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Indiana priest's suspension after Black Lives Matter letter divides Catholics

Denver Newsroom, Jul 9, 2020 / 11:22 pm (CNA).-  

Catholics in one Indianapolis suburb are divided over the suspension of a priest who called organizers of the Black Lives Matter Movement “maggots and parasites.”

On June 28, Fr. Ted Rothrock wrote in the parish bulletin at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Carmel, Indiana a letter on the Black Lives Matter movement and escalating racial tension in the country.

“The brutal murder of a black man has sparked a landslide of reaction to the alleged systemic racism in America,” the priest wrote. “We are being told that the scars of race relations in this country are really unhealed wounds that continue to fester and putrefy; amputation is required! Reforms must be sweeping and immediate to crush the rising wave of racism that pervades the nation and perverts the body politic.”

“What would the great visionary leaders of the past be contributing to the discussion at this point in time? Would men like Fredrick (sic) Douglass  and the Reverend King, both men of deep faith, be throwing bombs or even marching in the streets?”

On the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the priest asked “do those black lives really matter to the community organizers promoting their agenda? Is ‘Antifa’ concerned with the defeat of fascist right-wing nationalism or more interested in the establishment of left-wing global nationalism?”

“Who are the real racists and purveyors of hate?” the priest continued. “You shall know them by their works. They are wolves in wolves clothing, masked thieves and bandits, seeking only to devour the life of the poor and profit from the fear of others. They are maggots and parasites at best, feeding off the isolation of addiction and broken families, and offering to replace any current frustration and anxiety with more misery and greater resentment.”

“Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and other nefarious acolytes of their persuasion are not the friends or allies we have been led to believe,” Rothrock wrote.

Some groups in Carmel immediately protested the priest’s message, calling it racist and inappropriate, and called for his removal from the parish. Supporters said the priest had spoken truthfully, with one telling the Indianapolis Star that the priest was referring to organizers of “Marxist” Black Lives Matter organizations. 

Amid the controversy, Bishop Timothy Doherty of the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana issued a June 30 statement, saying “I expect Father Rothrock to issue a clarification about his intended message. I have not known him to depart from Church teaching in matters of doctrine and social justice.”

On the same day, Rothrock posted an apology on the parish website. “It was not my intention to offend anyone, and I am sorry that my words have caused any hurt to anyone,” he wrote.

The priest’s apology said that the Gospel condemns bigotry, according to the Indianapolis Star, adding that “We must also be fully aware that there are those who would distort the Gospel for their own misguided purposes. People are afraid, as I pointed out, rather poorly I would admit, that there are those who feed on that fear to promote more fear and division.”

The next day, July 1, Doherty announced that Rothrock had been suspended from ministry.

“Father Theodore Rothrock is suspended from public ministry according to Canon 1333. The suspension comes in the wake of Father Rothrock’s June 28 bulletin article. The Bishop expresses pastoral concern for the affected communities. The suspension offers the Bishop an opportunity for pastoral discernment for the good of the diocese and for the good of Father Rothrock,” Doherty wrote in a July 1 decree.

Doherty celebrated Mass and preached at St. Elizabeth Seton parish on July 5. Protesters and counter protesters gathered outside the Church.

Addressing the congregation at Sunday Mass, the bishop praised Rothrock as part of the parish’s “wonderful history” while expressing that “serious consequences of that article are still playing out among us, and in the wider community. I chose the suspension provided for in church law. The suspension offers me an opportunity for pastoral discernment for the good of the diocese, of St Elizabeth Seton Church, and for the good of Father Rothrock.”

The bishop drew a distinction between the Black Lives Matter social movement and the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, an organization which, Doherty said, “clearly says things that I oppose.” But, the bishop said, echoing remarks from black Catholic leaders in recent weeks, “it is a mistake to say that that foundation is the headquarters of what is a very diverse movement.”

When Doherty concluded his remarks with the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” one woman called out, saying the bishop was a coward, according to Catholics in attendance at the Mass, and she was then removed from the church. Outside the parish, demonstrators chanted for or against the priest.

Division over the priest continues in Carmel, a wealthy, mostly white city north of Indianapolis, where some citizens have organized as Carmel Against Racial Injustice to protest systemic racism, while others, Catholics and non-Catholics, have continued to voice support for the priest.

Rothrock could not be reached for comment.

While Doherty said that he had observed Church law in suspending Rothrock, it is not clear that the bishops’ action was undertaken in accord with canon law on the subject.

The bishop’s decree indicated that he had suspended the priest in accord with canon 1333 of the Code of Canon Law. The canon describes the formal penalty of suspension issued after a formal penal process- a canonical trial or an administrative penal process. Such a process determines whether a person has committed a “delict”- a crime in Church law.

