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U.S. Bishop Chairmen Statement on Abortion Funding in Build Back Better Act

WASHINGTON - On Wednesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce advanced portions of the reconciliation bill without removing abortion funding provisions or including the Hyde Amendment to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, issued the following statement following markup of the Build Back Better Act by the two House committees.  

“Catholic bishops have been strong advocates for proposals at both the federal and state level that ensure all people will have access to affordable healthcare, including Medicaid expansion proposals. We are encouraged by several healthcare provisions in portions of the Build Back Better Act that will improve healthcare coverage for those in need, including enhanced postpartum coverage and other investments to address the high rates of preventable maternal deaths in the United States, expanded access to in-home care for family members, support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and pre-release Medicaid coverage for returning citizens.

“However, the legislative text advanced by the two House committees also funds abortion, the deliberate destruction of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters - those in the womb. This cannot be included. Congress can, and must, turn back from including taxpayer funding of abortion, in the Build Back Better Act. We urge all members of Congress and the Administration to work in good faith to advance important and life-saving healthcare provisions without forcing Americans to pay for the deliberate destruction of unborn human life.”  

On September 7, five USCCB chairmen wrote to Congress outlining their priorities for the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Reconciliation bill. In this letter, the bishops reiterated that if this bill expands taxpayer funding of abortion the USCCB would oppose it.

Below are the letters that USCCB has sent to Congress on Budget Reconciliation: 

  • Letter to Congress on Federal Budget Reconciliation, September 7, 2021
  • Letter from Bishop Dorsonville to House Judiciary on Immigration Provisions in the Build Back Better Act, September 12, 2021
  • Letter from Archbishop Coakley and Archbishop Naumann to House Energy and Commerce Committee on Healthcare Provisions in the Build Back Better Act, September 13, 2021

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Media Contacts:
Chieko Noguchi or Miguel Guilarte
202-541-3200

Weekly COVID-19 testing a 'good' alternative to vaccine mandate, bioethicist says

null / zstock/Shutterstock

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

As the Biden administration prepares to require COVID-19 vaccinations at many workplaces, a Catholic bioethicist urged the administration to keep an alternative to vaccinations in place – weekly testing.

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would require employers with 100 or more employees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, or ensure weekly negative COVID-19 tests. The emergency rule is being developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Labor Department.

Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said the alternative of weekly COVID-19 testing is “good” for people who are opposed to receiving COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience.

“We hope that will definitely be there,” he said, “that individuals could have the choice of getting weekly testing as opposed to the vaccine.”

“Because that, I think, is a very appropriate way to achieve the same end without having anyone’s conscience being coerced or violated.”

Catholics are more vaccinated against COVID-19 than any other religious group, according to a new Pew Research Center report. However, some Catholics have expressed reservations or opposition to receiving COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to abortion.

The three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States all have a connection to aborted fetal tissue. They use cell lines derived from fetal tissue that was obtained from babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s, although only one of the vaccines – produced by Johnson & Johnson – used the controversial cell lines both in testing and production. The other two vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna, used the cell lines in some tests.

The Vatican’s Congrgation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a note in December 2020 stating that use of COVID-19 vaccines with connections to the cell lines is morally permissible, if no ethical option is available.

“The moral duty to avoid such passive material cooperation” with the abortions “is not obligatory,” the Vatican said, “if there is a grave danger, such as the otherwise uncontainable spread of a serious pathological agent--in this case, the pandemic spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.”

The congregation went on to state that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.” For those refusing the vaccines out of conscience, however, they must take other steps to prevent transmitting the virus, the Vatican said.

Weekly COVID-19 testing, Meaney said, helps further this stated goal of the unvaccinated taking steps to stop the spread of the virus. Testing, he maintained, “shouldn’t be overly burdensome,” pointing to Biden’s promise last week to expand the availability of low-cost testing.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center has opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates without exemptions for conscience.

A “major concern,” Meaney said, is any vaccination requirement with a “strong sanction” to it, such as the loss of one’s job for failing to comply.

Mandates “tend to come with a great deal of pressure, and unless they do include exemptions or alternatives, then they can be coercing peoples’ consciences, which is a bad thing to do, from a Catholic perspective,” he told CNA.

Biden’s order last week also required federal executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19.  

“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said in remarks at the White House on Sept. 8.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us,” he said to unvaccinated Americans.

Meaney said that such rhetoric toward the unvaccinated is counter-productive, as it “lends itself to scapegoating or shaming individuals.”

