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Updated: 1 hour 21 min ago

Analysis: US bishops at odds over abortion and 'the Francis test'

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 21:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- During the second day of the USCCB Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, divisions among the bishops bubbled briefly to the surface, with bishops exchanging sharp interventions on the “preeminence’ of abortion as a social concern.

 
The exchanges highlighted simmering tensions among the bishops, which have less to do with the centrality of abortion to the Church’s political engagement, and more to do with bishops contending to appear closer to the pope than their colleagues.

Cracks in the conference appeared as the bishops discussed amendments to a letter meant to accompany a series of videos aimed at helping Catholics engage with the American political process when Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked for a separate consideration of one of the amendments.
 
The cardinal suggested the insertion of a long paragraph into the text which would contextualize the Church’s position on life issues, and especially the teaching of Pope Francis.
 
The committee considering the amendments, led by the USCCB president-elect Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, agreed to include an abbreviated version of Cupich’s paragraph, including language insisting that the “firm and passionate” defense of the unborn should be matched with support for the “equally sacred” lives of the poor, inform, elderly, and marginalized.
 
Cupich argued that his proposed wording was necessary, even if it was longer, in order properly to represent the full concerns of the pope.
 
Speaking in support of Cupich, Bishop Robert McElroy told the assembly that he was specifically opposed to the letter’s retention of language calling abortion the “preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself.”
 
McElroy told the conference this language was “discordant with the pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and implied that a failure to accept Cupich’s proposed language was tantamount to a breach with the Holy Father’s magisterium.
 
“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face as a world in Catholic social teaching. It is not.”
 
McElroy’s intervention triggered murmurs on the conference floor, with several bishops visibly distressed.
 
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia responded to McElroy, saying that calling abortion the “preeminent priority” was not just correct but necessary, pointing out that in the current American political context it was the most pressing concern. Chaput went on firmly to reject McElroy’s implication that recognizing this reality was in any way a breach with the pope, or a failure to present or value his own magisterium.
 
“I’m certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement [as Cupich proposed],” Chaput said, “I think it’s a beautiful statement and I believe it.”
 
“But I am against anyone saying that our stating that [abortion] is preeminent is contrary to the teaching of the pope, because that isn’t true. It sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father which isn’t true.”
 
“I don’t like the argument Bishop McElroy used, because it isn’t true.”
 
In a rare break with etiquette, the bishops in the hall broke into applause in support of Chaput.

Pope Francis himself has repeatedly spoken out against abortion in the strongest possible terms, likening abortionists to “hitmen,” and comparing the practice to genocide “with white gloves.”
 
McElroy’s pointed suggestion that the U.S. bishops are out of step, even resistant, to the pope’s own teaching comes one week after the publication of a book which accused the American bishops of resisting the pope’s leadership in their efforts to pass stricter measures for bishops’ accountability last year. That book, Wounded Shepherd, drew a strong response from the USCCB, which last week said it “perpetuates an unfortunate and inaccurate myth that the Holy Father finds resistance among the leadership and staff of the U.S. bishops’ conference.”
 
As the bishops of the United States have been at pains to emphasize their closeness to the pope, many in Rome have noted the rise of a narrative in which Americans are cast as totems of opposition to Francis.
 
During a September trip to Africa, the pope casually remarked that “it is an honor that Americans are attacking me,” in response to a book which suggested that so-called conservative opposition to his teaching was organized by U.S. Catholics.
 
In his address at the opening of the USCCB assembly on Monday, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. emphasized the importance of the pope’s priorities being reflected in American dioceses, and many U.S. bishops, including the USCCB leadership, are deeply sensitive to the impression that they are anything less than supportive of the pope and reject any suggestion of disloyalty. Many also saw McElroy’s intervention as harmful to the conference and even disingenuous.
 
“He wants us to think that to disagree with him – or [Cardinal] Cupich – is to disagree with the pope. It’s not true, but it works to undermine the conference leadership,” another bishop told CNA immediately following the vote. “It doesn’t serve communion among us, or with the pope. It’s about personalities and power.”
 
The final vote on the amendment declined to include Cupich’s longer text, with applause again breaking out when the result was announced, but several bishops approached CNA after the session concluded to express their concerns that the actual substance of the amendment had been obscured by McElroy’s pointed intervention.
 
“I had no problem with either [Cupich’s] longer version or [Gomez’s] preferred formulation,” one bishop told CNA. “But Bishop McElroy suggesting that by calling abortion what it is in our society we are against the pope is absurd.”
 
The bishop suggested to CNA that McElroy’s intervention “needlessly weaponized” the debate about the language of the letter.
 
During a press conference after the morning session, several bishops sought to smooth over the exchange between McElroy and Chaput, insisting that there was no contradiction between the bishops holding abortion to be the “preeminent” concern for the conscience of Catholics and the teachings of Pope Francis.
 
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, said that “The short answer is that yes, abortion is the preeminent [concern] and the vote makes that obvious.”
 
Asked about McElroy’s characterization of his view, and that of the conference, that calling abortion the preeminent concern was either opposed to or discordant with the pope’s teaching, the cardinal suggested the McElroy was perhaps trying to make a different point.
 
“I think Bishop McElroy was warning against exclusive choices – either/or – or highlighting something to the point that other issues disappear. And I think, if I have understood his intention correctly, he was right.”
 
It is likely that McElroy’s intervention will be raised behind closed doors, when the bishops will gavel themselves into executive session. Behind closed doors, efforts to insist that the conference speaks and thinks with one mind are unlikely to continue long.
 
The increasingly serious challenge facing the large majority of U.S. bishops is how to deal with a small minority of their number who seem to be attempting to position themselves between the conference leadership and Rome, and appearing to drive a wedge between them and the pope at the same time.

US bishops approve updated seminary program, Hispanic ministry efforts

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 18:32

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 04:32 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference on Tuesday passed several action items, including an update of seminary formation and an effort to catalyze the evangelization of Hispanic Catholics in the U.S.

Approval of the measures came as the bishops met for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, held from November 11-14.

The bishops approved a new edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, as well as a new translation of the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults and a new translation of Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Program of Priestly Formation is the blueprint for the formation of seminarians in the U.S.; the sixth edition, which was approved on Tuesday, incorporated the Vatican’s 2016 document “The Gift of Priestly Vocation.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said in a presentation on Monday that the updated program provides flexibility for dioceses, provinces and regions to adapt to individual circumstances of seminarians.

It focuses on benchmarks of priestly identity rather than “chronological time” in the advancement of a diocesan seminarian toward the priesthood, he said, by drawing from the concept of a “propaedeutic stage” of priestly formation that was called for in the 2016 Vatican document. This is a beginning stage with an emphasis on the study of philosophy, prayer, and discipleship.

Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, in floor discussions preceding the vote, said that in the last two years both he and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, had been working as part of a larger group on a “deepening” of understanding of priestly celibacy in seminary formation.

This understanding of clerical celibacy, he said, is “based on an effective maturity” that is “both spousal and paternal.” Estevez said that he and Bishop Cozzens would be working to publish a book on this called “Spiritual Husbands, Spiritual Fathers.”

The bishops approved the new edition of the priestly formation program by a vote of 226-4 with three bishops abstaining.

Also on the agenda was a new, reportedly more user-friendly, translation of the Latin edition of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA), under a more accurate title of “Order of Christian Initiation of Adults” (OCIA).

The bishops first voted to approve a translation of the Latin edition of the rite, followed by a second vote on the book in its final form, to be sent to Rome for approval.

A text for RCIA had been in use in the U.S. since 1988. The new translation was approved on Tuesday, by a vote of 217-3, with three abstaining.

The bishops also voted on a new translation of Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours.

To provide a sample of the new hymns, a choir with members from The Catholic University of America and the Fellow of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) performed two of the new hymns for bishops at the fall meeting.

The bishops voted to approve the translation 205-5, with two abstaining.

The votes were followed by a discussion of the V Encuentro meeting of 2018, a national gathering of more than 3,000 Hispanic Catholic leaders in the U.S. The bishops discussed some of the results of the Encuentro as providing a blueprint for the future of the Church in the U.S., and how the conference needs to incorporate those results at the parish level.

More than a year after the close of the V Encuentro, the bishops voted on Tuesday to start the process of incorporating the meeting’s conclusions and findings into its strategic plan for 2021-2024.

Recently, a Pew Research report on religious identity in the U.S. found that Catholics no longer make up a majority among Hispanics. The percentage of Catholics among Hispanics fell by 10% over the last decade.

Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, Ohio, said a statement from the conference in response to the V Encuentro should emphasize leadership development among Hispanic Catholics, as well as vocations to the priesthood or religious life, successful models of ministry, and a vision of the Church as a defender of social justice and human dignity.

Regarding the upcoming statement of the conference, Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, expressed his hope that the vision outlined in it would be “very practical” and not full of “platitudes and too generic.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont said that bishops should produce a pastoral plan of evangelization rather than a statement that would simply be a “large document that just disappears on a shelf.”

Catholic education was a key topic for much of the discussion, as the cost of education was cited as a significant obstacle to the Church’s efforts to provide a nurturing environment for Hispanic Catholics at the parish level.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston emphasized a push for tax credits and school vouchers for Catholic schools, as well as more youth centers, after-school programs and weekend programs for Hispanic Catholic children to involve families in local parish life.

