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British prime minister’s son baptized a Catholic

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- The son of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was baptized a Catholic earlier this month, the Diocese of Westminster said Tuesday.

In a statement Sept. 22, the diocese said: “We can confirm that Wilfred Johnson was baptized in Westminster Cathedral on Sept. 12, 2020, in a private ceremony, attended by both parents and a small number of guests, in keeping with current (COVID-19) guidelines.”

The Daily Telegraph reported Sept. 21 that the ceremony took place in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral in central London. The baptism was reportedly conducted by Fr. Daniel Humphreys, acting administrator of Westminster Cathedral. 

The news emerged after Italian media reported incorrectly that Johnson had flown secretly to the city of Perugia Sept. 11. The prime minister’s office denied the claim, disclosing that Johnson had attended his four-month-old son’s baptism in London Sept. 12. 

Johnson himself was baptized a Catholic at the behest of his mother, Charlotte Johnson Wahl. But he was confirmed in the Church of England while studying at Eton College, effectively abandoning Catholicism for Anglicanism. 

Carrie Symonds, his fiancee and the mother of his son, Wilfred, is a Catholic who has referred to her faith on social media. 

Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson was born on April 29, 2020. Announcing her son’s birth on Instagram, Symonds said that he was named Wilfred after Johnson’s grandfather, Lawrie in honor of her grandfather, and Nicholas after Dr Nick Price and Dr Nick Hart, who saved the prime minister’s life after he was admitted to hospital with the coronavirus earlier that month.

“I couldn’t be happier. My heart is full,” she wrote.

Johnson is the first baptized Catholic to become prime minister. 

Tony Blair regularly attended Mass while serving as prime minister from 1997 to 2007, but was only received into the Catholic Church after he stepped down from office.

After centuries of persecution, the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 enabled Catholics to sit in Parliament and hold government office. But the Act said that no Catholic could advise the Crown on the appointment of Church of England bishops. As this is one of the duties of prime ministers, the Act effectively prevented a Catholic from assuming the role. 

But commentators argue that if a practicing Catholic were to be elected prime minister today, then an alternative arrangement for appointments to the established church could be found.

Stuart Reid, a Catholic who served as deputy editor of The Spectator magazine when Johnson was editor, told CNA that he thought that the prime minister would have taken the decision to baptize Wilfred seriously.  

He said: “Boris is not the most obvious Christian in Westminster, but having his child by the Catholic Carrie baptized into the Church is almost certainly not something he did in a fit of irony. He leaves irony for Downing Street. What Boris has done, it seems, is to yield to his woman, as a good man should. But there may be something more to it.”

He noted that Johnson worked alongside “fairly opinionated Catholics” when he edited The Spectator from 1999 to 2005. 

“It may be why he once commissioned a feature on the ontological argument of St. Anselm. There was no news peg (as if), but he probably thought it would amuse his staff and add droll elegance to The Spectator’s pages,” he said.

“Like most editors and their underlings, he did not like advertising features, and he once published a Luxury Goods special in the Spectator in which a former chairman of the Latin Mass Society, Michael McMahon, wrote a piece attacking the idea of laying up treasures on earth. ‘Ashes to ashes; dust to dust,’ wrote McMahon, ‘in the fullness of Time, even Rolexes rust.’” 

Referring to Johnson’s new fitness regime following his recovery from COVID-19, Reid added: “It is very difficult to understand what is going on here, but the child has been baptized and that is a good thing. It is possible that in the fullness of time even Boris will swim the Tiber. He is looking pretty trim these days.”

Amy Coney Barrett and 'building the Kingdom of God'

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 07:45 am (CNA).- Judge Amy Coney Barrett has been the subject of renewed criticism regarding her Catholic faith, following reports that she is a leading candidate for President Donald Trump’s nomination to fill the current Supreme Court vacancy.

With much criticism focused on a comment she made in 2006, CNA asked experts what it means for Catholics to "build the Kingdom of God."

In a 2006 commencement speech at Notre Dame Law School, Barrett exhorted graduates not to make their legal careers an end in and of themselves, but “a means to an end” that is part of “building the Kingdom of God." Barrett is a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and a former professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School.

During Barrett’s confirmation hearings before the judiciary committee, Senate Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) observed to Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”

The website Bustle pointed to her remarks on “building the Kingdom of God” in 2018 as an example of “why many liberals are worried about her potential nomination.” Barrett was reportedly being considered at that time to replace retiring justice Anthony Kennedy on the Court bench.

