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Dominican priest, microbiologist sees hope for possible coronavirus treatment

Manila, Philippines, Apr 1, 2020 / 09:35 pm (CNA).- In a recent blog post Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., S.T.D, Ph.D., said he sees reason to hope that the drug hydroxychloroquine could be used to treat the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Austriaco is a professor of biology and theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He is currently on lockdown in the Philippines with his mother during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a molecular biologist, what is so exciting for me about this claim is that the clinical trial in France was pretty good, given the extreme circumstances,” Austriaco wrote.

“Yes, it was a small trial, but if you read the paper, it was rigorous for what it wanted to do, which is to be a pilot study. And it showed that HCQ significantly shortened the time for the patient to clear (the) virus from his or her system.”

Another independent study from a lab in China has shown that HCQ “can prevent viral reproduction in a test tube,” Austriaco added, which is said is hopeful from a microbiology perspective.

In an email to CNA, Fr. Austriaco noted that both HCQ and a related drug, CQ, have been used in humans to treat malaria “all over the world, including here in the Philippines.”

“They have also been used to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus. So we know that they are safe for most people,” he said. However, he added, the prescription drugs “should only be taken under the supervision of a physician...because for some people, they can trigger harmful heart conditions.”

While the FDA has approved HCQ for human use for certain diseases, Austriaco noted that it has not yet approved HCQ for use in the treatment of COVID-19, except for in very limited circumstances.

However, “if the ongoing clinical trial by WHO called SOLIDARITY shows that HCQ and CQ are effective in treating COVID-19, then the FDA will approve them for that use,” Austriaco told CNA.

In his blog post, Austriaco noted that he was also hopeful about HCQ because it is “very cheap and readily available: With a prescription, I could walk down the street to a Filipino pharmacy to buy a 200mg pill for PHP85 (which is the equivalent of $1.30). I know that they have it because I checked online. And this is in a random pharmacy in Manila! According to the study, taking three of these pills every day for six days would rid you of SARS-CoV2. And the side-effects for short-term use of HCQ are minimal. This for about $30.”


As for the possibility of a vaccine for coronavirus, Austriaco told CNA that vaccines “usually take 12-18 months to develop though we have accelerated development for the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“(T)he vaccine should hopefully be a one shot deal,” he added, as this coronavirus does not seem to mutate as quickly as the flu does, thus necessitating yearly vaccinations.

In his post, Austriaco wrote that on the whole, he is “optimistic” about the possible use of HCQ to treat coronavirus.

“Yes, there is minimal evidence but that is not unexpected in a pandemic. But the minimal evidence is actually pretty solid, given the practical limits of doing clinical trials in a global crisis,” he said.


“Yet, when both in vitro and in vivo studies converge, that is an optimistic sign. Especially when you have a mechanism of action that is reasonable and is in line with what we know about viral reproduction,” he added. “...I am going to pray that this will bear much fruit!”

“My primary hope is that we are utilizing the global power of human ingenuity and tenacity to fight this pandemic,” he added to CNA. “With God’s grace, we will prevail.”

 

Pro-life leaders: N Ireland legal abortion thwarts protection for vulnerable

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- As the British Parliament's permissive abortion law takes effect in Northern Ireland, pro-life leaders strongly criticized the law, pointing to the coronavirus response as proof of the need to protect the lives of the most vulnerable.

“Every unborn baby matters regardless of age or ability, gender or background. He or she has the right to be protected in a community where everyone belongs and deserves our respect,” the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said March 31. “Every woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy matters too. She has a right to be cared for within a community where she is protected from any pressure to abort her baby.”

“As the number of deaths caused by Coronavirus continues to rise, news reporters frequently remind us that behind the statistics are real people. Their lives matter regardless of age or ability, gender or background,” said the bishops, noting the heavy government investment in treating patients and protecting medical staff.

“Against this background, we are saddened and dismayed at the Government’s decision to introduce extreme regulations for the delivery of abortion services in Northern Ireland,” they said, citing an “overwhelming will” among the people of the region to “protect the life of every human being.'

Previously, Northern Ireland’s laws only permitted abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Backers of the law said it had saved over 100,000 lives by avoiding the permissive law that took effect in other parts of the United Kingdom in 1967.

The new law and accompanying regulations took effect March 31. They mean no explicit legal protections for unborn children up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, compared to legal abortion allowed up to 24 weeks in other parts of the U.K. In some respects the law is more permissive than the rest of the U.K.

Doctors, registered nurses, and registered midwives may perform abortions under the rules. In situations where pregnancy is believed to risk a woman's physical or mental health, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. There is no time limit where the pregnancy is deemed a risk to the life of the mother or in cases where the unborn child is deemed to have a fatal abnormality or a substantial risk of severe mental or physical impairment.

The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life has focused on the responses to the government's late 2019 consultation on the new abortion law. About 79% of respondents voiced opposition to any abortion in Northern Ireland.

Bernadette Smyth, director of Precious Life, said, “thousands of pro-life people throughout Northern Ireland responded in total opposition to a change in the law.”

“Yet, we have seen this week, that the U.K. Government are willing to ignore the results of its own consultation because they are so bloodthirsty and devoted to destroying and killing human lives through abortion in Northern Ireland, even at a time of unprecedented national crisis,” Smyth continued. “People are outraged, upset and hugely frustrated that their democratic voice has been ignored.”

