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Catholic groups call for ethical healthcare triage in coronavirus pandemic

CNA Staff, Apr 9, 2020 / 02:52 pm (CNA).- Catholic healthcare and bioethics groups have called for national protocols that eschew discrimination by age or disability as patients of the coronavirus pandemic are assigned medical care, including scarce resources like ventilators.

“We call for a national set of clear and ethical triage protocols that affirm the dignity of all people. Until then, we urge hospitals and health care professionals to adopt protocols that protect the vulnerable and reject discrimination. The principle of the equal dignity and value of every human life depend on it,” the National Catholic Bioethics Center and the Christus Medicus Foundation said in an April 9 statement.

“America’s healthcare workers on the frontlines are already confronting this question as they work to save lives in unprecedented triage situations in our homeland. The situation will worsen in the coming days. Who is given lifesaving care in a time of limited intensive care capacity and rationed equipment is one of the greatest moral questions our nation has ever faced,” the statement added.

“How we respond is a reflection of our values, one that will define us forever.”

On Thursday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan agreed.

“I sit here in New York, the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis. It is imperative to provide our exhausted healthcare heroes with the tools they need to be able to make true and sound ethical decisions to all patients in their care. I join together with the NCBC ethicists, and others, in asking that all people are treated equally and with the God-given dignity they deserve,” Dolan said.

The groups said that making decisions about healthcare allocation should not include discrimination based upon age or disability, assessment of the “quality of life” of patients, or metrics based upon the likely remaining lifespan of the patient apart from the illness.

“We urge hospitals and healthcare workers to use survivability as the litmus test for rationing care during triage. Anything more is stereotyping. Once decisions are expanded to include nonclinical factors and value judgments, discrimination and injustice inevitably ensue,” the statement said.

Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, explained that “the ethical principles guiding such protocols must reject utilitarian or value-laden assessments that extend beyond the crisis situation and enshrine the view that some lives have more value than others.”

Healthcare rationing and discrimination has been a topic of controversy in recent weeks, amid the global coronavirus pandemic that has taken hold of the U.S. healthcare system.

On Wednesday, the federal department of Health and Human Services resolved a disability rights case with Alabama officials, after the state removed controversial triage guidelines recommending that people with severe intellectual disabilities be denied ventilators in the event of shortages at medical facilities.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said April 8 that it had conducted a compliance review of the state following complaints that its 2010 guidelines for triage care allegedly discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities. Alabama has agreed to remove its ventilator rationing guidelines from state websites, HHS said April 8.

“People with intellectual disabilities must be treated the same way, and not be treated as somehow less fit, or less worthy, of having their lives saved, compared to somebody who has greater intellectual abilities,” stated Roger Severino, head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

More than 16,000 people in the U.S. have died of the novel coronavirus, and more than 460,000 have tested positive for it. Globally, nearly 100,000 have been recorded dead from coronavirus, and almost 1.6 million have tested positive for it.

Outreach just as 'essential' as abortion, say pro-life advocates

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2020 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- As many abortion clinics remain open during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, pro-life sidewalk counselors argue that they too provide “essential” services and should be allowed to gather.

As the coronavirus has spread through the U.S., states, counties and municipalities have curtailed public gatherings of more than 10 people to comply with guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Some pro-life prayer vigils have been halted for weeks as a public health precaution. On March 22, the ministry 40 Days for Life ended its spring 2020 campaign of public prayer vigils outside abortion clinics as state and local restrictions on public gatherings increased in number and intensity.

Even as states act to prevent unnecessary gatherings and divert all available medical resources to fight the pandemic, in many places abortion clinics have been designated as providing “essential” services, and allowed to tremain open. In several states, orders to cancel non-essential medical procedures during the pandemic which included elective abortions have been challeneged in court by abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. 

While the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ abortion-limiting order this week, the Sixth Circuit allowed procedures to continue in Ohio. Federal judges in Alabama and Oklahoma also ruled against state orders limiting abortions in those states during the pandemic.

Some pro-life prayer vigils and sidewalk counseling have continued, but in several states participants have been subject to visits by law enforcement.

According to Live Action News, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics in Michigan, Ohio, California, and Wisconsin were recently approached by law enforcement and asked to leave for supposedly being in violation of state or local orders. No arrests were made in those cases. 

However, in two cases in North Carolina, arrests were made at pro-life prayer vigils for supposedly being in violation of the state’s prohibition on public gatherings larger than 10 people.

Pro-life advocate David Benham, president of Cities4Life, and other pro-life sidewalk counselors were arrested by police in Charlotte, North Carolina on April 4 for being part of a gathering of more than 10 people. They were praying and offering sidewalk counseling outside the abortion clinic A Preferred Women’s Health Center.

According to social media for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department, around 50 people were observed by police to be gathered outside the clinic.

The department said that “officers observed approximately fifty (50) protesters congregating outside of the clinic. The gathering was determined to be a violation of mass gatherings in the North Carolina Stay at Home Order. Those who exceeded the allowed amount of ten were asked to leave.”

The state’s governor Roy Cooper had issued an executive order on March 27 ordering residents to “stay at home” except for “essential” activities.

In a video, Benham was seen telling an officer that he was part of a “recognized charity” that was “offering essential services” to women who were considering abortions.

He told the officer that he and other pro-life counselors were “practicing social distancing,” and that the police should “go in the abortion clinic and make the arrests there” out of concern for mass gatherings during the pandemic.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted that Benham’s arrest was “unconstitutional and a serious abuse of power.”

The legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent a letter to the city’s attorney on Benham’s behalf, arguing that Benham’s group and Love Life, another group of pro-life advocates, are not subject to the order’s 10-person gathering prohibition as they are charitable organizations providing social services.

