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Catholic cathedral vandalized in California with 'white power,' 'BLM,' and swastikas

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).-  

A Catholic cathedral in California was defaced overnight, with swastikas, an upside-down cross, and other messages spray-painted on the church’s doors and entryways.

“This morning our beloved Cathedral was defaced with pentagrams, upside down crosses, white power, swastikas, BLM, etc. It reminds us to pray for my brethren in Iraq that are facing persecution. Pray for the criminals who did this,” St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, California said in a statement posted on Facebook Sept. 26.

The cathedral is the seat of the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of San Diego, an Eastern Catholic diocese of roughly 70,000 Catholics.

A video posted by the cathedral on Facebook showed numerous, seemingly opposed, symbols spray-painted on the church’s edifice and doors: swastikas, “White Power” and “WP,” alongside upside down crosses, “BLM,” standing seemingly for Black Lives Matter,” and “Biden 2020.”

Some symbols were indecipherable, others represented slogans or ideologies not ordinarily associated with each other, raising questions about what might have motivated the vandalism.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of more than 600,000 people. Headquartered in Baghdad, the Chaldean Catholic Church counts among its members Catholics in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Syria, and in numerous Western countries. The Church has grown in the U.S. in recent decades, amid an influx of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East.

The vandalism comes amid a spate of similar incidents at Catholic churches that has lasted for months. Earlier this week a man burned pews in an arson attack in a Florida Catholic church, and a man with a baseball bat damaged a crucifix and several doors at a Texas seminary.

Last week a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was destroyed in a Texas cathedral.

Also last week, a parish in Midvale, Utah, saw back to back attacks. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church had its namesake statue beheaded followed by burglary on subsequent nights.

“Sometime last night our statue of St. Therese of the Child Jesus outside of the Main Church was broken and vandalized. We are currently in contact with the police,” the parish wrote on its Facebook page on Monday, September 14. The statue was pushed off its pedestal and the head was broken off. A planter by the statue was also smashed.

The parish urged people to “pray for the person who did this, that they may get the help they need,” and said the vandalism was an “unfortunate situation.”

On Tuesday, the parish once again reported vandalism. 

“As an update to our parishioners, we are upset to report that one of the houses on our parish property was vandalized and broken into last night,” said the parish in a Tuesday post to its Facebook page.

A historic church built by St. Junipero Serra was burned in California this summer, in a fire being investigated as arson. A Florida man was arrested for setting flame to a parish church in the Orlando diocese.

Fires have been started and statues of Jesus, Mary, and saints have been beheaded or destroyed at parishes across the country, while in California numerous public statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down, defaced, and destroyed.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

The eparchy could not be immediately reached for comment.

 

Trump: 'Faith in God' helps unite nation

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- President Donald Trump invoked faith as an enduring force for national stability and resilience during times of trial in a statement released by the White House on Saturday.

“Our great Nation was founded by men and women of deep and abiding faith—a faith that has stood the test of time,” Trump said in a presidential message to mark the inaugural National Day of Prayer and Return on Sept. 26.

The message was released to coincide with “The Return, A National and Global Day of Repentance" organized by some Pentecostal Protestant groups in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. The event is timed to fall 40 days before the U.S. general election.

“On this inaugural National Day of Prayer and Return,” Trump wrote in his message, “the First Lady and I join millions of Christians here in the United States and around the world in prayer, as we turn our hearts to our Lord and Savior.”

In an apparent reference to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and months of demonstrations and civil unrest across several U.S. cities over racial justice issues, Trump said that faith was an important support for civil and national unity.

“The trials and tribulations the American people have faced over the past several months have been great,” Trump said. “Yet, as we have seen time and again, the resolve of our citizenry—fortified by our faith in God—has guided us through these hardships and helped to unite us as one Nation under God.”

Several U.S. cities have seen violent protests in recent months following the police-involved deaths of Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“As we continue to combat the challenges ahead of us,” said Trump, “we must remember the sage words of President George Washington during his first Presidential Address: ‘propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.’” 

“As a country and a people, let us renew our commitment to these abiding and timeless principles,” said Trump.

On Wednesday, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz called for unity and prayer in the city following the announcement of the grand jury’s decision to indict one of the police officers involved in Taylor’s death. 

