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US-born Lithuanian archbishop elected president of European bishops’ council

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas celebrates Mass at the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Vilnius, Lithuania. / Archdiocese of Vilnius.

Rome, Italy, Sep 27, 2021 / 03:30 am (CNA).

Members of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences elected a U.S.-born Lithuanian archbishop as their next president on Saturday.

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius succeeds the Italian Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who led the CCEE from 2016.

The 60-year-old archbishop was born in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, 1961, to a family of Lithuanian origin. He spent the first half of his life in America, becoming heavily involved in Lithuanian Catholic organizations.

Delegates also chose two new vice-presidents on Sept. 25 at the CCEE’s plenary assembly in Rome: Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich and Bishop Ladislav Német.

Hollerich, 63, is the archbishop of Luxembourg, the president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), and relator general of the 2023 synod on synodality.

Német, 65, is the bishop of Zrenjanin, Serbia, and president of the International Bishops’ Conference of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Belgrade.

The CCEE’s plenary assembly took place on Sept. 23-26 in Rome in honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary.

The council, based in St. Gallen, Switzerland, was established in 1971 to strengthen cooperation between European bishops’ conferences.

The plenary assembly opened with a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In his homily, the pope said: “Let us help today’s Europe -- faint with a weariness that is Europe’s current malady -- to rediscover the ever-youthful face of Jesus and his Bride. How can we fail to devote ourselves completely to making all people see this unfading beauty?”

According to his official biography, Grušas (pronounced “Grushas”) was active at the Lithuanian parish of St. Casimir in Los Angeles and in the Catholic Ateitis Federation, as well as serving as head of the World Lithuanian Youth Association from 1983 to 1987.

He studied mathematics and information technology at UCLA, before gaining a position at IBM.

“I’m very thankful for my American experience and all that it gave me. I’m also very thankful for my Lithuanian heritage and roots. And I think it’s a blessing to have the mix. They’re actually quite different views of the world,” he told CNA in April.

“My first language, however, was Lithuanian. When I was born, my mother didn’t speak English, so it was actually my mother tongue in a very strict sense. So I’m very much both [Lithuanian and American]. I think on two channels.”

Following his election as CCEE president, Grušas is expected to play a significant role in the continental stage of the two-year process leading to the synod on synodality.

The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.

The third, universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023 with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”

Grušas celebrated the CCEE plenary assembly’s closing Mass in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

Recalling the pope’s invitation to Europe’s bishops to “walk together,” the archbishop said: “Let us return today to our countries and dioceses with a renewed commitment to walk this path together into the future, guided by the Spirit of God and listening to God speaking through His Holy People.”

“We walk listening to the movement of the Spirit in our hearts, first on a more local level, then on a diocesan level, on a national level and listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit we look at where God is leading us as God’s people in Europe today.”

“But we cannot stop here, because the Church is universal and neither national nor continental boundaries limit the people of God. Let us walk together as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church towards a future that God has prepared for us, all brothers and sisters in Christ.”

The CCEE has 39 members, comprising 33 bishops’ conferences, the archbishops of Luxembourg, the Principality of Monaco, the Maronite archbishop of Cyprus, the bishop of Chişinău, Moldova, the eparchial bishop of Mukachevo, and the apostolic administrator of Estonia.

The CCEE issued a final message on Sept. 25, as its plenary assembly drew to a close.

It said: “On this so important anniversary [of the CCEE’s creation], we invite everyone in Europe to walk together with us. Our words are those of the faith and also those of real reason; they come from the same source, the Word of God, Christ the Lord. There are no forgotten suburbs where He is to be found; there one finds God, believers, and people of goodwill.”

“Together with you we raise our eyes and look forward, far away into the distance so as not to lose our way and not to stop in the meanders of history. Together one sees better and one walks humbly towards horizons of light and peace.”

Scottish Catholics urged to oppose assisted suicide legalization

null / HQuality/Shutterstock.

Edinburgh, Scotland, Sep 27, 2021 / 01:00 am (CNA).

Scotland’s Catholic bishops are urging opposition to a measure that would legalize assisted suicide, warning that the government ought to “prevent suicide, not assist it.”

A consultation on the Proposed Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill was launched Sept. 22, and will run through Dec. 22. The Scottish Parliament has twice voted down similar proposals in recent years. 

“Over the last eighteen months society has been reoriented to protect the most ill and vulnerable in response to the pandemic,” Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said Sept. 22.  