Barrett’s name is once again in consideration, as President Trump said he would announce on Saturday his nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the same line from her 2006 speech has been the focus of several media profiles.

Matthew Franck, a lecturer in politics at Princeton University and senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, told CNA on Tuesday that Barrett’s reference to the “Kingdom of God” had nothing to do with building a theocracy or proselytizing.

“Anyone who reads into this that Judge (then Professor) Barrett wants them to pursue ‘the kingdom of God’ in the sense of some political project just isn’t interested at all in what she actually said,” Franck told CNA.

The full text of Barrett’s 2006 speech aims to convey Notre Dame Law graduates are distinct.

At the beginning of her speech, Barrett asked graduates "what does it even mean to be a different kind of lawyer in the Notre Dame tradition?"

“One way” Notre Dame Law graduates could distinguish themselves is to “always keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end,” and “that end is building the kingdom of God,” Barrett said.

She advised graduates against treating their careers as ends in themselves, letting “ambition,” or “satisfaction, prestige, or money” guide their career decisions. She advised graduates to prayerfully discern job opportunities, tithe, and try to make friends with a similar faith wherever they move.

Theology professor Jacob Wood of the Franciscan University of Steubenville said that Barrett was not talking about any theocratic political project, but “was simply restating the teaching of Vatican II that the Kingdom of God is built up any time Catholics join with fellow citizens of any faith or none to work for the common good of our society.”

Such an effort, he said, “is at the heart of what it means to be a lay Catholic,” but is also “the very first thing a new justice promises to uphold when she or he takes the oath of office.”

Barrett’s comments, Wood told CNA, speak to the power of God’s grace in human affairs--and to the tragedy of Catholics in public life who do not bring their faith into the public square.

Grace, he said, “presupposes, perfects, and empowers what we do as individuals and a society, by healing all of our cultural and political endeavors from sins that make them less than human, less than fair, and less than just, and restoring them to the basic goodness that God intended for them from the beginning.”

Many Catholics, however, overlook this and are “abdicating” their vocation to holiness. 

For those who do bring their faith into the public square, he said, “politics and culture have nothing to fear from faith, and everything to gain,” as grace would empower a judge to serve “with a justice and fairness which is more powerful than ideology or political party.”

“Our nation desperately needs that justice and the peace it brings right now,” he said.

Incoming Supreme Court justices take an oath to uphold the Constitution as well as a second oath—or a combination of the two. In their oath, justices must swear to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

This pledge to uphold justice, Wood said, is also part of the call of Catholics working for the common good.

Furthermore, Wood said, those who argue that Barrett might promote some kind of theocracy or would proselytize from the bench “are often trying to distract us from the real issue at hand.”

This issue, he said, is the imposition “by judicial fiat of beliefs about human life, gender, and marriage upon our nation that are contrary to the natural moral law which is present in the heart of every person.”

“That is why some people are worried about a faithful Catholic judge like Amy Barrett: not because she would impose her religious beliefs on our nation, but because they know that she would stand up against the political pressure to impose theirs,” he said.

University of Iowa 'targeted' Christian group, lawyers argue

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- Lawyers representing a Christian group kicked off of a college campus over its religious beliefs have said they are confident after making their case in court Tuesday. They argue that the University of Iowa targeted the group Business Leaders in Christ, and violated their own policies in doing so.

“The court had tough questions for both sides, but I feel optimistic that they saw the extreme nature of the conduct by the university officials in this case,” Attorney Eric Baxter of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told CNA on Tuesday, September 22 following oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. 

Baxter is representing Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC), a group at the University of Iowa,

BLiNC hosted Christian business professionals on campus, and aims “to form future business leaders who will integrate their religious values such as integrity, service, and compassion into the workplace.” 

The group was removed from campus in 2017, when the organization posted a “statement of faith” on their website after they refused to allow an openly gay student a leadership position in the group. 

After the student filed a complaint against the group, “the university called BLinC to a meeting and said, ‘well, we really can’t tell you who to select as your leaders, but you ought to at least let students know what your beliefs are,’” Baxter explained to CNA. 

The University of Iowa did not require other groups to publish similar statements, but BLinC complied and put their statement of faith in the group’s constitution. The statement of faith upheld the Biblical definition of marriage, which the University of Iowa took as discrimination, leading to their removal from campus. BLinC filed suit against the university of Iowa following their removal.  

“The whole thing is ironic and really a ridiculous tale of how the university went out of its way to break its own rules to target this group,” said Baxter. Baxter noted that other student groups, including an LGBT-affirming business group, are permitted to require that their members or leaders adhere to a certain ideology. 

