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Christian aid group applauds investigation into forced conversions, marriages in Pakistan

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered an investigation into the forced conversion of women and girls from the country’s religious minorities, drawing praise from Christian aid groups.

International Christian Concern, a group that advocates for persecuted Christians, said Dec. 3 that many of the victims of forced marriages in Pakistan are minors, and that sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims, with authorities often complicit.

Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Religious Harmony, stated at a Nov. 30 joint press conference that Kahn had “ordered an investigation on a case-by-case basis of incidents of forced conversions of minor girls belonging to minority communities, particularly Christian and Hindu, to find reasons for this issue.”

ICC cited a 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, which found that an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted in Pakistan every year.

In a high-profile case this fall, a 44-year-old man kidnapped Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Catholic girl from Karachi, before forcing her to convert to Islam and marrying her.

Child marriage is technically illegal in Pakistan, but courts typically do not enforce these laws. Sharia, which is used in some judicial decisions in Pakistan, permits a child to be married after her first menstrual period. Pakistan's state religion is Islam.

Ali Azhar kidnapped Raja in broad daylight Oct. 13. Raja’s parents were informed days later by the police that their daughter had converted to Islam and had married Azhar, allegedly of her own free will.

Two weeks after her abduction, on Oct. 27, the Sindh High Court, based on statements the girl gave saying she was 18, ruled the marriage was valid and that Azhar would not be arrested.

The High Court reversed itself and ordered police to find the teenager Nov. 2, the BBC reported. She was recovered later that day and Azhar has subsequently been charged with rape.

During August 2019, Catholic and other religious leaders signed a joint resolution asking the Pakistani government to adopt safeguards protecting religious minorities, a move that they said is much needed in the 97% Muslim nation.

The first point adopted in the joint resolution urges that the minimum age for marriage be made 18 years; the current marriage age for women is now 16.

The religious leaders also noted that “there is no forced conversion according to the Holy Quran.” On that basis, they urged legislation against abduction, sexual violence, and subsequent forced conversion to Islam, which acts they said do not propagate “the true spirit of Islam.”

The Center for Social Justice (CSJ), a Pakistani Catholic rights organization, plans on Dec. 8 to present a resolution to the government calling for an urgent response to protect the rights of religious minorities, particularly regarding forced conversions.

The country was designated, for the first time, a “Country of Particular Concern” in December 2018 for its religious freedom record by the US Department of State.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws, introduced between 1980 and 1986, impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

Blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.

Last year, an EU official told CNA that the acquittal and release of Asia Bibi - a Catholic woman who spent nearly a decade on death row for blasphemy charges - showed promise for the development of religious freedom in Pakistan. Her conviction was overturned in October 2018.

South Dakota resumes abortions after 7-month hiatus

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 06:48 pm (CNA).- Abortions are again being performed in South Dakota, following a seven-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood, the state's only abortion clinic, halted procedures in March.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a small group of out-of-state doctors would fly into Sioux Falls from St. Paul. They would see clients and perform abortions a couple of days a week. When the pandemic hit, travel restrictions prevented the doctors from visiting the clinic, and the clinic stopped performing abortions.

Beginning in October, the clinic has resumed performing abortion, but only one day per month. The head of the clinic told CBS News that it is questionable if the clinic will remain financially viable.

Brad Lindwurm, director and vice president of Sioux Falls Area Right to Life, said the pro-life movement has been successful in enacting significant pro-life legislation in the state. Abortion is prohibited after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and the state requires a 72-hour waiting period following a woman's requests for an abortion.

Last year, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law several new pro-life bills. Among other requirements, these laws mandate that women be provided with an ultrasound image of their baby and sign a consent form before an abortion.

According to the South Dakota Department of Health's annual report, the number of abortions in South Dakota has decreased from 848 in 2008 to 414 in 2019.

In March, Lindwurm expressed hope that South Dakota would be the first state to ban abortion in America.

“When I stepped out in faith to lead the 40 Days for Life campaign last fall, I had a strong belief that God was going to use South Dakota to be the first state in the nation to end abortion in America (within a year),” Lindwurm told Live Action.

