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Vienna terror attack reportedly intended to target church youth group

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 06:11 pm (CNA).- A gunman affiliated with the Islamic State had planned to attack a Catholic youth group meeting at a church in Vienna during his Nov. 2 terror attack, according to local media.

On Nov. 2, a gunman killed at least four people and injured more than 20 others in Vienna. The attack began at about 8 p.m. near the city’s main synagogue, with a heavily armed man firing a pistol and machine gun at people sitting outside bars and restaurants before being shot dead near a local Catholic church.

The Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack, releasing a video of a man identified as Abu Dagnah Al-Albany.

Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung is reporting that Al-Albany had wanted a bloodbath and tried to enter St. Rupert’s Catholic Church, where a Catholic youth group was gathered. He was unable to enter the building, as the gates were locked, and he was then shot dead by police.

The Vienna archdiocese said 17 people were in the church. Upon hearing shots fired, they turned off the lights and hid until 2:30 a.m. the next morning, when police cleared them to leave.

Austrian officials say the gunman’s real name was Kujtim Fejzulai, a 20-year-old Austrian man who last year was sentenced to 22 months in prison for attempting to travel to Syria in order to join the Islamic State. He was released early on parole, according to local media reports.

Austrian officials say they will be enhancing security measures at churches for Christmas.

 

Payday loan expansion means fast money and cycle of debt for Michigan's poor, bishops say

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A Michigan proposal to quadruple the maximum lending amount allowed for payday lenders would exploit the poor and trap many people in a cycle of debt when alternatives are available, the Michigan Catholic Conference has told a State Senate committee.

“People in the state may be unaware that charity agencies and low-income lending opportunities exist to assist those who are in dire circumstances and need quick access to cash,” David Maluchnik, vice-president of communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said Dec. 1.

“High-interest loans that add greater financial burden to poor people should be opposed, as they contribute to an economy of exclusion rather than serving the dignity of the human person. The legislation before committee today is a form of modern-day usury; it would exploit individuals and families facing hardship and poses a danger to the common good,” he said.

Maluchnik testified before the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee against House Bill 5097, proposed by State Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Kalamazoo. The bill passed the House of Representatives in May, with support from 15 Democratic lawmakers.

The bill increases the amount that can be borrowed under the law from $600 to $2,500. It would allow monthly fees of 11% on the loan principal for payday loans, also known as cash advances.

The annual interest rate on a maximum loan would exceed 130%, the Catholic conference said. In a flier criticizing the bill, it said this was “exorbitant.”

“Data shows that rates such as these wreak financial havoc on individuals who typically need a one-time cash solution. In order to pay these loans off, over 70% of borrowers take out new payday loans within 30 days, causing a long-term debt cycle for their family,” said the flier.

The flier recommends alternatives to payday loans: alternative lending programs, credit unions, and financial education resources. During the coronavirus pandemic, it said, Michigan credit unions have made nearly 9,500 emergency cash loans totaling over $22.5 million.

Other critics of the law include the Michigan Poverty Law Program and Habitat for Humanity of Michigan.

Iden, the bill’s backer, told The Detroit News in September that inflation has increased since 2005, when payday loans first became legal and the limit was set. It now takes more money to replace a set of tires than 15 years ago. He said “a number of conversations” with constituents inspired the move.

The industry is also competing with online lenders.

Rep. Diana Farrington, R-Utica, chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, opposed the bill. She said that the average loan is for $400.

“I was just concerned because individuals get into a debt cycle with payday lending,” she told the Detroit News.

Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, supported the bill. He said people need the opportunity to get money in an emergency like the pandemic, and those who make payments on time will build their credit rating.

Hickson said that under the proposed change, someone could pay $4,600 on a $2,500 loan over a year, the maximum loan term allowed. He characterized the proposal as “legalized loan sharking.”

The Detroit News reported that companies or lobbyists backing increased payday lending had given tens of thousands of dollars to Michigan lawmakers’ campaigns.

The Church has consistently taught that usury is evil, including in numerous ecumenical councils.

In Vix pervenit, his 1745 encyclical on usury and other dishonest profit, Benedict XIV taught that a loan contract demands “that one return to another only as much as he has received. The sin rests on the fact that sometimes the creditor desires more than he has given. Therefore he contends some gain is owed him beyond that which he loaned, but any gain which exceeds the amount he gave is illicit and usurious.”

