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US bishops push for pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants

null / Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2021 / 11:20 am (CNA).

As members of Congress this week advanced language providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, the U.S. bishops’ conference praised the development.

Congress is currently crafting a $3.5 trillion budget package that would fund many Biden administration priorities, such as universal pre-K, child care benefits, additional health care subsidies, green energy initiatives, and permanent residence for millions of immigrants.

Currently, House committees are in the process of approving language for the budget package. The House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 13 approved language creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“For decades, the bishops of the United States have been proponents of such reforms, which promote integration and family unity,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference immigration committee, on Wednesday.

He urged that such immigrants be granted a pathway to citizenship, and not be allowed to reside in the United States with a dubious legal status.

“We cannot persist in relegating these members of our society to the margins, especially when we simultaneously depend on so many of them for our collective wellbeing,” he said.

While implying that parts of the budget package are contrary to Catholic social teaching, Bishop Dorsonville praised the immigration language.

“Undoubtedly, Catholic social teaching will be implicated by many aspects of this budget reconciliation bill, but this is a welcome milestone for many families and the common good,” he said of the immigration provisions.

Pro-life groups have warned that the reconciliation bill could ultimately include billions of dollars in health care spending without pro-life protections, thus allowing for a significant increase in federal funding of abortions and abortion providers.  

The budget package would need to be passed through the process of reconciliation, a procedure by which budget-related items need only a simple majority vote in the Senate rather than the normal 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

The Senate parliamentarian rules whether certain items are budget-related, and thus can be included in a reconciliation bill. It is unclear if the parliamentarian would maintain immigration language in the bill; the parliamentarian reportedly met with Democratic staffers last week and this week, who presented their case for why the immigration proposals should stay.

“We call on both the House and Senate to include these provisions in the final reconciliation bill and for Congress to pass a bill that helps all those on the margins of our society, strengthens families, protects religious freedom, promotes care for creation, and respects the rights and dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death,” Bishop Dorsonville stated.

Those eligible for citizenship, under the House Judiciary Committee proposal, would include Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries, undocumented agricultural workers, and other undocumented essential workers.

“Dreamers” are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, but who are eligible to apply for permanent residence. “Temporary Protected Status” is granted to immigrants from certain countries who are eligible for a delay of deportation, due to conditions in their home countries that prevent their safe return such as natural disasters or armed conflict.

At a Monday evening virtual event hosted by the advocacy group Faith in Action, other U.S. bishops emphasized the need to include a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation bill.

The present situation is the “closest we’ve come” since 1986 to reaching a pathway to citizenship, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe said.

For immigrants working in certain essential industries, “it would be the height of ingratitude,” Wester said, “if we can’t at least do something to forge a pathway to citizenship.”

“I think what’s at stake is not simply the rights of eight million or more,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, “but really, our own salvation, our own holiness.”

Pope Francis, he said, has emphasized the issue of immigration “to show us the pathway to holiness,” who “profess that we have faith but not have works to show it.”

US bishops push for pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants

null / Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 15, 2021 / 11:20 am (CNA).

As members of Congress this week advanced language providing a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants, the U.S. bishops’ conference praised the development.

Congress is currently crafting a $3.5 trillion budget package that would fund many Biden administration priorities, such as universal pre-K, child care benefits, additional health care subsidies, green energy initiatives, and permanent residence for millions of immigrants.

Currently, House committees are in the process of approving language for the budget package. The House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 13 approved language creating a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“For decades, the bishops of the United States have been proponents of such reforms, which promote integration and family unity,” said Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference immigration committee, on Wednesday.

He urged that such immigrants be granted a pathway to citizenship, and not be allowed to reside in the United States with a dubious legal status.

“We cannot persist in relegating these members of our society to the margins, especially when we simultaneously depend on so many of them for our collective wellbeing,” he said.

While implying that parts of the budget package are contrary to Catholic social teaching, Bishop Dorsonville praised the immigration language.

“Undoubtedly, Catholic social teaching will be implicated by many aspects of this budget reconciliation bill, but this is a welcome milestone for many families and the common good,” he said of the immigration provisions.

Pro-life groups have warned that the reconciliation bill could ultimately include billions of dollars in health care spending without pro-life protections, thus allowing for a significant increase in federal funding of abortions and abortion providers.  