CNA asked the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana to clarify whether the priest was accused of a particular canonical crime, and whether he had been formally sanctioned with suspension following a canonical process- a procedure which ordinary takes weeks or more to complete.

The diocese declined to respond to CNA’s questions.

It is also not clear whether Rothrock formally remains pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish. The priest was due to be transferred to another parish in Carmel, and the diocese now says the transfer will not happen. But the diocese has declined to respond to questions about whether the priest has offered his resignation from St. Elizabeth Seton, or whether he remains the pastor. Removing a pastor from office involuntarily requires a specific canonical process.

On July 8, the diocese issued an “updated statement” saying that Doherty had “asked Father Theodore Rothrock to step aside from public ministry because of the division and damage that was instantly felt within the parish, the diocese and the larger community following Father Rothrock’s controversial bulletin article. Father Rothrock has expressed regret and he understands and appreciates God’s gift of the human family, and therefore the value of every human life which is made in the image and likeness of God.”

“This time for pastoral discernment is for the good of the diocese, for St. Elizabeth Seton and for the good of Father Rothrock,” the statement said, adding that “various possibilities for Father Rothrock’s public continuation in priestly ministry are still being considered.”


NY Catholic archdiocese to close 20 schools, merge 3

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 06:15 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York announced Thursday that 20 of its schools will not reopen, following the coronavirus crisis, and three of its schools will merge.

Michael Deegan, the archdiocese's Superintendent of Schools, said July 9 that “the reality of these schools being lost is painful, and it was only accepted reluctantly after a detailed study was conducted of their respective fiscal standing in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis. I have been a Catholic school educator for more than 40 years, and could never have imagined the grave impact this pandemic has had on our schools.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York commented that “I’ve kept a hopeful eye on our schools throughout this saga and my prayers are with all of the children and their families who will be affected by this sad news. Given the devastation of this pandemic, I’m grateful more schools didn’t meet this fate, and that Catholic schools nearby are ready to welcome all the kids.”

Eleven of the schools that will be closed are located in New York City: six in the Bronx, three in Staten Island, and two in Manhattan. Six schools will not reopen in Westchester County, and one each in Orange, Rockland, and Dutchess counties. Another three schools in Orange County will be merged into one.

Some 2,500 students and 350 staff will be impacted by the changes, according to the archdiocese.

No schools are closing or merging in Putnam, Sullivan, or Ulster counties.

The superintendent's office has said it will help affected families find nearby Catholic schools for the autumn, and that it “is dedicated to working in coordination with the teachers’ union to do everything it can to help faculty of the affected schools to find employment within the Archdiocesan school system.”

The archdiocese said the coronavirus crisis “has had a devastating financial impact on Catholic school families.”

It noted that unemployment and health concerns “have resulted in families’ inability to pay their current tuition, and a significantly low rate of re-registration for the fall,” and that “months of cancelled public masses and fundraising for scholarships have seen a loss of parish contributions which traditionally help support the schools.”

The local Church expects the closures and merge to ensure “the overall fiscal stability and strengthen the vitality of New York Catholic schools for decades to come.”

Deegan commented that “if more assistance is not forthcoming in the longed for HEROES Act now before Congress, I am afraid even more might close.”

The Heroes Act would provide funding for state and local governments, assistance to hospitals, and direct payments to American families along with funding unemployment insurance. The Senate and White House have indicated their opposition to the bill.

In June the US Department of Education said that federal coronavirus aid to private schools is now enforceable by law, following concerns that Catholic and other non-public schools were being excluded from sufficient epidemic relief funds to support protective equipment for students and teachers, cleaning, training in remote education, and distance education tools.

Education Secretary Besty DeVos said on a June 25 phone call with reporters that “While a number of traditional public schools aren’t sure whether they will open their doors in the fall, too many other kinds of schools are sure they won’t open at all. More than 100 private schools, including many Catholic schools, have already announced they will never reopen, and hundreds more face a similar fate.”

The Education Department's decision is being challenged by a July 7 suit filed by Michigan, California, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia

The National Catholic Education Association said in June that at least 100 Catholic primary and secondary schools across the US would not be reopening, citing low enrollment and decreased donations amid the coronavirus.

Sister Dale McDonald, public policy director for the NCEA, told CNA that for most Catholic schools about 80% of their operating budget comes from tuition. In addition, many Catholic schools hold major fundraisers in the spring, which had to be cancelled or postponed after the pandemic hit.

German bishop appoints committee to reevaluate beatification process of Schoenstatt founder

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 05:54 pm (CNA).- Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the German diocese of Tier announced the appointment of a commission of historians to review the beatification process of Fr. Josef Kentenich, founder the Schoenstatt Movement, a decision that was welcomed by Fr. Juan Pablo Catoggio, international  president of the Schoenstatt movement.

