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After suicide at Catholic services center, Seattle archbishop emphasizes hope

Seattle, Wash., Feb 24, 2021 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- In the wake of a suicide at a Catholic social services headquarters in Seattle, Archbishop Paul Etienne said that Christians should remember the “desperation and hopelessness” of those in distress, but also God’s “profound love.”



In a Feb. 23 letter to the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Etienne reported that on Tuesday afternoon a “distraught individual” entered the headquarters of Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services at the Randolph Carter Family and Learning Center in Seattle.



“He threatened the life of a staff member before taking his own life,” the archbishop said. “Mercifully, no one else was harmed and all of the staff were able to safely leave the building.”

 

The Catholic community was “deeply saddened by the tragic events,” said the archbishop.



“Our prayers and thoughts are with the deceased person and his family,” Etienne said. “Our prayers are also with everyone who was part of or witnessed today’s painful events.”



The archbishop connected the man’s death to the stresses of poverty, the coronavirus epidemic and despair.



“Events like this remind us of the stress and pain that unrelenting poverty can bring. Events like this remind us of the real suffering and frustration that coincide with untreated health conditions,” he said. “Events like this remind us of the desperation and hopelessness people feel before taking their own lives—a tragic trend that is exacerbated by the pressures of the COVID-19 epidemic.”



The archbishop prayed that everyone involved is “aware of and reminded of God’s profound love.”



“I ask the Holy Spirit to provide healing and comfort to our families and communities, especially those who are poor, fearful and vulnerable during these most challenging of times,” he added.



The archbishop especially praised the employees of Catholic Community Services and Catholic Housing Services.



“We are called by Jesus to accompany the poor and care for them,” he said, saying this is what the employees do “every day.”



“They journey with the people they serve through very challenging difficulties—and they do so with the love and care of our Savior.”



Etienne said he was grateful for the employees and leadership at the services center for their quick response in following safety protocols. He also thanked the Seattle Police Department and other first responders.



“I encourage anyone who is struggling during these difficult times, or who has a loved one who is struggling, to reach out for help,” Etienne said. “Our Catholic community is here to support you through our parishes, Catholic Community Services, or our mental health ministries. Please remember that you are not alone.” 




Brazilian priest who 'concelebrated' Mass with Protestant minister removed as pastor

Jundiai, Brazil, Feb 24, 2021 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- The local bishop and the regional superior of a priest who last week attempted to concelebrate the Eucharist with a Protestant minister have removed the priest as pastor of his parish.

Fr. Jose Carlos Pedrini, a member of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, was removed as pastor of Jundiai’s Sacred Heart of Jesus parish.

“We sincerely regret the event that rightly created great confusion and division among the faithful,” Bishop Vicente Costa of Jundiaí wrote Feb. 20. The bishop added that such active participation in the Mass by a non-Catholic minister "is not permitted by the norms of our Church.”

It is a truth of revelation that the power of consecration of the Eucharist resides in a validly consecrated priest only.

Fr. Pedrini attempted to celebrate the Eucharist together with Francisco Leite, a minister of the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil, an ecclesial community, Feb. 17, Ash Wednesday.

A video of the Mass shows Leite reading a section of the Eucharistic Prayer and receiving Communion.

Bishop Costa said the widespread dissemination of the video on social media has caused “diverse and completely opposite reactions” and has “further accentuated the wound inflicted on the ecclesial unity that is found precisely in the Holy Eucharist, its source and the ultimate foundation of its unity in the same faith, hope, and charity.”

"We believe that (Fr. Pedrini), known for his dedication and generosity, especially toward the poor and migrants, did not act in bad faith," he added.

Bishop Costa stressed that an "inadequate understanding of the initiatives related to the always laudable ecumenical dialogue perhaps may be the basis of his actions."

"It is important to emphasize, therefore, that his action does not seem to derive from the express consciousness of wanting to disobey the norms of the Catholic Church or to offend the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist," he noted.

Bishop Costa said that the diocese will continue to believe firmly in "healthy and authentic ecumenical dialogue with other Christian communities, thus advocated by the Second Vatican Council and by the pronouncements of the recent popes."

Ash Wednesday marked the opening of the Fraternity Campaign, a Catholic fundraiser in Brazil. This year is is being carried out in conjunction with mainline ecclesial communities, as it is every fifth year.

Bishop Costa added, "We renew our sentiments of fraternal esteem for the United Presbyterian Church of Brazil, which, in the person of one of its pastors, although he did not want to, was involved in such a sensitive situation for us.”