“It is horrifying to learn that one of the most permissive, extreme and inhumane abortion regimes in Europe will be introduced to Northern Ireland by the British Government,” she said. “This is in spite of the fact that our elected representatives returned to Stormont in January and at a time when the U.K. has been brought to its knees by the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“And right in the middle of a national crisis, when people in Northern Ireland and across the world are uniting under the shared understanding that all human life is precious and must be protected, the British Government are still intent on killing and destroying innocent and vulnerable human life in Northern Ireland,” she said.

The Catholic bishops too said the consultation process had been “utterly ignored.”

While Precious Life is circulating petitions asking legislators to repeal the abortion provisions, the bishops said members of the Northern Ireland assembly have some influence. However, their remarks suggested repeal would be very difficult.

Politicians and others opposed to the regulations should not “meekly acquiesce to their promulgation,” they said. Where the regulations exceed the 2019 Act of Parliament, legislators can repeal them.

The traditionally Protestant and pro-U.K. Democratic Unionist Party also criticized the new abortion law.

Paul Givan, DUP Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly said they were “the most extreme, radical, abortion laws anywhere in Europe.”

“It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen,” he said, objecting that the laws were introduced despite the return of devolved government to Stormont.

While abortion is typically a devolved issue of local control, the British Parliament legislation was passed during an absence of a local government. The parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly could have blocked the law from taking effect, but failed to reach any governing agreement due to a dispute between the two leading governing parties, the DUP and the second-largest party, the nationalist Sinn Fein. The nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party also walked out of a final critical meeting.

Besides the Catholic bishops, leaders in the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches had called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene to block the abortion legislation.

The nationalist parties traditionally draw support from Northern Ireland's Catholics. Sinn Fein has turned towards backing legal abortion, while some SDLP leaders have made comments welcoming the changes.

Caoimhe Archibald, a Sinn Féin MLA, said it was “only right and proper that woman can access abortion services without having to travel, that they are free to be able to have healthcare in a modern and compassionate way”.

Among the nationalist critics of the new regime is Peadar Tóibín, leader of the new political party Aontú.

“The right to life is a human right. It is the most important human right that anyone of us have. With out the right to life no other human right can be guaranteed,” he said April 1.

“The current crisis has seen society radically change its behavior, to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. This is something that we in Aontú have always understood,” he said. Sometimes we all have to limit our personal choice and autonomy to protect the lives of others. The slogan 'my body, my choice' rings particularly hollow now when we realize that in reality we are all in this together.”

Tóibín cited the Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast's statement in response to the coronavirus pandemic that “Every Life Matters.”

“The hypocrisy is breathtaking,” he said. “The abortion law that Sinn Féin helped introduce will directly end thousands of live.”

Tóibín was deputy whip of Sinn Fein's delegation to the Republic of Ireland legislative body known as the Dail, and still holds a seat in that body. However, he was pushed out from the party over his support for the unborn and opposition to legal abortion. Like the nationalist party Sinn Fein, Aontú competes in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

He charged that the Westminster-based Parliament, Sinn Féin and the SDLP leadership had “forced abortion on demand into the north of Ireland against the wishes of the people.”

“I say forced, because every opinion poll in the north stated that the majority of men and women sought that the issue of abortion would be decided, not in London but in the north of Ireland. It was not just public opinion that held this view. Legally it was a devolved matter. It was for the elected representatives of the north to decide,” he said.

He objected that Sinn Féin had rejected its nationalist stand against British legislation in Ireland and had instead “openly lobbied for Westminster to legislate for abortion on demand in the north.”

“For the first time in 200 years of republicanism, its leadership went cap in hand to London and demanded that it legislate for Ireland over the heads and against the will of the people,” he charged.

Across all Ireland, pro-life advocates have voiced concern about possible changes to government policy to allow at-home abortions using abortion pills during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum effectively legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland by a vote of over 66% in favor of removing constitutional protections recognizing the unborn baby's right to life as equal to the mother's.

The new law also requires the recognition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Nautical ministry helps abused Filipino sailors amid coronavirus

Glasgow, Scotland, Apr 1, 2020 / 05:33 pm (CNA).- Last year, a maritime charity rescued a group of migrant workers from an abusive situation aboard a fishing vessel in Scotland. The men recently returned home, but the non-profit continues to provide aid in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Filipino crew worked upon Serenity, a ship owned by a Scottish fishing company, which hires a large portion of migrant workers from countries like the Philippines. The men were believed to be harassed for their nationality.

Apostleship of the Sea, or Stella Maris, helped remove the five Filipino crew members from the ship, assisted them with a safe house in Glasgow, and provided them with spiritual support. The abused sailors had been in their contracts between two and five months before they were removed from the boat in August 2019.

Skipper Gordon Hadden verbally harassed and discriminated against these members. The skipper admitted to striking one of the men, placing him in a headlock, and pushing him against the railings of the ship. He was fined £2,000 for harassment and an additional £1,000 for the assault.

The men then reached out to Stella Maris and were soon put in contact with Joe O’Donnell, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Glasgow and a port chaplain for Stella Maris.

Martin Foley, the charity’s chief executive officer and European regional coordinator, told CNA that while the case was investigated by the police the men were visited regularly by O’Donnell for spiritual support.

“Our colleagues at the Fishermen’s Mission advised the men to disembark from the boat for their own safety and from there, the police were called and the guys were moved to a hotel and then transferred to a safe house in Glasgow and that’s when Deacon Joe got involved,” he said.

“Deacon Joe visited the men on a regular basis, praying with them, transporting them to Mass, organising excursions and generally providing as much hospitality as possible.”