Taylor, 26, was killed March 13 in Louisville during a police raid of her apartment. Taylor, a Black woman, was shot five times by the police after her boyfriend initially fired at the officers who breached Taylor’s apartment’s door to execute a warrant. The officers involved were white. An issue of contention is whether, and how loudly, the officers announced themselves when entering the apartment.

“There is no question that our nation’s original sin of racism continues to destroy the lives of persons of color and that racism extends through so many systems of our society... educational, economic, religious, housing, criminal justice, voting, and employment,” said the archbishop. 

On Wednesday evening, the city of Louisville saw widespread protests which descended into violence in some places. Two police officers were shot and 127 people were arrested.

On Thursday, Kurtz offered prayers for the wounded officers and reiterated calls for peace.

“As our community deals with the challenges of the sin of racism and affirms the first amendment rights of those who protest, I again join with people of faith and good will to plead for peace and the rejection of violence,” Kurtz added.

“I am reminded of a statement that Pope Francis shared in his weekly audience in early June,” Kurtz said, quoting the pope saying “My friends, we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence, and so much is lost…let us implore the national reconciliation and peace for which we yearn.”

Vandal takes baseball bat to Catholic seminary in Texas, but none harmed

Denver Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- A man who wielded a baseball bat on the grounds of a Catholic seminary in Texas damaged a crucifix and several doors, but caused no harm to seminary students. The seminary asked for prayers for the unknown perpetrator and warned against a rush to judgment.

“Assumption Seminary in San Antonio received damage to an outdoor crucifix and five glass doors of the discernment house on campus during an act of vandalism which occurred at just after 10 p.m. on September 24,” Jordan McMorrough, communications director for the San Antonio archdiocese, told CNA Sept. 25. “San Antonio Police Department officers are currently investigating the incident and are searching for a suspect.”

“First and foremost, all of our seminarians and all the people at the seminary are safe,” Father Hy Nguyen, rector of Assumption Seminary, said Sept. 25. “We ask for your prayers for this misguided person, and for the safety of the Assumption community.”

An unidentified man who held a baseball bat was observed walking up to the dormitory building, Nguyen said. The man hit the glass doors several times. Though law enforcement was notified immediately, the suspect fled the area before police arrived, according to the Archdiocese of San Antonio’s statement.

Photos provided by the archdiocese appear to show damage to the feet of a statue of Jesus Christ crucified. A San Antonio Spurs NBA jersey was placed around the head of Jesus. The statue is adjacent to Our Lady’s Chapel, beside the discernment house.

In a Sept. 25 post on its Facebook page, the seminary said “since we do not yet know who the person is or their motives, please refrain from rushing to judgment but please pray for us and for the perpetrator.”

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio reflected on the event.

“This disturbing event can lead us to know that Jesus on the Cross gave us His Body and Blood, His whole being, for our salvation,” he said Sept. 25. “It is a reminder that we are called to love one another as He loved us.”

“We pray for the person who committed this painful act; he is in our prayers,” the archbishop continued. “As with many other things that have been happening in this regard, may our hurt lead us to love even more, and even better. We assure our seminarians of our prayers and our support as we seek resolution to this.”

Clean-up of the vandalism began on Friday morning.

Assumption Seminary concentrates on formation of men for Hispanic ministry and church leadership. It has students from dioceses around the U.S. The San Antonio archdiocese serves about 800,000 Catholics in a regional population of over 2.6 million people, according to 2018 figures.

Recent months have seen numerous acts of vandalism and destruction at Catholic churches across the United States, including arsons and graffiti.

In July, a man crashed a minivan into a Florida Catholic church and then started a fire inside the building.

In Los Angeles, San Gabriel Mission church, founded by St. Junipero Serra, also burned in a fire being investigated for arson. Numerous statues of the saint have been vandalized or destroyed, most of them in California.

Several other churches across the country have been set aflame, and statues of Jesus or Mary have been toppled or decapitated.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

President Trump plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 04:20 pm (CNA).-  

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett Saturday to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A source close to Barrett told CNA Friday that the judge, who met with Trump this week, expects to be nominated to the post.

Several news outlets, including CNN and the NY Times, reported Friday that they had received confirmation of Trump’s intention from the White House.

Trump is not known to have interviewed other candidates for the job, but sources stressed that the president could change his mind, even while he is reportedly indicating that Barrett is his selection.

Born in New Orleans, the eldest of seven children, Barrett graduated from Rhodes College before receiving a full scholarship to Notre Dame Law School where she graduated first in her class.

