coronavirus fears has now been revised, allowing attendance at places of worship where congregants can maintain social distance and wear face coverings.

    Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, called the change "most welcome" and said it "recognizes that worship is a part of the exercise of religious liberty and helps to ensure the readiness of the forces who defend us."

    "It is clear that the Catholic Church has taken to heart the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) measures and organized the celebration of the sacraments in ways that ensure the safety of participants, good order, and the dignity of the rites," he said in a statement sent to Catholic News Service July 10. "I am sure that other religious groups will do the same."

    He added, "I am grateful to the Department of the Navy and everyone else who contributed to this timely revision."

    Acting Undersecretary of the Navy Gregory J. Slavonic issued a memo July 8 saying that none of the priorities set by the Department of Defense for protecting service members from the spread of COVID-19 including "measured activities" that commanders must consider "should be construed to restrict attendance at places of worship where attendees are able to appropriately apply (coronavirus) transmission mitigation measures, specifically social distancing and use of face covering."

    When Archbishop Broglio first learned of the policy, he called it "particularly odious to Catholics."

    "Frequently there is no longer a Catholic program on naval installations due to budgetary constraints or many installation chapels are still closed -- even though many of them could well ensure appropriate social distancing" to protect worshippers from the coronavirus, he said in a July 5 statement.

    "Participation in the Sunday Eucharist is life blood for Catholics," he said. "It is the source and summit of our lives and allows us to receive the body and blood of the Lord."

    He said the policy was brought to his attention by some of the faithful in the archdiocese and he "immediately contacted the Navy Chief of Chaplains' Office, which was unable "to offer any relief from these provisions." "My attempt to contact the chief of naval operations has not even been acknowledged," he added.

    On July 9, the First Liberty Institute announced the Navy had revised the policy, pointing to the Slavonic memo issued a day earlier.

    The Texas-based nonprofit legal organization that handles religious liberty cases said the change came a few days after it sent a letter on behalf of Air Force Maj. Daniel Schultz, currently assigned to a Navy command, asking the U.S. Navy to grant an accommodation so he could attend the church where he leads worship.

    In his July 5 statement, Archbishop Broglio noted that Catholic churches -- "and I presume others" -- have gone to great lengths to ensure social distancing in seating and receiving holy Communion and have even adjusted the liturgy "to avoid any contagion."

    He also pointed out that during this pandemic, President Donald Trump, as commander in chief, has said houses of worship provide "an essential service" and should be allowed to be open while taking the proper protective measures against the virus.

    "I want to assure the Navy Catholic faithful of my prayerful solidarity, invite them to continue to participate in Masses that are broadcast or livestreamed, and to be fervent in their faith," he said, and rightly predicted "this situation will pass."

    "As Pope Francis reminded us, Christ is in the boat with us," Archbishop Broglio added.

    In a statement reacting to the change in the Navy policy, First Liberty Institute general counsel Mike Berry said: "We are grateful to and Navy leadership for righting this ship, and to Commander-in-Chief Trump for making religious liberty a priority. This is a major victory for the Constitution and for religious freedom within our military."

    Berry added that Slavonic's memo "means tens of thousands of our brave service members will be able to safely and freely exercise their religious beliefs."

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    Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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  2. IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

    By Jonathan Luxmoore

    OXFORD, England (CNS) -- An international virtual pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Lourdes, France, will "affirm the power of prayer" against COVID-19, said the shrine's vice rector.

    "Lourdes is all about spiritual and physical healing, and we've received 15,000 prayer petitions daily throughout the lockdown from around the world -- for people about to die or fearing infection," said Father Xavier d'Arodes de Peyriague, vice rector and head of international pastoral ministry.

    "We quickly realized we weren't just praying for people in Lourdes, but for those in need worldwide -- and this e-pilgrimage will honor their presence in a great affirmation of the power of prayer."

    The priest spoke amid preparations for the July 16 event, marking the French site's official reopening after four months' closure.

