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Philippine Catholic Church inks documents with nationalist Church for reconciliation, common baptism

Filipino children pray during a March of Saints. / Prayer Warriors of the Holy Souls.

Manila, Philippines, Aug 5, 2021 / 04:02 am (CNA).

Catholic Church leaders in the Philippines signed documents with the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), or Philippine Independent Church, "for more ecumenical cooperation amidst diversity."

In a joint statement signed on Aug. 3, leaders of both churches said that together they "ask and pray for mutual forgiveness for any injuries inflicted in the past."

"We shall strive for the healing and purification of memories among our members," read the statement released on the occasion of the 500th anniversary celebration of the arrival of Christianity in the country.

The IFI formally broke away from Rome and declared itself a nationalist church in 1902 "in the midst of a turbulent period of the Filipinos’ struggle for independence against the colonial rule of Spain and the United States,” the statement said.

The Philippines was under the control of Spain for 300 years until 1898 when the country declared its independence. The United States then ruled the country until 1945.

"The formation of the IFI was not against the Catholic Church, but rather against the continued domination of Spanish bishops and priests in the dioceses and parishes of the colony," read the joint statement signed by leaders of the Philippine Catholic bishops' conference and the IFI bishops.

"As part of a nationalist revolution, the creation of the IFI also signified a 'religious revolution' that appealed to the patriotic sentiments of the populace aspiring for the birth of a nation," it added.

Since the American colonial period up to the present, Christianity in the Philippines has evolved with a variety of traditions, said the church leaders.

The IFI entered into a "Partnership Covenant" with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and became one of the member-churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and the World Council of Churches. 

It has also established concordats of full communion with the Episcopal churches and with several churches in the Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, and with the Church of Sweden. 

The IFI has also accepted women in the ordained ministry of the Church. 

The Catholic Church in the country has also grown with the appointment of numerous Filipino bishops together with the diminishing role of foreign missionaries. Through the years, the Church has opened its doors to ecumenical fellowship with other Christian churches.

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991 has also endorsed the "true value of ecumenism ... in the area of faith, justice, peace and development ... for lay faithful, clergy and religious.”

This week's joint statement also called for “mutual recognition of baptisms” between the IFI and the Catholic Church. The Trinitarian baptismal formula of the IFI has already been recognized by the Catholic Church in its list of validly administered baptisms by other Christian churches.

"We acknowledge this gift of Faith in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed," read the statement.

"We share the same Baptism, using the Trinitarian formula. This sacramental initiation incorporates us all in the one Body of Christ," it added.

"Moreover, both churches manifest a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoking her maternal intercession for all her children to come together and for upholding the dignity of women," read the statement, which was signed by two Episcopalian bishops as witnesses.

The IFI entered into full communion with the Episcopal Church in 1961. In 1980, the Philippine Episcopal Church also affirmed in a signed agreement its mutual recognition of baptism with the Catholic Church.

Through the joint statement, both Churches urged the faithful through local communities in parishes, schools and seminaries "to forge these ecumenical ties of fellowship and common action."

The Church leaders vowed that through “spiritual ecumenism,” they would encourage joint activities in prayer services, such as the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Stations of the Cross during Lent and Holy Week processions and Scripture reading on Easter Sunday and other important feast days. 

"Members of both churches can also join hands in social action ministries such as defending human rights and the dignity of the poor, migrants, women and children, and indigenous people; care for the environment; and peace building," it added. 

The IFI has 47 dioceses, including the Diocese of the Eastern and Western United States and Canada, with an estimated number of eight million members. It is led by a Supreme Bishop similar to a presiding bishop in other denominations. 

The Church is the second-largest single Christian denomination in the Philippines after the Roman Catholic Church, comprising about 6.7 percent of the total population of the country.

Dublin’s Catholic archbishop pays tribute to priest who ‘sacrificed himself to save his secretary’

Fr. Con Cronin. / Courtesy of the Harbour Parishes of Passage West and Monkstown.

Dublin, Ireland, Aug 5, 2021 / 03:00 am (CNA).

The Catholic archbishop of Dublin paid tribute on Wednesday to an Irish priest who died after reportedly pushing his secretary out of the way of an oncoming bus.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell told RTÉ’s News at One on Aug. 4 that the death of Fr. Con Cronin marked a “very sad day.”

