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‘It’s a trauma for our children’: How the pandemic is impacting foster kids 

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2020 / 04:30 am (CNA).- Foster care is a difficult business in the best of times.

Social workers must ensure that children in need are given loving and safe homes, while trying to help them maintain contact and a relationship with their biological family. Kids have to adjust to new families and new routines while keeping up with schoolwork. Families accepting foster children are routinely monitored and must make adjustments to accommodate the new member of their family, who will be with them for an often unknown period of time.

Now, adding a pandemic - and all of its isolating and social distancing requirements - into the mix has made matters even more difficult.

“It's a trauma for our children who've had a life built and now it's gone,” Martha Holben, who works as the child welfare assistant director for St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing, Michigan, told CNA.

Holben told CNA that for foster children, whose lives are already marked with so much disruption, the routine of school, and seeing friends and teachers they can count on, as well as regularly scheduled meetings with their families, are a big deal.

“And one day that was just all gone,” Holben said. “So we're definitely seeing an increase in some outbursts with kiddos because their schedule is gone, and the people that they've built into their life that they could trust - their principal, their guidance counselor - all of that is gone, and some of them are too young to really understand why.”

Michigan has been one of the harder-hit states in the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with 20,346 confirmed cases and 959 deaths as of April 8. Holben said that while none of her program’s children and families have yet been diagnosed with coronavirus, concerns about spreading the disease have made it very difficult to find new foster families for children in recent weeks.

“We've had a child that we've been searching for placement for a couple of weeks,” she said.

“Luckily right now he's in a place that's willing to keep placement until another placement is able to be located, but because of the risk of COVID-19, prospective foster parents for this child are not willing to take a new placement right now,” Holben added.

While none of the children have tested positive for coronavirus, Holben said that families worry about accepting new children because experts believe that many people are carriers of the virus without ever showing symptoms, and prospective foster families are hesitant to put the rest of their family at risk.

Jennifer Hartwig is the senior program manager of foster care services for Catholic Charities Community Services in Phoenix, Arizona. So far, the state of Arizona has not been as hard hit by coronavirus as states like Louisiana, Illinois, California or New York. As of April 8, there were 2,726 cases in Arizona and 80 deaths.

Hartwig told CNA that their foster care program has changed the way it offers services - basically everything is online for now - “but we are going above and beyond trying to meet the needs of all of our families at this time. So we haven't slowed down,” she said.

Families in the area are also still offering to take children in, even though the threat of coronavirus remains, Hartwig added.

“The response has been wonderful. Families are still stepping up,” she said. “The director of DCS (Department of Child Safety) does weekly updates for all of the providers in the area, and we're still seeing about 20 children a day coming into the system needing homes. So children are still being placed at this time, and the families are stepping up.”

Hartwig compared social workers working with foster children to first responders, and added that while they are doing basically everything virtually, they do have permission from the governor and the DCS to step in and do home visits if there is a suspected crisis.

“As needed, if there's a crisis, we will go in person and if everybody's healthy and asymptomatic, we will do home visits,” Hartwig said.

“The directive from our governor and from the director of the DCS here in Arizona has stated that all visits have to be virtual…(but) safety's number one. That's been the message from everyone, child safety is number one,” she said. “We are, I'd say, right under doctors and nurses, we are still first responders.”

Other support being offered to families at this time include help finding diapers or formula or anything else they might need that could be in short supply in stores at this time Hartwig added.

She said when families have had concerns about possible cases of coronavirus, they’ve asked them screening questions and directed them to medical care. But so far, as of last Friday, none of the children in foster care in the state had tested positive for the virus.

“We have about 14-15,000 children in care in the state and (it has been) reported that there's no child that's been tested positive,” Hartwig said.

Unlike Arizona, New York has been the worst-hit state by coronavirus in the U.S. so far, accounting for 149,316 cases, with 6,268 deaths.

Good Shepherd Services, a foster care agency affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA it has been scrambling to keep up with new federal, state and local guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic has come full force to the city. Good Shepherd Services oversees children in homes with foster families, as well as children in residential programs.

“I mean it certainly has turned our world upside down,” Denise Hinds, the associate executive director of foster care, juvenile justice and supportive housing at Good Shepherd Services, told CNA.

“It just creates a whole new level of stress and anxiety for everyone. From our own staff, to the birth parents who want to see their kids - they're used to seeing their kids every week- so foster parents have to bring the kids in, or they must have phones, and birth parents have to have cell phones, so it's just become quite an issue,” Hinds said.

