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Ransomware attack cripples St. Louis archdiocesan websites

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).-  

A ransomware attack crippled the websites of the Archdiocese of St. Louis last week, but data has not been compromised by the attack, the archdiocese told CNA. Several archdiocesan affiliated sites have been taken offline in response to the attack.

“On November 16th, our website hosting company experienced a coordinated ransomware campaign. To ensure integrity of our data, the limited number of impacted sites–including ours–have been taken offline,” the Archdiocese of St. Louis informed Catholics last week.

“Upon further investigation and out of an abundance of caution, our hosting company took down their entire system to ensure that we were not compromised. Our hosting security team are working diligently to eliminate the threat and restore our website to full capacity.”

Seven urls are impacted, among them archstl.org, stlreview.org, and pages for archdiocesan cemeteries and fundraising. A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA Tuesday “we do not have information regarding an expected timeline for the restoration of our website.”

“We have been told that none of the Archdiocese of St. Louis' information has been compromised, and the hosting company has taken down our sites to protect us,” the spokesperson added.

Ransomware is a kind of hacking measure by which websites are taken over unless a ransom is made. In some cases, hackers threaten to release confidential data gained from the attack unless the ransom is paid.

Maria Lemakis, archdiocesan multimedia manager, told CNA that because the attack happened with the company that hosts websites, a decision about whether to pay the ransom is not up to the archdiocese.

“Whether or not the ransom will be paid is at the discretion of the hosting vendor,” Lemakis explained.

 “It is our understanding that the vendor is working with federal authorities on the issue,” she added.

Priest jailed for theft blames Catholic doctrine, also facing sex abuse charges

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- A South Dakota priest has been sentenced to almost eight years in federal prison, after he was convicted of 65 felonies related to stealing donations from Catholic parishes. Ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution, the priest said he stole in part because he disagrees with Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

The priest is also facing federal criminal charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.  

Fr. Marcin Garbacz, 42, was convicted in March of wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud — crimes he committed while serving as a chaplain and Catholic school teacher in the Diocese of Rapid City, between 2012 and 2018. Garbacz was ordained a priest in 2004.

Prosecutors said the priest stole more than $250,000 from parishes, spending some money on artwork, a piano, a Cadillac, liturgical items, and a $10,000 diamond ring.

In 2019, the priest was arrested at Seattle’s airport, shortly before boarding a flight to his native Poland, for which he had purchased a one-way ticket. He had more than $10,000 in cash in his possession, along with several chalices, diamonds, icons, pens, an expensive watch, along with cufflinks and other jewelery items.

He had withdrawn more than $50,000 from his bank account before the flight, according to court records.

According to prosecutors, the priest snuck into Rapid City parishes in the middle of the night to steal cash donations after Sunday Masses. He replaced the tamper-proof bags in which the cash was stored with new ones he’d purchased online, and told people that his mother sent him money each month. When he bought expensive chalices and other liturgical items, he told people they were gifts, and had false inscriptions engraved upon them as proof.

Before he was arrested, Garbacz had been suspended from ministry, apparently after he was caught stealing roughly $620 from a parish in 2018, and was convicted of misdemeanor petty theft. He was sent by the diocese for six months to a residential treatment program, but left early and then worked as a FedEx driver in Washington. He reportedly attempted to flee after becoming aware of the federal investigation against him.

At his sentencing Monday, Garbacz apologized to parishioners, and said he was angry with the Diocese of Rapid City and the Catholic Church. According to the Rapid City Journal, the priest said he was upset that Catholic doctrine considers homosexuality to be “intrinsically disordered.”

Garbacz, the Rapid City Journal reported, identifies as gay, and claims he was treated as a “second-class citizen” because of his dissent on the Church’s moral teachings.

After Garbacz was sentenced, the Diocese of Rapid City told CNA that “The diocese trusts in the judicial system and appreciates its dedication in making sure that justice is served in this case.”

Garbacz is also facing charges related to child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

He has been indicted on sex federal charges, and is alleged to have engaged in sexual conduct with someone a boy under the age of 18 while in 2011 traveling in a foreign country. An FBI agent also discovered, while searching a thumb drive during the financial crimes investigation, that the priest was in possession of child pornography. At least one pornographic video involving a minor appears to have been produced by Garbacz, according to the Rapid City Journal.

It is not yet clear what canonical charges the priest is facing, or if he is expected to be laicized.

