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What Catholics should know about brain death 

Chaikom/Shutterstock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Catholics should make of this

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

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

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

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

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

What brain death is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What changes have been proposed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Catholic Church has said about brain death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Catholics should care about the proposed UDDA changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'It's really important'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Cleanse our land': U.S. bishops call for prayer, action to end racism after Chauvin verdict

CHOOGKY/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Bishops across the United States on Tuesday and Wednesday responded to the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the trial for the murder of George Floyd.

Two chairs of committees at the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) issued a joint statement on Tuesday evening, after a jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

“The death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the deep need to see the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed,” read a statement by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the USCCB’s anti-racism committee, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB’s domestic justice and human development committee.

“Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred,” the bishops said.

The trial of Derek Chauvin began on March 8. He was arrested on May 29, 2020, and charged with third-degree murder for the killing of George Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man.

Chauvin and three other police officers held Floyd in custody on the evening of May 25, in Minneapolis, after Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby store. Video taken by bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground. Floyd was audibly gasping and moaning, and complaining that he could not breathe; toward the end of the video, he appeared unconscious.

After an ambulance arrived and transported Floyd to the hospital, he was declared dead. The killing sparked mass protests and riots around the United States against racism and police brutality.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, joined by bishops of the five other Minnesota dioceses, called for civility and prayer on Tuesday afternoon before the verdict was announced.

In the wake of Tuesday’s verdict, the first African-American cardinal called for Catholics to fight racism without violence.

“As the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us and the life example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us, it is the virtue of charity, non-violence, prayer, and working together that moves us toward reconciliation and true healing from trauma we have experienced,” stated Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“May we choose to respond with civility and respect for the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, as we continue the work of rooting out all injustices and systemic racism in our society,” Cardinal Gregory stated.

U.S. bishops called for prayer and action to end racism. “Let us pray that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines,” Bishop Fabre and Archbishop Coakley stated.

“Let us not lose the opportunity to pray that the Holy Spirit falls like a flood on our land again, as at Pentecost, providing us with spiritual, emotional, and physical healing, as well as new ways to teach, preach, and model the Gospel message in how we treat each other,” the bishops said.

The archbishop of Baltimore, where racial tensions and riots flared in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, said that the verdict should prompt Catholics to fight racism.

“As citizens, we must insist on the elimination of all forms of racism in our societal structures. Let us take personal responsibility in overcoming racism, prejudice, and other injustices,” said Archbishop William Lori.

Other bishops said that police officers must be held accountable for their actions.

“When officers fail to live up to their responsibilities, they should be held accountable, as it respects the victims of their actions as well as the reputation of their fellow officers,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia stated.

Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, called the verdict “a long overdue result that finally brings justice for a Black victim of a brutal killing by police.”

“There are many other families who are longing for this kind of justice and recognition of the worth of the lives of their loved ones; we must work to make this verdict the norm rather than the exception,” he said.

The archbishop of Philadelphia recounted the “overwhelming” grief that followed Floyd’s death, and decried “the mortal sin of racism.”

“I pray that the Holy Spirit stirs up a desire in our hearts to look for solutions to the problems we encounter,” Archbishop Nelson Perez stated on Tuesday.

The USCCB vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, said that “social injustices still exist in our country and that together we must peacefully rebuild what hatred and frustration has torn down.”

Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis stated on Tuesday that "Mr. Floyd’s family said they want peace and do not want to see any further violence."

"Racism is not a thing of the past and we all must continue to work and pray that the God-given dignity of all people, especially those in our country whose voices have not been heard adequately, will be respected," he said.

This story was updated on April 21.

Fargo diocese investigating vandalism outside cathedral

Cathedral of St. Mary, Fargo, North Dakota / Cathedral of St. Mary

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Fargo and the Fargo Police Department are investigating an incident of vandalism outside the cathedral last weekend.

A statue of Jesus in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo was defaced with black paint on its face. The diocese said it did not know exactly when the vandalism occurred overnight between Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17. 

By Monday, the paint had been removed, however. The diocese said it did not know who removed the paint, and would look for any permanent damage done to the statue. 