Like Holben, Hinds also said she was concerned about the effect that closed schools were having on children in foster care. Not only were the closures disruptive to their routines, but the children are also losing access to additional learning and behavioral supports that are available to them at school.

A higher number of children in foster care “have many learning challenges and oftentimes more than the general population...many of our kids who come into residential care are several grade levels behind their peers, because they've moved around so many times before they get to us. So, we're looking at the most vulnerable of the children in New York City, in terms of education, not having all the services they would normally have on a day to day basis,” she said.

The impact of the pandemic on foster care social workers has also been “tremendous”, Hinds said, because they have had to adapt to every-changing guidelines while still trying to meet the needs of children, foster families and biological families.

Initially, she said, they were still allowing family visits on-site at their facilities, but as time has gone on, the program has had to adapt to virtual visits and meetings, unless safety issues are a concern. 

“This is all very new to us and to the families,” Hinds said.

Michelle Yanche, executive director of Good Shepherd Services, told CNA that the program had a “wake-up call” early on in the stages of coronavirus restrictions and shutdowns when, on a Friday night, a foster parent called, looking for a different placement for the child under their care, because the parent was showing symptoms of what was feared to be coronavirus.

The parent’s test for the virus was ultimately negative, and the child was able to be returned to the home, but Yanche said it made her realize that they would immediately need to implement new coronavirus protocols.

“It quickly was a wake up call for us that we need some new systems to be in be able to manage these kinds of potential disruptions in the middle of the night,” she said. Fortunately, she said, those kind of late-night interventions have “not been as needed as we worried that it would be.”

Still, Hinds said they have had to move children around who have been exposed to the virus, but they have been lucky in finding foster homes to send them too. While they’re not onboarding a lot of new families at this time, she said families on their list have stepped up to take in these children despite the risk of the virus.

“So, those are some of the complexities, but we have been very fortunate to be able to continue our intake and support children when needed with our existing vacant foster homes,” she said. “We're continuing to do that as we have been all along. I don't think that has slowed down at all.”

Like leaders at a lot of organizations, Hinds and Yanche are also worried about the long-term financial impacts that a prolonged economic downturn will have on their programs.

Another concern has been providing PPE (personal protective equipment) to staff who either need to do in-home visits to homes that have known cases of or exposure to coronavirus, as well as staff in residential programs with children who may have been exposed and are in quarantine under their care, Hinds added.

“We're doing our best to get a hold of equipment, and we've had some support from Catholic Charities and other organizations, but it is a daily concern because we have 24/7 programming,” she said. “So, we're guarding our N95's (facemasks) like it's gold right now...we want to make sure we can keep our staff safe.”

Holben told CNA that people who want to help foster children, but are unable to open their homes to them, can be helpful through prayer.

“All of our foster parents, regardless of what we're going through or regardless of what they've gone through in any cases, they always need prayers. All of our kiddos need prayers, our biological families need prayers,” she said.

“So I just always like to put a little plug out there when people don't know what they can do for foster kiddos or parents. Just send some positive energy our way so that we can all get through it. Because it's stressful enough without the added COVID-19 stuff.”


'Troubadours' look to inject Chesterton’s joy, humor into a coronavirus-hit country

Wichita, Kan., Apr 9, 2020 / 03:01 am (CNA).- A group of five friends, and scholars of the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton, are launching an online lecture series with the hopes of sparking interest in Chesterton’s work, and infusing joy and humor into a country reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The series, “Tuesdays with the Troubadours”, began April 7 and is put on by the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a lay apostolate.

The presenters will offer a short talk on a topic related to the faith, followed by a panel discussion and a Q&A. Participants can sign up for the free series and receive a link to join via Zoom video conferencing.

William Fahey, president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire, told CNA that he and the other four presenters— The Troubadours— became friends as presenters at the annual Prairie Troubadour Conference, put on by the G.K. Chesterton Society and held in Fort Scott, Kansas, 160 miles east of Wichita.

The goal of the series is to recreate  virtuallythe spirit of that conference.

“I tossed out an idea in an email exchange—almost as a fanciful thought—that all of us should just give an online conference,” Fahey told CNA.

“Everyone moved on the idea was the fruit of friendship.”

Fahey said he hopes the friendship and levity of the group will come across online.

“Joy is of the Christian spirit,” Lahey said, citing the motto of the college he leads, which is taken from St. Paul: caritas congaudet veritati; charity rejoices in the truth.

