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Connecticut legislature considers ending religious exemptions for vaccines

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CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 20:41 pm (CNA).

The Connecticut House of Representatives has advanced a bill to end the religious exemption from childhood vaccine requirements, beginning in 2022.

 

The bill to end the religious exemption for childhood vaccines advanced by a bipartisan vote of 90-53. It has the support of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont but still needs to pass the state Senate.

 

Connecticut’s Catholic bishops took no position on a similar bill in 2020, but stressed the importance of vaccines, the need for sound public health policy, and the need to scrutinize any attempt to remove religious exemptions.

 

About 7,600 K-12 students now have religious exemptions from the state’s vaccination requirements. The bill was amended to ensure it would not apply to any of the several thousand K-12 students with a current religious exemption. Some critics have questioned what would happen to the 683 children in pre-K and daycare who currently have exemptions.

 

There has been an increase in the number of requests for religious exemption from childhood vaccinations. In as many as 100 schools, vaccination rates have fallen below 95%. Public health officials stress the importance of high vaccination rates to protect against outbreaks.

 

State officials in April said an unvaccinated child from Fairfield County contracted measles on an international trip.

 

One backer of legislation to remove the exemption, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat who chairs the Public Health Committee, said “vaccine hesitancy is becoming a direct and serious threat to the public health” and demands a “proactive approach.”

 

Steinberg said “efforts by health care professionals and educators to educate families about vaccines have been unable to compete with fear instilled by the disinformation net,” NBC Connecticut reports.

 

Commenting on a similar bill in January 2020, before the coronavirus epidemic arrived in the United States, the Catholic bishops of Connecticut recognized conscientious objection to “certain vaccines that use human fetal cell lines,” but said “the use of such vaccines is not immoral according to Church guidance. That is, there is no religious teaching against the use of these vaccines for Catholics.”

 

They referred to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s guidance on public health, vaccinations, and alternatives. At the same time, the bishops stressed the Connecticut Catholic Conference’s stand as “a defender of religious liberty for all.”

 

“In general, the conference maintains that all religious exemptions should be jealously guarded. Any repeal of a religious exemption should be rooted in legitimate, grave public health concerns. The existence of a health risk in the state of Connecticut is a question of fact beyond our expertise at this time,” their January 2020 statement said.

 

CNA sought comment from the Connecticut Catholic Conference but did not receive a response by deadline.

 

Some 45 states have a religious exemption for childhood vaccination requirements. New York, California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia have eliminated the exemption. Court challenges to the exemption in five other states have failed.

 

Democratic Rep. Jaime Foster, a backer of the Connecticut bill now under consideration, said disease outbreaks have consequences. A 2018 measles outbreak in New York had financial consequences of $8.4 million, while the median cost of a measles outbreak is $32,000 per case, Foster said.

 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the law could be challenged in court because the state constitution guarantees the right to a public education. According to Candelora, lawmakers report hearing from parents who face difficulty securing a medical exemption that they are forced to seek a religious exemption. 

 

He objected that the bill is “totally silent” on what to do with students and parents who cannot comply with mandatory vaccination.

 

“There are individuals in our caucus who want to protect those children from being thrown out, but it doesn’t fundamentally address the questions of what we do going forward as a state and how the children who are unable to have public education, how that education is provided to them.”

 

Opponents of the bill testified that it could divide families or force families who cannot afford it to homeschool. Some parents said they would be forced to keep children home because they do not believe they should be vaccinated.

 

While backers of the bill said exemptions put at risk children with compromised immune systems who cannot get a vaccine, Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican, said students have little choice in the matter of their religion.

 

“So throwing those children out of school, it’s not based on their choice, it’s based on the choice of the people in this chamber, people who should know better,” he said, the Associated Press reports.

 

The debate comes after more than a year of the new coronavirus epidemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands and hospitalized many more. The roll-out of vaccines against the COVID-19 virus is hoped to mark a permanent decline in new coronavirus infections.

