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European Catholic bishops, aid groups urge cooperation against pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yves Herman, Reuters

By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Union has urged member-states to stop "capitulating to fear and nationalism" during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Catholic aid groups demanded governments commit to a "healthier and more equitable future."

The Brussels-based COMECE, headed by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, noted the increase in actions of mutual support among European nations but warned EU countries to reaffirm their "shared European responsibility," by jointly caring for the sick and exchanging medical materials, as well as helping ease "social, economic and financial shocks" and reinforcing international cooperation.

"We gratefully commend the numerous policy actions of mutual support and encourage political decision-makers in the EU and its member-states to continue acting in a determined, transparent, empathic and democratic way."

In an April 2 statement with the non-Catholic Conference of European Churches, COMECE said: "This is the time for all of us to demonstrate our joint commitment to the European project and to common European values of solidarity and unity, instead of capitulating to fear and nationalism."

"Let us regard this time of trial also as a time of grace and hope. Let us remain united and make our closeness felt to all, especially those in need."

European politicians have criticized the EU for lacking coordination against the COVID-19 pandemic, which had caused tens of thousands of deaths across the trading bloc.

In a March 24 Vatican Radio interview, Cardinal Hollerich said solidarity was essential "above all in dramatic moments," and said many EU countries violated Christian values by "blocking their borders and making decisions only for their own people's benefit without regard for others."

Two Vatican pontifical academies also condemned the "selfishness and shortsightedness of uncoordinated national responses" in a March 20 statement and warned against "seeking protection through isolationism."

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based CIDSE, a consortium of Catholic aid groups from Europe and North America, warned that choices being made now would shape society "for years, if not decades, to come."

"This is a time to be decisive in saving lives and bold in charting a path to a genuinely healthier and more equitable future through a just recovery," said the open letter, also signed by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and more than 200 ecology and human rights groups.

"As decision-makers take steps to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery, it is imperative they consider the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism and ecological decline -- notably the climate crisis -- which were in place long before COVID-19 and now risk being intensified."

The appeal urged governments to "put people's health first" and "provide economic relief directly to the people," as well as creating "millions of decent jobs" and ensuring "resilience for future crises."

"Build solidarity and community across borders -- don't empower authoritarians," the document said. "Assistance directed at specific industries must be channeled to communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives."

Caritas Internationalis, made up of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service agencies working in almost 200 countries, was mobilizing to help countries suffering due to the pandemic. Most of the member agencies are relief and development agencies sponsored by national bishops' conferences, such as the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services or Canada's Development and Peace.

In a videoconference with journalists April 3, Aloysius John, secretary general, said that in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, Caritas has continued operating soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless as well as helping the elderly through a telephone hotline.

He also said similar initiatives were being mobilized in Armenia, Uganda and Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Caritas' "main concern today is to prepare the poorer countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, to confront such massive emergency due to a sudden outbreak of the pandemic," John said.

"The human suffering should unite us," John told journalists. "We have a role to play, and this what we are doing, we are trying to be in solidarity with the church, and we are also getting this message across to the people here, saying that there are also people suffering with this situation. Now we know what suffering means, and I think that should bring us to more solidarity."

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Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves in Rome.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

European Catholic bishops, aid groups urge cooperation against pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yves Herman, Reuters

By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- The Commission of Bishops' Conferences of the European Union has urged member-states to stop "capitulating to fear and nationalism" during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Catholic aid groups demanded governments commit to a "healthier and more equitable future."

The Brussels-based COMECE, headed by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, noted the increase in actions of mutual support among European nations but warned EU countries to reaffirm their "shared European responsibility," by jointly caring for the sick and exchanging medical materials, as well as helping ease "social, economic and financial shocks" and reinforcing international cooperation.

"We gratefully commend the numerous policy actions of mutual support and encourage political decision-makers in the EU and its member-states to continue acting in a determined, transparent, empathic and democratic way."

