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Swiss accounts frozen in Vatican property deal probe

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Tens of millions of euros have been frozen in Swiss banks as part of the investigation into a Vatican property investment, according to a Swiss media report. Swiss authorities have also forwarded documents to Vatican prosecutors, as part of an investigation into investments made by the Holy See Secretariat of State.

On May 23, NZZ am Sonntag reported that Holy See prosecutors sent Swiss authorities a formal request for help examining the Holy See Secretariat of State’s investment of more than $300 million in a luxury London property development.

"The Federal Office of Justice received a request for legal assistance in this matter," spokesman Raphael Frei told NZZ. "With a diplomatic note dated April 30, 2020, the Federal Office sent the Vatican a first part of the requested documents." 

The newspaper also reported that its sources had confirmed tens of millions of euros have been frozen in several Swiss banks as part of the investigation.

Vatican investigators are examining the Secretariat of State’s purchase of the building at 60 Sloane Avenue, London.  In October 2019, four officials at the department were suspended following a raid by Vatican gendarmes in which they seized files and computers. A further raid on a former senior official at the secretariat was conducted in February.

CNA has reported that that deal was at least partially financed with loans from several Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and BSI.

BSI was the subject of a damning report by Swiss banking authorities in 2016, which found that the bank was in “serious breaches of the statutory due diligence requirements in relation to money laundering and serious violations of the principles of adequate risk management and appropriate organization.” The bank was ordered into an extinctive merger with EFG Group in 2017, on condition that no BSI officer retain a management role.

Credit Suisse acknowledged to NZZ that it was involved in the investigation, but said that it was not the subject of any accusation by either Swiss or Vatican authorities. 

"Credit Suisse is not the subject of the Vatican's investigation, but is working with the authorities in compliance with the applicable regulations," said bank spokeswoman Anitta Tuure.

The London building was purchased by the Secretariat of State in stages, over a period of years, from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, who at the time was managing hundreds of millions of euros of secretariat funds.

When it sold to the secretariat 30,000 of 31,000 shares in the project, Minicone’s holding company retained the 1,000 voting shares needed to control the holding company which owned the building. Mincione eventually offered to part with those, at greatly inflated prices.

To complete the sale, in 2018 the Secretariat of State enlisted the help of another businessman, Gianluigi Torzi, who acted as a commission-earning middleman for the purchase of the remaining shares. Torzi earned 10 million euros for his role in the deal.

Earlier this month, CNA reported that one of the five suspended employees, Fabrizio Tirabassi, who was charged with managing the secretariat’s investments, was made a director of a Luxembourg-registered holding company belonging to Torzi.  

Sources close to the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that Tirabassi has been involved in managing several financial transactions at the secretariat that are now being examined by financial investigators at the Vatican.

CDC removes faith guidance discouraging choirs, shared cups 

Washington D.C., May 29, 2020 / 12:56 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has removed guidance on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website which discouraged, among other things, singing, choirs and “shared cups” at religious services.

Despite the CDC’s backtrack, Catholic medical professionals and other experts with whom CNA has spoken continue to recommend that singing and the Communion cup ought to be discouraged at Mass for the time being.

Religious communities should “consider suspending or at least decreasing use of a choir/musical ensembles and congregant singing, chanting, or reciting during services or other programming, if appropriate within the faith tradition,” the guidelines, posted May 22, originally read.

“The act of singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols.”

CNA learned from a person familiar with the deliberations that the White House did not approve the original CDC guidance before it was published.

That guidance was reportedly met with concern by many people of faith for certain provisions that seemed to intrude on the autonomy of religious groups, such as one recommendation that Jews should be allowed to use electronic devices on the Sabbath to stream services online.

A new CDC guidance page went live May 23. The new guidance, CNA was told, was to have the input of lawyers with experience in religious freedom cases. It was to be more sensitive to the autonomy of churches and religions and apply a “lighter touch” to them, functioning as a set of recommendations rather than instructions, and implying that actions taken by state and local governments that go beyond the federal recommendations are inappropriate.

The new guidance page contains no specific guidance related to singing or choirs. A recommendation to suspend the use of “shared cups” and passed or shared objects such as collection plates also was removed in favor of a recommendation to “clean and disinfect” such objects between uses.

The Washington Post, citing anonymous administration officials, has reported that the White House pushed against the CDC issuing guidance for churches, with the concern that it did not want to unnecessarily limit their freedom under the First Amendment.

The new guidance states at the top that it is not “intended to infringe on rights protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or any other federal law.”

It goes on to say that the federal government may not prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship, and that in accordance with the First Amendment, no faith community “should be asked to adopt any mitigation strategies that are more stringent than the mitigation strategies asked of similarly situated entities or activities.”

As the novel coronavirus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease. However, beginning in mid-April, dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses.

An April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., written by medical professionals, researchers, and theologians and distributed to dioceses by the U.S. bishops’ conference, recommends that singing at Mass ought to be discouraged.

