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Filipino bishops urge caution amid coronavirus report

Cebu, Philippines, Jan 23, 2020 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- Filipino Church leaders have urged parishioners to be extra cautious amidst a deadly outbreak of coronavirus, which has affected hundreds of people in China and spread to other countries as well.

Bishop Oscar Florencio, who oversees the Bishops’ Commission on Health Care, encouraged residents to be vigilant and to quickly check into a hospital if they believe they have the illness.

“First and foremost, we have to exercise prudence here, both personally and collectively,” he said, according to ucanews.com.

“If one thinks he needs to see a doctor because of some suspicion of corona virus-like symptoms, please let us be prudent enough to do it, so we can arrest the sickness right away.”

Last month, an outbreak of 2019-nCoV was reported in Chinese city of Wuhan. Believed to be a new strain within the coronavirus family, the virus can cause fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia, kidney failure, and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Over 600 people have been diagnosed with the virus, which has killed at least 18 people in China. As of Thursday, three Chinese cities - Wuhan, Huanggang, and Ezhou - have been placed in a temporary lockdown, restricting travel by trains, planes, and ferries.

In recent weeks, the virus has also been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, and Japan. This week, a 30-year-old man was found to be infected in the state of Washington after returning from a trip to China.

A five-year-old boy, who had recently traveled to Wuhan, was admitted to the hospital in Cebu City, Philippines, for symptoms of the virus. The Philippines’ Health Department said it is investigating the case. The boy, who is in stable condition, tested positive for a nonspecific pancoronavirus, and samples have been sent to Australia to identify the specific strain of the virus.

The virus was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Dec. 31. WHO said Thursday that while the situation constitutes an emergency in China, it has not yet reached the status of a global emergency, “given its restrictive and binary nature.”

“We should exercise some extra vigilance because we are responsible also for the greater good of the majority. Let us do things swiftly but let us not create panic as well,” Bishop Florencio stressed, according to the Manilla Bulletin.

Thermal scanners have been installed at airports in the Philippines to help screen travelers who may have the disease.

Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga has also encouraged his diocese to pray for the prevention of a global outbreak.

He released a special prayer, according to the Manilla Bulletin, which calls on God and says, “We pray that you control and prevent a global epidemic of coronavirus. We fervently ask that you display your power and stop the rapid spread of this deadly virus. Manifest your presence to those who have already been infected. Give them hope and courage and may your miraculous healing hands be upon them.”

 

Disability advocates applaud Manx legislature for rejecting assisted suicide inquiry

Douglas, Isle of Man, Jan 23, 2020 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- Legislators on the Isle of Man voted Wednesday to note a debate on assisted suicide, instead of supporting further inquiry into whether the crown dependency's legislation on the matter should be reformed.

An amendment from David Ashford to note the debate “received unanimous support from both branches” of Tynwald Jan. 22, Manx Radio reported.

“This is a sensible decision that will bring relief to those with terminal and chronic conditions on the Isle of Man and who fear changing the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Dr. Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, said Jan. 23.

Care Not Killing is a coalition which includes disability and human rights advocacy groups, healthcare providers, and faith-based groups. It opposes the weakening or repeal of laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, while promoting better palliative care.

“Laws such as the Isle of Man’s Criminal Law Act which prohibit assisted suicide and euthanasia are essential to protect vulnerable people. The operation of the Suicide Act and murder legislation in other parts of the British Isles, covering assisted suicide and euthanasia has been reviewed dozens of times by MPs, MSPs, peers, other elected officials, judges even the former Director of Public Prosecution. Every time, they have rejected introducing a law that would discriminate against the terminally ill and disabled people by removing long held universal protections,” Macdonald stated.

He added that “current laws ensure all people are treated equally and deters vulnerable people at risk of abuse and of coming under pressure, real or perceived to end their lives prematurely, which is what the evidence from around the world shows.”

The motion to inquire into the legalization of assisted suicide was made by Dr. Alex Allinson, a member of the House of Keys.

Among those to speak against the proposal during the five-hour debate was Chris Robertshaw, deputy speaker of the House of Keys.