In an April 2 statement with the non-Catholic Conference of European Churches, COMECE said: "This is the time for all of us to demonstrate our joint commitment to the European project and to common European values of solidarity and unity, instead of capitulating to fear and nationalism."

"Let us regard this time of trial also as a time of grace and hope. Let us remain united and make our closeness felt to all, especially those in need."

European politicians have criticized the EU for lacking coordination against the COVID-19 pandemic, which had caused tens of thousands of deaths across the trading bloc.

In a March 24 Vatican Radio interview, Cardinal Hollerich said solidarity was essential "above all in dramatic moments," and said many EU countries violated Christian values by "blocking their borders and making decisions only for their own people's benefit without regard for others."

Two Vatican pontifical academies also condemned the "selfishness and shortsightedness of uncoordinated national responses" in a March 20 statement and warned against "seeking protection through isolationism."

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based CIDSE, a consortium of Catholic aid groups from Europe and North America, warned that choices being made now would shape society "for years, if not decades, to come."

"This is a time to be decisive in saving lives and bold in charting a path to a genuinely healthier and more equitable future through a just recovery," said the open letter, also signed by the Global Catholic Climate Movement, Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice and more than 200 ecology and human rights groups.

"As decision-makers take steps to ensure immediate relief and long-term recovery, it is imperative they consider the interrelated crises of wealth inequality, racism and ecological decline -- notably the climate crisis -- which were in place long before COVID-19 and now risk being intensified."

The appeal urged governments to "put people's health first" and "provide economic relief directly to the people," as well as creating "millions of decent jobs" and ensuring "resilience for future crises."

"Build solidarity and community across borders -- don't empower authoritarians," the document said. "Assistance directed at specific industries must be channeled to communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives."

Caritas Internationalis, made up of 165 Catholic relief, development and social service agencies working in almost 200 countries, was mobilizing to help countries suffering due to the pandemic. Most of the member agencies are relief and development agencies sponsored by national bishops' conferences, such as the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services or Canada's Development and Peace.

In a videoconference with journalists April 3, Aloysius John, secretary general, said that in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, Caritas has continued operating soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless as well as helping the elderly through a telephone hotline.

He also said similar initiatives were being mobilized in Armenia, Uganda and Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Caritas' "main concern today is to prepare the poorer countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, to confront such massive emergency due to a sudden outbreak of the pandemic," John said.

"The human suffering should unite us," John told journalists. "We have a role to play, and this what we are doing, we are trying to be in solidarity with the church, and we are also getting this message across to the people here, saying that there are also people suffering with this situation. Now we know what suffering means, and I think that should bring us to more solidarity."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves in Rome.

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Pandemic's economic toll just starting to show for both nation, church

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After 11 years of U.S. economic growth, the statistics are staggering.

First-time applications for unemployment benefits, which had been hovering in the low 200,000s from week to week, soared to 3.3 million in the March 26 report, then nearly doubled to 6.58 million in the April 2 report. Those two weeks by themselves topped all unemployment benefit filings for the first six months of the "Great Recession" of 2008.

All of the jobs added in the U.S. economy since Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017 are now effectively gone. And, depending on whether there's another round of bad news or some thread of hope to cling to by Wall Street traders, all of the stock market gains since January 2017 are gone, too. And fast.

The March unemployment figures released April 3 go through only March 12 -- the day after the National Basketball Association suspended its season, with pro hockey and baseball following suit -- at that time the most shocking signal yet that these were new and highly uncertain times.

Even so, the climb from a 3.5% unemployment rate in February to 4.4% in March, representing a loss of 701,000 jobs, does not reflect all that has happened in the following weeks: spiking COVID-19 positive tests results -- and death rates; restrictions on public gatherings and the issuance of "stay at home" orders; the closure of shops, stores and restaurants, throwing as-yet-untold numbers of people out of work; and people who do have money having far fewer places, and inclinations, to spend it.