“Legalising assisted suicide moves in the opposite direction: putting immeasurable pressure on vulnerable people including those with disabilities to end their lives prematurely, for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden on others.”

Liam McArthur, the Member of Scottish Parliament who introduced the proposed bill in June, has said, “The current prohibition on such assistance is unjust and causes needless suffering for many dying people and their families across Scotland.”

“If a person has reached the limits of palliative care and faces a bad death, none of the current options available to them in Scotland are likely to provide an acceptable alternative,” the lawmaker of the Scottish Liberal Democrats asserted.

Under the proposed bill, two doctors would independently have to confirm a person is terminally ill before assisted suicide can be considered, as well as establishing that they have the mental capacity to make such a request, and have not been coerced into it, The Courier reported. 

The Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland are both opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide. Care Not Killing, a major human rights umbrella group in Scotland, has also spoken out against the proposed bill.

Horan noted that “once passed, incremental extensions and the removal of protections and safeguards are inevitable and have happened everywhere legislation has been passed.”

Despite the appearance of safeguards in the proposed bill, other countries which have legalized assisted suicide, such as Canada, have shown how “safeguards” could be swept away, extending assisted suicide far beyond the terminally ill.

In March 2021, Canada stripped the requirement that people seeking assisted suicide must have a “reasonably foreseeable” death, and also allowed people to opt for assisted suicide with mental illness as a sole underlying condition.

In a briefing distributed to the country's Catholic parishes, the Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office noted that assisted suicide, whereby a doctor prescribes a patient a lethal cocktail of drugs, is different from making decisions to stop futile medical treatments, or increasing pain relief that may accelerate a person’s death. 

Assisted suicide, along with damaging the doctor-patient relationship, also sends a message to society that suicide is “an appropriate response to physical or mental suffering,” the briefing notes, a particularly dangerous message to the frail, elderly, and disabled.  

“An assisted suicide law is extremely high risk. The consequences of error are deadly and irreparable,” the briefing concludes, urging Catholics to join Care Not Killing Scotland in its campaign to defeat the bill.

Similar assisted suicide legalization is also under consideration for England and Wales. 

A bill currently in the U.K. Parliament sponsored by Molly Meacher, Baroness Meacher, would permit assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live. Lethal procedures would require the approval of two doctors and a high court judge.

The Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is set for its second reading in the House of Lords, with a full debate Oct. 22. It is the latest in a long line of attempts to legalize assisted suicide in England and Wales, and some pro-lifers believe that this bill poses the greatest challenge yet.

In September 2020, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Catholics should instead, the CDF said, support palliative care—medical care and pain management for the symptoms of those suffering from a serious illness, rather than the premature ending of their life.

However, while palliative care is "essential and invaluable," it is not enough, a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said.

"Palliative care cannot provide a fundamental answer to suffering or eradicate it from people's lives," the congregation said. "To claim otherwise is to generate a false hope, and cause even greater despair in the midst of suffering."

"Medical science can understand physical pain better and can deploy the best technical resources to treat it. But terminal illness causes a profound suffering in the sick person, who seeks a level of care beyond the purely technical," it continued.

"Palliative care in itself is not enough unless there is someone who 'remains' at the bedside of the sick to bear witness to their unique and unrepeatable value. Pain is existentially bearable only where there is hope."

Cardinal Burke provides update on his recovery from COVID-19

Cardinal Raymond Burke listens in the audience during the presentation of the new book Christvs Vincit by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, in Rome on Oct. 14, 2019. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 26, 2021 / 20:40 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke updated his followers on his recovery from COVID-19 and thanked them for their prayers in a letter published late Sunday evening, saying it will be “several more weeks” until he will be ready to return to his normal activities. 

“Thanking you once again, with all my heart, for your faithful and generous prayers for the recovery of my health, I write to update you on the progress of my rehabilitation,” said Burke in the letter titled “Letter to Those Who are Praying for Me.”  

“In thanking you, I thank, above all, Our Lord, who, in answer to your prayers, has preserved me in life. I thank, too, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and all the Saints through whose intercession you have offered and are offering prayers for me,” he said. 

Burke announced that he had been discharged from the hospital on September 3, and is living in a house near his family members. 

“The house is well adapted for the rehabilitation program which I am following. My priest secretary has now come from Rome to stay with me to assist me with my program of rehabilitation,” he said. 