“What we would hope” is for people to be more serene and charitable towards others, he said.

“It’ll just make the situation worse, if people start venting their anger and trying to punish people who have different views, then these kinds of things tend to escalate,” he said.

“And it certainly doesn’t contribute to good civil harmony, and even within families – disputes, et cetera – there needs to be a lot of healing and understanding and charity, rather than kind of giving way to anger or frustration.”

NY governor vows to help Texas women have abortions in her state

Aug. 11, 2021: Then-Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul addresses people of New York at the state capitol building in Albany / lev radin/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said that she will help Texas women come to her state for abortions. 

A Texas law went into effect on Sept. 1 that prohibited most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy. It is enforced through private civil lawsuits. 

Hochul - a Catholic who became governor on Aug. 24 following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo - on Thursday said that her state is reviewing options to help Texas women come to to New York for abortions.

“For women in Texas, they need to know: we will help you find a way to New York and we are right now looking intensely to find what resources we can bring to the table to help you have safe transport here and let you know there are providers who will assist you in this time of your need,” Hochul said in a Sept. 15 interview with MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell. 

“You are not alone,” Hochul said to women in Texas. “Your sisters and brothers, enlightened brothers, in the state of New York will help you in any way we can.”

A spokesperson for Hochul’s office was not immediately available for comment on Thursday, regarding the question of whether public funds would be used for transporting women from Texas to New York for abortions.

Hochul’s comments come shortly after her announcement on Sept. 13 that she would roll out a new aggressive agenda to maintain abortion in New York state.

Her administration plans to create of a “Patient Bill of Rights” including information on abortion providers, legal rights, and “abortion care.” In addition, the state’s health department will consult with a group of “experts” from pro-abortion groups to create a “guidance document on the provision of abortion care in New York State.”

Those “experts” include members of the pro-abortion groups Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, National Abortion Federation, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.

The state health department will also work to increase remote access to chemical abortions via telehealth.

"Abortion access is safe in New York - the rights of those who are seeking abortion services will always be protected here," Hochul said. "To the women of Texas, I want to say I am with you. Lady Liberty is here to welcome you with open arms."

Hochul also sent a letter to Facebook on Sept. 13 urging it to crack down on abortion “misinformation.” 

She requested “information on any and all existing efforts to combat misinformation regarding abortion laws, procedures, and their ability,” and urged Facebook to “take additional action to curb the spread of this misinformation.”

“The truth is that abortion is a safe, common medical procedure,” Hochul’s letter stated. “One in four women will undergo an abortion in her lifetime. I am proud that New York is leading the fight to ensure that every woman and birthing person has access to abortion care.”

Hochul took over as governor of New York after the resignation of Andrew Cuomo, who was repeatedly accused of sexual harassment of current and former employees. 

In 2019, Cuomo signed the an abortion law, the Reproductive Health Act, that eliminated restrictions on abortion until the moment of birth in cases deemed necessary for the mother’s "life and health." He ordered New York landmarks to be lit up in pink lights, the official color of Planned Parenthood, to mark the signing. 

According to Hochul’s Sept. 13 announcement, the state health department will help clarify “the full scope of individual provider discretion under the Reproductive Health Act, and the definition of the term ‘commencement of pregnancy’ as it relates to abortion care.”

Theodore McCarrick faces new sex abuse lawsuit in New Jersey

Former cardinal Theodore McCarrick arrives at Massachusetts' Dedham District Courthouse for his arraignment, Sept. 3, 2021. / Andrew Bukuras/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 13:30 pm (CNA).

Three sex abuse lawsuits, including one naming disgraced former archbishop Theodore McCarrick as the alleged abuser, were filed on Thursday, Sept. 16 in a New Jersey court. All three lawsuits also named the Diocese of Metuchen as a defendant.

Jeff Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, brought the lawsuits. In an online press conference on Thursday, Anderson called on the Metuchen diocese to release additional information on accusations against current and former clergy. 

“We challenge you to account and take responsibility for each of these cases, and also challenge you to come clean with the full truth,” Anderson said.  “[We] invite you, implore you, to release more names and information that have been kept secret by the Diocese of Metuchen for too long.”

A spokesman for the diocese told CNA on Thursday afternoon that two of the lawsuits involved clergy who were not ordained for the diocese, adding that the diocese would not have access to their personal records or outcomes of investigations against them.

The first lawsuit filed named McCarrick, who served as the first bishop of the diocese from 1981 until 1986, as the abuser in question. According to the lawsuit, McCarrick engaged in “unpermitted sexual contact” with the plaintiff while he was bishop of Metuchen from approximately 1982 to 1985. The plaintiff was between the ages of 19 and 22 during that period.