 

 

Analysis: Will Gregory’s ‘dialogue’ with Biden undermine USCCB?

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced in an interview yesterday that he will not deny Holy Communion to Joe Biden, and committed himself to working with the president-elect’s administration. But the soon-to-be cardinal’s pledge could put him in tension with the work of the U.S. bishops’ conference, as it tries to speak to the White House with a unified voice.

Last week, USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles announced the formation of a special committee, tasked with coordinating the U.S. bishops’ response to, and work with, the incoming Biden administration. 

Recognizing the unique “challenges” presented by a Catholic president pledged to several policies in opposition to Church teaching, the conference under Gomez set out to ensure a collegial and consensus approach to national issues for the Church. 

But yesterday Gregory suggested he planned to dialogue directly with Biden on issues, without reference to the USCCB, raising the question: who will speak for the U.S. bishops at the White House, and with whom will President Biden choose to deal?

In his interview Tuesday, Gregory said he hopes to “discover areas where [he and Biden] can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the Church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree,” the very work the committee set up by Archbishop Gomez intends to do.

Gregory is not a member of the U.S. bishops' committee, but the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington is nonetheless a player: As the hometown cardinal, he may well receive a more ready audience from the president than, for example, the Archbishop of Los Angeles; especially so if he has publicly pledged to strike a balance in conversations between the Church’s support for areas of agreement with Biden, like comprehensive immigration reform, and points of opposition, like the immorality of killing unborn children.

“I hope that I don’t highlight one over the other,” Gregory said Tuesday. His stated aim of not “highlighting” one over the other itself appears to be at odds with the U.S. bishops’ official position that ending legal abortion is the “preeminent” social concern of Catholics, underlining the likely tension between Gregory’s personal contact with the incoming president and the conference’s efforts to represent to position of the bishops and Church at a national level.

As Gomez noted last week, a Catholic president committed to opposing Church teaching on a range of issues on the national stage presents a “difficult and complex situation.” It was for this reason that the conference formed its committee, to ensure coherence collegiality in the bishops’ response, and it is for this reason that many may not warm to the idea of a soon-to-be Cardinal Gregory dialoguing on their behalf with a soon-to-be President Biden.

Gregory, who will be made a cardinal on Saturday, will be Biden’s diocesan bishop once the President-elect moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As Washington’s archbishop, he is the local “pastor” who is responsible for sitting a Catholic like Biden down, in private, and addressing the president-elect’s various positions against Church teaching.

But, of course, as president, Biden will be more than just a local Catholic, and his actions and example are a national concern for the Catholic bishops. Gregory’s public statement could be seen by some as circumvention of efforts to work together in dealing with Biden and his administration.

While Gregory has every proper right to “dialogue” with an individual Catholic in his diocese about his individual status, it is less clear that the Archbishop of Washington is ex officio empowered to bargain with the head of state on behalf of the Church across the country. 

This tension is nothing new. The USCCB has in the past run into similar tensions with Washington’s archbishops over the White House. Those tensions have caused confusion. But since Biden is a Catholic, and the issues pertain not only to policy, but to pastoral decision-making, the issue could become more complex in a Biden administration.

While Gregory is Biden’s local bishop and has personal concern for Biden’s personal situation, it is the bishops’ conference that is charged with articulating the corporate voice of the hierarchy on Biden’s stances abortion, the Equality Act, and the HHS mandate as policy.

“These policies pose a serious threat to the common good, whenever any politician supports them,” conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez told the U.S. bishops on Nov. 17. “We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so.”

“But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems. Among other things, it creates confusion among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Gregory, however, struck a markedly different tone yesterday, saying that there was no confusion among “informed Catholics” about the Church’s teaching on life issues.

“It’s not a matter of confusion,” Gregory said. “On my part, it’s a matter of the responsibility that I have as the archbishop to be engaged and to be in dialogue with him, even in those areas where we obviously have some differences.”

Many of his brother bishops would likely point out to Gregory that the confusion among “informed Catholics” like Biden is not about what the Church teaches, but whether it matters when they publicly and consistently dissent from it – and how the bishops should respond when a Catholic uses the machinery of government to threaten Catholic institutions and values, and the broader common good.

At the height of the Cold War, Henry Kissinger pointedly asked “Who do I call if I want to speak to Europe?” to highlight the confusion that results from the absence of a common voice.

