Browsing News Entries

What's the Assumption, anyway? A CNA Explainer

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2020 / 03:30 am (CNA).- On Aug. 15, Catholics around the world mark the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, commemorating the end of her earthly life and assumption into Heaven.

But while the feast day is a relatively new one, the history of the holiday – and the mystery behind it – has its roots in the earliest centuries of Christian belief.

The Catholic Church teaches that when Mary ended her earthly life, God assumed her, body and soul into heaven.

The dogma of the Assumption of Mary – also called the “Dormition of Mary” in the Eastern Churches – has its roots in the early centuries of the Church.

While a site outside of Jerusalem was recognized as the tomb of Mary, the earliest Christians maintained that “no one was there,” theologian and EWTN senior contributor Matthew Bunson told CNA.

According to St. John of Damascus, the Roman emperor Marcian requested the body of Mary, Mother of God at the Council of Chalcedon, in 451.

St. Juvenal, who was Bishop of Jerusalem told the emperor “that Mary died in the presence of all the Apostles, but that her tomb, when opened upon the request of St. Thomas, was found empty; wherefrom the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven,” the saint recorded.

By the 8th century, around the time of Pope Adrian, the Church began to change its terminology, renaming the feast day of the Memorial of Mary to the Assumption of Mary, Bunson noted.  

The belief in the Assumption of Mary was a widely-held tradition, and a frequent meditation in the writings of saints throughout the centuries. However it was not defined officially until the past century.

In 1950, Pope Pius XII made an infallible, ex-cathedra statement in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus deus officially defining the dogma of the Assumption.

“By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory,” the pope wrote.

The decree was seen as the formalizing of long-held Christian teaching.

“We have throughout the history of the Church an almost universal attestation of this,” Bunson said of the Assumption.

“We have this thread that runs throughout the whole of the history of the Church in support of the dogma. That’s significant because it supports the tradition of the Church, but it also supports a coming to a deeper understanding of the teachings of the Church of how we rely upon the reflections of some of the greatest minds of our Church.”

What’s also notable about the dogma, he added, is that it “uses the passive tense,” emphasizing that Mary did not ascend into heaven on her own power, as Christ did, but was raised into heaven by God’s grace.

Today, the Feast of the Assumption is marked as a major feast day and a public holiday in many countries. In most countries, including the United States, it is a Holy Day of Obligation.

Bunson explained that on major feast days, it’s fitting to mark the significance of the feast as especially vital by emphasizing the necessity of celebrating the Eucharist that day.

“What is more fitting than on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother to, once again, focus on her Son, on the Eucharist?” he asked.

 

A version of this article was originally published on CNA Aug. 15, 2017.

USCCB: Staffer ‘elated’ by Harris VP pick spoke in ‘personal capacity’

CNA Staff, Aug 14, 2020 / 06:40 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Friday that a staff member who recently said she was “elated” by the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s presidential running mate was not speaking on behalf of the conference.

“At no point are Conference staff authorized to speak on behalf of the bishops in support of, or in opposition to, candidates for elected office,” said James Rogers, chief communications officer for the bishops’ conference.

“Because the comments in question may have led to confusion among the faithful, let me be clear,” he said in an Aug. 14 statement. “As Catholics, we are each called to evaluate candidates for public office by how closely their policies align with Gospel principles, as expressed by the U.S. bishops in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Rogers did not address the substance of the staff member’s comment.

His statement coincided with a “clarification” by Catholic News Service (CNS), the official news service of the U.S. bishops’ conference, which said that Donna Grimes, associate director of African American affairs in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, was giving a personal reaction as a Black Catholic to Harris’ selection in its Aug. 12 article.

CNS said that Grimes was not asked to represent the bishops’ conference in her comments, and that she did not present herself as representing the conference.

Grimes was identified by her position at the bishops’ conference in the CNS article, and remained identified in that way after CNS issued its clarification.

She told the agency that Harris was not her first pick as Biden’s running mate, but is “really deserving and brings a lot to the table.”

“I was so elated. We, the community, need good news, and this was just wonderful,” Grimes told CNS of her reaction to the announcement of Harris. She said she believes Biden and Harris will offer “policy that is favorable to people on the margins” and said she hopes that if elected, they will address health care reform and voting-rights issues.

