Browsing News Entries

Archbishop Hebda: Catholics ‘depend on the Eucharist,’ and Masses will resume

Denver Newsroom, May 21, 2020 / 05:36 pm (CNA).- The day after announcing that parishes in Minnesota can ignore a statewide order on religious gatherings, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis explained the pastoral motive for his decision.

Catholics “really depend on the Eucharist to get through the challenges of their lives,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda told reporters May 21.

“The reception of the Eucharist is extremely important,” the archbishop added. “We can’t have the opportunity for communion by livestreaming.”

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon, Hebda said the May 20 decision of Minnesota’s bishops to ignore a prohibition of religious gatherings of more than 10 people was a pastoral decision.

“We have this responsibility to take care of the spiritual needs of our people,” Hebda said.

The archbishop’s remarks came one day after a historic decision that Minnesota’s six dioceses would permit parishes to resume public Masses amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to flout statewide pandemic orders.

The bishops said that parishes can open for Mass next week, if attendance is no more than 33% of building capacity, and if parishes follow rigorous sanitary and liturgical protocols designed in consultation with public health experts.

Missouri Synod Lutherans in Minnesota have also announced that services will resume under similar strictures.

Speaking on Thursday, Hebda said that he had not had the opportunity to speak with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz in the days leading up to the bishops’ decision, but that he would be doing so on Thursday. Walz said last night that he would be speaking to the state’s bishops alongside state public health authorities.

“These are very challenging times, and I recognize that he has a very difficult job,” Hebda said of the governor. “We want to help all of Minnesota get through this pandemic. I look forward to our conversation, but I can tell you I hope the governor changes his mind.”

It is not clear whether priests or bishops who begin celebrating public Masses next week could face civil penalties. Hebda said his “hope is that there won’t be a conflict, and that we will come to some kind of agreement.”

“I’m hoping that when we actually have this opportunity to speak with the governor that we might find more common ground,” he added.

The archbishop also said he believes the bishops are “on solid footing” from a legal perspective. On May 20, Becket Law, a religious liberty advocacy law firm, sent Walz a letter laying out a legal case arguing that Minnesota’s Catholic and Lutheran parishes have First Amendment protections ensuring continued public worship.

In a California fight over reopening churches, federal Department of Justice officials intervened this week, to argue that unless states can prove that churches pose some specific risk for spreading the virus, they can’t be held to more stringent measures than other places of public assembly.

In Minnesota, retail businesses will be permitted to open at 50% capacity on June 1, salons and tattoo parlors will reopen, and restaurants will gradually reopen.

On Thursday, Hebda said equality in law is important.

“Obviously, part of our faith is that we want to respect always legitimate civil authority, so that’s one of the reasons why we have really been trying to reach out to the govern and his administration to explain the needs of our Church, which are kind of particular,” Hebda told reporters,

“And really as we’ve seen other openings and plans for other openings, it makes us feel much more comfortable with what we’re doing, because we see a parallel that’s there and we see that we need to be treated equally.”

There has not yet been any official response from the apostolic nuncio in the United States or from the Holy See to the Minnesota announcement. Officials at the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have not yet answered questions from CNA about whether Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the pope’s representative in the U.S., had been consulted before the bishops announced their decision.

When Italian bishops raised objections in late April to continued strictures on public Masses in the country, Pope Francis did not address the matter directly, but did praise the virtue of obedience at a Mass a few days later.

For his part, Hebda acknowledged that no sanitary precautions are enough to completely stem the spread of the virus, and acknowledged that a parish outside Minneapolis had announced May 20 that at least one priest in the community had tested positive for the coronavirus.

But the archbishop said he appreciated the speed and clarity with which the parish had made the announcement. And he emphasized the risk inherent to life in a global pandemic.

“We’re living in a dangerous time and we can expect that we’re going to have priests and faithful who are infected with COVID, that’s going to be part of life, what’s important is how we handle that,” Hebda said.

“I think we can expect in all dimensions of life, right now, that there are those risks that are there.” Even in the supermarket, he said, “there’s always that risk.”

More than 800 people have died of the coronavirus in Minnesota, and more than 18,000 have been diagnosed with it. Nearly 100,000 people have been recorded dead from the virus across the U.S., with more than 1.6 million positive coronavirus tests.

To Hebda, the difficulty of the pandemic emphasizes the need for pastoral ministry.

“Please remember, we bishops have a solemn duty, really a responsibility, to provide spiritual care and religious services to our faithful, and that responsibility includes doing it in a way that is safe and responsible,” the archbishop said.