The decision, announced on July 7, follows the recent revelations published by Church historian Alexandra von Teuffenbach,  former professor of theology and Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, who reviewed Vatican-commissioned assessments of the Schoenstatt movement, which reportedly portray Kentenich as manipulative and coercive.

The beatification process of Father Josef Kentenich was opened by Bishop Bernhard Stein on February 10, 1975 in the Diocese of Trier and has not yet been concluded at the diocesan level.

According to a diocesan statement, the task of the commission of historians, whose members have not yet been determined, “will especially be to collect all now accessible documents of the Vatican Archive that in some way relate to this beatification process, and to assess their significance.”

It will also be the task of the commission “to reconcile the newly found material with what has already been gathered and evaluated from other archives by the previous commission. At the end of their work, the commission – including the results of the previous commission – will write a report in which a statement will also be made about the personality and spirituality of Fr. Josef Kentenich as depicted in the collected documents.”

Reacting to the announcement, Fr. Catoggio issued a statement addressed to the “dear Schoenstatt Family throughout the world” on July 8, saying that “we very much welcome this decision of the bishop, since in this way the clarification of the questions regarding the person and actions of Father Kentenich.”  

“We understand that the Schoenstatt Family throughout the world expects initiatives from us that respond to the many justified questions, confusions and demands for transparency. You rightly expect that the history of Father Kentenich, the history of Schoenstatt, and the history of the Sisters be more openly and transparently processed and communicated to the Schoenstatt Family,” Catoggio said.

“We recognize that we have held back for too long out of consideration and for the protection of persons and communities,” he added.

The priest also recognized that Schoenstatt members around the world “are searching for answers to the questions you have at the moment. This is understandable. It is important to us that the relevant texts of our founder or individual historical documents can be understood from their context.”

He promised that “we will also take the necessary steps from our side to examine the material of the archives that are now accessible.”

“We are convinced that this clarification process on various levels will bring the truth into full light and thus also allow for a more objective and comprehensive understanding of the person, way of acting and charism of Father Kentenich,” he concluded.

Notre Dame Cathedral spire to be rebuilt as replica of pre-fire design

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 05:02 pm (CNA).- President Emmanuel Macron of France has announced that the Notre Dame Cathedral spire will be rebuilt as a replica of the one destroyed in the fire at the cathedral last year.

Macron’s government had previously initiated an architectural competition to submit a variety of suggestions for the restoration. Macron has also called for “an inventive reconstruction” of the cathedral with a more contemporary design.

The possibility of a new design for the spire of the historic building had been controversial. The designs proposed included a rooftop swimming pool and a greenhouse atop the 850-year-old cathedral.

Last year, the French Senate passed a bill mandating that Notre-Dame be rebuilt as it was before the fire.

Macron’s change of mind on the spire construction is due to a desire to finish the project quickly, the BBC reported. Paris is scheduled to host the Olympics in 2024, and choosing a new design for the spire would have delayed the construction.

Since the adoption of the 1905 law on separation of church and state, which formalized laïcité (a strict form of public secularism), religious buildings in France have been property of the state.

A major fire broke out in Notre Dame cathedral on the evening of April 15, 2019. The roof and the spire were destroyed. Shortly after midnight April 16, firefighters announced that the cathedral's main structure had been preserved from collapse.

The major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of the crown of thorns.

Originally built between the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the landmark cathedral in the French capital is one of the most recognizable churches in the world, receiving more than 12 million visitors each year.

Its original spire was constructed in the 13th century, but was replaced in the 19th century due to damage.

The cathedral was undergoing some restorative work at the time the fire broke out, though it is unknown if the fire originated in the area of the work.


States sue Education Department over COVID relief for private schools

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Five states are suing the Trump administration for directing emergency relief aid to students at private schools, regardless of their income level.

The states of Michigan, California, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia filed the complaint in federal court on Tuesday against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The states were led by the attorneys general of Michigan and California, Dana Nessel and Xavier Becerra.

“At a time when Michigan schools are facing an unprecedented crisis, every single child deserves the chance to succeed. But, yet again, Secretary DeVos has decided to tip the scales in favor of private schools, leaving the State’s public-school students behind,” Nessel said.

Congress, under the CARES Act in March, sent relief funding for education to the states, to distribute to local educational agencies (LEAs).

Although some of the Title I-A funds could go to help private school students, under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act they are specifically meant for “at-risk private-school students” and not students in general, the states’ lawsuit says.

An interim final rule issued by the Education Department directs the LEAs to “provide equitable services to students and teachers in non-public schools,” not specifying that they are meant only for low-income students, the lawsuit says.

DeVos said in a June 25 announcement that “CARES Act programs are not Title I programs,” and thus not subject to the limitation on use only for low-income students. If they are limited to only low-income students, they still must be spent equitably across public and private schools in the district, she said.