McCarrick’s attorney Barry Coburn declined to comment on the lawsuit on Thursday. 

McCarrick, 91, on July 28 was criminally charged in a Massachusetts court with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over the age of 14. The incidents allegedly took place with a 16-year-old male in the 1970s. McCarrick appeared for his arraignment on Sept. 3 in Massachusetts’ Dedham District Court, and pleaded “not guilty” to the charges. His next court date is Oct. 28.

He was once an influential and high-ranking figure in the Catholic Church, before numerous accusations against him were made public in 2018, alleging past sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. McCarrick was laicized in February 2019, after a Vatican canonical investigation found him guilty of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power.”

The second lawsuit filed on Thursday named Fr. John Butler, a laicized priest who died in 2016, as the alleged abuser of a minor. Butler, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Richmond, served in numerous dioceses throughout his career including in Metuchen. 

According to the lawsuit, Butler abused a minor between the ages of 9 to 12, from approximately 1995 to 1998. The plaintiff was attending St. John Vianney school in Colonia, New Jersey at the time, where Fr. Butler was employed.

Butler was removed from public ministry in 2002 and was laicized shortly thereafter. He is not on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen, but does appear on the list of accused priests from the Diocese of Richmond, his home diocese. 

The third lawsuit names Br. Regis Moccia, S.C. of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, who similarly does not appear on the list of credibly-accused priests from the Diocese of Metuchen. Moccia is accused of abusing a young teen at St. Joseph’s High School in Metuchen, in 1981 and 1982. He died in 2000. 

Moccia was first accused of abuse in a September 2020 lawsuit; Anderson claimed that this suit inspired another alleged victim of his to come forward. 

“It’s also notable that Moccia is not on the list [of credibly-accused clergy] released by the Diocese of Metuchen, even though that suit has been brought by us naming him as an offender of children at St. Joseph’s high school in Metuchen, earlier,” Anderson said on Thursday.  

Anderson called on the Diocese of Metuchen to release additional names of credibly accused clergy, and claimed that there are at least 15 additional names that have not yet been released.

In a statement to CNA on Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the Metuchen diocese promised prayer for abuse survivors, and said that neither Fr. Butler nor Brother Regis were ordained priests of the diocese.

“First and foremost, we hold in prayer all survivors of abuse, among them those survivors who have courageously come forward to bring their past abuse to light,” said Anthony P. Kearns III, Esq., spokesman and chancellor for the diocese.

Regarding the case of Fr. Butler, he was ordained for the Richmond diocese “and is listed accordingly on their list of credibly accused clergy,” Kearns said. Brother Regis was a member of a religious order and not a diocesan priest, he said.

“In both cases, the diocese would not have access to any personnel records nor the outcomes of any investigations that would have resulted from allegations against them,” Kearns said.

“The Diocese of Metuchen has taken more aggressive steps forward since the adoption of the abuse prevention policies in 2002 and was recently found compliant with all audited Articles within the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for the audit period of July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2021,” he said.

New Jersey in 2019 relaxed the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases, allowing for new lawsuits in old cases of child sex abuse and sex abuse of adults. The two-year window for such lawsuits to be filed expires Nov. 30.

Anderson has filed other civil sex abuse lawsuits naming McCarrick. In July, he filed a civil lawsuit in a New Jersey court accusing McCarrick of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy in 1986.

In July 2020, Anderson filed a lawsuit alleging that McCarrick had sexually abused a boy and aided his abuse by several other priests in the early 1980s, characterizing McCarrick as leading a "sex ring."

Anderson has sued many Catholic dioceses and religious orders over the years. While some say he has been an effective advocate for sex abuse victims, critics say he has sensationalized and embellished claims in order to attract media attention to litigation, and that he is a self-promoter.

According to the lawsuit naming McCarrick, the plaintiff’s family resided in the Archdiocese of New York and had contact with McCarrick while he was a representative of the archdiocese. McCarrick was a priest secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke of New York beginning in 1971, and served as auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese from 1977 until 1981, when he was made bishop of Metuchen.

McCarrick later served as Archbishop of the Archdioceses of Newark and Washington, and played an influential role in the global Catholic Church. He helped craft the U.S. Church’s response to revelations of widespread clergy sex abuse in 2002. He also made numerous international trips for peacebuilding and ecumenical causes, and was known as an effective fundraiser.