In his General Audience address of Feb. 10, 2016, Pope Francis taught that “Scripture persistently exhorts a generous response to requests for loans, without making petty calculations and without demanding impossible interest rates,” citing Leviticus.

“This lesson is always timely,” he said. “How many families there are on the street, victims of profiteering … It is a grave sin, usury is a sin that cries out in the presence of God.”

New coalition champions spiritual rights of patients

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A new coalition seeks to promote the rights of hospital patients to have “reasonable” access to family and clergy during the pandemic.

The Health Care Civil Rights Task Force is a project of the Christ Medicus Foundation, the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, and other groups. The task force issued a statement on Nov. 19 calling for the protection of civil rights during the pandemic, “Defending the Fundamental Dignity and Health Care Civil Rights of All.”

The NCBC’s Dr. Jozef Zalot explained the significance of the statement on the rights of hospital patients to clergy and family visitation during the pandemic.

“We’ve have been stating that since the spring,” Zalot told CNA on Wednesday. “It is absolutely essential,” he said, “that people not have to die alone, and we’re hearing that in consults.” Families have called the center for bioethical consultations, he said, having to make life-or-death decisions for their loved ones while not allowed to be physically present with them at the hospital.

“It’s a huge issue, not only for the patients but for the family members,” Zalot said. “They’re being denied access to see their loved ones, to interact with them, to say goodbye to them, to receive the sacraments of the Church. It’s a huge, huge civil rights issue.”

Strict hospital visitation policies during the pandemic have received repeated attention from the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, which has intervened in several cases for patients to have access to clergy and for disabled patients to have access to an advocate.

In the statement on civil rights in health care, the coalition also called for preservation of access to the sacraments for the faithful and opposition to health care rationing based on a “value” of one’s life.

The statement’s authors warned that state and local COVID restrictions reflect a “chasm” where “[t]he spiritual is increasingly being forgotten, ignored, and trampled,” as churches are closed by public orders and the sacraments are denied to COVID patients.

Members of the Health Care Civil Rights Task Force include National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) president Joseph Meaney, Bobby Schindler—the brother of Terri Schiavo—and officials at the Christ Medicus Foundation and Healthcare Advocacy Leadership Organization.

“A secular view sees saving the physical life of a person as the only goal that matters,” the statement reads. “Faith and reason recognize that both care for spiritual health and care for emotional health are essential parts of health care.”

“However much government and courts want to keep people safe, the rights of the family are preeminent above the rights of the state,” the statement says. “There is no reason that PPE [personal protective equipment] cannot be used to allow reasonable visitation from loved ones in health care settings during this pandemic.”

Meaney, in particular, issued a statement in November on “the right not to be forced to die alone.” He stated that “simply denying all visitation is an unreasonable policy” for hospitals, and argued for patients and families to have a say in “restricted visitation.”

Meaney has said he was actually hospitalized with a heart condition in May, but could not have a Catholic priest visit to administer Last Rites.

NYC mayor de Blasio defends decision not to pay for coronavirus testing at private schools

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 02:20 pm (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is defending his decision not to extend state funding for on-site coronavirus testing to students in Catholic schools, as he fights a court mandate that the state department of education provide testing to both private and public school students.

“We believe the law is clear that it is not the city’s obligation to provide the actual testing service,” de Blasio told the New York Post Dec. 1.

“Our obligation right now is to continue the process of having New York City public schools be open and healthy and safe.”

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 18, the Archdiocese of New York argued that the New York City Department of Education has a legal mandate to provide children attending nonpublic schools within their districts with “all of the health and welfare services” they provide to their public school students, including “the administration of health screening tests.”

The archdiocese cited burdensome costs associated with the increased testing requirements, which at public schools are covered by the state.

On Nov. 24, the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the archdiocese. The DOE is appealing the ruling, and de Blasio said Dec. 1 that he interprets the state law in question, Section 912, differently.

The legal fight comes amid new public health measures from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which included additional testing requirements for schools open for in-person learning in certain zones of the city with higher infection rates.

“Yellow zone” restrictions include a 25-person maximum capacity on gatherings, 4-person to a table maximum while dining, and weekly testing for at least 20% of in-person students and faculty in all schools.

If the results of the testing reveal that the positivity rate among the 20% of those tested is lower than the yellow zone's current 7-day positivity rate, testing at that school will no longer be required to continue, the state said in a Nov. 14 guidance.

The 172 Catholic schools in the New York archdiocese have been open for in-person instruction since September.