The organization also administered financial assistance to the men’s families in the Philippines. Foley said, although the men had been rescued from an abusive situation, they were prohibited from accessing other work while the case was under investigation.

“One of the injustices of their situation was that they were legally barred from working whilst their case was being investigated. Yet the only reason they travelled to the UK in the first place was to work,” he said.

According to the Scottish Catholic Observer, one of the Filipino crewmen, who asked to remain anonymous, described the situation as very difficult but said “it would have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the support and assistance from Stella Maris.” He said the organization treated them like family.

“Deacon Joe has been there for each of us every step of the way … He made sure we were alright and has always been in touch to help with our worries,” he said.

“One of the highlights came when he arranged for Bishop John Keenan of Paisley to come and visit us. We would love to return to Scotland one day, and Stella Maris will always have a place in our hearts.”

After eight months in Scotland, the men have recently returned home, but they are now placed under quarantine.

Foley said the charity has a particularly important role to play during the coronavirus outbreak and emphasized difficulties faced by seafarers at this time. He said there have been numerous reports of sailors who have been denied shore leave and been confined to their vessels.

“This is a time of great uncertainty for seafarers, fishermen and their families. With over 90% of world trade being moved by ship, it is the People of the Sea that keep the global economy and supply chains functioning. Seafarers and fishermen should be counted among the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“In Manila … Stella Maris is providing free accommodation and food for 120 seafarers who are unable to leave Manila due to the lockdown situation there.”

He said the ministry has had to alter its ministerial duties as countries have increased COVID-19 prevention methods. He said, while the chaplains and volunteers have been barred from accessing the ship, the organization has had to provide spiritual support online and had welfare packages delivered to the boats.

“As we move towards Holy Week and the celebration of Easter – a time when we would normally transport seafarers to Mass or celebrate liturgies on board their ships - we consider it particularly important to provide seafarers and fishermen with spiritual support, including signposting to faith resources online,” he said.

Boise bishop bans 'ad orientem' posture in 'ordinary form' Masses

Denver, Colo., Apr 1, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Boise told priests last month that the ordinary form of the Mass should not be celebrated in the ad orientem posture, and that material from “independent websites” is not appropriate for religious instruction regarding the liturgy.

“I am instructing priests in this diocese to preside facing the people at every celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” Bishop Peter Christensen wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to priests, which was published in the March 27 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.

“There are priests who prefer ad orientem. I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for Mass and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.”

The bishop wrote that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is “unambivalent” about liturgical orientation, and “makes it plain that the universal Church envisions the priest presiding at Mass facing the people.”

While liturgists have debated the precise meaning of the liturgical document that references the direction a priest faces during the celebration of the Mass, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship clarified in 2000 that the document does not forbid the ad orientem celebration of the liturgy.

In 2016, Bishop Arthur Seratelli, then-chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee, wrote to U.S. bishops that while the General Instruction of the Roman Missal “does show a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people ‘whenever possible’ in the placement and orientation of the altar,” the Church “does not prohibit the celebration of the Eucharist in the Ordinary Form ad orientem.”

“Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and, most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served.”

While neither universal canon nor liturgical law require the permission of a bishop before a priest celebrates the Mass ad orientem, Seratelli wrote that “such an important decision should always be made with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop,” Seratalli wrote.

Ad orientem, or facing the east, was, until recent decades, the long-standing historical posture for celebrating Mass in the Latin rite, and has been understood to reflect the community’s watchfulness for the return of Jesus Christ from the east. In the ad orientem posture, both the priest and the people face the apse of the Church, or the tabernacle, during the celebration of the Mass.

The ad orientem celebration of the Mass fell out of customary use in many parts of the world after 1969-1970 revisions to the Roman Missal, although those revisions did not explicitly call for a change in liturgical orientation. The possibility of the versus populum, or facing the people posture was mentioned in a 1964 Vatican instruction regarding the placement of altars. In recent years, some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops have promoted and encouraged a return to the ad orientem posture.

Christensen’s letter said that in his diocese, the ad orientem orientation would be prohibited. He explained that “it was clearly the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people.”

Deacon Gene Fadness, a spokesman for the Diocese of Boise did not explain what document of the Second Vatican Council conveys the “mind of the Council” on the matter, which is not mentioned in Sacrosanctum concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy.

Fadness did tell CNA that “In all liturgical matters, Bishop Peter carefully considers the statements of the CDWDS, the instructions in the ritual books and Canon Law, and his responsibility as chief liturgist of the diocese.”

Christensen’s letter also told priests that “in instructing the faithful regarding questions of posture, gesture, reception of Communion, etc., clergy are to refer always to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Order of the Mass, and other officially promulgated ritual books for the form of liturgy they are celebrating; or to documents propagated by the Holy See or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by appropriate authorities.”

“Sources such as independent websites and social media platforms that are unaffiliated with the Holy See or the USCCB are not to be considered trustworthy or appropriate for catechesis,” the bishop wrote.

Fadness declined to name the independent websites the bishop had in mind, but when presented with examples of such websites, namely Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic Answers, the spokesman told CNA that “The Bishop has no problem with solid Catholic sources such as Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Answers. But, of course, he is not bound by what any contributing writers to these sites say, and he prefers that his priests give priority to the GIRM and approved USCCB documents as catechesis for the faithful on liturgical matters.”

The deacon told CNA that Christensen “is the Bishop for our diocese and has full authority to determine liturgical practices within it.”

