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Maryland county drops second order to keep Catholic schools closed

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- Catholic schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, can reopen for the coming semester after the county rescinded a second controversial order preventing all non-public schools from welcoming students for in-person learning until at least October 1. 

“Reemphasizing the need to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents as well as parents, students, teachers and staff from the spread of COVID-19, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles today announced that he has rescinded his health order that prohibited nonpublic schools from opening for in-person instruction until after Oct. 1, 2020,” said a statement from the county published on August 7. 

An updated executive order published on August 7 rescinds the earlier order, although it “strongly advises schools against in-person learning.” 

Gayles said that he “strongly believes that based on the current state of surveillance and epidemiological data, it is neither safe nor in the interest of public health for any school to return for in-person learning this fall.” 

The executive order also requests that the Maryland Department of Health provide “articulable criteria” that would be used to determine if a school should be having in-person learning. 

The order was rescinded by Gayles after a Thursday memorandum from the Maryland Department of Health banning the blanket closure of all non-public schools in a county. 

“At this time, it is the health policy of the State of Maryland that non-public schools not be closed in a blanket manner,” said the Department of Health’s memorandum.

“The State of Maryland’s position is that all schools, including public school systems and non-public schools, be provided with the individualized opportunity to determine how they are able to comply with the federal and state COVID-19 guidance to reopen safely and protect students and staff,” said the department memo. 

“Those determinations should be made in close consultation with the affected schools and local health departments with Maryland Department of Health guidance,” they added. 

The developments of August 7 cap off a week of controversy regarding the safety of opening non-public schools in Montgomery County, the most populated county in Maryland.  

On the evening of July 31, Gayles issued an order banning non-public schools from reopening for inperson tuition before Oct. 1, carrying a punishment of a $5,000 fine or a year in jail for failure to comply. This order came as a surprise to non-public schools in the county, many of whom had already invested in safe reopening plans in accordance with state guidelines. 

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) dismissed the blanket ban on reopening on Monday, August 2, saying that non-public schools should have the same opportunities afforded to public schools in choosing whether or not to open for in-person classes. 

Montgomery County Public Schools were never ordered to have virtual-only learning, and initially planned on having a hybrid model of in-person and online classes. Those plans were scrapped in late July, following pushback from teachers unions throughout the state. Montgomery County Public Schools will be online-only until January 31, the entirety of the first semester. 

Since the announcement to online-only learning, Montgomery County Public Schools have seen steep declines in new student registration as parents have opted for non-public schools or homeschool programs. 

Six Montgomery County families, including four Catholic school families, who were joined by two Catholic schools, filed a federal lawsuit against the county for the forced school closures. 

Despite Hogan’s intervention, on August 5 Gayles once again issued an executive order saying non-public schools must remain closed to in-person classes until October 1. Unlike the previous executive order, non-public daycares and preschools were exempted, and would have been permitted to operate. Additionally, the previous punishments of $5,000 and up to a year in jail were no longer included in the order, which carried no enforcement mechanism. 

The August 7 order goes into effect immediately, and notes that there have been no binding metrics put forward by the state for the safe reopening of schools. Many leading epidemiologists have pointed to a positivity rate of 5% as a standard to be met to shift to in-person learning. The second-largest teacher’s union in the country, the American Federation of Teachers, also is in favor of reopening schools in areas with a sub-5% positivity rate. 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that every school in New York would be permitted to re-open in the fall as positivity rates in every state region had dropped below the 5% benchmark and stayed below that level for a set period. Individual districts will have to submit approved reopening safety plans, but they can in theory have in-person classes.  

Montgomery County’s three-day average positivity rate has been below 5% since July 16. It has been declining for 14 days. This drop in positivity has come amid increases in testing.

Help Catholic schools to help at-risk families, US bishops tell Congress

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).- Several leading U.S. Catholic cardinals and bishops urged congressional leaders to provide emergency private school tuition aid to low-middle income families, in a letter on Thursday.  

The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB), Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, signed the letter to House and Senate leaders, along with USCCB education chair Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland.