The Thomistic Institute’s document also recommends that the Precious Blood ought not be distributed at Mass.

To date, dioceses that have developed Church reopening plans have called for suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood. The Catholic Church teaches that reception of either the host or the chalice is a complete act of Eucharistic reception.

The Thomistic Instutute’s website does state, however, that the  guidelines “will be updated as the situation changes and as the WHO/CDC guidance changes.”

Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely if they observe CDC protocols.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.

If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.

“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a plan entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.”

That group of doctors concluded that “choirs and singing should be avoided” due to the aerosol risk.

They also concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue. The plan does not contain specific guidance on the use of the cup at Mass.

The doctors’ plan calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

Churches have been the focus of concern during the epidemic because of the close proximity of church attendees, socialization before, during and after services, and singing. Some churches have older congregations and so are believed to be more vulnerable to extreme consequences from coronavirus infection.

A May 22 article from the CDC reported that among the 92 attendees at a rural Arkansas church, 38% developed a laboratory-confirmed case of infection after a pastor and his wife, who had the virus, attended several events there in early March.

Twenty-six additional cases— including one death— in the community also were linked to the church.

The CDC had also, earlier this month, released a report chronicling a COVID-19 “superspreader” event, whereby a single symptomatic person infected more than 50 people— two of whom died— at a choir practice in Washington state in March.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti, a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, told CNA that in his opinion, the Washington state “superspreader” example does not entirely exclude the possibility of singing in church.

“The key issue here is that a symptomatic individual practiced for 2.5 hours in close contact with others with no facial coverings,” Lanciotti pointed out.

That individual also engaged in close-contact activities such as eating and talking, he said in an email to CNA.

“I think that it is likely that this individual infected others primarily by singing in close contact with others. However, it may still be safe to sing in a church in which symptomatic people stay home and those present are wearing masks.”

 

Some experts split from Fauci on Holy Communion recommendation

Denver Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- As dioceses across the United States start to reopen public Masses, the scientist leading the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic recommended that Catholic Churches ought not resume distribution of Holy Communion. But other medical experts told CNA there are ways that Communion can be distributed safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told America magazine May 26 that he does not consider the distribution of Holy Communion to yet be safe— even if distributed in the hand.

“I think for the time being, you just gotta forestall that,” Fauci said regarding Communion, calling for “common sense” measures to protect worshippers and the wider community such as masks, social distancing, and prohibiting singing.

“As many times as a priest can wash his hands, he gets to Communion, he puts it in somebody’s hand, they put it in their mouth...it’s that kind of close interaction that you don’t want when you’re in the middle of a deadly outbreak,” he told America.

Fauci’s recommendation on the Eucharist came a month after he said it could be possible for Americans to connect with people through dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, or Grindr.

“If you’re willing to take a risk...you could figure out if you want to meet somebody,” Fauci told Snapchat’s “Good Luck America.”

“If you want to go a little bit more intimate, well, then that’s your choice regarding a risk,” he added.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti is a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado. Lanciotti told CNA that Fauci’s call for “common sense” measures to mitigate the risk of infection does not exclude the possibility of distributing Communion.

“The primary way that this virus is spread is by direct person to person contact; droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes that land on another person and then enter the respiratory tract,” Lanciotti told CNA in an email.

“Maintaining a 6-foot distance or wearing a cloth mask are both methods that disrupt this process. Utilizing one of these measures in a group setting where infected symptomatic people are not present should be a sufficient level of risk reduction.”

Lanciotti, a graduate of Loyola College, was ordained a deacon in 2017.

He took issue with Fauci’s concerns regarding Communion in the hand.

“With the use of hand sanitizer immediately prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, and being careful not to directly touch the communicant, there is virtually no risk in the distribution of Communion,” Lanciotti told CNA.

Deacon Lanciotti pointed to an April 28 document from the Thomistic Institute in Washington D.C., written by medical professionals, researchers, and theologians.

That group recommended that out of respect for the Mass, the priest ought not wear a mask or gloves during the Mass, and neither should anyone distributing Communion.

Under the group’s recommended guidelines, those who wish to receive could approach the altar, spaced six feet apart; if the priest believed he touched the hands or mouth of a recipient, he could use hand sanitizer sitting on a table next to him.

According to the Thomistic Institute's recommendations, the Precious Blood ought not be distributed at Mass.

To date, dioceses that have developed Church reopening plans have called for suspension of distribution of the Precious Blood. The Catholic Church teaches that reception of either the host or the chalice is a complete act of Eucharistic reception.

The Thomistic Institute’s document, distributed to bishops by the U.S. bishops’ conference, also recommends— as did Dr. Fauci— that singing ought to be discouraged.

It also states that it could be possible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue “without unreasonable risk.”

The document recommends that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions ought not attend Mass anyway, as they are at especially high risk.

