1. Using COVID as cover to promote unethical experiments.

By Grazie Pozo Christie, The Washington Examiner, April 27, 2020, 1:06 AM

Americans are living through something like a slow-motion earthquake. It will be some time before we emerge from the rubble and can adequately calculate the damage to our nation’s health, economy, and social fabric. In the meantime, average citizens are busy trying to figure out how best to protect our families. Some Democratic politicians, however, are exploiting the crisis, trying to reverse a recent ban on tax-funded experiments using the flesh of aborted fetuses. Their claim: Developing a vaccine against COVID-19 depends on this type of morally-tainted research. The scientific truth? Ethical experimental alternatives abound, including the use of monkey cells, adult human cells and chicken eggs. And these alternatives work as well, if not better, than fetal tissue for the production of vaccines.

Modern vaccine science long ago moved beyond the need for aborted fetal tissue.

Long before the existing ban on taxpayer-funded fetal tissue research, most scientists had moved to ethical tissue sources in developing new vaccines. Why? Because those sources — adult cells, neonatal thyroid tissue, and umbilical cord blood – are as effective as fetal cells and sometimes better.

Of course, hysterical calls for taxpayer funding of ethically dubious experiments are nothing new.

Consider how the recent ban came about. A series of undercover videos recorded several abortion clinic doctors bluntly discussing their methods for harvesting fetal organs during abortion procedures. A firestorm of shocked horror erupted, though many in the research community continued to justify the harvesting.

The Health and Human Services Department under President Trump wisely cut off taxpayer funding for this type of research after investigations found that fetal tissue procurement companies and harvesters like Planned Parenthood failed to follow federal regulations for the protection of human research subjects. Paying for the tissue, failing to adequately secure the consent of the mothers, changing the abortion procedure or its timing to maximize tissue harvesting – the harvesters and procurers crossed all of these ethical bright lines. HHS, understanding that when it comes to using human subjects for research, a single-minded commitment to promote the dignity of human life must inform every decision, even committed $20 million to fund research into experimental models that don’t use aborted fetal tissue.

It is during times of anguish and crisis that we should hold on tighter to principles of right and wrong, not loosen our grip. Along these noble lines, the attorneys general of 18 states, led by Curtis Hill of Indiana, have written an urgent letter to Trump asking him to uphold the ban on aborted fetal research funding.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie is a Policy Advisor at The Catholic Association and co-host of TCA’s podcast, Conversations with Consequences. Maureen Ferguson is a Senior Fellow for The Catholic Association.


2. Italian bishops threaten break with government over Mass.

By Elise Ann Allen, Crux, April 27, 2020

After Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte Sunday rolled out a week-by-week plan for returning to normal life after the COVID-19 coronavirus which did not include the lifting of restrictions on the celebration of public Masses, the bishops rallied, calling the move “arbitrary” and threatening to take matters into their own hands.


3. In spat over Mass, Italy’s PM may need the bishops more than they need him.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, April 27, 2020, Opinion

From the beginning, Italy has set the pace for much of the rest of the world regarding the coronavirus. Outside China, the pandemic broke out here first, and the government responded with the lockdowns and social distancing measures that have since become standard practice elsewhere.

Italy also led the way in terms of a church/state compact, with bishops shutting down public Masses immediately after the government decreed a national lockdown and, so far, taking their cues from the state about what to do when.

There are signs, however, that compact may be breaking down.

Sunday night, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the country’s long-awaited “Phase 2,” which is the phrase here for a gradual loosening of the quarantine. Despite pleas from the Italian bishops’ conference, CEI, to include authorization for public liturgies, Conte’s decree permits only funerals to be celebrated again beginning May 4, and only under tight restrictions.

In response, CEI issued a strongly worded note that appeared to threaten that if they don’t get a satisfactory response from the government, the bishops may be prepared to assert the authority afforded under religious freedom provisions of the Italian constitution and act on their own.

A couple elements of the situation are worth noting. First, it’s arguable Conte may need the bishops more than they need him.

