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Vatican orders founder to leave ecumenical community

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican has ordered the prominent Italian Catholic layman Enzo Bianchi to leave the monastery he founded in 1965.

The Holy See made the ruling in a decree dated May 13, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and approved by Pope Francis, following an apostolic visitation. 

A statement on the Monastic Community of Bose’s website said the pope had approved the apostolic visitation in response to “serious concerns” about “a tense and problematic situation in our community regarding the exercise of the founder’s authority, the governance, and the fraternal climate.”

Bianchi founded the ecumenical community in Biella, northern Italy, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. It is a mixed community, composed of both men and women, who pray the Liturgy of the Hours and follow a rule influenced by St. Benedict and St. Basil the Great. Members include Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians.  

A charismatic figure, Bianchi has maintained a high profile in the Italian Church. He took part in the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and was named a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2014.  

The apostolic visitation, which took place between Dec. 6, 2019, and Jan. 6, 2020, was conducted by Fr. Guillermo León Arboleda Tamayo, Abbot President of the Subiaco Cassinese Benedictine Congregation, Fr. Amedeo Cencini, consultor for the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, and Mother Anne-Emmanuelle Devéche, Abbess of Blauvac, France.

The statement on the community’s website said Cencini had communicated the Vatican’s ruling privately to those concerned with “the greatest possible respect for the privacy of the interested parties.”

But after “several of the interested parties” rejected the measures, it said it was “opportune to specify that the above-mentioned provisions regard Br. Enzo Bianchi, two brothers and one sister, who are to separate themselves from the Monastic Community of Bose and to move to another place and who at the same time are relieved of all the offices they presently hold.”

The statement added that Cardinal Parolin had sent a letter to the community that “has traced a path of the future and of hope, indicating the basic lines of a process of renewal, which, we trust, will give a fresh impetus to our monastic and ecumenical life.”

Bianchi resigned as prior of the community in 2017 and Luciano Manicardi was chosen as his successor. 

In a message on the community’s website at the time, Bianchi wrote: “In the history of every new monastic community the passage from the guidance of the founder to the next generation is a positive sign of growth and of maturity. The Apostle writes: ‘I have planted, Apollo has watered, but it was God who made to grow’ (1 Corinthians 3:6). Life continues, the foundation has been fruitful, and for this we give thanks to the Lord, awaiting his judgment at the end of history.”

The Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica reported May 27 that Bianchi had defended his actions since stepping down as prior.

It quoted him as saying that he had tried to be “more absent than present” in the community but had “suffered from not being able to give my legitimate contribution as a founder anymore.” 

He insisted that he had “never contested with words and deeds” the authority of his successor, with whom he had worked closely for more than 20 years. 

He asked the Holy See to clarify what he and the other three exiled members of the community had done wrong. 

According to La Repubblica, he said: “On our part, in repentance we are willing to ask and give mercy. In suffering and trial we have also asked -- and still ask -- that the community be helped on a path of reconciliation.” 

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank the many brothers and sisters of Bose, who in these hours of great pain support me, and the many people who have shown their closeness and sincere affection.”

St. Augustine bishop calls for end to Florida death penalty

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- All of Florida’s death row inmates live in the Diocese of St. Augustine. Many are Catholic. At least twice a year St. Augustine’s Bishop Felipe Estevez goes to visit death row inmates himself.

So when Estevez issued a pastoral letter this week chronicling the efforts of Catholics in Florida to end the death penalty, and laying out the Catholic case for its abolition, the issue was personal.

"Justice needs to be restorative, not out of vengeance," Estevez told CNA May 27.

"We don't want anyone in society to be in danger because of these criminals, but we don't think that death is the answer. Killing them because they have killed would perpetuate the cycle of violence."

Jesus, on the cross, stopped a cycle of violence, Estevez said, by forgiving his killers.

"We need to put a stop to the death penalty because, as John Paul II said, it is not necessary. We can put all our energy into having the best prison system so that these prisoners who are a danger to society will not do any harm to anybody."

Estevez notes that no death row inmate in Florida has been granted clemency since 1983, and with 350 death row inmates, Florida has the largest active death row in the United States— indeed, in all the Americas.

