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Baltimore archdiocese has ‘serious concerns’ about county Communion ban

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 06:02 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Baltimore said it has “serious concerns” about public health guidance from Howard County, Maryland, which prohibits the reception of Communion as a condition for churches to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For the Catholic community, the reception of Communion is central to our faith lives and to our public worship,” said a statement from the archdiocese, released to CNA on Wednesday.

“Since learning of the concerns of Howard County officials, we have shared our guidelines for the distribution of Communion and express our own serious concerns about their recent guidance preventing Catholic churches in Howard County from distributing Communion.”

Howard County’s Executive Order #2020-09, published on May 26, outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses--which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship--to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

The order provides that “there shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service.”

Since the consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite, the order effectively bans the licit celebration of Mass in the county.

The executive order was reported by CNA May 27. 

The archdiocese said it is committed to ensuring churches reopen safely after closure amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The archdiocese has “developed thorough and carefully thought-out guidelines for resuming public Masses, including detailed guidance on the safe distribution of Communion.”

“These guidelines respect both the sanctity of the Sacrament and the need for abundant caution to protect the health and safety of both those receiving and distributing Communion,” the archdiocese said.

“While we recognize and value the urgent desire to guard the health and safety of local communities that is guiding the decisions of our government leaders, we are committed to engaging in dialogue with them to work together towards a policy going that balances the need for free expression of religious faith and the public’s health and safety interests.”

Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori is well known for his advocacy on religious liberty issues, and was the inaugural and longtime chair of the U.S bishops’ conference ad hoc committee on religious freedom. 

Earlier on Wednesday, Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA that "Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department."

"With this said," Peterson added, "we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1." 

“Regarding religious services,” Peterson said, “we have allowed for outdoor services. However, public health officials continue to describe the ongoing risks associated with hand-shaking, singing, and consumption of food of any kind thereby continuing the need for restrictions on these types of activities out of an abundance of safety precautions to protect the health, safety and well-being of the community.”

The executive order limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, while allowing outdoor services for up to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks – though the prohibition of food or drink, including Communion, is not limited to indoor celebrations.

The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the reception of Communion before, after, or during Mass. 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore's reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue--but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.

In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.

Burundi bishops denounce suspect presidential election

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- The Catholic bishops of Burundi have denounced the country’s recent general elections, and alleged irregularities in the voting process earlier this month.

The president of the Burundi Conference of Catholic Bishops (BCCB) issued a statement on Tuesday following the victory of Evariste Ndayishimiye, former secretary-general of the country’s ruling party, the CNDD-FDD.

“We deplore many irregularities with regard to the freedom and transparency of the electoral process as well as fairness in the treatment of certain candidates and voters,” said Bishop Joachim Ntahondereye of Muyinga after results were announced, according to AFP.

On Monday, the electoral commission declared Ndayishimiye the winner of the country’s May 20 election. He received 68.72% of the votes, more than double the opposition’s leader, Agathon Rwasa, who received 24.19%.

The opposing party, the National Council for Liberty (CNL), called the process “an electoral masquerade” and promised to appeal to the Constitutional Court this week. If the opposition’s appeal is rejected, Ndayishimiye will be sworn into office in August.

“In the face of these and other irregularities, we wonder whether they do not prejudice the (final) results to be proclaimed by the Constitutional Court on 4 June,” the bishops asked, according to Africa News.

The bishops have been outspoken before. In 2019, they alleged that minority parties were being “suffocated” ahead of the presidential election.

In response, government officials called for their laicization.

“Some bishops should be defrocked because it is becoming a habit: on the eve of elections they spit their venomous hatred through incendiary messages,” said presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe on Twitter.

Burundi is a landlocked East African country of almost 12 million. It has faced near constant political turmoil since the 1970s, and has been the place of two different genocides.

The Burundi bishops said their election observers noted, among other unfair actions, the ruling party engaged in electoral fraud, coercion, and intimidation. The government has been accused of detaining or ejecting CNL officials from the polls. Further, no foreign observers were permitted into the country to help supervise a fair election.

The Catholic Church “deplores in particular the coercion exercised on certain proxies to sign in advance the counting of the contents of the ballot boxes, the stuffing of some ballot boxes, the voting in place of deceased and refugees, multiple and therefore invalid proxies, the fact that there were in some polling stations voters who voted more than once,” the bishops said, according to Africa News.

The bishops also condemned “the exclusion of proxies and observers from the places where the votes are counted, the intimidation and coercion of some voters by administrative officials who accompanied them to the polling booths, the intrusion of unauthorised persons into the counting stations.”

The Church deployed 2,716 observers to overview the polling stations. While the number of observers was fewer than the number of stations, they were able to analyze polling stations in all of Burundi’s 119 municipalities.

Outgoing President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has ruled the country since 2005, applauded the victory of his party.