In theory, if the White House wants to “speak to the Catholic Church” it could – arguably should – call Gomez, who is the bishops’ elected president. But if Biden doesn’t like what he hears, Gregory’s is another number he might call.

Arkansas senate passes abortion ban in new challenge to Roe

CNA Staff, Nov 25, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Arkansas lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban nearly all abortions in the state in what lawmakers and pro-life advocates hope will serve as a new challenge to Roe v. Wade.

On Nov. 18, State Sen. Jason Rapert (R) and Rep. Mary Bentley (R) introduced Senate Bill 6, to create the Arkansas Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill criminalizes abortions except when done to save the life of the mother, but does not carry charges or convictions for mothers of unlawfully aborted children.

Doctors who perform an unlawful abortion would commit a felony punishable by a fine of up to $100,000, or up to ten years in prison.

According to KUAR, the bill will be considered during the legislature’s January session.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas-based Family Council, praised the bill in a statement this week.

“Many people have been saying for almost 50 years that abortion should be illegal. The time has come for us to make it so,” Cox stated.

“This is an opportunity for Arkansans to be the real leader in the effort to end abortion in America,” he said.

The proposed bill also allows for the use of emergency contraceptives if a pregnancy has not yet been determined.

A federal appeals court upheld other Arkansas state abortion restrictions in August. The Eighth Circuit court allowed a 2017 state law to go into effect, which banned sex-selective abortions and the “dilation and evacuation” abortion method used in the second trimester.

Senate Bill 6 is not expected to survive in court—a similar measure in Alabama was struck down by a federal district court in Oct., 2019.

Nevertheless, Arkansas is also seeking to force a reconsideration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. The state has already passed a law outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, a “trigger ban” that has also been adopted by several other states. 

“It is time for the United States Supreme Court to redress and correct the grave injustice and the crime against humanity which is being perpetuated by their decisions in Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” states one of the findings in the bill.

“New scientific advances have demonstrated since 1973 that life begins at the moment of conception and the child in a woman's womb is a human being.”

Arkansas and other states have passed various abortion restrictions in recent years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, five states in 2019 passed “heartbeat” bills, or bans on abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected. Other states, such as Missouri, have enacted abortion bans at different stages in pregnancy.

Philadelphia archdiocese opens home for young adults with disabilities

Denver Newsroom, Nov 25, 2020 / 04:49 am (CNA).- A Philadelphia bishop last month blessed Saint Philomena Cottage, a new archdiocesan home for young adults with disabilities.

Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre, who oversees the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, led the blessing Oct. 23 at the facility in Delaware County.

The event occurred a few months after new renovations permitted residence to three new clients who had difficulty finding a home that matched their complex needs.

Present at the event were James Amato, secretary for Catholic Human Services; members of The Women’s Auxiliary of St. Edmond’s Home for Children; and Denise Clofine, administrator for Saint Edmond’s Home for Children.

During the ceremony, Clofine expressed gratitude for the completion of the project and for the support of the Women’s Auxiliary, who helped fund the project.

“Today is the beginning of a long held dream to have a home like Saint Philomena Cottage where those we serve can continue to be with friends and staff who have become family. There is true love and compassion shared between the two,” she said, according to a Nov. 10 statement from the archdiocese.

“I am deeply grateful to the Women’s Auxiliary who exemplify a deep commitment to our mission. Sometimes in life we are fortunate to meet someone who makes a difference in the lives of others.  I have been truly blessed to have met an entire group of women who exemplify dedication, care, and love. Their legacy is so very admirable.”

St. Edmond’s Home for Children purchased the house in November 2017. The house was renovated to include wheelchair accessible bathrooms, doorways, ramps, and elevator lifts.

The renovations were completed over the summer and three ladies from St. Edmond’s Home moved into their house at the end of July. The facility includes a 24-hour nurse and activities such as arts, crafts, cooking, and baking.

Clofine told CNA that it has been more difficult for clients with complex disabilities to find permanent homes after they turned 21. She said the facility was established at the request of parents, and added that families have formed meaningful bonds with the staff of St. Edmond’s Home for Children.

“They have trusted us with their children and their children have been placed [with us] for 10, 15, sometimes 20 years. To have to then take their child to another placement, it’s very, very difficult,” she said.

“We took our best staff - very committed, dedicated. We did not hire from the outside for this hall, [but moved] staff over to the hall who already knew those three young adults really well.”

