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Dioceses announce staff cuts, but federal aid could help

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As Catholic dioceses and parishes begin to cut staff during the coronavirus pandemic, they could be eligible for unprecedented federal relief to keep their employees on their payrolls.

Bishops across the United States have suspended public liturgies and closed church buildings in response to state-issued public safety policies, and Catholic leaders have warned of an immediate revenue shortfall. Consequences of that shortfall include staff reductions, furloughs, and decreased hours.

The Diocese of Buffalo, which had already declared bankruptcy last year and announced plans for a reorganization, said on March 19 that it was “accelerating” the reorganization process for its Catholic Center. In all, 21 positions are being eliminated and three more positions moved from full-time to part-time staff.

Employees whose positions were eliminated are eligible to apply for unemployment compensation and will have health insurance until the end of April.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh had also begun a process of reorganizing before the coronavirus pandemic. A long-term decline in mass attendance and donations was exacerbated by new clergy sex abuse allegations made in the summer of 2018, and in 2019 the diocese began closing parishes and consolidating others.

On March 26, the diocese warned that “cost-cutting methods, including layoffs at the parish and diocesan level may be needed.” The diocesan newspaper, Pittsburgh Catholic, in continuous publication since 1844, saw all of its positions terminated and operations have been suspended indefinitely. The diocese also started an emergency fund.

Staffers at parishes in Pittsburgh and Trenton, New Jersey, meanwhile, told CNA that they had already been furloughed or laid off.

Riley McCullough, media coordinator for the Catholic Community of Wexford in the diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA she had been furloughed on March 27.

“None of us are the exception to the impacts of this pandemic,” she said. “None of us are the exception to our lives being changed.”

On March 24, the Diocese of Joliet cut wages and hours for diocesan and parish employees, the Joliet Patch reported.

“Precipitating this decision are the anticipated losses in revenue to our parishes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the governmental restrictions undertaken to halt the spread of the disease,” the diocese stated. The action was also taken “to avoid laying off diocesan or parish employees as a result of the crisis,” the diocese stated.

In Boston, blogger Rocco Palmo tweeted on Sunday evening, the archdiocese has advised parishes to make long-term financial plans and that staffing reductions might be necessary, as the archdiocese could only provide them limited and temporary financial relief.

Many parishes are not equipped for online giving and dioceses are already facing hefty financial settlements for clergy sex abuse lawsuits. In the diocese of Pittsburgh, “only about 10% of our parishes are set up for online giving,” stated communications director Jennifer Antkowiak in a March 26 release. 

The diocese set up an emergency fund for the coronavirus crisis, as did other dioceses and archdioceses such as Trenton and Chicago. However, in anticipation of reduced incomes, dioceses and parishes have already begun cutting or furloughing staff.

But as dioceses across the country work to scale back payrolls, one lawyer who works with religious institutions says that new federal policies that could pay for employee leave and provide emergency loans to non-profits, and bishops and pastors should consider their options before making any major staffing decisions.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Eric Kniffin, a partner in the religious institutions practice group at Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, told CNA on Monday. “Congress is essentially bribing businesses and nonprofits to keep people on payroll, making extraordinary, unprecedented offers.”

Kniffin referred to two new laws passed by Congress before members left Washington, D.C. for the next several weeks, in the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18, provides for up to 12 weeks of paid leave. It offers to pay the salary of workers on leave for 12 weeks and pay the employer’s share of health insurance premiums.

The government foots the bill, Kniffin stressed, by providing a tax credit to employers that covers their Medicare tax, their share of the employee’s health insurance premium, and the employee’s pay.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed Congress last Friday and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, makes small business loans available to non-profits at two-and-a-half times their monthly payroll, Kniffin said. 

The loans can turn into grants under certain conditions: if they are used to cover payroll, mortgage or rent, and utility payments, if they are spent within eight weeks of issuance, and if the employer maintains payroll for one year by keeping the same number of employees and not reducing wages by more than 25%.

Even if dioceses and parishes are not able to maintain these conditions over time, there are formulas to determine loan forgiveness, Kniffin said.

Under another provision of the law, taxpayers can make a $300 donation to the charity of their choice and use it as a dollar-for-dollar tax credit on their 2020 taxes.

“These laws are brand new, and so of course it’s important to make sure how they apply to individual organizations,” he said. “But every ministry ought to take a close look at these before they start making big payroll decisions.”

NYC mayor threatens 'permanent' closure of churches defying coronavirus ban

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday, March 27 threatened to “permanently” shut down houses of worship that continue to hold public services in violation of the city’s ban on gatherings of any size. 

