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What Catholics should know about brain death 

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Denver Newsroom, Apr 22, 2021 / 04:01 am (CNA).

 The Catholic Church is clear in its teaching on when life begins: at conception. 

On death— described as “the end of man's earthly pilgrimage”— the Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “life is changed, not ended;” that death represents the moment of “the separation of the soul from the body.”

While the moment of human conception— the beginning of life— is well-understood and observed from a scientific standpoint, the exact moment of death can be harder to pin down.

This is especially true thanks to various forms of modern technology such as ventilators, which make it possible for doctors to declare a patient dead based on the state of their brain, even if their body appears, to the untrained eye, still to be alive. 

Brain death, also called death by neurological criteria, is the practice of declaring a person dead based on the loss of brain function, rather than the stoppage of the heart and breathing. 

Brain death is, today, a commonly accepted standard for declaring a person dead. According to the 1981 guidelines of the American Medical Association, brain death entails the “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain.” 

Most people are unlikely to need to think about brain death until it affects a loved one— but on a nationwide scale, the phenomenon is more common than one might think. An estimated 42 people are declared brain dead throughout the U.S. every day. 

The issue is complicated by the reality of organ transplantation. Brain-dead donors are, today, the primary source of organ transplants. 

Organs such as the heart, lungs, and pancreas can be— and are— harvested from brain dead donors as close to the time of death as possible. Donors’ bodies are sometimes given painkillers to stop involuntary movements originating from the spinal cord. 

What Catholics should make of this

The term “brain death” is not found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But statements from popes and from the Vatican have made it clear that, if properly diagnosed, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function is a valid way to assess with moral certainty that a person has died. 

Moral certainty, St. John Paul II has said, “is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action.”

Catholic doctors and ethicists today largely echo the Vatican in stating that brain death, when properly diagnosed, is not a “kind” of death; it is simply death, period. 

However, brain death remains a hotly debated topic among some Catholic medical professionals and ethicists.

One Catholic doctor told CNA he is concerned that proposed changes to U.S. law regarding brain death could make it easier for doctors to diagnose, and thus may remove some of the rigor that the Church requires for moral certainty about brain death. 

What brain death is

A Harvard Medical School Ad Hoc Committee introduced the concept of “brain death” in August 1968— less than a year after the first successful heart transplant, performed in South Africa in December 1967. 

That document from the Harvard committee introduced the idea that in addition to using “irreversible cessation” of cardiorespiratory function as a criterion for death, doctors also can use irreversible cessation of brain function to determine death. 

While legal standards for determining brain death differ from country to country, in the U.S. the law relevant to brain death is the Uniform Determination of Death Act

The UDDA, passed in 1981, states that an individual who has sustained “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.” 

All 50 states have adopted the UDDA into their own laws, with a few variations in the language used. New Jersey allows the family or proxy of a patient declared brain dead to object to the diagnosis on religious grounds. 

The UDDA leaves the “acceptable diagnostic tests and medical procedures” for determining brain death to the “medical profession,” saying doctors remain “free to formulate acceptable medical practices and to utilize new biomedical knowledge, diagnostic tests, and equipment.” 

But above all, the act stipulates that a determination of death “must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.”

It is worth noting that the “entire brain” provision of the UDDA differs from the law in some other countries, such as the U.K. 

In an illustrative case in February 2020, four-month-old Midrar Ali was disconnected from his ventilator after judges agreed with doctors that the boy’s brain stem was dead. “Brain stem death” is not accepted for a diagnosis of death in many parts of the world, including in the U.S.

What changes have been proposed

In a Jan. 21, 2020 article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical doctor and two legal scholars proposed several revisions to the UDDA.  

The proposed changes to the UDDA would bring the law in line with guidelines for diagnosing brain death put forth in 2010 by the American Association of Neurology.

To that end, the authors suggest a revision to the sentence in the UDDA mandating “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain,” most notably deleting the word “all.”

The revised version the authors propose would read: “Irreversible cessation of functions of the entire brain, including the brainstem, leading to unresponsive coma with loss of capacity for consciousness, brainstem areflexia and the inability to breathe spontaneously.”

Hormonal function, associated with the part of the brain called the hypothalamus as well as the pituitary gland, is not part of the “accepted medical standards” for brain death, the authors claim. 

The authors’ proposal to remedy this disparity is to add “with the exception of hormonal function” to the UDDA’s “entire brain” requirement. 

This is significant because in several high-profile brain death cases, patients declared brain dead have appeared to exhibit changes over time associated with puberty.