“Could I sympathize with Fr. Con Cronin and his family on the tragic death of Fr. Cronin and pay tribute to his bravery, where he sacrificed himself to save his secretary,” he said, noting that he was speaking on the Feast of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests.

Locals said that the 72-year-old priest pushed the woman to safety when a bus veered towards them in Monkstown, a village in County Cork, on Aug. 3.

The bus driver, Mark Wills, 52, also died. The Irish Times reported that he is believed to have lost control of the vehicle after suffering a medical trauma.

Gardaí (Irish police) in Togher, Cork, have issued an appeal for witnesses of the accident, which occurred on the Strand Road at approximately 1:30 p.m.

Bishop Fintan Gavin of Cork and Ross expressed his shock at the death of the priest who served in his diocese as a curate in the Harbour Parishes of Passage West and Monkstown.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go to Fr. Con’s family, his wide circle of friends, parishioners, and his fellow priests in the St. Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan, as well as the priests of the Diocese of Cork and Ross,” he said in an Aug. 3 statement posted on Facebook.

“This tragic accident also leaves another family mourning the loss of a loved one and I extend my prayerful support to his family also.”

“I pray for healing and peace for all who were injured and those who witnessed the accident. I wish to acknowledge the professionalism and kindness of the emergency services who attended the accident scene.”

Gavin continued: “Fr. Con has served in the Harbour Parishes since 2012, establishing a warm rapport both pastorally and personally with all to whom he ministered and all who had contact with him.”

“He will be remembered fondly for his unique sense of humor and his openness to all people. He died on the day when the Gospel reminds us what happened the day Jesus asked Peter to step out of the boat and come to him across the water. Jesus called out to him, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’”

The bishop recalled that the priest was ordained in 1979 and served with the Kiltegan Fathers -- also known as the St. Patrick’s Missionary Society -- in Africa for 25 years before returning to Ireland in 2004.

“His love for his native place and its people -- the Borlin Valley in Bantry Parish -- has never wavered,” Gavin said.

“All who know Fr. Con are grateful for having known him and our diocese is blessed that he ministered among us.”

“We commend both men to the Lord and pray God’s comfort and consolation for all those who are in mourning.”

The Rt. Rev. Paul Colton, the Church of Ireland (Anglican) bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, also expressed his sadness at the priest’s death.

“I send my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Fr. Con Cronin, his parishioners, Bishop Fintan Gavin and the priests and people of the Diocese of Cork and Ross,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

Parishioners held a vigil for the priest and Bus Éireann driver on Aug. 3.

Fr. Sean O’Sullivan, who served alongside Fr. Cronin in the Harbour Parishes, recalled that the priest had often said that gratitude is “the memory of the heart.”

“Despite our shock and our overwhelming sadness for Con, his family, his friends, his Kiltegan family, and our community where he was truly beloved, Con would want us to draw comfort from the wonderful memories we have shared and the joy, the blessings, the love and the comfort he has brought us these past nine years,” O’Sullivan wrote on the parish website.

“Not only did Con become part of our lives but he allowed us to be part of his, with no conditions, no judgments, no reservations. His heart was open to all as was the door to his house.”

“He allowed us to share fully in his life and what a ride it has been! For all you have given us, for all you have done for us, but most especially for being you, thank you, Con.”

​O’ Sullivan said that the priest’s funeral would take place in accordance with COVID-19 restrictions. Government regulations state that only 50 mourners are permitted at funeral services.

​”Our churches will remain open later than usual over the coming days to allow people time to visit the church and to say a prayer for Con,” the priest said.

“Please also remember the driver of the bus, Mark Wills, who also died in the accident and pray that God will comfort his family and surround them with loving support in their devastating loss.”

“So often Con carried us through tragedy. He would want us to rally around and support one another now and to be there for one another.”

“Con, may you return home to God now from the dance of life. May your example of love continue to inspire us. May your unshakeable faith in the love of God strengthen us. Rest in peace, dear friend. Heaven just got a little brighter! We will miss you dearly for you were truly loved!”