The marble statue was originally sent to the cathedral from a parish in Cincinnati which had closed. The Diocese of Fargo installed the statue outside of St. Mary’s Cathedral in May 2018. 

A spokesperson for the diocese told the local news station KVLY that the diocese would be praying for the person who committed the vandalism, hoping that he or she would “someday have an encounter with the face of Christ themselves.”

This is the second act of vandalism at a Catholic church in the Fargo area in recent years. In 2018, a statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in South Fargo. 

The incident follows a series of acts of vandalism and arson at U.S. Catholic churches last year, which has continued into 2021.

In January, someone attempted arson at the cathedral of the Diocese of Toledo, painting the message “Jesus is Black” on the outside wall and causing an estimated $5,000 in damage.

Other churches and statues were targeted and defaced throughout 2020, including numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra in California which were torn down or vandalized. In Brooklyn, a man toppled a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside a church; the Knights of Columbus donated $10,000 for a replacement statue, which was installed on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

A historic mission church in California was destroyed by fire in a suspected case of arson, another church in Florida was set on fire with parishioners inside, and St. Mary’s basilica in Minneapolis was damaged by fire.

Senator Joe Kennedy (R-La.) wrote Attorney General William Barr in August, asking the Justice Department to prosecute acts of church vandalism and increase its prevention efforts. 

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) also wrote to Barr, asking him to respond to the targeting of churches.

“Since June, there have been nearly a dozen reported attacks on Catholic churches around the nation. These disturbing attacks range from arson to the beheading of a statue of the Virgin Mary,” he wrote. 

“I find these attacks to be a disturbing trend, happening in multiple areas across the nation, including within my own congressional district,” he said.

Connecticut legislature considers ending religious exemptions for vaccines

Seasontime/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 20:41 pm (CNA).

The Connecticut House of Representatives has advanced a bill to end the religious exemption from childhood vaccine requirements, beginning in 2022.

 

The bill to end the religious exemption for childhood vaccines advanced by a bipartisan vote of 90-53. It has the support of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont but still needs to pass the state Senate.

 

Connecticut’s Catholic bishops took no position on a similar bill in 2020, but stressed the importance of vaccines, the need for sound public health policy, and the need to scrutinize any attempt to remove religious exemptions.

 

About 7,600 K-12 students now have religious exemptions from the state’s vaccination requirements. The bill was amended to ensure it would not apply to any of the several thousand K-12 students with a current religious exemption. Some critics have questioned what would happen to the 683 children in pre-K and daycare who currently have exemptions.

 

There has been an increase in the number of requests for religious exemption from childhood vaccinations. In as many as 100 schools, vaccination rates have fallen below 95%. Public health officials stress the importance of high vaccination rates to protect against outbreaks.

 

State officials in April said an unvaccinated child from Fairfield County contracted measles on an international trip.

 

One backer of legislation to remove the exemption, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat who chairs the Public Health Committee, said “vaccine hesitancy is becoming a direct and serious threat to the public health” and demands a “proactive approach.”

 

Steinberg said “efforts by health care professionals and educators to educate families about vaccines have been unable to compete with fear instilled by the disinformation net,” NBC Connecticut reports.

 

Commenting on a similar bill in January 2020, before the coronavirus epidemic arrived in the United States, the Catholic bishops of Connecticut recognized conscientious objection to “certain vaccines that use human fetal cell lines,” but said “the use of such vaccines is not immoral according to Church guidance. That is, there is no religious teaching against the use of these vaccines for Catholics.”

 

They referred to the Pontifical Academy for Life’s guidance on public health, vaccinations, and alternatives. At the same time, the bishops stressed the Connecticut Catholic Conference’s stand as “a defender of religious liberty for all.”

 

“In general, the conference maintains that all religious exemptions should be jealously guarded. Any repeal of a religious exemption should be rooted in legitimate, grave public health concerns. The existence of a health risk in the state of Connecticut is a question of fact beyond our expertise at this time,” their January 2020 statement said.

 

CNA sought comment from the Connecticut Catholic Conference but did not receive a response by deadline.

