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Paterson bishop: Vaccination exemption for clergy 'will be minimal'

Bishop Kevin Sweeney of Paterson. Photo courtesy DeSales Media Group. / null

Paterson, N.J., Sep 15, 2021 / 17:32 pm (CNA).

Bishop Kevin Sweeney of Paterson wrote to clerics of his diocese Tuesday to ‘strongly encourage’ their vaccination against COVID-19. Non-medical exemptions, he said, will be minimal, and there may be discussion of whether non-vaccinated priests ‘can remain in active ministry.”

“As teachers and religious educators must be vaccinated by statewide mandate, our clergy should be vaccinated voluntarily as a good example to others and in solidarity with them,” Bishop Sweeney wrote in a Sept. 14 letter to clergy of Diocese of Paterson.

“If you have not been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to be vaccinated.”

He characterized his encouragement as “one step short of a mandate.”

“This is an essential time when you must be vaccinated to protect yourself and the health of others,” the bishop wrote. “If you feel that you are unable to be vaccinated, please be in touch with one of [sic] diocesan Vicars General in order to discuss your reasoning with them so that they may consult with me for further discussion on particular individual exemptions and whether a priest who is not vaccinated can remain in active ministry. Exemptions from vaccination for clergy, other than those for legitimate medical reasons, will be minimal.”

Writing on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Bishop Sweeney noted that “we celebrate the life giving power of the holy cross that was borne by Christ ‘so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life’ (John 3:16). We have often called upon the Lord to heal those whom we love and serve. The emergence of vaccines which helped to quell the progress of this dreaded illness is God sent.”

 

The bishop recalled that Pope Francis has called receiving vaccination “an act of love,” and that most of the diocese’s clerics and their staff have already been vaccinated. 

 

The bishop said that a cleric’s doctor can help him with information on how or where to be vaccinated, and that the Office of Clergy Personnel can be of additional assistance.

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” 

It said that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the congregation wrote.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington has required COVID-19 vaccines for all diocesan employees, and  Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago is requiring all archdiocesan employees and clergy to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, and will only allow exemptions for medical reasons. 

Bishop Thomas Paprock of Springfield in Illinois recently wrote that “while the Church promotes vaccination as morally acceptable and urges cooperation with public health authorities in promoting the common good, there are matters of personal health and moral conscience involved in vaccines that must be respected. Therefore, vaccine participation must be voluntary and cannot be forced, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the authority of Pope Francis, indicated last December. While we encourage vaccination, we cannot and will not force vaccination as a condition of employment or the freedom of the faithful to worship in our parishes.”

“The Catholic Church teaches that some persons may have conscientious objections to the taking of the COVID vaccines, and that these conscientious convictions ought to be respected,” Bishop Paprocki added.

The Catholic Medical Association has stated that it “opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, also issued a July 2 statement opposing mandated vaccination with any of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States.

Justice Department asks judge to block Texas abortion law during legal challenge

US Attorney General Merrick Garland / Justice Department

Austin, Texas, Sep 15, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The US Department of Justice asked a federal judge on Tuesday to issue a preliminary injunction against Texas’ law prohibiting most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, following a suit from the DOJ against the law last week. 

A preliminary injunction, if granted, would prevent the law from being enforced while the DOJ’s lawsuit plays out in court. 

Such an injunction "is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States in ensuring that its States respect the terms of the national compact," attorneys for the Justice Department said in its Sept. 14 court filing

In a legal complaint filed in a federal district court Sept. 9, the Justice Department had argued the state acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.” 

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies. The law allows for at least $10,000 in damages in successful lawsuits; women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law. 

In early September the Supreme Court ruled that the abortion providers challenging the law had not made a sufficient case for relief from it, and declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. 

In response, President Joe Biden – a Catholic – directed his administration to examine “what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.” 

As a result of Biden’s directive, the Justice Department “urgently explores all options to challenge” Texas’ new law and “protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a Sept. 6 statement.

Bishops around the country reacted with praise to a Texas law, and noted that women experiencing a crisis pregnancy have resources available, instead of abortion.

The bishops of Texas have said that opponents of the law, who have described a fetal heartbeat as “electrically induced flickering of embryonic tissue” or “embryonic cardiac activity,” are making a “disturbing” effort to “dehumanize the unborn.”

“Abortion is a human rights issue; the most fundamental human right is the right to life,” said the Texas bishops Sept. 3. “Abortion is not healthcare. Abortion is not freedom. Abortion does not help women. Abortion is never the answer. It is always the violent taking of innocent human life.”

Pro-life leaders pointed out that the state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and funding the Alternatives to Abortion program.

“Texas is further leading in compassion for women and families with its $100 million Alternatives to Abortion state program and ten times as many pro-life pregnancy centers as abortion facilities,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, last week.

