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Religious freedom in jeopardy as China passes new Hong Kong ‘security laws’

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 01:25 pm (CNA).- A Hong Kong cardinal told CNA that changes to Hong Kong’s status in China could threaten the religious freedom of Catholics and other religious believers.

The legislature of China on May 28 approved a resolution to impose new “security laws” on its formerly autonomous region, Hong Kong— a move pro-democracy protestors and Catholics in the country fear will undermine Hong Kongers’ freedoms, including freedom of religion.

The new laws aim to criminalize anything Beijing considers "foreign interference,” secessionist activities, or subversion of state power, the Washington Post reports. The laws also could allow Chinese security forces to operate in the city.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, told CNA that he worries that the new laws will be used to subvert the freedom of religion that Hong Kongers currently enjoy.

Hong Kong has had broad protections for the freedom of worship and for evangelization, while in mainland China, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

Most needed at the moment is prayer, Zen said.

"We have nothing good to hope for. Hong Kong is simply completely under [China's] control. We depend on China even for our food and water. But we put ourselves in the hands of God," Cardinal Zen told CNA in a May 27 interview.

Hong Kong is a “special administrative region” of China, meaning it has its own government but remains under Chinese control. It was a British colony until 1997, when it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, which allowed for its own legislature and economic system.

Hong Kong’s openness to the outside world, and transparency in business and banking regulation, in contrast to mainland China, has made it a center of global business, banking, and finance.

China had announced May 21 a plan to enact so-called “security laws” affecting Hong Kong, with Chinese officials in Beijing saying that the National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature, would sidestep Hong Kong’s legislature and impose changes on the region.

The National People’s Congress’ annual session began May 22. After the May 28 vote, which passed 2,878 to 1, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam expressed her support for the new measures.

The resolution did not specify a timeline for Beijing to implement the new measures, though some lawmakers anticipate that detailed measures will be revealed in the next few months, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong— in which many Christians and Catholics participated— successfully rebuffed the legislature’s efforts last year to pass a controversial bill that would have allowed mainland China to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong.

Last weekend, protestors in Hong Kong turned out in large numbers to oppose China’s plans to impose the security laws.

Defying the city’s coronavirus restrictions— which currently prohibit gatherings greater than eight— thousands of protestors turned out on the streets May 24, with police arresting at least 180 and at least six protestors needing to be hospitalized because the police used tear gas and pepper spray, the New York Times reported.

More protests took place May 28 during which over 300 protestors were arrested.

Attendance was lower than the large-scale protests of last year, partly because of the virus, and partly because police are using more assertive tactics to quell protests before they occur, the Times reports. Protestors reportedly smashed at least one storefront and threw objects at police.

The citizens of Hong Kong are largely free to protest, though Hong Kong’s police have come under fire for harsh tactics in suppressing the crowds.

In January, China appointed Luo Huining as the head of the powerful Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong, who in April intensified calls for Communist China to exercise more control in Hong Kong by passing “national security legislation.”

Now that those tightened security laws have passed, the Commuist Chinese government is poised to have more power to suppress the protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Many of Hong Kong’s Catholic leaders, including Auxiliary Bishop Ha Chi-shing, have been publicly supportive of the protests. In April, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong called for the government to respond to the demands for which the pro-democracy demonstrators have been calling for months, which include an independent inquiry into police tactics.

Zen said although he believes many in the Catholic community in Hong Kong oppose China's actions, he worries that the Vatican will appoint a new bishop, sympathetic to Beijing, who may not be as insistent on democratic values.

"Even our [Catholic] community is divided, as everybody in Hong Kong must take sides. Even families are split," he commented.

The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without permanent leadership since January 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died unexpectedly. Since Yeung died, the diocese has been led temporarily by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Yeung’s predecessor, who retired from the post in 2017.

When CNA reported in January that a decision to appoint Father Peter Choy Wai-man as Hong Kong’s next bishop had received final approval in Rome, local clergy and lay Catholics expressed worry to CNA that Father Choy is too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government, with one source describing him as a "pro-Beijing hawk."

Zen said he worries that Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin will insist that the next bishop of Hong Kong have "the blessing of Beijing." 

"I think the majority of the faithful, the silent majority...they think that the authority is wrong. And you can just imagine, in all these years, with all the persecution increasing in China, with all the cruelties, the brutalities of the police on our young people— no word from the Vatican. No word. Not one word."

"We rely on help from heaven...from the human perspective, we have nothing to hope," he said.

