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Catholic leaders call for clarity on Pope Francis civil union remarks

CNA Staff, Oct 23, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- Bishops and prominent Catholics have responded to a new documentary in which Pope Francis is featured calling for civil recognition of same-sex unions, calling for caution and telling Catholics to await clarity from the Vatican after the remarks caused confusion.

The pope’s comments were made in “Francesco,” a documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis, released Wednesday. The film made global headlines, because the it contains a scene in which Pope Francis is portrayed calling for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples.

In the film, the pope is shown saying that “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” The apparent endorsement of civil recognition of same-sex couples by the pope garnered the widespread reaction.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” the pope also was shown to say in the video, in a section subsequently shown to be heavily edited. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” the pope said, in reference to his approach to pastoral care.

The pope has often spoken of the need for pastoral closeness and love for people who identify as LGBT, and against family members, especially parents, ostracizing or rejecting them on account of their sexual orientation. The pope has also repeatedly said that marriage exists between one man and one woman.

Some activists and media reports have suggested that Pope Francis had changed Catholic teaching by his remarks.

The context and manner in which the film was shot, compiled and edited, have raised questions about what the pope said, the context in which he said it, what it means, and what the Church teaches about civil unions and marriage.

“Pope Francis’ remarks giving qualified support to civil unions of same–sex couples are not his first as pope,” said St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Bernard Hebda on Wednesday.

“While affirming Church teaching that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, he along with others who defend traditional marriage, has shown openness to civil unions as a kind of middle way that would allow persons of the same sex in long-term relationships to have legal benefits without a civil redefinition of marriage itself.”

The archbishop said that “Church teaching on marriage is clear and irreformable,” but that “the conversation must continue about the best ways to reverence the dignity of those in same–sex relationships so that they are not subject to any unjust discrimination.”

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said that the comments in the documentary “reflect [the pope’s] pastoral approach to persons who may be on the peripheries of society,” and “in no way signal a departure from the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning marriage or homosexuality.”

“It speaks, rather, of a pastoral approach to these issues,” Zubik said.

“In essence, Pope Francis has not promoted change in the moral or sacramental teaching of the Church. He has simply called for all people to be treated with the dignity and love which is their due by being created in God’s image and likeness and being children of the Heavenly Father.”

A 2003 document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expressed opposition to civil unions for same-sex couples, saying that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

The film’s portrayal of a papal endorsement of same-sex unions did not change Church teaching, or alter the Church’s understanding of the nature of homosexual acts. But Francis’s apparent call for legal “cover” for same-sex unions would represent a shift in the prudential judgement of public policy options made by his predecessors.

Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth also responded to the film’s release, saying that “the Church is obliged to hand on faithfully what she has received from Christ. It is the mind of Christ that marriage is an indissoluble bond between one man and one woman. The Church preaches and acts upon this truth, regardless of the passing opinions of nations, states, or cultures.”

Noting that Pope Francis has repeatedly affirmed the Church’s unchanging position that marriage exists, and can only exist, between one man and one woman, Olson said that “comments recently recorded in the making of a documentary about Pope Francis regarding civil recognition of ‘unions’ between homosexual couples appear to have led some to the erroneous conclusion that the Church’s teaching on marriage has changed or is about to change.”
 
“It is a misunderstanding of rights to suggest or infer that legal arrangements of civil societies canconfer a status equivalent to marriage to couples who do not conform to God’s intention and design for marriage.”

Following the release of “Francesco”, some prominent Catholics highlighted their own past support for civil unions as a way of providing legal protections for couples of various kinds, without building a bridge towards civil recognition of same-sex marriage.

Ryan Anderson, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, noted Wednesday that he and Princeton Professor Robert George had previously argued that civil unions would “neither introduce a rival ‘marriage-lite’ option, or treat same-sex unions as marriages.”

The Church previously opposed the recognition of civil unions, even those explicitly defined as distinct from marriage, because they could lead to eventual recognition of “same-sex marriage,” as they have done in countries like the U.K., and because they could have “the consequence of making it a model in present-day society,” and “also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”

Some have raised questions about the significance of the pope’s comments, given that many Western countries have already brought in laws recognizing same-sex civil unions and “same-sex marriage.” But Jesuit priest and LGBT campaigner Fr. James Martin said on Twitter that the pope’s comments are “a big deal.”

“For those who think the Pope's comments about same-sex civil unions are no big deal: Perhaps in the US or Western Europe. But in places like Poland, where some bishops are virulently anti-LGBT; or Uganda, where bishops side with laws criminalizing homosexuality, it's a big deal.”