Burke’s representatives announced the 73-year-old cardinal had been admitted to the hospital and placed on a ventilator on August 14, four days after Burke said he had tested positive for the coronavirus. On August 21, he was taken off the ventilator and was discharged from the intensive care unit. Burke’s condition was described as “serious but stable” while he was in the ICU. 

The cardinal described his recovery as “steady” but “slow,” and said that his doctors believe he is doing well.

“For my part, I am trying to grow in patience,” said Burke. “My principal challenges, at the present, are regaining certain fundamental physical skills needed for my daily living, and overcoming a general fatigue and difficulty in breathing, which are typical for those who have suffered the contagion of the Covid-19 virus.” 

As part of his recovery process, Burke said that he would be unable to respond to messages individually and would be limiting the number of telephone calls and visitors. 

Burke credited God for his survival, which, at times, seemed uncertain. 

“Our Lord has preserved me in life for some work which He wishes me to carry out, with the help of His grace, for love of Him and of His Mystical Body, the Church,” he said. 

“I am determined to use the present time of rehabilitation in the best manner possible, so that I will be prepared to carry out His work. Throughout the time in the hospital and now, I continue to place myself into the care of Our Blessed Mother, so that my heart, one with her Immaculate Heart, may rest always securely in Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart,” said Burke. 

The cardinal requested that people “continue to pray for my full recovery,” and added that “each day I offer my prayers and sufferings for your many intentions.” 

“Let us all pray and offer sacrifices for the world and the Church, which are beset with so much confusion and error to the great and even mortal harm of many souls,” said Burke. 

A leading prelate known for his outspoken defense of traditional Catholicism, Burke is prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura and archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He previously led the Diocese of La Crosse, his hometown diocese. 

Burke reportedly fell ill while visiting Wisconsin. He is normally based in Rome.

March for the Martyrs highlights 'global crisis of Christian persecution'

The March for the Martyrs in Washington, D.C., Sept. 25, 2021. / Christine Rousselle/CNA

Washington D.C., Sep 26, 2021 / 13:29 pm (CNA).

The second annual March for the Martyrs took place Saturday in Washington, D.C., featuring testimony from advocates for persecuted Christians and from survivors of persecution. 

For Gia Chacon, president of the group For the Martyrs, which organized the Sept. 25 march, the day was centered on bringing awareness to “the global crisis of Christian persecution.” 

“The reason that people don't care about Christian persecution is because they just don't know it's happening," Chacon told CNA. “When we look at countries throughout the Middle East, and even what’s happening now in Afghanistan--and it’s not just in the Middle East, it’s in China, it’s in North Korea, and actually in over 60 countries around the world.” 

“It's up to the body of Christ here in the United States to be [the persecuted Christians’] voice, otherwise our brothers and sisters are just suffering in silence,” she said. 

While Chacon and the majority of For the Martyrs’ advisory board are Catholics, Saturday’s march was ecumenical and featured many speakers from Protestant ecclesial communities.

It is important, said Chachon, to “come together as one voice” to stand up for Christians overseas who are risking their lives when they worship God. 

That sentiment was echoed by Fr. Benedict Kiely, the founder of and a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. In 2014, Kiely decided to devote his life and ministry to serving and aiding the persecuted Church in the Middle East. 

“There’s very little attention to the fact that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the entire world. So any public display to raise awareness is very important,” he said to CNA. 

Bridging division among Christians is another thing Kiely wanted to emphasize. 

“I’ve heard it myself from the people of Iraq and Syria: when the Islamists come to cut your head off, they don’t ask if you’re a Catholic or a Protestant or Orthodox. They ask you if you believe in Jesus,” said Kiely. “That’s that point. That unites us. That’s what Pope Francis called ‘the ecumenism of blood.’”

For Fr. Vincent Woo, a native of Hong Kong and a priest of the Diocese of Hong Kong, the March for the Martyrs was more personal than many of the attendees.

“All the persecution of democracy activists in Hong Kong, the crackdown of freedom--it’s going to happen to the Church pretty soon,” he said. “This is a way to show solidarity with Christians all around the world, especially those who are persecuted.” 

Social media played a key role in spreading the word about the March for the Martyrs. Dorothea Bauer, who traveled to Washington from Tampa, Florida, told CNA that she initially heard about the event on Instagram. 