On May 27, the US Department of State announced that, in light of China’s actions, it no longer recognizes Hong Kong as politically autonomous from China— a designation the region has enjoyed under US law since 1992. The announcement opens the door to possible sanctions against chinese officials and other measures including tariffs on goods coming from Hong Kong.

In addition, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada issued a joint statement calling the move a violation of China’s obligations under the 1997 treaty that turned Hong Kong over to China, the Wall Street Journal reports.  

Last week, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a resolution with more than ten cosponsors condemning the proposed law.

Zen told CNA that Beijing's efforts to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy have not come as a surprise to him, because Chinese President Xi Jinping had already installed leaders in Hong Kong loyal to him and to the CCP.

"There is no more 'one country, two systems.' [China] didn't dare to say it in those exact words, but the fact is there,” Zen said.

“Now, with the [legislature], they will legitimize all that they are doing.”

Still, Zen expressed some puzzlement at China's most recent actions, which have led the US to declare that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous, because "everyone knows" that Hong Kong's system is useful to China.

"Everybody understands that Hong Kong is very useful to China for the exchange of currency and many other things— investment by foreign enterprises...and now, they are ready to destroy everything, and we can do nothing because Hong Kong is a small thing— [China] can crush it as they like," Zen said.

"I think the international community should feel a moral duty to [protect] this city, where we live according to international values. And also for their own interest, because the destruction of our system in Hong Kong is not good for anybody."

Similar security rules have been proposed before; in 2003, the Communist government attempted to use Hong Kong’s own legislative and executive councils to pass the anti-sedition measures, but massive protests led lawmakers to abandon the proposal.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law requires the city to pass its own laws against “secessionist, subversive” and other activities that threaten state security. But in 2003, the Hong Kong government started making a similar law but "in a very bad way," Zen said— the draft of the law was insufficient, and the government allowed only a very brief consultation period.

"We are not against having a law, but we want it to be well formulated. Because the law they were presenting was against all our freedoms," he said.

The situation is deteriorating after 2003, so there's no opportunity for Hong Kong's legislature to create a "good law," he said.

"We would not accept any law made by a government that does not represent the people,"  Zen insisted.

"Because they promised democratic elections, but they went back on their this moment there is nothing in view that suggests a real, democratic election. And so I think now Xi Jinping is under pressure, both from the international community and also from inside China— from his enemies in the government— and so Hong Kong is kind of a thorn in his side. And so he just wants to get rid of that."

The day after Beijing announced its intention to pass the anti-sedition laws, the Diocese of Hong Kong announced the resumption of public Masses amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

According to apostolic administrator Cardinal John Tong, weekday public Masses will resume in the diocese June 1, and Sunday public Masses on June 7.

Churches remain limited to half capacity in Hong Kong; Catholics will still have the option of attending Mass online and receiving spiritual communion.


Ed Condon contributed to this report.


St. Cloud diocese reaches settlement on abuse claims, will file for bankruptcy

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 01:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota will pay $22.5 million into a trust for sexual abuse survivors, under a plan that involves filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The diocese announced Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with abuse survivors on a framework for settling all abuse claims filed against the diocese and local parishes.

“This framework for resolution represents the diocese’s commitment to finding a fair resolution for survivors of sexual abuse while continuing its ministry to those it serves throughout the 16-county diocese,” it said.

“I am particularly grateful to the survivors of abuse for their courage in coming forward and sharing their experiences, and I again apologize on behalf of the Church for the harm they suffered,” Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud said in a statement.

He thanked the people of the diocese for their prayers and reiterated his commitment to aiding in the healing process for those who have been abused, including by meeting with any victims who wish to meet with him.

“Reaching an agreement on a framework for resolution prior to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy significantly reduces administrative fees in the bankruptcy and preserves a larger estate to fund the trust for survivors,” he said.

The diocese said it will be filing for bankruptcy “in the near future.” Under the plan, money to compensate abuse victims will come from insurance settlements and cash and property contributions from the diocese and local parishes, it said.

The diocese stressed its dedication to accountability and healing from past abuse, as well as efforts to prevent abuse in the future. Safe environment training and background checks are required for clergy, parish, school, and diocesan employees. Allegations are reported to authorities swiftly, and clergy are carefully screened starting in their seminary years before they are permitted to serve in the diocese, the statement said.

As part of its commitment to transparency and accountability, the diocese said it has committed to releasing the names and files of all clergy members who have been credibly accused of abuse. That list currently contains 41 names, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

The Diocese of St. Cloud first announced its plan to declare bankruptcy in March 2018, faced with 74 civil claims alleging the sexual abuse of minors, some dating back to the 1950s. It said parishes, schools and ministries should not be affected by the filing.

