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Maryland Catholic schools can reopen after governor overrides county

CNA Staff, Aug 3, 2020 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) issued an emergency order on August 3 ensuring non-public schools, including Catholic schools, can make their own decisions regarding reopening for in-person instruction in the coming academic year. 

The order, issued Monday, came after Montgomery County, the most populated county in the state, issued an order on July 31 prohibiting all non-public schools from opening for in-person classes before October 1. 

Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said in Friday evening’s statement that “At this point the data does not suggest that in-person instruction is safe for students or teachers,” and that forcibly closing non-public schools was “necessary to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents” during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Over the weekend, Hogan issued an initial response to the Montgomery County order, saying he “strongly disagreed” with the forced closure of all non-public schools. “As long as these schools develop safe plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what’s best for their community,” Hogan said on Aug. 1.

“This is a decision for schools and parents, not politicians.”

On Monday, the governor said that “Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines.” 

“The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers delegated to the county health officer,” said Hogan. 

The Archdiocese of Washington had pledged over the weekend to “review” the order. Montgomery County is part of the territory of the archdiocese. 

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement Sunday that the archdiocese “continues to have the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty, and parents uppermost in mind and heart as we make our decisions regarding the reopening of our Catholic schools.” 

“We will continue to strive to be both good citizens as well as to be faithful to our religious principles, pastoral mission and our obligations to our families,” Gregory said.

Friday’s announcement by the county took many private schools in the county by surprise, as there had been no mention of any sort of forced closure during meetings with health officials earlier in the week. 

Some nonpublic schools had already opted on their own to offer virtual instruction to students during the fall, and others had already begun to implement new policies in line with Centers for Disease Control guidelines on safe reopening.

Montgomery County Public Schools announced in late July that they had decided to have an all-online fall semester and begin in-person classes in February. The decision to shift to virtual learning was made without a governmental order. 

In Monday’s statement, Gov. Hogan reiterated that “Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics,” and that any school who is capable of following the state and CDC’s safety guidelines should be permitted to reopen. 

The governor’s statement followed claims on social media by Montgomery County residents that the decision to force non-public schools to close may have been linked to a large drop in the number of new students who enrolled in Montgomery County’s public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The county expected approximately 2,500 new students enrolled in grades K-12 for the fall; instead, only 300 new students enrolled. 

It is unclear if or how many parents decided to pull their children from Montgomery County public schools and opt for either nonpublic schools or for homeschooling after the decision to shift to all-virtual learning. 

The CDC has warned against the risks of keeping schools shut, citing how social isolation is detrimental to a student’s health, and that students with disabilities are being denied access to necessary resources. 

“Extended school closure is harmful to children. It can lead to severe learning loss, and the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs,” said the CDC in a July 23 publication titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools in the Fall.” 

“School closure disrupts the delivery of in-person instruction and critical services to children and families, which has negative individual and societal ramifications.  The best available evidence from countries that have opened schools indicates that COVID-19 poses low risks to school-aged children, at least in areas with low community transmission, and suggests that children are unlikely to be major drivers of the spread of the virus,” said the CDC.

Vatican: Benedict XVI health 'not serious' concern

Vatican City, Aug 3, 2020 / 10:26 am (CNA).- The Vatican said Monday the health problems of Benedict XVI are not serious, though the pope emeritus is suffering from a painful disease.

The Vatican press office said according to Benedict's personal secretary, Archbishop George Ganswein, "the health conditions of the pope emeritus are not of particular concern, except for those of a 93 year old who is going through the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, disease."

German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) reported Aug. 3 that Benedict XVI has facial erysipelas, or facial shingles, a bacterial infection of the skin which causes a painful, red rash.

Benedict biographer Peter Seewald told PNP the former pope has been "very frail" since his return from visiting his older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, in Bavaria in June. Georg Ratzinger died July 1.

Seewald saw Benedict XVI at his Vatican home in the Mater Ecclesia monastery Aug. 1 to present him with a copy of his latest biography of the retired pope.   

The journalist said despite his illness, Benedict was optimistic and stated he might take up writing again if his strength returns. Seewald also said the former pope’s voice is now “barely audible.”

PNP also reported Aug. 3 that Benedict has chosen to be buried in the former tomb of St. John Paul II in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. The body of the Polish pope was moved into the upper part of the basilica when he was canonized in 2014.

Like John Paul II, Benedict XVI has written a spiritual testament which can be published after his death.

After the former pope's four-day trip to Bavaria in June, Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg described Benedict XVI as a man "in his frailty, in his old age and in his finiteness."

"He speaks in a low, almost whispering voice; and he clearly has trouble articulating. But his thoughts are perfectly clear; his memory, his combination gift phenomenal. For practically all everyday life processes, he depends on the help of others. It takes a lot of courage but also humility to put yourself in the hands of other people; and to show up in public," Voderholzer said.

Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy in 2013, citing advanced age and declining strength that made it difficult to carry out his ministry. He was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

In a letter published in an Italian newspaper in February 2018, Benedict said, “I can only say that at the end of a slow decline in physical strength, inwardly I am on pilgrimage home.”