 

A March 4 letter from the Connecticut Catholic Conference, signed by the state’s leading Catholic bishops, said “people should feel free in good conscience to receive any of the vaccines currently available for the sake of their own health and the common good, which requires the prompt vaccination of as many people as possible.”

 

The bishops cited the guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and of the Holy See.

 

“At the same time, the Church continues to advocate for the creation of vaccines that do not rely on cell lines derived, even remotely, from abortion,” Connecticut’s bishops said.

 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last month echoed the Vatican in stating that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but if possible, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion.

 

The mRNA vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna have an extremely remote connection to abortion in the testing phase, leading ethicists to judge those vaccines “ethically uncontroversial,” the USCCB said.

 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a note in December 2020 explaining that “the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” while also urging pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies to “produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.”

Who will be the next Bishop of Hong Kong?

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong. Credit: Volodymyr Dvornyk/Shutterstock

Hong Kong, China, Apr 20, 2021 / 19:01 pm (CNA).

Catholics in Hong Kong are reeling after several pro-democracy figures were sentenced last week to prison terms for their peaceful resistance to the Chinese Communist Party and its efforts to crack down on Hong Kongers’ freedom. 

In the wake of the sentences, one observer said this week that this would be an ideal time for Pope Francis to appoint Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who has publicly supported the island’s pro-democracy movement, as bishop of the diocese. 

“Bishop Ha, a Franciscan, is widely loved and respected in Hong Kong as a pastoral leader who cares for his flock, and a shepherd who combines wisdom and courage, to stand true to his values as a religious leader without being a firebrand,” Benedict Rogers, co-founder and chair of the monitoring group Hong Kong Watch, wrote in an April 18 op-ed at UCA News

“If I were in the Vatican, this would be precisely the moment to promote Bishop Ha. To appoint as bishop of Hong Kong someone who is courageous but not reckless, who has the trust of his flock but has proven in the past two years his ability to lie low if required, would be exactly the right exertion of ecclesial and papal authority required. Whether the Vatican will have that courage remains to be seen.”

Hong Kong has been without a permanent bishop since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung in January 2019. John Cardinal Tong Hon, who retired as Bishop of Hong Kong in 2017, has served as the diocese’ apostolic administrator since then. 

In 2019, CNA learned that the Vatican had resolved to appoint Bishop Ha to lead the diocese. 

While the appointment was being processed, however, Bishop Ha was publicly seen at the front of pro-democracy demonstrations against an extradition law, and his nomination was reversed before a public announcement could be made.

During January 2020, CNA reported that the Vatican had selected Fr. Peter Choy Wai-man, a vicar general of the diocese, as Hong Kong’s new bishop but had decided to delay the announcement of Fr. Choy’s appointment indefinitely. Some in the diocese have voiced concerns about Fr. Choy’s closeness to state authorities. 

The Vatican has not announced any current candidates for the position. 

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law. 

Lai, whose publication Apple Daily is consistently critical of the government, was given a 12-month sentence, while Lee— the founder of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy party– was given an 11-month suspended sentence. Both are significantly below the maximum sentences they could have faced under the security law. 

Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, SDB, who led the Diocese of Hong Kong from 2002-2009 and is a critic of the Vatican’s relationship to the Chinese government, has several times signaled his support for Bishop Ha. 

Cardinal Zen tweeted Rogers’ op-ed April 19, urging that people write to Luis Cardinal Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, presumably to urge the appointment of Bishop Ha.

The cardinal referred to Rogers’ statement that “where China is concerned, the Vatican prefers to play politics and diplomacy rather than exercise its moral leadership,” and mentioned an interview given by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States at the Secretariat of State.

Archbishop Gallagher had last month told The Standard, a Hong Kong daily held to be politically pro-Beijing, that “I don’t think that ‘grandstanding’ statements” from the Vatican on democracy in Hong Kong “can be terribly effective.”