“I completely agree with this statement...In the setting of a church service, the single most important safety measure is for symptomatic individuals to stay home,” Lanciotti told CNA.

“I would argue that having sick individuals stay home, followed by adopting one more measure— masks or social distancing— is a reasonable approach. Utilizing both masks and social distancing represents a safety redundancy that is excessive and counter to ‘common sense,’” he said.

At St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Masses resumed May 18, after more than two months of closure amid Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

Visitors are advised to keep two meters apart, hand sanitizer is available at kiosks in the basilica, and, at the church’s entrance, the body temperatures of visitors are checked with scanning thermometers.

The Eucharist is distributed during Masses at the basilica.

Fauci, a Catholic, attended a Jesuit secondary school and Jesuit university.

In 2015, he told C-Span that he is no longer “a regular church-attender. I have evolved into less a Roman Catholic religion person to someone who tries to keep a degree of spirituality about them. I look upon myself as a humanist. I have faith in the goodness of mankind."

He similarly told America that he appreciates his Catholic education, and especially the values he was taught at the Jesuit institutions he attended.

“I identify more, much more, with that than the concept of organized churches, religions,” he told America.

Other Catholic medical professionals have weighed in on the question of whether Holy Communion can be distributed safely.

An ad-hoc committee of seven Catholic doctors and medical school professors released on May 12 a document entitled “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely.” That group of doctors concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive Communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.

The document calls for Mass to be held with social distancing, and for the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Singing should be avoided, and those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.

One member of that committee is Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, chair of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s School of Public Health.

Baccarelli told CNA that he agrees with and appreciates Fauci’s suggestions, and that there is a risk to the distribution of Holy Communion.

“Our committee wrote a plan to minimize the risk to distribute communion. That doesn’t mean that there will be no risk nor that we advised on whether it was safe to do it now or in the future,” Baccarelli added. “We just provided a document to guide masses and distribute Communion whenever it will be safe enough to do so.”

“If Dr. Fauci suggests it is not time yet to distribute communion, I think we should listen to him and wait before doing that again,” Baccarelli said.

Another member of the committee told CNA last week that he believes Catholics can attend Mass safely, and sacraments can be administered with appropriate precautions.

“I think that if we just use common sense to compare apples to apples for metrics that we know matter - like density, for example - then there’s no real kind of objective scientific reason why Mass is any more dangerous than going to the grocery store. I think the difference here is a perceived risk,” Dr. Andrew Wang, an immunobiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine and one of the plan’s co-authors, told CNA.

The plan calls for confessions to be held in outdoor or well-ventilated indoor areas, with the use of masks, an impermeable barrier between the priest and penitent, and frequent sanitization of surfaces.

Wang said that distributing Holy Communion on the hand, rather than on the tongue, represents an appropriate precaution for churches, especially while some things about the coronavirus spread are not yet completely understood.

Acknowledging that some people may object to that recommendation, Wang said that in his perspective, “it boils down to, is it better to not have communion at all - and by extension not have Mass at all?”

Ultimately, Wang said, going to church at this time is not risk-free, just as any other public activity is not without risk during a pandemic. He noted that dioceses throughout the country have granted dispensations from the Sunday obligation for those who are unable to attend or are not comfortable with the risk involved.

Deacon Tim Flanigan is a member of the Thomistic Institute’s working group, an infectious disease specialist who has battled Ebola outbreaks, and a professor of medicine at Brown University. Flanigan also told CNA that Catholics can return to Mass and the sacraments safely - if they observe CDC protocols.

“The question is: can I follow the CDC guidance just as carefully, in each setting, in order to decrease transmission of coronavirus? Can I maintain safe distancing? Can I maintain good hand hygiene? Can I ensure that I am not ill?” Flanigan told CNA last week.

If CDC guidelines are followed, “There is no reason to prohibit church services when you don’t prohibit other gatherings,” Flanigan said.

“The CDC gives us that guidance to decrease the rate of transmission. It’s just as important that guidance be followed at a house of worship, as at a conference, as at any other gathering.”

“If somebody makes an arbitrary judgment that a church is not going to follow that guidance, without any evidence, that is biased and there is no evidence for that,” he said.

Flanigan questioned the categories of some governors who classified religious gatherings as “non-essential,” compared to more “essential” activities like grocery stores.

“Being able to come together and pray together, being able to receive the sacraments, to encounter the Lord, right there in the sacraments, is so important,” Flanigan said.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, just as important as spiritual health,” he said. “We are a whole self, which has a mind, a body, a heart a soul. To be able to pray together, to be able to support each other, to be able to worship together, to be able to receive the Lord in Communion, is so important for us to be healthy and to thrive.”

“That is why our churches are essential,” Flanigan told CNA.

 

 

Vatican offers online book for parents facing difficult prenatal diagnosis

Vatican City, May 29, 2020 / 07:10 am (CNA).- The Vatican has published a free book online that can be a resource for parents facing a difficult or fatal diagnosis for their unborn child during pregnancy. 

