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UK lawmaker proposes adding ‘Amess amendment’ on last rites to bill

Official portrait of Sir David Amess. / Chris McAndrew via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0).

London, England, Oct 21, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

A U.K. lawmaker has proposed adding an “Amess amendment” to a bill going through Parliament ensuring that Catholic priests can administer the last rites at crime scenes.

Mike Kane, a Labour Member of Parliament, is seeking to add the amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, British media reported on Oct. 21.

The reports emerged before a suspected Islamist extremist was charged with the murder of Sir David Amess, a long-serving Conservative MP, during a meeting with constituents at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Oct. 15.

Nick Price, head of the Crown Prosecution Service’s Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said on Oct. 21: “We will submit to the court that this murder has a terrorist connection, namely that it had both religious and ideological motivations.”

Ali Harbi Ali, 25, who is charged with murder and preparing acts of terrorism, appeared before Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on Thursday.

The Guardian newspaper quoted a spokesperson for Kane, who is Catholic, as saying that the “Amess amendment” would protect the right of Catholic priests and other ministers of religion to pray alongside the dying.

The newspaper added that sympathetic members of the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, were prepared to put forward the amendment to the bill, which is currently at the committee stage in the Lords.

The BBC reported that cross-party discussions were under way.

Kane, the MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, paid tribute to his slain colleague in the House of Commons, the lower house of the U.K. Parliament, on Oct. 18.

In his speech, he referred to the outcry after a priest seeking to administer the last rites to Sir David was reportedly turned away from the crime scene by police.

Kane suggested that lawmakers pass an “Amess amendment” guaranteeing priests access to those requiring last rites.

He said: “[Amess] participated fully in the liturgy of the Church. He participated fully in the sacraments of the Church.”

“While I have the attention of those on the Front Benches [government ministers], Catholics believe that extreme unction helps guide the soul to God after death, so maybe we could come up with an Amess amendment so that no matter where it is, in a care home or at a crime scene, Members, or anybody, can receive that sacrament.”

A member of the House of Lords also raised the issue on the same day.

“Could priests be allowed to attend a crime scene so that they can give the victim their last rites, especially when they are dying?” asked Susan Cunliffe-Lister, Baroness Masham of Ilton.

Fr. Jeff Woolnough, the pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Eastwood, in Leigh-on-Sea, went to Belfairs Methodist Church on Oct. 15 after he heard that Amess had been attacked.

A police officer outside the church reportedly relayed his request to enter the building, but the priest was not permitted to enter. He prayed the rosary outside the police cordon instead.

Paramedics attended to Amess, who was stabbed multiple times, for more than two-and-a-half hours before an air ambulance arrived to take him to hospital.

On Oct. 19, a Catholic bishop called for greater recognition of the last rites as an “emergency service” in the wake of the killing.

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, western England, said: “Every believing Catholic desires to hear Christ’s words of pardon and absolution for the last time; to be strengthened by the grace of anointing; accompanied by the assurance of the Church’s prayer and whenever possible to receive Holy Communion.”

“This is something well understood in hospitals and care homes, yet the events following the murderous assault on Sir David Amess suggest this is not always comprehended in emergency situations.”

“I hope a better understanding of the eternal significance of the hour of death for Christians and the Church’s ministry as an ‘emergency service’ may result from this terrible tragedy.”

The Church helps to prepare Catholics for death by offering them the sacraments of reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, and viaticum (Holy Communion.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “If circumstances suggest it, the celebration of the sacrament [of the anointing of the sick] can be preceded by the sacrament of Penance and followed by the sacrament of the Eucharist. As the sacrament of Christ’s Passover, the Eucharist should always be the last sacrament of the earthly journey, the ‘viaticum’ for ‘passing over’ to eternal life.”

A Catholic Memorial Mass for Sir David Amess took place at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, opposite the Houses of Parliament, on Oct. 20.

Irish lawmakers attended a Mass for the pro-life father of five in St. Teresa’s Church, Dublin, on Oct. 22. Ceann Comhairle (speaker of the Dáil) Seán Ó Fearghail read the first reading.

