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Ban on D&E abortions advances in Nebraska legislature

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Nebraska lawmakers on Wednesday, in a contentious vote, gave first-round approval to a ban on dilation and evacuation abortions, which pro-life lawmakers are hoping to pass before the end of legislative session.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference, which has supported the ban since its introduction, hailed the Aug. 5 vote and thanked all those that had prayed and fasted for the success of the bill.

D&E abortions, commonly known as dismemberment abortions, are typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy and result in the dismemberment of an unborn child.

“No human being should be torn apart limb by limb,” the conference said.

Senator Suzanne Geist (District 25-Lincoln) introduced LB814 in January, which was co-sponsored by 21 state senators upon introduction, with another four joining later. The measure passed its first vote 34-9.

Multiple senators attempted to filibuster the bill, but the bill earned the 33 votes necessary to break the filibuster as Geist moved to invoke cloture.

Two more votes are required in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature before the bill goes to the desk of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the ban. Only four days remain in Nebraska’s legislative session.

The bill explicitly prohibits abortionists to use “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or similar instruments that...slice, crush, or grasp a portion of the unborn child's body to cut or rip it off.”

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, to date 11 states have passed bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, though because of courts blocking the measures, the bans in just two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, are currently in effect.

Most recently, a federal judge during July 2019 blocked Indiana’s D&E ban from taking effect.

In 2010, Nebraska became the first state to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, citing evidence that unborn children feel pain.

Coronavirus 'baby bust' could be worse than expected

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Amid steady forecasts of demographic decline, one economics professor told CNA that a COVID-related “baby bust” could be worse than people predicted.

A Brookings Institution report published in June said that the economic shock caused by the coronavirus, combined with the social effects of the pandemic itself, could trigger a sharp decline in births.

Those predictions should not be dismissed, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, a professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA, noting that economic uncertainty can have a direct correlation with the birthrate.

“The money and the numbers tend to correlate with all the things we think matter for human flourishing,” she said, such as the “ability to grow and form families.”

In the Brookings report, authors Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine warned that the coronavirus pandemic might cause a “baby bust” rather than the “baby boom” some assumed could follow months of lockdowns.

They said that two events—the surge in deaths and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, and the economic decline resulting from lockdown measures—would both cause a drop in the birthrate from “300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year.”

“The circumstances in which we now find ourselves are likely to be long-lasting and will lead to a permanent loss of income for many people,” Kearney and Levine wrote.

“We expect that many of these births will not just be delayed – but will never happen. There will be a COVID-19 baby bust.”

The study pointed to two major historical events for evidence for their prediction, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the Great Recession of a decade ago.

“The Great Recession led to a large decline in birth rates, after a period of relative stability,” the authors said, noting a fall in the birthrate from 69.1 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age in 2007 to 63 births per 1,000 women in 2012.

Furthermore, the authors estimated a 15% decline in annual births due to the 1918 epidemic, which could predict a second major effect on the current birthrate given “the public health crisis and the uncertainty and anxiety it creates.”

Pakaluk praised the Brookings study as “totally reliable,” and said that the decline in births next year “could be on the extreme end of the numbers they predicted.”

“Birthrates have been falling anyway,” she said, noting a years-long trend which has continued even after the U.S. economy recovered from the Great Recession, which many assumed would bring a spike in the birthrate.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the birthrate for 2019 was the lowest since the figure was first recorded in 1909, with only 58.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44.

There was also a 1% drop in the number of overall births from the previous year, with 3.75 million children born in 2019. While a growth in fertility rates requires a “replacement level” rate of 2.1 children for population replacement, the U.S. fertility rate sits at 1.7.

Then in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic entered the U.S. and spread rapidly. As coronavirus infection rates and deaths soared, states began instituting strict lockdowns or closures of non-essential businesses, the unemployment rate spiked to 14% and currently stands at more than 11%.

According to the Brookings report, the Federal Reserve has predicted that unemployment will hover near 10% by the end of the year.

The twin “catastrophic shocks” of the coronavirus and massive job losses will have a deep impact on an already-falling birthrate, Pakaluk said. Further complicating the matter could be a rise in political instability in a contentious presidential election year, which could further dissuade couples from choosing to have children.

The Brookings report also predicts that a longer economic malaise could further drive down the birthrate in the long-term. “Additional reductions in births may be seen if the labor market remains weak beyond 2020,” the study concluded.

