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Dad, deacon, lawyer: Amy Coney Barrett’s father shares his testimony of faith

CNA Staff, Sep 28, 2020 / 08:41 pm (CNA).- Much has been made of the Catholic faith of Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s most recent nominee to the United States Supreme Court.

The judge’s Catholicism has taken center stage in her political career thus far: from “the dogma lives loudly within you” comments made during her 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nomination hearing in 2017 to recent articles debating - and debunking - whether People of Praise, the charismatic movement to which Barrett belongs, was the inspiration behind the dystopian novel and T.V. series, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Like many Catholics, Barrett inherited her faith from her family. Her parents are Catholic, with seven children - Barrett being the eldest - and are also members of People of Praise. Her father, Mike Coney, has also been a permanent deacon for 38 years.

In a personal testimony of faith written in February 2018 for his home parish, St. Catherine of Siena in a suburb of New Orleans, Deacon Coney shared how “pivotal moments” of his life - both decisions and experiences - came to shape his life and his relationship with God.

“They are not random,” Coney said of the pivotal moments in his life. “I firmly believe the Lord is close at hand drawing us through human events closer to him.”

One of the first moments that shaped Coney’s faith was the death of his mother.

“In August 1962, the day before my 17th birthday, I came home from a summer job and found my mother dead,” he wrote. “At first I was filled with grief and anger at God.”

But then Coney remembered the story of Job, a man in the Old Testament who is tested by Satan, who kills off all of Job’s livestock, herdsmen, shepherds and children. Instead of blaspheming God, as Satan had wanted, Job rends his garments, cuts his hair, and prays: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

“That passage dissolved the anger I felt against the Lord,” Coney said. “All through the wake and funeral I kept repeating that passage as a kind of prayer. Although the grief remained, the anger left.”

His mother’s death left Coney considering for months “what really mattered in a person’s life,” and when he went on retreat his senior year of high school, he said he was struck by the verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?”

“Sure money is necessary but it can’t be the primary goal of life. That’s not what life is all about,” Coney wrote.

This experience led him to consider being a Jesuit, and he made a customary 30-day Ignatian retreat and spent one and a half years as a Jesuit novitiate, an experience that “remained the foundation of my adult life, as has the axiom that love manifests itself in deeds and not just in words.”

Rather than become a Jesuit priest, however, Coney married his wife Linda during his first year of law school. His marriage shaped his faith, Coney said, when he and Linda began praying together and when he made the decision to do one simple act of love for Linda every day.

“So picking up a towel on the floor or a shoe or putting a single cut flower in a vase became a way to grow in love and unity,” he said. “That practice continues to this day and the love grows.”

Throughout his marriage, Coney said he has jointly discerned the will of God with his wife many times. As an example, Coney and his wife jointly discerned to turn down a transfer in his career and a promotion that would have meant uprooting their (at the time) six children.

“Our discernment had told us that money and success were not as important as what was best for our family,” he said.

Coney’s decision to become a permanent deacon was also a joint discernment, brought about by the couple’s experience with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a movement with a particular emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“Like many people and most guys, I saw very little to like in Charismatics,” Coney wrote of his first impression of the movement. “I dodged it until I was trapped into attending a Life in the Spirit Seminar. When prayed with for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, nothing happened.  Then later that night I began to speak in tongues.”

“More importantly,” he wrote, “I was filled with an insatiable appetite for reading scripture and spiritual books. Making time for personal prayer became important. I sensed a call from the Lord to serve.”

His wife independently confirmed that she had also felt a call from the Lord that Coney should enter the permanent diaconate, a decision that Coney said is always best discerned as a couple. By the time Coney was ordained, he and Linda had four children. After ordination, they had three more, becoming a family of nine.

He had to learn to “juggle” life as a husband, father, lawyer and deacon, he wrote, but he said the Lord helped him by making smaller stretches of sleep feel longer and by helping him write his homilies in about an hour.

His prayer, he said, became: “Give me wisdom, knowledge, discernment and sound judgement.”

It was also after ordination that the family felt called to join People of Praise, an ecumenical lay covenant community - to which Barrett continues to belong - that would allow his family to live in “a close knit Christian community, one like that described in the Acts of the Apostles, one that would help form our children into good Christians and strengthen our marriage and family.”

“The glue which binds the members of the (People of Praise) is a promise to share life together and to look out for each other in all things material and spiritual,” Coney added. “In this ecumenical community my faith has been nourished and my commitment to my friend Christ has grown deeper and stronger and has borne good fruit.”

In his conclusion, Coney wrote that reflecting on his testimony made him grateful for the generosity of the Lord in his life.

“This scripture from Deuteronomy sums up how I feel. ‘Do you not know that the Lord your God has carried you as a Father carries his child all along your journey?’”

Deacon Mike Coney continues to serve the parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie, Louisiana.

Catholic schools take home 40 National Blue Ribbon awards

CNA Staff, Sep 28, 2020 / 07:08 pm (CNA).- Catholic schools received 80% of the 2020 National Blue Ribbon awards issued to private schools this year by the Department of Education. Of 50 private schools to win the award, 40 are Catholic.  

This year, the Department of Education designated 367 schools--317 public and 50 non-public--as National Blue Ribbon Schools. The 40 Catholic schools honored were from 17 states and 21 dioceses.

The awards were announced on September 24.