 

Some 45 states have a religious exemption for childhood vaccination requirements. New York, California, Maine, Mississippi and West Virginia have eliminated the exemption. Court challenges to the exemption in five other states have failed.

 

Democratic Rep. Jaime Foster, a backer of the Connecticut bill now under consideration, said disease outbreaks have consequences. A 2018 measles outbreak in New York had financial consequences of $8.4 million, while the median cost of a measles outbreak is $32,000 per case, Foster said.

 

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the law could be challenged in court because the state constitution guarantees the right to a public education. According to Candelora, lawmakers report hearing from parents who face difficulty securing a medical exemption that they are forced to seek a religious exemption. 

 

He objected that the bill is “totally silent” on what to do with students and parents who cannot comply with mandatory vaccination.

 

“There are individuals in our caucus who want to protect those children from being thrown out, but it doesn’t fundamentally address the questions of what we do going forward as a state and how the children who are unable to have public education, how that education is provided to them.”

 

Opponents of the bill testified that it could divide families or force families who cannot afford it to homeschool. Some parents said they would be forced to keep children home because they do not believe they should be vaccinated.

 

While backers of the bill said exemptions put at risk children with compromised immune systems who cannot get a vaccine, Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican, said students have little choice in the matter of their religion.

 

“So throwing those children out of school, it’s not based on their choice, it’s based on the choice of the people in this chamber, people who should know better,” he said, the Associated Press reports.

 

The debate comes after more than a year of the new coronavirus epidemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands and hospitalized many more. The roll-out of vaccines against the COVID-19 virus is hoped to mark a permanent decline in new coronavirus infections.

 

A March 4 letter from the Connecticut Catholic Conference, signed by the state’s leading Catholic bishops, said “people should feel free in good conscience to receive any of the vaccines currently available for the sake of their own health and the common good, which requires the prompt vaccination of as many people as possible.”

 

The bishops cited the guidance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and of the Holy See.

 

“At the same time, the Church continues to advocate for the creation of vaccines that do not rely on cell lines derived, even remotely, from abortion,” Connecticut’s bishops said.

 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last month echoed the Vatican in stating that it is “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines produced using cell lines from aborted fetuses when no alternative is available, but if possible, Catholics ought to choose a vaccine with a more remote connection to abortion.

 

The mRNA vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna have an extremely remote connection to abortion in the testing phase, leading ethicists to judge those vaccines “ethically uncontroversial,” the USCCB said.

 

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a note in December 2020 explaining that “the use of such vaccines does not constitute formal cooperation with the abortion from which the cells used in production of the vaccines derive,” while also urging pharmaceutical companies and governmental health agencies to “produce, approve, distribute and offer ethically acceptable vaccines that do not create problems of conscience for either health care providers or the people to be vaccinated.”

Tennessee House passes bill requiring burial or cremation for aborted babies

Credit: Eleonora_os/Shutterstock.

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 18:46 pm (CNA).

The Tennessee House of Representatives advanced a bill this week that would require medical providers to bury or cremate the bodies of aborted babies.

The bill passed through the House on Monday. It is scheduled for a vote at the state’s Senate on Wednesday. 

Lawmakers and pro-life supporters say the bill would help preserve human dignity.

“It’s not fetal tissue, it’s dismembered children,” said Rep. Robin Smith, according to AP News. 

If passed, HB 1181 would require medical providers to either bury or cremate the remains of a baby who has been aborted. According to the Memphis Flyer, the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Tim Rudd (R) stated that the average burial will cost about $150 and cremation services will cost $350. 

Under the measure, pregnant women would have the right to choose either form of burial as well as select the location, but may choose not to exercise that right. If a woman requests an alternative burial method, she would be required to cover the costs herself. 

Rudd said that while no state funds have been set aside for these costs, many funeral homes and charities have offered to cover these services free of charge. 

Rep. London Lamar (D), who opposes the bill, called it “one of the most offensive pieces of legislation I’ve heard this year,” according to the Memphis Flyer. 

“You are forcing women who have potentially been raped and forcing them to bury or cremate that,” Lamar said.

