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Scholarships, loan relief for abortion workers in California budget proposal

The California capitol. / Willem van Bergen (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Sacramento, Calif., Jan 19, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

California health care workers who commit to providing abortions could see their student loans repaid and prospective abortion industry workers could receive scholarships, if lawmakers retain a $20 million proposal in the state’s new draft budget.

The proposal drew criticism from pro-life advocates who worry it creates terrible incentives.

Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, called the proposal “a gross overreach of what most Californians would want our tax dollars to go to.”

“There aren’t a lot of providers who like to do abortions. Abortion is not something that medical students are excited to be a part of. We’ve known that,” she told CNA Jan. 18. “The reason why abortion is not provided in certain areas has nothing to do with laws or regulations. There’s no doctor in the area who wants to perform abortions. They don’t want to do it.”

The California budget summary section for Health and Human Services is 32 pages, with a section dedicated to “reproductive health.” Pro-abortion rights advocates consider abortion to be reproductive health, and abortion is addressed in this section.

“To protect the right to safe and accessible reproductive health care services, the Administration will undertake a number of actions to maintain and improve availability of these essential services,” the summary says, adding, “The Administration will work with the Legislature to reduce barriers to accessing abortion and abortion related services through managed care plans.”

The summary says $20 million in grant funding would go to the general fund of the Department of Health Care Access and Information “to provide scholarships and loan repayments to a variety of health care provider types that commit to providing reproductive health care services.” The goal of this funding is “to support California’s clinical infrastructure of reproductive health care services.”

Domingo was very critical of this proposal.

“This is appalling,” she said. “It's a big deal to pay off medical student loans.”

Students graduate medical school with what seems to be “crippling debt.” For Domingo, incentivizing them to go into the abortion industry is “tantamount to coercion from the state.”

“It’s wonderful to be helping medical students and health care professionals as they go through schools. Let’s figure out a way to do that that’s not handicapping anyone who doesn’t want to do abortion,” she said.

According to Domingo, this section of the California budget is directly related to the recommendations of the California Future of Abortion Council. In December 2020, the council released a 14-page report on policy proposals to respond to possible changes if the U.S. Supreme Court revisits Roe v. Wade and other precedents that mandate permissive abortion laws nationwide.

The council is made up of some 40 California organizations. Its members include seven Planned Parenthood affiliates, three regional ACLU affiliates, and the Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Newsom has pledged to make California a “sanctuary” for abortion access, while State Sen. President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, wrote a letter introducing the council’s December report and voicing gratitude for a partnership with the council.

The council advocated that lawmakers should “improve the education pipeline by creating a California Reproductive Scholarship Corps” for those who train as physicians, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, physician assistants, and others, if they are “dedicated to providing abortion care in underserved areas in California.” These specified medical professionals, if properly licensed, may all perform abortions under state law.

According to the abortion council, lawmakers should also “optimize loan repayment to increase retention and recruitment of clinicians who provide abortion by allocating funds for health care workforce programs.”

Domingo said that these proposals are part of the initial budget, not necessarily the final budget scheduled for May.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s our job now to advocate that it not include those things, to raise awareness and say ‘This is not a good use of California tax dollars. This is not what Californians want to be paying for’,” she said. “I’m sure many adjustments will be done along the way.”

While the state legislature has a Democratic supermajority and Newsom has made strong commitments to expanded abortion access, Domingo said there are many moderates and others in the legislature “who might look at some of these things and say it is going way too far.”

“In terms of advocacy, it’s very important to make our voice heard,” she said, encouraging grassroots involvement to voice opposition to the proposal.

Californians also need to know about resources that are “life-affirming for women in need.”

“There are so many things that can be done to help people on the ground,” said Domingo. “We would really like to make California a place where women know that they are supported, that children and families are supported all the time.”

“We want to prove that we don’t need abortion expansion in California,” she said. In her view, California should aspire to be a place that “respects women, welcomes children, and protects families.”

The proposed budget would also remove requirements for follow-up visits and ultrasound for chemical abortions that currently apply under MediCal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income individuals. Backers of abortion have stressed the importance of flexibility in medication abortion given the limits of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week the California Catholic Conference criticized this aspect of the budget and other efforts to expand abortion access.

“The California Catholic Conference is disappointed and is actively advocating against the Governor’s planned $61 million in additional funding for abortion facilities based on the recommendations of the California Future of Abortion Council report,” the conference said Jan. 14.

Other budget proposals include $20 million in one-time funding for the state’s Department of Health Care Access and Information “to assist reproductive health care facilities in securing their physical and information technology infrastructure and to enhance facility security.” Still another $20 million would back the Covered California state health insurance marketplace’s one-dollar health care premium subsidy due to federal policy limiting abortion coverage.