Grimes did not mention the issues on which Biden and Harris have clashed with U.S. bishops, among them conscience protections in healthcare policy, same-sex marriage, and, most frequently, abortion. Biden and Harris have pledged to restore currently restricted federal funding for abortion. Harris has previously pledged to use federal law to restrict state laws regulating or limiting abortion.

Pope Francis has called abortion “inhuman eugenics,” urged its eradication, and said that the unborn are among those marginalized on the “existential peripheries,” for whom the Church must have special care.

Nor did Grimes mention Harris’ 2018 questioning of a judicial nominee over his membership of the Knights of Columbus. In questions about the impartiality of nominee Brian Buescher, Harris asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

The senator’s remarks were subsequently criticized as anti-Catholic and one U.S. bishop, Archbishop Charles Chaput, characterized them as “bigoted.”

Both Biden and President Donald Trump have been criticized by the U.S. bishops’ conference, with Trump frequently facing criticism for his immigration policies, use of the federal death penalty, and cuts to social safety nets.

Last year, USCCB spokeswoman Judy Keane left the bishops’ conference after media reports said that she had tweeted in support of President Trump or in opposition to Democrats from her personal Twitter account.

Among Keane’s tweets was one that criticized Harris. Responding to a news story saying that Harris, then running for president, promised to raise teacher salaries, Keane wrote “She’ll be promising all kinds of things to get elected. Then she’ll raise taxes so hard-working Americans have to pay for it all. No thanks.”

After Keane’s tweets first emerged into the spotlight, the spokeswoman was placed on leave, and shortly thereafter left the bishops’ conference. The conference did not issue a clarification on Keane’s comments. Nor did it say whether she was fired or left voluntarily.

CNA reported Aug. 13 that a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops’ conference had said, “The Conference is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that does not endorse or oppose specific candidates for office. Comments by individual Conference employees are not necessarily a reflection of the Conference’s official position.”

CNA has asked the conference for its employee guidelines on political speech, but the conference has not yet provided it.

 

Portland street evangelist: More Bibles ‘prayed with’ than burned at protests

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 05:05 pm (CNA).- A Portland street evangelist whose Bibles were burned in an Aug. 1 street protest says although he is disappointed that some of the Bibles he distributed were destroyed, he believes the positive impact of his ministry outweighs the negative actions of a few protestors.

Alan Summerhill, an Evangelical Christian, told CNA he has been giving out free Bibles out of his truck in cities across the Pacific Northwest ever since his retirement three and a half years ago. He said he typically buys cases of Bibles, for about a dollar per book, to give away.

He told CNA his evangelistic mission has brought him to cities throughout the US, but his main focus is the Portland, Oregon area. In addition to giving out Bibles, Summerhill said he also prays outside the local Planned Parenthood several days a week.

When the protests started in Portland around May 28, Alan was on the road. When he got back, he said he was somewhat reticent to approach the protests, but ultimately decided to go because of the evangelistic opportunity. So he parked his truck near the federal courthouse, the epicenter of most of the protest activity.

The Portland protests often have taken the form of crowds of hundreds of masked people protesting, ostensibly, against racism, police brutality, and fascism.

Summerhill, who told CNA he is “nearly 60,” said that he gave away dozens of free Bibles to street protestors in Portland during the week leading up to Aug. 1— most of which were surprisingly well-received.

"When I'm out, I find a great hunger and desire for the Word," he said.

He said between the night of Sunday, July 26 and the following Friday, he gave out 68 Bibles in downtown Portland, all "to people who appeared to eagerly want them."

But in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, masked protestors burned two Bibles, along with several American flags, in a bonfire in the street during the protest outside the federal courthouse.

Summerhill did not witness his Bibles being burned, but he says when he saw a video posted online of the burnings, there was no mistaking the red-and-white cover of the New King James Version (NKJV) Bibles that he distributes.

While reports of the incident from both local sources and national media, mentioned “a truck” giving out free Bibles that night, Summerhill said no one had contacted him to ask if he had provided the Bibles until he was reached by CNA.

Some media outlets reported "stacks" of Bibles burned in the streets on Aug. 1, which Summerhill and other sources have confirmed was not accurate. Summerhill "unequivocally" denied that any of his Bibles were ever unsecured, stolen, or taken in "stacks" to be burned.