“There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions.” 

The funding does not directly flow through LEAs to private schools, but rather is used by the agencies for “secular, neutral, and nonideological services,” DeVos said. This would probably include cleaning, health equipment, and remote learning services, she said.

Furthermore, the department’s rule “discourages the limited number of financially secure private schools from seeking equitable services,” the agency said in its press release.

However, according to the states’ lawsuit, the agency “grafted its own allocation and eligibility rules on Congress’s directive.”

“CARES Act money is designed to provide support to schools with low-income students, as it is to be allocated based on the amount of Title I funding each state and school district received in the most recent fiscal year,” the lawsuit states. 

According to the states’ complaint, the interpretation “will deprive low-income and at-risk students, their teachers, and the public schools that serve them of critical resources to meet students’ educational and social/emotional needs during and after pandemic-related school closures.”

According to McClatchy, the White House is planning to request money for scholarship programs for students of private and religious schools in the next coronavirus relief package.

Hagia Sophia belongs 'to all of humanity', Eastern Orthodox patriarch says amid mosque plans

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- While Turkey’s president has made moves to close the museum at the former Christian basilica Hagia Sophia and revert it to a mosque, the Patriarch of Constantinople has said the massive site should remain as it is, a place of Christian-Muslim encounter that belongs “to all of humanity.”

The Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said, “the Turkish people have the great responsibility and honor to make the universality of this wonderful monument shine,” given that as a museum it is “the symbolic place of encounter, dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding between Christianity and Islam.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved to declare the Hagia Sophia a mosque.

On July 2, a Turkish administrative court ruled on whether to revoke the 80-year-old decree that declared the building a museum. A senior Turkish official told Reuters that the ruling, revoking the decree, is likely to be announced July 10.

“This nation has been waiting for 86 years. The court lifted the chain of bans on Hagia Sophia,” pro-government columnist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote in the Hurriyet newspaper. 

Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the place of Hagia Sophia in his homily during Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Istanbul June 30, Fides news agency reports.

Hagia Sophia belongs “belongs not only to those who own it at the moment, but to all humanity,” he said.

The Basilica of Hagia Sophia was built in 537 under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. For a time it was the largest building in the world and the largest Christian church. It served as the cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople before and after the Great Schism split Western and Eastern Christianity into Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. After the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453, the basilica was converted into a mosque. Under the Ottomans, architects added minarets and buttresses to preserve the building, but the mosaics showing Christian imagery were whitewashed and covered.

In 1934, under a secularist Turkish government, the mosque was turned into a museum. Some mosaics were uncovered, including depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Justinian I, and Zoe Porhyrogenita.

It was declared a World Heritage Site under UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. If the museum becomes a mosque, it is believed that the mosaics will have to be covered during Muslim prayers, as well as the seraph figures located in the high basilica dome.

Patriarch Bartholomew said it is “absurd and harmful that Hagia Sophia, from a place that now allows the two peoples to meet us and admire its greatness, can again become a reason for contrast and confrontation.” He said the Hagia Sophia is a center of life “in which East and West embrace.” To convert it to a mosque “will cause a break between these two worlds.”

The Eastern Orthodox Christian leader warned that converting it to a mosque “will push millions of Christians around the world against Islam.”

The political foes of Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, say he raises the issue of restoring a mosque at Hagia Sophia every time he faces a political crisis to appeal to his nationalist or religious supporters. His party lost local elections in Istanbul last year, and Turkey’s faltering economy is suffering further due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reports.

Some of Erdogan’s supporters speak of the Hagia Sophia as the third holiest place in Islam, behind the Grand Mosque of Mecca and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

In late May Erdogan participated remotely in a commemoration of the conquest of Constantinople held at the former basilica. An imam recited a verse called the Conquest surah, celebrating a treaty between the people of Mecca and Medina.

The ceremony drew protests from Greece’s foreign ministry, saying it was an unacceptable breach of the world heritage site under UNESCO. For its part, the U.N. agency has said any changes to Hagia Sophia would require its approval.

U.S. leaders have also objected.

“The Hagia Sophia holds enormous spiritual and cultural significance to billions of believers of different faiths around the world,” U.S. Ambassador At Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said on Twitter June 25. “We call on the government of Turkey to maintain it as a UNESCO World Heritage site and to maintain accessibility to all in its current status as a museum.”

Before the July 2 court hearing, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked Turkey “to continue to maintain Hagia Sophia as a museum, as an exemplar of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey.”

Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of Erdogan’s political party, responded that the decision is a matter of national sovereignty.

“The sole decision-making authority about the status of Hagia Sophia ... belongs to Turkey. We do not need anyone’s advice or recommendation on our own affairs,” he said, according to Reuters.

