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Dominican priest, microbiologist sees hope for possible coronavirus treatment

Manila, Philippines, Apr 1, 2020 / 09:35 pm (CNA).- In a recent blog post Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., S.T.D, Ph.D., said he sees reason to hope that the drug hydroxychloroquine could be used to treat the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Austriaco is a professor of biology and theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He is currently on lockdown in the Philippines with his mother during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a molecular biologist, what is so exciting for me about this claim is that the clinical trial in France was pretty good, given the extreme circumstances,” Austriaco wrote.

“Yes, it was a small trial, but if you read the paper, it was rigorous for what it wanted to do, which is to be a pilot study. And it showed that HCQ significantly shortened the time for the patient to clear (the) virus from his or her system.”

Another independent study from a lab in China has shown that HCQ “can prevent viral reproduction in a test tube,” Austriaco added, which is said is hopeful from a microbiology perspective.

In an email to CNA, Fr. Austriaco noted that both HCQ and a related drug, CQ, have been used in humans to treat malaria “all over the world, including here in the Philippines.”

“They have also been used to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus. So we know that they are safe for most people,” he said. However, he added, the prescription drugs “should only be taken under the supervision of a physician...because for some people, they can trigger harmful heart conditions.”

While the FDA has approved HCQ for human use for certain diseases, Austriaco noted that it has not yet approved HCQ for use in the treatment of COVID-19, except for in very limited circumstances.

However, “if the ongoing clinical trial by WHO called SOLIDARITY shows that HCQ and CQ are effective in treating COVID-19, then the FDA will approve them for that use,” Austriaco told CNA.

In his blog post, Austriaco noted that he was also hopeful about HCQ because it is “very cheap and readily available: With a prescription, I could walk down the street to a Filipino pharmacy to buy a 200mg pill for PHP85 (which is the equivalent of $1.30). I know that they have it because I checked online. And this is in a random pharmacy in Manila! According to the study, taking three of these pills every day for six days would rid you of SARS-CoV2. And the side-effects for short-term use of HCQ are minimal. This for about $30.”


As for the possibility of a vaccine for coronavirus, Austriaco told CNA that vaccines “usually take 12-18 months to develop though we have accelerated development for the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“(T)he vaccine should hopefully be a one shot deal,” he added, as this coronavirus does not seem to mutate as quickly as the flu does, thus necessitating yearly vaccinations.

In his post, Austriaco wrote that on the whole, he is “optimistic” about the possible use of HCQ to treat coronavirus.

“Yes, there is minimal evidence but that is not unexpected in a pandemic. But the minimal evidence is actually pretty solid, given the practical limits of doing clinical trials in a global crisis,” he said.


“Yet, when both in vitro and in vivo studies converge, that is an optimistic sign. Especially when you have a mechanism of action that is reasonable and is in line with what we know about viral reproduction,” he added. “...I am going to pray that this will bear much fruit!”

“My primary hope is that we are utilizing the global power of human ingenuity and tenacity to fight this pandemic,” he added to CNA. “With God’s grace, we will prevail.”

 

Pro-life leaders: N Ireland legal abortion thwarts protection for vulnerable

CNA Staff, Apr 1, 2020 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- As the British Parliament's permissive abortion law takes effect in Northern Ireland, pro-life leaders strongly criticized the law, pointing to the coronavirus response as proof of the need to protect the lives of the most vulnerable.

“Every unborn baby matters regardless of age or ability, gender or background. He or she has the right to be protected in a community where everyone belongs and deserves our respect,” the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland said March 31. “Every woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy matters too. She has a right to be cared for within a community where she is protected from any pressure to abort her baby.”

“As the number of deaths caused by Coronavirus continues to rise, news reporters frequently remind us that behind the statistics are real people. Their lives matter regardless of age or ability, gender or background,” said the bishops, noting the heavy government investment in treating patients and protecting medical staff.

“Against this background, we are saddened and dismayed at the Government’s decision to introduce extreme regulations for the delivery of abortion services in Northern Ireland,” they said, citing an “overwhelming will” among the people of the region to “protect the life of every human being.'

Previously, Northern Ireland’s laws only permitted abortion in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, or where there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. Backers of the law said it had saved over 100,000 lives by avoiding the permissive law that took effect in other parts of the United Kingdom in 1967.