St. Cloud was the fourth diocese in Minnesota to declare bankruptcy after the passage of the Minnesota Child Victims Act in 2013, which lifted the civil statute of limitations for child abuse allegations until May 2016, giving alleged victims three years in which to file claims for abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago.

During the three-year window provided for by the Minnesota Child Victims Act, more than six hundred claims were filed against Catholic dioceses in Minnesota leading to bankruptcy announcements from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Diocese of New Ulm, and Diocese of Duluth.

Transgender athlete policy violates Title IX, Education department rules

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- A Connecticut high school sports policy allowing biologically male athletes to compete in female events is a Title IX violation, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ruled on Thursday.  

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) adopted a policy in 2017 allowing high school student athletes to compete in sports based on their “preferred gender identity.”

Several female track athletes filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last year, alleging that the policy violated Title IX. They have been represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

On Thursday, the office ruled that the policy was indeed a violation, Associated Press reported.

After the policy was implemented by CIAC, two male students who identified as female--Terry Miller of Bloomfield High School and Andraya Yearwood of Cromwell High School--were allowed to compete during the 2018 outdoor track season; one of them had previously competed in the 2018 male indoor track season.

One of the two male runners now holds 10 state records for female track that were previously held by 10 different female runners; the two runners have won 15 women’s state championship titles.

Chelsea Mitchell, one of the athletes who filed the complaint, said she was “extremely happy” at the ruling. 

“It feels like we are finally headed in the right direction, and that we will be able to get justice for the countless girls along with myself that have faced discrimination for years,” Mitchell said. 

“It is liberating to know that my voice, my story, my loss, has been heard; that those championships I lost mean something. Finally, the government has recognized that women deserve the right to compete for victory, and nothing less.”

ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb said in a statement that “girls shouldn’t be reduced to spectators in their own sports.” 

“We’re encouraged that the Department of Education has officially clarified that allowing males to compete in the female category isn’t fair, destroys girls’ athletic opportunities, and clearly violates federal law. Males will always have inherent physical advantages over comparably talented and trained girls—that’s the reason we have girls’ sports in the first place. In light of the department’s letter, we’re asking Connecticut schools and the CIAC to update their problematic policies and comply with federal law,” Holcomb said

Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments Act prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education activities and programs.  

According to AP, which obtained a copy of the ruling, the office said it might withhold federal funding over the violation.

When the original complaint was filed with the Department of Education last year, Miller and Yearwood both spoke out, saying they were victims of discrimination.

“I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community and meaning in my life,” Miller said. “It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored.”

The three female track athletes who filed the Title IX complaint— Selina Soule of Glastonbury High School, senior Chelsea Mitchell of Canton High School, and sophomore Alanna Smith of Danbury High School—also filed a lawsuit in federal court.

Their complaint in Soule v. Connecticut Association of Schools says that “biological differences,” not gender identity, has always determined sex-specific sports “because those differences matter for fair competition.”

Speaking on Fox News in 2018, Soule said that she had received “nothing but support” from her teammates and from other athletes, but she has “experienced some retaliation from school officials and coaches.”

In a 2018 interview after the state championships, Soule said that she had “no problem with [the male athletes] wanting to be a girl,” but that she did not think it was right that she had to race males.

“I think it’s unfair to the girls who work really hard to do well and qualify for Opens and New Englands,” she said in 2018. The New England championships serve as a scouting venue for many college-level coaches.

Earlier this month, lawyers for the complainants asked the federal judge hearing the case to recuse himself after he instructed them to refer to the gender identity, not biological sex of the male athletes during the trial.

In an April 16 conference call for the case, district court judge Robert Chatigny instructed attorneys for ADF to refer to the males identifying as female as “transgender females,” rather than as “males,” National Review reported.

“Referring to these individuals as ‘transgender females’ is consistent with science, common practice and perhaps human decency,” the judge said. 

Chatigny said that referring to the biologically male athletes as “males” is “not accurate” and is “needlessly provocative.”  

When an ADF attorney responded on the call that by referring to them as “males,” they were simply complying with human “physiology,” the judge said that terminology was “unfortunate.” If the attorneys persisted in doing so, he said, “maybe we’ll need to do something.”

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case in March, saying that Title IX did not apply to claims of transgender discrimination.

