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Flannery O'Connor should be studied, not cancelled, scholar tells Loyola leaders

Denver Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Professor Angela Alaimo O’Donnell has studied Flannery O’Connor, an American Catholic author from the South, rather extensively. She wrote a book on O’Connor’s treatment of racial issues specifically, entitled “Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor.”

So when the Fordham professor heard that Flannery O’Connor’s name would be removed from a residence hall at Loyola University Maryland, due to concerns over apparently racist remarks in some of her personal correspondence, O’Donnell decided to act by petitioning the university to reconsider. Her petition has been signed by more than 200 people, including O’Connor scholars, theologians, and writers of color.

So far, O’Donnell has not received a response.

“I was hoping to get a note from Father Linnane (president of Loyola University) just acknowledging the letter, but I haven't heard anything from him. He probably is besieged by a lot of letters. I'm hoping that he will eventually respond, but so far I haven't heard anything,” O’Donnell told CNA.

“I thought it was a great teachable moment for Loyola to have an opportunity to talk with students and take their time. I really don't understand the rush,” she said. O’Donnell’s advocacy for O’Connor is not so much about a building, she said, and it’s not to deny O’Connor’s racist comments.

Rather, it’s about the swift erasure - the canceling, if you will - of O’Connor without the campus community considering a fuller picture of her person and what her work has to say to the current generation.

“I know Father Linnane says people can still teach Flannery O'Connor, that she's not being removed from campus,” O’Donnell said. “But I don't think Father Linnane realizes that, effectively, she's not going to be on campus anymore, unless the faculty member (teaching her works) is tenured and also is very brave, and wants to have these conversations about race.” 

O'Connor was a short story writer, novelist, and essayist as well as a devout Catholic who attended daily Mass. She lived most of her life in Georgia and became renowned for her biting Southern Gothic style of fiction. She died of lupus in 1964, at the age of 39.

Attention was drawn to apparent racism in O’Connor’s personal writings by “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?”, a piece that appeared in the New Yorker in June. There, Paul Elie wrote that “letters and postcards she sent home from the North in 1943 were made available to scholars only in 2014, and they show O’Connor as a bigoted young woman.” Some of the passages quoted by Elie had been published for the first time in O’Donnell’s book.

O’Donnell said professors should not ignore O’Connors comments about race in her correspondence. Rather, she said, they should be seen as just one piece of the full picture of who Flannery O’Connor was, and be compared to the way she treats racism in her works of fiction.

“It's got to be a conversation about race. I welcome that,” O’Donnell said, adding that the purpose of her book in the first place was to genuinely pose the question of how Flannery can still be taught in classrooms given some of her problematic racist comments in her personal letters.

“How do you teach Flannery O'Connor in the classroom? What can you do? Because I think it's worth us considering it from the angle of pedagogy and culture, how you encounter every writer. Every writer needs to be reevaluated with each new generation, and then we decide what it is that he or she has to offer, and whether or not it's helpful. And so this is a really good moment to reevaluate O'Connor in a thoughtful way,” she said, “and not the way that Elie does, and not the way that Loyola has done.”

In many ways, O’Donnell noted, O’Connor is the perfect author for this moment in history especially because of how she treats racism in her work, which faces its ugliness head-on and views it as a sin.

“Her stories are powerful, iconic stories, and very realistic gritty depictions of what it was like to be alive in a culture, the very, very racist culture of the American south during the Civil Rights Movement, during a time of enormous change,” O’Donnell said.

And O’Connor’s favorite description of her job as a fiction writer was to live “hotly in pursuit of the real," O’Donnell said, so her stories “do not look away from very difficult and challenging situations.”

In her stories, O’Connor portrays “a complex sort of dance that black Americans and white Americans had to negotiate in order to live together in a segregated culture. And it always reflects badly on white people, because they were - most white people are - ignorant of their racism. And the few who do know it oftentimes are proud of it and think it's a badge of honor. And she just mercilessly exposes those people,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said there are “all sorts of ways” in which Americans today experience the same or similar kinds of racism, whether personally or systemically. “And the fact that we have this writer who exposes it so knowingly, and exposes it to censure, it's a powerful way of seeing how far we have not come,” she said.

As a devout Catholic, O’Connor also “thought about this in theological terms. She thought that racism was a sin. A sin against God, a sin against human beings, a sin against grace. And so in a number of her stories the people who are the most egregious racists really get their comeuppance in the course of the story,” she added.

Alice Walker, an African American writer and feminist who grew up in the same area of Georgia as the O’Connors, was one of the signatories of the petition sent to Loyola University Maryland. The letter opens with a statement from Walker, who said: “We must honor Flannery for growing. Hide nothing of what she was, and use that to teach.”

