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Warning of donor harassment, Trump administration backs foes of Calif. disclosure rule

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review a challenge to a California requirement that charitable organizations disclose their major donors to the state attorney general, siding with groups like the Thomas More Law Center that say the requirement will make their donors vulnerable to retaliation, harassment, and violence.

The move from the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office drew praise from John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

“Charitable entities shouldn’t be required to disclose confidential donor information to state officials who do not need it and who fail to adequately protect donor identities from disclosure to the public,” Bursch said Nov. 24. “We are pleased that the United States agrees that this case presents critically important issues that the Supreme Court should decide immediately. Forced donor disclosure is a threat to everyone and discourages both charitable giving and participation in the marketplace of ideas.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center’s complaint in the case. The center promotes issues related to religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life, Alliance Defending Freedom said in August 2019. Another challenger to the California rules is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which tends to take conservative or libertarian positions on questions of economics and other issues, including opposition to labor unions.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to grant a hearing on the case, which was victorious in federal district court but suffered a defeat in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

“As this court’s precedents make clear, compelled disclosures that carry a reasonable probability of harassment, reprisals, and similar harms are subject to exacting scrutiny, which requires a form of narrow tailoring,” said the brief to the Supreme Court. The solicitor general’s office said the appeals court ruling “compromises important associational interests protected by the First Amendment.”

“Petitioners alleged that their contributors had in the past suffered harassment, reprisals, and similar harms because of their association with petitioners,” the brief said. Disclosure would likely “expose their substantial contributors to those harms, and thereby deter those contributors and others from making future contributions.”

At issue is a matter of non-profit tax forms and the crucial information they contain.

Qualified tax-exempt organizations already must submit to the IRS a Form 990 federal information form, including the names of “all substantial contributors” in a section called Schedule B. Substantial donors are defined as those who give $5,000 or more to the organization in a year or 2% of total annual contributions. However, the information about these donors must be kept confidential on pain of civil and criminal law.

Non-profits that ask for donations in California must file their tax returns with California’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, administered by the state attorney general, currently Xavier Becerra.

Beginning in 2010, the California attorney general said that disclosures must include this Schedule B. The incoming U.S. vice-president Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and the rule change began under her predecessor Jerry Brown.

Both the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation have alleged that there is a high risk their information will be made public and disrupt their freedom of association.

Alliance Defending Freedom alleged that in March 2012, the California Attorney General’s Office began to “harass the law center and demand the names and addresses of its major donors even though the center’s donors, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even assassination attempts from ideological opponents.”

The legal group said that for those associated with charities like the Thomas More Law Center that “speak on contentious matters,” the disclosure of donor information “poses an imminent danger of hate mail, violence, ostracization, and boycotts.”

“Only the most stalwart supporters will give money under such a toxic cloud. Most will reasonably conclude that the risk of association is too great, with the result that groups who make the most threats will effectively shut down those with whom they disagree,” said the legal group’s request for Supreme Court review.

“Charities will continue to find as-applied exemptions impossible to achieve, and support for groups advocating contentious ideas will dry up,” the legal group said. “This Court should intervene now while there are still dissenting voices left to save.”

The request said California law has “deprived charities of resources, chilled their speech for nine years, and blocked dissemination of their ideas in our Nation’s most populous state.”    

Alliance Defending Freedom has cited the Supreme Court’s 1958 ruling in the case NAACP v. Alabama, which ruled against the Alabama Attorney General’s demands that the civil rights group produce its membership list or cease operations. The restrictions on the group crippled the organization in Alabama at a key time when black Americans sought to secure civil rights.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The district court found that California’s required disclosures were not “substantially related” to its interest in regulating charities, as auditors and attorneys seldom use the Schedule B section when they audit or investigate charities. Even when the information was relevant, it could be obtained from other sources. The disclosure requirement was not narrowly tailored.

The district court said petitioners presented “ample evidence” that their contributors had previously suffered “harassment, reprisals, and similar harms” when their involvement became known. The California attorney general’s office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of Schedule B forms.” This failure included making hundreds of the forms available on its registry website.

The court of appeals, however, overturned the district court. It said confidentiality measures had been tightened and said California had a compelling interest in policing fraud in charitable organizations, and disclosing major donors advances this interest, Reuters reported.
It compared the rule to political disclosure cases such as Doe v. Reed, where the Supreme Court said that the disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition referendum was relevant to state interests in protecting the electoral process.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s summary of the case said, “the California Attorney General’s office has a history of posting supporter’s information online and offers no protection against employees, contractors, or summer interns downloading, e-mailing, or printing supporters’ names and addresses and then disclosing them publicly.”

“We’ve already seen how publicly revealing political donors with the intent of doing harm (or 'doxing') can ruin careers and corrode civil discourse,” the legal group said. “Givers would have good reason to fear being doxed—especially in today’s toxic cultural climate.”