Furthermore, on April 4 the pro-life advocates were outdoors with people properly spaced apart, ADF said. Counsel for the groups had previously confirmed with a police officer that they were within their rights to pray on sidewalks outside the clinic provided that they maintained a six-foot minimum distance between persons and had hand sanitizer available.

ADF argued in its letter that the pro-life groups are religious nonprofits “providing charitable and social support services to vulnerable persons” and thus “qualify as ‘Essential Business’” under the governor’s order and should not be subject to the 10-person limit on gatherings.

The right to free speech “in public fora like the streets and sidewalks” is “well-established,” ADF said, and “[a]ny prohibition on this expressive activity in these fora is subject to strict scrutiny.” The city’s act to disperse the prayer gathering of more than ten people outside is “arbitrary and a pretext for discrimination based on protected speech,” ADF said.

“Please instruct any City of Charlotte officers or employees to drop all criminal charges pending against my clients and discontinue their interference with their right to engage in assembly, prayer, counseling, and other expressive activities on public property,” ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot stated in his letter.

Members of the group Love Life were also arrested in Greensboro, North Carolina on March 28 and again on March 30 while praying outside an abortion clinic. According to citations, they were arrested for travel[ing] for a non-essential function [/purpose],” unlawfully traveling by car to the location rather than on foot.

ADF also sent a letter to the city of Greensboro on behalf of the pro-life advocates, saying the groups limited their activities to fewer than 10 people to comply with local regulations, and that participants were spaced out more than six feet apart.

How Catholics can be inspired by art during Holy Week

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2020 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- As churches and museums remain closed, Catholic artists have encouraged people to be inspired this Holy Week by finding beauty online or even attempting to create projects themselves.

Andrew Julo is the director and curator for the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He told CNA that Catholics should look for both familiar and new pieces of art that flow with the narrative of Holy Week.

He said, for example, Catholics should dwell on art that relates to Christ washing the disciples’ feet, the Passion of Good Friday, or the Resurrection on Easter. He said people may also find art depicting pandemics to express solidarity with those who have died of COVID-19.

“Find images that correspond with the days of Holy Week, assemble your own digital exhibition and share it online. While the majority of these digital reproductions can never substitute the experience of seeing the original work in person, they still possess an ability to move our minds and hearts,” he said.

According to the New York Times, the coronavirus has infected over 1.4 million people and killed over 83,000. In response, many international leaders have placed their countries on lockdown, halting church services, artistic entertainment, and numerous businesses.

He pointed to the recent actions from museums around the world who have begun to offer virtual tours online to engage people in art. He suggested viewers take their time in viewing the art and expand the images to the maximum space on the screen to minimize the distractions from ads and other pictures.

“There's lots of museums throughout the world that are looking to connect with their audiences by sharing their exhibitions, posing questions on social media, and asking folks at home to spend more time looking closely at works of art in their collections,” he said.

Virtual tours of Catholic art, such as pieces by Raphael, Botticelli, da Vinci, Crivelli, and Caravaggio, are being offered for free online through several museums. Among others, a virtual tour may be accessed to view paintings within the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and National Gallery in London.

For Holy Week, Julo suggested that Catholics view Ford Brown’s Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet; Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece, which depicts a mangled Christ; and Exsultet scrolls. He said the website of the British Library includes a beautiful example used at the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino during the 11th century.

“Grünewald imaged Christ with the same lesions that afflicted patients who were dying from the disfiguring disease of ergotism. Here, Christ’s body reminds us of the importance and fragility of our physical being. With so many individuals throughout the world suffering from COVID-19, an image of the crucifixion this year prompts us to remember these infirmities with greater attention,” he said.

David Clayton, an artist and a writer who runs The Way of Beauty, has emphasized the importance of using images in collaboration with prayer. He told CNA that visio divina, “divine seeing,” is a powerful tool alongside liturgical readings, scripture, and the daily office.

“I think the experience that's going to bear fruit is one of prayer and a pattern of prayer that has the liturgical piety at its heart,” he said. “Then have satellites around that of Catholic devotions, many of which engage with visual imagery.”

He stressed three periods of art that promote authentic beauty – iconography, Gothic, and the Baroque.

He pointed to pieces by Gregory Kroug, a Russian monk and early 20th-century iconographer of the Eastern Orthodox Church; the Madonna and Child by the Gothic painter Duccio; and The Virgin in Prayer by Sassoferrato. He also drew attention to Princeton University, which has recently cataloged images online of icons from Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.

Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, a sacred artist who creates custom religious art for homes and churches, discussed with CNA the importance of sacred art as a means to more fully engage in truth. She said art is particularly impactful because humans are both physical and spiritual beings.

“We're made of body and spirit, and, so because of that, the things that we come in contact within a physical world really do affect our soul,” she said.

“It's through the visible that we are able to approach the invisible. So the experience of tactile beauty is a hint of the supernatural beauty that we'll be encountering in heaven. I think Thomas Aquinas says that beauty is the attractive power of truth.”

She suggested that images be viewed slowly and alongside prayer, noting that it is important to allow the art time to open up to the viewer. She said, during the last Palm Sunday, she brought out books of Western art to help engage her children and herself.

“I was grabbing art history books in our living room and looking at great images of Western art from the Baroque and Renaissance and following through the entire Passion. Then looking at images of the agony in the garden or Christ before Pilate or the crowning of thorns,” she said.

“Don't be in a rush. It takes a while for beauty to unfold itself,” she said. “Making space to really focus on a single painting or a single work of music, [it] really draw[s] all of your attentive powers to experiencing it. I think that can lead to a much more profound understanding and engagement with it.”