The mayor cited a "small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues,” that are continuing to hold religious services despite a prohibition on anyone being within six feet of a person they do not live with. The restrictions were made in an attempt to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has infected thousands of New Yorkers and has killed over 1,000 people in the state. 

De Blasio warned that if these communities were found to be holding religious services, “our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services.” 

The religious congregations would also be subject to other punishments for continued defiance of the stay-at-home order, de Blasio added. This “additional action” that would be taken includes fines, as well as “potentially closing the building permanently.”

Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, which cover all five boroughs of New York City, suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14 and March 16, respectively. New York’s “stay-at-home” order was issued on March 22, and was recently extended through April 15. 

De Blasio’s threat to shut down religious buildings “permanently” provoked criticism from religious liberty experts, his legal authority to do so.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Further, the New York State Constitution states, “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind.” 

"Mayor de Blasio surely didn’t mean what he said, because there’s no way he or any other government official would ever have the power to shut down a church, synagogue, or mosque permanently,” said Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. 

Rienzi said that, given the context, the mayor “appears to be talking about the temporary need to ensure proper social distancing in a time of crisis,” which Rienzi said was a “valid governmental interest.” 

Rienzi called the phrasing of de Blasio’s comments “unfortunate,” and said they were not helping to soothe the fears of religious groups, particularly as those same religious groups are providing emergency relief work to those impacted by COVID-19. 

“Right now, we need religious groups and the government to continue working together to keep everyone as safe as possible,” said Rienzi. “The First Amendment will protect against any needless targeting of religious groups in a time of crisis.”

USCCB domestic justice chairman welcomes coronavirus aid bill

CNA Staff, Mar 30, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development has praised congressional efforts to offset the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City issued a statement in response to the passage Friday of the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), which provides more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus and relief.

“We are in a time of twin crises and united purpose: during the worst global public health crisis in our lifetimes, we are also experiencing what may be the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Coakley said in a statement released March 28.

“Yet, around the world, we are united in common purpose of caring for the sick, pursuing a cure, and lifting the human spirit.”

Coakley highlighted the essential service of people working to keep society safe, healthy, and functioning during the pandemic, singling out supermarket workers and healthcare professionals for special praise, calling them “tireless and inspiring.”

The archbishop also noted the “long hours and late nights” Congress required to reach bipartisan agreement on the CARES stimulus package. At several points, congressional leadership were lock in debate about the act’s provisions, especially $500 billion made available to the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to ensure corporate liquidity, and Democrat demands that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood be eligible for small business relief.

The CARES Act was passed by voice vote in the House of Representatives on Friday and signed into law by President Donald Trump later that day. It had previously passed the Senate on March 25 by a margin of 96-0.

The act authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Coakley noted that while “nothing is perfect,” “given the extraordinary needs of the moment, this $2.2 trillion package is the most expensive single piece of legislation in American history.”

“We are grateful for many provisions that will help the poor and vulnerable, including several provisions that will help employers retain their workers, and provisions that will help the many people who unfortunately have been laid off and will need immediate income when present circumstances make getting a new job much more difficult,” he said Saturday.

“It is good that there will be direct financial assistance to low- and middle-income Americans, and that there will be an infusion of financial resources for hospitals and charitable institutions which will be asked to do more than ever during this crisis.”

But, Coakley said, “there are some areas where aid and relief can improve.”

“We will continue to advocate for those most in need, for food security, for the homeless, for prisoners, for the sick who have large medical bills, for all Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, and for those who have lost friends and loved ones.”

The archbishop particularly expressed his “disappointment” that some aid and relief measures were not extended to undocumented migrants living in the United States, and said that it is “extremely concerning that testing and access to health care coverage was denied to certain immigrants.”

“The health and wellbeing of all in this crisis is threatened if anyone is categorically excluded from getting help,” said Coakley.

Referring to Pope Francis’s homily and Apostolic Benediction, delivered to an empty St. Peter’s square on Friday, Coakley noted the pope’s chosen gospel of the disciples witnessing Christ calm the storm.

“Now is a time of great anxiety and distress. We are less in control than we thought.  This Lent is a time to return ever more to our faith, to trust in the Lord even in the midst of all this trouble. As Pope Francis said, the Lord ‘will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.’”

‘So much of this is out of our control’: Pregnancy amid a pandemic

Denver, Colo., Mar 29, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Sara Sefranek, a Catholic wife and mother living in Parker, Colorado, is 37 weeks pregnant with her fourth child.

While she normally homeschools her other children even when there’s not a global pandemic on, coronavirus restrictions have changed what normal life looks like for everyone.

“It’s not regular homeschooling” right now, she said. “Regular homeschooling means you go out, you see your friends, you do exciting things.”