“Catholics, especially on the cusp of darkness, can get quite melancholy and gloomy. But I think the Catholic to laugh when the chips are down and ride on,” he said.

What is a troubadour, anyway?

Troubadours were medieval poets and storytellers, who went from place to place and often lived a mendicant lifestyle. St. Francis of Assisi in particular is often remembered as a “troubadour of God” for his mendicant lifestyle and joy.

Christopher Check, president of the media apostolate Catholic Answers, told CNA that his presentation, set for April 28, will focus on the importance of storytelling, especially in education.

He pointed out that many students today are fed a steady diet of practically oriented readings, with a decreased emphasis on stories that "capture the imagination and impart a moral truth."

"And yet, when Our Lord wants to impart a truth, what does he do? He tells stories," Check said.

"This is the educational device par excellence: the story. And Our Lord knew it."

Joie de vivre

Chesterton, the inspiration for the series, was born in 1874 and became a prolific writer and staunch Catholic apologist after his conversion to the faith. He is renowned for writing apologetic classics such as “Orthodoxy” and “The Everlasting Man,” as well as for his fictional “Father Brown” series, among many other works.

He died in 1936 and is remembered for his humor and wit.

Check said the virtual conference aims to whet participant's appetites for the writings of Catholic authors like Chesterton, and to be in the company of fellow Catholics “and feel that joy” when the coronavirus outbreak ends.

Joseph Pearce, another presenter and director of book publishing at the Augustine Institute, told CNA that Chesterton's way of seeing the world was and is very Catholic, because a sense of humor, infused with grace, is crucial for evangelization.

Troubadours, in a Catholic sense, have a spirit of joie de vivre that comes from faith in Christ, Pearce said.

Chesterton brought people to God through a hearty cheerfulness and jollity, with a smile on his face, Pearce said.

"Basically, the victory is already won. We, as Christians, understand that God is in charge...we really should be walking around full of that joy, the joie de vivre that comes from the joie de crist, from the joy of Christ. And if that's not present, there's something wrong," Pearce told CNA.

Fostering a troubadour attitude

The spirit of the troubadours has a rambunctiousness about it, Pearce said.

"The whole idea of the format is that the seriousness of the message is nonetheless delivered with 'levitas'— gravity with levity," he explained.

He mentioned a famous Chesterton quote from his book “Orthodoxy”: Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.

"Yes, I want to talk about serious things, while at the same time having that Chestertonian levity," Pearce said.

"That's what we should be aiming at. What Chesterton succeeded in doing so well is something that we disciples of Chesterton should try to emulate," he said.

Lahey recommended that Catholics wishing to foster a “troubadour” attitude within themselves ought to read such authors as Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan— “things that are adventurous; things that make them want to live large and risk.”

Check agreed, also recommending that Catholics tend to their interior spiritual lives during the coronavirus outbreak. He recommended praying the Divine Office at home— “in that prayer, you'll see penitential psalms, but you'll also see psalms of joy,” he said.

He also encouraged Catholics to get a copy of the Mundelein Psalter and say Lauds and Vespers around the kitchen table.

"We're about to enter the Easter Season, where the feasting really just goes on and on and keeps going on, a time of great joy," he noted.

"And all of the Divine Office is going to reflect that joy. So that is a sure recommendation I would make to people."


Catholic non-profit highlights dignity of people with disabilities amid coronavirus

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- Amid limited medical supplies, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability released a statement on the sanctity of life, emphasizing that treatment priority is not based on ableism.

“Every patient is worth treating, but not every medical treatment is worth providing. This determination must be based on an evaluation of the potential success of the treatment, not a value judgment about the person requiring aid,” the NCPD said in a recent statement.

According to the New York Times, COVID-19 has infected over 1.4 million people and resulted in over 80,000 deaths worldwide. Hospitals across the U.S. have reported dangerous shortages of necessary medical supplies, including hospital beds and ventilators, causing doctors to make life-or-death decisions.

The organization said, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, priority of treatment policies and do not resuscitate policies should be based on the medical evidence of a treatment's success.

According to the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, these policies should not be built on “stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”

The priority of treatment must be established with an documentable major organ function criteria, which is applied consistently and without exemptions. The organization said it is permissible to implement DNR policies when the medical treatment is futile and other patients are in need of the same resources.

“For example, a 45- year-old with quadriplegia and respiratory failure is not likely to survive COVID19, despite the family’s desire that ‘everything be done,’” the organization said.