Live Action says Google’s removal of pro-life ads ‘unprecedented’

Lila Rose, founder of Live Action, addresses the 2021 Live Action Life Awards Dinner at Dana Point, California; Aug. 21, 2021 / Francesca Polio/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2021 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

According to the pro-life group Live Action, the search engine Google canceled its advertisements for abortion pill reversal services. The act is further evidence of Google’s pro-abortion biases, a leading pro-life activist tells CNA. 

“In a dramatic and unprecedented move, Google has sided squarely with extremist pro-abortion political ideology, banning the pro-life counterpoint and life-saving information from being promoted on their platform,” Live Action founder Lila Rose told CNA in a statement. 

Rose said that Google was no longer “hiding their bias,” and that the censorship of the advertisements “baldly reveals that the corporation is in the pocket of the abortion industry.”

On Sept. 13, Rose said, Google “disapproved” all of Live Action’s advertisements for abortion pill reversal, claiming they were “unreliable” and contained false information. The advertisements had been running for over four months and had previously been approved by Google, she said. 

Rose disputed Google’s label of “unreliable claims,” noting that the abortion pill reversal regimen uses progesterone treatment that has been FDA-approved to prevent miscarriages. She said Google “obviously failed to understand” what abortion pill reversal actually entails.

The reversal regimen, promoted by Live Action and other pro-life medical professionals, “involves an FDA-approved, bioidentical pregnancy hormone called progesterone that has been used for dozens of years to prevent miscarriage and has already saved thousands of lives,” Rose said. 

Banning the ads, she said, will have “devastating” consequences for women and girls who may turn to the search engine after regretting taking the first dose of the medication abortion regimen. 

“More women and girls will be marketed abortions through Google’s platforms, without also being offered life-affirming options,” said Rose. 

The office of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday sent a letter to Google’s CEO, asking why the ads had been removed and at what rate ads by pro-life organizations are ruled ineligible for Google’s platform, Live Action reported.

A chemical or medication abortion is a two-step process that involves the ingestion of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first drug, mifepristone, effectively starves the unborn baby by blocking the effects of the hormone progesterone. The second drug, misoprostol, is taken up to two days later, and induces labor to expel the body of the deceased baby.

Chemical abortions can be reversed after a woman takes mifepristone, but before she takes misoprostol, although this action must be taken quickly. Live Action advertised a hotline for women seeking to potentially reverse the first step of a chemical abortion, with a physician available to help. 

If an ultrasound confirms the unborn baby is still viable, the mother is given a large dose of progesterone to reverse the effects of mifepristone, with additional doses of progesterone needed throughout the first trimester.

Each woman who undergoes an attempt to reverse her abortion is also referred to a help center for support throughout the remainder of her pregnancy.

In 2019, Andrea Trudden, the director of communications and marketing for Heartbeat International - which markets the abortion pill reversal hotline - told CNA of an estimated "64-68 percent success rate" for women who contact the hotline seeking to reverse their abortions.

Rose told CNA that she thinks Google should allow the ads back on its platform as a sign of compliance with its own policies. 

“The tech monopolies that have so much control over our information consumption and our daily lives are so tied in with the radical left that they work to restrict informed consent and censor life-saving options in order to protect the billion-dollar abortion industry,” said Rose. “It’s anti-choice and morally wrong. Google must apply fairness and uniformity to its policy and allow Live Action and pro-life partners back on its ads platform.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – which is pro-abortion and has fought in court to liberalize federal restrictions on the abortion pill regimen – claims that the abortion pill reversal regimen is “unproven and unethical.”

The organization points to a 2012 case series as “not scientific,” where four of six women continued their pregnancies after taking progesterone doses. That study “was not supervised by an institutional review board (IRB) or an ethical review committee,” the college stated.

In 2019, a case study commenced at the University of California at Davis to study the abortion pill reversal treatment, but it was stopped due to safety concerns and lack of participants. According to NPR, only 12 women enrolled in the study while researchers had hoped for 40 enrollees. Three of the 12 were transported to the hospital for serious vaginal bleeding; one of those three had been given progesterone.

The lead researcher on the study – Dr. Mitchell Creinin, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Davis – told NPR that not finishing the abortion pill regimen was “experimental” and cited “some evidence that it could cause very significant bleeding." Crenin has a long history of performing abortions.

Pro-life groups countered that the study actually showed the dangers of mifepristone, as two of the three women who experienced bleeding had not been given progesterone after they had taken mifepristone.

Heartbeat International added that a previous study, in which Crenin participated, also showed hemorrhaging related to the abortion pill regimen.

Heartbeat International claims that more than 2,000 women have successfully used the abortion pill reversal to stop an abortion. The administration of progesterone to reverse the abortion pill regimen has not been specifically approved by the FDA, although many pro-life medical professionals consider it safe.