According to a Nov. 30 op-ed by archdiocesan school superintendent Michael Deegan, their schools’ positivity rate is significantly ­below the 3 percent threshold, at 0.0046 percent.

“The mayor has been on the news lately, saying (rightly) that the key to reopening schools is testing and more testing,” Deegan wrote.

“That’s great to hear. Why, then, are he and [schools chancellor Richard] Carranza so dead-set against following state law, now backed by a court order, requiring public and nonpublic kids to receive the same testing resources?”

"Do Mayor de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, really believe that children in nonpublic schools deserve inferior measures to protect their health? Apparently," Deegan stated.

On Nov. 18, de Blasio announced that the city’s public schools would “temporarily” suspend in-person classes. He subsequently announced Nov. 29 that he would allow elementary school and pre-K students to return to in-person learning Dec. 7, with special education students returning Dec. 10.

The initial decision to suspend in-person learning in public schools was made after one set of data found that the city’s coronavirus test positivity rate was 3%. Metrics shared by Cuomo at a press conference following the decision to close, however, stated that the city’s positivity rate was 2.5%, not yet at the anticipated threshold for school closure. De Blasio also announced Nov. 29 that the 3% threshold would no longer be used.

de Blasio has faced criticism for his treatment of houses of worship during the coronavirus pandemic, threatening mass arrests or even permanent closure of churches and synagogues that did not comply with public orders.

De Blasio said in June that ongoing protests in the city merit exceptions to coronavirus regulations, while religious services do not, drawing criticism from the New York archdiocese.

The Supreme Court ruled in late November that New York state restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic are a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise.

The state’s restrictions forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated “red zones, and 25 people in “orange zones.”

In a statement Nov. 26, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said he is “gratified by the decision of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court, who have recognized the clear First Amendment violation and urgent need for relief in this case.”

The court’s ruling is temporary, as lawsuits filed by the Diocese of Brooklyn and by Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York will continue, though the Supreme Court’s Nov. 26 decision is likely to weigh heavily in the outcome of those cases.

While cases of coronavirus have continued to spike throughout the country, schools have largely not been the sources of these infections.

Last month, Cuomo was part of a bipartisan group of governors from the northeast who signed a statement calling in-person learning the “best possible scenario” for children.

Hong Kong democracy protestors sentenced to months in prison

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 01:05 pm (CNA).- Three Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including a Catholic university student, were sentenced to prison on Wednesday for participating in illegal protests.

Democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam were sentenced to 13.5 months, 10 months, and 7 months, respectively, in prison. They had each pled guilty last month to taking part in an “illegal assembly,” for which they were arrested in August under a new national security law imposed on the region by Beijing.

Chow, 23 years old, is a Catholic university student who co-founded a pro-democracy political party along with Wong. She has been an outspoken advocate for civil rights.

Political leaders from the United States and Great Britain decried the sentencing of the three activists.

“The sentencing of Joshua, Agnes, and Ivan reminds us of the courage and perseverance of Hong Kongers as well as the failure of Hong Kong’s government to uphold its commitments to its citizens,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), co chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted that Beijing “continues to violate its treaty obligations & destroy the liberties of its people, including this latest crackdown in Hong Kong.”

“Hong Kong’s authorities should be proud to have young people like Joshua who champion democracy, liberty, and the rule of law. Instead, on the orders of the Chinese Communist Party, they lock them up and persecute them,” stated the website of Lord Alton of Liverpool, a Catholic who sits as an independent crossbench Peer in the UK House of Lords.

The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, criticized the crackdown in Hong Kong by Beijing in an interview published on Nov. 22.

“Even people outside of the Church, they say ‘Why isn’t your pope saying anything against what China is doing?’,” Zen said in a video clip released Nov. 22. “It’s very sad.”

There were massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, when the legislature of the special autonomous region was considering an unpopular bill allowing the Chinese mainland government to extradite criminals from Hong Kong.

The region was controlled by Great Britain until 1997, when it was transferred to China under an agreement that it would retain its independent economy and political system—“one country, two systems.”

Many Catholics and other Christians took part in the democracy protests in 2019. The extradition legislation was eventually pulled, but the National People’s Congress in mainland China then brought up a new National Security law in 2020 to impose changes on Hong Kong.

The measure passed overwhelmingly by the mainland legislature in May, sidestepping the Hong Kong legislature and criminalizing anything considered by Beijing to be “foreign interference” or subversion of state power. It also allowed Chinese security forces to operate in the city.

