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Just 'do the next thing': How one Colorado couple is raising four children with Down syndrome

The McGarrity family (L to R) Jeffrey, Augustine, Sonia, Charlotte, Jeff, RoseMarie, Cecilia, Sean, Brendan, Thomas. Photo courtesy of Patrick Sola.

Denver, Colo., May 9, 2021 / 06:01 am (CNA).

Many things in the McGarrity household start early, including preparations for Mother’s Day. Sonia McGarrity has eight children, ranging in age from three to 18, three of whom are adopted. Four kids, including McGarrity’s third oldest son and their three adopted daughters, have Down syndrome. For Mother’s Day, McGarrity has all of her children—biological and adopted—sign cards for the three birth mothers and six grandmothers of the girls. 

While McGarrity first thought about adopting a child with Down syndrome after she miscarried in her second pregnancy, the thought took a back seat when she and her husband, Jeff, welcomed sons Sean, Jeffrey, and Brendan into their home. Jeffrey was born with Down syndrome, unbeknownst to the McGarritys before his arrival. Pregnant with their fourth child, the McGarritys moved from Washington, D.C. to Colorado.

“We were extremely busy, doing therapies, trying to find and remodel a house, and were not actively discerning adopting,” Sonia McGarrity said. “But, when Brendan was about two years old, I had had two miscarriages, and we were open to having more children. One thing that struck our hearts was to learn about Down syndrome.”

In their research, the McGarritys learned about how many children were being aborted with a prenatal diagnosis. 

“I contacted the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network to ask if it was crazy to be a parent of a child with Down syndrome who also wants to adopt a child with Down syndrome,” McGarrity said. “The woman on the other end of the line said, ‘I have four children with Down syndrome,’ and I was like, ‘Ok, I guess I’m not crazy.’” 

The McGarritys began a home study in May 2010 to see where God would lead them. Shortly after finalizing their home study, they were contacted by Cecilia’s birth parents to ask if they would be open to parenting her. They agreed and Cecilia, or “CeCi,” came home to them in December of 2010. Throughout the adoption process, the McGarritys professed their Catholic faith and shared that they would be raising their children in the Church.

“Nobody understands what these beautiful souls, with their unconditional love and acceptance of every single person they meet, can do,” Sonia shared. “It’s about opening your heart to say ‘God, I want to love as much as you will give me love. We are surrounded by love and opportunities to love.”

Sonia and Jeff welcomed a fifth son, Augustine in 2011, followed by the adoption of RoseMarie in 2015 and Charlotte in 2018. RoseMarie and Charlotte both have Down syndrome. 

When asked about the possibility of adopting Charlotte, McGarrity, who was 50 at the time, said she didn’t think she had the energy to chase after a two year old. In her prayer, she told God that if he was calling them to do this, it needed to be really clear. 

“We didn’t think we could handle it, but obviously we can because she’s ours,” McGarrity said with a laugh. “There is this beautiful thing that happens when you meet your [adopted] child where you are like, ‘Oh, yeah, she’s mine.’ God knows who your children are going to be and he picks you specifically to parent them.” 

A normal day in the McGarrity household begins around 5:30 a.m. Sonia makes breakfast and lunches for the whole family and tries to get everyone out the door to one of their four respective schools by 8:30 a.m. 

“I made two loaves of french toast this morning and six pounds of bacon,” Sonia said. “My kitchen right now is an utter wreck. We wake up and the whole kitchen is clean, and getting seven children out the door for the day with lunches, it’s chaos.”

With the older children off to school, Charlotte, now two-and-a-half-years-old, has in-home therapy, and Sonia cleans up from the morning rush. Then, they head to a local food bank, where Sonia volunteers stocking shelves for a couple of hours.

In the afternoon, Sonia and Charlotte return home and get ready for the other kids to return from school. She also tries to have dinner ready by 1 p.m., for the kids to “grab and go” in the evening between various therapies, sports and music activities. Each of the children with Down syndrome have about eight hours of therapy every week. 

“I probably have about three pages of things to get done, and might get through a quarter of a page each day,” Sonia said. “I’m never caught up, but that’s where the Lord has to keep saying, ‘I’m not asking you to complete the list. I’m just asking you to do what you need to do today.’ And the most important thing I have to do every day is love my kids.”  