The budget package would need to be passed through the process of reconciliation, a procedure by which budget-related items need only a simple majority vote in the Senate rather than the normal 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

The Senate parliamentarian rules whether certain items are budget-related, and thus can be included in a reconciliation bill. It is unclear if the parliamentarian would maintain immigration language in the bill; the parliamentarian reportedly met with Democratic staffers last week and this week, who presented their case for why the immigration proposals should stay.

“We call on both the House and Senate to include these provisions in the final reconciliation bill and for Congress to pass a bill that helps all those on the margins of our society, strengthens families, protects religious freedom, promotes care for creation, and respects the rights and dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death,” Bishop Dorsonville stated.

Those eligible for citizenship, under the House Judiciary Committee proposal, would include Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, Deferred Enforced Departure beneficiaries, undocumented agricultural workers, and other undocumented essential workers.

“Dreamers” are undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, but who are eligible to apply for permanent residence. “Temporary Protected Status” is granted to immigrants from certain countries who are eligible for a delay of deportation, due to conditions in their home countries that prevent their safe return such as natural disasters or armed conflict.

At a Monday evening virtual event hosted by the advocacy group Faith in Action, other U.S. bishops emphasized the need to include a pathway to citizenship in the reconciliation bill.

The present situation is the “closest we’ve come” since 1986 to reaching a pathway to citizenship, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe said.

For immigrants working in certain essential industries, “it would be the height of ingratitude,” Wester said, “if we can’t at least do something to forge a pathway to citizenship.”

“I think what’s at stake is not simply the rights of eight million or more,” said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, “but really, our own salvation, our own holiness.”

Pope Francis, he said, has emphasized the issue of immigration “to show us the pathway to holiness,” who “profess that we have faith but not have works to show it.”

On papal flight, Pope Francis tackles debate over Communion for politicians who support abortion

Pope Francis, pictured April 17, 2013. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk. / null

Rome, Italy, Sep 15, 2021 / 09:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said Wednesday that the Catholic Church is firm in its stance on abortion because “abortion is murder,” and urged priests to be pastoral rather than political when faced with the question of who can receive Communion.

Answering questions aboard the papal plane from Bratislava, Slovakia, to Rome on Sept. 15, the pope emphatically said that abortion ends a human life and that human life must be respected.

Pope Francis holds an in-flight press conference en route to Rome from Slovakia, Sept. 15, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci.
Pope Francis holds an in-flight press conference en route to Rome from Slovakia, Sept. 15, 2021. Andrea Gagliarducci.

“Abortion is more than an issue. Abortion is murder,” Pope Francis said.

“Scientifically it’s a human life. The textbooks teach us that. But is it right to take it out to solve a problem? And this is why the Church is so strict on this issue because it is kind of like accepting this is accepting daily murder,” he said.

In response to a question about the U.S. debate about denying Communion to politicians who support abortion, the pope said that in the history of the Church when bishops have acted politically rather than as pastors, there have been problems.

“What should the pastor do? Be a shepherd, do not go around condemning … but be a pastor. But is he also a pastor of the excommunicated? Yes, he is the pastor and … he must be a shepherd with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion, and tenderness,” the pope said.

“For me, I don’t want to particularize [...] the United States because I don’t know the details well, I give the principle … Be a pastor and the pastor knows what he has to do at all times, but as a shepherd. But if he comes out of this shepherding of the Church, immediately he becomes a politician,” Francis said.

The pope cited the controversy over Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics that followed the publication of his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.

“Do you remember the storm that was stirred by Amoris laetitia when that chapter on accompanying separated, divorced couples came out: ‘Heresy, heresy!’ Thank God there was Cardinal Schönborn, a great theologian who clarified things,” he said.

“But always condemnation, condemnation, enough with excommunication. Please let us not place any more excommunications. Poor people. They are children of God. They are outside temporarily, but they are children of God and they want, and need, our pastoral closeness. Then the pastors work things out by the Spirit of God.”

Pope Francis said that he had never personally refused the Eucharist to anyone, adding that he was not aware of ever having been in the situation that the journalist who posed the question described: that of a pro-choice politician coming to him for Communion.

The pope also told the story of a time when he inadvertently gave Communion to a Jewish woman at a retirement home who had approached the sacrament in ignorance.