Despite his disappointment that a few protestors showed such disrespect for the Bibles he gave out, Summerhill is optimistic that the many Bibles he distributed will make an impact, even if the burned ones are gone.

“I see maybe two being burned after a week where almost 70 were distributed. Many more were prayed with. Many, many more welcomed us. The Gospel is proclaimed,” Summerhill said in an Aug. 1 tweet.

“Jesus is declared. There remains an unreported story.”

Summerhill told CNA that in his ministry, he has given out about 450 Bibles this year, and talked and prayed with many passersby. He stressed that his ministry is not about him or his own fame and recognition, but rather about meeting people where they are and ministering to them.

Every time he hands out a free Bible, Summerhill says he asks the recipient to read it and be willing to discuss it with him if they see him again. He says nearly everyone agrees to those conditions.

Summerhill said his ministry is different than what most people might think of when they envision Evangelical street ministry. He does not carry a bullhorn, does not preach, and he does not aggressively push his Bibles on passersby, he said.

Instead, he merely puts up his “Free Bibles” sign and waits for people to approach him, he said.

“And I've averaged about a Bible an hour over the past three years," of being outside with the sign, he said.

Handing out Bibles at the Portland protests was not without danger, he said.

Federal agents responding to the protests in Portland have garnered criticism for using tear gas and other forceful methods against protesters. Summerhill himself says he was, at one point, caught in a tear gas assault as federal agents attempted to break up the protests.

Some of the protests have been accompanied by riots and looting. In addition to extensive property damage in the city’s downtown, there have been occasional incidents of violence within or adjacent to the protests, including shootings and stabbings.

Despite this, Summerhill says he has observed mostly peaceful demonstrations in the downtown area where he and a mission partner have worked to spread the Gospel.

"The three days I was there...I would say we were welcomed. The narrative of what's going on seems to be fueled by people with a political agenda," he opined.

Summerhill pointed out that neither he, nor anyone else who has yet publicly come forward, knows who exactly it was who burned the Bibles on Aug. 1. He said he thinks it could easily have been provocateurs from either side of the political divide.

"I have every reason to wonder who was burning the Bibles. No one has claimed responsibility, no one has identified anybody,” he said.

Summerhill noted that he sees God among many Black Lives Matters protestors. As a firsthand observer of the protests, he said the widespread perception of the protestors as a monolithic, Godless, and Marxist movement is inaccurate.

He added that he does not support the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, an organization that promotes LGBT ideology and is often an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests.

But Summerhill said he personally has met many protestors, both in Portland and Seattle, who told him they identify as Christian.

"It is flat wrong to say that there is no Christian element in what is going on in Portland," he said.

"The answer to our problems is Jesus Christ. And if we can't figure that out, we might as well throw in the towel.”

 

Nebraska governor to sign D&E abortion ban into law

Denver Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 04:14 pm (CNA).- Governor Pete Ricketts of Nebraska is set to sign a ban on dilation and evacuation abortions into law at a ceremony on Saturday, after the bill passed the state legislature on Thursday.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference, one of the main organizations supporting the legislation, announced that the signing would take place outside on the steps of the state capitol at 11am Aug. 15. Attendees are asked to wear a mask.

Lauren Garcia, communication specialist for the NCC, told CNA that they are happy that Ricketts is signing the bill into law right away, and in a public setting, because only five days remain in the current legislative session.

"He could have done something private, and we just hear about [the signing] later, but we wanted to make this a celebration, because this is the most significant pro-life legislation that's been passed since our 20-week ban ten years ago," Garcia told CNA.

"Even though we're in the midst of COVID and all that, we thought it would be a good opportunity for people to come out to an outside event, with plenty of safe social distance, just to celebrate this big accomplishment."

D&E abortions, commonly known as dismemberment abortions, are typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy and result in the dismemberment of an unborn child.

State Sen. Suzanne Geist (District 25-Lincoln) introduced LB814 in January. Twenty-one state senators joined the legislation as co-sponsors upon its introduction, with another four joining later.

Ricketts came out in strong support of the measure upon its introduction.