Barrett went on to clerk for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, before going into private practice. She returned to Notre Dame Law School and taught classes in 2002 before becoming a professor in 2010.

Barrett has praised Scalia as an intellectual mentor and for his dedication to textualism, which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted with the context in which it was written.

In a November 2016 event in Jacksonville addressing a previous vacancy on the Supreme Court, Barrett stated that Scalia “resisted the notion that the Supreme Court should be in the business of imposing its views of social mores on the American people,” and that he thought it should be “up to the people to decide” things in the Constitution that weren’t explicitly banned or permitted.

Barrett’s selection is widely anticipated, with many media outlets touting her as the leading candidate for the nomination. She has already faced concerted media scrutiny and criticism for her Catholic faith.

During her 2017 nomination hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned her on her personal faith and values, saying that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Just weeks after she was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett was added to President Donald Trump’s list of potential future Supreme Court picks, and was rumored to have been one of the finalists to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy upon his retirement in 2018.

Barrett and her husband have seven children, including two adopted from Haiti. In a 2019 interview at a Notre Dame alumni event in Washington, DC, Barrett said that raising children is “where you have your greatest impact on the world” and that she could imagine no greater thing.

Amid renewed scrutiny of Barrett’s personal life and beliefs, and facing the likelihood of a tough confirmation process if nominated, Princeton University Professor Robert George highlighted anti-Catholic tropes again being used in criticism of the judge.

“One would have hoped that having brought shame on themselves last time, and blunted their spear on Judge Barrett by attacking her religion, they would be more careful this time about exposing their bigotry to public view. But no,” he said on Twitter.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearings, questions were also raised about Barrett’s association with the lay organization People of Praise.

People of Praise has been referred to in the media as a “cult,” and criticized for a practice, which has since been changed, that called leaders “heads” and “handmaidens”--both of which are references to Biblical passages.

But the group is an ordinary expression of the Christian desire for community and holiness, Bishop Peter Smith, a member of the organization, told CNA, and not a cause for concern.

People of Praise was founded in 1971 as part of a “great emergence of lay ministries and lay movements in the Catholic Church,” following Vatican Council II.

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

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

 

Black Pentecostal leaders: Amy Coney Barrett 'persecuted' for charismatic faith

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2020 / 03:15 pm (CNA).-  

A letter released Friday by Black Pentecostal and charismatic Christian leaders has decried criticisms of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s charismatic Catholicism, ahead of her possible appointment to the Supreme Court.

“Today we stand with, and speak in defense of, Judge Amy Coney Barrett,” the Sept. 25 letter said.

“As black Christians we will not stand by in silence as our sister in the faith is persecuted for the ‘political crime’ of her beliefs,” said the letter, which was signed by numerous clergy members, scholars, and religious leaders.

Barrett, said the letter, should be judged for her record as a lawyer, law professor, and judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals, not her religious beliefs and affiliations. Barrett is a reportedly a member of the People of Praise, an ecumenical charismatic organization based in South Bend, Indiana.

The judge’s affiliation with People of Praise has come under the spotlight as President Donald Trump prepares to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. The group has been repeatedly referred to as a “cult” and has been falsely accused of inspiring the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The letter, entitled “A Black Defense of Freedom of Conscience and Amy Coney Barrett,” was published by the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies.

The letters signatories acknowledged that while they do not know if Barrett will be nominated for the Supreme Court, “we do know that attacks on her Christian beliefs and her membership in a charismatic Christian community reflect rank religious bigotry that has no legitimate place in our political debates or public life.”

“If Judge Barrett’s belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and in the moral convictions associated with the historic Christian faith disqualifies her for an office of public trust, then our American values of individual freedom and the right to follow one’s conscience are simply hypocrisy,” the letter said, adding that religious tests for public office are banned in the U.S. Constitution.

“Those who say that Judge Barrett’s charismatic Christian faith--or ours--is a threat to the Constitution are themselves enemies of the Constitution. They are enemies of the freedom of the individual,” the signatories added.

“Such behavior cannot be tolerated.”

Rev. Eugene Rivers III, director of The Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies and himself a Pentecostal minister, told CNA that “There’s an increasingly hostile environment for people of faith.”

“One of the cases that forced us to act was the disgraceful treatment of Professor Barrett. It was the disgraceful, unjust, unfair treatment of our sister of faith,” Rivers added.

