Browsing News Entries

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Churches closed in Maryland, not Virginia, after governors’ orders

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore has closed all churches to private prayer and instructed priests to only offer sacraments in cases of “impending death.”

The decision, announced Monday by Archbishop William Lori, is in response to the “Stay-at-Home” directive issued by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan on March 30. 

“Like Governor Hogan, I want to take every precaution and every step necessary to ensure the health of the people we serve,” Archbishop Lori said on Monday.

Under the stay-at-home order, all Marylanders are instructed to remain in their homes and may only leave for certain reasons, such as daily exercise, travelling for medical reasons, going to the grocery store and conducting other “essential” business. 

Churches and other houses of worship are not classified as “essential” by the Maryland order. 

As a result, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that all church buildings and offices in the archdiocese are to close, and priests are to cease the regular distribution of all sacraments, including confessions, until further notice. Until Monday, churches in the Baltimore archdiocese were permitted to open for private prayer, but only to for 10 people or less at a time.

“While no bishop wants to ever close a church to one seeking closeness to God," Lori said, "I pray that in doing so we prevent further suffering, further death and will be closer to the day when we can reopen our church doors to the people we so deeply love and miss.”

In a Facebook post on the official account for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, it was clarified that there would be no sacraments at this time and that priests were not allowed to privately meet with parishioners. 

“No confessions or other sacraments except in cases of impending death. No in-person appointments. All parish offices remain closed as well,” said the archdiocese.

Maryland Catholics are further prohibited from traveling to a nearby diocese that is still offering sacraments. According to Hogan’s website, “No Marylander should be traveling outside of the state unless such travel is absolutely necessary. Those who have traveled outside of the state should self-quarantine for 14 days.”

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., which also has parishes in Maryland, has yet to announce any new measures in response to the governor’s order. The archdiocese did not respond to a request from CNA for comment by the time of posting. 

A similar executive order in neighboring Virginia permits residents to travel to church. 

Places of worship are now listed as an acceptable reason for Virginians to leave their homes during a statewide stay-at-home directive. 

Executive Order Fifty-Five, also issued on Monday, from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, requires that Virginians remain at their homes and to practice social distancing if they do go outside. The Virginia order went into effect on March 30, and has an end date of June 10, although that may be shortened or extended if necessary. 

The executive order lists nine permissible reasons for people to leave their homes, including “Traveling to and from one’s residence, place of worship, or work.” 

However, places of worship are still not permitted to hold services with more than 10 people in attendance.

“All public and private in-person gatherings of more than ten individuals are prohibited. This includes parties, celebrations, religious, or other social events, whether they occur indoor or outdoor,” said Northam in the order. 

Previously, an executive order from Northam did not include churches in a list of essential locations, and any “non-essential” business--including churches--found to have more than 10 people inside would be subject to criminal penalties. 

“Virginians are strongly encouraged to seek alternative means of attending religious services, such as virtually or via “drive-through” worship,” states a webpage of frequently asked questions about Executive Order 53 on the state government website. 

“Places of worship that do conduct in-person services must limit gatherings to 10 people, to comply with the statewide 10-person ban.”

Both of Virginia’s Catholic dioceses have already suspended the public celebration of Mass in response to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and parishes are instructed to allow no more than 10 worshippers in churches at any time. 

Parish buildings largely remain open for private prayer, and some parishes have continued to offer confessions while observing social distancing.

Democratic Unionists lament introduction of elective abortion in N Ireland

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 11:48 am (CNA).- Politicians of the Democratic Unionist Party, the leading pro-life party in Northern Ireland, along with other pro-life leaders, are lamenting that new laws permitting elective abortion in the region came into force Tuesday.

Paul Givan, a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said March 31 that “here in Northern Ireland they have the most extreme, radical, abortion laws anywhere in Europe. It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster called it a “sad day."

Jim Allister, the Traditional Unionist Voice's sole member of the legislative assembly, said: “From today, what should be the safest place for an unborn, namely its mother’s womb, can become on a whim one of the most dangerous places - because we are going now to have utterly unfettered, uncontrolled abortion up to 12 weeks.”

The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 also allow abortions up to 24 weeks “in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or girl, greater than the risk of terminating the pregnancy.”

Abortion access is permitted with no time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment and fatal fetal abnormalities.

Previously, abortion was legally permitted in the region only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Both Lives Matter, a pro-life movement in the region, commented that “tragically, too many abortions happen because sadly women fear life and choose death. It is more important than ever before that those of us who recognise and value both lives in every pregnancy, offer better than abortion. Women and girls deserve access to all the practical, material and emotional services they need to choose life.”

Clare Bailey, the Green Party in Northern Ireland leader, welcomed the new regulation, saying that “access to abortion is a positive move.”