The Thomas More Law Center's president and chief counsel is Richard Thompson, who came to prominence for opposing prominent assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. Thompson co-founded the law center in in 1998 with Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza who continues to be a prominent Catholic philanthropist. Alliance Defending Freedom said about 5% of donors to the law center are California residents.

Besides issues related to religious freedom and family values, the law center’s website also provides resources for critics of the Common Core curriculum. It names other key issues as “confronting the threat of radical Islam” and “defending national security.”

The similarly-named Thomas More Society, based in Illinois, is not connected to the law center.

For its part, Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004. It has had strong financial support from two wealthy brothers, David and Charles Koch, whose combined net worth is in the billions of dollars.

Pandemic conditions have increased Christian persecution

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Christian persecution in some places, according to a new report from the group Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN).

“The devastating and unprecedented impact of COVID-19 all over the world,” said the new ACN report, “had a direct bearing on trends concerning unjust detention.” Aid to the Church in Need International is a pontifical aid foundation with sectors in 23 countries.

A new report, released Nov. 25, focuses on the plight of Christian prisoners around the world. Titled “Set Your Captors Free,” the report details the kidnapping and detention of Christians by state and non-state actors.

“Around the world, militants, both those in sympathy with Daesh, and those with a very different outlook, including extremists from other faith traditions, target religious minorities with alarming regularity,” ACN’s report said.

Additionally, “there exists the disturbing trend of state actors unjustly detaining members of faith minorities,” the report said.  

An average of 309 Christians are “unjustly imprisoned” each month in the 50 worst-offending countries, and more than 1,000 are abducted, the report says, citing the group Open Doors. In prison they face sham trials, arbitrary detention, torture, and prison overcrowding.

When the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly through the world in the first months of 2020, state arrests of Christians fell as countries focused on combatting the pandemic, and some prisoners were released, the report said.

However, persecution of Christians increased in severity in some cases, both as the pandemic spread and as some countries reopened after lockdowns.

The spread of the virus meant that some courts shut down partially or completely, thus delaying trials for Christians languishing in prison on faith-based charges.

As churches stopped in-person religious services during lockdowns, and conducted them online, some governments have used the opportunity to increase their surveillance of Christians. For instance, footage reportedly showed police in China’s Fujian province raiding an underground church service in May, and dragging attendees out of the gathering.

States and militant groups have used local lockdowns and the global occupation with the virus, to conduct even more attacks against Christians, ACN found. In Nigeria, Fulani militants stepped up attacks Christians in their homes during lockdown.

China, for its part, increased its crackdown on underground Christian groups during the pandemic while the rest of the world was occupied with COVID, the report said.  

Once communities began to reopen after lockdowns, some governments restored their surveillance of Christian communities. In Iran, intelligence agents arrested a dozen Christians across three cities in July.

Almost one-third of arrests of Christians without charge, and for faith-based reasons, occurred in China in one 12-month period. From Nov., 2018 through Oct., 2019, Beijing imprisoned or detained without charge more than 1,100 Christians “for faith-based reasons.”

Christians face widespread kidnapping by jihadist militants in Nigeria, with more than 220 Christian captives per year. There has also been a “surge” in kidnappings of priests and religious, ACN reported.

In countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, Christian women are kidnapped and subject to forced conversions and forced marriages. In one Pakistani province, there were 1,000 cases of forced marriages of Christian and Hindu women in 2018 alone.

North Korea is known to be one of the worst persecutors of Christians, with more than 50,000 Christians imprisoned in harsh labor camps.

Eritrea, referred to by some as the “North Korea of Africa,” more than 1,000 Christians are reportedly detained and within only several months in 2019, around 300 unregistered Christians were arrested.

The report also highlights individual Christian cases, such as those of Asia Bibi who faced the death penalty in Pakistan for false blasphemy charges, and Eritrea’s Patriarch Antonios, under house arrest since 2007.

Kentucky dioceses keep Masses open despite governor's request

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Kentucky’s four Catholic dioceses will not suspend public Masses despite the governor’s request that religious services be held online only until December 13. 

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) requested that houses of worship stop having in-person services in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Kentucky has been experiencing a spike in the number of cases and deaths. Beshear raised concerns that church services and related events, such as pot-lucks, could be contributing to the spread. 

Despite the request, public Masses will not be stopping in Kentucky. 

“At this time, we will not be suspending public liturgies but encourage all to act in a responsible way that respects the seriousness of this pandemic and the health and safety of all,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville in a statement on November 19. 

The Sunday obligation for Catholics to attend Mass, however, is still suspended in the state. Catholics do not have to attend Mass on Sunday if they think it is imprudent or unsafe to do so.

Kurtz said that his brother bishops in the commonwealth of Kentucky--the Dioceses of Owensboro, Covington, and Lexington--would not be suspending public Masses at this time either. 