A 2018 case study, published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Issues in Law and Medicine, showed that in 261 successful abortion pill reversals, the reversal success rates were 68% with a high-dose oral progesterone protocol and 64% with an injected progesterone protocol.

Rebekah Buell-Hagan, a woman who successfully underwent a reversal of the abortion pill regimen in 2013, told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly that she had used her phone to find out what she could do to reverse the procedure.

“I typed in ‘I took the first abortion pill and changed my mind,’ and back in 2013, there wasn’t a whole lot that came up,” Buell-Hagan said in her 2018 interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “But there were a few girls that had asked the same question, and unfortunately the answers they were getting were not hopeful, it was very much ‘you have to finish what you started.’”

However, she found the website AbortionPillReversal.com which connected her with a doctor.

“We started progesterone injections for several weeks to counteract the abortion pill that I took,” she said.

This article was updated on Sept. 15 with new information.

US bishops push for pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants

null / Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2021 / 11:20 am (CNA).

As members of Congress this week advanced language providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, the U.S. bishops’ conference praised the development.

Congress is currently crafting a $3.5 trillion budget package that would fund many Biden administration priorities, such as universal pre-K, child care benefits, additional health care subsidies, green energy initiatives, and permanent residence for millions of immigrants.

Currently, House committees are in the process of approving language for the budget package. The House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 13 approved language creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“For decades, the bishops of the United States have been proponents of such reforms, which promote integration and family unity,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference immigration committee, on Wednesday.

He urged that such immigrants be granted a pathway to citizenship, and not be allowed to reside in the United States with a dubious legal status.

“We cannot persist in relegating these members of our society to the margins, especially when we simultaneously depend on so many of them for our collective wellbeing,” he said.

While implying that parts of the budget package are contrary to Catholic social teaching, Bishop Dorsonville praised the immigration language.

“Undoubtedly, Catholic social teaching will be implicated by many aspects of this budget reconciliation bill, but this is a welcome milestone for many families and the common good,” he said of the immigration provisions.

Pro-life groups have warned that the reconciliation bill could ultimately include billions of dollars in health care spending without pro-life protections, thus allowing for a significant increase in federal funding of abortions and abortion providers.  

The budget package would need to be passed through the process of reconciliation, a procedure by which budget-related items need only a simple majority vote in the Senate rather than the normal 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

The Senate parliamentarian rules whether certain items are budget-related, and thus can be included in a reconciliation bill. It is unclear if the parliamentarian would maintain immigration language in the bill; the parliamentarian reportedly met with Democratic staffers last week and this week, who presented their case for why the immigration proposals should stay.

“We call on both the House and Senate to include these provisions in the final reconciliation bill and for Congress to pass a bill that helps all those on the margins of our society, strengthens families, protects religious freedom, promotes care for creation, and respects the rights and dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death,” Bishop Dorsonville stated.

Those eligible for citizenship, under the House Judiciary Committee proposal, would include Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries, undocumented agricultural workers, and other undocumented essential workers.

“Dreamers” are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, but who are eligible to apply for permanent residence. “Temporary Protected Status” is granted to immigrants from certain countries who are eligible for a delay of deportation, due to conditions in their home countries that prevent their safe return such as natural disasters or armed conflict.

At a Monday evening virtual event hosted by the advocacy group Faith in Action, other U.S. bishops emphasized the need to include a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation bill.

The present situation is the “closest we’ve come” since 1986 to reaching a pathway to citizenship, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe said.

For immigrants working in certain essential industries, “it would be the height of ingratitude,” Wester said, “if we can’t at least do something to forge a pathway to citizenship.”

“I think what’s at stake is not simply the rights of eight million or more,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, “but really, our own salvation, our own holiness.”

Pope Francis, he said, has emphasized the issue of immigration “to show us the pathway to holiness,” who “profess that we have faith but not have works to show it.”

Judge temporarily blocks New York vaccine mandate, lacking religious exemption, for medical workers

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Syracuse, N.Y., Sep 14, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A federal court on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against a New York state COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which disallowed religious exemptions, after a group of anonymous medical professionals filed suit against the governor and her administration. 

Then-governor Andrew Cuomo announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all medical workers in the state in August, with a deadline of Sept. 27 to be fully inoculated. The mandate covers staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, adult care facilities, and other care settings, and did not include a religious exemption.  

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group, is representing a group of 17 medical professionals who claim the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and who have chosen to remain anonymous. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the mandate. 

In the ruling from the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, issued Sept. 14, Judge David Hurd wrote that the New York Department of Health is “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward.” 

The state has until Sept. 22 to respond to the temporary restraining order. 

The Thomas More Society says the plaintiffs include doctors, nurses, a medical technician and physician’s liaison, and that they are “now facing termination from employment, loss of hospital admitting privileges, and the destruction of their careers, unless they consent to be vaccinated against their will with vaccines that contradict their sincere religious beliefs.”