In the wake of BLinC’s lawsuit against the school, the University of Iowa placed every campus group with a religious affiliation on probation while the case was decided. 

In February 2019, the court ruled that BLinC, along with the 32 other religious groups on campus, were treated unequally by the school and must be treated the same as other student groups. 

“The Constitution does not tolerate the way [the university] chose to enforce the Human Rights Policy. Particularly when free speech is involved, the uneven application of any policy risks the most exacting standard of judicial scrutiny, which [the university] ha[s] failed to withstand,” said that ruling. 

The University of Iowa appealed that decision. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision by the end of the year. 

“These students wanted to provide a space on campus where they could support one another in their faith. And instead they've spent three and a half years fighting the university just to be treated the same as every other group on campus,” said Baxter. 

“And that's a travesty,” he added. “The University should be ashamed for treating them like second-class citizens.”

Pope Francis: Subsidiarity means everyone has a role in healing society

Vatican City, Sep 23, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Wednesday that he is worried that large pharmaceutical companies are listened to more than front-line healthcare workers in pandemic recovery and that the Catholic principle of subsidiarity is the solution.

“When a project is launched that directly or indirectly touches certain social groups, these groups cannot be left out from participating … the wisdom of the humbler groups cannot be set aside. Unfortunately, this injustice happens often in those places where huge economic and geopolitical interests are concentrated,” Pope Francis said Sept. 23.

“Let’s think of the grand financial assistance measures enacted by countries. The largest financial companies are listened to rather than the people or the ones who really move the economy,” the pope said in Vatican City’s San Damaso Courtyard.

“Or let’s think about the cure for the virus: the large pharmaceutical companies are listened to more than the healthcare workers employed on the front lines in hospitals or in refugee camps. This is not a good path. Everyone should be listened to, those who are at the top and those who are at the bottom, everyone.” 

Pope Francis explained that the principle of subsidiarity was necessary in these situations to ensure the best solutions. Subsidiarity is the idea, deeply rooted in Catholic tradition, that the authority closest to a local need is best suited to tackle the issue. It is opposed to all forms of collectivism and sets limits for state intervention. 

“To emerge better from a crisis, the principle of subsidiarity must be enacted, respecting the autonomy and the capacity to take initiative that everyone has, especially the least,” Pope Francis said.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, according to the principle of subsidiarity, “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”

The pope underscored that the wisdom and contribution of individuals, families, associations, businesses, and the Church were all needed to revitalize society. 

“The principle of subsidiarity allows everyone to assume their own role in the healing and destiny of society,” he said.

Religious freedom and freedom of expression are a critical component that allow for these voices to be heard, according to the pope.

“In some societies, many people are not free to express their own faith and their own values, their own ideas: if they express them freely, they are put in jail. Elsewhere, especially in the Western world, many people repress their own ethical or religious convictions. This is no way to emerge from the crisis, or at least to emerge from it better,” Pope Francis said.

The pope’s reflection on subsidiarity was part of his series of weekly catecheses, launched in August, on Catholic social teaching. Entitled “Healing the World,” the pope’s message at his Wednesday audiences focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic in light of Church teaching. 

In previous weeks, Francis has spoken about the importance of solidarity and the common good. This week he noted that subsidiarity and solidarity were both needed for the good of society.

“This path of solidarity needs subsidiarity,” he stressed. “In fact, there is no true solidarity without social participation, without the contribution of intermediary bodies: families, associations, cooperatives, small businesses, and other expressions of society … This type of participation helps to prevent and to correct certain negative aspects of globalization and actions of countries, just as it is happening regarding the healing of people affected by the pandemic.”

“These contributions ‘from the bottom’ should be encouraged. How beautiful it is to see the volunteers during the crisis. The volunteers come from every part of society, volunteers who come from well-off families and those who come from poorer families. But everyone, everyone together to emerge. This is solidarity and this is the principle of subsidiarity.”

Another important component of subsidiarity, the pope explained, is that those with a higher responsibility look out for the good of those without adequate resources.

“After the great economic depression of 1929, Pope Pius XI explained how important the principle of subsidiarity was,” Pope Francis said.

“On the one hand, and above all in moments of change, when single individuals, families, small associations and local communities are not capable of achieving primary objectives, it is then right that the highest levels of society, such as the state, should intervene to provide the necessary resources to progress.”

“For example, because of the coronavirus lockdown, many people, families and economic entities found themselves and still find themselves in serious trouble. Thus, public institutions are trying to help through appropriate interventions. On the other hand, however, society’s leaders must respect and promote the intermediate or lower levels.”

