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Bishop Paprocki: We must weigh cost of 'extraordinary' shutdowns

Denver Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- In an essay published this month, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois argued that months-long lockdowns in response to the coronavirus are an extraordinary means of saving life, and are therefore not morally obligatory and should not be coerced by the state.

We have “taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of shutting down a major portion of our economy for the past several months, telling people to stay home, not to go to work, and not to go to school,” Bishop Paprocki wrote in “Social Shutdowns as an Extraordinary Means of Saving Human Lives”, an essay in the September edition of Ethics & Medics, a commentary published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

“The distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means of preserving life is important, for if a means is extraordinary—that is, if the burdens outweigh the benefits—then it is not morally obligatory and should not be coerced by state power,” he wrote.

“[I]n the face of a pandemic, do we have a moral obligation to shut down our society, require people to stay at home, put employees out of work, send businesses into bankruptcy, impair the food supply chain, and prevent worshippers from going to church? I would say no,” the bishop concluded, saying that such actions “would be imposing unduly burdensome and extraordinary means.”

Speaking to CNA, Bishop Paprocki drew an analogy with the distinction between ordinary means of preserving the life of a patient in medical care, which are obligatory, and extraordinary means, which are so burdensome that they are not obligatory, in the response to a pandemic.

“It just occurred to me that that very word extraordinary is a word that we use in Catholic medical ethics when we talk about treatments to save life, when you're talking about an individual patient,” he said.

“Looking back, at emails and decisions we were making at that time, we were very much thinking in the middle of March, that this was going to be for a couple of weeks – we'll close our schools until the end of March, and then things will reopen.”

“Obviously that didn't happen that way,” he said, “so the lockdowns got extended another month, and so here we are several months later and this is ongoing.”

“The impact that it's been having on people being able to go to church, receive Communion, go to their jobs, go to school, with all that being basically shut down for a period of time, again, it just struck me as extraordinary, that this had never happened in my lifetime, and probably in the lifetime of most people who are alive today, and so the word extraordinary kept coming back to me,” he explained.

This distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means was first made by Venerable Pius XII in a 1957 address to medical workers, during which he said that “Normally one is held to use only ordinary means … that is to say, means that do not involve any grave burden for oneself or another. A stricter obligation would be too burdensome for most men and would render the attainment of the higher, more important good too difficult. Life, health, all temporal activities are in fact subordinated to spiritual ends.”

Bishop Paprocki asked, “What are the spiritual ends? The spiritual end is eternal life, and so everything else is subordinated to that.”

“Let's take one issue, in terms of being able to go to church and receive the sacraments, Holy Communion; or a person who's dying to receive Anointing of the Sick. All of that is more important than our temporal activities, or even our physical life here on earth. So I thought, 'well, if that applies to … individual people, why can't that same principle apply to society as a whole? Do we have to do everything possible to save every human life? Well not if it's extraordinary.”

He noted that more than 35,000 people die annually in the US in auto accidents.

“How do we save those every year? Let's not drive. Let's close down our highways, don't get in your car,” Bishop Paprocki said.

“We wouldn't do that, because people need to get to work, to school, and other obligations. So what do we do? We don't throw caution to the wind. We take precautions, like seat belts and air bags, and you follow the rules of the road; and if you do that, there's much greater likelihood you won't die in an auto accident, but that's not an absolute guarantee. There are no absolute guarantees in life.”

If this principle of the distinction between extraordinary and ordinary means “applies to individuals, why doesn't it apply to our society as well?” he asked. “And I would argue that it should.”

“When you've got politicians, for example governors and other government leaders, making decisions about shutting things down, I'm not questioning their motivation – it's a good motivation, they're trying to save life, and that’s a good thing – but I'm trying to add a little bit more of a moral analysis to that conversation.”

“It's not that simple to say we have to do everything to save every life possible, because we just don't do that, that's not possible. Instead we take ordinary means, and that's what I'm hoping to contribute to the conversation here.”

The bishop said he is “anticipating that this whole question will come up again,” and he noted that Israel has begun a second lockdown because of coronavirus, which will last three weeks. The country was also locked down from late March to early May.

“In the US if we have another wave of Covid, or even a very severe flu, are we going to lock everything down again?” Bishop Paprocki asked.

“I would be arguing that morally, we don't have to. If someone voluntarily says, 'you know what, it's not safe out there, I'm not going out', fine, that's your decision; but in terms of the government ordering everything to be shut down, I just don't think that's morally required.”

The bishop said he has heard anecdotally that numerous people “are thinking along these lines, but they don't know exactly how to articulate it … people are making this analysis in their own minds that there are a lot of different factors that we have to weigh here, and so what I'm trying to do here is add some vocabulary from our Catholic moral tradition that perhaps could help this conversation.”

In his essay, he cited a July broadcast of NBC Nightly News in which five pediatricians “unanimously and emphatically agreed that the benefits of children’s being back at school outweigh the risks.”

Parents, teachers, and students, he said, have told him they're “very happy to be back in school”; Catholic schools in the diocese, and across Illinois, have reopened. “I'm hearing from people saying it's more important, even if there is some risk … we're weighing the burdens and the benefits here. There is some risk there for the spread of Covid. On the other hand, what's the risk to children if we shut down their education?”