The new law and accompanying regulations took effect March 31. They mean no explicit legal protections for unborn children up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, compared to legal abortion allowed up to 24 weeks in other parts of the U.K. In some respects the law is more permissive than the rest of the U.K.

Doctors, registered nurses, and registered midwives may perform abortions under the rules. In situations where pregnancy is believed to risk a woman's physical or mental health, abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. There is no time limit where the pregnancy is deemed a risk to the life of the mother or in cases where the unborn child is deemed to have a fatal abnormality or a substantial risk of severe mental or physical impairment.

The Northern Ireland pro-life group Precious Life has focused on the responses to the government's late 2019 consultation on the new abortion law. About 79% of respondents voiced opposition to any abortion in Northern Ireland.

Bernadette Smyth, director of Precious Life, said, “thousands of pro-life people throughout Northern Ireland responded in total opposition to a change in the law.”

“Yet, we have seen this week, that the U.K. Government are willing to ignore the results of its own consultation because they are so bloodthirsty and devoted to destroying and killing human lives through abortion in Northern Ireland, even at a time of unprecedented national crisis,” Smyth continued. “People are outraged, upset and hugely frustrated that their democratic voice has been ignored.”

“It is horrifying to learn that one of the most permissive, extreme and inhumane abortion regimes in Europe will be introduced to Northern Ireland by the British Government,” she said. “This is in spite of the fact that our elected representatives returned to Stormont in January and at a time when the U.K. has been brought to its knees by the Coronavirus pandemic.”

“And right in the middle of a national crisis, when people in Northern Ireland and across the world are uniting under the shared understanding that all human life is precious and must be protected, the British Government are still intent on killing and destroying innocent and vulnerable human life in Northern Ireland,” she said.

The Catholic bishops too said the consultation process had been “utterly ignored.”

While Precious Life is circulating petitions asking legislators to repeal the abortion provisions, the bishops said members of the Northern Ireland assembly have some influence. However, their remarks suggested repeal would be very difficult.

Politicians and others opposed to the regulations should not “meekly acquiesce to their promulgation,” they said. Where the regulations exceed the 2019 Act of Parliament, legislators can repeal them.

The traditionally Protestant and pro-U.K. Democratic Unionist Party also criticized the new abortion law.

Paul Givan, DUP Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly said they were “the most extreme, radical, abortion laws anywhere in Europe.”

“It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen,” he said, objecting that the laws were introduced despite the return of devolved government to Stormont.

While abortion is typically a devolved issue of local control, the British Parliament legislation was passed during an absence of a local government. The parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly could have blocked the law from taking effect, but failed to reach any governing agreement due to a dispute between the two leading governing parties, the DUP and the second-largest party, the nationalist Sinn Fein. The nationalist Social Democratic Labour Party also walked out of a final critical meeting.

Besides the Catholic bishops, leaders in the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches had called on the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene to block the abortion legislation.

The nationalist parties traditionally draw support from Northern Ireland's Catholics. Sinn Fein has turned towards backing legal abortion, while some SDLP leaders have made comments welcoming the changes.

Caoimhe Archibald, a Sinn Féin MLA, said it was “only right and proper that woman can access abortion services without having to travel, that they are free to be able to have healthcare in a modern and compassionate way”.

Among the nationalist critics of the new regime is Peadar Tóibín, leader of the new political party Aontú.

“The right to life is a human right. It is the most important human right that anyone of us have. With out the right to life no other human right can be guaranteed,” he said April 1.

“The current crisis has seen society radically change its behavior, to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. This is something that we in Aontú have always understood,” he said. Sometimes we all have to limit our personal choice and autonomy to protect the lives of others. The slogan 'my body, my choice' rings particularly hollow now when we realize that in reality we are all in this together.”

Tóibín cited the Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast's statement in response to the coronavirus pandemic that “Every Life Matters.”

“The hypocrisy is breathtaking,” he said. “The abortion law that Sinn Féin helped introduce will directly end thousands of live.”

Tóibín was deputy whip of Sinn Fein's delegation to the Republic of Ireland legislative body known as the Dail, and still holds a seat in that body. However, he was pushed out from the party over his support for the unborn and opposition to legal abortion. Like the nationalist party Sinn Fein, Aontú competes in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.

