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After challenging California officials, Catholic home for trafficked girls set to open

Denver Newsroom, Aug 2, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic charity that has prepared to open a home for underage victims of human trafficking has reached a resolution with California authorities after it was allegedly pressured to affirm LGBT sexuality, to inject sex hormones into any beneficiaries who identify as transgender, and to agree to drive minors to abortion clinics.

“We were able to meet the state regulations in a way that did not compromise our conscience as a Catholic agency,” Grace Williams, founder and executive director of Children of the Immaculate Heart, told CNA.

The San Diego-based Children of the Immaculate Heart, which has served adult victims of human trafficking since 2013, had aimed to open a house for girls age 12-17 who had been victims of human trafficking. The charity has sought a license for the project for three years.

In November 2019 it filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of delaying the license for the project and violating its constitutional rights. The charity had invested $600,000 in the project and was paying rent and maintenance costs of $15,000 a month.

“It was a big financial hit. It’s a one more year delay. We rented an empty facility for three years,” said Williams, who described the lawsuit as “extremely time-consuming.”

“It’s a loss for girls that couldn’t be home sooner, but we’re happy we are where we are,” she said.

The charity and the government settled outside of court after California requested the process go to mediation. On June 10 the California Department of Social Services issued the organization a provisional license to operate The Refuge as a short-term residential therapeutic program.

The provisional license means Children of the Immaculate Heart may now provide therapeutic services and support for trafficked young people referred to it by the San Diego County Department of Probation and Child Welfare Services.

In November 2019 the organization sued the California Department of Social Services and the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, alleging violation of its constitutional rights in the licensing process. The lawsuit accused government officials of ignoring the charity’s multiple requests for a final decision on its application or for clarification regarding religious objections. They tried to force the charity to agree to facilitate “religiously objectionable” practices such as driving teens to abortion clinics or to LGBTQ-affirming activities, the lawsuit alleged.

At a meeting with state and county authorities, one official reportedly told the charity’s leaders, “You’re just going to have a problem with that religious thing,” according to the lawsuit.

The charity objected that licensing officials appeared to assume that because the charity is Catholic, it would discriminate against self-identified LGBTQ youth. The officials also wrongly questioned the non-profit’s stated mission of restoring victims’ relationship with Christ.

After the lawsuit was resolved, staff training at The Refuge starts next week.

“As an organization our staff is doubling in size,” Williams said. “It’s a big push, operationally, financially, and everything.”

The home plans to open to girls referred from probation and child welfare officials in the third week of August.

The organization was founded to help girls and women “heal from their trauma and to provide opportunities for them,” said Williams, “because, honestly, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for them.”

“We want them to become economically self-sufficient and, of course, we want them to encounter the love of Christ, which gives meaning and direction to all of our lives, and eternal life,” she said.

The Refuge works out of a four-bedroom home on two acres in Escondido in San Diego County.

It can house up to six girls who may stay for up to two years “so that they can have the best opportunity possible for healing and healthy integration into society,” the organization’s website said. The home provides targeted mental health treatment, family relationship building, life skills development like self-care and job readiness, and individualized academic coursework.

For Williams, the Catholic faith brings a deeper vision to helping victims.

“Catholic organizations are the most equipped for service,” she added, saying the Catholic understanding of human dignity can combine with professional training.

“We just have so much to offer,” said Williams, who co-chaired the San Diego Board of Supervisors’ Human Trafficking Advisory Council Victim Service Committee from 2015 to 2019.

Though there are increasing questions about difficulties for Catholic organizations operating under U.S. law, Williams had advice.

“It’s really a question of ’do not be afraid.’ I think a lot of Catholics avoid doing anything in the public square because it’s hard,” she told CNA.

“We’re going to be misunderstood, we’re going to be judged, people are not going to want us around,” she said. “However, we have everything to offer, and nothing to lose.”

“Maybe the cultural milieu is not on our side, but the constitution is on our side, which is why we felt comfortable filing the lawsuit,” she added. “In the end, we didn’t even have to finish it in court.”

The Refuge project was backed by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. In a 2017 letter to state officials, she called Children of the Immaculate Heart a “strong partner” and a “constant presence in the fight against human trafficking.” She urged officials to issue the license, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

The organization has a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women survivors of sex trafficking who have children. As of December, it was serving 13 women and their 18 children.

Officials’ feedback to the group’s application for the young girls home questioned how the charity would serve non-religious youth.

Licensing officials voiced concern that the organization did not detail how it would ensure transportation to LGBTQ programs or would ensure procedures for “gender transition” medication. The state said the nonprofit did not provide an explanation or a procedure to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Children of the Immaculate Heart said its nondiscrimination policy is adequate and that there is no rule requiring caregivers to administer medication in transgender procedures.

While California law requires the caregivers of foster youth to provide transportation to medical appointments, and to provide “age-appropriate, medically accurate information about reproductive and sexual health care,” there could be alternatives that would not involve the Catholic charity.