While Domingo praised efforts to expand health care access, she said that MediCal gives full coverage of abortion and contraception, gender reassignment surgery, and assisted suicide.

“They’re funding all the really good stuff but also the really bad stuff,” she said.

Many in the immigrant community do not want this, according to Domingo.

“We’re in a situation where, particularly immigrant families, are appalled that their children, who now can qualify for MediCal, have access to all kinds of things they would never want their children to access.”

In California’s political context, the drive to expand health care access not only means expanding access to abortion, but also assisted suicide. California lawmakers last year passed a bill to reduce the waiting period for assisted suicide from 15 days to 48 hours and to eliminate a final attestation form, among other changes.

“They’re removing that mental health safeguard for the end-of-life,” Domingo said. She warned that this further reduces efforts to prevent coercion and to give time for additional intervention for those seeking assisted suicide.

Supreme Court hears Boston free speech case involving Christian organization

Boston City Hall / andrewjsan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2022 / 16:40 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case involving the city of Boston’s refusal to raise a flag with Christian imagery in front of its City Hall. 

The North Carolina-based organization Camp Constitution applied in June 2017 to raise a flag featuring a Latin cross in front of City Hall. The display of the flag reportedly would have coincided with an event involving speeches by local clergy.

Boston has a long-standing flag program through which private organizations can apply to raise a flag related to their cause on one of three flag poles in front of City Hall. Previous flags have represented causes including Boston Pride. Some flags have included religious imagery, but this seems to be the first application for a flag with an explicitly religious description. 

The city of Boston rejected Camp Constitution’s application, after approving all 284 previous applications in the flag program’s history. 

The city argued that displaying a flag with a Christian symbol would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Camp Constitution sued, arguing the city’s decision violated its free speech.

The case of Shurtleff v. City of Boston considers whether the city of Boston’s flag program is properly considered a public forum for private speech or a reflection of government endorsement of messages promoted by the flags. 

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city in January 2021, arguing the government is entitled to choose the messages it endorses. 

The Supreme Court agreed in September 2021 to hear the case. The court is expected to issue a decision in June.

Afghanistan the most dangerous place to be Christian, advocacy group says

Kabul, Afghanistan. / Mohammad Rahmani via Unsplash

Denver Newsroom, Jan 19, 2022 / 15:35 pm (CNA).

Afghanistan has unseated North Korea for the dubious distinction of the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, according to a group that reports on global Christian persecution.

A takeover of the government by the Taliban has made it even harder — now, impossible— to live openly as a Christian, advocacy group Open Doors writes in its annual World Watch List. 

“The Taliban will make sure that Islamic rules and customs are implemented and kept. Christian converts don’t have any option but to obey them. If a Christian’s new faith is discovered, their family, clan or tribe has to save its honor by disowning the believer, or even killing them. This is widely considered to be justice,” the group writes.

“Alternatively, since leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity, a Christian who has converted from Islam may be forcibly sent to a psychiatric hospital.”

Afghanistan is over 99% Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. There are small groups of Christians, including about 200 Catholics, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and Baháʼís.

Overall, 360 million Christians worldwide face persecution, according to Open Doors, an increase of 20 million from last year.

The group had cited North Korea as the most “extreme” persecutor of Christians for twenty years prior to this year’s ranking. 

The “top ten” countries with the most Christian persecution this year are Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and India. 

North Korea’s level of persecution increased this year, even as its ranking went down, the group reported. The groups says “any North Korean caught following Jesus is at immediate risk of imprisonment, brutal torture and death” at the hands of the communist government. 

Nigeria, which ranks number seven on the list, no longer appears on the U.S. State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC), a watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom. 

Nigeria was listed in 2020, but the country was not included in the 2021 list, released in mid-November. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a Nov. 18-19 visit to Nigeria to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, but it remains unclear why the State Department removed Nigeria from the watchlist.

Pro-life vs. Pro-choice states: If Roe falls, what would the abortion landscape look like?

Screenshot of CNA graphic showing abortion policy by state. / Jonah McKeown/CNA

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2022 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case which observers believe could present a significant challenge to Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 decision which legalized abortion nationwide. 

But even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortions will almost certainly continue in the U.S.— at least in certain states. 

While the nation awaits the court’s ruling— which could come at any time until roughly the end of June— numerous states are taking legislative action to codify abortion rights, while other states are doing the opposite, creating a potential patchwork of abortion laws throughout the country.

What are the trends? Which states are moving in a pro-life direction, and which in a pro-choice direction? Check out the map above and see where your home state falls. 

More detailed information on each state, and links to coverage by CNA and other outlets, is listed below. 

Information is up-to-date as of Jan. 19, 2022. 

