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Illinois church reopening restrictions 'not mandatory'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuns put altar bread production on hold as they weather pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salesians in Bogota aid poor families hard hit by COVID lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amid transgender pressure, Australian medical conference to defend Christian vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mathieson encouraged Catholics to get informed on the topic.

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

German bishop quits synodal forum endorsing 'polyvalent sexuality'

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

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

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

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

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

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

Members of the Synodal Forum had been expected to accept the basic premise of a "polyvalent sexuality", the bishop said, which would predicate a change in the Church's teaching. No general debate of the presented paper been provided for, Schaderlapp said, which led to his decision to renounce his membership in the forum.

Speaking to CNA Deutsch, the bishop reflected on the papal documents Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Diocese of Pittsburgh announces next round of parish mergers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Catholic colleges work together to help students hit by closure

Washington D.C., May 28, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Two Catholic universities have struck up a plan to help students complete their degrees after one of the schools announced it would be unable to reopen for class in the next academic year.

The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., announced on Wednesday that it had agreed to accept students from the recently-shuttered Holy Family College, in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and was working to allow students to complete their studies – including online, if necessary. 

On May 4, the Wisconsin school announced it would be suspending operations at the end of August, 2020. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who administer the school, decided to close the college due to a combination of declining enrollment and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This announcement left Holy Family’s roughly 450 students scrambling for a way to continue their academic careers. 

“Under the new partnership, all eligible Holy Family College student credits will be accepted toward an equal or comparable degree program at Catholic University,” said a press release from The Catholic University of America on Wednesday.  

“Catholic U. will develop a pathway to graduation, offering the student the opportunity to complete his or her program over the same timeframe as was possible at Holy Family College,” said the school.  

While other universities nearby in Wisconsin also offered to open their doors to the former students of Holy Family College, none were Catholic. Catholic University of America president John Garvey said he hopes that his school can provide an option for students seeking to stay in a Catholic environment.  

Garvey told CNA that the president of Holy Family College contacted him, looking for possible arrangements for their students. 

“Being the national university of the Catholic Church, we were naturally anxious to help,” said Garvey. He described the decision to partner with the school as a “no-brainer, in the sense that being a good Samaritan is always a no-brainer.” 

Garvey described The Catholic University of America as “a kind of a natural home” for the students of the shuttered school, and potentially other schools facing financial crises. 

As the school is a large research university, Garvey said that Catholic University could be a “landing place for most any student, particularly those at other Catholic universities, if they want to find a place to finish their degree.” 

Garvey said they are still working out the details for many Holy Family College students transferring to Catholic U. The university does not offer all of the same programs as Holy Family College, and Washington is far from Wisconsin, where 80% of Holy Family’s students are from. But, Garvey said, the COVID-19 outbreak has actually created new pathways for these students through online learning. 

“Ironically, one of the upsides of dealing with the coronavirus in the springtime is that we have made huge investments in technology and in online education, so the investment that we’ve made will, in the future, enable many students like the kids from Holy Family to finish their degrees without leaving Wisconsin,” he said. 

This increased emphasis on technology has been a “bright side” to everything, he said. 

The Catholic University will be as “flexible” as possible in taking in students, provided they have met a certain GPA requirement that indicates they are likely to succeed in the university’s coursework. 

“We’re doing our best to slot people in, where they can finish out,” said Garvey.

Religious freedom in jeopardy as China passes new Hong Kong ‘security laws’

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- A Hong Kong cardinal told CNA that changes to Hong Kong’s status in China could threaten the religious freedom of Catholics and other religious believers.

The legislature of China on May 28 approved a resolution to impose new “security laws” on its formerly autonomous region, Hong Kong— a move pro-democracy protestors and Catholics in the country fear will undermine Hong Kongers’ freedoms, including freedom of religion.

The new laws aim to criminalize anything Beijing considers "foreign interference,” secessionist activities, or subversion of state power, the Washington Post reports. The laws also could allow Chinese security forces to operate in the city.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, told CNA that he worries that the new laws will be used to subvert the freedom of religion that Hong Kongers currently enjoy.