A state guide for foster youth case managers addresses a similar hypothetical situation, the San Diego Union-Tribune said. If a minor in foster care were to seek an abortion, and the caregiver refused to aid this effort, the minor’s case manger would have to arrange alternative transportation, for instance.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund represented the charity, with the Thomas More Society as co-counsel.

“The extraordinary women at Children of the Immaculate Heart just want to take care of commercially sexually exploited girls without being forced to violate their faith,” Daniel Piedra, executive director of the Freedom of Conscience Defense fund, said in November. “This case does not endanger the personal rights or health of girls. It only deals with a discriminatory mandate imposed by anti-Christian government officials.”

“The longer government bureaucrats place radical identity politics over saving innocent prostituted teen girls, the more money traffickers can make,” Pedra charged, claiming the government’s actions were “not just unconstitutional; they’re downright evil.”

On Aug. 2, you can get this St. Francis-themed indulgence

New York City, N.Y., Aug 2, 2020 / 03:18 am (CNA).- Today's feast of Our Lady of the Angels of Porziuncola and its associated indulgence is a way to focus on the importance of Mary and the Franciscan tradition in the Church, said one friar.

The Aug. 2 feast is found in the Franciscan tradition, and marks the dedication of the parish church, called Porziuncola or “little portion,” which is one of those Italy's St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt in obedience to Christ's command to “rebuild my church.”

“The Porziuncola is at the heart of the Franciscan journey,” Father David Convertino, the development director for the Holy Name Province of the Observant Franciscans, told CNA.

“For Francis, it was his most beloved place. He lived near it with the early followers … and he loved the Porziuncola, as it was part of his devotion to Our Lady.”

The Catholic Church teaches that after a sin is forgiven, an unhealthy attachment to created things still remains. Indulgences remove that unhealthy attachment, purifying the soul so that it is more fit to enter heaven. Indulgences are either plenary (full) or partial.

A plenary indulgence also requires that the individual be in the state of grace and have complete detachment from sin. The person must also sacramentally confess their sins and receive Communion up to about 20 days before or after the indulgenced act.

Anyone who visits a Catholic church with the intention of honoring Our Lady of the Angels and recites the Creed, the Our Father, and prays for the Pope's intentions, may receive a plenary indulgence on Aug. 2.

“Any kind of a prayer form that helps people come closer to God is obviously a good prayer form, and certainly an indulgence is one way,” Fr. Convertino said.

“It helps us focus on, in this case, the meaning of the Porziuncola and the Franciscan tradition, how it's situated in the greater idea of the Church.”

Porziuncola located inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. Credit: emmav674 via Flickr (CC BY_NC_SA 2.0)

The Porziuncola was built in honor of Our Lady of the Angels in the fourth century, and by St. Francis' time had fallen into disrepair. The church, which was then located just outside of Assisi, became the “motherhouse” of the Franciscan orders.

“Although Francis realized that the kingdom of heaven is found in every dwelling on earth … he had learned nevertheless that the church of Saint Mary at Portiuncula was filled with more abundant grace and visited more frequently by heavenly spirits,” says the life of St. Francis written by Friar Thomas of Celano, read today by Franciscans.

“Consequently he used to say to his friars: 'See to it, my sons, that you never leave this place. If you are driven out by one door return by the other for this is truly a holy place and God’s dwelling.'”

Fr. Convertino added that the Porziuncola “was the place he chose to lie next to on his deathbed, and at that time of course you could have looked up to the city of Assisi, which he also loved so well.”

The Porziuncola, a rather small chapel, is now located inside a large basilica which was built around it, to enclose and protect it.

“You have this large basilica built over this teeny tiny little chapel,” Fr. Convertino reflected. “If that chapel wasn't there then the basilica wouldn't be there, but if the basilica wasn't there, the chapel probably wouldn't be there either, given 800 years of war, weather, and turmoil.”

For Fr. Convertino, the duality of the big church and the little church is a reflection of the relationship between the world-wide Catholic Church and the smaller communities which make it up.

“We feel the Franciscans kind of convey, we're the ones at the heart of the Church, the little church there.”

He said that each time he visits Assisi, the “experience” of the Porziuncola is “compounded more and more,” and added that “it's such a magnificent place, and the friars there are wonderful.”

Fr. Convertino also discussed the fresco now painted around the entrance of the Porziuncola, which shows St. Francis, together with some of his followers, receiving the indulgence from Christ and Our Lady.

“The idea behind the story is that Francis is asking Jesus for a Porziuncola indulgence, and Jesus is saying to Francis, 'Well, you really better ask Mary, ask my mother.'”

This article was originally published Aug. 2, 2013.

Catholic school superintendent: ‘Our kids need to go back to school’ 

Denver Newsroom, Aug 1, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Bishops and school superintendents across the US are emphasizing the importance of in-person education for the coming fall term, and are seeking to reassure parents that schools are taking the precautions necessary to keep children safe.

In Florida, where Governor Rick Scott has issued an order mandating that schools must reopen in person in the fall, superintendents say they are doing everything they can to prepare to welcome students in safely while also offering remote learning for those who need it.

Chris Pastura, superintendent of schools in the St. Petersburg diocese, told CNA in an interview July 31 that he and other leaders in the diocese believe strongly it is important for students to come back in person.