In June 2018, the Archdiocese of New York revealed that a decades-old allegation of sex abuse against McCarrick was “credible.” News reports subsequently detailed more allegations of McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct with children and seminarians. According to a July 2018 New York Times report, Metuchen was one of the dioceses to have reached a settlement with a former priest, regarding allegations of abuse against McCarrick committed while the priest was a seminarian.

McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018, and was laicized in February 2019. He is the first U.S. Catholic cardinal to be criminally charged with sex abuse.

The Vatican in November 2020 released a report of more than 450 pages on the “institutional knowledge and decision-making” regarding McCarrick and his clerical career.

This article was updated on Sept. 16 with a statement from the Metuchen diocese.

Catholics the most vaccinated religious group for COVID-19, new study shows

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2021 / 12:36 pm (CNA).

Catholics are the religious group most vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center. 

The survey of 10,349 U.S. adults found that 82% of self-identified Catholics had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 75% of religiously unaffiliated adults and 73% of White Protestants. Hispanic Catholics were slightly more likely than White Catholics to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Of the major religious groups in the United States, White evangelical Protestants had the lowest vaccination rate, with only 57% saying they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Pew Research Center.
Pew Research Center.

The Pew Research Center conducted the survey from Aug. 23-29, more than a year and a half into the pandemic. 

The figures come as U.S. Catholic bishops continue to issue policies regarding vaccine exemptions for religious reasons. Some, including Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, have upheld the rights of Catholics to decline COVID-19 vaccines out of conscience, while also encouraging Catholics to get vaccinated. Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, meanwhile, said “[t]here is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated,” and required all diocesan employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

Some Catholics have raised concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines’ remote connection to aborted fetal tissue, using cell lines derived from fetal tissue of babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be chosen over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested using the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was both produced and tested using the cell lines.

Pew’s survey also found that 73% of Americans aged 18 or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey found lower vaccination rates among younger adults, as well as among those with lower family incomes and those living in rural areas. Black adults are now about as likely as White adults to say they have received a vaccine, according to the survey. 

Democrats were more likely to have received a vaccine than Republicans, with 86% of Democrats and left-leaning Independents having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 60% of Republicans. 

About half of vaccinated Americans surveyed said that there is too much pressure to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and 88% of unvaccinated Americans answered the same. 

About half of those vaccinated Americans who were surveyed reported difficulty in making sense of information about COVID-19 vaccines. They said they still worried about possible serious health risks from the vaccine. About half of surveyed adults said that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Federal judicial nominee grilled over 1990s religious freedom case

Hon. Beth Robinson, associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 14, 2021 / Senate Judiciary Committee/live stream

Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2021 / 10:15 am (CNA).

Multiple senators accused a judicial nominee of being hostile to religious freedom during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

Beth Robinson, nominated by President Joe Biden to be a judge on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, was grilled by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) on Wednesday. They asked her about her representing a woman who sued a Vermont Catholic-owned print shop in the 1990s for not printing business cards of a pro-abortion group.

The print shop, Regal Art Press in St. Alban’s, Vermont, was owned by two practicing Catholics, the Bakers. Robinson’s client, Linda Paquette, sought to order membership cards for the now-inactive organization Vermont Catholics for Choice. The Bakers refused the order, saying that they did not believe Catholics could be in favor of abortion, and Paquette sued, saying that her rights were violated. 

In a legal brief supporting Paquette in state courts, Robinson referred to the Baker family’s pro-life beliefs as “invidious” and “pernicious.”  

Cruz described the brief as containing “strong and even incendiary language” regarding the Bakers’ Catholic faith, and said that she had a “marked hostility” towards religious liberty. 

“How might a litigant in the Second Circuit have any confidence that as a judge you would actually follow the law, and in particular, honor the religious liberty protections in the Constitution,” asked Cruz. 

Robinson explained to Cruz that the case was 30 years ago, during her first year of law practice in the state of Vermont. Her client, she said, claimed that she had been discriminated against as a Catholic who was in favor of abortion rights.

“In particular, she had asked to print cards for Vermont Catholics for Free Choice,” said Robinson. “Her contention was that the Bakers said ‘we won’t print these cards because we don’t think Catholics can be for choice.’ She brought a claim for discrimination on the basis of creed.” 

Robinson acknowledged that Paquette would not have had a case had the Bakers refused to print the cards because of their opposition to abortion, and not because of their religious beliefs. 

Cruz pressed Robinson further, asking her if she was effectively arguing that the Vermont Supreme Court should have been able to rule on how the Baker family decided to interpret their faith. 