Pope Francis said: “Those who are not in the community cannot take Communion -- like this Jewish lady, but the Lord wanted to reward her and without my knowledge -- why?”

“Because they are out of the community, excommunicated, they are ‘excommunicated’ it is called. It is a harsh term, but what it means is that they are not in the community, or because they do not belong, or are baptized but have drifted away from some of the things.”

The pope’s comments during the in-flight press conference came at the end of his four-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia.

It was the 84-year-old pope’s first international trip since undergoing colon surgery in July.

Pope Francis began his journey on Sept. 12 with a visit to Budapest, where he offered the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress and met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The pope told journalists on the flight that he had discussed ecology and his concerns about a “demographic winter” in Europe with Orbán, but did not touch on immigration, a topic on which they diverge sharply.

After spending just seven hours in Budapest, the pope departed for neighboring Slovakia on the same day and spoke at an ecumenical gathering in the capital city, Bratislava, on the evening of his arrival.

The pope addressed Slovakian political leaders, offered encouragement to the Catholic community, and visited a homeless center run by Mother Teresa’s nuns on the capital’s outskirts on Sept. 13.

Pope Francis then traveled to the eastern city of Prešov, where he presided at a Byzantine Divine Liturgy on Sept. 14. In the afternoon, he met with members of the minority Roma community in nearby Košice and spoke to 25,000 young people about the importance of the sacrament of Confession.

Before returning to Rome on Sept. 15, the pope offered Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín.

The pope’s flight touched down at Rome’s Fiumicino airport at 3:30 p.m. local time. The 90-minute flight marked the last time that Pope Francis will fly Alitalia, Italy’s long-struggling national airline which is being replaced next month by a new airline called Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA).

Out of the six questions that the pope was asked during the in-flight press conference, he spent the most time speaking about abortion and Holy Communion.

Pope Francis said that many times before a mother realizes that she is pregnant, her child’s DNA and organs have formed.

“It’s a human life, period. This human life must be respected. This principle is so clear,” he said.

The pope said that to those who cannot understand this, he would pose two questions: “Is it right, is it fair, to kill a human life to solve a problem? Scientifically it is a human life. … Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem?”

During the flight, Pope Francis also answered a question about a resolution in the European Parliament seeking the recognition of same-sex marriages and registered partnerships in all member states of the European Union.

In response, the pope underlined that marriage is a sacrament between a man and woman, instituted by Christ, which the Catholic Church does not have the power to change.

He noted that there are civil laws which seek to help the situation of couples “of different sexual orientations,” but which at the same time do not challenge the teachings of the Church on the sacrament of marriage, such as giving same-sex couples the security of inheritance, or of health insurance.

“But marriage is marriage,” he emphasized. “This does not mean condemning people who are like that, no, please, they are our brothers and sisters and we must accompany them.”

The pope noted that civil laws such as France’s PACS -- which allows adults of any sexual orientation to form a civil union -- exist, but are not sacramental marriage.

“Sometimes what I said is confusing. All the same, respect everyone,” he said, adding: “Please don’t make the Church deny her truth.”

“Many, many people of homosexual orientation approach the Sacrament of Penance, they approach to ask priests for advice, the Church helps them to move forward in their lives,” he said.

Pope Francis declines resignation of German Catholic archbishop

Archbishop Stefan Heße of Hamburg. / Raimond Spekking (CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons).

Hamburg, Germany, Sep 15, 2021 / 08:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has declined the resignation of a German archbishop, the apostolic nunciature in Berlin announced on Wednesday.

The nunciature said on Sept. 15 that the pope had asked Archbishop Stefan Heße to remain as archbishop of Hamburg, northern Germany, following a Vatican investigation into his handling of abuse cases, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.

The nunciature explained that the probe had found organizational deficiencies and procedural errors by Heße, but “the investigation did not show that these were committed with the intention of covering up cases of sexual abuse.”

It said that “the basic problem” was a “lack of attention and sensitivity toward those affected by abuse” within Cologne archdiocese’s administrative apparatus.

Heße announced in March that he was offering his resignation to Pope Francis and requesting “immediate release” from all duties.

The archbishop made a brief declaration live on YouTube, saying: “I am of the firm conviction that taking responsibility is part of our duty to actively deal with this dark chapter in the best possible way and to move towards a better future for everyone, first and foremost for the victims themselves.”