“This barbaric procedure literally rips apart a preborn child, piece by piece, to destroy the life of the baby. I urge Senators to act quickly to end this horrendous form of abortion,” Ricketts said.

“Protecting the dignity of life has been, is, and will remain a core value of what it means to be a Nebraskan. I invite you to join us in affirming the preciousness of unborn life and in opposing the brutal practices used to end it,” he said.

The bill specifically bans the use of clamps, forceps, or similar instruments in abortion procedures.

NCC, Nebraska Family Alliance, and Nebraska Right to Life are co-hosting the signing event. Geist, the sponsor of the legislation, is also expected to be in attendance at the signing.

The measure passed its first vote in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature Aug. 5 by a 34-9 vote. Multiple senators attempted to filibuster the bill at that point, but the bill earned the 33 votes necessary to break the filibuster as Geist moved to invoke cloture.

On Aug. 13, the final vote stood at 33-8. State Sen. Carol Blood (3-Bellevue) abstained from voting after saying she had concerns that the ban would not apply if suction is used to remove pieces of a fetus, nor would it apply if the fetus was killed before being removed, a process that Blood called equally horrific, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, to date 11 states have passed bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, though because of courts blocking the measures, the bans in two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, are currently in effect; and an appeals court recently ruled to allow Arkansas’ D&E ban to come into effect Aug. 28.

Opponents of the Nebraska bill have maintained that courts will likely deem the legislation unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.

However, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson recently released an opinion, at the request of State Sen. Ernie Chambers, concluding that LB814 is "likely constitutional” because it “does not appear that it will impose a substantial obstacle on abortion access in Nebraska.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Aug. 7 to reinstate the 2017 Arkansas laws. They can take effect Aug. 28, although they may still face legal challenges. The laws include a ban on abortions based solely on the sex of the baby, and two regulations on the preservation and disposal of tissue from aborted babies, as well as legislation prohibiting D&E abortions.

A district judge had blocked the rules following a legal challenge from the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of a local abortion doctor.

A federal judge during July 2019 blocked Indiana’s D&E ban from taking effect.

Over 100 Democratic politicians call for platform changes to welcome pro-lifers

Washington D.C., Aug 14, 2020 / 03:49 pm (CNA).- More than 100 Democratic politicians have sent a letter to the party’s Platform Committee, calling for changes in the platform to accept pro-life Democrats and assure them that their view will be respected.

“In the U.S., pro-life Democrats have been a critical part of the coalition to expand voting rights, improve health care, and pass criminal justice reform,” the letter said. “These accomplishments would not have been possible if the Democratic Party had in place a litmus test on abortion.”

The letter voiced concern that the party’s leaders and official platform have moved to an extreme position on abortion in the last two decades, sending a message to Democrats that they do not belong in the party unless they oppose all limits on abortion.

This view fails to acknowledge that one in three Democrats are pro-life, the letter stressed, adding that as a party which prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, the Democrats must welcome and respect it’s 21 million pro-life members.

Dated August 14, the letter was signed by 105 elected Democratic politicians, both current and retired. Signatories include local officials and state legislators, as well as nine members of Congress and three governors.

Among the signatories were Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who signed a “heartbeat bill” into law earlier in 2019, and U.S. Senator Katrina Jackson, who authored the Louisiana law on abortion clinic admitting privileges that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year.

Another signatory was U.S. Senator Mike Gabbard of Hawaii, father of U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, whose support for limiting abortion in the third trimester put her in stark contrast with most of the other candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

According to Democrats for Life of America, dozens of additional politicians said they quietly supported the letter but feared the repercussions of signing it.

The letter’s signers said they worried about a type of pro-abortion litmus test that has been created within the Democratic Party.

They suggested that pro-abortion language within the party’s platform is radical and out-of-touch with the views of Americans.

While prominent party leaders have endorsed legal abortion on-demand at any time in a pregnancy, polls indicate that 79% of Americans oppose this view, they said.

They noted that the 2016 Democratic Platform endorses taxpayer funding for abortion, both in the U.S. and in developing nations – ideas that the majority of Americans reject.

The signers warned that the rigid pro-abortion views of the party’s leaders are driving voters away.

“In 389 out of 435 Congressional districts, a majority of voters support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks,” they said. “When Democratic leaders support late-term abortion, they push many voters into the arms of the Republican Party. Many people holding pro-life views are single-issue voters.”