“The National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging content,” says the Department of Education’s website for the award.

“The National Blue Ribbon Schools flag gracing a school's building is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning. National Blue Ribbon Schools are an inspiration and a model for schools still striving for excellence,” says the site.

Schools can be designated as National Blue Ribbon winners once every five years.

For non-public schools to be recognized, their students must score in the top 15% nationally on standardized English and math tests.

Kelly Branaman, secretary for Catholic schools and superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, told CNA that she was “appreciative” that non-public schools were recognized as well as public schools.

“This allows Catholic schools across the country to demonstrate their excellence on a national level,” she said to CNA on September 28.

Two schools in the Archdiocese of Washington were recognized as Blue Ribbon schools for this year.

“It is gratifying that the U.S. Department of Education recognizes what so many parents and teachers already know: that our Catholic schools provide a great education where academic excellence and our Catholic faith thrive,” said Branaman.

“We're grateful for this honor, and it will serve to inspire us as we will continue to offer our students an outstanding education.”

Vatican has 'moral authority' to speak on China, Pompeo tells CNA in exclusive interview

Washington D.C., Sep 28, 2020 / 04:40 pm (CNA).-  

Ahead of a visit to the Vatican this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he plans to discuss human rights abuses in China, and urge Vatican officials to speak out about Chinese religious persecution.

“We’ve spoken pretty clearly about the human rights situation in China that has deteriorated under General Secretary Xi Jinping for religious believers throughout the country,” Pompeo told CNA in an exclusive interview Friday.

“The Church has an enormous amount of moral authority and we want to encourage them to use that moral authority, to improve the conditions for believers, certainly Catholic believers, but believers of all faiths inside of China, and so that’s the conversation that we’ll have,” the secretary added.

Pompeo will visit the Holy See this week during a trip that will also include meetings in Greece, Italy, and Turkey. While at the Vatican, Pompeo will meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, along with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who heads the Holy See’s office for relations with civil governments.

The secretary is not scheduled to meet with Pope Francis, with whom he met last October. While the pope does not always meet with foreign ministers visiting the Vatican, the Holy See has reportedly told U.S. diplomats that the pope did not want to meet with an American political figure so close to the November presidential election.

The meeting comes as the Holy See is expected to soon renew a deal it made two years ago with Beijing on leadership structures in the Church.

It also comes shortly after Pompeo published an essay Sept. 18 in First Things on the Vatican-China agreement.

In a tweet promoting the essay, Pompeo wrote that “The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” The remark made waves among diplomats for its pointed criticism of the Holy See’s policy.

But Pompeo stressed to CNA that he is committed to working with the Vatican, and he recognized its international importance on the subject of religious freedom.

The secretary said he believes the U.S. and the Holy See “have a shared interest in seeing that every human being in China has the opportunity to practice their faith, exercise their conscience rights.”

“Our administration has spent a lot of time and energy in promoting religious freedom all around the world, and I think the Catholic Church and the United States share the desire to create improved conditions for Catholics to exercise their faith tradition inside of China.”

The Vatican-China deal aimed to unify Catholics in China, who have been split between an “underground Church” loyal to Rome, and a nationally recognized organization, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, in which bishops had previously been appointed and ordained without the permission of the pope, creating a de facto schism in the Church.

The deal, details of which have never been released publicly, was intended also to provide some legal protections for more than 9 million Catholics in China, at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that he aims to see China “actively guide the adaptation of religions to socialist society...supporting China’s religions’ persistence in the direction of sinicization.”

In practice, human rights observers say, that project has led to arrests of religious leaders, including Catholics, prohibitions on children attending Mass, and security cameras in churches, at the same time that the Uyghur Muslim people in China’s Xinjiang autonomous region have faced mass detention, forced labor, sterilization, and abortion in a campaign increasingly described as a genocide. Other religious and ethnic groups face similar conditions.

Pompeo told CNA that “we see enormous deterioration in the ability to attend Church...the things they’re doing to facilities for Christian believers, what’s happening in the west to the Muslim population in Xinjiang, we watch all this deteriorate and we urge the Vatican to exercise its capacity for moral witness and authority to support those believers.”

“That’s the conversation that I expect that I’ll have every time I encounter religious leaders around the world,” Pompeo said.

Critics of the Vatican-China deal say that it has caused Pope Francis to remain silent on human rights in China. That silence seems to have garnered little goodwill for Catholics living in China, some critics say, but it will compromise the Church’s ability to evangelize the country by making it appear complicit in the regime’s abuses.

Critics also note that while an agreement was apparently struck on the appointment of bishops in China, few bishops have actually been appointed to fill the numerous vacant dioceses in China, because Beijing has ground the appointment process to a halt by stalling.

Defenders of the deal, however, say that conditions for Catholics might be far worse in the country were it not for the Holy See’s willingness to engage with Beijing, and that even if few bishops are being appointed, putting a stop to the appointment of schismatic bishops is the beginning of reform.

Cardinal Parolin declined to respond to questions from CNA regarding Pompeo’s visit. An aide to the cardinal told CNA that Parolin expects to discuss issues related to the China deal with Pompeo.

Earlier this month, Parolin told journalists that the Holy See’s “current interest is to normalize the life of the Church as much as possible, to ensure that the Church can live a normal life, which for the Catholic Church is also to have relations with the Holy See and with the pope.”