Alabama

Alabama has a “trigger law” that would ban almost all abortions if Roe v Wade were to be overturned, as well as a total ban passed in 2019, which is currently blocked in court. 

A group of 23 Republican lawmakers have prefiled a bill (HB 23) that would implement a Texas-style heartbeat abortion ban, enforced by private lawsuits.

Alaska

The Alaska State Supreme Court found a "right to abortion" in 1997. Alaska law requires the "informed consent" of a patient before they have an abortion, meaning that their doctor must discuss with them the physical and emotional risks involved in abortion before they obtain one. Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates in Alaska has discussed the possibility of asking voters in Nov. 2022 to call a constitutional convention, which only happens once every 10 years.

Arizona

Arizona has a ban on abortion that predates Roe v Wade and is currently unenforceable. Arizona also has laws that prohibit abortions done solely because of a nonlethal genetic abnormality, such as Down syndrome. The state also prohibits race and sex-selective abortions.

Arkansas

Trigger law, 20-week ban

California

Abortion rights enshrined in law since 1969. California has a parental consent law for minors seeking abortions on the books, but the law is permanently enjoined by court order, meaning minors in California can seek abortions without their parents’ knowledge or permission. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a pair of bills Sept. 22 that relate to privacy surrounding abortion. 

Senate Bill 245, introduced in 2022 by Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), would put an end to out-of-pocket costs paid by those seeking abortions. The state already requires abortions to be covered by health insurance.

Colorado

No gestational limit- voters rejected a proposed 22-week limit in 2020. 

The Reproductive Health Equity Act is set to be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly in 2022. Its sponsors say the act will ensure every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception; every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to continue a pregnancy and give birth or to have an abortion; and a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights under the laws of Colorado.

Connecticut

Abortion protected under state law.

Delaware

Abortion protected under state law.

Florida

Lawmakers in Florida have introduced a 15-week abortion ban for the state, which is currently unenforceable due to Roe v. Wade. 

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List praised the effort and urged the bill’s passage. 

 “We urge the Florida Legislature to swiftly pass and send to Governor DeSantis’s desk this groundbreaking pro-life legislation that would finally end brutal late-term abortions in the Sunshine State,” said Sue Liebel, SBA List State Policy Director, on Jan. 11. 

“Abortions after 15 weeks are gruesome and inhumane for unborn children and increasingly dangerous for the mother with every passing week.”

According to SBA, Florida has the third highest number of late term abortions among states that report them. 

Georgia

Heartbeat ban. Pro-life lawmakers in Georgia are preparing to introduce legislation to prevent the abortion pill from being prescribed through telemedicine and prevent it from being delivered by mail.

Hawaii

Abortion protected under state law.

Idaho

Trigger law; heartbeat law. A conservative policy group in the state has said that passing a Texas-style heartbeat ban is part of their 2022 agenda.

Illinois

Right to abortion is enshrined in state law. The state also recently repealed its requirement that parents be notified about abortions.

Indiana

22-week ban, abortion pill reversal notification law (blocked)

Iowa

Heartbeat ban (unenforceable); State Supreme Court has found a "right to abortion."

Kansas

Abortion is allowed under a state Supreme Court ruling; in Aug. 2022, Kansans will vote on an amendment to the state's constitution to exclude a "right to abortion" and reserve the right to regulate abortion in the state to the legislature.

Kentucky

Trigger law, heartbeat bill. Rep. Nancy Tate, R-Brandenburg, has plans to file a bill banning the receipt of abortion pills by mail.

Louisiana

Trigger law, State constitution excludes right to abortion, heartbeat ban

Maine

Abortion protected under state law.

Maryland

Abortion protected under state law since 1992. Montgomery County Del. Ariana Kelly (D), a former executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, has said that she will be introducing legislation to expand abortion access in the state.

Massachusetts

State Supreme Court has found a "right to abortion." A bill currently in the state's Joint Committee on Public Health would force public universities to provide medication abortion services at student health centers.

Michigan

Abortion advocacy groups in Michigan have launched a ballot initiative to override a state abortion ban— which is currently unenforced— by way of a constitutional amendment. The state’s Catholic Conference said the effort shows the power of the abortion industry in influencing state policy. 

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan are two of the organizations sponsoring the ballot drive. Organizers of the ballot initiative need about 425,000 valid voter signatures to put it before the electorate in November, the AP reports. 

Michigan is one of several states with an abortion law on the books which is currently unenforceable due to Roe v. Wade. A 1931 Michigan state law makes it a felony for anyone to provide an abortion unless "necessary to preserve the life of such woman." 

“More than anything, women considering an abortion deserve support, love, and compassion. For decades, abortion has been touted as the only option, harmless and easy, yet we know this is a lie. Abortion hurts women,” Rebecca Mastee, Policy Advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said Jan. 7.