The bishop said that the case has been sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "so that they can tell us how to proceed."

The Code of Canon Law states that “The minister who is able to confect the sacrament of the Eucharist in the person of Christ is a validly ordained priest alone”, and that priests “are forbidden to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church.”

Among the delicts reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for judgement is the concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice “with ministers of ecclesial communities which do not have apostolic succession and do not acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination.”

Report: Australia has less than half the palliative care doctors it needs

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- An Australian university has found that the country has less than half the number of palliative care physicians needed to care for terminally-ill patients.

 

A study published by Australian Catholic University’s (ACU) PM Glynn Institute revealed that the country only has 0.9 palliative care doctors per every 100,000 people. According to the ACU, health industry standards state there should be at least two doctors for this population.

 

Australia is currently considering legalizing euthanasia nationwide. Two states have already legalized it, and the issue has been debated in many other states. At least one state, Tasmania, is expected to legalize the practice later this year.

 

Dr. Michael Casey, the director of the PM Glynn Institute, warned that the lack of doctors available for palliative care will push ill patients towards choosing assisted suicide. 

 

“People say voluntary-assisted dying is about giving patients a choice, but if dying patients cannot access the palliative care services they need, they don’t really have a free choice,” said Casey in the the Australian publication The Catholic Leader. 

 

Casey said that the country needs “to do more to ensure that everyone who needs good quality palliative care can access it, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances, before considering a momentous step like voluntary assisted dying.”

 

Palliative care seeks to accompany a patient towards the end of their lives, not to accelerate the process of death. Palliative care specialists are typically opposed to euthanasia. 

 

The author of the ACU report, Dr. Cris Abbu, said that there should be more efforts taken to encourage doctors and nurses to enter the speciality of palliative care. 

 

“Palliative care remains one of the least-preferred specialisations of medical students for future practice,” said Abbu. “The rates of full-time equivalent palliative medicine physicians and palliative care nurses have remained unchanged since 2013, despite the increasing demand.” 

 

Abbu suggested that the government of Australia subsidize the training of 225 new palliative care physicians in order to better satisfy the demand for the specialty. He also said there should be a community-based approach to palliative care, in order to ease strain on hospitals. 

 

Currently, public hospitals are the providers of palliative care services in 86% of cases in Australia. 

 

“Given an aging population and an increase in the incidence of chronic illnesses, both of which imply increasing need for palliative care services, the burden on public hospitals is likely to increase in the future unless we find workable alternatives,” said Abbu. 

 

Virtual conference to focus on St. Joseph

CNA Staff, Feb 24, 2021 / 03:33 pm (CNA).- As part of the Year of Saint Joseph called for by Pope Francis, the National Shrine of St. Joseph will host a virtual conference and rededicate the saint’s statue. 



The event takes place on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, and includes a day of prayer and talks from Catholic leaders.



A highlight of the conference will be the rededication of a restored statue of St. Joseph - a life-size depiction of Joseph holding the infant Christ. According to the website, the crowns of the two characters had deteriorated and Joseph’s cloak had faded prior to the restoration.


“Be part of a historic day on March 19th when the National Shrine of St Joseph holds an all-day event filled with prayer, insightful and inspirational talks,” the website reads. 



“This day will feature the historic rededication of the shrine’s statue of St. Joseph and offer a powerful entrustment of the Nation to Saint Joseph during this year dedicated to him [by] Pope Francis. This will be a powerful grace-filled day.”



During the event, Father Don Calloway, Marian of the Immaculate Conception, will lead an entrustment of the United States to St. Joseph and preside over the statue's crowning. The statue still needs to be installed and the shrine is accepting donations to help complete the project. 



A rosary will be led by Father Francis Hoffman, host of the Family Rosary Across America and CEO at Relevant Radio; and a Divine Mercy Chaplet will be led by Drew Mariani, host of “The Drew Mariani Show.”



Prior to the event, people may submit prayer requests to be placed below the shrine’s main altar, After a month, the intentions will be relocated to the St. Joseph prayer chest. 


The speakers at the virtual conference will discuss the life of St. Joseph and the spiritual benefit of the saint’s intercession and Christian example. Teresa Tomeo, a host for Catholic television and radio, will be the master of ceremonies. 



Father Michael Brennan, Norbertine priest and director of the Archconfraternity of St. Joseph, will discuss the rich history of the National Shrine of St. Joseph and the Norbertines’ spiritual practices. Established in 1892, the shrine is located on the campus of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. The order has conducted a novena to St. Joseph for over 100 years.