They argued that many Catholic schools which serve low-income families are at risk of closing due to economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

“The economic devastation that has hit so many of America’s families has made it impossible for many struggling families to continue paying tuition,” they wrote, adding that school closures in urban areas “are disproportionately harmful to low-income and black children” who attend.

Other U.S. metropolitans with large Catholic school districts signed on to the letter, including Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

They addressed the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Congressional and White House leaders are currently in the middle of negotiations on another coronavirus relief package. Associated Press reported on Wednesday that parties were still debating provisions for food stamps, and renters and jobless assistance.

On Thursday, the bishops said that education aid in the relief package should be “robust,” and should grant “equal consideration” to private school children.

Economic shock from the pandemic has already resulted in the closure of 140 Catholic schools around the country, the bishops said, and with many schools unable to reopen for in-person learning in the fall, there could be a resulting drop in tuition revenue and the closure of more schools.

The Boston archdiocese superintendent told NPR recently that nine of its Catholic schools would be closing, and that 24 more schools were on a “watch list.” The New York archdiocese announced in July that 20 schools would close and three would merge, due to the pandemic.

The bishops asked that non-public schools receive 10% of the emergency education aid given to public schools, noting that emergency tuition scholarships would be “the most effective way to help struggling families stay attached to their schools.”

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced in July that schools would be reopening in the fall, but then a state public health order required all schools in certain high-risk districts to remain closed for in-person learning. Archdiocesan schools in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties are set to begin the school year with virtual learning.

According to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), there are currently more than 1.7 million students enrolled at 6,183 Catholic schools this year; more that 21% of the students are racial minorities, NCEA says, and 19% are non-Catholic.

“By equally supporting children in the non-public school community, you will maintain the integrity of those strong communities, while helping sustain the positive legacy of Catholic schools and their benefit to the common good for generations to come,” the bishops’ letter said.

Christmas comes early in Indiana with nativity scene court case

CNA Staff, Aug 7, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- An Indiana town is defending its Christmas display in court this summer, after a traveller through the area claimed she was offended by the sight of a nativity scene on public land in 2018. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on August 3, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty said that a Supreme Court ruling last year meant the display should stay.

The Brownstown Area Ministerial Association purchased a light-up nativity scene in 2003 and began to display it in front of the Jackson County Courthouse during Christmastime. The display is part of a town-wide “Hometown Christmas” event that is sponsored in part by several local businesses, including the Brownstown Chamber of Commerce, the Jackson County Historical Center, and the town’s McDonald’s. 

In 2018, Jackson County was sued by a woman who was traveling through the town, spotted the nativity scene, and claimed she was offended by its presence and that its location amounted to the promotion of Christianity by the county. The nativity scene features both religious and secular figures, including the Holy Family, Santa Claus, and reindeer. 

“The annual nativity isn’t just a beloved holiday tradition, it’s a symbol of unity and God’s ‘goodwill to all men’ during the Christmas season,” Doug Pogue, president of the Brownstown Area Ministerial Association was quoted saying in a press release.

“In a time of such fear and uncertainty in our country, it’s heartbreaking to think that our town could lose this important symbol of hope,” said Pogue. 

On May 1 this year, Judge Tanya Wilton Pratt of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled against the county in the case Woodring v. Jackson County and said that the nativity scene was an unconstitutional display. The county has appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Becket, which is representing the Brownstown Area Ministerial Association, disagrees, and noted in the brief that the Supreme Court had regularly permitted religious-themed monuments on public land. 

In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that a war memorial containing a cross was constitutional, even though it was on publicly-maintained land. In that case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the court ruled 7-2 that the Bladensburg Peace Cross in Maryland did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and could remain on public land and be maintained by public funds.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that “a government that roams the land tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.”

“The Supreme Court has already protected religion in the public square,” Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket told CNA in a statement Wednesday. “This is a no brainer. The Seventh Circuit should follow suit and protect this nativity scene.”

Biden talks Catholic faith after Trump says former VP is 'against God'

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 11:30 pm (CNA).- Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday spoke about his Catholic faith, in response to comments from President Donald Trump that a Biden presidency would “hurt God.”