For some time, there’s been speculation in the Italian media about moves to oust Conte, with some suggesting he doesn’t have the chops to lead the country’s recovery from the crisis and others pointing to open conflicts between the Prime Minister and members of his own coalition over issues such as Conte’s refusal to embrace the controversial European Stability Mechanism as a means of crisis relief.

If he wants to survive, Conte will need friends, and up to this point the perception has been that he’s got solid support in the Catholic world.

Second, the politics of the debate are interesting here, because they don’t break down left/right. The ministers in Conte’s own government most openly critical were members of the Italia Viva party founded by former leftist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Unlike in the US, where religion tends to be partisan, all major parties here have a Catholic wing, and whenever there’s an issue of interest to the Church, legislators are typically freed up by party chiefs to vote their conscience. Perhaps the growing vocal dissent on Mass closures from left-leaning politicians is an attempt not to allow right-wing populist Matteo Salvini to monopolize the cause, which would suggest they think it’s an issue with traction.

If so, that may deal the bishops yet another card, and it will be interesting to see how they play it in those “cordial and constructive” negotiations to which their spokesman referred.


4. Seminaries must hire, involve more women, Cardinal Ouellet says.

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, April 26, 2020

For some priests and seminarians, “women represent danger, but in reality, the true danger are those men who do not have a balanced relationship with women,” said Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

The cardinal was interviewed about the role of women in seminaries and seminary formation for the May issue of the women’s supplement to the Vatican newspaper; the interview was published April 24 by Vatican News.

Asked if a lack of women involved in priestly formation programs is to blame for the discomfort women and priests can experience in each other’s company, the cardinal said, “the problem is probably deeper” than that and begins with how women are treated in one’s family.

Having women on seminary formation teams as professors and counselors, he said, also “would help a candidate interact with women in a natural way, including in facing the challenge represented by the presence of women, attraction to a woman.”


5. Pope stresses continued combat of malaria.

By Associated Press, April 26, 2020

Pope Francis is stressing that efforts to combat malaria must continue even as the world fights COVID-19.

Concern has been rising that while the world is focused on the pandemic, people suffering from other illnesses could receive less attention. Francis added his voice to that chorus of concern, saying Sunday that “while we are fighting the coronavirus pandemic, we must also continue our efforts to prevent and treat malaria, which threatens billions of people in many countries.”

The U.N. World Health Organization has said severe disruptions to anti-malaria campaigns, using insecticide-treated netting against mosquitoes, coupled with difficulties in accessing medicine could lead to a doubling in the number of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018.


6. Like “cacio e pepe”, restarting the Church seems simple but it’s tricky.

By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, April 26, 2020, Opinion

However, as famed Italian chef Luca Pappagallo says, “Cacio e pepe apparently is the simplest recipe in the Italian kitchen, but, in reality, one of the most insidious.” That’s because you have to get the sequence, the timing and the mix just right, and a tiny error can have disastrous consequences.

In that sense, cacio e pepe may be an apt metaphor for the recipe Catholic bishops in various parts of the world appear to be trying to follow with regard to the resumption of ecclesiastical life after coronavirus lockdowns.

Like cacio e pepe, the ingredients here are three: There’s the desire for Mass, there’s the desire not to defy public health experts or civil leaders, and there’s the bishops’ authority to act. The trick is mixing them just right, and therein lies the insidious part.

If a bishop strikes out on his own, he could be accused of putting pressure on colleagues and breaking the gentlemen’s agreement of a conference; if he doesn’t, people will say he’s a bureaucrat. If the bishops together open up too soon, they’ll be accused of being reckless; too late, they’ll be said to be dithering. If they wait for a government green light, people will complain they’re setting a dangerous precedent; if they don’t, the claim will be they’re arrogant and think the Church is above the law.

The nightmare scenario, which no one wants, is to lift the suspension on public liturgies only to find out the virus isn’t really contained, and then have to reimpose it.

This isn’t a question the Vatican can settle, since establishing dates and protocols depends on local conditions. In terms of signals, Pope Francis has displayed the same ambivalence many Catholics feel between not wanting to ignore scientific concerns but also urging “closeness” to the people. A bishop looking to the pope for guidance, therefore, won’t find an unambiguous nudge in one direction or the other.