“I think you have to ask what effect [a statement] is going to have? Is it going to produce a positive change, or does it make the situation more complicated for the local church and for relations with the Holy See? At the moment, we feel that’s the right approach,” he stated.

In 2018, the Vatican reached an agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops. The terms of the agreement, which was renewed in October 2020 for two more years, have never been publicly revealed.

The agreement was undertaken to help unite the state-run Church and the underground Church. An estimated 6 million Catholics are registered with the Chinese Communist Party, while several million are estimated to belong to unregistered Catholic communities which have remained loyal to the Holy See.

According to new rules set to take effect on May 1, 2021, the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will be responsible for selecting episcopal candidates. The candidates will then be “approved and consecrated by the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference.” The rules reportedly do not mention any role of the Vatican in approving bishops.

According to Cardinal Zen, Christians in China have continued to be persecuted and harassed by authorities, “despite the agreement.”

Tennessee House passes bill requiring burial or cremation for aborted babies

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CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 18:46 pm (CNA).

The Tennessee House of Representatives advanced a bill this week that would require medical providers to bury or cremate the bodies of aborted babies.

The bill passed through the House on Monday. It is scheduled for a vote at the state’s Senate on Wednesday. 

Lawmakers and pro-life supporters say the bill would help preserve human dignity.

“It’s not fetal tissue, it’s dismembered children,” said Rep. Robin Smith, according to AP News. 

If passed, HB 1181 would require medical providers to either bury or cremate the remains of a baby who has been aborted. According to the Memphis Flyer, the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Tim Rudd (R) stated that the average burial will cost about $150 and cremation services will cost $350. 

Under the measure, pregnant women would have the right to choose either form of burial as well as select the location, but may choose not to exercise that right. If a woman requests an alternative burial method, she would be required to cover the costs herself. 

Rudd said that while no state funds have been set aside for these costs, many funeral homes and charities have offered to cover these services free of charge. 

Rep. London Lamar (D), who opposes the bill, called it “one of the most offensive pieces of legislation I’ve heard this year,” according to the Memphis Flyer. 

“You are forcing women who have potentially been raped and forcing them to bury or cremate that,” Lamar said.

However, Rudd argued that the bill does “not restrict abortion or have anything to do with abortion; this is post-abortion,” the Memphis Flyer reported.

“The way this is now handled — with the [remains] either thrown in the trash or flushed in the toilet — it is appalling,” said Rudd. “Pets and farms animals are treated with more dignity [in state law] but there’s nothing about the dignity of an unborn child.”

The Tennessee Right to Life group has expressed support for the measure. 

“Pro-abortion activists will oppose this legislation on the false pretense that it creates an obstacle for women, but in fact, their opposition comes from the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child and to thereby treat their bodies with dignity and respect,” the group said in a statement. 

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld part of a similar Indiana law requiring aborted babies to be cremated or buried. 

In an unsigned three-page opinion, the Supreme Court cited a previous decision that states have a “legitimate interest in proper disposal of fetal remains.”


Biden administration appeals to keep transgender mandate in place

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Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration is appealing to keep in place a mandate that doctors and hospitals provide gender-transition surgeries, regardless of their conscientious beliefs.

On Tuesday, the legal group Becket – which represents Catholic doctors and hospitals in their case against the “transgender mandate” – reported that the administration had filed an appeal to keep the mandate in place.

#BREAKING: The Biden Admin just filed an appeal seeking to force religious doctors and hospitals to perform potentially harmful gender-transition procedures against their conscience and professional medical judgment,” stated Luke Goodrich, VP and senior counsel at Becket, on Twitter on Tuesday.

The Obama administration in 2016 first issued the mandate, interpreting a nondiscrimination provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to require doctors and hospitals to provide gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional.

The mandate did not include exemptions for religion and conscience, thus applying even to doctors and hospitals with conscientious or even medical opposition to performing gender-transition surgeries.

As almost all doctors receive Medicare and Medicaid funds, the mandate as attached to federal funding would apply almost universally, Becket argued.

