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Local Catholic association supports physicians in their vocation

Dr. Saad Jazrawi, president of the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild, holds daughter Samar, age 7 months, during a dinner following the annual White Mass for Catholic health care workers in 2019. “If I combine my faith and my work, I’m a better Catholic and a better physician,” said Jazrawi. / Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel

Portland, Ore., May 11, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

As a committed Catholic and newly minted medical doctor, Saad Jazrawi was clear about his mission: treat patients with Christlike compassion.

He also knew distractions would abound, from the allure of a bigger house or fancier car to the stress of navigating insurance companies and administrative demands. And he’d encounter an array of moral issues — if not regularly in his own work, in his interactions with colleagues — abortion, medically assisted suicide and new views on gender.

“If I combine my faith and my work, I’m a better Catholic and a better physician,” said Jazrawi, a gastroenterologist who deals with digestive diseases and abdominal cancer. “I wanted to make sure that the two would not be in conflict, and I needed support.”

When Jazrawi moved to Oregon, he found the spiritual and practical encouragement he sought in the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild.

“It’s a small community of morally sound physicians who have been so helpful,” said Jazrawi, who was named guild president seven years ago. “I’ve become more comfortable not being distracted by things and can focus on what’s important — caring for patients with respect for the whole human person.”

Medical residents, including Temilola Yvonne Abdul (center), pose during the 2018 Catholic Medical Association conference, held in Dallas. / Courtesy Catholic Medical Association/Catholic Sentinel
Medical residents, including Temilola Yvonne Abdul (center), pose during the 2018 Catholic Medical Association conference, held in Dallas. / Courtesy Catholic Medical Association/Catholic Sentinel

The Portland guild is a chapter of the Catholic Medical Association and one of about 110 such organizations nationwide. It aims to uphold principles of Catholic morality in medicine, communicate Catholic medical ethics to the broader community, and fortify medical professionals in their faith.

The local guild began in the early 1950s as a loose affiliation of Catholic doctors. Most were parishioners of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Southwest Portland and lived near “Pill Hill,” so dubbed for its proximity to Oregon Health and Science University.

The group grew more active in the 1960s, and members gave talks on natural family planning at Oregon parishes. The guild essentially dissolved for a time, but in the 1990s Dr. Thomas Pitre and his wife, Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, revitalized it.

Physician-assisted suicide was gaining support locally, and within a few years Oregon would become the first state in the nation to legalize lethal prescriptions.

Dr. Thomas Pitre and wife, Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, helped revitalize the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild in the 1990s. / Courtesy of Dr. Thomas Pitre/Catholic Sentinel
Dr. Thomas Pitre and wife, Dr. Lynne Bissonnette-Pitre, helped revitalize the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild in the 1990s. / Courtesy of Dr. Thomas Pitre/Catholic Sentinel

“We felt the need as Catholic physicians to get Catholic doctors together to preserve our ethic that the Catholic faith is not incompatible with being a physician” and to address new practices that violated core tenants of the faith, said Pitre, who retired last year after 45 years in urology. He and Bissonnette-Pitre, a psychiatrist, are converts.

The couple added additional events to the guild’s calendar and restarted a White Mass, held for medical professionals on the feast day of St. Luke. The saint was both Gospel writer and physician.

Cardinal Francis George, former head of the Portland Archdiocese, spoke at several functions and encouraged Lynne and Thomas’ efforts. He also connected them with the Catholic Medical Association.

In 2005, the Portland guild hosted the association’s annual conference, drawing more than 300 medical professionals to the city for a gathering that included talks and daily Mass. The following year Pitre began a term as president of the national association.

The local guild’s most notable achievement is Holy Family Catholic Clinic, founded by three guild members and opened last year in West Linn, a suburb of Portland.

“They are doing marvelous work there at the medical clinic,” said Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, guild chaplain. The monsignor is director of the Portland archdiocesan Office of Divine Worship and recently was named rector of St. Mary Cathedral.

“Holy Family is a great resource for me now as a parish priest,” Msgr. O’Connor said. “I can send young couples who are planning to marry to the clinic to learn about natural family planning.”

