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George Weigel: Cupich’s criticisms of Gomez are baseless

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 07:56 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, showed courage in releasing a statement on the day of President Joe Biden’s inauguration despite opposition from within the conference, said papal biographer and longtime Church observer George Weigel.

Weigel said Gomez displayed “episcopal courage” at a time when others demanded “a reprise of the accommodationist approach to Catholic public officials long championed by Theodore McCarrick.”

Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Washington D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, penned an essay published in First Things on Friday, commenting on the statement released by Gomez on Inauguration Day and the subsequent criticism from Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.

The statement from Gomez noted that Biden’s inauguration marks the first time in 60 years that a president has professed the Catholic faith. This presents a unique circumstance, Gomez said, particularly because Biden is in support of legal abortion and has pledged to increase taxpayer funding for it.

Cupich later criticized Gomez for releasing the statement, saying it was an “ill-considered statement” that “was crafted without the involvement of the Administrative Committee, a collegial consultation that is normal course for statements that represent and enjoy the considered endorsement of the American bishops.”

Norms from the bishops’ conference, however, indicate that standard procedures were followed ahead of the release of the statement.

Weigel argued that Gomez releasing a statement on the inauguration was in keeping with the recommendations from the Working Group on Engaging the New Administration created by the bishops at their November 2020 meeting.

As Gomez told his brother bishops, Weigel said, the working group had proposed “a letter to the new president from Archbishop Gomez, writing as a pastor. The letter would promise support for the new administration in areas of agreement. It would also identify administration policies, including abortion, that the bishops believed violated human dignity, and it would urge the new president to reassess his positions on these questions.”

The letter did just that, Weigel said. It noted numerous issues of concern among both political parties, but said that “the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’.”

“By any reasonable standard, Archbishop Gomez’s statement was balanced and measured; absent the controversy that erupted before and after its release,” Weigel said.

However, he said, “Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark put intense pressure on Archbishop Gomez to make no statement, as did the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.”

Weigel said the controversy “underscored the statement’s firm, clear, and unambiguous stance on the 'preeminent priority' of the life issues—and thus heightened the impact of those parts of the statement that the dissident cardinals may have found so objectionable that they tried to quash the entire document.”

He said Cupich’s suggestion that Gomez was somehow acting against the norms of the bishops’ conference “is itself unfair and irresponsible.”

“To suggest that there was something unprecedented here is to falsify history,” he said. “What was indeed unprecedented, as Archbishop Gomez pointed out in his statement, was the situation of a president of the United States who professed a devout and heartfelt Catholicism and yet was publicly committed to facilitating grave moral evils.”

US bishops urge Biden to reject abortion rights after 'deeply disturbing' statement

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:40 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s statement backing legal abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade drew swift reaction from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose pro-life chairman said the no president of the United States should ever defend denying the right to life of unborn children.
 
“We strongly urge the president to reject abortion and promote life-affirming aid to women and communities in need,” the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities head Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas said Jan. 22.
 
“It is deeply disturbing and tragic that any president would praise and commit to codifying a Supreme Court ruling that denies unborn children their most basic human and civil right, the right to life under the euphemistic disguise of a health service,” he said.
 
The U.S. bishops’ conference responded to the statement from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.
 
The president and vice president stressed their commitment to legal abortion, saying “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to codifying Roe v. Wade and appointing judges that respect foundational precedents like Roe.”
 
Although Roe v. Wade was a critical pro-abortion rights decision, the statement did not mention abortion by name, preferring to use euphemisms such as “reproductive health” and “health care.”
 
“In the past four years, reproductive health, including the right to choose, has been under relentless and extreme attack,” they said.  “As the Biden-Harris Administration begins in this critical moment, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all individuals have access to the health care they need.”
 
The U.S. bishops’ conference said the statement wrongly characterized the Roe v. Wade decision as “an advancement of women’s rights and health.” While the Biden-Harris statement did not mention religion, the bishops said Catholics cannot support abortion.
 
Biden has repeatedly emphasized his Catholicism, attending Mass the morning of his inauguration and citing St. Augustine of Hippo in his inaugural address. He has put a Pope Francis picture in the Oval Office.
 
Even on Biden’s first day in office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited Biden’s Catholicism when asked questions about abortion.
 
At a Jan. 20 press briefing, Owen Jensen of EWTN News asked Psaki what Biden plans to do regarding the Hyde Amendment and the Mexico City Policy, which Biden has opposed because they limit abortion funding.
 