Walker herself is an admirer of O’Connor’s work. In an essay that appeared in the Dec. 1994/Jan. 1995 edition of Sojourners magazine, Walker wrote that it was O’Connor’s biting portrayal of Southern white people that initially captured her attention.

“It was for her description of Southern white women that I appreciated her work at first, because when she set her pen to them not a whiff of magnolia hovered in the air (and the tree itself might never have been planted), and yes, I could say, yes, these white folks without the magnolia (who are indifferent to the tree's existence), and these black folks without melons and superior racial patience, these are like Southerners that I know,” Walker wrote.

O’Donnell added that Walker has also, in her past critiques of O’Connor, “really admired the fact that O'Connor did not pretend to be able to get inside the minds of her black characters.”

O’Connor admitted at one point that she did not write from the perspective of African Americans because she did not understand them.

“And so Walker saw this as a kind of a respectful distance that O'Connor kept, allowing black characters to have their own privacy, so she never pretends to know what they're thinking.”

“I think what Walker valued was that she could see in O'Connor, this development, this struggle, and was wrestling with the problem of race.'s foolish and shortsighted not to honor that and acknowledge that as being human.”

Something else that people today can learn from O’Connor is how to face and challenge the racism that exists even within themselves, O’Donnell said.

“All of us who are born and raised in this white privileged culture, we imbibe this from the time that we're born into the world, and it's impossible for us to escape it. It's just impossible,” she said.

“The best that we can do is be knowledgeable about the fact, be knowledgeable of our blindnesses, and try to work against them and do what we call now anti-racist work. And one of the forms that anti-racist work took for O'Connor was: ‘Okay, I know I have this problem. I know all the people I live with and love have this problem, including my mother and including my aunt and my friends. And so I’m going to write stories that expose this problem.’”

For those who want to read some of O’Connor’s most poignant fiction that treats racism, O’Donnell recommended four stories. The first, “Revelation,” was one of O’Connor’s “last stories and one of her most powerful stories. It is a portrait of a racist who has a wake-up call and understands very clearly what she's guilty of by the end of the story. And in some ways that person, that main character, is a portrait of O'Connor.”

Another story by O’Connor about race that O’Donnell recommended is “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” in which one of the characters seeks to atone for the racism of his mother, and must confront his own hypocrisy. 

Another story, “The Geranium,” is one of the first that O’Connor ever published.

“It's about an old white man who goes to live in New York with his daughter, and is horrified when he moves next door to black people. And he has a wake-up call,” O’Donnell said.

“And the last story that Flannery worked on on her death bed was a rewriting of that same story, it's called 'Judgment Day.' So, O'Connor's work - she only wrote 31 stories- is book-ended by these two stories and that story she rewrote four times in the course of her life.”

“And with each new version, her depiction of the relationship between the races gets more and more complex as she goes along. That is a sign of somebody who, throughout the course of her professional life as a writer, is growing and changing and developing,” O’Donnell said.

“She’s at war with herself in many ways and trying to figure out what she thinks. But the victory is you can see in the stories where she's going and what she thinks,” she added. 

O’Donnell said that going forward, she hopes that Flannery O’Connor gets a fairer and more honest consideration than a cursory glance at some of her racist remarks in her personal letters.

At Loyola University Maryland, Flannery O’Connor’s name could be used on a more appropriate building, such as a literary arts building or theater, she noted.

“I would really just encourage people to read the stories and decide for themselves what O'Connor is doing,” O’Donnell said. “And also to understand that the things that she says in her letters are problematic. Absolutely, no question about it. Nobody is going to side step that.”

“But we don't remember Flannery O'Connor for her letters. We remember her for her stories. That's where we go when we have to decide whether that work is worth it. It's a decision we have to make.”

Minnesota bishop retires early while seeking health treatment

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 04:09 am (CNA).- Pope Francis has accepted the early resignation of Bishop John LeVoir, who has led the Minnesota diocese of New Ulm since 2008, and took a leave from his position last month to be assessed for physical and psychological concerns.

“I applaud Bishop LeVoir for recognizing his health concerns and making the request for early retirement. I thank him for his devoted leadership during his tenure as the shepherd of our diocese,” Msgr. Douglas Grams, Levoir’s vicar general in the diocese, said in an Aug. 6 press release.

LeVoir was not expected to retire until at least February 2021, seven months from now, when he will turn 75, the age at which bishops customarily submit letters of resignation to the pope. But the diocese said the bishop has been seeking treatment and assessment at a facility in Alma, Michigan, and will remain at the facility until September to begin a “therapy plan.”

The diocese did not specify what conditions afflict the bishop, who said Aug. 6 “it has been a privilege to have served the faithful of the Diocese of New Ulm.”