Allinson, who sponsored the Abortion Reform Bill 2018, which resulted in the one of the most permissive abortion laws in the British isles, has said that allowing assisted suicide “would allow for more compassion and personal choice when a person's death is inevitable and imminent.”

He has also claimed that “there are clear examples around the world where this has been managed successfully.”

Allinson's assisted suicide proposal was opposed by the Catholic Church and both pro-life and medical groups.

Msgr. John Devine, dean of the Catholic Church on the Isle of Man, wrote to the Chief Minister of the House of Keys saying that the Church opposes “any liberalisation of current legislation” and “condemns the deliberate taking of life”.

Liz Parsons, advocacy director of Life Charity, said: “We need to concentrate on any gaps in palliative care rather than offering assisted dying, such as providing counselling, physiotherapy, services that help to relieve pain and provides support.”

“Assisted dying could really put vulnerable people in the Isle of Man at risk … using the words 'dying with dignity' makes you assume people cannot die with dignity without euthanasia, but they can,” he said. “There are plenty of ways to have a good death without it.”

Dr. David Randall, spokesman for Our Duty of Care, said the Isle of Man has “superb palliative care services” which allow for “a comfortable and dignified death.”

Briefing Tynwald members Jan. 21, he said legalizing assisted suicide could put “vulnerable people at risk of suffering real or imagined pressure from others to end their lives prematurely.”

Not Dead Yet UK, a disabled persons' advocacy group, said that “there is no safe system of assisted suicide and disabled people want help to live, not to die.”

The group noted that the motion in favor of assisted suicide was listed below a Tynwald agenda item to receive a committee report on suicide and to approve 13 recommendations for suicide prevention and for psychological support of people experiencing “moderate to severe emotional reactions to illnesses.”

“These should serve as reminders that no group should be excluded from efforts to prevent suicide, including those influenced by serious illness,” the coalition said Jan. 13. Any proposal to legalize assisted suicide, it warned, tries to separate “those suicides which should be discouraged, and those which should be brought to fruition.”  

“Members of Tynwald Court should focus on suicide prevention for all, and access to high quality palliative and social care for all, rather than settling for assisted suicide's counsel of despair,” said Care Not Killing.

The group warned that there is no evidence that assisted suicide has become safer or easier to regulate, nor is there evidence that the Isle of Man’s provision of end-of-life care is so great “that no one could be driven to seek their own death for fear of being a care burden or financial drain.”

Both the Isle of Man Medical Society and the Association of Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland oppose legalization of assisted suicide.

Backers of legal assisted suicide include the group Isle of Man Freethinkers, which holds it a matter of personal autonomy “to make decisions about their life and death” and says debate should be “based on science and compassion”.

Efforts to legalize assisted suicide have repeatedly failed to pass. The last vote, held in 2015, failed 17-5 in the House of Keys.

Federal money to go to Texas women's health program without abortion providers

Austin, Texas, Jan 23, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Texas women’s health program that bars funding for health care providers that perform abortions has been approved for federal funding by the Trump administration, making it the first program to receive federal Medicaid funding while excluding abortion providers.

The Department of Health and Human Services approved the Medicaid waiver for the Healthy Texas Women program, which helps provide health care and family planning services to tens of thousands of women, the Dallas Morning News reports. The waiver is an administrative procedure that allows federal money for states that experiment in new ways to provide health care to the poor and disabled.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott welcomed the waiver, saying, “The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life.”

“This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women,” Abbott said Jan. 22.

The Healthy Texas Women program was launched in 2007 under the name the Women’s Health Program. It served about 173,000 low-income women in 2018. The waiver, approved through December 2024, will fund services for over 200,000 clients a year, the governor’s office said. Federal funds will total about $350 million over five years, while the state will contribute about $100 million over that time.

The Obama administration refused to renew federal funding for the program because Texas would not fund abortion providers or affiliates. The funds did not go to abortions.

Before Planned Parenthood was dropped from funding, the organization served about 40 percent of the women in the program, providing birth control, cancer screenings, and other services. The funds did not go to abortions.