"I join with the other three Catholic bishops of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in acknowledging the difficult circumstances Gov. Beshear is seeking to navigate, and I appreciate his concern for the common good," Kurtz said in the statement provided to WRDB News.

"The increase in cases of COVID-19 is indeed alarming and presents significant challenges,” said Kurtz, who “reiterated the importance” of following the guidelines that had been previously set by the dioceses following the resumption of public Mass.

“Our commitment to providing the opportunity to participate in the Church’s liturgies remotely will continue, as will the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass,” said Kurtz. 

While Mass will continue to be in-person, other institutions have shut down for the time being. 

Schools in the archdiocese, both private and public, have shifted to remote learning until after the Christmas holiday. Gathering sizes for other events have been capped, and there will not be indoor dining or bars in Kentucky until mid-December. 

Other Christian groups have issued similar statements to Kurtz, saying that they will keep their congregations as safe as possible but continue to hold services in-person.

Ransomware attack cripples St. Louis archdiocesan websites

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).-  

A ransomware attack crippled the websites of the Archdiocese of St. Louis last week, but data has not been compromised by the attack, the archdiocese told CNA. Several archdiocesan affiliated sites have been taken offline in response to the attack.

“On November 16th, our website hosting company experienced a coordinated ransomware campaign. To ensure integrity of our data, the limited number of impacted sites–including ours–have been taken offline,” the Archdiocese of St. Louis informed Catholics last week.

“Upon further investigation and out of an abundance of caution, our hosting company took down their entire system to ensure that we were not compromised. Our hosting security team are working diligently to eliminate the threat and restore our website to full capacity.”

Seven archdiocesan urls are impacted, among them archstl.org, stlreview.org, and pages for archdiocesan cemeteries and fundraising. A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA Tuesday “we do not have information regarding an expected timeline for the restoration of our website.”

“We have been told that none of the Archdiocese of St. Louis' information has been compromised, and the hosting company has taken down our sites to protect us,” the spokesperson added.

Ransomware is a kind of hacking measure by which websites are taken over unless a ransom is made. In some cases, hackers threaten to release confidential data gained from the attack unless the ransom is paid.

Maria Lemakis, archdiocesan multimedia manager, told CNA that because the attack happened with the company that hosts websites, a decision about whether to pay the ransom is not up to the archdiocese.

“Whether or not the ransom will be paid is at the discretion of the hosting vendor,” Lemakis explained.

 “It is our understanding that the vendor is working with federal authorities on the issue,” she added.

Priest jailed for theft blames Catholic doctrine, also facing sex abuse charges

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- A South Dakota priest has been sentenced to almost eight years in federal prison, after he was convicted of 65 felonies related to stealing donations from Catholic parishes. Ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution, the priest said he stole in part because he disagrees with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

The priest is also facing federal criminal charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.  

Fr. Marcin Garbacz, 42, was convicted in March of wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud — crimes he committed while serving as a chaplain and Catholic school teacher in the Diocese of Rapid City, between 2012 and 2018. Garbacz was ordained a priest in 2004.

Prosecutors said the priest stole more than $250,000 from parishes, spending some money on artwork, a piano, a Cadillac, liturgical items, and a $10,000 diamond ring.

In 2019, the priest was arrested at Seattle’s airport, shortly before boarding a flight to his native Poland, for which he had purchased a one-way ticket. He had more than $10,000 in cash in his possession, along with several chalices, diamonds, icons, pens, an expensive watch, along with cufflinks and other jewelery items.

He had withdrawn more than $50,000 from his bank account before the flight, according to court records.

According to prosecutors, the priest snuck into Rapid City parishes in the middle of the night to steal cash donations after Sunday Masses. He replaced the tamper-proof bags in which the cash was stored with new ones he’d purchased online, and told people that his mother sent him money each month. When he bought expensive chalices and other liturgical items, he told people they were gifts, and had false inscriptions engraved upon them as proof.

Before he was arrested, Garbacz had been suspended from ministry, apparently after he was caught stealing roughly $620 from a parish in 2018, and was convicted of misdemeanor petty theft. He was sent by the diocese for six months to a residential treatment program, but left early and then worked as a FedEx driver in Washington. He reportedly attempted to flee after becoming aware of the federal investigation against him.

At his sentencing Monday, Garbacz apologized to parishioners, and said he was angry with the Diocese of Rapid City and the Catholic Church. According to the Rapid City Journal, the priest said he was upset that Catholic doctrine considers homosexuality to be “intrinsically disordered.”

Garbacz, the Rapid City Journal reported, identifies as gay, and claims he was treated as a “second-class citizen” because of his dissent on the Church’s moral teachings.

After Garbacz was sentenced, the Diocese of Rapid City told CNA that “The diocese trusts in the judicial system and appreciates its dedication in making sure that justice is served in this case.”