New allegations against David Haas prompt top music publisher to sever ties with hymn composer

David Haas in a concert at the Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. / Titopao/wikimedia. CC BY SA 4.0

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 4, 2021 / 21:12 pm (CNA).

A top publisher of hymns will stop publishing works by David Haas after receiving additional allegations of sexual misconduct against the embattled Catholic composer.

“We have suspended our publishing and sponsorship relationship with Mr. Haas and have also removed his music, books, and recordings from our catalog and website,” said a letter from Alec Harris, president of GIA Publications. 

The letter was sent to each diocese in late July. Portions of the letter were made public on August 2. 

Harris said he was “deeply heartbroken” when scores of women accused Haas of varying degrees of sexual misconduct last year.  

“I assume that by now you are aware of the non-profit organization that supports survivors of sexual abuse, Into Account, which recently released a comprehensive investigation and report about these allegations at,” Harris wrote in the letter. 

“Unfortunately, new information has just surfaced reporting continued grooming behaviors by Mr. Haas towards a young woman, which is why we are reaching out to you now with this email to share the actions and position we have taken with regard to Mr. Haas’ music,” he said.

A 21-year-old woman who had attended Haas’ summer camp, Music Ministry Alive!, when she was a teen, reached out to Into Account in June 2021. Haas, who is in his mid-60s, had sent the woman a letter that amounted to grooming behavior. 

“While we understand that Mr. Haas maintains his innocence, we took these actions out of compassion and respect for the dozens of survivors who have come forward,” Harris said in the letter. “We believe Mr. Haas’ music no longer has a place in communities committed to maintaining a safe environment.” 

Haas, a member of the laity, was a mainstay in the "contemporary liturgical music" movement that began in the 1970s, along with composers Marty Haugen, Fr. Michael Joncas, Dan Schutte, and the "St. Louis Jesuits" group.

Among Haas' more popular songs are, "Glory to God," "You are Mine," "We are Called," and "Blest are They," among many others.

At least two dioceses--the Diocese of Oakland and the Diocese of Jefferson City--announced that they would be permanently suspending the use of Haas’ music at their parishes as a result of the new letter. 

On June 13, 2020, GIA Publications announced that they had dropped Haas in January after receiving accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. 

"Early this year we became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by David Haas, and we learned the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis was considering a decision not to provide him a letter of suitability," GIA Publications said in a June 13, 2020 post on Facebook. 

Haas resides in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

"In response, we suspended our sponsorship and publishing relationship with Mr. Haas, and have not sponsored his work since late January," they said at the time. 

Following the publication of a report by Into Account, the suspension has now been made permanent. 

Following the initial accusations, nearly half of the dioceses in the United States urged parishes to stop playing his music during Mass and at other events, at least until an investigation into his conduct had concluded.

Months after China detains Xinxiang's Bishop Zhang, Catholics seek answers

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, meets with Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, in Munich, Feb. 14, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Xinxiang, China, Aug 4, 2021 / 19:01 pm (CNA).

Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu’s whereabouts are still unknown months after Chinese officials detained him with clergy and seminarians who object to joining the Chinese government’s official Catholic organization.

Bishop Zhang, 63, has been Bishop of Xinxiang in China’s Hebei province since 1991. He is recognized by the Holy See but not the Chinese government. There are some 100,000 Catholics in his diocese, UCA News reports.

Some 100 policemen took part in May 20-21 operations against the bishop and other clergy who refuse to follow China’s new regulations allowing religious activities only in organizations registered with and controlled by the government.

One raid targeted the seminary in Cangzhou, hosted in a small factory building owned by a Catholic. Police reportedly arrested ten priests, including professors and those involved in pastoral work, and ten seminarians. Three students escaped from the seminary raid but were later arrested. 

The seminarians were released to their families but forbidden to continue their theology studies. 

Both the bishop and the clergy were put through political education sessions. Though the clergy were later released, the fate of Bishop Zhang is unclear.

China’s new rules governing religion took effect in May, according to UCA News. Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the state-backed Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Clergy must support the leadership of the Communist Party and must regularly seek recertification to continue their pastoral work. Clergy may run religious activities, including seminaries, only in government-registered and government-controlled institutions

Previously, Bishop Zhang has been arrested and released several times for allegedly violating Chinese law. He has been barred from overseeing his diocese’s finances and resources. In 2010, the government appointed an administrator to oversee the diocese and to report to state authorities.