As the largest abortion provider in the U.S., however, any funding of Planned Parenthood has drawn critical attention from foes of abortion.

The Trump administration’s action drew praise from pro-life groups.

"Texas is a state that values life, and we are proud to see President Trump stand with us on this issue. Texas is proving it is possible to both care for women and protect life," Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values, commented Jan. 23.

“President Trump has repeatedly kept his promise to stop taxpayer funding of the big abortion industry including Planned Parenthood. Abortion is not health care,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “When Texas lawmakers exercised their right to fund women’s health care without underwriting abortion businesses, they were punished by the Obama administration and smeared by abortion activists and their media allies.”

Dannenfelser said that Planned Parenthood’s latest annual report shows “massive increases in both abortions and taxpayer funding at the same time they have seen steep declines in their number of patients, cancer screening and prevention services, breast exams, pap tests, and even contraceptive services.”

“Restoring Texas’s decision regarding use of federal funds is an acknowledgement that the Lone Star State was right all along,” said Dannenfelser, calling on President Trump and HHS Secretary Alex Azar “to immediately free all states to act on the will of their citizens to support women’s health care without encouraging abortion.”

Planned Parenthood Texas Votes said the waiver upends “longstanding federal policy.”

“Reproductive health care has been under constant attack for more than a decade in Texas and extreme politicians in the state have only been emboldened by support from the Trump administration,” the group said.

The Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning group, said in 2017 that fewer women were being served than before Planned Parenthood was removed from the program. Enrollment dropped by 24% and 39% fewer of those enrolled accessed health centers.

In 2016, the state contracted with the evangelical Heidi Group to help provide services. The group failed to fulfill its promise to serve 50,000 women and the state ended its contract in 2018, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Church of England affirms sex is only for heterosexual marriage

London, England, Jan 23, 2020 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Sex is reserved for married heterosexual couples, new pastoral guidance from the Church of England has affirmed. The new guidance also draws a clear distinction between marriage and civil partnerships, noting that sexual relations are not proper to the latter. 

The guidance, titled “Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples. A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England,” was issued last month in response to a 2019 change to UK law, broadening access to civil partnerships by making them available for heterosexual couples for the first time.

Civil partnerships were created in 2004 for same-sex couples but are legally distinct from marriage. Same-sex couples were given the legal right to marry in the England and Wales in 2013, but civil partnerships remained available to same-sex couples only.

“Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings,” says the guidance on the issue. “The introduction of same sex marriage, through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, has not changed the church’s teaching on marriage or same sex relationships.” 

Although the Church of England acknowledges that “many of the provisions in the legislation on civil partnerships are, however, similar to, or identical with, those in marriage law,” the nature of the commitment in a civil partnership is different than that of a marriage.

“In particular, [civil partnerships are] not predicated on the intention to engage in a sexual relationship,” says the guidance.

“There is likely to be a range of circumstances in which people of the same sex or opposite sex choose to register a partnership, including some where there is no intention for the relationship to be expressed through sexual activity.”

The guidance applies only to the Church of England, and not to other branches of the worldwide protestant Anglican Communion.

Since the law’s original passage, some pairs of people who are not romantically involved have entered civil partnerships for tax or benefit purposes.

In the guidance, the Church of England states that because of the “ambiguity” regarding sexual activity in civil partnerships, combined with its teaching on the nature of marriage, it does “not believe that it is possible for the church unconditionally to accept civil partnerships as unequivocally reflecting the teaching of the church.”

The Church of England has previously published policies that seem intended to accommodate modern sexual ethos and gender theory without directly contradicting Scripture and Christian history. The results have sometimes seemed gymnastic.

Although the Church of England accepts both married men and women for ordination to the priesthood and as bishops, it does not conduct or recognize same-sex marriages as marriage. In December 2012, the Church of England permited gay clergy in civil partnernships to become bishops, provided they were living in continence with their partners, that is abstaining from sexual relations. 

“The House [of Bishops] believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline,” Graham James, Anglican bishop of Norwich, stated in January 2013. 

“All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England.”

