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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.”

Pope Francis says seeing a psychiatrist helped him with anxiety when he was younger

Vatican City, Feb 27, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has said that seeing a psychiatrist in Argentina helped him with anxiety when he was a younger priest in an interview published in an Argentine newspaper Saturday.

The pope spoke with an Argentine journalist about his physical and mental health. In the excerpt of the transcript provided by the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, Pope Francis said that he has developed ways of dealing with moments of anxiety, such as listening to music by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The interview, which took place in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Feb. 16, 2019, was published in Spanish on Feb. 27.

In the conversation, Pope Francis looked back at how therapy aided his struggle with anxiety when he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina.

“Being provincial of the Jesuits, in the terrible days of the dictatorship, in which I had to take people in hiding to get them out of the country and thus save their lives, I had to handle situations that I did not know how to deal with,” Francis said.

During this time, he said that he consulted a psychiatrist once a week for about six months.

“Throughout those six months, she helped me position myself in terms of a way to handle the fears of that time. Imagine what it was like to take a person hidden in the car - only covered by a blanket - and go through three military checkpoints in the Campo de Mayo area. The tension it generated in me was enormous,” Pope Francis said.

“The treatment with the psychiatrist also helped me to locate myself and learn to manage my anxiety and avoid being rushed when making decisions. The decision making process is always complex. And the advice and observations that she gave me was very helpful. ... Her teachings are still very useful to me today.”

Pope Francis said that his anxiety has been “tamed,” compared to what he experienced when he was younger, which he described as “anxious neurosis” and “wanting to do everything now.”

The pope also said that he has learned different ways of dealing with anxieties.

“You have to know how to brake,” he said. “When I am faced with a situation or I have to face a problem that causes me anxiety, I cut it short.”

“I have different methods of doing it. One of them is listening to Bach. It calms me down and helps me analyze problems in a better way. I confess that over the years I have managed to put a barrier to the entrance of anxiety in my spirit. It would be dangerous and harmful for me to make decisions under a state of anxiety,” the pope said.

“It would be equally harmful to make decisions dominated by anguish and sadness. That is why I say that the person must be attentive to neurosis,” he added.

Pope Francis said that he believes that it is also important for priests to have an understanding of psychology for their pastoral ministry.

Since the interview with the pope took place in 2019, restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic have disrupted access to mental health services around the world, according to the World Health Organization, at a time when anxiety and depression are rising.

“I'm convinced that every priest must know human psychology,” Pope Francis said. “There are those who know it from the experience of the years, but the study of psychology is necessary for a priest.”

The pope recalled that reading the book “Be Glad You’re Neurotic” by the American psychiatrist Louis E. Bisch was very interesting and “made me laugh out loud.”

It was not the first time that the pope had revealed his prior experience with seeing a psychiatrist at the age of 42. Pope Francis also discussed it in an interview in 2017 with French sociologist Dominique Wolton.

In the La Nacion interview, Pope Francis also talked about the origin of his lung condition, which was brought on by a flu epidemic when he was a 21-year-old seminarian.

“It was 1957. I was in my second year of seminary ... That winter there had been a strong flu epidemic that affected many of the seminarians. Among them was me. But the truth is that my case evolved in a more torpid way. … Upon viewing the X-rays, the specialist found three cysts in the upper lobe of the right lung. There was also a bilateral pleural effusion that caused me pain and shortness of breath,” he said.

After his recovery from the operation to remove part of the affected lobe, he said that he never felt any limitation in his activities.

Pope Francis said: “As the doctors have explained to me, the right lung expanded and covered the entire ipsilateral hemithorax. And the expansion has been so complete that, if he is not advised of the history, only a first-rate pulmonologist can detect the lack of the excised lobe.”

The article also quoted Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who said that the issue of Bergoglio’s lung came up during the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

“When the figure of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires began to emerge as the new possible pope, they began to move to stop God's plan that was about to come to fruition. Someone who was supporting another “papabile” cardinal, in effect, spread the rumor in Santa Marta that Bergoglio was ill because he was missing a lung,” Maradiaga said according to La Nacion.