While the Eastern Orthodox Christian world is currently riled over disputes surrounding the Patriarch of Constantinople’s recognition of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as independent of Moscow, Russian Orthodox leaders have spoke out in favor of the status quo at Hagia Sophia.

“A threat against Hagia Sophia is a threat to all of Christian civilization, meaning our spirituality and history,” Patriarch Kirill of Moscow said July 6. He said the former basilica of Constantinople is “one of the biggest monuments of Christian civilization”

“What could happen to Hagia Sophia will cause deep pain among the Russian people,” said the Russian Orthodox patriarch.

Russian political leaders like Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov have said Hagia Sophia is “ a beloved world masterpiece for tourists from all countries who visit Turkey, including for tourists from Russia.” In addition to its tourism value, it has “a very deep sacred spiritual value,” he said.

Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Sahak II Mashalian, an Oriental Orthodox leader, has suggested making Hagia Sophia a site of worship for both Christians and Muslims.

Turkey’s population of 82 million is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Non-Muslim minorities make up only 0.2%, and the Christian population is split among several Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well as other groups.

Cardinal Tobin asks Trump for clemency in death row case

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark has joined several U.S. bishops in asking President Donald Trump to commute the death sentence of a federal inmate scheduled to be executed on July 17. Exercising clemency, the cardinal told the president, can help “stem the tide of anger and revenge” in the country.

Cardinal Tobin sent a letter to Trump on Thursday asking for clemency for Dustin Honken, who was convicted of the murder of five people, including a single mother and her two daughters aged ten and six years old, in 2004.

“I have known Mr. Honken for seven years,” Cardinal Tobin said, noting that he visited Honken several times a year at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, while Archbishop of Indianapolis from 2012 to 2017.

“His present spiritual guide, Father Mark O’Keefe, OSB, confirms that the spiritual growth in faith and compassion, which I had witnessed in our meetings some years ago, continues to this day,” Tobin wrote.

Fr. O’Keefe, meanwhile, filed a motion to delay Honken’s execution at least until after the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled, so he could fulfill his “sacred religious duty to minister Mr. Honken at his execution” while not risking his own “life and health.”

Honken is one of four federal inmates scheduled to be executed in coming weeks, between July 13 and August 28.

The Justice Department last year announced that the federal bureau of prisons would resume executions for the first time since 2003, with five executions scheduled. Four of the death row inmates filed a complaint in court against the one-drug execution protocol, but the D.C. Circuit Court ruled against them in April and the Supreme Court denied their appeal on June 29, clearing the way for their executions to proceed. The fifth inmate, Wesley Ira Purkey, had his execution temporarily halted by the Seventh Circuit appeals court on July 2.

Honken committed his murders in Iowa, and the state’s four Catholic bishops sent a letter on July 1 to Trump, asking for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment without parole.

Tobin said on Thursday that Honken’s crimes are “heinous,” but that his execution “will do nothing to restore justice or heal those still burdened by these crimes.” 

“Instead, his execution will reduce the government of the United States to the level of a murderer and serve to perpetuate a climate of violence which brutalizes our society in so many ways,” Tobin wrote, noting that the use of the death penalty makes the United States an “outlier” in the world.  

“If his death sentence is commuted, Mr. Honken expects to spend his remaining days in prison,” Tobin wrote.

“By commuting this death sentence, you would help stem the tide of anger and revenge that threatens our country,” he told the president.

Several Catholic bishops joined a statement of more than 1,000 faith leaders calling for a stop to the executions, on July 7. Former USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop William Medley of Owensboro, Kentucky, Bishop Oscar Solis of Salt Lake City, Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, and Bishop Richard Pates, the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Joliet, Illinois, all signed the statement.

Peruvian archbishop thanks doctors fighting coronavirus

Lima, Peru, Jul 9, 2020 / 02:51 pm (CNA).- The archbishop of Arequipa, Peru, thanked the doctors fighting the coronavirus pandemic, saying they offer hope to many.

“I am convinced that, along with the evils that this pandemic has brought us or made apparent, the good that a great many people constantly do has also come to light and is rarely given recognition,” said Archbishop Javier del Río Alba.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, the archbishop praised “the completely selfless dedication of the doctors and healthcare personnel, who put their own lives and that of their families at risk.”

Their sacrifice, he said, “has been exemplary and deserves our complete gratitude and commitment to pray for them, not only now but always.”

Del Río cited Pope Francis, who called these healthcare workers the “saints next door.” The archbishop added that they are not pursuing media recognition or power, but only seek to serve.

Peru’s Ministry of Health reported that as of July 8, there are 312,911 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, with 11,133 deaths.

In Arequipa, there are 8,144 recorded cases of COVID-19 with 343 deaths. Peru holds fifth place in the total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide, according to the John Hopkins University of Medicine.