Garbacz is also facing charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

He has been indicted on sex federal charges, and is alleged to have engaged in sexual conduct with someone a boy under the age of 18 while in 2011 traveling in a foreign country. An FBI agent also discovered, while searching a thumb drive during the financial crimes investigation, that the priest was in possession of child pornography. At least one pornographic video involving a minor appears to have been produced by Garbacz, according to the Rapid City Journal.

It is not yet clear what canonical charges the priest is facing, or if he is expected to be laicized.

 

 

Analysis: Will Gregory’s ‘dialogue’ with Biden undermine USCCB?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced in an interview yesterday that he will not deny Holy Communion to Joe Biden, and committed himself to working with the president-elect’s administration. But the soon-to-be cardinal’s pledge could put him in tension with the work of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as it tries to speak to the White House with a unified voice.

Last week, USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles announced the formation of a special committee, tasked with coordinating the U.S. bishops’ response to, and work with, the incoming Biden administration. 

Recognizing the unique “challenges” presented by a Catholic president pledged to several policies in opposition to Church teaching, the conference under Gomez set out to ensure a collegial and consensus approach to national issues for the Church. 

But yesterday Gregory suggested he planned to dialogue directly with Biden on issues, without reference to the USCCB, raising the question: who will speak for the U.S. bishops at the White House, and with whom will President Biden choose to deal?

In his interview Tuesday, Gregory said he hopes to “discover areas where [he and Biden] can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the Church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree,” the very work the committee set up by Archbishop Gomez intends to do.

Gregory is not a member of the U.S. bishops' committee, but the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington is nonetheless a player: As the hometown cardinal, he may well receive a more ready audience from the president than, for example, the Archbishop of Los Angeles; especially so if he has publicly pledged to strike a balance in conversations between the Church’s support for areas of agreement with Biden, like comprehensive immigration reform, and points of opposition, like the immorality of killing unborn children.

“I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other,” Gregory said Tuesday. His stated aim of not “highlighting” one over the other itself appears to be at odds with the U.S. bishops’ official position that ending legal abortion is the “preeminent” social concern of Catholics, underlining the likely tension between Gregory’s personal contact with the incoming president and the conference’s efforts to represent to position of the bishops and Church at a national level.

As Gomez noted last week, a Catholic president committed to opposing Church teaching on a range of issues on the national stage presents a “difficult and complex situation.” It was for this reason that the conference formed its committee, to ensure coherence and collegiality in the bishops’ response. And it is for this reason that many may not warm to the idea of a soon-to-be Cardinal Gregory dialoguing on their behalf with a soon-to-be President Biden.

Gregory, who will be made a cardinal on Saturday, will be Biden’s diocesan bishop once the President-elect moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As Washington’s archbishop, he is the local “pastor” who is responsible for sitting a Catholic like Biden down, in private, and addressing the president-elect’s various positions against Church teaching.

But, of course, as president, Biden will be more than just a local Catholic, and his actions and example are a national concern for the Catholic bishops. Gregory’s public statement could be seen by some as circumvention of efforts to work together in dealing with Biden and his administration.

While Gregory has every proper right to “dialogue” with an individual Catholic in his diocese about his individual status, it is less clear that the Archbishop of Washington is ex officio empowered to bargain with the head of state on behalf of the Church across the country. 

This tension is nothing new. The USCCB has in the past run into similar tensions with Washington’s archbishops over the White House. Those tensions have caused confusion. But since Biden is a Catholic, and the issues pertain not only to policy, but to pastoral decision-making, the issue could become more complex in a Biden administration.

While Gregory is Biden’s local bishop and has personal concern for Biden’s personal situation, it is the bishops’ conference that is charged with articulating the corporate voice of the hierarchy on Biden’s stances abortion, the Equality Act, and the HHS mandate as policy.

“These policies pose a serious threat to the common good, whenever any politician supports them,” conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez told the U.S. bishops on Nov. 17. “We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so.”

“But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Gregory, however, struck a markedly different tone yesterday, saying that there was no confusion among “informed Catholics” about the Church’s teaching on life issues.

“It’s not a matter of confusion,” Gregory said. “On my part, it’s a matter of the responsibility that I have as the archbishop to be engaged and to be in dialogue with him, even in those areas where we obviously have some differences.”

Many of his brother bishops would likely point out to Gregory that the confusion among “informed Catholics” like Biden is not about what the Church teaches, but whether it matters when they publicly and consistently dissent from it – and how the bishops should respond when a Catholic uses the machinery of government to threaten Catholic institutions and values, and the broader common good.

At the height of the Cold War, Henry Kissinger pointedly asked “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” to highlight the confusion that results from the absence of a common voice.