His final term in office was strongly opposed by the U.S., U.K., opposing parties, and Burundi bishops. His 2015 decision to seek a third term triggered violence in the country that left at least 1,200 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Last year, the bishops emphasized the administration's political violence and warned that the Imbonerakure – the youth wing of the ruling party – had replaced security forces in the country.

In response, the government said that some bishops should be defrocked and claimed that these men were spitting “venomous hatred through incendiary messages,” according to a tweet from presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe.

Following the country’s turmoil in 2015, Pope Francis encouraged prayers for the country and the victims of violence.

“I also wish to invite you to pray for the dear people of Burundi, who are living in a delicate moment,” the Pope said in his May 17 address ahead of the Regina Caeli prayers.

“May the Lord help everyone flee the violence and act responsibly for the good of the country.”

 

 

The Sound of Glory

Pencil Preaching for Thursday, May 28, 2020

Costa Rican bishop disappointed in legalization of gay marriage

CNA Staff, May 27, 2020 / 04:29 pm (CNA).- A Costa Rican bishop has warned that although same-sex marriage has been legalized in the country, the Catholic Church will continue to proclaim the truth of God’s plan for sexuality and marriage.

Despite the change in law, Bishop José Manuel Garita of Ciudad Quesada said May 26, “we will not tire in showing the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman. Nor will the Church cease to proclaim the plan willed by God in creating man and woman, even though the times, fashions, pressures and ideologies dictate otherwise.”

In a January 9, 2018 decision, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that Costa Rica must legalize gay marriage. The Costa Rican government had asked the court for an advisory opinion on gay marriage and other issues.

Critics at the time argued that the decision was non-binding and was a violation of Costa Rica’s national sovereignty.

Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice then issued a 6-4 decision in August 2018 declaring unconstitutional the portion of the nation’s family code that prohibited gay marriage. The court gave the National Assembly 18 months to conform the country’s laws to permit same-sex unions.

The National Assembly did not enact legislation on the matter, so the relevant section of the family code was automatically eliminated on May 26, 2020, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said the change “will bring about a significant social and cultural transformation which will allow thousands of people to get married in front of a lawyer.”

However, Bishop Manuel contended that legally redefining marriage does change the inherent meaning of the institution.

“As Christians, we know that the family based on man and woman has a dignity and a mission,” he said.

He stressed that no one, regardless of sexual orientation, should be denied food, housing, work or health care, but added that “to achieve these and other rights the sacred foundation of marriage must not be touched.”

“We too have a right for what is sacred to a great majority of our society to be respected,” he said.

On May 15, the Costa Rican Bishops’ Conference had issued a statement for International Family Day, lamenting the spread of an ideological colonization that “discredits the value of the person, life, marriage and the family,” resulting in a loss of clarity around the truth “that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman fulfills a complete social function, because it is a stable commitment and makes fertility possible.”

The bishops acknowledged that “in a democratic and pluralistic society like ours, legal recognition can be given to people of the same sex who live together,” but said it would be “unjust if such recognition were to equate the union of same sex persons with that of marriage.”

“Not wanting to discriminate against homosexual people does not authorize the state to confuse the natural order of marriage and the family,” they said.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

43% of US coronavirus deaths in nursing homes

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A new report on Tuesday says that more than 40% of deaths from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States have occurred in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

“Much more attention must be paid to the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in nursing homes, especially through nursing home staff who work at multiple facilities,” wrote Avik Roy and Gregg Girvan for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

“Nursing homes must use best practices for testing and cleanliness,” they wrote.

Analyzing state data on COVID-19 deaths, Roy and Girvan noted that, of the states reporting coronavirus deaths in long-term care centers, 43% of the overall deaths from the virus occurred in the centers; outside of New York state, that percentage rose to 53%.

New York, they said, may be an “outlier” among state reports because the volume of deaths outside of nursing homes may have driven the percentage share of nursing home deaths down. New York also reportedly changed how it was counting COVID nursing home deaths in early May; nursing home patients who died from the virus at a hospital were not counted as nursing home deaths.

The death rates at nursing homes were particularly high in the Northeast. In New Jersey, almost one in ten nursing home residents died from the virus, with 954 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes per 10,000 residents. In Connecticut, the number of fatalities per 10,000 residents was 827; in Massachusetts, it was 703.

However, in some other states such as Minnesota, the percentage of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes—as a share of overall deaths from the virus—was extremely high.

In Minnesota, more than 81% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes, as of May 22. In Rhode Island, 77% of virus deaths happened in nursing homes; in Ohio, 70% of COVID-19 deaths occurred at nursing homes, and New Hampshire was close behind at 69.8%. Pennsylvania saw 69.2% of its deaths from the virus occur in nursing homes.

In the wake of reports of the high number of deaths in nursing homes, some have pointed to policies of several states that sent positive COVID patients to nursing homes, to free up hospital beds. New York, New Jersey, California, and Pennsylvania instructed nursing homes that they could not refuse COVID patients discharged from hospitals.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that nursing homes already had problems of poor training or funding before the pandemic struck.