    In a July 10 interview with Catholic News Service, he said the 15-hour multigenerational and multicultural e-pilgrimage would include rosary recitals, lectures, music and archival videos in 10 languages illustrating the center's mission, as well as three consecutive international Masses for Asia and Oceania, Europe and Africa, and the Americas.

    "This shrine has never closed previously -- not even during two world wars and other major traumas, and it's been extraordinary to stand alone at its normally crowded grotto," Father d'Arodes said.

    "We've had to adjust our prayers from a focus on individual healing to the challenges of a pandemic. But five times the normal numbers are now following us on social networks, while we're broadcast on Catholic channels worldwide."

    Lourdes, close to the southern Pyrenees Mountains, annually attracts up to 5 million visitors and has been a place of pilgrimage since 1858, when St. Bernardette Soubirous, 14, experienced the first of 18 visions of the Virgin Mary while gathering firewood.

    A website statement said the sanctuary faced a "historic loss" of 8 million euros ($9.06 million) from its enforced shutdown and would be appealing for funds during the virtual pilgrimage.

    In his interview, Father d'Arodes said Lourdes depended heavily on the knowledge and talents of 320 full-time employees, as well as up to 100,000 volunteers who came each year, and had done its best to retain them.

    However, he cautioned it was still unclear when medical conditions and travel possibilities would allow sick pilgrims to return.

    "For now, it's recommended the fragile and vulnerable remain at home -- though some handicapped people have come, we've had to change the way things are done here, closing the sanctuary's baths, suspending processions and restricting torchlight rosaries," he said. "But people are in need of faith and hope, and we've instead been animating the digital community, which is building amazingly all the time."

     

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  3. IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Pope John XXIII hospital

    By Carol Glatz

    ROME (CNS) -- Staff at the Pope John XXIII hospital in Bergamo -- once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy -- announced they had no more patients with coronavirus in their intensive care unit.

    After 137 days of trying to keep critically ill patients alive, staff gathered July 8 for a moment of silence to remember those who passed away in their wards, followed by applause for the more than 400 hospital workers in the department.

    Maria Beatrice Stasi, director general of the hospital, told reporters they had discharged the last patient to recover from COVID-19, marking "a moment of great emotion" and relief as the intensive care unit can now accommodate other patients and staff can return to their regular uniforms.

    At the worst point of the crisis, which began with their first patient being admitted Feb. 23, the ICU had more than 100 patients intubated.

    Luca Lorini, head of the intensive care and reanimation department, told reporters July 8 that the exceptional effort and teamwork by staff led them to the "great result" of having no more COVID-19 patients in their unit.

    "We had the courage to tell the truth" about the numbers of critically ill people they were treating, he said, and "what we did during this (early) phase saved a piece of the world," he told Bergamo News.

    "We showed we could do it with the little information and resources we had" at the start of the outbreak, but now "we must not be unprepared, we must prepare for a future that no scientist can foresee, but we must be ready for another return of COVID," he said.

    "People must maintain an attitude of caution; it will do no harm to keep washing hands or wear a face mask until we get to zero infections, zero patients and zero dead" from the coronavirus, he told the newspaper.

    Meanwhile, another hospital in the hard-hit north of Italy was seeing its number of COVID-19 patients steadily diminishing.

    Lorenzo Menicanti, chief cardiac surgeon at the San Donato hospital in Milan, told the online medical news service MedPage Today, his unit had been entirely dedicated to COVID-19 patient care when the 500-bed hospital found itself needing to care for 600 people ill with COVID-19.

    Now they have had no new positive cases admitted to the hospital the past three weeks, he said July 7, and he attributed the country's overall success in containing the spread of the virus to people complying first with the strict lockdown and then social distancing.

    Health care workers have also improved in pinpointing "hot spots" and sources of infection and reacting fast to limit its spread, Menicanti told MedPage Today.