Pompeo told CNA he understood the Church faces risks in China no matter how it engages with Beijing.

“The Holy See will have to balance those risks and I appreciate that, and I don’t know precisely what the arrangements are that have been agreed to.”

“But I can tell you that as you stare at the facts on the ground, conditions have worsened. The capacity for believers to exercise their faith has decreased. It has gone backwards,” he said.

“And so while it is the case that dialogue matters an awful lot, that these conversations are incredibly important and complex, the agreements that are entered into have to actually deliver outcomes that reflect a better situation. This is the kind of thing that we deal with all the time, where we certainly have imperfect solutions, but we never cease our call for what it is that we ultimately know is the right thing to do.”

“The United States is urging countries all across the world to have their eyes wide open with respect to what’s taking place [in China], whether that’s in the freedom that’s being denied in Hong Kong, or what’s taking place now against those who want to practice their faith in Tibet, in Inner Mongolia...We’re watching the deterioration of religious freedom, and each of us has a special responsibility [to address it],” he said.

“I am confident that the Holy See has a truly special and unique capacity to make life better for each of these people who simply want to exercise their most basic human right of exercising their ability to practice their faith,” the secretary said.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, has been an outspoken critic of the China deal. Zen told CNA this month that “resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization.”

“Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”

Along with Zen, Cardinals Charles Muang Bo of Burma and Ignatius Suharyo of Indonesia have repeatedly denounced China’s human rights violations.

Pompeo told CNA that he believes more voices, including those from Rome, should be speaking. “The world, and that certainly includes the Vatican, has a responsibility to speak to that truth, to speak to the reality that’s taking place,” he said.

The secretary added that in his view, the United States and other nations have been making efforts to make change in the region.

Speaking of the United States, Pompeo said that “we have imposed costs on some of those who have been the most egregious violators, we have urged American businesses to ensure, for example, in Xinjiang, that they’re not doing business with those involved in the horrific human rights violations that are taking place there. So we’ve taken a number of actions to prevent these kinds of violations of the most fundamental human rights from taking place.”

Mentioning a forthcoming meeting with officials from Australia, Japan, and India, Pompeo said that his goal is “building out a coalition for freedom-loving peoples all across the world....to continue to defend these most basic rights.”

He said the Chinese Communist Party acts punitively toward countries opposing Chinese human rights abuses by severing or restricting trade relationships.

“We’ve talked to nations in the Pacific - Pacific island countries - who did something the Chinese didn’t like and they stopped sending tourists to their countries. It has a significant impact on their economy. Normal nations don’t do that. They don’t use a brand of punishment diplomacy that impacts the lives of real people.”

Speaking of Taiwan, where the Trump administration has made new diplomatic initiatives by sending both a senior-level diplomat and HHS Secretary Alex Azar in recent months, Pompeo said the island, which considers itself to be sovereign while Beijing regards it as a renegade province, “is certainly part of our effort,” but said “the challenge is so much greater than just any one single theatre, one single tactical space.”

“The challenge and the fight is not between the United States and China. This is a fight between authoritarianism, barbarism, and the rule of law and decency and the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. That is the challenge that is presented by the Chinese Communist Party, and it’s the one that President Trump has worked so diligently to build out against, to make sure at least for the American people, we’re going to get this right. We’re urging other nations to join us in this challenge.”

“Regimes that engage in authoritarian, totalitarian behavior,” the secretary said, “survive by darkness and obfuscation. And by the moral authorities of the world, those who value the most fundamental freedoms for every human being...that draw attention to those [regimes] ultimately create better lives for people,” Pompeo added.

“What I hope and what I know what the Holy See intends to do is continue to shine the light. That would be the right thing to do, it would be the thing the United States will ask them to do, and I am confident that they will do so. There’s a long history of that within the Church, and I am confident that they will continue to do that.”

 

Graffiti attacks on San Diego-area churches being investigated as hate crimes

Denver Newsroom, Sep 28, 2020 / 04:31 pm (CNA).- Two Eastern Catholic churches in San Diego County suffered graffiti vandalism attacks over the weekend, and while authorities are treating the incidents as connected, they have not yet determined the perpetrators’ motives.

St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, California on Sept. 25 was defaced with graffiti depicting “pentagrams, upside down crosses, white power, swastikas,” as well as slogans such as “Biden 2020,” and “BLM” (Black Lives Matter).

The cathedral is the seat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of San Diego.

The same evening, Our Mother of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, also in El Cajon, was similarly attacked, with the pastor discovering spray-painted swastikas on an exterior wall of the church the next day.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a Syriac Catholic church, part of the Syriac Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark.

The sheriff’s department has not officially announced any suspects, but is investigating the incidents as hate crimes.

Monsignor Emad Hanna Al-Shaikh, pastor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, told CNA he alerted all the relevant authorities when he discovered the vandalism, and later painted over the graffiti.

Msgr. Al-Shaikh said he strongly suspects the same perpetrators who hit St. Peter cathedral also defaced his church, though he does not yet have proof. The churches are located three miles apart.

He said he does not know of any reason why someone would vandalize his church, and does not know who might have carried out the attack.

“We’re friends with everybody, we love everybody, and we’re at peace with everybody,” he said.

Sargent Mike Hettinger, a detective investigating the incidents, told CNA that the Sheriff's Department does currently have some "good leads" in the case, including surveillance video, tips from the community, and physical evidence collected that they do not yet want to make public.