The May jobs report, due May 8, will take into account all that has happened with jobs and the economy into mid-April, said Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute. It also will show which sectors of the economy were hit hardest, as well as the demographic groups affected most severely by the pandemic-related economic stall.

Figures from Washington state, the first epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, while themselves preliminary, give a clue to what the rest of the nation could expect. Three job categories suffered month-to-month double-digit job losses: accommodation and food services, 16.5%; arts, entertainment and recreation, 11.3%; and "other services" outside of public administration, 10.9%.

The $2 trillion stimulus package hammered out by Congress and signed into law by Trump in late March is "not stimulus so much as relief and recovery," Gould said. "What we need to do right now is ease people's pain ... ease people's pain from these job losses."

She added, "People are losing their job and they're not going to be able to put food on the table, this CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, what it does, it expands unemployment insurance so that more people can get it for a more expansive number of reasons related to COVID-19." Gould said more action will need to be taken in Washington to get the country through and past the pandemic.

Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, said: "It's probably a good generalization" that those who have the least have thus far been hurt the most by the sudden economic upheavals.

For Sinyai, it's personal. "My brother-in-law is a cab driver in Honolulu and is an immigrant. He is trying to figure out how to navigate the system," he said. "It's really challenging for someone who does not have a lot of experience accessing benefits or things like that."

The Catholic Labor Network has been working with food service workers at the airports serving the Washington area. "They've all been furloughed or something similar to that. Restaurants are in the same category," Sinyai said. "Those of us who are able to continue working are disproportionately in white-collar jobs and able to work online and not working with our hands -- and not sitting on our hands and hoping to get the relief Congress and the taxpayers have just offered."

At Georgetown University in Washington, the contractor that employs food service workers sent them home without pay when Georgetown closed the campus. After complaints to university leadership by the union representing those workers and by students, a deal was worked out that paid workers until the end of the term. "That was at some expense to Georgetown itself," said Sinyai, noting the university also had rebated dorm-dwelling students the unused portion of their dorm charges.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest diocese, "where we can, we will continue to have folks working," said Annabelle Baltierra, senior director of human resources. "As this continues to go on, we don't have donations coming in, although our bishop (Archbishop Jose H. Gomez) is encouraging, for example, our parishes talking with their donors about continuing, our parents continuing to pay their tuition. Resources will make it doable."

Next steps? "Then we start thinking about reducing staff hours across the board. The bishop encouraged the clergy to set an example and consider taking a cut in their salary," Baltierra said, although they should not go below the minimum wage in doing so. "A last resort," she added, "is to have our employees go on furlough, which would mean they wouldn't have any income, but they would be able to utilize their vacation time until the government passes another emergency bill."

The National Conference on Catechetical Leadership had to call off its annual conference in Dubuque, Iowa, even though its bylaws mandate an annual meeting. "We didn't realize how much the Spirit would force us to look at who we are and how we do things," said executive director Margaret Matijasevic, noting that was part of the conference's theme. "It forced us to do that quicker than we thought."

The future requires a longer-range look than merely rescheduling a meeting, according to Matijasevic.

"What other options we move into, it would be completely shifting our business model," she said. "We really have no measurement of engagement or buy-in for anything that we consider moving into. There will be some loss, some loss of our identity as an organization, which we've already been looking at" as a result of a leadership crisis in the church, she added.

Membership dues are one source of revenue for many national Catholic organizations. For the NCCL, it lost members who were laid off when diocesan and parish revenues were reduced following a fresh wave of revelations of clerical sexual abuse; Matijasevic told Catholic News Service more could be let go if contributions wither during the pandemic. Another revenue source is convention and conference fees. NCCL's convention is over before it began; strike two.

"The other main revenue stream for many Catholic organizations is their investments. That becomes a point of crisis for some of us, as it is for many dioceses," Matijasevic said. "Most nonprofits are using that as their supplemental reserve."