“As bishop, it has not only been a great honor, but an enriching experience as I have come to know many people throughout this local Church. I have been impressed by their love for Jesus Christ, their willingness to share their Catholic faith, and their concern for the less fortunate. It would not have been possible to serve as their shepherd without their continued support, cooperation, and prayers,” LeVoir added.

LeVoir, a native of Minneapolis, was ordained a priest in 1981 and was appointed bishop of New Ulm, a town southwest of the Twin Cities, in 2008. With a population under 14,000, New Ulm is believed to be the third-smallest diocesan see in the United States, behind Baker City, Oregon and Crookston, Minnesota, which each have fewer than 10,000 people.

The diocese has 35 priests in active ministry and 7 seminarians, who serve 50,000 Catholics in 60 parishes.

In June, LeVoir acknowledged that the diocese is facing financial difficulties.

The diocese declared bankruptcy in March 2017, after several lawsuits were filed against it pertaining to the sexual abuse of clergy. To date, five Minnesota dioceses have filed bankruptcy; in the state only the Crookston diocese has not yet done so.

LeVoir, who is a Certified Public Accountant and taught accounting at the University of Minnesota before becoming a priest, led the New Ulm diocese through its bankruptcy proceeding.

In his June column, written shortly before he went for treatment, LeVoir wrote that while the diocese had come out of bankruptcy in March, it had not “finished with the healing and welcoming that it needs to do with regards to survivors and the lives of all those whom this great tragedy has touched. We are committed to doing what we can to help those harmed as minors by clergy sexual abuse.”

A financial report issued in June 2020 showed that the diocesan financial condition slightly improved in 2019, but Lavoir wrote in June that  the diocese, the parishes, and the Catholic schools are struggling to make ends meet,” and the financial report did not take into account the effect of the pandemic in recent months.

“To navigate the challenges that we all face, we need Jesus Christ. Please pray and do whatever you can to help by putting Catholic social teaching into practice.”

The college of consultors, a group of senior priests in the New Ulm diocese, is expected to elect a temporary diocesan administrator in the days to come. There is no set timeline for the appointment of a new bishop.


Vatican: Baptisms administered 'in name of the community' are invalid

Vatican City, Aug 6, 2020 / 04:03 am (CNA).- The Vatican’s doctrinal office issued Thursday a clarification on the sacrament of baptism, stating changes to the formula to emphasize community participation are not permitted.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to a question about whether it would be valid to administer the sacrament of baptism saying “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The formula for baptism, according to the Catholic Church, is “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The CDF ruled Aug. 6 any baptisms administered with the formula “we baptize” are invalid and anyone for whom the sacrament was celebrated with this formula must be baptized in forma absoluta, meaning the person should be considered as not yet having received the sacrament.

The Vatican said it was responding to questions on baptismal validity after recent celebrations of the sacrament of baptism used the words “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The response was approved by Pope Francis and signed by CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi.

A doctrinal note from the CDF Aug. 6 said “with debatable pastoral motives, here resurfaces the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition other texts judged more suitable.”

Quoting the Second Vatican Council document Sacrosanctum Concilium, the note clarified that “no one, ‘even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.’”

The reason for this, the CDF explained, is that when a minister administers the sacrament of baptism, “it is really Christ Himself who baptizes.”

The sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ, and “are entrusted to the Church to be preserved by her,” the congregation stated.

“When celebrating a Sacrament,” it continued, “the Church in fact functions as the Body that acts inseparably from its Head, since it is Christ the Head who acts in the ecclesial Body generated by him in the Paschal mystery.”

“It is therefore understandable that in the course of the centuries the Church has safeguarded the form of the celebration of the Sacraments, above all in those elements to which Scripture attests and that make it possible to recognize with absolute clarity the gesture of Christ in the ritual action of the Church,” the Vatican clarified.

According to the CDF, the “deliberate modification of the sacramental formula” to use “we” instead of “I” appears to have been done “to express the participation of the family and of those present, and to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community.”

In a footnote, the CDF note explained that in reality, the Church’s Rite of Baptism of Children already includes active roles for the parents, godparents, and the entire community in the celebration.

According to the provisions laid out in Sacrosanctum Concilium, “each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.”  

The minister of the sacrament of baptism, whether a priest or lay person, is “the sign-presence of Him who gathers, and is at the same time the locus of the communion of every liturgical assembly with the whole Church,” the explanatory note said.

“In other words the minister is the visible sign that the Sacrament is not subject to an arbitrary action of individuals or of the community, and that it pertains to the Universal Church.”

Prayers answered: Diocese of Providence sees decades-high number of new seminarians  

Denver Newsroom, Aug 6, 2020 / 03:04 am (CNA).- The Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, is welcoming eight new seminarians this year - the highest number of incoming seminarians in nearly four decades.

“Some great news to share: The Providence Diocese is welcoming 8 *new seminarians* this year, the most new seminarians in almost 40 years,” said Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI on Twitter last week.