“I have never participated in any cover-up. Nevertheless, I am willing to bear my share of responsibility for the failure of the system,” Heße said.

Responding to the pope’s decision, the 55-year-old archbishop said on Sept. 15: “I thank the Holy Father for his clear decision and the trust he has placed in me.”

“The hiatus granted to me has come to an end and I am now, according to the will of the pope, expressly taking on responsibility again as archbishop in the north. In doing so, I am well aware that it will not necessarily be easy to resume my ministry. I will do everything in my power to meet this challenge.”

The German prelate was in charge of pastoral personnel in Cologne archdiocese from 2006 to 2012. He served as vicar-general from 2012 to 2015 before being ordained as archbishop of Hamburg on March 14, 2015.

A report on the handling of abuse cases published in March raised concerns about Heße’s actions regarding several cases during his time in Cologne.

The 800-page Gercke Report covered the period from 1975 to 2018 and examined 236 files in detail to identify failures and violations of the law, as well as those responsible for them.

Heße stood accused of having neglected his duty in nine separate cases on 11 counts, according to the report, CNA Deutsch said.

The archbishop wrote to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops in November 2020 in connection with abuse cases that he reviewed while serving in Cologne archdiocese.

Heße said on Nov. 20: “Today I wrote to the prefect of the bishops’ congregation, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and described the situation to him. I explained to him that I had always participated to the best of my knowledge and conscience in the processing of cases of sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Cologne and never in the cover-up of such cases.”

He continued: “The public debate about my time in Cologne, which has been going on for months, is not only a burden on me personally, but also on the Catholics in the archdiocese.”

“Out of concern for the Archdiocese of Hamburg, I therefore consider it my duty to inform the Roman authorities both of the current situation and of the investigation results from Cologne, which will be available in March.”

“To me, it is self-evident that I cannot be a judge in my own case, but that I ask the authority that appointed me to my office as archbishop for a review.”

The day before his statement, Heße announced that he would be temporarily stepping aside as a spiritual adviser to the Central Committee of German Catholics, the influential lay body known by its German initials, ZdK.

In June, Pope Francis declined the resignation of another German Church leader, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising.

The 67-year-old cardinal wrote to Pope Francis in May, offering to resign amid the fallout from the clerical abuse crisis in Germany.

Marx is a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals and the coordinator of the Vatican Council for the Economy. Until last year, he served as the chairman of the German bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis in Slovakia: Our Lady of Sorrows teaches us compassion for the suffering

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on the esplanade of the National Shrine in Šaštin, Slovakia, Sept. 15, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Rome Newsroom, Sep 15, 2021 / 04:46 am (CNA).

At Slovakia’s national Catholic shrine on Wednesday, Pope Francis said that Our Lady of Sorrows is a model of how to live the faith with compassion and care for the suffering.

“Mary, Mother of Sorrows, remains at the foot of the Cross. She simply stands there. She does not run away, or try to save herself, or find ways to alleviate her grief,” the pope said during Mass on Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Here,” he said, “is the proof of true compassion: to remain standing beneath the Cross. To stand there weeping, yet with the faith that knows that, in her Son, God transfigures pain and suffering and triumphs over death.”

On the final day of his visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis offered the live-streamed Mass outside the country’s National Shrine of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in the young town of Šaštín. According to local authorities, around 60,000 people attended the Mass.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Francis, who himself has a special devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, said in his homily: “In contemplating the Sorrowful Mother, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering and forced to bear heavy crosses.”

The basilica in Šaštín was built to honor the image of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, a figure so important to the people of Slovakia that Pope Pius XI declared her the country’s patroness in 1927.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The image of the Virgin Mary has also attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II. The Polish pope offered Mass for 200,000 people in front of the basilica on July 1, 1995, during the second of the three trips he made to Slovakia as pope.

Pope Francis began his first visit to the Catholic-majority country on Sept. 12, after spending most of the day in Budapest, Hungary, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress and met Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

atican Media.
atican Media.

In Slovakia, he met political authorities, bishops, religious, and priests in the capital city of Bratislava. He also visited a center for the poor and homeless run by the Missionaries of Charity in one of the city’s most impoverished suburbs.

The pope later met with young people, celebrated a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, and spoke to the minority Roma community in the Luník IX ghetto in eastern Slovakia.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

In his homily on Sept. 15, Francis urged Slovakians to follow the example of Mary when she visited her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, living their faith as a mission to be carried out.