Though she never imagined she would have four children with Down syndrome, Sonia feels that God has blessed her family with children who are “little love machines,” she shared. 

Today, Sonia and Jeff are active in helping other parents who have a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. They invite expecting parents into their home and talk openly about the challenges and joys of parenting children with Down syndrome, as well as adoption plans. 

“Our goal has always been to say, ‘If you are a birth parent and you have a prenatal diagnosis, come and meet our family. Come and see what life is like,’” Sonia said. “Because there is this sort of unknown with a stigma attached, and what doctors are telling you, that makes it difficult to decide whether to parent or write an adoption plan.”

The McGarritys’ home study remains open, and Sonia has been active in various Facebook groups to let expectant mothers know that if they have a prenatal diagnosis and are considering an abortion, she is happy to parent their child.  

“God has called us to spread the joy of Down syndrome adoption,” she shared. 

When asked how she does it all, Sonia credits her husband, a supportive parish, great girlfriends, and good neighbors. She also makes time for frequent confession and encourages her kids to do the same.

“I have a wonderful husband,” she said about Jeff, who works as the director of music for St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial, Colorado. “Everybody who knows us says we make a great team. Our new thing is that every morning when he wakes up, he comes downstairs, gives me a big hug, and he says, ‘Are you ready to do it again today?’ It reminds me that whatever comes our way, we can tackle it, we can take it, and I’m not alone.”

The family ends each day with Compline from the Liturgy of the Hours, singing the Marian antiphon and praying for forgiveness for whatever is on their hearts. 

“Number one, I remind myself every day that we live in the ‘valley of tears,’ but this is not our home,” Sonia said. 

“My only job is to get myself and my kids to heaven. I just do the next thing.”

Rosario Livatino beatified in Sicily, honored as ‘martyr of justice and faith’

Rosario Livatino.

Rome Newsroom, May 9, 2021 / 05:40 am (CNA).

Blessed Rosario Livatino, a Catholic judge brutally killed by the mafia in 1990, was beatified Sunday in the Cathedral of Agrigento, Sicily.

Pope Francis commended the beatification of the young judge, calling him a “martyr of justice and faith” at the end of his Regina Caeli address on May 9.

“In his service to the community as an upright judge, he never allowed himself to be corrupted. He strove to judge, not to condemn, but to redeem,” Pope Francis said from the window of the Apostolic Palace.

“He always placed his work ‘under the protection of God;’ for this he became a witness of the Gospel until his heroic death. May his example be for everyone, especially magistrates, an incentive to be loyal defenders of the law and liberty,” he said.

The beatification of Rosario Livatino at the Cathedral of Agrigento / Vatican Media/ACI Group
The beatification of Rosario Livatino at the Cathedral of Agrigento / Vatican Media/ACI Group

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect for the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, offered the beatification Mass in the Cathedral of Agrigento on the morning of May 9.

“Livatino is a witness of the justice of the Kingdom of God. While Livatino is a hero of the State and of the law, he is also a martyr of Christ,” Semeraro said in his homily.

A relic of Livatino, a shirt stained with his dried blood from the day of his murder, was venerated at the Mass in a transparent reliquary.

Cardinal Semeraro read out the beatification declaration from the pope: “We grant Venerable Rosario Livatino, lay person and martyr who was a credible witness of the Gospel in the service of justice, can henceforth be called blessed.” His feast day will be Oct. 29.

A relic of Rosario Livatino's shirt stained with his blood. / Vatican Media/ ACI Group
A relic of Rosario Livatino's shirt stained with his blood. / Vatican Media/ ACI Group

Livatino worked as a prosecutor in Sicily dealing with the criminal activity of the mafia throughout the 1980s. He confronted what Italians later called the “Tangentopoli,” the corrupt system of mafia bribes and kickbacks given for public works contracts.

At the age of 37, he served as a judge at the Court of Agrigento.

He was driving unescorted toward the Agrigento courthouse when another car hit his vehicle, sending him off the road. He ran from the crashed vehicle into a field, but was shot in the back and then killed with more gunshots.

Today a plaque on the highway marks the spot where Livatino was killed. It reads: “Martyr of justice.” On Dec. 21, Pope Francis elevated this title when he recognized the judge as a martyr killed “in hatred of the faith.”

His legal legacy lives on through the work of the Rosario Livatino Study Center, which is dedicated to issues of life, the family, and religious freedom.