Sending patients who had COVID to nursing homes started an “uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death,” he told CNA. However, he added, as nursing homes and long-term care facilities “were already pushed to the margins of our culture, it actually made sense that the dignity of these residents and workers was ignored and their lives discarded.”

The high percentage of U.S. nursing home deaths from the virus was reflected in other countries, Roy and Girvan wrote.

They cited a study by the International Long Term Care Policy Network that analyzed COVID deaths in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In those countries, more than 40% of reported COVID-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes.

“States and localities should consider reorienting their policy responses away from younger and healthier people, and toward the elderly, and especially elderly individuals living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” Roy and Girvan wrote.

COVID-19 virus puts a spotlight on inequality and racism

America is experiencing a health crisis, but the pandemic has also spotlighted the moral crisis that afflicts our country. Until we care for all God's children, we will continue to be a nation that is sick in its soul.

L.A. Archdiocese to begin opening churches under detailed safety measures

After being closed for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can begin to open to the public the first week of June if they implement certain safety guidelines, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez told priests and parish staff late May 26.

Prayer is powerful, life-giving, pope says

Prayer is powerful not because it changes God or God's plans, but because it changes individuals and communities, one heart at a time, Pope Francis said.

Maryland county bans Eucharist in church reopening order

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 27, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- This story is developing and has been updated.

An executive order issued Tuesday in Maryland’s Howard County outlines public health rules under which churches may reopen. The order prohibits the distribution and consumption of any food or drink as part of any religious service, effectively outlawing the distribution of Communion and the celebration of the Mass. 

Howard County Executive Order #2020-09 outlines the conditions and regulations that must be met for non-essential businesses--which in Maryland includes churches and other houses of worship--to resume operations. The order was released by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” the order says in a section delineating norms and restrictions on religious services. 

The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.

CNA asked the Howard County public affairs office to comment on how the rule aligns with First Amendment religious freedom and free exercise rights.

Howard County spokesman Scott Peterson told CNA in a statement that "Howard County has not fully implemented Phase 1 of Reopening. We continue to do an incremental rollout based on health and safety guidelines, analysis of data and metrics specific to Howard County and in consultation with our local Health Department."

"With this said," Peterson added, "we continue to get stakeholder feedback in order to fully reopen to Phase 1." 

The executive order also limits attendance at indoor worship spaces to 10 people or fewer, limits outdoor services to 250 socially-distanced people wearing masks, forbids the passing of collection plates, and bans handshakes and physical contact between worshippers. 

 

Beginning at 7am on May 29th, religious institutions may resume services assuming the following guidelines are met. The guidelines refer to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, interfaith centers, and any other space where faith gatherings are held.https://t.co/XE0soDdV3l pic.twitter.com/NieG0MavCv

— Calvin Ball (@HoCoGovExec) May 26, 2020  

In contrast to the 10-person limit for churches, establishments listed in the order that do not host religious services are permitted to operate at 50% capacity. 

The order also states that “singing is permitted, but not recommended,” and that only the person leading the service or a choir may sing. Those who are singing without masks should, per the order, “maintain a 12-foot distance from other persons, including religious leaders, other singers, or the congregation.” 

The sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel contains the well-known “Bread of Life” discourse, in which Jesus teaches at a Capernum synagogue that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

Catholics believe that teaching constitutes part of Christ's revelation of the Eucharist.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, whose territory includes Howard County, did not respond to requests for comment on the Howard County executive order by the time of posting.

The archdiocese announced its own phased reopening plans on Tuesday. While some of the policies outlined in the archdiocese’s plans are in line with Executive Order 2020-09, there is no prohibition on the distribution of food or beverages before, after, or during Mass. 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore's reopening plans require that communicants observe social distancing while in line for communion, and is discouraging reception on the tongue--but the archdiocese has not instructed parishes to place any other restrictions on the reception of communion, apart from ordinary canonical norms.

In Phase I of the archdiocese’s reopening plan, churches will be open for private prayer, but Mass will still be celebrated without a congregation. In Phase II, which is expected to begin in some areas the weekend of May 30-31, churches may open to socially-distanced congregations up to one-third of the seating capacity, if local public restrictions permit the attendance of more than 10 people at Mass.

The Department of Justice has recently issued a number of letters concerning cases of state and local public health orders which affect churches and houses of worship. In the last week, the department sent letters to the governors of California and Nevada, emphasizing the need to respect religious freedoms while working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights,” Eric S. Dreiband, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said in a May 19 letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

The DOJ has also filed statements of interest in cases involving conflicts between churches and local authorities, including a lawsuit against the Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, after members of the Temple Baptist Church were fined $500 for attending a service in their cars in the church's parking lot. The mayor later rescinded the fines and amended the city’s stay at home order.

Vatican orders Italian founder of ecumenical community to leave

The Vatican has ordered Enzo Bianchi, the 77-year-old founder and former prior of the ecumenical Monastery of Bose, to leave the community following an apostolic visitation to clarify leadership within the group.