Martin’s comments triggered a strong response from Eastern European and African Catholics, who suggested the Jesuit’s comments were a form of cultural colonialism.

“What a shame to see an American priest passing judgement on African bishops!” responded Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban. “Why is it a shame? Because [Martin] doesn’t know the context.”

“In recent years, especially in [President] Obama’s time, enormous pressure was put on African leaders to introduce all the Western ‘isms’ as a condition for receiving aid,” the cardinal said.

“Legalizing of abortion and homosexuality were the foremost,” Napier said.

Federal judge: Colorado’s anti-coronavirus rules can’t single out churches

CNA Staff, Oct 22, 2020 / 10:56 pm (CNA).- A federal judge has said Colorado officials may not enforce anti-coronavirus limits against two churches, saying that the state rules lack sufficient exemptions for the free exercise of religion.

The regulations treat churches more strictly than similar gatherings, which are required to observe social distancing but not observe occupational limits as well, the judge said, adding that the rules fail to protect congregations that may wish to remove facial coverings for religious reasons.

“With each exception Colorado makes for secular institutions, the failure to make the same exemption for houses of worship becomes increasingly problematic,” U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Domenico said in his Oct. 15 order. “Colorado’s failure to offer a compelling reason why houses of worship are subject to greater restrictions than warehouses, schools, and restaurants violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion.”

The judge’s order exempts the two churches from mask requirements and occupancy limits that they believe bar their religious practice. However, they still must follow sanitation requirements, maintain social distancing, and prohibit shaking hands. The temporary injunction is in place while the case is heard in court.

“(T)he Constitution does not allow the State to tell a congregation how large it can be when comparable secular gatherings are not so limited, or to tell a congregation that its reason for wishing to remove facial coverings is less important than a restaurant’s or spa’s,” Domenico said.

The plaintiffs are two Protestant pastors and their Denver-area churches: Bob Enyart of Denver Bible Church in Wheat Ridge and Joey Rhoads of Community Baptist Church in Brighton. In August they filed a complaint against federal and state officials charging that the state health orders were vague and infringed on religious freedom.

“The lawsuit calls both the federal government and Colorado leaders into account for their violations of the right to free exercise of religion, among other abuses of power, primarily resulting from Governor Jared Polis’ COVID-19 related executive orders,” said Thomas More Society special counsel Rebecca Messall, who with co-counsel Brad Bergford represented the complainants.

The plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on most of their claims, but their First Amendment free exercise claim against state officials will likely succeed, the judge said. State officials may not enforce executive orders or public health orders against the plaintiffs “to the extent those orders treat houses of worship differently from comparable secular institutions.”

Officials may not enforce additional numerical occupancy requirements against the two churches, nor enforce the “requirement that congregants wear face masks at all times during worship services,” said Domenico.

The State of Colorado has filed an appeal.

“Absent some sort of bad faith, a law that is otherwise neutral and generally applicable does not suddenly become unconstitutional simply because it contains limited exceptions for certain secular activities but not religious activities,” said the motion from the office of the Colorado attorney general.

“Nothing in the state defendants’ public health orders reveals discrimination or bigotry targeted at religion,” the motion continued. “If anything, Colorado’s orders treat religious organizations more favorably than comparable organizations that are nonreligious.”

The state's motion argued that Domenico took scientific evidence out of context, the Denver Post reports.

Enyart, one of the pastors, appeared skeptical of the coronavirus response.

“It’s like ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’,” he told CBS4 News before the judge issued the order. “If it was a true emergency, people would be inclined to ignore government orders because of government’s overreach. There’s so much evidence coming out that the lockdown is hurting people.”

Enyart, who also hosts a radio show, has sometimes been a controversial figure. He has vocally criticized and even conducted protests of other Christian groups, pro-life groups and politicians he believes to be insufficiently opposed to abortion.

According to the pastors' complaint, compliance with state rules, executive orders and public health rules violates the plaintiffs' “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The rules “substantially burden” free exercise of religion.

The rules “restrict or prevent religious speech and the expression of personal communication in how closely plaintiff pastors can be to persons in their congregations, and in how closely congregants can be to each other, to meet, pray, talk, stand, sit, walk, sing, pray, embrace, shake hands, smile or facially express their thoughts, opinions and emotions verbally and through facial expression.”