"Our kids are loved every day, they're in a community, they're in a faith community, they're celebrating the sacraments— I think our kids need that environment. Our kids need to go back to school."

"COVID is not the only dangerous thing in our society. Lack of community, loneliness, and all those kinds of things affect kids. And I think it's important for our kids to be back in school."

Florida has become a center of the US coronavirus outbreak of late, with infections on the rise over the past few months.

From a pro-life standpoint, Pastura said, the schools in his diocese will be doing comprehensive testing for their employees, and other measures such as social distancing in the classroom to protect the students.

On Monday, the Diocese of St. Petersburg sent a letter to the parents of its nearly 13,000 students asking them to sign a waiver of liability, choosing to accept the risk that their children may be sickened by coronavirus at school.

Several other dioceses in Florida and a number of others across the country are asking parents of students returning to class in-person to sign similar waivers.

Pastura said for the most part, parents are accustomed to signing waivers for almost any activity their child does. The diocese had in spring drafted a waiver for summer camps, and early in the summer began to consider adapting it for the school year, as well.

All schools are giving the option of coming back in person, or doing online learning for students in high-risk medical categories, or who may have high-risk people in their households, Pastura said. 

The idea, he said, was to create a "statement of understanding" for parents, make them aware that a child could contract coronavirus despite the school's best efforts.

"Since this is just such uncharted territory, we thought it was important for people to first realize that we are doing all kinds of plans to make sure that our students and our employees are safe, and we're trying to make sure we do this the right way."

However, Pastura said, the school cannot possibly know what children are being exposed to outside the seven hours a day they spend at school.

"The release from liability— is it overly cautious? Maybe," he said.

"But we do live in a very litigious society, and we just thought it to be prudent...providing families with a very clear statement, I think that's the responsible thing to do, I think it's the fair thing to do."

Being asked to sign a waiver for any activity can raise red flags for people, Pastura said, and because there is so much uncertainty around coronavirus, it is understandable that parents may not understand the importance of the waiver.

Pastura said he and his Catholic school colleagues at other dioceses across Florida speak regularly about their reopening plans. He said he hopes that parents will trust those in authority over the state's Catholic schools, and recognize that those authorities are creating reopening plans with students' best interests at heart.

"There's a lot that goes into these decisions, and sometimes we just have to have some faith in one another. Even if we don't agree with someone's decision, maybe we can accept that it was made in good confidence based on the information available."

The superintendent of schools for the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese has also spoken out about the importance of opening Catholic schools in person.

"We feel that their spiritual growth is vital to them. We're educating the whole child, and spiritually is a big part of that," superintendent Mike Juhas told EWTN News Nightly.

Elsewhere, the bishops of California said this week that Catholic schools in California are taking appropriate measures against the threat of coronavirus and authorities should issue waivers to rules that bar the schools from reopening for “vital” in-person education, citing the low risk of coronavirus infection among children.

Initially, the nation’s largest Catholic archdiocese of Los Angeles, with 74,000 students attending its schools, announced on June 15 that schools would be reopening for in-person learning in the fall in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara.

However, California governor Gavin Newsom said on July 17 that schools in the state where coronavirus cases were high would remain closed for in-person learning.

Meanwhile, in Texas where COVID-19 cases have soared in the summer, the state is granting religious private schools the freedom to decide for themselves how to reopen in the fall.

In a July 29 joint op-ed, the archbishops of New York Boston and Los Angeles exhorted Congress and President Trump to adopt a federal scholarship tax credit modeled after successful state-level credits in order to assist private schools. Such a program would now be possible following the Supreme Court’s landmark June ruling in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, they said.

The bishops argued that Catholic schools— many of which are facing closure amid the pandemic— are worth saving because of their savings to taxpayers and their success in creating successful and well-formed citizens.

“Students and families for generations have benefited from Catholic schools, which have benefited America as a whole. This is now in serious jeopardy, as another sad legacy of the coronavirus pandemic,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, and Archbishop José Gómez wrote.

“Urgent action by President Donald Trump and Congress to meet the needs of Catholic and other school families will preserve this important education option for generations to come and prevent added financial burdens on our government school systems.”




Catholic retreat center converts to coronavirus quarantine site

Denver Newsroom, Aug 1, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- In Washington state, one of the first coronavirus hotspots in the United States, an empty Catholic retreat center will temporarily transform into a quarantine facility for coronavirus patients, the Diocese of Spokane has announced.

In February, the cancelations were already piling up from individuals and retreat groups scheduled to visit the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, located just south of Spokane.

Prospective retreatants, fearful of the novel coronavirus, which was just beginning to be detected in the United States, were fearful of coming together with people from other households and potentially contracting the virus.

“We were looking at a significant loss of revenue,” Michael Pallardy, development officer for the IHRC, told CNA.

The retreat center officially closed its doors in March, and as of June, it became clear that the center would likely have to cancel all of its retreats and events for the rest of the calendar year. While Deacon John Ruscheinsky, director of IHRC, and his team strategized about the future of the center in light of the coronavirus pandemic, he received an unexpected offer from Dr. Bob Lutz, Clinical Director of the Spokane Regional Health District.