The celebrant Fr. Vincent O’Hara described Sir David as a man of conscience, reported the Irish Times.

“There is a special poignancy in Sir David’s death, that someone who cherished and promoted life at all stages, from its beginning in the womb, should have his life snuffed out in such a barbaric way,” the priest said.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa launches synodal process in Holy Land

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa. / Cristian Gennari/OESSH.

Rome Newsroom, Oct 21, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has announced that the synodal process in the Holy Land will open simultaneously in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus on Oct. 30.

Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa has published a letter that describes the synodal process in the Holy Land as an occasion of encounter and listening in which all voices are heard.

“In the Holy Land … we decided that the diocesan phase of the Synod should involve the Catholic Churches as a whole and not separately. In short, we will make a single path of preparation, the same for all our Churches,” Pizzaballa wrote in the letter published Oct. 15.

The patriarch invited parish priests, young people, contemplative monasteries, movements, migrants, and foreign workers to be involved in the local synodal process.

“All those who feel they have a word to speak should be enabled to do so,” Pizzaballa said.

“However, this moment of the synodal journey must not be limited to speaking only of our problems because it would make everything sterile, without perspective. It must be a path illuminated by the Word of God, which is always the bearer of life,” he added.

The synodal process, launched by Pope Francis earlier this month, is a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses.

A synod is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

The 56-year-old Church leader, who was appointed Latin Patriarch in October 2020, highlighted the Gospel account of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples on the road to Emmaus as a “methodology” for encounter within the synodal process in the Holy Land.

“Rather than making theoretical speeches, it is helpful to listen and meet experiences from which to learn: it is more beneficial to go to a monastery and listen to the religious life experience than to make a speech on the religious life. It is more incisive to listen to the life experience of the Holy Land parishioners than to elaborate a fantastic theory about the local Church,” he said.

“Moving even physically from one’s parish hall, from one’s familiar center to meet another unknown reality of one’s Church can, I think, make a difference in many cases.”

Piazzaballa noted that the opening of the local phase of the synod in the Holy Land will coincide with the Solemnity of Mary, Queen of Palestine.

The synod will officially open at 11 a.m. across the patriarchate, with gatherings in Deir Rafat, the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Palestine and of the Holy Land, as well as the Church of Our Lady of Nazareth in Swefieh, Jordan, and the Maronite Cathedral of Nicosia in Cyprus.

“We should not expect dramatic changes from all this or extraordinary fruits. The fruits always arrive after a long time and if you have worked in the field,” Pizzaballa said.

“It would already be profitable if the Synod marked the beginning of a new way of finding ourselves as a community, where all feel part of each other’s life, united in the person of Jesus, the heart of our faith, who gives meaning to our being here in the Holy Land and who nourishes and illuminates the love that sustains our lives.”

“In the hope that this journey begun by Pope Francis will rekindle our passion for the Church, with good wishes to all and as I await the opportunity to see you again I invoke the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Palestine, so that She may accompany us on this way,” the patriarch said.

Number of Catholics in Asia and Africa continues to rise

Catholics attend Mass in Ho, Ghana. / James Dalrymple via Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

The number of Catholics in Asia and Africa continued to grow in 2019, according to newly released statistics.

The world population grew by 81.3 million in 2019, while members of the Catholic Church increased by 15.4 million for a total of 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide.

The new statistics compare 2019, the last year for which data is available, with 2018 and therefore do not reflect the effects of the global coronavirus outbreak in 2020.

While news coverage in recent years has highlighted the fall in Catholic priests being ordained in Europe and the Americas, the overall number of priests rose slightly in 2019 — by 271 — mostly due to a rise in priestly vocations in Africa and Asia, which offset decreases elsewhere.

Permanent deacons also continued to rise from the year prior, with all five continents seeing their numbers grow, especially Europe and the Americas.

The number of men and women religious decreased in 2019. Women religious were down by more than 11,500. But lay missionaries increased by over 34,200, with the overwhelming majority of the new lay missionaries located in the Americas.