“Today’s news that some are looking to enshrine abortion in the state constitution is a sad commentary on the outsized and harmful role the abortion industry plays in our politics and our society. We look forward to standing with women through a potential statewide ballot campaign to promote a culture of life and good health for both moms and unborn children.”

Minnesota

State Supreme Court has found a "right to abortion."

Mississippi

Pre-Roe ban, Trigger law, dilation and evacuation abortion ban, heartbeat law. Mississippi's 15-week ban is currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Missouri

Trigger law, Eight-week ban (currently blocked by courts). 

House Bill 1854, introduced Jan. 2022, would defund Planned Parenthood. State Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, in 2022 introduced a Texas-style heartbeat ban.

Montana

State Supreme Court has found a "right to abortion." Abortion restricted after viability; other restrictions, such as requirement that only doctors perform abortions, are enjoined by court order. 

Nebraska

Six-week ban currently under consideration. State also has dilation and evacuation abortion ban. Six week abortion ban has been introduced. 

Nevada

Right to abortion enshrined in state law since 1990. 

New Hampshire

New 24-week limit took effect in 2022. For this year, legislation has been introduced to repeal the state's 24-week limit and ultrasound mandate; a bill to protect the conscience rights of healthcare workers who object to abortion, sterilization, or artificial contraception; a bill to allow biological father to seek a court injunction to stop a mother having an abortion; and a heartbeat ban.

New Jersey

Bill S49/A6260, which was introduced Jan. 6, codifies a “fundamental right to reproductive autonomy, which includes the right to contraception, the right to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to carry a pregnancy to term.” 

A “right to abortion” already existed in New Jersey because of state Supreme Court rulings. Proponents of the bill say the legislation is necessary to protect abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade were overturned. 

The bill passed by both houses of the New Jersey state legislature the afternoon of Jan. 10 was vigorously opposed by the state’s Catholic conference. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law Jan. 13. 

New Mexico

1969 abortion ban repealed in 2021.

New York

The 2019 Reproductive Health Act eliminated restrictions on abortion until the moment of birth in cases deemed necessary for the mother’s "life and health."

North Carolina

20-week ban. Heartbeat bill introduced. 

North Dakota

Trigger law, heartbeat bill. Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal has said she wants to pass a Texas-style heartbeat ban.

Ohio

Heatbeat ban. Texas-style heartbeat ban introduced in late 2021.

Oklahoma

Pre-Roe ban, Trigger law, Heartbeat ban. A Republican lawmaker, Oklahoma State Rep. Sean Roberts, has announced plans to introduce a law modeled after the Texas abortion ban.

Oregon

Abortion fully protected under state law.

Pennsylvania

24-week-limit; abortion not explicitly protected under state law.

Rhode Island

Abortion protected under state law. The Equality in Abortion Coverage Act seeks to repeal a law prohibiting insurance coverage for state employees and Medicaid recipients seeking abortions.

South Carolina

Heartbeat ban. Introduced in 2022, House Bill 4568 and its counterpart Senate Bill 907 would require “the disclosure of medical information" about abortion pill reversal. Other legislative efforts are underway to make adoption easier and less expensive in the state. 

South Dakota

Trigger law. Governor Kristi Noem said in Jan. 2022 that she will be introducing a heartbeat ban for the state, as well as introducing legislation to ban telemedicine abortions in South Dakota. 

Tennessee

Trigger law, heartbeat ban, State constitution bars protection.

Texas

Pre-Roe ban, Trigger law, Heartbeat ban (currently enforced through private lawsuits).

Utah

Trigger law as well as numerous other current restrictions on abortion such as a waiting period.

Vermont

Abortion protected under state law. The Vermont House of Representatives is due to begin debate on an amendment to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution, which would require voter approval in the fall.

Virginia

Abortion not explicitly protected under state law. Several abortion expansions enacted in 2021, including the allowing of abortion coverage to be included without limits in health plans on the state exchange, meaning that taxpayers would be funding abortions under the law. 

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has suggested he may be open to a 20-week ban.

Washington

Abortion protected under state law.

West Virginia

Pre-Roe ban, dilation and evacuation abortion ban, State constitution bars protection. West Virginia's House Bill 4004 would ban most abortions after 15 weeks.

Wisconsin

Pre-Roe ban, but Wisconsin’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has said he will not enforce a ban on abortions if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Wyoming

Restricts abortion after viability - abortion not protected under state law. Some have speculated that Republican lawmakers may introduce a Texas-style heartbeat ban.

Washington, DC

Abortion fully protected under law.

Catholic health care system removes race as factor in eligibility for COVID-19 treatments

null / Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Jan 19, 2022 / 14:17 pm (CNA).