However, the NCPD said this should only be permitted after a review of objective physiological criteria and families are provided with accessible policies including legal appeal and transportation to other medical practitioners.

The NCPD said treatment should not be biased toward a current or anticipated quality of life determining who is more or less valuable to society. The organization emphasized the dignity of the human person present in all people.

“For example, if an adult man with Down syndrome, who has significant cognitive impairment but no major organ deficits, presents with compromised respiratory function due to COVID19, he should not be denied a ventilator based on an ethic that others who can contribute more to society upon recovery are more deserving,” the organization said.

“As a society the concept of solidarity with fellow human beings dictates that any DNR or triage policy must treat each person as a unique irreplaceable human being. This applies to all human beings, including persons with disabilities.”

During the Day for Life Message in July 2013, Pope Francis emphasized the human dignity of people with disabilities. He said all creatures, no matter their vulnerability, are deserving of respect.

“Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect,” said Pope Francis.

Alabama removes disability triage guidelines after HHS complaint

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has resolved a disability rights case with Alabama after the state removed controversial triage guidelines recommending that people with severe intellectual disabilities be denied ventilators in the event of shortages at medical facilities.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said April 8 that it had conducted a compliance review of the state following complaints that its 2010 guidelines for triage care allegedly discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities. Alabama has agreed to remove its ventilator rationing guidelines from state websites, HHS said on Wednesday.

The issue of healthcare rationing plans in different states has raised ethical concerns as the coronavirus pandemic leads to anticipated strain on critical care facilities across the country. 

“It’s about saying that people with intellectual disabilities must be treated the same way, and not be treated as somehow less fit, or less worthy, of having their lives saved, compared to somebody who has greater intellectual abilities,” stated Roger Severino, head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

“That’s what this resolution is about, and that’s a message that we want to convey to other states when they’re putting these [rationing] plans together,” Severino said.

The Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and The Arc of the United States, a community-based disability advocacy organization, both filed a complaint with HHS over Alabama’s 2010 guidelines for triage care in the event of a public health emergency and a lack of sufficient number of ventilators.

Even though Alabama recently issued Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) guidelines on February 28, its 2010 standards—the “Criteria for Mechanical Ventilator Triage Following Proclamation of Mass-Casualty Respiratory Emergency”—were still posted on state websites, HHS said.

Those 2010 guidelines, HHS said, “allegedly allowed for denying ventilator services to individuals based on the presence of intellectual disabilities, including ‘profound mental retardation’ and ‘moderate to severe dementia.’”

For instance, the guidelines stated that “persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support."

HHS also warned that the old guidelines could “be used to impose blunt age categorizations” to discriminate against patients solely on the basis of their age.

The issue of triage care during the pandemic has led advocates for people with disabilities to warn that medical supply shortages could result in the denial of care to patients simply based on a disability or their advanced age.

Advocates for people with disabilities have also filed a complaint with HHS about the state of Washington’s proposed guidance for triage care, saying it would discriminate against people with disabilities and the elderly.

On March 28, HHS OCR issued a bulletin saying that it is enforcing existing laws to protect against discrimination in health care during the pandemic. The laws include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Age Discrimination Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.

“As such, persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age,” HHS said.

After criminal acquittal, Cardinal Pell likely to face several civil suits

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 05:13 pm (CNA).- The High Court of Australia this week overturned Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for five alleged counts of sexual abuse, and despite his release from prison, Pell is likely to face several civil lawsuits from alleged abuse victims and their families.

The High Court on April 7 overturned Pell’s 2018 conviction for alleged abuse of two choir boys. The father of one of the alleged victims in the criminal case— who has since died— is suing the Catholic Church, claiming Pell’s alleged abuse was the reason for his son’s “sudden turmoil” in 1996, according to his lawyer Lisa Flynn.

“We will continue to pursue a civil claim on behalf of our client despite the High Court’s ruling today. He has suffered immensely and maintains George Pell was responsible for his son’s sudden downward spiral after he abused his son as a young choirboy,” Flynn said April 7.

The other alleged victim, referred to in court as Witness J, will not be filing a civil suit, his lawyer told The Guardian.

That complainant said that he and another choir boy were sexually abused by Pell after Sunday Mass while the cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

According to the complainant, Pell exposed himself and forced the two teenage choir boys to commit sex acts upon him, while the cardinal was vested, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. The complainant also said that Pell fondled him in a corridor in 1997.

