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British baby Charlie Gard dies in hospice care

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 3:34pm

IMAGE: CNS/family handout, courtesy Featureworld

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Charlie Gard, the British baby whose legal battle caught the attention of the world, died July 28, just over a week before his first birthday, his family announced.

Connie Yates, the baby's mother, issued a brief statement saying: "Our beautiful little boy has gone, we are so proud of you Charlie."

Charlie, who would have turned 1 year old Aug. 4, had been transferred to a hospice for palliative care after Yates and his father, Chris Gard, said July 24 they had decided to drop their legal battle to pursue treatment overseas.

The couple wanted to take Charlie home to die, but a High Court judge decided it was in the child's best interest to spend his final hours in the care of a hospice. He suffered from encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome.

The situation had caught the world's attention, including the attention of Pope Francis. The day the parents dropped their legal battle, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said the pope was "praying for Charlie and his parents and feels especially close to them at this time of immense suffering."

"The Holy Father asks that we join in prayer that they may find God's consolation and love," Burke said.

Charlie's parents, who live in London, had fought for eight months for medical help that might have saved the life of their son.

They raised 1.3 million pounds (US$1.7 million) to take him abroad for treatment, but the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London had argued that Charlie was beyond help and that it was not in his best interests to be kept alive, triggering a protracted legal battle with the parents that led to interventions from U.S. President Donald Trump and from the pope.

At a news conference July 25 in Rome, Mariella Enoc, president of the Vatican children's hospital, Bambino Gesu, said the hospital had partnered U.S. neurologist, Dr. Michio Hirano, to study Charlie's case. In July, the hospital agreed with Hirano that the child's illness had proceeded too far for treatment, which might or might not have worked six months earlier.

But "the plug was not pulled without having tried to respond to a legitimate request by the parents and without having examined fully the condition of the child and the opportunities offered by researchers on an international level," the hospital said in a statement.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

After repeal fails, 'task remains' to reform health care, says bishop

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 12:37pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters

By

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the Senate Republicans failed to get enough votes to pass a "skinny" repeal to remove parts of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of July 28, a U.S. bishop said the "task of reforming the health care system still remains."

The nation's system under the Affordable Care Act "is not financially sustainable" and "lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

It also "is inaccessible to many immigrants," he said in a statement.

"Inaction will result in harm for too many people," Bishop Dewane added.

The failed repeal bill was a pared-down version of earlier bills. It would have repealed both the individual mandate that says all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a penalty and the requirement all large employers offer health insurance to their workers. It would have expanded health savings accounts, delayed a tax on medical devices and increased funding for community health centers.

The vote was 51 against, and 49 in favor. All the Democrats voted "no." Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, joined two other GOP senators in rejecting the measure, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had pushed the latest version forward in hopes it would be passed and lead to a conference with the House, which May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the ACA, to hammer out a compromise measure.

The Senate vote is over, but the need to reform health care remains, said Bishop Dewane, who urged the two political parties to get past their divisions and work for "the common good."

"A moment has opened for Congress, and indeed all Americans, to set aside party and personal political interest and pursue the common good of our nation and its people, especially the most vulnerable," he said.

He laid out four action items he said are essential to any bill to be considered in the future:

-- "Protect the Medicaid program from changes that would harm millions of struggling Americans."

-- "Protect the safety net from any other changes that harm the poor, immigrants, or any others at the margins."

-- "Address the real probability of collapsing insurance markets and the corresponding loss of genuine affordability for those with limited means."

-- "Provide full Hyde Amendment provisions and much-needed conscience protections."

"The greatness of our country is not measured by the well-being of the powerful but how we have cared for the 'least of these,'" Bishop Dewane said. "Congress can and should pass health care legislation that lives up to that greatness."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Upcoming referendum will only worsen crisis, Venezuelan bishops say

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 10:05am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Carlos Garcias, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Days before a referendum to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite Venezuela's constitution, leaders of the country's bishops' conference said the referendum is illegal and will only increase the suffering of the people.

The July 30 referendum is "unconstitutional as well as unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people," members of the presiding council of the bishops' conference said in a statement released July 27.

"It will be a biased and skewed instrument that will not resolve but rather aggravate the acute problems of the high cost of living and the lack of food and medicine that the people suffer and will worsen the political crisis we currently suffer," the statement said.

Tensions have steadily increased under the government of President Nicolas Maduro who continued to tighten his grip on power despite nationwide outrage against his administration of the country's crumbling economy.

Protests began after March 29, when the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled to dissolve the country's parliament, in which the opposition had a two-thirds majority following the 2015 elections. The unprecedented ruling transferred legislative powers to the Supreme Court, which is comprised of judges nominated by Maduro.

Although the government-backed court reversed its decision, Maduro's push for a constituent assembly comprised mainly of his supporters has led to further violent demonstrations in which more than 100 people have died.

While emphasizing that the constituent assembly was "not convoked by the people," the Venezuelan bishops urged government and opposition supporters to resist resorting to violence.