Excluding hormonal function from the definition of brain death would remove the ability to sue from families or proxies of patients who continue to grow despite being declared brain dead. 

Finally, the proposed revisions would remove any need for doctors to obtain consent from a patient’s family members before performing brain death tests. These tests can include the apnea test, whereby a patient is removed from a ventilator for several minutes to see if they are capable of breathing on their own. 

One of the reasons for the proposed changes, the authors write, is because of apparent confusion about what constitutes “accepted medical standards” for declaring a patient brain dead. 

The authors highlighted a case out of Nevada whereby Aden Hailu, a 20-year-old student, was declared brain dead in 2015, a diagnosis her father contested. 

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that it was not clear that the hospital, which used the AAN criteria, had used the “accepted medical standards” in proclaiming the diagnosis, suggesting that the AAN criteria may not fulfill the UDDA’s “entire brain” requirement.

This is because the AAN guidelines— last updated in 2010— do not mandate tests for complete cessation of brain function beyond what can be diagnosed bedside, such as an electroencephalogram. 

In response to the Nevada ruling the AAN, along with several other medical organizations, rushed to publicly defend its guidelines. The Nevada legislature has since codified the AAN criteria as the “accepted medical standards” for declaring brain death in the state, the first state to do so. 

The authors contend that all other states should do the same. 

What the Catholic Church has said about brain death

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society, St. John Paul II addressed the concept of brain death. 

The pope said that “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity...if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

In 2008 the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death...'is' death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

Jozef Zalot, a staff ethicist for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that if accepted guidelines for determining brain death are rigorously applied, then it is possible to determine with “moral certainty” that a person has died. 

Zalot pointed to a FAQ from the NCBC on the matter.

“The Catholic Church looks to the medical community to determine the biological signs that indicate with moral certainty that this event has already occurred. In recent years, medical research has indicated that the irreversible loss of brain function provides a firm indicator that death has already occurred,” the NCBC says. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2018 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services, states that the “determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.” 

Dr. Barbara Golder, a medical doctor and lawyer with the Catholic Medical Association, stressed that Catholics are not obliged to continue futile care. She told CNA that in general, for most situations, a brain death diagnosis is both “reliable and reasonable” when it is used to determine whether to cease care, such as a ventilator, to a patient. 

Golder noted, however, that the realities of a brain death diagnosis can leave doctors, family members, and observers uneasy. 

This is mainly because brain death often does not “look” like death, as a patient declared brain dead may still appear to be breathing, exhibit involuntary functions such as sweating, and may even grow and develop. 

Harvard ethicist Robert Truog, who does not believe that brain death necessarily represents biological death, has noted that “In some cases — particularly involving children and otherwise healthy young adults — patients diagnosed as brain-dead can actually survive biologically many years, provided they receive basic life support like mechanical ventilation and tube feedings.”

The bodies of brain-dead patients are sometimes given anesthetics while their organs are harvested, and may exhibit involuntary movements. 

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences addressed this in its 2008 paper stating that “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body. Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life. In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”

The NCBC agrees, stating that despite the complete loss of brain function, “artificial support may cause the victim to appear alive visually and to the touch.”

The media, in reporting on brain death cases, often focus on this fact.  

One highly publicized case is that of Jahi McMath, a 13-year old California girl who in December 2013 suffered a brain hemorrhage after complications following routine tonsil surgery. 

Five physicians- two at Children’s Hospital Oakland and three independent doctors requested by the family- declared McMath brain dead based on tests showing no blood flow to her brain and no signs of electrical activity after performing an EEG.

McMath’s family contested the diagnosis, and in January 2014 the hospital released her. The girl’s family took her to an undisclosed location— reportedly in New Jersey— for treatment where, the family claims, McMath continued to live and grow with the help of a feeding tube. Videos posted online show McMath occasionally exhibiting movement, such as twitching her foot. 

In June 2018, McMath’s family said that the teenager had died, citing “complications associated with liver failure.” 

The NCBC has said in the past that in cases where a patient declared brain dead has ultimately recovered or improved indicates an incorrect diagnosis of brain death in the first place.

“Stories of people continuing on a ventilator for months or years after being declared brain dead typically indicate a failure to apply the tests and criteria for determination of brain death with proper attentiveness and rigor,” said Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the center, in a 2005 information sheet.

“In other words, somebody is likely to have cut some corners in carrying out the testing and diagnosis.”

Why Catholics should care about the proposed UDDA changes

Zalot said while in principle having uniform guidelines is a good thing, it is worth asking whether the AAN guidelines, as proposed by the authors of the revisions, are the best guidelines to use. 