US bishops approve hymn translations for Liturgy of the Hours

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 17:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The Latin rite bishops of the US voted overwhelmingly Tuesday morning to approve the International Commission on English in the Liturgy gray book translation of the hymns of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Nov. 12 vote was 204 in favor, and five against.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville tweeted that "the translation of the Latin hymnody in the editio typica of the Liturgy of the Hours is a tremendous contribution to the liturgical heritage. The theological insight and aesthetic of the Latin hymns will have an English voice into the future; a work of theological transmission."

Before the vote, the Fall General Assembly was treated to a concert performance in which the hymn translations were sung for the bishops.

The choir, which was directed by Adam Bartlett of Denver, consisted of Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionaries who live in the Baltimore area, as well as music students from the Catholic University of America. The choir sang the opening verse of the hymns, and were then joined by the bishops.

Bartlett told CNA that the choir had only just met up and rehearsed Tuesday morning before performing before the bishops. He knew some of the singers through his work with FOCUS, and he has directed the choir that performed at the organization’s national conference for the past four years.

Before ICEL did this translation, the vast majority the hymns that were printed in the English edition of the Liturgy of the Hours were translations of those found in the editio typica.

"What's unique about this translation is that the hymns of the Latin typical edition are actually being translated, which didn't happen the first time around,” said Bartlett.

“So we have hymns from St. Ambrose, Gregory the Great, you know, all of the great hymn writers … that are being translated and also paired with chant tunes that come from our rich tradition. In addition, of course, to modern melodies that they can be sung with,” he added. He said these translations created “great utility” as they could be sung with different tunes.

Bartlett said he found the updated hymns to be “absolutely gorgeous” and “so rich with theological imagery.” He thinks that these hymns are going to “make a really remarkable contribution to the musical life of the Church.”

“These are our hymns as Catholics,” he said. “These are the ones that come from the liturgy itself, and are put in the place where they ought to be sung, which is the Liturgy of the Hours. But I think that's probably going to have an impact on the hymns that we sing at Mass as well."

Valeria Lamarra, a chorister who sang on Tuesday, got involved with the ICEL hymn project through her school’s campus ministry. She had never met anyone she performed with before Tuesday morning.

“We had half an hour to practice, before getting up in front of 200 bishops,” said Lamarra. “It feels like a huge victory that the changes passed.”

Bishop Barron on how to reach out to the 'nones'

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 16:38

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 02:38 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the US bishop' committee on evangelization on Monday outlining five paths Church leaders should take to re-energize the religiously unaffiliated.

Barron’s Nov. 11 presentation was on the opening day of the USCCB’s Fall General Assembly, held in Baltimore. His presentation opened with a trailer for a new video that fully expands on how better to reach the religiously unaffiliated.

To better engage people who are not affiliated with any religion or who may be fallen-away Catholics, Barron said that the transcendentals – truth, goodness, and beauty – must be communicated to young people in order to pique their interest in religion. Barron presented five strategies and techniques that can be deployed in order to communicate these concepts to young people and the religiously unaffiliated.

These strategies highlight the Church’s teachings on justice, her beauty, her intellectualism, her missionary mission, as well as encouraging “creative use of the new media.”

Young people, said Barron, do not respond well to some of Catholicism’s teachings – particularly those on sex. What they do seem to appreciate, however, is the Church’s teachings on social justice. Barron suggested that it could be effective to lead with the Church’s teachings on social justice, referring to this as the “path of justice.”

“We have a very powerful tradition around doing the works of justice. And young people like that. They get it,” said Barron. He cited figures such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and St. Teresa of Calcutta as figures who have lived out Church teachings of social justice who should be held up as examples to the young people of today.

“We know this tradition. We should propagate it,” he said.

Barron said it was important to flex the beauty of the Church to young people, in what he called “Via Pulchritudinis,” or “The Way of Beauty.”

This beauty, said Barron, extends to more than just physical church buildings. There must also be beauty present in liturgies, as well as in things such as websites – where young people may first encounter their local parish. Barron stressed the importance of having a parish having a solid online presence, as well as engaging Catholic artists and writers and promoting their work.

“Beauty,” said Barron “is a great path to follow.”

Shifting gears to what he called the “intellectual path,” Barron was critical in how he believes the faith was currently being pitched to young people.

“We have to stop dumbing down the faith,” he said. He said there has been two generations of a “pastoral disaster” of bad formation, where key tenets of the faith were not effectively taught to young people.

This failure, said Barron, has led to people being unable to properly answer the tough questions that may be asked. When these questions go unanswered, said Barron, people may abandon faith altogether.

Despite what Barron called a “smart tradition” of Catholicism, he said it has not been properly articulated to young people through catechesis. He stressed the need for Catholic schools to better prepare their students so they are fully equipped to enter the next stage of life being able to properly defend the faith and answer those tough questions.

Next, Barron detailed his belief that it would be beneficial to “turn every parish into a missionary society,” to seek to better evangelize with young people and the religiously unaffiliated.

Barron said there must be “a dialogue with our priests and our people” regarding evangelization. He called for a change in mindset, and said that all parishes should be reaching out to the community with evangelization and mission work in mind. Parishes should “knock down the walls,” said Barron, and interact with the surrounding area.

“The young people aren’t going to come to us,” said Barron. “We have to go out to them.”

To properly execute these various techniques and strategies, Barron said priests, bishops, and parishes must embrace a “creative use of new media,” namely, social media platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

Social media is the “prime tool” to reach the young people, said Barron. He noted that young people are easily reached through social media, which are platforms that did not exist even a decade ago. The Church needs to embrace social media, which are platforms that can easily and simply reach large amounts of people, in order to reach into the world of young people, said Barron.

“It’s a tool that we can and should use to reach out to this world,” said Barron. He said that social media has a “sticky” quality about it that can draw in a user to continue to consume content. He cited an example of someone who came to embrace Catholicism after finding Barron’s videos regarding Bob Dylan and religion, which led to the person watching more and more videos on the Church.

The Church, said Barron, must invest in this, as well as hire “really good people” to work on social media.

After all, said the bishop, “young people live” online, and they must be reached where they can be found.

“Now we want to get them to parishes,” he said, “but as a first step, I think that’s one way to do it.”

In USCCB debate, Chaput defends prioritizing fight against abortion

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 15:20

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 01:20 pm (CNA).- The U.S. Catholic bishops approved a letter to supplement their voting document on Tuesday—but not without controversy during debate on the “preeminent priority” of abortion.

During discussion at the bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore on a letter to accompany the bishops’ document on voting, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the bishops considered whether to include an entire paragraph from Pope Francis’ 2018 apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego said that paragraph should be included to make clear that Pope Francis prioritizes other issues at the same level as abortion.

The U.S. bishops’ inclusion of the word “preeminent” before mention of abortion in another part of the letter, he said, “is a statement that I believe is at least discordant with the Pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent,” and one that “will be used to, in fact, undermine the point Pope Francis is making.”

“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face in the world of Catholic social teaching. It is not,” McElroy said, adding that to teach otherwise would provide “a grave disservice” to the faithful.

After McElroy spoke, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas said, “I absolutely think ‘preeminent’ needs to stay.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia rose to say that he did not oppose the inclusion of the full statement of Pope Francis, but added that teaching that abortion is a “preeminent” issue is not contrary to the magisterium of Pope Francis.

“I am certainly not against quoting the Holy Father’s full statement, I think it’s a beautiful statement, I believe it,” he said.

“But I am against anyone stating that our stating it [abortion] is ‘preeminent’ is contrary to the teaching of the pope. That isn’t true. That sets up an artificial battle between the bishops’ conference of the United States and the Holy Father, which isn’t true,” Chaput said.

“I think it’s been a very clearly articulated opinion of the bishops’ conference for many years that pro-life is still the pre-eminent issue. It doesn’t mean the others aren’t equal in dignity,” he said.

Many bishops in the audience applauded after Chaput finished his statement.

The U.S. bishops on Tuesday met for the second day of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, held from November 11-14. The meeting agenda included the elections of a new conference president and vice president and six committee chairs.

On Tuesday morning, the bishops elected standing vice president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as the conference’s first Hispanic president. Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit was elected as the vice president on the third ballot.

Later on Tuesday, the bishops voted to approve both a script for a short video on their voting document “Faithful Citizenship,” as well as a short letter to accompany the document, amendments to which were considered by the U.S. bishops’ Working Group on “Forming Consciences on Faithful Citizenship.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich had proposed an amendment to add the whole paragraph 101 from “Gaudete et Exsultate” into the letter.

The amendment had been accepted by the working committee with the changes that some, but not all, of the language of the paragraph would be included.

The reason the entire paragraph was not included was the need for brevity in the letter, Archbishop Gomez—the incoming president of the conference—later said, in the discussions on the language.

A footnote to the exhortation was included to draw attention to the Holy Father’s message, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco later said.

While the original discussion centered upon the inclusion of Cupich’s amendment, it triggered a debate over the inclusion of the word “preeminent” in mentioning abortion among other issues. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, had successfully included an amendment inserting the word “preeminent” before the mention of the abortion in the letter, to recognize its special gravity when considered with other issues voters are considering.

Cupich said that Pope Francis, in his exhortation on holiness, “makes sure that we do not make one issue that a political party or a group puts forward to the point where we’re going to ignore all the rest.”

The pope’s warning against the coexistence of consumerism with poverty, for instance, was not included in the voting letter, Cupich said, and the entire paragraph should be included for that reason.

Bishop Frank Dewane, who led the working group on “Faithful Citizenship,” proposed a compromise to include more language recognizing those issues Pope Francis mentioned in his exhortation, but Cupich said that he wanted the entire paragraph included.

