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Despite denials, HHS nominee Xavier Becerra sued to take away nuns' religious freedom rights

Denver Newsroom, Mar 5, 2021 / 03:01 am (CNA).- Xavier Becerra, US president Joe Biden’s nominee for HHS secretary, did indeed sue to take away the religious exemptions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and it is only “technically true” for the California attorney general to claim that he sued the Trump administration, not the Catholic sisters who joined the case in order to defend against threats to their rights, says an attorney involved in their case.
“This very afternoon I have to go to a hearing against Mr. Becerra in his lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket legal group, told CNA March 2. “I think Mr. Becerra is suing nuns. He is at the very least litigating against the Little Sisters as we speak.”
Rienzi’s legal group has supported the Little Sisters of the Poor in their opposition to the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services mandate which requires employers to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortions. The Little Sisters have secured multiple court victories, and the Trump administration crafted religious and moral exemptions for groups affected by the mandate.
Rienzi described the situation by invoking the way parties to a case are named, on different sides of the “v.” abbreviation for “versus.”
“For the last three-plus years, (Becerra) has been on one side of the ‘v.’ and the Little Sisters have been on the other side of the ‘v’ and he’s been trying to take away their religious liberty rights,” said Rienzi.
In 2017, Becerra, in his role as the attorney general of California, sued the Trump administration over these exemptions. Becerra’s lawsuit, as well as a lawsuit by Pennsylvania against the administration, resulted in the nuns’ appeal to the Supreme Court. The court in 2019 allowed them to intervene in the case to defend their rights, and ultimately ruled in their favor in July by upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions.
Becerra on Feb. 24 appeared at the U.S. Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. There, he rejected claims that he was suing nuns.
“I have never sued any nuns. I have taken on the federal government, but I have never sued any affiliation of nuns,” said Becerra. Rather, his actions were directed at federal agencies that “have been trying to do things that are contrary to the law in California.”
The Washington Post in a Feb. 26 fact check analysis, “Biden’s pick for HHS sued the Trump administration, not a group of nuns,” tended to side with Beccera’s interpretation, but also acknowledged the Little Sisters’ interest in the case.
“California is suing the federal government, challenging a Trump administration policy that exempts some employers from providing contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Little Sisters of the Poor voluntarily joined that case, taking the Trump administration’s position that the exemptions were legally valid,” Salvador Rizzo’s Washington Post column said.
However, Rienzi emphasized the importance of the case for the Little Sisters because of “the threat of what the original federal mandate was going to do.”
“If they wouldn’t violate their religion, it would impose $75 million in fines on the sisters,” he said. “When the federal government finally got it right and said ‘okay we’ll exempt you, sisters, you don’t have to do this,’ that’s when Becerra and the states sued to try to get that mandate back.”
The Little Sisters had to act, he said: “It’s the looming threat against everything you do that your govt is either going to tell you, violate your religion or shut your doors.”
“It’s certainly true that the sisters have won at every stage. They keep winning because this is a ridiculously bad claim that Becerra and others are pushing,” he said. “But they’ve had to fight to get to that point to preserve their ministry of caring for the elderly and caring for the people in need. That’s the burden. That’s the threat. That’s the harm.”
Becerra’s case aimed to secure a ruling that exemptions are not required.
“In other words, the whole theory of the California case is that there shouldn’t be injunctions like that because federal law doesn’t allow for religious liberty exemptions like that,” said Rienzi.
“Technically I suppose the Little Sisters or anybody else could have just sat on the sidelines and watched Becerra and California have a lawsuit designed to take away their rights. But as it was their rights at issue, the federal judge said it was correct that they belonged in the lawsuit. They showed up to protect their rights in the lawsuit,” he said.
In another case involving Becerra and nuns, a group of Catholic nuns was affected by the state’s universal abortion coverage mandate. They did not fight the mandate in court, but did file a complaint with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit alleged that their religious freedom was being violated by having to provide abortion coverage in health plans.
The HHS office in January 2020 ultimately found that Becerra violated federal conscience laws, and gave him 30 days to comply with the law. Becerra refused, and in December the agency announced it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California.

Besides religious freedom, Becerra’s confirmation hearings focused on abortion. He did not directly answer whether he would support taxpayer-funded abortion and did not explain his previous opposition to a 2003 ban on partial-birth abortions. He indicated he wanted to expand access to chemical abortions, citing patients’ use of telehealth technology to consult doctors remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate Finance Committee voted in a party line 14-14 vote March 3 to advance Becerra’s nomination to the Senate floor.