The Catholic population has stayed steady with population growth. At the end of 2019, Catholics made up 17.74% of the global population — up just .01% from 2018.

The number of Catholics in Africa grew by more than eight million in 2019, for a total of around 19% of the population, while in Asia, which has 4.5 billion people, Catholics make up just 3.31% of the population, at 149.1 million.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

In a press conference on Oct. 21, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle drew attention to the relatively small number of Catholics in Asia, pointing out that around half of the continent’s Catholics are located in the Philippines.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples added that “these past years, we have seen in Asia, in terms of proportion, percentage, an increase in the number of baptisms, and also in entry to seminaries and religious life.”

“In terms of numbers, [it is] still small, but in terms of percentage proportion, [it] is large,” he said. “And we, of course, thank the Lord.”

Tagle, the former archbishop of Manila, spoke during a press conference about World Mission Sunday, which will take place on Oct. 24.

He noted that in 2021, the Church in the Philippines is celebrating 500 years of Christianity.

“Now we have many Filipinos serving as missionaries,” he said, pointing out that they are not only priests and religious, but also laity, some of whom have emigrated to other parts of the world for work and are helping to spread the Christian message.

Cardinal Tagle: Digital evangelization cannot replace personal encounter

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle speaks at a Vatican press conference presenting the 2021 World Mission Day, Oct. 21, 2021. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

While the COVID-19 pandemic led many Catholic dioceses and organizations to find creative ways to communicate the Gospel online, digital evangelization is not a replacement for personal encounter, the head of the Vatican’s missionary office has said.

“There are some facts of life that cannot be digitalized and cannot remain digitalized. We are corporeal beings. We need contact,” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said at a live-streamed Vatican press conference on Oct. 21.

“As we thank the digital media for its blessings, let us not forget that … there are other intelligences that need to be developed,” he said.

The cardinal stressed that in addition to their digital savvy, young people need to also develop relational and emotional intelligence.

“There is a calling for us in the Church, to develop the other types of intelligences,” he added.

Tagle noted the limitations of some social media platforms. He used Twitter as an example, pointing out that with its character limit, “you don’t have an appreciation anymore of the complexity of context.”

He said that “a certain comportment of mind and heart” and intelligence is needed to generate trust again at a time when there is “a lot of distrust” in the world.

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The Filipino cardinal spoke at a press conference for World Mission Sunday, which will be celebrated in Catholic dioceses across the world this weekend on Oct. 24.

“We need living witnesses. Those who, through their … witness of life through their quality of relationships, through their compassion for the poor, would give a living announcement of the Gospel,” Tagle said.

He shared an experience he had when visiting a refugee camp. During his visit, Tagle said that he was approached by the head of the camp, who asked him why Christians were doing so much to help refugees.

“And I felt like he was not only curious, he wanted to really know the secret of our sacrifice, of our love and compassion,” the cardinal said.

“The Holy Spirit used him to open the door, so I said: ‘Our Master Jesus Christ taught us to love everyone.’”

“And you know what he said? ‘I want to get to know your Master, Jesus Christ.’”

Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Tagle, the former archbishop of Manila, has served as the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples since December 2019. He is also the president of Caritas International and the Catholic Biblical Federation.

At the height of lockdown restrictions last year, Tagle said that the requests for Bible formation online through the Catholic Biblical Federation increased.

He expressed gratitude that the internet could be used as a tool to “sustain some sort of relationships” at that time when visits to family and parish activities were restricted.

World Mission Day -- also known as World Mission Sunday -- was established by Pope Pius XI in 1926. It is usually observed on the third Sunday of October.

This year’s theme is: “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Pope Francis released his message for World Mission Day 2021 on Jan. 29. In it, the pope warned Catholics not to succumb to the temptation of justifying indifference on the basis of COVID-19 restrictions.

Speaking at the press conference, Tagle said: “A deep experience of Jesus leads to a state of mission.”

“It is not a mission that is just functional or pragmatic. It is an expression of joy and gratitude to the one who has done marvels for us and for the poor,” he added.