Sefranek and her family have been doing their best to stay home and maintain social distancing in order to avoid getting the coronavirus, especially so close to her due date. They’ve stopped going to the library, they’ve stopped playdates and book club meetings. Sefranek told CNA her husband leaves the house only to get groceries or other essentials.

But, like most pregnant women, even if Sefranek remains healthy, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery will likely look very different for her than they would have without pandemic restrictions.

“I know the things that were helpful to me when my (other babies) came, like having a meal train and having my mom come over. Now I can't have playdates for my big kids while I'm recovering. I don't even know where people are going to get the meat to make me meal for a meal train. So it is strange,” Sefranek said.

Things “suddenly felt a lot more serious” for Sefranek when her doctor offered to do a telemedicine visit for her 38 week appointment instead of an in-clinic appointment. Normally, at this point in pregnancy, Sefranek would be going in for weekly visits until she delivers. But her doctor told her this time, unless she had serious concerns that something was wrong, it would be best to do the visit over a video call.

Looming large among Sefranek’s worries - what happens if she, or her baby, get coronavirus?

“Recommendations are changing all the time, but right now, if I tested positive, they would want to separate the baby from me at birth, which is pretty scary to me,” she said.

There is also a shortage of coronavirus tests in most places in the U.S. Sefranek wonders what would happen if she showed up to the hospital to deliver, and had a cough or a fever, but could not get tested.

“I feel a little bit like I have to hide in even more of a bubble, because I feel I can't catch anything at all. In a way, I feel I'm more scared of being separated from baby than I am of the virus itself,” Sefranek added, which she admits is “maybe not rational.”

 

A dearth of research on coronavirus and pregnancy

 

Information about pregnancy and coronavirus is scant, as the disease is so new and there has not been enough time for extensive research. 

While pregnant women are not considered immunocompromised in the classic sense of the term, their immune systems are considered “suppressed,” meaning they are more susceptible to illnesses like the flu or coronavirus, and may suffer more severe symptoms and complications than they normally would have, were they not pregnant.

“With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses,” the CDC website states.

The CDC notes that it is still unknown whether mothers infected with coronavirus could pass the illness on to their babies, though it says that so far, no infants born to COVID-19 positive mothers have also tested positive for COVID-19. The virus has also thus far not been found in the amniotic fluid or breast milk of mothers who have tested positive.

There have been a small number of reported complications in pregnancy or delivery in mothers who are COVID-19 positive, though the CDC notes that it is unclear if the complications were related to the infection. Women of childbearing age are also in age categories where coronavirus death rates are not as high as older populations.

Jennifer Murphy is the medical director of the Pregnancy Support Center of Carroll County in Maryland. The pregnancy center helps women in crisis pregnancies or with low incomes with material assistance such as diapers, with medical care such as pregnancy tests or sonograms, and by connecting them with additional resources.

Murphy told CNA that so far, her center has not had any of their clients test positive for coronavirus. As a precaution, they have moved most of their operations to the parking lot, and only bring women into their facility if necessary, and once they have been screened for symptoms.

“You always worry that pregnant women are more susceptible to things than other people. So far, the data doesn't seem to show that,” Murphy said.

“I'm not making light of it, but there's so much in the news that's horrifying, but most people will actually come through this just fine, and there's not so far any evidence that pregnant women do worse than anyone else,” she added.

Murphy said she has been telling her clients to remain calm, to practice good hygiene and quarantine protocols, and to be in close contact with their doctors if they do suspect symptoms of coronavirus.

“It's a lot of quelling of anxiety, a lot of folks who are just very afraid, and understandably,” Murphy said. “But anxiety isn't good for you when you're pregnant either, so we're trying to emphasize positive things they can do quarantine-wise, and keeping their environment clean and calm as much as possible, and trying not to think too far ahead about bad things.”

“Pregnancy is a time of anxiety anyway, especially first time moms,” Murphy added. “And it's hard not to have this add a great burden, but just to try to stay focused on a few good things and taking care of your baby. So just (focus on) keeping yourself safe, and probably not even overexposing yourself to media, because I think that just makes it worse,” she said.

“Be informed, but don't make yourself crazy.”

 

Disrupting birth plans

 

The lack of information on pregnancy and coronavirus worries Anna H., a Catholic in Long Island, New York, where the pandemic has hit the hardest in the U.S. thus far. She is 22 weeks pregnant with her first child.

“It's just the unknown,” Anna told CNA.

“There isn't enough research on how it affects pregnant women, how it affects babies. I know there's a lot of research that says that it probably isn't too bad for the babies, but I also have asthma,” she adds, an underlying condition that could worsen the effects of coronavirus, a respiratory disease.