She added, "Now you're in the crisis point where you're losing your main business model, which is based on the parish business model -- and the same thing is happening with many national organizations that have mimicked that model." And if reserves are compromised because of investments in a tailspin, "that's going got hit us tremendously," Matijasevic said.

"We had no concept that COVID-19 would be coming down the pike and force us to refocus who we really are," she added. The challenge comes in "how to be pastoral in that, but taking a good hard look at how we do business," Matijasevic said. "We'd better rethink it."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Pandemic's economic toll just starting to show for both nation, church

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After 11 years of U.S. economic growth, the statistics are staggering.

First-time applications for unemployment benefits, which had been hovering in the low 200,000s from week to week, soared to 3.3 million in the March 26 report, then nearly doubled to 6.58 million in the April 2 report. Those two weeks by themselves topped all unemployment benefit filings for the first six months of the "Great Recession" of 2008.

All of the jobs added in the U.S. economy since Donald Trump assumed the presidency in 2017 are now effectively gone. And, depending on whether there's another round of bad news or some thread of hope to cling to by Wall Street traders, all of the stock market gains since January 2017 are gone, too. And fast.

The March unemployment figures released April 3 go through only March 12 -- the day after the National Basketball Association suspended its season, with pro hockey and baseball following suit -- at that time the most shocking signal yet that these were new and highly uncertain times.

Even so, the climb from a 3.5% unemployment rate in February to 4.4% in March, representing a loss of 701,000 jobs, does not reflect all that has happened in the following weeks: spiking COVID-19 positive tests results -- and death rates; restrictions on public gatherings and the issuance of "stay at home" orders; the closure of shops, stores and restaurants, throwing as-yet-untold numbers of people out of work; and people who do have money having far fewer places, and inclinations, to spend it.

The May jobs report, due May 8, will take into account all that has happened with jobs and the economy into mid-April, said Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute. It also will show which sectors of the economy were hit hardest, as well as the demographic groups affected most severely by the pandemic-related economic stall.

Figures from Washington state, the first epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, while themselves preliminary, give a clue to what the rest of the nation could expect. Three job categories suffered month-to-month double-digit job losses: accommodation and food services, 16.5%; arts, entertainment and recreation, 11.3%; and "other services" outside of public administration, 10.9%.

The $2 trillion stimulus package hammered out by Congress and signed into law by Trump in late March is "not stimulus so much as relief and recovery," Gould said. "What we need to do right now is ease people's pain ... ease people's pain from these job losses."

She added, "People are losing their job and they're not going to be able to put food on the table, this CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, what it does, it expands unemployment insurance so that more people can get it for a more expansive number of reasons related to COVID-19." Gould said more action will need to be taken in Washington to get the country through and past the pandemic.

Clayton Sinyai, executive director of the Catholic Labor Network, said: "It's probably a good generalization" that those who have the least have thus far been hurt the most by the sudden economic upheavals.

For Sinyai, it's personal. "My brother-in-law is a cab driver in Honolulu and is an immigrant. He is trying to figure out how to navigate the system," he said. "It's really challenging for someone who does not have a lot of experience accessing benefits or things like that."

The Catholic Labor Network has been working with food service workers at the airports serving the Washington area. "They've all been furloughed or something similar to that. Restaurants are in the same category," Sinyai said. "Those of us who are able to continue working are disproportionately in white-collar jobs and able to work online and not working with our hands -- and not sitting on our hands and hoping to get the relief Congress and the taxpayers have just offered."

At Georgetown University in Washington, the contractor that employs food service workers sent them home without pay when Georgetown closed the campus. After complaints to university leadership by the union representing those workers and by students, a deal was worked out that paid workers until the end of the term. "That was at some expense to Georgetown itself," said Sinyai, noting the university also had rebated dorm-dwelling students the unused portion of their dorm charges.