“‘We’re going to force you to say that the Catholic Church is pro-abortion, even if you don’t believe it is.’ Is that right?” asked Cruz, paraphrasing the hypothetical argument. 

The case pre-existed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, federal 1993 law that required the government to pass a legal standard when substantially burdening a person’s religious freedom. Cruz reminded Robinson that the act was passed to fill gaps in the legal precedent she cited. 

Missouri senator Hawley raised similar concerns, telling Robinson that he was “troubled by your history of compelling individuals to express pro-abortion viewpoints against their religious convictions,” and that he had “profound concerns” about her nomination.

Hawley noted that in the 30 years since the case was filed, the Supreme Court has stood on the side of religious liberty in similar cases. He asked Robinson if she would acknowledge that “today your client would not have the right to compel other individuals to speak in a way that she favors,” and if she would “stand by” the brief.

Robinson said that she did not remember all of the words in the brief as it had been 30 years. 

The Papal Foundation provides $800K in scholarships for studies in Rome

Cupola of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City / CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 16, 2021 / 09:34 am (CNA).

The Papal Foundation has awarded nearly $800,000 in scholarships to 96 priests, brothers, sisters, and lay faithful as part of the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Program.

The scholarships will enable the recipients to study at 16 universities in Rome. The recipients hail from five continents.

“We are committed to Saint John Paul II’s vision to prepare Catholic leaders and educators for service,” said Eustace Mita, president of The Papal Foundation Board of Trustees, in a published statement. “We aim to ensure those called to build up the Church all over the world are trained and prepared to lead in their own dioceses.”

Since the Saint John Paul II Scholarship Program launched in 2000, it has provided nearly $13 million in scholarships to over 1,600 recipients. Recipients, known as Saeman Scholars in honor of major donors John and Carol Saeman, are from disadvantaged countries. The aim of the program is to provide recipients an opportunity to study in Rome, after which they will return to their home dioceses and continue to educate others in a manner faithful to the Magisterium of the Church.

David Savage, who became executive director of the Papal Foundation July 12, 2021. The Papal Foundation
David Savage, who became executive director of the Papal Foundation July 12, 2021. The Papal Foundation

David Savage, the executive director of The Papal Foundation, said that the chance to “play a role in the formation of leaders in the Catholic Church is a blessing.”

“Saint John Paul II will always be remembered for the lessons in leadership he personified, which is one reason we at The Papal Foundation are honored to carry forward his vision of training scholars to effectively lead in their communities,” he said in a published statement.

Father Julius Madaki, a priest from the Archdiocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, is one of these leaders. Madaki defended his doctoral thesis in July, after being given a scholarship from The Papal Foundation to study in Rome.

“Words alone cannot express the sentiments of gratitude and appreciation in me,” he said in a published statement. “Studying under the auspices of The Papal Foundation has influenced my life in no small way. I promise to make you proud, be of service to the Church, and keep you always in my prayers. Rest assured that your commitment to spreading the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth will never go unrewarded.”

The Papal Foundation was founded in 1988 in response to calls “for a unique, sustainable way to support the Holy Father and his witness in the world.”

According to its website, the mission of The Papal Foundation is to “serve the Holy Father and the Roman Catholic Church” by means of “gathering in a corporal and cooperative collaboration of laity, clergy and hierarchy within the Church, in witness to one another of our faith, and drawing strength from the witness of the Holy Father.”

The mission statement continues: “We bring and contribute our faith, our energy and our financial resources, to serve those needs of the Church that are of particular significance to the Holy Father, always with a commitment to walk in union with the Holy Father and the Magisterium of the Church.”

Court date set for Finnish MP facing jail after tweeting Bible verse

Päivi Räsänen, Finland’s interior minister from 2011 to 2015. / Courtesy of ADF International.

Helsinki, Finland, Sep 16, 2021 / 06:10 am (CNA).

Päivi Räsänen could be given a two-year prison sentence for the tweet.

Paterson bishop: Vaccination exemption for clergy 'will be minimal'

Bishop Kevin Sweeney of Paterson. Photo courtesy DeSales Media Group. / null

Paterson, N.J., Sep 15, 2021 / 17:32 pm (CNA).

Bishop Kevin Sweeney of Paterson wrote to clerics of his diocese Tuesday to ‘strongly encourage’ their vaccination against COVID-19. Non-medical exemptions, he said, will be minimal, and there may be discussion of whether non-vaccinated priests ‘can remain in active ministry.”