“We felt it was absolutely essential, that as men of faith--or particularly as Black men of faith--that we needed to vigorously stand up and philosophically and politically defend the right of conscience and religion that’s part of our Constitutional order.”

Black men, said Rivers, are “acutely sensitive” to the persecution of the innocent.

“Few people could be more innocent and generous,” said Rivers.

“This loving mother, devoted wife, committed Christian. And so, as men, we felt that we were morally obligated to defend our sister.”

 

US ambassador issues religious freedom warning at UN event

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 25, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- The U.S. religious freedom ambassador has warned against governments using the pandemic to crack down on religious minorities, in remarks on Friday during the United Nations General Assembly.

Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, spoke at an online event “Answering the Call to Protect Religious Freedom” event, held during the 2020 UN General Assembly.

In a review of the developments of global religious freedom in the past year, Brownback noted that the U.S. has “urged governments to make sure members of religious minority groups are not discriminated against during the pandemic,” whether through scapegoating of minority groups for the spread of the virus or unnecessary restrictions on their access to worship.

He also stated his concern of the increased use of technology to restrict religious freedom.

In March, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a fact-sheet on concerns about religious freedom during the pandemic, and Brownback in April called for the release of religious prisoners during the pandemic.

The International Religious Freedom Alliance, announced by the U.S. in 2019, now has 31 member countries and has been renamed the “International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance,” Brownback said on Friday.

There are “still way too many instances where the right to freedom of religion or belief is violated around the world,” adding that “our focus will be to urge all countries to prioritize this issue.”

The abuses committed against Rohingya Muslims in Burma, and the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang Province, China, were of particular focus on Friday.

“It is time for the international community to act, and it is time for us to push back. And both of these communities are being violated and persecuted,” Brownback said, “I believe in major part because of their faith.”

Zuba Murat, Uyghur-American advocate, spoke of the “escalating, terrible persecution” of Uyghurs by Chinese authorities since 2017.

“All of the normal practices of our religions are outlawed,” she said. Her mother, a retired medical doctor, “as of now has been in a concentration camp for the past two years,” with the family kept shut off from knowledge of her condition.

“Uyghurs are facing mental and physical torture, food and sleep deprivation,” as well as rape and forced sterilization, abortion, and birth control, she said.

“In any dialogue with China moving forward, these missing Uyghurs should be central to every conversation,” she said.

Brownback also brought up the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the importance of governments respecting religious freedom during the pandemic.

Another development in the past year was Secretary of State Pompeo removing Uzbekistan and Sudan removed from the “countries of particular concern” list, due to an improved situation for religious rights, Brownback said.

Bishops in US emphasize importance of life, Church teaching in voting guidances

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 12:17 pm (CNA).- As election day looms, Catholic bishops throughout the country are issuing pastoral guidance on how Catholics should think about their vote, emphasizing the preeminent importance of “life issues” and Church teaching.

“I recognize that many of you feel such deep distress about this election, perhaps the most contentious in the course of our lifetime,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said in a Sept. 22 letter to Catholics in his diocese.

The bishop noted that there are “problems with each of the major parties’ platforms and their endorsed candidates” and that his job as a bishop is to address “issues grounded on our faith and tradition” rather than to “endorse one or another of candidates for public office, including the office of president.”

Zubik emphasized to Catholics that they must view the act of voting “as a moral decision.”

This decision, he said, must be made with a “well-formed conscience” that is formed through prayer, Scripture, and “honestly inform(ing) yourself about the moral teaching of the Catholic Church,” he said.

Among the major problems facing the country right now are life issues, which “include the serious threats to human life and dignity, some of which are racism, the environmental crisis, human trafficking, unemployment, underemployement, appropriate medical coverage, the death penalty, religious freedom, the plight of immigrants, and poverty among others. In each and all of these, the Gospel calls for our attention.”

Zubik said while that list is but a “partial litany” of life issues, there is a “hierarchy of these issues that needs to be recognized.”

“At the forefront of ‘life issues’ is the right to be born as the right upon which all other ‘life issues’ rest,” he said.

Zubik said that the primacy of the right to life has been a “consistent Catholic teaching,” and pointed to the words of St. John Paul II, Pope Francis, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as examples of this.

“Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question,” Pope Francis wrote of abortion in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

“I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life,” Francis wrote.

In a Sept. 23 column for the Diocese of Madison’s newspaper, Bishop Donald Hying of Madison said that this election has “a contentious and angry divisiveness that we have not seen in our lifetimes.”