What might some of the long-term societal effects be of an extended drop in birthrates?

A smaller youth demographic could lead to a shrinking tax base, posing threats to the solvency of local governments.

“We’re seeing, right this minute” COVID-related state budget cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars, Pakaluk said, to meet pension obligations and pay for schools. According to data from the State and Local Finance Initiative and reported by NPR, 34 states saw a revenue drop of 20% or more between March and May of 2020.

The present crisis could also force a national conversation about how to pay for programs such as Medicare, Pakaluk said.

On the individual family level, many might experience “the fertility gap,” feelings of regret, incompleteness, or missed opportunities related to not having an extra child. Childless couples could be faced with finding a caregiver when they grow older, or children might feel the lack of an absent sibling.

“We have reason to think that religious people, religious communities, are more resilient to these kinds of ups and downs,” Pakaluk said of the current social anxiety and economic instability.

However, she noted, “we are in the throes of a fairly-unprecedented secularization.”

Knights of Columbus creating Fr. Michael McGivney pilgrimage center

Denver Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced plans to create a new pilgrimage center for visitors to encounter the spirituality of the order’s founder, Fr. Michael McGivney, who is set to be beatified in October.

The Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center will be created at the current Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said the center will offer pilgrims the opportunity to learn more about the group’s founder.

“While the museum will continue to recount the Knights' history, it will also broaden its mission by focusing more on the spirituality and charitable vision of our founder and his legacy. A visit to the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center will enhance the formative experience of a pilgrimage to Father McGivney's tomb at St. Mary’s,” he said.

Anderson made the announcement of the new pilgrimage center on Tuesday, during the Knights of Columbus' 138th annual Supreme Convention. It is the first annual convention to be held completely virtually, as ongoing limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic have restricted in-person gatherings.

McGivney's beatification Mass will take place on October 31 in Hartford, Connecticut.

Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession 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.

“For members of the Knights of Columbus and many others, the news of the beatification is a time of great joy and celebration. Father McGivney ministered to those on the margins of society in the 19th century, and his example has inspired millions of Knights to follow his example in their own parishes and communities,” said Anderson.

McGivney 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.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1852, McGivney was ordained a priest 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.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared McGivney a Venerable Servant of God. He said McGivney was an “exemplary American priest” whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus.

In a recent letter to the Knights, Pope Francis commended McGivney’s contributions to the world and Church. He said the priest’s service to the poor and vulnerable calls the Knights “to deepen their commitment to live as missionary disciples in charity, unity and fraternity.”

“His Holiness is grateful for these and for the many other countless ways in which the Knights of Columbus continue to bear prophetic witness to God's dream for a more fraternal, just and equitable world in which all are recognized as neighbors and no one is left behind,” the pope said.

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

 

Vatican II not sole controversial council, Catholic theologian says

Denver Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 03:35 pm (CNA).-  

Amid recent controversy over Vatican II, a theologian said that ecumenical councils have a history of provoking conflict, but their expression and explanation of the Catholic faith is protected by the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit can't be inconsistent with Himself,” Notre Dame theologian John Cavadini told CNA, but “wrongly interpreted, the statements of an ecumenical council may be inconsistent with previous teaching.”

Cavadini was appointed in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI to serve on the Church’s International Theological Commission, and specializes in the intellectual history of Christianity.

The theologian said Church documents sometimes need clarification, but saying so is not the same as claiming, as some recent critics have, that an ecumenical council might teach or contain errors about the Catholic faith.

The Second Vatican Council was an authoritative meeting of the Catholic Church’s bishops, called an ecumenical council, held in Rome from 1962 to 1965. There have been 21 ecumenical councils in the Church’s history, at which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner.”

Vatican II has been the subject of disagreement since it began.

The council was convened to articulate teachings of the Catholic faith in a matter that might be understood in modernity, to grapple with the Church’s relationship to the secular world, and to address some theological and pastoral questions that had arisen in the decades before it.

Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, it has become a decades-long theological project of the Church’s bishops to interpret and understand the fullness of its vision, in a manner consistent with the doctrinal teachings of the Church. That project has led to numerous theological and pastoral initiatives, and also to division.

Some Catholics, including some bishops who attended the Council, felt that attempts to “modernize” the Church’s language or catechesis could lead to equivocation on important issues, or a less precise and direct expression of Catholic doctrine and worship.