The nearly 300-page ebook is a compilation of speeches given at a Vatican conference held last year dedicated to the medical care and ministries that support families who receive a prenatal diagnosis indicating that their baby will likely die before or just after birth. 

“Yes to Life: Caring for the precious gift of life in its frailness,” a conference organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life in May 2019, brought together medical professionals, bioethicists, ministry providers, and families from 70 countries to discuss how best to provide medical, psychological, and emotional support for parents expecting a child with a life-limiting illness.

“Sometimes people ask me, what does perinatal hospice look like? And I answer, ‘It looks like love,’” author and mother Amy Kuebelbeck shared at the conference. 

Kuebelbeck was 25 weeks pregnant when she received the diagnosis that her unborn son had an incurable heart defect. She carried her pregnancy to term and had a little more than two hours with her son, Gabriel, before he died after birth.

“It was one of the most profound experiences of my life,” Kuebelbeck said. She wrote a memoir of her experience of grief, loss, and love called Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby’s Brief Life.

“I know that some people assume that continuing a pregnancy with a baby who will die is all for nothing. But it isn’t all for nothing.  Parents can wait with their baby, protect their baby, and love their baby for as long as that baby is able to live. They can give that baby a peaceful life -- and a peaceful goodbye. That’s not nothing. That is a gift,” Kuebelbeck wrote in Waiting with Gabriel.

Kuebelbeck’s testimony at the conference is included in the ebook in English, as is a transcript of the presentation provided by Dr. Byron Calhoun, a medical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who first coined the term “perinatal hospice.” 

Calhoun’s research has found that allowing parents of newborns with a terminal prenatal diagnosis the chance to be parents can result in less distress for the mother than pregnancy termination. 

Other speeches from the conference are also published in Italian and Spanish, such Sister Giustina Olha Holubets’ Italian presentation. The Ukrainian religious sister, who works as a geneticist at the University of Lviv, helped to found “Imprint of Life,” a perinatal palliative care center in Ukraine.

“Imprint of Life” offers grief accompaniment, individualized birth plans, the sacrament of baptism, and burial, as well as respectful photos, footprints, and memory books to help families cherish their brief moments with their child. Their motto is “I cannot give more days to your life, but I can give more life to your days.”

There are now more than 300 hospitals, hospices, and ministries providing perinatal palliative care around the world.

Many families facing these diagnoses have to decide if they will seek extraordinary or disproportionate medical care for their child after birth.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘overzealous’ treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.”

Ministries like Alexandra’s House, a perinatal hospice in Kansas City, Missouri, provide counsel and grief support to parents as they face these difficult medical decisions. They also connect families with a network of other parents who have had a terminal prenatal diagnosis.

“Most of the families stay in contact indefinitely,” said MaryCarroll Sullivan, nurse and bioethics adviser for the ministry.

The book, published by the Vatican’s Publishing House, includes Pope Francis’ speech from his meeting with the conference participants in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

In this speech, Pope Francis said that selective abortion of the disabled is the “expression of an inhumane eugenic mentality that deprives families of the chance to accept, embrace and love the weakest of their children.”

“Fear and hostility towards disability often lead to the choice of abortion, presenting it as a practice of ‘prevention,’” the pope said on May 25, 2019.

Pope Francis also thanked the perinatal hospice providers for creating “networks of love” to which couples can turn to receive accompaniment with the undeniable practical, human, and spiritual difficulties they face.

“Your witness of love is a gift to the world,” he said.

“Caring for these children helps parents to process their mourning and to understand it not only as loss, but also as a stage in a journey travelled together. They will have had the opportunity to love their child, and that child will remain in their memory forever,” Pope Francis said.

“Those few hours in which a mother can cradle her child in her arms leave an unforgettable trace in her heart.”

Illinois church reopening restrictions 'not mandatory'

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 29, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- The state of Illinois relaxed its restrictions on churches on Thursday, after Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ordered the state to respond to three lawsuits brought by churches.

At a press conference May 28, Gov. JB Pritzker said that the state’s public health department would be issuing “guidance, not mandatory restrictions” for faith leaders to hold religious services, loosening the state’s restrictions on religious gatherings during the pandemic.

The Thomas More Society, which had filed several lawsuits on behalf of several Illinois churches against the state’s public health restrictions, said the announcement was a victory for religious freedom.

“By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he [Pritzker] has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois,” said vice president and senior counsel Peter Breen.

The three lawsuits alleged that the state had illegally discriminated against religion and violated the U.S. and Illinois state constitutions, as well as the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of several churches on May 27, the Thomas More Society said the state had placed churches “on the second shelf,” subject to stricter rules than even liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries. Pritzker had exceeded his lawful authority by issuing restrictions that would last for months into the future instead of a fixed 30-day period, the society added.

The group appealed its cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh on Thursday ordered the state to respond to the churches’ complaints.