Saint Edmond’s Home for Children was founded in 1916 by Archbishop Edmond Prendergast to help children with polio. It operates under Philadelphia’s Catholic Social Service and provides intermediate care for children and young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Clofine expressed the importance of providing services to vulnerable individuals in the community. She said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a history of charitable service and further added that it was a blessing to open the facility during the pandemic.

“This really has made my whole year, especially in the midst of COVID, we were able to open. It was wonderful,” she said.

“It is our responsibility to do God's work. It is extremely important to help the most vulnerable in our community … We're just so thrilled to be able to do this not only for the three young ladies that are in the hall, but for their families,” she said.

What connection does Moderna’s vaccine have to aborted fetal tissue? 

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 06:33 pm (CNA).- Amid debate over the ethics of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate under development by Moderna, a Catholic microbiologist told CNA that while research connected to aborted fetal cells may have contributed to the knowledge base being used in the vaccine’s development, the actual production of the vaccine does not use cells of any kind, fetal or otherwise.

Deacon Robert Lanciotti, a microbiologist and the former chief of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s diagnostic and reference laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, told CNA that the manner of production for the Moderna vaccine is ethically uncontroversial— in contrast to several other common vaccines, which are grown in aborted fetal cells.

Traditional vaccines use dead or altered viruses, and viruses have to be grown in cell lines, Lanciotti said. Some vaccines that are based on altered viruses are produced by growing them in aborted fetal cell lines, rendering them morally illicit for Catholics to take except for grave reasons.

In contrast, the production of RNA vaccines does not use cells at all, he said. During his 30 years as a CDC scientist, Lanciotti’s specialty was producing RNA in the same reaction used to produce the Moderna vaccine.

Moderna's vaccine is based on the coronavirus' RNA, and uses a spike protein, or peplomer, from SARS-CoV-2 rather than cell lines derived from aborted fetuses.

The RNA is injected into the recipient, which induces their cells to produce the spike protein. This triggers the production of antibodies and T-cells by the recipient.

Moderna’s vaccine is not completely free of any connection to abortion, as there is evidence that the vaccines have some connection with the use of aborted fetal cells in the early stages of vaccine design.

However, Lanciotti said, there is a distinction between “design” and “production.” Although it may seem like a subtle difference, he said in this case it makes more sense to assess the ethicality of the production of the vaccine itself, rather than any pre-existing knowledge and understanding that went into its development.

“The association with aborted fetal cells and these RNA vaccines is so distant that I don't think you would find a Catholic moral theologian that would say there's a problem at all,” Lanciotti said.

A complete bibliography of the Moderna vaccine reveals the HEK-293T cell line mentioned in some of the work that led to the vaccine's development.

The HEK-293 cell line is derived from a baby who was aborted in the Netherlands in the 1970s. However, the HEK-293T cells in question are not the direct descendants of these aborted fetal cells, but rather are genetically distinct variants.

The HEK-293T cell line was used by scientists to test the spike protein which was later used in the Moderna vaccine. Moderna scientists were among the researchers collaborating on the project, although it is unclear to what extent Moderna was involved in that specific part of the research.

Lanciotti emphasized that the HEK-293T cells in question were not used to evaluate the vaccine itself, since the vaccine had not yet been designed, but rather went into the background knowledge that enabled the vaccine’s design.

He also explained that the spike protein itself is not contaminated with fetal cells, as the spike protein produced by the vaccine comes directly from the synthetic RNA injected, and is “100% newly derived and pure.”

Lanciotti also noted that there exists a knowledge base that was generated years ago— likely decades ago— about the basic biology of coronaviruses, which Moderna, a ten-year-old company, likely did not create themselves.

Moderna recently announced that a trial of its vaccine demonstrated it to be 94.5% effective. The trial involved 30,000 people, half of whom were given two doses of the vaccine, and half of whom received a placebo.

In an internal memo dated Nov. 23, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, who chairs the bishops’ committee on doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the head of the committee on pro-life activities, wrote to the bishops of the United States that the two RNA vaccine candidates appear to be ethically sound.

“Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development, or production,” the bishops wrote.

“They are not completely free from any connection to abortion, however, as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products,” the bishops wrote, referring to the HEK-293T cell line.

“There is thus a connection [to fetal tissue], but it is relatively remote,” the bishops concluded.