The letter called on the party to reintroduce language into the platform recognizing a diversity of views on abortion and pledging that the consciences of all party members will be respected.

In the year 2000, the Democratic platform included such language in regards to abortion, saying, “We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.” As late as 2004, the platform called for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

By 2016, however, the conscience language had been dropped from the platform and the word “rare” was no longer used alongside repeated calls to make abortion “safe and legal.”

Pro-life advocates both within and outside of the Democratic Party have objected to these changes, arguing that the party has become increasingly extreme on the issue.

Joe Biden’s presumptive nomination as the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his selection of Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, have prompted further concerns.

Last year, Biden shifted his position on the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions. After voting for the original amendment in 1976 and supporting it for decades, Biden announced last summer that he opposed the Hyde Amendment. His change in position came amid criticism from other Democratic candidates, particularly Harris.

Harris has been prominent in pushing to limit the operations of pro-life groups.

As California attorney general, she drew criticism from the state Catholic conference by sponsoring a bill compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise “free or low-cost” abortions to their clients. That law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018.

While seeking the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Harris proposed a plan that would bar some states from changing their abortion laws without federal approval.

As a senator, she has also co-sponsored legislation to bar any government from imposing a wide variety of limitations on abortion.

CDC report finds one in four young adults contemplate suicide

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 02:05 pm (CNA).- Over a quarter of young adults aged 18-24 have seriously contemplated suicide over the last month, a new Centers for Disease Control survey has found. 

The report, titled “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020” was published on August 14. The data was collected from adults across the United States in late June. 

Tommy Tighe, a marriage and family counselor and host of the Catholic mental health podcast “Saint Dymphna’s Playbook,” told CNA that he found the data to be “really heartbreaking, though expected.” 

After months of extended lockdowns across the country, and anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic, Tighe said “our baseline level of anxiety has gone up during this experience.” 

“Trying to live with this higher baseline has certainly impacted our ability to tolerate frustration and stress.”

According to the CDC, “40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).”

Those figures rose considerably among certain groups. Nearly three out of four adults aged 18-24 and slightly more than half of adults aged 25-44 reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom” in the survey. Among Hispanics, 52.1% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental health symptom related to the pandemic, as well as two-thirds of respondents who had less than a high school diploma. 

Fifty-four percent of essential workers surveyed said they had experienced at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom related to COVID-19. 

Of all respondents, 10.7% reported “having seriously considered suicide” in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. That number rose to 25.5% of respondents aged 18-24, to 18.6% of Hispanic respondents, and to 15.1% of non-Hispanic black respondents. Just over 30% of “self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults” and 21.7% of self-reported essential workers said that they too had seriously considered suicide in the last month. 

Tighe said the bleak figures reflected a lack of mental health awareness in wider culture and a lack of access to services.

“Mental health symptoms and healthy coping skills to combat those symptoms are ignored by our culture at large, and thus many of us are left utterly unprepared for dealing with an experience of this magnitude,” he said. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic, schools of all levels throughout the country closed to in-person instruction. For graduating seniors at colleges and universities--most of whom are in the 18-24 age group--this meant that their final semester of college was spent online. Many students had their jobs or internships canceled due to the unstable economic effects of the pandemic. 

James Marafino, a Catholic social worker in the Washington, DC area, told CNA that these factors have certainly played a role in the feelings reported by 18-24 year olds.

“This is the age when [young adults] are going to college and finding employment,” Marafino told CNA. “This is one of their first experiences with independent living, and they are managing a pandemic most likely on their own.”

“This would cause significant mental/emotional distress. They may feel their lives are on hold or delayed, and do not know when they can ‘resume their lives,’” he said. 

Sophia Swinford, the founder of Catholic Mental Health, a nonprofit organization aiming to increase awareness and access to mental health resources for Catholics, told CNA that she is concerned that the stigma surrounding suicide prevents people, particularly those of a religious faith, from getting help. 

“It’s ironic--‘stigma’ comes from a word that refers to a mark or brand on a slave, and it is from this word that we get ‘stigmata,’” said Swinford. “So maybe it is precisely the ‘stigma’ around these people’s sufferings that should make it clear we are called to serve Christ in them.” 