“The Biden Admin says it can punish doctors and hospitals for ‘sex discrimination’ unless they perform controversial gender-transition procedures,” Goodrich tweeted on Tuesday.

More than 19,000 healthcare professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations filed two lawsuits against the mandate; in December 2016, two federal courts placed an injunction on the mandate.

Two more federal district court judges ruled against the mandate in 2019 and 2020.

In an ongoing case against the mandate, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on April 15 sent the case back to a lower court, instructing that the district court decide whether the mandate could be permanently stopped.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration appealed that ruling, asking that the mandate stay.

“This is bad for patients, doctors, and religious liberty,” he added.

Goodrich added that “we look forward to another ruling that protects patients, aligns with current medical research, and ensures doctors aren’t forced to violate their religious beliefs and professional medical judgment.”

Becket represents a coalition of doctors and hospitals – including Catholic doctors and groups –opposed to the mandate.

“The plaintiffs are religious doctors, hospitals, and clinics who joyfully serve ALL patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich said. “They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved--care that is jeopardized by the government’s attempt to punish them with multi-million dollar penalties.”

Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of sex; the Obama administration interpreted that to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy – thus forbidding the denial of abortions and gender-transitioning procedures in health care.

The Trump administration did establish conscience protections for doctors opposed to the mandate in 2020, but a federal court placed an injunction on that rule.

Humanist group strips Richard Dawkins of award for questioning gender theory

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 20, 2021 / 17:19 pm (CNA).

The American Humanist Association on Monday withdrew an award from Richard Dawkins for his position against gender theory.

“Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA” an April 19 statement from the American Humanist Association read. The statement noted that Dawkins had won the award in 1996. 

“Dawkins has over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalized groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values,” the statement said. “His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient. His subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity.”

The AHA told CNA that its denouncement of Dawkins was because of a tweet in which he compared those with gender dysphoria to Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who posed as a black woman for years. 

“In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss” the tweet read.

Responding to the incident, Richard Budd, Director of Marriage & Family for the Diocese of Lansing told CNA, "In recent months there have been an increasing number of voices, many from unexpected quarters, who are expressing serious misgivings about the 'transgender' lobby's approach to those with gender dysphoria, especially as it affects young people, and also to the wider proposition that our gender is but a social construct, a proposition that more and more people, upon scrutiny, are finding difficult to square with reason and science."

Budd affirmed the inseparability of body and soul as the basis of human nature. 

“As Pope Saint John Paul II said in his encyclical Veritatis splendor, only in reference to the human person in his ‘unified totality,’ that is, as ‘a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit,’ can the specifically human meaning of the body be grasped.”

 

"I think we are ever more realizing the great wisdom of Pope John Paul's prophetic maxim that we should never accept truth without love nor love without truth as one without the other becomes a destructive lie,” Budd said.

Minneapolis archbishop calls for healing after Derek Chauvin verdict

People in Minneapolis react after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021. / Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Minneapolis called for peace, reconciliation, and a greater respect for human life after former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

In a statement shortly after the verdict was released, Hebda called it a “sobering moment for our community.”

“The decision by a jury of peers punctuates the grief that has gripped the Twin Cities in these last months and underscores the soul-searching that has taken place in homes, parishes, and workplaces across the country as we together confront the chasm that exists between the brokenness of our world and the harmony and fraternity that our Creator intends for all his children,” he said.

The archbishop pointed to the crucified and risen Christ as the example of “the healing power of forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation, and peace.”

“It is our shared brotherhood with Jesus that calls us to a deeper respect for all human life,” he said. “We ask him to bring healing into our communities, comfort to the family of George Floyd and all who mourn, and satisfaction to those who thirst for justice.”

A jury on April 20 determined that Chauvin was guilty on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin's trial began on March 8.

On May 25, 2020, Chauvin restrained Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man, during an arrest for using a counterfeit $20 bill.