“When I'm saying that shutdowns are extraordinary means, I'm certainly not disregarding the importance of doing what we can to save life, to help people who are sick, to try and deal with the threat of Covid,” Bishop Paprocki emphasized.

“My background in healthcare says to me that these are complicated decisions, but we also have very nuanced ways of trying to look at them and trying to analyse them.”

The bishop comes from a family of pharmacists, with four generations in the business; he is also vice-president of the Illinois Catholic Health Association, and while a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago he served as Liaison for Health and Hospital Affairs.

He also addressed the balance of concerns for the elderly, vulnerable as they are to the coronavirus.

“We're taking steps to make sure the elderly don't get sick, and don't contract Covid, and that's a very important factor, because they're a higher risk group, and more vulnerable than young people; on the other hand, their physical well being, as important as it is, is not the only concern.”

The bishop had related in his essay that his aunt, Marian Jacobs, had her 102nd birthday in March. She would normally celebrate with her family, but was barred from doing so. “Indeed with very limited family visits since March, she has declined rapidly and has been moved from her apartment to assisted living,” he wrote.

“The elderly, they need to be with people, with family, they need social interactions, as much as anybody does,” he told CNA. “And so there we have to try to strike a balance between keeping them physically safe, and at the same time allowing them to be happy. As I wrote in my article, I'm more afraid that my aunt's going to die of a broken heart than she will of Covid.”

Discerning the difference between ordinary and extraordinary means is a “judgement call,” the bishop explained.

“There are no easy benchmarks,” Bishop Paprocki conceded. “If you compare this by analogy to end of life decisions, when a family is talking to a doctor about what to do for a dying person, what kind of treatment, whether to put them on hospice, or palliative care, is there some way to ease their suffering? Those are difficult conversations to have, but they're important conversations. So I'm not downplaying how difficult that is for our government leaders to make these decisions.”

One important criterion, he affirmed, is the duration of a lockdown.

While temporary measures can be good, even essential, “can we shut down our sacraments indefinitely? I don't think so,” he said.

“We could do it for a short period of time, [but if] we can't tell you when you're going to be able to receive the sacraments again, then I think that's subordinating our spiritual ends, as Pope Pius XII talked about, to the physical ends.”

“For those of us who do see eternal life as more important than our physical life on earth, the government shouldn't be interfering with our efforts to practice our faith,” he said, noting that the widespread fear of death remains a call for the church to evangelize.

“Death is part of the natural lifecycle, but if you don't believe in God, in an afterlife, the only thing you believe in is the physical world here and now, well, death becomes much more ominous,” he said.

“Our culture just has a hard time dealing with it. We don't like to talk about death, we use euphemisms; instead of saying someone died, we say someone passed.”

“We don't even like to talk about funerals,” he continued. “It's a 'celebration of life' and that’s fine – there's nothing wrong with celebrating a person's life, but that's looking back, remembering that person's life here on earth. But our Catholic funerals look ahead, we pray for the repose of the soul, we're praying for their eternal life.”

“That's the good news of the Gospel, that Jesus has come to offer us eternal life in his kingdom, so that's where we should put our focus.”

Bishop Michael Bransfield: I do not want to 'do battle' with successor

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:10 am (CNA).- Retired West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield told CNA Thursday that he is retired, wants to stay retired, and does not want to “do battle” with his successor, after Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston called an apology from Bransfield, “self-serving” and “lacking in any contrition.”

“I’m retired and I want to stay retired, and I do not wish to do battle with my successor, I really don’t,” Bransfield told CNA by telephone Sept. 24.

 “The problem is, when I start to comment, it gets into a battle,” Bransfield added.

After his retirement in 2018, Bransfield was accused of sexual and financial misconduct. A Church investigation followed, and Bransfield was ordered by the Vatican to make financial restitution for funds stolen from the diocese, and to apologize.

In a letter to West Virginia Catholics on Thursday, Bishop Brennan, who succeeded Bransfield as leader of the diocese last year, said  the reaction of local Catholics to Bransfield's Vatican-ordered apology, given in August, has been “mixed.”

Bransfield led the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston from 2004-2018. He is reported to have sexually harassed, assaulted, and coerced seminarians, priests, and other adults during his thirteen years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston.

After the Vatican-ordered investigation, Bransfield released Aug. 15 a letter through his former diocese, in which he apologized for “any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me.”

“For my part, I found his apology self-serving and lacking in any recognition of, or contrition for, actually having offended people,” Brennan wrote Thursday. 

Responding to Brennan’s letter, Branfield told CNA “That is the bishop’s opinion.”

Brennan’s letter, dated Sept. 24, addressed several issues in addition to what he called “the Bransfield saga,” including the still-ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the formation of Catholic consciences ahead of the November general election.

After Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in 2018, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was ordered to investigate allegations that Bransfield had sexually harassed adult males and misused diocesan finances during his tenure. Investigators established that the bishop had engaged in a pattern of sexual malfeasance and serious financial misconduct.

The bishop was eventually ordered by the Vatican to apologize and to repay some $441,000 to the diocese.

In August, Brennan published the text of Bransfield’s apology, in which the former diocesan bishop said he “was reimbursed for certain expenditures that have been called into question as excessive,” but insisted that he “believed that such reimbursements to me were proper.”

