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‘Tolton’ play in spotlight as Church addresses racial division

November 27, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Denver Newsroom, Nov 27, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).-  

During the U.S. bishops’ meeting last week, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said his diocese had hosted a one-man play honoring the first African-American slave to become a Catholic priest, as part of its efforts to address racism.

The play is “Tolton: From Slave to Priest,” the work of St. Luke Productions. It has been performed in front of thousands of people since it was released three years ago.

Leonardo Defilippis, director and president of St. Luke Production, told CNA that the witness of Fr. Agustus Tolton is important at a moment of racial division, especially Tolton gives witness to Christian unity beyond racial barriers.

“We’re the only show in the whole country and it’s the only instrument like it in the Catholic Church,” he told CNA. “It’s so powerful. [It helps] you realize all men are created equal.”

Fr. Tolton is played by James Coleman – a television and film actor of almost 30 years. During the show, Tolton engages with memories of his past, meeting his mother, his friends and enemies, and the devil himself.

Since it opened in 2017, the play has been performed over 200 times at Catholic venues across the United States. The goal of the play is to bear witness to a holy man who confronts hatred and segregation with charity, said Defilippis.

He said this show provides the best example of a persecuted person who encountered trials with compassion and faith. Rather than with violence or revenge, Tolton responded to racial hatred with the virtues of a saint, Defilippis added.

Speaking of facing injustice, Defilippis said that “saints have a way of showing you how to do it.”

“You have to do it through love. You have to do it through forgiveness. You have to have faith. You have to have hope. That’s what leads us to that oneness, that unity.”

Tolton was born into slavery in Monroe County, Missouri, in 1854. During the Civil War, Tolton and his family escaped slavery.

He entered St. Peter’s Catholic School in Quincy, Illinois, when he was young. The school’s pastor, Fr. Peter McGirr eventually baptized Tolton, instructed him for his first Holy Communion, and recognized his vocation to the priesthood.

Tolton studied for the priesthood in Rome because no American seminary would accept an African-American student. When he returned to the U.S. after his ordination in 1889, he was greeted by thousands of people. A brass band played hymns, and black and white people processed together into the local church.

Tolton served for three years at a parish in Quincy before moving to Chicago to start a parish for black Catholics, St. Monica’s, where he remained until his death in 1897.

Coleman has performed as Tolton for the past two years. He said he was reluctant to audition at first because he was not interested in theater roles. But he said he’s glad for the experience.

“The experience of doing a true story [about] someone’s life and actually using the words that he said, … I started to take on a lot of the things that he experienced … I always pray before every show in rehearsal to allow Fr. Tolton to tell his story,” he told CNA.

Coleman expressed hope that the play might be a catalyst for racial healing. He said the show pushes the audience to see past the color of a person’s skin, and to see the unity of the human race.

“The goal of this show is to let people know that we are all one in the spirit, we are all one in Christ. Racism is a divide to the human family … In order to heal that divide, we have to heal our hearts as well as our minds of racism,” he said.

“It lets you know that in order for us to achieve, it’s not going to always be the people of the same race. It takes all of us to create greatness. It takes all of us to succeed.”

 

 


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News Briefs

Warning of donor harassment, Trump administration backs foes of Calif. disclosure rule

November 26, 2020 CNA Daily News 3

CNA Staff, Nov 26, 2020 / 11:01 am (CNA).- The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to review a challenge to a California requirement that charitable organizations disclose their major donors to the state attorney general, siding with groups like the Thomas More Law Center that say the requirement will make their donors vulnerable to retaliation, harassment, and violence.

The move from the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office drew praise from John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy at the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group.

“Charitable entities shouldn’t be required to disclose confidential donor information to state officials who do not need it and who fail to adequately protect donor identities from disclosure to the public,” Bursch said Nov. 24. “We are pleased that the United States agrees that this case presents critically important issues that the Supreme Court should decide immediately. Forced donor disclosure is a threat to everyone and discourages both charitable giving and participation in the marketplace of ideas.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is backing the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center’s complaint in the case. The center promotes issues related to religious freedom, moral and family values, and the sanctity of human life, Alliance Defending Freedom said in August 2019. Another challenger to the California rules is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which tends to take conservative or libertarian positions on questions of economics and other issues, including opposition to labor unions.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to grant a hearing on the case, which was victorious in federal district court but suffered a defeat in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

“As this court’s precedents make clear, compelled disclosures that carry a reasonable probability of harassment, reprisals, and similar harms are subject to exacting scrutiny, which requires a form of narrow tailoring,” said the brief to the Supreme Court. The solicitor general’s office said the appeals court ruling “compromises important associational interests protected by the First Amendment.”

