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‘We are alarmed’: Catholic aid groups respond to India’s COVID crisis

June 25, 2020: Health workers arrive at a check-up camp in Malad / Manoej Paateel/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic aid groups are mobilizing relief efforts in India, as the country is gripped by a worsening outbreak of the coronavirus.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas India are on the ground in the subcontinent, and are administering aid. 

“In India and elsewhere, CRS and our Church partners are providing life-saving support to communities impacted by COVID-19,” Nikki Gamer, media relations manager for CRS, told CNA on Wednesday. 

Gamer said that CRS has reached more than 10 million people through on-the-ground efforts to prevent spread of the virus, support health responders, and “assist extremely vulnerable families to manage the compounded impacts of the pandemic on their lives.”

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), a papal agency that provides humanitarian and pastoral support for the Middle East, northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe, announced a new emergency campaign for India on Tuesday. The campaign will “help the local churches respond to the escalating COVID-19 crisis,” the agency said. 

“We cannot watch this catastrophe unfold and not share the heartbreak and feel the need to help,” the agency’s president Msgr. Peter Vaccari stated in a press release on Tuesday. 

The death toll from the pandemic in India is estimated to have exceeded 225,000. The country is averaging about 3,500 deaths per day from COVID-19, and hospitals are running low on bed and vital supplies. Experts believe the number of deaths to be undercounted, the AP has reported.

“We are alarmed by the spike in COVID-19 cases in India, Nepal and other hotspots. As our Asia regional director said last week, ‘Even as an increasingly vaccinated America looks forward to a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, a number of countries in Asia are hitting their darkest periods,’” Gamer said. 

Gamer told CNA that “it’s clear that the global response to the pandemic is not moving fast enough,” and that CRS is calling on the United States and other countries “to commit to bold and immediate action to prevent the threats posed by COVID-19 worldwide.” 

Msgr. Vaccari promised that his agency will be responding to where they are needed in India.

“When the world has needed us, CNEWA was there,” he said. “And we are there now, in India, where our regional office is at work, bringing assistance however we can to those in need.”

One of CRS’ top priorities is expanding vaccine education in hard-hit areas, said Gamer. 

“CRS and our Catholic partners play a unique role as a trusted source of information—which, at a time of fear and misinformation, is truly lifesaving,” she said. 

“We are extremely grateful for the continued generosity from American Catholics and others of goodwill,” she said. “We remain committed to the notion that to end this pandemic anywhere, we must end it everywhere.”

According to CRS’ website, the organization has focused on supporting migrant workers, who are at an increased risk of getting the virus. CRS also provides psychological care and hunger assistance.

'Demographic earthquake'? U.S. fertility rates fall again to record-low levels

TOMO/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. total fertility rate fell to its lowest-recorded level last year and the number of births was the lowest in 42 years, new federal data published on Wednesday revealed.

According to provisional data of the National Vital Statistics System published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the total fertility rate in the United States dropped 4% from 2019 to 2020, reaching a record-low. The general fertility rate and overall number of births also declined by 4% last year, with the number of births at its lowest since 1979.

The total fertility rate – an estimate of the number of births that 1,000 women would have in their lifetimes – was only 1,637.5 births per 1,000 women in 2020, well below the “replacement level” rate of 2,100 births per 1,000 women.

W. Brad Wilcox, senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, called the report “pretty sobering demographic news.”

He added that “we could be on the cusp of a major demographic shift, or almost like a demographic earthquake here in the United States.”

According to the report, the total fertility rate has been below replacement level “generally” since 1971, and “consistently” since 2007 – just before the global economic crisis of the following year.

The U.S. fertility rate is actually lower than Japan’s in 1988, Wilcox noted. Japan’s fertility rate went on to drop precipitously after that year, he said, effecting a demographic decline with around a million more deaths than births in recent years.

“The question is, are we heading down the Japanese road?” Wilcox asked, pointing to Southern Europe and East Asia as other examples of regions with low birth rates.

For 2020, the general fertility rate stood at 55.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a record-low.

The overall number of births in the United States fell 4% last year to just more than 3.6 million births in 2020 – the sixth consecutive year that figure has decreased and the lowest number of births since 1979.

