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Catholic Florida State student ousted from student senate alleges religious discrimination

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 30, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).-  

A federal court heard arguments on Tuesday in the case of Jack Denton, the Catholic student ousted from Florida State University’s student senate in June.

Denton, the former head of the student senate, sued university and student officials Aug. 31, alleging that his religious freedom was violated when he was removed from his position for remarks he made in a private chat forum of Catholic students.

On Tuesday, at the Northern District of Florida federal court, lawyers for Denton and for university administrators and student representatives presented their arguments.

“Jack cannot be deprived of an educational benefit, the right to participate in the student senate on the same grounds as everybody else, simply because his beliefs are not popular on campus,” his attorney Tyson Langhofer, with the group Alliance Defending Freedom, told CNA after the hearing.

“No student should ever feel forced to silence their deepest convictions” in order to keep a student government position, he said. “He [Jack] may not have popular beliefs. That doesn’t mean he can be excluded from participation and they can impose a religious test on him.”

Denton, a rising senior at the university, was removed from his position as head of the university’s student senate in early June over remarks he made in a GroupMe chat forum of the school’s Catholic student union in late May.

As students discussed racial justice and financially supporting various organizations, Denton outlined concerns with policy positions of the groups ACLU,, and Reclaim the Block which he said conflicted with Church teaching.

Denton said that “ fosters ‘a queer-affirming network’ and defends transgenderism,” while the ACLU “defends laws protecting abortion facilities and sued states that restrict access to abortion.” The Black Lives Matter Global Network in September removed a page from its website which had previously promoted the positions Denton challenged in May.

The group Reclaim the Block, Denton said, “claims less police will make our communities safer and advocates for cutting PD’s budgets.” The claim “is a little less explicit,” he said, “but I think it’s contrary to the Church’s teaching on the common good.”

Later, in an interview with CNA, Denton said that he intervened in the GroupMe chat because he felt a “responsibility to point out this discrepancy, to make sure that my fellow Catholics knew what they were partaking in.”

One of the students in the forum took a screenshot of Denton’s comments and sent them to a member of the student senate. A student senate motion of no-confidence in Denton failed on June 3, but on June 5 the senate held another vote and removed Denton from office.

Langhofer told CNA on Tuesday that Denton’s removal was unlawful; the FSU student senate is a state actor by virtue of both its incorporation at a public university and its creation by a state statute. Denton could not be removed from this position simply for taking an unpopular policy stance, he said.

“There is very, very strong law with a lot of precedent saying very clearly that students don’t forfeit their religious freedom when they step on to a public university campus,” he said.

The defendants in the case—FSU president John Thrasher and two other officials, as well as the president and president pro tempore of the student senate—“don’t dispute that Jack was removed unconstitutionally because of his religious beliefs,” Langhofer told CNA. They did, however, dispute that they were personally liable in Jack’s case, he said.

Denton is pushing for a preliminary injunction on his removal, which the judge did not indicate when he would rule on it, Langhofer said.

In the seven-hour hearing which resulted in Denton’s removal, he showed “incredible courage and incredible resilience,” Langhofer said.

“Jack listened to every one of those students saying bad things about him simply because of his religious beliefs, and when he was given the opportunity to respond, what he said was, he said that every one of you are created in the image of God and you are loved, and you’re valued more than the entire universe,” Langhofer recounted.


Trump and Biden clash over Barrett nomination, abortion, in fiery debate

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The future of Roe v. Wade and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court were raised in Tuesday night’s presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. 

While the 90-minute debate, held in Cleveland, Ohio, was marked by fiery exchanges from both candidates, with frequent interruptions during answers, both presidential candidates did offer some remarks on abortion and the Supreme Court.

Moderator Chris Wallace asked the candidates about Trump’s recent nomination of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, and for their thoughts about how Barrett might change the balance of the court. 

Trump, who answered first, said that Barrett was a “phenomenal nominee” who had the support of “very liberal people from Notre Dame and other places.” Barrett, said Trump, is “going to be fantastic.” 

“She’s going to be as good as anybody that has served on that court,” said Trump. The president defended his nomination of the judge during an election year, which has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers, who contrast the nomination with the Senate’s 2016 refusal to have a hearing on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the court. Trump said that the Republican Party controls both the Senate and the presidency and therefore has the votes to confirm his nominee. In 2016, under President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party did not have the votes in the Senate to move forward with the confirmation process. 

“They had Merrick Garland, but the problem is they didn’t have the election so they were stopped,” said Trump. “And probably that would happen in reverse, also. Definitely would happen in reverse.”

Trump added that he was elected to serve as president for four years, not three years, and had the right to fill vacancies in the Supreme Court any time they arose during his four-year term. 