“Well, I think we’ll have more to say on the Mexico City Policy in the coming days,” Psaki said.
 
“But I will just take the opportunity to remind all of you that he (Biden) is a devout Catholic, and somebody who attends church regularly,” she told reporters. “He started his day with attending his church this morning.”
 
In the bishops’ conference statement, however, Archbishop Naumann emphasized Church teaching on abortion.
 
“I take this opportunity to remind all Catholics that the Catechism states, ‘Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable’,” he said.
 
The statement also emphasized politicians’ responsibilities to reject a right to abortion.
 
“Public officials are responsible for not only their personal beliefs, but also the effects of their public actions. Roe’s elevation of abortion to the status of a protected right and its elimination of state restrictions paved the way for the violent deaths of more than 62 million innocent unborn children and for countless women who experience the heartache of loss, abandonment, and violence,” said Naumann.

The president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Fr. Dave Pivonka, also reacted to the Biden-Harris declaration, saying their “aggressive pro-abortion statement … is saddening to Catholics worldwide. The policies they have promised to put forward are harmful to the dignity of the human person and are contrary to the teachings of the Church.”

Pope Francis has often rejected abortion as part of a “throwaway culture,” but some American pro-abortion rights advocates and politicians, and their supporters, have tried to claim the Pope has taken a non-confrontational approach at variance with most U.S. bishops. 
 
On the day of Biden’s inauguration, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, in his role as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said he was praying for Biden. He noted areas of agreement and disagreement between the bishops and Biden.
 
“Catholic bishops are not partisan players in our nation’s politics,” Gomez said in a statement. “We are pastors responsible for the souls of millions of Americans and we are advocates for the needs of all our neighbors.”
 
“For the nation’s bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’,” he said, adding that “preeminent does not mean ‘only’,” and there are a wide variety of challenges and threats to human dignity facing the country today,” he said.
 
The U.S. bishops will engage with Biden with the aim of starting “a dialogue to address the complicated cultural and economic factors that are driving abortion and discouraging families,” Archbishop Gomez said.

UN adopts resolution on protecting religious sites

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:19 pm (CNA).- The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday calling for greater efforts to protect religious sites from acts of terrorism and asking for a global conference on the subject.

Titled “Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites,” the resolution asks Secretary General Antonio Guterres to launch an international conference to discuss the best means of implementing the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.

“Religious sites are representative of the history, social fabric and traditions of people in every country and community all over the world and should be fully respected as such,” the resolution says.

The resolution highlights the increasing threats to culturally and spiritually significant sites by terrorists and militias, who have at times destroyed religious property and illicitly trafficked artifacts.

The resolution denounces “all attacks on and in religious places, sites and shrines … including any deliberate destruction of relics and monuments” and condemns “all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage or endangerment, directed against religious sites as such, that continue to occur in the world, and denounces any moves to obliterate or forcibly convert any religious sites.”

It calls on the governments to promote these religious sites as vulnerable targets and to implement safeguards to protect them. The resolution states that governments should assess risks and potential targets as well as “ensure that comprehensive measures are in place for the immediate response to an attack.”

The resolution also challenges the United Nations to develop “strategies, educational initiatives, and global communications campaigns and tools” that foster greater multicultural respect and media awareness.

“[We invite] all Member States to enhance education and capacity-building to counter incitement to violence through fostering the messages of unity, solidarity and interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” it said, calling for the promotion of peace and coexistence among different religions and cultures.

Saudi Arabia proposed the resolution, which was co-sponsored by Arab nations including Egypt, Iraq, the UAE, Yemen, Sudan, and Palestine. The resolution was also supported by the United States and the European Union.

“The United States is pleased to join the European Union’s statement concerning this resolution, and recalls that the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression are mutually reinforcing and complementary,” said David Messenger, the advisor for Political Affairs of the U.N. Mission to the United States, in a Jan. 21 statement.

However, Messenger voiced concern that the resolution overemphasizes a condemnation of hate speech, “at times equating speech to acts of violence.” Offensive speech is not necessarily a form of violence, he said, and the resolution should not be used to justify restrictions on free speech.

“Rather than seek restrictions to expression to deal with intolerance or hate speech, the United States advocates for robust protections for speech, as well as the enforcement of appropriate legal regimes that deal with discriminatory acts and hate crimes,” he said.