Membership in the Portland guild has fluctuated over the past few decades, but it currently has about 25 core members, with many others attending special events such as the White Mass and annual dinner. There are meetings the first Saturday of the month, occasional social gatherings and retreats.

Dr. William Toffler, a member of the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild, speaks during a 2016 Catholic Medical Association event in Mundelein, Illinois. The doctor is one of three co-founders of Holy Family Catholic Clinic, the Portland guild’s most significant achievement. / Courtesy Marc Salvatore/Catholic Sentinel
Dr. William Toffler, a member of the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild, speaks during a 2016 Catholic Medical Association event in Mundelein, Illinois. The doctor is one of three co-founders of Holy Family Catholic Clinic, the Portland guild’s most significant achievement. / Courtesy Marc Salvatore/Catholic Sentinel

“It’s been a tremendous comfort to know there are other like-minded physicians in a culture that is increasingly at odds with what we believe,” said Pitre, echoing fellow members.

Periodically multiple guilds convene to learn about issues or upcoming legislation with ethical or religious liberty implications. Members also have engaged in advocacy, testifying at the Oregon state Capitol against euthanasia and collecting signatures for various respect-life measures. The guild sometimes collaborates with other Christian associations on issues.

In November of last year, the Portland group sent a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown conveying concerns about pandemic-related restrictions on communal worship. They were most worried about how the rules would impact psychological well-being. The physicians praised Brown for responding to an uptick in COVID-19 infections but asked her to consider each church’s capacity, an approach backed by science. Archbishop Alexander Sample also sent a letter to the governor, who eventually reworked the guidelines.

Archbishop Alexander Sample offers encouragement to medical professionals following a 2019 Mass in their honor. / Courtesy Saad Jazrawi/Catholic Sentinel
Archbishop Alexander Sample offers encouragement to medical professionals following a 2019 Mass in their honor. / Courtesy Saad Jazrawi/Catholic Sentinel

Archbishop Sample has been a champion of the Portland guild, as have previous archbishops. “We’ve also been fortunate to have many great chaplains,” said Pitre, noting Benedictine Father Bernard Sander, Msgr. Richard Huneger and Father Eric Andersen.

The current chaplain expressed his immense respect for guild members.

They work within a culture that’s not pro-life and even encounter hostility to Catholic teaching at some Catholic hospitals, said Msgr. O’Connor.

The camaraderie the guild affords, plus the support from the national organization, “allows men and women of faith to share with courage and knowledge church teaching in the world,” he said. “That’s a beautiful thing.”

This article was first published by the Catholic Sentinel and is reprinted with permission.

N.D. governor vetoes parts of pro-life funding bill

Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock

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

North Dakota’s governor last week partially vetoed a bill penalizing state universities for conducting business with abortion providers.

The state’s legislature had passed SB 2030, which prohibited challenge grant money from going to universities that partner with organizations that provide or support abortion. The legislature passed the bill to sanction North Dakota State University for its continued refusal to stop funding Planned Parenthood.

The bill also set up penalties for university partnerships with abortion providers, mandating operating budget cuts to the schools in violation and fines and jail time for school officials. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) vetoed those provisions, however, saying they were “void of due process” and that the penalty was “egregious in its amount.” 

In his veto letter, the governor affirmed his administration’s pro-life record.

“In the end, it’s a win,” Christopher Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference (NDCC), told CNA. “The bill doesn’t have the higher penalties, but it still says if those universities want the matching grants to help their students, all they have to do is not do business with Planned Parenthood. It’s that simple.”

For every two dollars raised by state colleges and universities for scholarships and academic initiatives, the state matches one dollar, under North Dakota’s challenge grant program.

Because of the challenge grants statute, Dodson called it “a pro-life victory.”  He also said it is good for students because the matching grants are still available.

He said the state Catholic conference has not taken a stance on supporting an override of the veto.

Burgum had vetoed provisions including a 2.5% operating budget cut penalty for universities in violation of the legislation. School officials signing agreements with abortion providers would be subject to jail time and a $1500 fine.