The department does believe the two crimes are related, he said. There appear to have been five perpetrators, and based on the video evidence they appeared to be juveniles, he said.

The motive for the crimes remains unclear, especially since the messages of the graffiti— which included, for example, both swastikas and "BLM"— appear to be at odds with each other.

There were protests taking place in downtown San Diego that evening, so the graffiti could be related to that, he said, but investigators are not yet certain on that point.

The vandalism comes amid a spate of similar incidents at Catholic churches that has lasted for months. Earlier last week a man burned pews in an arson attack in a Florida Catholic church, and a man with a baseball bat damaged a crucifix and several doors at a Texas seminary.

Last week a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was destroyed in a Texas cathedral.

Also last week, a parish in Midvale, Utah, saw back-to-back attacks. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church had its namesake statue beheaded followed by burglary on subsequent nights.

A historic church built by St. Junipero Serra was burned in California this summer, in a fire being investigated as arson. A Florida man was arrested for setting flame to a parish church in the Orlando diocese.

Fires have been started and statues of Christ, Mary, and saints have been beheaded or destroyed at parishes across the country, while in California numerous public statues of St. Junipero Serra have been torn down, defaced, and destroyed.

While some attacks on statues have been committed by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified.

A poll conducted at the end of August by RealClear Opinion Research in partnership with EWTN News found that 83 percent of Catholic likely voters are concerned about attacks on churches in recent months.

Parties divided over nomination of Amy Coney Barrett

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Sept. 26, party leaders are at odds over the nomination process, and over Barrett as a nominee. 

Republicans have rallied around Barrett as a strict constitutionalist, while highlighting her personal commitment to faith and family. Democrats have argued she is a judicial ideologue aiming to upset the court on issues like the Affordable Care Act and abortion.

Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven, rose to national prominence during her confirmation process for the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2017, when she was questioned on her faith by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who observed to Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you.”   

In a Sunday press call, Trump campaign officials pointed to that moment as evidence of what is to come in the nomination process. Justin Clark, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, called Barrett’s character and qualifications to serve as a justice “unimpeachable.”

Clark said Barrett’s Catholic faith might face “religious bigotry” in the weeks ahead.

“The stakes in this nomination couldn’t be higher,” Clark said, adding, “Because our faith as Catholics is under attack currently, and it is going to ramp up and get even worse.”

Clark called Biden, who is a baptized Catholic, “dead silent,” on attacks on Barrett’s faith.

“Just like he was silent when his administration persecuted the Little Sisters of the Poor, or when his own vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris disqualified someone based on their membership to the Knights of Columbus,” Clark said.

Meanwhile, many Democrats noted that arguments in a Supreme Court case that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act—former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law—are scheduled for November 10, a week after the November 3 election.

According to the Washington Post, in three years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Barrett has not considered any cases that directly dealt with the ACA. However, prior to her nomination to her current role, Barrett wrote an essay arguing that Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion the first time the high court upheld the ACA, “pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”

In a tweet, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden called Barrett “a jurist with a written track record of disagreeing with the Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.”

“Vote like your health care is on the ballot — because it is,” the former vice president added.

In livestreamed remarks on Sunday, Biden added that if Barrett is confirmed, women “could lose their bedrock rights enshrined in Roe vs. Wade,” the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, which Biden has committed to enshrining in federal law, if elected.

Since Barrett was announced as the nominee on Saturday, Senate Republicans have praised qualifications, which include clerking for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and working as a professor at Notre Dame Law School before becoming a federal judge.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Trump “could not have made a better decision.”

“Judge Amy Coney Barrett is an exceptionally impressive jurist and an exceedingly well-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States,” McConnell said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a tweet that Barrett “is highly qualified in all the areas that matter – character, integrity, intellect, and judicial disposition.” Graham also announced that Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearing will begin on October 12.

Senate Democrats, including the party’s vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, echoed Biden’s characterization of Barrett as an enemy of the Affordable Care Act.

In a tweet, Harris (D-Calif.), who is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “From day one, Trump made clear that he had a litmus test for Supreme Court Justices: destroy the ACA’s protections for people with preexisting conditions and overturn our right to make our own health care decisions.”

“We cannot let that happen—I strongly oppose this nomination,” Harris added.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet, “Make no mistake: A vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a vote to eliminate health care for millions of Americans and to end protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions in the middle the COVID-19 pandemic.”

'Advice and Consent': How the Senate will vet Amy Coney Barrett

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 28, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court sets in motion a highly-anticipated confirmation process, less than six weeks before a presidential election.

Barrett’s nomination is now referred to the Senate, where members of the Judiciary Committee will hear her testimony, ask questions, and call witnesses, as part of the process of “Advice and Consent” provided for in the Constitution.

After the hearings, the committee has several options with regard to Barrett’s nomination. Members can vote to send her nomination to the entire Senate favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation—or they can choose to take no action.

Once her nomination is sent to the entire Senate, the body will then deliberate and vote to consider her confirmation.

During Barrett’s confirmation process to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017, she faced pointed questions about her religious beliefs on certain issues.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, praised Barrett, noting that it was “amazing to have seven children and do what you do.” However, she then called Barrett a “controversial” nominee, “because you have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail” over the law.

“You’re controversial because many of us that have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems,” she said. “And Roe entered into that, obviously.”

