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Columbus diocese announces strategic planning initiative

Columbus, Ohio, Mar 1, 2021 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Columbus announced Monday a strategic planning initiative meant to discern the future of the local Church, encouraging evangelization and missionary discipleship.

“This really is our plan – all of us together,” Bishop Robert Brennan of Columbus said March 1. “Our goal is to identify the needs of our Diocese for the 21st Century and how we meet those needs, and to expand Catholic presence to all our people, which is going to take some creativity. That’s at the heart of it. We want to make the presence of the Lord, the experience of the Sacraments, the encounter with Christ – we want to make that more available to people.”

The initiative, “Real Presence, Real Future”, was announced to parishes and schools in the diocese Feb. 27-28, and to priests Dec. 1, 2020.

The diocese said that “this initiative aims to reimagine how the Church serves her people through a process of listening to their needs, ideas, concerns, and desires. This planning and consultation phase will be held throughout 2021 and the findings will be implemented over the next few years. The full scope of the ‘Real Presence, Real Future’ initiative will prepare the Diocese to increase its Catholic presence over the next 10 to 20 years.”

It added that the initiative “is intended to meet the many needs of the Diocese of Columbus’ diverse areas and ethnicities, while emphasizing the utilization of active diocesan priests and deacons, mission-oriented parishes and schools, and all other available resources.”

“Real Presence, Real Future” will focus on engaging Catholics to reflect on and share Christ’s presence in their lives; planning the Catholic presence in each of the diocese’s 23 counties “by integrating missionary outreach, parish and school footprints, and leadership requirements for the next five years”; and developing resources “to support priests, deacons, and lay leaders in parishes and schools.”

Six “evangelization subcommittees” were formed months ago, with foci on forming missionary disciples; increasing outreach at universities; social media; deploying lay missionaries in parishes and schools; formation of faculty and staff in Catholic schools; and outreach to the irreligious.

Father Adam Streitenberger, Bishop’s Coordinator for Evangelization, said that “Each of the evangelization subcommittees will develop a plan to address the needs and initiatives for evangelization and missionary discipleship formation identified by Bishop Brennan.”

He emphasized the importance of evangelization, and said that “all of the baptized must respond to the call and be formed as missionary disciples, and to be equipped to bring Christ to their families and communities.”

The Columbus diocese was erected in 1868, and Bishop Brennan said, according to The Catholic Times, “We live in a diocese that was founded on an 1868 model, built for the needs of 1868. We have to be able to use and harness some of the new resources … in a way that helps us to meet the needs to proclaim the Gospel.”

“We’re looking at diocesan offices, what are the structures that we need and what works, what needs to change, not because of any judgment on people but what structures do we need in this new millennium, how do we best serve the needs of the parishes in the proclamation of the faith,” he added.

Bishop Brennan said: “The same is true in terms of how do we deploy priest personnel. We try to do the best that we can to meet needs as they arise. But we know that we will have fewer priests just by the numbers and by the numbers of men in formation. I’m hoping to see all that grow, but we can make some realistic predictions.”

Between 1999 and 2016, the number of parishes in the diocese fell by one, from 107 to 106. In the same time, the total number of priests serving in the diocese, both secular and religious, dropped from 234 to 201.

“How do we structure ourselves so that we can have strong, vibrant communities and worship together and make Masses available for people at times that are convenient by working together rather than everybody duplicating what the parish next door is doing. So it’s going to take a little bit of creativity on all of our parts,” the bishop commented.

The initiative is being facilitated by the Catholic Leadership Institute, a nonprofit strategic planning group. The group has launched a Disciple Maker Index Survey for parishioners which will be available through March 22.

Archdiocese of Baltimore to highlight resources to fight porn

Baltimore, Md., Mar 1, 2021 / 07:36 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore has set aside the weekend of March 13-14 as a time to focus on the dangers of pornography and the resources available to avoid and recover from it.

March 14 will be observed as “Safe Haven Sunday.” Parishes are encouraged to highlight resources to fight pornography and to discuss the threat of pornography for individuals and married couples.