“This is the magisterial teaching of Pope Francis put in a very succinct way, and I think we can all benefit from it as we speak to our people about the issues,” Cupich said.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego then made his intervention, with Strickland and Chaput responding.

The bishops then voted to keep the letter as is—without Cupich’s amendment to insert the entire paragraph into the text—with 143 members of the conference in support. Sixty-nine members voted in favor of Cupich’s motion, with four abstentions.

After that vote, the bishops voted on the final text of the letter, with 207 conference members voting in favor, 24 voting against, and five abstaining.

US bishops elect new committee leadership 

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 11:50

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:50 am (CNA).- Members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected six new chairmen on Nov. 12 at their Fall General Assembly in Baltimore. The Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services was also elected.

Bishop George Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Ohio was elected chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty after a tied vote against Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. Per USCCB bylaws, in the event of a tie, the position goes to the older bishop. At nearly 71, Murry is nearly two years older than Wenski, who recently turned 69. Murry was thus declared the victor.

Unlike the other five chairs, Murry will immediately take the helm of the committee, as Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville had resigned from the position in July due to illness.

On Nov. 11, the first day of the assembly, Kurtz underwent surgery for bladder cancer. The following day, immediately before the elections, outgoing USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo informed the bishops that he had spoken to Kurtz and that he was out of surgery.

Prior to the election for the chairman of the religious liberty committee, the bishops agreed by a voice vote to limit the term of the incoming chairman to just one year, to finish Kurtz’s original term. This was done to avoid an imbalance of committee elections.

Murry is eligible to be elected to a full three-year term at next year’s Fall General Assembly.

Five other committees elected a new leader, who will assume the role of chairman at next year’s Fall General Assembly. Until then, they will be known as the chairman-elect of the committee.

Bishop James Johnston, Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young people, with a vote of 167 to 77. He defeated Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Canonical Affairs, defeating Bishop Mark Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown by a vote of 144 to 97.

Next, Bishop David Talley of Memphis was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Ecumenism, besting Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter by a vote of 123 to 114.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. He defeated Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane by a vote of 151 to 88.

Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Ill., was elected as chairman-elect of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, garnering 140 votes to Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento’s 101.

Following the election of USCCB committee leadership, three members of the Board of Directors for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) were elected from a slate of seven candidates. Bishop Gregory Mansour, a Maronite bishop of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn and outgoing chairman of the CRS, told the bishops that the board of directors should be diverse in both makeup and episcopal location of clergy.

Bishops who serve on the CRS board are requested to be open to traveling to countries served by CRS programs, said Mansour, and to develop relationships with clergy overseas.

Bishops Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, and Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock received the most votes and were elected to the board of directors.

 

Archbishops Gomez and Vigneron elected USCCB president and vice president

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 11:13

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2019 / 09:13 am (CNA).- The bishops of the US have elected a new president and vice president to lead the USCCB for the next three years. On Tuesday morning, the second day of their fall general session, the bishops elected Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles as president and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as vice president of the conference.
 
As the votes were cast Nov. 12, Archbishop Gomez was serving as the USCCB vice president, and the bishops customarily elected the vice president to the presidency. From a slate of 10 candidates, Gomez was elected with 176 votes, more than double the number of the second-place candidate.
 
If Gomez’s election was a formality, the election of the vice president was more evenly contested. The bishops needed three rounds of voting to winnow down the nine remaining candidates.
 
Archbishop Vigneron led after the first ballot, with 77 votes but falling short of a majority. On the second round, that number rose to 106, with Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services the next placed candidate with 52 votes. The two archbishops were then put forward in a run-off third ballot, with Vigneron being elected with 151 out of 241 votes cast.
 
Gomez, 67, born in Monterrey, Mexico, and ordained a priest of Opus Dei in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant at the conference helm.
 
Vigneron, a Michigan native, has led the Detroit archdiocese since 2009. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1975 and made an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2003 he was named co-adjutor and later ordinary of the Diocese of Oakland.
 
Vigneron is widely considered to have provided steady leadership in Detroit during the recent sexual abuse crisis, even as the dioceses of the state face an ongoing Attorney General investigation. In April, he gave a speech in which he explained the importance of lay collaboration in the ministry of bishops as they govern their dioceses.
 
“In order to act well, I recognize that I am in need of what I might call ‘co-agents’--others who help me by thinking and acting along with me,” he said during a speech at the Catholic University of America.
 
"All the laity can continue to be engaged at the spiritual level, to realize that if there's going to be change in the Church, part of it has to be that we all pray for that to happen,” he said.
“The other thing is to continue to hold the pastors accountable, to urge us to do what we need to do to advance the purification of the Church and to support us as we're engaged in those challenges."
Seen as a moderate conservative, earlier this year he announced that archdiocesan sporting events and leagues would no longer play on Sundays to help encourage families to observe the day of rest.
 
Vigneron had been serving as the bishops’ conference secretary, and was elected to the vice presidency from a crowded field of candidates. Despite the long list of names on the ballot, the election was marked by the absence of any notably theologically progressive candidates.
 
One of the more thorny issues facing the newly elected leadership team will be how to deal with bishops, both active and retired, who face accusations of either negligence or abuse of office.
 
In June, the conference adopted a set of protocols on how diocesan bishops could limit the ministry of their retired or removed predecessors in the event that allegations came to light. Among those provisions was the option to “disinvite” emeritus bishops from attending future USCCB meetings.
 
Shortly before the November meeting, Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston wrote to the outgoing conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, asking him to disinvite former Wheeling Bishop Michael Bransfield, who faces numerous allegations of misconduct, both financial and sexual.
 
During a Nov. 11 press conference, CNA asked Cardinal DiNardo if similar requests to bar retired bishops from attending conference meetings would be made public.
 
“Bishop Bransfield was the first [such case] that we had, and I did a consultation with the administrative board,” DiNardo told CNA. “Not a vote taking, but a good consultation, but [the president] is the one who makes the decision.”
 
With investigations open in several dioceses, including into serving diocesan bishops in the dioceses of Crookston and Buffalo, Archbishop Gomez is likely to face several similarly sensitive decisions in the coming year.
 
Gomez and Vigneron also take the helm of the conference ahead of the release of the Vatican’s widely anticipated report on former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. On Monday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston updated the conference on the Vatican Secretariat of State’s progress on the investigation into McCarrick’s career rise through ecclesiastical ranks despite decades of alleged abuse.
 
O’Malley told the U.S. bishops that the Vatican process had uncovered “a much larger corpus of information than had been expected,” and that this had delayed the publication of a report.
 
A draft was now complete, O’Malley said, and was in the process of being translated and would be presented to Pope Francis in the near future. “The intention is to publish the Holy See’s response soon, if not before Christmas, soon in the New Year,” O’Malley said.
 
How that report is presented to and received by the faithful in the United States will likely be the most important part of the first year of the Gomez-Vigneron leadership.

‘I just wanted to be a priest’: Archbishop Gomez elected president of USCCB

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 09:25

Washington D.C., Nov 12, 2019 / 07:25 am (CNA).- When he became a priest four decades ago, Archbishop Jose Gomez did not expect that he would one day lead the largest archdiocese in the U.S., or the country’s bishops’ conference.

“I just wanted to be a priest,” Gomez told CNA with a laugh, speaking about his election.

“Somehow God wanted me to do what I am doing, and I’m just counting on the grace of God to be able to be faithful to what God is asking me to do.”

“And also on intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he added, explaining that he has entrusted all of his ministry as a bishop to the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Gomez, 67, was elected Nov. 12 as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The archbishop, born in Monterey, Mexico, and ordained a priest in Spain, is the first Latino to lead the bishops’ conference. He is also the first immigrant to head the conference.

His election is historic, but it was no surprise. Gomez became vice president of the conference, a central organizing body of almost 200 Catholic bishops with more than 300 employees, in 2016. The vice president is traditionally elected to the top job, so Gomez knew his election was likely.

But, he told CNA, the real surprise was becoming vice president three years ago.

“I was not expecting to be the president. Some people put my name forward for election as vice president [in 2016].”

“To my surprise I was elected vice president, then once you are the vice president, it is more likely that they elect you president. The whole process was a surprise to me, but I see that God is asking me to do it, and I just pray that with the grace of God I can do a good job.”

Gomez laughed, noting that he had never expected to become a Denver auxiliary bishop in in 2001, the Archbishop of San Antonio in 2004, or in 2010 head of the Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest local Church in the country.

The archbishop told CNA that his goal is to “try to live what I preach, and then, also, my ministry to the people — that’s the most important thing.”

His ministry, he said, includes serving “my brother bishops, priests, deacons, and also the lay faithful. Because really my vocation started with ministry to lay faithful.”

Gomez acknowledged that he spends a great deal of time on administrative responsibilities, and will have more of them as his term as president begins. But he said that even amid those responsibilities, and even while exercising them, he has time to build the pastoral relationships he finds so fulfilling.

“The fact that I am the Archbishop of Los Angeles gives me a beautiful opportunity to be with the people, because there are so many people active in the Church in Los Angeles. And also in the conference of bishops, really what’s its all about it serving the people, so I hope that I can have the opportunity to be with people, in events where people are, and that I can continue to be a pastor which is, I believe, my vocation.”

Gomez is the first bishop elected to lead the conference to be associated with Opus Dei, a Church group, founded in Spain and supported by Pope St. John Paul, that focuses on finding holiness in everyday life, and on the call to holiness of lay Catholics. The archbishop became affiliated with Opus Dei as a college student, and was a priest in the organization, formally called a personal prelature.