In theory, if the White House wants to “speak to the Catholic Church” it could – arguably should – call Gomez, who is the bishops’ elected president. But if Biden doesn’t like what he hears, Gregory’s is another number he might call.

Arkansas senate passes abortion ban in new challenge to Roe

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Arkansas lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban nearly all abortions in the state in what lawmakers and pro-life advocates hope will serve as a new challenge to Roe v. Wade.

On Nov. 18, State Sen. Jason Rapert (R) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R) introduced Senate Bill 6, to create the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill criminalizes abortions except when done to save the life of the mother, but does not carry charges or convictions for mothers of unlawfully aborted children.

Doctors who perform an unlawful abortion would commit a felony punishable by a fine of up to $100,000, or up to ten years in prison.

According to KUAR, the bill will be considered during the legislature’s January session.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas-based Family Council, praised the bill in a statement this week.

“Many people have been saying for almost 50 years that abortion should be illegal. The time has come for us to make it so,” Cox stated.

“This is an opportunity for Arkansans to be the real leader in the effort to end abortion in America,” he said.

The proposed bill also allows for the use of emergency contraceptives if a pregnancy has not yet been determined.

A federal appeals court upheld other Arkansas state abortion restrictions in August. The Eighth Circuit court allowed a 2017 state law to go into effect, which banned sex-selective abortions and the “dilation and evacuation” abortion method used in the second trimester.

Senate Bill 6 is not expected to survive in court—a similar measure in Alabama was struck down by a federal district court in Oct., 2019.

Nevertheless, Arkansas is also seeking to force a reconsideration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. The state has already passed a law outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, a “trigger ban” that has also been adopted by several other states. 

“It is time for the United States Supreme Court to redress and correct the grave injustice and the crime against humanity which is being perpetuated by their decisions in Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” states one of the findings in the bill.

“New scientific advances have demonstrated since 1973 that life begins at the moment of conception and the child in a woman's womb is a human being.”

Arkansas and other states have passed various abortion restrictions in recent years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, five states in 2019 passed “heartbeat” bills, or bans on abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected. Other states, such as Missouri, have enacted abortion bans at different stages in pregnancy.

Philadelphia archdiocese opens home for young adults with disabilities

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 04:49 am (CNA).- A Philadelphia bishop last month blessed Saint Philomena Cottage, a new archdiocesan home for young adults with disabilities.

Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre, who oversees the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, led the blessing Oct. 23 at the facility in Delaware County.

The event occurred a few months after new renovations permitted residence to three new clients who had difficulty finding a home that matched their complex needs.

Present at the event were James Amato, secretary for Catholic Human Services; members of The Women’s Auxiliary of St. Edmond’s Home for Children; and Denise Clofine, administrator for Saint Edmond’s Home for Children.

During the ceremony, Clofine expressed gratitude for the completion of the project and for the support of the Women’s Auxiliary, who helped fund the project.

“Today is the beginning of a long held dream to have a home like Saint Philomena Cottage where those we serve can continue to be with friends and staff who have become family. There is true love and compassion shared between the two,” she said, according to a Nov. 10 statement from the archdiocese.

“I am deeply grateful to the Women’s Auxiliary who exemplify a deep commitment to our mission. Sometimes in life we are fortunate to meet someone who makes a difference in the lives of others.  I have been truly blessed to have met an entire group of women who exemplify dedication, care, and love. Their legacy is so very admirable.”

St. Edmond’s Home for Children purchased the house in November 2017. The house was renovated to include wheelchair accessible bathrooms, doorways, ramps, and elevator lifts.

The renovations were completed over the summer and three ladies from St. Edmond’s Home moved into their house at the end of July. The facility includes a 24-hour nurse and activities such as arts, crafts, cooking, and baking.

Clofine told CNA that it has been more difficult for clients with complex disabilities to find permanent homes after they turned 21. She said the facility was established at the request of parents, and added that families have formed meaningful bonds with the staff of St. Edmond’s Home for Children.

“They have trusted us with their children and their children have been placed [with us] for 10, 15, sometimes 20 years. To have to then take their child to another placement, it’s very, very difficult,” she said.

“We took our best staff - very committed, dedicated. We did not hire from the outside for this hall, [but moved] staff over to the hall who already knew those three young adults really well.”

Saint Edmond’s Home for Children was founded in 1916 by Archbishop Edmond Prendergast to help children with polio. It operates under Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Service and provides intermediate care for children and young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Clofine expressed the importance of providing services to vulnerable individuals in the community. She said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a history of charitable service and further added that it was a blessing to open the facility during the pandemic.

“This really has made my whole year, especially in the midst of COVID, we were able to open. It was wonderful,” she said.

“It is our responsibility to do God's work. It is extremely important to help the most vulnerable in our community … We're just so thrilled to be able to do this not only for the three young ladies that are in the hall, but for their families,” she said.