He charged that the Westminster-based Parliament, Sinn Féin and the SDLP leadership had “forced abortion on demand into the north of Ireland against the wishes of the people.”

“I say forced, because every opinion poll in the north stated that the majority of men and women sought that the issue of abortion would be decided, not in London but in the north of Ireland. It was not just public opinion that held this view. Legally it was a devolved matter. It was for the elected representatives of the north to decide,” he said.

He objected that Sinn Féin had rejected its nationalist stand against British legislation in Ireland and had instead “openly lobbied for Westminster to legislate for abortion on demand in the north.”

“For the first time in 200 years of republicanism, its leadership went cap in hand to London and demanded that it legislate for Ireland over the heads and against the will of the people,” he charged.

Across all Ireland, pro-life advocates have voiced concern about possible changes to government policy to allow at-home abortions using abortion pills during the coronavirus pandemic.

Pressure to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland increased after a 2018 referendum effectively legalized abortion in the Republic of Ireland by a vote of over 66% in favor of removing constitutional protections recognizing the unborn baby's right to life as equal to the mother's.

The new law also requires the recognition of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Nautical ministry helps abused Filipino sailors amid coronavirus

Glasgow, Scotland, Apr 1, 2020 / 05:33 pm (CNA).- Last year, a maritime charity rescued a group of migrant workers from an abusive situation aboard a fishing vessel in Scotland. The men recently returned home, but the non-profit continues to provide aid in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Filipino crew worked upon Serenity, a ship owned by a Scottish fishing company, which hires a large portion of migrant workers from countries like the Philippines. The men were believed to be harassed for their nationality.

Apostleship of the Sea, or Stella Maris, helped remove the five Filipino crew members from the ship, assisted them with a safe house in Glasgow, and provided them with spiritual support. The abused sailors had been in their contracts between two and five months before they were removed from the boat in August 2019.

Skipper Gordon Hadden verbally harassed and discriminated against these members. The skipper admitted to striking one of the men, placing him in a headlock, and pushing him against the railings of the ship. He was fined £2,000 for harassment and an additional £1,000 for the assault.

The men then reached out to Stella Maris and were soon put in contact with Joe O’Donnell, a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Glasgow and a port chaplain for Stella Maris.

Martin Foley, the charity’s chief executive officer and European regional coordinator, told CNA that while the case was investigated by the police the men were visited regularly by O’Donnell for spiritual support.

“Our colleagues at the Fishermen’s Mission advised the men to disembark from the boat for their own safety and from there, the police were called and the guys were moved to a hotel and then transferred to a safe house in Glasgow and that’s when Deacon Joe got involved,” he said.

“Deacon Joe visited the men on a regular basis, praying with them, transporting them to Mass, organising excursions and generally providing as much hospitality as possible.”

The organization also administered financial assistance to the men’s families in the Philippines. Foley said, although the men had been rescued from an abusive situation, they were prohibited from accessing other work while the case was under investigation.

“One of the injustices of their situation was that they were legally barred from working whilst their case was being investigated. Yet the only reason they travelled to the UK in the first place was to work,” he said.

According to the Scottish Catholic Observer, one of the Filipino crewmen, who asked to remain anonymous, described the situation as very difficult but said “it would have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the support and assistance from Stella Maris.” He said the organization treated them like family.

“Deacon Joe has been there for each of us every step of the way … He made sure we were alright and has always been in touch to help with our worries,” he said.

“One of the highlights came when he arranged for Bishop John Keenan of Paisley to come and visit us. We would love to return to Scotland one day, and Stella Maris will always have a place in our hearts.”

After eight months in Scotland, the men have recently returned home, but they are now placed under quarantine.

Foley said the charity has a particularly important role to play during the coronavirus outbreak and emphasized difficulties faced by seafarers at this time. He said there have been numerous reports of sailors who have been denied shore leave and been confined to their vessels.

“This is a time of great uncertainty for seafarers, fishermen and their families. With over 90% of world trade being moved by ship, it is the People of the Sea that keep the global economy and supply chains functioning. Seafarers and fishermen should be counted among the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

“In Manila … Stella Maris is providing free accommodation and food for 120 seafarers who are unable to leave Manila due to the lockdown situation there.”