At the end of his general audience, which took place on a rainy morning, the pope mentioned that he would bless a bell named “The Voice of the Unborn,” commissioned by the “Sì alla Vita” foundation.

“It will accompany the events aimed at remembering the value of human life from conception to natural death,” he said, noting a desire that its sound would awaken the consciences of legislators and all people of good will.

“During the lockdown, the spontaneous gesture of applauding, applause for doctors and nurses began as a sign of encouragement and hope. … Let’s extend this applause to every member of the social body, to each and every one, for their precious contribution, no matter how small,” Pope Francis said.

“Let’s applaud the ‘castaways,’ those whom culture defines as those to be ‘thrown out,’ this throwaway culture -- that is, let’s applaud the elderly, children, persons with disability, let’s applaud workers, all those who dedicate themselves to service. Everyone collaborating to emerge from the crisis.”

More than 130 Colorado doctors, scientists support late-term abortion ban 

Denver, Colo., Sep 23, 2020 / 04:06 am (CNA).- More than 130 medical professionals and scientists in Colorado have signed a letter in support of Proposition 115, a ballot measure seeking to ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“As Healthcare professionals we are totally aware of the science of human development. The humanity of a 22-week fetus is apparent to each of us. There can be no doubt that the 22-week fetus is fully alive and fully human,” the letter reads.

Colorado currently has no laws regulating late-term abortion, either restricting the procedure or explicitly protecting it. As a result, abortions can take place up until birth.

This November, Proposition 115 will ask voters if they want to ban abortion in the state after 22 weeks of pregnancy, unless a mother’s life is threatened. If the ballot measure passes, doctors would face a three-year suspension of their license for performing or attempting to perform an abortion. Women would not be charged with seeking or obtaining an abortion.

More than 150,000 people from across Colorado signed a petition to place the initiative on the upcoming ballot.

In their letter, released last week, the 134 health care professionals and scientists outlined facts of fetal development that illustrate the humanity of an unborn baby at 22 weeks.

Babies at this age may react to their mother’s touch, experience pain, and demonstrate a preference for their mother’s voice, as well as for musical pieces to which they have been exposed. Children at this age may even exhibit social interaction with a twin in utero.

Advances in neonatal medicine mean that babies born at 22 weeks are often able to survive, the signers of the letter said. They noted that some medical centers in the U.S. have a 70% survival rate for premature babies born at this age.

A fetus can also undergo surgery, and is treated as a separate and distinct patient from the mother, the doctors and scientists noted, adding, “Therefore, they should be treated as individuals by Colorado law.”

“With advances in medical science, it has become obvious that the fetus is much more than ‘just pregnancy tissue’, as some would claim. There can be no equivocation that the fetus is a living, learning and actively participating human being,” they stressed. “Every one of these lives has inherent value and dignity. They deserve to be embraced and protected by the citizens of Colorado, as equal members of our society.”

The doctors and scientists recognized the difficulties some pregnant women face. Rather than abortion, they said, these women should be offered a robust support system, through both public and private venues. They encouraged adoption, perinatal hospice programs, and housing for pregnant women.

The signers of the letter applauded the efforts of both public and faith-based pregnancy resource centers, including the Caring Pregnancy Resource Center of Northeast Colorado, Little Flower Maternity Home, Let Them Live, Alternatives Pregnancy Center, and Marisol Health.

“We stand in solidarity with all those who work privately and publicly to support women during their pregnancies, especially those women who face difficult circumstances or challenges during their pregnancies,” they said.

Know some excellent parishes of the pandemic? There's an award for that

Denver Newsroom, Sep 23, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Scot Landry has worked for the Catholic Church for years. So he knows that diocesan and parish offices typically hear very little about what they’re doing well, and a lot about what's not going right.

“The ratio of compliments or gratitude or praise, to complaints...that ratio was in the complaint end of things, stronger than any other time of my life,” Landry told CNA, reflecting on his years working for the Archdiocese of Boston.

For years, Landry has wanted to do something to recognize parishes doing exemplary things, but it never seemed to be the right time.

This year, however, as a global pandemic shut down public Masses in many parts of the world, Landry said he watched parishes find new and creative ways to reach their flocks, and he wanted to celebrate that. That’s why Landry, in partnership with the Parish Excellence Summit and Good Catholic Leadership Group, created the first-ever Parish Excellence Awards.

“There was immediate mission-driven innovation related to continuing the parish’s sacramental and other ministries” in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Landry said in a release announcing the awards.