The archbishop’s vision of the Church, focused on collaboration and friendship between laity and clerics, and on the idea that everyone should be a saint, is informed by his experience in Opus Dei.

“The spirituality of Opus Dei,” he told CNA, “basically is to strive for holiness— personal sanctification — and ministry. Sharing our faith with everybody else.”

“Most of the members of Opus Dei are lay faithful living their lives and working and trying to share the faith and to be holy.”

“Everybody, starting with the pope and going through every single bishop, and priest, and deacon, we all are called to strive for holiness, with the universal call to holiness, provided to us by the Second Vatican Council, and also, as Pope Francis is insisting that we should be missionary disciples, so that means sharing our faith with everybody else,” he added.

Gomez told CNA that groups like Opus Dei, along with other Church movements like the NeoCatechumenal Way and Communion and Liberation that have gained popularity in recent decades, emphasize “the universal call to holiness making a reality in the life of the Church.”

“All of those different institutions that are promoting the vocation of the lay faithful are a blessing for the Church.”

“By the work of the Holy Spirit there have been in the universal Church many groups of people working as a movement just to bring the beauty of the Chirstian life to the presence of the lay faithful all over the world,” Gomez added, comparing Church movements to the diversity of ministries and apostolates in parishes, which he called “the center of Christian life in the United States.”

The archbishop said that in his own ministry as a bishop, he looks to the example of Pope St. John Paul II, and, that among American bishops, he has been influenced and inspired by a number of bishops.

“Obviously in the United States I had the blessing of working together with Archbishop Chaput because I was his auxiliary bishop, so he has been a wonderful example to me. But I have been influenced by many other bishops: Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Patrick Flores, and then Cardinal William Leveda, who just passed away, he was a good friend.”

Levada, Gomez told CNA, “asked me, when I was a young auxiliary bishop, to be a member of the doctrine committee of the USCCB. So that helped me to get to know the workings of the USCCB.”

Gomez takes the helm of the bishops’ conference in a difficult time.

The sexual scandals that emerged in June 2018, with revelations of abuse on the part of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, have preoccupied bishops and lay Catholics.

The ecclesiastical landscape has shifted too; the pontificate of Pope Francis is different in emphasis, tone, and style from those of his predecessors. Some U.S. bishops have been accused of resistance to Francis, and bishops have responded to his leadership in different ways.

“The reality of the bishops in the United States is that we all are faithful to Pope Francis,” Gomez told CNA.

“I think we all are united. There is some perception that we are not. But the reality— what I see— is that we are united in our ministry and in our Church.”

“Every pope brings some different aspects in the life of the Church that he, by the grace of God, believes are important. And we, the bishops of the United States, are trying to be more aware of what those things are, and try to make it happen in our ministry.”

Gomez acknowledged that Pope Francis’ leadership is not similar to that of his predecessors.

“I think it takes time for people to really understand the spirituality of Pope Francis.”

“I think there are many, many aspects that are different. They are cultural and spiritual; it’s the first time in the history of the Church that there is a pope from Latin America. And some of us, who have that experience, know that it is different from the culture in Europe, or in the United States, or in Asia,” Gomez said. 

“It’s also the first time there is a Jesuit who is the pope. So every religious community, and the diocesan priesthood, have different spiritualities.”

“So I think we the bishops of the United States, and I personally, are learning how to appreciate the different aspects of the spirituality and the culture of Pope Francis.”

Gomez added that “every bishop has his own spirituality, and his own ministry in the diocese, according to the needs of the people in the diocese,” he said, noting the difference in his experiences while serving in Denver, San Antonio, and Los Angeles.

“San Antonio was basically a community of two cultures: Hispanic culture and the Anglo-Saxon culture. Now in Los Angeles we have people from all over the world. So my ministry is different.”

“One thing Pope Francis insists a lot is to respect the cultures of people, different ways of worshipping. People in Peru, or in Mexico, or people from Vietnam have different ways of worshipping and living. So the Church in the United States is learning how to address the needs of people from around the world,” Gomez added.

As he begins his term as president, Gomez told CNA he hopes to help the Church “to really understand the cultural realities of the people in the United States. I think it’s important for all of us to be more open to that.”

“With immigrants, what I talk about is not assimilation, but integration: that they be integrated into the life of the United States and the life of the Church.”

As Gomez discussed the importance of understanding the diversity of cultures in the Church, he also emphasized the source of the Church’s unity.

“Obviously I have the same truths as we all have, the teachings of Jesus Christ, in the Catholic Church.”

Ukrainian archbishop: No amount of world progress can replace friendship

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 04:48

South Bend, Ind., Nov 12, 2019 / 02:48 am (CNA).- Are the times these days good or bad?

That depends, in part, on how one reads the times.

On the one hand, technological advances have brought illiteracy levels throughout the world from 90% to only 10%. Advances in science and medicine are allowing people to live longer and healthier lives.

“These are some of the good things that are happening. I think a lot of it is done out of friendship, out of good intention,” Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparch of Philadelphia, and the Metropolitan for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the U.S., said November 7. Gudziak was one of the keynote speakers for the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture 21st annual fall conference, which this year had the theme: “I have called you friends.”

“I don't canonize our times and I don't canonize longevity, but we do appreciate these things,” he said.

“And yet the times are not so good,” Gudziak added.

“In fact, they're similar to...what it was in 1914 when the Western world was convinced that progress would lead us to great happiness. Then the massacres began. World wars. The genocides,” Gudziak said.

He noted that for all of our technological and social progress, Americans are lonelier, more depressed and more stressed than ever. In Pennsylvania, one of the states where he serves, the opioid crisis has left people sick, dying, lonely and without hope.

“It's important to focus on friendship because no amount of material, educational, technological, industrial welfare can compensate for the relationships that we are called to,” he said.

Gudziak said some of the most profound friendships he’s seen are those he witnessed in Soviet Russia before it fell, and those he continues to witness in countries controlled by communism, although these friendships are not easy or without cost.

“In all of these countries that were or continue to be communist, where millions of people were killed, where the system killed systematically, people over generations developed a reflex to put on a mask, put up a facade, build a wall because the outside world is dangerous,” Gudziak said.

Families are encouraged to inform authorities against each other in communist countries, “so people in the family don't say things, because you can't trust. It becomes like a radiation.”

“You can't taste it, has no smell, no color, but it mutates the genes. There's an extra fear chromosome. It's a reflex. You can't control it. Two billion people have an added obstacle to cultivate profound friendship.”

And yet it was in these oppressive conditions in Soviet Russia that the Ukrainian Catholic Church, while it lost many members, grew deep roots and bonds of friendship among those that remained.

“(T)he Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which had about 4 million members in 1939, with 3,000 priests, was totally - on a visible level - liquidated,” Gudziak said.

“In 1945-46 all the bishops were arrested, hundreds of priests with their families were deported to Siberia. The church was rendered illegal and it remained the biggest illegal church in the world for 43 years until 1989. And it was very reduced. By 1989 there were only 300 priests left,” he said.

“But what a community it was! Forged in that fire of persecution,” he added.

When he met the underground Church, Gudziak said everything was stripped to the bare minimum - bishops had jobs as ambulance drivers or coal workers, there were no schools or churches or official institutions of any kind. The bishops didn’t even know one another’s names, because it was too dangerous to tell someone your name in underground seminary.

“And yet they were profoundly friends of Christ, and it was an incredible, intense relationship of those in the underground,” Gudziak said.

“The friendship was not just kind of a nice thing, it cost profoundly to be a friend of Christ in an atheist totalitarian system,” he said. “It cost to pass down the faith to your children. But the fruits are amazing.”

The Ukranian Catholic Church now again has 3,000 priests, 5 million members and 800 seminarians.

The story of the Ukranian Catholic Church is important because “it's the story of the cross,” Gudziak told CNA in an interview.

“I think the story of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, its persecution, its underground life, its survival...it's not a philosophy, it's a story of human faithfulness to God...the faithfulness of concrete people to God and to each other.”

From the beginning of humanity, God has been teaching human beings about true friendship, Gudziak noted in his talk.

“From the scriptures we know from our faith, we experience that the Lord so yearns to make us his friends. Moses had a special privilege to see face-to-face. Abraham was called a friend. The value of friendship was modeled by David and Jonathan,” he said.

“Then, Jesus came to us. Our faith, our church, our theology, our civilization is based on this incredible gesture that God comes to be close, to convey his divinity. He sits next to us,” he said.

“What a God, what a Lord, and what is He conveying? He's conveying the divine life shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Friendship...motivates the Father to send his Son into (the world’s) grime, into our anxiety, our sin, the pitch blackness that we can create, into our hell, into our death, to create relationship, to create trust, intimacy, to establish an alliance.”

“Friendship,” he said, “is the school of the spiritual life which reflects the gift of relationship that we have, by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of God. God is triune. He's personal and there's relationship. We as persons are called to relationship. We're called to friendship.”

Besides his appointments in the U.S., Gudziak also serves as the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. In striving to teach their students about true friendship, the university invites academics as well as students with disabilities into its classes and campus, he said.

“Not because they need us, because they need our social handout, but because the children of God with special needs have special gifts. They don't care where you got your Ph.D. or how many publications you have. They don't notice how rich or poor you are or, which title you carry,” he said.

“They have one basic question: Can you love?...There's no more important pedagogical question.”