Attorney General Bill Barr and several other Department of Justice officials co-signed the statement of interest on March 24, saying that “Title IX and its implementing regulations prohibit discrimination solely ‘on the basis of sex,’ not on the basis of transgender status, and therefore neither require nor authorize CIAC’s transgender policy.”

“One of Title IX’s core purposes is to ensure that women have an ‘equal athletic opportunity’ to participate in school athletic programs,” they wrote, saying that requiring that biological males who identify themselves as female compete against biological girls, “would turn the statute on its head.”

Catholic gift shops near Vatican struggle to reopen after coronavirus lockdown

Rome, Italy, May 28, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Walking toward St. Peter’s Square, one sees sign after sign posted on the closed doors of religious gift shops and other local businesses with large red letters stating: “Without help from the government, we cannot reopen.”

For the few shops near the Vatican that were able to reopen May 18 as Italy eased its coronavirus lockdown restrictions, business has been painfully slow. 

Small business owners told CNA that they had been forced to find creative and sanitary ways to keep their shops -- many of which have been in the family for decades -- going despite the crisis. 

Massimiliano Nanni owns a religious gift shop named Borgo Shop located just outside of the walls of Vatican City. The shop, founded by his mother nearly 40 years ago, sells rosaries, religious medals, priests’ vestments, and a myriad of liturgical items.

“There have been very few people, really, very few. There is almost no value in opening,” Nanni told CNA the week that the Italian government permitted his business to reopen after two months of lockdown.

“We need to have a lot of patience,” he added. 

As Italy’s coronavirus death toll rose in March, the Italian government forced all non-essential businesses to close from March 12 to May 18. 

The suspension of public Masses during Italy’s lockdown has also had further repercussions for these sacramental shops and their suppliers. 

Catholic store owners said that the nearly 70-day closure hit them hard because Easter is typically one of their busiest times with peak sales.

Nanni said that he received 600 euros in aid from the Italian government, but this was nothing compared to what he lost because of the forced closure in March, April, and May. 

He said that he was thankful that his landlord had been patient, not demanding the rent right away, but noted that other shops have faced a much more difficult situation.

“Slowly it will get better, but to recover business as it was we will need to wait until at least Easter of next year,” Nanni said.

Laura Mancinelli, who runs an ecclesiastical tailor shop, Mancinelli Clero, which has been in the family for more than 50 years, told CNA that much of their business during this time has had to shift online.

“Working online is the most important thing because you can still make and receive orders and make shipments,” Mancinelli said.

However, Nanni said even his online business also saw a downturn during the extended suspension of public Masses in Italy. When the churches were closed, the hosts and wine and other liturgical supplies were not being sold, he explained.

In Italy, many liturgical celebrations, such as first communions, have been postponed until next year. This also affects Nanni’s business and his suppliers. 

Both Mancinelli’s and Nanni’s businesses reopened on May 18 as soon as the Italian government permitted reopening. But they have had to work under some challenging new restrictions.

“Among other things, here in Rome, we can only be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. In this neighborhood, this is not good because the priests come early in the morning [to offer Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica], so opening at 11 is too late,” Mancinelli said.

In the afternoon she said that barely anyone passed by her shop as Italy’s borders remain closed.

“Unfortunately there is very little work because there are very few people,” she said.

Nanni showed off the new clear plastic barrier he has installed in front of his cash register, and explained his shop’s safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have markings for distancing. We have sanitizer for cleaning your hands. If you want to touch the merchandise, we also have gloves. For the clothing, if you want to try it on we will also sanitize them each time that they are tried on,” he said. 

Mancinelli said that the ecclesiastical tailor shop is going to sell customized face masks with embroidered names and liturgical fabrics.

Both shop owners said that they look forward to when Italy will reopen its borders as pilgrims and visiting priests are some of their primary customers. 

After three months of lockdown, the Italian government is expected to open its regional and international borders on June 3. However, only tourists from Europe’s Schengen area countries will be allowed to visit. It has yet to be announced when Americans and other foreign visitors from outside of the European Union will be allowed to return to Italy for vacation.

“The tourists -- we hope that they will return soon! We want them, but I really understand that we need to have patience,” Nanni said.

Maryland county lifts ban on Communion 

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Howard County, Maryland, has reversed a policy that banned consumption of any food or drink during religious services, effectively preventing the licit celebration of Mass. 

A county spokesman told CNA May 28 the prohibition will be removed, and faith leaders will be consulted on future guidelines for church reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball issued an executive order delineating reopening regulations and conditions for houses of worship and other entities deemed “non-essential” by the state of Maryland. 

“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” that order said. 