Many states have introduced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and teachers. President Joe Biden announced last week that he had directed the Department of Labor to draft a rule that would require employees at all companies with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. 

Bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to cell lines derived from fetal tissue likely derived from a baby aborted decades ago. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested on the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines both in production and testing.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoing guidance from the Vatican, has since stated that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love."

The bishops of South Dakota and of Colorado have explicitly expressed support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions, while in contrast, many bishops in California, as well as in Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, stating that there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds. 

The Chicago archdiocese, along with the Diocese of El Paso, has introduced its own vaccine mandate for employees.

The five bishops in Wisconsin in late August issued a statement encouraging vaccination against COVID-19, while maintaining that people ought not be forced to accept a COVID vaccine. The bishops added that, in the cases of Catholics conscientiously objecting to receiving a vaccine, clergy should not be intervening on their behalf. 

Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample and Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly have both decreed similar policies, stating that any Catholic seeking an exemption places the burden on the individual’s conscience rather than on Church approval, and thus priests of their dioceses are not allowed to vouch for the conscience of another person in seeking an exemption from a vaccine mandate. 

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, has been vocal about its opposition to mandatory immunization for COVID-19. While acknowledging that reception of COVID-19 vaccines is morally permissible, the center has maintained support for the rights of Catholics to refuse the vaccines because of conscience-based concerns.

America's return to God after 9/11 didn't last long, priest says

The then-remaining section of the World Trade Center surrounded by rubble, Sept. 27, 2001. / Bri Rodriguez/FEMA News Photo

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 16:19 pm (CNA).

Twenty years ago, Father John A. Perricone sat down at his desk in the rectory of St. Agnes Catholic Church in midtown Manhattan and began to write.

“I sit here writing this piece coughing on the fumes of hell,” is how he began.

It was Sept. 14, 2001. Three days earlier, Islamic terrorists crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center, setting off a cataclysmic chain reaction that killed more than 3,000 people and reduced the iconic Twin Towers to a smoldering, toxic pile of rubble.

Then a professor of philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Father Perricone lived at St. Agnes, a historic parish located across the street from the Chrysler Building and a half block from Grand Central Terminal.

Like other city residents, and the nation as a whole, he was still struggling to process what had just happened. Others felt compelled to write about the tragic loss of life, or the heroism of first responders.

Father Perricone wrote about evil.

“Though I sit some one hundred blocks from ground zero of Manhattan Island, the winds shift and billows of that smoke of death stretch all the way to my room at St. Agnes rectory — and to every one of you, wherever you sit in this beloved nation of ours, now supine before an Islamic monster,” he wrote.

“For the evil that growls at us now sits on the doorstep of every person in America, and of the world. More importantly, it proves to over-intellectualized Americans that indeed evil exists. It kills. It corrupts. It demands a daily war against it, sometimes even requiring our blood.”

A prolific writer and lecturer, Father Perricone shared his words with friends and others in his social circle. But his reflections weren’t widely read until Saturday, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when Crisis magazine published his essay, “9/11/01: Hell in Manhattan,” for the first time.

In an interview with CNA Tuesday, Father Perricone said that re-reading his writing 20 years later, he was struck by how mistaken he had been at the time to believe that 9/11 would somehow bring America to its senses about the reality of sin and evil, and the need for God.

“I thought naively … that maybe this jolt, like Pearl Harbor, might help people to see things differently and to shake off some of this grinding secularism that was pulverizing their souls,” he said.

“And I was completely wrong.”

Father John A. Perricone is a professor of philosophy and a prolific writer and lecturer. Courtesy of Father John A. Perricone
Father John A. Perricone is a professor of philosophy and a prolific writer and lecturer. Courtesy of Father John A. Perricone

Father Perricone recalled how his noon Mass at St. Agnes that Sept. 11 was packed with people, many of them caked in ash from the towers’ collapse.

The need to pray and the desire for God remained strong for many days and weeks, he said. But it proved ephemeral.

Writing 20 years ago, he observed, “Words like ‘sin,’ ‘Satan,’ ‘saintliness,’ and ‘virtue’ have all been made to sound slightly eccentric by secularism’s totalizing reach. It is no surprise that it has tunneled deep within religion itself. More than a few priests are slightly embarrassed by the vocabulary of religion.”

What was true in 2001 is even more true today, he believes, after two decades marked by a steady loss of faith and ever-rising secularism.

“I never thought our beloved America would worsen, but it has,” Father Perricone told CNA. “I mean, not by degrees, by magnitude.”

How so?

“We’re still addicted to that notion that evil is just a psychological syndrome,” he explained, ‘[that] evil is simply not evil, it’s some social mechanism gone wrong.”

That is not now, and has never been, the Catholic worldview, he noted.

Today, Father Perricone resides at Sacred Heart parish in Clifton, New Jersey, and he celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Jersey City.