Biden said that the Senate should “wait” when it comes to confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court, saying that “The American people have a right to have a say in who the Supreme Court nominee is and that say occurs when they vote for United States senators and when they vote for the president of the United States.”

“They’re not going to get that chance now because we’re in the middle of an election already,” said Biden, noting that many people have already cast their votes. 

Biden was also asked if, should he be elected, he would support efforts to add justices to the Supreme Court beyond the nine now prescribed by law. Biden declined repeatedly to answer the question.

Biden said that the Affordable Care Act, legislation that was passed while he was serving as vice president, was at stake due to Barrett’s potential presence on the court. 

“And the justice--I’m not opposed to the justice--she seems like a very fine person,” said Biden. “But she’s written, before she went on the bench, which is her right, that she thinks that the Affordable Care Act is not constitutional. The other thing that’s on the court, and if it’s struck down, what happens? Women’s rights are fundamentally changed.” 

The former vice president, a Catholic and strong supporter of expanded access to abortion, also suggested that abortion rights could be at risk if Barrett is confirmed to the Supreme Court. 

“The point is that the president also is opposed to Roe v. Wade,” said Biden. “That’s on the ballot as well and the court, in the court, and so that’s also at stake right now.”

Trump pushed back at the apparent notion that overturning the Roe v. Wade decision was on the ballot this November, saying that “it’s not on the ballot.” 

“There’s nothing happening there,” Trump said, referring apparently to the issue of abortion at the Supreme Court. Trump did not elaborate.

Wallace said the conversation would eventually return to Roe v. Wade, but the topic was not again raised during the debate. 

Public, faith-based schools in Los Angeles call for return to in-person learning

CNA Staff, Sep 30, 2020 / 12:03 am (CNA).- A group of public, private, and faith-based school officials, as well as physicians and parents, are arguing for a return to in-person learning in Los Angeles schools after seven months of only virtual instruction.

The Students First coalition argues that safe in-person learning is possible during the coronavirus pandemic with proper protocols in place. The group also argues that keeping schools closed disenfranchises the poor and treats schools differently than other businesses, like restaurants and day cares, which have been allowed to reopen.

“We are urging our County Board of Supervisors and Department of Public Health to put Students First by creating a pathway to safely reopen schools,” the group said in a statement.

“Since March of this year, more than 1.4 million children have been prohibited from in-person instruction in schools throughout the county,” the coalition stated in a September 28 letter to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. It warned that almost seven months of isolation has led to “social, emotional, mental and instructional harm on students and their families.”

After school officials spent months working with county public health officials to establish safe reopenings, trust in public health officials has been “fractured” due to “recent decisions by the department of public health to shift from quantifiable, transparent public health metrics to ambiguous, fluid timetables to determine a return to school,” the coalition stated.

Signatories of the letter include Paul M. Escala, superintendent of schools and senior director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Tom Konjoyan, head of Village Christian School and representative for LA County Christian Schools Coalition; Dr. Casey J. Nagel with the American Academy of Pediatrics; as well as representatives from Christian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Waldorf, Seventh Day Adventist and Jewish schools in the county.

The coronavirus pandemic shuttered schools across the country last March, and has led to tenuous and contentious reopenings this fall in many cities throughout the country. Most schools have had to adopt some kind of “hybrid” plan, with some in-person students and virtual learning available for students who choose to continue to learn at home. Schools have also had to come up with contingency plans in the case of a coronavirus outbreak in their school or community.

In June, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles released an 18-page document entitled, “Starting the School Year Smart,” with health and safety guidelines that would allow for the reopening of their schools in the fall. In July, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the reopening of Los Angeles schools would be delayed “indefinitely,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

On September 10, the Los Angeles Times reported that schools in the county would not be allowed to return to in-person learning until at least November. The news came after two calls between county public health and school officials.

On September 14, small groups of students with special needs were allowed to return to in-person learning, at no more than 10% capacity for any given school. Priority was given to students with disabilities and those learning English.

County officials said the small groups of students with special needs would allow for some 200,000 students to return to in-person learning. However, the coalition noted in its letter that after two weeks, according to county data, only 10,000 students so far were participating in in-person learning.

The coalition stated that while it applauded the return of students with special needs to in-person learning, many private and parochial schools were too small to afford such a limited return, and that they had already seen a drop in enrollment and loss of funds since the pandemic began. But their small size could be a boon when it comes to social distancing during in-person learning, the group added.

The coalition also said that their schools had anticipated a return to in-person learning for their elementary students under state-approved waivers, which would allow for reopenings in counties with less than 200 cases per 100,000 residents. The county of Los Angeles met that metric for four weeks, and yet elementary schools remained closed, the coalition noted.

As of August 26, The Mercury News reported that more than 100 such waivers had been granted to other schools in the state of California, and only four applications had been turned down.