Video footage from bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd audibly gasped, moaned, and complained he could not breathe. Towards the end of the video, Floyd appeared unconscious. After an ambulance arrived and transported Floyd to a nearby hospital, he was pronounced dead.

Chauvin was arrested on May 29 and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Prosecutors later upgraded the charges to second-degree unintentional murder. The four officers who were involved in the attempted arrest, including Chauvin, were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

After Floyd's death, widespread protests, rallies, and riots ensued throughout the country and the world highlighting police brutality and racism.

In his statement, Hebda offered his hope that the “many reminders of the Lord’s loving closeness even in challenging times [may] inspire us to treat each other with unfailing respect, to work non-violently for the common good and to be instruments of reconciliation.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also responded to the verdict.

Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, released an April 20 statement noting that God is the source of both justice and mercy.

“The death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the deep need to see the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed. Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred,” they said.

“The events following George Floyd's death also highlighted the urgent need for racial healing and reconciliation,” they added. “As we have seen so plainly this past year, social injustices still exist in our country, and the nation remains deeply divided on how to right those wrongs.”

The bishops prayed that the country may find healing from the wounds caused by racism.

“Let us pray that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines,” they said.

“Let us then join in the hard work of peacefully rebuilding what hatred and frustration has torn down. This is the true call of a disciple and the real work of restorative justice.”

Minnesota bishops call for prayer and civility before jury finds Derek Chauvin guilty

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Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

Minnesota bishops called for prayer and civility shortly before a jury on Tuesday found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder and manslaughter charges in the killing of George Floyd.

After deliberating on Monday evening and Tuesday, the jury determined that Chauvin was guilty on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin's trial began on March 8.

The state’s bishops released a statement on Tuesday afternoon before the verdict was announced, asking for civility, prayer, and justice, and calling for an end to racism.

“The Catholic Church in Minnesota invites all people of faith to come together to speak with one another in a civil and charitable manner. Let us pray with one another and for one another,” read a statement by Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis and the bishops of the five other dioceses in the state.

“Let us respect one another as children of God, created in his image. Let us collectively confess the truth and recognize that we urgently need each other now to get out of these cycles of fear and violence,” the bishops stated. “There are no victims and no oppressors in the Kingdom of God. For our children’s sake, let us embrace our true identity, without waiting another day.”

There is far too much evidence that prejudice has an impact in criminal justice matters, influencing not only the way individuals are treated by some police and court systems but also the rates of incarceration. Whatever the verdict may be in the Chauvin trial, the Church remains committed to providing long-term leadership in eradicating structures of sin and racism in Minnesota and beyond.

Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of George Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man, on May 25, 2020; Chauvin restrained Floyd and held him in custody.

Video footage from bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd audibly gasped, moaned, and complained he could not breathe. Towards the end of the video, Floyd appeared unconscious. After an ambulance arrived and transported Floyd to a nearby hospital, he was pronounced dead.

Chauvin was arrested on May 29 and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Prosecutors later upgraded the charges to second-degree unintentional murder. The four officers who were involved in the attempted arrest, including Chauvin, were eventually fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

After Floyd's death, widespread protests, rallies, and riots ensued throughout the country and the world highlighting police brutality and racism. Pope Francis on June 3 prayed for Floyd’s soul and asked for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe for peace and justice.

 “We cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life. At the same time, we have to recognize that the violence of recent nights is self-destructive and self-defeating. Nothing is gained by violence and so much is lost,” the pope said amid widespread protests and riots in the United States.

The state’s bishops cited the U.S. bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter on racism, as they called for Catholics to work for peace and justice.

“As the U.S. bishops noted in a 2018 pastoral letter on racism, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, it is a sad and undeniable truth that racial prejudice and discrimination continue to impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of U.S. citizens,” the bishops stated.

“There is far too much evidence that prejudice has an impact in criminal justice matters, influencing not only the way individuals are treated by some police and court systems but also the rates of incarceration,” they said.

Bishop Michael Fisher of Buffalo also issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon, after the jury’s verdict was announced.