The proposed changes to the UDDA seem, Zalot said, to militate against moral certitude that a person is dead by making certain confirmatory tests unnecessary. 

“It certainly gives the appearance of cutting corners,” he said. 

Joseph Eble, a private practice doctor and president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, told CNA he worries that a shift away from anything less than the most rigorous standards for diagnosing brain death could make it harder for Catholics to be morally certain that a person has in fact died. 

While the AAN guidelines do acknowledge that brain death diagnoses are complex and ought only be done by a doctor with considerable skill and experience, the guidelines also state that tests such as an EEG are not required for pronouncing brain death. 

“The AAN Guidelines require only clinical testing at the patient's bedside for a declaration of BD, even though more advanced testing could reveal persistent brain function which bedside testing could miss,” Eble said. 

Eble says he worries that making such tests optional under law will make it easier for doctors to diagnose brain death in patients who have a chance of recovery if their organs were not harvested and they were given additional time. 

In his 2000 address, St. John Paul II stressed the importance of only removing organs from people who have definitively died. 

The pope’s speech built upon his writing in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, in which he decried any practice whereby “organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor,” calling such a practice a form of “furtive...euthanasia.”

Once again, the issue of organ transplantation, which is a lucrative business, complicates the matter. 

According to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which launched an investigation into corruption in the organ transplant industry in December 2020, many of the nations 58 organ procurement organizations have exhibited problems such as waste, “exorbitant executive pay,” and lobbying against reforms. 

While organ donation and acceptance is allowed and even laudable for Catholics, care must be taken to ensure that the patient is in fact dead. 

The NCBC states that it is acceptable for Catholics to receive transplanted organs from brain dead donors, as long as there is moral certainty that the diagnosis has been made with “rigor.”

'It's really important'

Eble said he hopes Catholics will carefully consider the topic of brain death.

“It would be most helpful if the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and ultimately the Magisterium, could issue a clarification of that Address based on a careful study of the medical aspects of BD (in particular the AAN guidelines) in light of the essential elements of the Church’s anthropology. Such a clarification would help to dispel the confusion among Catholics with respect to BD,” Eble wrote along with Dr. Doyen Nguyen in a March article for the Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Golder noted that making the decision to discontinue treatment and let an illness run its natural course— whether the patient has been declared brain dead or not— is never easy, and should be done in close collaboration with a trusted doctor, she said. 

“Don’t be shy about asking for someone to help guide and interpret. It’s really important,” she said. 

“Ask the doctor to explain how the process [of declaring brain death] works, as different places have different protocols. There are no ‘silly’ questions—ask whatever comes to mind.”

Catholic families should understand that most doctors are doing the best they can when it comes to diagnosing death. The rest, she says, is in God’s hands.

Saint Adalbert of Prague

Statue of Saint Adalbert of Prague near Church of the Visitation of Our Lady in Hluboké Mašůvky, Znojmo District
Image: Statue of Saint Adalbert of Prague near Church of the Visitation of Our Lady in Hluboké Mašůvky, Znojmo District | photo by Jiří Sedláček

Saint of the Day for April 22

(956 – April 23, 997)
Click here to listen

Saint Adalbert of Prague’s Story

Opposition to the Good News of Jesus did not discourage Adalbert, who is now remembered with great honor in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Germany.

Born to a noble family in Bohemia, he received part of his education from Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg. At the age of 27, he was chosen as bishop of Prague. Those who resisted his program of clerical reform forced him into exile eight years later.

In time, the people of Prague requested his return as their bishop. Within a short time, however, he was exiled again after excommunicating those who violated the right of sanctuary by dragging a woman accused of adultery from a church and murdering her.

After a short ministry in Hungary, he went to preach the Good News to people living near the Baltic Sea. He and two companions were martyred by pagan priests in that region. Adalbert’s body was immediately ransomed and buried in the Gniezno, Poland, cathedral. In the mid-11th century his relics were moved to Saint Vitus Cathedral in Prague. His liturgical feast is celebrated on April 23.


Reflection

Preaching the Good News can be dangerous work whether the audience is already baptized or not. Adalbert fearlessly preached Jesus’ gospel and received a martyr’s crown for his efforts. Similar zeal has created modern martyrs in many places, especially in Central and South America. Some of those martyrs grew up in areas once evangelized by Adalbert.


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Quebec court upholds much of law barring religious symbols for public employees

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Quebec City, Canada, Apr 21, 2021 / 19:01 pm (CNA).

A Canadian court upheld this week part of a Quebec law that bans government employees from wearing religious symbols at work. 