Now, the state’s guidance will include suggestions for capacity limits, cleaning protocols, sharing food, and safe conduct of outdoor services, Pritzker said. “For those that want to conduct in-person activities, IDPH is offering best practices,” he said.

Previously, on May 6, Pritzker announced a five-phase plan for reopening the state where churches would not be able to hold religious services with more than 50 people until “phase 5,” where a vaccine or treatment would be made widely available, or after a sustained period of no new cases of the virus.

Illinois’ plan was one of the strictest in the country in terms of its limits on public gatherings. Public health officials have cautioned that a vaccine might not be available until at least the end of 2020, if not midway through 2021.

Until “phase 4” of Pritzker’s plan, religious services could only be held with 10 or fewer people in attendance. Strict health requirements would need to be met for the state to advance to that phase, including a low test positivity rate, no increase in hospital admissions for 28 days, and widespread testing and contract tracing.

Earlier in the pandemic, the state placed residents under a strict stay-at-home order that did not allow for in-person religious services. Health department director Ngozi Ezike warned churches in early April not to hold in-person services.

On April 30 the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of The Beloved Church in Lena, Illinois, to allow for citizens to be able to leave their homes for religious services. By that night, the governor’s order included a paragraph listing religious services as permitted “essential” activities for which people could leave their homes.

The next day, May 1, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it would begin resuming public Masses with no more than 10 people in attendance.

The Thomas More Society subsequently challenged Pritzker’s ongoing health restrictions on churches, which limited religious gatherings to no more than 10 people, resulting in the decision from the Supreme Court.

Responding to Prizker's announcement, the Diocese of Springfield said on Thursday that Bishop Thomas Paprocki has granted permission for public Masses to resume from June 6-7, with congregations limited to 25% of the church's capacity.

"Diocesan staff had already been preparing a training and certification process to prepare parishes to open public Masses with proper precautions, including detailed cleaning protocols and communication plans to parishioners, and limited attendance," the diocesan statement said.

Bishop Paproci said that Catholics in Springfield - the state capital - "have made a profound and consequential sacrifice for the sake of the greater good by foregoing the most sacred sacrament of our faith - the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

"We have done so with particular concern to do our part in preventing a surge in hospitalizations that may have overwhelmed health system capacity and out of concern for the most vulnerable among us," he said. 

"We have all done our best to unite in prayer and acts of spiritual communion during this time, offering this sacrifice for the good of our neighbor. It is now time for the Church to return to the proper practice of the faith and celebration of Mass, which we will do responsibly and safely."

Nuns put altar bread production on hold as they weather pandemic

CNA Staff, May 29, 2020 / 05:30 am (CNA).- When it is working at full capacity, the altar bread department at St. Cecilia’s Abbey produces millions of hosts a year, bringing revenue to the community of Benedictine nuns on the Isle of Wight, an island in the English Channel.

But with churches closed across the U.K due to the coronavirus pandemic, the industrious department has fallen silent.  

As soon as the nuns in Ryde, the largest town on the island, realized that public Masses were about to be suspended in March, they stopped baking and began to contact their customers by phone or mail. 

The altar bread department, which dates back to 1924, has more than 350 customers, 165 of whom receive regular parcels of hosts. The nuns asked the regular customers what they should do about their parcels. 

Sister Margaret, who runs the department, said: “That was the nice part -- speaking to all the customers and being able to promise prayers.”  

Most asked for their orders to be put on hold. If kept in the right conditions, hosts remain fresh for months. So parishes should be able to use up their backlogs when public liturgies are once again permitted. 

One priest suggested that the nuns should stop sending the parcels but keep sending invoices, which he offered to pay so the community did not lose money. While the nuns appreciated the offer, they explained that the U.K.’s tax authority would not approve of the arrangement. Other customers sent donations to cover the shortfall. 

Last year the abbey, founded in 1882, sold just under four million small hosts and 76,000 large hosts. This year it has sold only 828,200 peoples’ hosts and 20,000 priests’ hosts. 

“So our income from the altar bread department is well down, but God takes good care of us,” Sister Eustochium, the abbey’s bursar, told CNA.

The abbey has 31 sisters, including those currently in formation, with an age range from 22 to 92. The nuns create the hosts using a process honed over almost a century. 

They begin each day with a liquid paste, stored in big vats, made from flour and water. The baking machine sucks up the paste, which has the consistency of pancake batter, and squirts it onto a hot plate. The top of the plate closes over the mixture, pressing it flat. A nun then removes the excess from the sides with a knife. 

The baking machine, purchased in 2019, has three hot plates which revolve on a turntable. As the turntable moves around, the next hot plate opens automatically and the same steps take place. 

When the first plate reaches the nun operator again a couple of minutes later, the paste has been baked. The plate opens and inside is a large rectangular “cake” comparable to an ice-cream wafer. When the nun removes it, the baking machine squirts more paste onto the empty plate and the process continues. 