Investigation: Cardinal Wuerl received $2 million in 2020 for ‘ministry activities’

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2021 / 05:32 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington DC who stepped down in 2018 amid scandal, received over $2 million from the archdiocese last year for unspecified “ministry activities,” an investigation has found. 

A March 3 examination of the archdiocese’s financial records by The Pillar found that Wuerl was allocated $2,012,639 for “continuing ministry activities” during fiscal year 2020.

The amount appropriated to Wuerl is up from approximately $1.5 million in 2019. The archdiocesan financial statement does not detail what “continuing ministry activities” the funds facilitated. 

In contrast, the amount the archdiocese allocated for “Formation of priests” declined slightly from $1.1 million in 2019 to just over $1 million in 2020. 

Similarly, “Archdiocesan charitable giving” in 2020 was listed at just over $401,000, down from just over $651,000 in fiscal year 2019. 

The Pillar confirmed that Wuerl gave at least one retreat to a group of U.S. bishops in January 2021. The archdiocese did not respond to The Pillar’s questions about what other ministry responsibilities, if any, the archdiocese had given Wuerl.  

Revelations during summer 2018 about the sexual misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick raised questions about whether Wuerl, McCarrick’s successor, was aware of McCarrick’s misdeeds. 

McCarrick was found to have sexually abused both minors and adult seminarians and priests, and Pope Francis laicized him in Feb. 2019. 

For his part, Wuerl has insisted he knew nothing about McCarrick’s sexual misconduct until 2018.

But previous reporting by CNA, as well as the recent McCarrick Report, found that Wuerl was made aware in 2004 of inappropriate conduct, apparently not of a sexual nature, on the part of McCarrick involving an adult. 

Though Wuerl forwarded a report of the alleged misconduct to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., no record has been found that the nuncio, who by that time had fallen seriously ill, ever forwarded it to the Vatican.

The McCarrick Report also details a 2010 incident whereby Wuerl advised against then-Pope Benedict sending a birthday greeting to McCarrick because there remained “the possibility that the New York Times is going to publish a nasty article, already prepared, about the Cardinal’s ‘moral life.’”

Wuerl, 80, was appointed to lead the Washington archdiocese in May 2006. Pope Benedict XVI named him a cardinal in 2010. He was previously Bishop of Pittsburgh since 1988.

Wuerl had submitted his resignation to the Vatican in 2015 upon turning 75, as is the requirement for bishops. 

Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation in Oct. 2018 at Wuerl’s request, but asked him to remain as Apostolic Administrator until the appointment of his successor. In May 2019, Archbishop— now Cardinal— Wilton Gregory was installed in Washington. 

The archdiocese of Washington released a statement March 4 following The Pillar’s report, saying the funds in the “continuing ministry activities” account are donations “made by persons who want to cover Cardinal Wuerl’s expenses and ministerial needs.”

These include “living expenses, prior travel for business in Rome, as well as for charitable requests asked of the archbishop emeritus,” the statement said, adding that the “donations have accumulated over time.”

However, The Pillar noted that the funds allocated for Wuerl are classified as “net assets without donor restrictions,” meaning they are not subject to “donor imposed restrictions stipulating how, when and/or if the net assets are available for expenditure.”

The designation appears at odds with the archdiocese’s statement that the funds were donated with the specific intention of covering Wuerl’s expenses. 

The Pillar contacted the archdiocese to ask specifically about the funds’ designation—  which is regulated both by state law and the IRS— and did not receive a reply by press time. 

“All the expenses of Cardinal Gregory and Cardinal Wuerl are reviewed by members of the Archdiocesan Finance Council throughout the year. All expenditures go through the Archdiocese’s normal budget and internal control procedures, which are also audited by an accounting firm annually,” the archdiocesan statement concluded. 

The U.S. bishops’ conference has guidelines for providing for retired bishops, recommending that their diocese give them a stipend of at least $2,250 per month, as well as housing, health insurance, a car, travel expenses, secretarial assistance if needed, and a suitable funeral and burial.

McCarrick, Wuerl’s predecessor, is known to have funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars through what was known as the Archbishop’s Fund, and reportedly made gifts to senior Vatican officials, even while the fund remained under the charitable auspices of the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Washington has so far declined to disclose sources, sums, and uses of money, though it has acknowledged that the fund exists.