Dr. Mark Miravalle, a mariologist and the author of “Meet your Spiritual Father,” will describe some benefits attached to St. Joseph’s intercession, especially for struggling families. He will encourage participants to pray to St. Joseph, especially for their future spouse and to heal divisions in the family.


Father Chad Ripperger, an exorcist in the Archdiocese of Denver, will emphasize the role of St. Joseph as a spiritual protector and father. 



Father Matthew Spencer, the former host for Relevant Radio’s St. Joseph’s Workshop with Fr. Matthew Spencer, will share a variety of devotions to the saint.


At hearing, Becerra won’t name single abortion restriction he favors

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services declined at a hearing Wednesday to state if he would support any theoretical type of restriction on abortion. 



Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) questioned California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Finance. Daines said he had “serious concerns” with Becerra’s “radical views” on abortion, and noted that many Montanans, as well as national pro-life groups, had voiced their opposition to their nomination.



In an effort to give Becerra a chance to “push back” against this view, Daines asked him if he could “name one abortion restriction that you might support.” 


“I have tried to make sure that I am abiding by the law, because whether it’s a particular restriction, or whether it’s the whole idea of abortion, whether we agree or not, we have to come to some conclusion,” said Becerra.


Daines pressed back, asking if there was “any line” that Becerra would draw, asking him to name “just one” restriction that he might support. 



Becerra then reminded Daines that his wife is an OB/GYN who has cared for babies “for decades,” and then said that his mother was praying the Rosary for him and had “blessed” him that morning prior to his hearing. He did not provide a restriction he may support. 



Daines asked if Becerra would support a ban on abortion following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Again, Becerra refused to answer, saying, “I respect the different views that are out there, but what’s important to make sure that my view is in according with the law.”


Becerra declined to comment if he would support a ban on sex-selective abortion or a ban on partial-birth abortion, saying that he would “respect those who take a particular view,” but that his job would be “following the law.” 


Partial-birth abortion was outlawed in the United States in 2003. Becerra did not say he was opposed to this ban, nor did he say he supported it. 



While a congressman, Becerra voted against a partial-birth abortion ban and also opposed a bill that criminalized the killing of an unborn child resulting from an assault on the mother.



As attorney general of California, he repeatedly defended the state’s pro-abortion laws while also prosecuting pro-life activists. He also led other state attorneys general in fighting state abortion restrictions in court.



Becerra defended the state’s Reproductive FACT Act, a law passed in 2015 before his tenure that forced crisis pregnancy centers to advertise where clients could get abortions. The court battles over the law reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2018 that the law violated the free speech rights of pregnancy centers.



He also continued the state’s prosecution of pro-life activist David Daleiden, for his 2015 undercover videos claiming that Planned Parenthood unlawfully profited from the fetal tissue of aborted babies. The previous attorney general, current Vice President Kamala Harris, initiated the prosecution of Daleiden.



Becerra defended the state’s 2014 mandate which forced even Catholic religious— the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit—to provide abortion coverage in employee health plans. For this action—as well as for the state’s previous enforcement of the Reproductive FACT Act—the HHS Office for Civil Rights issued notices of violation to the state.


Health secretary nominee: 'I have never sued any nuns'

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 02:24 pm (CNA).- On Wednesday, President Biden’s health secretary nominee explained his support of coercive contraceptive and abortion coverage mandates against Catholic nuns, claiming he had never “sued any nuns.”

 

“I have never sued any nuns. I have taken on the federal government, but I have never sued any affiliation of nuns,” said Xavier Becerra—currently California’s attorney general—before members of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, at his confirmation hearing to be the next health secretary.

 

While Becerra has not directly filed lawsuits against Catholic nuns in his time as California attorney general, two different orders of Catholic nuns have claimed religious freedom violations by government mandates that he supported in his official capacity.

 

In 2017, Becerra sued the Trump administration over its religious and moral exemptions granted to groups affected by the HHS contraceptive mandate. These objecting groups included the Little Sisters of the Poor, who fought the mandate for years in court.

 

Becerra’s lawsuit—as well as a lawsuit by the state of Pennsylvania against the administration—resulted in the nuns appealing to the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, to defend their exemption. The court in 2019 allowed them to intervene, and ultimately ruled in their favor in July by upholding the Trump administration’s religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate.