Benedict XVI is ill since visit to Germany

Rome Newsroom, Aug 3, 2020 / 03:21 am (CNA).- The Vatican press office offered an update Monday on the health of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, which can be found here.

 

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI is sick with a bacterial infection and “very frail,” according to a German newspaper report.

Citing Benedict biographer Peter Seewald, German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse (PNP) reported Aug. 3 that the 93-year-old pope emeritus is suffering from facial erysipelas, or facial shingles, a bacterial infection of the skin which causes a painful, red rash.

The infection can also result in fever, headaches, and lymphedema. It is treated with antibiotics.

Seewald told PNP that Benedict has been “very frail” since his return from visiting his ailing older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, in Bavaria in June. Georg Ratzinger died July 1.

Seewald saw Benedict XVI at his Vatican home in the Mater Ecclesia monastery Aug. 1 to present him with a copy of his latest biography of the retired pope.

The journalist said despite his illness, Benedict was optimistic and stated he might take up writing again if his strength returns. Seewald also said the former pope’s voice is now “barely audible.”

PNP also reported Aug. 3 that Benedict has chosen to be buried in the former tomb of St. John Paul II in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. The body of the Polish pope was moved into the upper part of the basilica when he was canonized in 2014.

Like John Paul II, Benedict XVI has written a spiritual testament which can be published after his death.

Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy in 2013, citing advanced age and declining strength that made it difficult to carry out his ministry. He was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.

In a letter published in an Italian newspaper in February 2018, Benedict said, “I can only say that at the end of a slow decline in physical strength, inwardly I am on pilgrimage home.”

 

After challenging California officials, Catholic home for trafficked girls set to open

Denver Newsroom, Aug 2, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic charity that has prepared to open a home for underage victims of human trafficking has reached a resolution with California authorities after it was allegedly pressured to affirm LGBT sexuality, to inject sex hormones into any beneficiaries who identify as transgender, and to agree to drive minors to abortion clinics.

“We were able to meet the state regulations in a way that did not compromise our conscience as a Catholic agency,” Grace Williams, founder and executive director of Children of the Immaculate Heart, told CNA.

The San Diego-based Children of the Immaculate Heart, which has served adult victims of human trafficking since 2013, had aimed to open a house for girls age 12-17 who had been victims of human trafficking. The charity has sought a license for the project for three years.

In November 2019 it filed a lawsuit accusing California officials of delaying the license for the project and violating its constitutional rights. The charity had invested $600,000 in the project and was paying rent and maintenance costs of $15,000 a month.

“It was a big financial hit. It’s a one more year delay. We rented an empty facility for three years,” said Williams, who described the lawsuit as “extremely time-consuming.”

“It’s a loss for girls that couldn’t be home sooner, but we’re happy we are where we are,” she said.

The charity and the government settled outside of court after California requested the process go to mediation. On June 10 the California Department of Social Services issued the organization a provisional license to operate The Refuge as a short-term residential therapeutic program.

The provisional license means Children of the Immaculate Heart may now provide therapeutic services and support for trafficked young people referred to it by the San Diego County Department of Probation and Child Welfare Services.

In November 2019 the organization sued the California Department of Social Services and the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, alleging violation of its constitutional rights in the licensing process. The lawsuit accused government officials of ignoring the charity’s multiple requests for a final decision on its application or for clarification regarding religious objections. They tried to force the charity to agree to facilitate “religiously objectionable” practices such as driving teens to abortion clinics or to LGBTQ-affirming activities, the lawsuit alleged.

At a meeting with state and county authorities, one official reportedly told the charity’s leaders, “You’re just going to have a problem with that religious thing,” according to the lawsuit.

The charity objected that licensing officials appeared to assume that because the charity is Catholic, it would discriminate against self-identified LGBTQ youth. The officials also wrongly questioned the non-profit’s stated mission of restoring victims’ relationship with Christ.

After the lawsuit was resolved, staff training at The Refuge starts next week.

“As an organization our staff is doubling in size,” Williams said. “It’s a big push, operationally, financially, and everything.”

The home plans to open to girls referred from probation and child welfare officials in the third week of August.

The organization was founded to help girls and women “heal from their trauma and to provide opportunities for them,” said Williams, “because, honestly, there haven’t been a lot of opportunities for them.”

“We want them to become economically self-sufficient and, of course, we want them to encounter the love of Christ, which gives meaning and direction to all of our lives, and eternal life,” she said.

The Refuge works out of a four-bedroom home on two acres in Escondido in San Diego County.

It can house up to six girls who may stay for up to two years “so that they can have the best opportunity possible for healing and healthy integration into society,” the organization’s website said. The home provides targeted mental health treatment, family relationship building, life skills development like self-care and job readiness, and individualized academic coursework.

For Williams, the Catholic faith brings a deeper vision to helping victims.

“Catholic organizations are the most equipped for service,” she added, saying the Catholic understanding of human dignity can combine with professional training.

“We just have so much to offer,” said Williams, who co-chaired the San Diego Board of Supervisors’ Human Trafficking Advisory Council Victim Service Committee from 2015 to 2019.