"Violence must never be the way to solve social conflicts that worsen day by day in our Venezuelan society. Excessive repression along with the toll of the wounded, dead and detained generates more violence," the bishops said.

The leaders of the bishops' conference also reminded the country's military, which has been accused of killing several protesters, that they are called to keep the peace and that their "first obligation is with the people." The military, they said, "is constitutionally called to defend the lives of all citizens, without any distinction of class or political affiliation."

"Let us not further increase the suffering and anguish of so many people who want to live in peace," the bishops said. They also expressed the hope that "the voice of protest is heard and respected and that paths of understanding and well-being for all may be found."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

World 'sorely needs' Scouts' values of generosity, service, says nuncio

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 5:40pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Michael Roytek, courtesy Boy Scouts of America

By

GLEN JEAN, W.Va. (CNS) -- Scouting develops generosity, service and fraternity, which are all values "our world sorely needs," the papal nuncio told Catholic Scouts gathered for a July 23 Mass during the annual Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree.

"These values are the antidote to the selfishness and individualism of our society," Archbishop Christophe Pierre said in his homily. "Scouting also encourages you to work together as a team, to share adventures, and to have a greater vision of life and creation."

The archbishop was the principal celebrant of the outdoor Mass celebrated in Glen Jean at the Summit Betchel Reserve in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia. The July 19-28 jamboree drew 25,000 Scouts and troop leaders from around the country; about 7,500 attended the Mass.

Concelebrants included two officials of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, both of whom are Eagle Scouts: Msgr. John J.M. Foster, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer, episcopal vicar for Europe and Asia. More than a dozen priests also concelebrated.

As he began his homily, Archbishop Pierre thanked Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston for hosting the Mass and acknowledged Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who is episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. He also assured everyone of Pope Francis' prayers and his "personal closeness to all gathered here."

The French-born archbishop recalled his own years as a Scout and how Scouting has benefited members of his family.

"This jamboree brings back a flood of memories from my youth. I was a Scout for five years, right up until I entered the seminary," he said in his homily. "I know the value of Scouting in my own life as I have traveled all over the world serving as a diplomat, and I have seen the real fruits of Scouting in my own family, especially in the lives of my nephews and nieces."

Turning to the spiritual, he said that "amid the beauty of creation, Scouts ponder the God who made all things and who invites us to a relationship with Him. Scouting demands that we do our duty toward God, including worshipping him."

Drawing on the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, he told the Scouts: "We have a God who cares for us" and he sent his Son to be born, not in power and majesty, but in poverty and weakness -- as a child."

Jesus "wanted to be close to the people and to teach them about the kingdom of his father," Archbishop Pierre said. "It was not a kingdom of power or violence, but one of justice, love, and truth. To teach the crowds, Jesus told parables -- stories -- just like we share stories in Scouting. Jesus' stories point us to something new, something beyond this world."

With God, "our lives are filled with joy, blessing, and fruitfulness," he said.

"Before we can make known to others this joyful message of the kingdom, we must first attend to the 'field' of our hearts," he said, urging them also to be vigilant in safeguarding "the seed of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit" sown within each of them.

"Jesus reminds us of the need to be vigilant -- to stay awake, to be vigilant and keep watch, to be ready to preserve the grace we first received in baptism," Archbishop Pierre continued. "Scouts know about staying awake and keeping vigil by the camp fire; about being ready and alert; about watching for danger. We need to do the same with our souls, guarding them from the enemy.

"After keeping watch over our souls, we can look to the needs of others, as a church that goes forth," he said."Our own commitment to holiness, to our neighbor, to the environment, and to being honest and decent can be an antidote for our culture and world."

He quoted Pope Francis: "An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds."

"The Holy Father is asking you, the Scouts, to be vigilant -- to look out for your brothers and sisters and to be patient," Archbishop Pierre said. "The important thing is to persevere, to not give up in your mission and to not give up on others, hoping that they might have new life."

He said the pope "constantly refers to all the baptized as missionary disciples."

"Scouts cultivates in young people a real spirit of adventure, a zeal for exploration and for mission. The Lord is counting on you," he added.

Archbishop Pierre said the Scouts are called to be "leaven" in a world today that "is plagued by isolation, selfishness and individualism. In contrast, Scouts know something about being together, including others, and teamwork. Everyone must contribute something."

He said he has always been impressed by Scouts' spirit of "commitment and generosity." He closed his homily "with a prayer for generosity" -- the Scout Prayer -- "which I learned many years ago." He asked the Scouts to make the prayer there own reciting it first in French and then in English:

"O Lord, teach me to be generous; To serve you as you deserve; To give and not to count the cost; To fight and not to heed the wounds; To labor and not to seek for rest; To toil and not to seek any reward; Except that of knowing that I am doing your holy will."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

'We are bridge builders': Maronite Catholic youth gather in Lebanon

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 3:00pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Johnny Antoun

By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) -- They came from around the world, from Australia, South America, Europe and the United States. Some came from Africa, and some from nearby countries in the Middle East.