The executive order was due to go into effect May 29. 

On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said it had “serious concerns” about the policy, and that the “Eucharist is central to the faith lives of Catholics.” 

The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.

After CNA reported on Wednesday about the terms of Howard County’s executive order, and the archdiocese responded, the policy was reversed.

“As we move closer to a full Phase 1 Reopening, we will be lifting food consumption restrictions for faith institutions. We are currently working through the next wave of policy changes and are continually analyzing the criteria for re-opening and the need for temporary restrictions,” Howard County spokesperson Scott Peterson told CNA May 28. 

“Now that Governor Hogan announced a modified reopening of restaurants yesterday, Howard County is revisiting all food consumption restrictions,” Peterson added. 

Peterson added that the county wil “continue to work with our faith leaders to provide guidelines that will allow residents to worship safely and all religious leaders to resume practices safely.”

“We continue to evaluate best practices and consider recommendations across all faith institutions,” he said, noting that the Archdiocese of Baltimore had already published its own plans for the safe reopening of their churches and the resumption of public Masses.  

“We will consider these guidelines, as well as any other guidelines or recommendations for re-opening provided by other religious leaders or institutions, in adopting a plan for the County’s move into full Phase 1 Reopening and, when appropriate, into Phase 2.”   

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore said Thursday that she was “very pleased” by the county’s policy reversal.

“We are grateful to County Executive Ball and his team for working closely with our community and many others to ensure the health and safety of all while respecting essential elements of our faith traditions,” Mary Ellen Russell of the Baltimore archdiocese told CNA. 

“These are unchartered waters for all in leadership, and it is essential that we continue to work together for the common good,” she added. 

Other parts of the executive order remain in effect, including a requirement that worshippers wear masks and a limit on the number of people who can enter a building used for a religious service.

Vatican archives will reopen to scholars June 1

Vatican City, May 28, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican Apostolic Archive will reopen to researchers June 1 after closing for 12 weeks due to Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.

The archive was forced to close to scholars the second week of March, just days after the highly anticipated March 2 opening of the files on the pontificate of Venerable Pius XII.

According to a notice on the archive’s website, the records office will reopen to researchers for four weeks, after which they will again close for the summer break until after Aug. 30.

The archives will be open only during the morning until further notice and the number of researchers allowed in at a time will be limited to 15 as a safety measure.

The online notice said previous reservations to work in the archives are considered canceled and scholars will have to submit new requests for the four-week opening.

The Vatican Apostolic Archive, formerly called the “secret archive,” is an office which preserves documents and books of historical and cultural importance to the Church and to the world. Since 1881 the archive has been open to qualified researchers on request.

March 2, with Pope Francis' decree, access was extended to include the archives of the pontificate of Venerable Pius XII, which spanned March 1939 to October 1958, and it is the first time scholars had been granted access to the approximately 16 million documents they contain.

The opening of the Pius XII archives was highly anticipated, and researchers hoped study of the files could bring to light new information about Venerable Pope Pius XII’s actions during World War II, which have been hotly debated.

Some historians criticize the pope for not making a more explicit denunciation of Hitler and the Nazis. Others point to his role in drafting “Mit brennender Sorge,” the 1937 encyclical to the Church in Germany, and the limits imposed on him by the Lateran Treaty.

Shortly before its opening, the Vatican apostolic archive had received requests for access from more than 150 scholars from around the world. At the time, a maximum of 60 people were permitted to enter per day.

After August 30, the archive said it will allow 25 people to enter at one time.

Pius XII died in 1958. His cause for canonization was opened by Pope Paul VI in November 1965, during the final session of the Second Vatican Council. On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared him “venerable,” meaning the Church has determined that he led a life of heroic virtue.

As Italy begins to loosen its coronavirus lockdown restrictions, the Vatican has reopened certain areas to the public, including St. Peter’s Basilica, though Rome remains without tourists due to closed international borders.

While it is rumored that Italy will open its borders with the rest of Europe and the Schengen area countries starting June 3, nothing has yet been made official. It is still unknown when Italy will reopen to countries outside Europe.

Congress passes Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act

Washington D.C., May 28, 2020 / 09:00 am (CNA).- The House on Wednesday evening passed legislation to respond to the mass detention and other human rights violations against Uyghurs in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang.

“We cannot be silent,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on Wednesday before the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act passed the House. “Xi Jinping is smashing and obliterating an entire people. He is presiding over genocide.” Smith authored the House version of the legislation which had 136 cosponsors.