Hying said he wanted to remind Catholics that “before all else, we belong to Christ. We are Catholic Christians before we are Americans and certainly before we might be part of any political party.”
“Jesus Christ is our Savior; His teachings and the moral truths of the Church guide us in all aspects of our lives, including how we vote,” he added.

Like Zubik, Hying noted that “the Church cannot and will not endorse a particular candidate or party.”

Rather, he said, his role as pastor is to “teach and preach the Faith, so that all may vote with an informed conscience, even as we acknowledge that no individual or party can ever represent the totality of our values and beliefs.”

Hying referenced a statement from the U.S. bishop’s conference last year, in which they stated that abortion is the “preeminent moral issue facing our nation.”

The use of the word “preeminent” is important, Hying said, because “procured abortion surpasses all other moral issues in its urgency, but clearly is not the only issue we face.”

“Although I have always been pro-life, my commitment and understanding deepened when, as a young priest, I listened to and learned from the emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain of so many women and men who have been profoundly wounded by the violence of abortion,” he added.

Hying said he is grateful for the many ways the Church supports women “both in crisis pregnancy and after their children are born -- provides health care, education and social services to those in poverty, and offers hope and healing to women and men grieving in the aftermath of abortion.”

Because of the Church’s support and care for the whole person from birth to natural death, Hying said he rejects the “canard” that pro-life Catholics “only cares about the unborn child, but not those who are born.”

“If a candidate is fundamentally wrong on such a basic and preeminent human rights issue of grave consequence to the most innocent in our society and to our own future, how can I trust the candidate to make moral and prudent decisions on many other important social justice issues pertaining to the common good?” he wrote.

In a joint letter to Catholics issued this month, the Catholic bishops of Virginia - Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond - outlined three things Catholics should keep in mind when going to the voting booth.

“Many issues are important. Not all issues have equal moral weight. Protecting life is paramount,” the bishops noted.

In their letter, Burbidge and Knestout pointed Catholics to “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a statement written by the U.S. bishop’s conference and posted to their website.

“Our moral obligation to oppose intrinsically evil acts – which are ‘always incompatible with love of God and neighbor’ – ‘has a special claim on our consciences and our actions,’” the bishops said, quoting Faithful Citizenship.

“Of these, abortion is the ‘preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed,’” they added.

The bishops of Virginia also encouraged Catholics to visit vacatholic.org, to view a “side-by-side comparison of what the two major-party Presidential candidates have said or done on a wide range of issues of importance to Catholics...compiled jointly by a number of state Catholic conferences, including the Virginia Catholic Conference.”

In his column for the September 2020 issue of Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami also emphasized that the Church was not a political entity that should tell Catholics how to vote.

“Our Church rightly does not tell the faithful to vote for any candidate or party. The Catholic Church is not - nor does she want to be - a political agency or a special interest group,” he said.

“However, she does have a profound interest - and rightly so - in the good of the political community, the soul of which is justice. For this reason, the Church engages in a wide variety of public policy issues including the defense of unborn life, of religious liberty and of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, as well as advocacy on issues concerning immigration, education, poverty and racism, along with many others,” Wenski said.

Wenski also pointed Catholics to Faithful Citizenship as a helpful resource to inform their consciences before they vote.

The Church “offers a specific moral framework that should guide the voter in making prudential decisions as to who are the ‘best’ candidates - or, as sadly happens too often, who are the least ‘worse’ candidates,” Wenski stated.

The moral framework by which a Catholic decides their vote should be informed by prayer and Scripture, the bishop noted, and should rise above “mere party affiliation or self-interests…(to) guide the serious Catholic to examine the candidates on a full range of issues as well as on their personal integrity, philosophy, and performance. In this way, our vote will be an exercise of both responsible as well as faithful citizenship.”

Citing the words of Pope Francis, Wenski noted the importance of “the defense of human life and dignity” which is not a “‘narrow cause’ but a way of life.”

“For this reason, no Catholic should vote for a political program or law with the intent of contradicting the fundamental principles of our faith,” he said.

“That some Catholics in public life promote positions on human life that are not coherent with their Catholic faith is a scandal and while they may claim to be ‘practicing’ Catholics, it is obvious that they need to practice a whole lot more - until they get it right,” he added.