They clapped and ululated, creating a celebratory atmosphere as nearly 500 young people from other countries joined 1,000 Maronite Catholic youths from Lebanon for World Maronite Youth Days.

Some participants came with a durbakke, a popular Lebanese hand drum, to accent the mood with a rhythmic beat. When a troupe of folk dancers performed the traditional dabke dance, many youths rushed from their seats to form snakes on the perimeter of the seating area, hands joined for the step-and-stomp line dance. Even nuns joined in.

"Everyone is singing songs, outwardly praising," said Michel Kahwajy, 24, a Maronite Catholic from Richmond, Virginia.

"Meeting people that are my age that are passionate about their Maronite faith, that's been a really moving thing for me," he told Catholic News Service.

Although "America is a little bit more diverse ... being a 'melting pot' that it is, life is built more around religion here (in Lebanon)," Kahwajy said.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the Vatican nuncio to Lebanon, welcomed the people "with great love" and told them "Pope Francis is among you and encourages you all." Each participant received the Gospel of Luke in booklet form, a gift from the pope, and the nuncio urged them "to be a living Gospel."

The World Maronite Youth Days ran July 15-25. Pilgrims stayed with host families throughout Lebanon's 13 Maronite eparchies, or dioceses, for the first few days to experience the day-to-day culture and spiritual life in a Lebanese Maronite Catholic parish. Later, monasteries and convents hosted the youth.

Each morning began with Mass, prayers, catechesis and discussion groups. The youth also visited holy sites of Lebanon, including the tomb of St. Charbel, and they trekked through the forest of the famous Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab), cited 103 times in the Bible.

"Despite differences of culture and language, we are bridge builders," said Father Toufic Bou Hadir, coordinator of the youth pastoral ministry for the Maronite Patriarchate. He told the young people: "In the face of terrorism, violence and conflicts, let's say: 'We are strong and courageous.'"

"It changed me a lot, this experience, sharing with a lot of young people, (who are) different, but with the same belief," 18-year-old Ismael Azar of Buenos Aires, Argentina, told CNS. Even during times of fun, Azar noted, "it's a spiritual moment too, because the climate of the event is very spiritual."

"What I'm bringing back to Argentina," Azar said, "is a lot of (new) friends that treat us like a family," and a mission "to bring Jesus to the others."

Sandy Agob, 23, said she and 13 others from the area around Aleppo, Syria, were "trying to stay happy, and that's why we are here to celebrate with the Maronites, although there are bombs and problems in Syria."

Agob said she appreciated the fellowship aspect of the event.

"We should stay strong even if all the situation is against us. We need to stay together, all the Christians in the world," she said.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Study says doing away with immigration program would harm economy

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 2:46pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Citing the significant economic contributions of immigrants under a federal program known as Temporary Protected Status, a new study says ending the program -- as some in the Trump administration have suggested -- would negatively impact the U.S. economy.

That's because more than 80 percent of the approximately 325,000 immigrants in the country with the status known as TPS have jobs, many have mortgages, pay taxes and work in industries crucial to the economy, such as construction, child care and health care, and collectively have some 273,000 U.S.-born children, says a July report by the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

Kevin Appleby, the center's senior director of international migration policy, said if extensions for the migrants are not granted or the program is terminated, crucial industries would see a shortage of workers, banks would see defaults in mortgages, and government coffers would lose out on tax revenues and consumer spending.

"Let's hope the financial industry realizes that," he said.

Deporting TPS recipient parents also would create thousands of orphans in the country, which would increase foster care costs, place a burden on local and state governments, and alienate the children affected, said Appleby. He was one of three officials from the center who explained the report "Statistical and Demographic Profile of the U.S. Temporary Protected Status Populations From El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti" in a July 20 video conference.

Demographer Robert Warren said TPS recipients have high participation in the U.S. labor force, 81 percent to 88 percent, well above the 63 percent rate for the total U.S. population; almost half of them have mortgages, and 11 percent are self-employed, creating jobs for themselves and others, the study says. They work in construction, food service, child care centers and the health care industry, said Warren, senior visiting fellow at the Center for Migration Studies.

The TPS program has been around for 27 years and provides a work permit and reprieve from deportation to immigrants from some countries recovering from conflicts or natural disasters. Immigrants from war-torn countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti account for 90 percent of program's beneficiaries in the U.S.

Donald Kerwin, the center's executive director, said: "TPS has been a vitally important and successful protection and humanitarian program for 27 years. It's definitely not a perfect program, but its imperfections have more to do with who it doesn't cover than who it does." 

The program also doesn't provide a path toward a more permanent status for migrants since the Department of Homeland Security has to periodically grant extensions.