“It was at this point that I took courage. I spoke to other cardinals and said, 'OK, I'm going to go ask the archbishop of Buenos Aires if these things are really true. ' When I went to see him, I apologized for the question that I was about to ask him. Cardinal Bergoglio was very surprised, but confirmed that apart from a little sciatica and a small operation on his right lung to remove a cyst when he was young, he did not have any major health problems.”

The final questions in the 2019 interview with the pope related to death. Pope Francis responded that he thinks of death, but is not afraid of it. When asked how he imagines his own death, the pope replied:

“Being a pope, whether in office or emeritus. And in Rome. I am not going back to Argentina.”

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.

St. Dominic entrusted this Marian icon to nuns in Rome 800 years ago

Rome Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Eight hundred years ago, a barefoot St. Dominic carried an icon of the Virgin Mary across Rome to entrust the Marian image to a new community of cloistered nuns, who have safeguarded the icon within the walls of their convent to this day.

The icon, known as the “Advocata,” can be found today in a small chapel on Rome’s highest hill, in the Church of Santa Maria del Rosario on Monte Mario.

As St. Dominic carried the limewood icon on the night of Sunday, February 28, 1221, two cardinals delegated by Pope Honorius III accompanied the founder of the Dominican Order, and 42 nuns followed in procession behind on their way to their new convent. 

In their 800-year history, this Roman Dominican community of sisters has only moved twice: once in the 16th century and once in the 20th century. The nuns have been based at the Monte Mario convent since 1931. 

Today there are eight Dominican nuns in the convent, who participate in Sunday Mass from behind a grille to the left of the altar. Next to them, lies their treasured Marian icon, also behind a grille. Visitors can venerate the icon immediately after Mass.

The convent closed to the public earlier this year after all of the sisters fell ill with COVID-19, but has since reopened following their recovery.

Even from behind the bars of the grille, the icon has a penetrating gaze. The image dates back to at least the 7th century and has been revered over the centuries as having been painted by St. Luke. 

Before 1221, the icon had been kept in the convent of Santa Maria in Tempulo, close to the Appian Way, after having survived the iconoclasm in Constantinople that destroyed the church where it was formerly located.

The location of the icon today, in a small convent atop a steep hill beyond the reach of most tourists, has left it relatively unknown. After arriving at the convent, visitors access the church by passing through two narrow passageways.

Paul Badde, author of “The Face of God: The Rediscovery of the True Face of Jesus,” a book about the relic of Veronica’s veil, describes the relatively unknown Advocata icon as “a reflection of divine hiddenness itself.” 

“It is almost as hidden as the Almighty was in his great saving deeds, from his ‘overshadowing’ of the Mother of God to the birth of his Son in a cave outside Bethlehem. Almost all other icons in Rome are better known,” he commented.

One of the most-visited Marian icons in Rome is the “Salus Populi Romani” in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in the bustling city center. Pope Francis makes a point of visiting the Marian icon upon his return from papal trips.

Benedict XVI prayed before the Advocata icon during a visit to the Monte Mario convent on June 24, 2010.

During his trip to the convent, Benedict XVI told the cloistered Dominican nuns: “Just as the heart circulates the blood and keeps the whole body alive, so your hidden life with Christ in prayer helps to sustain the Church.”

The photograph of Benedict XVI praying before the Madonna Advocata is courtesy of Vatican Media.

How a former heroin addict unearthed a book of Irish martyrs

CNA Staff, Feb 27, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- For Damien Richardson, it just seemed like another job. A man had asked him if he would clear out the house of his late sister in north Dublin. 

Richardson, a waste contractor, set to work. His house clearance method didn’t involve throwing household items into a dumpster. Instead, he would gather the garbage by hand into bags and then carry them to his truck for disposal.

“It was a spring morning. I remember I was in the kitchen. There was lots of rubbish around the place,” he told CNA in an interview. “Just in the corner, I spotted a box of books. There was one book that was right on top of the pile. It was a really old book.”

“I just picked it up and flicked through it. I don’t know why I picked it up like that. I saw an image of St. Oliver Plunkett, one of the most famous Irish martyrs who was martyred at Tyburn in London.”

He put the book to one side and carried on with his work. But that evening, he sat down to have a proper look at the volume. 