He said the ministry has had to alter its ministerial duties as countries have increased COVID-19 prevention methods. He said, while the chaplains and volunteers have been barred from accessing the ship, the organization has had to provide spiritual support online and had welfare packages delivered to the boats.

“As we move towards Holy Week and the celebration of Easter – a time when we would normally transport seafarers to Mass or celebrate liturgies on board their ships - we consider it particularly important to provide seafarers and fishermen with spiritual support, including signposting to faith resources online,” he said.

Boise bishop bans 'ad orientem' posture in 'ordinary form' Masses

Denver, Colo., Apr 1, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The Bishop of Boise told priests last month that the ordinary form of the Mass should not be celebrated in the ad orientem posture, and that material from “independent websites” is not appropriate for religious instruction regarding the liturgy.

“I am instructing priests in this diocese to preside facing the people at every celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” Bishop Peter Christensen wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to priests, which was published in the March 27 issue of the Idaho Catholic Register.

“There are priests who prefer ad orientem. I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for Mass and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.”

The bishop wrote that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal is “unambivalent” about liturgical orientation, and “makes it plain that the universal Church envisions the priest presiding at Mass facing the people.”

While liturgists have debated the precise meaning of the liturgical document that references the direction a priest faces during the celebration of the Mass, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship clarified in 2000 that the document does not forbid the ad orientem celebration of the liturgy.

In 2016, Bishop Arthur Seratelli, then-chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee, wrote to U.S. bishops that while the General Instruction of the Roman Missal “does show a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people ‘whenever possible’ in the placement and orientation of the altar,” the Church “does not prohibit the celebration of the Eucharist in the Ordinary Form ad orientem.”

“Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and, most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served.”

While neither universal canon nor liturgical law require the permission of a bishop before a priest celebrates the Mass ad orientem, Seratelli wrote that “such an important decision should always be made with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop,” Seratalli wrote.

Ad orientem, or facing the east, was, until recent decades, the long-standing historical posture for celebrating Mass in the Latin rite, and has been understood to reflect the community’s watchfulness for the return of Jesus Christ from the east. In the ad orientem posture, both the priest and the people face the apse of the Church, or the tabernacle, during the celebration of the Mass.

The ad orientem celebration of the Mass fell out of customary use in many parts of the world after 1969-1970 revisions to the Roman Missal, although those revisions did not explicitly call for a change in liturgical orientation. The possibility of the versus populum, or facing the people posture was mentioned in a 1964 Vatican instruction regarding the placement of altars. In recent years, some Vatican officials and U.S. bishops have promoted and encouraged a return to the ad orientem posture.

Christensen’s letter said that in his diocese, the ad orientem orientation would be prohibited. He explained that “it was clearly the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people.”

Deacon Gene Fadness, a spokesman for the Diocese of Boise did not explain what document of the Second Vatican Council conveys the “mind of the Council” on the matter, which is not mentioned in Sacrosanctum concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the liturgy.

Fadness did tell CNA that “In all liturgical matters, Bishop Peter carefully considers the statements of the CDWDS, the instructions in the ritual books and Canon Law, and his responsibility as chief liturgist of the diocese.”

Christensen’s letter also told priests that “in instructing the faithful regarding questions of posture, gesture, reception of Communion, etc., clergy are to refer always to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Order of the Mass, and other officially promulgated ritual books for the form of liturgy they are celebrating; or to documents propagated by the Holy See or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and approved by appropriate authorities.”

“Sources such as independent websites and social media platforms that are unaffiliated with the Holy See or the USCCB are not to be considered trustworthy or appropriate for catechesis,” the bishop wrote.

Fadness declined to name the independent websites the bishop had in mind, but when presented with examples of such websites, namely Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic Answers, the spokesman told CNA that “The Bishop has no problem with solid Catholic sources such as Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Answers. But, of course, he is not bound by what any contributing writers to these sites say, and he prefers that his priests give priority to the GIRM and approved USCCB documents as catechesis for the faithful on liturgical matters.”

The deacon told CNA that Christensen “is the Bishop for our diocese and has full authority to determine liturgical practices within it.”

He cited as an example of the bishop’s authority a March 2019 decision to require Catholics to kneel in the Mass after the Agnus Dei, as is the norm in the U.S., but was not the practice in Boise until Christensen’s intervention.