She also suggested that Catholics participate in creativity themselves, whether through painting, woodworking, gardening, or knitting.

She said domestic practices may also become transformed into something more valuable for the holiday. She suggested using foods depicted in the Passion, like lamb and unleavened bread, or symbolic dishes, like Good Friday’s hot cross buns, which are topped with a cross and cooked with spices used to signify Christ’s burial.

“These days of quarantine … you find yourself with a bit more time on your hands, but also maybe feeling a bit more anxious and needing to find some constructive way to occupy yourself and find outlets for hope,” she said.

“I think that personal experiences of creativity or making something beautiful is a really great blessing.”

Julo also emphasized the value of creativity. He said that the domestic Church is where Christianity began and he stressed the value of fostering an opportunity to honor the Sacred Triduum. He said people should mark Easter with a special action, whether that is through music, poetry, or even a simple walk.

“It's helpful to remember that church began in people's homes. So we in some ways are participating in something that is also very ancient in the domestic space,” he said.

“I would encourage people to try to be creative about how they honor the Sacred Triduum. Gather flowers, branches, or greenery for inside. Light candles. Set up a corner in your home with sacred images including members of your family you’re not able to share physical space with right now. Before meals, make your dining area festive with a table cloth and your nicest place settings ...Whether alone or with others, ritualize your meals.”

Full Text: Pope Francis' Holy Thursday Homily

Vatican City, Apr 9, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Here is the full text of Pope Francis' Holy Thursday homily, delivered April 9 at the Basilica of St. Peter.

The Eucharist. Service. Anointing. The reality we live today in this liturgy is the Lord who wants to remain with us in the Eucharist. And we always become tabernacles of the Lord. We bear the Lord with us to the point that he himself tells us that if we do not eat his body and drink his blood, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the mystery of the bread and wine of the Lord with us, in us, within us.

The service. That gesture that is a condition for entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Serve, yes, everyone, but the Lord -- in that exchange of words he had with Peter -- makes him understand that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must let the Lord serve us, that the Servant of God is the servant of us. And this is difficult to understand. If I do not let the Lord be my servant, allow the Lord to wash me, to help me grow, to forgive me, I will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

And the priesthood. Today I would like to be close to priests. All of them -- from the most recently ordained to the pope, we are all priests. The bishops, all ... We are anointed, anointed by the Lord; anointed to offer the Eucharist, anointed to serve.

Today we did not have the Chrism Mass. I hope we will be able to have it before Pentecost, otherwise we will have to postpone it until next year. But I cannot let this Mass pass without mentioning the priests. Priests who offer their lives for the Lord, priests who are servants. In recent days, more than 60 have died here in Italy, in the care of the sick in hospitals, and also with doctors, nurses ... They are "the saints next door,” priests who gave their lives by serving.

And I think of those who are far away. Today I received a letter from a priest, chaplain from a distant prison, in which he tells of how he lives this Holy Week with the prisoners. A Franciscan.

Priests who go far to bring the Gospel and die there. A bishop said that the first thing he did, when he arrived in these mission posts, was to go to the cemetery, to the grave of the priests who lost their lives there, young, by the local plague [local diseases]. They were not prepared, they had no antibodies. No one knows their names. Anonymous priests.

The country parish priests, who are parish priests of four, five, or seven villages in the mountains and go from one to the other, who know the people ... Once, one told me that he knew the name of all the people of the villages. “Really?” I said to him. And he said to me: "Even the name of the dogs." They know all. Priestly closeness.
Well done, good priests. Today I carry you in my heart and I bring you to the altar.

Slandered priests. Many times it happens today. They cannot go out on the street because bad things are said of them, in reference to the drama we have experienced with the discovery of  priests who did ugly things. Some told me that they cannot leave the house with the clergyman because they are insulted, and they continue.

Sinful priests, who together with the bishops and the pope, a sinner, do not forget to ask for forgiveness. And learn to forgive because they know that they need to ask for forgiveness and to forgive. We are all sinners. Priests who suffer from crises, who do not know what to do, who are in the dark ... Today all of you, brother priests, are with me on the altar. 

You who are consecrated, I only tell you one thing: Do not be stubborn, like Peter. Allow your feet to be washed. The Lord is your servant. He is close to you to give you strength, to wash your feet.

And so, with this awareness of the need to be washed, to be great forgivers. Forgive. A great heart has generosity in forgiveness. It is the measure by which we will be measured. As you have forgiven, you will be forgiven: the same measure. Do not be afraid to forgive. Sometimes there are doubts ... Look at Christ [look at the Crucifix]. There is everyone's forgiveness.

Be brave, also in taking risks, in forgiving in order to console. And if you cannot give sacramental forgiveness at that moment, at least give the consolation of a brother who accompanies and leaves the door open for [that person] to return.

I thank God for the grace of the priesthood. We all [thank you]. I thank God for you, priests. Jesus loves you! He only asks that you allow him to wash your feet.

On Holy Thursday, Pope Francis recalls priests dying amid pandemic

Vatican City, Apr 9, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis recalled the priests who have lost their lives during the coronavirus crisis as he offered the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica.

“I cannot allow this Mass to pass by without mentioning the priests,” Pope Francis said in his homily on April 9.

“Today all of you brother priests, you are with me on the altar,” the pope said on Holy Thursday.

Pope Francis explained that he wanted to be close to all the world’s priests at this time, recalling clergy who have recently died of COVID-19.

“Priests who offer their lives for the Lord. Priests who are servants … They are ‘the saints next door,’” he said.

Pope Francis has frequently used the phrase “saints next door”, including in his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, to refer to holy people who live among us unrecognised.  

