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Vatican tightens COVID-19 rules for offices of Roman Curia

December 23, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Cardinal Pietro Parolin attends an ordination at the Basilica of Sant’Eugenio in Rome, Sept. 5, 2020. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Vatican City, Dec 23, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

From Thursday, people seeking to enter the offices of the Roman Curia must provide either proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or evidence of recovery from it.

The new rule was contained in a decree issued by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Dec. 23.

The Vatican has required all visitors and personnel since October to show a COVID-19 pass proving they have been vaccinated, recovered from the coronavirus, or tested negative for the disease.

But in a Dec. 16 ordinance, Archbishop Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, removed the recent negative test option.

He said that from Dec. 20, everyone working in the Vatican City State must provide evidence of vaccination or recovery.

Parolin’s decree confirmed that the same rule applies to the offices of the Roman Curia, the Holy See’s administrative institutions.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the Vatican has kept in step with Italy’s measures to contain the virus. The Italian authorities introduced a “Super Green Pass” on Dec. 6 for those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus.

The new decree, published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Thursday, applies not only to curial officials, but also to “external collaborators” and all other visitors.

Employees without a valid pass proving vaccination or recovery will not be allowed to access their workplace and will be considered “unjustifiably absent,” the text said.

Their pay will be suspended “for the duration of the absence, without prejudice to social security and welfare deductions, as well as family allowance.”

The decree said that prolonged unjustified absence would result in “the consequences foreseen by the General Regulations of the Roman Curia.”

Possible exemptions will be evaluated by the Secretariat of State in conjunction with the Directorate of Health and Hygiene of Vatican City State.

The decree said the measures were being tightened “in view of the continuation and worsening of the current health emergency and the need to take appropriate measures to counter it and ensure the safe conduct of activities.”

The decree was issued a day after the Vatican underlined its support for COVID-19 vaccines, recalling that Pope Francis described vaccination as an “act of love.”

Pope Francis recorded a public service announcement supporting vaccinations that was released in August in collaboration with the Ad Council.

In the PSA, he said: “Getting the vaccines that are authorized by the respective authorities is an act of love. I pray to God that each one of us can make his or her own small gesture of love, no matter how small, love is always grand.”

During an in-flight press conference from Slovakia in September, the pope said that “in the Vatican, everyone is vaccinated except a small group which they are studying how to help.”

Three Swiss Guards quit this fall after refusing to comply with the Vatican’s vaccine requirement and three other guards were suspended until they were fully vaccinated.

The new Vatican decree comes as countries around the world impose new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the omicron variant, which is believed to spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The measures have prompted protests in several European countries.

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in its “Note on the morality of using some anti-COVID-19 vaccines,” issued on Dec. 21, 2020, that “vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation and that, therefore, it must be voluntary.”

It added that Catholics who, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, “must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”

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Venezuela bishops: 45 priests and four bishops have died from COVID-19 since start of pandemic

December 15, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Forty-five priests and four bishops in Venezuela have died from COVID-19 as of December 2021, the Venezuela bishops’ conference has reported. / Unsplash

Caracas, Venezuela, Dec 15, 2021 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

The Venezuelan bishops’ conference published new statistics showing that since the beginning of the pandemic 45 priests and four bishops have died from COVID-19.

The conference noted that “in the midst of the global crisis caused by the pandemic, priests are not exempt from the risks of contracting COVID-19,” as they carry out their ministry.

“At a time when people more earnestly seek the comfort of the spirit and closeness to the faith … priests offer their service to the Church,” the conference said.

The conference published current figures on the priests who were infected and died from the deadly virus. In the report, they noted that between March 2020 and Dec. 13, 2021, 439 priests were infected with COVID-19, a figure that represents 20.77% of the total clergy in the country.

During this period, 45 priests have died, or 10.25% of all priests infected with the virus, and 2.13% of all Venezuelan clergy.

Of those infected, 26 were bishops and of these 22 prelates recovered; the other four died in 2021.

The four bishops who died were Archbishop Cástor Oswaldo Azuaje, who served as the bishop of the Diocese of Trujillo until his death on January 8; Bishop César Ortega, who died on April 9; Archbishop Tulio Chirivella, Archbishop Emeritus of Barquisimeto, who died on April 11; and Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop Emeritus of Caracas, who died on Sept. 23.

The bishops’ conference said that the Church in Venezuela currently has 2,068 priests. Siixty are bishops and of these 41 are titular bishops, three are auxiliary bishops, and 16 are bishops emeritus.

The dioceses with the greatest number of priests are San Cristóbal (208), Trujillo (154), Barquisimeto (148), Mérida (127), Caracas (121), the conference reported.

The bishops’ conference said that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic “it has urged the entire population to comply with the guidelines and recommendations in the field of biosafety” to prevent contracting the virus.

The conference also stressed that taking proper care of oneself, the family and the community “is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Finally, the bishops’ conference exhorted the faithful to “increase their trust in God in times of a health emergency” and encouraged them to continue praying from the Word of God, “especially in the family, the Domestic Church,” since prayer “is an expression of the faith and hope that we need to strengthen.”

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PHOTOS: Los Angeles, San Diego pay tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe with processions, Masses after year hiatus

December 7, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
This year’s procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe in Los Angeles was well attended after a limited, cars-only procession in 2020 during the pandemic. / Víctor Aleman/Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Denver Newsroom, Dec 7, 2021 / 14:36 pm (CNA).

On Sunday, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles held its 90th annual procession and outdoor Mass honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. The celebration, which is the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles, was established by Catholics who fled persecution by the Mexican government during the Cristero War in 1931.

“It’s a joy to be reunited this year to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez in a release.