In his February letter, Christensen offered additional liturgical norms for the diocese, instructing that while Catholics are permitted to receive the Eucharist while kneeling, priests should not use kneelers or Communion rails that might encourage the practice. The bishop also requested that priests celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass notify the bishop they are doing so, and instructed that “elements from Missal use at the Extraordinary Form liturgy are not to be imported into Masses celebrated under the Ordinary Form.”

At least two parishes in the Diocese of Boise offer Mass in the Extraordinary Form, one of which is administered by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Christensen, 67, has been Bishop of Boise since 2014. He was named Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, in 2007. Fadness told CNA that Christensen’s aim was “reminding his priests that the integrity of the instruction within each Missal must be respected insofar as possible.”

The letter was sent to priests in February, but published at the end of March, after the public celebration of Mass had been suspended across the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked about the timing of the letter’s publication, Fadness explained that the diocesan newspaper “publishes only twice monthly.”

“The Bishop is merely asking that the Ordinary Form be followed during a Novus Ordo Mass and the Extraordinary Form be followed during the Traditional Latin Mass,” Fadness explained.

“Some of our priests were mixing Extraordinary Form practices with the Ordinary Form, which was causing confusion among the faithful, some fearing that we were introducing pre-Vatican II practices.”

Ed. note: This story has been updated.

Did China use slave labor to keep factories open during coronavirus?

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2020 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Chinese authorities have been accused of forcing Muslim Uyghurs to work in factories as the coronavirus pandemic spread in the country. One religious freedom expert told CNA that the Communist government could be trafficking in slave labor.

During the early months of 2020—as the number of new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases ballooned in China—there was “a huge increase in the amount of Uyghurs who have been assigned, or ‘graduated’ from these camps and assigned to work in factories,” Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told CNA.

“So there does seem to be, this year, in January, this surge in the amount of Uyghurs that have been transferred from the camps over to the factories,” she said.

As many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities are estimated to have been detained in camps by Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Victims of the camps or their family members have reported political indoctrination, starvation, torture, beatings, and even forced sterilizations in the camps.

A recent report from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China detailed how detainees are moved from the camps into nearby factories and in the agriculture industry, with goods made with their labor ending up in the supply chains of some major U.S. companies.

“If these reports are accurate, it means that the Chinese government is trafficking in the slave labor of religious minorities,” Maenza said.

Maenza said that the movement of Uyghurs into factories increased along with the spread of the novel coronavirus. China has reported only 76 cases of COVID-19 in Xinjiang, with three deaths—an implausible claim, she said.

“Now with a million Uyghurs in these concentration camps, we find those numbers to be very hard to believe,” Maenza said.

Chinese authorities closed off travel into and out of the city of Wuhan, the source of the COVID-19 epidemic, on January 23, according to the New York Times.

The next day, parts of Xinjiang were put on a lockdown after at least two COVID-19 cases were discovered in the region’s capital city. According to a Feb. 26 briefing of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, the lockdown was announced suddenly, and residents were reportedly caught without the proper time to obtain essential food and supplies. 

As parts of Xinjiang were reportedly in lockdown, Uyghurs were being sent to work in factories elsewhere in China to compensate for lost productivity due to the virus, Radio Free Asia reported. And the threat of the virus could pose a “humanitarian disaster” to the camps in Xinjiang, USCIRF warned.

Factories and schools are reportedly open again in the region. The New York Times reported on March 30 that, according to Chinese authorities, garment factories, farms, and oil fields were operational.

Radio Free Asia reported on March 31 that schools in Xinjiang had reopened despite concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus.

As countries around the world, including China, respond to the new coronavirus, USCIRF has been monitoring for abuses of religious freedom as churches, mosques, synagogues, and houses of worship close for public safety reasons. A USCIRF fact-sheet on religious freedom during the coronavirus details the ongoing risks to religious minorities around the world.

There are reasonable limits to religious freedom in cases of public emergency, Maenza said, acknowledging that churches may need to close to prevent the spread of the pandemic, but any limits must be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner and only for a limited duration of time.

“One of our biggest concerns has been that some of these regulations that countries are implementing are going to last beyond the pandemic,” she said. “What we’ll be watching,” she added, “is to make sure that that’s not the case.”