In a world increasingly divided along political, religious and other ideological lines, Gudziak told CNA it is all the more important that Christians reflect on God’s friendship to us, and in turn our friendship with him and with others.

“I think ever since The Enlightenment, when we've really been focusing a lot on ideas, there's a tendency for ideas to become ideologies. And our consciousness in the Western world is very intellectualized, and our relationships can become abstract. They can be categorized according to different positions, world views, and they're in our head,” he said.

“If we look carefully at the Gospels and listen to Jesus, he doesn't speak about grand ideas. He talks about the Father, the Holy Spirit. He talks about relationships,” he added. “He talks about persons and interaction among persons, and he uses very personal, very concrete examples and stories to teach about life. He doesn't start from ideas and systems and ideologies and systems.”

In his talk at the conference, Gudziak noted that Jesus became friends with “very concrete people, Peter and John and Nathaniel. It's not an ideology, it's not a system. There weren't too many buildings there in Jesus's time, nor in Paul's or for 300 years.”

“So maybe if we lose the buildings and the endowments and the properties, maybe that's not the end of things, if we can recover or develop more profoundly our friendship.”

Blessed Sacrament stolen from Texas Catholic parish

Tue, 11/12/2019 - 02:18

El Paso, Texas, Nov 12, 2019 / 12:18 am (CNA).- The pastor of a Catholic parish in El Paso, Texas is calling for prayer and reparation after a tabernacle containing the Eucharist was stolen from the church.

On Oct. 28, Holy Spirit Parish in Horizon City was broken into by unknown individuals.

“It is with a very saddened heart that I write these words to you,” said Father Jose Morales, pastor of the parish, in a Nov. 1 letter. “Sunday night into Monday morning we had some intruders in the church that caused damages and stole items including the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament.”

The incident resulted in minor property damage and stolen items equal to a few thousand dollars, the priest said. He stressed that the worst aspect of the attack was the theft of the Eucharist, the value of which cannot be estimated. Catholic teaching holds that the consecrated Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.

“The desecration of the greatest gift possessed by the Church, the Most Blessed Sacrament, is a very serious matter,” he said.

He encouraged anyone with any information on the crime to contact the Horizon Police Department. He also asked parishioners to respond to the theft with acts of penance.

“Due to the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament I join our Bishop Mark Seitz in inviting you to make reparation for this violation by visiting the Blessed Sacrament and participating in any act of reparation,” he said.

“The indifference of the world towards God in the holiness Most Blessed Sacrament needs to be overcome with the devotion, love and the holiness of His children. Let us remain united and strong in the Lord and manifest that we are his faithful followers regardless of the violations that some express.”

Roberto Ceballos, a parishioner of 20 years, told KVIA that the theft made him feel unsafe in the neighborhood.

“When we heard the news about it, we felt bad...We couldn’t believe that it had happened here, of course, in the neighborhood and of course in a Catholic church,” said Ceballos.

“I don’t feel secure now... It's just a half-block away from my house,” he added.

Morales said it is difficult to understand the reasons behind the theft, but he urged the perpetrators to come forward and return the tabernacle.

“I don’t see the reason for something like this being done. We know God is merciful and if they would return what they took and repent it would be greatly appreciated, not just by us, but God will take that into account,” he told KVIA.

The priest encouraged his congregation to pray that the thieves repent and change their ways, and he asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to intercede for the parish.

“May our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, who witnessed the acts of hatred and indifference towards her beloved Son, bring us consolation and guide us closer to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit protect us always,” he said in his letter to parishioners.

Archbishop Naumann: Know the pregnancy resources available in your community

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 17:28

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas announced Monday at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting an initiative meant to help parishes assist pregnant women in need at the local level.

Everyone needs to know what pregnancy resources there are available in the community, Naumann said Nov. 11, adding that he hopes Catholics can move from “partisan divide into pastoral unity” on the topic of abortion and the Church’s response.

Naumann, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced that from March 25, 2020 to March 25, 2021 the bishops will support an initiative called “Walking With Moms in Need: A Year of Service.”

The program, Naumann said, will include resources for parish use, tools for creating an inventory of resources available to help women in the community, prayers for building a culture of life, reflections on encyclicals related to life, homily help, pulpit announcements, communications and outreach suggestions, and more.

He said all the resources related to the initiative will be online in English and Spanish, along with a timeline for putting them out.

Naumann noted that March 25, 2020 is the 25th anniversary of the encyclical Evangelium vitae, in which St. John Paul II expanded on the term “culture of life,” which he first used in the encyclical Centesimus annus four years earlier.

In Evangelium vitae, Naumann noted, St. John Paul II asked the faithful to assess the efforts in assisting pregnant mothers in need, especially at the local level.

“Pregnant and parenting moms in need are in our parishes and neighborhoods,” Naumann said, noting that there are 17,000 parishes in the United States and each parish is best equipped to help women at the local level.

“We have done little to help women in difficult situations,” when abortion seems like a quick solution to their problems, Naumann lamented.

Our parishes need to be, in the words of Pope Francis, “islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.”

Cardinal DiNardo notes search for justice in last USCCB presidential address

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 13:35

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 11:35 am (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, outgoing president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted Monday his experience leading the conference and detailing his personal growth over the last three years as his presidential term comes to an end.

“My service as president has been a continual reminder that, indeed, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,’” DiNardo said at the US bishops' autumn general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 11. While “our present culture can seem overtaken by various ideological or political divisions,” bishops and other followers of Christ need to be different, he affirmed.

“Follow a simple truth: ‘God is always courteous,’” said DiNardo. “Let us be courteous.”

DiNardo remarked that while his tenure was during the “difficult times within our own Church,” that the bishops must continue to seek justice and to work for “relationships that are ordered in the right way--that is, towards the salvation of souls, including our own.”

DiNardo presided over the USCCB after it came to light that former cardinal Theodore McCarrick sexually abused minors and seminarians on many occasions, as well as during the release of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania. Other states have since begun grand jury investigations.

Properly ordered relationships, said the cardinal, exclude any trace of clericalism. An ordained man cannot act “as if he is a lord and master” over others, he said.

“The privilege of a cleric is to be a humble servant to all,” he said. “Justice demands that those who are shepherds should lead from in front, as courage requires, and from behind, as humility requires, going to those who are lost.”

The cardinal said that his experience meeting with victims of sexual abuse as president of the conference was one that “forever changed” his life.

“When too many within the Church sought to keep them in the darkness, they refused to be relegated to the shadows,” said DiNardo. “Their witness brought help to countless fellow survivors. It fueled the resolve of my brother bishops to respond with pastoral support and prevention programs.”

Sexual abuse victims empowered the bishops “with the knowledge needed to respond,” said DiNardo.

“We must never stop striving for justice and working unceasingly to prevent any future abuse from happening,” he said. “The measures we approved last June are a beginning of this renewed striving, but they are only a beginning – more needs to and will be done.”

“Traveling on your behalf these past three years, it was a privilege to learn from so many people along the way,” said DiNardo.

He spoke about his time visiting the border detention centers, and witnessing the faith of the children who were detained and separated from their parents, as well as his experience with other bishops visiting refugees and volunteers at respite centers.

“I met dozens of children who called upon their Catholic faith and the firm knowledge that Christ and His Church would be present with them. Along with my brother bishops, we went because Jesus was already there. We followed our shepherd,” said DiNardo. He extended an invitation to all present to “share our journey of solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

DiNardo said that workers at respite centers, who provided medical care and other needs for people at the border, were “doing God’s work,” as were people who worked at pregnancy centers. He praised the work of pregnancy centers, as well as public policy advocates seeking to change the country’s healthcare system.

“The continued fight to defend unborn children is one of the most significant things we do,” said DiNardo. “And it will remain so as long as the most innocent lives are left unprotected.”

The cardinal's successor as USCCB president will be elected Nov. 12. The bishops are almost certain to choose Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who is currently vice president of the conference.

US nuncio: Francis' 'pastoral thrust' must reach Americans

Mon, 11/11/2019 - 12:03

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2019 / 10:03 am (CNA).- The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States told the nation’s bishops that their commitment to evangelization is the measure of their communion with Pope Francis.
 
Archbishop Christoph Pierre addressed the bishops during the opening session of the USCCB general assembly in Baltimore Monday morning.
 
Pierre told the bishops Nov. 11 that he would propose “some topics for reflection” which he hoped would inform the conference sessions. The central theme of his reflections was the commitment of the bishops to a state of constant missionary engagement.
 
“As often as we speak of the ‘new evangelization,’ serious reflection is necessary on the outcomes of our efforts,” Pierre said.
 
“Do you feel that we and our collaborators have been far-sighted and proactive in efforts at evangelization, anticipating cultural, philosophical, and political trends,” Pierre asked, “or do we find ourselves in the position of having been reactive?”
 
“Do pastoral priorities we have chosen truly touch the reality of the life of our people?”
 
The nuncio said that the extent to which the bishops themselves received and were able to transmit Pope Francis’ missionary and pastoral priorities, especially in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, was the barometer of their own communion with the pope.
 
Pierre said that adopting the missionary impulse of the pope’s own writings “and being in a permanent state of mission might represent tangible signs of communion with the Holy Father, for it would show the reception and implementation of his teaching.”
 
“The pope has emphasized certain themes: mercy, closeness to the people, discernment, accompaniment, a spirit of hospitality towards migrants, and dialogue with those of other cultures and religions,” Pierre said, while asking bishops to consider if these themes were reflected in their clergy and people.
 