Lutz proposed that in partnership with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington and the IHRC, the retreat center could temporarily be used as a quarantine facility for those with COVID-19. “So Deacon John Mashinsky went to Bishop Daly and told the Bishop what was proposed and asked the Bishop, what do you think?” Pallardy said. “And the Bishop gave him his blessing and said, ‘Please proceed, see if this possibly can happen.’”

"I wish to thank all parties involved for the professional manner in which they have addressed this temporary transition of IHRC from retreat center to a quarantine facility,” Bishop Daly said in a statement announcing the change. “Please join me in prayer for its success. May Our Lady of Lourdes guide our efforts in helping others in need."

The quarantine facility, which is set to open by the end of August at the latest, will serve “individuals who are actually diagnosed with COVID-19 symptoms, or those who had tested positive, but weren't showing symptoms yet. They also said that we would be helping the most needy and vulnerable of our society, so those individuals who are living on the street, who have no place to go who become ill and therefore become a carrier (of COVID-19),” Pallardy said.

Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, which has been open for more than 60 years, has 64 dormitory rooms in the main building, kitchen and dining facilities, and normally serves more than 7,000 retreatants in an average year. The plan is to separate the symptomatic patients and asymptomatic patients in the center, Pallardy noted.

He added that it seemed “obvious” to allow the retreat center to be used for this purpose, because “part of our mission is to help. Immaculate Heart is a place where people come for hope, peace and healing, and how best can we help those who are suffering with this illness, but to help them heal and in a prayerful place and a peaceful place?”

Pallardy said the work has already begun to transform the retreat center into the quarantine site - additional security cameras, air conditioning, and other updates are being made, and the health district and Catholic Charities staff are moving in while the retreat center staff are working from home. The contract with the Spokane Regional Health District states that the retreat center will be used as a quarantine site until the end of December, at which point the agreement will go to a month-to-month basis depending on the needs of the community, Pallardy said.

“Nobody knows what the fall or winter is going to be like with COVID and what pressures it’s going to put on our community,” he said. Pallardy said the facility could host families with children who are quarantining together, and would be open to people of all religions. He added that the retreat center, though serving a different purpose, will still be considered a ministry operating under the direction of Bishop Daly and the Diocese of Spokane.

Ultimately, Pallardy said the plan was providential in that it allowed the retreat center to continue operating for future use and it allowed the center to be used to help those most immediately in need. “To help our community and help the most vulnerable during this pandemic to heal is a godsend.”

San Francisco’s Archbishop Cordileone urges Friday fasting for an end to COVID

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 03:47 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is urging Catholics to fast every Friday for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In addition to adoration, we have to reclaim an authentic and serious spirit of fasting. Fasting has traditionally been understood to mean no more than one meal in the course of a day,” Cordileone said in a July 30 memo to the priests of the diocese.

“Let us storm heaven with prayer and fasting for a restoration of public worship unhindered, for a swift end to this pandemic, for health care workers and researchers, and for government officials who must make very complicated decisions for the overall well-being of our communities.”

The archbishop also urged prayers for the several seminarians of the archdiocese set to be ordained to the priesthood soon, as well as those men set to be ordained to the diaconate in the coming weeks.

Cordileone exhorted his priests to be as diligent as possible in bringing the sacraments to their people, including celebrating up to three outdoor Masses each Sunday, and providing Reconciliation in a safe manner as often as possible.

“Please regularly remind people to follow the safety practices necessary to curb the spread of the virus. This is real, it is dangerous, and it has to be taken seriously,” he added.

“The resurgence is due in no small part to people becoming lax once the shelter-in-place rules began to be lifted. Please urge these practices upon them; absolutely do not give them the impression that the coronavirus is not a serious threat to the physical health of our community.”

Cordileone said he detects “no unified sense of how the Church should proceed in these unprecedented times,” adding that they often have found the guidance and orders from the city confusing.

He said he and other archdiocesan officials have been working with local authorities to convince them that in-person worship services can be conducted in a safe and responsible manner. Despite their efforts to dialogue with local authorities, the city’s health orders have not changed.

Currently the City and County of San Francisco is limiting outdoor worship services to 12 people, with indoor worship services of any kind prohibited.

Cordileone pointed out that the city has allowed retail stores to operate at 50% capacity during the same time period that people of faith are prohibited from gathering in their churches, even with masks and social distancing in place.

“With regard to outdoor services, you are all well aware that pre-planned and scheduled street protests have been allowed to continue unhindered, while the limit of no more than 12 people still applies to everyone else, including us,” he continued.

“Yet here again, an outdoor worship service is a much safer event than a protest, since the people are stationary, social distance is respected, and the participants are wearing masks.”

San Francisco has seen numerous street protests in recent months, including one in late June that resulted in the destruction of a statue of St. Junípero Serra by a crowd of about 100 people.

The San Francisco archdiocese has recently been under renewed scrutiny from secular officials after the city says it received complaints from citizens about parishes holding Masses indoors.