“Today I would like to be close to priests,” the pope said. “All of them -- from the newly ordained to the pope, we are all priests. We are anointed, anointed by the Lord, anointed to offer the Eucharist, anointed to serve.”

Holy Week liturgies at the Vatican are taking place without the presence of the public this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Around 12 people were present inside the basilica, in addition to the choir who sang a cappella.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates Christ’s Passover meal with his apostles the night before he died. The Mass most especially recalls the institution of the Eucharist -- the sacramental gift to the Church of Christ’s Body and Blood, given in the transformation of bread and wine.

“The reality we live today in this liturgy is the Lord, who wants to remain with us in the Eucharist. And we always become tabernacles of the Lord,” Pope Francis said.

“We bear the Lord with us to the point that he himself tells us that if we do not eat his body and drink his blood, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This mystery of the bread and wine of the Lord with us and in us, within us,” he said.

Often at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the priest washes the feet of some members of the congregation, recalling Christ’s washing of feet at the Last Supper.

This year feet washing was omitted from the liturgy as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, Pope Francis stressed the significance of this gesture of humility and service in his homily.

“You who are consecrated, I only tell you one thing,” the pope said. “Do not be stubborn, like Peter. Allow your feet to be washed. The Lord is your servant. He is close to you to give you strength, to wash your feet.”

In past years Pope Francis has offered the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at prisons in Rome, washing the feet of the prisoners himself. 

The first was in 2013, just after he became pope, when he visited the Casal del Marmo youth detention center. Subsequent Maundy Thursday Masses have been held at the historic Regina Coeli prison, a center for asylum seekers, Rebibbia prison, and Paliano prison.

Pope Francis said in his homily that he had received a letter today from a prison chaplain, who wrote to tell the pope of his plans for Holy Week with the prisoners.

He also recalled an encounter with a bishop, who served in a mission territory and told the pope of his experience visiting a local cemetery to pay homage to the missionary priests who had been buried there before him.

Pope Francis offered Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica with the miraculous crucifix of San Marcello and the Byzantine icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, near the altar.

“Today we did not have the Chrism Mass. I hope that we will be able to have it before Pentecost, otherwise we will need to postpone it until next year,” he said.

In the intercessory prayers of the liturgy, Pope Francis prayed for humanity to be freed from the pandemic, and for Catholics to have an increased desire to receive the Eucharist.

“Comfort, afflicted humanity, O Lord with the certainty of your victory over evil: heal the sick, console the poor and free all from epidemics, violence and selfishness,” he said.

“Lord Jesus, every day you renew your gift. Increase in us the hunger for your Body and your Blood, the only source of eternal life,” Pope Francis prayed.

Malta court authorizes seizure of €29 million in Vatican bank assets

Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Maltese court has authorized the seizure of assets belonging to the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), commonly called “the Vatican Bank.” The garnishment order was issued last month, allowing three companies involved in a lawsuit against the bank to seize €29.5 million in assets.

Two Malta-based investment companies, Futura Funds Sicav and Futura Investment Management, along with Luxembourg-based Courgar Real Estate, have been embroiled in a years-long court battle with the IOR over millions of euros which the Vatican bank agreed to invest with the firms, before withdrawing from the deal.

At issue is a 2013 investment plan involving the purchase of a property in Hungary – the Budapest Exchange Palace – for development and resale. According to Futura, the IOR originally said it would commit €47 million euros to the project but only delivered €14 million.

Futura argued in the lawsuit that, following a change of leadership at the IOR, the bank had reneged on the project and wanted to go back on its legal commitment to invest.

The judgement by the Maltese court was made March 13 and represents the balance of the investment owed by the IOR and “material damages suffered by Futura Fund and Futura IM” according to a statement from Futura released to the financial news website Expert Investor and reported Monday, April 6.

The statement also said that if the companies are unable to recover the money through IOR assets in Malta, they would pursue the Vatican bank in other European jurisdictions in a “fast-track proceeding.”

In 2013, the same year as the investment plan was agreed upon, Ernst von Freberg was appointed IOR president with a mandate to bring transparency and reform to the institution. Also in 2013, Pope Francis created a pontifical commission to oversee the IOR and “gather accurate information on the legal status and various activities” of the bank, which published its first annual report that year, the contents of which were audited by KPMG.

That same year, the Vatican’s Financial Intelligence Authority was admitted as a full member of the Egmont group of national financial investigative agencies.

The IOR has itself filed a still ongoing suit against Futura Funds SICAV PLC and Futura Investment Management Ltd. seeking to recover its investments in Futura. The IOR claims that its investment committee was misled by the directors of Futura Investment Management, Alberto Matta and Girolamo Stabile, both of whom are named in the IOR’s suit, along with Optimum Evolution Fund SIF, and Optimum Asset Management S.A.

In 2017, the Malta Independent reported Futura Fund’s main shareholder was Futura Investment Management Ltd. which was majority owned by Futura Investment Holding Ltd., the main shareholder of which was Alberto Matta, who was the company’s only director as well as chairman of Optimum Asset Management.

Futura Fund’s website said in 2017 that the company was started in 2011 “by the management team of Optimum Asset Management,” and that “Futura Investment Management Ltd.” is an “affiliated company” of Optimum Asset Management.

According to a letter sent by Optimum Asset Management’s general counsel to the Malta Independent in 2017, “the lawsuit initiated by the IOR regards Futura-Kappa (a real estate fund), which invested in 2013 with the objective to acquire, refurbish, reposition and sell the Budapest Exchange Palace, one of the most prestigious buildings in the Hungarian capital.”