During his time there, Bransfield spent thousands of dollars on jewelry and other clothing, including spending more than $60,000 of diocesan money at a boutique jeweler in Washington, D.C.

He also spent nearly $1 million on private jets and over $660,000 on airfare and hotels during his 13 years as Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston. He often stayed in luxury accommodations on both work trips and personal vacations, and gave large cash gifts to high-ranking Church leaders, using diocesan funds.

“I am writing to apologize for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me during my tenure as Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese,” Bransfield said in his August apology.

“There have been allegations that by certain words and actions I have caused certain priests and seminarians to feel sexually harassed,” he added.

“That was never my intent,” Branfield wrote in August, adding that “if anything I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry.”

In his letter to the diocese on Thursday, Bishop Brennan said that he had published Bransfield’s apology “without alteration or comment, trusting that our people would see it for the non-apology that it was, and they did.”

Brennan also acknowledged that many people in the diocese believe Bransfield “got off far too lightly” for his actions but said further prosecution or punishment was unlikely.

“Only the civil authorities can charge a person with a crime or send him to jail, the Church can do neither,” Brennan said, but added “to be clear the diocese cooperates with civil authorities who are investigating illegal behavior.”

Although Bransfield has repaid more than $400,000, the diocese had originally sought nearly $800,000 from the bishop. Brennan said that any civil suit by the diocese to recover more money was very unlikely to succeed because of First Amendment protections on the internal ordering of churches.

“We did get some satisfaction relative to the Bransfield affair,” wrote Brennan. “To the best of my knowledge, the Holy See has never told a bishop in this country to apologize to his people and to make some financial restitution to them.”

“Rome did that to Bishop Bransfield, even if the ‘apology’ was anemic and the financial restitution, though substantial, was less than we initially sought,” Brennan said, calling it a “shot across the bow” to other American bishops that “outrageous conduct will not be tolerated.”

“As some of you have told me,” Brennan concluded, “we need to put the Bransfield saga behind us and move on to the work before us: making Christ known and loved in the state and serving those in need.”

Archbishop John Myers, retired Newark archbishop, dead at 79

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:08 am (CNA).- Archbishop John J. Myers, emeritus archbishop of Newark, has died at 79.

Myers was from 2001 until 2016 the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. He was before that Bishop of Peoria, the diocese for which he was ordained a priest in 1966.

The archbishop, the oldest of seven children, was the son of an Illinois farmer. He discerned a vocation to the priesthood while in college, and was sent as a seminarian to the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He earned in Rome a licentiate in sacred theology and a doctorate in canon law.

He became coadjutor bishop of Peoria in 1987 and became Peoria’s bishop in 1990. Throughout the 1990s, Myers was known for fostering numerous priestly vocations in the Peoria diocese, for his theological orthodoxy, and for his vigorous defense of the unborn.

Myers surprised many Church-watchers when in 2001 he succeeded Theodore McCarrick as Archbishop of Newark.

The archbishop faced criticism for his handling of several high-profile clerical abuse cases while he was Archbishop of Newark, including allowing priests to remain in parish ministry when they had either confessed to or been credibly accused of abuse.

He was, however, recognized by some Newark priests for his support of campus ministry and vocational discernment initiatives in the archdiocese, and for his theological orthodoxy and acumen.

The archbishop also faced a 2014 outcry against the archdiocesan purchase and expansion of a large home in rural New Jersey in which he planned to retire. The archbishop said the home had been paid for by the sale of other archdiocesan real estate and would be used for archdiocesan purposes, including fundraising.

Myers retired in 2016, and was succeeded by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who said Thursday that “on behalf of my brother Bishops and the entire family of God here in our local Church of Newark, I extend my heartfelt prayers and condolences to his family. Let us thank God for Archbishop Myers’ service and his love of our Church. I entrust him to the loving arms of our Blessed Mother Mary, and I pray that Our Lord grant him peace.”

Since 2018, widespread concern and speculation regarding what Myers might have known about the abuse sexual proclivities of his predecessor, McCarrick, has continued, especially because Myers led the Newark archdiocese when it reached legal settlements with men alleging sexual misconduct on the part of McCarrick. The Archdiocese of Newark has not released the findings of its own investigation into McCarrick’s activities, citing a state attorney general’s investigation into the matter.

In January, the archbishop moved to Illinois to be near his family, as his “physical and mental health” was said to in serious decline.

The archbishop was the coathor of “Space Vulture” a 2008 science fiction novel.

Funeral services for the archbishop, expected to be held in Peoria, have not yet been announced.


Knights of Columbus organize novena for Respect Life Month

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced Tuesday a “Novena for the Cause of Life” as part of Respect Life Month, observed in October.

The novena will take place Oct. 4-12. Each day of the novena will include a decade of the rosary, a reflection on a quote from Pope Francis, and a closing prayer to Mary taken from Evangelium vitae, St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical on the value and inviolability of human life.

"The cause of life is today's preeminent priority, as Pope Francis indicated when meeting with the US bishops in January," said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight, according to a Sept. 22 statement.

“The Knights wish to join all Catholics in prayer with Pope Francis for an end to abortion, euthanasia and the many social ills that bring illness, broken families, unhappiness and premature death, especially for the vulnerable.”

