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Catholic colleges work together to help students hit by closure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transgender athlete policy violates Title IX, Education department rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maryland county lifts ban on CommunionĀ 

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Howard County, Maryland, has reversed a policy that banned consumption of any food or drink during religious services, effectively preventing the licit celebration of Mass. 

A county spokesman told CNA May 28 the prohibition will be removed, and faith leaders will be consulted on future guidelines for church reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball issued an executive order delineating reopening regulations and conditions for houses of worship and other entities deemed “non-essential” by the state of Maryland. 

“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” that order said. 

The executive order was due to go into effect May 29. 

On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said it had “serious concerns” about the policy, and that the “Eucharist is central to the faith lives of Catholics.” 

The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.

After CNA reported on Wednesday about the terms of Howard County’s executive order, and the archdiocese responded, the policy was reversed.

“As we move closer to a full Phase 1 Reopening, we will be lifting food consumption restrictions for faith institutions. We are currently working through the next wave of policy changes and are continually analyzing the criteria for re-opening and the need for temporary restrictions,” Howard County spokesperson Scott Peterson told CNA May 28. 

“Now that Governor Hogan announced a modified reopening of restaurants yesterday, Howard County is revisiting all food consumption restrictions,” Peterson added. 

Peterson added that the county wil “continue to work with our faith leaders to provide guidelines that will allow residents to worship safely and all religious leaders to resume practices safely.”

“We continue to evaluate best practices and consider recommendations across all faith institutions,” he said, noting that the Archdiocese of Baltimore had already published its own plans for the safe reopening of their churches and the resumption of public Masses.  

“We will consider these guidelines, as well as any other guidelines or recommendations for re-opening provided by other religious leaders or institutions, in adopting a plan for the County’s move into full Phase 1 Reopening and, when appropriate, into Phase 2.”   

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore said Thursday that she was “very pleased” by the county’s policy reversal.

“We are grateful to County Executive Ball and his team for working closely with our community and many others to ensure the health and safety of all while respecting essential elements of our faith traditions,” Mary Ellen Russell of the Baltimore archdiocese told CNA. 

“These are unchartered waters for all in leadership, and it is essential that we continue to work together for the common good,” she added. 

Other parts of the executive order remain in effect, including a requirement that worshippers wear masks and a limit on the number of people who can enter a building used for a religious service.

Congress passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act

Washington D.C., May 28, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The House on Wednesday evening passed legislation to respond to the mass detention and other human rights violations against Uyghurs in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

“We cannot be silent,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on Wednesday before the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed the House. “Xi Jinping is smashing and obliterating an entire people. He is presiding over genocide.” Smith authored the House version of the legislation which had 136 cosponsors.

The bill (S. 3744) was passed by the Senate on May 14, where it was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). It requires the administration to report on the scope and details of abuses committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities, and to sanction the officials complicit in the abuses through actions such as visa denial and blocking an individual’s financial transactions.

“Congress is sending a strong message of support to Uyghur Muslims worldwide that the United States stands with you and will not sit idly by as the Chinese government and Communist Party commit egregious human rights abuses and crimes against humanity,” Sen. Rubio, the co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), stated.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 413-1, with Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) the lone vote against. In December, when Massie opposed the passage of the House version of the legislation, he tweeted that “[w]hen our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”

According to the CECC, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained by Chinese authorities in camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Former detainees or their relatives have reported torture, beatings, forced sterilizations, and other abuses committed in the camps, with detainees sometimes sent to work in factories upon their release. The Chinese government denied the existence of the camps but later said they existed to provide vocational training.

There have also been reports of mass surveillance of residents in the region, forced labor in factories producing goods that end up in the supply chains of U.S. companies, and abuses of religious freedom with mosques and shrines being destroyed.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China concluded in 2019 that the abuses in the region may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

The Chinese government’s crackdown in the region has been conducted as part of its enforcement of a Counter-Terrorism law.

A report by UN human rights officials in November said that the application of the law “and related practices raises serious concerns regarding increasing practices of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, absence of judicial oversight and procedural safeguards and restrictions of the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to education and the right to freedom of movement within an increasingly securitized environment, particularly for designated minorities, notably Uyghurs and Tibetans.”

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has now passed both the House and the Senate and heads to President Trump’s desk for signature.

“The world has stood by for too long as the Chinese government detained millions of Muslims in concentration camps,” Nury Turkel, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), stated. “Hopefully, other countries will follow the U.S. government’s lead and take action on this issue.”

“I call on the President to sign the legislation quickly and take swift action to sanction Chinese officials and businesses engaged in mass internment, surveillance, and forced labor,” stated Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).