Early this month, the archdiocese pledged to comply with the city and county public health orders barring indoor public Masses and limiting outdoor services, including funerals, to 12 people.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent a letter June 29 to the archdiocese’s lawyer, ordering the archdiocese to cease-and-desist indoor public Masses and giving it one day to comply.

“Upon reviewing the reports of multiple San Francisco parishes holding indoor Mass over the last few weeks, the Health Officer has concluded that the Archdiocese is putting not only its parishioners but the larger community at risk of serious illness and death,” the letter said.

The archdiocese told CNA today that it has made a good-faith effort to comply with the city’s public health guidelines, despite some occasional confusion and last-minute changes to the city’s public health orders.

“Our intention has always been to conform to what we understand to be the City orders and timelines,” the archdiocese said July 2, noting that the city’s orders have been constantly changing throughout the pandemic, sometimes on short notice.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has mandated that only outdoor and online services are permitted in counties that fall on a state monitoring list for rising COVID-19 infections.

The San Francisco archdiocese covers the city and county of San Francisco, as well as San Mateo and Marin counties, all of which are currently on the state’s list. The governor has said that the state’s list currently covers some 80% of all Californians.

In terms of school reopenings, in-person learning will not be allowed for public or private schools whose jurisdiction is on the state monitoring list.

After AOC decries statue, Hawaiian Catholic says St Damien of Molokai 'gave his life' serving lepers

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 31, 2020 / 01:28 pm (CNA).-  

A Hawaiian Catholic catechist said that St. Damien of Molokai is a “hero” to the Hawaiian people, after a prominent congresswoman claimed the statue honoring him in the U.S. Capitol is part of colonialism and “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.”

 St. Damien “gave his life” serving the isolated leper colony at Kalaupapa peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, said Dallas Carter, a native Hawaiian and a catechist for the diocese of Honolulu, in an interview with CNA.
“Any Hawaiian here who is aware of their history--which most Hawaiians are--would absolutely, Catholic or not, defend the legacy of Damien as a man who was embraced by the people, and who is a hero to us because of his love for the Hawaiian people,” Carter said.
“We did not judge him by the color of his skin. We judged him by the love that he had for our people,” Carter told CNA.
In an Instagram story on Thursday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) asked why there were not more statues honoring women historical figures, at the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection. The collection includes statues honoring historical figures from all 50 states, which are chosen by the states and sent by them to Congress for display.

“Even when we select figures to tell the stories of colonized places, it is the colonizers and settlers whose stories are told – and virtually no one else,” Ocasio-Cortez posted, with a picture of Fr. Damien’s U.S. Capitol statue in the background.

In 1969, Hawaii chose to honor St. Damien alongside Kamehameha I in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol.

Ocasio-Cortez noted on Thursday that Hawaii’s statue was of Fr. Damien and not of “Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii, the only Queen Regnant of Hawaii,” implying that it was an example of “colonizers” being honored instead of historical figures who are native to states.

“This isn’t to litigate each and every individual statue,” she said, arguing that “patterns” among the “totality” of the statues in the Capitol reveal they honor “virtually all men, all white, and mostly both.”

“This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture & how it impacts the present day.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s office told CNA that "it’s the patterns that have emerged among all of the statues in the Capitol: virtually all white men. Each individual could be worthy, moral people. But the deliberate erasure of women and people of color from our history is a result of the influence of patriarchy and white supremacy."

Her office later added that "Fr. Damien conducted acts of great good, and his is a story worth telling. It is still worthy for us to examine from a US history perspective why a non-Hawaiian, non-American was chosen as the statue to represent Hawaii in the Capitol over other Hawaiian natives who conducted great acts of good, and why so few women and people of color are represented in Capitol statues at all."

St. Damien of Molokai was a religious priest of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who spent the last 16 years of his life caring for lepers in the Hawaiian Kingdom.

He was born Jozef De Veuster in Belgium in 1840, and he entered the Picpus Fathers in 1859, taking the name Damien. He was sent to the mission in Hawaii in 1864, and was ordained a priest that May.

Shortly after that, the Hawaiian government and King Kamehameha V passed a law mandating that lepers quarantine themselves in an isolated colony on the island of Molokai. The local bishop asked for volunteers to minister to the leper colony, and Fr. Damien presented himself, beginning his work there in 1873.

Carter noted that the Hawaiian government of the time “did not know how to deal with leprosy,” and that “no one wanted to deal with Kalaupapa [colony].”

Damien himself was afraid to go and minister to the lepers, Carter said, but “over a period of time—his journal is very clear, and the writings of the Hawaiian people in that town are very clear—that he fell in love with the people.”

Eventually, Damien was given an ultimatum by his religious superior to either leave the colony or remain there permanently. He chose to stay.

The priest served the colony for the rest of his life, attending to both spiritual and temporal needs of the lepers. By 1884 he had contracted leprosy, and he continued to minister until his death in 1889.

St. Damien is beloved by native Hawaiians, Carter said, and then-princess Lili’uokalani—who Cortez implied should be given a statue instead of Damien—made Fr. Damien a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua in 1881, for his “efforts in alleviating the distresses and mitigating the sorrows of the unfortunate.”