The Vatican has said that researchers have a duty to avoid using cell lines derived from aborted children in vaccine production, and have an obligation to “denounce and reject publicly the original immoral act [of abortion].”

The Church has allowed the use of vaccines produced in fetal cells if no alternative exists, while stressing the importance of protesting the vaccine’s production and encouraging “vigorous efforts to promote the creation of alternatives.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life, in a Nov. 22 statement posted to Twitter, said based on its own 2005 and 2017 guidance on the origin of vaccines, the academy has found “nothing morally prohibitive with the vaccines developed” by Moderna or Pfizer.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, has listed the Moderna vaccine among the “ethically uncontroversial CoV-19 vaccine programs.”

However, Dr. Stacy Transancos, a chemist, argued in a Nov. 20 National Catholic Register op-ed that listing a vaccine which has even a remote connection to aborted tissue as “ethically uncontroversial” could undermine the Catholic fight for ethical medicines.

“Instead of assigning this vaccine to a category that suggests no more caution is needed, I think it is better to slow down and look at the big picture...We need to speak up loudly with clarity and courage about the ethics and insist upon an ethical option. It could redirect this entire issue towards the good,” she wrote in her op-ed.

For his part, Lanciotti said that while all the COVID-19 vaccines remain in the testing phases, it appears that two of the three leading candidates are at least produced in an ethical manner free from the use of aborted fetal cells— which is more than can be said for some common vaccines such as MMR, polio, and chickenpox.

“We as Catholics should actually be very pleased that the two leading COVID vaccine candidates are both RNA vaccines with no ethical concerns,” he said.

“The third leading candidate, the AstraZeneca vaccine, is in fact a modified virus that is produced in HEK-293 cells. Therefore, that vaccine clearly has ethical problems and should be rejected by Catholics.”

 

New Catholic priests voice satisfaction in priestly life, but minority report 'troubling' adversity

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- A survey of recently ordained Catholic priests reports that the great majority find satisfaction in their work celebrating sacraments and in their parish ministry, but there are also difficulties and areas for which they felt seminary life had left them unprepared.

A small minority of new priests voiced great dissatisfaction with their priestly life.

“We need to do a better job preparing our seminarians for living a life of celibacy as spiritual fathers, and... a much better job at helping them land successfully in their first year of priesthood and make the adjustments to a challenging environment,” Father Thomas Berg, a moral theology professor and director of admissions at St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, N.Y., told CNA.

“We also need to find the way to help them prepare better for real and practical challenges such as loneliness or the difficulties in maintaining friendships they began in seminary,” said Berg, who served as a coordinator on the study’s advisory board.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate collaborated with the National Association of Catholic Theological Schools from April to July 2020 in the study, published in the report “Enter by the Narrow Gate: Satisfaction and Challenges Among Recently Ordained Priests”.

Researchers sent a survey request to 1,379 priests recently ordained for both dioceses and religious orders. They received 1,012 valid responses, a 73% response rate. Respondents answered questions about areas of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their priestly lives, discussed their seminary formation, and discussed difficulties of priestly life.

“By far, the areas they are most satisfied are related to their immediate ministries, including celebrating the sacraments in their parishes, serving the needs of their parishioners, teaching the faith to others, presiding at Masses and other liturgies, hearing Confessions, ministering to the youth, and providing pastoral counseling,” the report summary said.

However, their self-reported areas of least satisfaction include “performing administrative and human resource duties, the poor relationship they have with the pastors under whom they serve, feeling burned out from their workload, their frustration with their diocese/bishop, and the lack of fraternity among their fellow priests.”

Respondents’ average year of ordination was 2017, and their average age was 38 years. About 76% were diocesan priests, with the remainder from religious institutes. While many were foreign-born, 82% were born in the U.S. The racial and ethnic breakdown of respondents was 74% white, 12% Hispanic or Latino, 8% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 4% African-American.

More than half of new priests said they were well prepared to preside at Mass, to preach, and to hear confessions. Fewer than half said they were well prepared for hospital ministry, presiding at funerals, and pastoral counseling. Only 30% said they were well prepared in language skills needed for their pastoral work, 28% were well prepared for serving diverse cultures in their diocese, and 24% said they were well prepared for personal skills like time management and stress management.

The new priests said they were least well prepared in administrative, human resources, and leadership skills. Only 16% said they were well prepared for the areas of communication and conflict management, building consensus, or motivating people, and only 6% said they were well prepared in administrative skills like budgeting and investing.