“It is an interesting question to ask,” Pierre said, “because while there has been a strong emphasis on mercy by the Holy Father, at times – paradoxically – people are becoming more and more judgemental and less willing to forgive, as witnessed by the polarization gripping this nation.”
 
“The pastoral thrust of this pontificate must reach the American people,” the nuncio insisted, “especially as families continue to demand of dioceses and parishes the accompaniment envisioned by Amoris laetitia.”
 
Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, called for better pastoral provision and accompaniment for families and couples in irregular marriages. Whether the document can be interpreted as authorizing a change in Church teaching, or permitting the admittance of the divorced-and-civilly-remarried to Holy Communion, has been the subject of debate in dioceses and countries across the world.
 
The nuncio did point to some positive signs of life in American dioceses, specifically singling out the defense of human life and religious liberty and the generosity of Catholics in welcoming migrants to the country.
 
“The generosity and willingness of Catholic to sacrifice is witnessed in the charitable works during times of national disasters or through Catholic Relief Services,” he said, and signs of hope were present in the Church “even as many of us worry about the lasting impact of the sexual abuse crisis.”
 
The archbishop acknowledged that the Church in the U.S. faces “many challenges,” highlighting the demographic changes and the need to engage better with young people.
 
Pierre also highlighted a series of priorities and concerns about the welfare of the priesthood, acknowledging a shortage of clergy had led to strained circumstances in many dioceses. He urged to make “communion with the presbyterate” a key priority.
 
“Establishing communion within the presbyterate is becoming increasingly challenging, and not just because of differences in age, theology, or liturgical practices.” He noted the increasing numbers of priests from other countries serving in American dioceses.
 
“Although we are grateful for the sacramental and pastoral care provided by these priests, we must investigate how this has affected or is affecting the presbyterate within our respective dioceses.”
 
In answer to the shortage of clergy, Pierre said that there is “an urgent need the bishops to foster a “culture of vocation.”
 
“Building a culture of vocations also means providing adequate support for and accompaniment of families, where vocations are born and nurtured even at a young age.”
 
Pierre concluded by saying he hoped that the American bishops would find his “reflections” useful for the coming year.
 
“Knowing the richness of your spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as the depth of your faith and devotion and that of your people, I am confident that the Church in the United States will discover the right path for its spiritual renewal.”

Analysis: USCCB elections and the Church's theological vision

Sun, 11/10/2019 - 18:46

Baltimore, Md., Nov 10, 2019 / 04:46 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference fall meeting is unlikely to offer any surprises to Church observers watching to assembly. In fact, while the meeting will begin Monday, its only real surprise came weeks ago, when the list of candidates for the conference presidency and vice presidency was published.

The bishops will elect a new president Monday, almost certain to be Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the conference vice president. The uncertain question is who they’ll elect as vice president, but Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the military archdiocese are largely considered the front-runners, and one of them is likely to win.

But the surprise of the candidates’ list, released Oct. 21, is that nearly all the bishops eligible to be elected president or vice president are  typically classified, at least by secular media, as “conservative.”

Ordinarily, candidates represent a cross-section of the theological and socio-political perspectives within the conference. But this year, each of the candidates, save for one, has been described as a “conservative,” and, to some extent, the label fits. 

The categories of political sociology are not helpful in a Church context, because the modes of thinking and acting in the Church are very different from those of political partisanship.

Rather than speaking of “conservatives” and “liberals,” it is more accurate to say that the candidates for high office in the bishops’ conference can all be seen to represent the Communio school of post-Vatican II theological formation, instead of the Concilium school represented by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Bishop Robert McElroy.

The possible exception to this categorization of candidates is Bishop Dan Flores of Brownsville, who, as a rather well-read Thomist, does not fit neatly into either category. But in the contemporary theological landscape, a Thomist like Flores is generally thought to have common cause mostly with the Communio crowd. To borrow other, different, political language, Flores might be spoken of as an “independent” who usually caucuses with the Communio school.

In short, though, the nominees are more uniform in theological perspective than is typical for slates of conference candidates.

Candidates are selected by nomination; each bishop is asked during the summer months of an election year to nominate candidates for office, and those who get the most nominations in the running. The nominees they selected could be taken as a sign that most bishops hold to the Communio theological approach that defined the papacies of the St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, rather than the Concilium approach, which has enjoyed a resurgence in some quarters during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

It could also mean that any of the Concilium bishops who got a nomination declined it. There are, indeed, rumors that at least one archbishop who fits Concilium mold turned down the nod. But the idea that the U.S. bishops are mostly cut from the mold of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and tend to think like those men, is hardly radical, and it makes sense they would mostly nominate bishops of a similar vein.

But the nominees’ slate does signify that a one-time tradition in conference elections is probably over, for good. It has long been customary that the conference elect its vice president as president, and it was once customary that the top job alternated between “conservative” and “progressive”” bishops.

Both customs were interrupted in 2010. In that year, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who was then considered to be a “conservative,” was elected president in a coup that saw “progressive” vice president, Bishop Gerarld Kicanas, left out in the cold. Since Dolan’s election, two more mostly-conservative, Communio school bishops have been elected president of the conference.

Gomez, though naturally a bridge-builder and a man of modest temperament, falls rather squarely in the Communio school, and his successor is sure to as well. That will make five bishops of mostly similar theological orientation elected to lead the conference in a row. The unspoken custom of alternating between theological viewpoints seems to be dead.

Still, if the nomination of very similar bishops as candidates for the 2019 election signifies that the John Paul II Communio approach is the predominant viewpoint maong the U.S. bishops, it’s not certain how long that will last.

There are two Americans on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, which plays a heavy role in nominating candidates to the episcopacy. One is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is 78 and will depart from the congregation in two years. Wuerl, leaving aside the personal disgrace in which he now finds himself, is regarding theologically as a moderate Communio bishop. The other is Cardinal Blase Cupich, who, with his language of “paradigm shifts,” is regarded most definitively as a Concilium figure.

If Cupich plays a principal role in the nomination of U.S. bishops, the American episcopacy will likely tend toward the Concilium school, even as the Communio crowd takes leadership posts at the conference. Once the Concilium bishops occupy 51% of the American episcopate, however, the tides will turn.

That future likelihood, in fact, may well be the reason why no Concilium bishops are running to be conference president. If they expect that the composition of the conference might undergo significant change in the next decade, they might judge it better simply to bide their time.

The real difference of opinion between Communio and Concilium bishops concerns the interpretive lens through which the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and indeed the Magisterium of the Church more broadly, should be read. That theological debate will have implications for decades, and perhaps centuries. For a sense of how the debate is going, the leadership and composition of the U.S. bishops' conference may prove to be a pretty good litmus test.

 

Corpus Christi bishop donates bone marrow to save a mother's life

Sat, 11/09/2019 - 16:01

Corpus Christi, Texas, Nov 9, 2019 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- This week, Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi reflected on bone marrow donations and the life of the mother whom he helped save.

Before he became a bishop, Michael Mulvey joined the Be the Match Registry, the world’s largest register for bone marrow transplants (BMT), which is run by the National Marrow Donor Program.

After the organization discovered a match, South Texas Catholic reported, Mulvey, 70, traveled to San Antonio to make a peripheral stem cell donation. He had matched with a mother who had been diagnosed with a type of blood cancer.

Although Mulvey has never met the woman, he said he was humbled by the experience and expressed gratitude to be able to contribute to the well-being of this mother and her family.

“Knowing that because of the life I have been given by God – I was able to give back and make a big difference in this person’s life, in the life of her children and her family is something I have thought of quite often,” he told South Texas Catholic Nov. 5.

Mulvey said he was introduced to Be the Match in 2004, while he was a priest of the Diocese of Austin. There, he had met Leticia Mondragon, a donor development and engagement specialist with GenCure who partners with Be the Match.

“When I was assigned in Austin years ago, one of our very charitable and active parishioners was signing up people for Be the Match,” said Bishop Mulvey, according to South Texas Catholic. “I appreciated her commitment and dedication to this cause, and after hearing more about the registry, I signed up.”

BMT replaces unhealthy bone marrow with healthy marrow from an outside source. The procedure is used to cure cancers in the blood as well as diseases in the bones and immune system. Among other illnesses, BMT has been used for leukemia, aplastic anemia, and sickle cell disease.

According to South Texas Catholic, Mondragon said the process to sign up is more convenient than in the past, noting that people may apply through their smartphone.

Unlike blood donations, a match for BMT does not focus on blood type, but ethnicity. Mondragon expressed hope that the new system will add more “people of all ethnic backgrounds” to the registry.

She stressed the importance of BMT donors, stating that life-threatening disorders are discovered every few minutes, and thanked the bishop for his contribution.

“Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or blood disorder, such as leukemia or lymphoma,” said Mondragon, according to South Texas Catholic.

“We are thankful Bishop Mulvey wanted to share his story because it is so important that we have leaders like him promoting our global life-saving mission,” she further added.

Bishop Mulvey described the experience not only as an opportunity for charity but as a spiritual encounter.

“St. Matthew says what you have received as a gift, give as a gift,” said Bishop Mulvey, South Texas Catholic reported. “We must always remember that everyone’s life is a gift and true gratitude is expressed when you are willing to give back and share what you have.”

The Impossible Burger: Ethics and a CNA taste test

Sat, 11/09/2019 - 07:00

Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2019 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Food trends come and go, and the trend du jour is plant-based “meat” that is partially made in a laboratory.

Many vegans and vegetarians have rejoiced at the growing popularity and relative mainstream success of both the “Beyond” and “Impossible” brands, and there is a growing claim that eschewing meat choices in favor of these new products is a more ethical choice for consumers.