California has more prisoners on death row, but the state’s death penalty is currently under moratorium. 

At least 50 of the men on Florida’s death row are Catholic, Estevez told CNA.

Estevez said he wanted his letter to reflect the commitment and care of those involved in prison ministry to death row inmates. There are over 27 prisons in the St. Augustine diocese.

Prison ministers provide much-needed accompaniment to prisoners, he said, helping provide an opportunity for them to repent.

"As they are being treated with love...something happens within their hearts, that tenderness transforms their hearts. And it is a very slow process...they have been damaged by violence. And so gentleness, mercy, accompaniment, and friendship and dialogue, all of that creates a culture of peace," he said.

"I think the reason why [the volunteers] persevere, and they are so committed, it is because they witness that transformation."

He said he sees the decline over the past few decades in executions throughout the country as a sign that more and more people are embracing a culture of life.

Society often tends to meet acts of violence with more violence, Estevez said.

"We need to heal that reaction— violence needs to be tempered by mercy," he said.

"We don't need to be engaged in vengeance, we don't need to be involved in killing. We need to be involved in restoration."

The bishop pointed to instances where the families of murder victims have asked that their loved one's killer not receive the death penalty.

"They who have been hurt the most are thinking and acting as Christians," he observed.

Estevez’s letter lays out a recent history of the development of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

The letter quotes a speech that Pope St. John Paul II delivered in St. Louis in 1999, in which he called for an end to the death penalty, calling it “cruel and unnecessary.”

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation,” John Paul II said.

“A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”

\John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae notes that cases in which executing an offender is an “absolute necessity” are, thanks to improvements in the penal system, “very rare if not practically nonexistent,” and reaffirms the Catechism’s teaching that “bloodless means” are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

“Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this,” John Paul II wrote.

Pope Benedict XVI, too, continued to support the limitation and eradication of the death penalty during his pontificate, Estevez writes.

During August 2018, Pope Francis ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Many Christians attempt to use Bible passages to justify the death penalty, but the death penalty as it exists in the United States, Estevez says, is particlarly contrary to a biblical view.

Dale Recinella, a Catholic death row chaplain in Florida and frequent collaborator with Bishop Estevez, used his skills as a lawyer to analyze how the death penalty, as applied in the US, compares to the requirements found in the Bible.

Recinella identified 44 requirements of the biblical death penalty when it was the law of the land in Israel. He found that the death penalty, in Florida and the US, scored zero out of 44 on the requirements of the biblical death penalty.

Estevez noted that the bishops of Florida have collectively expressed their opposition to the death penalty ever since the US Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that forced states to resses their statutes for capital offenses.

At the time, the Florida bishops acknowledged that those who could pay for lawyers and appeals would likely avoid the death penalty, while “circumstantial evidence and discrimination in jury selection would inordinately affect the poor and minorities.”

John Sullivan, a Catholic inmate executed in 1983, received spiritual support and advocacy from Bishop John J. Snyder, Estevez’s predecessor.

The bishops continued to speak out as Florida scheduled more executions, issuing public pleas for stays of execution and mercy in every case of a scheduled execution in the 2000s.

The pastor of St. Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, in Macclenny, Florida has had the primary responsibility for the church’s ministry at death row since 1976, Estevez said, with volunteers making themselves available for a quiet prayer vigil with the inmate’s family during the execution, and the pastor available to celebrate Mass at the church immediately following the execution.

The prison ministers at St. Mary’s also make the rounds in the death row prisons to bring the sacraments to those who are Catholic.

In June 1999, St. Marys’ parish council unanimously voted to formally pass a moratorium resolution on the death penalty, making it one of only two parishes in the country to have done so.

Defending human life at all costs requires courage and can be dangerous, Estevez said, recalling the story of Father Rene Robert, a St. Augustine priest who in 2016 attempted to help a troubled young man who subsequently kidnapped and murdered him.

Father Robert had, in 1995, signed a “Declaration of Life” asking that his killer not be put to death should he ever die by homicide. As a result, his killer was sentenced to life in prison.