The coalition told county officials that their schools are prepared to meet the needs of families who want to keep their children home with hybrid plans of virtual and in-person learning, but that in-person learning should be phased in as soon as possible.

Poor families who are struggling to afford daycare for their children who would otherwise be in school are among those who suffer the most with continued school closures, the coalition stated.

“For many families, the cost of school-hour day care is impossible to afford and inaccessible to reach. Affording $200-$500 per child, per week disenfranchises the very communities who are already disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group stated in their letter to the county board of supervisors.

Schools are also being treated differently than other businesses that have been allowed to reopen, the coalition added, and children have accounted for a very small percentage of the coronavirus cases seen in the county thus far.

“Life during the pandemic has gone on for many in our community – why not students?” the group stated.

“Restaurants, gyms, hair salons and barbershops, libraries, hotels, childcare and day camps, some retail and other consumer outlets are open with modifications. In fact, according to LACDPH (Los Angeles County Department of Public Health), among the 7,238 day-care facilities that have been open as of the end of July, 75 cases among children have been reported. This equals approximately 0.00029 percent of total cases in LA County.”

The coalition stated in a press release that it is seeking four “action steps” from county officials. The first is that county officials “communicate transparent, data-driven public health metrics to reopen schools.”

The second is that transitional kindergarteners through third graders are allowed to return to in-person learning “immediately” under the state waiver guidelines.

Third is that schools will be allowed to “phase-in reopening of upper grades (4-8 and 9-12) on two-week intervals based on achievement of public health milestones aligned with the State of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

And finally, the group asked for the restoration of the Department of Public Health’s K-12 working group “to provide regular input to department leadership on guidance and protocols from school administrators and local health care experts.”

“Students have no do-overs with regard to their education. Students are falling behind and suffering emotionally. Distance learning is an inadequate solution for many children,” the coalition concluded in its letter.

“The lack of academic and social development of students by remaining isolated will not only impact their own lives, but those of our future as a society. A safe and balanced approach to in-person instruction starting with our youngest students is possible. We need you to act.”

The coalition is urging concerned families to contact the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to advocate for a return to in-person learning, through a form that can be found on the California Catholic Conference’s website.


People of Praise hacked before Amy Coney Barrett nomination

Denver Newsroom, Sep 29, 2020 / 08:50 pm (CNA).-  

Days before Judge Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court, the website of the People of Praise was hacked, CNA has learned. The hack breached the membership database of the charismatic community, in which Barrett and her family are reportedly members.

“On September 21, 2020, our security staff identified an incident via our website involving unauthorized access to contact information in our membership directory,” Sean Connolly, a spokesman for the group, said Tuesday night in response to questions from CNA about the hack.

“No further details, such as parties that may have initiated this incursion, are known, and we have provided our members with resources should they notice suspicious activity,” Connolly added.

Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court Sept. 26.

By Sept. 21, the federal judge had emerged as a front-runner for the Supreme Court seat that was vacated when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18.

Amid speculation regarding Barrett’s possible appointment, numerous media reports focused on the People of Praise, the Indiana-based ecumenical charismatic community to which Barrett reportedly belongs.

The group was characterized by some pundits as a cult, falsely reported to be the inspiration for a dystopian novel, and erroneously reported to require members to adhere to a secret agreement, which is in fact posted on its website.

People of Praise was also criticized by some pundits because it does not disclose its membership, which defenders say is a common policy among religious organizations.

In that context, sources told CNA that the group’s membership database was hacked, which Connolly confirmed Tuesday night.

While the People of Praise declined to speculate about who might have been responsible for the hack, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNA that some “community members were contacted by national media outlets within 36 hours of the [database] incursion,” which the source called an “alarming coincidence.”

Connolly told CNA that “steps were immediately taken to address the incident, including notifying appropriate federal law enforcement and our members.”

“We take the security and privacy of all members of our community seriously,” he emphasized.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of the era's “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” Bishop Peter Smith, who belongs to an affiliated association of Catholic priests, told CNA in 2018.

The group began with 29 members who formed a “covenant”- an agreement, not an oath, to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Covenant communities- Protestant and Catholic- emerged across the country in the 1970s, as a part of the Charismatic Renewal movement in American Christianity.

While most People of Praise members are Catholic, the group is officially ecumenical; people from a variety of Christian denominations can join. Members of the group are free to attend the church of their choosing, including different Catholic parishes, Smith explained.

“We're a lay movement in the Church,” Smith told CNA. “There are plenty of these. We continue to try and live out life and our calling as Catholics, as baptized Christians, in this particular way, as other people do in other callings or ways that God may lead them into the Church.”

Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing and a Senate vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court are expected to take place at the end of October, shortly before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Correction: The People of Praise originally told CNA the date of the hack was Sept. 23. A spokesman contacted CNA after the publication of this story to say he had spoken in error, and the date of the hack was Sept. 21. CNA has amended this report to reflect that date.