Swinford called the rates of suicide and suicidal idelation a “social failure.” 

“We as a society have failed those individuals, and it’s about time we start to give serious discernment to how we can change that,” she said. 

Both Tighe and Marafino told CNA that they believe it is important to reach out to one another during this time. 

“We need to talk to each other and see how people are doing,” said Marafino. “We live in a time when we have technology to be in consistent contact with each other.” 

Spirituality plays a role in mental health as well. 

People need to “pray for each other like everything depends on it,” said Tighe. He also suggested that people facing stress set aside time to “pause, breathe, pray, medidate,” and to take note of their feelings without judgment. 

Tighe suggested taking a break from media and other settings that heighten anxiety is also important. 

“Remember to take breaks from upsetting content,” Tighe added.

“Social media really works against us. If we’re trying to work on our anxiety, we need to pay attention to the impact it is having on us and take breaks when needed.”

Arlington diocese launches online-only Catholic school

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 14, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Arlington is launching a new virtual school for families who want a Catholic education but are worried about sending their children back to in-person classes this September as the country still comes to grips with the coronavirus pandemic. 

The St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School was announced on August 12, in a press release from the Diocese of Arlington. The school, which is named after the patron saint of the internet, aims to be fully operational on September 8. 

Like most Catholic schools, St. Isidore of Seville will have Mass every week, along with daily prayer and preparation for the reception of sacraments. Unlike most Catholic schools, St. Isidore will have no in-person instruction, by design. 

The school will serve students in kindergarten through grade eight, and class sizes will be capped at 23 people.

“We hope this new virtual school provides parents concerned about their children returning to the classroom an option they are confident will meet the high standard of excellence they have come to expect throughout our schools,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington in a statement announcing the school. 

Students at St. Isidore will be taught from the same curriculum as their brick-and-mortar peers in the diocese. 

Burbidge praised the “great creativity and flexibility” among the Catholic school community in the diocese “that has made this new endeavor a reality.” 

Dr. Joseph Vorbach, the Superintendent for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Arlignton, told CNA that the school came about with the assistance of Burbidge during the planning process for re-opening. All of the diocese’s schools will have in-person instruction this coming school year, although some will do a hybrid model of in-person and e-learning. 

Vorbach said there was a realization “that there may be some families who are committed to Catholic education, but not ready to have their child go back into the brick and mortar school building,” as well as teachers who are at increased risk of coronavirus due to various factors.

“It started to coalesce around the idea that, ‘maybe we could develop a virtual school,’” Vorbach told CNA. This virtual school would be able to address both the needs of families, as well as “take advantage of the talents of teachers who find themselves in that situation.” 

Burbidge, he said, was “very supportive,” and that much work was done very quickly to get things ready before the school was announced. 

Tuition is set at $6,000 per year before financial aid--lower than the Catholic rate for diocesan elementary schools--and Catholic families with children at other Catholic schools in the diocese who move their children to St. Isidore will be able to apply their current financial aid discounts. Rebates will also be available if the school’s max capacity of 207 is reached. 

Tuition for other Catholic schools in the diocese varies school-to-school and depends on the number of children sent by a family, and if the family is Catholic and lives within the parish; it can be as high as $11,000 under some circumstances, and as low as $6,200 in others.

The first priority for enrollment at St. Isidore’s will be local Catholic families who were attending other schools in the diocese, said Vorbach. After diocesan families have registered, consideration will be given to those from outside the diocese who are interested in a virtual Catholic learning environment. Standard tuition is the same for all families.

Families who enroll at St. Isidore are committing for virtual education for the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year, said Vorbach. However, their child’s slot at their previous diocesan school will be reserved for the 2021-2022 academic year if they wish to return to in-person instruction in the following Autumn. 

Vorbach told CNA that the diocese had conducted a series of surveys on virtual learning during the last semester to identify the best practices for a potential hybrid or all-online model for the coming school year. 

“The St. Isidore model is the beneficiary of everything that was learned during the spring, both in terms of technical components, as well as pedagogical components, and so on,” said Vorbach. 

“In the past, you couldn't say necessarily that anybody or any school had really tried to work through ‘What's the Catholic identity of a virtual school look like, and how do you do that?’’ Vorbach told CNA. 