With the only exception being existing employees, the law’s original language banned civil servants in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols at work. 

The April 19 court ruling created exceptions for English-speaking public schools, citing minority language education rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Members of Quebec’s provincial parliament are also exempted from the ban, under the principle that all persons are eligible for public office.

Auxiliary Bishop Marc Pelchat of Quebec told CNA April 21 that “like other groups and institutions in Quebec society, we take note of this judgement, which will be appealed. The issue is therefore not entirely settled.”

Bishop Pelchat said that everyone should be concerned for the vulnerable people affected by the law on laïcité. The bishop recognized the legitimate right of the government of Quebec to legislate on relations between the state and religions. However, he said that “the bishops would only have liked law enforcement to distinguish between teachers and other categories of state employees.

“We will follow the course of events with attention,” Bishop Pelchat said.   

The 2019 ban includes, for example, hijabs for Muslim women and crosses for Christians. It covers judges, police officers, teachers, and other public figures, the BBC reports.

The law follows a trend of increased scrutiny for religious symbols in Canada and elsewhere in recent years.

In 2019, Montreal’s City Hall announced that a crucifix taken down during renovations would not be returned to its display. City councilor Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde said the religious symbol was no longer relevant.

In 2012 an appeals court upheld a ruling forcing Catholic schools to teach a province-mandated religion and ethics course while restricting teachers presenting from a Catholic perspective. 

Europe, too, has also seen debate over religious symbols in recent years. In 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union upheld a ban on religious symbols in the work place. The court ruled that it is not directly discriminatory for a workplace to ban “any political, philosophical or religious sign” if the ban is based on internal company rules requiring neutral dress.

A ban on teachers wearing religious headscarves was ruled unconstitutional in a German court in 2015. In Austria and the German state of Bavaria, full-face veils are banned in public. France banned religious symbols and veils in schools in 2004.

In 2013, four Christian British Airways employees won a legal case in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled their employer engaged in illegal discrimination for telling them they could not wear their crosses.

Sri Lankan religious leaders condemn extremism two years after Easter bombing

Ambulances are seen outside the church premises with gathered people and security personnel following a blast at the St. Anthony's Shrine in Kochchikade, Colombo on April 21, 2019. / ISHARA S. K

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Numerous religious leaders gathered in Sri Lanka to mark the second anniversary of the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings and to pray for an end to religious extremism. 

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, spoke at St. Anthony’s Shrine, along with Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim leaders. The service included prayers and two minutes of silence in remembrance of the dead.

Ranjith challenged the country’s Muslim communities to reject extremism and help Catholics identify those behind the 2019 bombings, which killed 269 people at two Catholic churches, a protestant church, and three hotels. 

“[B]e brave enough to reject extremism. You fully understand that there is no connection with religion and teachings to murder,” he said, according to the Associated Press. 

“We are surprised that even after two years, answers to the questions of who and why and what of these attacks have not been found by the relevant authorities.”

St. Anthony’s Shrine was the location of the first bomb explosion during Easter Sunday Mass two years ago. The attacks are believed to have been carried out by two local radical Islamist groups who had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Muslim cleric Hassan Moulan also spoke at the service, the Associated Press reported. He said the Islamic faith does not justify crime and said Mulsims around the world condemned the attack. He added that to distance the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks from the religion of Islam, the the Sri Lanka Muslim community has not permitted their bodies to be buried in its cemeteries. 

Following the bombings, then-President Maithripala Sirisena created a five-person commission to investigate the attacks. The commission’s final report was presented to current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in February 2021.

Rajapaksa then appointed a new six-member committee to study the report but did not share the report with the Church or with the attorney general.

The refusal to release the contents of the report has led to criticism, with fears that corruption or negligence have prevented the prosecution of collaborators in the attack. The study committee is composed only of government ministers who are members of the ruling coalition.

In October 2020, five of seven suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government, on the stated grounds of lack of evidence.

At that time, Ranjith said security officials had confirmed to him that there was sufficient evidence against many of the suspects who had been arrested. The cardinal, along with friends and family of the victims, have said they fear the release of the suspects meant corruption, or a lack of a thorough investigation, on the part of the Sri Lankan Criminal Investigation Department.

Ontario Catholic dioceses adapt to new coronavirus lockdown measures

Church pew. / Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 17:46 pm (CNA).

In response to new and stringent coronavirus lockdown orders in the province, several of the Catholic archdioceses of Ontario, Canada are once again suspending public worship. 