    "Of course it's not over, we know that," he said. "But the population is very prudent and being very attentive to the rules."

    While new cases of infections keep oscillating around 200 new cases per day since June 27, the Italian bishops' conference surveyed all diocesan Caritas agencies to see how they have been helping those in need during the crisis.

    Results from the survey, posted on the bishops' website July 1, show 96% of current requests for assistance were related to job and income loss. Other problems reported included paying rent and mortgages, psychological difficulties, problems with school, solitude, depression and delays in or unavailability of needed treatment or health care, it said.

    About 34% of those assisted by Caritas reported it was the first time they had ever gone to Caritas for help, the survey found.

    Of the thousands of Caritas workers and volunteers nationwide, young people had been instrumental in providing the needed assistance, since they had to fill in for many people who were over the age of 65 and were advised to obey quarantine measures.

    Twenty Caritas staff and volunteers died out of the 179 who contracted COVID-19, it said.

    While the numbers are not complete, at least 450,000 people were helped by Caritas from March to the end of May. The bishops boosted funding for Caritas so it could meet the demands in services, such as supplying personal protective equipment, food banks and deliveries, help lines, purchasing medicines and other medical supplies, support in hospitals and medical facilities, help for the homeless and those mourning deceased loved ones, and providing lodging for those needing to be isolated or put in quarantine.

     

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  4. IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

    By

    NEW YORK (CNS) - Twenty schools in the Archdiocese of New York will not reopen in the fall because of the financial fallout caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    Archdiocesan education officials also announced that three schools will merge.

    A news release from the archdiocese cited the pandemic for sickening thousands of people with COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and leading to massive layoffs that have left people without jobs for weeks, leaving them unable to pay school tuition.

    The archdiocese also pointed to "a significantly low rate of re-registration for the fall, and added that months of canceled public Masses have resulted in a loss of parish contributions that traditionally help support the schools and also hurt fundraising for scholarships.

    Meanwhile, in the neighboring Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, school leaders said six schools will close there as of Aug. 31. They also attributed the closings to the pandemic.

    "Children are always the most innocent victims of any crisis, and this COVID-19 pandemic is no exception," New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said. "Too many have lost parents and grandparents to this insidious virus and now thousands will not see their beloved school again."

    Cardinal Dolan added that his prayers were with the children and their families most affected.

    "Given the devastation of this pandemic, I'm grateful more schools didn't meet this fate and that Catholic schools nearby are ready to welcome all the kids," he added.

    The archdiocese said that about 2,500 students and 350 staff members will be affected by the closings. Eleven of the schools are located in three of New York's five boroughs -- Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island -- with the remaining nine in outlying communities including New Rochelle, New Windsor, Poughkeepsie and Yonkers.

    Michael J. Deegan, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, acknowledged that closing the schools was a painful decision. He said studies of the financial status of each left administrators with no option but to close them.

    "I have been a Catholic school educator for more than 40 years and could never have imagined the grave impact this pandemic has had on our schools," he said in a statement.

    Deegan suggested that unless additional federal assistance in any future emergency response bill would be coming, more schools would face closure.

    "This is a very bad day for everyone in the extended Catholic school community. I send my love and prayers to the families, teachers, principals and staff of the affected schools," Deegan said.

    In Brooklyn, the six schools are located in the New York City boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.

    The diocese said in its news release the schools have experienced declining enrollment for the last five years, but that registrations dropped off significantly as the pandemic took hold of the metropolitan area.

    The schools have more than $630,000 in outstanding tuition payments, the diocese said.

    "This is an incredibly sad day for our Catholic community to have to close these schools, but the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic is insurmountable," said Thomas Chadzutko, diocesan superintendent of schools.

    School leaders in New York and Brooklyn said efforts are underway to enroll children in Catholic schools that remain open.

    In the Brooklyn Diocese, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust is providing a one-time $500 grant for each child from a closed school who enrolls and attends a new Catholic school in Brooklyn or Queens in the fall as long as all other financial obligations have been met.