What connection does Moderna’s vaccine have to aborted fetal tissue? 

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 06:33 pm (CNA).- Amid debate over the ethics of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate under development by Moderna, a Catholic microbiologist told CNA that while research connected to aborted fetal cells may have contributed to the knowledge base being used in the vaccine’s development, the actual production of the vaccine does not use cells of any kind, fetal or otherwise.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti, a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, told CNA that the manner of production for the Moderna vaccine is ethically uncontroversial— in contrast to several other common vaccines, which are grown in aborted fetal cells.

Traditional vaccines use dead or altered viruses, and viruses have to be grown in cell lines, Lanciotti said. Some vaccines that are based on altered viruses are produced by growing them in aborted fetal cell lines, rendering them morally illicit for Catholics to take except for grave reasons.

In contrast, the production of RNA vaccines does not use cells at all, he said. During his 30 years as a CDC scientist, Lanciotti’s specialty was producing RNA in the same reaction used to produce the Moderna vaccine.

Moderna's vaccine is based on the coronavirus' RNA, and uses a spike protein, or peplomer, from SARS-CoV-2 rather than cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

The RNA is injected into the recipient, which induces their cells to produce the spike protein. This triggers the production of antibodies and T-cells by the recipient.

Moderna’s vaccine is not completely free of any connection to abortion, as there is evidence that the vaccines have some connection with the use of aborted fetal cells in the early stages of vaccine design.

However, Lanciotti said, there is a distinction between “design” and “production.” Although it may seem like a subtle difference, he said in this case it makes more sense to assess the ethicality of the production of the vaccine itself, rather than any pre-existing knowledge and understanding that went into its development.

“The association with aborted fetal cells and these RNA vaccines is so distant that I don't think you would find a Catholic moral theologian that would say there's a problem at all,” Lanciotti said.

A complete bibliography of the Moderna vaccine reveals the HEK-293T cell line mentioned in some of the work that led to the vaccine's development.

The HEK-293 cell line is derived from a baby who was aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s. However, the HEK-293T cells in question are not the direct descendants of these aborted fetal cells, but rather are genetically distinct variants.

The HEK-293T cell line was used by scientists to test the spike protein which was later used in the Moderna vaccine. Moderna scientists were among the researchers collaborating on the project, although it is unclear to what extent Moderna was involved in that specific part of the research.

Lanciotti emphasized that the HEK-293T cells in question were not used to evaluate the vaccine itself, since the vaccine had not yet been designed, but rather went into the background knowledge that enabled the vaccine’s design.

He also explained that the spike protein itself is not contaminated with fetal cells, as the spike protein produced by the vaccine comes directly from the synthetic RNA injected, and is “100% newly derived and pure.”

Lanciotti also noted that there exists a knowledge base that was generated years ago— likely decades ago— about the basic biology of coronaviruses, which Moderna, a ten-year-old company, likely did not create themselves.

Moderna recently announced that a trial of its vaccine demonstrated it to be 94.5% effective. The trial involved 30,000 people, half of whom were given two doses of the vaccine, and half of whom received a placebo.

In an internal memo dated Nov. 23, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who chairs the bishops’ committee on doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the head of the committee on pro-life activities, wrote to the bishops of the United States that the two RNA vaccine candidates appear to be ethically sound.

“Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development, or production,” the bishops wrote.

“They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products,” the bishops wrote, referring to the HEK-293T cell line.

“There is thus a connection [to fetal tissue], but it is relatively remote,” the bishops concluded.

The Vatican has said that researchers have a duty to avoid using cell lines derived from aborted children in vaccine production, and have an obligation to “denounce and reject publicly the original immoral act [of abortion].”

The Church has allowed the use of vaccines produced in fetal cells if no alternative exists, while stressing the importance of protesting the vaccine’s production and encouraging “vigorous efforts to promote the creation of alternatives.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life, in a Nov. 22 statement posted to Twitter, said based on its own 2005 and 2017 guidance on the origin of vaccines, the academy has found “nothing morally prohibitive with the vaccines developed” by Moderna or Pfizer.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has listed the Moderna vaccine among the “ethically uncontroversial CoV-19 vaccine programs.”

However, Dr. Stacy Transancos, a chemist, argued in a Nov. 20 National Catholic Register op-ed that listing a vaccine which has even a remote connection to aborted tissue as “ethically uncontroversial” could undermine the Catholic fight for ethical medicines.

“Instead of assigning this vaccine to a category that suggests no more caution is needed, I think it is better to slow down and look at the big picture...We need to speak up loudly with clarity and courage about the ethics and insist upon an ethical option. It could redirect this entire issue towards the good,” she wrote in her op-ed.

For his part, Lanciotti said that while all the COVID-19 vaccines remain in the testing phases, it appears that two of the three leading candidates are at least produced in an ethical manner free from the use of aborted fetal cells— which is more than can be said for some common vaccines such as MMR, polio, and chickenpox.