Bishops voice concern over treatment of religion in Irish reopening plan

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- As Ireland marks the first anniversary of the novel coronavirus arriving, local Catholic bishops are calling for the government to ease its restrictions on in-person worship services.

A pastoral message was released March 3 by the bishops of six dioceses in the country’s western Tuam Province - Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam, Bishop John Fleming  of Killala, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, Bishop Brendan Kelly of Galway, Bishop Michael Duignan of Clonfert, and Bishop Paul Dempsey of Achonry

The bishops compared the current situation to arriving at a false summit while hiking, and realizing there is more progress to be made.  

“Sometimes the last bit can be the hardest of all. We understand the experience of disappointment and frustration that many people feel, at the news of an indefinite extension of lockdown,” they said. 

COVID-19 cases in Ireland have declined steadily following a sharp spike in late December and early January. However, authorities are still urging caution. 

The bishops analyzed the five-state reopening plan for the country, published by the government last week. Under Level 5 restrictions, which will be in place at least until April, traveling more than 5 km from one’s home is prohibited, as is mingling with people from other households. Retail stores, bars, gyms and other businesses deemed non-essential must remain closed.

The bishops acknowledged the need for caution, saying, “we accept absolutely that now is not the time for a major reopening of society.”

However, they argued, funerals are limited to only 10 people at Level 5 of the reopening plan, while a 25-person limit would still allow for safe services and would “bring much consolation to grieving families.”

The bishops also objected to the fact that public worship is banned even at Level 3 of the plan to reopen Ireland. 

“[This] ignores the important contribution of communal worship to the mental and spiritual well-being of people of faith. The fundamental importance of Holy Week and Easter for all Christians makes the prohibition of public worship particularly painful,” they said.

“While, as Christians, we are obliged to obey these regulations, we believe that it is our responsibility as Church leaders to make the case for change. We will continue to make fair and reasonable representation and we encourage you to do likewise.”

The bishops also asked the government to provide clarification on when the public may return to sacramental life - particularly to the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation, normally held at the end of the school year. Without this clarification, they said, dioceses have decided to postpone the 2021 Confirmation class until fall, and parishes are encouraged to adopt a similar schedule for First Communion. 

“Should the circumstances change for the better, this decision can be revisited in each diocese.  In the meantime, we encourage young people and their parents to continue with their preparation. We have provided online resources to support what is being done through the Religious Education programme with the teachers in the schools.”

In their message, the bishops also challenged priests to do all they can to provide pastoral and sacramental care, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation and sacramental care of the sick.

They expressed gratitude that children will return to in-person schooling, and emphasized the need to share the burden with those still struggling under the lockdown. 

“All of us appreciate the efforts and the sacrifices of those in our community who provide essential services,” they said. “For many people, however, the continued high level of restriction poses practical and emotional challenges. We want to say very clearly that, in the Christian vision of things, every person is essential and no person is more important or necessary than any other.”

“When we pray the Stations of the Cross, we celebrate people like Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus and Simon of Cyrene who shared with Him the burden of the cross. None of us can say ‘I’m ok’ until we are all ‘ok,’” they said.  

Bishops across US issue split messages on Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine

Denver Newsroom, Mar 4, 2021 / 04:24 pm (CNA).- Bishops across the United States have weighed in with varied guidance for their flocks amid renewed debate over the morality of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which received emergency FDA authorization last weekend. 

While the bishops’ conference at large has said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is morally acceptable if Catholics have no other choice, some individual bishops have said Catholics ought to accept the first vaccine they are offered. 

And in contrast, at least one bishop has instructed his flock not to accept the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at all. 

In a March 2 statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) echoed the Vatican in stating that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but if possible, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available…it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,’” the bishops wrote.

The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who head the USCCB committees on doctrine and pro-life activities, respectively.

Bishop Rhoades has since clarified that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “can be used in good moral conscience.”

“What’s most important is that people get vaccinated,” Bishop Rhoades said in a March 4 video message. 

“It can be an act of charity that serves the common good. At the same time, as we bishops have already done, it’s really important for us to encourage development of vaccines that do not use abortion-derived cell lines. This is very important for the future.”

In the United States, vaccines are federally allocated, and the amounts of each of the three COVID-19 vaccines available varies from state to state. Experts have said it is unlikely that patients will be able to choose which vaccine they will be able to get. 

Joseph Zalot, a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that while Catholics are free to choose to wait for a more ethical vaccine— or even to not receive a vaccine at all— they must take into account the potential effects not only on their own health, but on the health of others.