“Pray for our seminarians, including the new students. God said, ‘I will give you shepherds,’ and indeed He is!” the bishop added.

Father Brian Morris, vocations director for Our Lady of Providence Seminary in the diocese, attributed the recent increase in seminarians to the community’s dedicated prayer efforts. He told CNA the seminary has held adoration every Thursday for an increase in vocations, and parishes have hosted similar efforts.

“It’s the result of a lot of prayer. People throughout our diocese have been praying diligently for more vocations, more young men who consider the call to the priesthood,” he said.

“Why God chose this year? I don't know, that's up to him, but I think some of it is to deal us some good news. [We are] in a time right now [of] negativity and so much going on. This is wonderful news for our diocese, and I think God is showing us a little light in the dark.”

Like many areas in the U.S., the Diocese of Providence has faced a clergy shortage as older priests retire, including some who had been responsible for multiple parishes. These parishes are often then faced with practical challenges, such as limited sacramental ministry.

In addition, some parishes have closed in recent years as church attendance drops.

Father Chris Murphy, the rector of the seminary, told CNA that the increase in seminarians is encouraging. However, he stressed that quantity alone is not the goal.

“We want to pray for good priests, not just many priests … The Church is not desperate for many priests. The Church is desperate for good and Holy priests,” he said.

“We have to remember to trust in the Lord that he's going to provide the shepherds for the Church that the Church needs at the current time.”

The diocese has also taken serious steps to enhance its vocation efforts, Murphy said. Events such as Hiking with the Saints offer opportunities to interact with priests. Additionally, the diocese reintroduced Quo Vadis retreats - which allow high school boys to deepen their faith and learn more about vocations - after a several year hiatus.

While these events and retreats are helpful, Murphy said, the greatest fruits have been borne from building personal relationships with young men over the years. These relationships have included one-on-one meetings or phone conversations while the men are away at college.

“I would say even more important than [events] is the example of the witness of the priests in these men's lives - their pastors, their chaplains, their theology teachers at the high schools for the Catholic high school students,” he said.

The priest said that he tries to provide opportunities for fraternity, but added, “truth be told, I think that a lot of the work is done at the local level through the parishes.”

Father Morris said the increase in seminarians is a sign of hope for the local Church and community.

“I just think it's a wonderful, hopeful image to see these young men, who come from very diverse backgrounds and [have] different personalities, to show that there is not like a cookie-cutter image of a priest, to show that young men are still looking at something greater than what the world is offering them,” he said.

“It’s encouraging people that it's okay to give your life to Christ, to give your life to God and not be afraid of what you're missing out in this world because there's something greater.”



Ban on D&E abortions advances in Nebraska legislature

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Nebraska lawmakers on Wednesday, in a contentious vote, gave first-round approval to a ban on dilation and evacuation abortions, which pro-life lawmakers are hoping to pass before the end of legislative session.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference, which has supported the ban since its introduction, hailed the Aug. 5 vote and thanked all those that had prayed and fasted for the success of the bill.

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

“No human being should be torn apart limb by limb,” the conference said.

Senator Suzanne Geist (District 25-Lincoln) introduced LB814 in January, which was co-sponsored by 21 state senators upon introduction, with another four joining later. The measure passed its first vote 34-9.

Multiple senators attempted to filibuster the bill, but the bill earned the 33 votes necessary to break the filibuster as Geist moved to invoke cloture.

Two more votes are required in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature before the bill goes to the desk of Gov. Pete Ricketts, who supports the ban. Only four days remain in Nebraska’s legislative session.

The bill explicitly prohibits abortionists to use “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors, or similar instruments that...slice, crush, or grasp a portion of the unborn child's body to cut or rip it off.”

According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, to date 11 states have passed bans on dilation and evacuation abortions, though because of courts blocking the measures, the bans in just two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, are currently in effect.

Most recently, a federal judge during July 2019 blocked Indiana’s D&E ban from taking effect.

In 2010, Nebraska became the first state to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, citing evidence that unborn children feel pain.

Coronavirus 'baby bust' could be worse than expected

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Amid steady forecasts of demographic decline, one economics professor told CNA that a COVID-related “baby bust” could be worse than people predicted.

A Brookings Institution report published in June said that the economic shock caused by the coronavirus, combined with the social effects of the pandemic itself, could trigger a sharp decline in births.

Those predictions should not be dismissed, Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, a professor of social research and economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA, noting that economic uncertainty can have a direct correlation with the birthrate.

“The money and the numbers tend to correlate with all the things we think matter for human flourishing,” she said, such as the “ability to grow and form families.”

In the Brookings report, authors Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine warned that the coronavirus pandemic might cause a “baby bust” rather than the “baby boom” some assumed could follow months of lockdowns.

