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USCCB opposes lack of pro-life protections in COVID relief bill

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2021 / 11:02 am (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is opposing the COVID relief package currently under consideration in the House, over its lack of pro-life protections. 

 

In a digital campaign, the USCCB wrote that although the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 “addresses the needs of many vulnerable people related to the pandemic,” it lacks pro-life “Hyde” protections against funding of abortions and abortion coverage.  

 

The Hyde Amendment is a longstanding legislative provision that prohibits the use of taxpayer funding for elective abortions. If Hyde language is excluded from the bill, that would erase this limitation and allow for possible increased funding of abortion. 

 

As a candidate for president, Biden reversed his previous support of the Hyde Amendment, saying he now supports taxpayer-funded abortion. House Democratic leaders have also said they intended to repeal the policy in 2021.

 

The House is scheduled to vote on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 on Friday evening. The $1.9 trillion package includes funding for vaccinations, testing and tracing, stimulus checks to families, and tax credits for paid sick and family leave.

 

The USCCB expressed its disappointment, however, noting that previous COVID bills provided economic relief and health care spending with pro-life provisions intact.

 

“Unfortunately, unlike previous COVID relief bills, this bill appropriates billions of taxpayer dollars that are not subject to longstanding, bi-partisan pro-life protections that are needed to prevent this funding from paying for abortions,” their website stated. 

 

The USCCB added it is “communicating to Congress its strong opposition to any taxpayer funding of abortion as part of this legislation,” and is urging Catholics and pro-life Americans to do the same. 

 

“Your voice is critically needed today to tell your representatives in Congress to support amendments that prevent abortion funding and to work for their inclusion in the final bill,” the conference stated.

 

In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said she and some of her fellow Republican lawmakers are attempting to include the pro-life protections in the bill, “to FIX this to reflect Congress’s long bipartisan history of supporting Hyde.”

 

 

??? NEWS: Unfortunately, House Democrats did not include Hyde Protections in the $1.9 trillion reconciliation bill. @virginiafoxx, @RepWalorski, and I are leading to FIX this to reflect Congress’s long bipartisan history of supporting Hyde. #prolife #SaveHyde pic.twitter.com/HTSo4tdjs5

— CathyMcMorrisRodgers (@cathymcmorris) February 25, 2021  

 

The congresswoman’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

 

In a statement, Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, also argued that the Hyde protections should be included in the final bill. 

 

“At a time when our country is mourning the deaths of 500,000 Americans, very little (less than 10%) of the misnamed COVID relief package actually goes towards combatting the pandemic,” Mancini said in a written statement. “Instead, pro-abortion Democrats are using this bill to push through billions of dollars in subsidies for abortions, not only here in the U.S. but also abroad.” 

 

The Senate is using the procedure of reconciliation to pass the legislation needing only a simple majority, Mancini said, “because they would not otherwise have the votes needed to do away with popular pro-life riders that protect Americans from funding the life-ending procedure.”

 

“In fact, consistent polling shows that most Americans oppose their tax dollars funding abortion both here and abroad. So much for unity,” Mancini said.

Australia’s Catholic bishops issue plenary council working document

CNA Staff, Feb 26, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).- Australia’s Catholic bishops on Thursday issued a working document ahead of the first assembly of a landmark plenary council in October.

The text, released on Feb. 25, will inform discussions at the first plenary council of the Australian Church since 1937.

The document, entitled “Continuing the Journey,” calls for a sweeping renewal of the Church in Australia. 

It highlights a series of “major topics,” including “strengthening practices of discernment and synodality,” “co-responsibility in mission and governance,” “renewing the Church’s solidarity with First Australians and those on the margins of society,” and responding to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

It says that these topics will help to form “the skeleton of an agenda” at the plenary council’s first assembly.

Australia’s Catholic bishops formally announced their decision to hold a plenary council in May 2016. Pope Francis ratified the plan in March 2018.

According to the plenary council’s website, “a plenary council is the highest form of gathering of local church and has legislative and governance authority. The decisions that are made at the council become binding for the Catholic Church in Australia.” 

The organizers were forced to change their plans for the plenary council because of the coronavirus crisis. 

The first assembly was originally scheduled to take place in Adelaide in October 2020, followed by a second assembly in Sydney in July 2021.

The first assembly will now be held “via a multi-modal format” on Oct. 3-10, 2021, followed by a second assembly in Sydney on July 4-9, 2022.

In the plenary council’s first phase, known as “Listening and Dialogue,” more than 222,000 people took part, making 17,457 submissions. In the second phase, called “Listening and Discernment,” Catholics across the country participated in “writing and discernment sessions.”

Plenary council president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, S.D.B., said on Feb. 25: “This is an exciting step forward and we take it together, amidst a time of great change. More than 220,000 people participated in the first stages of Listening and Dialogue, and those voices can be heard clearly in the working document.”