The bill (S. 3744) was passed by the Senate on May 14, where it was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). It requires the administration to report on the scope and details of abuses committed against Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities, and to sanction the officials complicit in the abuses through actions such as visa denial and blocking an individual’s financial transactions.

“Congress is sending a strong message of support to Uyghur Muslims worldwide that the United States stands with you and will not sit idly by as the Chinese government and Communist Party commit egregious human rights abuses and crimes against humanity,” Sen. Rubio, the co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), stated.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 413-1, with Rep. Tom Massie (R-Ky.) the lone vote against. In December, when Massie opposed the passage of the House version of the legislation, he tweeted that “[w]hen our government meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries, it invites those governments to meddle in our affairs.”

According to the CECC, more than one million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and members of other Muslim minority groups have been detained by Chinese authorities in camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Former detainees or their relatives have reported torture, beatings, forced sterilizations, and other abuses committed in the camps, with detainees sometimes sent to work in factories upon their release. The Chinese government denied the existence of the camps but later said they existed to provide vocational training.

There have also been reports of mass surveillance of residents in the region, forced labor in factories producing goods that end up in the supply chains of U.S. companies, and abuses of religious freedom with mosques and shrines being destroyed.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China concluded in 2019 that the abuses in the region may constitute “crimes against humanity.”

The Chinese government’s crackdown in the region has been conducted as part of its enforcement of a Counter-Terrorism law.

A report by UN human rights officials in November said that the application of the law “and related practices raises serious concerns regarding increasing practices of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, absence of judicial oversight and procedural safeguards and restrictions of the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to education and the right to freedom of movement within an increasingly securitized environment, particularly for designated minorities, notably Uyghurs and Tibetans.”

The Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act has now passed both the House and the Senate and heads to President Trump’s desk for signature.

“The world has stood by for too long as the Chinese government detained millions of Muslims in concentration camps,” Nury Turkel, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), stated. “Hopefully, other countries will follow the U.S. government’s lead and take action on this issue.”

“I call on the President to sign the legislation quickly and take swift action to sanction Chinese officials and businesses engaged in mass internment, surveillance, and forced labor,” stated Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

Island in English Channel permits public Masses as UK churches remain closed

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The island of Guernsey will permit what may be the first public Masses in the British Isles since the coronavirus lockdown Monday. 

While churches remain closed across the United Kingdom, authorities in Guernsey have allowed public liturgies to resume from June 1. 

The island is a self-governing British crown dependency and not part of the U.K. It is therefore able to set its own rules.

From Monday, the island’s three Catholic churches will be permitted to admit up to 30 people at Masses, not including the celebrant or concelebrants, and have up to six altar servers. 

Fr. Bruce Barnes, the Catholic Dean of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, told CNA: “There’s a tremendous sense of change in the air and a tremendous sense of optimism for the future. We hope it will all be for the good of the island.”

Guernsey, which has a population of 67,000 and is located in the English Channel, has had 252 confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 recorded deaths as of May 28. But it recently became the first place in the British Isles to have no active cases. 

On May 15, the island’s authorities announced that churches could reopen for private, individual prayer, provided that social distancing was respected. Priests are now permitted to hear confessions again, while sitting at a distance from penitents. 

But Catholics who plan to attend Masses on Monday do not know whether they will be allowed to receive Holy Communion.

The States of Guernsey will announce May 29 whether priests will be permitted to distribute Communion to members of the congregation. 

If the authorities give the go-ahead, Catholics will only be able to receive Communion in one kind, in the hand, and will have to observe social distancing as they approach the priest. Priests will be required to sanitize their hands before and after Communion.

“We can’t, at the moment, sing,” Fr. Barnes said. “Which I’m sure will please some people.”

The island’s churches will continue to livestream Masses after public liturgies resume for those who are unable to attend in person.

Guernsey’s Catholic churches are part of the English Diocese of Portsmouth. Under current government plans, churches are not expected to reopen for private prayer in England before July 4. But bishops are in talks with officials and hope that churches will open sooner. 

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said in his weekly newsletter that Catholics in the U.K. “will have much to learn from the experience of Fr. Bruce and the parishioners there.”

Guernsey will be the first of the Channel Islands to resume public Masses, ahead of Jersey, the largest of the islands, which has a population of 98,000.

The U.K. has recorded more than 37,500 deaths from the coronavirus as of May 28, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center -- the second highest figure in the world after that of the United States.  

Vatican orders founder to leave ecumenical community

CNA Staff, May 28, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- The Vatican has ordered the prominent Italian Catholic layman Enzo Bianchi to leave the monastery he founded in 1965.