He cited as an example of the bishop’s authority a March 2019 decision to require Catholics to kneel in the Mass after the Agnus Dei, as is the norm in the U.S., but was not the practice in Boise until Christensen’s intervention.

In his February letter, Christensen offered additional liturgical norms for the diocese, instructing that while Catholics are permitted to receive the Eucharist while kneeling, priests should not use kneelers or Communion rails that might encourage the practice. The bishop also requested that priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass notify the bishop they are doing so, and instructed that “elements from Missal use at the Extraordinary Form liturgy are not to be imported into Masses celebrated under the Ordinary Form.”

At least two parishes in the Diocese of Boise offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form, one of which is administered by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Christensen, 67, has been Bishop of Boise since 2014. He was named Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, in 2007. Fadness told CNA that Christensen’s aim was “reminding his priests that the integrity of the instruction within each Missal must be respected insofar as possible.”

The letter was sent to priests in February, but published at the end of March, after the public celebration of Mass had been suspended across the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the timing of the letter’s publication, Fadness explained that the diocesan newspaper “publishes only twice monthly.”

“The Bishop is merely asking that the Ordinary Form be followed during a Novus Ordo Mass and the Extraordinary Form be followed during the Traditional Latin Mass,” Fadness explained.

“Some of our priests were mixing Extraordinary Form practices with the Ordinary Form, which was causing confusion among the faithful, some fearing that we were introducing pre-Vatican II practices.”

Ed. note: This story has been updated.

Did China use slave labor to keep factories open during coronavirus?

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Chinese authorities have been accused of forcing Muslim Uyghurs to work in factories as the coronavirus pandemic spread in the country. One religious freedom expert told CNA that the Communist government could be trafficking in slave labor.

During the early months of 2020—as the number of new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases ballooned in China—there was “a huge increase in the amount of Uyghurs who have been assigned, or ‘graduated’ from these camps and assigned to work in factories,” Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told CNA.

“So there does seem to be, this year, in January, this surge in the amount of Uyghurs that have been transferred from the camps over to the factories,” she said.

As many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are estimated to have been detained in camps by Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Victims of the camps or their family members have reported political indoctrination, starvation, torture, beatings, and even forced sterilizations in the camps.

A recent report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China detailed how detainees are moved from the camps into nearby factories and in the agriculture industry, with goods made with their labor ending up in the supply chains of some major U.S. companies.

“If these reports are accurate, it means that the Chinese government is trafficking in the slave labor of religious minorities,” Maenza said.

Maenza said that the movement of Uyghurs into factories increased along with the spread of the novel coronavirus. China has reported only 76 cases of COVID-19 in Xinjiang, with three deaths—an implausible claim, she said.

“Now with a million Uyghurs in these concentration camps, we find those numbers to be very hard to believe,” Maenza said.

Chinese authorities closed off travel into and out of the city of Wuhan, the source of the COVID-19 epidemic, on January 23, according to the New York Times.

The next day, parts of Xinjiang were put on a lockdown after at least two COVID-19 cases were discovered in the region’s capital city. According to a Feb. 26 briefing of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the lockdown was announced suddenly, and residents were reportedly caught without the proper time to obtain essential food and supplies. 

As parts of Xinjiang were reportedly in lockdown, Uyghurs were being sent to work in factories elsewhere in China to compensate for lost productivity due to the virus, Radio Free Asia reported. And the threat of the virus could pose a “humanitarian disaster” to the camps in Xinjiang, USCIRF warned.

Factories and schools are reportedly open again in the region. The New York Times reported on March 30 that, according to Chinese authorities, garment factories, farms, and oil fields were operational.

Radio Free Asia reported on March 31 that schools in Xinjiang had reopened despite concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

As countries around the world, including China, respond to the new coronavirus, USCIRF has been monitoring for abuses of religious freedom as churches, mosques, synagogues, and houses of worship close for public safety reasons. A USCIRF fact-sheet on religious freedom during the coronavirus details the ongoing risks to religious minorities around the world.

There are reasonable limits to religious freedom in cases of public emergency, Maenza said, acknowledging that churches may need to close to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but any limits must be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner and only for a limited duration of time.

“One of our biggest concerns has been that some of these regulations that countries are implementing are going to last beyond the pandemic,” she said. “What we’ll be watching,” she added, “is to make sure that that’s not the case.”

Can I confess? Or be anointed? Here’s what’s suspended -or not- in your diocese

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2020 / 03:10 pm (CNA).- All public celebration of Mass has been suspended in every Latin Rite diocese in the United States because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many bishops have now also taken steps to limit or suspend access to other sacraments due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and to comply with local regulations that prohibit people from leaving their homes.

Here’s a list of those dioceses.

If your diocese is not listed here, your bishop has not issued a blanket policy suspending sacramental access, beyond the suspension of Mass. However, sacramental access may vary in different places and parishes depending on pastoral discretion and local stay-at-home orders.

If you are aware of any changes or updates,  email us here. Try to include a link if you can.

Province of Anchorage (Archdiocese of Anchorage, Dioceses of Juneau, and Fairbanks):

No changes to report.

Province of Atlanta (Archdiocese of Atlanta, Dioceses of Savannah, Charleston, Raleigh, Charlotte):  

The Archdiocese of Atlanta has prohibited confessions in confessionals, but “individual confessions may be celebrated in a well-ventilated area” that allows for both social distancing and confidentiality. Priests are encouraged to be extra cautious when offering the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

The Diocese of Raleigh has suspended penance unless the penitent is in danger of death. “Drive-through” confessionals have been banned. 