They said that two events—the surge in deaths and anxiety brought on by the pandemic, and the economic decline resulting from lockdown measures—would both cause a drop in the birthrate from “300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year.”

“The circumstances in which we now find ourselves are likely to be long-lasting and will lead to a permanent loss of income for many people,” Kearney and Levine wrote.

“We expect that many of these births will not just be delayed – but will never happen. There will be a COVID-19 baby bust.”

The study pointed to two major historical events for evidence for their prediction, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the Great Recession of a decade ago.

“The Great Recession led to a large decline in birth rates, after a period of relative stability,” the authors said, noting a fall in the birthrate from 69.1 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age in 2007 to 63 births per 1,000 women in 2012.

Furthermore, the authors estimated a 15% decline in annual births due to the 1918 epidemic, which could predict a second major effect on the current birthrate given “the public health crisis and the uncertainty and anxiety it creates.”

Pakaluk praised the Brookings study as “totally reliable,” and said that the decline in births next year “could be on the extreme end of the numbers they predicted.”

“Birthrates have been falling anyway,” she said, noting a years-long trend which has continued even after the U.S. economy recovered from the Great Recession, which many assumed would bring a spike in the birthrate.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the birthrate for 2019 was the lowest since the figure was first recorded in 1909, with only 58.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44.

There was also a 1% drop in the number of overall births from the previous year, with 3.75 million children born in 2019. While a growth in fertility rates requires a “replacement level” rate of 2.1 children for population replacement, the U.S. fertility rate sits at 1.7.

Then in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic entered the U.S. and spread rapidly. As coronavirus infection rates and deaths soared, states began instituting strict lockdowns or closures of non-essential businesses, the unemployment rate spiked to 14% and currently stands at more than 11%.

According to the Brookings report, the Federal Reserve has predicted that unemployment will hover near 10% by the end of the year.

The twin “catastrophic shocks” of the coronavirus and massive job losses will have a deep impact on an already-falling birthrate, Pakaluk said. Further complicating the matter could be a rise in political instability in a contentious presidential election year, which could further dissuade couples from choosing to have children.

The Brookings report also predicts that a longer economic malaise could further drive down the birthrate in the long-term. “Additional reductions in births may be seen if the labor market remains weak beyond 2020,” the study concluded.

What might some of the long-term societal effects be of an extended drop in birthrates?

A smaller youth demographic could lead to a shrinking tax base, posing threats to the solvency of local governments.

“We’re seeing, right this minute” COVID-related state budget cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars, Pakaluk said, to meet pension obligations and pay for schools. According to data from the State and Local Finance Initiative and reported by NPR, 34 states saw a revenue drop of 20% or more between March and May of 2020.

The present crisis could also force a national conversation about how to pay for programs such as Medicare, Pakaluk said.

On the individual family level, many might experience “the fertility gap,” feelings of regret, incompleteness, or missed opportunities related to not having an extra child. Childless couples could be faced with finding a caregiver when they grow older, or children might feel the lack of an absent sibling.

“We have reason to think that religious people, religious communities, are more resilient to these kinds of ups and downs,” Pakaluk said of the current social anxiety and economic instability.

However, she noted, “we are in the throes of a fairly-unprecedented secularization.”

Knights of Columbus creating Fr. Michael McGivney pilgrimage center

Denver Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 04:37 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced plans to create a new pilgrimage center for visitors to encounter the spirituality of the order’s founder, Fr. Michael McGivney, who is set to be beatified in October.

The Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center will be created at the current Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said the center will offer pilgrims the opportunity to learn more about the group’s founder.

“While the museum will continue to recount the Knights' history, it will also broaden its mission by focusing more on the spirituality and charitable vision of our founder and his legacy. A visit to the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center will enhance the formative experience of a pilgrimage to Father McGivney's tomb at St. Mary’s,” he said.

Anderson made the announcement of the new pilgrimage center on Tuesday, during the Knights of Columbus' 138th annual Supreme Convention. It is the first annual convention to be held completely virtually, as ongoing limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic have restricted in-person gatherings.

McGivney's beatification Mass will take place on October 31 in Hartford, Connecticut.

Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to McGivney’s intercession in May. The miracle involved an unborn child in the United States who was healed in-utero of a life-threatening condition in 2015 after his family prayed to McGivney.

“For members of the Knights of Columbus and many others, the news of the beatification is a time of great joy and celebration. Father McGivney ministered to those on the margins of society in the 19th century, and his example has inspired millions of Knights to follow his example in their own parishes and communities,” said Anderson.

McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882. Today it is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal service organization, with nearly two million members in more than a dozen countries.

Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1852, McGivney was ordained a priest in 1877. He served a largely Irish-American and immigrant community in New Haven.