“I think it’s really beautiful that we’re giving a voice to our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world who are suffering for their faith,” said Bauer. 

Payton Gibson, from Maryland, said that she was inspired to attend this year’s March for the Martyrs after seeing coverage of the event last year. She told CNA that she was struck hearing Chacon discuss her work with the persecuted Church and her travels overseas. 

“It just kind of pulled at my heart, especially now that I’m in the D.C. area. It sounded like a great event,” said Gibson. 

Saturday marked the move of the event to the east coast; last year’s March for the Martyrs took place in Long Beach, California. The move was both strategic and symbolic: Chacon said she wanted to garner the attention of powerful figures about helping persecuted Christians, and to further increase awareness of the cause. 

“We’re just excited to be here in the nation’s capital, and sending a message today that Christian persecution will no longer be ignored,” said Chacon. “Our brothers and sisters in these countries are not forgotten, and that the Lord still has the victory.” 

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of Catholic News Agency, is an advisory board member of For the Martyrs.

Pope Francis: The Catholic Church must be welcoming

Pope Francis waves during the Angelus on Sept. 26, 2021 / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Sep 26, 2021 / 06:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Sunday said the Catholic Church must be open and welcoming toward others, warning that division and exclusion come from Satan.

“We need to be vigilant about closure in the Church too,” he said before leading the Angelus prayer at the Vatican Sept. 26.

“Because the devil, who is the divider – this is what the word ‘devil’ means – always insinuates suspicions to divide and exclude,” he added.

Speaking from a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, Francis said sometimes Catholics, instead of having humble and open communities, “can give the impression of being the ‘top of the class’ and keeping others at a distance.”

“Let us ask for the grace to overcome the temptation to judge and categorize,” he said, “and may God preserve us from the ‘nest’ mentality, that of jealously guarding ourselves in the small group of those who consider themselves good.”

Pope Francis warned that sometimes there are groups of people, such as a priest and his parishioners, some pastoral workers, or movements and associations with particular charisms which close themselves off to outsiders.

“All this runs the risk of turning Christian communities into places of separation and not of communion,” he stated. “The Holy Spirit does not want closedness; He wants openness, and welcoming communities where there is a place for everyone.”

After leading the Angelus, a traditional prayer about the Virgin Mary, the pope spoke about the Sept. 26 celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

He said “it is necessary to walk together, without prejudice and without fear, placing ourselves next to those who are most vulnerable: migrants, refugees, displaced persons, victims of trafficking and the abandoned. We are called to build an increasingly inclusive world that excludes no one.”

Francis greeted several groups with the aim of helping migrants and refugees, which were gathered below him in St. Peter’s Square.

Groups which help migrants and refugees cheer during the Angelus Sept. 26, 2021. Vatican Media.
Groups which help migrants and refugees cheer during the Angelus Sept. 26, 2021. Vatican Media.

“Thank you all for your generous commitment,” he said. The pope then invited everyone present to visit the “Angels Unawares” sculpture before leaving the Vatican.

The 20-foot-tall bronze statue, unveiled in 2019, is based on Hebrews 13:2, “Be welcoming to strangers, many have entertained angels unawares.”

The sculpture, by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, depicts migrants throughout history crowded together on a boat with the Holy Family.

Pointing to the statue in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said, “dwell on the gaze of those people and welcome in that gaze the hope of starting to live again that every migrant has today.”

“Go there, see that monument,” he urged. “Let’s not close the doors to their hope.”

Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz poses next to his sculpture, 'Angels Unawares.'  Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
<p>Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz poses next to his sculpture, 'Angels Unawares.' Daniel Ibanez/CNA.</p>

Before the Angelus, the pope also reflected on the day’s Gospel from St. Mark, in which the Evangelist recalls when Jesus said to his disciples: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.”

Pope Francis said Jesus wants us to stop judging others and to worry about our own behavior first. “Indeed, the risk is to be inflexible towards others and indulgent towards ourselves,” he noted.

“Jesus is radical, demanding, but for our own good, like a good doctor,” he continued. “Every cut, every pruning, is so we can grow better and bear fruit in love.”

“Let us ask, then: what is it in me that is contrary to the Gospel? What, in concrete terms, does Jesus want me to cut out of my life?”

“Let us pray to Mary Immaculate, that she may help us be welcoming towards others and vigilant over ourselves,” he concluded.