“I had no idea how that would be possible,” he continued, “but we are starting to see it come to fruition as Planned Parenthood simply cannot get their doctor flown into Sioux Falls from St. Paul and are inadvertently having to comply with our Governor’s recommendation to end elective surgery at this time.”

Should prisoners be first, or last in line for COVID vaccine?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- As public officials debate whether prison populations should be among the first or last to receive a COVID vaccine, ethicists say that incarceration should not be the deciding factor.

“Wherever this person is—if they have comorbidities or if they have higher risk for contracting the disease or experiencing complications or death—then they should receive the vaccine sooner,” Jozef Zalot, staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, certain populations have borne the brunt of virus deaths, and become the subjects of discussions about who should receive a vaccine first.

While residents of long-term care facilities accounted for 7% of COVID cases in the U.S., they reportedly make up 40% of deaths from the virus. More than 100,000 residents of long-term care facilities have died of the virus so far.

Prisons have reportedly suffered many virus outbreaks as well, although the data at hand do not show as high of a fatality rate among this population.

According to The Marshall Project, by Nov. 17 there have been nearly 200,000 positive COVID cases in prisons; there were at least 1,454 COVID-related deaths reported among prisoners, and at least 98 deaths reported among prison staff.

Now that pharmaceutical companies have developed at least two COVID vaccines and submitted requests for emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), public health officials are discussing which populations should receive a vaccine first.

Although the first vaccines are expected to be distributed and administered this month—a CDC advisory board expects a total of 40 million doses available by Dec. 31—doses will be limited, especially in the initial weeks and months of distribution.

On Tuesday, an advisory board for immunization of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that “phase 1A” of vaccine distribution—listing the populations among the very first to receive it—should include health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Recently, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment recommended a phased roll-out of a COVID vaccine with health care workers and long-term care residents among the first to receive a vaccine.

A draft plan reported by the Colorado Sun showed the agency recommending that next in line for a vaccine should be people in “congregate settings”—living in close quarters. This group would include adults living in group homes, students living in college housing, and adults in homeless shelters and prisons.

Only after this phase would “higher-risk individuals”—senior citizens over the age of 65, or adults with a compromising condition such as diabetes, serious heart disease, or chronic lung disease—be prioritized for a vaccine in “Phase 2B.”

However, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has since said that prisoners would not automatically be prioritized for a vaccine before other citizens, saying “[t]here’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners before it goes to people who haven’t committed any crime. That’s obvious.”

Several ethicists told CNA that the most urgent targets for a COVID vaccine should be those in most need of it—those at highest risk of dying from the virus, whether or not they reside or work in a prison.

According to the CDC, people ages 65-74 have COVID-19 death rates that are 90 times higher than 18-29 year-olds; while those 75-84 years old are 220 times more likely to die from the virus than 18-29 year-olds.

“So obviously, there’s something associated with age,” Zalot told CNA. “Comorbidities,” he said, “also play a big role” in virus fatalities.

“So it would seem then, that when a vaccine comes out,” he added, those first in line should be “those with underlying health conditions” as well as “those who are elderly” and “the health care workers, because they’re the ones who are dealing with these people.”

As nursing homes are mostly filled with the elderly living in close quarters, it does make sense to vaccinate those populations first, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, staff ethicist at NCBC, told CNA.

Prisons, on the other hand, house many younger or middle-aged inmates, he said, but elderly inmates or those with underlying health conditions should also get a vaccine quickly.

“Prisoners, simply because they committed crimes, do not renounce access to basic health care,” Pacholczyk told CNA. While they may suffer restrictions on movement, they cannot be denied “other basic goods, like food, water, medicine, health care.”

If a prison population was disproportionately at high risk of the virus, he said, they should get a vaccine quickly.

“If one had a penal institution where virtually all of those who were incarcerated happened to be elderly, say above 75 years of age, then they could reasonably be prioritized, along with those in nursing homes, to receive early doses of limited vaccine supplies,” Fr. Pacholczyk said.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, told CNA that Catholics do need to pay attention to and serve those in prison—but they may or may not be among the most vulnerable people for the virus.