Hebda told reporters about a man who had managed a years-long recovery from addictions.

“What makes that possible is that he goes to Mass every morning and receives communion,” the archbishop said.





Chicago police fine Pentecostal churches for violating 10-person limit

CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- Three churches in Chicago have been fined after defying an order banning services of more than 10 people on Sunday, May 17. A former mayoral candidate, who attended one of the services, has said that he will pay the fines. 

Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, Philadelphia Romanian Church of God and Metro Praise International Church were cited on Wednesday by the Chicago Police Department for exceeding the state of Illinois’ stay-at-home order and city social distancing policies which currently ban religious gatherings of more than 10 people. The churches were each fined $500. 

“The Chicago Police Department has been working to ensure full compliance with the [stay-at-home] order,” said the police department in a statement. 

“As part of this effort, we continue to ask everyone to help slow the spread of the virus by staying home and practicing social distancing so that once we have begun to recover and reopen, residents can return to their religious services in a safe manner.”

The city further announced that no-parking zones would be established near churches to dissuade potential worshipers from attending. 

On Wednesday, Chicago businessman and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who attended one of the church services last weekend, said he would pay the fines for the churches. 

“The governor and mayor continue to trample on our constitutional rights while hiding behind a Stay at Home Order that treats the church as non-essential,” said Wilson in a statement. “It is shameful that the church is discriminated against, while liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and Home Depot [are] treated as essential businesses.”

Earlier this month, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced a five-part plan for reopening the state. Originally, gatherings of ten or fewer people were not allowed until phase 3, at earliest, on May 29. 

Following a lawsuit by another church in the state, the governor allowed citizens to leave their homes for religious services as long as ten or fewer people are gathered for worship.

Previously, religious services of any kind in the state—including drive-in and in-person services—were curtailed during the pandemic, and even other forms of sacramental practice such as drive-in confessions were not allowed. 

Pritzker has said that gatherings of more than 50 people will not be allowed until a vaccine or effective treatment for the coronavirus is made available, which could potentially be next year.

The Archdiocese of Chicago suspended the public celebration of Mass in March. The archdiocese announced on May 1 that public Masses with 10 or fewer people would resume. On May 13, the archdiocese announced a reopening plan that had been created with the guidance and cooperation of the governor’s office, and has since issued detailed instructions for the wearing of masks during Mass, for the distribution of Communion.

Despite the governor’s order, Metro Praise International Church wrote on its Facebook page earlier this month that they would hold services at their normal times as a “passive resistance” to the continued restrictions. 

"This is a principled stand for our First Amendment rights and, more importantly, our biblical mandate to gather with other Christians in worship and fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25),” said the church. “Therefore, effective May 10, 2020, we will resume our 9am and 11am services as we had before the order.”

The pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church told local media in Chicago that he would continue to hold services, even with the looming threat of arrest. 

"Incarceration? I truly believe the mayor and the governor would not want to go there," said Pastor Cristian Ionescu, adding that the arrest of a pastor would be a “PR disaster” for the city. 

Fox News reported that the church required congregants to meet 13 criteria to attend among them having no coronavirus symptoms and being younger than 65 years old. The congregation was limited to 75 people, less than 10% of church capacity.

Also on Wednesday, the bishops in the state of Minnesota issued a letter announcing that parishes would resume public celebration of Mass in defiance of a state order prohibiting religious gatherings from exceeding 10 people. 

“It is now permissible for an unspecified number of people to go to shopping malls and enter stores, so long as no more than 50 percent of the occupancy capacity is reached. Big-box stores have hundreds of people inside at any one time,” the Minnesota bishops wrote. 

While noting that “there is no state mandate that customers wear masks in those malls or stores, wash their hands consistently, or follow any specific cleaning protocol,” the state continued to bar more that 10 people from gathering in a church of any size.

“An order that sweeps so broadly that it prohibits, for example, a gathering of 11 people in a Cathedral with a seating capacity of several thousand defies reason,” the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses said in a May 20 statement.

Planned Parenthood coronavirus loans could face DOJ investigation

CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- More than two dozen senators asked the attorney general on Thursday to investigate Planned Parenthood affiliates that have received emergency federal loans.

A letter from 27 senators, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), asked Attorney General William Barr to investigate 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates that reportedly applied for and received $80 million in emergency small business loans in recent weeks, during the pandemic.