 

Despite his previous lawsuit, when asked on Wednesday by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) if he would uphold the current religious exemptions to the HHS mandate for the Little Sisters of the Poor, Becerra said he would “defend the law and support the law that’s in place.”

 

President Biden has previously said he would remove the religious exemption granted by the Trump administration to the nuns.

 

In another case involving Becerra and nuns, a group of Catholic nuns was affected by the state’s universal abortion coverage mandate. They did not fight the mandate in court, but did file a complaint with the civil rights office at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit alleged that their religious freedom was being violated by having to provide abortion coverage in health plans.

 

The HHS office in Jan., 2020 ultimately found that Becerra violated federal conscience laws, and gave him 30 days to comply with the law. Becerra refused, and in December the agency announced it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California.

 

On Wednesday, Becerra had been asked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) about his record on religious freedom and abortion.

 

“It does seem like, as [California] Attorney General, you spent an inordinate amount of time and effort suing pro-life organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor, or trying to ease restrictions or expand abortion,” Thune said.

 

In his tenure as the state’s attorney general, Becerra also upheld state abortion laws such as a requirement that crisis pregnancy centers advertise for abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled against that law in its 2018 ruling NIFLA v. Becerra.

 

Becerra also pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to loosen its safety regulations of the abortion pill regimen, and on Tuesday indicated that he wanted to allow the abortion pill to be prescribed and dispensed remotely—a change from existing FDA regulations.

 

“I believe the majority of the American people would not want their Secretary of Health and Human Services focused or fixated on expanding abortion, when we’ve got all these public health issues to deal with,” Thune said. “How do you assure us that that’s not going to be something that continues over from your time as attorney general?”

 

Becerra responded that he had not sued nuns but had rather sued the federal government. “In California, it’s my job to defend the rights of my state and uphold the law,” he said of his defense of the state’s pro-abortion laws. “As I try to uphold the law, I recognize that people will look at these things a little bit differently.”


At his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Becerra was also asked about abortion.

 

Noting the practice of doctors to administer anesthesia to second-term unborn babies for fetal surgery, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked him if he believed it should be “routine” to also do so in cases of late-term abortion.

 

“Do you believe it should be routine to also give anesthesia to unborn children during late-term abortion to minimize the pain that they’re capable of experiencing?” Grassley asked. Becerra responded that he would follow both the “science” and the “law” as health secretary.

 

“In my career of having worked to protect the health of all Americans, what I would do as secretary is what I’ve done as attorney general of our state, and that is I would follow the law, and expect others to follow the law,” Becerra said.

 

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) pressed him on the issue of religious freedom, asking if he would maintain an existing HHS office to uphold conscience protections in health care. The HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, established in 2018, hears complaints by health care workers objecting to participating in procedures such as abortion or assisted suicide.

 

“I believe deeply in religious freedom,” Becerra said, adding that as health secretary he would “respect” and “enforce” the law.

 

Lankford followed up, asking Becerra why his office was involved in religious freedom lawsuits including NIFLA v. Becerra.

 

“Right now, California is following the rules that were provided to us by the Supreme Court,” Becerra said of the 2018 ruling. After the NIFLA ruling, the HHS civil rights office found that Becerra had previously violated federal conscience protections by enforcing the law; however, the HHS office simultaneously closed the case, noting that the violations occurred before the high court’s decision.

 

Lankford noted that Becerra’s was a “unique situation” of having sued the federal government, only to be nominated to head a federal agency.

 

“I will have to abide by ethics rules,” Becerra said, noting that he would have to recuse himself in certain cases California is involved with at the state level.

 

Lankford emphasized it was “exceptionally important” to honor conscience rights of health care workers, on issues such as abortion and assisted suicide. “This is going to be a very significant issue,” he said.

 

Becerra was also questioned by senators on the issue of abortion on Tuesday. He would not directly answer whether he, as health secretary, would support taxpayer-funded abortion, and did not explain why he previously opposed a 2003 ban on partial-birth abortions.

 

Becerra did indicate that he wanted to expand access to chemical abortions, saying that patients have found Telehealth advantageous during the coronavirus pandemic. In response to a question about federal restrictions on the abortion pill regimen, he said that remote health care practice is “something that we should really build on.”

 

Pro-abortion groups have pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow for remote prescribing and dispensing of the abortion pill regimen.

Catholic bishops urge Sri Lankan government to release report on 2019 Easter bombings

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Feb 24, 2021 / 01:26 pm (CNA).- The Sri Lankan government must release its report on the Easter 2019 terrorist attack on Christian churches and hotels, say Catholic leaders.
 
