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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 5, 2020 / 12:10 pm (CNA).- Churches in Dane County, Wisconsin, will be permitted to operate at 25% capacity, it was announced Friday, after the Diocese of Madison threatened to sue if previous reopening plans were not changed.

“Emergency Order #4 makes a clarification with respect to religious services,” said a release from Dane County on Friday. 

“Religious worship services will no longer be categorized as a ‘mass gathering.’ All restrictions applicable to businesses will continue to apply to religious services,” they said. 

The change was announced June 5, the deadline requested by a group of lawyers representing the Diocese of Madison. Had the county not changed its course, the Diocese of Madison was prepared to file a lawsuit against Dane County and the city of Madison arguing that county reopening plans to deal with the coronavirus pandemic violated religious freedom.  

“We are pleased that the County and the City have ended the unequal 50-person cap on Mass attendance,” Bishop Donald Hying of Madison said in a statement provided to CNA. “As bishop, it is my duty to ensure that our sacraments are available to the Catholic faithful, while following best practices when it comes to public health.”

Under Dane County’s previous plan, Emergency Order 3, houses of worship were capped at a 50-person attendance limit. Religious services were treated as mass gatherings, similar to a concert or festival. Other essential businesses, including shopping malls and trampoline parks, were not capped at 50 people and were permitted to operate at 25% of their capacity. 

Hying noted that in this time of “deep division,” it is especially important for the Church to be free to “provide solace and comfort for all.” 

The bishop previously told CNA that he did not look forward to a potential lawsuit against the county, but found it necessary to stand up for religious freedom. He further told CNA that his diocese had not been contacted when it came to the reopening plan, and that he was taken by surprise by the 50-person limit. 

“We look forward to working together with the county and city to continue the reopening process in a safe, cooperative, and responsible manner,” said Hying on Friday. 

Eric Rassbach, the vice president and senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and one of the signatories of the letter giving notice of the diocese’s willingness to sue, said that while he was glad the city and county “came to their senses,” he did not think it should have taken this long. 

“The First Amendment protects both prayer and protest,” said Rassbach. “Putting an arbitrary numerical cap on worship services while allowing thousands to protest makes no sense from a legal or public health perspective.” 

Rassbach noted that most places in the United States have already lifted most regulations on houses of worship, and said that “the few remaining holdouts should take note and come into compliance with the First Amendment.”

CNA Staff, Jun 5, 2020 / 10:35 am (CNA).- President Trump’s favorability rating among white Catholics has dropped almost by half since March, according to a new poll.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reported on Thursday that President Trump’s favorability among white Catholics fell from 60% in March to 48% in April to just 37% in May.

The new poll, released June 4, was taken during a week of widespread civil unrest in several major cities, following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. The poll sampled 1,003 U.S. residents aged 18 or over and was conducted May 26-31.

The findings reflect other national polls showing a general growing disapproval for Trump in recent weeks, andt registering broad disapproval for his handling of the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Though, according to PPRI’s findings, Trump still has the approval of half of overall respondents in election battleground states, with his approval in those states having increased to 50% from 38% in April. 

The PPRI poll was conducted under the direction of SSRS, a polling and research firm widely used by media outlets, political pollsters, and market researchers. PPRI, however, has been the recipient of grants for research supporting LGBT initiatives.

In 2017, CNA reported that PRRI had received around $450,000 from the Arcus Foundation to create “comprehensive state maps” of public attitudes on religious exemptions and non-discrimination policies. 

A list of Arcus Foundation grantees shows a 2019 grant for $150,000 for “nine months” of support for “polling research on LGBT acceptance and other social change issues in the U.S.” In 2018, the foundation also provided a grant of $150,000 for a year of such polling research.

PRRI’s poll numbers among Catholics mark a sharp change from a recent Pew Research Center poll on Trump’s handling of the new coronavirus pandemic, conducted at the beginning of May.

The May Pew report  showed that, while Americans overall characterized Trump’s response to the pandemic as either “fair” or “poor” by a margin of 59%-41%, white Catholics approved of his response as “excellent” or “good” by a margin of 55%-45%. In that same poll, however, 70% of Hispanic Catholics said Trump’s response was “fair” or “poor.”

Earlier in 2020, an EWTN News/RealClearOpinion Research poll showed that almost six-in-ten white non-Hispanic Catholics approved of Trump’s presidency. 

According to the poll of 1,512 Catholic registered voters conducted from Jan. 28 through Feb. 4, 58% of white non-Hispanic Catholics approved of Trump “strongly” or “somewhat,” and 53% said they were either sure to vote for him in November or there was a “strong chance” they would.

Trump’s approval rating among Catholics overall was at less than half in the EWTN poll, in part due to overwhelmingly negative reviews by Hispanic Catholics who disapproved of him 71% to 29%. A smaller subset of devout Catholics, who said they accepted all the Church’s teachings, showed strong approval of his presidency, 63% to 37%.

The Catholic vote has largely mirrored the overall popular vote in recent presidential elections. 

According to initial 2016 election exit polls, Trump won the Catholic vote, but data released since then appears to contest that claim. The American National Election Studies (ANES) in 2017 reported that Clinton won the Catholic vote in 2016, 48% to 45%. And according to the February poll commissioned by EWTN News, Catholics who voted in 2016 favored Hillary Clinton by a narrow margin, 48% to Trump’s 46%.

CNA Staff, Jun 5, 2020 / 09:21 am (CNA).- Just days after submitting his resignation as bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, due to a recurrence of leukemia, Bishop George Murry, S.J., has died, the diocese announced Friday.

Murry died on the morning of June 5 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, New York. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

On May 26, the diocese announced the Murry had submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. At age 71, he was four years younger than standard retirement age for bishops.

Bishop Murry was initially diagnosed with leukemia in April 2018. He underwent a month of intensive chemotherapy treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, and was released in late May of that year. His doctors said he responded well to the treatment, and the leukemia cells had been suppressed, although he would need to return to the clinic weekly for monitoring.

In July 2019, he returned to the Cleveland Clinic for a reoccurrence of the leukemia.

He was confirmed to be in remission, but the leukemia returned this past April.

The diocese had said in its May 26 announcement that the bishop was no longer able to carry out his role as head of the diocese.

Following his initial leukemia diagnosis, Murry had stepped down from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ new Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, as well as his role as chair of the conference’s Committee on Catholic Education.

Bishop Murry was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1948. He entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1972, and was ordained to the priesthood seven years later. Murry holds a M.Div. degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California, and a Ph.D. in American Cultural History from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

He served in administrative roles in two Washington, D.C., high schools, as well as serving as a professor of American Studies at Georgetown University and as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. In 1998, the pope appointed him Coadjutor Bishop of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and on June 30, 1999, appointed him bishop of the diocese.

Bishop Murry had led the Youngstown diocese since 2007.

Also on Friday, the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan announced that Bishop Emeritus James Murray died peacefully that morning following a decline in health. Bishop Murray was one month away from turning 88. He had retired in April 2009.