The senators noted that “it seems clear that Planned Parenthood knew that it was ineligible for the small business loans under the CARES Act long before its affiliates fraudulently self-certified that they were eligible,” the senators stated.

“As you know, fraudulent loan applications can trigger both civil and criminal penalties,” their letter stated.

The loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) were initially set up in March under the CARES Act, as an emergency measure to help eligible small businesses and non-profits keep employees on payroll during the pandemic. The loans could become grants if certain conditions were met.

To be eligible for PPP loans, businesses and non-profits could not have more than 500 employees. If they were affiliated with a larger national organization under existing Small Business Administration (SBA) rules, then they would be counted together with the larger organization and all its affiliates.

Faith-based groups were exempt from the affiliation requirement, which meant that Catholic parishes and schools—while part of a larger diocese—were not all lumped together and counted as a single entity that would be ineligible for PPP loans. Thousands of parishes have applied for and received PPP loans.

Other national organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which says it has 49 affiliates around the country, were meant to be subject to the affiliation rules and thus were considered ineligible for the emergency assistance.

Funding of Planned Parenthood was part of the negotiations for the CARES Act in March, and the bill passed reportedly with Planned Parenthood locked out of the PPP loan program. On March 27, when the bill passed the House, Planned Parenthood Action decried the “attacks on reproductive care”

“The latest coronavirus relief package expands the Hyde Amendment to a new pot of funds and attempts to target Planned Parenthood health centers — a cruel disservice to the millions of people across the country who are already struggling to access care,” Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill-Johnson stated.

Yet on Tuesday, Fox News reported that 37 Planned Parenthood affiliates applied for and received $80 million in PPP loans. The SBA was seeking for the affiliates to return the loans, Fox News reported.

The letter from the 27 senators cited Planned Parenthood’s “clear ineligibility under the statutory text” of the CARES Act which set up the first round of PPP loans.

“It was also well-publicized at the time that the CARES Act did not allow Planned Parenthood affiliates to utilize these loans,” the letter stated.

Some publicly-traded corporations received PPP loans. CNBC reported in April that more than 245 public companies applied for nearly $1 billion in PPP loans.

US fertility rates fall again, and coronavirus could make it worse

CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 08:15 am (CNA).- The birth rate in the United States fell to a record low last year, with the fewest babies being born in 35 years. Experts are predicting the trend to continue, and warn the coronavirus could cause an even sharper decline in future years.

Statistics released May 19 by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics show that, in 2019, 3.75 million children were born – a drop of 1% from 2018. The figures also show a 2% drop in overall fertility, with only 58.2 births registered for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15-44. This is the lowest rate since records began in 1909.

The overall fertility rate now stands at 1.7, well below the 2.1 needed for population replacement.

Birthrates have been in steady decline for more than a decade following a peak before the 2008 financial crisis. The 2019 statistics show falling fertility across all age groups except one, women in their 40s.

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the data confirms the ongoing trend seen over the last decade, and that the current coronavirus pandemic is likely to further depress fertility.

“The downward trend in birth rates observed in the last several years is not a flash in the pan,” she told CNA. “Unfortunately, the economic devastation ushered in by COVID-19 is likely to make late 2020 worse, and 2021 worse still.”

Many have speculated that months of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders could result in a mini “baby boom,” and that 2020 figures might show a spike in births towards the end of the year. But, Pakaluk warned, this optimism could prove to be unfounded.

“You'll hear lots of people joke about couples on lockdown with nothing better to do than 'make a baby'. But that's just wishful thinking.”

“Plenty of evidence says that unemployment is one of the best predictors of negative fertility shocks. With new jobless claims approaching a staggering 40 million, there are many couples, sadly, who will choose not to have a baby that they already conceived -abortion- and certainly many more who will postpone a baby they were hoping to have this year or next,” she said.

“For some fraction of those, that postponement will end up being permanent. Expect 2020, but especially 2021, to be far worse than what we see here.”

Several trends continued in the data, suggesting that long term fertility rates will continue to drop. Teenage pregnancies have been in sharp decline for decades, with births among women under 20 dropping a further 5%, and declining by 73% overall since a peak in 1991.

Birthrates among Hispanic women also continued to drop, registering 20% fewer births than 2008 projections anticipated. Hispanic women account for nearly 25% of U.S. births.

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate. Programs like social welfare and subsidized medical care rely on growing populations which can contribute to the care of aging generations.

Commenting on these trends in an interview with CNA last year, Pakaluk said that the problems were obvious.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said.

“Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But, she warned, the problems caused by declining births was individual, not just societal.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We do know that children are a tremendous source of satisfaction for both men and women and if you take the net effect of [available data] on happiness and wellbeing - even in very controlled studies - we know that children contribute a tremendous amount of happiness.”

“I would certainly say that we need to look at [how] we have the lowest birthrates on record and the highest rates of addiction and depression on record. I’m not ready to say that is causal, but I think we need to think about it,” Pakaluk said.

“We are living in a fascinating paradox. In the post-feminist age of women’s right and control of reproduction they are not getting what it is that they say they want.”

California can't omit churches from re-opening plans, Justice Department says 

Washington D.C., May 21, 2020 / 12:50 am (CNA).- California Gov. Gavin Newsom's efforts to lift some anti-coronavirus restrictions cannot single out churches for stricter treatment than other similar public activities, the U.S. Department of Justice has said.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Eric S. Dreiband, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said in a May 19 letter to Newsom joined by four U.S. attorneys for California.

“Religion and religious worship continue to be central to the lives of millions of Americans. This is true now more than ever,” the letter continued. “Religious communities have rallied to protect their communities from the spread of this disease by making services available online, in parking lots, or outdoors, by indoor services with a majority of pews empty, and in numerous other creative ways that otherwise comply with social distancing and sanitation guidelines.”

California’s rules allow restaurants and other businesses to reopen under social distancing guidelines, the Associated Press reports. Churches, however, are still limited to online services and similar efforts.

The letter to Newsom objected that this is a double standard.

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential e-commerce, are included on the list as being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not.”

Dreiband’s letter said this is an “unfair burden” on religious groups and “unequal treatment” that violates their civil rights protections. The letter does not threaten immediate legal action. It recognizes the duty “to protect the health and safety of Californians in the face of a pandemic that is unprecedented in our lifetimes,” but said leaders must balance competing interests and evaluate the changing information about the coronavirus.

“Laws that are not both neutral toward religion and generally applicable are invalid unless the government can prove that they further a compelling interest and are pursued through the least restrictive means possible,” the letter said.

Newsom has indicated religious institutions could start in-person services in the near future, with improvements in measurements of testing, infection, and hospitalization.

“I want to just express my deep admiration to the faith community and the need and desire to know when their congregants can once again start coming back to the pews, coming back together,” Newsom said May 18, Politico reports.

Two Republican legislators have introduced a resolution to limit the governor’s emergency powers. Assemblymember Kevin Kiley said such powers are meant for “conditions of extreme peril” and are not intended to “give a single person the ability to remake all of California law indefinitely.”

In Sacramento County, health officials have received state approval for a more rapid lifting of limitations. The county will allow “drive-through” religious services. San Diego County supervisors have asked the state for permission for a more rapid reopening, including outdoor religious services with restrictions, the Associated Press said.

Some churches in the U.S. and South Korea are believed to be at the center of so-called “super-spreader” events, when numerous infections from the novel coronavirus result. On May 12, the Centers for Disease Control said 53 of 61 choir members who took part in a March 10 choir practice at a church in Skagit County, Washington contracted a confirmed or probable case of the coronavirus. Three singers were hospitalized and two died, E.W. Scripps News reports.

Dreiband’s letter to Newsom cites the Department of Justice’s promise to act on any abuses of religious freedom after some state and local governments sought to enforce tough restrictions on Easter services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr issued a statement in mid-April saying that governments cannot put special burdens on religious practice that they do not also impose upon other activities. While state and local governments may enact public emergency restrictions, these regulations cannot impede religious practice while allowing exemptions for similar public activities.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco spoke about epidemic restrictions on churches during a May 13 online briefing “The Church, the State and the Pandemic,” hosted by the San Francisco-based Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship. Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell, a former federal appellate court judge, was the main speaker at the briefing.

The archbishop, citing his interactions with government leaders, suggested public officials “don’t understand what we can do to keep people safe.” Church leaders need to reach out to officials and inform them what is possible, he said.

“When they think of a worship service they think of something like a megachurch, 1,000 to 2,000 people jammed in a crowded area,” he said. “They don’t think that we can have distance in our churches, or that we can have outdoor services.”

Cordileone cited suggestions from the Thomistic Institute of the Dominican House of Studies, which published guidance on coronavirus and churches composed by a working group of theologians, liturgists, and health care experts.

“It’s a very thorough and detailed document about what we can do to open up for Mass,” Cordileone said.