Anna, who teaches high school theology, said her school has been closed since March 12. She’s been teaching online, which is easier on her body, and she’s less worried about exposure now that she and her husband are working from home. She said she’s also grateful for the stay-at-home order in her state, and hopes the aggressive approach will slow the spread of the virus and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals and doctors.

Already in New York, some overwhelmed hospitals are not allowing pregnant women to bring any support people with them - no spouses, parents, children, friends or doulas.

“I'm pretty nervous about that,” Anna said. She and her husband joke that they would schedule a home birth with a midwife if it came down to him not being allowed at the birth - and Anna knows a Catholic mom in the area who has delivered all five of her children at home.

But she’s hoping it doesn’t have to come to that, and that things will calm down by the time she needs to deliver.

“Right now I feel like we don't need to worry about that too much. We can put it in God's hands for now,” she said.

Baylyn Wagner, who is 28 weeks along and due on June 19th with her third child, has already decided to change her labor and delivery plans in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Initially I thought, ‘Oh, it'll for sure be over and done with by June and we won't have to worry about delivery,’” Wagner, who lives in Minnesota, told CNA.

But then she started hearing reports of hospitals restricting support people for pregnant women to one person, or to no one. Her own hospital emailed her and told her that they would only allow one support person, even though Wagner had been planning on her husband, doula, and birth photographer attending her labor and delivery.

Wagner said her doctor tried to reassure her. Wagner had a late loss in her second pregnancy - she miscarried a little after 21 weeks - and in light of that, Wagner’s doctor said she would do her best to advocate for the hospital to make an exception for Wagner’s husband to be present for the birth of their third child.

“But she said if it gets to ‘full crisis mode,’ those were her words, they absolutely could limit it down because their priority is keeping their staff healthy. I know hospitals are doing what they can, but for us...with the anxiety we already had with this pregnancy, we chose to look into midwives to do a home birth option,” she said.

After talking with four different midwives, Wagner said it sounded to her like a lot of couples were making the same changes.

Wagner said they’ve also changed their contract with their birth photographer to a more tentative plan, that accounts for whether the photographer is sick and cannot come to the birth.

Wagner lives with her grandparents, so she said they will watch her son while she gives birth at home. Her grandfather is also a Catholic deacon, and she said she is considering asking him to baptize her child soon after the birth, in the event that churches are not yet open.

“There's really no way to know right now what things will look like by June, if things will be better, if we'll able to have Masses again by that point, or what the world will look like,” Wagner said.

 

Keeping calm, trusting God


Claire Le, who lives in Littleton, Colorado, is expecting her first child with her husband Huy. The Le’s said they stocked up on food as they saw the pandemic worsening, and since then they have been staying home as much as possible to avoid any exposure.

“My main fear is if I contract the virus, then I would have been in ICU and then my husband can't be there during the delivery,” Claire said. “And then also, if hospital protocols get even worse, there may even be a chance he may not be there. So, right now we're trying to control what we can, and trying to both stay healthy.”

“I think we just constantly remind ourselves that this is not in our control,” Huy added. “I mean, we can pray for a good May 1st due date where everything's just back to normal, but things like that are not really under our control.”

Thinking about postpartum recovery is what makes Claire a little sad, she said. Her family is out in California, and they were planning to come see the baby and help out after the birth. But now, they’re not sure when a visit will be possible.

Huy and Claire are also wondering about the baptism, and if it will be performed privately.

Claire said she has found peace in prayer and offering up the situation to God.

“I know God's been with us from the very beginning, from conception, and he's been with us the whole way. I know we'll be okay,” she said.

Huy said staying connected with loved ones, watching daily Mass on YouTube, and praying together as a couple has been helping them stay calm at this time.

“We went to a chapel which was relatively quiet, that gives us a little bit of a release where we can just go there and with God for a while,” he said.

Anna said she has been trying to balance her worries and anxieties by also counting her blessings.

“I always try to think about what blessings I have at this time: more time with my husband, more time prepare for the baby, more time to rest,” she said. “The fact that I'm not on my feet all the time is really helpful...teaching is physically demanding because you're on your feet so much.”

The time at home has also afforded her more time to pray, Anna said.

“I did a novena to St. Gerard (a patron saint of pregnancy) when we first got pregnant and I just started the other day to do another novena to St. Gerard,” Anna said. “(I’m also) able to live stream daily mass, where normally when I'm a teaching I don't have time for that.”

Wagner said she and her husband have been trying to say a daily rosary in order to stay calm at this time.

“(We’re) especially meditating on what Mary and Joseph went through and their pregnancy and their birth with Jesus, and uniting our own uncertainty to what they experienced,” she said.

She’s also been using Hallow, a Catholic prayer app that leads users through guided meditations similar to the popular Calm app, but based on Scripture readings.