“For you, the Slovakian people, the Blessed Virgin is a model of faith: a faith that involves journeying, a faith inspired by simple and sincere devotion, a constant pilgrimage to seek the Lord,” he said.

“In making this journey, you overcome the temptation to a passive faith, content with this or that ritual or ancient tradition,” the pope continued. “Instead, you leave yourselves behind and set out, carrying in your backpacks the joys and sorrows of this life, and thus make your life a pilgrimage of love towards God and your brothers and sisters.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Thank you for this witness. And please, persevere on this journey. Do not stop,” he said, to an outbreak of applause.

Pope Francis also said that the “faith cannot be reduced to a sweetener to make life more palatable,” urging Slovakian Catholics to not remain lukewarm about Jesus and to be “signs of contradiction” within the world.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Slovakia needs “Christians who can demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel by the way they live,” he said. “Christians who are weavers of dialogue where hostility is growing; models of fraternal life where society is experiencing tension and hostility; bringers of the sweet fragrance of hospitality and solidarity where personal and collective selfishness too often prevails, protectors and guardians of life where the culture of death reigns.”

“In contemplating the Sorrowful Virgin Mary, may we too open our hearts to a faith that becomes compassion, a faith that identifies with those who are hurting, suffering, and forced to bear heavy crosses,” he said.

“A faith that does not remain abstract, but becomes incarnate in fellowship with those in need,” he concluded. “A faith that imitates God’s way of doing things, quietly relieves the suffering of our world and waters the soil of history with salvation.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord always preserve in you wonderment and gratitude for the great gift of faith. And may Mary Most Holy obtain for you the grace of a faith that ever sets out anew, is deeply prophetic and abounds in compassion.”

Papal visit pool.
Papal visit pool.

Before Mass, Pope Francis prayed with Slovakia’s bishops inside the basilica, reciting a prayer of entrustment to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

“Mother of the Church, Consoler of the Afflicted, with confidence we turn to you, in the joys and struggles of our ministry,” they prayed. “Look upon us with tenderness and open your arms to embrace us.”

“Queen of the Apostles, Refuge of Sinners, you know our human limitations, our spiritual failings, our sorrow in the face of loneliness and abandonment: with your gentle touch heal our wounds.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

After Mass, the last appointment of his trip before returning to Rome, Pope Francis gave his final message, noting that “the time has now come for me to take leave of your country.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“In this Eucharist, I gave thanks to God for having allowed me to come among you and to conclude my pilgrimage in the devoted embrace of your people, celebrating together the great religious and national feast of your Patroness, the Virgin Mother of Sorrows.”

“I am grateful to all who, in different ways, have cooperated in this pilgrimage, above all by their prayers,” he said. “I carry you in my heart.”

Urgent prayers needed for kidnapped Nigerian priest

Father Benson Bulus Luka was kidnapped from his parish residence in Nigeria’s Kafanchan Diocese on Sept. 13, 2021.Kafanchan Diocese / Kafanchan Diocese

Kafanchan, Nigeria, Sep 14, 2021 / 20:00 pm (CNA).

Prayers are being sought for the quick and safe release of a Catholic priest, Father Benson Bulus Luka, kidnapped from his parish residence in Nigeria’s Kafanchan Diocese.

“It is with great pain that we announce to you the kidnapping of our Priest, Rev. Fr. Benson Bulus Luka,” the Chancellor of Kafanchan Diocese, Father Emmanuel Uchechukwu, said in a statement shared with ACI Africa Sept. 14.

As Fr. Uchechukwu explained, “The sad event occurred on Monday, September 13, 2021 at about 8.45 p.m. He was abducted from his residence at St. Matthew's Catholic Church, Anchuna, in Zango Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.”

Fr. Uchechukwu urged “intense prayer” for the priest’s safe return.

“While we solicit for an intense prayer for his quick and safe release, we equally wish to call on all and sundry to refrain from taking the laws into their hands,” Fr. Uchechukwu said. “We will use every legitimate means to ensure his quick and safe release.”

Nigeria has been experiencing insecurity since 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency began with the aim of turning the country into an Islamic state.

Since then, the group, one of largest Islamist groups in Africa, has been orchestrating indiscriminate terrorist attacks on various targets, including religious and political groups, as well as civilians.