North Dakota State University (NDSU) would have been penalized $2.8 million as a result of the original language in the bill.

For over eight years, NDSU has been accepting a federal grant for a “PREP: Making Healthy Choices” sex education program. The grant comes from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since accepting the grant in 2012, NDSU has given over $1.5 million to Planned Parenthood for its sex education program.

“Two years ago, 90 legislators wrote to NDSU’s president saying, this has got to stop,” Dodson told CNA. “And basically, the university thumbed their nose as they renewed their grant, and that’s why the legislators said enough is enough and put this language on the existing bill.”

No federal or state money going through universities was used for abortions, Dodson mentioned. “That was never the issue,” he said. “The issue was that the state should not partner with an abortion provider on anything, even if abortion is not involved.”

NDSU’s federal grant expires in September 2021. The university said they will not be renewing the grant, the AP reported.

“The bill is not saying what you can teach, how to teach, or how to research,” Dodson said. “All its saying is don’t do it with an abortion provider. Because in our view, you don’t partner with someone with so much death on their hands.”

In April, Gov. Burgum vetoed a bill that prohibited biological males identifying as transgender females from participating in girls’ public elementary and secondary sports.

Louisiana legislature recognizes anniversary of Roe v. Wade as ‘Day of Tears’

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 11, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Louisiana state legislature last week passed a resolution recognizing Jan. 22, 2022, the 49th anniversary of legalized abortion throughout the United States, as a “Day of Tears.” 

“This week we passed a resolution calling for a Day of Tears in Louisiana,” state Sen. Beth Mizell (R), who introduced the resolution, said May 10 in a statement provided to CNA. 

The May 4 passing of the resolution recognizes Jan. 22, 2022, as a “Day of Tears” in the state, and citizens are encouraged to lower their flags to half-staff on that day to mourn unborn children who have lost their lives from abortion.

"As a pro-life state we must continue to bring attention to the loss of innocent lives from abortions yearly.  Let us work together to demonstrate that we value life and strive to protect the unborn,” Mizell said.

The “Day of Tears” resolution is a campaign for states to officially recognize the tragedy of legalized abortion in America. The Day of Tears, Inc. is a national pro-life organization that aims to introduce and enact resolutions similar to Louisiana’s in states around the country.

“Louisiana joins Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama in recognizing January 22nd as the Day of Tears,” wrote the organization, Day of Tears in a May 5 press release. “Similar Resolutions have been introduced in the US Senate and the US House of Representatives,” they said. Earlier this year, legislatures in both Arkansas and Alabama passed “Day of Tears” resolutions.

The Louisiana resolution said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, “erroneously ruled that abortion was a right secured by the Constitution of the United States of America.” 

“Since that ill-fated day,” the resolution said, “over sixty-one million pre-born children in the 9 United States have perished.”

The legislation comes amid what one pro-life leaders calls an “unprecedented surge” of pro-life bills at the state level.

According to a report published April 30 by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, 536 pro-life bills have been introduced in 46 states in the year 2021, with 61 new pro-life laws.

“The unprecedented surge of pro-life activity in state legislatures this year proves life is winning in America,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated following the report. She said that the state bills include bans on abortions after five months of pregnancy and bans on abortions conducted solely because of prenatal diagnoses such as Down syndrome.

New Montana law aimed at protecting women’s sports


Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Montana’s governor signed a bill on Friday requiring public school athletic teams to be designated by biological sex rather than gender identity.

The "Save Women's Sports Act,” signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte (R), would limit participation in women’s sports to only biological females, excluding biological males identifying as transgender females. The law states, “Athletic teams or sports designated for females, women, or girls may not be open to students of the male sex.” It is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

The bill follows a wave of comparable legislation in states including Idaho, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Kansas. 

In a statement, Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel for the group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said, “Allowing males to compete in girls’ sports destroys fair competition and women’s athletic opportunities.” 

ADF is currently representing female track runners in a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut; the state in 2017 began a policy allowing biological males identifying as transgender females to compete in women’s athletics.