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest diocese, "where we can, we will continue to have folks working," said Annabelle Baltierra, senior director of human resources. "As this continues to go on, we don't have donations coming in, although our bishop (Archbishop Jose H. Gomez) is encouraging, for example, our parishes talking with their donors about continuing, our parents continuing to pay their tuition. Resources will make it doable."

Next steps? "Then we start thinking about reducing staff hours across the board. The bishop encouraged the clergy to set an example and consider taking a cut in their salary," Baltierra said, although they should not go below the minimum wage in doing so. "A last resort," she added, "is to have our employees go on furlough, which would mean they wouldn't have any income, but they would be able to utilize their vacation time until the government passes another emergency bill."

The National Conference on Catechetical Leadership had to call off its annual conference in Dubuque, Iowa, even though its bylaws mandate an annual meeting. "We didn't realize how much the Spirit would force us to look at who we are and how we do things," said executive director Margaret Matijasevic, noting that was part of the conference's theme. "It forced us to do that quicker than we thought."

The future requires a longer-range look than merely rescheduling a meeting, according to Matijasevic.

"What other options we move into, it would be completely shifting our business model," she said. "We really have no measurement of engagement or buy-in for anything that we consider moving into. There will be some loss, some loss of our identity as an organization, which we've already been looking at" as a result of a leadership crisis in the church, she added.

Membership dues are one source of revenue for many national Catholic organizations. For the NCCL, it lost members who were laid off when diocesan and parish revenues were reduced following a fresh wave of revelations of clerical sexual abuse; Matijasevic told Catholic News Service more could be let go if contributions wither during the pandemic. Another revenue source is convention and conference fees. NCCL's convention is over before it began; strike two.

"The other main revenue stream for many Catholic organizations is their investments. That becomes a point of crisis for some of us, as it is for many dioceses," Matijasevic said. "Most nonprofits are using that as their supplemental reserve."

She added, "Now you're in the crisis point where you're losing your main business model, which is based on the parish business model -- and the same thing is happening with many national organizations that have mimicked that model." And if reserves are compromised because of investments in a tailspin, "that's going got hit us tremendously," Matijasevic said.

"We had no concept that COVID-19 would be coming down the pike and force us to refocus who we really are," she added. The challenge comes in "how to be pastoral in that, but taking a good hard look at how we do business," Matijasevic said. "We'd better rethink it."

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

During plague, Catholic Church waived taxes, other requirements

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy The Walters Art Museum

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Correspondence can reveal a lot about periods of history and the letters written by popes during the Black Death are no exception.

These documents, often responses to questions, provide a window into a long-ago era that is getting renewed attention amid today's coronavirus pandemic.

It turns out at least 206,516 letters were sent from the papal offices in Avignon, France, during the 70 years of the Avignon papacy when seven consecutive popes lived in Avignon instead of Vatican City from 1309 to 1377.

The Black Death was right in the middle of this time period: from 1347 to 1353.

Joelle Rollo-Koster, professor of medieval history at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, spoke to Catholic News Service March 27 after spending a few hours reading through some of these papal correspondences in Latin on a database from the French School of Rome's Research Center, through her university.

She said historians specializing in the 14th century like herself study these letters, written on paper parchment but available online, and when she focused her search on letters that specifically dealt with the plague, she was not disappointed.

These letters, she said, pinpoint the plague's outbreak in Northern Italy because they show the date the letter was sent and the community where it was sent, often in response to grave illnesses or deaths.

When parish priests or bishops died during the plague, for example, a parishioner would write to the pope asking for someone to be in charge. Although this initial letter of request is not available, the response often clearly indicates in very specific details who died, where and when they died and if they were bishops, priests, monks or cloistered sisters.

Rollo-Koster said the letters also reveal the church's "stimulus plan" announcing tax waivers to those who requested it. The church at that time imposed separate taxes from the government, requiring church members to tithe one-tenth of their earned income.

She said the church's economic response to the plague was to redistribute funds, not tax people as much or allow for a deferred payment.