Pell was convicted in 2018, in the second trial concerning the allegations. The first trial ended in a hung jury.

The cardinal was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he had been required to serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole. Pell would have been eligible for release in October 2022.

Pell, 78, has maintained his innocence.

At least two civil lawsuits against Pell have already been filed.

One, filed during March 2019, was brought by a man who claims that Pell— as well as several nuns— abused him as a boy when a resident at a boy’s home near Melbourne between 1974 and 1978.

The lawsuit names Pell; the trustees of the Sisters of Nazareth, who formerly were responsible for the management of the boy’s home; the state of­ Victoria; and the Archdiocese of Melbourne, The Guardian reports. The alleged victim is seeking damages for psychiatric injury, loss of wages and medical expenses.

A third lawsuit, brought during June 2019, alleges that Pell, as episcopal vicar for education in the Ballarat diocese from 1973 to 1984, knew of an abuser’s crimes and was involved in moving him from school to school.

The suit alleges that the actions of former Christian Brother Edward Dowlan, who is serving jail time after admitting to the abuse of more than twenty boys, were known to Pell and that the cardinal did nothing to protect the victim.

Bishop of Ballarat Paul Bird, Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli, and the Catholic Education Commission are also named in the suit, the Daily Mail reports. 

An Australian royal commission launched in 2013 to investigate institutional responses to child sex abuse cases has led to Pell being questioned several times about what he knew about alleged abuse that took place under his watch. The Guardian reports that the commission’s findings in this area have been heavily redacted due to legal proceedings, but that the redacted findings are expected to be released “in the coming weeks.”

In addition to the civil lawsuits in Australia, Pell is now expected to face a canonical proceeding in Rome, overseen by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Shortly after the High Court announced its decision, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane released a statement on behalf of the Australian bishops' conference saying that the news "will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process."

But, Coleridge said, the result "does not change the Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of sexual abuse."

"The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community," the archbishop said.

Team of young Chicago priests answer the call to anoint COVID-19 patients

Chicago, Ill., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Chicago has assembled a team of 24 priest volunteers— all under age 60, and without pre-existing medical conditions— to administer sacramental anointing of the sick to Catholics with COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Father Matthew O’Donnell, pastor of St. Columbanus Parish on the city’s South Side, has been a part of the team for about three weeks, and told CNA that so far he has anointed two people with COVID-19.

"I know that all of us who are doing this ministry in Chicago right now are doing it because we believe that this is what we're called to do as priests, to be present to people," Fr. O’Donnell told CNA.

"And I think all of us are knowledgeable of the risks, but the importance of the sacrament outweighs that."

The archdiocese is divided into six vicariates, or regions. Within each one, O’Donnell said, the archdiocese wanted to ensure that there were at least four priests available that could handle the vicariate's anointing needs, while also ensuring that no one priest is called to every single COVID-19 patient in his area.

He said pastors can call the archdiocese to let them know about a parishioner with COVID-19, and the archdiocese will then reach out to a member of the volunteer priest team to convey the patient's name, the hospital where they are located, and any other pertinent information.

When he first offered to volunteer, Fr. O’Donnell said he thought it would be a while before he actually got a call to anoint a COVID-19 patient.

In reality, the day after he agreed to volunteer, the priest received his first request.

"Knowing that there's not a lot of young priests that are here, that was what made me want to volunteer. Making sure the priests in my area who might overage, or have other health issues, and I knew I wanted to volunteer for that reason," he said.

"More importantly, knowing how powerful the sacrament of the anointing of the sick can be for individuals and for families, I think as our parishes aren't able to have public liturgies right now, this was a way for me to really minister and to really reach out people and allow the Church to be present to people in what is definitely a moment of great suffering."

At the first hospital he visited for the anointing, Father Matthew said he wore a bodysuit, a gown, gloves, an N95 mask, goggles, a hairnet, and shoe coverings— all provided by the hospital.

Once he had completed the anointing in the patient's room, the hospital walked him through a protocol for taking all the equipment off in a safe and sterile manner.

In addition to the hospital's precautions, O’Donnell said the archdiocese offered training to the priests on the team on how to safely administer the sacrament to COVID-19 patients.

One of the recommended practices was to make sure not to dip their thumbs into the oil twice— so as to avoid contaminating the oil— and instead use a different finger to anoint first the patient's head, and then the hands.

The priests were encouraged to either burn or bury the cotton on which they placed oil, and to disinfect the outside of the oil stock.