Damien is also the only priest-saint in the Hawaiian martyrology “that spoke the native Hawaiian language,” Carter said. “He loved the Hawaiian people, he embraced our culture,” he said, and in turn “he was part of our kingdom. He was one of us.”

The priest was canonized Oct. 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI, who said that “his missionary activity, which gave him such joy, reached its peak in charity.”

On the occasion of the canonization, U.S. president Barack Obama expressed his “deep admiration for the life of Blessed Damien De Veuster.”

“Fr. Damien has also earned a special place in the hearts of Hawaiians. I recall many stories from my youth about his tireless work there to care for those suffering from leprosy who had been cast out,” Obama, who was born on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, said.

“Following in the steps of Jesus' ministry to the lepers, Fr. Damien challenged the stigmatizing effects of disease, giving voice to the voiceless and, ultimately, sacrificing his own life to bring dignity to so many.”

'Don't leave them behind': Bishops ask Black Caucus to remember Catholic schools

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is appealing to the Congressional Black Caucus to support families who opt to send their children to non-public schools, including Catholic schools. The letter comes as an estimated 500 Catholic schools are at risk of closing. 

The letter was addressed to Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), the chairman of the Congressional Black Congress, and was signed by Bishop Michael Barber, SJ of Oakland, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, and Bishop Joseph Perry, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. 

Barber is the chairman of the USCCB’s committee on Catholic education; Fabre leads the USCCB’s  ad hoc committee against racism; and Perry is the head of the subcommittee on Afircan American Affairs.  

After noting that public schools have requested an additional $300 billion in the next coronavirus aid package, the bishops asked that “families of non-public schools be considered as part of the comprehensive needs of K12 education, since non-public students represent ten percent of the K12 student population.”

The bishops requested that 10% of what is given to public schools “be directed specifically to the non-public school community to provide direct aid to families in the form of means-tested scholarships.”

The bishops noted that Catholic schools in urban areas primarily serve minority students, and that these schools are at increased risk of closure due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. In the Archdiocese of New York, where 20 schools are not re-opening in the fall, 91% of students enrolled at inner-city Catholic schools are minorities. Nearly three out of every four students at inner-city Catholic schools in New York live at or below the federal poverty line.

These schools, they said, benefit their students and need to remain open.

“Catholic education has played a significant role in lifting many from poverty to a more hopeful future,” they said, citing research indicating that Catholic schools “close the achievement gap in low-income neighborhoods.”  

“The poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains in Catholic schools,” stated the bishops. “A black or Latino child is 42% more likely to graduate from high school and two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate from college if he or she attends a Catholic school.”

“Black families attending Catholic schools are counting on you, as are families with children in public school,” said the bishops.

“Please do not leave them behind just because they value the historical and time-tested benefit of our Catholic schools for their children.”

Across the United States, there are 1.7 million children enrolled at over 6,000 Catholic schools. Minority students are 21.8% of the total enrollment, and about one out of five students at a Catholic school are not Catholic themselves.

LA archdiocese says don't sing Haas hymns

CNA Staff, Jul 31, 2020 / 10:15 am (CNA).- The largest Catholic archdiocese in the United States has requested that its parishes and schools stop playing music composed by David Haas following the recent allegations of sexual misconduct. 

“Parishes, schools, and ministries of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are asked to refrain from using music composed by musician David Haas out of respect for those who have reported sexual misconduct by Mr. Haas,” said an email sent July 30 to employees of parishes and schools. 

While there have been no further allegations of misconduct against Haas within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles since June 2020, the singer/songwriter was a frequent performer at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, which is hosted by the archdiocese. 

“As part of the current investigation, the Archdiocese is looking into a past complaint of inappropriate interaction and/or communication by Mr. Haas with adult women,” said the email. 

Haas, 63, is the composer of several songs included in the “Gather” hymnal published by GIA, which is among the best-selling and most used hymnals in American Catholic parishes. He has denied any misconduct. 

Allegations against the composer first surfaced in May concerning serial spiritual manipulation and sexual misconduct. The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has also received multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against the composer.

As a result of the allegations against Haas, which concern inappropriate interactions with adult women dating back decades, two music publishers have cut ties with him. Haas has been banned from performing in both the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and his home diocese, the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, until an investigation can be completed.  

“The Archdiocese stands against any sexual misconduct and is resolute in our support for victim-survivors of abuse,” said the email. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is requesting that anyone who has any information regarding Haas’ misconduct to come forward to the Office of Victims Assistance Ministry. 

Haas is a central figure in the “contemporary liturgical music” movement that began in the 1970s. Among Haas’ better known songs are the contemporary standards “Glory to God,” “You are Mine,” “We are Called,” and “Blest are They.”

Catholic schools plan waivers, remote learning, as officials weigh safe reopenings

Denver Newsroom, Jul 31, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- As the beginning of the fall school term approaches, Catholic schools in dioceses across the U.S. are asking the parents of students returning in person to sign waivers of liability amid the risk of coronavirus infection.

At the same time, many dioceses are also offering remote learning options for parents who do not wish to send their children back to school in person.