By this description, the plan appears similar to another property investment by an institution of the Holy See.

Beginning in 2014, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State invested hundreds of millions of euros in a property development scheme in London. The secretariat bought a building at 60 Sloane Avenue in stages from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione in a series of complicated maneuvers involving loans from Swiss banks, several of Mincione’s own companies, and other intermediaries.

The building is now controlled by the Secretariat of State through a U.K. holding company, London 60 SA Ltd. 

The London investment has become the subject of sustained scrutiny by Vatican financial authorities, and Pope Francis has said of the deal “What passed, passed: a scandal.” 

“They have done things that do not seem clean,” Francis said in November last year. The pope’s comments followed raids by Vatican City law enforcement in October last year, several officials at the secretariat were suspended from duty. Two of them served as directors of London 60 SA Ltd. and have now been removed. 

The sole remaining director of the company is Luciano Capaldo, an architect and property developer. UK corporate filings have variously identified him as having UK, Italian, and Vatican citizenship.

Calpaldo is also a shareholder and former chairman of Imvest, a property development company listed in Rome.

In 2016, Imvest offices were raided by Italian financial police in connection to allegations of coordinated fraud, submission of false budgets, and false accounting. 

The 2016 Imvest raids included 13 other businesses and several individuals invested in Imvest, chief among them Alfio Marchini, a wealthy Italian entrepreneur and politician.

Coincidentally, Futura Funds purchased the whole of Imvest’s first bond issuance in 2013 - worth 30 million euros. The bonds were unsecured, and Imvest used all the proceeds to finance a loan to its own shareholder company: Astrim, Marchini’s company.  

In February, a representative for Optimum told CNA that Futura recouped its investment in Imvest “upon commencement of a lawsuit against Mr Marchini and related entities.”

At present, “Futura Funds SICAV has no relationship with Mr Marchini, Imvest or Astrim, whereas Optimum Asset Management is in no way involved in this matter which is now closed,” the representative said.

Kansas limits Easter church services to 10 people or less

CNA Staff, Apr 9, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The state of Kansas is limiting religious services to no more than ten people for Easter as part of measures to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order on Tuesday requiring religious institutions to abide by the state’s current prohibition on public gatherings or 10 or more people during the public health emergency.

“As Holy Week gets underway – and with Kansas rapidly approaching its projected ‘peak’ infection rate in the coming weeks – the risk for a spike in COVID-19 cases through church gatherings is especially dangerous,” Kelly said April 7.

The governor’s previous executive order on mass gatherings exempted religious institutions, although it encouraged churches to broadcast their services online and over the radio “wherever possible” in order to not have “in-person” gatherings.  

Now, religious gatherings are still allowed as “essential services” but are limited to 10 people at a time where participants must maintain “social distancing” and proper hygiene.

The spread of the virus necessitated the requirement to curtail mass religious gatherings during Holy Week, Kelly said on Tuesday.

There have been 1,046 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kansas with 38 deaths, as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the state’s health department. Nationwide, there have been more than 395,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 12,754 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

All public Masses in Kansas have already been suspended during the COVID-19 crisis. The Archdiocese of Kansas City, along with the dioceses of Wichita, Salina, and Dodge City, will be livestreaming Masses and liturgies during the Easter Triduum.

Private family gatherings are not subject to the updated order’s prohibitions, and neither are establishments such as “shopping malls and other retail establishments where large numbers of people are present but are generally not within arm’s length of one another for more than 10 minutes.”

Libraries are also allowed to remain open, as are restaurants and bars with spaces of six feet or more between tables, booths, bar stools and ordering counters.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City wrote in an April 3 column that “Christian charity also requires that we exercise prudence. We need to observe Governor Kelly’s executive order.”

Kelly had issued a March 26 “stay home” order allowing residents to leave their homes only to get food and medicine, for work, medical care, care of family members or pets, or outdoor exercise, or other “essential” activities.

Naumann wrote that Catholics have an “obligation in charity” to help prevent the spread of the virus through “remaining at home except for essential tasks, social distancing, washing our hands, not gathering in large groups, etc.”

He praised the governor’s recognition of a constitutional right for religious services to still proceed, saying that some counties and municipalities had tried to ban religious activities outright including weddings and funerals.

“Government cannot permit liquor stores, pet stores and dry cleaners to continue to operate and not allow religious activities,” he wrote.

“At the same time, for the good of the public health of our communities, our churches are rightly obligated to observe the same limitations — e.g., the number of people who can assemble or the social distancing that is required of other organizations and enterprises.”

Low-wage workers ‘first to suffer’ in economic collapse, Catholic labor advocates say 

Denver, Colo., Apr 9, 2020 / 11:30 am (CNA).- Amid the dramatic collapse of the American labor market, Catholic labor advocates have called for a collaborative response that protects the weakest and advances the common good.

“I would argue that in our job structure the person who would look lowest is the most important,” Father Sinclair Oubre, spiritual moderator of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA.

“Think coronavirus in the hospital. It’s not the doctor who is most important, it is the custodian who kills the germs and kills the staph and kills all those things that gets people sick in the hospital,” he added. “If that person isn't there, I don't care how good the doctor is or how great the nurses are. That will be a death house because of the infectious diseases allowed to persist.”

The Catholic Labor Network helps advance Catholic social teaching on labor and work and aims to support workers.

As authorities across the country have ordered people to stay at home and placed other restrictions on businesses, millions have been laid off.

More than 16 million Americans have submitted initial unemployment claims in the last three weeks, and many economists predict that unemployment could eventually exceed the 25% peak of the Great Depression.