Notably, the Diocese of London, Ontario this week closed all its churches to the public and is discouraging baptisms and confessions except in serious circumstances. 

“I realize these new restrictions will be a hardship for many, especially as access to the sacraments is once again curtailed,” Bishop Ronald Fabbro of London said in an April 17 letter. 

“I want to express my gratitude to you for the sacrifices you are making during the pandemic, and also to emphasize that we need to be strong in our commitment to follow all health and safety measures to do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford implemented new lockdown measures, effective April 19, intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, especially new and more transmissible variants. Ontario recorded 2,224 new cases of COVID-19 on April 19. 

Among the new restrictions are a 10-person limit for both indoor and outdoor gatherings. 

“In the past when we had such restrictions, it was decided that such a limit of ten people is impossible to be carried out in a fair manner,” Bishop Fabbro said, adding that Masses should still be celebrated in the churches and live-streamed.

Baptisms “should be discouraged until the lock-down ends, but may be celebrated in danger of death,” the bishop wrote. 

Confessions, too, should be discouraged, but may be celebrated by appointment if a pastor determines “a serious need.” Confessions should be deferred until after the lockdown except in danger of death. 

Weddings and funerals may proceed within the 10 person limit, Fabbro said. 

The province of Ontario includes 13 dioceses, of which London is the southernmost. 

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, the largest archdiocese in the province, announced that public Masses would be suspended during the new lockdown, with confessions, weddings, and funerals continuing within the 10-person limit, but with First Holy Communion, First Reconciliation and Confirmations postponed. 

Bishop Thomas Dowd of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie issued a similar decree. 

The Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee encouraged parishes to livestream Masses but has not suspended public worship. 

Bishop Serge Poitras of Timmins announced the new 10-person restrictions saying “Obviously, we must respect this norm” but did not announce a suspension of worship. 

The Diocese of Peterborough has suspended public Sunday Masses in most areas of the dioceses, while in one area of the diocese both Sunday and weekday Masses will still be celebrated publicly. 

Bishop Fred Colli of Thunder Bay also suspended public Masses but did not mention whether baptisms or confirmations could continue. 

The Archdiocese of Kingston, as well as the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, the Diocese of Pembroke, are encouraging Catholics to contact their individual parishes. 

One of the original provisions of Ontario’s new lockdown was that police would be empowered to randomly stop anyone out in public to inquire why they were not at home. Ford, the premier, has since withdrawn this provision after an outcry from police and from the public. 


Ford has faced calls for his resignation over his handling of the pandemic in Ontario.

Australian diocese breaks with Sydney archbishop on gender fluidity ban

Credit: GUNDAM_Ai / Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, Apr 21, 2021 / 16:03 pm (CNA).

The Australian Diocese of Parramatta has split with other Catholic leaders in responding to a new bill that would ban the discussion of “gender fluidity” in classrooms.

 

The bill - Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 - is sponsored by Mark Latham, a member of the legislative council of New South Wales (NSW). Latham is also affiliated with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, a nationalist political party. 

 

The legislation would remove “gender fluidity” as part of education curricula, and would mandate that schools inform parents about all discussions of gender and sexuality, as well as discussions on other matters.

 

Latham said that his bill aims to “re-establish the primacy of parents in shaping their children’s development and sense of identity.”

 

Both the Archdiocese of Sydney and Catholic Schools New South Wales, a governing body which represents all 600 Catholic schools in the state, support the legislation.

 

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, vice president of the Australian bishops, said the bill upholds the primacy of parental education of children.

 

“We know that parents are the primary and principal educators of their children, and schools exist to support (and not supersede) this role,” he stated in a Feb. 3 Facebook post. 

 

“Such a law shows respect for the role of parents as primary educators by giving them the right to choose whether or not their children attend these classes,” he said.  

 

However, the Diocese of Parramatta – located in the western suburbs of Sydney – opposes the bill, saying that it runs “counter to promoting and respecting the human dignity of all.” 

 

The diocese said it was concerned that students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender could be harassed because of the bill’s prohibition on teaching gender fluidity.

 

The bill’s “prohibitions on what can be discussed within the learning process can stigmatise these matters and people whose life experiences are connected to them,” the diocese said.

 

Furthermore, the bill upsets a balance between the rights of parents and the authority of schools as educators, the diocese claimed, and is “an unacceptable incursion into the professional judgment of Catholic schools and school systems.”

 

“The concept of ‘parental primacy’ is akin to ‘parents rights’ and this concept has long been discarded in Australia,” the diocese stated in its written submission on the proposed legislation.