Authorities have also shut down Catholic schools and kindergartens in Xinxiang in the last year because of a ban on education by religious groups.

Bishop Zhang’s diocese was created before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of china. It was never recognized by the state-aligned bishops’ conference and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, UCA News reports.

A July 22 report in the publication Bitter Winter analyzed the arrests in the context of conscientious objection.

“The Vatican does not encourage in any way conscientious objection, but it has repeatedly stated that conscientious objectors remain Catholics in good standing, and it hopes they may be treated ‘with respect’ by the Chinese authorities,” said the report. “Instead, they are sent to jail.”

Bitter Winter is a publication of the Turin-based Center for Studies on New Religions that focuses on religious freedom and human rights, both in China and around the world. The report on China was authored by Wu Xiuying, who uses a pseudonym “for security reasons.”

Conscientious objection has become a significant phenomenon, the report said, quoting an unnamed priest in Henan province who said, “We do not see any positive result of the Vatican agreement.”

“We pray for the Pope every day, but believe he has received false information about China. We will not join the Patriotic Association,” said the priest.

In the view of the Bitter Winter report, the recent events were motivated by officials’ belief that manifestations of religious dissent should disappear amid preparations for the July 1 centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.

A July 15 report from Asia News, a publication of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, said the bishop’s arrest is “a further demonstration that the agreement between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops has not changed the past dynamics, with the Chinese Communist Party continuing to tightly control the activities of religious personnel.”

Asia News said the Catholic faithful have circulated a prayer to God for Bishop Zhang. It reads, in part: “We pray that you will give him the strength and courage to face the difficulties encountered during his ministry; we pray that you will give him physical and inner peace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who is God, and lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.”

Bishop Zhang’s cause has global support.

In June, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French bishops’ conference, voiced “deep concern” about the arrests of Bishop Zhang, the other clergy, and the seminarians. 

The archbishop sent “the fraternal greetings of the Catholics of France” to Bishop Zhang and the other detainees, calling the imprisonment “a particularly harsh and unjust test,” UCA News reports.

Katharina Wenzel-Teuber, editor of the Germany-based church-run publication China Today, said communist authorities previously tolerated clergy who were not officially recognized by the government, but authorities are increasingly cracking down.

“Since the new decree came into force on May 1, priests who were members of the Chinese underground church are under great pressure to register with the official, state-recognized patriotic church,” she told the German Catholic news agency KNA. 

In October 2020, the Vatican and China renewed their provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops for another two years. 

On July 28 Anthony Li Hui became the fifth bishop to be consecrated under the 2018 Vatican-China deal. Pope Francis had named him coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Pingliang in north-central China, whose wider metro population numbers over 2 million people.

Bishop Li, 49, is the former secretary of the state-sanctioned Chinese bishops’ conference.

Critics of the agreement argue that it represents a betrayal of “underground” Catholics who have remained loyal to the pope despite persecution. They claim the agreement has prevented the Vatican from denouncing flagrant human rights abuses in China.

In an Oct. 3 speech in Milan, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin defended the agreement as “only a starting point” for better relations. He said critics have misunderstood it and attribute incorrect objectives to it. The agreement “concerns exclusively the appointment of bishops.” Acknowledging many other problems facing the more than 10 million Catholics in the country, he said “it has not been possible to address them all together and we know that the road to full normalization will still be a long one, as Benedict XVI predicted in 2007.”

 An agreement on appointments was vital to avert further illicit episcopal consecrations, the cardinal said, explaining that the Vatican decided "to confront and resolve this delicate problem once and for all." 

 The pastoral goal, he continued, was "to help the local Churches to enjoy conditions of greater freedom, autonomy and organization, so that they can dedicate themselves to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and contributing to the integral development of the person and society."

Cuban religious report detainees held without trial after protests

The Cuban flag. / Steward Cutler via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Havana, Cuba, Aug 4, 2021 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

The board of directors of the Cuban Conference of Men and Women Religious reported Tuesday that following the July 11 protests of the island’s communist government “there are still detainees awaiting trial, under investigation and others punished with very severe penalties."