The Church in the United States celebrates Respect Life Month in October and the first Sunday is observed as Respect Life Sunday. During the month, the Church asks Catholics to reflect on the dignity of the person and to take action to spread the pro-life message.

"The theme of this year's national observance, 'Live the Gospel of Life,' says that, with Christ, we are meant to enjoy and foster life, the gift of being fully alive,” said Anderson.

On Respect Life Sunday, priests and deacons are asked by the USCCB to preach on the Church’s teachings on human life during their homilies. The USCCB also encouraged the laity and religious members to pursue activities that contribute toward the pro-life movement.

According to the 2020 Respect Life guide, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides resources to help parishes, families, ministries, and schools to share the pro-life message. Other ministry leaders are urged to use these resources during Bible studies or other ministry gatherings.

The laity and parish staff are encouraged to display the annual “Respect Life Poster” at home, parishes, or in other appropriate public places. The USCCB also suggested that Catholics spend this month in prayer and host an interactive Respect Life activity to help educate others.

Anderson said, as the events of 2020 have taken numerous lives in the United States, abortion continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. He expressed hope that this novena will lead others to be more open to life.

"In 2020, we have lost lives due to the coronavirus pandemic and endured civil unrest, yet abortion remains the leading cause of death in America," said Anderson. "As the year enters its final months, we are prompted to pray more and with greater vigor that hearts may be more open to life in all of its stages,” he said.

Carlo Acutis beatification will be a 17-day celebration in Assisi

Rome Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Assisi is celebrating the beatification of computer programming teen Carlo Acutis in October with more than two weeks of liturgies and events that the bishop hopes will be an evangelizing force for young people. 

“Now more than ever we believe that the example of Carlo -- a brilliant internet user who loved to help the least, the poor and the misfits -- can unleash a driving force for a new evangelizing momentum,” Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi said at the announcement of the schedule of events.

Beginning Oct. 1, the tomb of Carlo Acutis (pictured below) will be open for veneration for 17 days from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to allow as many people as possible to make a prayerful visit. Acutis’ tomb is located in Assisi’s Sanctuary of the Spoliation, where a young St. Francis of Assisi is said to have cast off his rich clothes in favor of a poor habit. 

The Oct. 1-17 period of veneration is flanked by Masses in the sanctuary -- a fitting way to honor Acutis, who was known for his deep love for the Eucharist, never missing daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration. Churches throughout Assisi will also offer adoration of the Blessed Sacrament each day.

Two of Assisi’s other churches will be hosting exhibitions on Eucharistic miracles and Marian apparitions, subjects that Acutis had attempted to spread devotion to by creating websites. These exhibitions, in the Cathedral of San Rufino and the Cloister of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels respectively, will run from Oct. 2 to Oct. 16.

Acutis was aged 15 when he died of leukemia in 2006, offering his suffering for the pope and the Church. 

The October celebration of his beatification will include several youth events, including a virtual gathering of Italian young people Oct. 2 entitled “Blessed are you: A school of happiness.”

A youth prayer vigil is also planned for the night before the beatification. The vigil, called “My Highway to Heaven,” will be led by Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia and Auxiliary Bishop Paolo Martinelli of Milan, in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which contains the small church were St. Francis heard Christ speak to him from a crucifix: “Francis, go and rebuild my Church.”

The beatification of Carlo Acutis will take place at the Basilica of St. Francis at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 10. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Vatican Congregation of the Causes of Saints, will offer the Mass. The limited number of seats for this event have already been reserved. But the city of Assisi is setting up large screens in several of its piazzas for public viewing.

With tickets to the beatification itself limited due to Italy’s coronavirus restrictions, the bishop of Assisi said he hoped that the extended period of veneration and numerous events would allow many people to be close to “young Carlo.”

“This boy from Milan, who chose Assisi as his favorite place, understood, also following in the footsteps of St. Francis, that God must be at the center of everything,” Sorrentino said.

Catholic religious sister and migrant advocate named one of 2020's 'Most Influential People'

Washington D.C., Sep 24, 2020 / 09:01 am (CNA).- Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley, this week was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for 2020.

Pimentel has for the past several years been a visible and highly active advocate for migrants in need of humanitarian aid at the US-Mexico border.

"It's amazing how we see human suffering in such magnitude, right across from the United States,” Sister Pimentel told CNA in an October 2019 interview.

“It's something that we could have handled so [differently]— these are refugees, people who are fleeing violence, asking for protection, and we deny that opportunity to have them come in and wait here.”

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened their first respite center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen in 2014 to provide migrants with basic necessities, including a shower and a bowl of soup.

In need of more space, they later moved to a former nursing home, and eventually in 2019 to a new, larger center in downtown McAllen.

The center has helped hundreds of thousands of migrants over its years of operation, Pimentel says, with donations coming in from around the country and, before the pandemic, many volunteer groups coming to help. 

Pimentel said most of the people they help are women and children who have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date to consider their request for asylum. In earlier years, border agents would typically drop asylum seekers at the McAllen center shortly after being released from the custody of federal authorities.

New Migrant Protection Protocols took effect during January 2019, which require migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico, rather than being allowed to come into the US to await their asylum hearing.

Before the new protocols took effect, Pimentel said the Humanitarian Respite Center was receiving close to 1,000 migrants daily, offering basic aid such as food, clothing, and showers.