Each year on World Mission Sunday, a worldwide collection is taken in support of the Pontifical Mission Societies, an umbrella group of Catholic missionary societies under the jurisdiction of the pope.

They include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Society of St. Peter the Apostle, the Holy Childhood Association, and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious.

“We have to share the Lord. We have to share the Lord that we have experienced. Yes, we have our personal experience of the Lord, but it is not for us to keep, to own. It is given to us as a gift to be shared with others,” Tagle said.

“The more we share the gift of Jesus, the deeper our faith grows. If we keep the faith to ourselves, the faith will become weak. And if we keep the faith only among a small group, it might become an elite group.”

The cardinal pointed to the example of many missionaries who were “inspired by their experience of the Lord to go out, to go out of themselves, to get out of their fears, to reach all the nations whether geographical or existential spaces” to bear witness as an act of gratitude to the Lord.

“So we are reminded this Sunday, this World Mission Sunday, that spirituality and encounter with the Lord is always missionary,” he said.

“And mission is always also spiritually grounded in an experience of Jesus, an experience that moves us out of ourselves, to share Jesus to all the nations.”

When will Bl. Charles de Foucauld be canonized?

A statue of Bl. Charles de Foucauld in Strasbourg, France. / PhotoFires/Shutterstock

Rome Newsroom, Oct 21, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).

A canonization Mass is a global event, drawing thousands of people to the Vatican — the heart of the Catholic Church — to celebrate the pope’s declaration that a holy man or woman is a saint in heaven.

Like other large meetings around the world, canonizations have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on travel and gatherings. And it remains unclear when the ceremonies can again safely take place.

One of the canonizations on hold is that of Bl. Charles de Foucauld, a dissolute French soldier who became a Trappist monk and Catholic missionary to Muslims in Algeria. “Brother Charles,” as he was known to many, was killed in 1916 at the age of 58.

Pope Francis approved a miracle obtained through Foucauld’s intercession in May 2020, and the Church’s cardinals signed off on his and six other canonizations during a Vatican consistory a year later.

“Only the date is missing. It is the only thing missing,” Fr. Bernard Ardura, the postulator of Foucauld’s cause, told CNA last week about the canonization’s delay.

The Vatican is waiting for the global situation with COVID-19 to improve before it schedules the event, Ardura explained, noting that thousands of people from countries such as the United States, Canada, France, and Algeria traveled to Rome for Foucauld’s beatification in 2005.

Ardura, who is president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, said that both he and Pope Francis hope the canonization can be held soon.

“Most recently we were thinking [the canonization would take place] around Christmas,” he said. “I told the pope, ‘So, we are waiting for this canonization?’ and he told me, ‘I want to do it! But…’”

Charles de Foucauld as a boy. Public domain.
Charles de Foucauld as a boy. Public domain.

“Canonizations are not for the saints, they are for us,” the priest said. “Because for them it changes nothing. It changes nothing for them. It is for us. It is a great ecclesial act.”

He suggested that the canonization would probably take place next year.

Foucauld was born in Strasbourg, France, in 1858. He was raised by his wealthy and aristocratic grandfather after being orphaned at the age of six.

He joined the French military, following in the footsteps of his grandfather. Having already lost his belief in the Catholic faith, as a young man he lived a life of indulgence and was known to have an immature sense of humor.

Charles de Foucauld, pictured in 1886. Public domain.
Charles de Foucauld, pictured in 1886. Public domain.

Foucauld resigned from the military at age 23, setting off on a dangerous exploration of Morocco. Contact with strong Muslim believers there challenged him, and he began to pray: “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.”

He returned to France and, with the guidance of a priest, came back to his Catholic faith in 1886, at the age of 28.

Fr. Ardura said that after his reversion, Foucauld understood that “all of his life should be an imitation of the life of Jesus.”

“At the beginning, he thought he should imitate Jesus even materially. So he went to the Holy Land, and spent two years as a gardener in the convent of the Claretians in Jerusalem,” the postulator explained.