“They've had a whole series of little guided meditations on different ways to cope with isolation and stress through all of this, so that's been a nice tool and prayer as well,” she said.

Sefranek said the pandemic has made her identify more closely with women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, and helped her realize how much of life is out of her control.

“I planned this pregnancy nine months ago,” Sefranek said. “I didn't plan to have a baby in the middle of pandemic...maybe every pregnancy, every birth, in a way, is unplanned.”

“I don't want to diminish the pain and the difficulty of a real crisis pregnancy,” she added. “It just is reminding me of that…(because) so much of this outside of my control.”

Sefranek said she’s been saying a lot of “midnight rosaries” when she wakes up from pregnancy discomfort, and that’s been helping her to feel at peace, though she deeply misses the sacraments. She said she’s also been connecting with loved ones virtually to help ease her anxieties.

She is also paying attention to the small blessings in her life. For example, she said, the other day she found out that she had two extra boxes of sticks for her fertility monitor that she will need to track her cycle once the baby is born. She had previously been worried - panic buying has caused the sticks to be scarce online.

“(It was) a small thing, but maybe God had a plan for me and he used my absent mindedness to give me this small thing right now that could increase my peace,” she said.

“So that was a nice reminder that God can work through the things that feel really frustrating in the moment.”

 

HHS clarifies protections for coronavirus patients with disabilities

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reminding federally-funded health providers that they cannot ration health care based upon the disabilities of patients.

“In this time of emergency, the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently must be guided by the fundamental principles of fairness, equality, and compassion that animate our civil rights laws,” the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) stated in a bulletin on Saturday.

“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,” the bulletin states.

The document outlines existing civil rights protections in health care for people with disabilities, in particular Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These are both in force, HHS said, and they prohibit discrimination on basis of disability in federally-funded health programs.

On a conference call with reporters on Saturday, the HHS OCR director Roger Severino said that “we’re doing everything we can to inform health care providers of their obligations under the law,” and that the bulletin “is the first step.”

He said that his office had received “several” complaints about state crisis standards of care being developed in response to the new coronavirus pandemic. The office was in the process of starting investigations into those complaints he said.

As there are now more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S., states are considering “triage” plans in the event that their hospitals and health care systems are overwhelmed by an expected surge in new coronavirus patients.

Such plans would detail how critical care, such as ICU beds and ventilators, would be rationed in such a crisis. However, advocates are sounding the alarm that the plans could be used to deny care to people with disabilities and the elderly, based upon their supposed likelihood of survival.

Severino on Saturday clarified the existing civil rights protections for people with disabilities, and said that they were grounded in fundamental American principles.

“Part of the greatness of America is not simply our military might or our economic power, but the beauty of our character in how we treat the most vulnerable among us,” he said.

“We are not a society that is guided by some sort of ruthless utilitarianism, but one guided by compassion, justice, and fairness. And those principles are embodied in our civil rights laws.”

Last week, disability rights groups in Washington state said they had filed a complaint with the HHS OCR over a triage plan being developed by state health officials that they said posed a danger to persons with disabilities.

“While discussions about the details of the plan may be evolving, it is clear that it will discriminatorily disadvantage people with disabilities,” the groups’ letter stated, citing guidance by the state’s health department that reportedly “recommends that triage teams consider transferring hospital patients with ‘loss of reserves in energy, physical ability, cognition and general health’ to outpatient or palliative care.”

This week, 30 members of Congress wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr, requesting that they issue guidance to states on the civil rights protections.

Severino said on Saturday that he was “concerned” that state crisis standards of care might be based on “value judgements” and “stereotypes” about the worth of someone’s life.

“This is about fairness, equality, inclusion, and justice under our civil rights laws,” he said.

Religious health providers objecting to state standards of care could also be protected under federal law, Severino said.

For example, a religious hospital might wish to preserve the life of a patient with down syndrome, contrary to state standards of crisis care mandating that ventilators be given to patients with the supposed highest likelihood of survival.

“That could be an issue that could arise that is included in these questions of resource allocation,” Severino said.

EWTN’s Warsaw: Network can be a ‘lifeline’ during pandemic

CNA Staff, Mar 28, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The chairman and CEO of EWTN said Thursday that the media network will remain open and on the air during the coronavirus pandemic. In a March 26 interview, EWTN’s Michael Warsaw said that the organization’s ministry is more urgent than ever.

“I think there's so much anxiety. There's so much fear. People feel untethered. And I think one of the things that EWTN provides is a place that people can turn to ground themselves, to connect themselves with the faith and really to find reassurance that God is there for them in this really difficult time,” Warsaw said on EWTN News Nightly.