The archdiocese is also offering a website with resources.

The Catholic Review, a publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, cited statistics from internet accountability organization Covenant Eyes detailing how pervasive porn use is in modern American culture.

Twenty percent of mobile searches are for pornography, Covenant Eyes says, and even Christians report significant level of pornography use. Furthermore, a significant percentage of students – more than half of males and a third of females –  say they were first exposed to pornography before they were teenagers.

Father Brian Nolan, pastor of St. Isaac Jogues, told the Catholic Review that he frequently hears pornography mentioned in confession.

He said it is important for Catholics struggling with pornography to seek resources – including internet filters and professional counseling if necessary.

While overcoming a pornography addiction can be challenging, Nolan said, healing is possible – particularly with the resources and support available.

“We have the ability to say no to ourselves and to say yes to God,” Nolan told the Catholic Review. “We have the ability to grow in the virtue of self-control, which makes us self-possessed and available to God in a freer and fuller way.”

Catholic Connect suspended from Instagram for apparent copyright infringement

Denver Newsroom, Mar 1, 2021 / 06:19 pm (CNA).- Instagram this week suspended a popular Catholic account for apparent copyright violations.

Catholic Connect, an account sharing Catholic-themed content with a traditional bent aimed at young adults, was shut down Feb. 28 after Instagram notified its CEO of two copyright violations, the second of which did not appear to be related to anything Catholic Connect had shared.

Richy Orozco, CEO of Catholic Connect, told CNA that the first of the two copyright infringement complaints came from an Instagram account that had asked Catholic Connect to share one of its videos of a procession outside a Catholic church.

Orozco said he reached out to the account that owned the video immediately, but received no response.

A few hours later, Orozco says he got a second copyright infringement notification from Instagram, which showed him a small "preview" of the apparent offending material.

Orozco said he did not recognize the content, which appeared to be a video, in the preview provided by Instagram. He says his team also did not recognize the content.

Soon after, Orozco got an email from Instagram saying Catholic Connect had violated copyright and that “you are no longer permitted to use Instagram.”

“Your account has been reported multiple times for violating someone else's rights. We previously warned you that if you continued to infringe the intellectual property rights of third parties, your account would be disabled,” the Feb. 28 notification email from Instagram, which Orozco shared with CNA, reads.

Instagram’s terms of use state that “We can refuse to provide or stop providing all or part of the Service to you...if you repeatedly infringe other people's intellectual property rights.”

Catholic Connect had shared some 5,000 posts while it was active, including many memes and videos, generally with attribution.

Orozco said Catholic Connect has received copyright infringement claims before, but the last one was "over a year ago."

"That's why I wanted clarification from might not even be our content," he said.

"If that's so, then the account can be reinstated."

Catholic Connect’s account had some 273,000 followers when it was suspended, the organization says. Orozco and the account’s team have appealed the suspension to Instagram.

Catholic Connect has created a new account under the name of @CatholicConnect2.0, which is active as of March 1.

New Orleans archdiocese: Catholics should seek ethical alternatives to Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2021 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New Orleans says that the recently-approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is “morally compromised,” and advises Catholics to use ethical alternatives if available.

The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with an emergency use authorization issued on Feb. 27.

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute had determined that the vaccine used abortion-derived cell lines in design and development, production, and lab testing. The New Orleans archdiocese on Feb. 26 stated that the vaccine was “morally compromised” because of its connection with abortion.

However, the two other available COVID-19 vaccines are “morally acceptable,” the archdiocese said, while also not prohibiting Catholics from receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if no other ethical alternative is available.  

The decision to receive a vaccination for COVID-19 “remains one of individual conscience in consultation with one’s healthcare provider,” the archdiocese said.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans, in light of guidance from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The National Catholic Bioethics Center affirm that though there was some lab testing that utilized the abortion-derived cell line, the two vaccines currently available from Pfizer and Moderna do not rely on cell lines from abortions in the manufacturing process and therefore can be morally acceptable for Catholics as the connection to abortion is extremely remote,” the archdiocese’s statement read. 