Pro-abortion protestors disrupt pro-life Mass at Ohio cathedral

Denver Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- About eight pro-abortion protesters disrupted the Respect Life Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Columbus Friday, where Bishop Robert Brennan was presiding at an event marking the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“Two, four, six, eight, this church teaches hate,” the protesters shouted, saying that abortion rights were under attack.

“Fund abortion, not cops,” said one of their signs. “Abortion on Demand. End Hyde Now,” said another, apparently referring to the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal funding for abortion. At least two protesters wore vests that read “clinic escort” on the back.

Police and church officials escorted the protestors outside, where some protesters appeared to make obscene gestures at them, according to video from The Columbus Dispatch.

Friday marked the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.

Posts on the cathedral Facebook page indicated that Bishop Edward Malesic from the Diocese of Cleveland was present as a concelebrant of the Mass. The Columbus diocese had previously announced that all respect life activities would follow pandemic restrictions, including capacity limits at indoor events.

Bishop Brennan discussed the disruption in a statement the Columbus diocese sent to CNA.

“Today during our Respect Life Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral, a group of protesters entered this sacred space in an attempt to disrupt our worship,” Brennan said. “I am deeply thankful to the Columbus Police, assisted by diocesan staff, for the quick response without injury to anyone present.”

“I want to express my great admiration and thanks to all those attending the Mass whose respectful and prayerful response reflects the joy, hope, and mercy that marks our pro-life witness,” he added. “I also apologize to the families present whose children were exposed to this.”

“On this day, in remembrance of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, I ask all to continue to pray for the unborn who died, for all those who have experienced the pain of abortion, and for those who cannot understand our divine and steadfast calling to champion this cause,” the bishop said.

Before the Mass began at 10:30 a.m. local time, Jerry Freewalt, director of the diocesan office for Social Concerns, discussed the purpose of the event.

“We are called to respect life and love our neighbor. … They're all made in the image of God,” he said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. “It’s important because, especially in this day and age where there’s a lot of turmoil in our society and in some circles disrespect for each other, this type of Mass we hope will empower Catholics and all people of goodwill to take up that mantle of seeing Christ in each other.”

While pro-life advocates are hopeful that legal precedent on abortion will be revised by the Supreme Court after new justices were appointed by President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden has committed to a strong pro-abortion rights position, including an end to the Hyde Amendment.

As a U.S. Senator, Biden at one time said that the Roe v. Wade decision went too far and he was a longtime supporter of the Hyde Amendment. However, he backed away from this stand in June 2019 after criticism in the Democratic presidential primary.

Vice President Kamala Harris, a vocal proponent of abortion rights, has taken credit for Biden’s change in position on the Hyde Amendment. Any effort to end the amendment will require support in Congress.

In Columbus, St. Joseph’s Cathedral had posted to its Facebook page a photo of its church sign, which bore the message: “The Unborn Baby is created ‘in the image of God for Greater Things’,” with the message attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

After the Mass in Columbus, Bishop Brennan was scheduled to speak at the Roe Remembrance event outside the Ohio Statehouse. The event was sponsored by Greater Columbus Right to Life.
 

Mexico archdiocese denies claim it has abandoned ill former archbishop

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 22, 2021 / 04:06 pm (CNA).- Carlos Cardinal Aguiar Retes of Mexico denied this week that his archdiocese has incurred “material and spiritual abandonment” of his predecessor, who is gravely ill with Covid-19, by not providing for his care in a private hospital.

Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera, 78, who was Archbishop of Mexico from 1995 to 2017, was admitted to a public hospital earlier this month.

Public hospitals in Mexico are widely considered to provide subpar medical services, relative to private institutions.

“In cases where hospitalization of priests and bishops is required, it is provided through hospitals in the state sector,” Cardinal Aguiar Retes has said.

“The decision that bishops and priests receive medical attention for COVID in these hospitals is because of the economic situation experienced by the Church throughout the country and in communion and solidarity with what thousands of Mexicans have lived during this pandemic and those we accompany through our daily prayer.”

The Archdiocese of Mexico said Jan. 20 that "the Vicariate of the Clergy of the Archdiocese is in charge of accompanying priests and bishops during their illness, maintaining contact, supporting, and monitoring their state of health."

Fr. Hugo Valdemar, who for 15 years was communications director to Cardinal Rivera, accused Cardinal Aguiar Retes Jan. 19 of abandoning “both spiritually and materially” his predecessor, by denying him the financial resources for his medical care in a private hospital in Mexico City.