The lawsuit is based on Title IXof the Education Amendments of 1972, federal law which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs. The group has argued that policies allowing athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity can put girls at a disadvantage. 

Holcomb said that Gianforte and the state legislature “have acted to preserve a level playing field for all female athletes in the state, whether in high school or college.” 

“This bill protects athletic opportunities for women and girls and gives them vital legal recourse against unfair policies that arise,” she added. 

“In the face of ongoing pressure from woke corporations and special interests to reject this type of legislation, we are especially grateful to Gov. Gianforte, Rep. Fuller, and the Montana Legislature for taking a courageous stand and ensuring fairness for women and girls as they continue to pursue their dreams,” she said. 

The Human Rights Campaign, a group that says it fights for “LGBTQ equality and inclusion,” said in a tweet referencing the Montana law, “Sports are for everyone. This law is wrong.”

Some state governors, including Kristi Noem of South Dakota (R), have vetoed transgender sports bills or have pledged not to support them; Noem herself requested an amended version of a transgender sports bill to exclude strict requirements for college sports. Once her proposed amendments failed to pass the state legislature, she issued an executive order to “protect” women’s sports, adding that she would still work for a special legislative session to address the issue. 

Colorado Springs bishop calls for prayers after deadly shooting

Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs / CNA

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The bishop of Colorado Springs called Catholics to prayer on Monday after a shooter killed seven people, including himself, at a local mobile home community on Sunday .

“I join the people of Colorado Springs and the nation in mourning the tragic deaths of six family members and a gunman on Sunday,” Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs stated on Monday afternoon.

“We have seen far too many of these horrific acts in recent decades, and only the love of Christ will overcome the crushing despair that is a common symptom of the culture of death,” he said. 

The shooting occurred shortly after midnight on Sunday morning. The Colorado Springs Police Department said in a statement that officers arrived on the scene at Canterbury mobile home park and discovered six adults shot dead, with another mortally wounded. The injured man was taken to the hospital and later died from his injuries. 

The department said it believed the shooting occurred at a birthday party, and that “friends, family, and children were gathered inside” a home to celebrate. 

The shooter, who is believed to have been a boyfriend of one of the women shot and killed, “walked inside and began shooting people at the party before taking his own life,” said the police. None of the children present were harmed, and they are currently with relatives. 

The names of those killed have not yet been released, pending the notification of relatives. Police said they were seeking to determine a motive in the shooting.

“I invite all the faithful to pray for both those who died and for the survivors, and I especially invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that, through her motherly care, the children impacted by this senseless act of violence will find consolation and healing,” Bishop Sheridan said. 

Department Chief Vince Niski expressed his sorrow at the shooting. 

“Words fall short to describe the tragedy that took place this morning. As the chief of police, as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as a member of this community, my heart breaks for the families who have lost someone they love and for the children who have lost their parents,” said a statement from Niski. 

Niski said that the officers of his department were “left incredibly shaken” by the crime scene. 

“This is something you hope never happens in your own community, in the place that you call home,” he said. “When these types of unspeakable acts happen, there is nothing that can be done to fully rebuild what was lost or replace those who are no longer with us.” 

Niski vowed that “this department will do everything we can to find you the answers you deserve and be here with you with an unwavering support.”


CDF highlights its Note on Catholics in politics in letter to US bishops on Eucharistic coherence

Luis Cardinal Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome, June 28, 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Denver Newsroom, May 10, 2021 / 15:16 pm (CNA).

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote Friday to the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding admission to Communion, affirming the centrality of the congregation’s 2002 note on Catholic’s participation in politics and the importance of safeguarding the rights of ordinaries in their local Churches.

A 2004 memo from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, then the prefect of the same congregation, should “be discussed only within the context of the authoritative Doctrinal Note,” read the May 7 letter by Luis Cardinal Ladaria to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, which was obtained by CNA.

Archbishop Gomez had written the congregation in March to inform it that the US bishops will be addressing the situation of Catholics in public office who support permissive legislation regarding abortion, euthanasia, or other moral evils.