The California bishops sent a letter to Gov. Newsom with the Thomistic Institute document attached. A few days later the governor “spoke positively about worship and the necessity of faith” and appeared “more favorable to churches opening up for worship,” said the archbishop.


Breathing Forgiveness

Vengeance seems so logical, but it doesn’t really work: It doesn’t advance human history. The wonder of the resurrection stories in the Gospels is that Jesus has no punitive attitude toward the authorities or his cowardly followers, and that the followers themselves never call for any kind of holy war against those who killed their leader. Something new has clearly transpired in history. This is not the common and expected story line. All Jesus does is breathe forgiveness. It’s interesting that Jesus identifies forgiveness with breathing, the one thing that we have done constantly since we were born and will do until we die. He says God’s forgiveness is like breathing. Forgiveness is not apparently something God does; it is who God is. God can do no other.

—from The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder by Richard Rohr, OFM


Statement from Father James Bissonette regarding broader public celebration of Mass


Father James Bissonette, diocesan administrator, issues the following statement in conjunction with a letter he and the bishops of Minnesota released today regarding broader public celebration of Mass:

It is the teaching of our Catholic faith that we follow just laws and, whenever possible, work in harmony with civil leaders. Out of love of God and love of neighbor, as a church we have supported and responsibly carried out the reasonable restrictions Governor Walz has put in place over these past few months. At the same time, our highest allegiance is to God (Acts 5:29, Mark 12:17). We hold that the Church has a fundamental right according to our teachings and according to the Constitution to offer the worship we owe to God. We believe the worship of God is essential to a fully human and spiritual life. For Catholics, this worship is centered above all in the celebration of the Mass. For the common good, in consultation with experts and public officials, we will take cautious and gradual steps to safely reopen the public celebration of the Mass. As we do this, I ask everyone to continue to pray for and care for all affected by the pandemic. I also ask that we pray for the civil authorities tasked with difficult decisions in these challenging days.


Faith Builds on Love

Faith builds on a totally positive place within, however small. It needs an interior “Yes” to begin, just as the “Yes” of Mary began the entire process of salvation. God needs just a mustard seed-sized place that is in love, that is open to grace, that is thrilled, that has found something wonderful. We’ve got to go back and build from that “Yes” place—or faith is not faith. That’s why real faith is always rare. But God uses all of us, with our mixed motives. We have been given, not only the conclusion, but also the way to get there. We have been shown how to fight hate without becoming hate ourselves. We have been given a Companion and a Friend, not only a good idea. We have been given joy in the midst of failure, not only a way of winning or being right. Gospel people are basically indestructible.

—from The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder by Richard Rohr, OFM


What Can We Do with Our Fear?

Our age has been called the age of anxiety, and I think it’s probably a good description for this time. We no longer know where our foundations are. When we’re not sure what is certain, when the world and our worldview keep being redefined every few months, we’re going to be anxious. We want to get rid of that anxiety as quickly as we can. Yet, to be a good leader of anything today—to be a good pastor, a good bishop, or, I’m sure, a good father or mother—we have to be able to contain, to hold patiently, a certain degree of anxiety. Probably the higher the level of leader someone is, the more anxiety he or she must be capable of holding. Leaders who cannot hold anxiety will never lead us to anyplace new. That’s probably why the Bible says so often, “Do not be afraid.” I have a printout showing that the phrase appears 365 times—one for each day of the year! If we cannot calmly hold a certain degree of anxiety, we will always be looking for somewhere to expel it. Expelling what we can’t embrace gives us an identity, but it’s a negative identity. It’s not life energy, it’s death energy. Formulating what we are against gives us a very quick, clear, and clean sense of ourselves. Thus, most people fall for it. People more easily define themselves by what they are against, by who they hate, by who else is wrong, instead of by what they believe in and whom they love.

—from The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder by Richard Rohr, OFM

“Laudato Si” Athwart Modernity

In preparation for my participation in a USCCB sponsored symposium for the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si, I reread the famous and controversial document with some care. Many of the themes that struck me five years ago stood out again, but on this reading I was particularly impressed by the pope’s sharply critical assessment of modernity. I think it’s fair to say that the Church has had a complex relationship with the modern, coming out strongly against it at the First Vatican Council and in a plethora of statements throughout much of the twentieth century, but affirming many elements of it very enthusiastically at the Second Vatican Council. One has only to consider here Vatican II’s document on religious liberty, Dignitatis Humanae, or of its magisterial document on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, to see the Council’s favorable assessment of many key…