 

“It should never be the case that children’s rights become subservient to an overarching concept of ‘parental primacy’,” the diocese said. The legislation’s censorship of gender fluidity could even affect discussions of Shakespearean plays where women characters disguise themselves as men, the diocese argued.

 

However, Catholic Schools NSW said that it is important for parents, not schools, to have conversations with children about gender. 

 

Dallas McInerney, the chief executive of Catholic Schools NSW, told Australian media that he does not believe the bill is anti-transgender, and that schools should be able to offer pastoral care to students of all gender identities. 

 

“[The bill] is more focused on learning and curriculum and less on the culture wars or individuals,” said McInerney. “It is around what belongs in scholarship and school instruction and what doesn’t.”

 

“Our support for the bill is contingent upon our schools being able to extend all support – pastoral, physical, counselling - [to] these kids in our schools,” he said.

 

Greg Whitby, executive director of Catholic education for the Diocese of Parramatta, disagreed; he told Australian media that efforts to ban discussion of gender diversity send the wrong message. 

 

“If you seek to codify those things, you are putting a personal perspective on what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Whitby. He said that Catholic Schools NSW has “an ill-informed approach to what the issues may or may not be.”

 

In 2017, Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen, O.F.M. Con. of Parramatta diverged from other Australian bishops when he did not encourage Catholics in the diocese to vote against the legalization of same-sex marriage.  Instead, he instructed them to “vote their conscience” on the matter. 

 

In 2020, the diocese was criticized for its new religion curriculum which taught students about gender fluidity and atheism while supposedly fostering a culture of inquiry. A draft version of the curriculum contained questions about sexual identity but the curriculum did not list definitive answers to the questions.

 

The diocese defended itself against claims it had a “woke agenda,” and said that Catholic answers to the questions would be covered in the curriculum.

 

“Our Patron, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, is famous for saying ‘never see a need without doing something about it’: there’s nothing new or woke in that,” the diocese said in August 2020.

The schools “remain strongly Catholic and proudly so,” said the diocese, adding that “We are working together to strengthen the faith of our young people, encouraging them to become attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible adults. The real news here is ‘Good News.’”  

In a June 2019 document “Male and Female He Created Them,” from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican criticized the confusion brought about by gender ideology.

“The Christian vision of anthropology sees sexuality as a fundamental component of one’s personhood,” the Vatican stated. 

“The effect of [the emergence of gender ideologies] is chiefly to create a cultural and ideological revolution driven by relativism, and secondarily a juridical revolution, since such beliefs claim specific rights for the individual and across society,” the congregation wrote.

U.S. religious freedom commission: some countries used pandemic to target religious minorities

Oct. 15, 2020: Demonstrators in Manhattan protest the treatment of Orthodox Jewish communities during COVID-19 / Ron Adar/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Some countries used the COVID-19 pandemic to target religious minorities last year, a federal commission revealed on Wednesday.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission, released its 2021 Annual Report on Wednesday. Among its findings, USCIRF said that some governments targeted religious minorities through misinformation campaigns or with disproportionate restrictions during the pandemic.

USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin, who is also the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), told reporters on a Wednesday press call that “in many cases, these [public health] measures complied with international human rights standards,” but in some places they did not. 

“There were countries that blamed COVID-19 on a particular religion,” adding, they used the pandemic “as an excuse,” she said.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the report said, authorities required the cremation of those who died from COVID-19, including Muslims, “for whom the practice is religiously prohibited.” 

However, the World Health Organization found there is a lack of evidence to support the claim that the cremation of deceased COVID-19 victims is necessary “for public health reasons.” The report said that Sri Lanka’s requirement was lifted earlier this year. 

The report added that authorities in Vietnam arrested members of the Ha Mon religious group, accusing them of “sabotaging implementation of solidarity practices.” In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, officials blamed Shi’a religious communities for the spread of COVID-19, “and subjected some neighborhoods and localities to stricter lockdown measures.”

Johnnie Moore, USCIRF commissioner, told reporters that anti-Semitism in Europe and other parts of the world increased as the virus spread. 

“We saw all over the world, the Jewish community in particular targeted,” Moore said, adding that “egregious” and “unconscionable tropes” blamed the Jews for the pandemic. 

Manchin said the commission will monitor COVID restrictions and make sure that, as they are lifted, “they are lifted fairly across the country.” 

USCIRF reports on the state of international religious freedom and global religious persecution, and advocates for the release of prisoners of conscience. 