Province of Baltimore (Archdiocese of Baltimore, Dioceses of Wheeling-Charleston, Wilmington, Richmond, Arlington): 

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has issued a policy suspending all sacramental ministry unless death is imminent.

Province of Boston (Archdiocese of Boston, Dioceses of Burlington, Fall River, Manchester, Portland, Springfield Ma., Worcester):

The Archdiocese of Boston is allowing priests to hear private confessions when they are requested, provided that “reasonable precautions” are taken.

The Diocese of Burlington is requesting penitents make an appointment for confession. 

The Diocese of Fall River has said that “Priests may offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation only in danger of death, or by appointment in extraordinary situations.”  

The Diocese of Manchester has instructed Catholics to contact their individual parishes for sacraments. 

The Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts has closed all churches and has suspended the sacrament of anointing of the sick. 

Province of Chicago (Archdiocese of Chicago, Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, Springfield Ill.): 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has said that “individual confessions are currently not possible” due to the stay-at-home order.  

The Diocese of Belleville has said that “individual confessions are currently not possible” due to the stay-at-home order.

The Diocese of Joliet has closed all churches and adoration chapels, and the sacrament of penance has been suspended unless the penitent is dying. 

The Diocese of Peoria has instructed priests to hear confessions outdoors if possible to comply with privacy and social distancing requirements.

Province of Cincinnati (Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Dioceses of Cleveland, Columbus, Steubenville, Toledo, Youngstown):

The Diocese of Cleveland has canceled scheduled confessions, but individual parishioners are to contact their priests for an appointment. 

The Diocese of Columbus has closed churches and has said that confession is to be made available only for the sick or in the case of emergencies.

The Diocese of Toledo has instructed priests that “Every consideration should be given to making the Sacrament available, perhaps during a time when the church is open for private prayer.”

The Diocese of Youngstown has instructed priests to offer confession by appointment only, with safety precautions taken by priests. 

Province of Denver (Archdiocese of Denver, Dioceses of Cheyenne, Colorado Springs, Pueblo):

The Archdiocese of Denver has left the provision of confession up to individual parishes.

The Diocese of Cheyenne has suspended all sacraments unless there is a danger of death.

Province of Detroit (Archdiocese of Detroit, Dioceses of Gaylord, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Marquette, Saginaw): 

The Diocese of Marquette has closed all churches in accordance with Michigan’s “Stay-At-Home” order and has said confession is to be made available only to the sick or dying. 

The Diocese of Saginaw has instructed priests to “consider the best options of the celebration of private confession for those in dire need of the sacrament.” 

Province of Dubuque (Archdiocese of Dubuque, Dioceses of Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City):

The Archdiocese of Dubuque is permitting one-on-one confessions, with safety precautions. Archbishop Jackels wrote that “the use of general absolution during this pandemic is allowed.” 

The Diocese of Des Moines has said confession is currently “mainly” by appointment. 

The Diocese of Sioux City has said confession is available by appointment only. 

Province of Galveston-Houston (Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Dioceses of Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Tyler, Victoria): 

The Diocese of Beaumont has instructed priests to hear confession by appointment only. 

Province of Hartford (Archdiocese of Hartford, Dioceses of Bridgeport, Norwich, Providence): 

The Diocese of Norwich has instructed people to contact their pastors about sacramental availability. 

Province of Indianapolis (Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Dioceses of Evansville, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary, Lafayette):

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has instructed priests to postpone individual appointments for confession unless the penitent is in danger of death. 

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has canceled scheduled confession times, but priests are allowed to hear confessions by appointment. 

The Diocese of Gary has said that confessions can be heard on a “case-by-case basis.”

The Diocese of Lafayette has ordered churches to remain closed and there will be no scheduled confessions until further notice, unless there is a danger of death. 

Province of Kansas City (Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, Dioceses of Dodge City, Salina, Wichita): 

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has ordered adoration chapels to close, but churches can remain open with fewer than 10 people inside. Confessions must comply with social distancing guidelines. 

Province of Los Angeles (Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego): 

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has suspended regularly scheduled confessions and confessions only can be heard if there is a danger of death or “extremely extraordinary situations.” 

The Diocese of Fresno has closed all “churches, missions and stations; including all grounds and facilities such as chapels, halls, meeting rooms and classrooms” until further notice.

The Diocese of San Bernardino has suspended confessions until further notice, saying “you should not have any confessions at all at your parishes.” Exceptions will be made for the dying.

Province of Louisville (Archdiocese of Louisville, Dioceses of Covington, Knoxville, Lexington, Memphis, Nashville, Owensboro): 

The Diocese of Covington has said that confessions are to be heard by appointment only.

The Diocese of Lexington has said confessions are to be heard by appointment and that general absolution could potentially be offered to those in a hospital if the situation merits it.

Province of Miami (Archdiocese of Miami, Dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Venice):/

The Archdiocese of Miami has suspended all activities, including confessions, that would require people to leave their homes for the next two weeks. This was decided after Florida issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order. 

The Diocese of Orlando has said confessions are to be heard only in emergency cases.

The Diocese of St. Augustine has instructed clergy to use “pastoral discretion and wisdom when making decisions for the parish.” 

The Diocese of St. Petersburg has allowed individual parishes to make decisions regarding confession availability.