Hong Kong has had broad protections for the freedom of worship and for evangelization, while in mainland China, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

Most needed at the moment is prayer, Zen said.

"We have nothing good to hope for. Hong Kong is simply completely under [China's] control. We depend on China even for our food and water. But we put ourselves in the hands of God," Cardinal Zen told CNA in a May 27 interview.

Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China, meaning it has its own government but remains under Chinese control. It was a British colony until 1997, when it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which allowed for its own legislature and economic system.

Hong Kong’s openness to the outside world, and transparency in business and banking regulation, in contrast to mainland China, has made it a center of global business, banking, and finance.

China had announced May 21 a plan to enact so-called “security laws” affecting Hong Kong, with Chinese officials in Beijing saying that the National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature, would sidestep Hong Kong’s legislature and impose changes on the region.

The National People’s Congress’ annual session began May 22. After the May 28 vote, which passed 2,878 to 1, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam expressed her support for the new measures.

The resolution did not specify a timeline for Beijing to implement the new measures, though some lawmakers anticipate that detailed measures will be revealed in the next few months, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong— in which many Christians and Catholics participated— successfully rebuffed the legislature’s efforts last year to pass a controversial bill that would have allowed mainland China to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong.

Last weekend, protestors in Hong Kong turned out in large numbers to oppose China’s plans to impose the security laws.

Defying the city’s coronavirus restrictions— which currently prohibit gatherings greater than eight— thousands of protestors turned out on the streets May 24, with police arresting at least 180 and at least six protestors needing to be hospitalized because the police used tear gas and pepper spray, the New York Times reported.

More protests took place May 28 during which over 300 protestors were arrested.

Attendance was lower than the large-scale protests of last year, partly because of the virus, and partly because police are using more assertive tactics to quell protests before they occur, the Times reports. Protestors reportedly smashed at least one storefront and threw objects at police.

The citizens of Hong Kong are largely free to protest, though Hong Kong’s police have come under fire for harsh tactics in suppressing the crowds.

In January, China appointed Luo Huining as the head of the powerful Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong, who in April intensified calls for Communist China to exercise more control in Hong Kong by passing “national security legislation.”

Now that those tightened security laws have passed, the Commuist Chinese government is poised to have more power to suppress the protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Many of Hong Kong’s Catholic leaders, including Auxiliary Bishop Ha Chi-shing, have been publicly supportive of the protests. In April, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong called for the government to respond to the demands for which the pro-democracy demonstrators have been calling for months, which include an independent inquiry into police tactics.

Zen said although he believes many in the Catholic community in Hong Kong oppose China's actions, he worries that the Vatican will appoint a new bishop, sympathetic to Beijing, who may not be as insistent on democratic values.

"Even our [Catholic] community is divided, as everybody in Hong Kong must take sides. Even families are split," he commented.

The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without permanent leadership since January 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died unexpectedly. Since Yeung died, the diocese has been led temporarily by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Yeung’s predecessor, who retired from the post in 2017.

When CNA reported in January that a decision to appoint Father Peter Choy Wai-man as Hong Kong’s next bishop had received final approval in Rome, local clergy and lay Catholics expressed worry to CNA that Father Choy is too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government, with one source describing him as a "pro-Beijing hawk."

Zen said he worries that Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin will insist that the next bishop of Hong Kong have "the blessing of Beijing." 

"I think the majority of the faithful, the silent majority...they think that the authority is wrong. And you can just imagine, in all these years, with all the persecution increasing in China, with all the cruelties, the brutalities of the police on our young people— no word from the Vatican. No word. Not one word."

"We rely on help from heaven...from the human perspective, we have nothing to hope," he said.

On May 27, the US Department of State announced that, in light of China’s actions, it no longer recognizes Hong Kong as politically autonomous from China— a designation the region has enjoyed under US law since 1992. The announcement opens the door to possible sanctions against chinese officials and other measures including tariffs on goods coming from Hong Kong.

In addition, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada issued a joint statement calling the move a violation of China’s obligations under the 1997 treaty that turned Hong Kong over to China, the Wall Street Journal reports.  