Organizers have also issued a reflection guide to accompany the working document, known in Latin as the “instrumentum laboris.”

Costelloe, the archbishop of Perth, said: “Every part of this journey so far has been embedded in prayer and, similarly, I invite people to recognize the need to engage with the instrumentum laboris with an open heart, an open mind, and a receptive spirit.”

Head of German Catholic bishops: ‘I do not deny Communion to a Protestant who asks for it’

CNA Staff, Feb 26, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).- The president of the German Catholic bishops’ conference said on Thursday that he would continue to give Holy Communion to Protestants who ask for it.

Bishop Georg Bätzing told journalists at a press conference on Feb. 25 that it was necessary to respect the “personal decision of conscience” of those seeking to receive Communion.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Bätzing was responding to a question about a controversial proposal for a “Eucharistic meal fellowship” between Catholics and Protestants.

The proposal was made by the Ecumenical Study Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians (known by its German initials, ÖAK) in a 2019 document entitled “Together at the Lord’s Table.”

The ÖAK adopted the text under the co-chairmanship of Bätzing and the retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein. 

Asked how he would respond if a Protestant came to him seeking the Eucharist, he told reporters: “I have no problems with it and I see myself in line with papal documents.”

The 59-year-old bishop added that this was already a “practice” in Germany “every Sunday” and that priests in his Diocese of Limburg would not face negative consequences if a case were reported to him.

He underlined that one should not “simply invite everyone.” But while a general invitation to receive the Eucharist was not permitted, he said it was important to show “respect for the personal decision of conscience of the individual” seeking Communion.

“I do not deny Holy Communion to a Protestant if he asks for it,” he said.

The ÖAK was established in 1946 to strengthen ecumenical ties. It is independent of both the German Catholic bishops’ conference and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an organization representing 20 Protestant groups. But the ÖAK informs both bodies about its deliberations.

The ÖAK document raised concerns at the Vatican, prompting an intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in September 2020.

In a four-page critique and letter to Bätzing, the doctrinal congregation emphasized that significant differences in understanding of the Eucharist and ministry remained between Protestants and Catholics.

“The doctrinal differences are still so important that they currently rule out reciprocal participation in the Lord’s Supper and the Eucharist,” it said.

“The document cannot therefore serve as a guide for an individual decision of conscience about approaching the Eucharist.” 

The CDF cautioned against any steps towards intercommunion between Catholics and members of the EKD.

Following the Vatican intervention, Bätzing reaffirmed his view that intercommunion with Protestants should be possible.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has also expressed serious misgivings about the “Eucharistic meal fellowship” proposal.

At Thursday’s press conference, held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, Bätzing underlined his high hopes for the “Synodal Way,” a process bringing together German lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.

He was speaking at the end of the bishops’ spring plenary meeting, which saw the election of theologian Beate Gilles as the first female general secretary of the German bishops’ conference.

As Fr Pfleger abuse inquiry continues, Chicago archdiocese counters 'misconceptions' of priest's supporters

Chicago, Ill., Feb 25, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Defenders of outspoken activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger are wrong to claim an investigation has cleared him of decades-old sexual abuse allegations or to claim that the priest was singled out, the Archdiocese of Chicago has said.

“It is mystifying why anyone would believe the leadership of the archdiocese, which has consistently supported Fr. Pfleger’s good works, would concoct a ruse to remove him,” the Chicago archdiocese said Feb. 24.
 
“Let’s be clear. This case began when an adult male came forward to the archdiocese on his own with an allegation of child sexual abuse,” the archdiocese continued. “His brother subsequently came forward to the archdiocese with an allegation of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese did not have any prior contact with these men, nor did it look for them or anyone else. These men have made serious allegations, which demand that we follow the same process as we have in other cases.”
 
Earlier that day a group of about 100 people gathered outside the headquarters of the Chicago archdiocese to call for Pfleger’s reinstatement, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
 
Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish in Chicago. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.
 
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation of abuse.
 
Two brothers have come forward, saying they were each sexually abused separately by Pfleger dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s when they were 12 or 13 years old.
 
The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed a complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.
 
Pfleger denies the accusations.
 
“Let me be clear and restate what my lawyers said in the beginning,” the priest said on Twitter Feb. 24. “I am innocent of these false allegations. When this is over, which I hope is soon, I will have much more to say.”

Pfleger’s causes include advocacy on behalf of the Black community, opposition to gun violence, and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.
 
At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests; that a woman cannot be ordained a priest is a truth belonging to the deposit of faith.
 
The Saint Sabina Facebook page made claims about the Pfleger investigation in a Feb. 24 post, claims that the Chicago archdiocese disputed.
 
The post claimed that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has “completed their investigation on Fr. Pfleger with the results unfounded. #Facts.” The post claimed that Illinois officials had concluded their investigation 20 days previously. “The archdiocese has not given us an update as to when Fr. Pfleger can return even though the allegations have been deemed baseless. #facts.”
 