The Diocese of Venice has declared that baptisms should only be celebrated in the case of emergency and that “Anointing of the Sick ought to be requested only in genuine need for the dying.”

Province of Milwaukee (Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Dioceses of Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Superior): 

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has stated that confessions are “private.” 

The Diocese of Green Bay has said that confession should be held outside of a confessional, and general absolution may be given in health care facilities with a large number of sick patients, or in religious institutes with many sick residents. 

Province of Mobile (Archdiocese of Mobile, Dioceses of Biloxi, Birmingham, Jackson):

The Diocese of Biloxi has instructed that anointing of the sick be offered only to those “most in need.”

The Diocese of Birmingham has encouraged priests to be “creative” when scheduling confessions outside of confessionals. 

The Diocese of Jackson is allowing confessions to continue as long as they do not violate “lockdown” orders. 

Province of New Orleans (Archdiocese of New Orleans, Dioceses of Alexandria La., Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette La., Lake Charles, Shreveport): 

The Diocese of Baton Rouge is permitting confessions by appointment only and has suspended all regularly scheduled confession times. 

The Diocese of Lake Charles has said that anointing and confession are to be made available on an “individual basis.” 

The Diocese of Shreveport requires confessions take place with some sort of barrier between the priest and penitent. 

Province of New York (Archdiocese of New York, Dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, Syracuse): 

The Diocese of Albany has “prohibited” scheduled reconciliation, but parishioners may call a priest for an appointment. 

The Diocese of Brooklyn has limited confession to emergencies only. Anointing of the sick may occur as needed. 

The Diocese of Buffalo has limited both anointing of the sick and confession to the gravely ill. 

The Diocese of Rochester is offering confession outside of confessionals. 

The Diocese of Rockville has said that confession may not be “advertised or scheduled,” but that “confession can be conducted when urgently needed and when requested on a case-by-case basis.”

Province of Newark (Archdiocese of Newark, Dioceses of Camden, Metuchen, Paterson, Trenton): 

The Archdiocese of Newark has suspended confession except for “extreme emergencies” which it defined as “in danger of death.” 

The Diocese of Camden has limited confession to appointment only.

The Diocese of Metuchen has stated that penance is for only those in need. 

Province of Oklahoma City (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Dioceses of Little Rock, Tulsa) : 

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has said that confessions may be conducted only from behind a screen. 

The Diocese of Little Rock has suspended face-to-face confession, but the sacrament can be celebrated with a barrier between the priest and penitent.

Province of Omaha (Archdiocese of Omaha, Dioceses of Grand Island, Lincoln): 

No changes to report. 

Province of Philadelphia (Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Dioceses of Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton): 

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has instructed Catholics to contact their parishes about confessions. 

The Diocese of Greensburg’s website states there have been “restrictions” on anointing of the sick and penance, but does not offer further details. Diocesan offices are closed.

The Diocese of Harrisburg has closed all churches and chapels. Penance is restricted for those who are in danger of death. 

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has suspended all sacraments, including baptism, confession, and anointing of the sick, except for “the most grave of circumstances.” 

The Diocese of Scranton has suspended “public gatherings for the celebration of Confessions or the Anointing of the Sick, indoors or outdoors.” Priests will be available for the “gravest circumstances.” 

Province of Portland in Oregon (Archdiocese of Portland, Dioceses of Baker, Boise, Great Falls-Billings, Helena):

The Diocese of Boise has closed all churches to the public, and suspended all holy hours and “other services” until the governor lifts the “stay at home” order.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has said that “Confessions should continue to be made available under conditions that are deemed appropriate by the pastor of the parish while providing for social/physical distancing.”

The Diocese of Helena has suspended all sacraments except for “extreme emergencies.” Priests are asked to be “courageous” when anointing. 

Province of St. Louis (Archdiocese of St. Louis, Dioceses of Jefferson City, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Springfield-Cape Girardeau):

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has suspended indoor confession in confessionals and said they must be heard in well-ventilated areas.

The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has said that confession and anointing of the sick are available by appointment only. 

Province of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Dioceses of Bismarck, Crookston, Duluth, Fargo, New Ulm, Rapid City, Saint Cloud, Sioux Falls, Winona-Rochester):

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis is complying with a local stay-at-home order, but has said that priests may “administer the sacraments in cases of serious need and on an individual basis.”

The Diocese of Fargo has canceled regular confessions. Catholics can make an appointment for confession, and “Every effort will be made to provide Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum to those who need it.”

The Diocese of Saint Cloud has left confession availability up to individual pastors. Confessions will only be available by appointment. Churches will be closed. 

The Diocese of Winona-Rochester has said that sacraments are available by appointment. 

Province of San Antonio (Archdiocese of San Antonio, Dioceses of Amarillo, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Laredo, Lubbock, San Angelo): 

The Diocese of Amarillo has suspended confessions until the “shelter-in-place” order issued by Potter and Randall Counties has ended.

The Diocese of Dallas has suspended scheduled confessions, but priests may respond to individual requests for private confessions. The shelter-in-place order issued for the city of Dallas does not allow people to travel to churches. 

The Diocese of El Paso has said confessions may be made available by appointment.

The Diocese of Fort Worth has stopped the outdoor distribution of communion after Masses. Confessions must occur behind a screen. 

The Diocese of Laredo has canceled communal penance services, but individual confessions are available. 

The Diocese of Lubbock has suspended confessions and has ordered churches closed to comply with the “stay-at-home” order issued by the City of Lubbock. 