“And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) grilled Barrett over why she used the term “orthodox Catholic” in a 1998 article she co-authored as a law student, with law professor John Garvey. Durbin in 2004 was barred from receiving Holy Communion by a monsignor in Springfield, Illinois, because of his stance on abortion.

Looking to the example of recent Supreme Court confirmations, the entire process usually lasts between two to three months. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he will meet with Barrett this week and that the Senate would vote on her confirmation “in the weeks ahead,” but did not specify a target date.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said that Barrett’s confirmation hearings would begin Oct. 12, and “will last three to four days.”

The first hearing will consist of opening statements by committee members and by Barrett, followed by members questioning her. “Testimony by those who know Judge Barrett the best and [by] legal experts is expected to follow,” Graham’s office announced.

Barrett is not expected to receive any support by Democratic senators, who argue that the confirmation should wait until after the election. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hi) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have already said they will not meet with Barrett prior to the committee hearings, with Blumenthal tweeting that the nomination is part of an “illegitimate sham process, barely one month before an election.”

Republicans hold a slight edge in the number of committee members and in the Senate as a whole, and so could confirm Barrett with party-line votes. However, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has already said she would vote no, and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has opposed a nomination before the election, though both have said they would meet with Barrett, according to POLITICO.

The two most recent court nominees have only been narrowly sent by the Judiciary Committee for a vote of the full Senate, with other nominees in the 1990s receiving unanimous votes in the committee.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was approved by an 11-9 vote in April of 2017, and Kavanaugh by an 11-10 vote in October of 2018 after a contentious set of hearings; senators considered allegations of sexual assault made against Kavanaugh dating back to his teenage years.

However, in the 1990s, several Supreme Court justices were approved by the committee by a unanimous vote, including Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg who were each approved by an 18-0 vote in 1994 and 1993, respectively.

Two other recent nominees never even received a vote by the Judiciary Committee.

In 2016, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) decided not to support the confirmation that year because of the presidential election—an action that Senate Republicans are appearing to contradict in starting the confirmation process for Barrett before the presidential election on Nov. 3.

In 2005, nominee Harriet Miers also did not receive a vote by the Judiciary Committee, withdrawing her nomination 21 days after she was selected by President George W. Bush.

According to the Senate website, of the 163 nominations for the Supreme Court made since 1789, 126 were confirmed and seven declined to serve.

Traditionally, judicial nominees needed 60 votes in the Senate to survive a filibuster, a parliamentary procedure where one senator can hold up a vote. In 1968, nominee Abe Fortas was recommended by the committee during a presidential election year but his confirmation in the Senate was held up by a filibuster; President Lyndon B. Johnson subsequently withdrew his nomination.

In 2013 then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) changed the parliamentary rules and abolished the filibuster for many federal judicial nominees and executive appointments, in a move known as the “nuclear option.”

Once Republicans gained the Senate majority in 2015, current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has since used the move to confirm federal judicial nominees, including Supreme Court nominees Kavanaugh and Gorsuch.

Supreme Court confirmations have recently taken around two to three months. The proximity of Barrett’s nomination to Election Day raises questions as to whether McConnell can secure a confirmation vote by Nov. 3, only 38 days after the nomination.

Not since the confirmation of Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 has a justice been confirmed in fewer than 38 days. Nominee Robert Bork was defeated by a vote of 58-42 in the Senate in 1988 after 108 days, while the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed by the Senate in only 42 days.

Justice Department says San Francisco worship restrictions 'draconian'

CNA Staff, Sep 28, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).-  

The U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 25 warned San Francisco officials that current restrictions on public worship in the city may be unconstitutional, drawing praise from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

“Catholics in San Francisco have been patiently suffering injustice for months. At last, a competent legal authority is challenging the city’s absurd rules, which have no basis in science, but are grounded in hostility to religion and especially the Catholic Church,” Cordileone said Friday.

The DOJ on Sept. 25 sent a letter to Mayor London Breed, warning that the city’s rule allowing only “one worshipper” in places of worship at a time regardless of their size— while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor establishments— is “draconian” and “contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.”

San Francisco’s restrictions on public worship remain among the strictest in the country. Until Sept. 14, public worship in the city was restricted to 12 participants outdoors, with indoor services prohibited.

As of Sept. 14, houses of worship are allowed to have 50 people at religious services outdoors, with indoor services still prohibited until at least Oct. 1.

San Francisco’s revised health order from Sept. 14 states that “[o]nly one individual member of the public may enter the house of worship at a time,” with no reason given.

The DOJ letter called on the mayor to treat places of worship equally with other venues where people share enclosed spaces, such as gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares.

At those establishments, San Francisco city authorities already allow capacities of between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the type and provided that sanitary measures and 6-foot distancing is followed.

California’s church service limits earlier this year were challenged by a Pentecostal church, which argued houses of worship were being unfairly treated more strictly than other secular venues, including restaurants, hair salons, and retail stores.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of California. In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the court lacks the expertise and authority to second guess the decisions of elected officials in the context of public health decisions during a pandemic.

The DOJ cited Chief Justice John Roberts’ concurrence in the May 2020 case, in which he wrote that “restrictions on places of worship” may be consistent with the First Amendment, but only when such restrictions “apply to comparable secular gatherings.”

The DOJ said it is reviewing their options and may take further action.