“I just could not believe the content that was in it,” he recalled. “The book was compiled in 1896 by an Irish Jesuit priest, Fr. Dennis Murphy. And everything was recorded. It spoke of the Penal Laws, when Cromwell came to Ireland...”

“There were 264 Irish martyrs in the book. Most of them would’ve been bishops and priests. It was eyewitness accounts and it was very, very graphic.”

As he read the stories of extraordinary heroism in the face of persecution, Richardson wondered why he had never heard them before.

“I did know of St. Oliver Plunkett, but not the scale of this persecution that had gone on in Ireland,” he explained. He kept asking himself, “How come Irish people are not talking about these martyrs?”

He began to pray about how he could bring the book to as wide an audience as possible. 

Richardson was born in 1973 and grew up in a supportive family in Dublin, but struggled to find his path in life.

In an interview with “Fireside with Fathers” in January, he described how he drifted apart from his warm, loving father and began taking drugs.

His father prayed tirelessly for him, but Richardson said that he was “dishonest” and “unreliable” at the time, and unable to accept help.

But in August 1996, his father persuaded him to go to Medjugorje, enticing him with brochures of sun-kissed Croatian beaches. 

Richardson, then aged 23, took heroin before he got on the airplane for the week-long stay in the town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared since 1981.

Unable to sleep for the first three days because of the effects of drugs, he wandered around the town “with a lot of dark thoughts in my head.” Eventually, he found a bench by a statue of Mary. He fell asleep briefly, then woke at around 5 a.m.

“I remember waking up. It was a very profound moment,” he said. “The sun was shining on my face. There were little birds chirping. There was this lovely breeze blowing over my head as I awoke. And I felt peace I hadn’t felt since I was a child, this interior peace.”

When Richardson discussed his battle with addiction in his interview with CNA, he emphasized: “I just want to give God glory here.”

He said that after his “mini-conversion” in Medjugorje, he entered the Cenacolo Community, which specializes in helping young people to give up drugs. The community supported him as he left behind his addictions to heroin and methadone, an opiate prescribed by doctors as an alternative to heroin. 

“I joined the community in 2002 and I changed my life,” he said. “I came back to the faith and so did my wife. We’ve been blessed. We have 12 children now, and one foster child. My youngest child was born pretty sick because myself and her mother were on drugs. She’s been a missionary now for the past four years. God is just so good in every way.”

After his recovery, Richardson set up his own waste disposal company, which led him to the martyrs’ book.

While he was wondering about how best to share the work with others, the 2018 World Meeting of Families took place in Dublin.

Richardson was invited to offer his testimony, surrounded by his wife and children, before Pope Francis in Dublin’s Croke Park. (He even received a namecheck in the pope’s address that evening.)

The Richardson family was chosen to represent Europe at the gathering, alongside other families representing Asia, Africa, and the Americas. 

“The other family was from Mosul in Iraq,” he said. They were the family of Fr. Ragheed Ghanni, a Chaldean Catholic priest who was shot dead outside his church in the city in 2007.

“I got to spend the weekend with his mother and father, and sisters,” he said. “It really had a big impact on me, that this guy was martyred just a few years ago. This is real, you know?”  

He felt galvanized by the encounter and approached a friend, Michael Kinsella, national director of Aid to the Church in Need Ireland. With his encouragement, the charity decided to republish the book, with all proceeds going to help persecuted Christians.

Kinsella told CNA that the book had inspired significant donations.  

Describing his friendship with Richardson, he said: “What obviously impressed me in the first instance was his faithfulness, his testimony of overcoming his own -- as it were -- martyrdom, his ‘white martyrdom,’ through recovery from addiction.”

“But it was also his humility in recognizing that the faith that he’d been gifted with had been hard-defended and won through the sacrifice of so many others. And once he was able to make that emotional and spiritual connection, love begets love. He wanted to share that -- and that’s a sure sign of the Holy Spirit.”

“He was most insistent that it was a shared endeavor and that all the proceeds of the book go 100% directly, totally, to the persecuted Church.”

Richardson, now aged 47, believes that the book is particularly resonant in coronavirus times. When he spoke to CNA, public worship remained suspended by the Irish government as a precaution against the spread of the virus.