Catholic Charities’ role changed drastically after the new protocols kicked in, she said, because the number of migrants actually making it to the US dropped dramatically, to between 10-40 people daily in late 2019.

"And in the meantime, they're stranded there [in Mexico], they're homeless. It's the most horrific human suffering that we see happening to these families, exposed to so many dangers and abuses; cartels and things like that. So it is a very sad, dramatic change that we are seeing," she told CNA.

Donations received at the Respite Center are sorted and distributed to groups working with immigrants along the border, she said. There are several large aid groups working to improve conditions for the migrants in Matamoros, Mexico, right across from Brownsville.

Volunteers working with Catholic Charities frequently went across the border to Matamoros, where the families are camping out, and bring them hygiene items, food, and anything else that they need. There are estimated to be about 650 migrants in the camps currently, down from several thousand at its peak.

The coronavirus pandemic has made helping families along the border even more difficult. In March, President Donald Trump shut down nonessential travel across the US-Mexico border, and indefinitely suspended the asylum system.

In Matamoros, Pimentel says she often would encounter entire families waiting at the border, fleeing persecution in their home countries, who have nothing to eat except what is brought to them by aid groups. Matamoros is one of the world’s most dangerous cities, with frequent kidnappings and murders.

"I really touches my heart to hear that, and to see the children and families hurting so much. It really hurts to see children in such poor conditions," Pimentel said.

In addition to basic supplies, Catholic Charities was helping to provide legal assistance, workshops, and explanations to the migrants, who often have little idea how the US immigration system works, and have no idea how their hearing will go. Often there is not even a translation available for migrants who do not speak English, she said.

The United Nations refugee agency says in 2019, there were about 70,000 who filed for asylum in the US from Mexico, up from 2,000 in 2014.

Pimentel wrote a July 2020 op-ed in the Washington Post, warning that squalid conditions at the Matamoros camp and a lack of water and sanitary supplies made the camp “a potential outbreak waiting to happen.”

To Pimentel, helping the destitute migrants in the area is part and parcel of the charity that the Catholic faith demands of every believer.

"If we believe in a God of love, a God who tells us that we must welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked— Jesus was very specific in saying 'Look for me and you will find me in them, in those people who are hurting and suffering,'" she said.

"How else do we want to receive Jesus if he is telling us already: 'This is where you will find me.' And so if we don't do that, I think we are failing to understand Jesus in our lives, and what He is calling us to do."

The Catholic bishop of Brownsville praised Sister Pimentel’s work Sept. 22 and congratulated her on her distinction.

“Thank you, Sister. You help us all come together in the Valley to face our challenges,
you help us learn how to help each other, how to protect the vulnerable, to not lose hope...and to be a sign of Christ in the world,” Bishop Daniel Flores of Browsville said Sept. 22.

President Trump visited McAllen during January 2019 in an effort to drum up support for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico. Pimentel said after the visit that she was “truly disappointed” that she did not get a chance to speak during a roundtable discussion with the president.

Pimentel said at the time that if she had had the opportunity to speak, she would have emphasized that she understands the importance of border security and keeping the country safe, and that the Border Patrol - with whom she says she has always had a good relationship, and prays for daily - should be supported.

”We also must recognize that there are a lot of families, innocent victims of violence, that are suffering,” she said.

“And we find them here in our community, and we as a community are so generous in responding to help them, to be there for them. It’s a part of who we are as Americans, very compassionate. And that is a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listening to.”

St. John Paul II relic stolen amid church robberies in Italy

Rome Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- This week a relic of St. Pope John Paul II was stolen from a cathedral in central Italy, while a church in Sicily was also robbed and the Eucharist desecrated.

A gold reliquary with a relic of the blood of St. John Paul II was discovered to be missing from a chapel of the Cathedral Basilica of Spoleto on the evening of Sept. 23, according to the Italian daily L’Avvenire.

In a video message Sept. 24, the archbishop of Spoleto said he received the news of the theft with sorrow. 

Archbishop Renato Boccardo asked the perpetrator to “return and restore the relic to the cathedral. What I am asking is a gesture of responsibility and seriousness.”

The relic was a gift from the archbishop of Kraków to the Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia in 2016. The archdiocese planned to move the relic to a new church in honor of the Polish saint on Oct. 22. This year the Church is marking the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s birth.

The relic was, in the meantime, being displayed for veneration in the chapel of the crucifix, which is enclosed by a gate.

“It’s a serious act,” Boccardo said. “Serious, naturally, because it wounds the sentiments and the devotion of many people” who come to the cathedral to ask for the intercession of the saint before his relic.

“Meanwhile, I exhort the many devotees of St. John Paul II to continue to entrust themselves to him, who is a powerful intercessor before the Lord,” Boccardo added.  

In the early morning hours of Sept. 22, the Church of Sant’Agata al Collegio in Caltanissetta, Sicily, was also broken into and robbed. Statues were damaged and the tabernacle was opened and Eucharistic hosts thrown on the ground.

Police arrested two men, and are looking for another man and woman, in connection with the crime.

The police intercepted the 20- and 25-year-old locals as they fled the church around 2 a.m. Sept. 22.

According to local reports, the police believe the two men broke into the 17th-century church through an adjoining library and music school. While searching the men, police found a gold brooch, a case with consecrated Eucharistic hosts, a bottle of holy oil, and coins from the library’s vending machines.