San Francisco City attorney Dennis Herrera defended the city’s actions in a statement Friday. He did not address the apparent disparity between restrictions on worship and on secular activities.

“Maybe the federal government should focus on an actual pandemic response instead of lobbing careless legal threats. San Francisco is opening up at the speed of safety,” Herrera said. 

“Religious gatherings indoors and outdoors are already set to expand in a few days. This expansion is beyond what is described in the federal government’s letter. It's consistent with San Francisco’s careful approach and follows closely behind what the State of California allows."

The mayor has said the city will allow indoor worship services with a 25 person limit by Oct. 1. The Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption has a capacity of nearly 2,500 people.

“One person at a time in this great Cathedral to pray? What an insult. This is a mockery. They are mocking you, and even worse, they are mocking God,” Cordileone said in an outdoor homily Sept. 20.

Catholics in San Francisco had marched in Eucharistic processions across the city that day to protest the city’s continued restrictions on public worship, culminating in several concurrent outdoor Masses as the Cathedral.

Priests at many parishes around the archdiocese, including the Cathedral, are celebrating multiple Masses every Sunday— outside, and spaced out— in order to adapt to the restrictions.

Outdoor Masses pose their own health challenges, as the Bay Area is experiencing some of the worst air quality in the world, due to smoke and other pollutants coming from wildfires ravaging the West Coast.

Hotels in San Francisco are fully reopened; indoor gyms are set to reopen at 10% capacity; and most retail stores are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while malls are restricted to 25%. Gyms operated in government buildings for police officers and other government employees have already reopened.

In addition, Archbishop Cordileone has noted, businesses requiring extended, close one-on-one contact reopened Sept. 14, such as hair salons, nail salons and massage parlors, but “we are allowed only one person in church at a time for prayer.”

While Cordileone has said city officials have been “cordial and respectful” in their dialogue with the archdiocese, he said the city still has not responded to the archdiocese’s safety plan— outlining how churches could be safely opened for indoor services— which they submitted in May.

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, has a page tracking restrictions on public worship related to the pandemic. By their estimation, six states— California, Nevada, Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine— are treating religious activities unequally as compared to similar secular activities.

The City of San Francisco has been closely monitoring Catholic churches in the city and has repeatedly issued warnings to the archdiocese for apparent health order violations.

In advocating for a safe reopening of indoor Masses, Cordileone has cited an article on Mass attendance and COVID-19, authored Aug. 19 by doctors Thomas McGovern, Deacon Timothy Flanigan, and Paul Cieslak for Real Clear Science.

By following public health guidelines, Catholic Churches have largely avoided viral spread during the more than 1 million Masses that have been celebrated across the United States since the lifting of shelter-in-place orders, the doctors found.

They said in their article that there is no evidence that church services are higher risk than similar activities when guidelines are followed, and no coronavirus outbreaks have not yet been linked to the celebration of the Mass.

Even while protesting the city’s apparent unequal application of health restrictions, the archbishop has encouraged his priests to lead their parishes in following the city’s guidelines.

More than 19,000 people have signed a petition supporting Archbishop Cordileone’s call to end “unfair” restrictions on the Mass.
 

 

Los Angeles priest mourned after sudden passing: ‘He died doing what he loved’

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 28, 2020 / 11:00 am (CNA).- Reprinted with permission from Angelus News.

After being brought into this world against the odds, losing his father at 8 years old, and surviving a battle with cancer, Father Adrian San Juan knew one thing for certain: that he would “rather be with the Lord.”

That attitude — and memories of the young priest’s zeal for Christ — are what is left to console grieving parishioners, relatives, and fellow priests stunned by the news of the 43-year-old’s sudden passing Saturday, Sept. 19, after collapsing at the start of a wedding at St. Linus Church in Norwalk, California, where he served as administrator.

“He passed away doing what he loved: celebrating the Eucharist,” said Rafael Alvarez, a St. Linus parishioner and seminarian at the Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation. “That was one of his most joyful moments.”

Alvarez was there assisting Father San Juan as he entered the parish’s canopied “outdoor church,” kissed the altar, and waited for the wedding party to process toward the altar. But a few moments later, something “didn’t feel right”: to Alvarez’s surprise, Father San Juan went to sit in the presider’s chair before falling to the ground.

Paramedics were called and attempted CPR on Father San Juan, who had suffered an apparent heart attack, before taking him to PIH Whittier Hospital while another priest at St. Linus, Father Marco Reyes, stepped in to continue the wedding.

Father San Juan was pronounced dead a short while later. A small group of family members were briefly allowed into the hospital, and a priest was able to give him the last rites.

Despite the shock over the apparently healthy priest’s death, though, those who knew the priest told Angelus they were comforted that his passing came before the altar, after a “second life” in which he lived his vocation to the fullest.

Father San Juan was born the last of six children in 1976 in Valenzuela, Philippines, outside the capital city of Manila. His birth was welcomed as a miraculous surprise, coming 11 years after the family’s next oldest child.

“Because of my mom’s advanced age, she had a very critical pregnancy [with Father San Juan],” said Victoria Siongco, the late priest’s sister. “She almost lost him.”

His mother, Gloria, spent the final months of the pregnancy confined to bed rest, begging God for her son’s life.

“We would see her every day praying with her arms outstretched, like a manifestation of a sacrifice, praying not to lose him,” recalled Siongco.