In 2018, the denomination published pastoral guidelines for liturgies concerning the so-called “gender transition” of church members. These new liturgies are intended to affirm and celebrate a person’s shift to a chosen gender identity, and to “to recognize liturgically a person’s gender transition.”

The guidelines, titled Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition, were approved by the Church of England’s House of Bishops in December 2018, and published shortly afterwards. 

Aiming for pastoral presence in Philadelphia, Perez says he learned from Chaput

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 01:35 pm (CNA).- The next Archbishop of Philadelphia said Thursday that he is glad for a homecoming to his native archdiocese, that he is inspired by the example of his predecessor, and that he aims to make pastoral presence the hallmark of his spiritual leadership.

Archbishop-elect Nelson Perez of Philadelphia said at a press conference Jan. 23 he is inspired by the “steadfastness” and “profound faith” of Archbishop Charles Chaput, his predecessor.

“I watched it from afar, learned from him—just watching him—how steadfast he was, and with profound faith, that while things were tough that God would make a way,” Perez said of Chaput who served as Philadelphia’s archbishop since 2011, “that somehow, someway, all things happen for the good of those who love God, as St. Paul said.”

“And he did that many times even in the midst of criticism,” he added, “but he was steadfast in his love for you and his love for the Church.”

On Thursday, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput—submitted, according to Church practice, on his 75th birthday in September—and selected one of Philadelphia’ former priests, Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, as Chaput’s replacement.

Archbishop-elect Perez’s installation Mass will be Feb. 18 at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Perez served as Cleveland’s bishop since 2017, after serving five years as auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, New York.

When he is installed as archbishop, Perez will oversee almost 1.3 million Catholics and 214 parishes in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia archdiocese will likely face parish and school closures in the months to come. Perez acknowledged he will need to make decisions about those matters soon.

When asked by CNA on Thursday about his pastoral ministry, Perez began with one word: “presence.”

“I’m certainly not going to sit behind a desk. The role of the bishop is to be out and about,” he said, noting that in Cleveland he estimated he spent around 60% of his time visiting parishes and meeting with young people.

Outgoing Archbishop Chaput was often characterized in the press as a “culture warrior” who took “conservative” positions on controversial issues. The New York Times on Thursday suggested Chaput’s successor would embody a different vision for the Church in Philadelphia.

Perez balked at any notion that he and Chaput are at odds as bishops.

“We both definitely walk with the Church,” he told CNA.

During Thursday’s press conference announcing the appointment, Chaput heaped praise on the former Philadelphia priest. Perez, 58 years old, was born in Miami and raised in New Jersey but attended seminary at Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was ordained a priest of the archdiocese in 1989 and served for more than 20 years before moving to Rockville Centre in 2012.

Chaput told the press that he described his ideal successor last year to the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

“I asked for a successor who would care for and guide our people, speak the truth with conviction and charity, and live a faithful witness to Jesus Christ,” Chaput recalled.

“He [Perez] was enthusiastically supported and very well loved by the people he served as pastor. And for good reason,” Chaput said.

“He’s a good man, a man of deep Catholic faith, with the skills, character, and warmth that will make him an exceptional leader here in Philadelphia. He is exactly the man with exactly the abilities our Church needs.”

Perez admitted he is grateful to come back to the place of his ordination.

“Once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest,” he said on Thursday. “You carry it kind of inside you.”

Regarding his predecessor, “I am concerned of the shoes I have to fill,” Perez said. He noted that even after he left Philadelphia, he and Chaput would text and email each other, and that the archbishop had been a “mentor and brother bishop” to him.
 
When he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre in 2012, Perez said he visited Chaput at his residence. The archbishop disappeared into another room and came back to Perez with a pectoral cross.

“He put it around my neck and he said ‘you are now my brother bishop,’” Perez reflected on Thursday. “And ever since then, he’s been such a great support.”

At Thursday’s press conference, Perez wore the pectoral cross Chaput gave him.

Chaput had to make tough decisions for the good of the archdiocese and the Church, Perez said, “many times like a father has to do in a family.”

“He made calls that today, have placed the archdiocese in a way better place,” he said. “In particular we need to thank God and praise God for this man.”