Cardinal Ladaria opened his reply by emphasizing that the 2004 letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick about the same problem “was in the form of a private communication to the bishops” and that “insofar, therefore, as these principles are not published by the Conference, they may be of assistance in the preparation of the draft of your document.”

He said Cardinal Ratzinger had “offered general principles on the worthy reception of Holy Communion in order to assist local ordinaries in the United States in their dealings with Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions. Cardinal Ratzinger’s communication should thus be discussed only within the context of the authoritative Doctrinal Note which provides the teaching of the Magisterium on the theological foundation for any initiative regarding the question of worthy reception of Holy Communion.”

The cardinal noted that the Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life was discussed during the 2004 US ad liminas, during which “it was clear that there was a lack of agreement regarding the issue of communion among the bishops,” and that “the development of a national policy” was not then under consideration.

He added that the problem arose again during the 2019-20 US ad liminas, and that the congregation “advised that dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic. The formulation of a national policy was suggested during the ad limina visits only if this would help the bishops to maintain unity.”

“This Congregation notes that such a policy, given its possibly contentious nature, could have the opposite effect and become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States. Thus, we advised during the ad limina visits that the effective development of a policy in this area requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Cardinal Ladaria urged that the episcopal dialogue would help the bishops “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”

“The bishops should therefore discuss and agree to the teaching in the above-mentioned Doctrinal Note which affirms in article 3 that ‘Christians are called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism and accept that democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society.’ The bishops should affirm as a Conference that ‘those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life’,” the prefect of the CDF wrote.

Having done this, local ordinaries “would reach out to and engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” stated Cardinal Ladaria.

After these “two stages of extensive and serene dialogue”, then would the USCCB “face the difficult task of discerning the best way forward for the Church in the United States to witness to the grave moral responsibility of Catholic public officials to protect human life at all stages.”

“If it then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion, such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provisions of the Conference in this area would respect the rights of individual Ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See.”

The cardinal added that “any statement of the Conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholic, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”

He said that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”

Cardinal Ladaria urged that “every effort” be be made “to dialogue with other episcopal conferences” so as “to preserve unity” in the universal Church.

Archbishop Gomez transmitted Cardinal Ladaria’s letter to each of the bishops in the US May 8, as requested. He noted that the prefect “has provided us with important background and insight that should prove helpful to us in our continued prayer and discernment of this matter.”

Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2004 memo told US bishops that a Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.

In such a case, the politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, adding that if the Catholic perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

That 2004 memo was an application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Local ordinaries have in recent months been teaching about admission to Communion.

In March, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois told a regional conference of the Canon Law Society of America that Catholics who publicly and obstinately advocate for abortion, including politicians, can and should be denied Communion: “I'm talking about their external actions. If they're living in a way or holding positions that are contrary to church teaching, then the Minister of Communion has to deny them the sacrament.”

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix released Veneremur Cernui, an apostolic exhortation on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, in April. It says that “Holy Communion is reserved for those, who with God’s grace make a sincere effort to live this union with Christ and His Church by adhering to all that the Catholic Church believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.” This is why the Church “requires Catholic leaders who have publicly supported gravely immoral laws such as abortion and euthanasia to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they publicly repent and receive the Sacrament of Penance,” Bishop Olmsted taught.

In an April 14 column on Eucharistic coherence, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote that “the Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.”

In a May 1 pastoral letter, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco taught that any Catholic formally cooperating with abortion should refrain from receiving the Eucharist.

During his homily at the Vigil Mass for Life in January, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas taught that Catholics should not receive Communion if they are contradicting “fundamental” Church teaching.

Bishop McElroy of San Diego recently wrote an essay in America Magazine arguing that refusing Holy Communion to pro-abortion rights politicians politicizes the Eucharist, and Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago took issue with Archbishop Aquila’s column on Eucharistic coherence.

In October 2019, while campaigning for president, Joe Biden was denied Communion at a parish in the Diocese of Charleston. A Charleston diocesan policy, which is also that of the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Charlotte, states that “Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance.”