The law broadly defined unlawful acts of terror to include arson and vandalizing public transportation “with an intent to intimidate the Hong Kong government or Chinese government for political purposes.” Charges of secession under the law could include displaying or chanting slogans such as “Free Hong Kong.”

In landmark ruling, U.K. high court says children unlikely to be able to give informed consent to puberty blockers

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The U.K.’s high court ruled Tuesday that children are unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty.

In a landmark ruling Dec. 1, three senior judges said that doctors may require court authorization to begin puberty-blocking treatment involving teenagers. 

The case was brought by two claimants against the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust, which runs Britain’s main Gender Identity Development Service for children.

In the past five years, the number of people referred to the Gender Identity Development Service has almost doubled. According to the service’s website, there were 1,408 referrals in 2015-16 and 2,728 in 2019-20. 

The judges were asked to assess the lawfulness of the NHS trust’s practice of prescribing puberty blockers to children experiencing gender dysphoria, which they defined as “a condition where persons experience distress because of a mismatch between their perceived identity and their natal sex, that is, their sex at birth.”

They said that puberty-suppressing drugs had been prescribed to children as young as 10 on the basis of informed consent -- a fundamental principle of modern medicine in which a doctor informs a patient of potential risks before they agree to undergo medical treatment.

The first claimant, who was born female, was prescribed puberty-blocking drugs around the age of 15 to stop the process of developing female sexual characteristics. The claimant then took cross-sex hormones promoting male characteristics and underwent surgery.

The second claimant was the mother of a 15-year-old girl worried that her daughter may be prescribed puberty blockers.

The claimants argued that prescribing the drugs to under-18s was unlawful as they were not competent to offer valid consent to the treatment.

The judges said that the issue at the heart of the claim was  therefore “whether informed consent in the legal sense can be given by such children and young persons.”

In their ruling, the judges said that children under the age of 16 could only consent to puberty blockers if they were “competent to understand the nature of the treatment.”

“That includes an understanding of the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment, the limited evidence available as to its efficacy or purpose, the fact that the vast majority of patients proceed to the use of cross-sex hormones, and its potential life-changing consequences for a child,” they wrote in their ruling.

“There will be enormous difficulties in a child under 16 understanding and weighing up this information and deciding whether to consent to the use of puberty blocking medication.” 

The judges continued: “It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers. It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.”

“In respect of young persons aged 16 and over, the legal position is that there is a presumption that they have the ability to consent to medical treatment.” 

“Given the long-term consequences of the clinical interventions at issue in this case, and given that the treatment is as yet innovative and experimental, we recognize that clinicians may well regard these as cases where the authorization of the court should be sought prior to commencing the clinical treatment.”

An NHS spokesperson welcomed the “clarity” brought by the ruling. 

“The Tavistock have immediately suspended new referrals for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under-16s, which in future will only be permitted where a court specifically authorizes it,” the spokesperson said. 

The Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock clinic said it was disappointed by the ruling and was seeking permission to appeal against it.

“The Court has ruled that there will be a stay on implementation of its judgment until the later of 22 December or the determination of any appeal,” it noted.

The ruling may influence lawmakers and judges in other parts of the world. 

In February, a state representative in Georgia filed a bill that would make it a felony for medical professionals to assist in changing a minor’s gender either through surgery or medication. 

Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Marietta) announced her intention to introduce “The Vulnerable Child Protection Act” in October 2019. 

Ehrhart told CNA that she had been working on the bill for nearly two years, and that it was “not a knee-jerk reaction to anything that’s currently in the media,” but that she considered it “timely.” 

In April, Liz Truss, the U.K.’s Minister for Women and Equalities, announced plans to prohibit minors from undergoing any permanent procedure intended to change their gender.

In an appearance before the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee, Truss said that she was committed to “making sure that the under-18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future.”

Pope Francis prays for victims of Islamist attack in Nigeria that left 30 beheaded

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he was praying for Nigeria following a massacre of at least 110 farmers in which Islamist militants beheaded an estimated 30 people.

“I want to assure my prayers for Nigeria, where blood has unfortunately been spilled once more in a terrorist massacre,” the pope said at the end of his general audience Dec. 2.

“Last Saturday, in the northeast of the country, more than 100 farmers were brutally killed. May God welcome them in His peace and comfort their families, and convert the hearts of those who commit similar atrocities which gravely offend His name.”

The Nov. 28 attack in Borno State is the most violent direct attack against civilians in Nigeria this year, according to Edward Kallon, the United Nations’ Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.