According to Fr. Valdemar, "caring for the health of Cardinal Rivera is not charity, is their obligation, and if they claim that there are no resources, that cannot be an excuse to abandon him. Don Norberto always took personal care of his auxiliary bishops and his priests.”

The Code of Canon Law states that "the conference of bishops must take care that suitable and decent support is provided for a retired bishop, with attention given to the primary obligation which binds the diocese he has served."

The Archdiocese of Mexico said that if Cardinal Rivera wants to be taken care of in the private sector, “he can do so with his own resources or the support of the people close to him.”

The archdiocese reported Jan. 16 that Cardinal Rivera had been hospitalized after testing positive for Covid. Since then, the reports regarding his health have been increasingly pessimistic.

The communications director of the archdiocese, Javier Rodríguez, told ACI Prensa that Cardinal Aguiar Retes has assigned a priest to be permanently "aware of the needs" of Cardinal Rivera.

Interviewed by ACI Prensa Jan. 21, Fr. Valdemar reiterated his accusation and demanded that the archdiocese “say with reliable data how they have supported and cared spiritually for Cardinal Rivera, because if there is a priest assigned to take care of him, he was nowhere to be found last Monday, when Don Norberto was in danger of death, and a priest had to  be rushed from the archdiocese, because there was no one around.”

“I read the statement with great surprise because, as far as I know, no priest has been appointed by Archbishop Carlos Aguiar for this purpose. In any case, why didn't they released the name of the supposed priest and thus be able to deny the abandonment that I have denounced? If they don't give the name, it's for a very simple reason, because it's a lie,” he said.

Fr. Valdemar also said that if Cardinal Rivera tried a private hospital “it was because of the seriousness of his condition and trusting in the validity of his (Church-assigned) medical insurance, only to find out that the insurance had expired in August last year and he was never informed about it”.

Fr. Valdemar said that the insurance “expired because the archdiocese did not make the second payment. This is criminal negligence.”

“It seems to me that it is time for the Holy Father, or the Holy See, to intervene and put a limit to so much infamy against an archbishop prostrate in serious condition that he cannot defend himself and who faithfully served the Archdiocese of Mexico for 22 years and that, unlike the current Archbishop Aguiar Retes, has never left any priest in distress, who, by the way, were always treated in good quality hospitals.”

“If, God forbid, Archbishop Aguiar fell ill, would they admit him to a hospital like the Mexican Institute of Social Security? Are they serious?,” he pointed out.

According to the government of Mexico, more than 1.8 million cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the country, with more than 163,000 deaths.

Rosario Livatino: Not even criminal defendants spoke badly of martyred judge

Rome Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Rosario Livatino, a young judge who was killed in 1990 by the mafia for his efforts to combat organized crime in Sicily, always treated the accused in his court with kindness.

According to a former classmate of Livatino’s, defendants in cases judged by the young magistrate were surprised by the courtesy with which he treated them. Livatino would always shake their hand before and after an interrogation, for example.

The judge was killed on Sept. 21, 1990, at the age of 37. He was driving unescorted toward the Agrigento courthouse, where he had served as a judge since the year before, when another car hit him, sending him off the road. He ran from the crashed vehicle into a field, but was shot in the back and then killed with more gunshots.  

Pope Francis declared Livatino a martyr on Dec. 22, 2020, paving the way for the judge’s beatification.

In an interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner, Giuseppe Palilla, Livatino’s high school classmate, recalled the impeccable comportment of the Sicilian lawyer and judge -- even toward members of the mafia.

In the collection of witness testimony about Livatino’s life, Palilla said that they could not find one person who spoke badly about the magistrate -- not even those who had to defend themselves before his bench.

Palilla recalled a time when Livatino overheard a police officer speaking badly about a criminal in front of the dead man’s body. Chastising him, Livatino said: “In the face of death, those who believe pray; those who do not believe remain silent!”

Writing in his journal on July 18, 1978, the day he became a judge, the 25-year-old Livatino said: “I took an oath. From today, therefore, I am in the judiciary. May God accompany me and help me to respect the oath and to behave in the way the education my parents gave me requires.”

He had a strong knowledge of Scripture. After his death, a Bible full of notations was found in his desk, where he always kept a crucifix.