Father Kapaun's remains returned to Kansas

Fr. Kapaun with his pipe. Courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita. / null

Wichita, Kan., Sep 25, 2021 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

The remains of Servant of God Father Emil Kapaun returned to his hometown of Pilsen, Kansas on Saturday, ahead of his formal funeral Mass on Wednesday, Sept. 29. 

The arrival in Kansas marks the conclusion of a 70-year journey since Kapaun, a U.S. Army Captain and chaplain in both World War II and the Korean War, died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp at the age of 35. A private service will be held at his hometown parish in Pilsen, before a public vigil and funeral Mass will be celebrated in Wichita on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Afterwards, Kapaun’s body will be interred at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita. 

Kapaun’s remains were returned to the United States as part of the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, but they were not identified until March. He had previously been buried with a group of 866 other “unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. 

His remains were formally returned to his family in a ceremony at Pearl Harbor, and a “send off Mass” was celebrated in Honolulu Sept. 23 ahead of his journey back to Kansas. 

Who was Father Emil Kapaun?

Born April 20, 1916 in Pilsen, Emil Kapaun grew up on a farm. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Wichita June 9, 1940, and began at the U.S. Army Chaplain School at Ft. Devins four years later. 

Kapaun was sent to serve troops overseas, and was promoted to Captain in January 1946. His first stint of active duty ended in July of that year, but he re-enlisted and returned to active duty in 1948 at Ft. Bliss. 

In January 1950, Kapaun was sent to Japan as a chaplain in the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In July 1950, they were sent to Korea. While in Korea, Kapaun regularly celebrated Mass, sometimes in the battlefield on the hood of a Jeep as a makeshift altar, and brought the sacraments to the troops. He was known for praying with troops in the foxholes and for his heroism in tending to injured troops--both his own and the enemy. 

After a series of near-death experiences, including when his pipe was shot out of his mouth by a sniper and when his Mass kit and Jeep were destroyed, Kapaun took to carrying the Blessed Sacrament, confession stole, holy oils, and a Mass kit on his person. 

He was awarded the Bronze Star for rescuing a wounded soldier despite heavy enemy fire. Kapaun was reportedly embarrassed and angered that news of his heroism was printed in newspapers back in Kansas.  

Kapaun and other soldiers were captured by communists in November 1950 during the Battle of Unsan. He and others were forced to march more than 60 miles to a prison camp in Pyoktong, North Korea. While in the camp, Kapaun would regularly steal food for his fellow prisoners, and managed to tend to their spiritual needs despite a prohibition on prayer. On Easter 1951, Kapaun celebrated Mass for his fellow prisoners in secret. 

On May 23, 1951, Kapaun died after months of malnutrition and pneumonia. He was posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart, and in 2013 he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama. Obama referred to Kapaun as “a shepherd in combat boots” who had been regarded by his fellow soldiers as “a saint, a blessing from God.” 

His cause for canonization was opened in June 2008. He had been named a Servant of God in 1993. Presently, the Congregation for Saints is reviewing his cause and Pope Francis may declare Kapaun “venerable.”

California governor moves to protect 'privacy' of minors who procure abortions 

Govenor Gavin Newsom of California. / Karl_Sonnenberg/Shutterstock

Sacramento, Calif., Sep 25, 2021 / 05:01 am (CNA).

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a pair of bills Sept. 22 that relate to privacy surrounding abortion, both of which could make it easier for minors to hide abortions from their parents. 

AB 1356 makes it illegal to film or photograph patients or employees within 100 feet of an abortion clinic “with the specific intent to intimidate a person from becoming or remaining a reproductive health services patient, provider, or assistant.”

The second bill, AB 1184, would allow insured individuals, including minors, to keep “sensitive services” confidential from the insurance policyholder, generally their parents. 

The bill requires insurance companies to “accommodate requests for confidential communication of medical information” regardless of whether “disclosure would endanger the individual.” 

The bill, which is set to take effect in July 2022, specifically mentions “sexual and reproductive health” and “gender affirming care” as potentially “sensitive services.” 

Newsom’s office heralded the laws as a strengthening of California’s status as a “haven” for women seeking abortions. 

“This action comes in the wake of attacks on sexual health care and reproductive rights around the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to block Texas’ ban on abortion after six weeks,” a statement from Newsom’s office reads, referring to a new pro-life law in that state that took effect Sept. 1. 