“Today’s verdict of accountability in the tragic killing of George Floyd is an important step in healing the deep wounds of racial tension caused by his senseless killing,” Bishop Fisher said.

This story was updated on April 20 to include new information.

How Catholics can speak up for more ethical vaccines

Coronavirus vaccine, stock image. / M-Foto/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 15:05 pm (CNA).

A series of letter templates released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) allows Catholic to contact vaccine makers and ask them to stop relying on cell lines from aborted babies.

 

The letter templates, released in February by the USCCB, thank the companies for their work on vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases, while asking them to avoid using cell lines from aborted babies in the future.

 

Fr. Kyle Ratuiste, a bioethicist in the Diocese of Spokane, explained that “taking practical steps to oppose the use of abortion-derived cell lines helps reinforce our personal conscience, especially if we ourselves have benefited from the vaccine.”

 

“While numerous ecclesial and moral authorities have indicated that Catholics may morally justify receiving these vaccines, a concern is that accepting these vaccines may cause people to become complacent toward the evil of abortion,” he told CNA. “We can guard against any implicit complacency or even acceptance of this evil, by engaging in the practical advocacy of writing protest letters and supporting ethical research.” 

 

He added that ending abortion-derived cell lines would allow Catholic scientists to do their work with clear consciences and would extend beyond just vaccine development, as “the use of abortion-derived cell lines has truly become ubiquitous in biomedical research.”

 

Ratuiste also encouraged Catholic to donate to research organizations that are pursuing ethical alternatives. He pointed to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, which has worked for years to research alternatives to embryonic stem cells and is currently working to develop its own COVID-19 vaccine. 

Concerns have been raised for months over the link between the new COVID-19 vaccines and cell lines derived from babies aborted in the 1970s.

 

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVD-19 vaccines use a cell line derived from an aborted baby in their testing process, which is common in many contemporary pharmaceuticals, including a wide variety of over-the-counter medications.

 

The Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine has a stronger link to abortion-derived cell lines, which are used in its testing, development, and production.

 

In a March 2 statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) echoed the Vatican in stating that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but given equally safe and effective vaccine options, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion, if possible.

 

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available…it is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,’” the bishops wrote.

 

The statement was signed by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who head the USCCB committees on doctrine and pro-life activities, respectively.

 

The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life has said that Catholics should advocate for ethically-produced vaccines which do not use cell lines of aborted babies.

 

The USCCB sample letters allow Catholics and other pro-life advocates to do that. In addition to companies that have produced COVID-19 vaccines, it includes templates for companies that make childhood vaccines involving cell lines from aborted babies.

 

Templates are available for AstraZeneca, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Pfizer, and Sanofi Pasteur.

 

Bonnie Toombs, director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice for the Diocese of Wichita, told CNA that the diocese has been taking part in the campaign for about three weeks.

 

“Response has been very good so far,” she said. “We used the sample letters provided by the USCCB Pro-Life office and let people know they can add to or change as they see fit. We are trying to make it easier for people to participate by printing the letters if requested for individuals or groups, and I know several of our parishes are doing so as well.”

 

Toombs said it “is important to advocate to pharmaceutical companies and the government for the ethical development, production, testing and distribution of all vaccines and medicines.”

 

“This has been an issue for many years, and now with so much highlight on vaccines, this is a great time to be strong voices for ethical options,” she added.

 

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is also taking part in the letter-writing campaign.

 

Valerie Schmalz, director of the Office of Human Life & Dignity for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, told CNA that a letter about the campaign was sent out to all priests in the archdiocese for the Feast of the Annunciations. In addition, a video was sent out in the weekly Flocknote message, with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone encouraging people to participate.

 

“[I]t is important to continue to protest the use of cell lines derived from aborted babies, no matter how distant in the past,” Schmalz said.

 

Christian college sues over Biden administration rule opening dorms, showers to opposite sex

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Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A Christian college in Missouri sued the Biden administration last week over an order requiring single-sex dorms or bathrooms to be available to members of the opposite biological sex.