Among the 110 people killed, roughly 30 people were beheaded by the militants, according to Reuters. Amnesty International has also reported that 10 women are missing after the attack.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local anti-jihadist militia told AFP that the Boko Haram operate in the area and frequently attack farmers. The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has also been named as a possible perpetrator of the massacre.

More than 12,000 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in Islamist attacks since June 2015, according to a 2020 report by the Nigerian human rights organization, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety). 

The same report found that 600 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first five months of 2020. 

Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded and set on fire, farms have been set ablaze, and priests and seminarians have been targeted for kidnapping and ransom.

Fr. Matthew Dajo, a priest from the Archdiocese of Abuja, was kidnapped on Nov. 22. He has not been released, according to the archdiocesan spokesman.

Dajo was abducted by gunmen during an attack on the town of Yangoji, where his parish St. Anthony’s Catholic Church is located. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja has issued a call for prayers for his safe release.

Kidnappings of Catholics in Nigeria are an ongoing problem that not only affects priests and seminarians, but also lay faithful, Kaigama said.

Since 2011, Islamist group Boko Haram has been behind many abductions, including that of 110 students kidnapped from their boarding school in Feb. 2018. Of those kidnapped, one Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, is still being held.

The local Islamic State-affiliated group has also carried out attacks in Nigeria. The group was formed after the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015. The group was then renamed the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

In February, U.S Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CNA that the situation in Nigeria was deteriorating.

“There’s a lot of people getting killed in Nigeria, and we're afraid it is going to spread a great deal in that region,” he told CNA. “It is one that's really popped up on my radar screens -- in the last couple of years, but particularly this past year.”

“I think we’ve got to prod the [Nigerian President Muhammadu] Buhari government more. They can do more,” he said. “They’re not bringing these people to justice that are killing religious adherents. They don’t seem to have the sense of urgency to act.”

Rome’s Franciscans to provide ‘blessing from afar’ on Immaculate Conception feast

Rome Newsroom, Dec 2, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Conventual Franciscans said they will be present at a statue of the Immaculate Conception in the center of Rome to offer a “blessing from afar” to families who pass by on the feast day.

Despite pandemic regulations curtailing some Rome customs for the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Franciscan friars will be praying at the base of the statue throughout the day.

Franciscan Fr. Agnello Stoia encouraged people to avoid gathering at the Marian statue because of COVID-19, but said that “if anyone happens to pass by, we Franciscans guarantee our presence and a blessing from afar.”

The Immaculate Conception statue is located in the center of Rome near the famous Spanish Steps. 

Though Pope Francis will not say a prayer at the monument Dec. 8 -- breaking a 66-year-old papal custom -- the Franciscans said that they wanted to be present for passers-by.

The Vatican said Monday that Francis would not be visiting the statue of the Immaculate Conception this year to avoid drawing a crowd which could lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is also a national holiday in Italy. It is common for Romans to visit the statue or attend the papal veneration on the feast day. Rome’s firefighters and local officials are usually in attendance.

Despite the canceled event, firefighters will still place a fresh wreath of flowers on Mary’s outstretched arm in the early morning Dec. 8. To reach the statue, which sits atop a nearly 40-foot high column, they use the ladder of a firetruck.

“It is important that the fire brigade can truly make this gesture in the name of the whole city, a gesture that is charged with expectation. We ask the Virgin to intercede so that we can be freed from this situation, and return to live in serenity with our loved ones,” Fr. Stoia said.

Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, composed a prayer of entrustment to Mary for Catholics to say from home on the solemnity.  

“As you know, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is deeply felt by Italians and in particular by us Romans,” the cardinal wrote in a Nov. 24 message.

He asked people to pray in union with Pope Francis “for the people who live in our city, for the end of the pandemic. We place ourselves under the mantle of Our Lady and together with her we cling to the Lord: that we will feel fraternity with everyone grow and our strength to stand up and go on will be renewed.”

Cardinals living in Rome are offering Mass every afternoon at the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles during the nine days leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The novena of Masses, which began Nov. 29, is preceded by the rosary and sung litanies.

De Donatis’ prayer, which was inspired by Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortationEvangelii gaudium,” reads:

To you, O Mary, Mother of the Church and Queen of the family, we entrust our family in this time of anticipation for Christmas.

You see our joys and our hopes, our sadnesses and our fears. You, who transformed a stable for animals into a home for Jesus with some poor strips of cloth and a mountain of tenderness, help us to welcome him into the simplicity of our home.