“We as Catholics should actually be very pleased that the two leading COVID vaccine candidates are both RNA vaccines with no ethical concerns,” he said.

“The third leading candidate, the AstraZeneca vaccine, is in fact a modified virus that is produced in HEK-293 cells. Therefore, that vaccine clearly has ethical problems and should be rejected by Catholics.”

 

New Catholic priests voice satisfaction in priestly life, but minority report 'troubling' adversity

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- A survey of recently ordained Catholic priests reports that the great majority find satisfaction in their work celebrating sacraments and in their parish ministry, but there are also difficulties and areas for which they felt seminary life had left them unprepared.

A small minority of new priests voiced great dissatisfaction with their priestly life.

“We need to do a better job preparing our seminarians for living a life of celibacy as spiritual fathers, and... a much better job at helping them land successfully in their first year of priesthood and make the adjustments to a challenging environment,” Father Thomas Berg, a moral theology professor and director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, N.Y., told CNA.

“We also need to find the way to help them prepare better for real and practical challenges such as loneliness or the difficulties in maintaining friendships they began in seminary,” said Berg, who served as a coordinator on the study’s advisory board.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate collaborated with the National Association of Catholic Theological Schools from April to July 2020 in the study, published in the report “Enter by the Narrow Gate: Satisfaction and Challenges Among Recently Ordained Priests”.

Researchers sent a survey request to 1,379 priests recently ordained for both dioceses and religious orders. They received 1,012 valid responses, a 73% response rate. Respondents answered questions about areas of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their priestly lives, discussed their seminary formation, and discussed difficulties of priestly life.

“By far, the areas they are most satisfied are related to their immediate ministries, including celebrating the sacraments in their parishes, serving the needs of their parishioners, teaching the faith to others, presiding at Masses and other liturgies, hearing Confessions, ministering to the youth, and providing pastoral counseling,” the report summary said.

However, their self-reported areas of least satisfaction include “performing administrative and human resource duties, the poor relationship they have with the pastors under whom they serve, feeling burned out from their workload, their frustration with their diocese/bishop, and the lack of fraternity among their fellow priests.”

Respondents’ average year of ordination was 2017, and their average age was 38 years. About 76% were diocesan priests, with the remainder from religious institutes. While many were foreign-born, 82% were born in the U.S. The racial and ethnic breakdown of respondents was 74% white, 12% Hispanic or Latino, 8% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 4% African-American.

More than half of new priests said they were well prepared to preside at Mass, to preach, and to hear confessions. Fewer than half said they were well prepared for hospital ministry, presiding at funerals, and pastoral counseling. Only 30% said they were well prepared in language skills needed for their pastoral work, 28% were well prepared for serving diverse cultures in their diocese, and 24% said they were well prepared for personal skills like time management and stress management.

The new priests said they were least well prepared in administrative, human resources, and leadership skills. Only 16% said they were well prepared for the areas of communication and conflict management, building consensus, or motivating people, and only 6% said they were well prepared in administrative skills like budgeting and investing.

About 59% of new priests reported being “very satisfied” with their life as a priest, with 22% saying they are “somewhat satisfied.” Another 6% said they were “somewhat dissatisfied,” and 13% said they are “very dissatisfied.” The researchers interviewed 16 of the hundreds of respondents, focusing on those who reported dissatisfaction with their lives.

Berg found it “troubling” that so many reported struggles in their first years as priests. 13% of respondents said their lives as priests were “very dissatisfying.”

“We need to dig further into the data, and get at those reasons, but I think this will be a wake up call for a lot of bishops,” Berg told CNA. “It seems our newly ordained priests are landing in unexpectedly adverse environments in their respective dioceses. The report tells us in clear language that we need to do a much better job of accompanying and supporting our newly ordained priests in their first years of ministry.”

While the study did not explicitly ask the priests about many personal problems, according to Berg a “low but consistent” percentage of recently ordained priests across dioceses experience a major crisis such as depression, alcohol dependency or other addiction, or entering a sexual relationship. Such a crisis might help lead them to abandon the priesthood.

“It was the desire to get at the causes of this phenomenon that occasioned the study,” Berg told CNA.

The reports said that when new priests are asked their largest problems on a daily basis, they “express their greatest frustration with their diocese and fellow priests.”

For 20% of respondents, differences among different age cohorts of priests are “very much” a problem, with another 26% indicating this was “somewhat” a problem. Another 20% named theological differences in the concept of the priesthood among fellow priests as a significant problem, with another 24% saying it was somewhat a problem. About 17% of respondents named feeling a lack of input into diocese-level decision-making processes to be a large problem.