“California is a national leader on reproductive and sexual health protections and rights, and Governor Newsom’s actions today make clear that the state will remain a haven for all Californians, and for those coming from out-of-state seeking reproductive health services here.”

CNA reached out to the California Catholic Conference for comment. 

A group of Republican lawmakers wrote to Newsom before he signed the bills into law, urging him to veto them instead. 

“We should be encouraging parents and family to be involved in their children’s lives, not removing them further from it,” the letter reads, which was signed by nine state senators. 

They also argued, in a more pragmatic vein, that AB 1184 would put policyholders in the “impossible position” of being financially responsible for bills incurred by their dependent children, but which they have no means of verifying because of the new confidentiality rules.

Surgeon who operated on Cardinal Sarah: ‘I could feel his holiness’

Surgeon Domenico Veneziano with Cardinal Robert Sarah. / Courtesy photo.

Rome, Italy, Sep 25, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

The surgeon who performed an operation on Cardinal Robert Sarah in southern Italy in July said that treating the Guinean cardinal allowed him to see the prominent churchman in a new way.

“When he was alone in his room, I took a few chances to talk to him a bit,” Domenico Veneziano told CNA.

The doctor said when he visited Sarah’s hospital room, “I could feel his holiness... He told me about the popes and their uniqueness. We also had a few chances to joke.”

“I can say that it’s been an honor to know both sides of Cardinal Sarah: the man and the Eminence,” Veneziano said, referring to the title of honor given to cardinals.

Sarah, the 76-year-old retired prefect of the Vatican’s liturgy office, underwent robot-assisted surgery on his prostate in July, according to the health director at the hospital where the procedure took place.

The urological operation was performed with the help of the da Vinci robot, a technology in use since 2016 at the Great Metropolitan Hospital (GOM) in Reggio Calabria, a city on the southernmost point of the Italian peninsula.

Veneziano performed Sarah’s surgery from the console of the da Vinci robot, while another surgeon assisted at the bedside.

A robot-assisted operation is a less invasive alternative to open surgery, Veneziano said, which allowed the cardinal to make a quicker recovery.

The surgery had “no complications, no intraoperative issues. I have to admit that I could feel the pressure of operating on a person with such a standing,” the surgeon added.

Veneziano, who performed some routine follow-up checks on Sarah in Rome in September, said that “the cardinal is doing fine.”

He noted that the cardinal was still able to fulfill his busy schedule following the operation, traveling to five different countries in the first month post-operative.

“In full respect of his privacy, I can say that his disease, in order to be properly treated, needed high-precision surgery,” he noted.

Veneziano, who is moving to New York City with his family next year, said he hoped to continue following the cardinal’s progress.

“After reading a lot about him in the media, with all the conflicts and mystery that some journalists have poured on him, I was sincerely amazed to know him personally and to share some thoughts with him,” he said.

Veneziano described Sarah as “a true supporter of the original Christian principles, a very cultured and profound person who is willing to serve the Church for the rest of his life.”

“I got the feeling that he was unjustly attacked by the media, for a misinterpretation of his work, perhaps to make news,” the surgeon suggested, adding that “a person who lives to spread love and Christian principles is just the profile every Christian would search for in the next pope.”

Cardinal Sarah is “a good man with an aura of holiness,” he said.

New Brunswick dioceses will not require COVID vaccination to attend Mass

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception seen amid Saint John, New Brunswick. / Wangkun Jia/Shutterstock.

Fredericton, Canada, Sep 24, 2021 / 19:12 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of Moncton announced Friday the four bishops in New Brunswick province have adopted a common policy for attendance at Mass amid rising COVID-19 cases, and that proof of vaccination will not be required.

The Moncton archdiocese had a week ago announced it would require proof of full vaccination, while the Diocese of Saint John, one of its suffragrans, did not do so. The Diocese of Edmundston had also briefly required double vaccination.

The new policy is in line with a state of emergency and mandatory order over COVID-19 announced Sept. 24 by the provincial government.

“Last night, we received new directives from the Minister of Health concerning the sanitary measures to be implemented in our churches. Accordingly, the four bishops of NB agree on the following steps to make our churches as safe as possible for our faithful,” Archbishop Valery Vienneau of Moncton wrote in a Sept. 24 announcement.

“No proof of vaccination is required for Sunday or weekday masses, baptisms, prayer groups,” the archbishop wrote. 