Inside the church, the candlesticks from the altar were found hidden behind a door and the glass encasing a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s dormition was shattered and the figure’s arm broken.

This is the second time the Church of Sant’Agata al Collegio has been broken into since August.

At the time of the Aug. 23 break-in, Fr. Sergio Kalizah, the church’s pastor, said that the thieves had “damaged everything” inside the church, but gratefully had not touched the tabernacle, La Sicilia reported.

“I ask you, dear brothers, to support us with your prayers,” the priest said.

‘Respect for life is eroded ever more’: Dutch Cardinal Eijk on euthanasia’s ‘slippery slope’

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A Dutch cardinal has said that the Netherlands shows that once euthanasia is legalized safeguards are slowly but inevitably abandoned.

In an interview with CNA, Cardinal Willem Eijk noted that criteria for the termination of life had become “ever more extended” in his country since the 1970s.

He said he feared that after parliamentary elections in March, a new government might take up a bill permitting assisted suicide for people who simply believed that their lives were “completed.”

“This implies that the respect for the essential value of the life of a human being is eroded ever more in the last half a century, which was inescapable,” he said. 

“For, once accepting the termination of life for a certain measure of suffering, one will always be confronted with the question of whether it should not also be allowed in suffering that is only a little bit less.”

The archbishop of Utrecht’s comments came as the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a letter reaffirming that euthanasia is “an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance.”

The document, Samaritanus bonus, also set out guidelines for priests offering pastoral care to those determined to end their lives by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

A Supreme Court ruling

Eijk told CNA that the Supreme Court of the Netherlands recently made a significant intervention in the euthanasia debate when it ruled on the first prosecution of a doctor since the country’s 2002 euthanasia act. 

The Supreme Court was asked to review the criminal court’s decision last year to acquit a nursing home doctor who performed euthanasia on a patient with severe dementia in 2016. The patient had made a written euthanasia declaration four years earlier. 

“The woman’s euthanasia declaration was unclear, in the sense that she had laid down to desire euthanasia, once admitted to a nursing home, at the moment that she would think to be ready for it,” he explained. 

“The problem was, however, that she, after having been admitted to a nursing home, was not able to express her will anymore because of advanced dementia. Notwithstanding this, the physician decided to perform the euthanasia in consultation with the family and two physicians, specialized in consulting in euthanasia cases, who agreed with her that the suffering of the woman was without prospect and unbearable.”

The cardinal said that the patient had withdrawn her arm when the physician attempted to administer euthanasia. 

“Was this a sign of resistance against the euthanasia?” he asked. “Anyhow, the physician administered a sedative means in the woman’s coffee. She fell asleep, by which an infusion could be introduced in her arm. When the physician administered the means for euthanasia, she however awoke, but family members held her tight, such that it was possible to administer them and to complete the euthanasia.”

The Supreme Court ruled April 22 that the criminal court was correct to acquit the physician of murder charges. 

The 67-year-old cardinal said that the court accepted the testimony of an anesthesiologist who argued that patient’s withdrawal of her arm was a reflex action, rather than an indication of resistance to euthanasia. 

“Administering a sedative to the patient before the euthanasia would be acceptable according to the Supreme Court, in case one can foresee unpredictable or irrational behavior, which could complicate the euthanasia,” he observed.

Eijk, who is the lead bishop for medical-ethical questions of the Dutch bishops’ conference, said that the Supreme Court decision did not, however, bring clarity for nursing home doctors.

“Instead of laying down criteria for interpreting the written euthanasia declarations of patients with advanced dementia, the Supreme Court leaves this to the judgment of the physicians involved, by which their uncertainty only grows,” he said.

Eijk added that the doctor’s prosecution probably had a chilling effect on euthanasia in the Netherlands, a country with a population of 17 million. The number of acts of euthanasia and medically assisted suicide fell by 7% in 2018 compared to the year before. 

But in 2019 the number of reported cases rose by almost 4% in comparison to 2018.

“One may fear that the Supreme Court’s judgment, though making physicians perhaps more uncertain in performing euthanasia in patients with advanced dementia, will not lead in general to a decrease of the number of cases of euthanasia and medically assisted suicide,” he commented.

The slippery slope

Eijk cited the prediction of a Dutch expert on euthanasia who said this month that he believed cases would double in the next eight years. 

“If his prediction will prove correct, the annual number of euthanasia cases will arrive at well over 12,500, more than 8% of the yearly number of all deaths, in circa 2028,” he said.

He continued: “It is not unlikely that his prediction comes true. Historically and culturally speaking, a slippery slope can be observed, in this sense that the criteria for the termination of life became ever more extended in the Netherlands from the 1970s.” 

“By the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, euthanasia, without any addition always defined as voluntary, started to be considered as acceptable in the terminal phase of an incurable somatic disease. In the course of the 1980s, one started to deem it as ethically acceptable also before the terminal phase.” 

“In the mid-1990s, euthanasia also started to be performed in cases of psychiatric diseases and dementia. After 2000, the termination of life took also place in severely handicapped newborns.” 

In 2016, the health minister and justice minister announced they would introduce a bill permitting assisted suicide in cases where people were not suffering from a disease but considered their life “completed.” 