Warsaw stressed that although the global pandemic has affected the lives of everyone, including EWTN employees, policies are in place to ensure that news and catechetical output will continue. He said that as the virus spread from the Asia-Pacific region, through Europe - and especially Italy - before arriving in the United States, the global media group adapted to the changing circumstances. 

“Most of our employees are working remotely. And we have essential staff who are still on duty in their posts in Irondale and here in Washington and elsewhere,” Warsaw said. “And we're certainly prepared if we need to do more restrictions.” 

“The bottom line of that is that we will continue to air our channels. We will continue to produce programming, particularly the Mass, news, other key programming that will continue, and we're prepared for that to continue.”

Warsaw stressed that, in addition to its news outlets, EWTN’s pastoral and catechetical content is an important resource for Catholics, and that with shelter-in-place orders active in many parts of the United States and the world, it is vital to serve as a link with the Church and with the wider communion of the faithful.

In response to the coronavirus, all Latin rite dioceses in the United States have suspended public Masses, with many bishops ordering the total closure of church buildings. Bishops have encouraged Catholic to watch livestreamed liturgies, and to use the media of television, radio, and the internet to foster prayer and spiritual communion. In these circumstances, Warsaw said, many Catholics have told him that EWTN’s output serves as a “lifeline.” 

“One of the things that I think we've heard so much about is, with all of the churches closed and the inability of people not just in this country, but globally, really to be able to attend Mass on Sunday, people tying into our Mass and participating remotely in our Mass, has been really a lifeline for many people to the practice of their faith, the ability to watch the Mass on EWTN, both on our linear channels, but also online on EWTN.com,” Warsaw said.

“From its founding, Mother Angelica always wanted EWTN and its audience to be a family. And I think in this time and in this moment we are very much a family for one another,” he added.

During the interview, Warsaw encouraged “three things that our EWTN family can do” together. 

“One is, certainly, pray. We need to pray for one another. Pray for the network, as we pray for them. I think, secondly, share what they have in the gift of EWTN. This is a great opportunity to evangelize. If people are benefiting by EWTN, they need to share that with their friends, share that with their family. That's a very effective way of helping others and evangelizing in this moment.” 

Third, Warsaw said, “keep us between your gas and electric bill, as Mother Angelica would always say.” 

“It's very important that we have the resources to be able to continue our mission and to continue to execute our mission to a much, much larger audience of people that are turning to us at this time.” 

“Financial support is critical for us in this moment as well,” Warsaw said. “And we're always obviously very grateful to our EWTN family for that.”

“So many people have commented how much that has meant to them and how meaningful that has been to them -- to be able to have that opportunity to pray and to know that when they are praying, when they are participating in and watching, that they're doing so with people all over the world who are part of that EWTN family.” 

Warsaw said that, at a time when so many are looking for meaning and answers in the face of a pandemic, EWTN is “really trying to be a resource for people, and to give people hope, and to remind people that in this moment, what's most important is that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ.”

“They're looking for hope and they're looking for answers. And I think them coming to EWTN is a beautiful thing and a way for them to find those answers and to find that hope that they're looking for,” he said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

'A surge of hope': The fight to keep crisis pregnancy centers open

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Facing limited hours and a shortage of supplies, crisis pregnancy centers are working and praying with pregnant women, helping any way they can during the pandemic.

“I think we need to storm the heavens for all the women in crisis pregnancies, because they are in crisis, which means there’s a crisis at home. And if they’re sheltered-in-place, that means they’re in a situation of crisis, and they can’t get out,” said Mathilde Mellon, founder and CEO of Mulier Care – Pregnancy Help Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread quickly in the U.S., with more than 62,000 confirmed cases on Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Businesses and non-profits across the U.S. are closing down or limiting their hours for public safety, and to comply with state and local health mandates.

This means that crisis pregnancy centers are having to operate short-staffed, at a distance, or even close their doors completely in a time when they are concerned abortion rates will go up.

Pregnancy centers are now developing new care plans, providing counseling over the phone or delivering needed supplies such as diapers and baby formula to the women who need them.

The Sisters of Life run their “Visitation Mission” in New York City for expectant mothers, and in the past weeks have been ensuring that women have the diapers, food, cribs, and strollers that they need, said Sister Virginia Joy who directs the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.

A volunteer network has been sending food and gift cards for mothers and families, and women are being helped in their moves to maternity homes in different parts of the country.

Front Royal Pregnancy Center in rural Virginia, 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., is still operating but on an “essentials-only” policy. If women call ahead for material assistance, clinic helpers can bring baby formula or diapers to their door, and the clinic is still accepting phone calls for consultations on a case-by-case basis.

“Last week, we had a huge drop in the number of people who came to us for services,” clinic worker Olivia McDonough told CNA on Monday. The clinic normally serves 25 clients in a week, she said, but had just five clients last week.