Last week, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a resolution with more than ten cosponsors condemning the proposed law.

Zen told CNA that Beijing's efforts to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy have not come as a surprise to him, because Chinese President Xi Jinping had already installed leaders in Hong Kong loyal to him and to the CCP.

"There is no more 'one country, two systems.' [China] didn't dare to say it in those exact words, but the fact is there,” Zen said.

“Now, with the [legislature], they will legitimize all that they are doing.”

Still, Zen expressed some puzzlement at China's most recent actions, which have led the US to declare that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous, because "everyone knows" that Hong Kong's system is useful to China.

"Everybody understands that Hong Kong is very useful to China for the exchange of currency and many other things— investment by foreign enterprises...and now, they are ready to destroy everything, and we can do nothing because Hong Kong is a small thing— [China] can crush it as they like," Zen said.

"I think the international community should feel a moral duty to [protect] this city, where we live according to international values. And also for their own interest, because the destruction of our system in Hong Kong is not good for anybody."

Similar security rules have been proposed before; in 2003, the Communist government attempted to use Hong Kong’s own legislative and executive councils to pass the anti-sedition measures, but massive protests led lawmakers to abandon the proposal.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law requires the city to pass its own laws against “secessionist, subversive” and other activities that threaten state security. But in 2003, the Hong Kong government started making a similar law but "in a very bad way," Zen said— the draft of the law was insufficient, and the government allowed only a very brief consultation period.

"We are not against having a law, but we want it to be well formulated. Because the law they were presenting was against all our freedoms," he said.

The situation is deteriorating after 2003, so there's no opportunity for Hong Kong's legislature to create a "good law," he said.

"We would not accept any law made by a government that does not represent the people,"  Zen insisted.

"Because they promised democratic elections, but they went back on their promises...in this moment there is nothing in view that suggests a real, democratic election. And so I think now Xi Jinping is under pressure, both from the international community and also from inside China— from his enemies in the government— and so Hong Kong is kind of a thorn in his side. And so he just wants to get rid of that."

The day after Beijing announced its intention to pass the anti-sedition laws, the Diocese of Hong Kong announced the resumption of public Masses amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

According to apostolic administrator Cardinal John Tong, weekday public Masses will resume in the diocese June 1, and Sunday public Masses on June 7.

Churches remain limited to half capacity in Hong Kong; Catholics will still have the option of attending Mass online and receiving spiritual communion.

 

Ed Condon contributed to this report.

 

St. Cloud diocese reaches settlement on abuse claims, will file for bankruptcy

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota will pay $22.5 million into a trust for sexual abuse survivors, under a plan that involves filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The diocese announced Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with abuse survivors on a framework for settling all abuse claims filed against the diocese and local parishes.

“This framework for resolution represents the diocese’s commitment to finding a fair resolution for survivors of sexual abuse while continuing its ministry to those it serves throughout the 16-county diocese,” it said.

“I am particularly grateful to the survivors of abuse for their courage in coming forward and sharing their experiences, and I again apologize on behalf of the Church for the harm they suffered,” Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud said in a statement.

He thanked the people of the diocese for their prayers and reiterated his commitment to aiding in the healing process for those who have been abused, including by meeting with any victims who wish to meet with him.

“Reaching an agreement on a framework for resolution prior to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy significantly reduces administrative fees in the bankruptcy and preserves a larger estate to fund the trust for survivors,” he said.

The diocese said it will be filing for bankruptcy “in the near future.” Under the plan, money to compensate abuse victims will come from insurance settlements and cash and property contributions from the diocese and local parishes, it said.

The diocese stressed its dedication to accountability and healing from past abuse, as well as efforts to prevent abuse in the future. Safe environment training and background checks are required for clergy, parish, school, and diocesan employees. Allegations are reported to authorities swiftly, and clergy are carefully screened starting in their seminary years before they are permitted to serve in the diocese, the statement said.