Prisons are human institutions, and thus are fallible, Estevez writes, and thus “there is a great need for vigilance toward the effectiveness of prison security, even in well-developed societies, so these systems do not deteriorate or become corrupt and endanger their citizens.”


“Our system of incarceration needs to change from inhumane punishment to hopeful rehabilitation. Everyone must be concerned that not a single innocent human is condemned to deadly execution,” he wrote.

“Our pastoral experience in caring for inmates has revealed that many of them have experienced a conversion of heart, and society can benefit from a reunion with their families and re-entry to society,” he concluded.

Estevez invoked the intercession of Our Lady of La Leche— who is honored at the newly-elevated national shrine at Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine— consecrating to her the effort to end capital punishment in Florida.


Baltimore archdiocese has ‘serious concerns’ about county Communion ban

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore said it has “serious concerns” about public health guidance from Howard County, Maryland, which prohibits the reception of Communion as a condition for churches to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For the Catholic community, the reception of Communion is central to our faith lives and to our public worship,” said a statement from the archdiocese, released to CNA on Wednesday.

“Since learning of the concerns of Howard County officials, we have shared our guidelines for the distribution of Communion and express our own serious concerns about their recent guidance preventing Catholic churches in Howard County from distributing Communion.”

Howard County’s Executive Order #2020-09, published on May 26, outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses--which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship--to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

The order provides that “there shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service.”

Since the consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite, the order effectively bans the licit celebration of Mass in the county.

The executive order was reported by CNA May 27. 

The archdiocese said it is committed to ensuring churches reopen safely after closure amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The archdiocese has “developed thorough and carefully thought-out guidelines for resuming public Masses, including detailed guidance on the safe distribution of Communion.”

“These guidelines respect both the sanctity of the Sacrament and the need for abundant caution to protect the health and safety of both those receiving and distributing Communion,” the archdiocese said.

“While we recognize and value the urgent desire to guard the health and safety of local communities that is guiding the decisions of our government leaders, we are committed to engaging in dialogue with them to work together towards a policy going that balances the need for free expression of religious faith and the public’s health and safety interests.”

Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori is well known for his advocacy on religious liberty issues, and was the inaugural and longtime chair of the U.S bishops’ conference ad hoc committee on religious freedom. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA that "Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department."

"With this said," Peterson added, "we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1." 

“Regarding religious services,” Peterson said, “we have allowed for outdoor services. However, public health officials continue to describe the ongoing risks associated with hand-shaking, singing, and consumption of food of any kind thereby continuing the need for restrictions on these types of activities out of an abundance of safety precautions to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community.”

The executive order limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, while allowing outdoor services for up to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks – though the prohibition of food or drink, including Communion, is not limited to indoor celebrations.

The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the reception of Communion before, after, or during Mass. 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore's reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue--but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.

In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.

Burundi bishops denounce suspect presidential election

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Burundi have denounced the country’s recent general elections, and alleged irregularities in the voting process earlier this month.

The president of the Burundi Conference of Catholic Bishops (BCCB) issued a statement on Tuesday following the victory of Evariste Ndayishimiye, former secretary-general of the country’s ruling party, the CNDD-FDD.

“We deplore many irregularities with regard to the freedom and transparency of the electoral process as well as fairness in the treatment of certain candidates and voters,” said Bishop Joachim Ntahondereye of Muyinga after results were announced, according to AFP.

On Monday, the electoral commission declared Ndayishimiye the winner of the country’s May 20 election. He received 68.72% of the votes, more than double the opposition’s leader, Agathon Rwasa, who received 24.19%.

The opposing party, the National Council for Liberty (CNL), called the process “an electoral masquerade” and promised to appeal to the Constitutional Court this week. If the opposition’s appeal is rejected, Ndayishimiye will be sworn into office in August.

“In the face of these and other irregularities, we wonder whether they do not prejudice the (final) results to be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court on 4 June,” the bishops asked, according to Africa News.

The bishops have been outspoken before. In 2019, they alleged that minority parties were being “suffocated” ahead of the presidential election.

In response, government officials called for their laicization.