Because there was a clergy shortage with so many people dying, Catholics also wrote letters to popes requesting that married men be allowed to be priests, which was permitted under some circumstances, provided the priest led a chaste life.

Popes also granted waivers for people to marry within families, she said, allowing marriages between second and third cousins.

Letters also reveal indulgences or absolutions of sin for those who died of the plague without receiving last rites -- which at times covered entire cities. Requests for these blessings were written by remaining survivors.

What people don't realize, the historian said, is that there are a lot of documents from the Middle Ages. "We are not in the dark," about this time, she said, "but people don't know how to read" what's available.

- - -

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

During plague, Catholic Church waived taxes, other requirements

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy The Walters Art Museum

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Correspondence can reveal a lot about periods of history and the letters written by popes during the Black Death are no exception.

These documents, often responses to questions, provide a window into a long-ago era that is getting renewed attention amid today's coronavirus pandemic.

It turns out at least 206,516 letters were sent from the papal offices in Avignon, France, during the 70 years of the Avignon papacy when seven consecutive popes lived in Avignon instead of Vatican City from 1309 to 1377.

The Black Death was right in the middle of this time period: from 1347 to 1353.

Joelle Rollo-Koster, professor of medieval history at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, spoke to Catholic News Service March 27 after spending a few hours reading through some of these papal correspondences in Latin on a database from the French School of Rome's Research Center, through her university.

She said historians specializing in the 14th century like herself study these letters, written on paper parchment but available online, and when she focused her search on letters that specifically dealt with the plague, she was not disappointed.

These letters, she said, pinpoint the plague's outbreak in Northern Italy because they show the date the letter was sent and the community where it was sent, often in response to grave illnesses or deaths.

When parish priests or bishops died during the plague, for example, a parishioner would write to the pope asking for someone to be in charge. Although this initial letter of request is not available, the response often clearly indicates in very specific details who died, where and when they died and if they were bishops, priests, monks or cloistered sisters.

Rollo-Koster said the letters also reveal the church's "stimulus plan" announcing tax waivers to those who requested it. The church at that time imposed separate taxes from the government, requiring church members to tithe one-tenth of their earned income.

She said the church's economic response to the plague was to redistribute funds, not tax people as much or allow for a deferred payment.

Because there was a clergy shortage with so many people dying, Catholics also wrote letters to popes requesting that married men be allowed to be priests, which was permitted under some circumstances, provided the priest led a chaste life.

Popes also granted waivers for people to marry within families, she said, allowing marriages between second and third cousins.

Letters also reveal indulgences or absolutions of sin for those who died of the plague without receiving last rites -- which at times covered entire cities. Requests for these blessings were written by remaining survivors.

What people don't realize, the historian said, is that there are a lot of documents from the Middle Ages. "We are not in the dark," about this time, she said, "but people don't know how to read" what's available.

- - -

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

- - -

Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Catholic Church responded to plagues with penance, prayers

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although the coronavirus pandemic brings to mind plagues from centuries ago, both with quarantines, fast-spreading diseases and deaths, there is one big difference on the spiritual side: Today's pandemic is not, save but a lone voice or two, described as God's punishment on humanity.

As Pope Francis said in his March 27 address and prayer to end the pandemic in St. Peter's Square: The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God's judgment on humanity, but God's call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on.

In prayer, he said: "It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others."

That was not the message the faithful were hearing in the 14th century when the plague known as Black Death swept through most of Europe and parts of the rest of the world only to be followed by waves of recurring plagues.

"There is a negative side of the church's response to the plagues," said Franco Mormando, associate professor of Italian studies at Boston College. He said the consistent message over the centuries was that the "ultimate reason for the plague was God's wrath punishing humanity," which he added: "is not so palatable to us today."

This widespread view had the effect of discouraging research on root causes of these diseases, he said.
It also prompted a continuous view of sinfulness, penitence and not being right with God.