“Moreover, plaintiffs are restricted in holding baptisms, communion services, marriage ceremonies and laying of hands,” the complaint continued. It said the two churches conduct religious services and fellowship activities for congregations larger than 50 people. The capacity limits on houses of worship are “more severe” than those that apply to similar settings, it said.

“The state also allows a variety of exceptions to its facial-covering requirement where it recognizes that removing a mask is necessary to carry out a particular activity,” said the complaint.

Domenico said the court does not doubt the good faith decisions of state officials' efforts “to balance the benefits of more public interaction against the added risk that inheres in it.”

While the Constitution “doesn't kneecap a state's pandemic response,” he said, “the existence of a crisis does not mean that the inalienable rights recognized in the Constitution become unenforceable.”

Although the religious must comply with neutral, generally applicable restrictions, he said, “the First Amendment does not allow government officials, whether in the executive or judicial branch, to treat religious worship as any less critical or essential than other human endeavors. Nor does it allow the government to determine what is a necessary part of a house of worship’s religious exercise.”

Most Colorado outbreaks have taken place at workplaces, schools and businesses, not churches, Domenico said, citing state data. The largest outbreaks have been at colleges and prisons. Less than 2% of the 900 active or resolved outbreaks in Colorado have taken place at religious facilities.

Other religious groups' challenges to Colorado limits on public gatherings have not prevailed in court.

In September, U.S. District Judge Christine M. Arguello rejected the Colorado Springs-area Andrew Wommack Ministries' challenge to coronavirus limits, saying public health was at risk. Health officials said a novel coronavirus outbreak at a July Bible conference hosted by the organization led to 63 cases and one death, Colorado Public Radio said.

 

EWTN's Warsaw: 2020 election about competing visions for America

CNA Staff, Oct 22, 2020 / 10:00 pm (CNA).-  

The head of the EWTN media network said ahead of Election Day that the 2020 presidential election offers, beyond a choice between individuals, a philosophical choice between different views of American life.

“One campaign has built itself on the notion that America is a great country, with much to offer. It embraces a vision that sees religious practice and belief in God as central to the country’s private and public life,” EWTN board chairman and CEO Michael Warsaw wrote in an Oct. 17 publisher’s note in the National Catholic Register.

Central to that campaign’s vision, Warsaw said, is a perception that faith is a critical aspect of America’s foundational principles.

“Under this view of America, Christians and other people of faith are seen as a large part of the solution to the challenges our country faces, just as they have been central to so many positive movements in American history — from the right-to-life movement of the past four decades to many of the great causes for justice and rights of the 19th, 20th and the 21st centuries,” Warsaw added.

“This view does not hold that everything in America is perfect, or that every founder of our country or leader who espoused this view is a saint, but it believes in the greatness of the country and the idea that the tools exist within our Constitution and system of government to fix those problems that arise without having to completely change our system of laws and government. This is the classical view of America.”

Warsaw’s essay did not directly identify political candidates, but it did draw a sharp distinction between political outlooks.

The other philosophical choice open to voters, he wrote, is a “progressive view,” which perceives that “America has much to atone for and little to be proud of.” In such a vision, religion is perceived as discriminatory, abortion is recognized as a right while religious liberty and freedom of conscience are diminished, Warsaw said.

“The redefinition of sexual values and of the family itself are central to this worldview,” he added, and while America is criticized as imperialist, “a blind eye is turned to the real imperialism of communist countries.”

“Religion must submit to politics and the state in this view. Period.”

With fewer than two weeks until Election Day, voters in many states have already begun early voting, and a record turnout of mail-in ballots is expected across the country this year, driven largely by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Both President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden have made a push for Catholic votes ahead of the election, with Trump championing his record on abortion and religious liberty, and Biden citing his own Catholic roots.

A recent EWTN News / Real Clear Polling survey found that Biden enjoys a lead among likely Catholics voters, although that lead narrows considerably in several swing states thought to be critical to the election.

U.S. Catholic bishops have largely emphasized the abortion in voting guidance ahead of the election, and have identified ending legal protection for abortion as the “preeminent priority” of Catholic political activity.

Warsaw’s essay lamented that in a progressive political standpoint, “values — and vocabulary — from yesterday are constantly supplanted by new values and new language. Their goal is not static but evolving, yet undeniably in an anti-Christian direction. Politicians that supported the Defense of Marriage Act, or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or the Hyde Amendment a few decades ago now find these all to be repugnant. For advocates of this understanding of America, values are not unchanging, but utterly changeable depending on political expediency and cultural trends.“

“This — more than the candidates themselves — is what is on the ballot. You are casting your vote this year for a long-term vision of America, not for a person. Keep that in mind: Pray, and vote — for the future of your country.”