“Some bishops should be defrocked because it is becoming a habit: on the eve of elections they spit their venomous hatred through incendiary messages,” said presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe on Twitter.

Burundi is a landlocked East African country of almost 12 million. It has faced near constant political turmoil since the 1970s, and has been the place of two different genocides.

The Burundi bishops said their election observers noted, among other unfair actions, the ruling party engaged in electoral fraud, coercion, and intimidation. The government has been accused of detaining or ejecting CNL officials from the polls. Further, no foreign observers were permitted into the country to help supervise a fair election.

The Catholic Church “deplores in particular the coercion exercised on certain proxies to sign in advance the counting of the contents of the ballot boxes, the stuffing of some ballot boxes, the voting in place of deceased and refugees, multiple and therefore invalid proxies, the fact that there were in some polling stations voters who voted more than once,” the bishops said, according to Africa News.

The bishops also condemned “the exclusion of proxies and observers from the places where the votes are counted, the intimidation and coercion of some voters by administrative officials who accompanied them to the polling booths, the intrusion of unauthorised persons into the counting stations.”

The Church deployed 2,716 observers to overview the polling stations. While the number of observers was fewer than the number of stations, they were able to analyze polling stations in all of Burundi’s 119 municipalities.

Outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has ruled the country since 2005, applauded the victory of his party.

His final term in office was strongly opposed by the U.S., U.K., opposing parties, and Burundi bishops. His 2015 decision to seek a third term triggered violence in the country that left at least 1,200 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Last year, the bishops emphasized the administration's political violence and warned that the Imbonerakure – the youth wing of the ruling party – had replaced security forces in the country.

In response, the government said that some bishops should be defrocked and claimed that these men were spitting “venomous hatred through incendiary messages,” according to a tweet from presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe.

Following the country’s turmoil in 2015, Pope Francis encouraged prayers for the country and the victims of violence.

“I also wish to invite you to pray for the dear people of Burundi, who are living in a delicate moment,” the Pope said in his May 17 address ahead of the Regina Caeli prayers.

“May the Lord help everyone flee the violence and act responsibly for the good of the country.”



Costa Rican bishop disappointed in legalization of gay marriage

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 04:29 pm (CNA).- A Costa Rican bishop has warned that although same-sex marriage has been legalized in the country, the Catholic Church will continue to proclaim the truth of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.

Despite the change in law, Bishop José Manuel Garita of Ciudad Quesada said May 26, “we will not tire in showing the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman. Nor will the Church cease to proclaim the plan willed by God in creating man and woman, even though the times, fashions, pressures and ideologies dictate otherwise.”

In a January 9, 2018 decision, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that Costa Rica must legalize gay marriage. The Costa Rican government had asked the court for an advisory opinion on gay marriage and other issues.

Critics at the time argued that the decision was non-binding and was a violation of Costa Rica’s national sovereignty.

Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice then issued a 6-4 decision in August 2018 declaring unconstitutional the portion of the nation’s family code that prohibited gay marriage. The court gave the National Assembly 18 months to conform the country’s laws to permit same-sex unions.

The National Assembly did not enact legislation on the matter, so the relevant section of the family code was automatically eliminated on May 26, 2020, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said the change “will bring about a significant social and cultural transformation which will allow thousands of people to get married in front of a lawyer.”

However, Bishop Manuel contended that legally redefining marriage does change the inherent meaning of the institution.

“As Christians, we know that the family based on man and woman has a dignity and a mission,” he said.

He stressed that no one, regardless of sexual orientation, should be denied food, housing, work or health care, but added that “to achieve these and other rights the sacred foundation of marriage must not be touched.”

“We too have a right for what is sacred to a great majority of our society to be respected,” he said.

On May 15, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference had issued a statement for International Family Day, lamenting the spread of an ideological colonization that “discredits the value of the person, life, marriage and the family,” resulting in a loss of clarity around the truth “that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman fulfills a complete social function, because it is a stable commitment and makes fertility possible.”

The bishops acknowledged that “in a democratic and pluralistic society like ours, legal recognition can be given to people of the same sex who live together,” but said it would be “unjust if such recognition were to equate the union of same sex persons with that of marriage.”