Amid an anti-Catholic climate, he established the Knights to provide spiritual aid to Catholic men and financial help for families that had lost their breadwinner.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared McGivney a Venerable Servant of God. He said McGivney was an “exemplary American priest” whose vision and zeal led to the establishment of the Knights of Columbus.

In a recent letter to the Knights, Pope Francis commended McGivney’s contributions to the world and Church. He said the priest’s service to the poor and vulnerable calls the Knights “to deepen their commitment to live as missionary disciples in charity, unity and fraternity.”

“His Holiness is grateful for these and for the many other countless ways in which the Knights of Columbus continue to bear prophetic witness to God's dream for a more fraternal, just and equitable world in which all are recognized as neighbors and no one is left behind,” the pope said.

Following his beatification, McGivney’s cause will require one more authenticated miracle before he can be considered for canonization.


Vatican II not sole controversial council, Catholic theologian says

Denver Newsroom, Aug 5, 2020 / 03:35 pm (CNA).-  

Amid recent controversy over Vatican II, a theologian said that ecumenical councils have a history of provoking conflict, but their expression and explanation of the Catholic faith is protected by the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit can't be inconsistent with Himself,” Notre Dame theologian John Cavadini told CNA, but “wrongly interpreted, the statements of an ecumenical council may be inconsistent with previous teaching.”

Cavadini was appointed in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI to serve on the Church’s International Theological Commission, and specializes in the intellectual history of Christianity.

The theologian said Church documents sometimes need clarification, but saying so is not the same as claiming, as some recent critics have, that an ecumenical council might teach or contain errors about the Catholic faith.

The Second Vatican Council was an authoritative meeting of the Catholic Church’s bishops, called an ecumenical council, held in Rome from 1962 to 1965. There have been 21 ecumenical councils in the Church’s history, at which, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner.”

Vatican II has been the subject of disagreement since it began.

The council was convened to articulate teachings of the Catholic faith in a matter that might be understood in modernity, to grapple with the Church’s relationship to the secular world, and to address some theological and pastoral questions that had arisen in the decades before it.

Since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, it has become a decades-long theological project of the Church’s bishops to interpret and understand the fullness of its vision, in a manner consistent with the doctrinal teachings of the Church. That project has led to numerous theological and pastoral initiatives, and also to division.

Some Catholics, including some bishops who attended the Council, felt that attempts to “modernize” the Church’s language or catechesis could lead to equivocation on important issues, or a less precise and direct expression of Catholic doctrine and worship.

Some critics of Vatican II have said that documents produced by the council contain errors, others say they need clarification, while many others have criticized the application of the council in the decades following it, while defending the documents themselves. In some cases, those debates have led to official ruptures in the Church.

In recent months debate over the council itself has become more public, and more acute.

In a June interview, and in other recent letters, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, a former papal representative to the United States, offered a set of criticisms against the Second Vatican Council that attracted considerable attention among some scholars and Catholics, especially because of their source: a former high-ranking Vatican official who had been appointed to positions by Pope St. John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI, both supporters of the Second Vatican Council.

Viganò claimed that at the Second Vatican Council, “hostile forces” caused “the abdication of the Catholic Church” through a “sensational deception.”

“The errors of the post-conciliar period were contained in nuce in the Conciliar Acts,” the archbishop added, accusing the council, and not just its aftermath, of overt error.

Viganò has suggested that the Second Vatican Council catalyzed a massive, but unseen, schism in the Church, ushering in a false Church alongside the true Church.

Last month, some Catholics, including priests, media personalities, and some scholars, signed a letter praising Vigano’s engagement on the topic, and claiming that “Whether or not Vatican II can be reconciled with Tradition is the question to be debated, not a posited premise blindly to be followed even if it turns out to be contrary to reason. The continuity of Vatican II with Tradition is a hypothesis to be tested and debated, not an incontrovertible fact.”

In response to Viganò, Cavadini wrote in July that he sympathizes with Catholic frustrations “regarding the evident confusion in the Church today, the attenuation of Eucharistic faith, the banality of much of what claims to be the Council’s inheritance liturgically, etc.”

“Yet, is it fair to blame the Council, rejecting it as riddled with error? But would this not mean the Holy Spirit allowed the Church to lapse into prodigious error and further allowed five Popes to teach it enthusiastically for over 50 years?” Cavadini asked.

“Further, did the Second Vatican Council really produce no good worth mentioning? Viganò mentions none. True, its liturgical reforms were commandeered by banality in the United States. For example, there is the introduction of hymns with no aesthetic merit but containing doctrinal errors especially regarding the Eucharist, hymns that de-catechized the very Catholics who faithfully attend Sunday Mass,” he wrote, while noting that he had experienced beautiful liturgies in African nations that were the fruit of the Second Vatican Council.