Ethicists have said that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were “ethically uncontroversial” as their connection to abortions in the design phase were extremely remote. However, some lab tests for the vaccines were conducted using aborted fetal cell lines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meanwhile, used aborted fetal cell lines in all phases.

“It is under the same guidance that the archdiocese must instruct Catholics that the latest vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson is morally compromised as it uses the abortion-derived cell line in development and production of the vaccine as well as the testing,” the archdiocese said. This ethical problem is similar to that of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which also used an abortion-derived cell line in the development and testing of their product. 

The archdiocese emphasized that “in no way does the Church’s position diminish the wrongdoing of those who decided to use cell lines from abortions to make vaccines.”

“In doing so, we advise that if the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available, Catholics should choose to receive either of those vaccines rather than to receive the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of its extensive use of abortion-derived cell lines.”

A cell line derived from an abortion decades prior (HEK-293) is commonly used in the testing and development of pharmaceuticals. 

The Archdiocese’s statement echoes that made in December by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Back then, they stated that it was “morally acceptable” to receive vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available. 

In a note issued Dec. 21, the CDF said that in countries where ethically uncontroversial vaccines are not available or where their distribution is limited, it is “morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.”

This does not in any way imply a legitimation of the grave evil of the practice of abortion or that there is a moral endorsement of the use of cell lines proceeding from aborted fetuses, the Vatican congregation said.

One of the touted advantages of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is that it does not require specialized refrigeration and can be delivered in a single dose, making it more attractive to some healthcare professionals than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Those vaccines require deep freeze storage and are administered in two doses.

Senate confirms nominee who supported transgender athletes' participation in women's sports

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2021 / 04:20 pm (CNA).- The Senate on Monday voted to confirm President Biden’s nominee for education secretary, who had supported males identifying as transgender females to participate in girls’ athletics.

Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education commissioner, was confirmed on Monday by a vote of 64 to 33. At his Feb. 4 confirmation hearing, he said that male athletes identifying as transgender females should be allowed to play girls’ sports.

Questioned by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) about the matter at his confirmation hearing, Cardona repeatedly stated that it “is the legal responsibility of schools to provide opportunities for students to participate in activities, and this includes students who are transgender.”

Several female athletes had sued the state of Connecticut in 2019, over the state’s policy of allowing student-athletes to compete in sports based on their “preferred gender identity” and not their biological sex. The girls alleged that they were discriminated against by having to compete against biological males.

The Trump-era Education Department issued a letter in 2019 stating that “boys can’t compete with girls in sports.” The agency also sided with the girls in the Connecticut transgender athletics case, saying that the state had violated Title IX through its policy.

However, last week the agency reversed course and withdrew its findings in the case. President Biden has already issued an executive order on “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” The order stated that part of the policy of his administration would be to allow students to play sports based on their gender identity.

When asked about the Education Department’s 2019 letter, Cardona would not say if he would continue to enforce the policy.  He answered that he would uphold “the civil rights of all students, and that includes activities they may engage in, in high school or in athletics.”

He later told Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) that it was “non-negotiable to make sure that our learning environments are places that are free of discrimination and harassment for all learners, including our LGBTQ students.” 

The White House has made a number of other appointments to the Education Department including Suzanne Goldberg, a former attorney with the pro-LGBT group Lambda Legal.

Goldberg, appointed to serve as assistant secretary in the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, was the founding director of the Columbia Law School's Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic, and co-director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. Her university bio lists her as “a leading advocate and attorney for the LGBTQ+ community.”

At Columbia, Goldberg “reaffirmed” policies for students identifying as transgender in 2018, clarifying that students could access bathrooms based on their gender identity and students

She told the New York Times in 2020 that the Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling—which extended employment discrimination protections to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity—was “a simple and profound victory for L.G.B.T. civil rights.”