There might be a number of causes behind the low birth rates, Wilcox said. While demographers have warned of a possible “baby bust” due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it caused, those numbers would only be revealed in the December statistics at the very end of 2020, he said.

“We would predict that 2021, this year, is going to be even more dramatic” in the declining birth rate, he said, noting that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could markedly influence the 2021 birth statistics.

Furthermore, birth rates have fallen since the 2008 economic crisis but have not rebounded as the U.S. economy bounced back from the “Great Recession,” he said, implying that causes other than the economy are also responsible for the decline in fertility rates.

“Delays in marriage” are a large driver of the decline, Wilcox said. The rise of technology impacting social life is another, he said, with fewer people socializing and dating in-person. Adults are also more invested in education and work, he said, and are less likely to view marriage and parenthood as “anchors” of adult life.

While federal policies such as paid parental leave and a generous child allowance could play a role in increasing the birth rate, Wilcox noted that Northern European countries with generous family policies are still seeing birth rates fall.

“That’s not a cure-all,” he said of federal pro-family policies, while noting that they would be "helpful."

Among demographic subgroups, the general fertility rate in 2020 dropped 9% for non-Hispanic Asian women, and 4% for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Black women, according to the numbers published by the CDC on Wednesday.

Birth rates among teenagers and young adults continued their steep declines in recent decades.

The provisional birth rate for teenagers ages 15-19 dropped by 8% in 2020, while the provisional birth rate among women ages 20-24 declined by 6% to a record-low 62.8 births per 1,000 women. The birth rate among this subgroup has dropped by 40% since 2007.

While the birth rate among women aged 40-44 had generally risen since 1985, it fell by 2% from 2019 to 2020, to 11.8 births per 1,000 women.

Charleston diocese, Black colleges seek federal injunction to get COVID-19 relief

Historic court house and post office in Charleston, South Carolina / Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 5, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A 19th-century constitutional amendment in South Carolina is wrongly blocking coronavirus relief money for Catholic schools, an attorney for the Charleston diocese said in federal court Monday.

The state’s version of a Blaine Amendment, a policy barring state funding of religious institutions, was enacted in 1895. The Diocese of Charleston and an association of colleges are challenging it in court, claiming that it unlawfully shut off Catholic schools from critical relief funds during the pandemic. 

The lawsuit argues that amendment violates the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. A hearing in the case was held at a federal district court in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 3. 

The plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Suhr asked U.S. District Judge Bruce Hendricks to issue an injunction against the amendment, arguing that it is rooted in efforts to deprive Catholics and Blacks of education funds.

“South Carolina has come a long way since 1895,” said Suhr. “But though the state has come a long way, its past is with us still.” 

He argued that the Blaine Amendment still prevents Catholic schools and historically Black colleges and universities from “fair, equitable access” to the relief funds, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

Some $34 million in federal funds are at stake in the case, provided as discretionary spending under the federal CARES Act which passed Congress in March 2020 for pandemic relief. 

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster had designated $32 million to help low-and moderate-income families in enrolling or remaining in private schools during the pandemic; he set aside another $2.4 million to assist with health upgrades and distance-based learning technology at the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, most of which are private.

However, the state Supreme Court blocked these efforts under the state’s Blaine Amendment.

In response, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston filed a lawsuit against South Carolina last month. The diocese has 33 schools and 7,000 students. South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, a nonprofit organization that includes five historically Black colleges and universities and 20 schools in total, is a co-plaintiff in the case.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston has commented on the lawsuit, saying, “This appeal to our state’s courts is not only to, at long last, expunge the anti-Catholic and racist sentiment that still haunts our past. It is about creating a more inclusive, uplifting future for parents and children who seek an education that best fits their values and needs of their students.”

“Many families have been significantly hurt by the COVID pandemic and they should not be denied financial assistance based on where they desire to send their children to school,” he added.

The Blaine Amendment dates back to South Carolina’s 1895 constitutional convention. Versions of Blaine Amendments were passed by many states in the late-19th century, forbidding public funding of religious or “sectarian” causes.

The plaintiffs have pointed to the historical context of the provision, which was backed by the national anti-Catholic group American Protective Association, and South Carolina politician and eventual-U.S. Senator Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman, then-governor of the convention.