The challenges of running a virtual Catholic school were unprecedented, said Vorbach. He told CNA he was not sure if there is any other entirely-virtual Catholic school in the country, except the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School (ADOM-VCS). That school was founded in 2013. 

Unlike St. Isidore of Seville, which is for full-time online students in elementary and middle school grades, ADOM-VCS offers both full-time online programs as well as “blended learning” programs with archdiocesan schools for all grades.   

“In the spring, through the creative efforts of a lot of teachers and administrators, we saw all kinds of ways in which the Catholic identity and the particular Catholic identity of different parish schools was highlighted, reinforced, strengthened,” he said. 

While St. Isidore of Seville Virtual School is set to go for the coming school year, Vorbach told CNA that he is not sure if the school will continue on for years to come. 

“We want to evaluate the service--the niche, if you will--that this school provides,” said Vorbach. 

If things go smoothly, and it makes financial sense to continue the school in the future, “we can really seriously look at it as a component of a thorough, flourishing Catholic education going forward in the future,” he said. 

US Senator asks attorney general to fight anti-Catholic vandalism

CNA Staff, Aug 13, 2020 / 04:09 pm (CNA).- A United States senator has asked the nation’s attorney general to intensify efforts to fight the vandalism that has been carried out against Catholic places and statues throughout the country in recent months.

“The trend of desecrating Catholic spaces and property must stop,” U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote in an August 11 letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“Catholics are under attack in America,” he said, referencing “at least nineteen attacks on Catholic churches, statues, businesses, cemeteries, parishioners, and personnel” since May.

In recent weeks, several Catholic churches have faced attacks and acts desecration. Last month, church in Ocala, Florida was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass. A California mission founded by St. Junipero Serra was also burned in a fire and is being investigated as an arson case, while several statues of Serra have also been pulled down.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was beheaded at a parish in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In Boston, a statue of Mary was set on fire, and in Brooklyn, a statue was tagged with the word “IDOL” in black spray paint.

Other states, including Colorado and Missouri, have seen similar acts of vandalism. While some attacks on statues, most notably in California, have been committed in public by large groups with clear political affiliations, the perpetrators of other acts have not been identified, nor have motives been determined.

“These crimes span from coast to coast and show no sign of ending,” Senator Kennedy said, noting that minority groups including Middle Eastern Christians who have fled their homelands to escape persecution have also been targeted.

“Christians have historically been and continue to be one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world,” the senator said. “To escape religious oppression, the pilgrims took a treacherous journey across the Atlantic to America, setting the stage for the eventual creation of the United States.”

America’s Founding Fathers believed religious liberty to be essential to the new nation, securing it with the First Amendment’s protections, Kennedy said. “We cannot let a handful of people destroy this fundamental right.”

He asked Attorney General Barr to work actively to prosecute those responsible for recent acts of desecration, as well as to prevent further vandalism.

“I am confident you will act swiftly and carefully in bringing an end to this injustice,” the senator concluded.

Pro-life Democrats hail Minnesota primary win

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- One of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress won a primary victory in Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District on Tuesday.

In contrast to the struggles faced by pro-life Democrat candidates in other parts of the country, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) defeated two primary challengers in the August 11 election, garnering 75% of the vote. He will face Republican Michelle Fischbach, who is the state’s former lieutenant governor, in the general election in November. 

Peterson, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, narrowly won reelection in 2018 by a vote of 52 to 48 percent. The 7th District has been targeted by Republican campaigners, and is currently labeled a toss-up for November. The district voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. 

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) President Kristen Day told CNA that her organization was “delighted” at Peterson’s win.

“He is an unusual species: a Democratic representative in a deep red district that overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016. He has an impressive record representing his constituents, especially farmers,” said Day. 

Day pointed to Peterson’s victory as proof that “pro-life Democrats are on the rise,” and are “tired of being silenced, marginalized, and pressured to violate our conscience on a matter of human rights.” She said that DFLA is working to find candidates on local levels “who feel emboldened to speak out” about abortion. 

“Stopping abortion extremism is urgent,” said Day. “Now is the time to save our Party.” 