A Catholic health care system in Wisconsin is no longer including race as a factor in determining a patient’s eligibility for COVID-19 treatments.

SSM Health and its affiliates use a risk scoring calculator to determine a patient’s eligibility for COVID-19 treatments including monoclonal antibodies. 

A previous version of the calculator boosted the scores of nonwhite or Hispanic patients, making them more likely to be prioritized for treatments that have become increasingly scarce amid a surge in omicron cases. Monoclonal antibody treatments are in particularly short supply because some versions of the treatment are reportedly ineffective against the omicron variant.  

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty questioned the inclusion of race in the calculator in a Jan. 14 letter to SSM Health’s president and CEO. SSM Health responded that the calculator was updated to no longer include race, though it is unclear when that happened.

“While early versions of risk calculators across the nation appropriately included race and gender criteria based on initial outcomes, SSM Health has continued to evaluate and update our protocols weekly to reflect the most up-to-date clinical evidence available,” SSM Health said in a statement. “As a result, race and gender criteria are no longer utilized.”

Other factors included in the calculator include age, gender, and preexisting health conditions. 

Healthcare providers under the umbrella of the Minnesota Resource Allocation Program were also factoring in race in determining patient eligibility for COVID-19 treatments. The policy was reversed on Jan. 12, the same day a conservative advocacy group threatened to sue Minnesota.

New state policy prioritizes treatment for people who are immunocompromised or pregnant. 

Both healthcare systems were following a directive from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prioritize race in the administration of COVID-19 treatments. 

Some studies suggest racial minorities are at higher risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19. But conservative leaders have argued that it is unjust and illegal to discriminate against patients based on race. 

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) decried the practice in a Jan. 11 letter to the Acting Commissioner of the FDA

“While our nation should seek to better understand and address real disparities that exist in health outcomes, that important work is a far cry from the rationing of vital medicines based on race and ethnicity,” Rubio wrote. “Rationing life-saving drug treatments based on race and ethnicity is racist and un-American. There is no other way to put it.”

Rubio suggested appropriate factors include age and preexisting conditions. 

“Medical research has long documented that many of these comorbidities disproportionately impact people of color,” he wrote. “Therefore, by prioritizing an individuals’ medical history, healthcare providers would ensure racial minorities at highest risk of disease, including all other high-risk patients, can receive these life-saving drugs.”

New committee aims to build up political candidates who support religious liberty for all

American flag and Church. / Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Denver Newsroom, Jan 19, 2022 / 09:52 am (CNA).

The Religious Freedom Institute on Tuesday launched a committee to support political candidates who defend the free exercise of religion for all.

The National Committee for Religious Freedom describes itself as a non-partisan organization that will support “any candidate from any political party who supports religious freedom, and oppose any candidate of any political party who does not.”

As part of the Jan. 19 launch, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ committee on religious freedom, hailed the committee’s creation, while lamenting the fact that the “first freedom” of religious liberty is “surely one of the last freedoms to get a committee to safeguard it.”

Dolan recently spoke out against attacks on houses of worship and religious art, saying such attacks are akin to attacking the community who prays there.

Sam Brownback, a Catholic and a former U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, said the founders of the group are “increasingly concerned with declining religious freedom here at home” and the “exponential” effect that has overseas. He said the committee plans to run educational campaigns and assess candidates’ positions on religious freedom; create voter guides; and ask candidates to sign a pledge to support religious freedom.

Though the founders of the committee— who represent a wide range of religions— don’t agree on all points of theology, Brownback praised the fact that the group was able to come together to support the right of all Americans to “peacefully practice their faith, as is guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Robert George, a Catholic intellectual and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom , spoke during during the launch and noted that the committee stands ready to defend the religious freedom of all people, not just Christians.

“What we don’t want is religious freedom for me, but not for thee,” he noted.

A legal group known for representing religious believers in court said late last year that support for religious freedom in America has reached a three year high.

‘We offered them a safe space’: Texas priest details parish's role helping synagogue hostage families

Good Shepherd Catholic Community Parish in Colleyville, Texas. / Screen shot of Twitter post

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 18, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

When a gunman entered a nearby synagogue in Texas and took four people hostage, including the rabbi, Father Michael Higgins and his Catholic parish sprang into action. 

“We got a call from the police that they were looking for a safe space for the wife and daughter of Rabbi Charlie and for the spouses of the hostages out over at the synagogue,” the Franciscan friar said during his homily on Jan. 16, the day after the attack. “We offered them a safe space.”

The family members hid at his parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Community in Colleyville, Texas, located just a minute’s drive away from the synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel. They stayed for more than 12 hours, he said, as the parish staff cared for them.