Regarding the imprisonment of people for their religious or conscientious beliefs, there were positive trends on this issue last year, USCIRF noted. Amid an effort to reduce prison populations as part of COVID-19 public health responses, several countries furloughed or sent to house arrest some prisoners of conscience. 

In addition to noting China’s abuses of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang - actions that the United States has determined to be “genocide” - USCIRF warned about China’s increasing influence abroad. China has harassed and even successfully worked to repatriate Uyghur refugees and others who have fled repression in China, the commission said.

“While the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies and actions have resulted in severe persecution of religious groups within China’s borders, its growing overseas influence and activities also negatively affected religious freedom and other human rights far beyond,” USCIRF said.

Manchin and USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins, who is also president of the Family Research Council, were among US officials recently sanctioned by the Chinese government for their criticisms of Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

“I feel flattered to be recognized by Communist China for calling out genocidal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities in the country,” Manchin told Reuters in a March statement.

On Wednesday, the commission listed 14 countries with the worst records on religious freedom, recommending them to the State Department to be listed as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs). The designation is reserved for countries with government policies that foster “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of religious freedom. 

Of these countries, 10 are already designated by the State Department as CPCs - Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. USCIRF recommended that four other countries be added to the CPC list - India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam. 

The report also recommended 12 countries for placement on the State Department’s Special Watch List for “their governments’ perpetration or toleration of severe violations” of religious freedom. These countries included Cuba and Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Young mothers respond after pro-life pregnancy center tagged in Colombia

Demkat/Shutterstock.

Bogotá, Colombia, Apr 21, 2021 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

The ProMujer pregnancy help center operated by the Moms 40 Coalition for Life Foundation in Bogota discovered April 16 it had been tagged overnight by abortion activists with false accusations such as “here we force women to give birth" and "be careful: forced motherhood." 

In response, a group of young mothers who had been served by the center posted pictures of themselves and their babies with the hashtag #NoMeObligaronAParir, or “they didn’t force me to give birth”. In addition, several of the mothers and their children came by to clean up the site. 

According to the foundation’s Facebook page, the center was opened in 2017 and is an outgrowth of the 40 Days for Life campaign which was launched in 2015. Moms 40 refers to women who said yes to life due to the prayer vigils, and as of January this year the center has served 250 women.

Pamela Delgado, director of the foundation, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, that the mothers weren’t content with just cleaning off the façade and so they decided to start a campaign to make it clear that "no one forced them to give birth."

It was the moms’ idea, the director said; they told her, “What (the abortion activists) are saying isn’t true. Nobody forced us to give birth. We’re going to support the foundation, it’s not fair what they’re doing.”  

“The moms surprised me,” Delgado said.

Several photos have already been posted on the foundation's Instagram page, out of a total of approximately 20 testimonials that will be posted in the next few days.

Delgado commented that after these mothers give birth “they become lionesses in the defense of life. They’re very strong women and we don’t learn that by having an abortion.”

“Abortion clips our wings. When a woman doesn’t abort and chooses life, the wings multiply and we can grow. This can only be done by God, no one else,” she explained.

Leidy Parra, 27, was aided by the pregnancy help center when she was going through a very difficult situation and could only think of aborting her daughter, Violeta, who is now a year and a half.

The young mother told ACI Prensa April 20 that when she saw the photo of the pro-abortion vandalism, she immediately thought of going to clean up the center, where they are still assisting her.

“When I saw the graffiti I was outraged and felt helpless because that’s not the way it is. We then went to erase that lie. By what (the abortion activists) wrote they’re telling us they believe that when faced with a crisis pregnancy, the only thing to do is to have an abortion. They believe we’re incapable of turning unwanted motherhood into something happy and desired,” Parra said.

The young mom said that after helping clean up the center she still didn’t feel right “because several people could have seen the graffiti and doubted that we’re being helped there. So I thought of raising my voice and showing the kind of help we’re getting from the foundation.”

Parra said that at the Moms 40 Coalition for Life Foundation "they don't judge us, all they do is guide us.”

The mothers who have been helped by the foundation, she emphasized, “are a sign that yes, it can be done, regardless of the situation we’re going through, there will always be a way out. Abortion is not the solution.”

The young mother told ACI Prensa that she encouraged the other women, telling them,  “we can talk about this and explain it with a short message with the hashtag #NoMeObligaronAParir. They were inspired and began to send in the photos.” 

In one of the posts, one of the mothers says the center “has been the best thing that has happened to me. I don't know what I would do today without my baby."