“Like so many people, my faith has been the bedrock foundation of my life: it's provided me comfort in moments of loss and tragedy, it's kept me grounded and humbled in times of triumph and joy. And in this moment of darkness for our country — of pain, of division, and of sickness for so many Americans — my faith has been a guiding light for me and a constant reminder of the fundamental dignity and humanity that God has bestowed upon all of us,” Biden said in an Aug. 6 statement.

“For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful. It's beneath the office he holds and it's beneath the dignity the American people so rightly expect and deserve from their leaders," he added.

Speaking in Ohio today, Trump said that Biden wanted to "take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He's against God, he's against guns.”

Biden has spoken about his Catholic faith on the campaign trail, and is known to attend Mass when he is at home in Delaware and when he travels. But the former vice president’s positions on some issues, most notably abortion and sexual orientation/gender identity policy, have put him at odds with Catholic teaching.

Brian Burch, president of political advocacy organization CatholicVote, told CNA that Biden’s faith itself should not be called into question, but his position on issues of importance to religious believers should be a matter of consideration.

“Joe Biden says his Catholic faith is important to him, and it's not our place to question that,” Burch told CNA. “It's obvious Biden attends Mass, and it's obvious his Catholic faith has been a comfort to him at critical moments in his life.”

“But the question in this election is about what his plans are for this country, and that's what believers should focus on," Burch said.

“What matters here isn't his devotional life, but his policies. And his policy agenda threatens the freedom of the Church in America," he added, not only on life, but also on religious liberty.

Burch said that in his view, Biden’s positions could impact the Church’s social and charitable ministries.

“I worry that the Catholic Church in America is not taking seriously enough how a Biden presidency might threaten the freedom of the Church in America. Catholic hospitals, schools and charities will surely be forced to choose whether to operate in communion with what we believe as Catholics, compromise the Faith, or shut down altogether. Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state grants that serve the poor and vulnerable could be at stake,” Burch said.

In October 2019, Biden was denied Holy Communion at a South Carolina church because of his support for legalized abortion.

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden,” Fr. Robert Morey, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, told CNA Oct 28.

“Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching,” the priest added. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that

“Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote a memorandum to the U.S. Catholic bishops in 2004, explaining the application of Canon Law 915 to the reception of Holy Communion.

The memorandum stated that “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.”

The case of a “Catholic politician” who is “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” would constitute “formal cooperation” in grave sin that is “manifest,” the letter continued.

In such cases, “his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

At the time Biden was denied Communion, his website stated that one of his priorities as president would be to “work to codify Roe v. Wade” into federal law, and that “his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate the constitutional right to an abortion,” including laws requiring waiting periods, ultrasounds, and parental notification of a minor’s abortion.

“Vice President Biden supports repealing the Hyde Amendment because healthcare is a right that should not be dependent on one’s zip code or income,” said his website.

Biden’s website also pledges him to “restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood,” and promises to “rescind the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the global gag rule) that President Trump reinstated and expanded.”

During his career as a senator, Biden voted numerous times in favor of the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City Policy, and opposed public funding for abortions.

But as he campaigned for the Democratic nomination last year, Biden shifted his views on abortion funding.

Over the course of one week in June 2019, Biden went from publicly supporting the Hyde Amendment--which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions--to pledging to repeal it if he were to be elected president.

Previously, Biden supported some aspects of pro-life legislation. In addition to his Senate vote in favor of the Hyde amendment, he also supported the Mexico City Policy in 1984, voted again in favor of Hyde in 1993, and voted to ban partial-birth abortion in 1995 and again in 1997.

On Thursday, Biden said that his Catholic “faith teaches me to love my neighbor as I would myself, while President Trump only seeks to divide us. My faith teaches me to care for the least among us, while President Trump seems to only be concerned about his gilded friends. My faith teaches me to welcome the stranger, while President Trump tears families apart. My faith teaches me to walk humbly, while President Trump teargassed peaceful protestors so he could walk over to a church for a photo op.”