“I really want to mention this because I think it really is an indication of how well the message of how we should deal with those in need has really seeped through the community here,” Higgins said.

The gunman, identified as 44-year-old British citizen Malik Faisal Akram, attacked during synagogue services that were live streamed. Law enforcement fatally shot Akram, who appeared to demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted terrorist imprisoned in Texas after being found guilty of attempting to murder American soldiers and officials in Afghanistan. 

The hostages were uninjured.

During the more than 10-hour standoff between Akram and authorities, Good Shepherd opened its doors to law enforcement, media, faith leaders of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and the hostages’ family members.

The parish attempted to separate the press from the family members.

“What we were trying to do is give the families a safe space and we didn't want the press to be notified that they were there,” Higgins said. “So we sort of blocked off the church hall and allowed the press to use the facilities in that area.”

He wanted the families to have their own space, he said, “because you can imagine the terror that they were going through.” 

But Higgins also stressed the good during the attack.

“I think these events really show what the worst that humanity can do and what the best of humanity as well,” he said. 

He thanked parish staff and members of the parish community — as well as those that brought them food during the attack.

“Christianity has a lot of traditions within it that we receive from our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he added. “And one thing that really highlighted that yesterday was that we were deluged with food.” 

“All of that is to point out that there is a lot of good and there's a lot of good that goes on behind the scenes that's not celebrated,” he concluded. “Too often we focus only on the negative things and we don't celebrate all the positive things.” 

He credited the example of the faith of the Blessed Mother. 

“I can't say that I'm more proud of what this community was able to do,” he added.

As soon as all of the hostages were declared safe, Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth took to Twitter to thank God and the local Catholic church led by Higgins.

“Thank you to the parishioners of [Good Shepherd] and their pastor Fr. Michael Higgins, TOR, for their assistance and charitable support for first responders and families of hostages,” he tweeted.

The bishop retweeted Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington, who also expressed gratitude.

“We thank God for the safety of the members of Beth Israel in Texas,” the cardinal wrote. “Thanks also for the successful work of those public safety officials.  We stand with our Jewish neighbors as they confront violence. May all who suffer hatred in their places of worship know of our prayers.” 

'Devastated' Traditional Latin Mass devotees petition Arlington bishop to ease restrictions

Priest celebrating the traditional Latin Mass at the church of St Pancratius, Rome / Thoom/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 18, 2022 / 17:17 pm (CNA).

Supporters of the Traditional Latin Mass are petitioning Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, to lift restrictions he recently imposed on the celebration of the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form. 

“In the spirit of the Synodal Path that the church has embarked upon, we humbly ask that you engage in consultations with the faithful of each parish church potentially affected by restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass,” says the petition, which was published on the petition website Change.org on Jan. 14. 

“And we pray fervently that you might offer permission to allow the Extraordinary Form and other traditional sacraments to continue across the Diocese of Arlington.”

The petition had garnered more than 1,000 signatures by 6 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

The Diocese of Arlington is one of the two Catholic dioceses in Virginia. Its territory covers the northern part of the state. Twenty-one of the diocese’s 70 parishes offer the Latin Mass, one of the highest percentages among U.S. dioceses. 

In early January, Burbidge issued a statement concerning the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form in the diocese. While Burbidge did not restrict any of the existing Latin Masses in the diocese, he said there is to be no “scheduling of new celebrations of the Sacraments (such as baptisms and weddings) in the Extraordinary Form.” 

“Those which have already been scheduled are permitted to continue as planned,” said Burbidge. 

Burbidge issued his directive as a response to the “responsa ad dubia” published by the Vatican on Dec. 18. Among the things listed in the responsa, the Divine Worship congregation said that, according to Traditionis custodes, sacraments cannot be celebrated using the liturgical books Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum promulgated prior to the Vatican II reforms.

In a letter to bishops accompanying Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis said that the celebration of the Latin Mass “is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.'” 

The pope also lamented that communities dedicated to the Latin Mass had “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”

The petition says those characterizations do not apply “in any way” in the Arlington Diocese.

“Traditional Latin Mass attendees in this diocese are marked by deep reverence and love for the Church and a burning desire to live our Catholic faith as fully as possible, not a sense of disunity and schism,” it continues. 

The petition adds that the laity have been “devastated” at the new restrictions, and that there is a “profound sense of loss and grief at the prospect of losing the ability to celebrate the Mass and other sacraments in the Old Rite.”

“At a time when there is so much darkness and despair in the world and in our country, we find the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be a beacon of light and hope — one which touches our hearts and nourishes our Catholic Faith,” says the petition. 

The petition was started by Noah Peters, a parishioner at St. John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia. “Peters converted to Catholicism from Judaism in 2020, and his wife was baptized and received into full communion that same year.