“Then little by little his faith matured,” Ardura continued. “And he understood that, yes, he should be an imitator of Jesus, but above all in that which Jesus is, in his actions; it is not necessary to go where Jesus lived geographically.”

Charles de Foucauld. Public domain.
Charles de Foucauld. Public domain.

At this point, Foucauld decided to join a Trappist monastery. Remembering his experience in Morocco before he returned to his Catholic faith, he desired, the priest said, “to be close to those who are poorest, the most disenfranchised.”

This is what led him to live among the Muslim Tuareg people, a nomadic ethnic group, in the desert of French-occupied Algeria.

“He decided to be an isolated, silent missionary, offering the witness of his life, of his presence, of his commitment to their service,” Adura said.

During his 13 years in the Sahara, Foucauld learned about Tuareg culture and language and compiled a Tuareg-French dictionary. The Tuareg people felt so loved by Brother Charles that when he was sick they cared for him in return.

The postulator explained that in Algeria, Foucauld found himself living between “two very different realities.” On one side, there were the French soldiers living in forts, many of whom were Catholic by birth but no longer believed in or practiced the faith. On the other side were Muslims, who were ritualistic but nonetheless an example of believers who took their religion seriously.

Foucauld’s approach, he said, was to speak “the language of charity.”

“He wanted to be the brother of everyone: beyond differences, even differences of religion, of culture, of language, etc., even differences in social situations,” Ardura noted. “Even if they do not know Him or they call Him by different names, there is one Father.”

“This is the essential lesson left to us today by Charles de Foucauld.”

Foucauld was assassinated by a band of men at his hermitage in the Sahara on Dec. 1, 1916.

Commenting on Foucauld’s great popularity among many Catholics and even some non-Christians, Ardura said he thought that people find the blessed attractive “because he presents himself as he is, without any particular decorum. He doesn’t pretend to play a role.”

The postulator pointed to some of the last photos taken of Foucauld before he died, when he was not even 60 years old, noting how he looks much older and even a bit rough around the edges.

Charles de Foucauld, pictured c. 1915. Public domain.
Charles de Foucauld, pictured c. 1915. Public domain.

“You no longer recognize the gentleman who once had so much success. It is as if his body lost some of its consistency, some of its beauty, and only his heart remains,” he said. “In him, we see Jesus, whom he wanted to imitate throughout his life.”

He continued: “‘Who is my neighbor?’ the young man asked Jesus. And Jesus responded by recounting the parable of the Good Samaritan. This illustrates the life of Charles de Foucauld: love your neighbor, be close to those around you. He did this by becoming the universal brother. He teaches us this, I think.”

Benedict XVI is ‘full of zest for life,’ says Archbishop Gänswein

Archbishop Gänswein and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. / EWTN/Paul Badde, Mazur/www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

Vatican City, Oct 21, 2021 / 04:40 am (CNA).

Archbishop Georg Gänswein has said that Benedict XVI is “full of zest for life” after the pope emeritus expressed the hope that he would join his friends in heaven in a condolence message.

Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s private secretary, spoke to Germany’s Bild newspaper on Oct. 20 after media reports suggested that the 94-year-old retired pope had a “longing for death,” said CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

“The art of dying well, that is, ars moriendi, is part of the Christian life. Pope Benedict has been doing that for many years,” Gänswein said.

“Yet he is absolutely full of zest for life. He is stable in his physical weakness, crystal clear in his head, and blessed with his typical Bavarian humor.”

In a letter dated Oct. 2 and released by Wilhering Abbey in Austria, the retired German pope said that the death of the Austrian Cistercian priest Fr. Gerhard Winkler had touched him profoundly.

“The news of the passing of Prof. Dr. Gerhard Winkler O.Cist., which you have conveyed to me, has affected me deeply. Among all colleagues and friends, he was the closest to me. His cheerfulness and deep faith always attracted me,” wrote Benedict XVI, who was pope from 2005 to 2013.

“Now he has arrived in the next world, where I am sure many friends are already waiting for him. I hope that I can join them soon.”

Gänswein said that the letter was “lovingly intended” and came from the heart, but did not mean that Benedict XVI “no longer has any desire to live.”