Wenski also lamented in his letter that the political landscape in the United States “can be discouraging.” But he encouraged Catholics to engage in politics, rather than retreat, in order to bring about transformation.

“We need a new kind of politics — one focused on moral principles, not on polls; on the needs of the vulnerable, not the contributions of the powerful; and on the pursuit of the common good, not the demands of special interests.”

Archbishop Naumann emphasizes preeminence of right to life

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2020 / 10:01 am (CNA).- The “preeminence” of the right to life is the teaching of the Church, the U.S. bishops’ pro-life chair stated ahead of October’s observance as Respect Life Month.

 
“This past January, I shared with Pope Francis that the bishops of the United States had been criticized by some for identifying the protection of the unborn as a preeminent priority,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas stated Sept. 24, as chair of the pro-life committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
 
“The Holy Father expressed his support for our efforts observing that if we fail to protect life, no other rights matter,” Archbishop Naumann said. “Pope Francis also said that abortion is not primarily a Catholic or even a religious issue, it is first and foremost a human rights issue.
 
October is observed as Respect Life Month by the USCCB, with Oct. 4 being “Respect Life Sunday.” The initiative emphasizes “building a culture that cherishes every human life.”
 
The USCCB is also inviting parishes to join the “Walking With Moms in Need” initiative to help pregnant women facing difficult or unexpected pregnancies.
 
At their fall 2019 meeting, the U.S. bishops approved a draft letter stating that the issue of abortion is “our preeminent priority”; the letter accompanies their voting document “Faithful Citizenship” ahead of the 2020 elections.
 
The issue is “preeminent,” the USCCB said, “because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
 
This stance does not minimize other issues such as racism or protecting the environment, Naumann said, citing the letter, but rather is a stand “to protect the most fundamental of all human rights – the right to live.”
 
The bishops’ approval of the draft letter was not without controversy, as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego intervened in the discussion preceding the vote; he challenged the use of the word “preeminent” to describe the concern of abortion, saying that “it is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world.”
 
Archbishop Charles Chaput, now the archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, stated his opposition to that line of thinking, saying that it “sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn’t true.”
 
In January 2020, Archbishop Naumann told Catholic News Service that he discussed the importance of the issue with Pope Francis during his ad limina visit, and that Pope Francis agreed that the issue was a preeminent one and a human rights concern.
 
Naumann also noted in his statement that this year marks the 25th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium vitae, on the value and inviolability of human life.

The encyclical was a “masterfully articulated defense of the right to life for children in their mothers’ wombs, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and the marginalized,” he said, and it “provides a blueprint for building a culture of life and civilization of love.”
 
He called on Catholics to take to heart the teachings of the Gospel and put them into action during Respect Life Month.
 
“The important work of transforming our culture begins by allowing the Gospel of Christ to touch and transform our own hearts and the decisions we make,” he said. “Through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, may Our Lord grant us the grace to live courageously and faithfully his Gospel of life.”

Sainthood cause being considered for priest who left ‘indelible mark’ on Michigan 

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- It is hard to overstate the impact Fr. Gabriel Richard, a French missionary priest, had on the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit, in particular.

From co-founding the University of Michigan, to starting Detroit’s first newspaper, penning the city’s motto and caring for its poor and sick, Richard “left an indelible mark on all of Michigan,” Monsignor Charles Kosanke, rector of the Basilica of Ste. Anne in Detroit, told The Detroit News.

Now, Fr. Richard’s life and works will be examined by a guild to determine whether he exhibited “heroic virtue,” which could put him on the path toward canonized sainthood.

“Fr. Richard was a zealous pastor whose missionary heart guided all that he did,” Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit said in a statement. “At a time when we in the Archdiocese are coming to a renewed awareness of our missionary vocation, I am grateful that we are able to raise up Fr. Richard as a model and inspiration for our mission today.”

The surprise announcement of the creation of the guild came on September 20, at the end of a Mass of celebration marking the declaration of the parish of Ste. Anne as abasilica, a Vatican-bestowed title. Fr. Richard himself was once pastor at Ste. Anne’s parish and his remains are buried in the church’s crypt.

Fr. Gabriel Richard was born in La Ville de Saintes in southwestern France on October 15, 1767. He attended seminaries in Augers and Paris, and entered the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice (P.S.S.) on April 10, 1790, before his ordination as a priest on October 15, 1790.