Many of those who attend his Masses are Catholics in their twenties or thirties with only hazy memories of 9/11. What draws these young adults to the Traditional Latin Mass?

“The absolute certitude of the Catholic faith, the granite-like truth that the Church has preached for 2,000 years and never changed,” he replied. “They’re hungry for that.”

That desire suggests that, deep down, many today still search for answers that secularism can’t provide. But redeeming our culture will take time; there are no “quick fixes,” Father Perricone emphasized.

“We need those great, heroic bishops, like John Chrysostom, and Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Great, Leo the Great. At that time, at the dying of the Roman Imperium, they were the superstars. The people were led by their bishops; they adored them. … They looked to them for their strength, and they looked to them for rebuilding.

“And, indeed, Western civilization was rebuilt,” he said.

“We desperately need that today.”

Catholic Hong Kong activist honored at prayer breakfast  

Hong Kong.Hong Kong media tycoon and founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court, May 18, 2020. / Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 16:01 pm (CNA).

A Catholic democracy advocate was honored in absentia on Tuesday at a Catholic gathering in Washington, D.C., while he remains imprisoned in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, a media entrepreneur and Catholic pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, was given the Christifidelis Laici award on Sept. 14 by organizers of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. The award is named for Pope John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the mission of the laity in the world.

Lai “believed that we are created for truth and that it is our job to speak the truth,” said William McGurn, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board who accepted the award on Lai’s behalf on Tuesday. “His publications told the truth about China & Hong Kong.”

“He is a man of extraordinary means, serving ordinary men and women longing for freedom,” said Joseph Cella, a board member of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

Lai has been imprisoned for 10 months in Hong Kong, having long supported the pro-democracy movement there and having cited his Catholic faith in support of his efforts.

An entrepreneur, he founded both Next magazine, a Chinese weekly publication, and Apple Daily, a pro-democracy publication critical of the Chinese mainland government. Apple Daily shut down publication earlier this summer, after its accounts were frozen and top leadership was arrested.

In 1997, he converted to Catholicism and was baptized by the now-retired bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen.

Lai's conversion, at the time the United Kingdom handed over sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, was “like a small green shoot breaking through the concrete,” McGurn said of the time.

Hong Kong had previously maintained its own legislature and democratic form of government under the “one country, two systems” agreement, as the U.K. prepared to hand sovereignty of the region to China. However, the Chinese mainland government had sought greater control over Hong Kong in recent years before imposing a sweeping national security law on the region in 2020, bypassing the island’s legislature. The act followed months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Under the new law, a person convicted of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces would receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

Lai was arrested in August 2020 over his support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and remained on the island to face his charges. People had urged Lai – who is also a British citizen – to leave Hong Kong before he would be arrested, McGurn noted.

“If you thought that [leaving] was ever a possibility, you don’t know Jimmy Lai,” McGurn said.

Released on bail, he was arrested again later in the year, and was charged in December with breaching the terms of a lease for his company, Next Digital Media.

Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal on Feb. 9 denied Lai bail, but allowed his legal team the possibility of applying again for bail. He has remained in prison for 10 months.

During his prison term, he has applied the Rule of St. Benedict – “ora et labora,” or “prayer and work,” McGurn noted.

“When he’s not reading the classics of the faith,” McGurn said of Lai, “he has a job folding paper into envelopes.” Some fellow prisoners have even been baptized during his term, McGurn said.

“While Jimmy may be stuck in prison, his soul remains free,” he said.

Unity can only come from God, bishop tells prayer breakfast

Bishop Steven Lopes / Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).

True unity comes from God and is not something created by man, the bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter stressed at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. 

Bishop Steven Lopes, in his Sept. 14 keynote address to the audience of Catholics, said that both Catholics and Americans must be mindful of where unity comes from in order to attain true peace. God revealed Himself to humanity as “a communion of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he said.  

“The Father who sent his Son, the Word made flesh, and the Holy Spirit to save his people precisely by drawing them into communion with himself,” he said. At Pentecost, Jesus Christ is “made present and active,” he said, and through the baptized, Christ’s mission is carried out.

It is the sacrament of baptism, said Lopes, that “informs and secures all other forms of authentic unity and communication” with Christ. 

And it is here where the Church must inform society, he added, particularly in the American vision of “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one.” 

People of faith working in the “civil realm” are the ones that ask “hard and necessary questions about human dignity, the inherent goodness of the created order, the nature of the human person,” said Lopes. 

“And without these questions, these annoying questions, political discourse devolves into empty slogans or worse, totalitarian imposition. We’ve seen that again and again.”

Lopes delivered his remarks at the 17th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering of Catholic clergy, leaders and public officials. 

Scripture scholar Jeff Cavins also addressed the prayer breakfast on Tuesday, urging Catholics to integrate the Word of God into their daily lives.