The insecurity in the country has worsened, also, due to the involvement of predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen, also referred to as the Fulani Militia, who have been clashing frequently with Christian farmers over grazing land.

In his Sept. 14 statement, the Chancellor of Kafanchan Diocese implored, “May Jesus crucified on the Cross, listen to our prayers and hasten the unconditional release of His Priest and all other kidnapped persons.”

The latest abduction of Fr. Benson Bulus Luka follows a series of other kidnappings of members of the clergy in Africa’s most populous nation.

In April, gunmen kidnapped Father Izu Marcel Onyeocha, a member of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Claretians). He was later freed.

In May, St. Vincent Ferrer Malunfashi Catholic Parish of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese was attacked and two priests kidnapped. One of them, Father Alphonsus Bello, a 33-year-old Fidei Donum priest incardinated in Nigeria’s Kaduna Archdiocese, was killed. The other priest, Fr. Joe Keke, 75, was later released.

In July, a priest serving in Nigeria’s Maiduguri Diocese, Father Elijah Juma Wada, was abducted and later escaped after spending nine days with his captors.

Last month, Catholic Bishops in Nigeria decried the rise in cases of abductions, killings, and property destruction, calling upon the government to “take full responsibility for the present culture of violence.”

“Deaths in the hands of kidnappers, killer herdsmen, bandits, terrorist groups have made Nigeria one of the most terrorized countries in the world,” members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) said in an Aug. 26 statement.

While recognizing the efforts being made by relevant authorities to tackle insecurity in the West African nation, Catholic leaders underscored the need for the Muhammadu Buhari-led government “to show more strategic commitment and sincerity in this fight and take full responsibility for the present culture of violence and impunity in the country.”

“The Government must be balanced and seen to be so in its response to the challenges of insecurity in every segment of the citizenry,” the Catholic Bishops in Nigeria said in their communiqué following their Aug. 19-27 second Plenary Assembly held in Nigeria’s Enugu Diocese.

Judge temporarily blocks New York vaccine mandate, lacking religious exemption, for medical workers

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Syracuse, N.Y., Sep 14, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A federal court on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against a New York state COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which disallowed religious exemptions, after a group of anonymous medical professionals filed suit against the governor and her administration. 

Then-governor Andrew Cuomo announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all medical workers in the state in August, with a deadline of Sept. 27 to be fully inoculated. The mandate covers staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, adult care facilities, and other care settings, and did not include a religious exemption.  

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group, is representing a group of 17 medical professionals who claim the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and who have chosen to remain anonymous. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the mandate. 

In the ruling from the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, issued Sept. 14, Judge David Hurd wrote that the New York Department of Health is “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward.” 

The state has until Sept. 22 to respond to the temporary restraining order. 

The Thomas More Society says the plaintiffs include doctors, nurses, a medical technician and physician’s liaison, and that they are “now facing termination from employment, loss of hospital admitting privileges, and the destruction of their careers, unless they consent to be vaccinated against their will with vaccines that contradict their sincere religious beliefs.”

Many states have introduced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and teachers. President Joe Biden announced last week that he had directed the Department of Labor to draft a rule that would require employees at all companies with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. 

Bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to cell lines derived from fetal tissue likely derived from a baby aborted decades ago. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested on the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines both in production and testing.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoing guidance from the Vatican, has since stated that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love."

The bishops of South Dakota and of Colorado have explicitly expressed support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions, while in contrast, many bishops in California, as well as in Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, stating that there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds. 

The Chicago archdiocese, along with the Diocese of El Paso, has introduced its own vaccine mandate for employees.

The five bishops in Wisconsin in late August issued a statement encouraging vaccination against COVID-19, while maintaining that people ought not be forced to accept a COVID vaccine. The bishops added that, in the cases of Catholics conscientiously objecting to receiving a vaccine, clergy should not be intervening on their behalf. 

Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample and Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly have both decreed similar policies, stating that any Catholic seeking an exemption places the burden on the individual’s conscience rather than on Church approval, and thus priests of their dioceses are not allowed to vouch for the conscience of another person in seeking an exemption from a vaccine mandate. 

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, has been vocal about its opposition to mandatory immunization for COVID-19. While acknowledging that reception of COVID-19 vaccines is morally permissible, the center has maintained support for the rights of Catholics to refuse the vaccines because of conscience-based concerns.