Fortunately, when it comes to cacio e pepe, Chef Luca has a handy step-by-step instructional video to guide one through the complexities. Bishops today, alas, have no such resource, and thus perhaps it’s understandable their own recipe still seems a work in progress.


7. Trump says he’s ‘best president in history of the Church’ in call with Catholic leaders.

By Christopher White, Crux, April 26, 2020

President Donald Trump identified himself as the “best [president] in the history of the Catholic Church” in a conference call for Catholic leaders and educators Saturday, where he warned that issues at stake in the upcoming presidential election, particularly on abortion and religious liberty, “have never been more important for the Church.”

Trump also pledged support for Catholic schools in light of the global coronavirus pandemic.

In an audio recording of the meeting obtained by Crux, the president repeatedly emphasized his support for the pro-life movement and school choice, attempting to paint a stark contrast between his administration and what a Democratic presidency could mean for Catholics.

Crux was told by two participants that over 600 people were on the call, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, chair of the USCCB committee of Catholic Education, as well as the superintendents of Catholic schools for Los Angeles and Denver, among others.


8. Pandemic Further Squeezes Church Finances.

By Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2020, pg. A7

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the Catholic Church’s finances, threatening its extensive charitable activities and leading bishops and parish priests to slash expenses and seek funds elsewhere.

The impact of the pandemic, which has pulled the global economy into a likely recession, has been felt at the highest levels of the church. The Vatican has temporarily lost its largest single source of income, the Vatican Museums, since their closure last month. The museums typically receive more than six million visitors each year, yielding revenue of some €40 million ($43 million).

About 80 of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the U.S., for the most part in rural areas, aren’t self-supporting financially and frequently lack the infrastructure for online contributions, said Kerry Robinson of the Leadership Roundtable, which promotes the adoption of best practices of management and finance in the Catholic Church.

Father Kearney said that his parish qualified for a Small Business Administration loan under the Payroll Protection Program, for which faith-based entities are eligible, and has thus been able to retain its two full-time and several part-time employees. As many as 15% of U.S. Catholic parishes have been able to maintain their pre-pandemic income thanks to the PPP, said Ms. Robinson.


9. Advocates fear threats to religious freedom, health in northeast Syria.

By Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service, April 25, 2020

Religious freedom advocates and medical practitioners have expressed concerns about the COVID-19 response in northeast Syria.

“There is a quadruple threat to religious freedom and the fight against ISIS that is going on there. Turkey has been relentlessly bombing and shutting off the water supply to the city (of Hassakeh). The U.N. and Human Rights Watch have spoken out about it, yet Turkey continues,” said Lauren Homer, an Anglican lawyer on international religious freedom issues, speaking to the International Religious Freedom Roundtable April 21.


10. Pope Francis singles out funeral home workers for prayer.

By Associated Press, April 25, 2020

Pope Francis has singled out funeral home workers for people’s prayers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Italy and some other countries, the deaths of people with coronavirus infections have meant funeral parlor workers must deal with the grief of families who aren’t allowed to hold public funerals as part of government-ordered measures to try to contain the pandemic.

Francis says, “What they do is so heavy and sad. They really feel the pain of this pandemic so close.”


11. 2020 priest ordination class is slightly smaller, more diverse, survey finds.

By Catholic News Agency, April 24, 2020, 10:15 AM

A survey of the 2020 priestly ordination class was published by the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference (USCCB) on Thursday, a slightly smaller class than in 2019.

Sponsored by the bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, the survey is conducted annually of U.S. seminarians who are about to be ordained to the priesthood. The USCCB collaborates with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) to produce the survey.

Ordination class sizes have varied over time, according to previous CARA reports. In 2006, there were 359 potential ordinands identified by the survey (though not all responded), a number that rose to 475 in 2007 before dipping to 401 for the class of 2008—many of whom would have entered seminary in 2002, the year that clergy sex abuse scandals in the U.S. were widely reported.

In subsequent years that number rebounded, with an average class size of 474 from 2009-14.