“Pitchfork Ben’s racial bigotry lined up nicely with other delegates’ anti-Catholic bigotry,” the plaintiffs said. They objected that a Baptist food pantry, a Catholic hospital, and a Muslim mosque can receive COVID-19 relief, but not schools or universities affiliated with religion.

In a previous statement, the plaintiffs charged that the Blaine Amendment was passed “in order to suppress the education of newly freed slaves and to enable discrimination against Catholic immigrants.” They called the amendment “born of bigotry and prejudice, based on race and religion.”

Last month, Suhr said the lawsuit is based on a principle everyone can support. “We’re fighting to strike down a century-old law that was enacted with the purpose of discriminating against our fellow citizens,” he said. 

McMaster had sought to allocate $14 million in private school vouchers, but the state Supreme Court’s decision put that effort into limbo as well, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. While McMaster disagreed with the state Supreme Court Decision, his attorney said, he must enforce the law.

The law, however, could face significant scrutiny given recent court cases.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment. The provision constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them,” the majority opinion stated. That case concerned a ban on students at religious schools benefitting from a state scholarship program funded by tax credits.

The New Mexico Supreme Court in 2018 upheld a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks; the program had been challenged under the state Blaine Amendment. The 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer found that a state cannot deny public benefits to religious entities simply because they are religious.                                           

Illinois bishops urge support for school choice measure, while Nebraska bill fails

Stephen Kiers/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 5, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Illinois bishops are urging Catholics in the state to support a scholarship program funded by donations with tax credit incentives - tax credits that the governor intends to cut. 

Illinois’ Invest in Kids Act, enacted in 2017, allows for a 75% state income tax credit for charitable donations to an approved scholarship-granting organization; the scholarships help students to attend the school of their choice. 

The act, which passed with strong Catholic support, has led to scholarships granted to some 20,000 children in Illinois so far, the state’s bishops say; more than 25,000 students are still in line for scholarships. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and the Illinois Education Association do not support the act, however, claiming that it diverts money away from public schools. Pritzker has recommended cutting the tax credit from 75% to 40%. 

Parents should have greater school choice for their children, the state’s bishops said. 

“One of the most important decisions parents make is where their children will attend school. All of us concerned with the common good should advocate for greater access to excellent educational opportunities,” Illinois’ six Catholic bishops wrote in a joint letter this week. 

“Because this is an issue that will be negotiated during the budget negotiating process, there is no specific bill number to give you.  We ask you to simply call your state legislators and urge them to oppose the Governor’s plan to cut the Invest in Kids program and instead support efforts to extend and improve the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit,” they wrote. 

In Nebraska, the state bishops’ conference lamented the failure of a school choice bill last week in the state legislature. 

The legislature failed to pass LB364, a measure that would have created a tax credit for donors to scholarship funds for low-income students; the funds could have been used for students attending private school, with a yearly cap of $5 million on the funds. 

After eight hours of debate in the Senate, with opponents arguing that the bill would sap resources from the state’s public schools, the bill ultimately failed April 28 amid a filibuster. 

Jeremy Ekeler, Associate Director of Education Policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, lamented the bill’s failure to pass, saying that lawmakers had “prioritized politics over parents’ rights.” 

“LB364 affirms the truth that every child deserves the right to pursue an education that is best for them, regardless of zip code or income,” Ekeler said in an April 28 statement. 

“While LB364 did not advance today, a full day of thoughtful debate on this issue is a big step in the right direction. We will continue to advocate for families until we have true educational freedom in our state,” he stated. 

Nebraska and Illinois have not been the only states considering school choice-related policies. 

In late March, Kentucky lawmakers voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of school choice legislation; the bill allows the use of tax credits to fund vouchers for students in some of Kentucky’s largest counties to attend private schools. Kentucky’s four Catholic bishops applauded the bill’s passage. 

A previous version of this story stated that the proposed Nebraska tax credit was 50%; the actual proposal was for a 100% credit. The story has been corrected.