The Diocese of San Angelo has suspended the use of confessionals, but confessions may be heard in well-ventilated rooms. 

Province of San Francisco (Archdiocese of San Francisco, Dioceses of Honolulu, Las Vegas, Oakland, Reno, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Stockton): 

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has requested priests move confessions to an appointment-only basis to avoid drawing a crowd. 

The Diocese of Honolulu has suspended confession and does not allow general absolution.

The Diocese of Santa Rosa has said it is “imprudent to set up or attempt to offer the availability of individual confession even with the utilization of various protective measures.” 

The Diocese of Stockton has canceled scheduled confession times and encouraged people to learn more about acts of perfect contrition. 

Province of Santa Fe (Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Dioceses of Gallup, Las Cruces, Phoenix, and Tucson): 

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe is permitting general absolution in cases that “would include, but [are] not limited to, circumstances where the priest cannot enter a ward with dying COVID-19 patients or even with those who will hopefully recover but would be comforted by the absolution of their sins.”

The Diocese of Gallup has limited anointing to those who are in “imminent danger of death,” and the sacrament of reconciliation must be done in a well-ventilated space.  

Province of Seattle (Archdiocese of Seattle, Dioceses of Spokane, Yakima): 

The Archdiocese of Seattle is not permitting parishes to publicize confession times, but is scheduling confessions by appointment.

The Diocese of Spokane has limited penance and anointing of the sick to those who are in danger of death.

Province of Washington (Archdiocese of Washington, Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands): 

No changes to report.

Vatican authorizes special Masses and Good Friday prayers for coronavirus pandemic

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Vatican has asked priests around the world to recite a new prayer during this year’s Good Friday liturgy, and urged them to offer Masses for the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Congregation for Divine Worship issued the new intention for the Solemn Intercessions during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Solemn Intercessions, which are derived from ancient prayers, are recited on Good Friday for various categories of people. They include the pope; bishops, priests and deacons; the faithful; catechumens, other Christians; the Jewish people; those who do not believe in Christ; those who do not believe in God; those in public office; and those in special need.

The new prayer is titled “For the afflicted in time of pandemic”. It begins with the priest saying: “Let  us  pray  also  for all  those  who  suffer  the  consequences  of  the  current  pandemic,  that  God  the Father  may  grant  health  to  the  sick,  strength  to  those  who  care  for  them,  comfort  to  families  and salvation to all the victims who have died.”

After a moment of silent prayer, the priest continues: "Almighty ever-living God, only support of our human weakness, look with compassion upon the sorrowful condition of your children who suffer because of this pandemic; relieve the pain of the sick, give strength to those who care for them, welcome into your peace those who have died and, throughout this time of tribulation, grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The new prayer was presented with a decree signed by the congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Robert Sarah, and its secretary, Archbishop Arthur Roche.

The decree, dated March 30, said: “The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday this year has a particular significance because of the terrible pandemic that has stricken the whole world.

“Indeed, on the day on which we celebrate the redeeming passion and death of Jesus Christ on the Cross, who like a slain lamb has taken upon himself the suffering and sin of the world, the Church raises her voice in prayer to God the Father Almighty for all humanity, and in particular for those who suffer most, while she awaits in faith the joy of the resurrection of her Spouse.

“Therefore this Congregation, in virtue of the faculties granted to it by the Supreme Pontiff Francis, availing itself of a possibility granted in the Roman Missal to the diocesan bishop in a situation of grave public need, proposes an intention to be added to the Solemn Intercessions of the above mentioned celebration, so that the prayers of those who invoke him in their tribulation might reach God the Father and so that, even in their adversity, all can experience the joy of his mercy.”

The liturgy congregation also proposed that priests celebrate a votive Mass “specifically to implore God to end this pandemic.”

The New Liturgical Movement reported that an accompanying decree permitted the votive Mass to be celebrated daily, except on solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent and Eastertide, Holy Week and the Octave of Easter, Ash Wednesday and All Souls’ Day.

A votive Mass is a Mass differing from the one prescribed for the day and celebrated for a special intention.

According to an unofficial translation on the Vatican News website, the Opening Prayer, or Collect, reads: “Almighty and eternal God, provident refuge in every danger, kindly turn your gaze toward us, who with faith implore you in tribulation, and grant eternal rest to the deceased, comfort to those who weep, health to the sick, peace to those who are dying, strength to healthcare providers, a spirit of wisdom to civil authorities, and a heart to draw near to everyone with love so that together we might glorify your holy name.”
 

Pope Francis prays for media covering the coronavirus pandemic 

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis offered a prayer for media professionals who are covering the coronavirus pandemic before his daily Mass on Wednesday.

“Those who work in the media, who work to communicate today so that people are not so isolated …  help us to bear this time of isolation,” Pope Francis said April 1.

The pope asked for people to pray for all those who work in communications and for the education of children.

In his homily via livestream from the chapel in his Vatican City residence, Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said that “the Holy Spirit gives us freedom.”

“The disciple lets himself be guided by the Spirit. For this reason the disciple is always a man of tradition and novelty. He is a free man,” Francis said.

Christian discipleship allows Jesus to show the way of freedom and life, the pope explained.

Pope Francis said that the “true identity of a Christian” is found in discipleship.

“Christian identity is not an identity card that says ‘I am a Christian,’” he said. “No, it is discipleship.”

The pope pointed to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“The disciple is a free man because he remains in the Lord,” Pope Francis said. “It is the Holy Spirit that inspires.”