For example, a healthy person accepting a COVID-19 vaccine— even Johnson & Johnson’s— is less likely to spread the virus to others, such as elderly relatives, he noted, which could constitute a proportionate reason to accept the less ethical vaccine. 

NPR reported that at least one Catholic hospital, Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, had already received several hundred doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week— before the USCCB’s statement— with plans to administer them as soon as possible. 

Zalot commented that he hopes most Catholic hospitals will have tried, as much as possible, to order the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines rather than the Johnson & Johnson. 

“However, if the J&J vaccine has already arrived, the question then becomes, ‘Which is the greater evil – issuing these vaccines knowing their ‘heightened’ connection with abortion-derived cell lines or letting them go to waste when people could greatly benefit from them?’” Zalot said. 

“As much as I personally would seek to avoid accepting the J&J vaccine, I also don’t think it would be prudent to let them go to waste.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life has said that Catholics should advocate for ethically-produced vaccines which do not use cell lines of aborted babies. Zalot noted that Catholics who do choose to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine ought to inform the manufacturers of their opposition to the use of abortion-derived cell lines.

Several bishops have echoed the USCCB’s March 2 statement with statements of their own. 

The bishops of Pittsburgh, St. Augustine, and St. Louis are among those bishops who have affirmed the USCCB statement to their own flocks. 

“I have received both doses of a vaccine and have encouraged our priests to get theirs as soon as their age or risk group is able to do so. You should not delay getting your vaccine. Moderna or Pfizer vaccines are preferable. When there is no choice, you may receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” archbishop Gregory Hartmayer of Atlanta said March 3. 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans, while not prohibiting Catholics from receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if no other ethical alternative is available, advised Catholics to seek out the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines if possible.

Bishop Michael Duca of Baton Rouge also weighed in on the matter this week in a March 1 letter to the faithful.

“[M]y guidance to the faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge is to accept as your first choices the vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, but if for any reasonable circumstance you are only able to receive the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, you should feel free to do so for your safety and for the common good,” Bishop Duca wrote.

Some bishops, such as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, have released statements encouraging people not to delay in accepting any vaccination available to them.

“[O]n the concrete moral and pastoral question of receiving the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson or Astra-Zeneca the current pandemic moment, with limited vaccine options available to achieve healing for our nation and our world, it is entirely morally legitimate to receive any of these four vaccines, and to recognize, as Pope Francis has noted, that in receiving them we are truly showing love for our neighbor and our God,” McElroy wrote March 3. 

McElroy’s statement did not reference any obligation to avoid certain versions if given a choice.

Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, while echoing the USCCB and Vatican statements, similarly encouraged people to accept the vaccinations they are given. 

"When it is your turn to receive a vaccine, you can receive the one that is offered to you without moral reservation,” Deeley wrote in part March 4. 

The diocese of Syracuse, led by Bishop Douglas Lucia, said in a statement to local news that all individuals may not have the ability to pick and choose a vaccine, so “therefore what is most important is the duty to protect one’s own health and that of their neighbor by being vaccinated.”

Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri said March 4: “In the current situation of a pandemic, Catholics may in good conscience utilize any of the vaccines currently available, even those derived in an unethical manner, to protect themselves, as well as to avoid the serious risk to vulnerable persons and to society resulting from remaining unvaccinated. If a person concludes he or she cannot be vaccinated, whether for health reasons or if their own moral analysis is different from the Church, they are morally obliged to do everything they can to prevent transmission of the coronavirus and avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated.”

At least one U.S. bishop has specifically advised his flock against receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Bishop David Kagan of Bismark, North Dakota released a statement March 2 which took a harder line than the USCCB at large, effectively prohibiting Catholics in the diocese from accepting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

“This Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine is morally compromised and therefore unacceptable for any Catholic physician or health care worker to dispense and for any Catholic to receive due to its direct connection to the intrinsically evil act of abortion,” he wrote. 

“No one should use or receive this vaccine but there is no justification for any Catholic to do so.  Two morally acceptable vaccines are available and may be used. As always, no one is bound to receive this vaccine, but it remains an individual and informed decision.”

One other prelate, Bishop Joseph Strickland, has publicly expressed his personal opposition to receiving any of the approved COVID-19 vaccines, while not prohibiting his flock from doing so. 