     

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  5. IMAGE: CNS photo/Thibaud Moritz, JMP/ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters

    By Carol Glatz

    ROME (CNS) -- Despite ongoing and unpredictable travel restrictions, there are still a number of important sites, shrines and sanctuaries people can "visit" online in Europe and the Middle East.

    In fact, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France will be holding a worldwide online pilgrimage July 16 -- the anniversary of the last apparition of the Virgin Mary.

    Everyone is invited to join the online initiative, which will be livestreamed for 15 hours in 10 languages from the Grotto of Lourdes at www.lourdes-france.org/en/lourdes-united.

    For more than 160 years, the sanctuary has been an essential place for millions of people who visit each year, seeking hope, healing, fraternity and deepened faith, the event's promoters said in a news release June 30.

    "The world is facing an unprecedented economic and social crisis, coupled with an unprecedented quest for meaning," it said.

    And the "Lourdes United e-pilgrimage will bring together all those who, in the four corners of the world, see Lourdes as a beacon of faith, commitment, sharing and hope," it added.

    Navigating the top of the homepage at www.lourdes-france.org/en/, visitors can also find ways to request a Mass, light a candle and place a prayer petition in the grotto.

    Here are several other places important to Catholics that are offering some kind of virtual visit or livestreaming service. Many of these online sites are also appealing for donations since lockdowns and restrictions have seriously reduced a major source of income from pilgrimages and tourism.

    -- The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land oversees 55 sanctuaries in Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. Visitors at www.custodia.org/en/sanctuaries can get a more in-depth look at these sacred places, especially the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus's tomb, in Jerusalem.

    -- The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal offers a livestream of the chapel and live daily broadcasts of praying the rosary and Mass at www.fatima.pt/en/pages/online-transmissions. The same link also provides a gallery of pictures, videos and "sounds," including an audio library of Marian hymns.

    -- Though only in Italian, the Holy House of Loreto near the Adriatic Sea in Italy posts videos of their daily Masses and the recitation of the rosary on their YouTube channel "Santa Casa Loreto" at www.youtube.com/channel/UCT9uLSAfEfqgXbArvYyHzQg.

    Their main website at santuarioloreto.it/, also only in Italian, has links for sending prayer intentions and for seeing photos and videos of the sanctuary, which tradition holds is where Mary was born and raised and where the Holy Family was thought to have lived when Jesus was a boy. The one-room Holy House also is held to be the place where Mary received the angel's annunciation and conceived the Son of God through the Holy Spirit.

    -- The website of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi offers a huge list of online opportunities, all in Italian, but still visually enriching, like a livestream of the tomb of St. Francis with an option of sending a prayer petition at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/web-cam-cripta-di-san-francesco-assisi and a livestream of daily Mass in the basilica at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/messa-diretta-streaming-oggi.

    There is a 360-degree virtual tour of the basilica at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/basilica/ and of the tomb at www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/visita-virtuale-tomba-san-francesco/. The 13th-century basilica had to be painstakingly restored, including its frescoes by Giotto, after a devastating earthquake in 1997.

    -- While a special online exposition of the Shroud of Turin was held April 11 for prayer and contemplation during the coronavirus epidemic, the recorded event, with commentary in English, can still be found online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7BmsSE_4Wk.

     

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  6. IMAGE: CNS photo/Callaghan O'Hare, Reuters

    By

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Health Association July 7 said it was "deeply regrettable" that President Donald Trump has formally withdrawn the U.S. from the World Health Organization during a global pandemic.

    Instead, the U.S. should be "leading a coordinated global response to protect the lives of millions of people around the world," the organization said in a statement released the same day the U.S. submitted its withdrawal notification to the secretary-general of the United Nations.

    "As with Ebola, smallpox, polio and HIV/AIDs, the COVID-19 virus does not recognize national borders," the CHA said. "A global response therefore is needed to save lives around the world and here in the United States. CHA strongly urges the President to reconsider this decision and ensure the U.S. remains a leader in global health."