A TPS beneficiary from Haiti, for example, who was granted protections following the devastating earthquake in 2010 has to see if the U.S. government will grant extensions to the program to determine whether she or he can legally remain the U.S. The extensions can go on for years and, in the meantime, TPS beneficiaries get jobs, get married, have children, buy homes and become involved in the community.

Though recently a six-month extension was granted to Haitians, Homeland Security on its webpage tells Haitian TPS recipients to use the time before Jan. 22, 2018, to prepare for and arrange departure from the United States. DHS also will look at what to do with TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador and Honduras in early 2018.

Kerwin said many are deeply embedded in the U.S. communities and have long contributed to the country, adding that roughly half of Salvadorans and Honduran TPS recipients have been in the country 20 years or more.

"The concern is that the Trump administration could terminate the TPS designations for these nations, which our paper concludes is the worst option," Kerwin said. "It's really not just a lose-lose option. It's a lose-lose-lose option because, as the report shows, it would be bad for the U.S., for its communities, for families, for the housing market, for certain industries in particular and for the economy overall."

It also would be detrimental to the migrants' countries of origin, said Kerwin, because they already have said they can't safely accommodate returning populations. Some migrants may not leave and even those who do may attempt a return to be with family in the U.S. in the future, he said. Termination of TPS would only create yet another group of residents in the United States without legal permission, Kerwin said.

Immigrant advocate groups are urging more extensions, knowing that under a Trump administration more permanent options, and even legislative options, are simply not a reality.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration has repeatedly advocated for the extensions and, in May, its chairman, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, thanked DHS for the TPS extension for Haitians.

Other groups, such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said even though the extension was a positive development, it was a temporary fix. Countries such as Haiti, whose citizens benefit from the program, need more stability before masses of people are sent back, CLINIC officials said. Some say that destabilizing these countries with the influx of people is only going to result in even more people trying to leave their homelands for the U.S.

"Extension of TPS is not the perfect option but it looks to be the best available option at this point," said Kerwin, adding that legislative options would be more difficult to bring to fruition.

Many advocates worry that the worst possible option, ending the program altogether, is under consideration by the Trump administration.

DHS Secretary John Kelly "has already indicated a posture of the administration not to extend TPS to these countries. ... It's becoming clear that the administration wants to end TPS to these countries and if at all possible ... end it altogether," Appleby said.

"This administration was elected to implement policies that are in the best interest of this nation and it's clear from our report that extending TPS will be in the best interest of the nation," said Appleby. "Many within the administration want to end it for ideological reasons, but that is not in the best interest of the country and does not best serve the U.S. citizenry."

Advocates, including many faith communities, are getting ready battle in defense of the program and of the migrants affected. After all, faith communities were instrumental at the beginning of the TPS program in the late 1980s, early 1990s, said Appleby, recalling that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, who was then the head of the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, was involved in getting the program to become a reality under the Immigration Act of 1990.

"We anticipate the faith community to be involved in this fight, if not outright leaders of it," Appleby said.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Catholic charities want people to hear migrants' stories

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 11:20am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- No matter the position one takes on national migration policy, Pope Francis, Caritas Internationalis and national Catholic charities across the globe want Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to his or her story.

In late September, Pope Francis will launch the "Share the Journey" campaign, a two-year program of Caritas Internationalis to promote encounters between people on the move and people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving in.

Meeting migrants and refugees and listening to their stories -- and having them listen to the stories of people in their host communities -- mean the walls people have erected in their minds and hearts should begin to fall, said Michel Roy, secretary general of Caritas Internationalis.

"You may be afraid of migrants as a large group of people coming in, but when you meet a migrant, then you have a different vision," he said July 27. Listening to their stories makes it clear that "they are human beings, they are human beings who have suffered much; they've left a situation where they could not live anymore because of violence, conflict or just because of misery."

"Once you understand the story of the person, then you will have a different attitude," he said.

Most people who vote for political parties espousing anti-immigrant sentiments, Roy believes, "have never met a migrant," which makes it easy for politicians to convince them that they have something to fear.

Even if the person does not change their mind about the most appropriate political policies for regulating migration, he said, it is necessary to make the fear subside by helping folks get to know the real people who have left all behind because of persecution, violence or extreme poverty.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, wrote a letter in late June asking members of the Caritas federation to participate in the campaign. He said, "One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as individuals, communities and countries at this time of mass movements of people and global doubt is 'Do I allow fear to prevail in my heart, or do I allow hope to reign?'

"Through 'Share the Journey' we hope to dispel fear and understand why so many people are leaving their homes at this time in history," the cardinal wrote. "We also want to inspire communities to build relationships with refugees and migrants. We want to shine a light and lead the way. Migration is a very old story but our campaign aims to help communities see it with new eyes and an open heart."

The "Share the Journey" campaign will run at least until 2019. The U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA, as well as more than 160 other Caritas members around the world, will be sponsoring national and local events to provide opportunities for migrants and members of host communities to meet and share their stories.