Some critics of Vatican II have said that documents produced by the council contain errors, others say they need clarification, while many others have criticized the application of the council in the decades following it, while defending the documents themselves. In some cases, those debates have led to official ruptures in the Church.

In recent months debate over the council itself has become more public, and more acute.

In a June interview, and in other recent letters, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, a former papal representative to the United States, offered a set of criticisms against the Second Vatican Council that attracted considerable attention among some scholars and Catholics, especially because of their source: a former high-ranking Vatican official who had been appointed to positions by Pope St. John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI, both supporters of the Second Vatican Council.

Viganò claimed that at the Second Vatican Council, “hostile forces” caused “the abdication of the Catholic Church” through a “sensational deception.”

“The errors of the post-conciliar period were contained in nuce in the Conciliar Acts,” the archbishop added, accusing the council, and not just its aftermath, of overt error.

Viganò has suggested that the Second Vatican Council catalyzed a massive, but unseen, schism in the Church, ushering in a false Church alongside the true Church.

Last month, some Catholics, including priests, media personalities, and some scholars, signed a letter praising Vigano’s engagement on the topic, and claiming that “Whether or not Vatican II can be reconciled with Tradition is the question to be debated, not a posited premise blindly to be followed even if it turns out to be contrary to reason. The continuity of Vatican II with Tradition is a hypothesis to be tested and debated, not an incontrovertible fact.”

In response to Viganò, Cavadini wrote in July that he sympathizes with Catholic frustrations “regarding the evident confusion in the Church today, the attenuation of Eucharistic faith, the banality of much of what claims to be the Council’s inheritance liturgically, etc.”

“Yet, is it fair to blame the Council, rejecting it as riddled with error? But would this not mean the Holy Spirit allowed the Church to lapse into prodigious error and further allowed five Popes to teach it enthusiastically for over 50 years?” Cavadini asked.

“Further, did the Second Vatican Council really produce no good worth mentioning? Viganò mentions none. True, its liturgical reforms were commandeered by banality in the United States. For example, there is the introduction of hymns with no aesthetic merit but containing doctrinal errors especially regarding the Eucharist, hymns that de-catechized the very Catholics who faithfully attend Sunday Mass,” he wrote, while noting that he had experienced beautiful liturgies in African nations that were the fruit of the Second Vatican Council.

Speaking of one such Mass in Nigeria, Cavadini wrote, that “when, after Communion, the whole assembly recited in unison three times, ‘O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine,’ it seemed that the Holy Spirit was making the deepest possible appeal to our hearts, reaching into our souls, helping us to ‘pray as we ought.’”

The theologian also praised the universal call to holiness contained in Lumen gentium, Vatican II’s document on the Church. The council emphasized that sanctity, or closeness to God, is not only the domain of priests and religious, but of all people.

“It is something which seemed so sublime to me when I first read it at age 19 that the desire to live up to it has never worn off even now,” he wrote.

Cavadini catalogued other aspects of Vatican II he said were important theological or pastoral pronouncements. He said claims that documents of Vatican II planted the “seeds” of theological error do not stand up to scrutiny.

“Is Vatican II a bad seed? Or, is the seed in question rather the lopsided choice of theologians to develop one strand of conciliar teaching at the expense of others? Not to mention pastors who have so prioritized the true good of making Christian teaching accessible and intelligible to modern people that they downplay its uniqueness as embarrassingly outmoded?” he asked.

In comments to CNA, Cavadini emphasized that other councils have been misinterpreted and controversial. His essay noted that after some councils, like the Council of Chalcedon, controversies continued for centuries.

“That a statement would need further interpretation is not a unique feature of this council,” Cavadini said.

The theologian raised an example from the Council of Nicea, which took place in the summer of 325. The council, in a discussion about the Trinity, declared that the Son is consubstantial, or homoousios, with the Father.

“There was a widespread reaction against the word,” Cavadini told CNA, by bishops and theologians who equated it with the third-century heresy of Sabellianism, which had been condemned by the Church’s magisterium.

“It was only when the use of the word hupostasis or persona was clarified and distinguished from ousia or ‘substance’ that the ambiguity was clarified. But -- to emphasize -- this was not an error in the teaching itself, far from it! Yet the very act of making a statement sets up a new situation, which often does require further interpretation.”

When Nicea used the word homoousios, “it was taking up a tainted word,” the theologian said.