After a morning’s baking, there is a sizable stack of cakes, which the nuns carefully take down to the cellar, where they spread them out on shelves. After cooling for a few hours, the cakes are flexible enough to be cut without breaking. 

A nun then places the cakes into a cutting machine in a similar way to feeding a stack of paper into a photocopier. After she presses the appropriate buttons, a bore spins round rapidly, drilling down into the cake and cutting out the hosts. 

The cutter, which the nuns bought in 2015, is digital, so it can be programmed to create hosts of different sizes from a single cake, making the most efficient use of each one. 

Once the machine has finished cutting a stack of cakes, the hosts are collected in a container. The nuns give the remainder of the cakes, together with broken hosts and other waste, to a local farmer to feed to his animals. 

The nuns then place the hosts in trays in a room with a dehumidifier. When the hosts have dried out, the nuns place them in bags, in which they can be stored for many months.

Sister Eustochium said the nuns who usually work in the altar bread department are now helping in other areas of the abbey -- cooking, cleaning, sewing, or working in the vegetable garden and soft fruit cages. 

“Our retreat house is closed, and our soap-making business has also stopped production. Card-printing, calligraphy and icon work all continue, however,” she said.

“Our main work, of course, is prayer, and that goes on even more intensely than ever. Thanks to the monks of [the nearby] Quarr Abbey we continue to have daily Mass, though we are obliged to keep our church locked. We look forward very much to opening it and welcoming visitors once again.”

Salesians in Bogota aid poor families hard hit by COVID lockdown

Bogotá, Colombia, May 28, 2020 / 08:21 pm (CNA).- Salesian ministries in Bogota, Colombia, have joined forces to feed the families of the children and young people they serve at the Saint Francis de Sales Oratory youth center, which they run in the poor, crime ridden Las Cruces neighborhood.

In late March, the government ordered a lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown left many street vendors, recyclers, cleaning staff and other laborers out of work.

With the lockdown extended into June, many poor families are finding themselves running out of food and funds for other necessities.

While the government has offered some support to those in need, many people are still in serious need of assistance.

To respond to this need, especially for food, the Salesian Leo XIII School community has partnered with the Salesian Ladies’ Divine Child Center, the Order of Malta and a local food bank to offer care packages with basic necessities and food to families in need.

Leading the Salesian effort is Marcos Chero, a Peruvian teacher at the Leo XIII School.  Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Cheo said he was motivated to take on the project after successfully working with the school in 2017 to deliver 700 care packages to the victims of devastating flash floods and landslides that took place in the town of Mocoa in the country’s southwest.

“If we were able to put together care packages three years ago, with this situation we’re going through, why can’t we do it again?” Chero said.

In the initial effort, school parents, alumni, teachers and other members of the Salesian community were able to deliver 200 care packages to needy families in the area. They were then joined by the Salesian Ladies’ Divine Child Center. Several additional food distributions for 80-120 families have taken place in the weeks that followed, with the next one scheduled for June 6.

The National Police have been making the deliveries, taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Chero said the plan going forward is to make deliveries every three weeks “because we know that the coronavirus situation is going to last a long time. And so we’re always looking for help, we’re knocking on doors, seeking out institutions and businesses to collaborate with us.”

Chero himself received training as a boy at a Salesian oratory in Peru and admired the spirit of the congregation founded by St. Don Bosco “to work for the very poor and abandoned.”

“There’s a very beautiful saying of Don Bosco that has marked me, and I take it as a motto, an insignia, which is, ‘The Lord has put us in this world to serve others’,” he shared.

The teacher said he is also planning a project to raise funds to buy the technology so students can participate in distance learning, which is currently limited.

The Divine Child Center, founded by the Salesian Ladies Association, is staffed by lay women volunteers who put on sporting and cultural activities and provide formation in values, helping children and young people living in the poor areas of Bogota become good citizens and avoid the dangers of the street.

The Salesian Ladies is a non-profit organization founded in 1968 in Caracas, Venezuela, by Salesian priest Fr. Miguel Gonzalez. Through Christian education and evangelization, these Catholic women help low income people especially women, young people and children who are abandoned, in dangerous situations, or in jail.

They currently run 33 centers in Colombia, in addition to another 145 centers in 27 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

 

Amid transgender pressure, Australian medical conference to defend Christian vision

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 05:12 pm (CNA).- The stakes are surprisingly high for the Australian Catholic Medical Association as it holds an online conference this Saturday on Christian approaches to sex, gender and the human person.

Several Australian states have considered proposals to mandate the medical affirmation of transgender identity and sexual orientation that, the Catholic association says, could in effect outlaw the Christian vision of human health and psychology in medical care, in the name of banning “conversion therapy.”

“The Christian tradition to healthcare brings with it a very long and rigorous intellectual tradition to understanding to the human condition,” Dr. Eamonn Mathieson, chair of the Australian Catholic Medical Association organizing committee, told CNA May 28. This tradition is “a perspective that is founded in love and radically rejects the use of any person as a means to an end or as a means to serve the goals of any peculiar ideological agenda.”