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo reportedly will not meet with any Sri Lanka politicians due to the delay. He has postponed meetings with Catholic members of parliament in both the government and the opposition, the Sri Lanka newspaper The Island reported, citing sources in the cardinal’s office.
 
Other bishops have also spoken out about the failure to release the report from the presidential inquiry into the Easter Sunday attacks, which killed more than 260 people and injured more than 500.
 
“We have a lot of doubts about this whole process, the whole thing is getting delayed,” Bishop Winston Fernando of Badulla, head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, told the Associated Press.
 
Nine suicide bombers attacked two Catholic churches, one evangelical Christian church, four hotels, and a housing complex April 21, 2019. The church attacks came in the middle of Easter Sunday services. Two Sri Lankan groups who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group have been blamed in the attacks.
 
Critics of the government investigation fear corruption or negligence has prevented prosecution of collaborators in the attack.
 
Fernando said the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka was alarmed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to appoint a new six-member committee to study the report without sharing the report with the Church or with the attorney general to prosecute suspects.
 
“If there are people involved, they want to protect them, I suppose, what else?” the bishop said.
 
The study committee is composed only of government ministers who are members of the ruling coalition.
 
Fernando criticized the makeup of the committee. It was not balanced, and its integrity can be questioned because some members have other court cases pending against them, he said.
 
Ahead of the attacks, foreign intelligence gave warnings to the government. However, a communication breakdown between the then-president and prime minister reportedly led to a failure to coordinate a security response.
 
Rajapaksa’s office has said the new committee has a mandate to identify what measures various agencies should take to implement the presidential commission’s recommendations, the Associated Press said.
 
Earlier in February, Cardinal Ranjith wrote to Rajapaksa to request a copy of the report. The cardinal has warned that he would seek help from international Church bodies if the government does not quickly act on the report.
 
In October 2020, five of seven suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government, on the stated grounds of lack of evidence.
 
At that time, Ranjith said security officials had confirmed to him that there was sufficient evidence against many of the suspects who had been arrested. The cardinal, along with friends and family of the victims, have said they fear the release of the suspects meant corruption, or a lack of a thorough investigation, on the part of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department.
 
Skeptics of the investigation were most dubious about the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen, brother of MP Rishad Bathiudeen, who is the leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress party in Sri Lanka. In September 2020 a police spokesman told journalists that Riyaj Bathiudeen had met with one of the suicide bombers before one of the attacks on a hotel, and he was accused of other acts of collaboration with the bombers.
 
Rajapaksa rejected any claims that a deal had been made with MP Bathiudeen in the release of his brother. Various reports speculated that a deal would have aided the president’s push for constitutional changes that would grant “sweeping powers” to the president.
 
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Bay of Bengal. Its population is more than 21 million. More than 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, roughly 13% are Hindus, almost 10% are Muslims, and fewer than 8% are Christians. There are 1.5 million Catholics in the country, constituting the overwhelming majority of Sri Lanka’s Christians.
 
The country has been plagued with periodic violence since its 26-year civil war concluded in 2009.

Romanian Catholic archbishop: The Church needs to form ‘post-COVID-19’ generation

CNA Staff, Feb 24, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Aurel Percă has never led his archdiocese in normal times. He was installed as Metropolitan Archbishop of Bucharest on Jan. 11, 2020, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic engulfed Romania. 

In his first year in office, the 69-year-old has faced tremendous obstacles in getting to know his archdiocese, which covers more than 35,000 square miles, including not only Romania’s capital city but also much of the south of the country.  

In a Feb. 21 interview with CNA, Percă acknowledged that his first 12 months as archbishop have been “pretty hard.” He has been unable to introduce a “concrete pastoral program” or meet as many members of his flock as he would have liked because of COVID-19 restrictions.

But he is nevertheless grateful that he has been able to reach people through his live-streamed Masses at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Bucharest, which have also been transmitted on Romanian television.

“Thus, my messages were able to reach a much larger number of Catholic believers, and not only, both in Romania and abroad,” he said.

“But it was very difficult to communicate with them, having an empty church before my eyes and addressing myself to empty benches -- where you usually cross eyes with the faithful.”

Romania, a nation of 19 million people bordering Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary, has one of the highest poverty rates in the European Union. It has recorded more than 20,000 COVID-19 deaths as of Feb. 24, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

“During the lockdown, for three months, we celebrated a Holy Mass in the cathedral every week, usually on Fridays, for coronavirus victims, for patients in hospitals, but also for sanitary and medical staff,” recalled the archbishop, who was elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of Romania in September 2020. 