'A consensus-builder': Amy Coney Barrett's legal rulings

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 29, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is a “consensus-builder” who applies the law as written without consulting her own religious beliefs, according to her colleagues and fellow lawyers.

“Judge Barrett’s judicial views, the record reflects, are not anomalous. They’re squarely mainstream,” Stephanie Barclay, a Notre Dame law professor who has also worked at the religious freedom law firm Becket, told CNA.

More than 95% of Barrett’s majority opinions on the Seventh Circuit court were unanimous, Barclay said, emphasizing her ability to unite colleagues around her conclusion. 

Carter Snead, another Notre Dame law professor, wrote in the Washington Post recently that Barrett “has an incandescent mind that has won the admiration of colleagues across the ideological spectrum.”

“Time and again, I have seen her gently reframe a colleague’s arguments to make them stronger, even when she disagreed with them. And she is not afraid to change her own mind in the search for the truth, as I have seen in several of our faculty seminars,” he wrote.

As far as Barrett’s legal philosophy, it is that of “judicial restraint,” Notre Dame law professor Paolo Carozza told CNA.

When being considered for the Seventh Circuit court in 2017, Barrett was asked in writing by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) how she defined her approach to the law. Barrett replied that she would apply relevant Supreme Court precedent—previous rulings by the Court—to determine a case; if the existing precedent was insufficient to settle the case, she said she would apply the text of the Constitution.

“Where precedent applies, it controls. If precedent does not settle an issue, I would interpret the Constitution with reference to its text, history, and structure,” she said.

This legal reasoning leaves the crafting of law to democratically-elected legislators and not judges, Carozza said.

In 2017, the influence of Barrett’s religious beliefs on her legal reasoning were questioned, with Sen. Feinstein notably telling her in person that “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.”

A 1998 article Barrett co-authored as a law student with law professor John Garvey was also the subject of questioning from Democratic senators. In the article, Barrett addressed the possibility of Catholic judges recusing themselves in capital cases, where the death penalty may be legal but their conscience might be opposed to its use.

Democratic senators asked her if she would rule in favor of the death penalty despite her conscience—or if she would recuse herself in another case where she might experience a conflict of conscience, such as an abortion case.

Barrett said in her response to written questions from Sen. Feinstein that “I cannot think of any cases or category of cases, including capital cases, in which I would feel obliged to recuse on grounds of conscience if confirmed as a judge on the Seventh Circuit.”

She added that, as a clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, she worked on capital cases.

Barrett is strongly opposed to reaching a legal conclusion via any religious belief, Carozza said.

She believes that it is the “fundamental responsibility of the judge to do everything she can to keep her personal commitments from getting in the way of fidelity to what the law actually says, and what it meant to those who adopted it,” he said.

“And I think Amy takes that very seriously. So she will not interpret a provision of the Constitution or a federal statute in a way that’s simply designed to align with whatever her moral and religious beliefs are. She will be quite determined to set that aside.”

Asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) about abortion in 2017, Barrett responded that, if confirmed, she would “resolve any case, including abortion cases, by engaging in the judicial process, which includes examining the facts, reading the briefs, conducting necessary research, hearing argument, consulting with colleagues, and writing and/or reading opinions.”

Barrett has been involved in multiple abortion cases at the Seventh Circuit, joining opinions or dissents that focused on Supreme Court precedent.

She heard a challenge to Chicago’s eight-foot “buffer zone” rule, barring pro-life sidewalk counselors from approaching within eight feet of an abortion facility.

Barrett joined the court majority in upholding the city’s rule, because of Supreme Court precedent in Hill v. Colorado. “While the Supreme Court has deeply unsettled Hill, it has not overruled the decision. So it remains binding on us,” stated the majority opinion to which Barrett joined.

Barrett also joined Judge Frank Easterbrook’s dissent in the case Planned Parenthood v. Commissioner of Indiana in June of 2018. Indiana had banned abortions that were based on the sex, race, or disability of a child, and had also required that the remains of aborted babies be cremated or buried.

Easterbrook—joined by Barrett—argued that Supreme Court precedent has not overturned sex-selective abortion or similar race or disability-based abortions. Regarding the fetal remains law, the court could not strike it down just by ruling that an unborn baby is not a person, Easterbrook said, noting that the courts elsewhere have upheld animal-welfare statutes out of respect for animals.

Barrett’s religious beliefs have been the subject of some discussion and criticism of late. In her 2006 commencement address to Notre Dame Law graduates, she exhorted graduates to “always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end,” and “that end is building the kingdom of God.”