“As Christians we are obviously called to have special priority for prisoners,” Camosy said, “and to see the face of Christ in them.”

However, “there are many different vulnerable populations bearing the face of Christ during the pandemic,” he added, “and our duty, as inspired by Catholic Social Teaching, is to focus on the most vulnerable.”

Elderly and sick prisoners “should not be refused vaccines because they are prisoners,” he said. “But young and relatively healthy prisoners have such little chance of having bad outcomes that we should prioritize those who are elderly and sick (outside of nursing homes) ahead of them.”

Pro-life is pro-woman, incoming Catholic congresswoman says

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The growing number of pro-life women in Congress demonstrates the growing consensus that opposition to abortion is part of a holistic platform to support women, Representative-elect Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) told Catholic News Agency in an interview this week.

“This is about being pro-woman, this is about helping women, about supporting women,” Fischbach said of the pro-life agenda, “not just telling them, ‘here, go kill your child.’ This is about making sure that they understand we will accept their child and support them. Being there to help them, to support them, saying, ‘this is a gift from God, let us help you,’ that’s being supportive.”

Eighteen women who ran on a pro-life platform were newly elected to Congress last month.

“This is a stellar group of members elect, there’s all kinds of wonderful experience, and I’m excited to have them as part of Congress,” Fischbach said.  

Fischbach, who was the first female president of the Minnesota state senate, also served as the lieutenant governor of the state before defeating Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) last month. Peterson served in Congress for three decades and was chair of the House Agriculture Committee. 

Fischbach said she and her husband have two grown children, five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way. She said her priorities as she begins her first term include economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, rural broadband for Minnesota, and protection for the unborn.

Asked if there will be opportunities to protect life in legislation during a Biden administration and in a House under Democratic control, Fischbach said, “we will continue to fight,” adding she has “wonderful” reinforcements in her fellow pro-life members-elect.

“We will make sure we are protecting things like the Hyde Amendment,” she said. “You know, we will keep our options open and make sure that if the opportunity does arise that we are able to do things.”

“I worked in both the majority and the minority while I was in the Minnesota senate so I understand how to get things done in both of those situations,” she added. “So I will continue to work and make sure that we’re pushing things when we have the opportunity and fighting things when we need to.”

Fischbach also said her Catholic faith is an important part of her life.

“I think it shapes so much, so much about how you look at things and how you approach things and even that the fact that the Catholic Church is pro-life and promotes a pro-life agenda, just means so much,” she said. “It’s so fundamental and so much falls in place for the way you live, the way you present yourself, not only running, but how you live your life.” 

Analysis: Is there a road back for Cardinal Becciu?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Two months since his fall from grace, Cardinal Angelo Becciu remains in the news, and out of any future papal conclave. 

And despite the disgraced cardinal’s attempts to fight his way back to credibility, there seems little prospect of a return to favor for Becciu, who is now effectively a cardinal-in-name-only.

Becciu, the former sostituto at the Secretariat of State and prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, remains locked in a public dispute with Italian media, whom he blames for ruining his reputation and career.

He claims, in essence, that he has been hounded from office and Pope Francis turned against him because of unfair and untrue media reporting on financial affairs conducted under his direction or supervision.

Becciu has gone so far as to sue an Italian newspaper, claiming its reporting cost him a fighting chance to become the next pope, even though the pope dismissed Becciu weeks before much of the reporting he cites was published.

The cardinal has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his handling of Vatican financial affairs, despite reports that he helped steer Church funds to organizations controlled by members of his family. He has also denied allegations that Vatican money was wired to Australia at the time of the trial of Cardinal George Pell, Becciu’s long-time nemesis is Curial financial reform.

The most dramatic accusations leveled against Becciu have yet to be tested in a court, either in the Vatican or in Italy, and supporters of the cardinal have mounted a determined media defense, attempting to paint Becciu’s fall from grace as a sinister plot against him, the pope, and against the Church itself. Earlier this week, local media in Becciu’s native Sardinia reported the cardinal had received a friendly phone call from Pope Francis, and other news sites suggested that call was the opening of a door to Becciu’s possible rehabilitation.