Catholics slam ‘lawless’ HHS ‘transgender mandate’


Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic groups and legal experts denounced the Biden administration’s notice on Monday that it would prohibit denial of gender-transition procedures in health care.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday issued a notice that it would include, as unlawful sex discrimination, “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” as well as “on the basis of gender identity.”

Legal experts warned that HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, a Catholic, would be enforcing federal law to require gender-transition procedures, under the policy of nondiscrimination.

“Becerra is threatening to put doctors and hospitals that disagree with current transgender ideology out of business, including those with medical, religious, or moral objections to conducting sex-reassignment surgeries on minors,” said Roger Severino, former head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights and current director of the HHS Accountability Project at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

Mandating gender-transition procedures, while many doctors remain opposed to providing them, is not sound medical policy, he added.

“Becerra is trying to change the fundamental practice of medicine and science by the stroke of a pen, but will soon learn through lawsuits that sex as a biological reality won’t be so easily erased,” Severino said.

The HHS notice, announced on Monday, states that it is interpreting sex discrimination in health care to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the Affordable Care Act, Sec. 1557 prohibited sex discrimination in health care; the Obama administration interpreted that provision to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Thus, the administration said that the denial of some procedures, such as abortions and gender-transition surgeries, constituted unlawful discrimination in health care.

Using that interpretation, the administration in 2016 announced the “transgender mandate,” forcing all doctors who accept Medicaid and other federal funding to provide gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional. The administration did not allow exemptions for doctors who objected to the procedures because of conscience or medical reasons.

On Monday, the Biden administration said it was extending protections against sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. It cited the Supreme Court's June 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, where the court found that federal laws against sex-based employment discrimination also applied to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity.

Becket, a legal group which is representing a coalition of doctors and religious groups opposed to the transgender mandate, said on Monday that the HHS announcement will “punish” doctors and hospitals opposed to the mandate.

Becket vice president and senior counsel Luke Goodrich said the group would be asking a federal court on Friday for a permanent injunction from the mandate.

HHS said that it would comply with existing court orders against the transgender mandate, as well as federal religious freedom protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. However, Becket said that the administration is still fighting these cases in court.

“In today’s announcement, HHS says it will comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and ‘applicable’ court rulings--but it is these very rulings HHS is fighting to overturn in court,” Goodrich said. Congress is also considering the Equality Act, a law which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and which specifically overrides RFRA. The White House has supported the legislation and called for its passage.

Severino on Monday called the Biden administration’s announcement “lawless.”

“This lawless action circumvents the public rulemaking process followed by both the Trump and Obama administrations on this issue and contradicts an existing court injunction,” he said. Two federal courts have ruled against the HHS transgender mandate.

As head of the HHS civil rights office, Severino twice found Becerra – then-attorney general of California – in violation of federal conscience laws, due to his defense of state abortion mandates.

Other Catholic leaders condemned the HHS announcement.

“Coercing doctors to carry out highly controversial and unproven ‘treatments’ like administering puberty blocking hormones to children and performing irreversible sex changes – against their best medical judgment and conscience – is the latest effort by the Biden administration to force anyone who dissents from its radical ideology into compliance,” stated Grazie Pozo Christie, M.D., policy advisor for The Catholic Association.

Brian Burch, president of, said the announcement was all about mandating gender-transitioning, and not about actual “health care.”

“Contrary to the misleading HHS announcement, no American is being denied care for broken arms, or standard medical procedures based on their gender ‘identity’ or sexual orientation. This move by HHS is a setup to normalize and strong arm doctors into administering puberty blocking drugs on children, performing sex-change surgeries, and more,” he stated. “Catholic hospitals and doctors are likely to come under increased pressure and scrutiny as a result.”

In 2020, the Trump administration said it would only interpret sex discrimination under biological sex, and not gender identity or sexual orientation.

Diocese of Buffalo drafting parish grouping plan

St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo / CiEll/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 10, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Buffalo is preparing to draft a plan for regrouping parishes, with a finalized plan due in September. 