A significant minority of respondents thought they had been assigned too many ministries and duties or were so busy they could not meet people’s pastoral needs. Ministering at more than one parish was a problem for some. They said there was not as much fraternal support among priests as they would like, and the “loneliness of priestly life” was a problem. Some 30% of respondents thought that “unrealistic demands and expectations of lay people” were a problem, though about half as many said actual conflicts with parishioners or lay people were problematic.

Some 4% said living a life of celibacy or chastity was “very much” a problem, with about 14% saying this was “somewhat” a problem. About 2% said that “resolving any personal psycho-sexual issues” was very much a problem, and 9% said it was somewhat a problem.

Some 10% of respondents said that “differences among priests with different sexual orientations in your diocese” was very much a problem, while about 13% said this was somewhat a problem.

“Being expected to represent Church teachings you have difficulty with” was “very much” a problem for 2% or respondents, and “somewhat” a problem for about 5%.

About one percent said feeling comfortable ministering to women was very much a problem for them.

The new priests were asked whether they would choose the same path, knowing what they know now, and they were overwhelmingly positive. 80% of respondents said they would “definitely” enter the priesthood again. Another 16% said they “probably” would. One percent said they would definitely not enter the priesthood again if they had the choice, and 4% said they probably would not.

The survey asked the new priests to consider their own future in the priesthood. A large majority, 76%, said they will definitely not leave the priesthood, and 18% said they probably will not. However, 5% expressed uncertainty about whether they would continue to exercise their priesthood.

Asked if they have ever thought about leaving the priesthood, about 40% cited “celibacy and the loneliness of the priestly life” as a reason they have considered leaving.

“The next most frequently cited reasons are frustration with their diocese, religious institute, bishop or superior and the disappointment they feel in regards to their current ministries,” the report said.

Some 79% know someone who left active ministry or the priesthood within five years of ordination. The respondents hypothesized that the reasons for this were “disillusionment with the actual life of ministry, loneliness, meeting someone they would like to be their romantic partner or to marry, and their desire to look for a romantic partner.”

Among all survey respondents, the priests tended to report being very satisfied in the respect they receive as members of the clergy from lay persons, their present financial situation, and their present living situation. They were least likely to report satisfaction in balancing work, personal and spiritual lives and in their training for administrative matters such as budgeting and managing staff.

The clergy sexual abuse scandals have “greatly” hindered the ministry of about 16% of respondents, while 64% said the scandals have “slightly” hindered their ministry.

Regarding their seminary formation, almost 90% reported that their seminary offered counseling with a psychologist. Another 76% said their seminary offered programs about formation in chaste celibacy, and an equal percentage reported prayer groups or prayer teams at their seminary. Some 66% said seminary offered mentoring during their pastoral year, while 61% reported that a pastoral year internship was available.

The least offered programs include a “propaedeutic”, or spirituality year, reported by only 23% of respondents; 30-day spiritual exercises, reported by 26% of respondents; and chastity support groups, reported by 38% of respondents.

Berg noted to CNA that the responses were overwhelmingly from men of the millennial generation. He said that if it was challenging to be a new priest in the last decade, it is “even more challenging in a post-McCarrick Church.”

“To be a priest in the coming decade I think will be to partake in a profound transformation of how the Church lives and experiences the faith: a Church with a smaller footprint as more and more parishes necessarily will have to be consolidated, merged or closed,” he said. In his view, the Church will be forced to “find fresh new ways to engage in discipleship and thrive, mostly likely, as smaller but more intentionally Catholic communities.”

“The priests of the next two decades will be part of this--major players. They will not tolerate a Church leadership focused simply on managing decline.,” he said.

Berg encouraged prospective seminarians and priests to read the report and make their own conclusions.

“Lean into the hard work of vulnerability and transparency in formation. Be brutally honest with yourself about your past wounds, about those areas where you need to mature and grow,” he said. “Take note of the many seminarians who reported how positively they benefited from counseling during formation.”

Seminarians should ask themselves and bring to prayer and spiritual direction various important questions:

"What am I looking for in the priesthood? Is what I am looking for what the Holy Spirit wants me to desire? Am I looking for the esteem of others, for power, influence and admiration? Or am I sincerely hungry to be a spiritual father and to give myself in spousal love for the Church? What am I really looking for?”

“Seminarians have to get to the bottom of that with raw honesty,” said Berg. “If you are looking for esteem, power, influence and admiration--pack and go home because you are not called to the priesthood.”

Berg also had advice for all Catholics.

“Always pray for your priests,” he said. “Be patient with your newly ordained priests. Simple things: be kind. But by the same token don’t be afraid to give them clear feedback--while not forgetting to complement them for the positive.”

“Remember -- and this is true of any priest--at any given moment priests are being pulled in a dozen directions at once,” he said. “Keep that in mind. They have far many more things on their minds and hearts than may be apparent as you just chat together after Mass.”