Through his words and, especially, his gestures, Pope Francis "is inviting everyone on earth to be welcoming" and to protect migrants and help them integrate into the society of their new countries, Roy said. As a central institution of the church, he added, Caritas Internationalis promotes what Pope Francis is asking all Catholics to do.

"Catholics are not all convinced that we have to welcome migrants," the secretary general acknowledged, "so I think we have work to do within the church itself."

But, he said, the pope is asking "everyone to make a step," and Caritas hopes that will begin with every Catholic being willing to meet a migrant or refugee.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Now Hiring: Vatican ambassador is unique in U.S. diplomatic corps

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 10:00am

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As the U.S. president's personal envoy to the Vatican, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See has a unique role in building a bridge between the political center of the United States and the religious-spiritual center of the universal Catholic Church in Rome.

Like every U.S. ambassador, the diplomats it assigns to the Holy See function as a two-way street: They are messengers, representing the U.S. president in all matters and explaining the administration's policies, and they are observers, acting as the eyes and ears of the United States and keeping track of what is unfolding at the Vatican.

President Donald Trump has nominated Callista Gingrich to be his ambassador. The 51-year-old testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations July 18 and was awaiting confirmation as the month drew to a close.

The Holy See is more than just an independent sovereign state: It's also the home of the pope and a font of moral-ethical responses to world affairs coming from the Roman Curia. For that reason, ambassadors here have a unique mission before them.

"What I used to say is that I dealt in moral diplomacy, which is the diplomacy about the human condition and human dignity," Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, told Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C.

Diplomatic work with the Vatican "didn't deal in arms, in military basing, it dealt in what I called the soft power of moral diplomacy, of trying to create a life for people with more dignity, and more opportunity," Nicholson said.

Heading this sort of "moral diplomacy" does not mean the envoy has to be Catholic or even religious. While U.S. presidents have chosen Catholics for the job, it's not a requirement -- either by the U.S. State Department or the Holy See.

While it is helpful that envoys already understand a good deal about their diplomatic partner, Nicholson said it also just takes being smart, curious and dedicated to learning about the Vatican and the relevant interests, concerns and core values the two sides share.

New ambassadors typically attend "a sort of 'basic training' for ambassadors" offered by the U.S. State Department. The three-week course covers a wide range of topics, including "what the laws and regulations are, what the ethical considerations are, and then a lot of practical instruction that's based on experiences of prior ambassadors that come in and speak," Nicholson said.

Once in Rome, the ambassadorship is not a one-person operation. In fact, the United States has one of the biggest and most active embassies to the Holy See.

Former ambassador Mary Ann Glendon said she enjoyed the sense of teamwork at the embassy as she "had an opportunity to work with a very enthusiastic, intelligent and skilled team of young foreign service officers."

As her posting neared its end, Glendon said in late 2008 that one of the best things about being ambassador had been the huge variety of people she met and events she was involved in.

"You never know what the day will bring, and the job varies with what's going on in the world," she said.

Nicholson said an ambassador should be a good communicator who can pose questions "in a skillful, diplomatic way but still get the information that you need to get."

After observing many ambassadors over the years, Nicholson said the most effective envoys he has seen have "a great amount of social grace," a sense of humor and display "a general friendliness ... that serves their country very well."

Ambassadors also do not have be seasoned diplomats or set on building a career in the foreign service.

They can come from very diverse backgrounds with ties in some way to the president. Traditionally, 70 percent of U.S. ambassadorships have been held by career diplomats and 30 percent by political appointees, according to U.S. Department of State's platform, ShareAmerica.

Political appointees with little or no diplomatic experience often have valuable assets, like having direct access to the president or strong contacts with important government offices or leaders back home.

A Vatican source had told CNS in Rome that there were no written rules about what qualities the Vatican liked to see in a prospective ambassador.

In general, the Vatican hopes each envoy is interested in the issues that are important to the Holy See and is keen on meeting and talking with Vatican officials.

When Nicholson finished up his 40-month service in 2005, he told CNS he had the distinct impression that the Vatican expects more of the United States than it does of most other countries when it comes to being a partner or advancing shared values.

Nicholson and other ambassadors who spoke to CNS over the years at the end of their tenure noted the wide latitude they had in spearheading or lending support to initiatives of common concern, such as religious freedom, humanitarian assistance and fighting human trafficking.

"If an ambassador is willing to put forth a lot of work and endeavor and is willing to take some risks to initiate change, the job gives you a great potential to do that," because "it also brings a great deal of resources to problems and issues that you identify," Nicholson told CNS July 25.

Whenever U.S. policies have contrasted sharply with those of the pope and the Vatican -- as was seen with the U.S. military responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Health and Human Service mandate in 2012 -- ambassadors put talks with Vatican officials into high gear to better explain U.S. positions, and they focus onto strengthening cooperation in areas where the government and church do agree.

Spending so much time so close to the See of Peter also can impact the personal faith of the ambassador.

"I have been affirmed by the fidelity, the reverence and the extraordinary intelligence and commitment that exists here," Nicholson told CNS in 2005. "It's deepened my faith, and I am grateful for that. I have been blessed by this experience."