“It was a way to show solidarity with all those affected by COVID-19 and to be near those people who lost someone in their families.”



Percă was born on Aug. 15, 1951, in Săbăoani, Western Moldavia. He was ordained a priest in 1979 in Iași (pronounced “Yash”), Romania’s second-largest city. He studied in Rome, earning degrees in Oriental Theology and Moral Theology.

From 1989 to 1994, he was rector of the major seminary in the Diocese of Iași and later vicar general. In 1999, he was named an auxiliary bishop of the diocese. He was serving in that position when Pope Francis made his three-day visit to Romania in May 2019, which included a stop in Iași.

Percă told CNA that he had found some respite in the second half of 2020 when lockdown eased. But as he traveled around his archdiocese, he was unable to meet everyone he wished to.

“The reason why is because in the meantime the number of participants at celebrations decreased, out of fear of possible contamination,” he explained.

“I am still concerned that I could not meet the children, the young people, the associations in the communities of the archdiocese, and I could not visit our Catholic kindergartens and schools.”

Like many Church leaders in Europe, Percă worries that the pandemic will have a long-term impact on Mass attendance.

“At the moment, it is difficult to make a prediction about what the local Church in the Archdiocese of Bucharest will look like after the coronavirus crisis. The perspective points to a decrease in the presence of believers in churches for liturgical celebrations,” he commented.

“I am afraid that the fear caused by the pandemic in different categories of believers will extend over time, and they will find it easier to watch the celebrations in their homes, sitting comfortably in their armchairs, than to travel the distance to their churches -- often with difficulty.” 

“Thus, we will have to do a double pastoral work and find the most effective ways for their catechesis and evangelization.”

But the archbishop emphasized that he would continue to encourage people to return to church.

“However, we insist on strengthening the community and promoting the physical presence at the celebrations of Holy Mass and other Sacraments, without which there is no basic support for living the faith,” he said. 

“I think that the modern means of communication are very useful, but they will never replace the physical presence in the churches, and I am thinking, first of all, of the pastoral, educational, catechetical activities with young people and children.”

Catholicism is a minority faith in Romania, where around 80% of the population belongs to the Romanian Orthodox Church. Catholics account for about 5% of the population, with both Latin Rite and Byzantine Rite communities. 

The Romanian Greek Catholic Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. Its head, Cardinal Lucian Mureșan, is one of only four Catholic leaders worldwide to hold the title “Major Archbishop.” 

Percă said that in general relations between Catholics and Romanian Orthodox Christians were cordial, both at the local level and among hierarchs. 

“People live in good understanding in their communities, they work together, there are many mixed marriages,” he said.

“When it comes to the rights of the Church, regardless of denomination, everyone is united in the defense of the principles that guarantee the rights and freedom to exercise worship.”

Nevertheless, there are challenges, some of them relating to the communist era, which lasted from 1947 to 1989.

“Unfortunately, there are also a few specific situations in which Orthodox who enter and pray in a Catholic church are reproached by some Orthodox priests; and Catholics who want to be godparents at an Orthodox baptism or wedding are asked to convert to the Orthodox Church; or in a mixed marriage in the Orthodox Church, there might be requests that the Catholic side be re-baptized,” the archbishop said.

“More strained relations are on a larger scale in Transylvania, where the restitution of property belonging to the Greek Catholic Church has not yet been resolved. In 1948, the communist government outlawed the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, confiscated its properties, and handed them over to the Romanian Orthodox Church.” 

But Percă underlined that, despite these problems, ecumenical ties were positive. 

“At the hierarchical level, there are contacts between bishops, exchanges of greetings and messages at major holidays and invitations to events on both sides; also, joint participation in various national, regional and even local events by priests,” he said.

“The Catholic Church of both rites in Romania desires to cultivate a healthy ecumenical spirit, which is to the benefit of all, believers, priests and bishops.”

The archbishop is already looking ahead to the post-coronavirus era, when he will govern an archdiocese much changed from when he inherited it from his predecessor Archbishop Ioan Robu, who served from 1983 to 2019.

“It has often been heard, even since reaching the height of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, that after this crisis, that the world will no longer be as it was, that we have to be more responsible to those around us and to the environment, that we have to consider solidarity between people as a priority,” Percă said.