    CHA's statement referred to a letter its president and CEO, Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, sent to Trump June 22 asking him then to reconsider pulling out of WHO.

    "Withdrawing from the organization at the height of the pandemic is counterproductive and only ensures that the U.S. will have little influence on these efforts" to reform WHO, she said. "Indeed, now is the time to stand in solidarity with those in need around the world to save lives and provide hope."

    Sister Haddad noted that "for over 100 years, through yellow fever, the flu of 1918 and up to today, Catholic health providers have been at the front line of addressing global pandemics."

    "We increasingly hear from our sister Catholic organizations in other regions of the world looking for information and resources on how best to prepare and respond to COVID-19," she said. She sent copies of her letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    She added, "At a time when the world faces a global pandemic and the rates of infection dramatically increase in the developing world, a global response that includes the United States is essential to build solidarity between people within our own country and around the world."

    Sister Haddad quoted Pope Francis in his "urbi et orbi" (to the city and to the world) address at Easter when he said, "The most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned."

    The United States has been WHO's largest contributor, giving over $400 million annually to the specialized U.N. agency. Based in Geneva, the agency's primary role is to direct international health within the United Nations' system and to lead partners in global health responses.

    In April Trump suspended the United States' contributions to WHO over what he called the agency's "failed response" to the pandemic and its "alarming lack of independence" from China. Experts believe the novel coronavirus first began infecting humans in late 2019 in Wuhan, a city in China's Hubei Province, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

    In a May 18 letter to WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the president outlined in bullet-point fashion what he said were "repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic (that) have been extremely costly for the world," starting with December 2019, when he said the agency "consistently ignored credible reports of the virus spreading in Wuhan."

    Trump gave WHO 30 days to commit "to major substantive improvements" or he would make the temporary freeze on U.S. contributions to the agency permanent.

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  7. IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 7-2 decision July 8, the Supreme Court upheld regulations by the Trump administration giving employers more ability to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

    The decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the administration had "the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections."

    Dissenting votes were by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

    "This is a saga that did not need to occur. Contraception is not health care, and the government should never have mandated that employers provide it in the first place," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

    The bishops said they welcomed the decision and hoped it "brings a close to this episode of government discrimination against people of faith. Yet, considering the efforts we have seen to force compliance with this mandate, we must continue to be vigilant for religious freedom," they said.

    The statement was issued by Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the USCCB's Committee for Religious Liberty, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

    The case examined if the expansion of the conscience exemption from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate violated the health care law and laws governing federal administrative agencies.

    It highlighted -- as it has before when the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate has come before the high court -- the Little Sisters of the Poor, the order of women religious who care for the elderly poor. The sisters were represented, as they have been previously, by Becket, a religious liberty law firm.

    The case before the court combined Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.

    According to government estimates, the Trump administration's rule changes would prevent 70,000 to 126,000 women from having contraception coverage in their employee health insurance.

    Ginsburg, who cited these numbers in her dissent, said the court had previously taken a balanced approach in accommodating claims of religious freedom "one that does not allow the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs." She said that in this decision the court, for the first time, "casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree."

    The U.S. bishops said there had been "multiple opportunities for government officials to do the right thing and exempt conscientious objectors. Time after time, administrators and attorneys refused to respect the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Catholic faith they exemplify, to operate in accordance with the truth about sex and the human person. Even after the federal government expanded religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, Pennsylvania and other states chose to continue this attack on conscience."

    Thomas, describing the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor and their involvement in this case, wrote: "For over 150 years, the Little Sisters have engaged in faithful service and sacrifice, motivated by a religious calling to surrender all for the sake of their brother... .But for the past seven years, they -- like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today's decision -- have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs."

    Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, the order's U.S. provincial, said the Little Sisters of the Poor were "overjoyed that, once again, the Supreme Court has protected our right to serve the elderly without violating our faith. Our life's work and great joy is serving the elderly poor and we are so grateful that the contraceptive mandate will no longer steal our attention from our calling."

    A recap of the sisters' involvement in this case goes back to 2013 when religious groups and houses of worship were granted a religious exemption by the Supreme Court from the government's mandate to include contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

    Three years later, religious nonprofit groups challenged the requirement to comply with the mandate and the court sent the cases back to the lower courts with instructions for the federal government and the challengers to try to work out an agreeable solution.

    Then in 2017, religious groups were given further protection from the contraceptive mandate through an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit religious ministries, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the contraceptive mandate.

    HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

    Pennsylvania and New Jersey obtained a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate; that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.

    This is where the Little Sisters come back because they appealed the circuit court's ruling and asked the Supreme Court to step in.

    In one of the two consolidated cases, Trump v. Pennsylvania, the administration argued that the exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious groups were authorized by the health care law and required by the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

    Lawyers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey said the administration lacked statutory authority to issue such regulations and said the government did not follow proper administrative procedures.

    The second case examines whether the Little Sisters of the Poor had the standing to appeal the 3rd Circuit ruling since a separate court order had already allowed them to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the-court brief siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor, which stressed that the court needs to set the record straight, particularly with its interpretation of RFRA, which says "governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification."

    The brief said there was a compelling need to review this case not only because the 3rd Circuit Court decision conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings on this topic in Hobby Lobby and Zubik decisions, but because its ruling "threatens to reduce one of America's leading civil rights laws to virtual impotence," referring to RFRA.

    It emphasized that RFRA essentially hangs in the balance because the appeals court "adopted a grudging interpretation of the statute that will, unless reversed, too often deny protection for religious people and institutions."

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    Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

     

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    Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  8. IMAGE: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

    By Gina Christian

    PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- With COVID restrictions lifting, pastors looking to welcome faithful back should rethink their confession schedules -- and start talking more about the sacrament in the pulpit.

    That's according to Archdiocese of Philadelphia evangelization director Meghan Cokeley, who said that a lack of convenient times for the sacrament of reconciliation, along with a poor understanding of its significance, are leading to declines in overall Mass attendance.

    "Sin is like spiritual cholesterol, and the arteries (of the church) are clogged," she said. "This is a hidden spiritual reality, but it actually explains why there's so little life."

    Cokeley said that many area faithful have advised her that traditional Saturday afternoon confession times "are terrible as far as accessibility, (especially) for young families."

    Respondents to a survey by Cokeley said that Sunday mornings and weeknights were more viable for receiving the sacrament.

    Aside from logistical concerns, however, the lines for confession have been shrinking for years.

    A study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found that in 2005, 42% of Catholic adults said they never went to confession, a number that rose to 45% in CARA's 2008 follow-up polling. The latter study found that 30% participated in the sacrament of reconciliation less than once a year.

    Numbers from a 2015 Pew Research survey were slightly more encouraging, yet still found a "lukewarm embrace of confession."

    But the data that really shocked Cokeley came from a recent five-year study by the Malvern-based Catholic Leadership Institute, which surveyed some 17,000 practicing Catholics from the Philadelphia archdiocesan area.

    "Seventy-five percent of them reported that they go to confession once or twice a year or never, and that 'never' portion was almost 30%," Cokeley told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan online news outlet. "These are regular Massgoers... our ministry leaders, parish council members, finance council people."

    Cokeley said the issue strikes to core of the faith itself.

    "The Gospel is conversion, turning away from sin and being faithful to the Gospel," she said. "What this is telling me is that we're actually missing the heart of the matter."

    Part of the problem, she said, is due to "a very comfortable Catholicism" that prevails in parishes and in the overall culture.

    "There's just this logic that somehow... Jesus exists to make me feel good about myself," she said.

    That kind of individualism and self-affirmation have profound social consequences, said Cokeley.