The conference has been offering legal advice to detainees and spiritual and psychological support for their families members in the wake of the crackdown by Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel.  

Protests took place across Cuba July 11-12. Protesters cited concerns about inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Some protesters were beaten, and hundreds were arrested.

CONCUR called for "the cases to be dismissed of people who were exercising their constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate (which is protected in Article 56 of the Constitution)."

In addition, the conference called for "compliance with the law, the rules of due process and consideration for the age and social background of the participants in the events."

The organization of religious also stressed it is important that “in cases where the existence of crimes is proven, not applying the maximum sentence allowed by law and imposing penalties other than imprisonment where provided for by the Penal Code.”

Communist rule in Cuba was established soon after the conclusion of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, which ousted the authoritarian ruler Fulgencio Batista.

Sydney McLaughlin wins gold and her Catholic high school goes wild

Sister Percylee Hart RSM, principal of Union Catholic Regional High School in New Jersey, sits in front a crowd of students, staff, and alumni as the crowd cheers on Sydney McLaughlin in her Gold medal race at the Tokyo Olympics. / Jim Lambert

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Students and staff at Union Catholic Regional High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey cheered on Tuesday night as alumna sprinter Sydney McLaughlin broke her own world record at the Tokyo Olympics en route to a gold medal.

“The energy that filled the room when she crossed the finish line was electric,” the school’s English teacher Kathleen Sagendorf told CNA on Wednesday. “It just made you so proud to be a part of the UC community and to be an American.”

McLaughlin graduated Union Catholic in 2017, and her three siblings have also attended the school.

Members of the public joined the school community on Tuesday at a watch party for McLaughlin at a local tavern. They formed a crowd almost 1,000 strong, ecstatically screaming during the live broadcast of McLaughlin winning gold in the 400-meter hurdle race. 

“It was a great big mix of students, alums, faculty, staff, parents of students, and members of the community,” Jim Lambert, the school’s information director, told CNA. 

McLaughlin, 21, of Dunellen, New Jersey, competed in the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro while still in high school. She set the world record twice in her Tokyo performances: once during the Olympic trials, and again in her Aug. 3 gold medal run, with a time of 51.46 seconds.

McLaughlin is not Catholic, but has been outspoken on her social media account about her faith in Jesus Christ. After her first time breaking the world record on June 28, McLaughlin posted an instagram photo of herself with the caption, “The face of a woman who is in awe of God.”

“The goal of my life is to glorify [God] in everything that I do, and to be more like him every single day when I wake up,” McLaughin said in an Instagram video she posted online earlier this year. 

Sagendorf, who taught Sydney while she was a freshman and sophomore at the school, said McLaughlin was a great student and attested to her mental strength. “I always knew if it was the day before a big race in school because you could see she was mentally preparing,” she said. 

McLaughlin’s Humanities teacher, Tim Breza, told CNA that watching his former student run for gold in the Olympics was “surreal.”

“I can remember doing something very similar for her in our gym when she was in Rio and even though she did not reach the final I think everyone knew this was only the beginning,” he said. “Fast forward to 2021, a much different world, but the same talented Syd fulfilled that Golden dream!”

Breza said that whether McLaughlin is wearing the jersey of her country or her school, she always represents herself, her family, her friends, and God with grace. 

Lambert, previously a track and field reporter for the Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey, told CNA that he covered McLaughlin’s track career. 

“I’ve known Sydney and her family for 10 years and have covered her track and field career since she was 13, so to watch her reach the pinnacle of her sport by winning the Olympic gold in electrifying, heart-pounding, and world record fashion was extremely exciting and gratifying,” he told CNA.

Lambert told CNA that watching McLaughlin win gold was the “greatest moment” of his professional career, “and a moment she has seemed destined for since she was a young prodigy.”

Sister Percylee Hart RSM, the school’s principal, told CNA in an Aug. 2 interview that humility is one of McLaughlin’s most outstanding qualities. Even after she burst onto the international track and field scene, Hart said, she wanted to be treated like an ordinary student, not an Olympian. 

McLaughlin and her family are not Catholic, yet they chose Union Catholic based on its mission “which was compatible with their mission as a family,” Hart explained. McLaughlin graduated in 2017 and her three siblings have also attended the school.