About 59% of new priests reported being “very satisfied” with their life as a priest, with 22% saying they are “somewhat satisfied.” Another 6% said they were “somewhat dissatisfied,” and 13% said they are “very dissatisfied.” The researchers interviewed 16 of the hundreds of respondents, focusing on those who reported dissatisfaction with their lives.

Berg found it “troubling” that so many reported struggles in their first years as priests. 13% of respondents said their lives as priests were “very dissatisfying.”

“We need to dig further into the data, and get at those reasons, but I think this will be a wake up call for a lot of bishops,” Berg told CNA. “It seems our newly ordained priests are landing in unexpectedly adverse environments in their respective dioceses. The report tells us in clear language that we need to do a much better job of accompanying and supporting our newly ordained priests in their first years of ministry.”

While the study did not explicitly ask the priests about many personal problems, according to Berg a “low but consistent” percentage of recently ordained priests across dioceses experience a major crisis such as depression, alcohol dependency or other addiction, or entering a sexual relationship. Such a crisis might help lead them to abandon the priesthood.

“It was the desire to get at the causes of this phenomenon that occasioned the study,” Berg told CNA.

The reports said that when new priests are asked their largest problems on a daily basis, they “express their greatest frustration with their diocese and fellow priests.”

For 20% of respondents, differences among different age cohorts of priests are “very much” a problem, with another 26% indicating this was “somewhat” a problem. Another 20% named theological differences in the concept of the priesthood among fellow priests as a significant problem, with another 24% saying it was somewhat a problem. About 17% of respondents named feeling a lack of input into diocese-level decision-making processes to be a large problem.

A significant minority of respondents thought they had been assigned too many ministries and duties or were so busy they could not meet people’s pastoral needs. Ministering at more than one parish was a problem for some. They said there was not as much fraternal support among priests as they would like, and the “loneliness of priestly life” was a problem. Some 30% of respondents thought that “unrealistic demands and expectations of lay people” were a problem, though about half as many said actual conflicts with parishioners or lay people were problematic.

Some 4% said living a life of celibacy or chastity was “very much” a problem, with about 14% saying this was “somewhat” a problem. About 2% said that “resolving any personal psycho-sexual issues” was very much a problem, and 9% said it was somewhat a problem.

Some 10% of respondents said that “differences among priests with different sexual orientations in your diocese” was very much a problem, while about 13% said this was somewhat a problem.

“Being expected to represent Church teachings you have difficulty with” was “very much” a problem for 2% or respondents, and “somewhat” a problem for about 5%.

About one percent said feeling comfortable ministering to women was very much a problem for them.

The new priests were asked whether they would choose the same path, knowing what they know now, and they were overwhelmingly positive. 80% of respondents said they would “definitely” enter the priesthood again. Another 16% said they “probably” would. One percent said they would definitely not enter the priesthood again if they had the choice, and 4% said they probably would not.

The survey asked the new priests to consider their own future in the priesthood. A large majority, 76%, said they will definitely not leave the priesthood, and 18% said they probably will not. However, 5% expressed uncertainty about whether they would continue to exercise their priesthood.

Asked if they have ever thought about leaving the priesthood, about 40% cited “celibacy and the loneliness of the priestly life” as a reason they have considered leaving.

“The next most frequently cited reasons are frustration with their diocese, religious institute, bishop or superior and the disappointment they feel in regards to their current ministries,” the report said.

Some 79% know someone who left active ministry or the priesthood within five years of ordination. The respondents hypothesized that the reasons for this were “disillusionment with the actual life of ministry, loneliness, meeting someone they would like to be their romantic partner or to marry, and their desire to look for a romantic partner.”

Among all survey respondents, the priests tended to report being very satisfied in the respect they receive as members of the clergy from lay persons, their present financial situation, and their present living situation. They were least likely to report satisfaction in balancing work, personal and spiritual lives and in their training for administrative matters such as budgeting and managing staff.

The clergy sexual abuse scandals have “greatly” hindered the ministry of about 16% of respondents, while 64% said the scandals have “slightly” hindered their ministry.

Regarding their seminary formation, almost 90% reported that their seminary offered counseling with a psychologist. Another 76% said their seminary offered programs about formation in chaste celibacy, and an equal percentage reported prayer groups or prayer teams at their seminary. Some 66% said seminary offered mentoring during their pastoral year, while 61% reported that a pastoral year internship was available.