Describing life under the Penal Laws, he said: “Irish Catholics weren’t allowed to travel five miles from their house. It was forbidden for a Catholic priest to celebrate the Holy Mass. He would go to prison. That’s the same today. And it was forbidden for Irish Catholics to go to Mass.”

Not all the martyrs in the book are priests and bishops.

“There’s even a few pages on Irish Catholics who were sold as slaves when they were harboring priests,” he noted. “The penalty was that the father would get his ears cut off. His property would be confiscated. His wife would be thrown out on the streets and his daughters would be sold as slaves to the West Indies.” 

“There are documents where they’re saying there could possibly be 20,000 young boys and girls sold as slaves just because they wouldn’t renounce the Catholic faith.”

(There is an ongoing academic discussion about the similarities and differences between the penal transportation and indentured servitude of Irish people and chattel slavery.)

As Richardson spoke, it was clear that the initial shock he experienced at the violence inflicted on the martyrs hadn’t worn off. He described how priests were sometimes tied between horses, then killed as the animals were driven in opposite directions. 

He said that the courage Catholics showed before their executions was “unreal” and a mark of supernatural grace.

“They could have stopped this persecution,” he said, “All they had to do was renounce the Catholic faith. And they wouldn’t.”

This makes it even more baffling to him that the martyrs are rarely acknowledged in Ireland today.

“Most people haven’t got a clue about this period in Irish history,” he said.

Kinsella suggested that to preserve this precious national memory, martyrs’ stories should feature not only in history lessons but also in catechesis.

“What made people endure privation, hardship, torture for hundreds of years, in the most poverty-stricken of conditions? What made them do it?” he asked.

“Children have no idea that the very soil upon which we walk was drenched with the blood of people who happened to express faith in Christ.”

Looking back on his discovery of the book in the north Dublin house, Richardson summed it up as “a Holy Spirit moment.”

“God put this in my hands. I really believe that Irish Catholics, the faithful, need to read these stories,” he said.

Courage offers virtual Lenten reflection

Denver Newsroom, Feb 27, 2021 / 03:48 am (CNA).- As pandemic restrictions continue to affect in-person events, a pair of ministries for people with same-sex attraction and their loved ones is hosting a free, virtual Lenten reflection to foster spiritual growth and community. 

The day of reflection, hosted by Courage and Encourage, is at capacity, and registration is closed.

Father Colin Blatchford, Courage assistant director and the event’s speaker, said he is going to focus on the virtue of zeal in light of St. Joseph, to whom Pope Francis has dedicated this year. 

“I’m going to talk about the virtue of zeal, which is the virtue by which we have passion or are consumed in obtaining the object of our love, Christ,” he told CNA. 

“I've been thinking a lot because we've been going through the Litany of St. Joseph, and one of his titles is Zealous for Christ.”

The Lenten Day of Reflection will take place on March 6 via Zoom. This is the second virtual reflection put on by Courage and Encourage. The groups put on a similar event during Advent. 

The event will begin with a prayer to St. Joseph and then continue onto the first reflection with Fr. Blatchford. Afterward, the attendees will break into small groups to discuss their Lenten experiences and their thoughts on the reflection. The priest will then hold a final discussion before closing with an additional prayer to St. Joseph. 

Blatchford said the reflections will not necessarily be academic but will focus on practical ways to encounter the genuine and affirming love of God. He said Joseph is the perfect model for Christian zeal.

He said the event will look at a practical approach to zeal and seek to identify how to pursue God, raise children, and love one’s spouse amidst one’s daily routine and work.

He said Joseph took up God's will with trust and abandon to escape with his family to Egypt and then return back to Nazareth. He said the saint lived out “this weird sort of family life in which the Blessed Mother is his wife, and he's the most chaste spouse and he's also the [foster] father of God.”

The priest reflected on the importance of this event during Lent. While the purpose of Lent is sacrifice, he said, it should not be an experience of self-deprecation, but rather, stripping away the excess to prepare for Easter and the resurrection. 

Courage International is a Catholic group for those who experience same-sex attraction and are seeking to live chaste and faithful lives. 