The bill did not get off the ground, but Eijk said it could be revived after next year’s elections if the government’s composition changes. 

“Moreover, a member of parliament, belonging to a left-wing party, presented a private members’ bill which allows assisted suicide in people older than 75 years of age. The risk of this bill is that it could create the impression that the value of life decreases after people have reached this age. Anyhow, the termination of life is nowadays broadly accepted,” he said.

The challenge for priests

Addressing the role of priests in providing pastoral care to those seeking euthanasia, Eijk echoed the new Vatican document. Samaritanus bonus said that clergy should avoid any gestures that might signal approval, including remaining until the act is performed.

“Good pastoral care for a person who wants to be euthanized requires that the priest, accompanying him, clearly says to him that the intrinsic value of human life is violated by euthanasia,” he said. 

“The person involved would therefore be responsible for the violation of this essential value of his life by making himself euthanized, which is a grave and irreversible sin, committed just before his eternal meeting with his Creator.”

Citing Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor, the cardinal added: “A real pastor does not lead the people entrusted to his pastoral care to what is often called a ‘pastoral’ solution in the form of ‘a compromise between the Church’s teaching and stubborn reality,’ but he should lead them to the truth, also in the field of morals.”

Eijk said that priests should pray with and for the patient, seeking a change of heart. They should also propose palliative care as an alternative, and ensure that the patient is not lonely and is surrounded by caring people.

“The request for euthanasia is not rarely a cry for help,” he observed. “When adequate care is offered, several people who said they wanted to be euthanized do not persist in this request when bystanders give attention to their fears and inner struggles.”

Eijk noted that the media had harshly criticized priests who refused to administer last rites or celebrate funerals of people opting for euthanasia. 

“The priests in question were requested to administer them the last sacraments before physicians would terminate their lives. The persons involved often liked to fix already beforehand a date for their funeral and expressed their wishes about this,” he said, explaining that the Dutch bishops issued clear guidelines to support priests in these situations. 

“Another situation occurs when the priest is required to celebrate the funeral and he comes to know only afterwards that the person for whom the funeral will be celebrated died by euthanasia,” he noted. 

Eijk stressed that in principle priests should not celebrate funerals in these circumstances. 

“However, priests practically always celebrate the funeral the same when they can suppose that the person involved committed suicide because [they were] suffering from a depression or another psychiatric disease,” he said. 

“These are factors which limit his freedom, such that his responsibility is diminished. Terminating or making terminate his life, though a grave evil in itself, is therefore in these cases not a mortal sin. The priest may then celebrate his funeral. One can and should pray for sinners in the first place.”

A challenge for all Catholics

The cardinal suggested that Catholics could do more to clarify that, while they firmly oppose euthanasia, they do not believe life must always be prolonged with burdensome medical treatment.  

He said: “A patient deciding to forego non-proportionate treatment and who consequently dies does not do something that is ethically equivalent to suicide, but merely accepts that life must come to an end.” 

“A medical doctor, by not offering non-proportionate treatment to the patient or dissuading him to undergo such treatment, as a consequence of which the patient dies, does not do something ethically equal to terminating his life.” 

“When the collateral effects, the complications and expenses are not proportionate to the chance of saving life or restoring or preserving health, one is allowed to forego it, albeit that it might lead to a shortening of life. Letting someone die is not always ethically equal to actively making somebody die.”

Doctors are, however, obliged to offer proportionate treatment to save lives or preserve health. 

Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae (65), the cardinal said: “Foregoing proportionate treatment, by which one can save life and preserve health without many risks, is ethically equivalent to suicide. In this case, letting die is ethically equivalent to killing.” 

He noted that some argue that, if you accept that someone’s life may be shortened by painkilling drugs, then you must also accept euthanasia. But in this case, the shortening of life is only a “collateral effect” of the medicine, which is intended to do no more than alleviate the symptoms. 

“Collateral effects which are proportionate to the gravity of the disease or symptoms are generally accepted in medicine,” he said. 

“In extreme cases it is allowed to apply palliative sedation, in which the conscience of the patient is partly or completely suppressed, when no alternative is available to alleviate unbearable pain and other symptoms, after that the patient has fulfilled his social duties, for instance with regard to his last will, and has prepared himself on the eternal meeting with God by receiving the sacraments.”

Shedding light on suffering

The euthanasia debate presents Catholics with another daunting challenge: convincing secular society that suffering can be meaningful when seen in the light of Christ. 

Praising John Paul II’s 1984 apostolic letter on suffering, Salvifici doloris, the cardinal said: “A person who suffers can unite himself in his suffering with the suffering of Jesus. Jesus says: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:29-30).” 

“Jesus will in the end carry the cross of him who decides to participate in Christ’s suffering. He can then dedicate his suffering to relatives, friends, others or all people in order that God give them the grace they need in order to carry their crosses or for their conversion to Christ and their eternal life.”

“Uniting oneself in his suffering with that of Christ does not take suffering away, but makes it bearable.” 

Mom of Carlo Acutis: Teen computer whiz was an ‘influencer’ for God

Rome Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Venerable Carlo Acutis, who will be beatified in Assisi Oct. 10, is an example of a teen who used the internet to “influence” people to draw closer to God, his mother said.