In 1792, Fr. Richard escaped the Catholic persecution of the French revolution by immigrating to the United States, where he first settled in Baltimore, Maryland and taught mathematics at St. Mary’s College.

In 1798, at the age of 31, Fr. Richard was reassigned to Detroit, Michigan, which was still considered mission territory, in order to minister to the Native American population there. In 1802, he became pastor of Ste. Anne Parish, where he would spend 30 years as a priest and would build the parish’s seventh church.

Just three years later, on June 11, 1805, the Great Fire of Detroit leveled the city - then with a population of about 600 people - to the ground. The fire left much of the city homeless, and burned most of its food stores.

According to “The story of Detroit” by George B. Catlin, Fr. Richard “was a man of quick intelligence and he was the first to see the food crisis.” The priest organized a brigade of men in canoes to recruit help from nearby farmers across the river, who opened their homes to the homeless and shared their food with the hungry.

It was also during the fire that Fr. Richard coined what would be Detroit’s city motto, “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus” which in English means: “We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.” This is still the city motto today, and it appears on the city’s seal.

In 1809, Fr. Richard brought the first printing press to Detroit and printed the city’s first newspaper, as well as publications in both French and English.

In the War of 1812, Fr. Richard was imprisoned by the British after expressing that he sided with the Americans, and the priest was only freed after the intervention of Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee, according to a 1997 profile of Fr. Richard in The Detroit News.

Fr. Richard was also a “strong promoter of education” and helped to found a school in 1808 to “educate native American and white children together to break down racial barriers,” according to the Ste. Anne biography of the priest.

In August of 1817, together with Rev. John Monteith, Fr. Richard founded the University of Michigan.

In 1823, Fr. Richard was elected as a territorial delegate to the 18th U.S. Congress, the first Roman Catholic priest to hold Congressional office. According to Catlin, some other candidates for the position “laughed” at the idea of the priest as a representative, as he was not an American citizen and spoke in broken English.

But his run could not be considered a joke. Though a non-voting member, he presented 16 petitions to Congress within the first two months of holding the office. In April 1824, he proposed his now-famous idea to build a long road linking Detroit and Chicago, today known as Michigan Avenue.

Fr. Richard lost re-election and resumed his pastoral activities, and was “always on hand in crises,” Catlin wrote. When cholera struck the city, now with some 4,000 inhabitants, in the summer of 1832, Fr. Richard “nursed the sick, comforted the dying, and performed the burial rites over many.”

In September 1832, the priest “was himself stricken with the disease and in a few hours he was dead at the age of 65,” according to Catlin.

His death was “mourned as a calamity” among both Catholics and Protestants, who had admired the priest so much that they had asked him to serve as their clergyman before they had their own minister in the city.

“It is particularly poignant now, amid the difficulties of the pandemic, to be starting on this journey studying the life of a beloved pastor who died while caring for the sick,” Msgr. Kosanke, the basilica rector, told The Detroit News.

Kosanke explained to The Detroit Catholic that the guild to examine the life and works of Fr. Richard is just an “exploratory phase” and does not guarantee that an official canonization cause for the priest will be opened.

“It’s just establishing the guild to do the research. Once the research has been done and we believe his life does reflect heroic virtue or holiness worth promoting, the archbishop has to consult the other bishops in the province - in our case, Michigan. If the archbishop believes, along with the other bishops of Michigan, that this is worth going forward, that’s when the cause is formally opened,” he said.

If his cause were to be opened, he would join four other men from Michigan whose causes for sainthood are officially opened, including Blessed Solanus Casey, Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga, Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, and Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ.

Experts push back on criticism of Amy Coney Barrett's 'covenant' agreement

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 06:30 pm (CNA).-  

Legal experts have pushed back after a Catholic commentator said it is reasonable for the Senate to question potential Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s membership in the People of Praise, a charismatic covenant community based in South Bend, Indiana.

Barrett, a federal judge and professor at Notre Dame Law School, is widely reported to be a member of the People of Praise, and has faced media criticism for that, even while covenant communities have been fixtures in American Catholic and Protestant churches since the 1970s.

Massimo Faggioli, a historian and Catholic commentator, wrote a Sept. 24 op-ed for Politico Magazine expressing suspicion about the vows or promises Barrett may have made to an entity that, in his view, appears to lack the accountability of the official Church hierarchy. 