“As teachers and religious educators must be vaccinated by statewide mandate, our clergy should be vaccinated voluntarily as a good example to others and in solidarity with them,” Bishop Sweeney wrote in a Sept. 14 letter to clergy of Diocese of Paterson.

“If you have not been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to be vaccinated.”

He characterized his encouragement as “one step short of a mandate.”

“This is an essential time when you must be vaccinated to protect yourself and the health of others,” the bishop wrote. “If you feel that you are unable to be vaccinated, please be in touch with one of [sic] diocesan Vicars General in order to discuss your reasoning with them so that they may consult with me for further discussion on particular individual exemptions and whether a priest who is not vaccinated can remain in active ministry. Exemptions from vaccination for clergy, other than those for legitimate medical reasons, will be minimal.”

Writing on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Bishop Sweeney noted that “we celebrate the life giving power of the holy cross that was borne by Christ ‘so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life’ (John 3:16). We have often called upon the Lord to heal those whom we love and serve. The emergence of vaccines which helped to quell the progress of this dreaded illness is God sent.”

 

The bishop recalled that Pope Francis has called receiving vaccination “an act of love,” and that most of the diocese’s clerics and their staff have already been vaccinated. 

 

The bishop said that a cleric’s doctor can help him with information on how or where to be vaccinated, and that the Office of Clergy Personnel can be of additional assistance.

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” 

It said that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

“Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent,” the congregation wrote.

Bishop John Stowe of Lexington has required COVID-19 vaccines for all diocesan employees, and  Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago is requiring all archdiocesan employees and clergy to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, and will only allow exemptions for medical reasons. 

Bishop Thomas Paprock of Springfield in Illinois recently wrote that “while the Church promotes vaccination as morally acceptable and urges cooperation with public health authorities in promoting the common good, there are matters of personal health and moral conscience involved in vaccines that must be respected. Therefore, vaccine participation must be voluntary and cannot be forced, as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the authority of Pope Francis, indicated last December. While we encourage vaccination, we cannot and will not force vaccination as a condition of employment or the freedom of the faithful to worship in our parishes.”

“The Catholic Church teaches that some persons may have conscientious objections to the taking of the COVID vaccines, and that these conscientious convictions ought to be respected,” Bishop Paprocki added.

The Catholic Medical Association has stated that it “opposes mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of employment without conscience or religious exemptions.”

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, also issued a July 2 statement opposing mandated vaccination with any of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States.

Justice Department asks judge to block Texas abortion law during legal challenge

US Attorney General Merrick Garland / Justice Department

Austin, Texas, Sep 15, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The US Department of Justice asked a federal judge on Tuesday to issue a preliminary injunction against Texas’ law prohibiting most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, following a suit from the DOJ against the law last week. 

A preliminary injunction, if granted, would prevent the law from being enforced while the DOJ’s lawsuit plays out in court. 

Such an injunction "is necessary to protect the constitutional rights of women in Texas and the sovereign interest of the United States in ensuring that its States respect the terms of the national compact," attorneys for the Justice Department said in its Sept. 14 court filing

In a legal complaint filed in a federal district court Sept. 9, the Justice Department had argued the state acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions.” 

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies. The law allows for at least $10,000 in damages in successful lawsuits; women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law. 

In early September the Supreme Court ruled that the abortion providers challenging the law had not made a sufficient case for relief from it, and declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. 

In response, President Joe Biden – a Catholic – directed his administration to examine “what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.” 

As a result of Biden’s directive, the Justice Department “urgently explores all options to challenge” Texas’ new law and “protect the constitutional rights of women and other persons, including access to an abortion," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a Sept. 6 statement.

Bishops around the country reacted with praise to a Texas law, and noted that women experiencing a crisis pregnancy have resources available, instead of abortion.

The bishops of Texas have said that opponents of the law, who have described a fetal heartbeat as “electrically induced flickering of embryonic tissue” or “embryonic cardiac activity,” are making a “disturbing” effort to “dehumanize the unborn.”

“Abortion is a human rights issue; the most fundamental human right is the right to life,” said the Texas bishops Sept. 3. “Abortion is not healthcare. Abortion is not freedom. Abortion does not help women. Abortion is never the answer. It is always the violent taking of innocent human life.”

Pro-life leaders pointed out that the state legislature recently increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and funding the Alternatives to Abortion program.

“Texas is further leading in compassion for women and families with its $100 million Alternatives to Abortion state program and ten times as many pro-life pregnancy centers as abortion facilities,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, last week.