At the conclusion of the Mass broadcast, Pope Francis adored the Blessed Sacrament, and invited Catholics quarantined at home to make a spiritual communion.

A spiritual communion is a uniting of oneself to the Sacrifice of the Mass through prayer, and can be made whether one is able to receive Communion or not.

The pope recited this spiritual communion prayer attributed to Servant of God Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val:

“At Thy feet, O my Jesus, I prostrate myself and I offer Thee repentance of my contrite heart, which is humbled in its nothingness and in Thy holy presence. I adore Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, the ineffable Eucharist. I desire to receive Thee into the poor dwelling that my heart offers Thee. While waiting for the happiness of sacramental communion, I wish to possess Thee in spirit. Come to me, O my Jesus, since I, for my part, am coming to Thee! May Thy love embrace my whole being in life and in death. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee. Amen.”

Don't be afraid to let the Holy Spirit purify your heart, says Pope Francis

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2020 / 03:09 am (CNA).- It is the Holy Spirit who leads us away from our sins and towards purity of heart, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.

Speaking via livestream due to the coronavirus crisis, the pope said April 1 that the purification of our hearts must begin by recognizing the evil that lies within us and renouncing it.

"This is a decisive maturity: when we realize that our worst enemy is often hidden in our heart," he said. "The noblest battle is against the inner deceptions that generate our sins."

In his address from the library of the apostolic palace, the pope continued his cycle of catechesis on the beatitudes, the eight blessings proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Focusing on the sixth beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8), the pope said: "The pure of heart live in the presence of the Lord, preserving in the heart what is worthy of the relationship with Him; only in this way does it possess an intimate, 'unified' life, linear, not tortuous but simple."

"The purified heart is thus the result of a process that implies liberation and renunciation. The pure of heart is not born such, he has experienced an inner simplification, learning to deny evil within itself, something which in the Bible is called 'circumcision of the heart.'"

"This inner purification implies the recognition of that part of the heart which is under the influence of evil, in order to learn the art of always allowing oneself to be taught and led by the Holy Spirit. And so, through this path of the heart, we come to 'see God.'"

When we "see God," he explained, we recognize God's presence in the Church's sacraments and in our fellow human beings, especially the needy.  

"In this beatific vision there is a future dimension, eschatological, as in all the beatitudes: it is the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven towards which we are going," he said.

"But there is also the other dimension: to see God means to understand the plans of Providence in what happens to us, to recognize his presence in the Sacraments, in our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and suffering, and to recognize him where he manifests himself."

He said the sixth beatitude was, in a sense, "the fruit" of the preceding five.

"If we have listened to the thirst for the good that dwells in us and are aware that we live in mercy, a journey of liberation begins which lasts a lifetime and leads us to heaven," he said.

"It is a serious work and it is above all a work of God in us – in the trials and purifications of life – which leads to great joy, to true and profound peace."

In off-the-cuff remarks at the end of his address, the pope urged Catholics not to be afraid to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit.

In his greetings to different language groups after his address, he invited the faithful to seek the intercession of St. John Paul II, who died on April 2, 2005.

Addressing Polish Catholics, he said: "In these difficult days we are living, I encourage you to entrust yourselves to Divine Mercy and to the intercession of St. John Paul II, on the eve of the 15th anniversary of his death."

Coronavirus keeps volunteers away, but Arkansas Catholic Charities plans help for tornado victims

Little Rock, Ark., Mar 31, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- An EF3 tornado blew through Jonesboro, Arkansas, this week, and although no deaths have been reported, Catholic Charities of Arkansas is gearing up to help those whose livelihoods will be affected by the disaster.

Patrick Gallaher, director of Catholic Charities of Arkansas, told CNA that he anticipates that their involvement with the disaster in Jonesboro will involve long term case management to help uninsured and underinsured families recover and settle into permanent housing.

Typically, with a tornado like this, Catholic Charities will work with Habitat for Humanity to help get underinsured people into a Habitat for Humanity house, he said.

“We have been in contact with the parish in Jonesboro, Blessed Sacrament Church, and with their local Society of St. Vincent de Paul Council, but have not received any reports of damage or need at this moment. Once we begin receiving information from Jonesboro, we will be able to craft a response to meet the specific needs,” Gallaher said.

The tornado damaged nearly 200 structures, including several factories. Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared a state disaster and the state is seeking a federal designation from the national government.

Though Catholic Charities of Arkansas is not part of the immediate emergency response, Gallaher clarified, first responders in the county, with state assistance, have set up an emergency shelter with care being taken not to spread the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Craigshead County, where Jonesboro is located, has eight confirmed COVID-19 cases. The state as a whole has around 500.

Gallaher said the main difficulties in helping victims of the tornado is a lack of volunteers and funds amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"Most of my volunteers, my disaster volunteers, are elderly people. And I wasn't even going to call them, I don't want to take a chance," Gallaher told CNA.

He also noted that fundraising has been made more difficult by the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of Little Rock.

About three percent of the state's population is undocumented immigrants, who will not be eligible for federal or state unemployment assistance, Gallaher said. With Jonesboro as a manufacturing hub, and much of the city's factory capacity destroyed, Gallaher said he expects Catholic Charities will likely start receiving requests for assistance with food.

“I expect that as the protocols put in place to contain the epidemic continue, we will be hearing from families unable to meet their daily needs because of lack of employment. Although the federal and state response regarding unemployment insurance and direct payments will help most, there will be a segment of our population that is ineligible and will need assistance,” Gallaher said.