“I will not accept a vaccine whose existence depends on the abortion of a child, but I realize others may discern a need for immunization in these extraordinarily hard times,” Strickland said on Twitter late last year. 

Strickland has not issued a statement or letter to his flock directly addressing the issue since an April 2020 letter in which he encouraged Catholics to pray and demonstrate for ethical COVID-19 vaccines. 

Strickland has since called the situation with COVID-19 vaccines a “lost opportunity” to voice opposition to medical treatments with connections to abortion. 

“It’s not up to me to tell people whether or not to take the vaccine, but to be informed, and to make their own informed conscience decision. That’s really what the Catholic church teaches,” Strickland told local news station KETK March 3. 

The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes use of PER.C6— a proprietary cell line developed from retinal cells from a fetus aborted in 1985— in design and development, production, and lab testing.

In contrast, mRNA vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna have an extremely remote connection to abortion in the design and testing phases, leading ethicists to judge those vaccines “ethically uncontroversial.” Similar testing is performed on many contemporary prescription and over-the-counter medications.

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson issued a statement March 3 saying there is “no fetal tissue” in their vaccine. 

Number of Spaniards contributing to Church through tax system increased in 2020

Madrid, Spain, Mar 4, 2021 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- During the 2020 Income Declaration Campaign in Spain, 7,297,646 taxpayers chose to allocate 0.7% of their taxes to the needs of the Church, 106,259 more than the previous year.

An agreement between the Church and the Spanish state allows taxpayers freely to decide whether to allocate that percentage of their taxes to the Church or for other purposes, an option popularly known as “checking the box for the Church” when filing income taxes.

This option does not affect the taxpayer, since contributing to the Church doesn’t mean that more tax is paid or there is less of a refund.

However, for the Church checking that box is very important, since through the contributions of the taxpayers, “the immense work of the Church is sustained. To continue helping in this pandemic crisis, the Church needs everyone’s collaboration more than ever,” the Spanish Bishops’ Conference said in a statement.

In the past year, the Church received 301.07 million euros ($360.3m) thanks to contributions from more than 7 million taxpayers, who represent 32% of all Spanish taxpayers.

The bishops’ conference pointed out, “the Income Declaration Campaign took place coinciding with the hardest months of the first wave of the pandemic, during which time the Church multiplied its efforts and presence to aid the most affected groups.”

At the same time, "the figures do not yet show the economic consequences of the pandemic in Spain since the first third of 2020”.

The 106,259 new taxpayers contributing to the Church “shows the social and personal support for the work carried out by the Church at this time, and is a fourfold increase in those checking the box for the Church from the previous year,” the conference said.

The Church reiterated its commitment to transparency and therefore "gives an account of how all the money it has received from taxpayers is spent, which is provided in detail in the Report on Church Activities,” through the conference’s Transparency Office and its portal, the bishops explained.

'Open the doors again': One advocate urges nursing home visitation to resume

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. must consider increasing nursing home visitation during the pandemic, one advocate for elder care told CNA.

“It’s necessary to open the doors again, and end the isolation of the elderly,” said Jim Towey, founder and CEO of the group Aging with Dignity, which advocates for care of the elderly. Towey was formerly legal counsel to Mother Teresa, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, and president of St. Vincent’s College and of Ave Maria University.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have seen high death rates from the coronavirus pandemic, and thus have had strict visitation policies. Towey said that as a result, many elderly persons have been cut off from human contact and from the physical presence of their loved ones for nearly a year—with devastating consequences.

“I think what’s going to emerge in the next six months is the awareness that COVID was as much a mental health crisis as an infectious disease crisis,” Towey told CNA in a Feb. 17 interview. “And this is going to be true at every level of society, from school kids that are failing to thrive to seniors who have been traumatized by their isolation.”

While many might see mass vaccination as heralding a return to normal life in the coming months, he said, hospitals and long-term care facilities have not yet changed their “lockdown practices” despite COVID vaccinations beginning in December.

Kaiser Health News has reported that weekly new deaths among nursing home residents had sharply declined by 66% since COVID-19 vaccinations began in December. Yet many facilities, Kaiser reported on Thursday, are still not open to visitation, or have strict visitation policies.

Federal guidance acknowledges the difficulties faced by residents without visitors, and lists precautions that facilities could take to accommodate visitors safely. After Towey spoke with CNA on Feb. 17, multiple states announced a relaxation of their nursing home visitation policies.  

Yet public health regulations have prized physical safety over mental health without full regard to the consequences, Towey said. 