“Wouldn’t our critics of Vatican II have cried foul? And error? They just don’t remember that even this most famous of councils was bold enough to risk using a tainted word in a new sense with new intent.”

He added that amid efforts to interpret a document, official clarification of unclear language is sometimes important.

On matters of faith “an ecumencial council is preserved from error” he added, “but this does not mean that everything was expressed as well as it could have been or could be, for the Holy Spirit doesn't guarantee that, but simply that the Church, in her authoritative teaching, is preserved from outright statements of error.”

Cavadini urged that Catholics, and especially Church leaders, read seriously the documents of Vatican II, and work to incorporate them in their understanding of the Church.

The recent controversy, he wrote, and Viganò’s letter, have “at least had the virtue of forcing me to emerge from complacency in accepting half-measures in the reception of the Council. Perhaps others will find themselves with me in the same boat as well.”

 

Missouri voters approve Medicaid expansion, after push from bishops

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- Voters in Missouri approved Tuesday an expansion of Medicaid to more than 230,000 low-income people in the state, a move which drew praise from the state’s four Catholic bishops.

“The vote to expand the Medicaid program will provide greater access to health insurance coverage for the working poor. We are hopeful that the expansion of this important program will improve health outcomes for those with unmet healthcare needs as well as help Missouri’s hospitals keep their doors open, especially in rural parts of the state,” the bishops of Missouri said in an Aug. 5 statement.

The Aug. 4 decision will mean adults between the ages of 19 and 65 whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level will be covered by the federally subsidized health program, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The federal government will pay for 90% of the cost of the expansion, with 10% coming from the state.

An analysis of the expansion by Washington University in St. Louis found that although the move would cost the state an additional $118 million a year, that cost would be offset by savings elsewhere and an increase in tax revenue because of a boost in spending on health care services, leading to an estimated $39 million a year in net savings.

Missouri joins 36 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid, a right given to states under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid is known by different names in different states; in Missouri it is known as MO Healthnet.

The Missouri Catholic Conference had during October 2019 thrown its support behind Amendment 2, the ballot measure to approve the expansion. The measure ended up passing with 53% approval.

The bishops cited paragraph 2288 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that concern for the health of its citizens requires society to “help in the attainment of living conditions that help citizens grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.”

The bishops praised the MO HealthNet program for its health coverage to Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, and children. Nearly 10% of Missouri’s population, or about half a million people, were uninsured in 2018.

“In our Catholic ministries throughout the state, however, we find that there are still many Missouri citizens who lack access to affordable healthcare coverage that is so necessary for human flourishing. We, therefore, support expanding the program to cover low-income workers, since doing so will help lead to better health outcomes for them and enhance their ability to continue working to support themselves and their families.”

The bishops acknowledged that some pro-life voters in the state had expressed concern about the expansion of Medicaid because of the possibility of federal funds being used to fund abortions if the Hyde Amendment— the federal prohibition on Medicaid funds for abortions— is overturned.

The risk that the Hyde Amendment will be overturned is small, the bishops have said, even though presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has signaled that he no longer supports Hyde Amendments.

Still, the bishops pledged to continue to advocate that the Hyde Amendment remain a part of federal law.

“We want to make it clear that our support for human life at all stages is unwavering. Indeed, helping those in need obtain health care is part of being pro-life and part of our call from Christ to see Him in the face of those less fortunate,” the bishops said.

“We believe providing low-income working mothers with health insurance coverage that remains in place after they deliver will reduce the demand for abortions.”

The Medicaid expansion vote in Missouri was starkly split between urban and rural areas, with the metro areas of Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Columbia largely voting yes and the rest of the state, which is heavily rural, largely voting no.

Studies have found that expansions in other states, such as Washington, have resulted in reductions in uncompensated care costs for hospitals and clinics, which has helped stabilized struggling, rural hospitals, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Togolese bishop, supportive of political reform, targeted by spyware

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Researchers based at the University of Toronto announced Monday that Bishop Benoît Alowonou of Kpalimé was among six targets of spyware in Togo last year. The country's bishops have supported political reform and denounced the government's injustice.

The spyware, known as Pegasus and which targets WhatsApp users, was made by NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. It gives its operator access to the target's mobile device.

Since 2005, Faure Gnassingbé has been president of Togo. His father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, had ruled the country after a 1967 coup until his death in 2005.

Bishop Alowonou is president of the Togolese bishops' conference, which in 2017 urged constitutional reform, and earlier this year decried the violent arrest of an opposition leader.