However, capacity is limited to 50 percent, attendants must wear masks, and there is to be two meters of physical distance between households.

“The names and contact information of all attendees shall be recorded, and the lists maintained,” Archbishop Vienneau added.

Proof of vaccination will be required for weddings and funerals. 

Essentially identical guidelines were posted Sept. 24 by the Diocese of Bathurst

In his communique, Bishop Daniel Jodoin of Bathurst stated: “It should be noted that the situation in our province is evolving and that these regulations may change depending on the circumstances.”

“We understand the concerns of Public Health and continue to collaborate by following the guidelines issued to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. We are all concerned about the current situation in the province,” the bishop said.

New Brunswick announced a state of emergency and mandatory order over COVID-19 Sept. 24, citing three recent deaths and 78 new cases of the disease. New Brunswick’s population numbers over 750,000.

Under the mandatory order, “faith venues” must either “ensure all participants show proof of full vaccination and continuously wear masks”, or operate at 50 percent capacity.

Proof of vaccination is required at such venues as restaurants and movie theatres, but an accommodation was made for religious venues. Some members of the United Church of Canada, an ecclesial community, have requested that churches not be given an accommodation.

The CBC reported that the mandatory order will be lifted when there are 10 or fewer hospitalizations in the province, and that the province’s premier said there are now 31 persons in hospital. 

Natasha Mazerolle, communications director for the Diocese of Saint John, told CNA Sept. 22 that “No person will be turned away from Mass, nor any other Sacrament.”

“The Diocese of Saint John continues to do its utmost to protect both the physical and spiritual needs of its faithful,” said Mazerolle. “It takes the directives of public health seriously and understands the need to make sacrifices to protect the common good, and to be prudent in slowing the spread of the virus. It also recognizes that the faithful are not to be excluded from the Sacraments for any reason, and that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith (and indeed what is most needed to help us face these challenging times).”

Mazerolle said “worship services (including Catholic Mass) are not directly mentioned in the government regulation.” She added “an individual’s right to practice their religion is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

“The regulations published on the Government of New Brunswick’s website do not mention worship services or Mass,” Mazerolle said. “While there can be many interpretations, the diocese defers to what has been officially written in the regulation under the Public Health Act and posted on the Government of New Brunswick’s website.”

The provinces of Alberta and Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, are also mandating proof of vaccination to enter some venues. Nova Scotia will begin to mandate proof of vaccination Oct. 4, but that mandate does not apply to places of worship, the Canada-based site Global News reports.

In a December 2020 note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore “must be voluntary.” It said that the morality of vaccination depends on both the duty to pursue the common good and the duty to protect one’s own health, and that “in the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination.”

Don't let Colo. law silence same-sex marriage objections, web designer asks Supreme Court

Lorie Smith, owner and founder of 303 Creative. / Alliance Defending Freedom.

Denver, Colo., Sep 24, 2021 / 17:28 pm (CNA).

A Colorado web designer who fears prosecution under state anti-discrimination law for stating her faith-based objections to providing services that promote same-sex marriage or weddings has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case.

“Artists don’t surrender their freedom of speech when they choose to make a living by creating custom expression,” Lorie Smith, a web designer who operates the design studio 303 Creative, told reporters Sept. 24. “Those who create speech for a living are entitled to the full protection of the Constitution. Just because we communicate one viewpoint doesn’t mean we should be forced to promote an opposing viewpoint. Laws should not be weaponized to force us to do so.”

“Colorado is censoring my speech,” she said in a press call hosted by the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group. “I cannot even post my beliefs about my views on my own website. The government should not banish people from the marketplace based on their views, whether those views are about marriage or something else.”

Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The lawsuit challenges parts of the law on the grounds that they violate First Amendment protections of free speech and free exercise of religion.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys argued that the law bars creative professionals from expressing views about marriage that suggest someone is “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable.” They may not express views that suggest the designer won't create particular works because of those beliefs.

Failure to secure a court ruling against the law, Smith’s attorneys said, would force her to live under threat of prosecution if she declines to design and publish websites that promote messages or causes that conflict with her beliefs, such as messages that promote same-sex marriage or same-sex weddings.

In a 2-1 July decision, a panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Smith, stating that the state of Colorado had an interest in combatting discrimination.

The panel agreed that the Colorado law forced Smith to create websites and speech that she “would otherwise refuse” and created a “substantial risk” of removing “certain ideas or viewpoints from the public dialogue,” including Smith’s beliefs about marriage. However, it ruled in favor of the law, in part on the grounds that she creates “custom and unique” expression.