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Carolyn Mackenzie contributed to this story.


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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Getting a health care bill through Congress fraught with difficulties

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 5:22pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the vice president has to cast a vote to break a tie in the Senate on whether to debate U.S. health care policy, let alone revise it -- as Mike Pence did July 25 -- it is obvious that passing legislation to repeal, and/or replace, and/or reform the Affordable Care Act is going to be a heavy lift in Congress.

Democrats, who boasted of a veto-proof majority to avoid a Senate Republican filibuster, got the ACA passed in 2010. Now, they're in the minority in both the Senate and the House.

Yet in the rush to reject Obamacare, as the ACA is popularly known, there lacks unanimity among Republicans in each chamber to make changes.

The first House effort to pass the American Health Care Act never got to a vote before it was withdrawn. A second version passed 219-215 despite GOP defections.

The Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act never came to a vote, either, when enough Republican senators gave it a thumbs-down for leaders to recognize its chance of passage was nil. The procedural vote July 25 required not only Pence's tiebreaker but the return to the Senate floor of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who had undergone eye surgery that revealed brain cancer, to create the tie in the first place.

Later July 25, the Senate rejected a revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act in a 57-43 vote with nine Republicans voting against it. On July 26, in an afternoon vote, senators rejected a repeal-only measure. More votes and proposals lay ahead.

"There's no such thing as perfect legislation. As things pass, you realize that things don't work out as well as it should," said former Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who fought to retain pro-life provisions in the ACA and who has written a book, "For All Americans," about the legislative tussling behind the ACA's passage. After it became law, he and other pro-life Democrats also pressed President Barack Obama to sign an executive order stipulating no federal funds could be used to pay for abortions.

Stupak, in an interview with Catholic News Service, said the ACA was modeled after "the Massachusetts plan that was instituted by then-Gov. Mitt Romney," a Republican. "Surely we would get other Republicans to join us" for a bipartisan piece of legislation," he added. "That didn't happen. But we did end up with the insurance exchanges. But no one anticipated that 30-some states would never participate. The federal government had to set up exchanges for these 32 states."

"Presidents have been imploring Congress to pass a national health care plan" for a century, said Stupak, a Catholic, noting that President Bill Clinton's plan in 1993 -- when he famously assigned his wife, Hillary, to lead the task force to design the bill -- never got out of committee. "I'm pleased we got it done," Stupak said of the ACA. "Does it need work? Yes."

"Mustering the political will" to pass the ACA "resulted in a fairly large number of moderate- and low-income people getting health insurance in a more stable way than what they were used to getting, and that's quite an achievement," said Jim Capretta, a resident fellow and health care policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, which leans toward the conservative side of the political spectrum.

"The Affordable Care Act passed with only Democratic votes. I think that's the primary reason why that's unstable now. You don't get buy-in from the other party," he added, making the law "subject to a lot of dispute and disagreement, and half the country sort of distrustful of what was passed." With both parties working together, Capretta said, it shields it from "elements of either party to attack it. That's why (with) big policy changes, you're better off trying to do it in a bipartisan way."

But to hear first-term Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida -- a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican -- bipartisanship is hard to come by. "There has been no evidence of any Democrat wanting to team up to repeal and replace Obamacare and give America patient-centric, choice-oriented care," he told CNS July 20.

"Unfortunately, the country is very polarized, and we have two radically different views on the size of government," Rooney said later. "I don't know how well they're going to be reconciled. I tend to think that our way is the right way."

"Republicans are not bad people. We may disagree on some concepts, but I think everybody agrees on the essentials," Stupak said. If Republicans want to repeal the ACA's individual mandates imposing a fine on people who will not buy insurance, for instance, he added, "once again, you go back to the health care infrastructure. Who pays for it?"

"I think President (Donald) Trump will sign any reasonably conservative measure. He said he would sign the House bill, or the Senate bill or the repeal bill," Rooney said during a break from a House session. "So the president isn't the problem. It's the Senate. And all the Republican senators, except maybe one or two, have voted to repeal or replace Obamacare."

He added, "I'd be pretty disappointed if we can't get across the finish line with what we've been saying we want to do for six or seven years and what every Republican in office campaigned on. That would take some serious thought on where we are going and do we have the capability to lead the way we've told the people we've wanted to lead."

"Once a law is passed," Stupak told CNS, "the duty and responsibility of Congress is to fix the legislation -- or repeal it." While he said he doesn't begrudge the Republicans for the effort to repeal the ACA, he cautioned them to "do it with the best interests of the American people at heart." If up to 32 million Americans would be without health insurance by 2026 -- as the Congressional Budget Office said in scoring the since-scuttled Better Care Reconciliation Act -- "then what would you would do with them?"

Even Rooney acknowledged, "It might be a little irresponsible to the American people not to pass a comprehensive repeal and replace."