After a controversy erupted earlier this year over the translation of Livatino’s relics from his hometown to the Cathedral of Agrigento, it was announced Feb. 19 that the martyred judge’s body would remain in the town of Canicattì, about 25 miles northeast of Agrigento.

Livatino is buried in the chapel of the Canicattì cemetery, a town of about 35,000 people and his birthplace.

Pope Francis wrote a preface to a book about Rosario Livatino published in March in which he reflected on the lessons of Rosario Livatino’s life and death.

The pope recalled that the judge was shot dead by young men paid by two Sicilian organized crime groups, the Stidda and Cosa Nostra.

He said that Livatino’s last words were: “Picciotti [young mafiosi], what did I do to you?”

Pope Francis said: “To Rosario Angelo Livatino, today also through his beatification, we give thanks for the example he leaves us, for having fought every day the good fight of faith with humility, meekness and mercy."

Livatino did everything “always and only in the name of Christ, without ever abandoning faith and justice, even in the imminent risk of death,” he said. “This is the seed that was planted, this is the fruit that will come.”

Mother’s Day: 12 Catholic Quotes on the Beauty of Motherhood

Mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe inside Christ Cathedral in Orange, California / Kate Veik/CNA

Washington D.C., May 9, 2021 / 04:00 am (CNA).

On Mother’s Day, Catholics recognize two important figures: our mother, and Mary, Mother of God. In celebration of all that mothers do, here are 12 quotes from saints and other Catholic figures on the beauty and significance of motherhood:

1. St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.”

2. József Cardinal Mindszenty: “The Most Important Person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honour of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral—a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body….The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature; God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation….What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this; to be a mother?”

3. Pope St. John Paul II: “Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”

4. St. Teresa Benedicta, also known as Edith Stein: “To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.”

5. The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “Motherhood then becomes a kind of priesthood. She brings God to man by preparing the flesh in which the soul will be implanted; she brings man to God in offering the child back again to the Creator….she is nature’s constant challenge to death, the bearer of cosmic plentitude, the herald of eternal realities, God’s great cooperator.”

6. St. Teresa of Calcutta: “That special power of loving that belongs to a woman is seen most clearly when she becomes a mother. Motherhood is the gift of God to women. How grateful we must be to God for this wonderful gift that brings such joy to the whole world, women and men alike!”

7. St. Zélie Guérin Martin, mother of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “Above all, during the months immediately preceding the birth of her child, the mother should keep close to God, of whom the infant she bears within her is the image, the handiwork, the gift and the child. She should be for her offspring, as it were, a temple, a sanctuary, an altar, a tabernacle. In short, her life should be, so to speak, the life of a living sacrament, a sacrament in act, burying herself in the bosom of that God who has so truly instituted it and hallowed it, so that there she may draw that energy, that enlightening, that natural and supernatural beauty which He wills, and wills precisely by her means, to impart to the child she bears and to be born of her.”

8. St. Gianna Beretta Molla: “Look at the mothers who truly love their children: how many sacrifices they make for them. They are ready for everything, even to give their own blood so that their babies grow up good, healthy, and strong.”

9. St. Augustine, son of St. Monica: “And now thou didst ‘stretch forth thy hand from above’ and didst draw up my soul out of that profound darkness [of Manicheism] because my mother, thy faithful one, wept to thee on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children….And thou didst hear her, O Lord.”

10. Alice von Hildebrand: A “woman by her very nature is maternal – for every woman, whether married or unmarried, is called upon to be a biological, psychological, or spiritual mother — she knows intuitively that to give, to nurture, to care for others, to suffer with and for them — for maternity implies suffering — is infinitely more valuable in God’s sight than to conquer nations and fly to the moon.”

11. Pope Francis: “A society without mothers would be a dehumanized society, for mothers are always, even in the worst moments, witnesses of tenderness, dedication and moral strength….Dearest mothers, thank you, thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world.” 

12. Our Lady of Guadalupe, to St. Juan Diego: “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Pope Francis, Jane Goodall speak on ‘what it means to be human’ at Vatican health conference

Pope Francis greets a child in St. Peter's Square during the general audience on April 20, 2016. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Vatican City, May 8, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis and Jane Goodall both offered perspectives on “what it means to be human” on the final day of an online Vatican health conference on Saturday.