“On the contrary,” the German archbishop said.

Benedict XVI’s older brother, Georg, died in July 2020 at the age of 96. The pope emeritus made a four-day visit to Germany to say goodbye to his brother shortly before his death.

Missouri Christian church wins settlement over coronavirus restrictions on worship

null / Photo Spirit/Shutterstock

Kansas City, Mo., Oct 20, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A Kansas City-area Baptist megachurch has reached a $150,000 settlement with the county over coronavirus restrictions, with the church claiming that the county treated them more harshly than secular institutions when it came to COVID protocols. 

Abundant Life Baptist Church, which has locations in Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs, Missouri, filed a lawsuit against Jackson County over a year ago, arguing, as places of worship in other states have, that the county’s coronavirus restrictions treated places of worship more harshly than secular institutions such as retail stores. 

Under the terms of the settlement, Jackson County vowed that in exchange for the church dropping the lawsuit, it would ensure that future enforcement measures would not impose stricter requirements on religious organizations than their secular counterparts, the Christian Post reported. 

Jackson is one of Missouri’s largest counties by population, and Abundant Life claims that some 4,500 people generally attend their services. 

When the church filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri during May 2020, the county’s coronavirus restrictions limited church services to no more than 10 people, while stores, restaurants and bars did not have numerical limitations, but rather percentage-based limits, generally 10-25% of capacity.

The church argued that the rules went against both the First Amendment and the Missouri Constitution. 

“If Abundant Life were to engage in retail sales, or served food and liquor as a bar, rather than religious worship at its Lee’s Summit location, Jackson County’s Phase I plan would allow 474 people in the building at a time while meeting or exceeding the CDC’s guidelines,” the lawsuit claims. 

Dan Tarwater, one of the six county legislators who approved the settlement with the church, told the Kansas City Star that they believed they were “going to lose” the case unless they approved the settlement. Equal halves of the settlement will be paid by the county and by University Health, formerly known as Truman Medical Centers, which operates the county health department. 

The Supreme Court had ruled in late November 2020 that New York state restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic constituted a violation of the First Amendment's protection of free religious exercise. After the ruling the Bishop of Brooklyn, whose diocese was a plaintiff in the suit, said that religious worship should be considered an essential during the coronavirus pandemic.

The state's restrictions at the time forbade the attendance of more than 10 people at religious services in state designated "red zones”, and 25 people in "orange zones."

"Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue," the court wrote.

"...even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty," the decision concluded.

During February 2021 an unsigned order from the U.S. Supreme Court said that the total ban on indoor worship, which was in effect for most of California at the time, is unconstitutional. At most, the state may limit indoor capacity to 25% of normal, the court said, citing its November ruling in the Brooklyn case. 

The Washington D.C. archdiocese appealed to a district judge in late 2020 over rules that limited houses of worship to 25% capacity, up to a maximum of 250 people inside, regardless of their official capacity. This included the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America, which has a total capacity of around 6,000 people for its upper church.

A subsequent March 2021 court order allowed houses of worship in D.C. to admit as many people inside as they can, in line with other public health regulations such as social-distancing. 

In April 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that California’s coronavirus restrictions on home-based religious gatherings like Bible studies, worship and prayer meetings were more strict than the constitution allows. Citing an appeals court decision in a different case, the unsigned majority’s court order said the state cannot “assume the worst when people go to worship but assume the best when people go to work.”

The court majority found that comparable secular activities treated “more favorably than at-home religious exercise” under California rules included private suites at sporting events and concerts as well as indoor restaurant dining, where more than three households were allowed to gather.

Bishop in Cameroon shocked by shooting death of young girl, lynching of policeman

Enondiale Tchuengia Carolaise, who was shot to death at a checkpoint in Buea, Cameroon, Oct. 14, 2021. / Courtesy photo.

Buea, Cameroon, Oct 20, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

The Bishop of Buea has condemned both the Thursday shooting death of a young girl at a police checkpoint in the city, and the lynching death of the officer responsible.