Nicole Archambeau, an assistant professor of history at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and author of an upcoming book, "Souls Under Siege: Surviving Plague, War, and Confession in the 14th Century," has focused on the witness testimony given during the canonization inquiry of Blessed Delphine of Glandeve in 1363, which gives insight into the world at the time.

She said the remarks demonstrate an overall concern about the sacrament of penance. "Over half of the witnesses expressed anxiety about the state of their souls and a desire to be consoled and assured about their souls."

Archambeau, in an email to Catholic News Service, said these witnesses also spoke about the sacrament of penance as "being ineffective at consolation and assurance," which echoes what was taught at the time, she said, noting that confessors' manuals said "living with perpetual worry about the state of one's soul was normal and even spiritually healthy."

This introspective look at one's sinfulness amid the plague's potential expression of God's fury also led some believers to flagellation -- a more intense form of penitence caused by whipping one's flesh -- which was condemned by the church.

Joelle Rollo-Koster, professor of medieval history at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, said the basic principle at the time was "God is mad at you and to punish you he sends a disease," and the traditional response was a need to atone for sins which during the Black Death was done by prayers, processions through the streets and more suffering.

She pointed out that during the plague there were many liturgical processions, usually around the perimeter of a city, asking for God's protection and demonstrating sorrow for sins.

But amid this overarching sense of penitence, the church also conveyed the sense of gaining merit in the afterlife for their faith in the midst of suffering, Mormando said. The church also reminded people about the "duty of solidarity and service to people in need." He said the church's message on this also was directed to the government, stressing that it had the responsibility to "take care of the poor, the weak and the orphaned."

Once the plagues ended, the historian said, "society shook itself off and continued, more or less as before" without learning moral or economic lessons.

And now, in the midst of this present pandemic, he, like others, is staying at home while teaching courses online. Taking the long view, he said: "Looking back is one way to look at how we are today; hopefully we will forge a better path forward."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

Catholic Church responded to plagues with penance, prayers

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although the coronavirus pandemic brings to mind plagues from centuries ago, both with quarantines, fast-spreading diseases and deaths, there is one big difference on the spiritual side: Today's pandemic is not, save but a lone voice or two, described as God's punishment on humanity.

As Pope Francis said in his March 27 address and prayer to end the pandemic in St. Peter's Square: The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not God's judgment on humanity, but God's call on people to judge what is most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on.

In prayer, he said: "It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others."

That was not the message the faithful were hearing in the 14th century when the plague known as Black Death swept through most of Europe and parts of the rest of the world only to be followed by waves of recurring plagues.

"There is a negative side of the church's response to the plagues," said Franco Mormando, associate professor of Italian studies at Boston College. He said the consistent message over the centuries was that the "ultimate reason for the plague was God's wrath punishing humanity," which he added: "is not so palatable to us today."

This widespread view had the effect of discouraging research on root causes of these diseases, he said.
It also prompted a continuous view of sinfulness, penitence and not being right with God.

Nicole Archambeau, an assistant professor of history at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and author of an upcoming book, "Souls Under Siege: Surviving Plague, War, and Confession in the 14th Century," has focused on the witness testimony given during the canonization inquiry of Blessed Delphine of Glandeve in 1363, which gives insight into the world at the time.

She said the remarks demonstrate an overall concern about the sacrament of penance. "Over half of the witnesses expressed anxiety about the state of their souls and a desire to be consoled and assured about their souls."

Archambeau, in an email to Catholic News Service, said these witnesses also spoke about the sacrament of penance as "being ineffective at consolation and assurance," which echoes what was taught at the time, she said, noting that confessors' manuals said "living with perpetual worry about the state of one's soul was normal and even spiritually healthy."

This introspective look at one's sinfulness amid the plague's potential expression of God's fury also led some believers to flagellation -- a more intense form of penitence caused by whipping one's flesh -- which was condemned by the church.