Encourage is a partner organization that seeks to provide spiritual support for parents, spouses, and other family members of people who have same-sex attractions or identify as LGBT. It emphasizes prayer, formation, charity, and unity. 

Vancouver archbishop asks officials to ease ban on religious services

CNA Staff, Feb 26, 2021 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- As religious services in British Columbia are still shut down by government orders, a Catholic archbishop is asking the government to reconsider and offer religious institutions the same rights as businesses. 

On Feb. 19, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver issued a 19-page statement asking B.C. health officials to grant the Church the same treatment as bars, gyms, and restaurants. 

He asked the government to permit in-person Masses that follow COVID-19 restrictions, such as a 10% capacity limit, masks, social distancing, and other sanitation requirements. 

The archbishop specified that he is asking the government to provide the Church with fair treatment, not preferential treatment. He noted that religious freedom is protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  

“While we respect the measures taken by the government to protect the health of British Columbians, we want to be assured that the orders are being fairly applied to all sectors of the population,” he wrote in a Feb. 24 letter to the diocese. 

“Specifically, we seek to understand why gathering for worship in limited numbers with safety precautions is not allowed, while bars, restaurants, and gyms remain open.”

The ban on worship services was introduced on Nov. 19, 2020. It was extended monthly until officials extended the ban indefinitely on February 5. 

“As a result, our priests have been unable to offer Holy Mass with a congregation, despite the precautions that we had previously taken to combat the spread of COVID-19,” he added. 

“As Easter approaches, I want to assure you that the Archdiocese is taking steps to advocate with the Provincial Government for a safe return to in-person attendance at Mass. It is my ardent hope that we can return from our extended ‘fast’ from the Eucharist and join together to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection this Easter.”

Prior to the ban, Catholic churches in the region followed strict safety measures, such as mask-wearing and hand-sanitizing. The archdiocese had not seen any outbreaks tied to Church services, Miller stressed.

“While there have been no known COVID-19 transmissions or outbreaks within our churches, we continue to see reports of outbreaks at skiing facilities and local businesses that have been permitted to continue in their operations,” he said.

“I have no doubts that the ban on religious gatherings has had a detrimental effect on the spirituality and mental health of Catholics in British Columbia.”

The government has acknowledged the archbishop’s statement and said it would respond “in the near future,” The B.C. Catholic reported.

Amazon faces questions over removal of transgender-critical book

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2021 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Online retailer Amazon is still facing questions several days after it removed a book critiquing the transgender movement. 


Ryan Anderson, who was recently appointed president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), said earlier this week that his 2018 book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” was no longer available for purchase on The book critiques the biological, psychological, and philosophical areas of the transgender debate.


“I first discovered it on Sunday around 3 pm,” Anderson told CNA, adding he is not sure “when exactly it was removed.”


Anderson said that Amazon told him on Tuesday that the book “violates their 'content policy,’” but, he added, “they won't tell us what aspect of the policy it violated.” 


“They won't tell us what passage, what page, what sentence is the offending passage,” Anderson said. 


An Amazon spokesperson told CNA in an email on Friday, “As a bookseller, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints, including books that some customers may find objectionable. That said, we reserve the right not to sell certain content as described in our content guidelines for books, which you can find here. All retailers make decisions about what selection they choose to offer and we do not take selection decisions lightly.”


On a webpage regarding its “Content Guidelines for Books,” Amazon states that if the company removes a title, “we let the author, publisher, or selling partner know and they can appeal our decision.”


Anderson said that Amazon “acknowledged that they did not contact us ahead of time, in violation of their own policy to first contact authors and publishers.”


He warned about the precedent that the de-listing could send. “This means that anyone who's telling the truth that we're created male and female, whether from a faith-based perspective or from a science-based perspective, can be banned on a whim and without explanation,” Anderson said. 


Earlier this week, four Republican senators--Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana, and Josh Hawley of Missouri--sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos inquiring about the company’s removal of Anderson’s book. 


The senators wrote that Amazon has not provided “a sufficient explanation as to how Anderson’s book, which reached the top of two of Amazon's best-seller lists before it was even released in 2018, supposedly violated a vague, undefined ‘offensive content’ standard.”