Hasbro to sell gender-neutral Potato Head families, criticizing 'limiting' family and gender norms

CNA Staff, Mar 1, 2021 / 02:48 pm (CNA).- The Hasbro toy company is now marketing a gender-neutral Potato Head family set showing same-sex couples and a baby, alongside a traditional family portrayal.
While the company has rejected reports that it would no longer sell individual sex-specific Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls, a company executive has told a progressive business leaders’ magazine that the tradition of the brand is “limiting” because of how it presents gender identity and family structure.
“Culture has evolved,” Kimberly Boyd, a senior vice president and general manager at Hasbro, told Fast Company magazine Feb. 25. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists—with the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’—is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”
“The sweet spot for the toy is two to three years old,” Boyd said. “Kids like dressing up the toy, then playing out scenarios from their life. This often takes the form of creating little potato families, because they’re learning what it means to be in a family.”
A box for the gender-neutral family set shows pictures of a baby potato head in three different images: one where the potato head parents appear as a man and a woman, another where they appear as a woman and a woman, and a third where they appear as a man and a man.
Hasbro has also produced an animated image of two potato head dolls and a baby potato head. One of the dolls changes male characteristics, while the other doll changes between male and female characteristics and accessories.
The toy company did counter claims that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head would change their names. 
In a Feb. 25 Twitter post with several potato-related puns, the toy company Hasbro said: “your main spud, Mr. Potato Head isn’t going anywhere! While it was announced today that the Potato Head brand name & logo are dropping the ‘Mr.’ I yam proud to confirm that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head aren’t going anywhere and will remain Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.”
The Fast Company report on the new developments for the classic doll contended that dropping “Mr.” and Mrs.” is a change that means “the toys don’t impose a fixed notion of gender identity or expression, freeing kids to do whatever feels most natural to them.”
The avoidance of a “normative family structure” in the boxed sets, the article said, is an approach that is “clever because it allows kids to project their own ideas about gender, sexuality, and family onto the toy, without necessarily offending parents that have more conservative notions about family.”
Fast Company magazine’s target audiences include self-described progressive business leaders. Its story about the potato head toy contended that traditional toys and storylines about relationships and families “can be confusing to kids who live in progressive milieus, where they are exposed to many different family structures.”
According to Census Bureau estimates, there are about 980,000 same-sex coupled households in the U.S. About 58% of these households are considered married. Same-sex married couples’ households are about half as likely as married men and women’s households to have children. Overall, about 180,000 same-sex coupled houses have children under age 18.
Same-sex couple households make up 1.5% of all coupled households, with 11 states and the District of Columbia above this average. Washington, D.C. has the highest percentage of these same-sex households, 7.1%.
Broken down by metropolitan statistical area, same-sex coupled households are most prevalent in the San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley area, where about 2.8% of coupled households were same-sex.
By comparison, there are some 57.8 million households of married men and women, and some 7.6 million households of unmarried men and women. The Census Bureau on Feb. 24 released these numbers in a new report analyzing its 2019 American Community Survey.
Previous census inquiries wrongly classified many couples as same-sex because of recording errors, including men or women who mistakenly indicated they were the same sex as their spouse. The Census Bureau has claimed to have improved the error rate.

Fr. Michael Pfleger’s parish stops payments to Chicago archdiocese to expedite his investigation

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2021 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- The parish of St. Sabina in Chicago announced on Sunday that it would withhold its monthly contributions to the archdiocese until an abuse investigation into its longtime pastor is completed.


Two brothers in January had accused Fr. Michael Pfleger of sexually abusing them when they were teens. Pfleger denies the allegations, but he stepped aside from ministry after the first accusation was made and the archdiocese first announced its investigation. Fr. Pfleger is known for his outspoken social justice activism.


Almost two months after the first allegation was made against Pfleger--and the archdiocese announced its investigation--Pfleger’s parish on Sunday said it would stop sending its monthly assessments to the archdiocese in order to expedite the investigation.