“If we’re going to change America, I truly believe that we have to live as disciples,” Cavins said, urging attendees to fight for their faith. “I would encourage you to fight like the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s Ark,” he quipped. 

The event’s organizers also honored Jimmy Lai, an imprisoned pro-democracy advocate in Hong Kong, with the Christifidelis Laici Award, named after Pope John Paul II’s 1988 exhortation on the mission of the laity in the world. 

In his keynote address on unity, Lopes suggested that his own diocese, the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, is an example of how unity works in the Church and in the world.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI created a new diocese in the United States and Canada for former Anglicans wishing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. There are 40 parishes in the Ordinariate throughout the United States and Canada. 

In the Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, or “Anglican Ordinariate,” as is commonly known, Mass is celebrated according to a unique missal, and other Anglican customs are observed. 

Lopes said his diocese is proof that unity with the Church does not mean that previous traditions must be abandoned. 

“My little diocese exists because unity is not just important, because it is what the Lord himself prayed for on the night before he died,” he said. “So, our experience of bridging this new life in the Catholic Church can perhaps give some insight on how unity and diversity work.” 

The bishop explained that “real unity” is “something more than the superficiality of a group of like-minded individuals acting in roughly the same way at approximately the same time.” 

Humanity was made to be in union with others, explained the bishop. 

“And, the Catholic would add, in baptism, we have received a vocation to make our Lord and God present in the world by manifesting the holiness of God who is One and Three,” he said. 

Unity, explained Lopes, is also “magnanimous.” 

Again drawing from the example of his diocese, he explained that even those who petitioned the Vatican for what would eventually become the Ordinariate “were surprised by the extent of Pope Benedict’s offer.” 

“A diocese with its own way of celebrating Mass is hugely generous and sparked comment in some corners that the Pope was ‘bending over backwards’ to accommodate people who might as well be called apostate,” he said. 

“The generosity of the gesture did not accord with a vision of the Church which would say: If you want to be in the Catholic Church, get in line with everyone else.”

This is false, said Lopes. He said that what the pope offered was not simply generosity, it was the “virtue of magnanimity.”  

“No less a figure than Abraham Lincoln built his second inaugural address around this same virtue, because he too saw it as the key to national unity,” said Lopes. “Magnanimity is part of the glue that holds communities and societies together and fosters an enrichment of those communities by integrating new people,” both in the Church and in the United States.

“The American idea works because it is not an idea,” he said. “It is a civic virtue, disposition of soul requiring real conversion and real action to embrace the other as good because we embrace the other as an equal.”

“Only then can it be a unifying force, not just a blending of diverse and divergent bodies into exterior uniformity,” said Lopes.  Lincoln’s words are engraved on his memorial just a few blocks from here serve as a summons. They are not merely meant as nostalgia.” 

What a Dominican priest from the Midwest has learned about Catholic-Muslim dialogue since 9/11

Pope Francis participates in an interreligious meeting at the site of Ur, outside Nasiriyah, Iraq, March 6, 2021. / Vatican Media

Denver, Colo., Sep 14, 2021 / 10:53 am (CNA).

Real-life relationships and a “holy curiosity” must be the basis for Catholic-Muslim dialogue, says a Dominican priest whose college discussions with Muslims after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks strengthened his own faith and set him on a path that took him to Egypt for in-depth academic study of Islam.

“American Catholics must avoid the temptation to reduce Muslims to an abstract,” Father Luke Barder, O.P., told CNA Aug. 26. “I think our charity and the teachings of the Church, particularly from John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council, require us to always maintain the dignity of our partner, even if they are of a different faith, and (to see) that their experiences are real.”

Fr. Barder, who was born in Illinois, joined the Dominicans in 2007 after working at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. For several years he lived in Cairo and studied Islamic studies and Arabic studies at the Dominican Institute for Oriental studies, receiving a graduate diploma in Islamic Studies from the American University in Cairo. He is now pastor at St. Dominic Catholic Parish in Denver.

Catholic-Muslim dialogue, he said, often raises the same question.

“The question everybody wants to ask is: is dialogue possible?” said Fr. Barder. He likes to use the answer he heard from a friar in Cairo: “No. Not Yet.”

Dialogue presupposes some common encounter or language, he explained.

“The biggest barrier right now between Christians and Muslims has less to do with religion, and more to do about a lot of other things, whether that’s economic, societal, history, etc., and the perceptions that we have of each other,” said Fr. Barder.

“One of the biggest problems is that we think we know who the other is or what they believe but in reality we have zero idea,” he said. “Before we can have substantive dialogue, we first need substantive encounters with each other. That can take a long time. But we’re doing that work.”

He advised Catholics who discuss religion with Muslims “to have the openness and the curiosity – I would call it a ‘holy curiosity’ –about how people experience life, how they hope, and how their faith informs them.”