Speaking of one such Mass in Nigeria, Cavadini wrote, that “when, after Communion, the whole assembly recited in unison three times, ‘O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine,’ it seemed that the Holy Spirit was making the deepest possible appeal to our hearts, reaching into our souls, helping us to ‘pray as we ought.’”

The theologian also praised the universal call to holiness contained in Lumen gentium, Vatican II’s document on the Church. The council emphasized that sanctity, or closeness to God, is not only the domain of priests and religious, but of all people.

“It is something which seemed so sublime to me when I first read it at age 19 that the desire to live up to it has never worn off even now,” he wrote.

Cavadini catalogued other aspects of Vatican II he said were important theological or pastoral pronouncements. He said claims that documents of Vatican II planted the “seeds” of theological error do not stand up to scrutiny.

“Is Vatican II a bad seed? Or, is the seed in question rather the lopsided choice of theologians to develop one strand of conciliar teaching at the expense of others? Not to mention pastors who have so prioritized the true good of making Christian teaching accessible and intelligible to modern people that they downplay its uniqueness as embarrassingly outmoded?” he asked.

In comments to CNA, Cavadini emphasized that other councils have been misinterpreted and controversial. His essay noted that after some councils, like the Council of Chalcedon, controversies continued for centuries.

“That a statement would need further interpretation is not a unique feature of this council,” Cavadini said.

The theologian raised an example from the Council of Nicea, which took place in the summer of 325. The council, in a discussion about the Trinity, declared that the Son is consubstantial, or homoousios, with the Father.

“There was a widespread reaction against the word,” Cavadini told CNA, by bishops and theologians who equated it with the third-century heresy of Sabellianism, which had been condemned by the Church’s magisterium.

“It was only when the use of the word hupostasis or persona was clarified and distinguished from ousia or ‘substance’ that the ambiguity was clarified. But -- to emphasize -- this was not an error in the teaching itself, far from it! Yet the very act of making a statement sets up a new situation, which often does require further interpretation.”

When Nicea used the word homoousios, “it was taking up a tainted word,” the theologian said.

“Wouldn’t our critics of Vatican II have cried foul? And error? They just don’t remember that even this most famous of councils was bold enough to risk using a tainted word in a new sense with new intent.”

He added that amid efforts to interpret a document, official clarification of unclear language is sometimes important.

On matters of faith “an ecumencial council is preserved from error” he added, “but this does not mean that everything was expressed as well as it could have been or could be, for the Holy Spirit doesn't guarantee that, but simply that the Church, in her authoritative teaching, is preserved from outright statements of error.”

Cavadini urged that Catholics, and especially Church leaders, read seriously the documents of Vatican II, and work to incorporate them in their understanding of the Church.

The recent controversy, he wrote, and Viganò’s letter, have “at least had the virtue of forcing me to emerge from complacency in accepting half-measures in the reception of the Council. Perhaps others will find themselves with me in the same boat as well.”


Missouri voters approve Medicaid expansion, after push from bishops

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- Voters in Missouri approved Tuesday an expansion of Medicaid to more than 230,000 low-income people in the state, a move which drew praise from the state’s four Catholic bishops.

“The vote to expand the Medicaid program will provide greater access to health insurance coverage for the working poor. We are hopeful that the expansion of this important program will improve health outcomes for those with unmet healthcare needs as well as help Missouri’s hospitals keep their doors open, especially in rural parts of the state,” the bishops of Missouri said in an Aug. 5 statement.

The Aug. 4 decision will mean adults between the ages of 19 and 65 whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level will be covered by the federally subsidized health program, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The federal government will pay for 90% of the cost of the expansion, with 10% coming from the state.

An analysis of the expansion by Washington University in St. Louis found that although the move would cost the state an additional $118 million a year, that cost would be offset by savings elsewhere and an increase in tax revenue because of a boost in spending on health care services, leading to an estimated $39 million a year in net savings.

Missouri joins 36 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid, a right given to states under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid is known by different names in different states; in Missouri it is known as MO Healthnet.

The Missouri Catholic Conference had during October 2019 thrown its support behind Amendment 2, the ballot measure to approve the expansion. The measure ended up passing with 53% approval.

The bishops cited paragraph 2288 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that concern for the health of its citizens requires society to “help in the attainment of living conditions that help citizens grow and reach maturity: food and clothing, housing, health care, basic education, employment, and social assistance.”

The bishops praised the MO HealthNet program for its health coverage to Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women, and children. Nearly 10% of Missouri’s population, or about half a million people, were uninsured in 2018.

“In our Catholic ministries throughout the state, however, we find that there are still many Missouri citizens who lack access to affordable healthcare coverage that is so necessary for human flourishing. We, therefore, support expanding the program to cover low-income workers, since doing so will help lead to better health outcomes for them and enhance their ability to continue working to support themselves and their families.”