The Catholic medical association is hosting an online medical and bioethics conference May 30 on the topic “Sex, Gender and the Human Person.” Co-sponsors are the Australian Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia. International participants are encouraged to register and attend online or watch recordings after the event.

“This conference will especially examine the issue of transgenderism in the young given the sudden surge of cases of rapid onset gender dysphoria, in Australia and around the world,” Mathieson said.

“In particular, we will discuss the issue of ‘gender affirmation only’ strategies now widely used in gender clinics, and now being considered by legislatures to be made compulsory and enforceable by law, including fines and imprisonment. Such developments have very serious implications for health workers as well as teachers, parents, not to mention children presenting with this condition.”

He said there is a growing risk of “outlawing healthcare based on Christian anthropology” given legislative developments and “the prevailing ideologies that are reflected in the position statements of a growing number of medical organizations and healthcare governing and representative bodies.”

The conference will take place Saturday May 30 at 10 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time. The time was chosen so that Americans and others overseas could take part in the event. The conference start time is Friday 5 p.m. Pacific Time and 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

The conference, which is open to non-members, costs $AUD5. Registered participants can watch live or on delay. Sessions will be recorded and will be available to attendees after the event. More information is at the medical association website www.catholicmedicine.org

“We are hoping to reach as many people as possible,” Mathieson said.

The conference’s first session examines the issue of affirmation-only approaches from medical, legal and psychological perspectives. It will consider “some of the potential problems and harms of endorsing this approach to gender dysphoria in the young,” Mathieson told CNA.

The second session will examine the transgender movement’s history and “its underlying philosophical, anthropological and ideological premises which are at variance with Judeo-Christian understanding of the human person as well as the beliefs of many other religious and philosophical traditions.”

Speakers include Prof. John Whitehall, a professor of pediatrics and chairman of the Australian Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship; Prof. Patrick Parkinson, academic dean and head of the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland; Father Paschal Chorby, O.F.M. Conv., a moral theology lecturer and bioethicist; researcher, writer and speaker Elisabeth Taylor; consultant psychologist and psychotherapist Prof. Diana Kenny; and Dr. Caroline Norma, a senior research fellow at RMIT University.

Topics include whether gender therapies are experimental and harmful, whether there is evidence behind the affirmation-only approach, whether the law requires someone to accept a child’s gender identity, a feminist critique of transgender ideology, and information about the advocacy behind the transgender movement.

According to Mathieson, the Christian approach sees the human person as “a unity of body, mind and spirit” which “provides a rich depth of understanding of the human condition that respects the unique dignity of each of human being.”

This understanding “has informed the practice of good medicine for millennia,” Mathieson said, and challenges “the prevailing materialistic or dualist understanding of the human person.”

A backgrounder for the conference notes the Victorian legislature’s consideration of a ban on “conversion therapy” as regards sexual orientation and gender identity. The Queensland government attempted to enact such legislation on the Christmas holidays “with as little scrutiny as possible.”

“In the end they were unsuccessful,” the backgrounder said. The proposed legislation defined conversion therapy as “a treatment or other practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The medical association said the wording of “conversion therapy” is “an emotive Trojan horse” that will introduce transgender ideology into law and seek to enforce health workers to participate in and endorse “gender identity affirming strategies” such as puberty-blocking drugs and surgery even in the case of children and adolescents.

“If such laws are enacted they will effectively outlaw the traditional Hippocratic and Christian anthropological approach to health and psychology,” the backgrounder continued.

“There is also a concern that if such legislation is enacted even conferences critical of the ’gender affirming model,’ such as ours, may not be permitted by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, our medical licensing body, due to the transgression of ’professional standards and expectations’ and by bringing the profession into disrepute. This is not an exaggeration.”

“Therefore, we believe it is paramount that we publicly articulate the issues and problems concerning this important matter, which we believe has profound implications for healthcare and the care of children generally,” the Australian Catholic Medical Association’s backgrounder said.

Mathieson cited the Queensland Health and Other Legislation Amendments Bill, which would require affirmation of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Parliament in the state of Queensland recently sought to enforce ’affirmation only therapy’ for children on all health workers,” he said. “Dissident practitioners would have faced an 18 month prison term for failing to abide by the state decrees in managing gender dysphoric children.”

Whitehall, one of the conference speakers, submitted a briefing on the Queensland legislation. While voicing sympathy for those with gender dysphoria, he said the vast majority of children confused over gender will “re-orientate to an identity in accordance their chromosomes, through puberty, with traditional support of individual and family psychotherapy.” He criticized the side-effects of puberty-blockers and cross-sex hormones, given that children and adolescents who undergo purported gender transitions will receive them for life.

“Why get involved in this medical matter?” he asked. “Why force a crisis of conscience on therapists aware of grave side effects and unconvinced of advantages of hormonal and surgical intervention in confused and vulnerable children, most of whom are known to revert to an identity in accordance with chromosomes with traditional support?”