The candidate’s statement did not address his position on abortion.

In July, a grop of 115 Christian leaders, including Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky and other Catholic clergy, religious, and laity, signed a letter to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Platform Committee, asking the party to support pro-life policies including “legal protection for pre-born children.”

“We call upon you to recognize the inviolable human dignity of the child, before and after birth,” the letter stated, asking for a rejection of “a litmus test on pro-life people of faith seeking office in the Democratic Party.”

Biden, who as the 2020 presidential candidate is de facto leader of the Democratic party, did not comment on their letter, and has not responded to other entreaties from pro-life Democrats.

Earlier on Thursday, CatholicVote and former Congressman Tim Huelskamp called on Biden to denounce a recent spate of vandalism and arson at Catholic Churches across the U.S, which they called “a rising climate of anti-Catholicism” in the country. Biden has not spoken out about the matter, and his campaign has not responded to a request for comment on that issue from CNA.

For his part, Trump has faced criticism from U.S. bishops for his positions on the death penalty, immigration and refugee policy, social welfare programs, housing policy, and other issues. At the same time, the president has been praised by bishops and other Catholic leaders for policies that restricted abortion funding, and addressed religious liberty and conscience protections.

Trump has also been criticized by some Christian leaders for incidents they said instrumentalized religious faith, especially a controversial June appearance outside of a Washington, DC church, at which the president displayed a Bible while posing for photographs at the height of protests immediately following the death of George Floyd.

The Trump campaign has made a push in recent weeks for religious voters, after polling showed the president’s favorability declining among some religious voters. Among white Catholics, a crucial voting block for Trump in 2016, support dropped by almost half between March and June. Polling has shown that Catholics who say they attend Mass regularly are more likely to support Trump’s reelection than those who do not.

In addition to his statement on faith, Biden also made efforts on Twitter Thursday night to walk back controversial comments he’d made earlier in the day on race.

In an interview, Biden had told journalists that “what you all know but most people don't know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things." His tweets Thursday night said that “in no way did I mean to suggest the African American community is a monolith -- not by identity, not on issues, not at all."

A campaign adviser told CNN that Biden was “referring to diversity of attitudes among Latinos from different Latin American countries," on some issues, including immigration policy.

St. Cajetan

Saint Cajetan was one of the great reformers of the Church during the period of the Reformation, remaining loyal to the Church regardless of the corruptions and excesses that led many others to betray Her.He was born inOctober 1480  into a noble family, and received a rigorous education guided by his mother, following the death of his father when he was just two. His studies of canon and civil law led him to work as a jurist in the court of Pope Julius II, which he abandoned upon the Pope's death, in order to study for the priesthood.He was ordained at the age of 36 and founded a community of priests, who lived a monastic form of poverty and prayer and lived and worked closely with the poor in order to combat the political and spiritual corruption of the times. His order, the Congregation of Clerks Regular, were popularly called the Theatines, after the title of one of his companions, Giovanni Pietro Caraffa, the Bishop of Chieti (Theate in Latin), who later was elected Pope Paul IV.His concern for the poor always had a strong presence in his life, and he practised charity constantly, whether in personal encounters or in the founding institutions such as a hospital for those with incurable diseases. He even founded a bank for the poor in order to lend money to them without the usual high interest charged by other money lenders.In 1533 he founded one of his order's houses in Naples where he battled against the growth of the Lutheran heresy.  He died on August 6th 1547, the feast of the Transfiguration. This occurred in Naples when the city was still in serious spiritual, political and social trouble.Saint Cajetan was canonized by Clement X in 1671.

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Pause for Prayer: FRIDAY 8/7



A piece of good news fell into my lap
and filled my heart with sweet relief
and since all blessings flow from you
I thank you, Lord, for such a gift...

Some might call it luck or chance
but I will name it unexpected grace:
a gift to lift my spirits, Lord,
an undeserved favor from your heart...

So remind me, then, when days are gray
with fear and disappointment
of all the times when your good news
surprised my soul with joy...