Hart said that McLaughlin is spreading “the good news of salvation” by being so open about her faith.

St. Augustine diocese reverses mask mandate at Catholic schools


Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Masks will now be optional at Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine this upcoming school year, as the diocese on July 30 scrapped its mask mandate due to a state order.

A July 30 letter from Deacon Scott Conway, the superintendent of schools for the diocese, stated that Gov. Ron Desantis’ (R) Executive Order (21-175) Ensuring the Parents’ Freedom to Choose -- Masks In Schools “gives some clear guidance to schools about students and masks.”

“After careful review of the Executive Order and consultation with our advisors, the bishop has approved the following update to our policies for the schools of the Diocese of St. Augustine,” he continued. 

Masks, said Conway, would be optional for students but still “[h]ighly recommended during this time of high COVID positivity rate.” All visitors to the district’s schools will be required to wear masks. Vaccinations will still be optional but “highly encouraged,” said Conway, adding that any cases of COVID-19 at schools would be reported to both Florida health authorities as well as to families of students. 

“As I said in my most recent letter, let us continue to pray for one another and for the end of this pandemic,” said Conway. 

Previously, the diocese was set to mandate masks at school “only because of the very high positivity rate that is happening within the counties of our diocese.” Some of the counties in the diocese’s territory are reporting positivity rates as high as 28%. 

Conway said that the diocese has been “working around the clock” for a safe opening to school, and one that also complies with Florida law. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has been opposed to mask mandates for children over the past several months. He was among the first governors to relax COVID-19 restrictions. 

"The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day," DeSantis said in a statement after signing the executive order. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control now recommends universal indoor masking at K-12 schools, regardless of the vaccination status of teachers, staff, students, and visitors.

"Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children," DeSantis said. 

The World Health Organization advises that children between the ages of six and 11 should wear masks only in certain circumstances. Such a masking policy should be based on several factors, including the scope of community virus transmission, adult supervision, and the “[p]otential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development, in consultation with teachers, parents/caregivers and/or medical providers.”

The WHO says that children age 12 and over, who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, should be subject to the same masking requirements as adults.

Archbishop Lori: St John Vianney, Bl Michael McGivney were both 'exemplary pastors of souls'

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore delivers a homily during a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Md., May 31, 2021. / © 2021 Catholic Review Media. Photo: Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Hartford, Conn., Aug 4, 2021 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, on Wednesday highlighted the similarities between St. John Vianney and Blessed Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights. 

He made the comparison during his homily at a Mass concluding the fraternal organization’s annual convention Aug. 4.

The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, has over 2 million members in 16,000 councils worldwide. The order was founded in 1882 by McGivney, a Connecticut parish priest. Initially, the organization was intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands. 

The feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, is celebrated Aug. 4 in the ordinary form of the Roman rite. Vianney’s pastoral care, especially his willingness to spend hours each day in the confessional, ultimately meant his parish was thriving by the time he died, Archbishop Lori noted. 

Fr. McGivney was beatified Oct. 31 last year, with Pope Francis praising his “zeal for the proclamation of the Gospel” which “made him an outstanding witness of Christian solidarity and fraternal assistance.”

McGivney and Vianney’s lifetimes overlapped by seven years, and both were “exemplary pastors of souls.” The “Good Shepherd’s heart” filled both these men, Archbishop Lori said; they felt the suffering of their people, and helped to turn their minds and hearts from sin and error. 

This kind of authentic charity and mercy are to be the hallmarks of all our lives, Archbishop Lori said, saying the Lord is asking all Knights to practice “a charity that rooted in the person of Christ that it leads many into the heart of the Gospel.”

Archbishop Lori’s celebration of the Mass concludes the Knights’ 139th annual convention, held at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where Blessed McGivney is buried. The Knights normally convene in-person each year, but 2021 marks the second year in a row that the meeting has been held virtually.

In the past year, the Knights have provided more than $150 million in donations and more than 47 million hours of hands-on volunteer service, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said Aug. 3. 

Some notable charitable projects include support for Special Olympics, scholarships for seminarians, and funds to rebuild churches in the Middle East and other aid for persecuted Christians both there and in countries like Nigeria. 