You, who are the little servant of the Father that exults in the faith, help us to lift our praise and our thanks to God. You, who was pierced by the sorrow of the cross, understand all our pains.

As the mother of all, you are a light of hope even in dark times; you are the missionary who draws close to us to accompany us in life, opening our hearts to the faith with maternal affection.

As a true mother, walk with us, sing with us, and constantly deepen in us closeness to the love of God.

We entrust to you grandparents, the elderly, the sick. We entrust to you spouses, parents, sons and daughters. We entrust to you young adults, adolescents, children. We entrust to you those who are in pain or in mourning. We entrust to you the poor and those who are alone.

We are certain that, with your motherly presence, our home will be always overwhelmed by faith and can be a little Church, where we will always recognize the presence of God.   

Once beloved Colorado priest among newly identified clerical abusers

CNA Staff, Dec 2, 2020 / 09:40 am (CNA).- Investigation into the history of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Colorado has found nine diocesan priests with “substantiated” sexual abuse allegations involving 70 more underage victims. Those priests come in addition to 43 abusers already identified in a 2019 report. The newly known abusers include a Denver priest who was a prominent advocate for the homeless.

A report on clerical abuse in Colorado was released Dec. 1 as a supplement to an October 2019 report on the history of clerical sexual abuse in the state.

“We hope and pray that this independent review and reparations process over the last two years has provided a measure of justice and healing for the survivors who came forward and shared their stories,” the Catholic bishops of Colorado said in a joint statement Dec. 1.

“We remain heart-broken by the pain they have endured, we again offer our deepest apologies for the past failures of the Church, and we promise that we will always pray for continued healing for them and their families.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Bishop Stephen Berg of Pueblo and Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez of Denver said they continue to be willing “to meet personally with survivors when they make the request.”

They pledged to “continue to work with and support anyone who comes forward.”

“We also hope that this process has demonstrated our commitment to continuing to enhance and strengthen our child-protection policies so that the sins of the past do not repeat themselves,” said the Colorado bishops.

None of the newly named priests are still in ministry. At least six of the men newly accused of abuse have died. The latest report also contains new substantiated accusations against another 16 previously known abusers.

The 93-page report from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office supplements a previous October 2019 report in a 22-month investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer.

The supplemental investigation concerns victims who made claims to the attorney general’s office or to an independent reparation and reconciliation program for the three dioceses in Colorado. It does not include victims who reported only to a diocese directly, nor does it include allegations against clergy in religious orders, church volunteers or other employees. Some victims who spoke to the reparation and reconciliation program decided not to speak for inclusion in the supplemental investigation.

Attorney General Phil Weiser said Dec. 1 that the program’s goals were “to support and comfort survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and to bring meaningful change to how the Colorado dioceses protect children from sexual abuse.”

“It takes incredible fortitude for victims of sexual abuse to come forward and tell their stories, and they are the heroes of this effort,” he said

The most prominent priest named in the latest report is Father Charles Woodrich, known as Father Woody, an outspoken advocate for the homeless of Denver. After he died in 1991 the Denver Catholic Register, which he had previously served as editor, called him “Denver’s patron saint of the hungry and homeless.”

He famously opened up the doors of his downtown parish, the beautiful Holy Ghost Church, to the homeless during cold winter nights. He would routinely give his friends on the street the coats off his back and the cash in his pockets.

Three victims alleged grooming behavior and sexual assault by him as far back as 1976, beginning at ages as young as 12. The Denver archdiocese received the allegations earlier this year through the reparations program and reported them to law enforcement.

Woodrich helped to found the Samaritan House homeless shelter and the Haven of Hope to provide hot meals and shelters for the homeless. Samaritan House, now run by Catholic Charities of Denver. Last year it served 1,405 men, women and children, providing over 80,000 nights of shelter and over 466,000 meals.

The priest also established school lunch programs for poor children. The name “Father Woody” had become synonymous with charity in the Denver community. He was the namesake of a popular Christmas party for the homeless and a service program at Regis University was named for him. A university spokesman told the Denver Post that the program will be renamed in honor of Jesuit priest St. John Francis Regis.

The latest report means that the number of diocesan clergy known to be abusive now numbers 52, with 212 victims. Several children were younger than 10. While abusers sometimes had more than one known victim, particularly dangerous was Father Harold White. The priest abused 70 known victims from 1958 to 1981. He was laicized in 2004.