Why Catholics are reluctant to share their faith... and what to do about it

EWTN Publishing

Denver, Colo., May 5, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

First things first: this is the closest I have seen to the book I always wanted to write and never found the time to do. The title of the book is Web of Faith: A Curious Catholic's Answers to Theological Questions, and brilliantly brings together the two things that I see rank-and-file Catholics are craving: answers to tons of questions from all the fields of Catholicism and a book written so concisely that the answers can be read in the time it takes to clean the family table for dessert.

The authors, Fr. John Trigilio and Fr. Ken Brighenti, are hosts of EWTN’s Web of Faith, and the book is the result of their years of experience explaining the faith in a manner that can be not only understood, but shared with others. So, in the book, they decided to compile a comprehensive list of the best questions ever asked of them, responding to each with intellectual heft, spiritual acuity and charity.

In the introduction, Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg, tells the story of a lively question-and-answer period following a conference on evangelization where the presenter was asked: "Why are we Catholics so reluctant to talk to others about our Faith?"

“His response,” writes the Bishop, “caught me off guard. He said 'Most often we are afraid of the second question.’”

There are indeed good Q & A Catholic books out there, but this one, in my opinion, is the best in dealing not only with tradition, but also with contemporary challenges to our Faith.  As Bishop Gainer writes, "the book you are holding is an excellent resource to help dispel any fear of the second, third or fourth question."

 The result is 400 pages of rewarding material touching on practically every major category of Church life and Catholic teachings. 400 pages? Fear not ye Catholics. The book is very well organized in four main subjects: Doctrine, Liturgy, Morality, and Prayer.

Thus, the book responds to questions from the impact of mental illness on living the faith, to questions about same-sex attraction, to the level of importance of "repetitive" prayers such as the Rosary or Litanies.

 And then it deals with everything in between such as:

  • How to go to Confession and how not to

  • What you must believe versus what you can have your own opinion about

  • Sacred Scripture’s claims and mandates

  • How to deal with family collapse

  • Why customs matter

  • Who the Church Fathers and Doctors are, and what they teach us

  • Bad words and unwanted thoughts: what is sinful and what is not

  • Psychics and their dangers

  • How canon law applies to laypeople

  • How to avoid the dangers of the Internet

The book is slated to be released on May 25, 2021.

Web of Faith - EWTN Publishing

Catholic bishops oppose Texas gun bill that ‘advances a culture of violence’

Alexander Oganezov/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Catholic bishops in Texas have voiced opposition to a bill allowing certain adults to carry handguns without permits, which they say “advances a culture of violence.” 

House Bill 1927 would allow residents of the Lone Star State to carry handguns without permits if they are at least 21 years old and if they are not “otherwise prohibited by state or federal law from possessing the firearm.” Texas law currently requires a license to carry handguns.

The bill has passed the state House and could be voted on by the state Senate next week, according to the Texas Tribune.

In an open letter to Texas lawmakers and Catholics, the state’s Catholic bishops said they are “alarmed at the aggressive calls for the unfettered presence of weapons carried into public places."

“Too often we have seen how guns are used in the public forum by someone acting in anger,” they stated. “Instead of relying on law enforcement and our justice system, people with guns in public areas can become the aggrieved, the jury and the judge, in swift and violent sequence.”

The bill, they said, “fails to reflect a commitment to life or a vision of hope and instead accomplishes nothing more than to make it easier for potentially violent persons to act in anger or delusion. This will cause people to feel more threatened and more afraid.”

The letter was signed by the ordinaries of the state’s 15 Catholic dioceses, as well as Bishop Stephen Lopes of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; the ordinariate has jurisdiction over a Houston Catholic parish of the Anglican Use.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) signaled his support for the bill during a recent radio interview on WBAP.

“I believe it should reach my desk and we should have constitutional carry in Texas,” Abbott said. “This is something that 20 other states already have adopted, and it’s time for Texas to adopt it too.”

The bishops said they have seen communities “shattered” following mass shootings.

“We have all seen the loss of lives, the suffering of victims, the inconsolable sorrow at the funerals,” the bishops wrote. 

They argued that law enforcement officials also “do not support HB 1927, as it makes their oath to protect the public much more difficult.” 

“Nor do we, since it advances a culture of violence that puts everyone at further risk,” the bishops concluded. 