Both Father San Juan and his mother survived what his family says was a complicated childbirth. Eight years later, hard times struck the family again when his father, Carlos, succumbed to lung cancer.

As Siongco remembers it, her little brother showed signs of a vocation even before starting elementary school. He was fascinated by religious processions and was already singing in church by age 3.

“He loved the saints, he loved praying, he loved singing, he loved everything about the Church,” said Siongco.

By the time he had finished high school in 1994, he had broken up with his girlfriend at the time with the intention of entering the seminary.

Those closest to Father San Juan say his life was marked above all else by a life-and-death experience during that time: a testicular cancer diagnosis in 2002 a few months before his ordination to the diaconate.

Chemotherapy left him hairless, pale, and thin, but he vowed to follow through with his ordination to the diaconate. Family, friends, fellow seminarians, and even professors rallied behind him in prayer, and the cancer went into remission in 2003. He was ordained to the priesthood the following year.

“This is my second life, no doubt,” Father San Juan told Manila’s Phillipine Sunday Inquirer Magazine in an interview after his ordination in 2004. “I see myself in the hands of a loving Father. A second life is his revelation to me that I have a mission to do in His Name.”

In the same interview, the new priest shared that the cancer battle had given him more joy and a stronger faith.

“Life will not always be a journey of certainty, of controlling it the way we plan it,” he continued. “Doubts and so-called trials will come. But if we seek God in all things, then we learn that God’s love is everywhere.”

The priest credited his “second life” in particular to Divine Mercy, the Virgin Mary, and the miraculous intercession of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, to whom he had a fervent devotion for the rest of his life.

After spending six years ministering in parishes and schools in Manila, Father San Juan transferred to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2010 to be closer to his family. He served in several parishes, and was officially incardinated as a priest of the archdiocese in 2015.

Among his brother priests, Father San Juan was known as a “holy priest who had a wonderful sense of humor, and always had a smile on his face,” according to Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles Msgr. Jim Halley.

Auxiliary Bishop Alex Aclan remembered how shortly after arriving in the archdiocese, then-Msgr. Aclan relied on Father San Juan twice to write the music for two fundraiser musical plays benefitting the Filipino Priests Association of Los Angeles.

And during the annual Christmastime Simbang Gabi Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, it was Father San Juan who was charged with leading his brother Filipino priests in singing in Tagalog after Communion.

“That’s how he endeared himself to the Filipino priests here,” recounted Bishop Aclan. “He was an excellent composer, pianist, and vocalist.”

One of those priests, Father Rizalino “Riz” Carranza, spent four years with him at St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, where Father Carranza is pastor and Father San Juan served as associate pastor from 2015 to 2019. He said Father San Juan was the ultimate “people priest,” a gifted preacher whose enthusiasm while celebrating the Eucharist was infectious.

“He really appealed to a lot of people of different ages, from the older to the younger,” recalled Father Carranza.

In private, his former pastor says Father San Juan was a man of deep prayer. Walking past the door to his room, Father Carranza would sometimes catch a glimpse of Father San Juan on his knees with a lit candle burning.

“He always expressed that he would rather be with God,” said Father Carranza.

At St. Linus, where Father San Juan spent the last year of his life, parish business manager Ana Engquist said the impact from his short time there will be felt for a long time.

“He brought a strong spirituality to the parish,” said Engquist, including starting a Divine Mercy prayer group as he did at St. Peter Claver.

“When he came on board he made it very clear we’re going to be a family, and that was kind of a strange concept to me. I was used to just having a working relationship with my pastors.”

Instead, Father San Juan told parish staff that they would be eating, praying, and even fighting together, as long as it was followed, of course, by forgiveness.

“His goal was to get us to heaven and to really live our faith, not just on Sundays, but day-to-day, to do the little things to get to heaven,” said Engquist.

Engquist and Alvarez agreed that the new administrator was a unifying presence for the parish over the last year.

“He was able to bring healing to the parish staff, and restored the ministries that were broken,” said Alvarez, whom Father San Juan guided and encouraged in his decision to enter the seminary this year.

During the recent months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Father San Juan took a “hands-on” approach in bringing the sacraments to his parishioners, whether through organizing a team to livestream Masses or building a dignified “outdoor church” in the parish parking lot with a stage and canopy when COVID-19 restrictions forced religious services to be held outdoors this summer.

“He died doing what he loved to do, and I think that he came to our parish to heal us in a lot of ways. And he fulfilled that mission,” said Engquist.

Part of that mission was accompanying young people like Alvarez and the couple that he had prepared for marriage on that fateful day to embrace their vocations. Among them also was his own niece, whom Father San Juan was also helping prepare for marriage with her fiancé.

Siongco told Angelus that she and her sister “Fely” (both of whom live in nearby Walnut) will miss her brother's visits on his days off to eat together, plan vacations, and take 6,000-step walks to help them stay in shape.

Even in the face of losing their little brother, family chaplain, and travel companion, Siongco said her family is consoled by the outpouring on social media about the lives Father San Juan touched, evidence of the good fruit that his vocation bore.

“It’s an honor for Father Adrian to be summoned by the Lord,” said Siongco. “When our heavenly boss calls us, who should say no?"