Capretta argued that the unwieldy nature of America's public-private health care structure could be at fault. "Decide what we want," he said. "Right now we have a mishmash." While Capretta favors market-based solutions, the main goal should be cost controls. "One way or the other, there needs to be more discipline in the system on costs," he said, and without them, there will be "more government control."

"I still have faith in the United States Congress -- 99.9 percent are there for the right reasons," Stupak said. "Call it whatever you want -- Trumpcare, Ryancare, the Better Health Care Act. Most members of Congress don't care what you call it, but make sure it is equal to, if not better than, what we already have."

He added, "Let the talking heads step aside. Let both sides sit down. I think you'd be surprised how quickly it could come together."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

French priest's martyrdom a life-changing event, archbishop says

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 11:11am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The martyrdom of a French priest killed a year ago while celebrating Mass was an event that "has transformed me as a bishop," Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen said.

Father Jacques Hamel's life -- "simple and exemplary -- questions me as a pastor and shepherd on how to consider the life of priests, on what I expect from them in terms of efficiency. I must tirelessly convert, to pass from this request for efficiency to admiration for their fruitfulness," the archbishop said in an interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

Father Hamel was murdered July 26, 2016, when two men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State stormed his parish church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen.

After taking several hostages, the attackers slit Father Hamel's throat and seriously injured another parishioner. Witnesses say that in his final moments, the beloved 85-year-old parish priest tried to push away his attackers with his feet, saying "go away, Satan."

Following a standoff, police killed the attackers, ending the hostage situation.

Despite the violent nature of Father Hamel's death at the hands of terrorists claiming to be Muslims, his martyrdom instead has drawn the Catholic and Muslim communities in the diocese closer together, Archbishop Lebrun said.

"This tragic event shared by others has brought me closer to the local society in its diverse components: naturally to the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray and then to the other municipalities in the area," the archbishop said. "And from now on, I am bound to the Muslim community and to the other communities of believers in the territory of my diocese."

Father Hamel's martyrdom drew the attention of Pope Francis who celebrated a memorial Mass for him Sept. 14, 2016, with Archbishop Lebrun, Roselyne Hamel, Father Hamel's sister, and 80 pilgrims from the diocese.

When Archbishop Lebrun presented the pope with a photo of Father Hamel, the pope asked him to place it on the altar and after the Mass told the archbishop, "You can put this photo in the church because he is 'blessed' now, and if anyone says you aren't allowed, tell them the pope gave you permission."

Archbishop Lebrun told L'Osservatore Romano that he then spoke with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, regarding the opening of Father Hamel's sainthood cause and the possibility of accelerating "the process to take advantage of the elements of proof which are the testimonies of the other victims of the attack, who are mainly elderly."

The first meeting in the process for Father Hamel's sainthood cause took place May 20, and the results of the local investigation into his life should be completed and ready for Vatican review from one to three years from now, the archbishop said.

Meanwhile, Father Hamel's life and martyrdom remains "an extremely powerful event" that has united the diocese, priests, the church in France, people within the territory and the Muslim community, Archbishop Lebrun said.

"Father Hamel has sown peace," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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U.S. bishop urges Senate to remedy health care after vote to proceed

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 5:45pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After the Senate voted July 25 to proceed with the health care debate, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, urged senators of both parties to "work together to advance changes that serve the common good."

The statement from Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the health care reform proposals currently under consideration would "harm millions of struggling Americans by leaving too many at risk of losing adequate health coverage and continue to exclude too many people, including immigrants."

"We are grateful for the efforts to include protections for the unborn, however, any final bill must include full Hyde Amendment provisions and add much-needed conscience protections. The current proposals are simply unacceptable as written, and any attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) without a concurrent replacement is also unacceptable," he said in a July 25 statement.

During the procedural vote on the Senate floor, 50 Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators -- Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- voted no, along with the Senate's 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate.

The vote to debate health care legislation took place after months of ongoing discussion and leaves Senate Republicans with a few options, including completely replacing the health care law, or voting for what has been described as a "skinny" repeal that would remove parts of the Affordable Care Act. They also could pass a measure that would repeal the current law without implementing a replacement.

As votes were being cast, all eyes were on Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Senate floor just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who had not assured the Senate of his vote prior to the tally.

Just prior to the procedural vote, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, majority leader, urged fellow senators not to let this moment slip by.

"All we have to do today is to have the courage to begin the debate," he added as protesters yelled in the background: "Kill the bill, don't kill us." "Shame."

"Will we begin the debate on one of the most important issues confronting America today?" he asked before answering: "It is my hope that the answer will be yes."

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, minority leader, stressed that Democrats had been "locked out" of the recent health care debate and he warned that the Republican plan will "certainly mean drastic cuts" in Medicaid and would cause many to lose health care insurance.

McCain urged his colleagues to "trust each other" and "return to order" after casting his vote to move the debate forward.

In his July 25 statement, Bishop Dewane said, "There is much work to be done to remedy the ACA's shortcomings" and he called on the Senate to make the necessary changes.