An April “Action Alert” from the Diocese of Corpus Christi stated that the Church recognizes both the legitimate use of self-defense in proportion to a threat, and the lawful authority of the state to regulate the sale and possession of weapons.

“While the Church recognizes that recourse to self-defense is legitimate when necessary to protect one’s safety and that many of our fellow Texans are lawfully-exercising their Second Amendment constitutional rights, this does not mean that the state cannot promote reasonable regulation of firearms to uphold the safety and wellbeing of all persons in our community,” the diocese stated.

“The increased prevalence of weapons in society does not promote a culture of life. In fact, recent mass shootings in Georgia, Colorado, and, tragically, in our own state bear out this reality,” the diocese added.

Ave Maria law school announces new dean

John Czarnetzky / University of Mississippi School of Law

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Ave Maria School of Law announced its new dean on Tuesday, who will take over the position on June 1.

Tom Monaghan, chairman of the law school’s board of governors, said that John Czarnetzky, a professor of law at the University of Mississippi, will become the new dean of the law school. 

In addition to teaching courses at the University of Mississippi School of Law, Czarnetzky also works as a legal advisor to the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations, and has represented the Holy See in various negotiations and in international treaties. Czarnetzky also a lay Dominican and a Third Degree member of the Knights of Columbus. 

He was unanimously selected for the position by the school’s board of governors. Czarnetzky replaces Kevin Cieply, who resigned at the end of February due to personal reasons. 

"I am blessed and humbled by the confidence Ave Maria School of Law is placing in me with my appointment as Chief Executive Officer and Dean," said Czarnetzky in a press release from the school. 

"Ave Maria Law is a unique and important organization, known for both its dedication to the Catholic intellectual tradition as well as its family-like commitment to its students. I am overjoyed to now be part of this important academic institution as it looks toward the brightest of futures," he said. 

Monaghan said he took “great pleasure” in announcing Czarnetzky as the new dean. 

"I am excited about his appointment and what it means for the future of the law school,” said Monaghan. “I look forward to Dean Czarnetzky bringing his vast academic experience as well as his strong faith to Ave Maria School of Law in order to help the school continue to excel both academically and spiritually.”

Monaghan thanked those who “worked so hard” during the national search for a new dean.

Prior to his law career, Czarnetzky served as an officer in the U.S. Army. He was an intelligence analyst who specialized in foreign chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities. He then practiced law with Sidley & Austin in Chicago, and McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe in Richmond, Virginia. 

In 2016, Czarnetzky was honored with the Elsie M. Hood Award, the highest honor given to a member of the faculty at the University of Mississippi. 

According to his bio at the University of Mississippi School of Law, Czarnetzky represented the Holy See in negotiations establishing the International Criminal Court and the Convention on Persons with Disabilities. 

According to his curriculum vitae at the school, he was also a member of the Mississippi state advisory committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, taught a freshman seminar on Catholic social doctrine, and was faculty advisor and cofounder of the St. Thomas More Society for Catholic law students.

Texas city votes to become the latest ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn’

Lubbock, Texas / Patricia Elaine Thomas/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 4, 2021 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Citizens in Lubbock, Texas voted this past weekend to declare the city a “Sanctuary City for the Unborn,” drawing praise from the diocese’s bishop.

“I join with many others in the city of Lubbock, including many of our Catholic Faithful, who voted for the Ordinance declaring Lubbock a ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn,’ Bishop Robert Coerver of the Lubbock diocese said in a statement upon the passage of the ordinance. 

Bishop Coerver said his vote was “in the hope that the ordinance will be successful in bringing about an end to the killing of voiceless innocents through the act of abortion.” Coerver said he hopes that the measure will be an occasion for all residents to grow in their respect for human life, from conception until natural death. 

The city’s measure declares performing or aiding in an abortion unlawful, but will not be enforced by the government until the Supreme Court overturns its 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, as well as the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling which built upon Roe. 

Private citizens, especially family members of aborted babies, are allowed to bring lawsuits against people or businesses who violate the ordinance by performing or aiding in in abortion; mothers of aborted children are exempt from the penalties under ordinance.