O’Donnell said he has been amazed at the gratefulness of the hospital staff, many of whom have expressed gratitude to him for his willingness to come and minister to the patients.

Though the team of young priests is not able to "assemble" in person, O’Donnell said he has been in touch with several of his brother priests and fellow team members.

"I've definitely talked to several of the other guys, some of whom haven't yet gone to anoint someone, and others who have,” he told CNA.

“Every hospital has different protocols in place, and it's been very similar experiences making sure that we have all the protective equipment on.”

In addition to administering anointing, O’Donnell has spoken on the phone with several families of COVID-19 patients.

He pointed out that many of the people suffering from the coronavirus cannot have visitors in their hospital rooms. So for him, as a priest, the fact that he is able to go and visit someone's loved one, and relay to the family information about how their loved one is doing, brings comfort to the families, he said.

A number of hospitals in the Chicago area are not allowing priests to enter areas with confirmed cases of COVID-19 to perform last rites. In those cases, the families are reaching out to O’Donnell by phone, seeking a priest to talk to for spiritual guidance, and to ask for prayers. He has been talking on the phone to two or three families a week, in addition to his own parishioners.

O’Donnell said many of his own parishioners have contacted him, asking him whether he is safeguarding his own health when he goes to administer the anointing.

He said he has been reassuring them that the archdiocese and the hospitals are taking the precautions necessary to keep the priests safe. 

The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.

“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds.

The catechism explains that “as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."


With Supreme Court hearings on hiatus, Catholic groups may face wait for justice

Washington D.C., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- After the coronavirus pandemic forced the Supreme Court to postpone oral arguments in cases scheduled in March and April, several Catholic institutions are waiting on the status of their religious freedom cases.

The timeline for the contraceptive mandate case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, with oral arguments originally scheduled for April 29, is now unclear. After the religious order received a religious exemption from the HHS contraceptive mandate in 2017, the states of Pennsylvania and California sued the government asking that they be stripped of the exemption.

The sisters in 2018 were allowed to intervene in the lawsuit, and in January the Court agreed to hear their case.

“The briefing is almost done,” Mark Rienzi, president of Becket which represents the Little Sisters and other Catholic institutions, said on Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

But, Rienzi said, the briefing is “not fully done” and the case of the nuns is “in the bucket” of cases where justices will have to determine an argument date “as the spring develops”—or even decide the case without in-person oral arguments.

“The justices have said that they will consider their options in light of changing events as things go forward,” Rienzi said.

Supreme Court cases involve several phases, which include the submission of briefs from both sides of a case and of friend-of-the-court briefs by supporters of each side, oral arguments which are normally in-person in the Court’s chamber, and the issuance of written opinions.

With the coronavirus spreading, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommending gatherings of no more than 10 people, the Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would postpone oral arguments in all cases that were scheduled for the month of April.

Would such a delay pose significant harm for religious groups and individuals seeking relief or protection at the Court? Rienzi said that none of the delays in the spring term cases would significantly harm these institutions.

Of the Little Sisters of the Poor, he said that “they run homes for the elderly, so their daily and unwavering focus is, and has always been, taking care of the elderly people who are particularly in danger right now.”

Of course, as the nuns have been litigating their case for almost a decade, they should receive clarity as soon as possible, Rienzi said.

“This, frankly silly, saga has gone on for eight or nine years with, at times, the federal government, and with, at times, state governments pretending that they need nuns in order to give people contraception, which has always been a whacky argument and a bad position for the government to take,” Rienzi said. So far, the order has been shielded from heavy fines by the Supreme Court.

One case where any delay could seriously impact plaintiffs is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the case of Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia which is currently barred by the city from providing foster care adoption referrals.

Even though Catholic Social Services had not turned away same-sex or unmarried couples in adoption referrals, the city, which has a monopoly on the area foster care system, cut its partnership with them in March of 2018 over their religious beliefs on marriage. The city also passed a resolution calling for an investigation of religious foster care agencies after a same-sex couple complained of discrimination by a seperate faith-based agency.

Catholic Social Services is barred from making new placements unless they agree to recommend same-sex couples to adopt children.

Currently, the organization is only serving children they have already placed with foster care families and is on a “wind-down” contract. They have already begun laying off employees, even though there are families who want to adopt children and work with Catholic Social Services.