However, Rudd argued that the bill does “not restrict abortion or have anything to do with abortion; this is post-abortion,” the Memphis Flyer reported.

“The way this is now handled — with the [remains] either thrown in the trash or flushed in the toilet — it is appalling,” said Rudd. “Pets and farms animals are treated with more dignity [in state law] but there’s nothing about the dignity of an unborn child.”

The Tennessee Right to Life group has expressed support for the measure. 

“Pro-abortion activists will oppose this legislation on the false pretense that it creates an obstacle for women, but in fact, their opposition comes from the refusal to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn child and to thereby treat their bodies with dignity and respect,” the group said in a statement. 

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld part of a similar Indiana law requiring aborted babies to be cremated or buried. 

In an unsigned three-page opinion, the Supreme Court cited a previous decision that states have a “legitimate interest in proper disposal of fetal remains.”


Biden administration appeals to keep transgender mandate in place

Transgender flag / flag ink Drop/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 20, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration is appealing to keep in place a mandate that doctors and hospitals provide gender-transition surgeries, regardless of their conscientious beliefs.

On Tuesday, the legal group Becket – which represents Catholic doctors and hospitals in their case against the “transgender mandate” – reported that the administration had filed an appeal to keep the mandate in place.

#BREAKING: The Biden Admin just filed an appeal seeking to force religious doctors and hospitals to perform potentially harmful gender-transition procedures against their conscience and professional medical judgment,” stated Luke Goodrich, VP and senior counsel at Becket, on Twitter on Tuesday.

The Obama administration in 2016 first issued the mandate, interpreting a nondiscrimination provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to require doctors and hospitals to provide gender-transition surgeries upon the referral of a mental health professional.

The mandate did not include exemptions for religion and conscience, thus applying even to doctors and hospitals with conscientious or even medical opposition to performing gender-transition surgeries.

As almost all doctors receive Medicare and Medicaid funds, the mandate as attached to federal funding would apply almost universally, Becket argued.

“The Biden Admin says it can punish doctors and hospitals for ‘sex discrimination’ unless they perform controversial gender-transition procedures,” Goodrich tweeted on Tuesday.

More than 19,000 healthcare professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations filed two lawsuits against the mandate; in December 2016, two federal courts placed an injunction on the mandate.

Two more federal district court judges ruled against the mandate in 2019 and 2021. In January, a judge in North Dakota granted permanent injunctive relief to Catholic doctors, hospitals, clinics, and benefits groups that sued over the mandate.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration appealed that ruling, asking that the mandate stay in effect. “This is bad for patients, doctors, and religious liberty,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich added that “we look forward to another ruling that protects patients, aligns with current medical research, and ensures doctors aren’t forced to violate their religious beliefs and professional medical judgment.”

In another ongoing case against the mandate, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on April 15 sent the case back to a lower court, instructing that the district court decide whether the mandate could be permanently stopped. The North Texas district court had previously granted relief to plaintiffs against the mandate; the Fifth Circuit noted new developments in the matter, including President Biden's executive order redefining "sex" in federal civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Becket represents a coalition of doctors and hospitals – including Catholic doctors, hospitals, and benefits groups – opposed to the mandate.

“The plaintiffs are religious doctors, hospitals, and clinics who joyfully serve ALL patients regardless of sex or gender identity,” Goodrich said. “They also provide millions of dollars in free and low-cost care to the elderly, poor, and underserved--care that is jeopardized by the government’s attempt to punish them with multi-million dollar penalties.”

Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of sex; the Obama administration interpreted that to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy – thus forbidding the denial of abortions and gender-transitioning procedures in health care.

The Trump administration did establish conscience protections for doctors opposed to the mandate in 2020, but a federal court placed an injunction on that rule.

This article was updated on April 21.

Humanist group strips Richard Dawkins of award for questioning gender theory

nito/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 20, 2021 / 17:19 pm (CNA).

The American Humanist Association on Monday withdrew an award from Richard Dawkins for his position against gender theory.

“Richard Dawkins is no longer deserving of being honored by the AHA” an April 19 statement from the American Humanist Association read. The statement noted that Dawkins had won the award in 1996. 