Most abuse happened in the 1960s. All known instances of abuse took place between 1951 and 1999. However, more than half of the victims were abused after church leaders knew of allegations

The latest report identified Father James Moreno as another Denver archdiocese priest who sexually abused a teen boy dozens of times from 1978 to 1980. In late 2019 he admitted to abusing the victim, whom he had met through Denver Catholic schools. Moreno retired 6 years ago, but currently faces a canonical process to be removed from the priesthood. The attorney general’s report erroneously said that Moreno retired 16 years ago.

Other Denver archdiocese priests named for the first time were Kenneth Funk, Daniel Kelleher, and Gregory Smith. There were 138 diocesan priests in the archdiocese in 1950. Their numbers peaked at 215 in 1976, and are at similar numbers today. No new allegations concerned priests of the Colorado Springs diocese, which was founded in 1983.

The newly named Pueblo diocesan priests are Marvin Kapushion, Duane Repola, Carlos Trujillo and Joseph Walsh. Kapushion and Walsh worked as counselors at the Sacred Heart and abused children there. The two known victims of Walsh were aged 4 and 7 when their abuse began. The number of diocesan priests in the Pueblo diocese peaked at 83 in 1966, and they currently number 52.

Among the newly reported incidents, only one was not reported to law enforcement as required by law in 2006, when the victim first came forward. At the same time, among the new incidents 16 of the 46 newly reported victims had been abused after the diocese had been informed that the priest was a sexual abuser.

Troyer, the author of the supplemental report, said that the incidents “provide further evidence that historically the dioceses enabled clergy child sexual abuse by transferring abusive priests to new parishes; taking no action to restrict their ministry or access to children; concealing the priests’ behavior with secrecy, euphemism and lack of documentation; silencing victims; and not reporting the abuse to law enforcement.”

The bishops took encouragement that there have been no known incidents of child abuse in over 20 years, with “over 90 percent of the known incidents occurring 40 to 60 years ago.”

However, many sexual abuse victims take decades before coming forward, leaving open the possibility that reports about more recent situations could come to light..

Troyer’s October 2019 report had said the dioceses’ poor records and flawed practices made it impossible to know whether there had been any abuse in recent years.

Weiser, the attorney general, said he was pleased that the Colorado dioceses implemented “every recommendation” of the first report, with reforms that are apparently “meaningful and sound.”

“But as the report points out, these improvements are untested at this point in time, and it will be up to the church to ensure it is creating an environment that is as safe as possible for children now and in the future,” he said.

The state’s Catholic bishops said that following the recommendations strengthened policies, adding “we believe Catholics and the general public can feel confident that the Church is an extremely safe environment for children.”

“We agree with the Attorney General that other youth-serving institutions could consider using a similar public review and reparations program to address this issue,” they said.

In a separate statement regarding Woodrich and other priests, the Denver archdiocese said: “for Catholics, learning about the past sins of former priests has been extremely difficult, especially when the priest was well-known and respected.”

“For any priest that has been named in the initial report or supplemental report, the archdiocese has removed that priest’s name from any honorary designation including buildings, facilities, and programs,” it continued.

“It is important to note that the ministerial work of the Church is the work of Jesus Christ, not the work of a specific priest. Any employee or volunteer who has participated in the work of Christ in serving others should not feel that their work has in any way been diminished.”

The archdiocese said it took part in the investigation “so that any survivor who had not previously come forward would be encouraged to do so in a safe and protected process “

“We are grateful for everyone who bravely shared their stories, and we pray this process provided survivors with a measure of justice and healing,” said its statement.

The first report, issued in October 2019, examined the archives and personnel files of Colorado’s dioceses dating back 70 years.

Father Lawrence St. Peter is among other priests credibly accused of abuse. He became apostolic administrator of the Denver archdiocese in 1986 after the death of Archbishop James Casey, before future cardinal James Stafford took office. In his role as apostolic administrator and his previous role as vicar for clergy, he had access to personnel files.

The Colorado attorney general’s 2019 report on diocesan clergy sexual abuse said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” to confirm rumors that he used his access to destroy incriminating documents. The report cited a lack of abuse allegations and an absence of records of psychological treatment. The archdiocesan file lacked discussions of his “alcohol problems” and “homosexuality problems,” even though these were known by others in close contact with him.