Some have suggested that Francis may one day welcome back an exonerated Becciu, much in the way he has done Pell, following the latter’s vindication by the Australian High Court earlier this year. But parallels between the two cardinals may prove inexact.

But unlike Becciu, Pell was never asked to resign either his curial offices or his privileges as a cardinal, and the pope refused to strip him of either – even after he was initially convicted by an Australian court.

Despite the long working relationship between Francis and Becciu, whatever evidence Vatican prosecutors showed the pope in September, it was enough to convince the pope to deal with Becciu summarily, in a way more similar to Theodore McCarrick than George Pell. The full contents of that dossier have yet to be tested or aired in public, but the contents may go well beyond recent headlines.

Behind the most eye-catching allegations, far more serious, far more complicated, and far better documented questions plague Becciu’s time in charge of the first section of the Secretariat of State — questions about the network of businessmen given charge of hundreds of millions of euros of Church money, where that money went, and who profited from it.

These questions, and an ongoing investigation by Vatican prosecutors, have been gathering pace for almost two years, undercutting the cardinal’s insistence that he is the victim of a tabloid hit job.

The biggest headlines have been given to the allegations about money transferred to Australia during Pell’s ordeal: allegations as yet unsupported and unsubstantiated. Attention is also given to the jet-setting, purse-buying leader of a de facto intelligence network Becciu is alleged to have built.

Even beyond those sensational accounts, much of the media interest in Vatican finances centers on the purchase of a London building from an Italian businessman, Raffaele Mincione, for hundreds of millions of euros, with the deal being finalized in 2018 – after Becciu’s departure from the secretariat.

Far less attention has been paid to previous the use of Vatican funds, including Peter’s Pence, to secure massive loans from Swiss banks, including those with a reputation for disregarding anti-money laundering regulations, in alleged attempts to keep high-risk investments off Vatican balance sheets and outside of oversight mechanisms.

There has been even less scrutiny, at least in public, given to the possibility that Vatican funds were invested in financial products tied to Italian companies with links to organized crime, or indications of conflicts of interest between the businessmen charged with managing Holy See investments.

Other reports have raised still unanswered questions about the possibility a Vatican passport was granted to Luciano Capaldo, a lay businessman involved in the London deal, and the appointment of Fabrizio Tirabassi, a lay curial official, to a Luxembourg company controlled by Gianluigi Torzi – who was subsequently arrested and charged with extorting the Holy See. The same lay official was recently raided by police, who discovered hundreds of euros in cash and gold coins stashed in his two homes.

That five members of Becciu’s old department, all of whom reported to him for years, were raided and suspended by investigators months before his own resignation further tarnishes the argument that he is the simple victim of a sudden press campaign.

While Becciu has maintained that he was unaware of anything amiss in the financial dealings of his old department, he nevertheless remained active in the management of Vatican financial affairs even after his appointment to the unrelated post of prefect at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Earlier this year, it was reported that Becciu took personal charge of lobbying the pope and Cardinal Parolin to accept a new bid on the London building from a group of businessmen represented by Raffaele Mincione’s lawyer.

That bid was rejected, but Becciu’s active role in trying to sell the deal to his old department at least suggests his ongoing involvement in financial affairs, and his relationship with a network of individuals interested in doing business with the Vatican.

In a recent interview, Cardinal George Pell expressed surprise at the “technicolor criminality” being reported in relation to Vatican finances, and mentioned disappointment that his own worst suspicions appeared to have been vindicated. But, Pell stressed, the full truth could and must come out in a trial, which is the only real way of closing the matter.

It remains to be seen if prosecutors will formally charge Becciu, or if the Holy See would allow the still-in-law cardinal to face charges in another jurisdiction. 

In the meantime, underneath the swirl of daily media speculation and Becciu’s own protestations, the Vatican investigation slowly grinds on, as does the slow unravelling of a scandal apparently years in the making.

Former Vatican court president Giuseppe Dalla Torre dies at 77

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Giuseppe Dalla Torre, a jurist who retired last year after more than 20 years as president of the Vatican City tribunal, died Thursday at the age of 77.