In a video message to the virtual conference on May 8, the pope said that Saint Augustine’s words in "The Confessions" are timeless: “Man is himself a great deep."

“The Scriptures, and philosophical and theological reflection in particular, have employed the concept of ‘soul’ to define our uniqueness as human beings and the specificity of the person, which is irreducible to any other living being and includes our openness to a supernatural dimension and thus to God,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said that “this openness to the transcendent” is fundamental and “bears witness to the infinite value of every human person.”

Anthropologist Jane Goodall, famed for her work with chimpanzees, also spoke at the Vatican conference on “mind, body, and soul,” giving a talk entitled “What does it Mean to be Human?”

“I think where we fit in into the picture of primates is we are the fifth great ape, and our closest relative among the other great apes... Well, there's two of them, actually, the chimpanzee and the bonobo. We differ from each other genetically by only just over 1%,” Goodall said.

She offered examples of how chimpanzees can be taught sign language, use the computer, and make drawings. During evolution, she said, humans learned to communicate with words, language, and writing that enables people to be distinguished by their ability to make plans for the future and invent rockets.

“But then when you realize how like us chimpanzees are, and yet how we differ with this explosive development of the intellect, this development of the intellect has not given us a reason to label ourselves as Homo sapiens, the wise ape. We're not wise. We've seen what Mars looks like. We don't want to live there. We've only got this one planet, at least in our lifetimes, and we're destroying it,” Goodall said.

“All the major religions share the golden rule, do to others as you would have them do to you. If we can apply that to animals, as well as to each other, then I think we shall be coming closer to being able to define ourselves as Homo sapiens,” she added.

The Vatican health conference taking place May 6-8 on “Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” has featured more than 100 speakers including Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, as well as Clinton Foundation vice chair Chelsea Clinton and New Age guru Deepak Chopra.

It is the fifth conference of its kind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation, which describes itself as a “nonsectarian, nonpartisan” group “with a mission to improve human health globally.” This year is the first time that the conference is taking place virtually.

“I am pleased that students from various universities throughout the world, Catholic and non-Catholic, are taking part in this event. I encourage you to undertake and pursue interdisciplinary research involving various centers of study, for the sake of a better understanding of ourselves and of our human nature, with all its limits and possibilities, while always keeping in mind the transcendent horizon to which our being tends,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said that when interdisciplinary research is applied to the medical sciences it “translates into more sophisticated research and increasingly suitable and exact strategies of care.”

“We need but think of the vast field of research in genetics, aimed at curing a variety of diseases. Yet this progress has also raised a number of anthropological and ethical issues, such as those dealing with the manipulation of the human genome aimed at controlling or even overcoming the aging process, or at achieving human enhancement,” he said.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin also addressed the conference via video message on May 8.

The cardinal said that human beings are distinguished from animals by rationality, “a high degree of self-understanding” and reflection on others and the universe.

“Another unique feature is the moral conscience that allows us to act by distinguishing between what is good and what is bad. This fundamental reference causes us to ask ourselves ethical questions about our actions, about society, about the use of the tools that we develop and make socially usable,” Parolin said.

“A strong moral sense pushes us to denounce and take actions that put an end to injustices through philanthropic and solidarity actions that counteract the manifestations of evil.”

He also noted that humans are capable of contemplating beauty and artistic expression in many different forms, as well as possessing “the openness to the transcendent horizon which in the lives of many of us leads to religious experience, but which also prompts us to question ourselves about the ultimate questions.”

“The ancient thinkers encapsulated this specificity and uniqueness of the human being in a single term, humanitas, which from Cicero onwards became the category with which to indicate the objective principle of a complex system of exquisitely human moral values,” Parolin said.

“Now, this day seals the three days full of content, and is also the final moment of a complex itinerary of reflection. However, it is also an openness to a constant search for human natures conducted by the philosophers and men of culture of the past. My wish is, therefore, to continue to deepening the mystery of our being with enthusiasm and determination, to discover and be fascinated by what makes us truly human," he said.

Pope Francis calls for suspension of Covid-19 vaccine patents in ‘Vax Live’ concert video

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 22, 2016. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

Vatican City, May 8, 2021 / 06:40 am (CNA).

Pope Francis called for the "temporary suspension of intellectual property rights" for COVID-19 vaccines in his video message to the "Vax Live" concert co-chaired by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

“The coronavirus has produced death and suffering, affecting the lives of everyone, especially the most vulnerable,” Pope Francis said in his message to the concert, which will be broadcast on May 8.