Peterson’s victory in the primary comes months after fellow pro-life Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) was defeated in a hotly contested primary battle against challenger Marie Newman in March. Newman made her support for abortion rights the centerpiece of her campaign. 

Peterson and Lipinski were friendly during their time in Congress; in 2015, Peterson gave Lipinski his extra ticket to Pope Francis’ address. With Lipinksi’s primary loss, there are now fewer than five Democrats in Congress who identify as pro-life. 

Day told CNA that she wishes to see the Biden campaign reach out to pro-life Democrats, who she says number 21 million people.

“Vice President Biden, as a Catholic, should be willing to at least ask for our vote,” said Day. “Senator [Kamala] Harris, as a Baptist, should take the lead of her congregation, which encourages its members to ‘engage in meaningful dialogue on abortion with openness and Christian compassion.’” 

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform included, for the first time, a plank advocating for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of taxpayer funding for abortions. 

Biden counted himself among the bipartisan supporters of the Hyde Amendment for over 40 years before switching his view on the issue overnight in June 2019.

USCCB official 'elated' over Harris, Biden's pro-choice VP pick

Denver Newsroom, Aug 13, 2020 / 02:43 pm (CNA).-  

An official at the U.S. bishops’ conference said Thursday that the selection of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s presidential running mate is good news that will offer policies favorable to marginalized people.

“I was so elated. We, the community, need good news, and this was just wonderful,” Donna Toliver Grimes, associate director of African American affairs in the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, told Catholic News Service, the official news service of the U.S. bishops’ conference, on Wednesday.

Grimes told CNS that Harris “wasn’t my top candidate in the primaries, and she wasn’t my top pick for vice president,” adding “she’s really deserving and brings a lot to the table.”

Mentioning her belief that Biden and Harris will offer “policy that is favorable to people on the margins,” Grimes said she expects Biden “would put good people in his Cabinet, who would not damage the agencies, or ignore the mission.”

Grimes, who was identified in the report by her USCCB position, also mentioned to CNS her hope that, if elected, Biden would address health care reform and voting-rights issues.

A spokesperson for the U.S. bishops’ conference told CNA Aug. 13 that “The Conference is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization that does not endorse or oppose specific candidates for office. Comments by individual Conference employees are not necessarily a reflection of the Conference’s official position.”

Grimes did not mention the issues on which Biden and Harris have clashed with U.S. bishops, among them conscience protections in healthcare policy, same-sex marriage, and, most frequently, abortion. Biden and Harris have pledged to restore currently restricted federal funding for abortion. Harris has previously pledged to use federal law to restrict state laws regulating or limiting abortion.

Pope Francis has called abortion “inhuman eugenics,” urged its eradication, and said that the unborn are among those marginalized on the “existential peripheries,” for whom the Church must have special care.

Nor did Grimes mention Harris’ 2018 questioning of a judicial nominee over his membership of the Knights of Columbus. In questions about the impartiality of nominee Brian Buescher, Harris asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and were against “marriage equality” when he joined.

The senator’s remarks were subsequently criticized as anti-Catholic and one U.S. bishop, Archbishop Charles Chaput, characterized them as “bigoted.”

Both Biden and President Donald Trump have been criticized by the U.S. bishops’ conference, with Trump frequently facing criticism for his immigration policies, use of the federal death penalty, and cuts to social safety nets.

Last year, USCCB spokeswoman Judy Keane left the bishops’ conference after media reports said that she had tweeted in support of President Trump or in opposition to Democrats.

Among Keane’s tweets was one that criticized Harris. Responding to a news story saying that Harris, then running for president, promised to raise teacher salaries, Keane wrote “She’ll be promising all kinds of things to get elected. Then she’ll raise taxes so hard-working Americans have to pay for it all. No thanks.”

After Keane’s tweets first emerged into the spotlight, the spokeswoman was placed on leave, and shortly thereafter left the bishops’ conference. The conference has not said whether she was fired or left voluntarily.

USCCB communications director James Rogers told the Washington Post at the time that “The bishops, not staff, set the conference’s federal policy positions.”

“We should be mindful not to create confusion as to where the bishops might be on any particular federal policy issue. The conference is nonpartisan and does not endorse political candidates. We take this very seriously.”

CNA asked the conference to provide its employee guidelines on political speech, but the conference has not yet done so.