As part of its commitment to transparency and accountability, the diocese said it has committed to releasing the names and files of all clergy members who have been credibly accused of abuse. That list currently contains 41 names, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

The Diocese of St. Cloud first announced its plan to declare bankruptcy in March 2018, faced with 74 civil claims alleging the sexual abuse of minors, some dating back to the 1950s. It said parishes, schools and ministries should not be affected by the filing.

St. Cloud was the fourth diocese in Minnesota to declare bankruptcy after the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act in 2013, which lifted the civil statute of limitations for child abuse allegations until May 2016, giving alleged victims three years in which to file claims for abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago.

During the three-year window provided for by the Minnesota Child Victims Act, more than six hundred claims were filed against Catholic dioceses in Minnesota leading to bankruptcy announcements from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Diocese of New Ulm, and Diocese of Duluth.

Transgender athlete policy violates Title IX, Education department rules

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Connecticut high school sports policy allowing biologically male athletes to compete in female events is a Title IX violation, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ruled on Thursday.  

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) adopted a policy in 2017 allowing high school student athletes to compete in sports based on their “preferred gender identity.”

Several female track athletes filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last year, alleging that the policy violated Title IX. They have been represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

On Thursday, the office ruled that the policy was indeed a violation, Associated Press reported.

After the policy was implemented by CIAC, two male students who identified as female--Terry Miller of Bloomfield High School and Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell High School--were allowed to compete during the 2018 outdoor track season; one of them had previously competed in the 2018 male indoor track season.

One of the two male runners now holds 10 state records for female track that were previously held by 10 different female runners; the two runners have won 15 women’s state championship titles.

Chelsea Mitchell, one of the athletes who filed the complaint, said she was “extremely happy” at the ruling. 

“It feels like we are finally headed in the right direction, and that we will be able to get justice for the countless girls along with myself that have faced discrimination for years,” Mitchell said. 

“It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something. Finally, the government has recognized that women deserve the right to compete for victory, and nothing less.”

ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement that “girls shouldn’t be reduced to spectators in their own sports.” 

“We’re encouraged that the Department of Education has officially clarified that allowing males to compete in the female category isn’t fair, destroys girls’ athletic opportunities, and clearly violates federal law. Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls—that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place. In light of the department’s letter, we’re asking Connecticut schools and the CIAC to update their problematic policies and comply with federal law,” Holcomb said

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs.  

According to AP, which obtained a copy of the ruling, the office said it might withhold federal funding over the violation.

When the original complaint was filed with the Department of Education last year, Miller and Yearwood both spoke out, saying they were victims of discrimination.

“I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community and meaning in my life,” Miller said. “It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored.”

The three female track athletes who filed the Title IX complaint— Selina Soule of Glastonbury High School, senior Chelsea Mitchell of Canton High School, and sophomore Alanna Smith of Danbury High School—also filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Their complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools says that “biological differences,” not gender identity, has always determined sex-specific sports “because those differences matter for fair competition.”

Speaking on Fox News in 2018, Soule said that she had received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”

In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.

Earlier this month, lawyers for the complainants asked the federal judge hearing the case to recuse himself after he instructed them to refer to the gender identity, not biological sex of the male athletes during the trial.

In an April 16 conference call for the case, district court judge Robert Chatigny instructed attorneys for ADF to refer to the males identifying as female as “transgender females,” rather than as “males,” National Review reported.

“Referring to these individuals as ‘transgender females’ is consistent with science, common practice and perhaps human decency,” the judge said. 

Chatigny said that referring to the biologically male athletes as “males” is “not accurate” and is “needlessly provocative.”  

When an ADF attorney responded on the call that by referring to them as “males,” they were simply complying with human “physiology,” the judge said that terminology was “unfortunate.” If the attorneys persisted in doing so, he said, “maybe we’ll need to do something.”

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case in March, saying that Title IX did not apply to claims of transgender discrimination.

Attorney General Bill Barr and several other Department of Justice officials co-signed the statement of interest on March 24, saying that “Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy.”

“One of Title IX’s core purposes is to ensure that women have an ‘equal athletic opportunity’ to participate in school athletic programs,” they wrote, saying that requiring that biological males who identify themselves as female compete against biological girls, “would turn the statute on its head.”