Sinn Féin has supported the liberalization of abortion law.

Northern Ireland's new law allows doctors, registered nurses, and registered midwives to perform abortions.

Though in England, Wales, and Scotland, two medical professionals must certify in all cases that there were lawful grounds for abortion, in Northern Ireland only one medical professional is needed for certification in elective abortions or in cases of immediate necessity where there is a risk to the life of the mother.

The lower threshold in Northern Ireland was adopted at least in part because “it is likely that there will be a more significant number of people raising conscientious objections than in other parts of the UK.”

Consientious objection is allowed for direct participation in abortion, but not for ancillary, administrative, or managerial tasks associated with the procedure, because that “would have consequences on a practical level and would therefore undermine the effective provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland.”

Buffer zones have not been set up around locations where abortions are procured, barring protest in the locations' immediate vicinity. The government has decided to wait and see what the situation will be, keeping the matter under review so it can “respond to any challenges as needed at the time.”

The new framework was adopted to implement Westminster's Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which decriminalized abortion in Northern Ireland and placed a moratorium on abortion-related criminal prosecutions, and obliged the UK government to create legal access to abortion in the region by March 31.

It was passed while the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended, though the legislature resumed meeting in January.

Northern Ireland rejected the Abortion Act 1967, which legalized abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland, and bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

John Hayes, the Conservative MP for South Holland and The Deepings, said ahead of the regulations' introduction that the process was “overriding devolution.”

“It seems likely this will be interpreted as the UK Government imposing its will on a reluctant part of the Kingdom which is doubtless disdainfully regarded by Whitehall’s liberal elite as antediluvian,” he wrote earlier this month.

The amendment to the NI EF Act obliging the government to provide for legal abortion in Northern Ireland was introduced by Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents a London constituency.

In October 2019, the High Court in Belfast had ruled that the region's ban on the abortion of unborn children with fatal abnormalities violated the UK's human rights commitments.

Northern Irish women had been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

African cardinal tests positive for coronavirus as pandemic spreads across the continent

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2020 / 10:28 am (CNA).- Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo of Burkina Faso has tested positive for the coronavirus, his archdiocese announced Tuesday. He is the second cardinal known to have tested positive for the virus, which is now a global pandemic.

Ouédraogo, 75, has been admitted to a medical clinic in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou.  He is “in good condition and his close collaborators are reported to be self-isolating,” a spokesman for Burkina Faso’s bishops’ conference, Fr. Paul Dah, told ACI Africa on March 31.

The cardinal is president of the African continental bishops’ conference, the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). He was elected to the post in July 2019. He has been Archbishop of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso for ten years, and was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2014.

Ouédraogo is the second bishop from Burkina Faso known to have contracted COVID-19, as countries across Africa implement lockdowns and restrictions to slow the spread of the virus across the continent.

Another Burkina Faso bishop, Archbishop Emeritus Séraphin François Rouamba of Koupela, tested positive for COVID-19 after being admitted to Our Lady of Peace clinic for urgent treatment on March 19.

The 78-year-old archbishop has since been transferred to another hospital and is reportedly in stable condition, according to a March 25 statement from Bishop Laurent Birfuore Dabire of Dori, Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso has the largest documented coronavirus outbreak in West Africa, with 249 documented cases as of March 31, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

The coronavirus has spread throughout the African continent to 47 countries, according to the Africa Center for Disease Control. In North Africa, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco each have more than 500 documented cases, and the South African government has reported more than 1,300.

Three Nigerian states began two-week mandatory lockdown this week to combat the spread of the virus, including Lagos, Africa’s most populous city with more than 20 million people.

Zimbabwe and Mauritius have also implemented national shut-downs, and the bishops in South Sudan and Zimbabwe have suspended public Masses.

Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, vicar general of the Diocese of Rome, tested positive for coronavirus on March 30.

Other bishops in Italy, France, China, and the United States have also tested positive for COVID-19, and Bishop Angelo Moreschi, 67, died in the Italian city of Brescia on March 25 after contracting the coronavirus.



Federal judges stop states designating abortion 'non-essential'

CNA Staff, Mar 31, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- Federal judges in Texas, Alabama, and Ohio on Monday halted state rules that would either limit or halt entirely certain abortions during the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal court for the Western District of Texas on Monday granted a temporary injunction against the state’s order designating most abortions in the state as non-essential procedures. Gov. Greg Abbott on March 22 signed an executive order that halted non-essential surgeries and medical procedures in the state, in order to free up resources for hospitals to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Texas state attorney general Ken Paxton clarified later that the order included most abortions as non-essential procedures, allowing only for abortions when the life or health of the mother was deemed to be at risk.