“It’s not about a matter of who’s right and wrong, at first,” he said. “Before true dialogue and the issues of who’s right and who’s wrong have to happen, we should really not be afraid to encounter one another.”

Fr. Barder’s freshman year of college marked a turning point for his life and the world. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked four planes, attacking the World Trade Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., with three of them. Passengers regained control of the fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, and diverted it from its intended target. The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and have had a lasting impact on the U.S. and the world. The American responses included the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, with combined death tolls in the hundreds of thousands.

Up until the Sept. 11 attacks, Fr. Barder said, “I knew what my faith was and what Catholicism was but I rarely met a person of another faith. All of a sudden 9-11 drove this question: ‘what is religion and its role in society’?”

Barder, then a student at Purdue University in Indiana, had an academic interest in religion. However, he particularly benefitted from his participation in a group of Christian and Muslim students through Dialogues International.

“I got to meet a lot of Muslims and learn from them,” he said. “I always attribute my encounter with Dialogues International, particularly the Muslims there, as one of the major reasons I started going back to daily Mass and fell in love with daily prayer and a reverence for the divine, as they talked about it. It was a really beautiful encounter.”

Catholics should approach dialogue with Muslims from the perspective “that there is something to be gained or learned from your partner.” Alluding to Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions, Fr. Barder said, “the Catholic Church will not deny any ray of truth wherever it is found, and seeks to be able to realize what is the impulse of faith.”

“There’s so much more to our faith experience than the simple content of the faith,” he said.

Many Catholics do not necessarily hold their faith because of a particular doctrine, according to Fr. Barder.

“We practice our faith because we have had an encounter with Christ and the sacraments. And that allows us to continue to move forward and ‘pushes’ our faith,” he said. “It is the same on the other side. Their experiences of God, prayer on a daily basis, is the ‘push’ of their faith. That is something that we can certainly begin to see, to start with, and not deny that they’ve had encounters with God because they’re not Christian.”

As Fr. Barder learned through his fellow Dominicans’ encounter with a Cairo man, both Muslims and Catholics have misconceptions about each other, sometimes from a very young age.

“We had a good, good friend who, when he first met us, was deathly afraid to come into our priory,” he said. “His friends and his family discouraged him from coming over to the invitation for dinner, because they thought that Christian monks were witch doctors and practiced devil worship. That was a genuine, palpable fear he had of Christians.”

Fr. Barder encouraged Catholics in the U.S. to have self-awareness about their own cultural context and limitations. Religion is always “incarnated” in a people, and one’s own cultural moment, historical background, and formation means a great deal for how one’s religion is expressed.

“We often align ourselves with identity with religion and faith because it is also so tied to culture and our experience and identity and community. But we have to make sure that we don’t confuse the two wholeheartedly, to say that this community, a temporal expression of Catholicism, is the only way that it can be,” he said.

“The Catholic Church is so much more than what we experience in our parish. There is a greater expression of faith and religion that involves the people, place and culture in which it’s in.” Faith can “transcend all of that and find a variety of expressions.”

As a Latin rite Catholic in Cairo, Fr. Barder was a minority even among Egypt’s Catholics, most of whom are Coptic. For their part, Egyptian Muslims mainly encounter Coptic Orthodox Christians, and this forms how they think of Christianity.

“Muslim expression is as diverse as Catholic expression,” said the Dominican priest. “What we say of Saudi Arabia is not the same thing at all that we would say of Iraq.” In addition to the regional diversity, Islam is split between Sunni and Shia branches.

“We too quickly and easily equate Islam with the Middle East,” he added, noting that the most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, is in southeast Asia. At the same time, even in the Middle East Islam is going through a unique expression based on the last 50 to 100 years of its history.

“There are many more people of good will than not, and I truly encountered that in Egypt, living among the Muslim population,” said Fr. Barder. “The goodwill that they expressed and offered to me, and the goodwill that the Dominicans there and the Christian community there has offered to their neighbors have been quite impressive. There is a virtue that I encountered there that inspired me to go deeper in my own faith and rely on God even more.”

For Fr. Barder, both the Catholic and Muslim religions impel their adherents to “encounter and encourage the true charity which is inherent in every single human being, because we are created in God’s image.” They also seek to identify reasons “why people lose good will.”

He also acknowledged negative trends. There is a “minority voice” that makes the most notice and even has “the biggest destructive impact.”

“What we have found is that not everybody is of good will,” said Fr. Barder. “In some very dramatic and public ways like the terrorist attacks, the lack of good will towards one’s neighbor, and even our reaction to it at times, has not always been demonstrative of good will.”

Mohamed Atta, considered the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, was from Egypt, though most hijackers were of Saudi Arabian nationality. Atta and several of his collaborators, however, had spent years in Germany and it was there that Atta began to pursue a strict version of Islam and seek out links with al-Qaeda.