Bishop Michael Fisher told participants at a May 8 virtual meeting that the plan will include the creation of “families” of three to six parishes that work closely with each other to provide for the spiritual, sacramental and educational needs of parishioners, the Buffalo News reported.

The parish plan will then be implemented over the next three years 

The Zoom meeting with Bishop Fisher was organized by the Movement to Restore Trust, a local group of lay Catholics founded in 2018 amid allegations of abuse cover-up by Bishop Richard Malone, Fisher’s predecessor. 

Malone resigned as bishop of Buffalo in December 2019, and Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany served as the diocese’s interim apostolic administrator until Fisher’s installation in January 2021.

"There are going to be lay leaders that are formed to help guide parishes in this renewal,” Father Bryan Zielenieski, the diocese’s vicar of renewal and development, said at the meeting as reported by Spectrum News. He added that clergy will be assigned to minister to the parish families rather than to single parishes. 

Father Zielenieski added that under the plan, individual parishes would maintain their own identities, corporate structures, trustees and parish councils, the Buffalo News reported. 

In recent years, the diocese has been rocked by revelations of past clergy sex abuse and allegations of a cover-up by former Bishop Malone, former auxiliary bishop Edward Grosz, and diocesan officials. 

In November 2018, Bishop Malone’s former assistant leaked records reportedly showing that the diocese worked with lawyers to conceal credible abuse allegations from the public.

While the diocese had reported the names of some priests credibly accused of abuse, it had not reported others, the records appeared to show. Bishop Malone denied claims that he had covered up abuse.

In September 2019, Malone again faced controversy when his secretary leaked audio of the bishop appearing to admit he knew a diocesan priest faced credible allegations of harassment, grooming, and a violation of the seal of confession - months before Malone removed the priest from active ministry.

Malone, who had led the diocese since 2012, resigned in December 2019 following a Vatican-ordered investigation of the diocese. Pope Francis named Bishop Fisher, formerly auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., as the new bishop of Buffalo in December 2020.

Following the August 2019 implementation of the Child Victims Act - which created a temporary “window” for child sex abuse lawsuits to be filed in old cases when the statute of limitations had expired - the Buffalo diocese was named in hundreds of abuse lawsuits. It filed for Chapter 11 reorganization under the U.S. bankruptcy code in February 2020.

At least 260 lawsuits have been filed against Buffalo parishes and schools under the Child Victims Act, the Buffalo News reported. 

A bankruptcy judge ruled in February that the diocese has “no obligation” to retain a law firm on behalf of Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz, whom the state attorney general is suing for alleged cover-up of sexual abuse. Under the ruling, the bishops must pay their own legal fees, but may still have the right to seek reimbursement from the diocese’s insurers for their legal costs, the Buffalo News reported. 

A federal bankruptcy judge in April put 36 lawsuits against Buffalo Catholic parishes and schools on hold until this fall, stating that the lawsuits’ advancement would interfere with the diocese’s bankruptcy reorganization process. 

Peoria diocese continues promoting Sheen’s beatification cause

Archbishop Fulton Sheen / Dumont Network

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Peoria is continuing to promote the cause for beatification of Ven. Fulton Sheen, almost 18 months after his planned beatification Mass was abruptly canceled. 

“We continue to promote the cause for both his beatification and canonization,” said Bishop Louis Tylka at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Illinois, on May 8. Tylka was celebrating a Mass commemorating Sheen’s birthday. 

The bishop added that “so much more so” is the diocese promoting Sheen’s cause to further “the preaching and sharing of the Gospel.”

Bishop Tylka is coadjutor bishop of the Peoria diocese, and will become the diocese’s ninth bishop once current Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC, retires in March 2022 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Born in El Paso, Illinois on May 8, 1895, Peter John Sheen was ordained a priest of the Peoria diocese on Sept. 20, 1919. He was called “Fulton” in honor of his mother’s maiden name.

On June 11, 1951, Sheen was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York. He remained in that post until 1966, when he was named the Bishop of Rochester until his retirement in 1969 at the age of 74. 