In 1986, he gave a lecture at a conference about the relationship between biblical law and the history of human law.

“The value of biblical law is immense in the heritage of human culture and especially juridical: every juridical message that is not strictly linked to historicized customs and needs has the imprint of a premonitory sign in biblical law,” he said.

Livatino was also a model student, his classmate said. And he always helped his fellow high school students in their studies, especially before final exams, giving up his own free time to do so.

“Rosario had a great respect for all his teachers, and the teachers also thought highly of him,” Palilla said. “Rosario -- I want to clarify -- was not the classic ‘nerd’ of the class, he just loved doing things right. He loved to deepen the study topics dealt with in class. In those days we didn’t have the internet, yet he was always very prepared.”

Palilla offered an example of Livatino’s preparedness. 

“When the philosophy teacher explained Kant to us in class,” he recalled, “Rosario asked if it would not have been better to start studying Kierkegaard first. An observation that left us and even the teacher astonished!”

Livatino would write at the top of his notebooks in high school, and later, on the top of his journal pages, the letters “S.T.D,” which stood for “Sub Tutela Dei,” meaning “Under the gaze of God.”

Another time he was asked by the religion teacher, a priest, what the Bible was, and Livatino answered: “The Bible is a chest, a treasure full of values,” Palilla said.

Years later, when Livatino was a magistrate, the same religion teacher asked him for a personal recommendation. In a mark of his integrity, Livatino politely declined the request. “With a cordiality that distinguished him, [he] replied: ‘But you, Father, when you hear confessions, do you accept recommendations?’”

Livatino’s message to students today would be “certainly friendship and evangelical and civil consistency. Rosario was a model for all of us, and he still is today,” Palilla said.

The former classmate quoted St. Ignatius of Antioch: “He educates well with what he says, he educates better with what he does, he educates even better with what he is.”

“Rosario was all of this,” he explained. “For us who had the privilege of knowing him, he was the best classmate we could wish for, the helpful and sincere friend we loved and still love. Rosario Livatino is the classmate whom I wish all of today’s young people would meet.”

Secretary of State nominee says he will fill LGBT position at agency

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- President Joe Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State pledged to appoint an LGBTI envoy at the agency, and says he will permit embassies to fly the “Pride” flag if confirmed. 

 

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. State Department, was asked about filing the LGBTI Special Envoy position at the agency during his confirmation hearing before members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 19. 

 

Filling the position is “a matter, I think, of some real urgency,” said Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration. 

 

The administration created the special envoy position in 2015 to help counter violence against persons identifying as LGBTI around the world, as well as helping overturn laws criminalizing same-sex conduct. 

 

"We've seen violence directed against LGBTQI people around the world increase,” said Blinken on Tuesday. “We've seen, I believe, the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we've seen ever.” 

 

However, when the position was first created, some religious freedom advocates warned that the administration’s objective could be “more revolutionary” than simply countering violence abroad. They told CNA that the agency could pressure developing countries to redefine marriage and promote transgender ideology.

 

The Trump administration did not fill the position.

 

Blinken said on Tuesday that he believed that the United States is “playing the role that it should be playing in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people is something that the Department (of State) is going to take on, and take on immediately.” 

 

Blinken further pledged to “repudiate” the 2020 Commission on Unalienable Rights, established in 2019 by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and which produced a report on human rights in 2020. 

 

The report stated “Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty.” 

 

In 2019, it was reported that U.S. embassies were prohibited from flying the LGBT “Pride” flag during the month of June, which is traditionally known as “Pride Month.” 

 

Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) asked Blinken if he would change this policy as secretary of state. Blinken said that the U.S. embassies would be permitted to fly the flag.

 

Court victories strengthen Catholic groups' protections against 'gender transition' mandates

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Catholic medical groups and employers say their religious freedom position has been strengthened by a federal injunction against mandatory insurance coverage or medical referrals for gender transition therapy.
 
“This is a victory not just for the Catholic Benefits Association, but for religious freedom itself,” Doug Wilson, CEO of the Catholic Benefits Association, said Jan. 20. “These rulings will protect Catholic employers for years to come.”
 
“Our members can continue to provide the highest quality employee benefits to their 90,000 employees and their families, while living their religious beliefs,” Wilson said. “These protections also extend to each employer’s insurer, third-party administrator, and to future members of the Catholic Benefits Association.”
 