After seeing “YouTube traditionalists” discuss the Latin Mass, Peters, 36-year-old lawyer living in Fairfax, was steered in the direction of a parish in the Diocese of Arlington. He said his first experience seeing the Latin Mass in 2019 “blew me away,” and that “any doubt about converting went away immediately.” 

While he had attended the Novus Ordo before, and found it to be “fine, perhaps a bit rote,” he thought “there was something special about the TLM.” 

When Traditionis custodes was released in July, Peters and his wife were in marriage preparation. He told CNA he was “shocked” by the motu proprio. They were married, in the Extraordinary Form, in October 2021. 

“[My wife and I] were totally confused as to why the Vatican would focus on this at a time when the Catholic church is suffering from such a decrease in Mass attendance and belief,” he said. That feeling later became a sense of powerlessness, he said.

“This petition was born of trying to overcome that awful feeling,” explained Peters. He hopes to “give voice to all the people who love the traditional Mass in Arlington” through the petition drive.  

Peters plans on personally handing Burbidge a printout of the signed petition. 

“I am sympathetic to him because he is being placed in an impossible position,” he said, noting that he and his predecessors had helped the diocese become a hub for the traditional Mass. 

“Now he has pressure to go suddenly in reverse,” said Peters. “That is why he asked for our prayers.” The petition, Peters said, reflects those prayers from Catholics in the diocese. 

But for Peters, another motivation is looking ahead to the future. Namely, his own future generations.

“Ultimately, we want others — especially our children — to experience the deep Catholic faith that we have experienced through the TLM,” he said. 

Filipino community in Los Angeles celebrates 500 years of the Santo Niño de Cebú

Attendees at a Mass for the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Calif., Jan. 16, 2022. / Victor Alemán/Angelus News

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 17, 2022 / 17:42 pm (CNA).

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles said Mass Sunday in honor of the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, celebrating the feast of the Santo Niño de Cebú.

“Today, we especially entrust ourselves to the Divine Infant, Santo Niño, as we continue to give thanks to God for opening the door of faith to the people of the Philippines, five hundred years ago,” the archbishop said during his Jan. 16 homily at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“And of course, we also recall that shortly after the door of faith was opened, the first Filipinos to come to America, arriving at Morro Bay, in 1587. It is beautiful to think about it and to reflect that Filipinos were here, worshipping and working in our country long before our country had a name.”

He added that “we give thanks to God today also for the rich Catholic heritage of the Philippines that has become such a beautiful part of our Catholic life here in Los Angeles, and in America.”

The Santo Niño de Cebú is a statue that was given to Juana, wife of the king of Cebu, after their 1521 baptism. It is widely venerated in the Philippines, and is now housed in the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City.

Preceding the Mass, Filipino traditions were displayed on the cathedral plaza, and images of the Santo Niño were blessed during the Mass.

During his homily, Archbishop Gomez reflected on the wedding at Cana, saying that through the miracle performed there Christ “wanted to show us that the marriage of man and woman is a symbol of how much God loves each one of us.”

“God loves all of us, you and me, without conditions and without exceptions. God delights in you! You are a special treasure to him. This is the amazing truth of our Catholic faith.”

As a result, he said, “God has a mission for your life,” a vocation.

“Each one of us, no matter who we are, has a part to play in building up God’s kingdom of love and life. And it’s also interesting because that’s the meaning of the servants in today’s Gospel.”

“Like those servants, we need to fill the water jars of our lives with the waters of love, with the waters of good works, works of mercy and service. And we do that in simple and ordinary ways. In our daily lives. Jesus wants to work with us, and through us. Through our good works, through our works of love. In our families. In our places of work. In our society,” Archbishop Gomez said.

“And this is the water that he will transform — that he will turn into new wine … But as we know, my dear brothers and sisters, everything starts from our obedience to the word of Jesus. This is especially — as we reflect on today’s passage of the Gospel — what Mary tells us in the Gospel today, when she tells the servants: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ This is the key to the Kingdom. This is the key to holiness, to our vocation. To entering into the divine life — to do the will of God, to do whatever Jesus tells us.”

The day preceding the Mass, a food drive was held at Our Lady of Loretto parish in the city’s Historic Filipinotown. The food drive was organized by the Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council and the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department Community Advisory Council.

The nuns who witnessed the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr

We March with Selma. Via Flickr CC BY NC 2.0. / null

Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2022 / 12:04 pm (CNA).

Sister Mary Antona Ebo was the only black Catholic nun who marched with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama, in 1965.

“I'm here because I’m a Negro, a nun, a Catholic, and because I want to bear witness,” Sister Mary Antona Ebo said to fellow demonstrators at a March 10, 1965 protest attended by King.