The Australian Catholic Medical Association website has a resource page on Sex and Gender, including articles, documents, videos and news.

Mathieson encouraged Catholics to get informed on the topic.

“Understand what is behind this ideological movement and what is at stake. Especially parents should look into what is being taught to children in their schools, especially with sex education, among other subjects.”

German bishop quits synodal forum endorsing 'polyvalent sexuality'

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- An auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cologne has announced he is no longer participating in the "Synodal Forum" on sexuality that is part of the "Synodal Path" underway in Germany.

Bishop Dominikus Schwaderlapp told the newspaper Die Tagespost on May 28 that the forum was trying to cast into doubt fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church on sexual morality by referring to sexuality as "polyvalent.”

The forum's final working paper was operating on the assumption that the teachings of the Church on sexual morality required "further development," the bishop said, adding that such an approach did not do justice to the Catholic view of the "divine gift of sexuality."

Schwaderlapp told CNA Deutsch, CNA's German-language partner agency, that whilst he was withdrawing from the Synodal Forum, officially titled "Life in Successful Relationships," he still would be a participant in the "Synodal Process."

"Over the last 50 years in particular, the magisterium of the Church has produced precise statements on questions of sexual morality. In doing so it has deepened and developed the teaching of the Church.”

“'Further development' can never mean destroying what is there, rather it should build on it. In particular, the Holy Popes Paul VI and John Paul II made a binding statement that sexuality, from the point of view of creation, comprises two meanings that are inseparably linked: the transmission of life and the communication of love," Schwaderlapp told CNA Deutsch.

Members of the Synodal Forum had been expected to accept the basic premise of a "polyvalent sexuality", the bishop said, which would predicate a change in the Church's teaching.

No general debate of the presented paper had been provided for, Schaderlapp said, which led to his decision to renounce his membership in the forum.

Speaking to CNA Deutsch, the bishop reflected on the papal documents Humanae vitae and Familiaris consortio.

"These texts are not 'food for thought' but magisterially binding documents," he said.

The bishop expressed concern that the approaches of the "Synodal Way" are missing the real concerns of Catholic people. He asked whether the "existential questions of the people" were really being dealt with in the process.

"Which of these questions are still relevant when we lie on our deathbed and prepare for the encounter with the heavenly judge - hopefully we will do that then? It seems to me that quite different questions are relevant then, for example, 'How hard have I tried in my life - day after day - to love God and my neighbour?'"

It was not the alleged "clinging to tradition," he said, that has alienated people from the Church, "but because we [the Church] are too concerned with ourselves and do not give answers to the existential questions of humankind."

The bishop stressed that it is precisely in questions of morality and identity that the Church "really has something to say."

Schwaderlapp also offered the view that "the widening gap between the Church's teaching and the life of the faithful also tells us that the challenging understanding of sexuality as a gift from God has - at least in Germany - in recent years been criminally neglected. This must change, and urgently so."

 

Diocese of Pittsburgh announces next round of parish mergers

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- This summer, the Diocese of Pittsburgh will initiate another round of mergers, bringing its current 152 parishes down to 106. While the consolidation is difficult, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said, it will allow the Church to more effectively carry out its ministry.

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

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

This round of mergers will take place on July 1, 2020. It will consolidate over 60 parishes into 15 parishes.

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

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

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

“Since 2018, you have journeyed together on a road that is intended to unite you on the mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to your neighbors and to strengthen all of you in faith,” Bishop Zubik said.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania is radically different than it was 100, 50, 20, even 10 years ago, yet the work of the Church and our call from God to bring His love to everyone continues as strong as ever,” he said. “As we address the challenges we face in the Church today, the witness of working and growing together reflects the unity of the Body of Christ that is essential to our mission.”

Among other parish combinations, Holy Angels in Hays, Holy Apostles in South Pittsburgh, and Saint Sylvester in Brentwood will merge into the Blessed Trinity Parish; and two Wexford churches - Saint Alexis and Saint Alphonsus - will merge into Saint Aiden Parish.

The diocese will also reorganize the four regional vicariates into two regional vicariates - a North and South Vicariate - which will be used to assist future parish groupings. Father John Gizler III has been appointed Regional Vicar for the North Vicariate, and Father Joseph Sioli will be Regional Vicar for the South Vicariate.

Bishop Zubik expressed gratitude for the clergy and church leaders who have helped the “On Mission” project become a reality.

“Their examples of collaboration, courage and compassion have inspired me. Their collective efforts have gone beyond the practical matters related to merging parishes. They have encouraged their parishioners to deepen their relationship with Jesus and with each other,” he said in a statement.

The bishop added that as the “On Mission” plan unfolds, the Church will need to rely heavily on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

“[M]ay we unceasingly rely on the will and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who gives us life as we come together for vibrant worship, responsive pastoral care and powerful evangelization,” he said.