“Not wanting to discriminate against homosexual people does not authorize the state to confuse the natural order of marriage and the family,” they said.


This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


43% of US coronavirus deaths in nursing homes

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A new report on Tuesday says that more than 40% of deaths from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States have occurred in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

“Much more attention must be paid to the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in nursing homes, especially through nursing home staff who work at multiple facilities,” wrote Avik Roy and Gregg Girvan for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

“Nursing homes must use best practices for testing and cleanliness,” they wrote.

Analyzing state data on COVID-19 deaths, Roy and Girvan noted that, of the states reporting coronavirus deaths in long-term care centers, 43% of the overall deaths from the virus occurred in the centers; outside of New York state, that percentage rose to 53%.

New York, they said, may be an “outlier” among state reports because the volume of deaths outside of nursing homes may have driven the percentage share of nursing home deaths down. New York also reportedly changed how it was counting COVID nursing home deaths in early May; nursing home patients who died from the virus at a hospital were not counted as nursing home deaths.

The death rates at nursing homes were particularly high in the Northeast. In New Jersey, almost one in ten nursing home residents died from the virus, with 954 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes per 10,000 residents. In Connecticut, the number of fatalities per 10,000 residents was 827; in Massachusetts, it was 703.

However, in some other states such as Minnesota, the percentage of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes—as a share of overall deaths from the virus—was extremely high.

In Minnesota, more than 81% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes, as of May 22. In Rhode Island, 77% of virus deaths happened in nursing homes; in Ohio, 70% of COVID-19 deaths occurred at nursing homes, and New Hampshire was close behind at 69.8%. Pennsylvania saw 69.2% of its deaths from the virus occur in nursing homes.

In the wake of reports of the high number of deaths in nursing homes, some have pointed to policies of several states that sent positive COVID patients to nursing homes, to free up hospital beds. New York, New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania instructed nursing homes that they could not refuse COVID patients discharged from hospitals.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that nursing homes already had problems of poor training or funding before the pandemic struck.

Sending patients who had COVID to nursing homes started an “uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death,” he told CNA. However, he added, as nursing homes and long-term care facilities “were already pushed to the margins of our culture, it actually made sense that the dignity of these residents and workers was ignored and their lives discarded.”

The high percentage of U.S. nursing home deaths from the virus was reflected in other countries, Roy and Girvan wrote.

They cited a study by the International Long Term Care Policy Network that analyzed COVID deaths in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In those countries, more than 40% of reported COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes.

“States and localities should consider reorienting their policy responses away from younger and healthier people, and toward the elderly, and especially elderly individuals living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” Roy and Girvan wrote.

Maryland county bans Eucharist in church reopening order

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- This story is developing and has been updated.

An executive order issued Tuesday in Maryland’s Howard County outlines public health rules under which churches may reopen. The order prohibits the distribution and consumption of any food or drink as part of any religious service, effectively outlawing the distribution of Communion and the celebration of the Mass. 

Howard County Executive Order #2020-09 outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses--which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship--to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” the order says in a section delineating norms and restrictions on religious services. 

The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.

CNA asked the Howard County public affairs office to comment on how the rule aligns with First Amendment religious freedom and free exercise rights.

Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA in a statement that "Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department."

"With this said," Peterson added, "we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1." 

The executive order also limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, limits outdoor services to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks, forbids the passing of collection plates, and bans handshakes and physical contact between worshippers. 


Beginning at 7am on May 29th, religious institutions may resume services assuming the following guidelines are met. The guidelines refer to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, interfaith centers, and any other space where faith gatherings are held.

— Calvin Ball (@HoCoGovExec) May 26, 2020  

In contrast to the 10-person limit for churches, establishments listed in the order that do not host religious services are permitted to operate at 50% capacity. 

The order also states that “singing is permitted, but not recommended,” and that only the person leading the service or a choir may sing. Those who are singing without masks should, per the order, “maintain a 12-foot distance from other persons, including religious leaders, other singers, or the congregation.” 

The sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel contains the well-known “Bread of Life” discourse, in which Jesus teaches at a Capernum synagogue that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Catholics believe that teaching constitutes part of Christ's revelation of the Eucharist.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, whose territory includes Howard County, did not respond to requests for comment on the Howard County executive order by the time of posting.

The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the distribution of food or beverages before, after, or during Mass. 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore's reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue--but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.

In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.

The Department of Justice has recently issued a number of letters concerning cases of state and local public health orders which affect churches and houses of worship. In the last week, the department sent letters to the governors of California and Nevada, emphasizing the need to respect religious freedoms while working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Eric S. Dreiband, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said in a May 19 letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

The DOJ has also filed statements of interest in cases involving conflicts between churches and local authorities, including a lawsuit against the Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, after members of the Temple Baptist Church were fined $500 for attending a service in their cars in the church's parking lot. The mayor later rescinded the fines and amended the city’s stay at home order.

LA archdiocese announces reopening plan

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 10:35 am (CNA).- After California relaxed public health restrictions on churches on Monday, the nation’s largest diocese announced its plan on Tuesday to resume public Masses.

In a two-step plan for parishes to reopen and offer the sacraments, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Tuesday provided a checklist for each parish to observe. The state’s dioceses and archdioceses have all curtailed public Masses since March, but starting June 3 the archdiocese will allow for public Masses.

While Governor Gavin Newsom’s four-step reopening plan for the state had initially placed churches in stage 3 of reopening, that of “higher-risk workplaces,” on Monday the state announced that churches could begin reopening subject to county restrictions. The state is currently in stage 2 of Newsom’s reopening plan, where manufacturing and some retail businesses have been allowed to reopen.

Now, California has allowed churches to open at 25% capacity with a maximum of 100 people.

The state’s Catholic Conference called the new state guidelines “positive, constructive and fundamentally in alignment” with the diocesan reopening plans, and expressed gratitude for being “a part of the consultation.”

Individual dioceses and archdioceses would make the decisions on reopening parishes in consultation with local authorities, the conference said.

“We look forward to collaborating even further with Governor Newsom and our county leaders in the coming weeks to make social distancing the determining criterion for attendance for public worship so that our communities can undertake a pattern of worship that is both sustainable and safe,” their statement read.

For the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “Step 1” of its reopening plan for parishes allows for silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and individual confessions heard upon request inside a church, with social distancing measures in place.

Churches must be deep cleaned before reopening and cleaned again after each use, and volunteers should be present to open the doors, keep count of the number of those inside the church, usher the faithful to designated seating, and help clean the church.

Parishes can “advance” to Step 2 of the archdiocese’s plan starting June 3, when public Masses, sacraments of initiation, scheduled confessions, and weddings, funerals and quinceañeras can resume. Choirs at Masses will be replaced by a cantor and accompanist, and Holy Communion can be received in the hand only.

For infant baptisms, “[t]he use of the Oil of Catechumens and the ‘Ephphatha’ rite are to be omitted,” the archdiocesan guidelines state.

While the state’s Catholic Conference offered a positive commendation of the state’s reopening plan, one Pentecostal church is still challenging the plan in court, saying it arbitrarily subjects churches to stricter limits than businesses are subject to.

The Thomas More Society, representing South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego, sent a letter to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan on Tuesday stating that the state’s reopening plan was still unacceptable for churches.

Justice Kagan handles emergency requests from the jurisdiction of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t go far enough for the simple reason that they’re placing arbitrary and unconstitutional restrictions on churches that they’re not placing on secular organizations,” attorney Charles LiMandri told CNA on Wednesday.

South Bay church had already filed for an emergency injunction on the state’s order requiring churches to remain closed—Newsom’s original plan that placed churches in “stage 3” of the reopening. The church had asked for relief by Pentecost Sunday, May 31.

Then on Monday, May 25, the state’s health department announced that churches could resume religious services at a maximum of 25% capacity or 100 people.

The allowance is still not acceptable, the church argued in its letter to Kagan, as individual counties can still maintain stricter regulations than the state’s “ceiling” that was announced on Monday.