In California, the state’s governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order on March 19. Marie Leatherby, executive director of the Sacramento Life Center, said it is “challenging” for the center to maintain its day-to-day operations with the mandate.

“Right now we’re running just kind of with the skeleton staff, mostly doing phone consultations, nurse consultations,” she said, as well as “drive-by baby care packages with diapers or baby baskets for newborns.”

Other centers have had to close their doors, such as Nashville’s Pregnancy Help Center.

“It’s devastating, because Planned Parenthood is still open, and our mayor won’t shut them down, and they’ve been deemed an essential service,” Mathilde Mellon told CNA. “Apparently, their abortions are a critical medical procedure, and it’s horrible.”

Mellon also runs a mobile medical unit, but had to halt its operations as well out of concern for the safety of her staff.

Abortion providers elsewhere have either been allowed to remain open or have done so in defiance of state orders.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York told Buzzfeed News last week that their doors were open.

In Ohio, Planned Parenthood affiliates continued to perform surgical abortions despite the state’s health department curtailing all non-essential or elective surgeries by the evening of March 18. The state’s attorney general wrote Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio’s Cincinnati surgery center on March 20, ordering them to “immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical elective abortions.”

The president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said that Planned Parenthood is “continuing to put abortion and profits before health and safety.”

On Tuesday, Dannenfelser and a coalition of pro-life leaders wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, asking him to urge abortion providers to cease operations and donate their personal protective equipment to hospitals for staff to treat the new coronavirus.

Other states, such as Washington and Massachusetts, have allowed abortions to continue despite canceling other elective surgeries. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has applied the governor’s order to curtail most abortions in the state.

In New York, pro-life advocates frantically called the Respect Life Office saying that abortion clinics in the Bronx were packed with staff and clients, Sister Virginia Joy told CNA— a clear safety hazard in the very epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.

Tennessee Right to Life has been petitioning the state’s governor Bill Lee to shut down abortion facilities but “have not heard back” from the office, Mellon said. Nashville’s mayor John Cooper has been sympathetic to the abortion industry, she said, and “Planned Parenthood has got a stronghold here in Davidson County.”

And the fact that abortion providers remain open in a climate of fear and economic uncertainty is almost certainly bad news, pro-life advocates warn.

“We’re definitely worried about that,” McDonough told CNA. “I think that the economics is always the deciding factor with women considering abortion.”

“There’s just a lot of anxiety and fear, right now,” Leatherby said, noting that the phone calls and consultations at the Sacramento Life Center “just seem to be the abortion-minded in the past two weeks.”

On Monday the center had several callers hang up in the middle of the conversation. “We couldn’t seem to get women to want to talk to us. They just want that abortion, and that’s it, and there’s nothing we can do for them,” Leatherby said. “

In another case, a woman was told by her family that she was being selfish in bringing a child into the world at this time, Sister Virginia Joy said. In this case, pro-lifers need to be “getting them to be able to answer what they most want,” she said. “I think when you get to the bottom of a woman’s heart, what she most desires is to give life to her child.”

Tennessee’s abortion regulations—an “informed consent” provision and a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before having abortions—are still in effect, Mellon said, perhaps helping to reduce the number of abortions for women who are traveling to facilities in the state.

With the new coronavirus has come mass restrictions on businesses, and layoffs of workers have begun. U.S. consumers also began “panic buying” non-perishable items including baby diapers, which affected the supplies of local pregnancy care centers.

Leatherby noted that “the stores are all out of diapers and wipes,” and that several women had called the center looking for supplies as their baby showers had been canceled.

In Front Royal, women who had lost their jobs did request formula or diapers last week, McDonough said, adding that “we’re expecting to see a lot more clients like that over the next few weeks.”

Centers are also concerned about donations coming in. “Our fundraisers are all going by the wayside,” Leatherby said, noting that “anybody that could spare a gift would be really great, because I think that’s going to be a big worry coming up.”

“God is good. He’s taken care of the Life Center for 48 years now,” she said.

Prayers, however, are most needed, pro-life leaders say.

“It’s a supernatural grace that these women have to receive to choose life. It really has to be a work of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Virginia Joy said.

Last week, five women reportedly turned around before entering area abortion clinics even though no sidewalk counselors were present, she said.

They had seen people praying outside the clinic, and “that, kind of gave them a surge of hope,” she said. “They saw it as a sign to reach out for a different sort of help, not abortion, but to actually be able to choose life.”

The present crisis also presents a critical “opportunity” for society to rediscover the human dignity of the most vulnerable, she said.

“This could potentially be a huge moment of conversion, this desire to preserve life in the face of this virus,” she said. “May it be an opportunity to preserve and uphold the dignity of every human life at all stages.”