About 40% of households in Peru lack a refrigerator, necessitating frequent trips to the markets, a key source of spreading the infection. About 11% of poor households in the country live in overcrowded conditions. Around 70% of the people work in the informal economy, use public transportation, and work in conditions where social distancing is difficult, including crowded markets.

Peru was among many countries that implemented strict measures to help slow the spread of the pandemic. As some areas of the country continue to see these restrictions eased, regions such as Arequipa are facing targeted lockdowns in an effort to control the virus.

The healthcare system has been overwhelmed in different parts of the Peru. Doctors and healthcare personnel fighting the disease have faced shortages of equipment, such as protective gear and oxygen to treat the sick.

Del Río encouraged prayers for those on the front lines, especially medical workers risking their safety to keep others healthy.

“I have no doubt that God, our Father, will know how to reward them, as well as the police officers and many other people who have not stopped serving society during this hard time,” he said.


Why White House Catholics are concerned about Trump’s Catholic tweets

Washington D.C., Jul 9, 2020 / 01:57 pm (CNA).-  

Officials working in the Trump administration have told CNA that they have been frustrated by recent presidential tweets elevating controversial Catholic figures, saying the tweets undermine the work many Catholics in the administration hope to accomplish.

In recent weeks, the president’s Twitter account has cited support from two figures with polarizing reputations among Catholics: former papal nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and the author and online polemicist Taylor Marshall.

While both men have been publicly supportive of the president, both are better known for their criticism of Church authorities than for their views on secular politics.

Two Catholics in senior positions in the administration told CNA the decision to elevate Viganò and Marshall has put the White House at odds with the U.S. bishops, instead of putting a focus on issues of agreement, and has frustrated some Catholic administration officials.

“It puts those of us who care about the Church and care about the work we are doing here in a bind,” one White House official told CNA. “I believe in the work I’m doing, and believe it matters as a Catholic. But I spend enough time just defending that simple premise – I don’t want to have to deal with crazy Catholic Twitter too.”

“Everyone knows the campaign needs religious voters, and Catholic voters for sure. But there is such a divide between the people working on policy stuff around here and the people doing this. For us, we are doing things that matter: on religious freedom, on life issues.”

A second senior administration official, who attends weekly meetings with the president in the Oval Office, told CNA the president believes he has not been supported by U.S. bishops for his efforts on religious liberty, and that White House strategists have urged him to court Catholic votes through figures like Marshall and Viganò.

Both officials requested anonymity because of the nature of their positions.

The officials each independently attributed the decision to highlight support from outside the Catholic mainstream to Dan Scavino, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and the president’s social media director. They said it is part of a broader effort to stoke enthusiasm among the president’s most ardent supporters through social media engagement.

“You know who is putting [Viganò’s letter] in front of the president?” one official said, “It’s coming from [Dan] Scavino. He runs all of that side of things.”

“Around him and the rest, they have only one plan right now, or only one they are talking about: weaponize the base, the base, the base.”

Earlier this year, the Trump administration garnered attention for hosting telephone calls with bishops and other institutional Catholic leaders regarding both the impact of the coronavirus on Catholic schools and the decision of some bishops to begin limited reopenings of public Masses in the early stages of a national reopening.

In those calls, the president promised his administration’s support to Catholic initiatives, and to financially struggling Catholic schools. Bishops, including New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, faced criticism for seeming to lend implicit support to the president’s reelection bid, a charge Dolan and others disputed, while defending their engagement with the president.

The administration is continuing to advocate for parochial school assistance in coronavirus relief legislation.

But Trump’s more recent Catholic overtures have been of a different stripe.

Both administration officials told CNA that after Trump’s June 2 visit to the St. John Paul II National Shrine, a decision was made by Scavino and other strategists that the president should cultivate Catholic support from leadership figures outside the mainstream.

“The president doesn’t get why the bishops aren’t with him for doing work on religious liberty – especially after the shrine visit, he was pissed about that,” one official said.

The official told CNA that Scavino, himself a Catholic, views the support of figures like Viganò as a means of delivering Catholic votes without the implicit or explicit support of diocesan bishops.

The president’s shrine visit came at the height of protests and demonstrations across the county, following the killing of George Floyd. It also came one day after the controversial dispersal of demonstrators in Lafayette Park, opposite the White House, to accommodate a presidential photo-op in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory issued a stinging critique of the shrine visit, calling it “reprehensible,” and saying the shrine had been “egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles.”

The next week, on June 10, Trump’s Twitter account retweeted a long letter from Archbishop Carlo Viganò, former papal nuncio to the United States, in which the archbishop lavished praise on the president and repeated his own theories about an international conspiracy to use the coronavirus pandemic to bring about a one-world government.