One such diocese is St. Petersburg, which sent a letter to the parents of its nearly 13,000 students on Monday, asking them to sign a waiver of liability, choosing to accept the risk that their children may be sickened by coronavirus at school.

The letter acknowledges that although the diocese and each Catholic school has implemented reasonable preventative measures, schools cannot guarantee that parents or students will not contract COVID-19.

“We wanted to first educate our parents just about the assumption of risk,” Chris Pastura, superintendent of schools for the diocese, told the Tampa Bay Times.

“When they make choices to send their children back to school, there is a risk in every activity...We think it’s important for kids to be back in school whenever possible,” he said.

One parent who spoke with the Tampa Bay Times said the waiver did not bother her, because the diocese is providing options for at-home learning for parents who are uncomfortable sending their children back to school in person. The parent said she viewed the waiver as the school system trying to protect itself from a litigious society.

Catholic school systems in several dioceses across the country, including several in Florida, are planning similar liability waivers. These include the Dioceses of Palm Beach and St. Augustine, according to local media reports. Both dioceses are offering remote learning options.

CNA spoke on background with diocesan officials outside of Florida, who said that from a risk management perspective, coronavirus presents unique challenges, but that some risk of injury or even death is inherent in almost any school situation.

Many U.S. dioceses plan to reopen in the fall, even as public school districts across the country are announcing plans for virtual learning and shuttered schools. Diocesan officials said many Catholic schools have worked closely with local healthcare experts to follow national guidelines from the CDC as they plan for reopening.

When school does reopen, St. Petersburg will likely not be the only diocese to require waivers of liability.

Officials in one diocese told CNA that waivers are generally viewed as a reasonable measure for parents wishing to send their students back in person, given the circumstances, and that districts are also working to offer virtual options.

Even when schools take all the precautions they can, each family should use their best judgement in deciding whether to return students to school in the fall, one diocesan official told CNA.

Many dioceses have not yet announced the details of their plans for fall reopenings, and several contacted by CNA did not respond to questions about whether they will require waivers. Among those that did comment, several are under unique circumstances because of state regulations in California.

In the Archdiocese of New York, the most recent guidance offers parents the option of sending children for in-person learning either two or three days a week, with remote learning the other days; or full-time remote learning. An archdiocesan spokesperson declined to comment on whether the archdiocese will be using liability waivers.

For California dioceses, the picture is more complicated. Governor Gavin Newsom has mandated that in-person learning will not be allowed for public or private schools whose jurisdiction is on a state monitoring list for rising COVID-19 infections.

California will allow in-person learning once a local health jurisdiction has been removed from the state’s list for 14 days.

Though private schools in the state can apply to opt out of remote learning if they meet the state’s criteria for reopening, there is currently no process in place to do so, so the San Francisco archdiocese has not yet had to deal with consent forms for in-person learning, spokesperson Mike Brown told CNA.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is also awaiting the opportunity to apply for permission to conduct in-person instruction. All three counties in the LA archdiocese are currently under the state’s monitoring list, and the archdiocese is awaiting the release of protocols and procedures from county public health departments, an archdiocesan spokeswoman told CNA.

Once they have those details, the LA archdiocese can determine how or if the schools will apply to conduct in-person learning, the spokeswoman said.

Several other California dioceses including Sacramento, Fresno, and Orange are seeking waivers from the state to open their Catholics schools in person, according to local media reports.

For many dioceses, guidance from insurance providers can play a major role in reopening plans. A senior official in one diocese, to whom CNA spoke on background, said guidance from insurance companies is important to take into account, since those companies will have to process any liability claims made against schools.

A school finance administrator in another diocese confirmed to CNA that guidance from its insurance provider has factored heavily into reopening planning.

Catholic Mutual, one of the nation’s largest insurance providers for Catholics entities, has provided guidance to its members on risk management throughout the pandemic.

In early March, before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Catholic Mutual advised making these adjustments “after a pandemic has been declared”: distribution of Holy Communion only under the species of bread; not passing collection baskets; and bowing rather than shaking hands at the sign of peace.

According to Catholic Mutual, “Communion on the tongue is strongly discouraged” after the declaration of pandemic. The group added that “if the pandemic progresses to a more serious stage” more changes may need to be made, such as the emptying of Holy Water fonts, seating in alternate rows of pews, and limits on the number of attendees to baptisms, weddings, or funerals.

After the pandemic was declared, many U.S. dioceses announced changes largely in line with those recommendations.

Catholic Mutual declined to respond to questions from CNA.

In its most recent guidance on school reopening for members, issued June 3, the insurance company advised students and staff should stay home when appropriate, and that schools shoud implement screening measures, social distancing, and sanitation methods in line with CDC guidelines.

“The CDC guidelines are somewhat generic. We believe this relates to the difficulty of developing a one-size-fits-all plan and/or guidelines to fit all educational facilities. To complicate matters, guidance likely should be varied by elementary, middle school and high school. With this said, keep in mind there will never be a perfect plan,” the guidance from Catholic Mutual reads.