“I believe that it will be difficult to achieve these ideals in the short term. I think there is the need to form a ‘post-COVID-19’ generation that will establish a different kind of relationship between people.”

He continued: “Here I feel there is a special challenge regarding the way the Church will be able to implement and propose different pastoral actions for the mission among the faithful, taking into account the fact that often these interventions must be correlated with the steps taken by other denominations, but also with the approaches of the civil society.”

“In Romania, the general population still regards the Church with great hope. But many state interventions seem to counteract its effectiveness: for example, the tendency to eliminate the teaching of Religion in schools, the imposition of sex education in school curricula, without prior consultation with family associations or with representants of denominations, thus restricting the free choice of families to choose what they consider to be good for their children, freedom guaranteed by the Romanian Constitution.”

The archbishop added that the Church must work for fundamental cultural change. 

“So, I wonder how we can prepare the young generation for the ‘post-COVID-19’ period. We need to change the underlying cultural orientation; first of all, we Christians need to do it, by cultivating a very strong sense of responsibility,” he reflected.

“Without the conjugation of all forces of all denominations, but especially without the support of the state -- with correct laws -- we will reach a situation of permanent conflict. I hope that in Romania, as in the whole world, the power of faith for the renewal of the world will be taken into account.”

He noted that Catholics were already returning to church in Bucharest archdiocese, as new coronavirus cases continue to fall from their peak last November and the government opens vaccination centers around the country.

“Before the coronavirus pandemic, the participation in celebrations in churches was 50-60%. Despite the restraint that some people have for the time being, an increasing number of believers have returned to churches, sometimes assisting to the Holy Mass outside the church premises, facing the low temperatures of this winter,” he said.

“The faithful of the Archdiocese of Bucharest, and not only, know that the Church is their support, hope, and salvation.” 

“So, I encourage all Catholic believers in other parts of the world to have the courage to live the faith in the parish communities to which they belong.”

Education Department reverses stance on Connecticut’s transgender athlete policy

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The Department of Education (ED) on Tuesday reversed its previous opposition to Connecticut’s policy of allowing biological males to play girls’ sports.

 

In a letter to attorneys for several Connecticut public school districts and its high school athletic association, the agency’s Office for Civil Rights said it would be withdrawing its previous findings that the state athletic policy violated Title IX.

 

Beginning in 2017, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference allowed student athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity. Three female track athletes filed a complaint with the ED civil rights office and sued over the policy, alleging that it discriminated against them.

 

In response, the agency last year sided with the girls that the state policy violated Title IX—but has now withdrawn that stance under the new Biden administration.


The group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said the office’s action on Tuesday was “defying common sense.”

 

The decision “can’t change biological reality or the correct interpretation of the law,” said Christiana Holcomb, legal counsel with ADF.


ADF is representing three girls in their lawsuit against the Connecticut Association of Schools. The girls alleged that they were adversely affected by having to compete against biological males in track events, with benefits such as college scholarships possibly being at stake.

 

Two biological males identifying as transgender females won 15 state championships in women’s track events. One of the males broke 10 state records previously held by ten different female athletes.

 

The girls’ complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools said that sex-specific sports have been based on “biological differences,” as “those differences matter for fair competition.”

 

In response, the Trump administration issued letters of impending enforcement action against Connecticut, ruling that the state’s high school athletics policy violated federal civil rights law.

 

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs. The Education Department also had referred the cases to the Justice Department.

 

On Tuesday, however, the ED civil rights office not only said it was withdrawing its previous findings in the cases, but also said that it would be reviewing the cases based on President Biden’s recent executive order reinterpreting sex discrimination.

 

That Jan. 20 order said that federal civil rights protections against sex discrimination also protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Legal experts warned that the sweeping order would force girls to share sports, locker rooms, and shelters with biological males identifying as transgender females.

 

“Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls; that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place,” Holcomb said on Wednesday.

 

Title IX “exists precisely because of these differences” between men and women, “and is intended to ensure that women and girls have an equal opportunity to compete, achieve, and win,” she said.

 

On Feb. 4, Biden’s nominee for education secretary said that students identifying as transgender female should be allowed to participate in girls’ sports.

 

Miguel Cardona, currently Connecticut’s education commissioner, told senators that he believes it “is the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities, and this includes students who are transgender.”

 

After the Supreme Court in June ruled that federal protections against sex-based employment discrimination also protect gender identity, the ED civil rights office said it would continue to get Connecticut to comply with Title IX.