Remind me how your blessings, Lord,
come every day in mercy and in grace
- and in many ways
I sometimes (even often) miss...

Open wide my soul, my eyes and ears,
to all the ways your good news falls
into my arms, my lap, my heart,
into my days, my nights and weeks...

And for those whose nights and days 
are shaded gray with disappointment,
make me a herald, Lord, of good news
flowing from your heart...

Amen.





 
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Cardinal Pell to speak at virtual Napa Institute conference

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 02:00 pm (CNA).-  

The Napa Institute has announced an online schedule for its annual conference in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The program includes remarks from Australian Cardinal George Pell. The conference schedule was announced along with an award for Bishop Joseph Strickland, which the organization said it conferred for his defense of moral truth.
 
The conference, the tenth annual session of the event, was originally planned to take place in July in Napa, California. This year it is being convened under the title “Finding Hope in the New America.” Organizers said that although the event could not take place in-person, the schedule would not be “slimmed-down” but instead would feature an expanded speaker list.
 
John Meyer, executive director of the Napa Institute said that as recently as early July, there was “every intention of holding an in-person conference,” but that “things progressed, the lockdown increased in California, and literally overnight we came to a place where we could no longer hold it.”
 
The conference will take place August 14-15. Live streamed sessions will be held with speakers including Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, Prof. Robert P. George of Princeton, and author Arthur Brooks.
 
One of the key speakers at this year’s event will be Cardinal George Pell, who will speak on his experience of suffering during the 13 months he spent in an Australian prison before being released earlier this year.
 
The two-day event will also include live web broadcast of Mass and prayer sessions, including sung evening prayer with the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of God.

This year’s schedule also included the announcement of a special award, presented to Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas.

Bishop Strickland was announced as the recipient of “The St. Thomas Aquinas Award for the Defense of Moral Truth,” presented by the Napa Institute “in recognition of [his] indomitable defense and preservation of Christ’s teachings through Natural Law and for enlightening the reason and faith of generations to come so that they may boldly go forth and proclaim the Gospel with courage and fortitude.”

In addition to leading the Diocese of Tyler since 2012, Strickland is also the founder of the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the diocese.

In a release from the institute following the announcement of the award, Strickland referenced an article he wrote on the occasion of his consecration as a bishop.

Strickland recalled that during the liturgy of his consecration he was asked if he was “resolved to maintain the deposit of faith, entire and incorrupt, as handed down by the apostles and professed by the Church everywhere and at all times?”

“It was at this point that the deeper meaning of the phrase “deposit of faith” came alive for me. I also began to understand my role in magisterial teaching and my serious call, as a successor of the Apostles, to the ongoing task of “Guarding the Deposit of Faith” given by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to the Apostles and handed down since then,” Strickland wrote.

This, together with his obligation to faithfully preach the Gospel, “continues to guide me in my role as the chief teacher and Shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Diocese of Tyler.”

Maryland county issues second order to stop Catholic schools opening

Washington D.C., Aug 6, 2020 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- A Maryland county has issued a second order preventing non-public schools from reopening for in-person instruction, despite a previous effort being immediately overridden by Gov. Larry Hogan. 

“Reemphasizing the need to protect the health and safety of Montgomery County residents as well as parents, students, teachers and staff from the spread of COVID-19, County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles today issued a new Health Officer Directive and Order that continued to direct nonpublic schools in Montgomery County to remain closed for in-person instruction until at least Oct. 1, 2020,” said a release from Montgomery County published on August 5.

Montgomery county is the state’s most populous county and borders Washington, D.C. A previous Health Officer Directive and Order was published on the evening of Friday, July 31, and countermanded by the governor on Monday, August 3. 

On Monday, Hogan called the initial attempt to prevent all non-public schools from opening “overly broad and inconsistent with the powers delegated to the county health officer.”

Unlike the first order, Wednesday’s new order does not include a penalty of a $5,000 or a year in jail for violators and “explicitly excludes programs licensed or regulated by the Maryland Office of Childcare from the definition of nonpublic schools.” This means that private preschools and daycares, where children may engage in education-related activities, are permitted to operate in person while K-12 schools are not.