Joelle Rollo-Koster, professor of medieval history at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, said the basic principle at the time was "God is mad at you and to punish you he sends a disease," and the traditional response was a need to atone for sins which during the Black Death was done by prayers, processions through the streets and more suffering.

She pointed out that during the plague there were many liturgical processions, usually around the perimeter of a city, asking for God's protection and demonstrating sorrow for sins.

But amid this overarching sense of penitence, the church also conveyed the sense of gaining merit in the afterlife for their faith in the midst of suffering, Mormando said. The church also reminded people about the "duty of solidarity and service to people in need." He said the church's message on this also was directed to the government, stressing that it had the responsibility to "take care of the poor, the weak and the orphaned."

Once the plagues ended, the historian said, "society shook itself off and continued, more or less as before" without learning moral or economic lessons.

And now, in the midst of this present pandemic, he, like others, is staying at home while teaching courses online. Taking the long view, he said: "Looking back is one way to look at how we are today; hopefully we will forge a better path forward."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

USCCB president calls for national moment of prayer on Good Friday

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has invited U.S. Catholics to join him on Good Friday, April 10, to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart at noon (EDT).

"Praying together as a nation, the archbishop asks that we seek healing for all who are unwell, wisdom for those whose work is halting the spread of coronavirus, and strength for all God's children," said a USCCB news release issued late April 2.

A livestream of the Litany of the Sacred Heart with Archbishop Gomez will be available on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' website: www.lacatholics.org and on the USCCB Facebook page: www.facebook.com/usccb. The text of Litany of the Sacred Heart can be found in English and Spanish on the Los Angeles archdiocesan website.

Additionally, with special permission received from the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See, a plenary indulgence is available for those who join Archbishop Gomez in praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday.

A plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due to sins and may be applied to oneself or to the souls of the deceased (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1471).

To receive this indulgence, the faithful would need to: pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday; be truly repentant of any sins they have committed and receive the sacrament of reconciliation (at the earliest opportunity); and pray for Pope Francis' intentions.

"Good Friday is a day when Christians around the world solemnly commemorate the day when Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Catholics traditionally mark the day with fasting, penance and reflection on Jesus' loving sacrifice," the USCCB release said.

"This opportunity to pray together during the coronavirus pandemic offers a special moment of unity for the faithful during a time when communities throughout the United States and worldwide are physically unable to congregate for Holy Week and Easter because of COVID-19," it added.

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

USCCB president calls for national moment of prayer on Good Friday

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON -- Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has invited U.S. Catholics to join him on Good Friday, April 10, to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart at noon (EDT).

"Praying together as a nation, the archbishop asks that we seek healing for all who are unwell, wisdom for those whose work is halting the spread of coronavirus, and strength for all God's children," said a USCCB news release issued late April 2.

A livestream of the Litany of the Sacred Heart with Archbishop Gomez will be available on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' website: www.lacatholics.org and on the USCCB Facebook page: www.facebook.com/usccb. The text of Litany of the Sacred Heart can be found in English and Spanish on the Los Angeles archdiocesan website.

Additionally, with special permission received from the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See, a plenary indulgence is available for those who join Archbishop Gomez in praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday.

A plenary indulgence removes all of the temporal punishment due to sins and may be applied to oneself or to the souls of the deceased (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1471).

To receive this indulgence, the faithful would need to: pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday; be truly repentant of any sins they have committed and receive the sacrament of reconciliation (at the earliest opportunity); and pray for Pope Francis' intentions.

"Good Friday is a day when Christians around the world solemnly commemorate the day when Jesus suffered and died on the cross. Catholics traditionally mark the day with fasting, penance and reflection on Jesus' loving sacrifice," the USCCB release said.

"This opportunity to pray together during the coronavirus pandemic offers a special moment of unity for the faithful during a time when communities throughout the United States and worldwide are physically unable to congregate for Holy Week and Easter because of COVID-19," it added.

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Copyright © 2020 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]