In May 2019 WhatsApp found that spyware from NSO Group could be injected on mobiles phones with a missed video call on the app. Some 1,400 of its users were targeted.

Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary lab based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, said Aug. 3 that it “volunteered to assist WhatsApp to investigate the 2019 Incident as part of the Citizen Lab’s mandate to study digital threats against civil society.”

“During our investigation we identified multiple targets in Togo. These individuals were targeted between April and May, 2019 … We believe the infection attempts would have led to the infection of most targeted devices with NSO’s spyware,” Citizen Lab wrote.

In addition to Bishop Alowonou, Togolese targets of the spyware included Fr. Pierre Affognon, chaplain of the Association of Catholic Leaders of Togo; Elliott Ohin, a former government minister and an opposition leader; and Raymond Houndjo, a prominent member of the National Alliance for Change, an opposition party.

Fr. Affognon's group had in late 2018 called for democratic reforms and organized protest marches that were barred by the government.

Bishop Alowonou told The Guardian that Pegasus' use against dissidents in Togo is “dangerous for our freedoms and for democracy”, while Fr. Affognon said, “it's a violation of the liberty of the citizens.”

According to Citizen Lab, the sole operator of Pegasus in Togo “appeared to be spying only in Togo,” and so it suspects it “was operated by an agency of the Togolese Government.”

Nevertheless, John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, told The Guardian that “Citizen Lab is not conclusively stating which government is responsible for this attack. But the fact that these individuals are all either opposition party members or otherwise critical of the government is troubling.”

In October 2019 WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the US against NSO Group , claiming it enabled the Pegasus attacks on its 1,400 users.

Pegasus is marketed to governments for crime fighting, but according to Citizen Lab “there are over 130 cases in which NSO Group’s hacking technology has been used to conduct abusive surveillance against civil society around the globe,” including journalists and human rights advocates.

NSO Group dispute's WhatsApp's claims.

In an Oct. 29, 2019 statement, it said that “the sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists … We consider any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse, which is contractually prohibited. We take action if we detect any misuse.”

There are allegations that Pegasus was used by Saudi officials to monitor Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Togo has seen political instability and widespread poverty in recent years. Protests in 2017 called for Gnassingbé's resignation, and resulted in harsh crackdowns.

Gnassingbé won re-election for his fourth term in a February 2020 election, with more than 70% of the vote.

Opposition leaders asserted there was widespread fraud on the part of the authorities.

The Archbishop Emeritus of Lomé, Philippe Kpodzro, was briefly placed under house arrest in March for encouraging protests following the election.

In 2019 Gnassingbé secured constitutional changes to term limits that allow him to be able to remain in office until 2030.

New York rolls back nursing home immunity over non-COVID care

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 01:10 pm (CNA).- New York governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed a bill Tuesday partially reversing immunity protections given to facilities like nursing homes against lawsuits during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The new law keeps in place immunity for healthcare staff and facilities in cases directly related to COVID-19 care, but removes the legal protections for preventative COVID-19 care and the arrangement of health care services for patients.

In May, Cuomo had signed into law a provision granting broad legal immunity for health care providers during the coronavirus pandemic, including in cases not related to COVID, unless the harm done to patients was due to criminal negligence or recklessness. The provision was included as a part of a larger budget bill. 

Cuomo’s office told the New York Times in May that the provision was to enable hospitals, nursing homes, and staff to respond to the pandemic without having to fear a flood of lawsuits. 

On Tuesday, Cuomo signed bill S8835, which curbed the previously broad grant of immunity, limiting it “to health care professionals that are providing diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 directly to confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients.” It also removed legal protection against lawsuits for any care that is part of “prevention” of COVID or of “arranging for” health care services. 

New York’s COVID case count and death count has dropped significantly since its peak in mid-April, when 1,003 new deaths were reported on April 14, and 11,755 new cases were reported on April 15, according to data from the New York Times. On August 4, only 746 new cases and nine new deaths were reported in the state.

Some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. have occurred in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, which have accounted for a significant portion of the coronavirus deaths nationwide.

The New York Times reported on July 30 that nursing homes and long-term care facilities had accounted for just 8% of COVID cases in the U.S., but more than 40% of COVID deaths nationwide.

At a single health care center in Queens, New York, there have been 82 reported COVID deaths, although that number has not increased since May, according to data from the state’s health department.