“That is one where the agency is urgently pushing and does need the help, because the city has cut them off from all new placements,” Rienzi said. “That’s a real, ongoing harm to the agency, that’s a real, ongoing harm to those families who have signed up to do the very noble work of fostering, and it’s also a real, ongoing harm to a bunch of kids whose names we don’t know.”

The Supreme Court agreed in February to hear the case which is now scheduled for the fall 2020 term. Becket’s opening brief in the case is due May 27, and amicus briefs in support of Catholic Social Services are due June 3.

As the briefings are moving forward, “in the ordinary course, we’d expect that case to be argued in October,” Rienzi said, but that timeline could also be affected by the coronavirus.

Several religious freedom cases have already been argued and are fully briefed, so a decision can be expected “any day now,” Rienzi said. “The justices have indicated that they are still continuing proceeding with their decisions.”

One of those is Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue which involves students using state scholarships to attend religious schools.

A trio of cases argued in the fall involves whether or not existing Title VII civil rights protections against sex discrimination also apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. Those cases are Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC.

As with Espinoza, decisions in those cases could be published any day now, Rienzi said.

Two other cases—Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel—involve the “ministerial exception.” The cases focus on whether or not two Catholic schools in California are free to fire religion teachers without adverse action by the courts, due to the “ministerial exception.”

Becket, which represents the schools, says that the courts and government cannot “second-guess” the employment decisions of religious institutions regarding staff members who provide religious instruction to children.  

The cases were scheduled to be argued in March but have been postponed. As with the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, all the briefs have been submitted and thus it is unclear what the timeline will be for these cases, Rienzi said.

“The justices have said that they will consider their options in light of changing events as things go forward,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting to see what happens, and what the Court says is possible.”

Melbourne cathedral vandalized after Cardinal Pell acquittal

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 03:02 pm (CNA).- St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne was vandalized overnight Wednesday, hours after Cardinal George Pell was acquitted by Australia's High Court of a sexual abuse conviction and released from prison.

The door to the cathedral was spray-painted with a cartoon image of a devil, along with the message “ROT IN HELL, PELL.” Other doors were daubed with upside-down crosses and the words “NO JUSTICE,” “PAEDO RAPIST,” and: “The law protects the powerful.” 

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne told Australian media that while he was upset about the vandalism, he was “not entirely surprised.” 

“There remains such strong emotions around all of these matters,” Comensoli told Australian news network 3AW.

Images taken of the cathedral showed police in attendance and that at least some of the graffiti had been covered up with a black trash bag. 


Church officials had covered up this graffiti “Rot in Hell Pell” at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with plastic . But revealed it to allow police investigators to examine it. 6pm #7NewsMelbourne

— NickMcCallum7 (@NickMcCallum7) April 7, 2020  

Seemingly as an act of protest, a tricycle was tied to the fence of the monastery in a Melbourne suburb where Pell spent his first night of freedom after more than 400 days in prison. 

“I think everyone is going to continue to hold their own particular position on all of this,” said Comensoli, adding that he hoped “people in the cooler light of the evening will consider what the High Court judgment said and see that in its legal context.”

The director of the office of the Archbishop of Melbourne told Australian media that security around the cathedral would be increased in the following days to prevent further acts of vandalism. 

Pell was convicted in December 2018 of sexually assaulting two choirboys at the Melbourne Cathedral in 1996. On April 7, the Australian High Court unanimously ruled that the evidence presented during the trial would not have allowed the jury to avoid reasonable doubt and ordered Pell’s acquittal and release after more than 400 days in prison. 

The High Court’s Tuesday decision marked the end of a nearly three-year legal process which began in June 2017, when the cardinal was charged with several counts of sexual assault dating back decades. The majority of these charges were dropped before they could be brought to trial. 

Pell, who was most recently the Archbishop of Sydney prior to leaving Australia in 2014 for a position of Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, has returned to Sydney after his release from prison.

Retired Scripture professor is first priest known to die in Rome of coronavirus

Vatican City, Apr 8, 2020 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Fr. Miguel Ángel Tábet is believed to be the first priest to die of the coronavirus in Rome. Two other priests living in the same residence of Opus Dei in Rome remain hospitalized.

The 78-year-old priest died on April 8 after treatment in the intensive care unit of the Biomedical University of Rome. He was an emeritus professor of Sacred Scripture and the exegetical history at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce.

“A priest who lived by teaching and seeking the Word of God has personally found the Divine Word. Let us pray for him and entrust ourselves to his intercession,” Fr. Luis Navarro, rector of the University of Santa Croce said April 8 of Tábet.