“Any plan made will not be foolproof and it will be impossible to remove all risk. Our recommendation would be to carefully combine a common sense approach regarding what works for your school along with CDC guidelines and local/state directives and requirements.”



Loyola University Maryland renaming dorm that honored Flannery O'Connor

CNA Staff, Jul 30, 2020 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The president of Loyola University Maryland announced Friday that the Flannery O'Connor Residence Hall was being renamed, saying, “some of her personal writings reflected a racist perspective.”

The hall is to be renamed for Sister Thea Bowman, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration and an African-American.

“During recent conversations around racism, one of the issues that caught the attention of our community was the name of Flannery O’Connor Residence Hall,” Fr. Brian Linnane, S.J., wrote July 24 to the university community. The school, which in 2019-20 had a total enrollment of 5,473, is in Baltimore.

“Information coming forward recently about O’Connor, a Catholic American writer of the 20th century, has revealed that some of her personal writings reflected a racist perspective. The building names we use at Loyola should declare to our students—and entire community—what sort of values we esteem and hope to instill in our graduates. A residence hall must be a home and a haven for those who live there, and its name should reflect Loyola’s Jesuit values,” Fr. Linnane wrote.

An online petition begun in June asked that the dorm be renamed. It has garnered almost 1,100 signatures. The petition’s founder, Regina McCoy, wrote that “Recent letters and postcards written by Flannery O'Connor express strong racist sentiments and hate speech. Her name and legacy should not be honored nor glorified on our Evergreen Campus.”

Attention was drawn to apparent racism in O’Connor’s personal writings by “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?”, a piece that appeared in the New Yorker in June. There, Paul Elie wrote that “letters and postcards she sent home from the North in 1943 were made available to scholars only in 2014, and they show O’Connor as a bigoted young woman.”

O'Connor was a short story writer, novelist, and essayist who died in 1964. A devout Catholic, she often attended daily Mass. In the nave of her parish, Sacred Heart, in Milledgeville, Ga., acknowledgement is made of her membership there, and her gravestone evidences interest in -- if not devotion to -- her, through the rosaries, holy cards, flowers, and notes that can be seen on it.

Her name will be replaced on the Loyola residence hall with that of Sr. Thea, whose cause for canonization was opened in 2018 by the Diocese of Jackson.

In his letter to the university community, Fr. Linnane wrote that Sr. Thea, who died in 1990, “was the granddaughter of slaves … An educator, speaker, and African American activist, Sister Thea inspired people to work to eliminate racism and work for justice and served as an important voice within the Catholic Church in the United States during the 20th century. She lived a life of great holiness, demonstrating deep compassion for the materially poor and those at the margins of society.”

He put the renaming of the residence hall in the context of taking “intentional action steps in our equity and inclusion work” and “envisioning a more just, anti-racist future at Loyola.”

Fr. Linnane added that he is forming a committee “to evaluate all philanthropic and honorifically named spaces on campus” which “will determine a process for maintaining and removing building names and develop a rubric for naming and renaming, leading a deliberative, inclusive process that centers our mission, values, diversity, equity, and inclusion in these decisions.”

He told the Catholic Review, the publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, that “particularly in [O’Connor’s] fiction, the dignity of African-American persons and their worth is consistently upheld, with the bigots being the object of ridicule.”

He added, though, that “a residence hall is supposed to be the students’ home. If some of the students who live in that building find it to be unwelcoming and unsettling (to have it named for Flannery O’Connor), that has to be taken seriously.”

In renaming the dorm, Fr. Linnane said the university was looking for “someone who reflects the values of Loyola and its students at the present time and whose commitment to the fight for racial equality – from an intellectual point of view and from a faith perspective – would be more appropriate for the residence hall.”

The Catholic Review reported that a letter signed by more than 80 authors and scholars was recently sent to Fr. Linnane, encouraging him to maintain O’Connor’s name on the dorm.

The letter was written by Dr. Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, associate director of the Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University.

In it, O’Donnell wrote that “If a university (Catholic or otherwise) effectively banishes Flannery O’Connor, why keep Sophocles, Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoevsky and other writers who were marked by the racist, misogynist, and/or anti-Semitic cultures and eras they lived in the midst of? No one will be left standing.”

Dr. Jennifer A. Frey, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, wrote in First Things July 29 that she believes O’Connor’s life and work is “worth celebrating, in spite of the fact that she harbored some of the racist attitudes of her time and place.”

O’Connor “knew that we are all marked by sin and therefore in need of God’s merciful grace,” Frey stated.

She said O’Connor’s “letters and journals reveal a woman aware of and forthcoming about her own sins. We ought to prefer O’Connor’s self-deprecating and revelatory honesty over a self-congratulation fed and watered by self-deception.”

The petition to rename the Flannery O’Connor residence hall “presents an opportunity for Catholics to address the contemporary demand that those we honor be perfect and free from the stain of sin—especially the sin of racism,” Frey wrote.

“We should resist this impossible demand. We need moral exemplars to provide models for our own lives, but we must accept that those exemplars will inevitably be wounded by sin … We need to see those we honor in their wounded humanity, or we will never be able to see ourselves in them at all.”