 “I join my voice to so many others in condemning the horrific shooting at a car that led to the death of an innocent child simply because the driver did not comply with security checks,” Bishop Michael Bibi of Buea said Oct. 14.

“I equally condemn the killing of the gendarme officer who committed the act by the mob, because no one has the right to take away human life.”

Enondiale Tchuengia Carolaise, who was about five years old, was shot to death when the driver of the car in which she was travelling to school refused to stop at a police checkpoint. In the car were Carolaise, two other children, her mother, and a driver, France 24 reported.

A gendarme fired shots at the vehicle, striking Carolaise.

Such checkpoints in Cameroon can often involve the demand for bribes. The officer allegedly wanted 500 Central African CFA francs, equivalent to $0.89.

A crowd soon gathered at the site, capturing the gendarme officer and beating him to death.

Carolaise’s body was buried later that day.

“I feel the pains of the family of the late Carolaise and those who have lost their loved ones in similar circumstances,” Bishop Bibi said. “I extend my condolences to the bereaved families and urge you all to pray for the dead.”

“The Church has always upheld the right to life for every individual. This right flows from the fact that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27), and thus possesses human dignity, no matter the circumstances,” he said.

Even when people dishonor the dignity of others, or deprive them of human life by their actions as in the case at hand, Bishop Bibi noted, “we must still recognize their human dignity and right to life, which cannot be lost even by the vilest offence.”

The leadership of Cameroon’s Ministry of Defense has been quoted as describing the policeman’s actions as “inappropriate, unsuited to the circumstances and clearly disproportionate to the irrelevant behavior of the driver.”

The checkpoints in Buea are related to Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, which is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon. The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire's defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.

There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Southern Cameroons. Buea is capital of the Southwest Region.

Unrest in Cameroon has been ongoing since 2016, when the country's Anglophone community began protests to demand the return of federalism. These protests have gone so care as to call for secession from the current government.

Secessionist militants in the English-speaking region of Cameroon have also sought violence against government forces and began attacking military troops in November 2017.

The nearly conflict has led to several thousand deaths on both sides, and sent hundreds of thousands of refugees to Nigeria. There are more than 80,000 internally displaced persons in Cameroon.

Bishop Bibi said that “The civilian population has continued to pay the price of the reckless actions of shocking violence either from the security forces or the armed groups since the outbreak of the ongoing crisis, and this has in one way or another, contributed to radicalize some of them.”

“Let us continue to pray for justice, peace and harmony in our Country,” the bishop implored, urging security agents to “show more restraint in carrying out security operations that could put at risk the lives of innocent civilians.”

Two priests in Lincoln diocese reassigned with restrictions, following review of alleged misconduct

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska in St. Peter's Square, a day before the canonization Mass of St. John Henry Newman, Oct. 12, 2019. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 16:09 pm (CNA).

Two priests in the Diocese of Lincoln are being reassigned to ministry with restrictions, following diocesan review of accusations of sexual misconduct. Neither priest was charged with a crime.

Fr. Scott Courtney, suspended from active ministry in September 2018 over accusations of having sexual relations with an adult woman, has now been assigned to minister to prisons, nursing homes, and retirement homes, as well as providing administrative assistance to the chancery, starting in January 2022. 

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln said in an Oct. 8 statement that the reassignment was made after a hearing from the ministerial conduct board. Courtney had undergone “a professional evaluation and a period of personal renewal,” he said. 

Another priest, Fr. Thomas Dunavan, is being tasked with providing administrative assistance to the chancery and helping retired priests, as of Nov. 8, 2021. In March 2019, shortly after he was ordained a priest, Dunavan faced an accusation of sexual misconduct that dated back 20 years. He was placed on administrative leave following the allegations.

“After commissioning an independent investigation, consultation with the Holy See, and hearing from the ministerial conduct board, restrictions have been imposed on Father Dunavan’s public ministry,” Bishop Conley said in a separate statement on Oct. 8. 

According to the state’s criminal justice website, neither priest was charged with a crime, the Lincoln Journal-Star reported.