A coalition of abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Lawyering Project, filed a lawsuit against the executive order saying Paxton’s enforcement of the order was a “blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda.”

In two other states, Ohio and Alabama, federal judges stopped from going into effect similar state orders that abortions be stopped as non-essential procedures.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have also sued to block similar orders in Iowa and Oklahoma.

On Monday, Paxton stated that he was “deeply disappointed” at the decision and would be seeking appellate review “to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need.” 

In a brief filed with the Western District Court of Texas on Monday, Abbott argued that the state “faces its worst public health emergency in over a century,” and that the governor’s order would help slow the spread of the coronavirus through unnecessary human contact and free up resources including personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.

“But Plaintiffs—a collection of abortion clinics and one abortionist physician—ask this Court to grant them a special exemption, claiming a right to deplete or endanger precious PPE resources and hospital capacity in the name of providing abortions. They have no right to special treatment,” Paxton argued.

Vatican flags at half-staff in solidarity with coronavirus victims

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2020 / 04:15 am (CNA).- Vatican flags are flying at half-staff on Tuesday in solidarity with the victims of the coronavirus in Italy and worldwide.

“Today, in solidarity with Italy, the Holy See will display flags at half-mast in mourning to express its closeness to the victims of the pandemic in Italy and in the world, to their families, and to all those who generously struggle for its end,” Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni told journalists March 31.

Pope Francis met with the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the Vatican the day prior as the Italian government attempts to confront an outbreak which has led Italy to have the highest number of coronavirus mortalities in the world.

More than 11,500 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy after a total of 101,739 people have been documented by the Italian Ministry of Health as infected with the coronavirus. Throughout the world, more than 37,800 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Italy was the first country outside of China to implement a mandatory lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Conte announced the lockdown on March 9, and has since said that the national quarantine will be extended beyond the original April 3 deadline.

The Italian government has suspended all public religious gatherings, including funerals, throughout the country, and all restaurants, schools, and non-essential businesses remain closed.

Pope Francis also met with the mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi on March 28 at the Vatican. The Holy See did not release any further details about either of the private meetings.

Lazio, the Italian region in which Rome is located, has had 2,914 documented cases of COVID-19, including Rome’s vicar general, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis.

There have been six coronavirus cases connected to Vatican City. The Holy See has tested at least 170 employees for COVID-19, according to the Holy See Press Office, which confirmed that Pope Francis does not have the coronavirus on March 28.

Vatican liturgies for Holy Week and Easter will take place without the presence of people this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will be broadcast live for those quarantined at home.

Pope Francis prays the Church will welcome the homeless during coronavirus

Vatican City, Mar 31, 2020 / 04:14 am (CNA).- Pope Francis prayed Tuesday for all those who do not have homes to go to during the coronavirus pandemic, that people may be aware of this reality and that the Church will welcome them.

“Let us pray today for those who are homeless, at this moment when we are asked to be inside the house,” he said March 31, “so that society will become aware of this reality and help, and the Church welcome them.”

Pope Francis is offering his private morning Masses in the chapel of the Santa Marta guesthouse for all those affected by the coronavirus. Every day he prays for a particular intention related to the viral outbreak before the start of Mass.

In his homily, the pope reflected on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world, which he said is prophesied in the day’s first reading.

“We have to get used to looking at the crucifix in this light, which is the truest, it is the light of redemption,” he said.

In the first reading for March 31, from the Book of Numbers, one sees God’s wrath, Pope Francis explained. Angry at the complaints of the people, God sent serpents which bit the Israelites and many of them died.

The snake is an “image of evil,” Francis said. The people then turn to Moses and repent of their sins, asking him to beg the Lord to take the snakes away.

Moses prayed for the people and God told him to put a bronze snake on a metal rod, and those who look at it will live, the pope recounted.

This might look like idolatry, but it is a prophecy of when Jesus will be raised on the cross for our sins, he explained.

“Jesus lifted up: on the cross. Moses makes a snake and lifts it up. Jesus will be lifted up, like the serpent, to give salvation,” he said.

He noted Jesus’ words to the doctors of the law in the day’s Gospel passage: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own.”

“But the heart of the prophecy is precisely that Jesus made himself [our] sin for us. He did not sin: he became sin,” he explained.

Francis quoted from the first letter of St. Peter: “He carried our sins upon himself.”

“And when we look at the crucifix, we think of the Lord who suffers: all that is true,” the pope said, encouraging people to meditate on the truth that at the moment he was lifted onto the cross, Jesus made himself the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The crucifixion was torture, “but the truth which comes from God is that He came into the world to take our sins upon himself to the point of becoming sin. All sin. Our sins are there,” the pope argued.

“It is not easy to understand this,” he concluded. “Just contemplate it, pray, and give thanks.”