The order states that “there continues to be widespread community transmission of COVID-19 and increases in the daily caseload volumes within Montgomery County, the State of Maryland as a whole, and the surrounding jurisdictions,” meaning that non-public schools need to remain closed. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland will have a preliminary injunction hearing on August 14 to potentially block the order and allow schools to open. 

A federal lawsuit, known as Beahn v. Gayles, was filed by four Catholic school families and two Jewish day school families from Montgomery County challenging the original order. Two Catholic schools are also listed as parties in the suit. One of the families in the suit transferred to a Catholic school in response to the announcement that Montgomery County Public Schools would have an online-only first semester. 

Montgomery County has a positivity rate of 2.52%, which has been decreasing since the middle of May. The statewide positivity rate is 4.03%. Epidemiologists, including Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, gave a benchmark of 5% positivity rate for mandating distance learning. 

“Based on CDC best practices for the reopening of schools, County health officials will continue to monitor the epidemiological surveillance data and that will guide the decision as to when it is safe to reopen nonpublic and public schools,” says the release from the county. 

The Centers for Disease Control stated that schools should move to reopen as children are unlikely to be severely impacted by the coronavirus, and that there are significant detrimental effects associated with ongoing social isolation. 

Until the middle of July, Montgomery County Public Schools were set to re-open with a hybrid model of distance and in-person learning. That plan was scrapped after teachers unions in Maryland argued that it would not be safe for teachers to teach in-person. 

Montgomery County Public Schools announced in late July that the entire fall semester would be online-only. Starting February 1, in-person classes will resume. No governmental order was ever given to the county’s public schools forbidding in-person school.

Many non-public schools in Montgomery County had elected on their own to use a virtual or hybrid model in the fall. Others had begun to implement new safety measures for in-person learning. 

In Monday’s statement nullifying the original order closing non-public schools, Gov. Hogan reiterated that “Maryland’s recovery continues to be based on a flexible, community-based approach that follows science, not politics,” and that any school who is capable of following the state and CDC’s safety guidelines should be permitted to reopen. 

The governor’s intervention followed claims on social media by Montgomery County residents that the decision to force non-public schools to close may have been linked to a large drop in the number of new students who enrolled in Montgomery County’s public schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The county expected approximately 2,500 new students enrolled in grades K-12 for the fall; instead, only 300 new students enrolled. 

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes Montgomery County, told CNA on Thursday that the archdiocese is reviewing the latest announcements by the county.

Responding to the initial order last week, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a statement Sunday that the archdiocese “continues to have the health and wellbeing of our students, faculty, and parents uppermost in mind and heart as we make our decisions regarding the reopening of our Catholic schools.” 

“We will continue to strive to be both good citizens as well as to be faithful to our religious principles, pastoral mission and our obligations to our families,” Gregory said. 

Knights of Columbus to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria

CNA Staff, Aug 6, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus announced a new initiative Thursday to report on Christian persecution in Nigeria, where at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades.

Since 2014, the Catholic fraternal and charitable organization has spent more than $25 million on behalf of persecuted Christians and other religious minorities targeted for elimination in the Middle East, the organization says, which includes the rebuilding of the majority-Christian town of Karemlesh on the Nineveh Plain.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the demographics overall are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims.

Nigeria’s Christians, especially in the northern part of the country, have for the past several decades been subjected to brutal property destruction, killings, and kidnappings, often at the hands of Islamic extremist groups.

“The effort is similar to what we have done in Iraq and is based in the hope that greater attention by American diplomacy and humanitarian aid can make a difference there,” said Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in an Aug. 6 announcement of the new initiative.

Multiple Nigerian Catholics have told CNA in recent days that attacks on Christians by Fulani Muslim herders, as well as by the militant group Boko Haram, have not slowed in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The worst of the persecution, in the north, comes at the hands of Muslim terrorists against the majority-Christian population, CNA has been told.

Such incidents include attacks in late July on four Christian villages in Southern Kaduna, in which more than 62 Christians were killed by Islamic terrorists. Last month, an Islamic extremist group boasted of killing five international aid workers, three of whom were known employees of Christian aid agencies.