The Denver-based Catholic Benefits Association was founded in 2013. It helps employers form and administer employee benefit plans consistent with the Catholic faith and works to protect its employer members’ First Amendment legal rights. It serves over 1,000 Catholic employers, including 60 dioceses and archdioceses, religious orders, colleges and universities, hospitals and other ministries. Seven Catholic archbishops serve on its ethics committee.
 
With other Catholic groups, the association challenged the federal mandate that doctors perform or refer for gender-transition surgeries—despite objections that the doctor may have to the procedure. The mandate also requires insurance coverage for gender-transition surgeries.
 
The mandate, issued in 2016, stemmed from the Obama administration’s interpretation of Section 1557 of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care in a number of areas, including sex discrimination. The Obama administration interpreted this to include protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Health and Human Services said that doctors could not refuse to make gender-transition surgery referrals.
 
The Catholic groups who challenged the federal rule alleged that the mandate violated their religious freedom by requiring them to provide insurance coverage and medical assistance for gender transition surgeries.
 
On Jan. 19, U.S. District Judge Peter Welte of the Eastern District of North Dakota granted Catholic groups that challenged the mandate permanent injunctive relief from having to provide or cover gender-transition procedures. The court is the second federal court to rule against the mandate. In October 2019, District Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas struck down the mandate after doctors had sued, alleging violations of conscience.
 
Wilson was grateful for Welte’s permanent injunction. The injunction protects its members against the 2016 mandates and similar Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules and discrimination claims based on the interpretation of ‘sex’ under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
 
He said the Catholic Benefits Association’s lawsuit was unique in that it was the only one to challenge EEOC rules and Title VII discrimination claims under the new interpretation of “sex.”
 
The interpretation of “sex” is newly relevant. In the 2020 decision Bostock v. Clayton County, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “sex” can include sexual orientation and gender identity in prohibitions on workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.
 
Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion in the case attempted to keep the changes narrow, but it has already proved influential. President Joe Biden, in his first day in office, signed a significant executive order expanding Gorsuch’s redefinition of “sex” throughout federal law and policy in ways that could have major consequences, including mandatory coverage of gender transition procedures.
 
Medical critics of the surgical practice say gender transition appears to provide only temporary change in health outcomes, if any. In 2016, Paul R. McHugh, M.D., the former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Lawrence S. Mayer, M.B., M.S., Ph.D., then a scholar in residence in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s psychiatry department, reviewed hundreds of scientific articles on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
 
They found continued high risk of poor mental health incomes for patients who had gone through the transition surgery.
 
Philosophical, religious and moral critics of the practice question whether gender transition is even possible and whether it gives too much credence to patients’ perceptions of being the “wrong sex.”
The practice wrongly disassociates gender from biological sex, they say.
 
Criticism of gender transition has become taboo in recent years. Critics face opposition from LGBT advocates and their supporters. Some local laws consider the refusal to affirm a person’s self-perceived gender identity to be an illegal form of “conversion therapy”, but some of these laws are themselves under legal challenge.
 
Wilson voiced gratitude to Catholic Benefits Association members who had shown “unwavering support” for the legal challenge to the Obama-era rule. He also thanked the co-plaintiffs the Catholic Medical Association, the Diocese of Fargo, and Catholic Charities of North Dakota. Four Catholic groups under the Religious Sisters of Mercy had also brought objections.
 
Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented the plaintiffs, called the decision a “major victory for religious freedom.”
 
The Catholic plaintiffs “joyfully serve all patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich said on Twitter. “They routinely provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold. They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved rural areas.”
 
While Judge Welte granted the Catholic groups an injunction on the mandate’s requirement of gender-transition surgery and coverage, he dismissed their abortion-related claims, saying concerns about mandatory abortion coverage were addressed by a 2020 rule from the Department of Health and Human Services and other legal interpretations in force.
 
Catholic challenges to other health coverage mandates have proven successful.
 
In 2018, a federal judge has ordered that $718,000 in compensation be paid to the Catholic Benefits Association after its successful religious freedom legal fight against mandated health care coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs, that would have violated Catholic beliefs.
 
The companies that make up the benefits association had collectively accrued $6.9 billion in fines for not providing the coverage. These fines were eliminated by a federal judge’s March 2018 ruling.

Virginia bishops oppose abortion bill passed by state senate

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 22, 2021 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Virginia bishops opposed a bill allowing for taxpayer-funded abortion coverage that passed the state senate on Friday. 