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

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

 

 

Latin American bishops express solidarity with Chile after church burnings

CNA Staff, Oct 22, 2020 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- Following recent attacks on three churches in Chile, the bishops of Paraguay, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, and Argentina expressed their closeness to and support of the Church in Chile.

The Church of the Assumption and Saint Francis Borgia church in Santiago were destroyed by arson Oct. 18. Vandals smashed windows, tagged, and tried to burn down Saint Francis of Assisi Church in La Serena Oct. 19.

The attacks came as demonstrators across the country marked the one-year anniversary of large anti-government protests that took place across Chile last year, and shortly before the Oct. 25 plebiscite on writing a new constitution to replace that written in 1980 under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Bishop Adalberto Martínez Flores of Villarrica del Espiritu Santo, president of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference, expressed the bishops’ "closeness and ecclesial communion" to the Church in Chile.

"The bishops of Paraguay express our solidarity, support and prayer in the face of the aggressive and violent affronts that the Vineyard of the Lord has been subjected to in that part of Chile."

"Every sign of intolerance, disrespect and extreme obfuscation, which threatens the dignity of people and their genuine expressions, reveals the painful distance and cruel folly that evil is capable of generating in the hearts and minds of those who have forgotten God,” the bishops said.

"When the world stops recognizing the presence, action and witness of Christ incarnate in his Church, the certainty of the way of the Nazarene becomes more evident for men and women of faith," they added.

In their message of solidarity, the Brazilian bishops’ conference prayed that the "God of peace would continue to strengthen the brother bishops and other Chilean Christians in the mission of working together so that social peace may be reestablished."

“In fact, there is no way to accept violence as a solution to a nation’s problems Violence dehumanizes, harms people, destroys property and stains history,” they said.

The bishops of the Patagonia-Comahue region in Argentina sent a letter expressing their closeness to the bishops of Chile in "these moments of sadness and anguish."

"We unite with the faithful people of God who are certainly suffering from those acts of violence that destroy the values of coexistence, peace and respect, sought and achieved with so much sacrifice, and now violated and placed in crisis," the bishops said.

Knights of Columbus announce novena ahead of founder’s beatification

CNA Staff, Oct 22, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus has launched a nine-day novena to prepare for the beatification of the organization's founder, Fr. Michael McGivney, at the end of the month.

The novena starts October 22 and continues through October 30, the eve of Fr. McGivney’s beatification.

During the novena, participants will reflect on different aspects of McGivney’s life, including his pastoral leadership, charity toward the poor, and support for family life and the domestic church.

Each day of the novena will include prayers for McGivney’s intercession and reflections on virtues to imitate. It will also include a prayer for McGivney’s canonization, which will require one more approved miracle.

“We are praying that many graces will come through the beatification of Father McGivney, that by his example of virtue we may be inspired to put our faith into action for the good of our families, parishes and communities,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a press release.

“We will also pray for a miracle that will lead to the canonization of Father McGivney.”

McGivney will be beatified October 31 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford, Connecticut.

The priest founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. Today it is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, with nearly two million members in more than a dozen countries. Over the past year, the Knights of Columbus have volunteered over 77 million service hours and donated $187 million in charitable funds.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1852, McGivney played a critical role in the growth of the Church in the United States in the latter part of the 19th century. After his ordination in Baltimore in 1877, he served a largely Irish-American and immigrant community in New Haven.

Amid an anti-Catholic climate, he established the Knights to provide spiritual aid to Catholic men and financial help for families that had lost their breadwinner.

McGivney’s sainthood cause officially opened in 1997 in the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared the American-born priest a Venerable Servant of God in recognition of his life of heroic virtue.

Pope Francis approved McGivney’s first miracle in May. The miracle involved an unborn child in the United States who was healed in utero of a life-threatening condition in 2015 after his family prayed to McGivney.

Following his beatification, McGivney’s cause will require one more authenticated miracle before he can be considered for canonization.

He would not be the first member of the Knights of Columbus to be canonized. A group of six Mexican members of the organization were martyred during the Cristero War of 1926-29 and its aftermath.

The six are St. Luis Batis, St. Rodrigo Aguilar, St. Miguel de la Mora, St. Pedro de Jesús Maldonado, St. José María Robles, and St. Mateo Correa.