Many prospective applicants for unemployment benefits report they have been unsuccessful at filing claims, as state agencies face a surge in applicants, while dealing with the logistics and safety measures intended to help reduce the spread of the contagious disease.

Oubre reflected on the economic situation.

“We’ve based our economy on the service sector. The service sector is just being devastated,” he said.

Receptionists, waiters, busboys and dishwashers are all out of work. While some restaurants are still doing take-out food their customers are significantly less in number, as are the bills and the tips.

Industry has also been heavily hit by pandemic shutdown. Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, told CNA that even though work continues in areas like construction, construction workers rarely have employer-paid health insurance.

This means families are dependent for health coverage on a now-furloughed or out-of-work spouse who worked in a hotel or a store, Sinyai said.

Health care workers are “truly on the front lines” and risking disease and sometimes death, as some hospitals in the worst-hit areas face a surge in patients, Oubre said. At the same time, emergency orders to cancel elective surgeries to free up protective equipment and other resources for medical workers have caused medical workers involved in these surgeries to face layoffs.

Oubre who is also pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Orange, Texas, said labor unions are concerned about the economic health of their members, and also want to secure workers’ basic safety and protection from contagion.

Usually companies follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards requiring gloves, masks, goggles and hardhats, but with the pandemic needs have now shifted.

“All of a sudden it’s not just a respiratory mask to prevent inhaling dust as you’re grinding on metal or chipping away rust,” said Oubre. “Now it’s other types of masks, or more masks, just when you're interacting with the people you work with along the way.”

Some sectors have seen a need for workers, including pharmacy work, online delivery, and grocery delivery. Walmart and Amazon are seeking tens of thousands of people.

Oubre noted that workers like those at Amazon warehouses must ask themselves “How do I know that everyone here has not been exposed?”

Hundreds of employees interact with warehouse technology and stored products. They interact with each other, sometimes not being able to keep at the recommended physical distance. These warehouse and delivery systems need “an incredibly efficient progress” and are very vulnerable to any inefficiencies, in Oubre's analysis.

He voiced concerns that Amazon has a history of opposing labor rights, to the point of alleged violations of laws protecting labor organizers.

After workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse tested positive for COVID-19, about 100 workers walked off the job March 31 to demand better safety protections. One employee who helped organize the walkout was fired: Chris Smalls, a former assistant manager. According to Newsweek, Smalls claims the company is misrepresenting the number of workers known to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The company rejects Smalls' claim and said that Smalls was fired for violating social distancing requirements needed because of his close contact with a person confirmed to have had coronavirus.

Amazon’s founder, billionaire Jeff Bezos, has become one of the richest men in the world.

Workers at Whole Foods, the 95,000-employee grocery store chain owned by Amazon, held a sick-out on March 31, saying they should have more sick pay and more health protections during the pandemic, Bloomberg News reports.

Organizers  have said the store should shut down any store where a worker tests positive for the virus. They have sought paid leave for workers who choose to self-isolate, health care coverage for part-time employees, and funds for testing and treatment of sick co-workers. In January the company had dropped health care benefits for part-time employees who work under 30 hours a week.

The company has given temporary raises of $2 per hour through April and overtime compensation. It said employees put in quarantine or diagnosed with the new coronavirus are eligible for paid sick leave.

Workers for Instacart, a grocery delivery company, held a strike March 30, seeking better protections and hazard pay of $5 per order. About 200,000 contract workers run grocery deliveries for the startup, which has seen a 150% surge in order volume over last year.

Instacart’s response included an announcement of plans to distribute health and safety supplies to its full-service workers and a new default system for tipping on its app, claiming this would make tips higher and more consistent. The company said it already instituted retroactive sick pay for its in-store workers affected by the coronavirus. Hourly workers could receive bonuses between $25 and $200, NBC News reports.

For Sinyai, the labor network’s executive director, the coronavirus pandemic shows that low-income workers are “often the last to benefit in good times and the first to suffer in hard times.”

“Those who continue to work and draw a paycheck are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of white-collar workers who can often do their jobs online; firms lay off line workers before they lay off managers. In contrast, those who work with their hands are usually unable to work from home. This crisis has brought mass unemployment to retail workers, hotel workers, airline employees and restaurant servers and cooks.”

Pope Francis’ “Urbi et Orbi” of March 27 made a special mention of those working under the threat of the coronavirus, saying:

“It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves.”

Sinyai said that Pope Francis' words recall those who “soldier on during the crisis, enabling the rest of us to shelter in place.”

“These people remain at great risk of infection, illness and death so that we may live,” he said. “It’s shameful that OSHA has not yet issued an emergency workplace safety standard protecting workers from unnecessary risk during the pandemic.”

Obure appreciated that the Pope involved everyone, “from the doctors down to the cleaning people.”

“It’s all the people working and interacting together to get through this thing,” he said. “It’s when we divide ourselves up and not reach out that we really get in danger.”

“We really have two choices; we can either hunker down in our houses and hope that we survive this or we can, even in the physical distancing law that we are in, take action,” he added.

Oubre invoked the example of a Vietnamese-American woman who normally works as a crab distributor, buying 5,000 pounds of crabs per day from the crabbers. She has now pivoted to making masks and giving them away to Fr. Oubre and his staff.

“She’s thinking seriously: how can she help her brothers and sisters,” he said. “They’re not medical-grade quality, but they will give us something that we can then exercise greater precaution.”

Oubre mentioned a local manufacturer who normally makes industrial strength insulation, but now is working to retool to produce face protections and medical-grade masks. Besides helping the pandemic response, the retooling will help his employees return to work.

Even with the difficulties of physical distancing, Oubre said, building community is the way for workers and the unemployed to advocate for themselves.