The protest took place three days after the “Bloody Sunday” clash, where police attacked several hundred voting rights demonstrators with clubs and tear gas, causing some severe injuries among the non-violent marchers. 

She died Nov. 11, 2017 in Bridgeton, Missouri at the age of 93, the St. Louis Review reported at the time.

After the “Bloody Sunday” attacks, King had called on church leaders from around the country to go to Selma. Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter of St. Louis had asked his archdiocese’s human rights commission to send representatives, Ebo recounted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2015.

Ebo’s supervisor, also a religious sister, asked her whether she would join a 50-member delegation of laymen, Protestant ministers, rabbis, priests and five white nuns.

Just before she left for Alabama, she heard that a white minister who had traveled to Selma, James Reeb, had been severely attacked after he left a restaurant.

At the time, Ebo said, she wondered: “If they would beat a white minister to death on the streets of Selma, what are they going to do when I show up?”

In Selma on March 10, she went to Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joining local leaders and the demonstrators who had been injured in the clash.

“They had bandages on their heads, teeth were knocked out, crutches, casts on their arms. You could tell that they were freshly injured,” she told the Post-Dispatch. “They had already been through the battle ground, and they were still wanting to go back and go back and finish the job.”

Many of the injured had been treated at Good Samaritan Hospital, run by Edmundite priests and the Sisters of St. Joseph, the only Selma hospital that served blacks. Since their arrival in 1937, the Edmundites had faced intimidation and threats from local officials, other whites, and even the Ku Klux Klan, CNN reported.

The injured demonstrators and their supporters left the Selma church, with Ebo in front. They marched towards the courthouse, then blocked by state troopers in riot gear. She and other demonstrators then knelt to pray the Our Father before they agreed to turn around.

Despite the violent interruption, the 57-mile march would draw 25,000 participants. It concluded on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, with King’s famous March 25 speech against racial prejudice.

“How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” King said.

King would be dead within three years. On a fateful April 4, 1968, he was shot by an assassin at his Memphis hotel.

He had asked to be taken to a Catholic hospital should anything happen to him, and he was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Memphis. At the time, it was a nursing school combined with a 400-bed hospital.

There, too, Catholic religious sisters played a role.

Sister Jane Marie Klein and Sister Anna Marie Hofmeyer recounted their story to The Paper of Montgomery County Online in January 2017.

The Franciscan nuns had been walking around the hospital grounds when they heard the sirens of an ambulance. One of the sisters was paged three times, and they discovered that King had been shot and taken to their hospital.

The National Guard and local police locked down the hospital for security reasons as doctors tried to save King.

“We were obviously not allowed to go in when they were working with him because they were feverishly working with him,” Sister Jane Marie said. “But after they pronounced him dead we did go back into the E.R. There was a gentleman as big as the door guarding the door and he looked at us and said ‘you want in?’ We said yes, we’d like to go pray with him. So he let the three of us in, closed the door behind us and gave us our time.”

Hofmeyer recounted the scene in the hospital room. “He had no chance,” she said.

Klein said authorities delayed the announcement of King’s death to prepare for riots they knew would result.

Three decades later, Klein met with King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, at a meeting of the Catholic Health Association Board in Atlanta where King was a keynote speaker. The Franciscan sister and the widow of the civil rights leader told each other how they had spent that night.

Klein said being present that night in 1968 was “indescribable.”

“You do what you got to do,” she said. What’s the right thing to do? Hindsight? It was a privilege to be able to take care of him that night and to pray with him. Who would have ever thought that we would be that privileged?”

She said King’s life shows “to some extent one person can make a difference.” She wondered “how anybody could listen to Dr. King and not be moved to work toward breaking down these barriers.”

Klein would serve as chairperson of the Franciscan Alliance Board of Trustees, overseeing support for health care. Hofmeyer would work in the alliance’s archives. Last year both were living at the Provinciate at St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka, Indiana.

For her part, after Selma, Ebo would go on to serve as a hospital administrator and a chaplain.

In 1968 she helped found the National Black Sisters’ Conference. The woman who had been rejected from several Catholic nursing schools because of her race would serve in her congregation’s leadership as it reunited with another Franciscan order, and she served as a director of social concerns for the Missouri Catholic Conference.

She frequently spoke on civil rights topics. When controversy over a Ferguson, Mo. police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, a black man, she led a prayer vigil. She thought the Ferguson protests were comparable to those of Selma.

“I mean, after all, if Mike Brown really did swipe the box of cigars, it’s not the policeman’s place to shoot him dead,” she said.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis presided at her requiem Mass in November, saying in a statement “We will miss her living example of working for justice in the context of our Catholic faith.”

A previous version of this article was originally published on CNA Jan. 14, 2018.