“I beg you not to forget the most vulnerable,” the pope said.

More than 20,000 vaccinated people filled a stadium at “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World,” which was pre-taped on May 2 in Los Angeles.

The concert was organized by Global Citizen, an advocacy organization founded in Australia in 2008 focused on poverty reduction, with support from the Coca-Cola company, Delta Airlines, Verizon, Citi, Cisco, and Procter & Gamble.

Selena Gomez hosted the concert which included performances by Jennifer Lopez and the Foo Fighters, as well as appearances by David Letterman, Ben Affleck, and Chrissy Teigen.

In the pope’s video message, he said that a “sick economy” is one that “allows a very rich few, a very rich few, to own more than the rest of humanity.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the “virus of individualism” and the “virus of closed nationalism,” which he said stands in the way of the “internationalism of vaccines.”

“God the Creator instills in our hearts a new and generous spirit to abandon our individualisms and promote the common good: a spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure universal access to the vaccine and the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights; a spirit of communion that allows us to generate a different, more inclusive, fair and sustainable economic model,” he said.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden also sent a video message to the Vax Live concert, in which the president said that the United States is “working with leaders around the world to share more vaccines.”

Pope Francis recorded his video message in Spanish. It was played on a large projection screen at the concert. The pope said: “Dear young people in age and spirit: Receive a cordial greeting from this old man, who does not dance or sing like you do, but who believes with you that injustice and evil are not invincible.”

“God, physician and savior of all, comfort the suffering, welcome into his kingdom those who have already departed,” he said.

“And I also ask this God for us, pilgrims on earth, to grant us the gift of a new brotherhood, a universal solidarity, that we can recognize the good and the beauty that he sowed in each one of us, to strengthen bonds of unity, of common projects, of shared hopes.”

Catholic Charities Arlington sees growing interest in adoption 

Motortion Films/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 8, 2021 / 05:00 am (CNA).

A spokesperson for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington says the organization has seen a growing interest from prospective adoptive parents.

Meaghan Lane, program director of pregnancy & adoption support at Catholic Charities Diocese of the Diocese of Arlington, told EWTN News In Depth in an interview that the organization has seen “a dramatic jump” in applications to adopt.

Lane said she sees a few reasons for this increase. She said that families have re-examined their priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that families who have adopted through the program have told others of their experience. 

“All of us in one way or another started to evaluate where we are in life, we’ve had time to stop and reflect,” Lane said of the pandemic. “I do think that families who were thinking about adoption stopped to say ‘hey, let’s go ahead and move on this.’”

Lane cautioned that Catholic Charities does have discussions with prospective adoptive families about whether they’ll still be open to the adoption process once their lives return to “normal.”

“All of our families have done really well with that,” she said. 

Lane said she believes her program’s growth can also be attributed to its holistic approach. 

“We have taken such an emphasis on the importance of how our work is done, that I believe people want to work with us more and more because they hear about that,” Lane said. 

“My program is ‘Pregnancy and Adoption Support’ and that ‘pregnancy’ component isn’t just a word in the title, we are providing pregnancy support to women who are considering adoption, and women who are not considering adoption,” she said. “I think that’s something unique to what we’re able to provide.” 

The interview with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington aired on EWTN News In Depth on Friday night. 

 

Arizona bishops praise new hospital clergy visitation law

muss/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 7, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Arizona’s five bishops expressed their gratitude at a new law forbidding hospitals from unduly restricting clergy visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“During the pandemic, too many people have died without the spiritual assistance or sacraments desired at the end of their lives,” said the May 5 letter, which was signed by Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson; Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix; Bishop Eduardo Nevares, auxiliary bishop of Phoenix; Bishop James Wall of Gallup; and Bishop John Pazak, of the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix. 

“Even now, there remain places where clergy are not able to have in-person visits that are requested by dying patients,” said the bishops. 

The legislation, HB 2575, was introduced by state Rep. Quang Nguyen (R-Prescott Valley). It amends Arizona law to say that if a hospital is allowing in-person visits of any kind, “the hospital must facilitate the ability of clergy to visit the patient in person for religious purposes.” 

The law states that clergy must follow “reasonable health and safety precautions,” and that if in-person visits are suspended, “the hospital must facilitate a virtual clergy visit using communication technology.” 