A third priest in the diocese has recently retired after pleading no contest to serving alcohol to a 19-year-old male. 

Fr. Charles Townsend resigned his pastorate at St. Peter church in Lincoln in August 2018, and in May 2019 was found guilty of providing alcohol to a minor; he pleaded no contest to the charge. The Journal-Star reported that the 19-year-old was an altar server. The diocese says it investigated the matter and forwarded its findings to the Holy See.

Townsend was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 18 months probation. The Lincoln diocese said that while his relationship with the then-19-year-old was inappropriate, it was not sexual in nature. 

In July, the diocese announced that it imposed restrictions on his public ministry and that he was a retired priest. 

“The Congregation for the Clergy, after its independent examination of the matter, determined that no perpetual penalty could be imposed on Fr. Townsend,” Conley stated on July 23.

After Catholic football coach was fired for refusing COVID-19 vaccine, lawyer alleges anti-religious animus

Former Washington State University head football coach Nick Rolovich / Washington State University

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

The former Washington State University football coach, a Catholic, intends to sue the school after he was refused a religious exemption to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and was subsequently fired for not getting vaccinated.

Nick Rolovich had previously announced in July that he would not be receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, but would follow state guidance. As head football coach at a state university, Rolovich was subject to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 

He requested a religious exemption from the vaccine requirement, but the university denied this request and he was subsequently fired on Oct. 18, along with four assistant coaches who were unvaccinated.

His lawyer, Brain Fahling, said on Wednesday that Rolovich will be taking legal action against the university, and called it "a tragic and damning commentary on our culture" that Rolovich "has been derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith.”

Fahling called the firing “unjust and unlawful,” in his statement published by KXLY.

“It came after Coach Rolovich’s request for a religious exemption from the vaccine was denied by the University. The institution also indicated that even if the exemption had been granted, no accommodation would have been made. As a result, Coach Rolovich will be taking legal action against Washington State University, and all parties responsible for his illegal termination,” he said. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced the vaccine mandate on Aug. 18, requiring employees in K-12 schools, most early childhood learning centers, and institutions of higher education to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Although the mandate allowed for religious exemptions, Rolovich applied for an exemption but did not receive one by the deadline of Monday, Oct. 18.

Per Washington state’s Office of Financial Management, 1,887 state employees had either left their jobs or been fired as of Oct. 18 due to the mandate. This figure is nearly identical to the number of accommodations - 1,927 - granted by the state. 

A total of 89.4% of the state’s roughly 63,000 employees have been vaccinated, and an additional 4.6% are “pending action, which includes being in the process of being vaccinated, pending retirement, pending accommodation or separation.”

Fahling said that the university’s athletic director Pat Chun had Rolovich escorted off campus following his termination, and forbade Rolovich from going into his office or speaking to the football team. 

Fahling accused Chun of having “animus towards Coach Rolovich’s sincerely held religious beliefs,” and said that the extent of his “dishonesty” would be revealed in the coming lawsuit. Fahling did not state when the suit would be filed. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith both have acknowledged ethical concerns with the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use, due to their use of cell lines derived from an elective abortion. However, the Vatican congregation called the vaccines’ connection to the evil of abortion “remote,” and said their use is “morally licit” due to the “grave danger” of the pandemic.

The vaccines, however, are not “a moral obligation,” the congregation stated, and those refusing the vaccines out of “conscience” must take alternative actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, whose diocesan territory includes Washington State University, has said that Catholics may receive the COVID-19 vaccines available for use despite their “remote” connections to abortion. 

In a Jan. 29, 2021 letter to the diocese concerning vaccines, Daly wrote, “We may accept these vaccines for the morally proportionate reasons in this circumstance, such as the preservation of health, lives, and livelihoods.” 

Daly said that while “individuals are morally free to decline the vaccine,” they “should remain attentive and responsive to ways that they can contribute to the common good in this time of pandemic.” 

Daly has also acknowledged the conscience rights of Catholics to refuse COVID-19 vaccines, but has dissuaded priests from signing documents affirming their conscience exemptions.