Barrett is also a member of the ecumenical group People of Praise, that has been described in the media as a “cult” where, according to a former practice, husbands and wives were given the Scriptural references of “heads” and “handmaidens.” Members originally formed a covenant where they agreed to tithe, live according to Christian beliefs, and meet regularly for acts of service.

Barclay, who previously worked at the religious freedom law firm Becket, has represented people of various faiths, and said that the practices of People of Praise “are totally commonplace across a lot of different religious practices.”

The group’s beliefs—and Barrett’s statement about “building the Kingdom of God”—are not uncommon, she said.

“Most religious people I know, and many non-religious people I know, view the work that they’re doing as part of something greater than themselves, as a means of trying to give back to their community, trying to rise above their own self-interests,” Barclay said.

“If we’re going to cast aspersions on that, we’re disenfranchising the majority of religious people and many non-religious people in America,” she said.

Catholic University president John Garvey, who taught Barrett at Notre Dame Law School, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that Barrett’s religious beliefs cannot disqualify her from public office, under the Constitution.

“After she graduated from law school, I wrote a one-line letter of recommendation for her to Justice Antonin Scalia: ‘Amy Coney is the best student I ever had.’ He was wise to hire her as a clerk,” Garvey wrote.

The Constitution, he said, guarantees “a tolerant pluralism in our country.”

Barrett’s opinions and dissents show that she focused on Supreme Court precedent and the text of existing laws to examine individual cases.

In one recent case on the court, Barrett ruled against the Trump administration in the case of an immigrant applying for a U visa.

In Yeison Meza Morales v. Barr, decided on June 26 and amended on Sept. 3, Barrett considered the case of a Mexican citizen who entered the United States as a child and applied for a U visa as an adult. When Morales was ordered removed by an immigration judge as his application was still ongoing, he appealed.

Barrett ruled that the order of removal was wrongly decided and allowed Morales’ petition for the case to be reviewed.

In another immigration case, Barrett denied the asylum appeal of an El Salvadoran citizen, saying that his asylum claim based on a fear of torture in El Salvador was too speculative and she could not over rule an immigration court under the existing legal standards.

In a fair wage case involving GrubHub drivers and overtime pay, Barrett authored the majority opinion that ruled against them.

The drivers had pressed for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and argued in court that they could not be compelled to arbitration under an agreement they had signed, as they were engaged in interstate commerce.

Citing Supreme Court precedent, Barrett ruled that the workers did not meet the definition of interstate workers actively involved in moving goods across state lines, and thus were not exempt under existing law from court-ordered arbitration.

While she never ruled directly on the Affordable Care Act, she was critical of the 2012 decision that upheld the law’s individual mandate, in a 2017 article in Constitutional Commentary. She wrote that Chief Justice John Roberts interpreted the law “beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”

San Francisco to allow up to 100 people at indoor worship services

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The office of San Francisco's mayor announced Tuesday that places of worship will be permitted to hold services indoors at 25% capacity, up to 100 people, beginning Wednesday.

Restaurants will also be allowed to reopen for indoor dining at 25% capacity, up to 100 people.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco thanked the mayor, as well as the thousands of Catholics who urged that they be permitted to attend Mass.

“I want to thank Mayor London Breed for recognizing that faith is essential. As well, I want to thank the thousands of San Francisco Catholics and others who joined the processions, the more than 35,000 who signed the petition … came to St. Mary Cathedral’s outdoor plaza to witness to our faith, wrote letters to the editor or op-eds, and who generally spoke up with one united voice under the banner: We are essential! Free the Mass,” the archbishop said Sept. 29.

Breed's office announced Sept. 29 that the expanded limits on places of worship will take effect Sept. 30.

The release attributed the changes to San Francisco's move from California's red, or substantial risk, tier, to the orange, or moderate risk, tier.

The California government's Covid-19 website says that “counties in the Widespread (purple) tier may open some businesses and activities with modifications, including all retail, shopping centers at maximum 25% capacity, and hair salons and barbershops indoors.”

San Francisco authorities have been allowing capacities of between 10 and 50% at venues like gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares.

The US Department of Justice had on Sept. 25 warned San Francisco officials that its restrictions on public worship in the city may be unconstitutional.

The city has been allowing only one worshipper at a time in places of worship, regardless of the building's size, while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor establishments.

Until Sept. 14, public worship in the city was restricted to 12 participants outdoors, with indoor services prohibited. Beginning Sept. 14, 50 people were allowed at outdoor religious services.

Beginning Sept. 30, outdoor worship services may have up to 200 people. Singing or chanting indoors will be prohibited, and “the place of worship must conduct a health check of patrons before they enter the facility.”

Archbishop Cordileone said that “respect for each other’s rights and compassion for each other’s needs are core San Francisco values. God bless Mayor Breed for responding to her constituents’ call.”