So honored by Archbishop Viganò’s incredible letter to me. I hope everyone, religious or not, reads it!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2020  

“Both of us are on the same side in this battle,” Viganò wrote to Trump, calling criticism of the president’s June 2 visit to the National Shrine of St. John Paul II part of an “orchestrated media narrative” against the president.

Viganò gained national headlines in 2018, when he claimed that he had warned Pope Francis about allegations of sexual abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and then called on the pope to resign. Since then, the archbishop has lived in self-imposed exile, writing frequent open letters that make apocalyptic claims, proffer globalist conspiracy theories, and denounce sitting diocesan bishops and the Second Vatican Council.

Viganò last month denounced Washington’s Archbishop Gregory as a “false shepherd” after Gregory’s criticism of Trump’s shrine visit.

One administration official said Scavino saw Viganò’s letter as a way of touting support for Trump in the face of Gregory’s opposition.

“He thinks it’s a punch back against [Archbishop] Gregory,” said the official.

On July 2, Trump’s Twitter account tweeted about an appearance by Taylor Marshall on the One America News Network, in which Marshall said “there is a war on Christianity,” and praised the president’s leadership.


Dr. Taylor Marshall, author. “There Is A War On Christianity”. @OANN

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2020  

Marshall has recently been associated with the traditionalist priestly Society of St. Pius X, who are in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church. He has tweeted that Catholic men should not attend diocesan seminaries, spoken about his “resistance” to Pope Francis, and has recently clashed with Bishop Robert Barron, who reportedly referred to him as an “extremist,” amid a disagreement over the role of clerics and laity amid the destruction of the statues of saints.

Marshal’s 2019 book “Infiltration” claims to outline a plot by which “Modernists and Marxists hatched a plan to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Their goal: to change Her doctrine, Her liturgy, and Her mission,” according to the book’s website.

Both Marshall and Viganò have large online audiences; Marshall’s YouTube videos regularly draw more than 100,000 viewers, and Viganò’s missives are regularly published on popular conservative and traditionalist websites.

But one administration official told CNA that Catholics working in the executive branch have been discouraged by the president’s decision to promote Viganò and Marshall, especially because they believe the administration’s work on life issues and religious liberty is important, and would benefit from more engagement with the bishops.

“You feel like you can’t win,” the official said. “Frankly, we’d have liked a little more support from the bishops – not for the president personally or the campaign, but for the work we are doing. There is stuff here that is important. But absent that, the thinking from the comms side seems to be ‘have the friends we can get,’ and if they’re crazy, who cares? It’s so frustrating.”

Both officials told CNA that there exists a clear line between those senior Catholics in the administration working on policy priorities and those pursuing Trump’s social media strategy.

“There is no way the serious Catholics in the administration are pushing this stuff. They have too much to do,” the first official told CNA.

The other senior source said the same, and lamented that some in the administration seem to view a combative stance against the bishops as a good in itself.

“For headbangers like Scavino, ‘real Catholics’ are the ones on message with the president, it doesn’t matter how off the reservation they might be in the Church.”

“To [Scavino and Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller] the [U.S.] bishops are all shades of Pope Francis, especially on immigration, which drives Miller crazy.”

The first official agreed, telling CNA that: “The president doesn’t know who Viganò is, he just knows he’s an archbishop, he definitely doesn’t know who Taylor Marshall is – even I had to look him up. But you bet Dan [Scavino] knows, knows they are anti-establishment and have a following, and that’s the campaign they want to run with everyone – get to the people who are already there, intensify them, get them working for you – and give the president some proof of support for what he’s been doing.”

“[Scavino] has this idea that the more you can talk around the bishops the better the more radical you can be and the more you will deliver with the base. Him and [Stephen] Miller love that kind of stuff.”

The White House first conceded in 2017 that Scavino “assists President Trump in operating the @realDonaldTrump account, including by drafting and posting tweets to the account.”

Scavino is an unlikely figure to mastermind the most famous Twitter account in the world.

A 2018 New York Times profile recounts that he first met Trump while acting as his caddie during a round of golf on a course upstate in 1990. In 2004, he returned to the course, then owned by Trump, as assistant manager, rising to manager four years later before starting his own business.

He returned to the Trump orbit at the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, eventually began helping candidate Trump run his Twitter account and later managed his social media output. Scavino earned a reputation for playing hard along the way. On one occasion, Scavino retweeted a video alleging that Sen. Ted Cruz was having an affair with a married former aide, Amanda Carpenter, who called the allegations a “smear.”

Carpenter told the New York Times Magazine that “What Scavino did to me and what he still does to others would get any other professional fired. In Trump’s universe, it’s a qualification. A willingness to engage in lies and smears on behalf of Donald Trump is a sign of loyalty that Trump treasures.”

In the same profile, Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told the Times Magazine that Scavino is the “conductor of the Trump train,” and that his role in the administration is to “tell [Trump] how things are playing with his people. That’s a gauge for him that the president takes seriously.” Hicks left the White House in March 2018 but was named a counselor to the president in February this year.