Vatican dedicates May to global rosary ‘marathon’ for end of COVID-19

Red Confidential/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, Apr 21, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Vatican has announced a rosary initiative dedicating the month of May to prayer for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization said April 21 that “for the deep desire of the Holy Father, the month of May will be dedicated to a prayer marathon with the theme ‘Prayer to God went up incessantly from the whole Church.’”

The council said that the world’s Catholic shrines would be involved in a special way as promoters of the rosary among Catholic individuals, families, and communities.

Thirty of the shrines will take turns leading a daily live-streamed rosary at 12 p.m. Eastern time, the council said.

The Catholic Church dedicates the month of May to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Francis will open the month of prayer on May 1, asking for Mary’s intercession.

Pope Francis spoke about the coronavirus and its economic effects in a video message to participants in the 27th Ibero-American Summit in Andorra April 21.

The COVID-19 pandemic “has demanded enormous sacrifices from each nation and its citizens,” he said. The crisis has called on “the entire international community to commit, united, with a spirit of responsibility and fraternity, to face the many challenges already in action, and those which will come.”

The pope said that he had prayed for the millions of people who have died from COVID-19 or who are suffering from the illness, as well as their families.

“The pandemic has made no distinctions and has hit people of all cultures, creeds, social and economic strata,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of considering anti-COVID vaccination as a “universal common good.”

He said: “In this area, initiatives that seek to create new forms of solidarity at the international level are particularly welcome, with mechanisms aimed at guaranteeing an equitable distribution of vaccines, not based on purely economic criteria, but taking into account the needs of all, especially those of the most vulnerable and needy.”

“It is urgent to consider a recovery model capable of generating new, more inclusive and sustainable solutions, aimed at the universal common good, fulfilling God’s promise for all men,” Pope Francis said.

He added that, in responding to the coronavirus, attention should be paid to reforming the international debt structure and allowing access to external financing to promote economic development “so that everyone can get out of the current situation with the best chance of recovery.”

“None of this will be possible without a strong political will that has the courage to decide to change things, mainly priorities, so that it is not the poor who pay the highest cost for these tragedies that are hitting our human family,” he said.

Syracuse diocese to hold Mass for Healing amid nearly 400 sex abuse claims

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Syracuse, New York / Mahmoud Masad/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 13:22 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Syracuse will hold a Mass for Healing on April 29 after nearly 400 sex abuse claims involving the diocese have been filed.

“One victim of sexual abuse is too many,” said an April 19 letter from Bishop Douglas Lucia of Syracuse to his diocese. “And so, to see the number ‘371’ is particularly disheartening and of the greatest concern for me because of the damage done both directly and collaterally,” he said of the 371 claims that had been filed under the state’s Child Victims Act.

Lucia said that he is renewing his commitment and that of the Diocese of Syracuse to assist survivors of sexual abuse with their healing. 

“We seek to make amends for the wrong and sinful behavior perpetrated against you and cannot apologize enough for the failure to protect you from your abusers,” said the bishop. 

New York’s Child Victims Act created a one-year extension of the statute of limitations for old sex abuse cases; originally scheduled to close in August 2020, the one-year period was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will close at the end of August 14, 2021. 

However, a bankruptcy court determined April 15 as the closing date for abuse claims to be filed against the Syracuse diocese. In preparation for the deluge of lawsuits under the Child Victims Act, Lucia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last June. 

In the letter, Bishop Lucia said it was “of particular concern” how the diocese “could respond in a just and fair manner to the claims of sexual abuse arising from the NYS Child Victims Act.” 

At the time of the filing, around 100 lawsuits had been filed against the diocese. 

The “next phase” of this reorganization will begin now that all abuse lawsuits have been filed, said Lucia. The phase will involve the diocese meeting with insurance companies and the creditors committee, with the goal of compensating victims of abuse while moving on from bankruptcy.

“Over the course of the coming months, I ask you to pray with me for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as both Advocate and Consoler for this work, so that it may bear much healing and fruit for those involved,” said Lucia. 

“Particularly, I seek a reasonable way to assist the victims of child abuse in the Diocese of Syracuse which fosters restoration and renewal in their lives as children of God,” he said. 

Lucia added that a Mass for Healing will be held at the cathedral on April 29, the end of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. He said that there will be a special blessing during the Mass for survivors of abuse, and that he “will particularly pray for the gifts of healing and fortitude for all victims of crime and oppression.” 

“Having just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, I again place our diocesan family under the loving care of the Sacred Heart of Jesus praying that He will make our hearts more like His through this time of purification and reparation,” said Lucia. 

“Please know my prayers for you and your loved ones continue and I ask humbly for your prayers for all victims, as well as for me and the Church of Syracuse.”