As the son of Cuban immigrants, Perez has had a longtime focus on Hispanic ministry, leading Hispanic ministry efforts in Philadelphia, Rockville Centre, and on the national stage, as the former chair of the U.S. bishops’ sub-Committee for Hispanic Affairs.

Perez also helped lead the V Encuentro process for the USCCB, a national gathering of more than 3,000 Hispanic Catholic leaders that outlined evangelization priorities for the U.S. Church.

The most pressing issue for the Hispanic Church in the U.S., he told CNA, is reaching second- and third-generation immigrants who are culturally but not linguistically Hispanic. Studies have shown a decline in religious practice with each succeeding generation of immigrant Catholic families.

“We have to create a pastoral style that is Hispanic in culture and nature, but in the English language,” he told CNA.

 

St. Timothy's relics moved to Rome for Week of Christian Unity

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2020 / 10:28 am (CNA).- The relics of St. Timothy are in Rome this week for veneration during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The relics of St. Paul’s “beloved disciple” will remain in a side altar of the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls through Jan. 25, when Pope Francis will visit the basilica to pray vespers on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

On Jan. 26, Timothy’s relics will be moved to St. Peter’s Basilica for the papal Mass celebrating the first Sunday of the Word of God, instituted by Pope Francis as a day to promote knowledge and love of Scripture.

St. Timothy has come to be considered a symbol of unity, particularly among Orthodox Christians and Catholics. In 2011, Russian Orthodox and Catholic bishops met in Termoli, Italy to pray and venerate Timothy’s relics together.

“The fact that Timothy is a reference for the brothers of the Eastern churches opens us to a specific and special vocation to ecumenism as a desire to meet each person and to communicate to that person the love and closeness of God,” Bishop Gianfranco De Luca of Termoli-Larino, Italy said when the relics were moved from Termoli to Rome Jan. 17.

St. Timothy’s relics were discovered in Termoli in 1945 during restoration work on the crypt of the cathedral.

Covered by a marble tombstone, the restorers found an inscription in the marble tile stating: “In the year of the Lord 1239. Here rest in peace the body of the blessed Timothy disciple of the blessed Apostle.”

The Church celebrates the feast of Saints Timothy and Titus on Jan. 26.

The son of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, Timothy came from Lystra in present-day Turkey. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are known to have joined the Church, and Timothy himself is described as a student of Sacred Scripture from his youth.

After St. Paul’s visit to Timothy’s home region of Lycaonia, around the year 51, the young man joined the apostle and accompanied him in his travels. Timothy remained in the city of Berea to help the local church after religious strife forced Paul to leave. Paul later sent him to Thessalonica to help the Church during a period of persecution.

The two met up again in Corinth, and Timothy eventually journeyed to Macedonia on Paul’s behalf. Problems in the Corinthian Church brought Timothy back for a time, after which he joined Paul and accompanied the apostle in subsequent travels.

Like Paul, Timothy endured a period of imprisonment in the course of his missionary work. His release is mentioned in the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.

Around the year 64, Timothy became the first bishop of the Church of Ephesus. During that same year, he received the first of two surviving letters from St. Paul. The second, written the next year, urges Timothy to visit St. Paul in Rome, where he was imprisoned before his martyrdom.

Ancient sources state that St. Timothy followed his mentor in dying as a martyr for the faith. In the year 93, during his leadership of the Church in Ephesus, he took a stand against the worship of idols and was consequently killed by a mob. The pagan festival he was protesting was held Jan. 22, and this date was preserved as St. Timothy’s memorial in the Christian East.

Pope Francis wants 'holistic approach' to Middle East, UN Security Council told

New York City, N.Y., Jan 23, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis is concerned about the worsening situation in the Middle East, and is urging a continued commitment to dialogue in the region, a senior Vatican diplomat told the United Nations Security Council Wednesday. 

Monsignor Fredrik Hansen, chargé d’affaires of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN spoke during an open debate at the Security Council on Jan. 22, relaying the Pope’s concerns over the still ongoing crises in Syria, Yemen, and the Holy Land.