CNA spoke to Catholic moral theologians to discuss the ethics of eating meat, and the morality of eating faux meat during penitential fasts. And, lest CNA coverage of these products seem incomplete, we conducted a taste test.

According to Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at the Catholic University of America a person is not morally obligated to choose a vegan patty, like the Impossible Burger, over a beef or chicken burger.

“There’s no reason, in my opinion, to think the consumption of products so dependent upon technology are superior to the consumption of animal products,” said Capizzi.

“I do think, however, in both cases, ethically relevant issues include the production of the foods, including not merely the environmental impact, but also the ways technologies might distance the human being from creation,” he added.

Capizzi told CNA that while he does not think it is ethically superior for people to stick to eating mostly plant-based food, he does think that “people need to reflect on the ethical nature of eating.”

“Though eating is a basic human need, how we eat, what we eat, with whom we eat--including whom we exclude--are all questions that need our reflection,” said Capizzi. While these alternative products have done some work to address some of these concerns, there is much work to be done.

“One thing I’ve noticed is the lack of hospitality that can accompany over-restrictive diets,” he explained, recounting the experience of seeing a poor person offer meat to guests, presented as a luxury, only to see the meat rejected because of the guests’ vegetarianism.

Dr. Charles Camosy, a professor at Fordham University who has written extensively about veganism and vegetarianism, disagreed with Capizzi’s take. Camosy told CNA that these new products make it harder for American Catholics to justify eating meat.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church insists we have a moral duty not to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly,” said Camosy.

“With good-tasting protein available from so many sources now, including from new imitation meat products, the teaching of the Church would seem to indicate that the necessity of participating in the suffering of death of animals, for most of us, isn't what it might have been in the past.”

Camosy noted that the Bible states that in the new Kingdom of God that will come with Christ’s second coming, “animals are to be our companions, not our food.”

The new kingdom “will be a Peaceable Kingdom among all creatures: lambs, lions, snakes, and babies,” he said, and there will be no need to slaughter animals.

The faux hamburger market is dominated by two companies: Beyond Meat makes the Beyond Burger patty, Beyond Beef ground meat substitute, Beyond Sausage, and Beyond Beef Crumbles. Impossible Foods sells the Impossible Burger patty and the Impossible Sausage.

“Protein, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, and water are the five building blocks of meat,” says Beyond Meat’s website. Beyond uses plant-based versions of protein--including protein from peas, mung beans, fava beans, brown rice, and sunflowers--and fats to create its products. Additionally, Beyond uses beet juice to create a burger that “bleeds.”

Impossible Food uses “heme,” a protein that is found in nearly all living things, to make its plant-based burgers taste like meat. This heme also mimics a  “bleeding” effect.

“Impossible Burger gets its heme from the protein soy leghemoglobin, which is naturally found in soy roots. Impossible Foods produces soy leghemoglobin through genetic engineering and fermentation. Thanks to heme, Impossible Burger has a rich, beefy flavor that satisfies the most discerning meat-eaters — but it contains no animal products whatsoever,” the company’s website says.

Dunkin’, the restaurant once known as Dunkin’ Donuts, launched a Beyond Sausage sandwich nationwide Nov. 6 after a successful test market in Manhattan. Customers can choose to substitute a veggie egg white patty for the fried egg. CNA paid $3.99 for the Beyond Sausage sandwich.

An ordinary pork sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin from Dunkin’ costs $4.99.

CNA recruited three journalists for a blind taste test of the Beyond Sausage sandwich and pork sausage sandwich. Two out of the three testers were unable to determine at first glance if the sandwich they were eating contained Beyond or pork sausage, and one mistakenly thought the pork sausage she was eating was actually the Beyond Sausage.

Two out of the three testers said they preferred the pork sausage sandwich to the Beyond sandwich, but one said she liked that the Beyond sandwich reminded her of a falafel. This tester was the only one who said she would order the sandwich again in the future.

The sandwich was not extremely popular among testers. But some Catholics have asked whether it would be good enough to eat on a Friday, when Catholics are instructed to abstain from (actual) meat.

CNA asked Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., the academic dean and vice president of the Dominican House of Studies, to weigh in on whether or not an Impossible Burger (or similar product) would be appropriate for a day when Catholics abstain from meat.

“The Church’s universal norms say that we should abstain from meat on Fridays, especially Fridays in Lent,” explained Petri. “The Impossible Burgers are not technically meat. So, of course, someone could argue that we can eat them on Fridays.”

Still, he said that “giving up meat but having Impossible Burgers that taste like meat seems to me to be a technicality to get out of the spirit of the penance,” he said.

“We should remember the point here is to give up something in union with Christ crucified. If a person is seeking Impossible meat to skirt the penance, it’s hard to believe they’ve really understood the point of it all.”

It is important for Catholics to remember that fasting and abstinence are not done for purposes of dieting, or to respect animals, said Petri. The purpose of fasting is to “unite our offerings to the perfect offering of Christ, and so to prepare for the great feast of his coming.”

And for those who are still struggling (or hungry) on a Friday, Petri had some advice.

“If you’re craving meat on a Friday, offer it up.” 

 

Family demands answers after migrant in ICE custody removed from life support

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 18:59

San Diego, Calif., Nov 8, 2019 / 04:59 pm (CNA).- Relatives are still seeking answers about an asylum-seeker who was removed from life support after an apparent accident while in federal detention awaiting a hearing in immigration court.

Nebane Abienwi, a father of six who fled Cameroon this summer, was declared dead at a medical center Oct. 1 at the age of 37 after what was described as a “medical emergency” at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, USA Today reports. The detention center is a facility of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had custody over the man.

Abienwi’s brother Akongnwi, who asked USA Today to identify him by his last name for fear of repercussions against his family at home, said the family wanted the ventilator to be kept in place until a relative could arrive. The family wants to know why it was removed.

“We did not approve that,” he told USA Today from Cameroon. “One hundred percent, we did not.”

“The family spoke and said, ‘We believe in miracles. It has happened to other families, why not ours?’,” said the migrant’s brother. “I made clear that he should remain like that and the family would decide if we want to take him off that machine or not.”

ICE told USA Today that Abienwi’s treatment was determined by hospital staff. When its detainees are admitted to the hospital, it said, it works with relatives “to the extent possible to ensure they can participate in decisions.”

Nine migrants have died in ICE custody in the past year. The department detains over 52,000 migrants per day across 225 detention centers and jails. The numbers of arriving undocumented immigrants have surged, straining the resources of government facilities and personnel.

Akongnwi, a resident of South Africa who runs a car repair and brokerage company, has sought a travel visa to travel to California to find out more about his brother’s death, to identify the body, and to perform cultural rites before the casket is sealed. He has been denied a visa at both the U.S. Embassy at Johannesburg and in his native Cameroon. He said U.S. officials in Cameroon asked him whether he would apply for asylum like his brother.

Akongnwi has had to borrow money for his travel expenses. He has arranged for his brother’s body to be kept at a California funeral home but does not know how to get it home.

ICE officials had contacted Akongnwi on Sept. 30 to inform him of his brother’s critical situation. Officials at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center said Abienwi was bleeding profusely from his brain.

Abienwi had suffered a medical emergency about 3:24 a.m. on Sept. 26, according to the ICE detainee death report, apparently after falling off a top bunk in his cell. A nurse found him and reported that he was confused, sweating, making “jerky movements” and complaining of thirst. The detention center staff contacted emergency services at 3:50 a.m. and he was taken to the hospital.

Just after noon on Oct. 1 two doctors reviewed Abienwi’s examination results, concluded they were “were consistent with brain death” and then “pronounced him dead.” The ICE report said the doctors informed Abienwi’s wife 30 minutes later and hospital staff then disconnected the ventilator two hours later.

Akongnwi has questioned the accuracy of parts of the ICE report, saying his brother’s wife could not deal with speaking with the officials and directed them to speak with Akongnwi.

ICE officials said they are reviewing Abienwi’s death to ensure that officials followed policy.

The department has come under heavy scrutiny after President Donald Trump tightened migrant entry rules and refugee detention rules, and implemented stronger enforcement against undocumented migrants.

Watchdogs like the U.S. Inspector General have faulted the border patrol’s federal detention facilities, citing dangerous overcrowding that put detainees’ health and safety at risk.

Trump administration policy seeks to detain asylees until their case is heard in immigration court. Abienwi, who did not have a criminal record, had been in Customs and Border Patrol Custody for two weeks before being turned over to ICE for long-term detention.

Abienwi left Cameroon due to armed conflicts in his country, where about 500 villages have been destroyed, his family said. He flew to Ecuador and traveled through Colombia, Central America and Mexico before reaching the U.S. border. According to Akongnwi, his brother said he planned to request asylum.

“He wanted to go to the United States, get his documents, start to work, open a business and bring his family, so they can be safe and the kids could go to school,” Akongnwi told USA Today.

For decades, Catholic bishops and other leaders have advocated for comprehensive immigration reform.

The bishops have faulted various aspects of Trump administration policy, including its treatment of unaccompanied child detainees, its family separation policy, and its “stay in Mexico” policy wherein would-be asylum seekers are denied entry to the U.S. pending court hearings.

In June Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, whose diocese borders Juarez, Mexico, denounced “a government and society which view fleeing children and families as threats; a government which treats children in U.S. custody worse than animals; a government and society who turn their backs on pregnant mothers, babies and families and make them wait in Ciudad Juarez without a thought to the crushing consequences on this challenged city.”