In his view, labor has suffered in recent decades not only because of legislation, but because of “radical individualism.”

“I think because of our radical individual thinking as Americans, it’s hard for us to say ‘I will sacrifice for myself so that my brothers and sisters will have more’ even though that is a fundamental idea of solidarity within trade unionism and our Catholic social teaching,” Oubre told CNA.

Catholic social teaching's promotion of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity all have roles to play, Oubre summarized.

“Solidarity is being concerned for our brothers and sisters. It’s not just pulling up the draw bridge and hunkering down for ourselves,” he said. “Promoting the common good is constantly a concern, because (the coronavirus) threatens the whole common good, not a class of people or a type of people.”

While some people are demanding federal government action, Oubre said, “fundamentally it comes down to how we handle this at the lowest level. Although the government is going to have a very important role to play... it's going to be how we act in Orange, Texas, or some other place that determines how long this thing is actually going to last.”

At the same time, Oubre was worried that restrictions might be lifted too soon.

“The dangers are clear: we could just have a second wave. We'll be right back into it,” he said.

Sinyai said people with some abundance and without fear of hunger, eviction or foreclosure must be prepared to sacrifice, adding “America’s low-income workers deserve both our prayers and our financial support as they rebuild their lives, careers and savings in the aftermath of the epidemic.”

Coronavirus victims have 'inalienable right' to priests' help, says Cardinal Sarah

Vatican City, Apr 9, 2020 / 09:14 am (CNA).- In the coronavirus pandemic, the sick and dying cannot be denied the sacramental assistance of a priest, Cardinal Robert Sarah said in an interview published Thursday.

Speaking to French magazine Valeurs actuelles, Sarah said that during the coronavirus emergency “priests must do everything they can to remain close to the faithful. They must do everything in their power to assist the dying, without complicating the task of the caretakers and the civil authorities.”

“But no one,” he continued, “has the right to deprive a sick or dying person of the spiritual assistance of a priest. It is an absolute and inalienable right.”

In the April 9 interview, the Guinean cardinal, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, also said he believed many priests had rediscovered their vocation to prayer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If [priests] cannot physically hold the hand of each dying person as they would like, they discover that, in adoration, they can intercede for each one,” he said, adding that he hoped the sick and isolated would feel connected to their priests through prayer.

Sarah also encouraged people living under lockdown to rediscover family prayer.

“It is time for fathers to learn how to bless their children. Christians, deprived of the Eucharist, realize how much communion was a grace for them. I encourage them to practice adoration from home, because there is no Christian life without sacramental life.”

“In the midst of our towns and villages, the Lord remains present,” he said.

The cardinal also noted one positive aspect of the pandemic had been the “spirit of self-giving and sacramentality coming out of hearts.”

There is a pressure to succeed and to admire and applaud society’s “winners,” even if success comes at the cost of “crushing others,” he said, pointing to the push to euthanize the sick and handicapped.

“Today, nations are moving to protect the elderly,” the cardinal underlined. “Suddenly we admire and applaud with respect and gratitude the nurses, doctors, volunteers, and everyday heroes.”

“Suddenly, one dares to cheer for those who serve the weakest. Our times thirsted for heroes and saints, but hid it and was ashamed of it.”

In the 5,300-word interview, Cardinal Sarah also spoke about his book on priestly celibacy, “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” which was published in February.

The book garnered controversy over a contribution by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Differing views emerged over whether the retired pope had agreed to be listed as a co-author of the book, as maintained by Sarah and the book’s French and English publishers.

The cardinal said he was struck by the violent reactions to the content of the book as well, which he and Benedict XVI intended as a “serene, objective, and theological reflection... based on Revelation and historical data.”

“Of course, I have suffered during this period, I felt the attacks against Benedict XVI very strongly. But deep down, I was especially hurt to see how hatred, suspicion and division have invaded the Church on such a fundamental and crucial issue for the survival of Christianity: priestly celibacy,” he added.

He said he regretted that there had been little discussion of what he considered the most important part of the book: the argument for the renunciation of material goods on the part of priests, and reform based on holiness and prayer.

“Our book was meant to be spiritual, theological and pastoral. The media and some self-proclaimed experts have made a political and dialectical reading of it,” he argued. “Now that the sterile polemics have dissipated, perhaps we will be able to really read it? Perhaps we will be able to discuss it peacefully?”

On the subject of the renunciation of goods, the cardinal also invited priests and bishops in Germany “to experience poverty, to renounce state subsidies.”

“A poor Church will not be afraid of the radicality of the Gospel. I believe that often our ties to money or secular power make us timid or even cowardly to proclaim the Good News,” he asserted, saying he believed that the German Church’s wealth tempted it to “change Revelation, to create another magisterium.”

Addressing the so-called synodal process in Germany, he said he had the impression that “the truths of the faith and the commandments of the Gospel are going to be put to the vote.”

The interview also addressed the 2019 Amazon synod. Cardinal Sarah said some of the negative reactions after the publication of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia made it clear “the distress of the poor had been used to promote ideological projects.”

“I would like the synods to be more times of common prayer and not an ideological or political battlefield,” he noted, explaining that “the unity of the Church is based first of all on prayer.”

“If we do not pray together, we will always be divided,” he said.

Sarah also expressed the desire for the life of the Roman Curia to be further marked by a common life of prayer and adoration.

“I would like the life of the whole Church to be primarily a life of common prayer. I am convinced that prayer is our first duty as priests. From prayer will come unity. From prayer comes truth,” he said.

Cardinal Sarah called the crisis in the Church “a crisis of faith and a profound crisis of priesthood.”

But, he said, Vatican administration is not the center of the Church.