Faggioli noted that “the dogmatic dimension of the Catholic intellectual tradition is, literally, an open book—the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

However, Faggioli claimed, “[Barrett] has made solemn promises that go far beyond the baptismal promises every Catholic makes.”

“To whom has Barrett made a vow of obedience? What is its nature and scope? What are the consequences of violating it?” Faggioli asked.

The professor did not note that since 2018, the People of Praise have made their covenant publicly available on their website. The covenant requires members to promise mutual support, common Christian discipleship, and common Christian witness. Members often move into the same low-income neighborhoods, in order to promote community development and develop charitable programs.

The People of Praise have said that their covenant agreement differs from a vow— which is a promise made to God— and that members are free to leave at any time.

Nevertheless, the Senate’s vetting process for Supreme Court nominees ought, Faggioli said, to examine “oaths and commitments they may have made that could affect or supersede an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Faggioli did not mention that numerous Supreme Court justices have been Freemasons, making vows of loyalty that are generally understood to supersede other loyalties and obligations.

In a Catholic context, “vows” are specifically defined by the Code of Canon Law as promises made to God, while the group’s covenant speaks of “a unique relationship one to another and between the individual and the community.”

The group’s covenant, according to the People of Praise’s website, is “made freely and only after a period of discernment lasting several years.”

“Our covenant is neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment. We say that People of Praise members should always follow their consciences, as formed by the light of reason, and by the experience and the teachings of their churches,” the group’s website reads.

The group’s website also states that “we have always understood that God can call a person to another way of life, in which case he or she would be released from the covenant.”

A former member of the People of Praise told CNA that the covenant was taken seriously, and as a result his family was encouraged to reconsider when they decided to leave several decades ago, but the group did release them from the covenant..

Even vows of obedience, in and of themselves, are not new or uncommon amongst Catholics. As Faggioli himself notes, Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans and lay Catholic members of “secular institutes” all take them.

“But at least in these communities, the vow of obedience that such a person has made would be visible, formal and accountable. That is not the case with new Catholic charismatic communities, whose vows are not public and whose leadership is not accountable under Church law,” Faggioli writes.

People of Praise’ covenant, which is publicly available, speaks mostly about the members’ commitments to each other and to the community, and does not explicitly include any provisions related to obedience to the group’s leadership, though it does provide that the member “accept the order of this community.”

Part of the covenant includes a promise to “obey the direction of the Holy Spirit” “in full harmony with the Church.”

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

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

The group began with 29 members who formed an agreement to follow common principles, to give five percent of annual income to the group, and to meet regularly for spiritual, social, and service projects.

Rick Garnett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, argued in a response to Faggioli’s op-ed that while there may be legitimate reasons for a nominee’s faith to come up in their hearings, a willful misunderstanding or misrepresentation of a nominee’s beliefs is not acceptable, nor is the application of greater skepticism to a nominee’s sworn testimony because of disagreements with that nominee's religious beliefs or affiliations.

“Several Democratic senators did these things during Barrett's hearings on her Court of Appeals nomination, and too many commentators and activists are doing these things now,” Garnett contended.

Barrett offered sworn testimony in 2017  to the Senate that she sees “no conflict between having a sincerely held faith and duties as a judge,” and that she will “never impose my own personal convictions upon the law.”

In a 2018 interview with the South Bend Tribune, People of Praise leader Craig Lent said the group never tries to influence how their members live their professional lives.

Faggioli in his op-ed cited a 2014 warning from Pope Francis for church communities in which he advised them not to “usurp the individual freedom” of members.

But Garnett noted that Pope Francis has praised charismatic renewal movements as a “current of grace” in the Catholic Church, and rejected the idea that Pope Francis’ comments could be used to single out People of Praise specifically.

Bishop Peter Smith, auxiliary of Portland in Oregon and a member of the People of Praise, rejected the idea that there is anything out of the ordinary or inappropriate about the group. If affiliation with the group were something to be concerned about, he said, Pope Francis would not have appointed him a bishop.

Some former members of the People of Praise have alleged that leaders have exerted undue influence over family decision-making, or pressured the children of members to commit to the group before being able to make that decision with maturity.

One critic, philosopher Adrian Reimers, has written that the group has made “serious errors” in its theological approach.

One former member of the group acknowledged the criticisms the group has faced, and said groups like People of Praise can develop unhealthy dynamics without careful attention. But he told CNA that “the rank and file People of Praise members are very, very good people, wholeheartedly dedicated to the Lord,” he said.