“I feel like the public health concerns failed to weigh the destructive effect these lockdown practices of nursing homes and hospitals have had on human beings and their emotional needs,” Towey said of the isolation felt by many nursing home residents during the pandemic.

Furthermore, he added, reports of widespread isolation “will have a chilling effect on individuals and their decisions to go into assisted living or a nursing home. They don’t want to be imprisoned. They don’t want to be cut off from the human race.”

Towey has argued that other local, state, and federal public health policies have reflected society’s disdain for the elderly. He told CNA back in May that nursing homes had been “ground zero” for the worst suffering from the pandemic, due to reports of neglect and state orders that nursing homes accept COVID-positive patients discharged from hospitals.

Then, he had warned of a “utilitarian” mindset that the lives of the elderly mattered less.

Now, Towey said, society cannot ignore the mental anguish of residents who have no one to visit them. “The isolation has been punishing. The loneliness that’s resulted has been cancerous,” he said.

Making matters worse, he argued, is that the U.S. has no plan or national initiative to deal with the problem.

“You can’t lock down the elderly forever and isolate them forever, and I don’t think our country has thought through humane approaches that give the elderly not simply protection, but also company and love and accompaniment,” Towey said.

He juxtaposed the care for the elderly in the U.S. with the situation in Italy. While the country saw high death rates among the elderly during the pandemic, there has also been a campaign by young people to send supportive calls and video messages to elderly residents in isolation. The Catholic “Youth for Peace” movement has organized the campaign, also collecting supplies for elderly residents.

Towey called for a national initiative in the U.S. to rethink elder care during the pandemic—including “how we can change practices immediately” to remedy the “starvation that the elderly are experiencing in the way of human contact.”

“I think the United States is lagging behind,” he said, noting that the isolation faced by elderly residents—along with anecdotes of them being denied access to ventilators at intensive care units— reflects a societal utilitarian view of human beings, that you’re valuable if you’re useful. And many feel that our elderly aren’t useful.”

At the outset of the pandemic, ethicists warned against state and local triage plans that would discriminate against the elderly and the disabled. Care should be rationed on an ethical basis and must not be denied those who are deemed to have a lesser “quality of life” on a utilitarian basis, ethicists told CNA.

The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) warned that it would be watching for any age or disability-based discrimination during the pandemic. The office successfully prodded Alabama to update its controversial triage plan and exclude problematic provisions.

Some public officials, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), have been criticized for state policies that allowed COVID-positive patients to be discharged from hospitals into nursing homes.

Although New York reversed that policy last spring, Cuomo’s administration is under federal investigation for its handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. An aide admitted that the administration tried to hide the nursing home death count from the federal government.

The general isolation or neglect of the elderly, Towey said, is all part of the “throwaway culture” condemned by Pope Francis

“I think Pope Francis has properly focused on the disproportionate impact that COVID has had on the elderly, far beyond the fatality count,” he said.

“It’s damaging to the social fabric that ties us all together,” he said.

The Catholic Church celebrates Easter Monday under the title 'Monday of the Angel'

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 02:53 pm (CNA).- On Easter Monday, the Catholic Church celebrates what’s called “Monday of the Angel.” In many countries in Europe and South America, this day, also known as “Little Easter,” is a national holiday.

In a Vatican Radio recording in 1994, Pope John Paul II gave an explanation for Monday of the Angel:

“Why is it called that?” the pope asked, highlighting the need for an angel to call out from the depths of the grave: “He is Risen.”

These words “were very difficult to proclaim, to express, for a person,” said John Paul II. “Also, the women that were at the tomb encountered it empty but couldn’t tell ‘he had risen;’ they only affirmed that the tomb was empty. The angel said more: “He is not here, He has risen.”

The Gospel of Saint Matthew puts it this way: “Then the angel said to the women in reply, ‘Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

Angels are servants and messengers of God. As purely spiritual beings, they have intellects and wills. They are personal and immortal. They surpass all visible beings in their perfection.

Christ himself gives testimony to the angels when he said, “The angels in Heaven always see the face of my father who is in Heaven!” (Matthew 18:10).

Christ is the center of the universe and angels belong to him. Even more so, because he made them messengers of his plan of salvation: an angel announced his conception to the Blessed Mother at the Annunciation and an angel proclaimed his Resurrection to Mary Magdalene.

From Easter Monday until the end of Easter at Pentecost, the Church prays the Regina Caeli instead of the Angelus at the noon hour.