“The center of the Church is in the heart of every man who believes in Jesus Christ, who prays and worships. The center of the Church is at the heart of the monasteries. The center of the Church is above all in each tabernacle because Jesus is present there,” he said.

The Church is there to witness to the truth, he concluded. “Christians will always be unworthy of this mission, but the Church will always be there to witness to Christ.”

China’s first saint was martyred on a cross in Wuhan

Vatican City, Apr 9, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- China’s first canonized saint was martyred by suffocation on a cross in Wuhan, the epicenter of today’s coronavirus pandemic.

St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, a Vincentian missionary priest from France, was betrayed by one of his catechumens for money, bound in chains, tortured, tied to a wooden cross and strangled to death in Wuhan in 1840.

Dr. Anthony Clark, a professor of Chinese history, spent time in Wuhan researching the life of Perboyre and St. Francis Regis Clet, another 19th-century Vincentian priest martyred in Wuhan.

Clark told CNA that Wuhan’s martyr saints are particularly suitable intercessors for those suffering from COVID-19 today.

“Sts. Perboyre and Clet were both killed by strangulation; they died because they could not breathe,” he said. “How could they not be appropriate intercessors for this particular illness?”

“Among the torments against Perboyre were continued beatings on his lower back and he was forced to kneel on broken glass. He certainly knew the agonies of physical suffering, and would be a good comfort for those who now suffer from this virus.”

Wuhan, now infamous as the origin of the coronavirus, was once an outpost for Catholic missionaries who founded Catholic hospitals in the city.

Outside of Wuhan Central Hospital, where coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang died, is a statue of Italian missionary, Msgr. Eustachius Zanoli, photographed by New York Times correspondent, Chris Buckley.

The plaque beneath the bust reads in Chinese and English: “Monsignor Eustachius Zanoli, from Italy, was the first Bishop of Roman Catholic Church in Eastern Hubei. In 1886 he invited the Canossian Daughters of Charity to Wuhan to provide social service and in 1880 established the Hankou Catholic Hospital, which laid the foundation for the development of the Wuhan No. 2 Hospital (1955) and subsequently the Central Hospital of Wuhan (1999).”

Another nearby coronavirus facility, Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, can trace its roots back to an infectious diseases hospital founded by Franciscan missionaries in 1926, the Father Mei Memorial Catholic Hospital of Hankou.

It was named for Fr. Pascal Angelicus Melotto (1864-1923), a Franciscan missionary friar from Italy martyred in Wuhan, who took Fr. Mei Zhanchun as his Chinese name. He was kidnapped for ransom and then shot in the stomach with a poisoned bullet in 1923.

“I am happy to die for the Chinese,” the missionary priest said at his death, according to the Franciscan Order’s website. “I lived in China for the Chinese and now I am happy to die for them.”

The Father Mei Memorial Catholic Hospital of Hankou was staffed by Franciscan Sisters of Christian Doctrine until missionaries were expelled from China in 1952 after the Chinese Communist Revolution.

“The Catholic community of Wuhan has suffered greatly during the era of Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and through that time they hid the tombstones of Saints Perboyre and Clet to protect them, because of their deep devotion to those martyrs,” Clark said.

“While I was there I visited the seminary where the two tombstones are now displayed for veneration; the Catholics of Wuhan have a great devotion to the Eucharist and to the Vincentians, such as Perboyre and Clet, who died for them, and shed their blood on the soil of that city,” he added.

Many missionaries left for China in the 19th century with the knowledge that they would never return.

“I don't know what awaits me on the path that opens before me: without a doubt the cross, which is the daily bread of the missionary. What can we hope for better, going to preach a crucified God?" St. Perboyre wrote in a letter during his journey to China.

Perboyre’s remains were eventually moved to Paris to the Vincentian motherhouse. Today his tomb is located in a side chapel in the same church where St. Vincent de Paul’s incorrupt body is located. He was beatified in 1889 by Pope Leo XIII.

“St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a special devotion to Perboyre and kept a holy card dedicated to him in her personal prayerbook,” Dr. Clark pointed out.

At Perboyre’s canonization in 1996, St. John Paul II said: “Along the streets where he had been sent he found the Cross of Christ. Through the daily imitation of his Lord, with humility and gentleness, he fully identified with him. … After being tortured and condemned, reproducing the Passion of Jesus with extraordinary similarity, he came like him to death and death on a cross.”

St. John Paul II canonized St. Francis Regis Clet in October 2000, along with 33 other missionaries and 87 Chinese Catholics martyred under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Michael Fu Tieshan, a bishop of China’s state-run church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, called the canonization a “public humiliation” in an interview with state-run television, AP reported at the time.

The first “patriotic bishop” named by the Communist government in China in 1958 was from Wuhan. Dong Guangqing, who died in 2007, was president of Patriotic Catholic Association of Wuhan and vice president of the National Administrative Committee of the Chinese Catholic Church.
 
Today, Catholics in Wuhan have a particular devotion to St. Francis and the Sacrament of Penance, Clark observed.

Catholics in Wuhan are “known to make long lines near the confessionals of priests who are most faithful to the authentic teachings of the Church; they are a beautiful witness,” he said.

“It is rare to find a church without a statue of St. Francis, and sometimes a devotion to St. Vincent de Paul. The faith there is strong, and has even flourished especially during times of persecution,” Clark added.

“I have indeed heard from some Catholics during this time, and they are, like all of us, turning to the Lord and his mercy as we all confront our own frailty,” he said. “I recently heard from a Wuhan Protestant who remarked on the sadness of witnessing elderly members of their church passing away. The trauma within Wuhan's Christian community has been greatly aided through the powerful faith of Christians in that area.”