This year’s event is part of the archdiocese’s Jubilee Year, “Forward in Mission,” which celebrates 250 years of Catholic faith in the region.

“We are gathered here with the desire to go ‘always forward and united in mission and hope,’ which is  the theme of our procession this year, and as you know, it’s a historic year,” Gomez said. 

Five East L.A. students from Bishop Mora Salesian High School kicked off the procession with a 6-mile relay run and the carrying of the Guadalupano torch from Mission San Gabriel to East Los Angeles College Stadium, where the Mass was held. 

The procession included musicians, Aztec dancers, and many colorful floats honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, who has been a symbol of “hope, compassion, unity, and love” during a difficult year, Gomez said.

“Her image has been a symbol of unity, peace, compassion, and hope for people  around the world,” said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in a statement.  

The procession and Mass commemorated the 490th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and marked the culmination of a months-long pilgrimage of the images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego throughout Los Angeles. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an exact digital reproduction of the original image in Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and was blessed by Pope St. John Paul II. 

“Whenever I am in the presence of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I feel like a child who is loved,” said Archbishop José Gomez on Twitter in preparation for the event. “When you are in her presence, you can feel the warmth of her tender eyes gazing down upon you. It is a powerful feeling—a beautiful sense of being protected.”

Last year, a limited number of participants were able to participate in the procession by car only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gomez offered his prayers for the end of the pandemic during this year’s event. 

“Today, especially, we elevate our prayers for the end of the pandemic,” said Gomez in Spanish during the bilingual celebration. “We dedicate special prayers for the eternal rest of those who have died and also for those who are sick and for those who assist them.”

During the homily, Gomez called the faithful to keep following Jesus. 

“We need to increase more and more in  our love for Jesus, in our understanding of what God wants in our lives, in our desire to do his will,” he  said. 

 

The Diocese of San Diego also celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe with a procession and Mass on Sunday. Auxiliary Bishop Ramón Bejarano participated in the procession and celebrated the bilingual Mass, which was held in the gym at St. Augustine High School. 

“We estimate that around 1,000 faithful participated in our procession, and nearly 2,000 attended the Mass, one of the largest turnouts in recent years,” said Aida Bustos, director of the Office of Media for the Diocese of San Diego.

Last year, the San Diego Mass was held outside with limited attendance due to the pandemic, and no procession took place. According to one report, this year, the San Diego celebration had floats from 32 Catholic organizations and parishes in the area, along with mariachi bands and dancers. 

Following the Mass, the diocese held a tribute to former Auxiliary Bishop Gilbert Chavez, who died in March of 2020. Chavez was the second Mexican-American to be appointed auxiliary bishop in the United States, and advocated for Latinos in his ministry.  

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Oklahoma AG objects after Catholic healthcare group enforces COVID-19 vaccine mandate

November 17, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor. / oag.ok.gov

Denver Newsroom, Nov 17, 2021 / 07:38 am (CNA).

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor on Monday issued a cease and desist letter to Ascension, after the Catholic healthcare group reportedly suspended an unspecified number of employees who did not receive a COVID-19 vaccine before a Nov. 12 deadline. 

Ascension St. John, a hospital in Tulsa, reportedly suspended the employees without pay Nov. 12 despite a state court’s emergency temporary restraining order prohibiting the group from taking action against employees who requested, but were denied, a religious exemption to the hospital’s vaccine mandate. 

“It appears that Ascension is determined to trample on the sincerely held religious beliefs of the healthcare heroes it employs despite the court’s clear mandate,” O’Connor said in the cease and desist letter. 

“Ascension’s actions will also interrupt patient care and prevent patients from being treated by the provider of their choice.”

Local news reports from Nov. 13 suggested that Ascension St. John temporarily reversed its decision to suspend the employees, before resuming the suspensions the same day. 

St. Louis-based Ascension, which operates hospitals in Oklahoma, 18 other states, and the District of Columbia, implemented a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on July 27. 

The mandate required all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza by Nov. 12, 2021 or risk suspension, and eventual termination on Jan. 4, 2022. 

“As a healthcare provider and as a Catholic ministry, ensuring we have a culture of safety for our associates, patients and communities is foundational to our work,” the mandate says. Ascension is not affiliated with Ascension Press, a Catholic multimedia publisher based in Pennsylvania. 

The attorney general’s letter demands that Ascension “immediately cease and desist its defiance of the court’s temporary restraining order,” allow the attorney general’s office time to investigate allegations of religious discrimination, immediately reinstate all suspended employees who applied for a religious exemption, and place employees on their normal work schedule. 

Ascension did not respond to CNA’s request for comment. 

Judge William D. LaFortune granted a temporary restraining order in Tulsa District Court on Nov. 12 in response to a lawsuit filed that same day by the State of Oklahoma, which accused Ascension of religious discrimination. Healthcare workers who applied for religious exemption were “flatly rejected by Ascension,” O’Connor contended in a press release on Friday.  

One such complainant is Mitchell Duininck, a physician at Ascension St. John in Tulsa, who applied for a religious exemption within the deadlines imposed by Ascension, but his request was repeatedly denied, court documents state. 

Duininck, a practicing Christian, says he filed a complaint with the federal Office of Civil Rights Enforcement after Ascension denied his request on two occasions.

“We will not tolerate any form of religious discrimination against Oklahomans who seek reasonable accommodations from vaccine mandates based on their sincerely held religious beliefs,” O’Connor said. 

“No Oklahoman should be forced to choose between a vaccine and their job, when it involves violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.” 

O’Connor called the temporary restraining order “a win for religious freedom” in a tweet late Friday. A hearing is set for Dec. 1 to determine if a temporary injunction should be granted while religious discrimination complaints are investigated. 

O’Connor has joined 11 other state attorneys general in a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare workers.

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