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has also credited Scavino with bringing fringe figures and social media personalities to the president’s attention. Bannon told the Times Magazine that he used to share with Scavino an office in the West Wing and “he has his hands on the ‘Pepes,’” in a reference to a popular cartoon image used by alt-right internet posters.

“[Scavino] knew who the players were and who were not. He’d bring me Cernovich — I didn’t know who Cernovich was until Scavino told me,” Bannon told the magazine of Mike Cernovich, an alt-right blogger who has made highly controversial comments on race, women’s rights, and rape.

According to Politico, Scavino’s ability to represent Twitter support to the president has real-world policy effects. In a 2019 profile, Politico quoted two sources saying Trump turned to Scavino to justify the announcement of his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

Trump himself told Politico that “Oftentimes, I’ll go through Dan.”

“You know, I’ll talk it over. And he can really be a very good sounding board. A lot of common sense. He’s got a good grasp.”

While not a well-known public figure, Scavino has attracted controversy through his responsibility for the president’s Twitter account.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump came under fire for the use of alleged anti-Semitic imagery in a graphic describing Hilary Clinton as the “most corrupt candidate ever.” The image featured Clinton, a red star of David, and images of cash.

While the campaign initially dismissed criticism of the image, insisting that the star was meant to resemble a sheriff’s badge, it later altered the image to a circle. CNN also reported that the image was originally posted on an “anti-Semitic and white supremacist message board.”

It was Scavino who defended both the original image and the eventual alteration, saying that it “was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site.” Scavino rejected any insinuation of anti-Semitism, citing his wife’s Jewish family, but took personal responsibility, saying "I would never offend anyone and therefore chose to remove the image."

The White House did not respond to questions from CNA regarding Scavino’s role in Trump’s retweets of Marshall and Viganò.

One White House official told CNA that the president’s recent Catholic retweets fit Scavino’s approach.

“I totally get why people like Viganò and Marshall appeal to Scavino. Conspiracy theories, communists, freemasons, tons of retweets and YouTube followers? It’s right up his alley,” the official said.

“The problem is it has happened now, even if this isn’t the president’s idea, one thing you’re not going to do is change his mind – there is no reverse gear.”

“It drives the Catholics around here crazy because we are trying to do real work,” the first official said. “We take the faith seriously, we came here to serve.”

Press North Korea more on human rights, less on denuclearization says federal commission

CNA Staff, Jul 9, 2020 / 01:15 pm (CNA).- A federal commission is calling on the U.S. to push for greater respect for human rights in North Korea, in exchange for a freeze on their nuclear program and not full denuclearization.

In a new report released on Wednesday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) advocates that the U.S. take a new approach to working for the denuclearization of North Korea and a peace agreement.

While the U.S. has viewed human rights advocacy as a potential obstacle to denuclearization talks, pushing it to the side, it should instead view “security and human rights objectives as complementary rather than contradictory,” USCIRF says.

A new policy based on the 1975 Helsinki Accords would link human rights to discussions on freezing North Korea’s nuclear program, and not dismantling it entirely, USCIRF says.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan, federal religious freedom commission that advises the administration on international religious freedom issues.

North Korea has one of the worst records in the world on respect for human rights and freedom of religion, USCIRF says. In its 2020 annual report, the commission noted that religious practice—outside of state-sanctioned houses of worship—can lead to arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution.

In a 2014 report of a UN Commission of Inquiry, an estimated 80,000-120,000 prisoners of conscience were detained in prison camps. Detainees are subject to hard labor, malnutrition, and other bad conditions.

The Trump administration has spoken out about the human rights crisis in North Korea, but has not taken enough actions on it, USCIRF says.

Although Trump privately mentioned human rights in a historic first meeting with president Kim Jong Un in 2018, a second meeting between the two in February of 2019 was scuttled without any talk of human rights. North Korea had reportedly demanded that the U.S. stop economic sanctions.

In addition, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations “reportedly blocked efforts to put North Korea’s human rights record on the UN Security Council agenda,” USCIRF said. A special envoy position at the State Department for North Korean human rights concerns has also not been filled.

North Korea should consider sanctions relief a priority and would thus be willing to entertain demands on human rights, USCIRF says.

“Policymakers should keep their expectations realistic—neither denuclearization nor democratization of North Korea is likely in the near future—but reaching at least a temporary reprieve to the security-related tensions would allow the United States to help foster deeper reforms in North Korea,” the report said.

Pope Francis has spoken of the need for peace on the Korean peninsula. During Trump’s visit to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea in June of 2019, Pope Francis offered a “prayer that this significant gesture constitutes a further step on the path of peace, not only on that peninsula, but in favor of the whole world.”