The least offered programs include a “propaedeutic”, or spirituality year, reported by only 23% of respondents; 30-day spiritual exercises, reported by 26% of respondents; and chastity support groups, reported by 38% of respondents.

Berg noted to CNA that the responses were overwhelmingly from men of the millennial generation. He said that if it was challenging to be a new priest in the last decade, it is “even more challenging in a post-McCarrick Church.”

“To be a priest in the coming decade I think will be to partake in a profound transformation of how the Church lives and experiences the faith: a Church with a smaller footprint as more and more parishes necessarily will have to be consolidated, merged or closed,” he said. In his view, the Church will be forced to “find fresh new ways to engage in discipleship and thrive, mostly likely, as smaller but more intentionally Catholic communities.”

“The priests of the next two decades will be part of this--major players. They will not tolerate a Church leadership focused simply on managing decline.,” he said.

Berg encouraged prospective seminarians and priests to read the report and make their own conclusions.

“Lean into the hard work of vulnerability and transparency in formation. Be brutally honest with yourself about your past wounds, about those areas where you need to mature and grow,” he said. “Take note of the many seminarians who reported how positively they benefited from counseling during formation.”

Seminarians should ask themselves and bring to prayer and spiritual direction various important questions:

"What am I looking for in the priesthood? Is what I am looking for what the Holy Spirit wants me to desire? Am I looking for the esteem of others, for power, influence and admiration? Or am I sincerely hungry to be a spiritual father and to give myself in spousal love for the Church? What am I really looking for?”

“Seminarians have to get to the bottom of that with raw honesty,” said Berg. “If you are looking for esteem, power, influence and admiration--pack and go home because you are not called to the priesthood.”

Berg also had advice for all Catholics.

“Always pray for your priests,” he said. “Be patient with your newly ordained priests. Simple things: be kind. But by the same token don’t be afraid to give them clear feedback--while not forgetting to complement them for the positive.”

“Remember -- and this is true of any priest--at any given moment priests are being pulled in a dozen directions at once,” he said. “Keep that in mind. They have far many more things on their minds and hearts than may be apparent as you just chat together after Mass.”

Analysis: Archbishop Gregory says he won’t deny Biden communion. How will Catholics respond?

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:25 pm (CNA).-  

Washington’s archbishop, who will be made a cardinal this weekend, told a journalist Tuesday that in his diocese, he will not deny Holy Communion to a politician who has pledged to enshrine access to abortion in federal law and permit federal funding of abortions. That politician is President-elect Joe Biden.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s comment is sure to raise questions about the Church’s pro-life witness. But for some Catholics, the remark might also raise questions about the sincerity of U.S. bishops on the topic of ecclesial reform.

In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, told U.S. bishops in a memo that a Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.

In such a case, the politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

If the Catholic perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Ratzinger’s memo was an application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

In short, Ratzinger’s memo gave bishops instruction on how to apply the Church’s law. On Tuesday, Archbishop Gregory said he has no plans to do so.

Some Catholics will soon raise objections to Gregory’s remark.

Pro-life activists will say bishops should stand up for the unborn, and that distributing the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians implies that abortion is not a serious moral issue. Some will accuse the archbishop of preferring secular approval to uncomfortable evangelical witness.

Those are exactly the arguments Catholics made when Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in 2019 that he would not deny the Eucharist to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country’s history, and again in October of that year, when Dolan said he would not deny Biden the Eucharist.

If history is predictive, other Catholics will praise Gregory as a witness of civility and tolerance. They will say that no one should politicize the Eucharist, and that denying Holy Communion is not pastoral, or prudent.

They will not be the first to use that language.

In 2004, when U.S. bishops discussed pro-choice politicians and the Eucharist, one cardinal among them was charged with summarizing the memo sent from Ratzinger to bishops on the subject, as few of them had yet received it. The cardinal downplayed the memo, saying addressing the matter at all was up to the discretion of U.S. bishops.

“The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent,” the cardinal said.

That cardinal was Theodore McCarrick.

At the 2004 spring meeting of U.S. bishops, which took place in Denver, McCarrick inaccurately summarized the instructions of the Vatican on Holy Communion, omitting Ratzinger’s normative direction. Under McCarrick’s influence, the bishops decided the best way to handle the question was to defer to the individual judgement of bishops.