Though there are increasing questions about difficulties for Catholic organizations operating under U.S. law, Williams had advice.

“It’s really a question of ’do not be afraid.’ I think a lot of Catholics avoid doing anything in the public square because it’s hard,” she told CNA.

“We’re going to be misunderstood, we’re going to be judged, people are not going to want us around,” she said. “However, we have everything to offer, and nothing to lose.”

“Maybe the cultural milieu is not on our side, but the constitution is on our side, which is why we felt comfortable filing the lawsuit,” she added. “In the end, we didn’t even have to finish it in court.”

The Refuge project was backed by San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. In a 2017 letter to state officials, she called Children of the Immaculate Heart a “strong partner” and a “constant presence in the fight against human trafficking.” She urged officials to issue the license, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

The organization has a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women survivors of sex trafficking who have children. As of December, it was serving 13 women and their 18 children.

Officials’ feedback to the group’s application for the young girls home questioned how the charity would serve non-religious youth.

Licensing officials voiced concern that the organization did not detail how it would ensure transportation to LGBTQ programs or would ensure procedures for “gender transition” medication. The state said the nonprofit did not provide an explanation or a procedure to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

Children of the Immaculate Heart said its nondiscrimination policy is adequate and that there is no rule requiring caregivers to administer medication in transgender procedures.

While California law requires the caregivers of foster youth to provide transportation to medical appointments, and to provide “age-appropriate, medically accurate information about reproductive and sexual health care,” there could be alternatives that would not involve the Catholic charity.

A state guide for foster youth case managers addresses a similar hypothetical situation, the San Diego Union-Tribune said. If a minor in foster care were to seek an abortion, and the caregiver refused to aid this effort, the minor’s case manger would have to arrange alternative transportation, for instance.

The Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund represented the charity, with the Thomas More Society as co-counsel.

“The extraordinary women at Children of the Immaculate Heart just want to take care of commercially sexually exploited girls without being forced to violate their faith,” Daniel Piedra, executive director of the Freedom of Conscience Defense fund, said in November. “This case does not endanger the personal rights or health of girls. It only deals with a discriminatory mandate imposed by anti-Christian government officials.”

“The longer government bureaucrats place radical identity politics over saving innocent prostituted teen girls, the more money traffickers can make,” Pedra charged, claiming the government’s actions were “not just unconstitutional; they’re downright evil.”

Warsaw cardinal laments ‘desecration’ of Christ statue with rainbow flag

CNA Staff, Aug 2, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- A Polish cardinal has urged protesters to respect religious sensibilities after they attached a rainbow flag to a historic statue of Christ in the capital, Warsaw.

In a statement published on the Polish bishops’ conference website July 29, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz deplored the protesters’ decision to target the statue outside Holy Cross Church on Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of the city’s best-known streets.

The statue, which depicts Christ carrying the cross and pointing to the sky, sits on a plinth inscribed with the words “Sursum corda” (Lift up your hearts) -- a message that has encouraged Poles during some of the darkest times in their history.

Placed outside the church in 1858, it remained standing during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The Nazis, who destroyed up to 90% of the city’s buildings in response to the Uprising, eventually toppled the statue.

A photograph from the time shows the broken statue lying amid rubble with its finger pointed to the “Sursum Corda” inscription above, which was seen as a sign of God’s providence amid the Nazi occupation.

Nycz, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw, said: “The desecration of the historic statue of Christ ‘Sursum corda’ at Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw caused pain to believers, parishioners of the Holy Cross Church and many residents of the capital, for whom the statue of the Savior carrying the cross became a symbol of hope in the most difficult days of the Uprising.”

“I appeal for respect for the religious feelings of believers regardless of their views. Let us stop using acts of vandalism and crossing borders in public debate.”

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was pictured praying at the foot of the statue on July 29. In a statement on his Twitter account, he wrote: “There is no consent to profaning national and religious symbols in the name of any ideology. The values they symbolize, important to millions of Poles, are a heritage that is subject to special protection. You cannot become an aggressor under the guise of supposed equality.”

 

Nie ma zgody na profanowanie symboli narodowych i religijnych w imię żadnej ideologii. Wartości, które symbolizują, ważne dla milionów Polaków, są dziedzictwem, które podlega szczególnej ochronie. Nie można pod płaszczykiem rzekomej równości stawać się agresorem. pic.twitter.com/E4NPgn2mWr

— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) July 29, 2020  

On the night of July 28-29, activists dressed in black attached a rainbow flag to the statue’s arm and a scarf with an anarchist symbol across Christ’s face, leaving behind a card containing their LGBT rights manifesto. Protesters also targeted other prominent monuments in the city.

The incident took place weeks after a hard-fought presidential election narrowly won by the incumbent, President Andrzej Duda, who is associated with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS).

On June 10, Duda signed a “Family Charter” opposing same-sex marriage and adoption, and committing himself to the “protection of children from LGBT ideology.”

Sebastian Kaleta, Poland’s vice-minister of justice, referred the statue incident to the prosecutor’s office, arguing that it broke laws related to offending religious feelings and profaning national monuments. 

The Polish daily newpaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported July 30 that the prosecutor’s office had opened an investigation.