Confirmed COVID deaths at nursing homes number 459 in Queens and 556 in Suffolk County, a slight increase from May numbers of 432 deaths in Queens and 489 in Suffolk.

Early in the pandemic, New York was one of several states that ordered nursing homes to accept COVID patients who had the virus but were discharged from hospitals as stable. The policy was issued amid widespread concern that hospital bed capacities would not be able to keep up with the number of patients with severe cases of the virus.

In May, the state rescinded the policy, which was criticized by some advocates for fueling the high rate of COVID deaths in New York nursing homes. Dr. Charles Camosy, a professor of ethics at Fordham University, said that the policy helped to “create an uncontrollable wildfire of infection and death” at nursing homes.

Cuomo had granted immunity from lawsuits for health care facilities as part of the state’s budget bill he signed into law in May.

According to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), there have been more than 40,000 COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, with more than 150,000 confirmed cases and more than 96,000 suspected cases.

Nursing homes in northeastern states have been hit particularly hard, with Massachusetts seeing the highest rate of more than 120 COVID deaths per 1,000 residents. New Jersey has the second-highest rate with more than 116 deaths, with Connecticut at just more than 100. New York has a rate of 46.8 COVID deaths per 1,000 residents.

Lebanon needs US Catholic help now, bishops say

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The Maronite eparchs of the United States are pleading for prayers and aid for the people of Lebanon in the wake of the large explosion in Beirut on Tuesday, August 4, as Lebanon’s bishops call for a day of fasting and prayer this weekend. 

Dozens are feared dead and thousands were injured by the blast, the cause of which is still unknown. Harrowing images from Beirut show buildings reduced to rubble, and an estimated hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless by the explosion. 

In the statement, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, and Bishop Elias Zeidan of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles described Beirut as an “apocalyptic city.” 

“Hospitals, schools, businesses, and much more is destroyed, leaving people feeling hopeless and helpless,” said the bishops. 

The explosion knocked out electricity for most of the city of Beirut. Seismic waves were felt hundreds of miles away from the blast. 

The eparchs further lamented the declining civil state of Lebanon, which St. John Paul II once praised as a place where Muslims and Christians lived peacefully together, as the country faces continued widespread societal breakdown.

“This country is at the verge of a failed state and total collapse,” they said. “We pray for Lebanon, and we ask for your support for our brothers and sisters at this difficult time and in response to the catastrophe.” 

The bishops requested that people “stand in solidarity with the Lebanese,” and that they are praying for an increased stability and “path of recovery toward peace and justice for all.” 

The vast majority of Catholics, who make up 27% of Lebanon’s population, are Maronites. 

Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rai, the patriarch of the Maronite church, said on Wednesday that Saturday, August 8, was to be a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance in the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut. 

Cardinal Rai said that the Church “which has set up a relief network throughout Lebanese territory, today finds itself faced with a new great duty which it is unable to assume on its own,” and appealed for global aid.

"Beirut is a devastated city, Beirut, the bride of the East and the beacon of the West is wounded, it is a scene of war without war,” said Rai in his letter, titled “An Appeal to All States of the World.” 

Rai also requested that the United Nations set up a special fund to assist with the reconstruction of Beirut and called on charities around the world to help Lebanese families “heal their wounds and restore their homes.”

Several Catholic and secular organizations are already on the ground assisting with the relief efforts in Beirut, including Caritas Lebanon, the Catholic Near-East Welfare AssociationLebanese Red Cross, and Beit el Baraka

Pope Francis appealed for prayers for the Lebanese people in his Wednesday audience on August 5. 

“Let us pray for the victims, for their families; and let us pray for Lebanon, so that, through the dedication of all its social, political, and religious elements, it might face this extremely tragic and painful moment and, with the help of the international community, overcome the grave crisis they are experiencing,” he said via livestream from the Vatican.

Lebanese cardinal: ‘The Church has a great duty’ after Beirut explosion

Rome Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- After at least one explosion occurred at the ports of Beirut on Tuesday, a Maronite Catholic cardinal has said the local Church needs support to help the people of Lebanon recover from this disaster.

“Beirut is a devastated city. A catastrophe struck there because of the mysterious explosion which occurred in its port,” Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch, said Aug. 5.

“The Church, which has set up a relief network throughout Lebanese territory, today finds itself faced with a new great duty which it is unable to assume on its own,” the statement of the patriarch continued.