The memo, incidentally, was sent ahead of the meeting to two U.S. bishops: McCarrick, and the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Bishop Wilton Gregory.

In the wake of McCarrick’s more recent scandal, pro-lifers will not be the only ones to lament Gregory’s decision about Biden. Catholics concerned with ecclesial reform are also likely to have concerns.

Gregory is charged with leading the Archdiocese of Washington after the scandal of McCarrick, and in the wake of serious questions raised about his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl. The archbishop is charged with promoting healing, and enacting reform, and he’s pledged to do so.

But his critics are likely to see his remarks on Biden as a setback to reform. Some will argue that Gregory has substituted his own judgment for the law of the Church, and the Vatican’s instructions on how to apply it. That practice, they’ll say, is the kind of clericalism that made the McCarrick scandal possible.

Gregory may not see that matter that way, or believe himself to be flouting canon 915. But if his priests think he is not taking seriously ecclesiastical law, his reform agenda may be seriously jeopardized.

Archbishop Jose Gomez said last week that a Biden presidency promises “certain challenges” for the bishops of the U.S. As Gregory wades into controversy over canon 915, the reach of those challenges may soon become apparent.

 

Massachusetts governor must decide whether to veto bill expanding abortion access

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A measure expanding abortion access in Massachusetts has passed both the state house and senate, and could prompt a veto from the governor.

 
On Nov. 18, the state senate passed amendment 180 by a vote of 33-7, according to The Herald News; the amendment would allow for some abortions until the point of birth.

Legislators had inserted amendments into house and senate budget bills that would effectively implement the “Roe Act,” a bill proposed in 2019 to legalize abortion in the state in the event Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court.
 
The amendments would allow for abortions up until the point of birth in the event of a lethal fetal anomaly. They would also allow for minors as young as 16 years old to have an abortion without parental consent.
 
In addition, the bill calls for life-saving equipment to be in the room when a doctor performs a legal late-term abortion, but only says the equipment is to “enable” the doctor to safe the life of a baby surviving an abortion. Pro-life groups have warned that the language amounts to “passive infanticide” by not specifically requiring a doctor to save the infant’s life.
 
On Nov. 18, the senate passed its budget bill that included amendment 180, the abortion measure. Now both budget bills will be reconciled in a conference committee, after which the final version will be voted on by both chambers and sent to the governor for signature.
 
Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has already stated his opposition to the measures. Pro-life groups are calling on Massachusetts residents to contact the governor asking him to veto the measures.
 
However, both the house and senate passed the amendments with a veto-proof majority.
 
The state’s Catholic bishops have stated their opposition to the amendments.
 
“Abortion at any time, from the moment of conception to birth, is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching and must be opposed,” the bishops said Nov. 24.
 
The pro-life group Massachusetts Citizens for Life also says that the measures allow for late-term abortions when a physician determines it “necessary” in order “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” Also, under the proposed amendments, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives could perform abortions.

Feinstein will not continue as head Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee

CNA Staff, Nov 24, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- Following complaints from liberal groups on her handling of Amy Coney’s Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that she will not seek to continue as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” she said in a November 23 statement. Feinstein added she looks “forward to continuing to serve as a senior Democrat on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees as we work with the Biden Administration.”

Feinstein faced calls to step down from the position after she was cordial with her Senate colleagues at Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings last month. Feinstein, a Democrat, thanked chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) at the conclusion of the hearings, and said it was “one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in.”

“I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth,” she added. “It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas,” she said, noting that “perhaps some good bipartisan legislation” could happen in the future.

Feinstein and Graham hugged each other after the hearings ended. Feinstein did not vote to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Despite not actually supporting Barrett’s confirmation, Feinstein was criticized for lending an “appearance of credibility to the proceeding.”

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, added in an October 16 statement that she believed “the committee needs new leadership.”

NARAL had previously endorsed Feinstein, and had described her as someone “at the forefront of the movement to safeguard (abortion rights).”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate minority leader, said in October that he had a “long and serious” talk with Feinstein regarding her position on the Judiciary Committee. Following her announcement that she would be stepping aside from the role, Schumer thanked her for her service.

“I know Senator Feinstein will continue her work as one of the nation’s leading advocates for women’s and voting rights, gun safety reform, civil liberties, health care, and the rights of immigrants,” he said.

It is unclear as of now who will replace Feinstein as the ranking member of the committee. According to POLITICO, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are likely contenders for the role.