Brooklyn pastor is first Catholic priest in US known to die of coronavirus

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 10:21 pm (CNA).- A Brooklyn parish announced the death of its pastor, Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, who died of coronavirus at approximately 6 p.m Friday evening. The priest is the first in the U.S. known to have died from the virus.

Journalist Rocco Palmo was the first to report that the priest died from the virus, which is the cause of a global pandemic.

On March 24, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that a priest at St. Brigid’s Parish in Brooklyn, where Ortiz was pastor, had contracted the coronavirus. On the same day, the parish posted on its Facebook page that Ortiz was “under observation in the hospital” and requested prayers “for his speedy recovery.”

On March 27, the parish posted on its Facebook page again:

“With a very sad heart, we inform you of the death of our dearest pastor, Father Jorge Ortiz Garay. We ask for your prayers for his eternal rest. We also ask you in a special way to pray for his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews who have lost a very special and loved person by his family, our community and many people around the country.”

Ortiz was born in Mexico City, and, according to his parish website, “At age 18, he joined the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way. It was through the involvement with this group that he felt his calling for the priesthood.”

He was ordained a priest in 2004 in Newark, and served parishes, along with missions of the Neocatechumenal Way, in New Jersey and New York City. He became pastor at St. Brigid's in 2019.

In addition to his parish and missionary work, Ortiz led Hispanic ministry initiatives in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He is remembered by friends as a fervent evangelist.

The first cleric in the U.S. known to have died of the virus was Deacon John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, who died March 20. Worldwide, more than 60 priests and at least one bishop have died of the virus.

More than 100,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the US, and more than 1,700 have died. In the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic of the virus in the US, more than 600 people have died.

 

Mass. bishop 'suspends' sacramental anointing while rescinding controversial policy

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- After rescinding a controversial policy concerning sacramental anointing of the sick, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts told priests Friday afternoon that anointing of the sick is “suspended” within the Diocese of Springfield.

Earlier this week, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil,” Rozanski told priests in an email March 25.

On Friday afternoon the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy.

In fact, Rozanski emailed Springfield priests Friday afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.” 

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."

According to the Church’s canon law, parish pastors “have the duty and right of administering the anointing of the sick for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral office. For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the priest mentioned above.”

Canon law specifies certain circumstances under which the sacrament is expected to be administered, among them are cases “of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead,” and when a sick person has “at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.”

In his Friday email to priests, Rozanski noted that the diocesan Chrism Mass would be postponed, and told priests that “Should you run out of either the Oil of the Sick or Oil of the Catechumen, you may bless these oils to replenish your stock.”

The Church’s canon law says that bishops and their equivalents in law can bless the oil to be used in anointing of the sick, while other priests may do so “in a case of necessity, but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.”

The Diocese of Springfield did not respond to questions regarding the intended length of Rozanski’s temporary suspension.

The bishop's Friday announcement came as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee issued a memo to U.S. bishops, informing them that “with regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.” That memo seemed to refute the liceity of Rozanski’s March 25 policy.

USCCB liturgy chair: No cell phones for confession, no delegation of sacramental anointing

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- The chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on liturgy wrote to U.S. bishops Friday, to clarify issues related to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick which have arisen during the Church’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford wrote in a March 27 memo to U.S. bishops.

“In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones,” Blair added.

“With regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.

Blair explained to bishops that questions about those matters had been referred to the papal representative in the U.S., apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The nuncio consulted with Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, who returned with the answers supplied by Blair to the bishops, according to the memo.

The memo came as bishops have worked to devise policies for sacramental ministry that respond to the tightening social restrictions imposed by civil authorities to slow the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. bishops have suspended the public celebration of Mass, and restricted the celebration of other sacraments.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City last week suggested that priests might use cell phones to amplify conversations during sacramental confession, if social distancing policies required a distance or barrier between priest and penitent. The archdiocese told priests that cell phones would be permissible for confession if priest and penitent were within eyesight. The archdiocese declined to respond to questions from CNA about this policy.

Priests in other parts of the country have also indicated their use of cell phones during sacramental confession undertaken with social distancing.

On Friday, the Diocese of Springfield, Mass, rescinded a policy that would have permitted nurses to physically anoint with oil Catholics seeking the anointing of the sick, while priests recited the requisite prayers, if the context of a hospital setting prohibited immediate contact between the priest and the ill Catholic.

In his memo, Blair suggested to bishops that “when it is not possible to administer the Sacrament[ of anointing], then what the Apostolic Penitentiary said about the Sacrament of Penance might be applied analogously to the Sacrament of the Sick: ‘Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones.’”

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 1,500 have died, as of Friday.