“It is of the utmost importance that the support and the commitment of the international community keep the flame of dialogue alive and that these challenges be addressed with a holistic approach,” said Hansen. 

Pope Francis has called for “steadfast and effective engagement,” Hansen said, in order to counteract what he termed “the pall of silence that risks falling over the war that has devastated Syria over the course of the last decade.”

Syria is in need of “suitable and far-sighted solutions” in order to assist the “beloved Syrian people” to rebuild their country and experience peace once again. 

According to the Vatican diplomat, Pope Francis is concerned about the continued “silence and indifference” on the situation in Yemen, “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history,” saying that lack of international attention could allow further suffering and loss of life.

Hansen also relayed that the Holy See is continuing to advocate for the status quo policy of Jerusalem, which concerns the state of shared religious sites between Christian denominations as well as those shared with the Islamic and Jewish religions. 

“Indeed, the appeal to maintain the status quo of the holy sites of Jerusalem, dear to Jews, Christians and Muslims in virtue of their religion and important for the cultural heritage of the whole human family, is one that has been repeatedly made,” said Hansen. 

Pope Francis, he said, wishes for Jerusalem to live out “its vocation as a city of peace,” which can be a symbolic location of peace and encounter, with respect between religions and continued dialogue. 

Hansen remarked that earlier this month, Pope Francis called for the international community to recommit to the peace process between Israel and Palestine. 

“What Pope Francis recently stated with regard to Israel and Palestine could apply to the wider region, and indeed across the world,” said Hansen, noting that it is nearly the 75th anniversary of the United Nations’ founding but, despite its goals, peace and security remains a worldwide concern. 

The Holy See has a “steadfast commitment to peace and support for all initiatives that strive to ensure the placement of negotiated solutions,” said Hansen. 

“To this end, the Holy See encourages all parties to promote open and constructive dialogue based on the principles upon which this organization was built 75 years ago.”

School choice law rooted in anti-Catholicism, Supreme Court hears

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Supreme Court considered arguments on Wednesday on whether a state bar on public funding for religious groups is discriminatory, or protects them from state interference. At issue during the arguments was the anti-Catholic bigotry which informed the Montana law’s passage

Oral arguments were heard Jan. 22 on the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which involves the 1972 Montana state constitution’s prohibition on public funding of religious institutions.

At issue is a clause in Montana’s 1972 state constitution that goes back to its original constitution of 1889—forbidding public funding “for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

In 2015, the Montana state legislature approved a scholarship program for low-income students where tax credits could be claimed for donations to a scholarship fund. The fund would help students attend private schools, including religious schools.

The state’s revenue department blocked the program, saying the state’s constitution barred public funding of schools of a “church, sect, or denomination” and ruling that the scholarships could only be used for secular schools.

In response, several parents sued the state to use the scholarships for religious schools and a Montana trial court ruled in their favor. The state supreme court reversed that decision in 2018, and struck down the program altogether. The case will be decided by the Supreme Court this term.

Opponents of the law say it violates the “Free Exercise” clause of the U.S. Constitution, unlawfully shutting religious groups out of neutral public benefits. They also say the original 1889 clause was passed during a time of anti-Catholic bigotry, to bar Catholic schools from funding that the largely Protestant public school system benefitted from. 

During oral arguments on Wednesday, multiple exchanges focused on the Montana law’s roots in the anti-religious bigotry of the 1800s, and whether its inclusion in Montana’s 1972 constitution was a continuation of that bigotry.

“I mean, I think that in the 1880s, there was undoubtedly grotesque religious bigotry against -- against Catholics,” said Adam Unikowsky, arguing on behalf of the Montana Department of Revenue.

“That was the clear motivation for this,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh replied.

“In the 1972 Constitution, which is where this provision was enacted, I don't think there's any evidence whatsoever of any anti-religious bigotry,” Unikowsky said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor had earlier noted a “long history” of people opposing public funding of religious groups. She implied that Montana in 1972 no longer exercised the anti-Catholic bigotry of the 1800s but still chose to bar public funding of religion in line with the U.S. Constitution’s “Establishment Clause.”