Dalla Torre was also the longtime rector of Libera Maria Santissima Assunta University (LUMSA) in Rome. He was married and had two daughters, one of whom is deceased.

His funeral will be held on Dec. 5 at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Dalla Torre was the brother of Fra Giacomo Dalla Torre del Tempio di Sanguinetto, who was the Sovereign Grand Master of the Order of Malta from 2018 until his death on April 29, 2020.

The two brothers were descended from a noble family with long ties to the Holy See. Their grandfather was the director of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano for 40 years, lived in Vatican City, and had Vatican citizenship.

This summer, Giuseppe Dalla Torre published “Papi di Famiglia,” a book about three generations of his family and their service to the Holy See, which spans more than 100 years and eight popes. 

Born in 1943, Dalla Torre studied jurisprudence and canon law before serving as a professor of Church law and constitutional law from 1980 to 1990.

He was rector of the Catholic university LUMSA from 1991 to 2014, and from 1997 to 2019 was president of the Tribunal of Vatican City State, where he led the two so-called “Vatileaks” trials and oversaw the reform of the city state’s penal law.

Dalla Torre was also a consultor of various Vatican dicasteries and a visiting professor at several of Rome’s pontifical universities.

His career included being a columnist for L’Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, a member of the National Bioethics Committee, and president of the Italian Catholic Jurists Union.

Dalla Torre was a lieutenant general of honor of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.

LUMSA Rector Francesco Bonini said in a statement on Dalla Torre’s death that “he was a teacher for all of us and a father for many. We remember him with gratitude and we are committed to developing his witness of truth and goodness, a witness of service.”

“We share the pain of Mrs. Nicoletta and Paola, and together we pray to the Lord, at the beginning of this time of Advent, who prepares us, in Christian hope, for the certainty of a life that has no end, in His infinite love,” Bonini concluded.

Scholar: Paper books essential for kids' developing brains

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic scholar who specializes in dyslexia has warned that children must be exposed to physical books - and not just screens - if they are to develop the skills necessary for analysis and in-depth thinking.

Maryanne Wolf was featured on a podcast entitled, “The Power of Reading: Changing Our Own Brains – Screens vs. Books,” which was produced by the Simbi Foundation as part of its “Impact in the 21st Century” series.

Wolf is a professor-in-residence at UCLA and is the director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice. She also co-founded Curious Learning: A Global Literacy Initiative, which seeks to address the educational needs of under-resourced communities.

Her research is focused on language, the reading brain, and dyslexia. She was also elected as one of the 80 members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

On the podcast, she explained that physical books are essential for developing deep thinking skills. She stressed that children should be exposed to paper books as well as screens.

“I love language, I love words, and I love children, and I want to be sure that every child in every country… that everyone who struggles and everyone who doesn’t struggle… understands that they can become something they never imagined because reading will give them a vehicle like no other,” she said.

She stressed that she is not anti-technology, but said the science shows that physical books are necessary to foster “literacy in the fullest sense – and by that I mean a proficient, deep reading brain – I want that for our children, for our next generation. I want it for our world.”

Wolf said that due to the excessive amount of information presented in the digital environment, readers are more likely to skim information instead of reading articles and paragraphs thoroughly. However, reading slowly helps promote critical thinking and empathy, while also reading quickly promotes a reliance on familiar information instead of developing new perspectives.

“My concern about this new norm of the skimming reader – which is really very close to being almost a non-reader when it comes to connecting to the deep processes that we possess – the implications are profound,” said Wolf.

“It’s about how do we interest people in developing their own intelligence, their own best thinking, and not to be content with a skim that literally misses beauty, misses the depths of language and meaning, misses complexity, misses our own ability to be critically analytic, misses our ability to leave our little selves, our egocentric spheres, and enter the perspective of another person.”

“We are challenged by perspectives of others into analyzing ourselves, analyzing where we are,” she said. “And that is what makes us able to be not just a better individual but a better member of society, who will say, ‘Wait, pause. We can’t just accept something just because it’s in our familiar silo.’”