Another prominent priest, the late Father James Beno, was a politician-priest who served in the state Senate for two terms from 1978-1986 as a Democrat from Pueblo. The reports indicate he was accused of sexually abusing at least four female victims from 1961 to 1974. One victim was as young as five years old, while another victim was a high school junior when the priest allegedly raped her.

As of Oct. 19, the three dioceses’ reparations and reconciliation program announced that $6.68 million had been paid to 73 victims of clerical abuse who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.

Denver’s Archbishop Aquila has previously invited Catholics to offer prayers and fasting for victims of sexual abuse on the first Friday of Lent.

 

Debate continues over who should get new COVID vaccines first

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 2, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- A federal health advisory committee proposed on Tuesday that health care workers and long-term care facility residents should be the first to receive a COVID vaccine, as a Catholic ethicist warned that vulnerable people, like the elderly, cannot be pushed to the back of the line.  

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) met virtually on Tuesday to discuss and vote on the “allocation of initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine,” or who should be the very first to receive the vaccine.

The meeting occurred after pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech, and Moderna, submitted their vaccine candidates for emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the FDA is expected to grant authorization in early December.

Once the vaccine is approved and distributed, the CDC committee said on Tuesday that health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities should be among the first to receive it.

According to CDC working group co-lead Kathleen Dooling, residents and staff of long-term care facilities accounted for six percent of the COVID cases in the U.S., but 40% of the deaths. Skilled nursing facilities alone accounted for more than 69,000 deaths so far.

Vaccination of these populations is important, she said, because of the ethical policy of “maximizing benefits” while “minimizing harm,” protecting health care personnel, preserving health care capacity, preventing the spread of the virus among high-risk populations and easing the burden on hospitals.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, tweeted on Tuesday that it was “so important” for the committee to prioritize not only health care workers, but nursing home residents and staff. Camosy has written before that the neglect of care of the elderly in nursing homes—manifested in a “wildfire of infection and death” during the pandemic—is an element of the “throwaway culture” condemned by Pope Francis.

The “real challenge,” Camosy said, is determining who would receive the vaccine after the initial administration phase. Under the CDC group’s proposed “Phase 1b,” which the committee briefly discussed on Tuesday, “essential workers” would receive it, with vulnerable adults—the elderly and those with high-risk medical conditions—being next in line after them.

Camosy argued that the “sick and the elderly” who are not in nursing homes should be prioritized for the vaccine over younger, healthier “essential” workers.

In August, CNA discussed who should get a COVID vaccine first with an ethicist from the  National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“All of those who come into contact with many different people through their ordinary line of work, they would be first in line,” bioethicist Edward Furton told CNA. People in this group might include first responders, physicians, nurses, and other health care workers, police officers, and public transit employees.

On Wednesday, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) issued a statement calling on governors to follow the ACIP proposal putting nursing home residents and staff among the first in line for the vaccine.

“More than 100,000 long term care residents have died from this virus in the U.S. and our nursing homes are now experiencing the worst outbreak of new cases since last spring with more than 2,000 residents succumbing to this virus each week,” stated Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. 

Under the ACIP proposals discussed and voted on Tuesday afternoon, the first phase of vaccine allocation (1a) would target health care personnel at hospitals, outpatient clinics, public health services, and long-term care facilities.

Residents of the long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living centers, and other residential care facilities, would also be prioritized for a vaccine.

The next vaccine phase would target “essential workers,” who cannot work remotely. After that, vulnerable adults would be prioritized for a vaccine, or adults with high-risk medical conditions or seniors age 65 and over.

Within the first bracket, ACIP members discussed who should get a vaccine first in long-term care settings, or if both residents and staff should receive vaccines simultaneously.

Executive secretary Dr. Amanda Cohn said that most facilities might conduct vaccinations simultaneously, but some jurisdictions might vaccinate the personnel first because of supply issues.

Liaison representative Dr. Robert Gluckman endorsed the policy of vaccinating long-term care residents and staff simultaneously.

“If elderly are to be vaccinated,” he added, they would need guidance on any adverse effects or side effects of the vaccine.

The board members also discussed “sub-prioritization,” or who among health care workers should receive the vaccine first. There would be enough doses to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December, members said, and sub-prioritization would be necessary earlier in the month when doses are still limited.

Those with direct patient contact who are unable to telework, such as those providing services or handling infectious materials in inpatient or outpatient settings, should possibly be prioritized, Dr. Sarah Oliver said in her presentation.

Long-term care personnel, and personnel without a known infection in the previous 90 days, should also be prioritized, Oliver said.