“Carlo was able to use social media and especially the internet as an ‘influencer’ for God,” Antonia Salzano told EWTN.

Carlo was 15 when he died from leukemia in 2006. He was a computer whiz who taught himself how to program and created a website cataloging the world’s Eucharistic miracles.

Growing up in the center of Milan, Carlo had a deep love for the Eucharist. He never missed daily Mass and adoration. He also prayed the rosary frequently and went to confession every week.

From age 11, he started helping out teaching catechism to kids at his parish, and he was always helping the poor and homeless in his neighborhood.

According to Salzano, Carlo lived ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

“Obviously, being a boy of our times, he experienced what all the young people of his generation have -- so, computers, video games, football, school, friends...” These things might feel common to us, she said, but “he managed to transform it into the extraordinary.”

Like many teens, Carlo liked to play video games. His mom said he could teach young people today about how to properly enjoy them and other technology, without falling prey to the pitfalls of internet and social media use.

“Because he understood that they were potentially very harmful, very dangerous, he wanted to be the master of these means, not a slave,” she said. Her son practiced the virtue of temperance, she explained, so he “imposed on himself a maximum of one hour per week to use these means of communication.”

“So for Carlo, for sure the first point is to teach young people to have temperance,” Salzano continued, “that is, to understand the need to maintain the proper autonomy and the need to be always able to say ‘no, enough,’ to not become a slave.” 

Salzano said that Carlo would say it was about balance. If someone spends his or her life only following “influencers,” they might only learn about what outfit to wear and “they completely forget about God,” she said.

She noted that social media today has turned into a “yardstick” by which people measure their happiness.  

“Then you are happy if there is a ‘like,’ if there is no ‘like’ you are unhappy,” she said. “Here, Carlo is saying: ‘Not me, but God.’”

“Certainly today, in a society based a little on the ephemeral, on the exaltation of the self, of the ego, and where one forgets the existence of God, Carlo is certainly very prophetic,” Salzano added.

“Carlo reminds us of what is most important. The most important thing is to put God in the first place in our life.”

Salzano explained that her son lived a very modern life, but for him, “the faith has always been the same for more than 2,000 years; that is, that God exists, he became incarnate, died and rose again for us.”

“So Carlo is also a messenger of this ... But bringing it into what is the modern world of young people, so he definitely has a lot to teach,” she said.

Another lesson he can show others is the good which can be done right in one’s own neighborhood.

Instead of buying himself games, Carlo used his little bit of spending money to purchase things for the homeless in his area, like a sleeping bag.

Her son did not like money to be wasted on useless things, she said, and he did not care about fashion or clothing brands.

Salzano said: “If I said to him: ‘Carlo, let’s buy an extra pair of shoes,’ he would get angry [and reply] ‘Mom, one is enough. Let’s help the poor.’”

“He was a very, very simple guy. For him, a pair of trousers was as good as another, a pair of shoes was as good as another,” Salzano noted.

In an interview with CNA Newsroom in May 2019, Carlo’s mom said “since he was three, four years old, he showed a big interest in Christ, in the Holy Virgin. When we used to take a walk outside, he used to always want to enter inside the church, to say hello to Jesus, and to send kisses to the cross.”

Salzano said that she herself “was not the ideal model of a Catholic mother” when her son was born, and “was quite ignorant in faith things.” But through Carlo’s influence, she came back to the faith.

“So little by little I started to get closer to the Church. I started to go back to Mass. And this was actually because of Carlo. Carlo was for me a kind of little ‘Savior,’” she said.

Call to evangelize highlighted at virtual Guadalupe pilgrimage

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 23, 2020 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Organizers of the first international virtual pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe said the social media livestream of the event reached more than 3 million people, including 106 groups.

“Spiritually and virtually, we joined together at the feet of the Virgin of Tepeyac to ask for her intercession to face the onslaught of the COVID pandemic. Once again, the Empress of America has united her people, today suffering from misfortune,” the organizers said in a statement.

The international pilgrimage took place Sept. 19 and included a rosary and livestreamed Mass, offered by Bishop Víctor Aguilar Ledesma, president of the Committee on Laity at the Mexican Bishops’ Conference.

Participants made a commitment to respect human dignity and to go out to the marginalized and needy.

In his homily, Aguilar, the auxiliary bishop of Morelia, noted that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic does not change the Church’s essential mission.

“We wanted to continue to fulfill the mission entrusted to us to keep on evangelizing. The methods and ways will change, but not the mission, which will be the same: to announce the Gospel,” he said.

“The Church was born to evangelize. By nature, she announces the Gospel, which we cherish,” he added. “The Church evangelizes or ceases to be the Church, no matter the circumstances.”

While the challenges surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are difficult, they are not the worst circumstances the Church has ever seen, nor will they be the last challenges Christians will be called to face.

“We must not forget that we are all called to be witnesses of Christ in the world, to be salt and light on earth,” he said.

Christ wants his followers to bear fruit, even in times of difficulty, Aguilar said. This requires a complete attachment to him.

“Detached from Christ, we, the branches, die,” the bishop warned. But when we remain firmly attached to Christ, who is our strength, he will help us weather any storm.

“We can lose our jobs, our health, a loved one, our money. But we can’t lose the faith that unites us, that joins us to Christ our Lord. Let's not lose the faith. Ever,” he said.