In a letter issued the day before Tábet died, Fr. Navarro asked for prayers for Tábet and two other Santa Croce professors infected with COVID-19.

Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, 82, is being treated in intensive care in the hospital. Carrasco served as the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life from 2010-2016 and was appointed a bishop by Benedict XVI.

“We are praying for a miracle that he might recover since his condition is not good at all,” Fr. Bob Gahl told CNA April 8.

Fr. Rafael Martínez, Vice Rector of Academic Affairs, is also hospitalized, but said to be recovering well.

Gahl said that the others living in the Opus Dei residence in Rome “have been quarantined for nearly two weeks as a precautionary measure, but thankfully none of the others have any significant symptoms.”

Fr. Tábet is remembered by his theology students as a joyful and wise teacher.

Tábet was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1941, and had served as a theology professor at Santa Croce since 1984. He taught the Hebrew language, exegesis, and Biblical hermeneutics, and wrote numerous books in Spanish and Italian on the life of Christ, the early Church, and the Old Testament.

“A very cheerful priest all the time … he would always encourage people that it is good to know the life of Jesus Christ,” Lily Mbayi, a student from Kenya told CNA.

He had a very good sense of humor, Mbayi said, he could make an opportunity to laugh out of anything.

There have been 4,266 coronavirus cases in Lazio, the Italian region in which Rome is located, documented by Italy’s Ministry of Health.

The Vatican reported April 8 that another Holy See employee has contracted COVID-19 after visiting sick relatives in another region before the lockdown and remains outside of Rome. This brings Vatican City’s total to eight coronavirus cases, two of which are currently hospitalized.

Throughout Italy there have been 139,422 COVID-19 cases and 17,669 coronavirus related deaths, as of April 8.

Ninety-six Italian diocesan priests, mostly in northern Italy, have died after contracting COVID-19, according to Avvenire. Among them, Fr. Gioacchino Basile, 60, who died in a hospital in New York on April 4.


Tornado tears roof from Pennsylvania church

CNA Staff, Apr 8, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A Catholic church in the Diocese of Greensburg was among the buildings heavily damaged by a tornado in western Pennsylvania early Wednesday morning. 

Much of the roof of St. Mary of Czestochowa church was blown off during strong winds and heavy rains as a tornado touched down in New Kensington at 1:19 in the morning, according to the National Weather Service. About 15 minutes before the tornado, at 1:06 a.m., the Pittsburgh International Airport recorded winds at 75mph, which is the highest-ever recorded thunderstorm wind gust at that location. 

Fr. Michael Begolly, the pastor of St. Mary’s and its partner parish St. Joseph, said he was “devastated” upon seeing the damaged roof on Wednesday morning. 

Begolly told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he thought the winds “really sounded like a train” and that he was praying for the safety of everyone in New Kensington. 

“And then when I came down here seeing the devastation, it’s just heart-breaking,” he said. 

New Kensington is located about 18 miles northeast of the city of Pittsburgh, in the Diocese of Greensburg. 

An aerial photographs show that nearly half of the church’s roof had been destroyed by the winds. Only the framework of the roof survived. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BREAKING</a>: St Mary of Częstochowa Catholic Church in New Kensington heavily damaged by storms overnight. <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NewsChopper2</a> over the scene showing major roof and steeple damage. Other nearby buildings also damaged from storm. <a href="">@KDKA</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Ian Smith (@ismithKDKA) <a href="">April 8, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“Please pray for parishioners of this New Kensington parish, who suffered devastating news during Holy Week,” tweeted Catholic Accent, a publication of the Diocese of Greensburg, on Wednesday afternoon. “A severe storm early Wednesday morning caused major damage to the roof at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in New Kensington.”

The full extent of the damage is currently unclear. 

St. Mary of Czestochowa was founded in 1892 by a group of Polish immigrants who sought to attend Mass in Polish. With the assistance of a Polish priest in Pittsburgh, who advocated for them to the bishop of Pittsburgh, they founded the Society of Our Lady of Czestochowa that same year. 

Construction on the first church building began in 1893, and the parish received their first pastor in residence that year. The existing building was completed in 1912, and underwent several renovations in the 1970s and 1990s, including the expansion of the parish’s organ. St. Mary of Czestochowa was partnered with St. Joseph Parish in 2008 as part of a restructuring of the Diocese of Greensburg. 

In addition to the damage at St. Mary’s, the storm also damaged an airplane hangar and uprooted numerous trees.