The bishops acknowledged that some pro-life voters in the state had expressed concern about the expansion of Medicaid because of the possibility of federal funds being used to fund abortions if the Hyde Amendment— the federal prohibition on Medicaid funds for abortions— is overturned.

The risk that the Hyde Amendment will be overturned is small, the bishops have said, even though presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has signaled that he no longer supports Hyde Amendments.

Still, the bishops pledged to continue to advocate that the Hyde Amendment remain a part of federal law.

“We want to make it clear that our support for human life at all stages is unwavering. Indeed, helping those in need obtain health care is part of being pro-life and part of our call from Christ to see Him in the face of those less fortunate,” the bishops said.

“We believe providing low-income working mothers with health insurance coverage that remains in place after they deliver will reduce the demand for abortions.”

The Medicaid expansion vote in Missouri was starkly split between urban and rural areas, with the metro areas of Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, and Columbia largely voting yes and the rest of the state, which is heavily rural, largely voting no.

Studies have found that expansions in other states, such as Washington, have resulted in reductions in uncompensated care costs for hospitals and clinics, which has helped stabilized struggling, rural hospitals, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Togolese bishop, supportive of political reform, targeted by spyware

CNA Staff, Aug 5, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Researchers based at the University of Toronto announced Monday that Bishop Benoît Alowonou of Kpalimé was among six targets of spyware in Togo last year. The country's bishops have supported political reform and denounced the government's injustice.

The spyware, known as Pegasus and which targets WhatsApp users, was made by NSO Group, an Israeli technology firm. It gives its operator access to the target's mobile device.

Since 2005, Faure Gnassingbé has been president of Togo. His father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, had ruled the country after a 1967 coup until his death in 2005.

Bishop Alowonou is president of the Togolese bishops' conference, which in 2017 urged constitutional reform, and earlier this year decried the violent arrest of an opposition leader.

In May 2019 WhatsApp found that spyware from NSO Group could be injected on mobiles phones with a missed video call on the app. Some 1,400 of its users were targeted.

Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary lab based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, said Aug. 3 that it “volunteered to assist WhatsApp to investigate the 2019 Incident as part of the Citizen Lab’s mandate to study digital threats against civil society.”

“During our investigation we identified multiple targets in Togo. These individuals were targeted between April and May, 2019 … We believe the infection attempts would have led to the infection of most targeted devices with NSO’s spyware,” Citizen Lab wrote.

In addition to Bishop Alowonou, Togolese targets of the spyware included Fr. Pierre Affognon, chaplain of the Association of Catholic Leaders of Togo; Elliott Ohin, a former government minister and an opposition leader; and Raymond Houndjo, a prominent member of the National Alliance for Change, an opposition party.

Fr. Affognon's group had in late 2018 called for democratic reforms and organized protest marches that were barred by the government.

Bishop Alowonou told The Guardian that Pegasus' use against dissidents in Togo is “dangerous for our freedoms and for democracy”, while Fr. Affognon said, “it's a violation of the liberty of the citizens.”

According to Citizen Lab, the sole operator of Pegasus in Togo “appeared to be spying only in Togo,” and so it suspects it “was operated by an agency of the Togolese Government.”

Nevertheless, John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab, told The Guardian that “Citizen Lab is not conclusively stating which government is responsible for this attack. But the fact that these individuals are all either opposition party members or otherwise critical of the government is troubling.”

In October 2019 WhatsApp filed a lawsuit in the US against NSO Group , claiming it enabled the Pegasus attacks on its 1,400 users.

Pegasus is marketed to governments for crime fighting, but according to Citizen Lab “there are over 130 cases in which NSO Group’s hacking technology has been used to conduct abusive surveillance against civil society around the globe,” including journalists and human rights advocates.

NSO Group dispute's WhatsApp's claims.

In an Oct. 29, 2019 statement, it said that “the sole purpose of NSO is to provide technology to licensed government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to help them fight terrorism and serious crime. Our technology is not designed or licensed for use against human rights activists and journalists … We consider any other use of our products than to prevent serious crime and terrorism a misuse, which is contractually prohibited. We take action if we detect any misuse.”

There are allegations that Pegasus was used by Saudi officials to monitor Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Togo has seen political instability and widespread poverty in recent years. Protests in 2017 called for Gnassingbé's resignation, and resulted in harsh crackdowns.

Gnassingbé won re-election for his fourth term in a February 2020 election, with more than 70% of the vote.

Opposition leaders asserted there was widespread fraud on the part of the authorities.

The Archbishop Emeritus of Lomé, Philippe Kpodzro, was briefly placed under house arrest in March for encouraging protests following the election.

In 2019 Gnassingbé secured constitutional changes to term limits that allow him to be able to remain in office until 2030.