“When Harry Became Sally prompted important discussions in the national media and among policymakers in 2018, and remains one of the most rigorously researched and compassionately argued books on this subject,” the senators wrote. 


“By removing this book from its marketplaces and services, Amazon has unabashedly wielded its outsized market share to silence an important voice merely for the crime of violating woke groupthink,” they stated.


While Anderson’s book remains unavailable for purchase on Amazon, an ebook called “Let Harry Become Sally: Responding to the Anti-Transgender Moment” remains available on the retail giant’s website. The product description says some of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the National Center for Transgender Equality. 

Anderson said that “When Harry Became Sally” may be purchased directly from its publisher, Encounter Books, “as well as from Barnes and Noble, where it is currently the #2 selling book in America.”

Spain to permit feminist marches, while restricting worship services

Madrid, Spain, Feb 26, 2021 / 03:11 pm (CNA).- While maintaining restrictions on transit, gatherings, and worship services amid the coronavirus pandemic, Spanish authorities will allow marches for International Women’s Day next month.

Various feminist organizations are already calling for demonstrations in various parts of Spain March 8. In Madrid, marches of up to 500 persons have been authorized.

The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, advises against the marches, saying, "there’s no place" for them because "the epidemiological situation would not allow nor make sense to hold these events.”

However, Fernando Simón, director of the Health Emergencies and Alerts Coordination Center of the Spanish government, has been in favor of the feminist events and said that they’re less risky than Holy Week processions.

Simón said,"it’s not the same to be under a litter carried by many people during Holy Week, than to be in a demonstration of 500 where distances can be maintained."

The delegate of the Spanish government in Madrid, José Manuel Franco, told Onda Madrid public radio that the requests for a permit to hold marches they have received in the Spanish capital “have not been prohibited because they maintain the parameters required right now in this pandemic situation.”

In various autonomous regional governments in Spain, restrictions have already been announced for Holy Week celebrations and other celebrations associated with the Church, such as the “Sanfermines” in Navarre, which will not be held this year.

In a statement to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Luis Losada, campaign director for CitizenGO in Latin America, said that "it’s outrageous that (while we have had to) give up the Fallas of Valencia and San Fermin festivals, as well as Holy Week, the feminists insist on their own celebration."

Fr. Juan Manuel Góngora, a Spaniard, said, “these days we are watching with astonishment how in the middle of the pandemic, the Government Delegation in Madrid is going to authorize the 8M demonstrations with ridiculous measures.”

"Allowing these demonstrations is a farce for all of us citizens who are complying with the imposed measures and it constitutes a shameful double standard," Góngora noted.
"At the same time we are already hearing 24/7 that this year we must act as if 'Holy Week does not exist,'" he added.

The priest said that "if on Easter Sunday I go out through the door of the church that I administer holding the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament while the parishioners accompany me duly separated, what authority does (the government) have to impose a fine on me?"

“We Catholics must stop being timid before sectarian rulers, we should act with courage and claim our right to express publicly our faith while respecting sanitary measures, those that truly respond to the requirements of healthcare but which others are using under that guise to restrict freedom,” Góngora said.

Fr. Francisco José Delgado, another Spaniard, charged that "all this time we have been enduring a real ‘demonization’ of Catholic worship, despite the fact that there is no known source of infection associated with worship activities in Spain."

"At the same time, we see how the public events of the state religion, since the March 8 marches are nothing else, are shamelessly promoted by Podemos in the government,” he said.

Delgado said, that “the Ministry of Health advises against these marches, shows this is more about the political confrontation between the political parties in the government than from a real concern for the health of the people, which has been missing in the decisions that have been made since the pandemic started.”

“In our case, as a Church it is difficult to distinguish what part of our self-imposed restrictions belongs to prudence and what part corresponds to posturing before the world. We have to obey, and in most places we won’t have processions, obeying the bishops,” he said.

"But perhaps the task of spiritual reconstruction should be planned that must come after all this, because the world's ideological agenda is not going to back off a millimeter, while we seem to be in retreat," Delgado lamented.

Spain has had more than 3 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, and more than 68,000 deaths. Per 100,000 people, it has had 6,802 cases, and 147 deaths.