The Holy See made the ruling in a decree dated May 13, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and approved by Pope Francis, following an apostolic visitation. 

A statement on the Monastic Community of Bose’s website said the pope had approved the apostolic visitation in response to “serious concerns” about “a tense and problematic situation in our community regarding the exercise of the founder’s authority, the governance, and the fraternal climate.”

Bianchi founded the ecumenical community in Biella, northern Italy, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. It is a mixed community, composed of both men and women, who pray the Liturgy of the Hours and follow a rule influenced by St. Benedict and St. Basil the Great. Members include Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians.  

A charismatic figure, Bianchi has maintained a high profile in the Italian Church. He took part in the 2012 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization and was named a consultor for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2014.  

The apostolic visitation, which took place between Dec. 6, 2019, and Jan. 6, 2020, was conducted by Fr. Guillermo León Arboleda Tamayo, Abbot President of the Subiaco Cassinese Benedictine Congregation, Fr. Amedeo Cencini, consultor for the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, and Mother Anne-Emmanuelle Devéche, Abbess of Blauvac, France.

The statement on the community’s website said Cencini had communicated the Vatican’s ruling privately to those concerned with “the greatest possible respect for the privacy of the interested parties.”

But after “several of the interested parties” rejected the measures, it said it was “opportune to specify that the above-mentioned provisions regard Br. Enzo Bianchi, two brothers and one sister, who are to separate themselves from the Monastic Community of Bose and to move to another place and who at the same time are relieved of all the offices they presently hold.”

The statement added that Cardinal Parolin had sent a letter to the community that “has traced a path of the future and of hope, indicating the basic lines of a process of renewal, which, we trust, will give a fresh impetus to our monastic and ecumenical life.”

Bianchi resigned as prior of the community in 2017 and Luciano Manicardi was chosen as his successor. 

In a message on the community’s website at the time, Bianchi wrote: “In the history of every new monastic community the passage from the guidance of the founder to the next generation is a positive sign of growth and of maturity. The Apostle writes: ‘I have planted, Apollo has watered, but it was God who made to grow’ (1 Corinthians 3:6). Life continues, the foundation has been fruitful, and for this we give thanks to the Lord, awaiting his judgment at the end of history.”

The Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica reported May 27 that Bianchi had defended his actions since stepping down as prior.

It quoted him as saying that he had tried to be “more absent than present” in the community but had “suffered from not being able to give my legitimate contribution as a founder anymore.” 

He insisted that he had “never contested with words and deeds” the authority of his successor, with whom he had worked closely for more than 20 years. 

He asked the Holy See to clarify what he and the other three exiled members of the community had done wrong. 

According to La Repubblica, he said: “On our part, in repentance we are willing to ask and give mercy. In suffering and trial we have also asked -- and still ask -- that the community be helped on a path of reconciliation.” 

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank the many brothers and sisters of Bose, who in these hours of great pain support me, and the many people who have shown their closeness and sincere affection.”

St. Augustine bishop calls for end to Florida death penalty

Denver Newsroom, May 28, 2020 / 03:00 am (CNA).- All of Florida’s death row inmates live in the Diocese of St. Augustine. Many are Catholic. At least twice a year St. Augustine’s Bishop Felipe Estevez goes to visit death row inmates himself.

So when Estevez issued a pastoral letter this week chronicling the efforts of Catholics in Florida to end the death penalty, and laying out the Catholic case for its abolition, the issue was personal.

"Justice needs to be restorative, not out of vengeance," Estevez told CNA May 27.

"We don't want anyone in society to be in danger because of these criminals, but we don't think that death is the answer. Killing them because they have killed would perpetuate the cycle of violence."

Jesus, on the cross, stopped a cycle of violence, Estevez said, by forgiving his killers.

"We need to put a stop to the death penalty because, as John Paul II said, it is not necessary. We can put all our energy into having the best prison system so that these prisoners who are a danger to society will not do any harm to anybody."

Estevez notes that no death row inmate in Florida has been granted clemency since 1983, and with 350 death row inmates, Florida has the largest active death row in the United States— indeed, in all the Americas.

California has more prisoners on death row, but the state’s death penalty is currently under moratorium. 

At least 50 of the men on Florida’s death row are Catholic, Estevez told CNA.

Estevez said he wanted his letter to reflect the commitment and care of those involved in prison ministry to death row inmates. There are over 27 prisons in the St. Augustine diocese.