HB 2575 was passed on May 5 and signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) the same day.

Arizona’s law comes after many hospital systems enacted strict visitation policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In December 2020, the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services resolved an allegation of religious discrimination in New York after a Jewish man was denied access to a rabbi and kosher food.

Access to clergy resulted in the office resolving several complaints during the pandemic. Earlier in 2020, the office resolved complaints in Virginia and Maryland that resulted in hospital systems changing their visitation policies to allow for clerical visits. 

In one of those cases, the Diocese of Arlington intervened on behalf of a dying Catholic COVID patient who was denied access to a priest because of hospital visitation policies. The OCR worked with the hospital to allow a priest inside to visit the patient before death.

The bishops said they were “extremely grateful” for the work of healthcare providers during the course of the pandemic, as “patients typically need both great care for their bodies as well as for their souls.” 

“This new law is simple legislation that will allow clergy of all faiths to have in-person visitation in hospitals when requested by a patient and it is safe for any other visitor,” they said. “By providing this spiritual care, it will give great benefit and comfort to both dying patients and their families.”

Vatican Conference 2021: Chelsea Clinton, Francis Collins speak on second day

Chelsea Clinton. / Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0).

CNA Staff, May 7, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

On the second day of an online Vatican conference on “exploring the mind, body, and soul,” Chelsea Clinton called for the regulation of “anti-vaccine content” on social media.

She made the appeal during a May 7 discussion on building a more equitable health system in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The daughter of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began by thanking the Vatican for convening the virtual meeting.

Clinton, the 41-year-old vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, reflected on why a significant number of people are not taking up the COVID-19 vaccine. She distinguished between “vaccine hesitancy” and “vaccine refusal.”

“We just have to be cognizant that there are very different reasons why people may say ‘not now’ or ‘not ever,’” she said.

Clinton explained that the Clinton Foundation was seeking to reach both those who are reluctant to receive the vaccine and those who refuse it outright through “trusted messengers.”

She said: “We’ve done work with a number of different religious communities, including some of our Catholic partners, to really help ensure that whoever is able to have a conversation is able to preempt or to answer whatever questions people may have, and even for those who are currently in the refusing group to get a message like: ‘The vaccines are waiting for you, and the vaccinators will be too, whenever you are comfortable. And we are going to keep reaching out to try to help you get comfortable.’”

Clinton, a Methodist and a supporter of legal abortion, was speaking at a three-day international conference on “Exploring the Mind, Body & Soul: How Innovation and Novel Delivery Systems Improve Human Health,” taking place virtually May 6-8.

It is the fifth conference of its kind organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation, which describes itself as a “nonsectarian, nonpartisan” group “with a mission to improve human health globally.”

Emphasizing that she was speaking on her own behalf, rather than for the organizations she represents, Clinton called for international regulation of social media content on vaccines.

She said: “I personally very strongly believe there has to be more intensive and intentional and coordinated global regulation of the content on social media platforms.”

“We know that the most popular video across all of Latin America for the last few weeks, that now has tens of millions of views, is just an anti-vaccine, anti-science screed that YouTube has just refused to take down.”

“We know that often anti-vaccine content that is created in the United States, unfortunately, kind of flourishes across the world, through the pathways of WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram...”

“And we know that -- because I have tried -- appealing to the leadership of these companies to do the right thing has just not worked, and so we need regulation.”

Speaking earlier on the second day, Dr. Francis Collins suggested that the coronavirus pandemic should be seen as both a medical and a spiritual crisis.

Collins, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, said that the medical crisis was obvious in terms of the number of people who have contracted the virus and died from it.

“But it has also disrupted us spiritually,” he said, “it has caused great amounts of struggle, in terms of mental health, anxiety, depression, even a sense of PTSD, from people who have gone through this over and over again.”

Speaking from his home office, where he said he had been living like a “hermit,” Collins said that while science seemed to provide the best hope for a way out of the pandemic, it could not answer people’s deepest questions about the meaning of suffering.

He said: “The hope that we might want to offer now comes in many ways from science, and it’s something that I’m immersed in every day: the development of these vaccines coming forward at extraordinary speed, with unexpectedly, remarkably high efficacy and safety -- an answer to prayer, one might even say.”