He said after the Beirut explosion, the Church stands “in solidarity with the afflicted, the families of the victims, the wounded, and the displaced that it is ready to welcome in its institutions.”

The blast, which occurred at Beirut’s port, has killed at least 100 and injured thousands, flooding hospitals. The death toll is expected to climb further, as emergency personnel search for an unknown number of people still missing in the rubble.

The explosion ignited fires and most of the city was without electricity Tuesday and Wednesday. Sections of the city, including the popular waterfront area, were flattened in the blast. Crowded residential neighborhoods in eastern Beirut, which is predominantly Christian, also sustained severe damage from the explosion, which was felt as far as 150 miles away in Cyprus.

Cardinal Rai described the city as looking like “a war scene without war.”

“Destruction and desolation in all its streets, neighborhoods, and houses.”

He urged the international community to come to the aid of Lebanon, which was already in an economic crisis.

“I am addressing you because I know how much you want Lebanon to regain its historic role in the service of man, democracy, and peace in the Middle East and in the world,” Rai said.

He asked for countries and for the United Nations to send aid to Beirut, and called on charities around the world to help Lebanese families “heal their wounds and restore their homes.”

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared Aug. 5 a national day of mourning. The country is almost evenly divided between Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Christians, most of whom are Maronite Catholics. Lebanon also has a small Jewish population, as well as Druze and other religious communities.

Christian leaders have asked for prayers after the explosion, and many Catholics have turned to the intercession of St. Charbel Makhlouf, a priest and hermit who lived from 1828 to 1898. He is known in Lebanon for his miraculous healings of those who visit his tomb to seek his intercession – both Christians and Muslims. 

The Maronite Foundation in the World posted a photo of the saint to their Facebook page Aug. 5 with the caption “God have mercy on your people. Saint Charbel pray for us.”

The studio and offices of the Middle East Christian Television network Noursat was located about five minutes from the blast site and was “massively damaged” according to a joint statement from the network’s founder and chairman Aug. 5.

They asked for “intensive prayers for our beloved country Lebanon, and for Tele Lumiere/Noursat to continue its mission in spreading the word of God, hope, and faith.”

“We pray for the souls of the victims, ask our Almighty God to heal the injured, and give strength to their families.”

Catholic social teaching is 'fundamental' to tackling world issues, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Aug 5, 2020 / 05:04 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday the Church is not an expert in the global health crisis, but Catholic social teaching is fundamental to healing the issues faced by the world today.

“Although the Church administers the healing grace of Christ through the sacraments, and although she provides health services in the most remote corners of the planet, she is not an expert in the prevention or treatment of the pandemic,” Pope Francis said at his general audience Aug. 5.

Speaking via livestream from the library of the Vatican’s apostolic palace, the pope stated that the Church “helps with the sick, but she is not an expert. Nor does she give specific socio-political indications.”

“However, over the centuries, and in the light of the Gospel, the Church has developed some social principles that are fundamental principles that can help us move forward, which we need to prepare the future,” he continued.

Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of faith in Jesus Christ, who heals not only physical ailments, but also spiritual.

He pointed to the Gospel’s many accounts of miraculous healings performed by Jesus during his public ministry, including the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum, who had to be lowered through a hole in the roof by his friends.

Quoting the Gospel of Mark, Francis said: “Jesus, having regard to their faith, said to the paralytic: Son, your sins are forgiven.”

“And therefore, Jesus heals,” he noted, “but does not simply heal paralysis: Jesus quashes everything, forgives sins, renews the life of the paralytic and his friends.”

“So, we ask ourselves: how can we help heal our world today? As disciples of the Lord Jesus, physician of souls and bodies, we are called to continue ‘his work, a work of healing and salvation’ in a physical, social and spiritual sense,” Francis said, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The pope said this work of healing is facilitated through the closely related principles found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church; he listed the principles of the dignity of the person, the common good, the preferential option for the poor, the universal destination of goods, solidarity, subsidiarity, and care for the earth.

“All these principles express, in different ways, the virtues of faith, hope and love,” he explained.

“In the coming weeks, I invite you to tackle together the pressing issues that the pandemic has highlighted, especially social diseases,” he said.

“And we will do it in the light of the Gospel, the theological virtues, and the principles of the Church’s social doctrine. We will explore together how our Catholic social tradition can help the human family heal this world that suffers from serious diseases.”