Kelly announced that the Knights are and will continue to be major sponsors of the US bishops’ planned Eucharistic revival, set to take place over the next few years.

New sex abuse lawsuit names Theodore McCarrick, Fr. Michael Barrett

Screenshot of Jeff Anderson & Associates press conference. / Jeff Anderson & Associates

Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 14:06 pm (CNA).

A new civil sex abuse lawsuit has been filed against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, also naming Opus Dei priest Fr. Michael Barrett, who is currently a pastor in the Archdiocese of New York.

Jeffrey Anderson, a prominent attorney who represents sex abuse victims, announced the allegations against Barrett and McCarrick on Wednesday in a press conference that was broadcast online.

“My youth, my childhood was robbed from me,” said the plaintiff in the case, who filed the lawsuit anonymously, during the online press conference. He said he was “abused by two people involved in the Catholic Church, and this is Fr. Michael Barrett and Cardinal McCarrick – who wasn’t a cardinal then, and he should have never become one.”

According to Anderson, the plaintiff was abused by Barrett beginning at age 12, and the abuse continued for “three to four years.”

You can watch the full video of the press conference below:

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, told CNA in a statement on Wednesday, "The archdiocese takes all allegations of abuse seriously, and responds with compassion and respect. However, we cannot comment on specific lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act."

A spokesman for Opus Dei said the prelature was not aware of the accusation before the announcement of the lawsuit.

“Your email is the first time that we have heard that such an accusation had been made against Father Michael Barrett, or that a lawsuit has been filed,” stated Brian Finnerty, U.S. communications director for Opus Dei, in response to CNA’s request for comment on Wednesday afternoon.

“After receiving your email, I contacted Father Barrett, and he informed me that this is also the first time he has heard of it,” Finnerty told CNA. “It is impossible to comment further until we know more about the accusation and the lawsuit.”

Reached by CNA on Wednesday, McCarrick's lawyer Barry Coburn would not offer comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed under New York’s Child Victims Act, a law which created a temporary window for new civil sex abuse lawsuits to be filed in old cases where the statute of limitations had already expired. The time window for civil lawsuits expires on Aug. 14.

Fr. Barrett was then a lay person “heavily involved with Opus Dei” when he allegedly “invited and recruited” the plaintiff to an Opus Dei house, Anderson said. Barrett was “grooming” the plaintiff at that time, which “led to criminal sexual assault.” 

Barrett ultimately became a priest with Opus Dei, and is currently a pastor at St. Agnes parish in the New York archdiocese.

You can read the full lawsuit below:

The defendants in the lawsuit are McCarrick, then a priest of the New York archdiocese and secretary to then-Cardinal Terence Cooke, and Barrett, then a lay member of Opus Dei, Anderson explained. The archdiocese was also named in the lawsuit for alleged negligence in McCarrick’s case.

According to the lawsuit, McCarrick abused the plaintiff from 1975 to 1978, when he was approximately 13 to 16 years old.

McCarrick, a priest of the archdiocese and secretary to Cardinal Cooke before his elevation to New York auxiliary bishop in 1977, had become friends with the plaintiff's family members who were "deeply embedded" with leadership in the archdiocese, Anderson said.

Anderson alleged on Wednesday that McCarrick took the victim on trips away from home while he "groomed" him. The plaintiff's abuse by McCarrick occurred in the victim's home, as well as in a limousine. The plaintiff is now in his 50s.

Barrett allegedly abused the plaintiff from approximately 1974 to 1978 according to the lawsuit. 

Anderson called on Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to release a list of all clerics the archdiocese has made settlements with, as well as the names of those in the archdiocese known to have committed abuse.

Barrett graduated from Columbia University in 1974 and worked as an account executive for Merrill Lynch. He was ordained a priest in 1985 by Pope John Paul II.

According to the St. Agnes parish website, Barrett served in the past as theological adviser to Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez beginning in 2013. Archbishop Gomez is also a member of Opus Dei.

This story was updated on August 4 with quotes from Opus Dei, the New York archdiocese, and McCarrick's legal representation, and with new information.

Bioethicist: There must be conscience exemptions to vaccine mandates

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Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2021 / 13:01 pm (CNA).