Furthermore, for larger churches such as South Bay which seats 600 congregants in its sanctuary, the 100-person limit is an “arbitrary cap,” the church argued.

“Some of these churches will seat over 1,000 people, so it makes no sense to have an arbitrary minimum cutoff” of 100 people, LiMandri said.

“They’re not doing that in any other organization or facility,” he added, noting that shopping malls are allowed to open at 50% capacity and warehouse stores like Costco do not have a customer limit.

The state’s allowance for churches is also legally suspect, the Thomas More Society argued, as it did not move churches to stage 2 of the original reopening plan “but has created an entirely new regime to regulate them alone.”

As various federal circuit courts have disagreed on the extent to which states may restrict religious practice during the pandemic, the Thomas More Society asked the Supreme Court to intervene and offer clarity.

“In light of these continued exigencies, it is imperative that states receive consistent and uniform guidance on this matter of utmost importance from Your Honor or the entire Court,” the letter stated.

“The deepening conflict between and among the various Circuit Courts of Appeal has triggered serious uncertainty as to what legal standard applies when citizens consider whether and under what circumstances they may freely exercise their religious faith by attending services at their church, temple, mosque or other place of worship.”

The U.S. Department of Justice warned California in a May 19 letter that it could not single out churches for burdensome restrictions during the pandemic. 

“California has not shown why interactions in offices and studios of the entertainment industry, and in-person operations to facilitate nonessential e-commerce, are included on the list as being allowed with social distancing where telework is not practical, while gatherings with social distancing for purposes of religious worship are forbidden, regardless of whether remote worship is practical or not,” stated a letter by Eric S. Dreiband, head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, joined by four U.S. attorneys for California.

That letter is one of several recent interventions by the DOJ, warning state and local authorities of the need to respect religious freedoms while making efforts to halt the spread of coronavirus.

On Monday, Nevada U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich and U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Deibrand wrote to Governor Steve Sisolak regarding the standing prohibition on gathering of more than 10 people for religious purposes.

"We understand these directives were issued in the midst of an uncertain situation, which may have required quick decisions based on changing information," the DOJ lawyers said. 

"We are concerned, however, that the flat prohibition against ten or more persons gathering for in person worship services — regardless of whether they maintain social distancing guidelines — impermissibly treats religious and nonreligious organizations unequally."

The letter asked Sisolak “to balance competing interests and make your best judgments” in drafting guidelines which accommodate both public health and religious freedom concerns.

After leukemia returns, Bishop Murry of Youngstown resigns

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 09:19 am (CNA).- Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio has submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, due to a recurrence of leukemia, the diocese has announced. The bishop is 71 years old, four years younger than standard retirement age for bishops.

In April 2018, Bishop Murry was diagnosed with leukemia. He underwent a month of intensive chemotherapy treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, and was released in late May of that year. He doctors said he responded well to the treatment, and the leukemia cells had been suppressed, although he would need to return to the clinic weekly for monitoring.

“In July of 2019 he reentered the Cleveland Clinic for a reoccurrence of leukemia. At that time tests confirmed that he was in remission and that doctors were not recommending a bone marrow transplant,” the Diocese of Youngstown said in a statement this week.

“This past April, his leukemia retuned and he resumed treatment. With this third bout of leukemia, his present state of health leaves him less able to fulfill the tasks entrusted to him as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown,” the statement said.

Following his initial leukemia diagnosis, the bishop stepped down from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, as well as his role as chair of the conference’s Committee on Catholic Education.

Bishop Murry was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1972, and was ordained to the priesthood seven years later. Murry holds a M.Div. degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California, and a Ph.D. in American Cultural History from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He served in administrative roles in two Washington, D.C., high schools, as well as serving as a professor of American Studies at Georgetown University and as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. In 1998, the pope appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and on June 30, 1999, appointed him bishop of the diocese.

Bishop Murry has led the Youngstown diocese since 2007.


Pope Francis will name Charles de Foucauld a saint. Who was he?

Vatican City, May 27, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Francis has advanced the sainthood causes of 14 men and women, including Bl. Charles de Foucauld, a French missionary killed in Algeria in 1916.