 

Supreme Court vacates ruling on California church closures

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- In an apparent victory for religious freedom during state efforts to impose necessary COVID restrictions, the Supreme Court on Thursday vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling against California churches.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Brooklyn Diocese and Orthodox Jewish synagogues in their case against the state’s COVID restrictions. On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court accepted the appeal of California churches against the state’s restrictions and vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision, sending the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of its opinion on the Brooklyn Diocese case.

On Nov. 23, Harvest Rock Church--a church with several campuses in California--and Harvest International Ministry--an association of churches in the state--appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from the state’s pandemic-related restrictions.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” in August, restricting the operations of some businesses and organizations. Depending upon the severity of the spread of the coronavirus in a particular area, the order curbed the operations of certain businesses and organizations. 

In “Tier 1,” the areas with the supposed worst spread of the virus, the order banned indoor worship altogether but permitted outdoor worship; these areas included the locations of Harvest Rock church campuses.

According to the churches’ appeal, California banned indoor worship “in over 41 counties,” prohibited singing as a high-risk activity in counties where indoor worship was allowed, and even banned some indoor religious gatherings in private homes.

Harvest Rock alleged that Newsom has applied a double-standard during the nine months of the pandemic, curbing religious services while allowing comparable non-religious gatherings and mass protests to continue “without numerical restriction.”

“Despite his nine-month reign of executive edicts subjugating Californians to restrictions unknown to constitutional law, the Governor continues to impose draconian and unconscionable prohibitions on the daily life of all Californians that even the Governor disregards at his own whim,” the church said in its appeal.

Harvest Rock said that following Newsom’s order, local officials began sending letters “threatening up to 1 year in prison, daily criminal charges and $1,000 fines against the pastors, church, governing board, staff, and parishioners” if they did not comply with the restrictions.

The church filed a lawsuit against the state, but a district court would not grant its request to halt the restrictions. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against the church in October, refusing to overrule the district court’s decision and saying that while the state provided expert testimony to support its public health restrictions, the church had not provided its own health expert to make its case.

The church appealed its case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the state’s restrictions marginalized its religious freedom to “constitutional orphan status.”

On Thursday the Supreme Court accepted the church’s appeal, vacated the Ninth Circuit decision, and sent the case back to the circuit court for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Brooklyn Diocese case.

In that case, the diocese had appealed for relief from state restrictions on churches and other establishments. New York had identified certain geographic zones where the virus was supposedly spreading, and set up a color-system based on how serious the spread of the virus was.

In the “red” zones, where the spread was most severe, churches were effectively limited to only 10 people at a time for indoor Mass, sacraments, and prayer.

The court found that, while churches were restricted, other businesses deemed “essential” by the state did not have capacity limits indoors. In addition, the state could have used less restrictive measures on the freedom of religion, especially given there was “no evidence” the churches “contributed to the spread of COVID-19.”

The majority opinion, joined by new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, stated that “even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”

“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the ruling concluded.

Catholic bishops welcome ‘realistic’ new measures for public Masses in France

Rome Newsroom, Dec 3, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Bishops in France have welcomed new government measures that will allow more people to attend public Masses during Advent. 

Gérald Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior, announced Dec. 2 a change to a previously proposed 30-person limit on attendance of public Masses after France’s highest administrative court overturned the restriction in response to a legal appeal by the Catholic bishops’ conference.

Under the revised measures, people will be required to leave two free seats between each person or family and to only occupy every other pew.

The French bishops’ conference issued a statement Dec. 2 calling the new measure “more realistic”  as it is proportionate to each church’s  building capacity. 

The bishops said that the new measure would apply through the next two Sundays of Advent and then should be reevaluated on Dec. 15 on the basis of the latest health data. They expressed hope that Christmas liturgies would be able to take place with “the least possible restriction.”

Vincent Neymon, spokesman of the French bishops’ conference, wrote on Twitter Dec. 2: “It governs the capacity of churches until December 15. Afterwards, let us hope that the sanitary conditions allow more people and that Christmas 2020 will bring together all those who want to celebrate the coming of Jesus.” 