In 1969, Sheen was given the title of Archbishop of the titular see of Newport, Wales, and was known as “Archbishop Fulton Sheen.” 

Tylka called Sheen a “trailblazer” due to his Emmy-winning television show “Life is Worth Living.” The show aired on television from 1952 until 1957. 

Sheen “reached millions of people because of [the show],” says Tylka. “He was so far ahead of his time in that reality that we take for granted today.” 

Sheen died on Dec. 9, 1979. In 2002, his cause for canonization was opened, and he was declared venerable in 2012. Seven years later, Pope Francis approved of a miracle attributed to the intercession of Sheen, and his beatification was scheduled for Dec. 21, 2019. 

However, two-and-a-half weeks prior to the scheduled beatification, the event was canceled at the request of the Bishop of Rochester. 

“With deep regret, Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C, Bishop of Peoria, announces that he has been informed by the Holy See that the beatification of Fulton Sheen will be postponed,” a Dec. 3, 2019 press release from the Peoria diocese stated. 

“Bishop Jenky is deeply saddened by this decision,” said the press release. “In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news.” 

The bishop of Rochester reportedly requested the delay of Sheen’s beatification due to concerns that he could be named in the final report of an ongoing investigation into clergy sex abuse in New York. The state attorney general’s office is conducting an ongoing investigation into New York’s bishops and dioceses.

Throughout his life, Sheen embraced the media as a means of evangelization. He launched “The Catholic Hour,” a radio show on NBC Radio, in 1930. The show ran for 22 years. 

“Life is Worth Living” aired nationally from 1952 until 1957, and won the Emmy for “Most Outstanding Personality” in 1953. He received two other Emmy nominations during his show’s run. 

Biden administration says it will enforce health care protections for people identifying as LGBTQ

Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 10, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Biden administration on Monday announced it would interpret and enforce existing law to ensure people identifying as LGBTQ were not denied access to health care.

“It is the position of the Department of Health and Human Services that everyone – including LGBTQ people - should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period,” said Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), on Monday.

The law in question, Sec. 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, prohibits sex-based discrimination in health care. The Obama administration interpreted it to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. This was the basis of the administration’s “transgender mandate,” ruling that people could not be denied gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional.

The administration did not exempt doctors who were opposed to providing the surgeries, for medical or conscience reasons.

Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which is fighting the mandate in court, said the administration’s announcement on Monday “will punish doctors and hospitals if they won't perform harmful gender-transition procedures against their conscience and medical judgment.”

“This is bad for patients, doctors, and religious liberty,” Goodrich stated.

Catholic hospitals and health care groups sued over the transgender mandate, and two federal district judges have put an injunction on the mandate going into effect. A federal circuit court has also instructed one of the district courts to consider whether the hospitals opposed to the mandate should receive permanent relief.

“The plaintiffs in the case are religious doctors, hospitals, and clinics who joyfully serve ALL patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich stated. “Yet the Biden Administration is fighting them in court--and threatening multi-million dollar penalties that jeopardize the millions of dollars in free and low-cost care they give to elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”

In its announcement, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) said it would comply with existing federal protections for religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The office also said it would comply with court orders in transgender mandate cases.

However, Goodrich said that the administration says it will “comply” with these laws and rulings while it is actively fighting to overturn them in court.

The Trump administration allowed exemptions for doctors opposed to providing the surgeries, and clarified that sex discrimination did not include protections for gender identity or abortion. In August, a federal judge blocked that rule from going into effect.

In January, President Biden issued an order interpreting federal civil rights protections against sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration in April filed an appeal to keep the mandate in place.

“The mission of our Department is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. All people need access to healthcare services to fix a broken bone, protect their heart health, and screen for cancer risk,” Becerra said on Monday.

Dr. Rachel Levine, HHS assistant secretary, stated, “No one should be discriminated against when seeking medical services because of who they are.” Levine is the first openly-transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate.

The HHS announcement was made citing the Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, where the court ruled that federal civil rights protections against sex-based discrimination in employment included protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This article was updated on May 10.