The ordination class size peaked in 2015 at 595, dipping slightly to 548 in 2016 before jumping again to 590 in 2017.

Ordination classes have been trending slightly younger: in the last decade the average age of priestly ordinands fell from 37 years old in 2010 to 34 years old in 2020.

Demographically, a slightly smaller share of the classes have identified as Caucasian in recent years, while the percentage of ordination classes identifying as Hispanic or Latino has grown from 10% in 2005 to 15% from 2012-2014, and is currently at 16% for 2020.

The percentage of potential ordinands identifying as African, African-American or black has stayed relatively the same over time with a slight increase in the last two classes that have peaked in consecutive years at 6%.


12. Abortion Lobby’s Pandemic Push: Urges FDA to Lift Restrictions on Chemical Abortions: Pro-lifers warn of dire consequences.

By Lauretta Brown, National Catholic Register, April 24, 2020

While the United States’ death toll in the coronavirus pandemic climbed to 867,771 Thursday, abortion groups and their political allies have urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift restrictions on mifepristone (Mifeprex), a drug used for chemical abortion.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a radiologist and policy adviser for The Catholic Association, told the Register that the existing FDA guidelines are partly due to two serious complications that can arise from mifepristone being used for abortion.

“There are two very important complications that cause fatalities in chemical abortion,” Christie said. “One of them is ectopic pregnancy, and the other is sepsis.” She pointed out that “there’s no way to know if your pregnancy’s ectopic without doing an ultrasound. What most people do before they administer a chemical abortion agent is they do an ultrasound to determine that the pregnancy is a normal, regular pregnancy inside the uterus.” Sepsis can occur because “when a woman has a chemical abortion, it’s very easy for her to get an infection, and the infection gets really bad, really fast, and then she dies of sepsis.”

Christie said problems could also occur with establishing how far along the pregnancy is if medication abortions are unrestricted, as “how old the baby is is a very important issue with these drugs. You can only do them up to 13 and a half weeks, and it’s very common for women to have no idea how far along they are. If you try to have a chemical abortion, and you’re further along than you think, it’s very dangerous. … You’re basically having a huge miscarriage.”

While the senators’ letter cites studies by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute and others claiming that complications arising from medications abortions are rare, Christie argued that many of these studies are flawed and there are reporting issues when it comes to complications arising from medication abortions.

“These studies they report are studies based on women responding to a questionnaire,” she said. “Nobody’s confirming the answers of the patient; and, also, there’s conflicts of interest when the people who are making these studies are looking for information that confirms their hypothesis, which is that it’s safe.”

“If you go to the hospital after a botched, self-administered abortion, you’re not going to tell them what happened,” Christie pointed out, regarding reporting problems. “You’re going to tell them you’re miscarrying. It’s never going to show up on any studies. They’re never going to report that outcome, which is the case for a lot of abortion statistics.”

“The FDA also regulates it heavily because there is a danger of people obtaining drugs online that aren’t vetted by the FDA or not approved,” Christie explained. “When they tested the drugs that you can obtain online, many of them were faulty. They didn’t have the right dosages; some of them weren’t the drug at all. The FDA’s very heavy on not buying drugs online.”

The Catholic Association’s Christie pointed out that some abortion-pill websites advise going to a veterinarian for misoprostol, which, along with Mifeprex, brings about a chemical abortion, but she said these websites sometimes warn that veterinarians may require a prescription for misoprostol for the safety of the dog. They’re “actually recommending for a 14-year-old girl to buy medicine that people can’t buy for their dogs because it’s too dangerous,” she said.

“The FDA recognizes that the people who are going to be trying to access these drugs, a lot of them are going to be desperate young women with no good, adult oversight,” she added. “You can access these drugs online very easily because there are people online pushing them on girls and women in a very unethical and dangerous way.”

“The reason that has been given for many, many decades to legalize abortion and to make abortion more accessible was women’s safety,” Christie noted. “But now they’re asking for the opposite; for the same reason to make abortion more accessible, they’re going back on women’s safety. In a way, you’re going back to the back alley by talking about self-managed abortion and putting abortion in the hands of non-trained people, which is where it used to be.”


TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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