Judge temporarily blocks New York vaccine mandate, lacking religious exemption, for medical workers

null / Ball Lunla/Shutterstock

Syracuse, N.Y., Sep 14, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

A federal court on Tuesday granted a temporary restraining order against a New York state COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which disallowed religious exemptions, after a group of anonymous medical professionals filed suit against the governor and her administration. 

Then-governor Andrew Cuomo announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all medical workers in the state in August, with a deadline of Sept. 27 to be fully inoculated. The mandate covers staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, adult care facilities, and other care settings, and did not include a religious exemption.  

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group, is representing a group of 17 medical professionals who claim the mandate violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and who have chosen to remain anonymous. They are seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing the mandate. 

In the ruling from the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, issued Sept. 14, Judge David Hurd wrote that the New York Department of Health is “barred from interfering in any way with the granting of religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination going forward.” 

The state has until Sept. 22 to respond to the temporary restraining order. 

The Thomas More Society says the plaintiffs include doctors, nurses, a medical technician and physician’s liaison, and that they are “now facing termination from employment, loss of hospital admitting privileges, and the destruction of their careers, unless they consent to be vaccinated against their will with vaccines that contradict their sincere religious beliefs.”

Many states have introduced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for healthcare workers and teachers. President Joe Biden announced last week that he had directed the Department of Labor to draft a rule that would require employees at all companies with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated or face weekly testing. 

Bishops across the country have issued varying guidance for Catholics wishing to seek conscientious objections to COVID-19 mandates. A few have expressed explicit support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions; some have said that Catholics may seek exemptions, but must make the case for their own conscience without the involvement of clergy; and some have stated that Catholic teaching lacks a basis to reject vaccination mandates.  

All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States have some connection to cell lines derived from fetal tissue likely derived from a baby aborted decades ago. The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested on the controversial cell lines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used the cell lines both in production and testing.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoing guidance from the Vatican, has since stated that all three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” for use because of their remote connection with abortion, but if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

In its December 2020 Note on the morality of using some anti-Covid-19 vaccines, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and “therefore, it must be voluntary.” Pope Francis has encouraged COVID-19 vaccination, calling it an "act of love."

The bishops of South Dakota and of Colorado have explicitly expressed support for Catholics wishing to seek exemptions, while in contrast, many bishops in California, as well as in Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia, have instructed clergy not to assist parishioners seeking religious exemptions from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, stating that there is no basis in Catholic moral teaching for rejecting vaccine mandates on religious grounds. 

The Chicago archdiocese, along with the Diocese of El Paso, has introduced its own vaccine mandate for employees.

The five bishops in Wisconsin in late August issued a statement encouraging vaccination against COVID-19, while maintaining that people ought not be forced to accept a COVID vaccine. The bishops added that, in the cases of Catholics conscientiously objecting to receiving a vaccine, clergy should not be intervening on their behalf. 

Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample and Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly have both decreed similar policies, stating that any Catholic seeking an exemption places the burden on the individual’s conscience rather than on Church approval, and thus priests of their dioceses are not allowed to vouch for the conscience of another person in seeking an exemption from a vaccine mandate. 

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a think tank that provides guidance on human dignity in health care and medical research, has been vocal about its opposition to mandatory immunization for COVID-19. While acknowledging that reception of COVID-19 vaccines is morally permissible, the center has maintained support for the rights of Catholics to refuse the vaccines because of conscience-based concerns.

Thousands demonstrate outside Mexico's Supreme Court to defend life, reject abortion

The facade of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in Mexico City. / Fernando Gutierrez Ortega/Shutterstock.

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 14, 2021 / 18:19 pm (CNA).

More than 2,500 people demonstrated Monday outside the Mexican Supreme Court building in Mexico City to defend life and oppose abortion. 

Speaking with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Rodrigo Iván Cortés, president of the National Front for the Family, said, "we counted at least 2,500 people, from various states of the Republic” at the Sept. 13 protest.

They came from “Chiapas, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, Puebla, Querétaro, Mexico, Veracruz, and Mexico City. We are extremely happy,” he said.

Last week the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation twice ruled against pro-life articles, once in Coahuila state’s penal code, and in Sinaloa’s constitution. It is now taking up the question of conscientious objection to abortion for medical professionals.

Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court building held up banners, blue pro-life flags, Mexican flags, and images of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, and shouted slogans for life and against abortion.

Doctors and leaders from pro-life organizations spoke at the event.

Cortés noted that the rally outside the Supreme Court was attended by "many young people, and that fills us with hope.”

Attendance was achieved despite the fact that the authorities tried to make it impossible for people to get there. People “were held back in various areas and not allowed to proceed toward our meeting point," he said.

Physicians were there who told the crowd gathered in downtown Mexico City “that it is their duty, their Hippocratic Oath, which has been said for more than 25 centuries, that doctors are there to save lives, not take them away.”

Elective abortion has been legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in Mexico City and the states of Hidalgo, Oaxaca, and Veracruz. In general, abortion is illegal in the rest of the country, but in most cases there are exceptions for rape and the life of the mother. The penalties and scope of the laws vary from state to state. 

On Sept. 7, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation invalidated several articles that protected life from conception in the penal code of the state of Coahuila, opening the door to legal abortion.

The ruling is expected to have wide-ranging effects throughout Mexico.

And the Supreme Court on Sept. 9 ruled against the protection of life from conception in the constitution of the state of Sinaloa. The decision invalidated an article that read that "the State protects the right to life from the moment an individual is conceived."

The court began Sept. 13 discussing a challenge to the constitutionality of the right to conscientious objection by healthcare professionals, which could force them to participate in abortions against their will.

In the initial decisions made in this session, the SCJN recognized the right to conscientious objection and noted that it does not restrict the right to health.

British doctors’ union drops opposition to assisted suicide

null / GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Sep 14, 2021 / 17:02 pm (CNA).

In a significant shift, the trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, is no longer officially opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide.

In a Sept. 14 announcement, the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue, following a vote at its annual representative meeting. A plurality of representatives, 49%, were in favor of moving to the “neutral” position, while 48% were opposed and 3% abstained. 

With its new official position, the association will neither campaign for nor against policies that would legalize various forms of euthanasia. It had previously been opposed to assisted suicide since 2006. 

John Chisholm, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) medical ethics committee, noted in a Sept. 14 statement that “far from remaining silent on the issue, we will continue to represent the views, interests and concerns expressed by our members."

Chisolm noted a responsibility to uphold conscience rights for doctors, should doctor-prescribed suicide become legal in the United Kingdom. 

"Assisted dying is a highly emotive and sensitive topic that inspires a broad spectrum of views and opinions both across the wider public and among the medical profession, for whom any change of law would have a profound impact,” he said.

In the United Kingdom, “assisted dying,” “euthanasia,” and “physician-assisted suicide” are illegal. Residents seeking to end their lives in these procedures must travel to the Swiss clinic Dignitas. In 2019, 42 people from Great Britain traveled to Dignitas to end their lives, which was an increase from 24 in 2018. 

The British doctors’ association was moved to consider changing its official position on the matter following a survey of members published in October 2020. According to the survey, 40% of respondents said the organization “should actively support attempts to change the law,” and 21% of respondents argued for the “neutral” position on assisted suicide. One-third of respondents advocated for the association to maintain its opposition stance. 

Furthermore, half of the respondents said that the United Kingdom should allow for doctors to prescribe drugs that would kill their patients. 

The recent vote concerned a motion stating, “In order to represent the diversity of opinion demonstrated in the survey of its membership, the BMA should move to a position of neutrality on assisted dying including physician-assisted dying.”

With a “neutral” position on assisted suicide, the BMA joins the Royal College of Nursing as well as the Royal College of Physicians. The Royal College of Nursing adopted a neutral position on the issue in 2009, while the Royal College of Physicians did so 10 years later in 2019. 

Numerous attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the United Kingdom have failed, most recently in 2015. Parliament, however, is once again considering whether or not to legalize the practice. 

A bill sponsored by Molly Meacher, Baroness Meacher, would permit physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live, subject to the approval of two doctors and a high court judge. Meacher is a crossbencher and chair of Dignity in Dying, which advocates for euthanasia and assisted suicide in the U.K.

The Assisted Dying Bill 2021 is set for its second reading in the House of Lords with a full debate Oct. 22.

Many organizations, including the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the advocacy group Not Dead Yet UK, have spoken out against the bill.