EWTN invites Catholics to novena for US at 'critical moment' for nation

CNA Staff, Sep 28, 2020 / 10:05 am (CNA).-  

The EWTN network has invited Catholics to join a novena to the Mother of God that will begin Tuesday, and be offered for unity and truth amid challenges facing the United States.

"As Catholics, we turn instinctively to our Blessed Mother in times of need," said EWTN Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw in a statement on the novena.

"America's first bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore, chose Our Lady as the patroness of the United States. And throughout our country's history, we have always entrusted our nation to Mary's motherly protection.”

"In this present moment, when there is so much division and unrest in our country, and when many of the values that formed our nation seem to be at risk, we again need to turn to our Blessed Mother. We need to pray for her intercession that leaders and all who seek public office will follow the path of Truth, guarantee religious liberty, and ensure that all human life is valued and protected, most especially the unborn," Warsaw added.

The novena will begin Sept. 29 and be prayed through Oct. 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Fr. Fred Miller, a well-known theologian and the spiritual director at the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, is the author of the novena’s meditations and prayers, which ask the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary the U.S.

The network will broadcast the novena’s prayers daily, and has created an ebook that aims to make the novena available to Catholics.

The novena comes five weeks ahead of the U.S. presidential election, and as hearings will soon get underway regarding the nomination of federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and amid the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing protests in some parts of the country.

"In this critical moment, I hope that everyone will join in this powerful prayer for the nation and its leaders," Warsaw said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

 

 

Linden Cameron shooting ‘devastating,’ Catholic disability group says

Denver Newsroom, Sep 27, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- The director of a Catholic organization focused on the needs of people with disabilities said Wednesday that the police shooting of a Utah boy with autism points to the importance of advocacy, understanding, and compassion for people with autism and other disabilities.

“This situation shines a light on two diagnoses unfortunately on the rise in our world: autism and mental illness,” Charleen Katra, director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, told CNA this week.

“More importantly, we see how the lives of persons currently living with either or both diagnoses are in dire need of understanding and advocacy,” Katra said.

“This situation makes us all weep, along with God. All human beings, in all circumstances, deserve to be treated with dignity.”

Linden Cameron, a 13-year-old Salt Lake City boy, was seriously injured and hospitalized after he was shot by a police officer Sept. 4.

Cameron has Asperger syndrome, also called autism spectrum disorder, and had a mental health crisis on Friday, Sept. 4, according to his mother, Golda Barton. Cameron also has mental health problems; in police bodycam footage his mother said he was under the care of a psychiatrist for multiple mental health diagnoses, and that he has sensory processing disorder.

Barton called 911 on Sept. 4, and requested a crisis intervention officer. She said her son needed to be hospitalized for mental health treatment.

When police officers, rather than a crisis team, arrived, Barton told them that her son was scared of police, had difficult processing commands, was likely to run, and that he needed to be hospitalized. She also told police that Cameron might have a BB gun or a pellet gun. Asked by police if it was a real gun, Barton said she did not believe it was a real gun.

Police expressed uncertainty about how best to approach Cameron, according to bodycam footage, before they approached his house, and, after he began to run, began pursuing him.

After a foot chase through an alley, Cameron slowed to a walk on a sidewalk. Police instructed him to get on the ground as they approached him, and he did not do so.

A police officer then fired 11 shots, and Cameron fell to the ground. He told police “I don’t feel good,” and “Tell my mom I love her,” before the bodycam footage ended.

Cameron suffered injuries to his intestines, bladder, colon, shoulder, and ankles, his mother has said. The shooting is now under investigation in Utah.

“The actions documented in this case are devastating on many levels. The call from a desperate mother for assistance, who rightly requested a crisis intervention team to deescalate a challenging situation, was met with behaviors that did the exact opposite,” Katra told CNA.

“Persons with autism and mental illness often live daily with high levels of anxiety. What Linden needed was patience and compassion. The ability of a person already anxious or experiencing a mental health episode to process actions and words of others will be delayed even more than usual,” she added.

A person with autism spectrum disorders is likely to have difficulties during encounters with police, experts say, because some behaviors typical in persons with autism, such as avoiding eye contact or moving hands rapidly, can be interpreted as a threat if police lack specific training or experience related to autism. Those with mental health problems also have disproportionately challenging interactions with police, as their actions can be perceived as belligerent or threatening.

Barton pointed out in an interview early this month that when police approached her son, he was walking, within reach of them, and smaller than them.

“He’s a small child. Why didn’t you just tackle him?” Barton asked police during an interview with KUTV News. “He’s a baby. He has mental issues.”

“Linden Cameron is a creation of the Creator; made in God's image. We must continue to educate and advocate for individuals with greater needs with haste,” Katra added.

Police officers have not commented on the shooting, because it is now under investigation.

In a Sept. 9 statement, the Salt Lake City diocese told CNA: “We offer our prayers for Linden Cameron and his family. Whatever the results of the ongoing investigations, we are heartbroken to see a child caught in our culture of gun violence.”

In its statement, the Salt Lake City diocese said it “supports and encourages continued discussions with law enforcement about the use of force and legislative action to ensure that the dignity and sanctity of all life is protected throughout our criminal justice system.”

The National Catholic Partnership on Disability says it is the “voice of the U.S. Catholic Bishops” on disabilities, and was founded to implement the U.S. bishops’ conference’s 1978 pastoral statement on the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the Catholic Church. The organization is affiliated with the U.S. bishops’ conference.