He added, however, that “California’s limit of no more than 100 people inside of a house of worship regardless of the size of the building is still unjust. We want and we intend to worship God safely: with masks, social distancing, sanitation, ventilation, and other such safety protocols. But we will not accept believers being treated more severely than other, comparable secular activities.”

'Virus' of anti-Catholicism behind criticism of Amy Coney Barrett, says Chaput

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Criticism of Amy Coney Barrett is part of a “virus” of anti-Catholic “bigotry,” retired Archbishop Charles Chaput said on Monday. The archbishop warned that public attacks on the Supreme Court nominee’s faith constitute a wider threat to religious liberty.

Chaput, long considered a leading intellectual among American Catholic bishops, retired as Archbishop of Philadelphia in January. Since then he has mostly refrained from public speaking. In his essay on Monday, he addressed the public criticism of Judge Barrett, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Donald Trump on Saturday. 

Writing in the magazine First Things, Chaput said that “those who value our First Amendment right to religious freedom should realize that tests about belief are attacks on religious liberty.” 

Criticism of Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven children, has focused on her faith, and her family life.

Several media outlets have focused on Barrett’s membership of People of Praise, a charismatic ecumenical community founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1971. 

This line of criticism, said Chaput, is “a harbinger of future attacks on the Church itself and on any Catholic who holds with [the Church’s] enduring moral witness.” 

Barrett previously came to national attention during her 2017 Senate confirmation hearings after she was nominated by the president for the U.S. Court of Appeals. During that process, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated that “the dogma lives loudly” within Barrett and “that’s a concern.” 

The archbishop described Feinstein’s “concern” as “Know Nothing-style vulgarity,” and said she is “hardly alone in her bigotry”.

“Disdain for vigorous religious convictions, especially the Catholic kind, is a virus that’s going around,” said Chaput.

“It seems to infect a number of Democratic senators, including Sen. Kamala Harris, Feinstein’s California colleague and vice presidential nominee, who saw looming peril in that dangerous national conspiracy otherwise known as the Knights of Columbus.”  

But, Chaput said, Feinstein’s comments “help us see clearly how some in our political class now view Catholics who are more than merely ‘nominal’ in their faith.”

Everyone who is baptized Catholic is, in the technical sense, a Catholic regardless of their actions, said Chaput, and “in the eyes of the Democratic party, that’s not a problem.” 

“If you’re photographed with your rosary beads at prayer--even better,” he continued, noting that overt cultural religious affiliation was seen by many as acceptable, as long as it did not imply doctrinal adherence. 

“But if you’re the kind of Catholic who seeks to discipline his or her life around Catholic beliefs regarding marriage and family, religious freedom, sex, and abortion—well, that’s a different matter,” he said, noting that observant Catholic Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) lost his seat in a primary earlier this year that centered mainly on his pro-life views. 

“Catholics in this country spent more than a century fighting their way into the American mainstream. The cost has been high,” said Chaput. 

The current Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden, is a Catholic but has taken several political positions that run counter to Church teaching but are in line with his own party’s platform, such as support for legalized abortion until birth, and support for same-sex marriage. Biden has pledged to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, precluding state limits on abortion. 

“To the degree that self-described Catholic political leaders are indistinguishable in their views and actions from their colleagues with no faith at all, the cost has been far too high,” said Chaput. 

“A politics of democratic pluralism requires that differences of belief must be respected,” he said. “Catholics do rightly demand civility and respect for the teachings of their Church, especially from a Senate supposedly informed by a spirit of service to the whole nation.”

The archbishop said that “positioning dissenting Catholics as ‘mainstream Americans’ and believing Catholics as ‘extremists’” is now a “common and thoroughly dishonest culture war technique,” and “a particular affront to the free exercise of religion.” 

Chaput said that the present “hostility toward those who support Catholic teaching” should not only concern Catholics in the United States, but also “anyone who values the First Amendment.”

“If attacks on belief are an acceptable standard by which to impugn judicial nominees today, then tomorrow they’ll be used on the rest of us who uphold the teachings of our faith,” he said. “It puts the rights of far more Americans at risk than will ever be nominated for the court.”

Cardinal Burke: Biden should not receive Holy Communion

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 01:02 pm (CNA).-  

Cardinal Raymond Burke, a canon lawyer and formerly the prefect of the Church’s highest court, has said that Catholic politicians supporting abortion should not receive Holy Communion, including pro-choice Catholic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Biden “is not a Catholic in good standing and he should not approach to receive Holy Communion,” Burke said in an Aug. 31 interview with Thomas McKenna, who as head of an organization called Catholic Action for Faith and Family periodically conducts interviews with the cardinal.

“This is not a political statement, I don’t intend to get involved in recommending any candidate for office, but simply to state that a Catholic may not support abortion in any shape or form because it is one of the most grievous sins against human life, and has always been considered to be intrinsically evil and therefore to in any way support the act is a mortal sin.”