As workplaces have begun to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, some Catholic institutions insist that conscience exemptions are necessary.

In addition, priests should be allowed to support Catholics who conscientiously refuse COVID-19 vaccines, says one bioethicist.

“It is Catholic doctrine that people’s well-founded conscientious objections are part of their religion,” said Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, in an interview with CNA on Monday. Meaney spoke in support of religious and conscience exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandates

“Part of our Catholic doctrine is that you should have to follow your conscience,” he said. “And if your conscience is telling you not to do this, then you’re not doing it not just from your conscience perspective, but also from your religious Catholic belief.”

Some employers have already begun mandating that employees receive COVID-19 vaccines.  New York City this week announced it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for workers and patrons of some businesses, such as gyms, restaurants, and theaters.

The New York archdiocese, meanwhile, has warned priests against granting religious vaccine exemptions for Catholics.

“There is no basis for a priest to issue a religious exemption to the vaccine,” stated a July 30 memo from the archdiocese’s chancellor, John P. Cahill, to all pastors, administrators, and parochial vicars in the archdiocese. The memo was issued several days before the city announced its vaccine mandate.

While recognizing the “discretion” of individuals to either receive or decline a COVID-19 vaccine, the archdiocese’s memo said that priests “should not be active participants to such actions” by granting religious exemptions.

However, priests could “definitely” have a basis to support Catholics’ religious exemptions to vaccine mandates, Meaney told CNA. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has provided a form letter on its website for Catholics seeking to opt out of vaccine mandates for reasons of conscience.

“People objecting to this [ethically-tainted vaccines] are doing so from a very sound Catholic basis, and so I think they should get the support of the Church for doing so,” Meaney said.

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to controversial cell lines derived from elective abortions decades prior. All three vaccines – produced by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – were tested with the cell lines. Only one – produced by Johnson & Johnson – was produced directly using the cell lines.

In the 2008 document Dignitas Personae, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke against the use of cell lines derived from elective abortions in vaccines; the document recognized that parents, for serious reasons, could use these vaccines for their children.

Both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said that Catholics may validly receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines with connections to abortion-derived cell lines. The USCCB noted that Catholics should seek, if possible, to receive a vaccine with a lesser connection to the cell lines.

However, these statements have not been a flat endorsement of the vaccines, Meaney said.

“To a certain extent, people have taken the statements that have come out – which are all true, that people can discern in conscience to accept the vaccines – to be kind of an endorsement,” he said. “It’s more like a permission,” he said, “it’s a reluctant permission.”

The July 30 memo of the New York archdiocese cited Pope Francis’ call for everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine, warning that priests granting exemptions to vaccine mandates would be “acting in contradiction to the directives of the Pope.”

In a January television interview, the pope said, “I believe that ethically, everyone has to get the vaccine.”

“Pope Francis has made it very clear that it is morally acceptable to take any of the vaccines and said we have the moral responsibility to get vaccinated. Cardinal Dolan has said the same,” the memo stated.

However, the Vatican has been clear that Catholics can conscientiously object to receiving the vaccines, Meaney said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a December 2020 note, stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation,” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Such theological notes are reviewed by the pope, Meaney added.

“The Church is saying, for certain individuals, they can in good conscience take it [the vaccine],” he said. For others who discern that they do not want to receive COVID-19 vaccines because of their connection to abortion-derived cell lines, the Church says they can decline to do so, he added.

“In both circumstances,” he said, the Church defends “their right to do so.”

A conscience exemption should not function like a “’get out of jail free’ card,” Meaney cautioned, noting the responsibility of Catholics to form their consciences and make well-founded judgments. Those not receiving vaccines should do “everything in their power to make sure that they’re keeping others safe,” he added.

And part of the Church’s teaching on conscience, he said, is that an individual cannot be coerced into making decisions. When vaccine mandates are issued at workplaces without clear exemptions, this presents a real problem for Catholics trying to make a prudent decision, he said.

“The best ethical decision-making is made with all the facts that are available to a person, but also without undue pressure being put upon them,” he said.

“The thing that’s always very, very problematic is when people’s consciences are being coerced,” he said, noting the “terrible” situation of an individual forced to either receive a vaccine or lose his or her job.