Voters approved the measure on Saturday, with supporters comprising 62% of the unofficial tally. Another attempt to pass the proposition last year was unsuccessful, when the city council rejected it because of fear of a lawsuit, the AP reported. 

The local Planned Parenthood clinic began providing abortions on April 15, and the vote passed on May 1. The ordinance is expected to take effect on June 1 says Mayor Dan Pope, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. 

The Journal also reported that Lubbock, with a population of more than 250,000, is the largest city to adopt the sanctuary city policy, as well as the first to declare the ban while having an abortion provider within its boundaries. Other cities in Texas have adopted similar ordinances.

The ordinance makes it unlawful for any person to procure, perform, aid, or abet an abortion of any type and at any stage of pregnancy in Lubbock. No one can provide transportation to or from an abortion provider, give instructions of any kind regarding self-administered abortion, provide money for an abortion or the costs associated with procuring an abortion, or coerce a pregnant mother to have an abortion against her will. 

Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and the ACLU of Texas both hinted at challenging the ordinance. 

“The ACLU has a long history of challenging unconstitutional abortion bans and will continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of the people of Lubbock,” said Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, responding to the ordinance.

Bishops encourage prayers for victims of Mexico City train accident 

The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven in Mexico City, Mexico / Eduardo Berdejo/CNA

Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Mexican bishops encouraged prayers and solidarity with the victims following a Mexico City Metro accident that took place the night of May 3. The crash claimed the lives of at least 23 people and left more than 60 injured.

Around 10:20 on Monday evening, the railway overpass of Line 12 of the Mexico City Metro commuter train collapsed, causing one of the passenger cars to crash onto the road below. The accident occurred near the “Olivos” Metro station in the borough of Tláhuac in southeast Mexico City.

Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, the secretary general of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference and auxiliary bishop of Monterrey, told CNA’s Spanish language news partner ACI Prensa that “we received the news last night during a meeting with the auxiliary bishops of Mexico. And they immediately and publicly expressed their condolences along with Cardinal Carlos Aguiar.”

“I immediately joined these expressions of support and solidarity from the Archdiocese of Mexico,” Miranda Guardiola said.

In a Twitter post, the Archdiocese of Mexico, headed by Cardinal Carlos Aguiar, prayed for the victims of the collapse of the railway overpass, and that the toll would not be any worse than already reported. 

In a May 4 press conference, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called for “a thorough and impartial investigation, seeking to know the truth" about what caused the Metro accident.

“Absolutely nothing is going to be covered up. The people of Mexico have to know the whole truth,” he vowed.

The Mexico City Metro system has 12 lines that run through the capital city and some neighboring municipalities. Line 12 was built between 2008 and 2012 during the administration of Marcelo Ebrard, who headed the government of the area then known as the Federal District, which encompassed Mexico City.

Ebrard, the current Secretary of Foreign Relations under the López Obrador administration, said on Twitter last night that “what happened today in the Metro is a terrible tragedy. My solidarity to the victims and their families.”

“Of course, the causes must be investigated and responsibilities determined,” Ebrard said, and pledged to help in the investigation in any way he can. 

Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced a “structural review of the entire Line 12, a report by experts and an in-depth investigation into the causes.”

Bishop Andrés Vargas Peña of the Diocese of Xochimilco, Tláhuac and Milpa Alta - located in the area where the accident occurred - expressed this morning his “great shock” over the Metro accident.

The diocese was erected in September 2019, and was formerly part of the Archdiocese of Mexico.

“My most fervent prayer rises up for the people who have suffered this accident, for the injured who have been taken to different hospitals, that the Lord may have mercy on them and grant them the grace of a swift recovery,” he said. 

“And, for those who have unfortunately passed away, that the Heavenly Father may have mercy on their souls and grant them eternal rest,” he added.

The bishop also encouraged the faithful of his diocese to lift up these intentions in their prayers, and said he is closely following the news so that “as the tragedy becomes clearer, I will give the appropriate guidelines for charitable ministry so you can help as much as possible” through diocesan Caritas.

“I am asking the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Mexico and the diocese of Iztapalapa to join forces to help those who need us,” he continued.

Vargas Peña asked the diocesan priests in the area of the tragedy “to give appropriate spiritual aid” to the injured.