De Foucauld, also known as Brother Charles of Jesus, was a soldier, explorer, Catholic revert, priest, hermit, and religious brother, who served among the Tuareg people in the Sahara desert in Algeria.

He was assassinated by a band of men at his hermitage in the Sahara on Dec. 1, 1916.

De Foucauld was born in Strasbourg in 1858. He was raised by his wealthy and aristocratic grandfather after being orphaned at the age of six.

He joined the French military, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Having already lost his faith, as a young man he lived a life of indulgence and was known to have an immature sense of humor.

De Foucauld resigned from the military at age 23, and set off on a dangerous exploration of Morocco. Contact with strong Muslim believers there challenged him, and he began to repeat to himself: “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”

He returned to France and, with the guidance of a priest, came back to his Catholic faith in 1886, at the age of 28.

The following saying is attributed to him: “As soon as I believed in God, I understood that I could not do otherwise than to live for him alone.”

De Foucauld realized a vocation to “follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth” during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was a Trappist monk in France and Syria for seven years. He also lived as a hermit for a period near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth.

He was ordained a priest in 1901 at age 43 and left for northern Africa to serve among the Tuareg people, a nomadic ethnic group, saying he wanted to live among “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.”

In the Sahara he welcomed anyone who passed by, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or pagan. 

He was deeply respectful of the faiths and cultures he lived among. During his 13 years in the Saraha he learned about Tuareg culture and language, compiling a Tuareg-French dictionary, and being a “brother” to the people.

The priest said he wanted to “shout the Gospel with his life” and to conduct his life so that people would ask, “if such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

De Foucauld was the inspiration for the founding of several lay associations, religious communities, and secular institutes of laity and priests, known collectively as “the spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld.”

At his beatification in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI said as a priest, de Foucauld “put the Eucharist and the Gospel at the center of his life.”

“He discovered that Jesus -- who came to unite Himself to us in our humanity -- invites us to that universal brotherhood which he later experienced in the Sahara, and to that love of which Christ set us the example,” he said.

After meeting with Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the congregation for saints’ causes May 26, the pope approved a second miracle attributed to de Foucauld’s intercession, paving the way for his canonization.

On May 27, Pope Francis also advanced the cause of Bl. César de Bus, a French priest who lived from 1544 to 1607, and founded two religious congregations.

He also advanced the cause of Italian Bl. Maria Domenica Mantovani, co-founder and first general superior of the Institute of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family, who died in 1934.

The pope also approved the first miracle attributed to the intercession of Venerable Michael McGivney, a 19th-century American priest who founded the Knights of Columbus. He may now be beatified. 

French laywoman Venerable Pauline-Marie Jaricot, who lived from 1799 to 1862 in Lyon, may also now be beatified.

She founded the Living Rosary Association and the Society of the Propagation of the Faith -- which later became the first of the four pontifical mission societies.

Jaricot, a member of the lay Dominicans, was devoted to promoting support of the Church’s missionary efforts around the world. 

She was the youngest of seven children. After losing her mother when she was 17, Jaricot took a vow of perpetual virginity and devoted herself to prayer. For many years, St. John Vianney was her spiritual director.

She was declared Venerable in 1963 by St. Pope John XXIII.

In 2013, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, then head of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said “Jaricot’s heroic virtues do not consist in a series of miraculous events, but in that fruitful fidelity to Christ, to whom she devoted herself both in good times and in those difficult and tormented moments, as well as in the long-term vision of a commitment to evangelization, so that all people get to know Christ and of the merciful love of God.”

Pope Francis also confirmed May 27 the martyrdom of six Cistercians, the Servant of God Simeon Cardon and his five companions, who were killed in 1799 in Casamari, Italy. 

He also confirmed the martyrdom of Cosma Spessotto, a priest and Franciscan from northern Italy who was killed in El Salvador in 1980.

Servant of God Bishop Melchior de Marion Bresillac, who was apostolic vicar to Sierra Leone and the founder of the Society of Africa Missions, was also advanced on the path to sainthood. A Frenchman, he died in 1859 in the West African country.