The College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college, claimed that an executive order from President Joe Biden would require the college to violate its religious beliefs. 

Biden issued a Jan. 21 executive order interpreting federal prohibitions on sex discrimination to also ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Legal experts warned that the order, by redefining sex discrimination, could pose far-reaching consequences for women-only accommodations such as sports teams, locker rooms and bathrooms, and shelters.

In its implementation of the order in February, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determined that - pursuant to the order - it would now interpret federal housing laws that prohibit sex discrimination to also include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in housing. 

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of College of the Ozarks, attorneys for the group Alliance Defending Freedom argued that the directive would force the Christian college to violate its beliefs, as the college would be subject to the Fair Housing Act. 

The new agency rules would require biological males identifying as transgender females to not be denied access to female dorms or bathrooms - a violation of the school’s religious standards, ADF said.

“For decades, the College has prohibited male students from living in female dormitories, and vice versa, regardless of whether those students identify with their biological sex. The College likewise separates intimate spaces such as showers and bathrooms in its dormitories,” the April 15 lawsuit said.

In a statement, ADF Senior Counsel Julie Marie Blake said the government “cannot and should not force schools to open girls’ dorms to males based on its politically motivated and inappropriate redefinition of ‘sex.’” 

“Women shouldn’t be forced to share private spaces—including showers and dorm rooms—with males, and religious schools shouldn’t be punished simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex,” Blake said. 

“Government overreach by the Biden administration continues to victimize women, girls, and people of faith by gutting their legal protections, and it must be stopped,” he said.

Dr. Jerry C. Davis, president of College of the Ozarks, said in an April 15 statement, that “Religious freedom is under attack in America, and we won’t stand on the sidelines and watch.” 

“To threaten religious freedom is to threaten America itself,” Davis said. “College of the Ozarks will not allow politicians to erode this essential American right or the ideals that shaped America’s founding.”

HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The College of the Ozarks was founded in 1906 by a Presbyterian minister. The school says it provides jobs for students to help defray the costs of their tuition, with donor-funded scholarships covering the rest of the cost.

St. John Paul II bust vandalized outside Polish Catholic church in Paris

The entrance of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Church in Paris, France. / Aloveswiki via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

A bust of St. John Paul II was vandalized Monday outside a Polish Catholic church in Paris.

An unidentified perpetrator poured red paint over the sculpture outside Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption Church in the heart of the French capital between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on April 19.

The bust is located at the entrance of the church, which is the oldest and largest Polish Catholic parish in the city and is situated on rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement, near the Place de la Concorde.

Fr. Paweł Witkowski, pastor of the church which belongs to the Polish Catholic Mission, told the PolskiFR web portal that he and his parishioners were deeply saddened by the incident.

He said that John Paul II, who served as pope from 1978 to 2005 and helped to liberate Poland from communism, “certainly did not deserve such treatment.”

The priest thanked French police for their swift response and professionalism.

While the vandal’s motives are not known, similar acts of vandalism occurred in Poland during protests following a constitutional court ruling on abortion in October.

A statue of St. John Paul II in Poznań, western Poland, was covered in pro-abortion slogans. The hands of a statue of the Polish pope in Konstancin-Jeziorna, south of Warsaw, were daubed with red paint.

Other episodes of vandalism affecting Polish Catholics have taken place elsewhere in Europe.

In June 2020, vandals defaced an image of Our Lady of Częstochowa in the Dutch city of Breda.

The image of the Virgin Mary, which is revered by Poles and also known as the Black Madonna, was erected in a park in 1954 in thanksgiving for the city’s liberation from the Nazis.

Reflecting on how Polish Catholics in Paris should respond to the latest incident, Fr. Witkowski recalled that John Paul II publicly forgave his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Ağca during a meeting in 1983.

“The Holy Father forgave the one who shot him; this is the attitude we can take towards the one who committed this profanation,” the priest said.