“Petitioners alleged that their contributors had in the past suffered harassment, reprisals, and similar harms because of their association with petitioners,” the brief said. Disclosure would likely “expose their substantial contributors to those harms, and thereby deter those contributors and others from making future contributions.”

At issue is a matter of non-profit tax forms and the crucial information they contain.

Qualified tax-exempt organizations already must submit to the IRS a Form 990 federal information form, including the names of “all substantial contributors” in a section called Schedule B. Substantial donors are defined as those who give $5,000 or more to the organization in a year or 2% of total annual contributions. However, the information about these donors must be kept confidential on pain of civil and criminal law.

Non-profits that ask for donations in California must file their tax returns with California’s Registry of Charitable Trusts, administered by the state attorney general, currently Xavier Becerra.

Beginning in 2010, the California attorney general said that disclosures must include this Schedule B. The incoming U.S. vice-president Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and the rule change began under her predecessor Jerry Brown.

Both the Thomas More Law Center and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation have alleged that there is a high risk their information will be made public and disrupt their freedom of association.

Alliance Defending Freedom alleged that in March 2012, the California Attorney General’s Office began to “harass the law center and demand the names and addresses of its major donors even though the center’s donors, clients, and employees have faced intimidation, death threats, hate mail, boycotts, and even assassination attempts from ideological opponents.”

The legal group said that for those associated with charities like the Thomas More Law Center that “speak on contentious matters,” the disclosure of donor information “poses an imminent danger of hate mail, violence, ostracization, and boycotts.”

“Only the most stalwart supporters will give money under such a toxic cloud. Most will reasonably conclude that the risk of association is too great, with the result that groups who make the most threats will effectively shut down those with whom they disagree,” said the legal group’s request for Supreme Court review.

“Charities will continue to find as-applied exemptions impossible to achieve, and support for groups advocating contentious ideas will dry up,” the legal group said. “This Court should intervene now while there are still dissenting voices left to save.”

The request said California law has “deprived charities of resources, chilled their speech for nine years, and blocked dissemination of their ideas in our Nation’s most populous state.”    

Alliance Defending Freedom has cited the Supreme Court’s 1958 ruling in the case NAACP v. Alabama, which ruled against the Alabama Attorney General’s demands that the civil rights group produce its membership list or cease operations. The restrictions on the group crippled the organization in Alabama at a key time when black Americans sought to secure civil rights.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The district court found that California’s required disclosures were not “substantially related” to its interest in regulating charities, as auditors and attorneys seldom use the Schedule B section when they audit or investigate charities. Even when the information was relevant, it could be obtained from other sources. The disclosure requirement was not narrowly tailored.

The district court said petitioners presented “ample evidence” that their contributors had previously suffered “harassment, reprisals, and similar harms” when their involvement became known. The California attorney general’s office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality of Schedule B forms.” This failure included making hundreds of the forms available on its registry website.

The court of appeals, however, overturned the district court. It said confidentiality measures had been tightened and said California had a compelling interest in policing fraud in charitable organizations, and disclosing major donors advances this interest, Reuters reported.
It compared the rule to political disclosure cases such as Doe v. Reed, where the Supreme Court said that the disclosure of the names of people who signed a petition referendum was relevant to state interests in protecting the electoral process.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s summary of the case said, “the California Attorney General’s office has a history of posting supporter’s information online and offers no protection against employees, contractors, or summer interns downloading, e-mailing, or printing supporters’ names and addresses and then disclosing them publicly.”

“We’ve already seen how publicly revealing political donors with the intent of doing harm (or ‘doxing’) can ruin careers and corrode civil discourse,” the legal group said. “Givers would have good reason to fear being doxed—especially in today’s toxic cultural climate.”

The Thomas More Law Center’s president and chief counsel is Richard Thompson, who came to prominence for opposing prominent assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. Thompson co-founded the law center in in 1998 with Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza who continues to be a prominent Catholic philanthropist. Alliance Defending Freedom said about 5% of donors to the law center are California residents.

Besides issues related to religious freedom and family values, the law center’s website also provides resources for critics of the Common Core curriculum. It names other key issues as “confronting the threat of radical Islam” and “defending national security.”

The similarly-named Thomas More Society, based in Illinois, is not connected to the law center.

For its part, Americans for Prosperity was founded in 2004. It has had strong financial support from two wealthy brothers, David and Charles Koch, whose combined net worth is in the billions of dollars.


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News Briefs

Ransomware attack cripples St. Louis archdiocesan websites

November 25, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Arkansas senate passes abortion ban in new challenge to Roe

November 25, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Philadelphia archdiocese opens home for young adults with disabilities

November 25, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

November 24, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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