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference, has been a primary point of contact in the bishops’ negotiations with the French government since public Masses were suspended on Nov. 2.

The Vatican announced that Moulins-Beaufort met with Pope Francis Dec. 3, along with the two vice presidents of the French bishops conference, Bishop Dominique Blanchet of Belfort-Montbéliard and Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras, and secretary general Fr. Hugues de Woillemont. The Vatican did not disclose any further details about the meeting. 

France’s current lockdown restrictions are expected to be lifted on Dec. 15. But a curfew will be enforced and bars and restaurants are likely to remain closed over Christmas. Shops have reopened and people are allowed to move within a 12-mile radius of their homes.

France has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2.2 million recorded cases and over 52,000 deaths as of Dec. 3, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Catholics in Paris have begun a novena, which will end on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. They are asking for the intercession of St. Denis, St. Genevieve, St. Louis, St. Vincent de Paul, and other saints of the country known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.”

Polish Catholic leader to European Parliament: There can be no compromise on the right to life

CNA Staff, Dec 3, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- A Catholic archbishop spoke out Wednesday after the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning Poland’s pro-life laws. 

In a Dec. 2 statement, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of Poland’s bishops’ conference, said that there could be no compromise on the right to life. 

He said: “The right to life is a fundamental human right. It always takes precedence over the right to choose, because no person can authoritatively allow the possibility of killing another.”

The archbishop was responding to a resolution adopted by the European Parliament Nov. 26 condemning Poland’s “de facto ban on the right to abortion.” 

The European Parliament, the European Union’s law-making body, passed the resolution by 455 votes to 145 after Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled Oct. 22 that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

Gądecki, the vice president of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), noted that the resolution repeatedly referred to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, pointing out that the charter declares that “Everyone has the right to life.”

“The European Union thus recognizes that the inalienable dignity of the human person and respect for the right to life are fundamental criteria for democracy and the rule of law,” he said.

The archbishop of Poznań argued that the title of the resolution was itself misleading as there is no “right to abortion” either from an ethical standpoint or in international law. 

“In no democratic legal order can there be a right to kill an innocent person,” he said.

He also objected to the resolution’s reference to an “abortion compromise” in Poland. The phrase refers to laws passed after the collapse of communism which restricted abortion but still permitted it in limited circumstances. 

He said: “Talking about the so-called legal compromise on the protection of life is a falsification of reality because it omits the most important third party in the dispute, i.e. unborn children and their inalienable right to life.” 

“Any compromise in this matter is tantamount to depriving some children of their fundamental right to life and imposing the death penalty in a brutal way, which, let’s recall, is also prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. There can therefore be no compromise in this regard.”

Gądecki quoted Pope Francis several times in his statement, including the pope’s Nov. 22 letter to a group of Argentine women. In the letter, the pope said that abortion was primarily an ethical issue rather than a religious one. “Is it fair to eliminate a human life to solve a problem?” he wrote after Argentine President Alberto Fernández introduced the bill to legalize abortion. “Is it fair to hire a hitman to solve a problem?” 

Gądecki also noted that Pope Francis had expressed support for pro-lifers in Poland following mass demonstrations against the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling. 

Protesters disrupted Masses while holding signs supporting abortion, left graffiti on Church property, vandalized statues of St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy. 

The archbishop thanked those who witnessed to the value of human life despite being “often met with aggression and contempt.” 

He also praised communities in Poland that sought to defend unborn life. 

“They are the voice of natural reason, which consistently, contrary to ideological conformism and opportunism, defends human life in every phase of its development,” he said. 

“They are the voice of hundreds of millions of people around the world who have discovered the beauty of every life.”

“Unfortunately, this brave and righteous voice is often met with aggression and violence by the supporters of the civilization of death.”

The archbishop praised people who not only worked for full legal protection of unborn life, but also offered help and support to expectant mothers. 

“From the heart I bless all people of goodwill and pray for the grace of conversion for those who have not yet discovered the stunning beauty of every life,” he wrote. 

“I also recommend to God all those who in Europe maintain an awareness of their spiritual and religious and moral heritage.”