Justice Samuel Alito asked how it wasn’t merely coincidental that laws such as Montana’s occurred in a time of anti-Catholic bigotry.

“I'm not going to get into an argument with you about what happened in 1972, but do you really want to argue that the reason why a lot of this popped up beginning, coincidentally, in the 1840s, at the time of the Irish potato famine, that had nothing to do with discrimination based on religion?” Alito asked.

The brief of the parents before the Supreme Court argued that three separate clauses of the U.S. Constitution—“[t]he Free Exercise, Establishment, and Equal Protection Clauses—all provide that government should be neutral, not hostile, toward religion.

“Prohibiting all religious options in otherwise generally available student-aid programs rejects that neutrality and shows inherent hostility toward religion,” the brief states.

On Wednesday, two leading U.S. bishops said the Espinoza case could decide the legitimacy of anti-religious discrimination in the U.S., and continue historic anti-Catholic bigotry.

Amendments such as Montana’s “were the product of nativism,” read a joint statement of Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee, and Bishop Michael Barber, S.J. of Oakland, California, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ education committee.

“They were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to bring an end to this shameful legacy,” the bishops said.

After Wednesday’s oral arguments, Eric Baxter, senior counsel at Becket, tweeted that “the justices seemed to agree that excluding students just because they are religious is a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause.”

Montana’s clause is one of 37 “Blaine Amendments” passed by states in the late 19th century. They are named for James Blaine, a former Speaker of the House (1869-1875), Senator (1876-1881) and Secretary of State (1889-1892) from Maine who pushed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring funding of “sectarian” causes and organizations.

At that time, opponents of the law say, Blaine’s effort mainly targeted Catholic schools and institutions. His amendment failed at the federal level but many states including Montana inserted similar language in their constitutions.  

In a 2017 case, the Supreme Court in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer ruled that Missouri’s Blaine Amendment could not block a church-owned playground from applying for state renovation grants, simply on account of its religious status.

However, a concurring opinion from Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch warned that the Court’s language implied a very narrow ruling on “playground resurfacing” cases, and not on general cases of religious groups accessing public funds.

On Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan distinguished between the Court’s Trinity Lutheran case—regarding access to a “completely secular public benefit” like playground resurfacing grants—and Montana’s case where the scholarship program could be considered by the state to “subsidize religious activity.” 

Justice Stephen Breyer asked if government could provide police protection for all schools but not religious schools, to which Unikowsky answered that it would be unconstitutional to do so, under the Trinity Lutheran decision. However, he said, there was a difference between government “distinguishing among religions”—such as allowing access to benefits for Catholic schools but not Jewish schools—and simply removing itself “out of religion altogether.”

In 1972, religious leaders were some of the supporters of the “no-aid” clause, Unikowsky said, because they warned about “using government leverage to influence religious education.”

Kavanaugh replied that “a religious school that doesn't want to be part of a neutral program doesn't have to be.”

Suspension revoked for Vatican’s financial watchdog authority

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2020 / 07:30 am (CNA).- The new head of the Vatican Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) announced Thursday that the Vatican’s internal financial watchdog’s suspension from an international group has been revoked, and the AIF can resume collaboration with foreign financial intelligence units.

“This is a very important step, one which demonstrates the confirmed trust of the Egmont Group in the financial information system of the Vatican,” AIF President Carmelo Barbagallo said Jan. 23.

The Egmont Group, through which 164 financial intelligence authorities share information and coordinate their work, suspended the AIF Nov. 13 following a raid on the Vatican offices of the Secretariat of State and the AIF by the Vatican gendarmes. Barbagallo said that the President of the Egmont Group decided to revoke this decision on the night of Jan. 22.

“This decision follows the explanations provided by AIF to Egmont concerning the extraordinary nature of the facts that gave rise to the suspension and AIF’s assurances that the information received from the Egmont circuit will be treated in a manner that is consistent with the rules that apply to that circuit, partly thanks to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Promoter of Justice,”  he said.

Barbagallo, an auditor and Italian banking consultant, was appointed president of the AIF following the resignation of René Brüelhart in Nov. 2019.