Asked specifically about Biden, Burke said he “has not only been actively supporting procured abortion in our country but has announced publicly in his campaign that he intends to make the practice of procured abortion available to everyone in the widest possible form and to repeal the restrictions on this practice which have been put in place.”

“So, first of all, I would tell him not to approach Holy Communion out of charity toward him, because that would be a sacrilege, and a danger to the salvation of his own soul.”

“But also he should not approach to receive Holy Communion because he gives scandal to everyone. Because if someone says ‘well, I’m a devout Catholic’ and at the same time is promoting abortion, it gives the impression to others that it’s acceptable for a Catholic to be in favor of abortion and of course it’s absolutely not acceptable. It never has been, it never will be.”

Buke was the Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Archbishop of St. Louis before in 2008 he was appointed prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest canonical court in the Church. The cardinal was the Signatura’s prefect until 2014 and remains a member of the court.

In 2007, Burke published in the prestigious canonical journal “Periodica” a scholarly article on the admission of Catholics in grave public sin to Holy Communion. The article is regarded by many canon lawyers as the definitive scholarly and technical treatment of the subject.

In the interview, obtained by CNA Tuesday, Burke said it is the historic teaching of the Church that those in a condition of grave sin should not be admitted to Holy Communion, citing St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians, that anyone who “eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty” and “eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

The cardinal discussed the notion of scandal, saying that “scandal means that you lead others into wrong thinking and wrong acting by your example.”

“If people were perhaps questioning in their mind about abortion, and they see this man who pronounces himself to be a devout and he’s promoting abortion in the strongest possible way, this leads people into error thinking well it must be morally acceptable to commit abortion and so the person then bears responsibility — not only the person who gives the scandal, not only for his own wrong actions in supporting abortion but also for leading others into thinking that abortion is acceptable,” Burke said.

“I can’t imagine that any Catholic wouldn’t know that abortion is a grievous sin, but if they don’t, once they’ve been told, then they either have to cease to support abortion or accept the fact they are not a Catholic in good standing and therefore should not present themselves for Holy Communion,” he added.

Burke explained that when he, as a diocesan bishop, became aware of pro-choice politicians in his dioceses, it was his practice to contact them “to make sure that they understood.”

If, after a conversation about the Church’s teaching on human life, they were “still unwilling to act accordingly then I simply had to tell them ‘you may not present yourselves for Holy Communion,’” the cardinal explained.

Burke’s comments drew from canons 915 and 916 of the Code of Canon Law, which explain that a person conscious of grave sin should not approach Holy Communion without first making a sacramental confession, and that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Among U.S. bishops, disagreement over the meaning of the canon, and its application to pro-choice Catholic politicians, has been ongoing since John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops, explaining the application of canon 915 to the question of pro-choice politicians.

The case of a Catholic politician who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter explained.

In such cases, “his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

If the individual perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Shortly after Ratzinger wrote that memo, the U.S. bishops agreed the application of those norms should be decided by individual bishops, rather than by the bishops’ conference, largely under the influence of Theodore McCarrick, then-Archbishop of Washington, who paraphrased the letter, which was not yet publicly available, but did not present it in its entirety to the bishops.

Some bishops have prohibited politicians advocating for “permissive abortion laws” from receiving communion, but others have demurred, or said outright they would not deny such politicians the Eucharist.

Asked by a journalist, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in October that he would not deny Biden Holy Communion. Before that, in January 2019, Dolan had said that he would not deny the Eucharist to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed into law one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country’s history.

Biden’s own shepherd, Bishop William Malooly, has said in the past that he does not want to “politicize” Holy Communion by denying it to politicians. Washington, D.C.’s ordinary, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, has said that the Eucharist should be denied only as a last resort, and is not on record as ever having done so.

Biden was in October 2019 denied the Eucharist at a South Carolina parish.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, told CNA after Biden was denied Holy Communion.

CNA reported after Biden was denied Holy Communion that the policy of the Charleston diocese requires priests to withhold the sacrament from politicians and political candidates who support legal protection for abortion.

“Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance,” says a 2004 decree signed jointly by the bishops of Atlanta, Charleston, and Charlotte.

In the interview released this week, Burke responded to those who say that Catholics ought not judge the interior dispositions of pro-choice poltiicians, among them Fr. James Martin, SJ, who was mentioned specifically by McKenna.

“We judge people on the basis of objective facts. On their actions, their public record, their public statements, and certainly, Vice President Biden hasn’t left any doubt in anyone’s mind what his position is. He clearly knows what the Church’s teaching is,” Biden said.

“God put an order into the world, killing, directly killing an unborn human life is evil no matter how you look at it….and of course the conscience can’t justify it in any way,” Burke added.