 

The Supreme Court’s Bostock decision addressed a separate case of employment discrimination under Title VII of civil rights law, the office said, noting that Connecticut’s policy still violated Title IX.

 

Connecticut school districts “treated student-athletes differently based on sex, by denying benefits and opportunities to female students that were available to male students,” the agency found.

Former HHS official: Becerra must be questioned over conscience violations

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).- President Biden’s health secretary nominee must be held accountable for forcing California Catholic nuns to cover abortions, said a former official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

 

On Tuesday, Xavier Becerra—California’s attorney general and President Biden’s nominee for HHS Secretary—was grilled on the topic of abortion at his first Senate confirmation hearing. He will appear before members of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday afternoon for his second confirmation hearing.

 

Roger Severino, the former head of the HHS civil rights office, told CNA on Tuesday that he wished Becerra had to answer for violating federal conscience protections as California’s attorney general.

 

“Becerra should have been asked to explain why he preferred to have California lose $200 million in Medicaid funds over allowing nuns to have insurance without abortion coverage, after my office had found him liable for violating the law,” Severino told CNA.

 

In Jan., 2020, the HHS Office for Civil Rights found that California violated the federal Weldon Amendment through its abortion coverage mandate. The state mandate forced even Catholic religious—the Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit—to cover abortions in their health plans.

 

The Weldon Amendment prohibits federal funding of states that discriminate against a “health care entity” because of its refusal to provide or cover abortions. Severino’s office gave Becerra 30 days to comply with the notice of violation, but Becerra refused to do so.

 

Ten months later, HHS announced it would withhold $200 million in Medicaid funds to California, for violating the law.

 

Becerra’s “resistance to the law” indicates “that he would try to shut down the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” at HHS, Severino said.

 

The division was established in 2018 to help enforce existing federal conscience protections for health care workers who object to participating in procedures such as abortions or assisted suicide.

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Becerra “should have been put on record” about leaving the conscience division in place, Severino said.

 

Severino is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) who directs the center’s HHS Accountability Project.

 

On Tuesday, members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee questioned Becerra on his views on partial-birth abortion, taxpayer-funded abortion, and expanding access to chemical abortions.

 

As evidenced in his answers, Becerra actually wants to expand access to chemical abortions by allowing remote prescription of the abortion pill regimen, Severino said.

 

When pressed by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) on his push to deregulate the abortion pill regimen during the pandemic, despite its “serious complications,” Becerra answered that the government should allow chemical abortions to be prescribed through Telehealth and dispensed remotely.

 

“And the fact that we are able to dispense care without having to have our families actually show up at the doctor’s office now—through Telehealth and other means—is something that we should really build on,” he said.

 

Pro-abortion groups have pushed for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove its safety regulations of the abortion pill regimen. Since 2000, the regimen has been on a list of higher-risk procedures and requires in-person prescription at a medical clinic, by a certified prescriber.

 

Pro-abortion groups pushed for the regulations to be halted during the pandemic, and for the regimen to be prescribed remotely via Telehealth and shipped to women. In January, the Supreme Court upheld the FDA’s protocol during the pandemic.

 

Severino said that Becerra “made clear that he will expand chemical abortions through the use of technology, even if it increases the threats to the safety of the woman.”

 

When asked by Sen. Mitt Romney why he voted against a partial-birth abortion ban in 2003 as a U.S. congressman, Becerra would not answer why, and emphasized the health secretary’s duty of promoting public health.

 

“[E]veryone wants to make sure that, if you have an opportunity, you’re going to live a healthy life,” Becerra said. He emphasized the existence of “deeply-held beliefs on this issue” and promised to “find some common ground on these issues.”

 

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) also reminded Becerra of “where you actually took to court the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

 

After the Trump administration in 2017 granted the Little Sisters of the Poor and other groups broad religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate, Becerra sued the administration, alleging that it had violated procedural law in crafting its exemptions. The lawsuit resulted in the Catholic sisters returning to court to defend their religious exemption.

 

The Supreme Court in 2020 ruled in favor of the Trump administration, but President Biden has said he would scrap the religious exemptions to the mandate in favor of the Obama administration’s previous regulations. As the Little Sisters of the Poor had sued over the Obama administration’s rule, Biden’s promise could reignite the sisters’ years-long court battles over the mandate.

 

“It’s notable that he [Becerra] refused to explain why he was in favor of partial-birth abortion, and refused to pledge to leave the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups free to operate according to their religious beliefs on human life and morality,” Severino told CNA.