“But also the other struggles that people are having which vaccines alone are not going to deal with… The sense of hopelessness that many have experienced, of fear, that is where I think faith is a much better solution, perhaps, than many have given it credit for.”

Collins, an evangelical Christian who was once an atheist, has overseen the NIH’s collaboration with pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

He noted that he had experienced difficult moments as he watched the virus spread around the world, but had found solace in the Bible.

He said: “I’ve had my own times over these 15 months of feeling frustrated, maybe even a little hopeless, that this virus continued to win the battles that we were losing. And I could not help but ask God: ‘Why is this happening? Is there not something that you can do about it?’”

“But as I read through the pages of that book of God’s words, of the Bible, I found myself settling into the Psalms a lot. Because if you think that our times and struggle are novel, well, go and read the Psalms and you’ll see what David and the other writers of those hymns were dealing with also.”

“And I continually come back to them and particularly to Psalms like Psalm 46, which seems to have been written for this era. Psalm 46 begins, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Trouble. We’ve had trouble. We’re still having trouble. But this is this promise that God is aware of that and with us, and as a refuge and a strength.”

Collins, who won the $1.3 million Templeton Prize last year, continued: “So I’m glad for the vaccines. I’m glad for the remarkable advances in diagnostic technologies to figure out where this virus is and who’s been infected, and I’m glad for the therapeutic advances that are happening.”

“But I’m also glad that I have this promise of a God who understands suffering, died on a cross in a suffering experience that none of us can even imagine, and who is our refuge and strength and our ever-present help in trouble.”

Another speaker on day two was Brandon Marshall, who played 13 seasons in the NFL, who reflected on his struggle with borderline personality disorder and described his efforts to help people at risk of suicide.

In his remarks at the start of the conference on May 6, Pontifical Council president Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said that the conference was organized around three themes, which he described as three stars that light up the sky: the body, the soul, and the mind.

He added that the conference would involve dialogue with different experts and people on these themes and that people’s visions on the issues would differ.

Speakers on the event’s first day included Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, and New Age guru Deepak Chopra.

The Vatican health conference also features the CEOs of large pharmaceutical companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, along with celebrities active in medical philanthropy, global health advocates, policymakers, physicians, and religious leaders.

The conference’s website lists more than 100 speakers, including Kerry Kennedy, Cindy Crawford, Joe Perry of the rock band Aerosmith, and Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, prefect emeritus of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications.

On Saturday, the conference’s final day, there will be a “private virtual audience” for participants with Pope Francis.

House Republicans could have a new conference chair next week - is she pro-life? 

Current House GOP conference chair Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo,) at an April 2019 pro-life press conference. Cheney is expected to be replaced in her role by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). / Jerome460/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 7, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Top House Republicans moved this week to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as head of the GOP conference, and are likely to replace her with the Trump-backed Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). 

Stefanik, in her fourth term representing upstate New York’s 21st district, could have an influential role as the third-ranking Republican in the House, especially if the party takes control of the chamber following the 2022 elections. Her ascendancy could also raise questions about her record on life and religious freedom issues. 

One pro-life leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity as Stefanik has yet to enter her anticipated role, told CNA that Stefanik “has not been a leader” in the pro-life cause, adding “hopefully that will change.” 

Cheney in January voted to impeach former President Donald Trump on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. She initially held on to her leadership role after a vote in February, where some House Republicans sought to remove her for her impeachment support. 

However, Cheney is not expected to remain in her role after a vote that will likely take place next week. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), have both backed Stefanik as a replacement for Cheney, as has Trump. 

"Liz Cheney is a warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership," Trump said in a statement this week. "Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!"

In a tweet thanking Trump for his endorsement, Stefanik wrote, “We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!”

Though she is allied with Trump politically, on matters of policy, Stefanik is less conservative than Cheney according to scorecards from some conservative and pro-life groups. 

According to the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, for instance, Cheney has an “A+” rating from the group, while Stefanik has a “B” on her scorecard.

The group cited Stefanik’s support for the Equality Act of 2019, which some pro-life leaders have warned could create a “right” to an abortion. 

Although Stefanik voted for the Equality Act of 2019, she did not vote for the 2021 version. Opponents of the bill--which would have redefined discrimination on the basis of “sex” to include “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition”--expressed concern that language could be interpreted to include abortion. 