Prison ministers provide much-needed accompaniment to prisoners, he said, helping provide an opportunity for them to repent.

"As they are being treated with love...something happens within their hearts, that tenderness transforms their hearts. And it is a very slow process...they have been damaged by violence. And so gentleness, mercy, accompaniment, and friendship and dialogue, all of that creates a culture of peace," he said.

"I think the reason why [the volunteers] persevere, and they are so committed, it is because they witness that transformation."

He said he sees the decline over the past few decades in executions throughout the country as a sign that more and more people are embracing a culture of life.

Society often tends to meet acts of violence with more violence, Estevez said.

"We need to heal that reaction— violence needs to be tempered by mercy," he said.

"We don't need to be engaged in vengeance, we don't need to be involved in killing. We need to be involved in restoration."

The bishop pointed to instances where the families of murder victims have asked that their loved one's killer not receive the death penalty.

"They who have been hurt the most are thinking and acting as Christians," he observed.

Estevez’s letter lays out a recent history of the development of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

The letter quotes a speech that Pope St. John Paul II delivered in St. Louis in 1999, in which he called for an end to the death penalty, calling it “cruel and unnecessary.”

“The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation,” John Paul II said.

“A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform.”

John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae notes that cases in which executing an offender is an “absolute necessity” are, thanks to improvements in the penal system, “very rare if not practically nonexistent,” and reaffirms the Catechism’s teaching that “bloodless means” are “more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”

“Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this,” John Paul II wrote.

Pope Benedict XVI, too, continued to support the limitation and eradication of the death penalty during his pontificate, Estevez writes.

During August 2018, Pope Francis ordered a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, updating it to describe the death penalty as “inadmissible” and an “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

Many Christians attempt to use Bible passages to justify the death penalty, but the death penalty as it exists in the United States, Estevez says, is particlarly contrary to a biblical view.

Dale Recinella, a Catholic death row chaplain in Florida and frequent collaborator with Bishop Estevez, used his skills as a lawyer to analyze how the death penalty, as applied in the US, compares to the requirements found in the Bible.

Recinella identified 44 requirements of the biblical death penalty when it was the law of the land in Israel. He found that the death penalty, in Florida and the US, scored zero out of 44 on the requirements of the biblical death penalty.

Estevez noted that the bishops of Florida have collectively expressed their opposition to the death penalty ever since the US Supreme Court ruling in 1972 that forced states to reasses their statutes for capital offenses.

At the time, the Florida bishops acknowledged that those who could pay for lawyers and appeals would likely avoid the death penalty, while “circumstantial evidence and discrimination in jury selection would inordinately affect the poor and minorities.”

John Sullivan, a Catholic inmate executed in 1983, received spiritual support and advocacy from Bishop John Snyder, Estevez’s predecessor.

The bishops continued to speak out as Florida scheduled more executions, issuing public pleas for stays of execution and mercy in every case of a scheduled execution in the 2000s.

The pastor of St. Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, in Macclenny, Florida has had the primary responsibility for the church’s ministry at death row since 1976, Estevez said, with volunteers making themselves available for a quiet prayer vigil with the inmate’s family during the execution, and the pastor available to celebrate Mass at the church immediately following the execution.

The prison ministers at St. Mary’s also make the rounds in the death row prisons to bring the sacraments to those who are Catholic.

In June 1999, St. Marys’ parish council unanimously voted to formally pass a moratorium resolution on the death penalty, making it one of only two parishes in the country to have done so.

Defending human life at all costs requires courage and can be dangerous, Estevez said, recalling the story of Father Rene Robert, a St. Augustine priest who in 2016 attempted to help a troubled young man who subsequently kidnapped and murdered him.

Father Robert had, in 1995, signed a “Declaration of Life” asking that his killer not be put to death should he ever die by homicide. As a result, his killer was sentenced to life in prison.

Prisons are human institutions, and thus are fallible, Estevez writes, and thus “there is a great need for vigilance toward the effectiveness of prison security, even in well-developed societies, so these systems do not deteriorate or become corrupt and endanger their citizens.”


“Our system of incarceration needs to change from inhumane punishment to hopeful rehabilitation. Everyone must be concerned that not a single innocent human is condemned to deadly execution,” he wrote.

“Our pastoral experience in caring for inmates has revealed that many of them have experienced a conversion of heart, and society can benefit from a reunion with their families and re-entry to society,” he concluded.

Estevez invoked the intercession of Our Lady of La Leche— who is honored at the newly-elevated national shrine at Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine— consecrating to her the effort to end capital punishment in Florida.