In addition to offering Mass at 8:00 a.m. for the deceased, the injured and their families, the bishop said there will be other actions and times of prayer for the victims of this accident which will be announced “as we have more information.”

“As soon as circumstances make it advisable, I will go to the scene of the accident to pray for those who have perished there and to express to the bereaved relatives the maternal embrace of the Church,” he announced and asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to “accompany all those who are suffering at this time.”

The Archdiocese of Mexico also announced that Holy Mass will be offered for the victims of the accident on May 4 at 7:00 pm, which will be broadcast on Facebook and the YouTube channel of its weekly magazine Desde la Fe (From the Faith).

Court dismisses Catholic school teacher’s employment discrimination claim

Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 4, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

A federal district court dismissed the employment discrimination claim of a New Jersey Catholic school teacher last week, ruling that she was a religious “minister” and thus exempt from certain employment discrimination laws. 

Joan Simon, a former teacher at Saint Dominic Academy in Jersey City, had claimed that she was terminated by the school because of her “age, disability, and whistleblowing activities.” The academy is an all-girls Grade 7-12 school sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey.

Simon, who is in her late fifties, said she was fired from St. Dominic’s on Oct. 9, 2018, the day after she returned from medical leave following a car accident. She also claimed that the teacher who replaced her was “unqualified” for the position. 

Simon also said in her lawsuit that throughout her employment, she had made numerous complaints to the administration, including to the dean, of “violations of the law and...educational process” at the school.

A federal district court, however, ruled on April 28 that as Simon was both chairperson of the school’s religious department and campus minister, “her duties appear to fit squarely within the ministerial exception.” 

Federal laws against employment discrimination provide certain religious exemptions in the cases of religious ministers. The “ministerial exception” prohibits government interference in the employment decisions of religious organizations that involve ministers; the court determined last week that Simon’s role at the school met the definition of a minister of religion.

The Supreme Court ruled last year in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru that two former Catholic school teachers in California could not sue the schools for employment discrimination, as they were functioning as religious ministers in their roles at the schools. 

The high court wrote that “courts are bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions.”

The federal district court last week drew upon this case in its ruling on Simon’s complaint. 

“As pled, Plaintiff falls into the ministerial exception as set forth in Our Lady of Guadalupe,” the court wrote, adding that in her role, she “performed a vital religious duty––teaching and promoting the Catholic faith to students.”

Thus, the district court dismissed Simon’s discrimination and breach-of-contract claims. 

“Plaintiff’s allegations regarding [the school’s] breaches of the employment contract will require the Court to second guess [the school’s] decision to terminate a minister, which is precisely what the ministerial exception is intended to prohibit and will necessarily entangle the Court in internal church governance,” Judge John Michael Vazquez of the U.S. district court for New Jersey wrote. 

Simon told the Jersey Journal that she believes her firing was also connected to a letter she had shared with her students concerning the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the U.S.  

The 2018 letter, entitled “Dear Troubled Catholics,” was written by author Ralph Martin of Renewal Ministries. In his letter, Martin made repeated references to “a huge homosexual problem in the Church,” calling the crisis “primarily a homosexual scandal.”

“We need to remember that the Catholic Church is indeed founded by Christ and, despite all problems, has within it the fullness of the means of salvation. Where else can we go? Nowhere; this is indeed our Mother and Home, and she needs our love, our prayers, and our persevering in the way of holiness more than ever,” the letter reads in part. 

“That isn’t to say that we don’t need to take seriously and do all we can in response to the grave scandal we are facing in our time. And yet we need to remember that all this is happening under the providence of God, and He has a plan to bring good out of it,” Martin wrote.

Simon said she had distributed the letter in September 2018 to the high school students she taught, hoping they would find it “beneficial.” She says she was fired a month later, after returning from medical leave. 

At the time of Simon’s termination, Saint Dominic's head of school, Sarah Degnan Barbi, issued a statement to the Jersey Journal. "The matter raised by Mrs. Simon is a personnel issue, and we will not comment on it. We will say, however, that every decision made within Saint Dominic Academy is in the interest of the young women entrusted to our care,” Barbi stated.