The act, known for its extending civil rights protections to sexual orientation and gender identity as classes, has also been criticized by Catholic leaders for establishing broad protections for the redefinition of marriage and transgenderism, without sufficient religious freedom protections. 

Stefanik also voted for an appropriations bill that would have overturned the Trump administration’s expansion of the Mexico City Policy. The policy barred funding of international pro-abortion groups in U.S. global health assistance, and was later reversed by President Joe Biden. Although Stefanik voted for the bill on its final passage, she did support an earlier unsuccessful attempt to restore the pro-life policy to the legislation.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the lobbying arm of the nation’s largest abortion provider, gave Stefanik a 17% on its congressional scorecard, citing her support of the Equality Act and her voting in opposition to the Pregnant Women Health and Safety Act of 2015; that bill would have allowed states to exclude abortion providers from state Medicaid programs. 

Cheney, meanwhile, has a 0% rating from Planned Parenthood Action.

Stefanik has also not yet joined a major House pro-life initiative this Congress: signing the discharge petition for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The act would require that babies surviving abortion attempts be given the requisite care that any newborn at that age would receive. 

The petition, if it received a majority of signatures in the House (218), would force consideration of the legislation by the entire chamber, putting all members on the record of supporting or opposing the bill. 

So far, 209 members - including seven members of New York’s delegation - have signed the petition. Stefanik has not. 

In 2015, Stefanik was reportedly among a group of Republican female members who dissuaded party leadership from voting on a major pro-life bill on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

House GOP leaders had planned a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on Jan. 22, a bill which would ban abortions once an unborn child is determined to feel pain – around 20 weeks into pregnancy. The proposed bill contained exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at stake, but required rape victims to report the rape to law enforcement. That requirement reportedly received some opposition among House Republicans.

Stefanik voted for a “Pain-Capable” bill later in May 2015, and again in 2017.

Stefank has a lifetime score of 48% from Heritage Action for America, while Cheney has an 80% lifetime score from that group.

Cheney has refused to back down from criticizing Trump’s attempts to cast the 2020 election as illegitimate. McCarthy was caught on hot mic by Axios earlier this week saying “I've had it with her.”

Cheney appeared to accept her likely ouster in an opinion piece for the Washington Post published Wednesday, where she wrote that the Republican Party “is at a turning point.”

“Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” Cheney wrote, adding, “History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”

Milwaukee archdiocese sues over pandemic prison ministry prohibition

Credit: Kate Ter Haar via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Milwaukee, Wis., May 7, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

On Friday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections after the agency refused to adjust a policy that prevents in-person clergy visits to correctional facilities. 

“Visiting prisoners is a corporal work of mercy and follows the teachings of Jesus to visit those in prison,” Sandra Peterson, communication director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said May 7. “However, our clergy and chaplains have not been able to perform this important work for more than a year, which means prisoners have been denied access to the sacraments that are crucial to our Catholic faith.”

The lawsuit alleges that the visitor policy adopted March 13, 2020 in response to COVID-19 violates the right of the archdiocese and its clerics to minister to the religious needs of prisoners. The policy—which permits visits by Department of Corrections employees, such as teachers, social workers and psychologists, as well as attorneys—does not allow inmates to attend in-person religious services led by a volunteer minister, or to receive a sacrament administered by a volunteer minister. 

Inmates are also prevented from meeting one-on-one with a volunteer minister for counseling under the policy.

The policy “contains no exceptions for visits by priests who, for example, are vaccinated and/or can comply with health and safety protocols designed to prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” the suit notes. Thus for more than a year, priests have been unable “to administer sacraments that cannot be administered virtually such as the Eucharist, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick” to inmates.

“The Wisconsin Department of Corrections was warned it is violating the law by prohibiting inmates from meeting in-person with volunteer priests and other religious ministers. It is simply not permitted to indefinitely suspend constitutional and statutory rights to the free exercise of religion,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Anthony LoCoco in a release. 

The suit maintains that the DOC policy violates both state statute and the state constitutional guarantee to the free exercise of religion. Wisconsin statute says that “members of the clergy of all religious faiths shall have an opportunity, at least once each week, to conduct religious services within the state correctional institutions”, and that “every inmate shall receive, upon request, religious ministration and sacraments according to the inmate's faith”.

WILL filed a letter April 1 to demand the Department of Corrections reassess its policy by April 8. The DOC declined to update its policy. The lawsuit was filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court.