"In its continued effort to get the Archdiocese of Chicago to swiftly conclude its investigation into the allegations against Fr. Pfleger, that it has made the decision to withhold the monthly assessments of the church and school to the Archdiocese starting in March,” read a statement from St. Sabina officials. The statement noted that the assessments amount to around $100,000 per month.


The parish said that they would not use the funds for “ministry, outreach, or any current or future programs,” and would pay the archdiocese in full “at the conclusion of the investigation.” 


The Archdiocese of Chicago did not respond to CNA’s request for comment by press time. 


Since Pfelger stepped aside from ministry, his parish has been outspoken in their support of their pastor. Parish officials have organized press conferences, sold t-shirts, and encouraged their parishioners to contact the archdiocese in support of Pfleger. 


The Faith Community of St. Sabina’s Facebook page on Feb. 24 claimed that the state’s department of children and family services  had already “completed their investigation on Fr. Pfleger with the results unfounded,” and that “The archdiocese has not given us an update as to when Fr. Pfleger can return even though the allegations have been deemed baseless.”


“With all due respect, our request is simple: Reinstate Fr. Michael Pfleger and clear his name. Period,” the post said.


The Archdiocese of Chicago, meanwhile, has said there was a “basic misunderstanding” about the state’s investigation--including that the state had not yet sent a letter to the archdiocese on the outcome of its investigation.


“Our understanding is that the [Department of Children and Family Services] is not directly investigating the veracity of the allegations against Fr. Pfleger,” the archdiocese said in a Feb. 24 letter. 


The Archdiocese said that the state was rather investigating whether there was a “risk of harm” to children. Depending on the contents of the letter the archdiocese said it had yet to receive from state officials, “there may be no conclusion about guilt or innocence in this case."


Regarding its own investigation, “it is difficult to predict how long it will take to reach a final determination,” the archdiocese said, as “much of the process is not within our control.”


“We are convinced that the procedures for dealing with these cases, developed and enhanced over the years, work. They should be followed by all organizations that care for and educate young people,” said the archdiocese. “It is ironic that we are now accused of taking too long to consider allegations because a priest is prominent and well regarded.” 


Pfleger, who is white, has been the pastor at the predominantly African-American parish since 1981. During his time as a priest, he has been known for his social and political activism, supporting gun control and advocating on behalf of the Black community. He has also been a supporter of women’s ordination. 


In his time as pastor, Pfleger has also adopted two boys, and became foster father to a third who was eventually killed in 1997 by crossfire from a gang shooting. 


Since Pfelger took the helm at St. Sabina, the parish has become known for its social activism and unique worship style.

Iowa religious freedom bill sets 'highest standard' for government, backers say

Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- An effort to restore strong religious freedom protections in Iowa has the backing of the state Catholic conference and others who say there should be a high threshold for any state interference with the free exercise of religion.