On Monday of the Angel in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI said the text of the Regina Caeli “is like a new ‘Annunciation’ to Mary, this time not made by an angel but by us Christians who invite the Mother to rejoice because her Son, whom she carried in her womb, is risen as he promised.”

He continued, “Indeed, ‘rejoice’ was the first word that the heavenly messenger addressed to the Virgin in Nazareth. And this is what it meant: Rejoice, Mary, because the Son of God is about to become man within you. Now, after the drama of the Passion, a new invitation to rejoice rings out: ‘Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia, quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia’ — Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia. Rejoice because the Lord is truly risen, alleluia!”

Regina Caeli (English)

V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.

R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.

V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia.

R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.

V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.

R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

V. Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.


Regina Caeli (Latin)

V. Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.

R. Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.

V. Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.

R. Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

V. Gaude et laetare, Virgo Maria, alleluia.

R. Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.

V. Oremus. Deus, qui per resurrectionem Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi, mundum laetificare dignatus es: praesta, quaesumus; ut per eius Genetricem Virginem Mariam, perpetuae capiamus gaudia vitae. Per eundem Christum Dominum nostrum.

R. Amen. 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by Jeanette De Melo at the National Catholic Register.

Relics of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to be displayed this summer at her shrine

Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The Sisters of Charity of New York have donated several of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s relics to the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, it was announced on March 1. 

The relics, which include the saint’s religious bonnet, rosary, and crucifix, will be displayed in an expanded museum at the shrine, which is located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Seton was the first American-born person to be canonized. 

The donation “was a surprise,” Rob Judge, the executive director of the Seton Shrine, said to CNA.

“We knew that they had these wonderful artifacts and they've loaned us artifacts at different times,” he said of the Sisters of Charity, “but it was really their generosity--they're recognizing that this is a momentous year for the shrine.” Seton died in 1821, and Jan. 4 marked the bicentennial of her death.

The bicentennial “has been an opportunity to share her story on a deeper level, with more people in the Church and in the world,” said Judge. 

The Sisters of Charity of New York, who Judge called “great partners” with the shrine, donated the relics with the intent of helping to share the saint’s story. While they originally displayed the artifacts at their archives and museum in Riverdale, New York, the sisters determined they “needed a climate-controlled environment” and could be seen and venerated by more visitors at the national shrine in Emmitsburg, the shrine said in its release. 

“They just decided to [donate the relics] out of their own generosity and desire to share Mother Seton,” Judge told CNA. “And we're just humbled and grateful.”

The relics include Seton’s bonnet, rosary, her family broach she wore on her wedding day, and the christening gown worn by her daughter. 

Judge called these items “just really precious artifacts that help make her relatable and help us tell her story.” 

Seton, who was canonized in 1975, was born in New York City in 1774. She was raised Episcopalian and was received into the Catholic Church in 1805, two years after the death of her husband, William. She and William had five children together including Catherine, the first American to join the Sisters of Charity. 

Following her conversion to Catholicism, Seton eventually moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland and founded a Catholic school for girls and a religious community to care for the poor. 

Judge thinks that Seton’s life story resonates with Catholics today, noting the saint had “such a broad life experience” that included times of joy and times of extreme sorrow. 

“She had such a strong belief in God's providential care, that he had a plan that she would see us through, and that led her through her life,” said Judge. Seton’s husband and two of her children died of tuberculosis, something that Judge thinks is particularly relevant during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“She knew what it was like to live through a pandemic,” he said.

Seton is “an incredible model as a young woman, as a wife, as a religious, and as someone who was just a believer and a seeker,” said Judge. 

Her relics will be on display at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton this summer. The shrine remains open to visitors with COVID-19 prevention protocols.

Catholic bishops express ‘pain and sadness’ at Poland's ‘rainbow halo’ verdict

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic bishops in the Polish Diocese of Płock expressed “pain and sadness” on Wednesday at the verdict in Poland’s “rainbow halo” trial.

In a March 3 statement, the three bishops said they did not agree with a court ruling that three activists who distributed images depicting the revered Black Madonna icon with a rainbow halo were not guilty of offending religious feelings.

“It is with pain and sadness that we have accepted the verdict of the District Court in Płock, dated March 2, 2021, in the case concerning the profanation of the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in our city, in April 2019,” they said.

“We note that the actions involved in the court proceedings clearly violated the social order and -- in their essence -- contradict the idea of tolerance claimed by the perpetrators.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Piotr Libera of Płock, auxiliary Bishop Mirosław Milewski, and retired auxiliary Bishop Roman Marcinkowski.