“This government and this society are not well,” he said June 26. “We suffer from a life-threatening case of hardening of the heart.”

The bishops’ concerns about U.S. treatment of migrants pre-date the Trump administration. In a report released in May 2015, titled “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” they charged that detainees receive harsher treatment than criminal defendants and face increased difficulty securing legal counsel and due legal process.

They advocated reducing the number of detention facilities and recommended community-based case management as a cost-effective and successful model in the legal processing of immigrants.

The report cited attorneys’ and pastoral workers’ reports of “the sexual abuse of women detainees, women forced to deliver babies in restraints, frequent hunger strikes, suicides, government officials pressuring detainees to abandon their legal claims, and the treatment of severe medical conditions with Tylenol, Advil, and Motrin.”

Second federal court rules against HHS conscience protection rule

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 16:25

Spokane, Wash., Nov 8, 2019 / 02:25 pm (CNA).- For the second time in two days, a federal judge on Thursday said the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for health care workers violated the law.

Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District Court of Washington, an Obama appointee, ruled against the Department of Health and Human Services Nov. 7 after the State of Washington brought a lawsuit against the agency’s conscience protection rule that was issued in May.

The HHS rule had enforced existing laws which stipulated that health care workers and entities did not have to participate in, provide or pay for procedures they morally objected to, such as abortions.

The conscience rule was originally set to go into effect in July but its implementation was delayed until Nov. 22 because of lawsuits filed over it. Then, a federal district court judge in New York vacated the rule Nov. 6, followed by Judge Bastian’s decision Nov. 7.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a statement following Thursday’s ruling, saying that “all Washingtonians deserve to receive the full range of health care services” and that the district court recognized this.
 
“This rule would have disproportionately harmed rural and working poor Washington families, who have no alternatives to their local health care providers, as well as LGBTQ individuals, who already face discrimination when they seek medical care,” Ferguson said.
 
In allowing health care workers and entities to opt out of providing certain procedures, the rule unfairly discriminated against people seeking abortions, gender-transition surgeries, and other procedures, he argued. 

The HHS rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority” drew upon existing conscience protections that had already been enacted by bipartisan majorities in Congress, and provided for enforcement of these protections in HHS-funded health care programs.

Under the rule, health care providers, entities, and workers would be prevented “from having to provide, participate in, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, services such as abortion, sterilization, or assisted suicide,” HHS said when the rule was finalized in May.

HHS also issued the rule to clarify the conscience rights of health care employees and institutions so they might not “feel compelled” to participate in a procedure against their moral convictions or leave the industry altogether.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, Congress had begun enacting laws and amendments to provide some protections for health care workers or entities opposed to participating in abortions and sterilizations, in federally-funded programs. Provisions such as the Weldon Amendment, the Church Amendments, and the Coats-Snowe Amendment were examples of these protections.

In 2008, at the close of the Bush administration, the HHS also issued a conscience protection rule for health care workers that was rescinded by the Obama administration.

In 2011, HHS issued a new conscience rule, one which “provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights,” the Trump administration later said, as it was based on only three existing laws; in contrast, the 2019 rule was based on more than two dozen statutory provisions protecting conscience rights.

In response to the 2019 rule, a coalition of 19 states, the District of Columbia, local governments, and pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, all sued the administration.

On Wednesday, a district court judge in New York struck down the 2019 HHS rule, saying that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Constitution.

However, the judge did not prevent the administration from amending the rule and reissuing it, writing that “The Conscience Provisions recognize and protect undeniably important rights” and that “HHS undoubtedly has potent existing authority to remedy violations of the Conscience Provisions.”

The HHS Office of Civil Rights says that, while the rule will not go into effect for the time being, the office will continue to investigate complaints of conscience violations in health care, under the agency’s 2011 rule and the existing laws passed by Congress “to the extent not prohibited by court order.”

During the Trump administration, the agency had created a new division for conscience rights and religious freedom within the Office of Civil Rights, as an effort to hear and investigate cases of discrimination against the conscientious beliefs of health care workers.

In August, the agency released the results of its investigation in a case at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where it said a nurse had been coerced into assisting in an abortion despite her conscientious objection. HHS issued a notice of violation against the hospital.

Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a press call announcing the violation that over the course of eight years the agency received only 10 complaints by health care workers of conscience violations; now hundreds are received per year.

The Department of Justice had not responded to CNA’s request for comment by press time on whether or not the administration would appeal the two decisions to a higher court.

Holy See won't participate in Nairobi Summit

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 14:01

New York City, N.Y., Nov 8, 2019 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- The Holy See will not participate in next week's Nairobi Summit, its mission to the UN announced Friday, saying next week's international gathering is too focused on “reproductive rights”.

The Nov. 12-14 Nairobi Summit is sponsored by the UN Population Fund and the governments of Kenya and Denmark, and it marks the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in Cairo.

Its program includes five themes, among which are “Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a part of universal health coverage” and “Upholding the right to sexual and reproductive health care even in humanitarian and fragile contexts.”

“The organizers’ decision … to focus the conference on a few controversial and divisive issues that do not enjoy international consensus and that do not reflect accurately the broader population and development agenda outlined by the ICPD, is regrettable,” the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations said Nov. 8.

The Holy See had informed Kenya Oct. 24 it would not be participating in the summit.

“The ICPD and its encompassing Programme of Action within the international community’s broad development agenda should not be reduced to so-called 'sexual and reproductive health and rights' and 'comprehensive sexuality education,'”, the Holy See stated.

Rather, there is an “urgent need to focus on critical aspects of the Programme of Action, such as women and children living in extreme poverty, migration, strategies for development, literacy and education, the promotion of a culture of peace, support for the family as the basic unit of society, ending violence against women, and ensuring access to employment, land, capital and technology, etc.”

The permanent observer mission said the Holy See cannot support the Nairobi Statement, citing that “no substantive and substantial consultations on the text were carried out. The Holy See notes that if more time and a truly inclusive approach had been chosen, broader support could have been ensured for the text and for the conference.”

It added that “the conference will be held outside of the United Nations framework, thus precluding transparent intergovernmental negotiations while conveying the misleading impression of 'consensus' on the 'Nairobi Statement.' Therefore, 'The Nairobi Summit' cannot be deemed a meeting requested by the United Nations or held under its auspices.”

The permanent observer mission added that “the Holy See is and remains a staunch supporter of ensuring the advancement of equitable, sustainable and integral human development that fosters human dignity and the common good of every man, woman and child.”

Several African bishops have also noted grave concerns with the gathering in Nairobi.

Bishop Alfred Rotich, Bishop Emeritus of the Military Ordinariate of Kenya and chair of the Kenyan bishops' family life office, told ACI Africa: “We find such a conference not good for us, (and) destroying the agenda for life.”

Archbishop Martin Kivuva of Mombasa described the summit's agenda as “unacceptable according to our teaching of the Catholic Church” and he encouraged Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to be wary of the forum.

To counter the agenda of the Nairobi Summit, the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, with the backing of Kenya's bishops, has organized a parallel convention to be held Nov. 11-14.

Florida school asked to reconsider rejection of pro-life student group

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 11:58

Naples, Florida, Nov 8, 2019 / 09:58 am (CNA).- A Florida public high school’s decision not to recognize a student pro-life group is a violation of the Constitution, one legal group says.

Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom on Nov. 7 sent a letter to Gulf Coast High School in Collier County, Florida, asking administrators to reconsider the decision to deny the club official status.

Earlier in the school year, student Gabrielle Gabbard attempted to form a Sharks 4 Life student group on campus, affiliated with the national Students for Life organization. The purpose of the group, according to a promotional flyer, was “to educate students and bring awareness through community service projects and other events.”

However, the letter from Alliance Defending Freedom charges, Assistant Principal Catherine Crawford-Brown told Gabbard that the group would not be approved by the school district because it was too “political” and “controversial.”

The letter also says Crawford-Brown threatened the club’s faculty advisors, suggesting that they could lose their jobs if they were affiliated with the club, which caused them to withdraw from their participation in the group.

Gabbard and her peers have now missed out on club recruiting opportunities and been denied access to school facilities and advertising, the letter says.

Alliance Defending Freedom said the school’s actions constitute “a blatant form of discrimination based on the club’s viewpoint and the political content of its speech [that] is expressly disallowed” by both the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Equal Access Act.

“Public school officials can’t refuse to recognize a student organization for being too ‘political’ or ‘controversial,’ especially when they have rightfully approved a whole host of other clubs formed around religious, political, and social interests,” said Michael Ross, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, in a press release. “The First Amendment doesn’t permit a public school to play favorites when approving student organizations.”

The letter notes that Gulf Coast High School recognizes more than 75 students clubs, including others with religious and political affiliations, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Gay Straight Alliance, and Collier Students for Change, which is affiliated with Florida’s Democratic Party, have all been approved by the school.

In the letter, Alliance Defending Freedom asks the school to provide written notification of Sharks 4 Life’s approval within a week, and asked the Collier County school board to update its written policies clarifying that clubs will not face discrimination based on their religious or political views.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, warned that the scenario at Gulf Coast High School was not unique.

“Across the country, we are seeing incredible opposition to the pro-life speech of our student leaders and volunteers as they speak for the defenseless and educate their fellow students on abortion,” she said in a press release.

“But the law and the Constitution are clear on the matter: Public schools cannot single out pro-life groups for exclusion from recognition. Officials in Collier County need to do the right thing and do it quickly.”

 

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