Catholics can nominate their parishes for excellence awards in a variety of categories, which aim to recognize things like technological excellence to parish outreach and re-opened Mass protocols. There are three “Broadcast Mass” categories alone.

“Most parishes have now turned into broadcasters,” Landry said, because of the temporary closure of public Masses throughout the United States this past spring.

Some parishes were “excellent on the technical side of things, and the broadcast is beautiful. Others were excellent at trying to maximize the number of parishioners who were watching the livestream. Others were good at solving the complexity of doing livestreams when they have a multilingual, multicultural community.”

The Parish Excellence Awards are similar to another national effort, by Mundelein Seminary, which earlier this month accepted nominations for “hero priests” of the pandemic, who went above and beyond to reach their flock in these unprecedented times.

Landry said while his idea wasn’t inspired by the “hero priest” awards, he was glad there are others who also wanted to recognize all that parishes have done for their people during this time.

“We do need to hold up people who are doing great work during the pandemic. I was glad to see that Mundelein was thinking of it,” Landry said.

Winners of the Parish Excellence Awards will be chosen by small committees of volunteers, Landry said, and will be announced at the Parish Excellence Summit, a virtual event held from Nov. 9-13. All who nominate their parish for an award will be invited to the Summit for free.

At the summit, Landry said he plans on presenting three awards each day, and showing video interviews with winners, who can give tips and pointers to other parishes wanting to model initiatives after ones that have been recognized for making a difference.

The summit will highlight the two reasons for the parish awards in the first place, Landry said, which is to recognize excellent parishes, and to pass on ideas for best practices to other parishes who are also striving for excellence.

“One of the ways to honor a parish that is innovative in a mission-driven way, is to learn from it,” Landry said. “Apply it to your own context and then help it to strengthen your own parish. We certainly hope...we wouldn't be doing this if that wasn't one of our big hopes at the end of it.”

Catholics can nominate parishes in 16 different categories through October 19.

And while the Parish Excellence Awards this year are specifically focused on innovation during the pandemic, Landry said he hopes the awards are something he can continue year after year.

“Winning people back after the pandemic, that could be a theme for next year,” he said. “As long as there’s a need to share what's working in some parishes with all the other parishes in the church, at least in the United States, we certainly have an interest in doing it.”

The medieval carpentry techniques used in Notre Dame cathedral rebuild

CNA Staff, Sep 23, 2020 / 12:00 am (CNA).- After fire toppled the iconic spire and destroyed the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France in April 2009, heated debates ensued about whether the reconstruction should use the church’s original design, or use a more modern design and technique.

Some proposed futuristic ideas included a rooftop swimming pool and a greenhouse atop the 850-year-old cathedral.

Last year, the French Senate passed a bill mandating that Notre-Dame be rebuilt as it was before the fire, with lumber and medieval carpentry techniques, which were highlighted in a public demonstration Saturday in the cathedral’s square.

“It shows…firstly that we made the right choice in choosing to rebuild the carpentry identically, in oak from France,” Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, who heads the reconstruction efforts, told the AP.

“Secondly, it shows us the...method by which we will rebuild the framework, truss after truss.”

The public carpentry demonstration was held Sept. 19 as part of European Heritage Days. The triangular truss highlighted at the event was the seventh of a total of 25 new trusses that will be installed in the nave of the cathedral during the rebuild.

Carpenters told the AP that they selected a truss with a more complex design for the event. The truss, built in July, was raised from the ground for display at the event using a pulley system. Once raised, a celebratory oak branch was tied to the top, a traditional “symbol of prosperity and a salute to the workers,” according to the AP.

“It’s a moment to see ancestral techniques that last. There is the present and the past and it links us to our roots,” Romain Greif, an architect attending the event with his family told the AP.  “It’s an event.”

The trusses will be installed in the roof of the church at a yet unknown date. French president Emmanuel Macron has said he wants the reconstruction to be completed by 2024, when Paris is set to host the Olympics.

Last year on the evening of April 15, 2019, a major fire broke out at the cathedral, destroying the roof and the spire. Shortly after midnight April 16, firefighters announced that the cathedral's main structure had been preserved from collapse.

The major religious and artistic treasures of the cathedral were removed as the fire began, including a relic of the crown of thorns.

Originally built between the twelfth through fourteenth centuries, the landmark cathedral in the French capital is one of the most recognizable churches in the world, receiving more than 12 million visitors each year.

Its original spire was constructed in the 13th century, but was replaced in the 19th century due to damage.

The cathedral was undergoing some restorative work at the time the fire broke out, though it is unknown if the fire originated in the area of the work.