 

The bill, SB 1276, would permit abortion coverage for any reason in health insurance plans on Virginia’s taxpayer-funded health exchange. The bill was introduced on Jan. 12 and cleared a senate committee on Mon., January 18.

 

On Friday afternoon, the Senate approved the bill by a 20-17 vote along party lines—on the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

 

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond stated their “deep disappointment” with the vote.

 

“Abortion is not health care; it ends lives instead of healing them,” the bishops said.

 

“On this day when we reflect in particular on the more than 60 million unborn lives lost since the Roe v. Wade decision, and on every day, we continue to advocate with relentless determination for health care that affirms every life, born and unborn,” they stated.

 

Virginia set up a health exchange with the federal passage of the Affordable Care Act, allowing for citizens to shop for health plans on the state’s “marketplace.”

 

SB 1276 struck a phrase clarifying that health plans offered on Virginia’s exchange would not cover abortions except in cases of rape or incest, or when the physical health of the mother is at risk due to the pregnancy. 

 

The state’s bishops had been outspoken against the bill. “Virginia should not subsidize abortion on demand with taxpayer funds,” Jeff Caruso, director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, told CNA on Friday prior to the vote. 

 

“The exchange is taxpayer-funded. Taxes pay for managing the exchange, and for subsidizing health plans in many cases,” he said, explaining how the bill would subsidize abortion coverage.

 

Virginia’s state legislature passed an abortion bill in 2020 that allowed physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to perform abortions; it also struck down existing requirements that women be informed about the abortion procedure and receive ultrasounds before having an abortion, and deregulated safety standards at abortion clinics.

 

Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law on April 11, Good Friday--an act which the state’s bishops called “a particular affront to all who profess the Gospel of life.”

 

A companion bill to SB 1276 is also being considered in the state house of delegates. The bishops called on delegates to vote against the bill.

 

The state’s consideration of taxpayer-funded abortion is taking place as the federal government is also considering repeals of pro-life protections against public funding of abortion.

 

The Biden administration is reportedly set to reverse the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding of foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions.

 

House and Senate Democrats have also signaled a desire to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions in spending bills. House Democrats passed a COVID relief bill last year without protections against taxpayer funding of abortions included, but the measure did not pass the Senate.

 

The Virginia bishops noted on Friday that the state’s current prohibition of coverage for abortion-on-demand in its exchange “is consistent with the federal Hyde Amendment, in place for more than four decades and which most Americans support.”

 

“Tragically, the Senate today took a far different path,” they said.

Portugal’s Catholic bishops suspend public Masses amid rising COVID-19 cases

CNA Staff, Jan 22, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Public Masses will be suspended in Portugal from Saturday, the country’s bishops have announced.

The Portuguese Episcopal Conference said on Jan. 21 that it was taking the step due to the “extreme gravity” of the coronavirus crisis, reported ACI Digital, CNA’s Portuguese-language news partner.

“Being aware of the extreme gravity of the pandemic situation that we are living in our country, we consider that it is a moral imperative for all citizens, and particularly for Christians, to have the maximum sanitary precautions to avoid contagion, contributing to overcoming this situation,” the bishops said in a statement.

Portugal is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 deaths. The country, which has a population of 10 million, has recorded 609,000 cases and 9,920 deaths as of Jan. 22, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. 

This is the second time that the bishops have suspended public worship. The first was in March 2020, when the pandemic arrived in the country located on the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain. The restrictions were eased at the end of May.

The bishops said that public Masses would be suspended from Jan. 23 -- the day before the country’s presidential election -- along with catechesis and other pastoral activities that required people to gather. They called on priests to offer livestreamed Masses. 

The bishops had called for the suspension or postponement of baptisms, confirmations, and marriages earlier this month.

They said that funerals could be celebrated according to norms issued in May last year, which require mourners to maintain a social distance.

A Lenten retreat for the bishops, scheduled for Feb. 22-26, has also been canceled.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, which has been hit hard financially by the pandemic, will broadcast three Masses and two rosary prayers daily while public Masses are suspended. 

The Masses, which will be transmitted via the shrine’s website, will take place at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. local time. The rosary will be recited at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. local time.

Shrine rector Fr. Carlos Cabecinhas said: “We know that it is not the same to be physically present or to be able to follow on television, but that is the one possible way we have to participate now and therefore we want to be present with you through this difficult moment.”