Three women -- Elżbieta Podleśna, Anna Prus, and Joanna Gzyra-Iskandar -- went on trial in Płock, central Poland, on Jan. 13 accused of offending religious feelings, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported on March 2 that the judge concluded that the activists did not intend to offend religious sensibilities or to insult the venerated image of the Virgin Mary, housed at the Jasna Góra Monastery in Częstochowa.

The judge reportedly added that their actions were aimed at protecting people facing discrimination.

The case concerned an incident in April 2019, when the three women placed posters of the icon with rainbow halos on Mary and the Child Jesus in locations around Płock.

The activists said that they attached the posters to walls and around a church in the city in response to a display inside the church which listed “LGBT” and “gender” -- the Polish term for gender ideology -- as sins. 

Elżbieta Podleśna, a psychotherapist and activist, told the court on Jan. 13 that she regarded the display as “homophobic” and believed it could encourage the stigmatization of “people of non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.”

She was arrested in May 2019 at her home in Warsaw and taken to Płock for questioning. A court later determined that her detention was unjustified and awarded her damages of around $2,000.

The three women faced trial under Article 196 of the country’s penal code, which says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.”

Speaking after her acquittal, Podleśna said that the prosecutor’s office was likely to appeal against the verdict.

Catholic Action in the Diocese of Płock expressed its “utmost concern” at the ruling.

In a March 4 statement, it said that its members “cannot come to terms with the sentence of the court, which can be interpreted as consent to openly and publicly offend the feelings of believers and to profanation of the Jasna Góra image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

The Płock bishops commented: “We do not agree with the verdict, which has already been described by many as the state’s open consent to actions against the Catholic religion, the honor of the Mother of God and objects of devotion associated with her, as well as the feelings of Catholics.”

“We express our deep hope that the court of second instance, in accordance with the law, will speak out against this profanation, restoring the disturbed sense of justice.”

Pope Francis entrusts Iraq trip to Virgin Mary’s protection

Rome Newsroom, Mar 4, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- On the eve of his departure for a three-day trip to Iraq, Pope Francis visited a Rome basilica to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and protection on his travels.

According to the Holy See press office, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St. Mary Major March 4 “for a moment of prayer” before the Byzantine icon of Salus Populi Romani, Mary, Protection of the Roman People.

It has been Pope Francis’ custom to visit the icon before his international trips to ask for the Virgin Mary’s protection.

He also typically visits the icon upon returning to Rome and before re-entering the Vatican.

Pope Francis is visiting Iraq on March 5-8 in a trip intended to strengthen the hope of the country’s persecuted Christian minority and to foster fraternity and interreligious dialogue.

In just over three days, Francis is scheduled to travel 900 miles within Iraq, meeting with political leaders, prominent Muslim clerics, and Christian communities. He will be the first pope in history to visit the Middle Eastern country.

This afternoon, on the eve of his departure for #Iraq, #PopeFrancis went to the Basilica of St Mary Major for a moment of prayer before the icon of the Virgin Salus Populi Romani, entrusting his coming apostolic journey to her protection.

— Holy See Press Office (@HolySeePress) March 4, 2021  

The icon of Salus Populi Romani has been revered by the people of Rome for centuries and is considered a symbol of the city and its people.

In March 2020, Pope Francis visited the icon as part of a short walking prayer pilgrimage he made during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

At the end of his general audience on March 3, Pope Francis asked people to accompany him with their prayers during his trip to Iraq, “so that it may unfold in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits.” 

“The Iraqi people are waiting for us; they awaited St. John Paul II, who was not permitted to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be a good one,” he said.

Custos Fr. Francesco Patton, O.F.M., wrote March 4 to the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, asking them to accompany the pope’s trip to Iraq with “a special and intense prayer.”

He included a schedule of specific ways to pray each day of the pope’s trip, including fasting and meditation on the Stations of the Cross on Friday, March 5, and praying a rosary and reading chapter eight of the encyclicalFratelli tutti” on Saturday. 

Patton said that the community’s Mass at Calvary on Sunday, March 7, would be offered for the eternal repose of the victims of the war in Iraq and the gift of peace in the entire Middle East.

On the day of the pope’s return, Monday, March 8, he invited the friars to offer their personal prayers.

“Let’s live this moment with faith, in union with the Holy Father and with our brothers in Iraq,” he said.