While the legislation does not mention LGBT issues, LGBT advocates have tried to portray it as harmful and discriminatory.
“We support the bill and have supported similar proposals for several years,” Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told CNA Feb. 26. “Our view is that the bill provides a standard of review for the court when there’s a conflict between the First Amendment’s protection of free exercise of religion and a law.”
“This is not a license for anyone to discriminate. It doesn’t grant anyone any new rights,” Chapman said. “It simply gives people and institutions an argument in court.”
Iowa’s proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, numbered S.F. 436, would allow the government substantially to burden religious exercise only if it can prove that there is a compelling state interest and that this burden is “the least restrictive means of furthering that government interest.”
“What it does is it says that government must be held to the highest standards before it can infringe on a person's free exercise of religion,” Republican Sen. Dennis Guth, the bill sponsor, told KCCI News.
“I want all people in the state of Iowa to be able to live and work according to their free conscience without having ideas being censored,” he said. “During this time of kind of the cancel culture, I think the problem is not so much that people of faith are trying to push their religion on someone else, but that the secular world is trying to force their thoughts on people of faith.”
The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed by Congress and enacted into law in 1993, receiving unanimous bipartisan support in the House and passing the Senate by a vote of 97-3. President Bill Clinton signed the legislation.
The act was supported by leaders in both parties as a response to the 1990 Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith, in which the court upheld the government in a case involving two Native Americans fired after testing positive for peyote, which they argued they had ingested as part of a religious ritual.
The act has played a role in the coronavirus epidemic, with federal courts taking a more sceptical view of public health rules that treat religious gatherings and venues more strictly that similar non-religious activities. The Little Sisters of the Poor have also cited the act in their objections to a federal mandate requiring them to provide employee health coverage of sterilization and contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion, in violation of their religious beliefs.
While the federal legislation attempted to require states to have stronger religious freedom protections, the Supreme Court blocked that section of the law. States which desire to return to a high threshold for government burden on religion must pass their own religious freedom legislation.
Religious Freedom Restoration Acts have passed in about 20 states.
If the Iowa bill becomes law, when a person’s free exercise of religion is burdened by state action, he or she may cite the act as a defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding.
“Under current law, a court is not required to apply heightened scrutiny when reviewing a law that burdens a person’s exercise of religion when such law is generally applicable,” said the bill’s explanation section.
The bill would require courts to apply the “compelling interest” test of Supreme Court precedents like the 1963 ruling Sherbert v. Verner and the 1972 ruling Wisconsin v. Yoder.
While religious freedom had strong support in the U.S. in the late twentieth century, the principle has become contentious with the rise of LGBT advocacy and some abortion rights advocacy.
Stronger anti-discrimination laws and policies protecting sexual orientation or gender identity have been invoked to shut down Catholic adoption agencies that only place children with a mother and a father or to compel people working in the wedding industry, like florists, photographers, and bakers, to provide their services for same-sex ceremonies.
Some Catholic hospitals have come under fire from critics for declining to perform abortions or gender reassignment surgeries. Critics say such refusals constitute discrimination against women or the self-identified transgendered.
The Iowa bill does not mention LGBT concerns or abortion.
However, Damian Thompson of the group Iowa Safe Schools, which claims to represent 10,000 LGBTQ youth across the state, characterized the bill as “anti-LGBTQ.”
“It's very distressing for many of our students,” he told KCCI News, claiming that mental health problems, risk of suicide, and self-harm have been accelerating “because we're seeing problematic pieces of legislation like these ran all the time.”
Mark Kende, a constitutional law professor at Drake Law School, contended that the law “allows for discrimination against an already vulnerable group.” He said people would assert religious freedom “while hurting people who might want something or a service from those individuals.”
Kende told KCCI that some states that passed religious freedom bills faced corporate boycotts that cost states millions of dollars in revenue.
“Iowa can't afford in the middle of the COVID crisis and the economic downturn to be losing all that business,” he said.
Notably, in 2015 then-governor of Indiana Mike Pence faced threats of boycotts from CEOs, celebrities, major sports events, and leaders of some city and state governments over a state religious freedom restoration act that mirrored the federal legislation.
The proposed federal Equality Act has come under criticism for concerns that it would strip religious freedom protections from people and institutions accused of discrimination.
“Instead of respecting differences in beliefs about marriage and sexuality, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” the Iowa Catholic Conference said in Feb. 21 comments about the federal bill.
As CNA has previously reported, various advocacy groups like the ACLU and the Center for American Progress and even some academic centers like Columbia Law School’s Law, Rights and Religion Project are part of a multi-million dollar social and political change patronage network aiming to limit religious freedom protections where thy conflict with LGBT and abortion rights concerns. Major funders of this network include the Ford Foundation, the Proteus Fund, and the Arcus Foundation.

Supreme Court rejects California county’s continued ban on indoor worship

Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a California county’s continued ban on indoor worship services due to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing the praise of a local bishop. 

“I join all Catholics and people of faith in Santa Clara County in expressing our satisfaction in tonight’s U.S. Supreme Court decision,” said Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, in Feb. 26 statement. 

“Banning indoor worship and yet allowing people to gather at airports, personal services establishments, and retail shopping is unconstitutional—and the Supreme Court has said so several times.”