Before being readmitted to the Egmont Group’s secure communications network, the Vatican Tribunal had to guarantee the processing of confidential intelligence data that had been acquired in the course of investigations into the purchase and sale of a London property, according to ACI Stampa.

The AIF was established by Benedict XVI in 2010 to oversee Vatican financial transactions; it is charged with ensuring that internal banking policies comply with international financial standards.

After the Vatican gendarmes raid of the AIF on Oct. 1, a total of five employees and officials were suspended and blocked from entering the Vatican, including Tommaso Di Ruzza, the director of the AIF.

Aboard the papal plane from Tokyo to Rome Nov. 26, Pope Francis confirmed that Di Ruzza remained suspended because of suspected “bad administration.”

“It was AIF that did not control, it seems, the crimes of others. And therefore [it failed] in its duty of controls. I hope that they prove it is not so. Because there is, still, the presumption of innocence,” Pope Francis said.

MONEYVAL, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, will carry out a scheduled inspection of the Vatican in spring 2020.

Cleveland's Bishop Nelson Perez to lead Philadelphia archdiocese

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 04:25 am (CNA).- Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland was appointed Archbishop of Philadelphia Thursday, returning to the local Church of his priestly ordination.

He succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, 75, who had led the Philadelphia archdiocese since 2011. Ordained a priest of the Capuchin Franciscans in 1970, Archbishop Chaput served as Bishop of Rapid City and Archbishop of Denver before his transfer to Philadelphia.

"Bishop Perez is a man who already knows and loves the Church in Philadelphia, and is already known and loved by our priests and people. I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese," Chaput wrote online following the announcement.

Bishop Perez, 58, was born in Miami to Cuban parents, and grew up in New Jersey. He is the first Hispanic bishop to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for this appointment and his confidence in me," Perez said Jan. 23.

"It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment -- joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood, where I served as the pastor of two parishes and where I held several leadership positions within the archdiocese, and sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply,” he said.

After pastoral and Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Perez was named in 2012 an auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre, and was consecrated a bishop that July.

As auxiliary bishop he was episcopal vicar of Long Island’s eastern vicariate and oversaw the Hispanic apostolates of the diocese.

In 2017 he was appointed Bishop of Cleveland.

When a 'heartbeat bill' was signed into law in Ohio last year, he said it represented “a major step forward in efforts to protect the sanctity of life.”

“Pope Francis reminds us that all life has inestimable value – even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor – are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” he said. “Always remembering that God is the creator and we are not, I encourage everyone to pray that the world grows in its respect for life, from conception to natural death, and to build awareness to reaffirm the Gospel teaching about the gift of life.”

Perez was part of the delegation that presented the conclusion of the National V Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry to Pope Francis in September 2019.

Bishop Perez, who chairs the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, told CNA at the time that some of the fruit of Encuentro has been the “emerging leadership, in so many ways, of the next generation of leaders and pastoral lay leaders in the church in the United States,” which he called “really promising and very hopeful.”

“The V Encuentro is really in so many ways the implementation of the joy of the Gospel. So the whole process, the spirit, the mysticism of the spirituality revolves all around the joy of the Gospel,” Bishop Perez said.

Noting that deportations have taken place in the Cleveland diocese, Bishop Perez said one of the blessings of the V Encuentro was that “it comes at a time of that uncertainty and fear and became, in so many ways, a soothing balm where people would come together and support each other, accompany each other and strengthen each other in a very tumultuous time.”

After a June 2018 immigration raid in the diocese, the bishop said the event “makes clear that our current immigration system contributes to the human suffering of migrants and the separation of families.”

While recognizing “the role of our government in enforcing current immigration law,” Bishop Perez also voiced “great sadness for the families whose lives have been disrupted following the large-scale immigration action.”

“The Church is advocating for comprehensive and compassionate reform of our immigration system so that persons are able to obtain legal status in our country and enter the United States legally to work and support their families. Since this is a responsibility of our Congress, I would encourage you to speak with your legislators advocating for reform of our present system.”

Perez will be installed as the Archbishop of Philadelphia on Feb. 18.