“Our heart isn’t something that’s hidden, our heart manifests itself in our actions. As our Lord said, we know the tree by its fruit,” the cardinal said.

Speaking on scandal, Burke recounted the story of a non-Catholic government official he knew who said he expected that Catholic teaching might change, or that the Church must not take it seriously because, Burke said, of the number of Catholics in Congress who voted for permissive abortion legislation.

“Catholics going around announcing themselves, and then on the other hand being 100% in favor of abortion, or in favor of abortion in any way, give a great scandal,” Burke said.

“The Church’s teaching on aboriton will never change because it’s part of the natural moral law. It’s part of the law which God has written on every human heart, namely that human life is to be safeguarded, and protected and promoted.”




Arizona pot proposal takes a hit with pushback from Catholic bishops

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Arizona bishops have registered their opposition to a ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, saying it would be harmful to families and children.

“It is anticipated that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona will lead to more abuse by teens, increase child fatalities, and result in more societal costs,”  they said in a Sept. 23 statement.

“Accordingly, due to these detrimental effects, we strongly oppose this dangerous proposal.”

Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, will appear on the ballot in the state in November. It would allow persons 21 and older to possess one ounce of marijuana, and provide for the sale of the drug.

The bishops noted that “Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana sends a message to children that drug use is socially and morally acceptable. As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on children and families.”

They said that “problematic marijuana use is 25 percent higher among teens in states that legalized recreational marijuana,” and that self-reported use of marijuana by middle- and high-schoolers in the state “has already increased over the past four years as perceptions of risk have fallen.”

They added that Arizona's most recent child fatality report “listed marijuana as a direct or contributing factor in almost as many child deaths as alcohol.”

The Arizona Supreme Court in August rejected a legal challenge to the initiative. Opponents of the measure argued that the summary of the measure its backers put on petitions was misleading and had omissions.

A 2016 report showed that traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits, and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in Colorado.

Released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in September, the report compared marijuana-related statistics from previous years in Colorado to data from 2013-2015, the first years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state, through ballot initiative, in November 2012.

Bishops across the US, as well as in the territory of Guam and in Canada, have also oppposed proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use in their jurisdictions.

Catholic service organizations ask Congress to pass new COVID relief bill

CNA Staff, Sep 29, 2020 / 10:57 am (CNA).- Leaders of Catholic organizations in the United States have called on members of Congress to set aside political differences and pass a new COVID-19 relief package to alleviate the hardships caused by the ongoing pandemic.

“While we understand there are differences on how to proceed on the COVID-19 stimulus bill, the many needs of the present situation cry out for relief,” said a September 25 letter signed by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as well as heads of six Catholic educational, health care, and charitable organizations.

Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the National Catholic Educational Association were among the groups represented in the letter, which was addressed to U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as party leaders in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Our nation is suffering a profound crisis, with over 200,000 lives lost, 30 million Americans relying on unemployment assistance, and health care workers continuing to fight COVID-19 surges,” the signatories said. “For those in need here and abroad, as well as for the common good, our nation’s leaders must do more.”

Progress on a new pandemic relief bill has stalled amid disputes in Congress over what such a bill should include. Republican leaders say legislation proposed by House Democrats offers too much in unemployment assistance and could deter people from returning to work. They also object to funding for state governments.

A leaner Senate GOP proposal would fund additional paycheck protection loans and other types of aid, but would not include additional food assistance or the second round of stimulus checks that leading Democrats have been advocating.

In their letter, the Catholic leaders stressed that organizations serving the vulnerable in the United States and abroad continue to see the impact of the pandemic on those seeking health care, education, and charitable aid.

“Families have lost loved ones in our hospitals; people are losing jobs; food insecurity has risen; staff of our respective ministries have become sick or lost their lives while bravely serving on the front lines; parishes, schools and universities have closed to keep our communities safe; and millions of people we serve around the world are falling deeper into despair.”

Many Catholic organizations have expanded their services in response to the ongoing needs created by the pandemic, the letter noted.

“Even though many schools, universities, parishes, and outreach efforts have had to temporarily close at times during the pandemic, our respective organizations have continued to stand in solidarity to assist those in need. Our staff have ventured into the streets to provide for the spiritual, health, educational, and social needs of millions of unemployed and hungry persons and families.”

But even with these efforts, the letter continued, many Americans are facing dire situations, including food insecurity, unemployment, loss of employer-sponsored health insurance, and inability to pay rent and other bills.

With charities facing additional financial strain from the increased needs in the community, lawmakers must step up to fill in the gaps, the Catholic leaders stressed.

“Doing nothing or delaying only ensures more people will suffer,” they said. “We therefore urge you to put aside partisan politics and prioritize human life and the common good by expediting negotiations to ensure not another day is lost in providing security and hope to people in need at home and abroad.”