The court ruled by a 6-3 vote on Feb. 26 that Santa Clara County must allow indoor worship services up to 20% capacity effective immediately. The decision affects all parishes, missions and chapels in the Diocese of San Jose. 

Cantú said parishes in the Diocese of San Jose will continue to follow all masking, social distancing, and sanitizing protocols. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will still be in effect, and parishes will continue to offer outdoor and livestream Masses for vulnerable parishioners. 

The court lifted California's ban on indoor religious services in a Feb. 5 unsigned order. The order said the total ban on indoor worship was unconstitutional, and the state of California may limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal. 

Santa Clara County ignored the Feb. 5 injunction, and said indoor worship would continue to be banned until further notice. The county claimed its rules to mitigate coronavirus spread were “fundamentally different” from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order because they treated all indoor gatherings similarly.

The Feb. 26 decision concerned a challenge brought by Gateway City Church and The Spectrum Church in San Jose; The Home Church and Orchard Community Church in Campbell; and Trinity Bible Church in Morgan Hill. The five churches had sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Diocese of San Jose worked with Becket Law to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

Cantú praised the churches for their efforts “to uphold our right to worship in Santa Clara County, as guaranteed by the US Constitution.”

“Let us move forward in hope, continuing all necessary safety precautions and receiving the vaccine when it is our turn as we seek to protect life in our communities,” Cantú said. “Let us pray for all those suffering from the effects of the pandemic and its aftermath.”

House passes COVID relief, pro-life groups warn it funds abortion

Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The House passed a massive COVID relief bill early on Saturday morning, without protections against abortion funding.

After debating the bill on Friday evening and voting on early Saturday morning, the House passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of 2021 by a largely party-line vote of 219 to 212. The bill funds vaccines, testing and tracing, and provides economic relief including stimulus checks to American families.

It does not, however, include prohibitions on funding of abortions, something that pro-life groups—including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—have warned would increase abortion funding.

The Hyde Amendment, enacted into law each year as part of appropriations bills, prohibits funding of elective abortions. “Hyde” language was included in the COVID relief bill that passed Congress last year, the CARES Act, and the bill also included provisions blocking Planned Parenthood affiliates from accessing emergency loans. Planned Parenthood affiliates were still able to apply for, and receive, around $80 million in emergency loans from the CARES Act.

However, the current package includes neither of those pro-life protections. Pro-life groups have warned that global health funding, health insurance subsidies, and funding of the Title X program could go to elective abortions, abortion coverage, and pro-abortion groups.

In his remarks on the House Floor on Friday evening, the co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), called the exclusion of pro-life language “a radical departure from all previous COVID-19 relief laws,” and one which “mandates taxpayer funding of abortion-on-demand."

On Friday, several members unsuccessfully tried to insert Hyde language through an amendment while the bill was considered by the Rules Committee. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) introduced the amendment, which was cosponsored by 206 members.

The amendment sought to prohibit funding of abortion coverage for unemployed persons through the COBRA program, as well as in tax credits for health premiums. It also sought to apply pro-life protections to funding of the Title X family planning program.  

Rodgers and other Republicans tried to insert pro-life amendments to the legislation as it was considered in various House committees, but the amendments were rejected. The measures included redirecting Title X funding to support child suicide prevention, as abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood are expected to once again be eligible for Title X grants during the Biden administration.

Two Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill—Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine).

The American Rescue Plan also mandates a $15-per-hour minimum wage, although that provision is expected to be struck by the Senate Parliamentarian before the chamber considers the legislation.

March for Life president Jeanne Mancini stated on Friday that the bill includes “billions of dollars in subsidies for abortions, not only here in the U.S. but also abroad.”

In his floor remarks, Smith noted that President Biden once supported pro-life protections against abortion funding.

“Mr. Biden once wrote constituents explaining that his support for laws against funding for abortion by saying it would 'protect both the woman and her unborn child,’” Smith noted. 

“Unborn babies, Madame Speaker, need the President of the U.S. and members of Congress to be their friend and advocate, not their adversary,” Smith said.