“Dawkins has over the past several years accumulated a history of making statements that use the guise of scientific discourse to demean marginalized groups, an approach antithetical to humanist values,” the statement said. “His latest statement implies that the identities of transgender individuals are fraudulent, while also simultaneously attacking Black identity as one that can be assumed when convenient. His subsequent attempts at clarification are inadequate and convey neither sensitivity nor sincerity.”

The AHA told CNA that its denouncement of Dawkins was because of a tweet in which he compared those with gender dysphoria to Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who posed as a black woman for years. 

“In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white chapter president of NAACP, was vilified for identifying as Black. Some men choose to identify as women, and some women choose to identify as men. You will be vilified if you deny that they literally are what they identify as. Discuss” the tweet read.

Responding to the incident, Richard Budd, Director of Marriage & Family for the Diocese of Lansing told CNA, "In recent months there have been an increasing number of voices, many from unexpected quarters, who are expressing serious misgivings about the 'transgender' lobby's approach to those with gender dysphoria, especially as it affects young people, and also to the wider proposition that our gender is but a social construct, a proposition that more and more people, upon scrutiny, are finding difficult to square with reason and science."

Budd affirmed the inseparability of body and soul as the basis of human nature. 

“As Pope Saint John Paul II said in his encyclical Veritatis splendor, only in reference to the human person in his ‘unified totality,’ that is, as ‘a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit,’ can the specifically human meaning of the body be grasped.”

 

"I think we are ever more realizing the great wisdom of Pope John Paul's prophetic maxim that we should never accept truth without love nor love without truth as one without the other becomes a destructive lie,” Budd said.

St Paul-Minneapolis archbishop calls for healing after Derek Chauvin verdict

People in Minneapolis react after the verdict was read in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021. / Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Apr 20, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis called for peace, reconciliation, and a greater respect for human life after former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

In a statement shortly after the verdict was released, Hebda called it a “sobering moment for our community.”

“The decision by a jury of peers punctuates the grief that has gripped the Twin Cities in these last months and underscores the soul-searching that has taken place in homes, parishes, and workplaces across the country as we together confront the chasm that exists between the brokenness of our world and the harmony and fraternity that our Creator intends for all his children,” he said.

The archbishop pointed to the crucified and risen Christ as the example of “the healing power of forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation, and peace.”

“It is our shared brotherhood with Jesus that calls us to a deeper respect for all human life,” he said. “We ask him to bring healing into our communities, comfort to the family of George Floyd and all who mourn, and satisfaction to those who thirst for justice.”

A jury on April 20 determined that Chauvin was guilty on three charges of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin's trial began on March 8.

On May 25, 2020, Chauvin restrained Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man, during an arrest for using a counterfeit $20 bill.

Video footage from bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd audibly gasped, moaned, and complained he could not breathe. Towards the end of the video, Floyd appeared unconscious. After an ambulance arrived and transported Floyd to a nearby hospital, he was pronounced dead.

Chauvin was arrested on May 29 and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Prosecutors later upgraded the charges to second-degree unintentional murder. The four officers who were involved in the attempted arrest, including Chauvin, were fired by the Minneapolis Police Department.

After Floyd's death, widespread protests, rallies, and riots ensued throughout the country and the world highlighting police brutality and racism.

In his statement, Hebda offered his hope that the “many reminders of the Lord’s loving closeness even in challenging times [may] inspire us to treat each other with unfailing respect, to work non-violently for the common good and to be instruments of reconciliation.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also responded to the verdict.

Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, released an April 20 statement noting that God is the source of both justice and mercy.

“The death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the deep need to see the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed. Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred,” they said.

“The events following George Floyd's death also highlighted the urgent need for racial healing and reconciliation,” they added. “As we have seen so plainly this past year, social injustices still exist in our country, and the nation remains deeply divided on how to right those wrongs.”

The bishops prayed that the country may find healing from the wounds caused by racism.

“Let us pray that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines,” they said.

“Let us then join in the hard work of peacefully rebuilding what hatred and frustration has torn down. This is the true call of a disciple and the real work of restorative justice.”