“The government shouldn’t weaponize the law to force a web designer to speak messages that violate her beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, general counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, told reporters. “This case involves quintessential free speech and artistic freedom, which the 10th Circuit astonishingly and dangerously cast aside.”

“The 10th Circuit found that yes, Lorie’s website designs were speech protected under the First Amendment and that, yes, Lorie would, in fact, serve everyone regardless of who they are. But despite all that, the 10th Circuit said that the government could force Lorie to speak views she opposes and prevent her from posting about her beliefs on her own website,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner said that both the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court have ruled in favor of artists facing possible pressure from similar laws.

Smith’s case is not a response to government action. Rather, it is a pre-enforcement challenge intended to prevent the use of the law that Smith's attorneys say affects creative professionals who have religious or moral concerns about creating content that violates their beliefs. The law prevents Smith from seeking to expand her business to include designing websites for weddings.

Attorneys for the state of Colorado have argued that the plaintiff lacks standing, saying the threat of an enforcement action is hypothetical. The appellate court decision disagreed, saying the plaintiff has “a credible fear of prosecution” for violating the law.

State attorneys said that businesses involved in the wedding industry must serve same-sex couples under anti-discrimination law, Law Week Colorado reports. Their brief said, “if a merchant is willing to design a website featuring certain statements — like ‘Alex and Jordan request the honor of your presence’ … or ‘Taylor and Morgan invite you to share their joy’ — for an opposite-sex couple,” then the business must provide that service to a same-sex couple.

The panel court decision agreed with this analysis, saying that “grave harms” can come when public accommodations discriminate. “Combatting such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, ‘essential’ to our democratic ideals,” said the ruling.

While the panel’s majority agreed that a diversity of faiths and religious exercise, including those of the plaintiff, enriches society, it added: “Yet, a faith that enriches society in one way might also damage society in other ways, particularly when that faith would exclude others from unique goods or service.”

Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich, in his dissent, said the case “represents another chapter in the growing disconnect between the Constitution’s endorsement of pluralism of belief on the one hand and anti-discrimination laws’ restrictions of religious-based speech in the marketplace on the other.”

“It seems we have moved from ‘live and let live’ to ‘you can’t say that’,” he said. Tymkovich objected that the majority decision concluded that the state has a “compelling interest in forcing Ms. Smith to speak a government-approved message against her religious beliefs” and also that the public accommodation law is “the least restrictive means” to do so.

The ruling “endorses substantial government interference in matters of speech, religion, and Conscience,” he said. He criticized the Colorado law as “overbroad and vague,” and said the statements of the state’s attorneys showed it is willing to “distribute punishment inequitably.”

For her part, Smith said her approach to design is a personal one. Every website, graphic, and design she creates is a representation of her.

“I work in close collaboration with each client for each project, and what I create for them is truly artwork that conveys some message and celebrates some ideals,” she said.

“Artists must be free to create and speak messages consistent with their convictions without the threat of unjust punishment,” said Smith. “Today, it’s me, but tomorrow it could be you. My case is about the freedom of all Americans to live and work consistent with their beliefs. Free speech is for everyone, not just those that agree with the government.”

At issue in the 303 Creative case is the same law that brought Lakewood, Colo. baker Jack Philips and his business Masterpiece Cakeshop to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2012, Philips declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, on the grounds that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. His prospective customers filed a complaint, and Philips went before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The civil rights commission ordered Phillips and his staff to undergo anti-discrimination training and to submit quarterly reports on how he is changing company policies. He had to cease making wedding cakes to continue operating his business according to his conscience while not running afoul of the law.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado commission had violated Phillips' rights. Its 7-2 opinion said the commission “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”

The high court also cited inconsistent treatment of complaints by Colorado authorities. When a man complained that other bakeries refused to create cakes with an anti-gay marriage message, religious imagery, and loosely paraphrased Bible passages, state authorities rejected the complaints.

Phillips was then caught up in another controversy when a prospective customer asked him to make a cake to celebrate a gender transition, and he declined citing his religious beliefs. While state officials rejected the customer’s complaint that this constituted discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the customer filed a civil lawsuit against Phillips. In June 2021 a judge ruled against the baker and ordered him to pay fines, though he has appealed that decision.