Fr. Barder said any discussion of Atta was beyond his expertise, but he noted that some Muslims who commit terrorist acts in Europe were raised in immigrant enclaves there. He worried that the experience of some Muslims living in areas without a large Muslim community can make them feel rejected or lacking in “a sense of dignity or place and identity” that can feed extremism.

Concrete local engagement between Catholics and Muslims is also possible, said Fr. Barder.

“Go and see,” he said. “On a local level organize a group of parishioners and make a visit to a mosque. Invite a Muslim leader or a group to come and speak to you. Everybody loves food. Make a meal. Go and observe. Welcome them to come in.”

He encouraged discussion questions and topics like “what impels your faith? What do you believe? tell me the story of your faith, how it helps you through your day. What are your biggest worries in life?”

“That’s the beginning on a local level,” said Fr. Barder. “For us to be able to foster dialogue, it will only be able to happen on a foundation of mutual respect and friendship.”

Unvaccinated clergy in Lexington, Kentucky barred from ministering to the sick and homebound elderly

null / Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 14, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Priests of the Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 may not minister to the sick, elderly, and homebound, Bishop John Stowe has directed. 

The policy was announced during a Saturday vigil Mass Sept. 11 that Bishop Stowe celebrated at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington.

At the end of the liturgy, Deacon Tim Weinmann read a statement from the cathedral’s rector, Father John Moriarty, that both Fr. Moriarty and Father David Wheeler, the parochial vicar, have not been vaccinated.

“The bishop has asked that Fr. David and I, Fr. John – I’m speaking for Fr. John – make an announcement that we are not vaccinated, so people can decide if they wanted to attend Mass where they were celebrating,” the deacon read, according to a video of the Mass posted by the Cathedral of Christ the King.

“And if also the priests – and this has been done throughout the diocese – those priests that are not vaccinated are to follow the COVID protocol in the liturgy, and they are not allowed to visit the sick or elderly that are homebound,” the announcement continued. “Fr. John and Fr. David, again, have not been vaccinated.” Bishop Stowe stood beside Deacon Weinmann while the announcement was read but did not comment afterward.

You can watch the announcement in the video below, at the 1:07 mark.

It is not clear from the announcement Saturday whether other priests in the diocese must publicly disclose that they have not received a COVID-19 vaccination. A spokesperson for the diocese was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Trish Collier, a parishioner in the diocese, attended one of the weekend Masses at the Cathedral when the announcement was again made about Moriarty's and Wheeler's vaccination status.

"I couldn't believe it," Collier told CNA in a phone call on Tuesday. "I think everybody around us was surprised. The only thing that brought me some comfort for them was the fact that when he [Fr. John Moriarty] said, 'so I'm here to say that I am not vaccinated.'"

Collier said that, after Moriarty's announcement, "there were several people who started to clap and one fella yelled out, 'good for you. Stay strong.' And I know that helped him [Fr. John]."

On. Aug. 17 Bishop Stowe mandated that all employees of the Catholic Center, the diocese’s administrative headquarters, be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 1 as a condition of employment.

“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety,” Bishop Stowe said in a statement detailing the Aug. 17 mandate.

“There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation,” he said. 

“The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”

The mandate does not apply to clergy not working at the Catholic Center, though Bishop Stowe has encouraged pastors to adopt the same policy in their parishes. In an interview Aug. 17 with America magazine, the bishop said the interests of "the common good" made the mandate necessary.

“We have to be promoting the common good, and this is the one of the ways that we do it,” Bishop Stowe told the magazine. “And the individual reasons for not accepting [vaccinations]—the conspiracy theories and all the other stuff that keeps people from getting the vaccine and even the confusion that’s been put forth by many Catholic sources — is just not a good enough reason to not accept the vaccine for the common good.”

Video footage of the announcement at Saturday's Mass touched off a heated debate on social media. Critics of the policy said it violates the privacy rights of clergy and is insensitive to the rights of the seriously ill to receive the sacraments.

"This unfortunately is my bishop and I attended the Mass where this was announced," one commentator posted on Instagram. "It was a complete public shaming and absolutely a violation of privacy!"

Others, however, applauded the move, saying it was justified in light of the pandemic's threat to public health.

"You get the vaccine to protect and care for others, as Jesus taught us, so that you greatly reduce the risk of contracting the virus and passing it to those who will suffer horribly," another commentator wrote on Twitter. "Some will die. God sent us this miracle of science."

Others argued that the diocese's policy prohibiting unvaccinated clergy from ministering to the sick, elderly, homebound is consistent with guidance provided by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

"Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent," the CDF statement reads. "In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable."

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday that Kentucky currently ranks third in the nation for the highest number of new daily COVID-19 cases per capita, with a seven-day average of approximately 90 new cases reported per 100,000 people.

This article has been updated with additional information on Sept. 15.