    "If we ourselves aren't dealing with our sin regularly, we're not going to have this healthy responsiveness to the evil that we're seeing around us," she said.

    Although they're not in line for confession, many Catholics -- about 89%, according to Pew's 2015 study -- nonetheless believe sin exists.

    But fear and shame often keep faithful away from the sacrament, said Cokeley -- and unnecessarily so, since "conversion is not condemnation."

    "We have to start talking about the call to conversion as an expression of Christ's love, that he wants our burdens pulled off of us, and he wants our chains broken," she said.

    Addressing sin is an "unbinding of the heart," she said, which is why the pivotal aspect of the sacrament is "not the confessing, but the receiving of grace to break the chain, to walk away from it."

    "When the priest utters those words, 'I absolve you' -- that word literally means to break," she said. "So when he speaks those words, the chains are broken, and it doesn't have anything to do with how we feel about it. It actually happens."

    A reawakening to the need for regular confession is crucial for the spread of the Gospel, said Cokeley, who said that "when we're introducing people to the person of Christ, it has to be the real Jesus."

    "I think unfortunately in evangelization sometimes we almost do a bait and switch," she said. "We have a soft, easy Jesus, and then we tell people about the hard stuff later. Jesus needs to be presented in truth from the beginning."

    For both first-time and lifelong penitent, the sacrament of reconciliation is one of healing and hope, she said.

    Encountering Christ is a "radical, beautiful call... that really fulfills the deepest desires of our hearts," said Cokeley.

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    Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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  9. IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

    By Carol Zimmermann

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two U.S. bishops said they welcomed the Supreme Court's 7-2 ruling July 8 which said California Catholic schools could not be sued for job discrimination in firing teachers. The bishops said the decision "rightly acknowledged" the limit on state authority.

    The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, said: "What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does."

    He said that even though the elementary school teachers "were not given the title of 'minister' and have less religious training" that the teacher in the previous court case involving the ministerial exception, the court holds that the same rule applies.

    "The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission," Alito wrote.

    Dissenting votes were by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

    "Education is a central aspect of the church's mission," the bishops said. "As "institutions carrying out a ministry of the church, Catholic schools have a right, recognized by the Constitution, to select people who will perform ministry. The government has no authority to second-guess those ministerial decisions."

    The statement was issued by Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael C. Barber, of Oakland, California, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Catholic Education.

    Adrian Alarcon, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Catholic Schools, similarly pointed out that "religious schools play an integral role in passing the faith to the next generation of believers" and that the archdiocesan Catholic schools are "grateful that the Supreme Court recognized faith groups must be free to make their own decisions about who should be entrusted with these essential duties."

    In her dissent, Sotomayor said the court's ruling is "not only wrong on the facts, but its error also risks upending anti-discrimination protections for many employees of religious entities."

    She noted that the court has "recently lamented a perceived 'discrimination against religion.'" Yet in this case, she said, the court "swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs," something she said will be "impossible to ignore for long, particularly in a pluralistic society."

    This case examined if courts can hear employment discrimination claims brought by teachers at Catholic elementary schools. It involved California Catholic school teachers who claimed they had been victims of job discrimination and the schools who fired them who said they were exempt from anti-discrimination laws due to ministerial exception spelled out in a previous Supreme Court case about a fired teacher at a Lutheran school.

    The cases before the court were a combination of two cases, St. James School v. Biel and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berrum, both schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

    At St. James School in Torrance, former fifth grade teacher, Kristen Biel, said she was fired after informing school administrators that she had breast cancer and would have to take time off for surgery and chemotherapy. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Biel died last summer, but her husband is seeking damages. Becket, the nonprofit religious liberty law firm representing the schools, said that in 2015, the school chose not to renew Biel's one-year contract based on classroom performance.

    Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Hermosa Beach did not renew the contract in 2013 for Agnes Morrissey-Berru, who had taught both fifth and sixth grades since 1999, saying she had a problem keeping order in her classroom and meeting expectations under a new reading program. Morrissey-Berru sued, alleging age bias under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

    In both cases, federal district courts ruled in favor of the schools, citing ministerial exception. But two separate panels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed these decisions, saying the limited extent of the employee's religious duties were insufficient to qualify for a ministerial exception that was more often applied to those with roles of religious leadership.

    The 2012 decision these schools were standing on is Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where a teacher at a Lutheran school in Michigan said she was fired for pursuing an employment discrimination claim based on a disability.

    In that ruling, the court said the ministerial exception to anti-discrimination laws meant that religious organizations couldn't be sued for firing an employee classified as a minister.

    Briefs filed by both schools point out that the "scope of the ministerial exception is a vital and recurring question of nationwide importance for thousands of religious organizations and individuals."

    The National Catholic Educational Association, in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of St. James School, stressed instead that Biel, as the school's only fifth grade teacher, "bore particular responsibility for effectuating -- and embodying -- the integral formation that is distinct to Catholic schools."

    Richard Garnett, law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School and director of the university's Program on Church, State and Society, said at the time of the oral arguments that even though these teachers were not giving theology instruction and were not ordained clergy do "their role is, and is understood as, a ministerial one, and secular courts are not in a good position to second-guess or override religious institutions' decisions about their ministerial employees' role."

    He also said the cases were not, "as some have complained, about a supposed right of churches to 'ignore' civil-rights laws. Quite the contrary. These cases are about protecting the civil and constitutional rights of religious institutions to decide religious questions for themselves."

    In a tweet after the decision was announced, Garnett said it was no surprise that the court reaffirmed "its Hosanna-Tabor decision and the religious-freedom rights of schools and reverses the Ninth Circuit's narrowing of that decision." Well done, he said, adding: "Too bad this one is not unanimous."

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    Follow Zimmermann: @carolmaczim

     

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  10. IMAGE: CNS photo/, Reuters

    By

    REGENSBURG, Germany (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI followed the funeral of his brother, Georg Ratzinger, via livestreaming, reported the German Catholic news agency KNA.

    Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg said Pope Benedict, 93, was connected to the Mass taking place for his older brother July 8 in the Regensburg Cathedral. Msgr. Georg Ratzinger died on July 1 at age 96.

    During the Mass, the Regensburg bishop recalled the surprise June 18-22 visit Pope Benedict paid to the sickbed of his dying brother.

    "This sign of humanity touched many people. So all the more do we share in your mourning," he said in words addressed to the retired pope.

    The Vatican newspaper and KNA reported that alongside Bishop Voderholzer at the altar was Pope Benedict's private secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, and the pope's ambassador to Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic. Among other participants were the former Regensburg bishop, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, and Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

    The retired pope had written to his deceased brother a letter, which was read out loud at the ceremony by Archbishop Ganswein.

    Remembering his "dear brother, Georg," Pope Benedict wrote, "May God reward you for everything you have done, have suffered and have given me."

    The retired pope said his brother "received and understood his vocation to the priesthood as a musical vocation at the same time." He recalled his brother's "cheerfulness, his humor and his joy for the good gifts of creation." He also noted that his brother came to accept living with almost total blindness for 20 years.

    Recalling his visit to Regensburg, the retired pope said he said "farewell" to his brother, knowing that "it would be a farewell from this world forever. But we also knew that God, who is good, who gave us this gift of being together in this world, also reigns in the other world, and there he will let us be reunited again."

    Providing musical accompaniment for the funeral Mass were 16 former members of the "Domspatzen," the name of the Regensburg Cathedral's world-famous boys' choir that Msgr. Ratzinger directed from 1964 to 1994.

    Bishop Voderholzer praised Msgr. Ratzinger's musical contribution and said it made clear how church music was not an "external ingredient" in a Christian church service. Music itself was " a medium of evangelization," he said.

     

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