“With all due respect, our request is simple: Reinstate Fr. Michael Pfleger and clear his name. Period,” the post said.
 
In the archdiocese’s view, there is a “basic misunderstanding” about the state officials’ investigation.
 
“Our understanding is that the (Department of Children and Family Services) is not directly investigating the veracity of the allegations against Fr. Pfleger,” the archdiocese emphasized. Rather, the department is investigating whether there is a “risk of harm” to children. Depending on the contents of the letter the archdiocese receives from state officials, “there may be no conclusion about guilt or innocence in this case.”
 
There is also disagreement over whether Illinois officials have completed their investigation into whether there is currently a minor victim and have notified the relevant parties.
 
Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, confirmed to the Sun-Times that the archdiocese was sent a letter Feb. 4 and Pfleger Feb. 24. Neither the archdiocese nor Pfleger’s attorney say they received a letter.

Eugene Hollander, an attorney representing the two alleged victims, said he “would not put much stock” in the findings. Neither brother gave a statement to the department, he said.

The Chicago archdiocese and the Chicago Police Department have ongoing investigations into the accusations.
 
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a parishioner at St. Sabina, is among those urging the priest’s reinstatement.
 
“It is time for the archdiocese to expedite the process and bring a renewal, a rebirth and a restoration of Fr. Pfleger’s good name, his dignity and his decency,” she said, according to the Sun-Times. “Time is of the essence because in the court of public opinion, time becomes the jury.”
 
The Chicago archdiocese stressed the need to take every abuse allegation seriously and to follow the same process.

“The Church has been accused, at times correctly, of not taking accusations seriously, of conducting cursory investigations and restoring misbehaving priests to ministry prematurely,” the archdiocese said. “We are convinced that the procedures for dealing with these cases, developed and enhanced over the years, work. They should be followed by all organizations that care for and educate young people. It is ironic that we are now accused of taking too long to consider allegations because a priest is prominent and well regarded.”
 
Stressing the need to spend time on accusations to arrive at a “just conclusion,” the archdiocese said it would work on all cases, “always giving priority to the protection and healing of victims.”
 
“Fr. Pfleger has always been free to comment as he and his attorneys see fit,” said the archdiocese. It said his comments were restricted only insofar as he could not name his accusers and the circumstances they described. “He was encouraged to make public his declaration of his innocence,” the archdiocese added.
 
The archdiocese rejected claims it has not reached out to the parish.
 
“In addition to the letters sent by the cardinal, our Office for the Protection of Children and Youth has contacted St. Sabina multiple times, explaining the process and offering assistance. The offers were refused,” said the archdiocese’s statement.
 
Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies.
 
In 2011 the priest was suspended from ministry at St. Sabina and barred from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. He was reinstated after he apologized.

What changes may be coming to the College of Cardinals in 2021?

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2021 / 06:37 pm (CNA).- When Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako turns 80 on Feb. 27, the cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will drop to 127, seven more than the limit of 120 set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul II.



In 2021, five more cardinals will turn 80, and thus age out of voting in the conclave: Cardinals Wilfrid Fox Napier, George Pell, Maurice Piat, Beniamino Stella, and Angelo Scola.



This means that by the end of the year, cardinals eligible to vote in a conclave will be down to 122, prompting questions of whether Pope Francis will appoint more.



During his pontificate, Pope Francis strongly reshaped the College of Cardinals. In seven years, he has summoned seven consistories (one per year) and created 101 new cardinals, 79 of whom are eligible to vote in a conclave and 22 of whom are not, because they are above the age of 80. To put this in perspective, St. John Paul II summoned nine consistories in 27 years of his pontificate, an average of one every three years. 



A conclave now would be composed of 73 cardinals created by Pope Francis, 39 created by Benedict XVI, and 16 created by John Paul II. 



Many observers in the Roman Curia believe that, taking into consideration Pope Francis’ modus operandi and the ongoing generational shift within the Curia, it is likely that the pontiff will choose to expand the College of Cardinals to 130, and give the red biretta to the new prefects of the Vatican dicasteries.



Cardinal Robert Sarah's replacement– Pope Francis accepted his resignation on Feb. 21 – will likely be a non-cardinal in need of a red hat. 



Cardinal Beniamino Stella, 79, will leave the Congregation for the Clergy when he turns 80 next August. 



Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, is already 77 and will soon retire. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, is 76.  Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is 76 too, while Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, is 77. 



The president of the Vatican City State administration, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, turned 78 last October.



This means that the pope could have six new prefects to appoint in the Roman Curia, all positions traditionally run by cardinals.



This, plus the ongoing reform and restructuring of the Curia, will give Pope Francis the opportunity to expand the College of Cardinals, thus having a greater influence on who his successor will be.