In other areas, many Christians, especially clergy, suffer kidnappings at the hands of terrorists seeking ransom. In many cases, for kidnapped priests, their parishioners band together to raise the ransom money.

In a high-profile case from earlier this year, gunmen abducted four seminarians from Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, holding them for random. The kidnappers eventually released three of the seminarians, but killed 18-year-old Michael Nnadi after he refused to renounce his faith.

Fr. Charles Uganwa, communications director of the south-central Issele-Uku diocese, said six priests of the diocese have been kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen in the past two years. The most recent priest kidnapping took place in June.

“He was released after about four days in captivity. He was so injured. He was beaten with clubs and with stones, with the butt of their gun. He was seriously injured. He had to be in the hospital for many weeks,” Uganwa told CNA.

Father Joseph Fidelis, a priest of the northeastern diocese of Maidugui, told CNA this week that he estimates that since 2009, Boko Haram has driven out half of the 300,000 Catholics who used to live in the diocese. Though Catholics there still celebrate Mass openly, they have to take stringent security measures against suicide bombers.

“Boko Haram is still very active, not in the city so much [as] in the outskirts...They still do the kidnapping, they still do the bombing. They still set mines on the road,” Fidelis said.

The problem of internally displaced people (IDP), mostly Christians who have been driven from their homes, is especially acute in the north, where thousands of the destitute live in refugee camps.

“Around here, around Maiduguri, over 1.2 million are displaced. About 1.4 million, and the number keeps rising on a daily basis. [In] the entire country, you have over 2.4 million people internally displaced. Now that's quite huge,” Fidelis said.

Part of the problem, Nigerian Christians have told CNA, is that the Muslim-controlled government has largely responded slowly, inadequately, or not at all to the problem of Christian persecution.

“The most important issue is that unfortunately, the government in Nigeria does not show enough will, either in speech or in action, to help to curb the violence and the bloodshed that we see, either from the terrorists or from bandits or from a headsman, because we have so many sorts of groups running riots all over the Northeast of Nigeria,” Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the southern diocese of Oyo told CNA.

Bishop Badejo said although his diocese is more peaceful than some in the north, with Muslims and Christians largely co-existing peacefully, there are some means of persecution that are more systemic and subtle, with government appointments and written laws seeming to favor Islam over Christianity.

“It's no secret that in Nigeria, especially with the [President Muhammadu] Buhari government, there are all written laws that have not favored Christians at all, that have favored, in other words, the Muslims,” Badejo said.

“The Christian Churches have protested, Christian leaders have protested, but the federal government has not said any word in order to show any desire to protect the Christian religion.”

The Knights hope to raise greater awareness of Nigerian Christians’ plight by means of their new initiative.

In addition to financial aid, the Knights of Columbus have in the past advocated for persecuted Christians before the U.S. government, sending researchers to Iraq in 2016 to compile a 300-page report on the crimes of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) against Christians in the country.

Anderson has also testified multiple times before Congress, urging action to protect the Middle East’s Christians from potential extinction.

Later that year, both houses of Congress unanimously passed resolutions declaring ISIS’ targeting of Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East to be a genocide.

Christianity had been present in the Nineveh plain in Iraq – between the city of Mosul, the country’s second-largest city, and Iraqi Kurdistan– since the first century. ISIS’ brutal invasion six years ago displaced at least 125,000 Christians from the area, and to date only about 40,000 have been able to return.

The Knights have worked closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to ensure funds reach persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The Knights are in the midst of their 138th annual convention, which this year is being held virtually for the first time, due to restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Founded in New Haven in 1882, the Knights of Columbus was originally intended to assist widows and their families upon the deaths of their husbands. It has grown into a worldwide Catholic fraternal order, with more than 2 million members carrying out works of charity and evangelization across the globe. The Knights also offer life insurance policies to their members.

The convention comes a few months after the Vatican announced that Fr. Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be beatified following Pope Francis’ approval of a miracle attributed to his intercession.