He also stressed that "current and impending barriers to access and affordability under the ACA must be removed, particularly for those most in need. Such changes can be made with narrower reforms that do not jeopardize the access to health care that millions currently receive," he added.

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Carolyn Mackenzie contributed to this report. Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.


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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Explosive device detonated outside Mexican bishops' offices

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 2:30pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sashenka Gutierrez, EPA

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- An explosive device was detonated outside the offices of the Mexican bishops' conference, directly across the street from the country's most visited religious site, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A statement provided to Catholic News Service by Armando Cavazos, bishops' conference media director, said an explosion occurred July 25 at around 1:50 a.m. outside the main entrance to its offices in northern Mexico City.

The type of device used remained unknown, and detectives were investigating the explosion, the statement said. Motives for the detonation were unclear.

"It appears this is not the first case that has occurred in this area of CDMX," the statement said, using Mexico City's abbreviation.

The bishops' offices occupy a busy strip across the street from the sanctuary of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The area is swarmed by pilgrims and tourists during the daytime and is transited by commuters in rush hour.

Bishop Ramon Castro Castro of Cuernavaca released the first images of the detonation via Twitter early July 25.

"I believe this reflects the situation in Mexico," said Bishop Castro, who has spoken against violence affecting his diocese, just south of Mexico City.

Mexico recently suffered its most murderous month in 20 years with 2,234 homicides recorded in June. Mexico City also has experienced an upswing in crime, according to federal statistics.

The violence engulfing Mexico has not left the Catholic Church untouched, even though census data shows 83 percent of the population professing the faith. At least 18 Mexican priests have been murdered over the past five years, according to the Centro Catolico Multimedial.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Vatican shuts down fountains as Rome deals with drought

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 10:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While Rome reels from one of its worst droughts in decades, the Vatican is doing its part to conserve water by shutting down the city-state's 100 fountains.

The office governing Vatican City State announced July 25 that the drought has "led the Holy See to take measures aimed at saving water" by shutting down fountains in St. Peter's Square, throughout the Vatican Gardens and in the territory of the state.

"The decision is in line with the teachings of Pope Francis, who reminds us in his encyclical 'Laudato Si'' how 'the habit of wasting and discarding' has reached 'unprecedented levels' while 'fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems,'" the office said.

The prolonged drought has forced officials from the Lazio region of Italy to halt pumping water from Lake Bracciano, located roughly 19 miles north of Rome. Less than usual rainfalls in the past two years have steadily depleted the lake, which provides 8 percent of the city's water supply.

In an interview with Italian news outlet Tgcom24, Nicola Zingaretti, the region's president, said the lake's water level has "fallen too much and we risk an environmental disaster."

While the drought already forced Rome city officials to shut down some of Rome's public drinking fountains in June, it may lead to strict water rationing for the city's estimated 1.5 million residents.

City officials may also take the Vatican's lead and shut down water pouring down from Rome's many ancient fountains.

Pilgrims and visitors alike have marveled at the majestic fountains of St. Peter's Square that have cascaded water for centuries since their construction in the 17th century.

While the source of water was once provided from an ancient Roman aqueduct, the two fountains, as well as 10 percent of Vatican City State's 100 fountains "recirculate water currently," Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told Catholic News Service in a July 25 email.

Others, he added, "will eventually be transformed in order to recirculate" the same water rather than let it be wasted by running into the drainage or sewer system.

Burke told CNS that the Vatican's move to switch off the fountains located within its territory is "a way to show a good example" in conserving water as the city deals with the crisis.

"We're not going to be able to solve Rome's water problem this summer, but we can do our part," Burke said. "This is the Vatican putting 'Laudato Si'' into action. Let's not waste water."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Suit aims to block law making pregnancy centers 'advertise' abortion

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 5:20pm

By Patrick Downes

HONOLULU (CNS) -- An Oahu pro-life pregnancy resource center and a national network of pregnancy resource centers have filed a federal lawsuit to halt the enforcement of a new Hawaii law that requires such centers to "advertise" contraception and abortion "services."

Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal group that supports religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and other issues, filed the suit July 12 on behalf of a Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor center called A Place for Women, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which represents most of Hawaii's five other pregnancy counseling centers.

The Hawaii Legislature passed S.B. 501 May 4, and Gov. David Ige signed it into law July 11.

It compels Hawaii's six pregnancy care centers to post or distribute information referring clients to state-provided prenatal services that would include contraception and abortion. Failure to provide this information would incur a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The lawsuit, Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor v. Chin, asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii to declare S.B. 501 unconstitutional. It lists Hawaii Attorney General Douglas S. Chin and Ige as defendants.

Alliance Defending Freedom also filed a motion July 12 for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law while the case is being considered.

"This is a government-compelled speech issue," said Hawaii Catholic Conference communications director Eva Andrade. "You cannot force someone to post something against their beliefs."

S.B. 501 requires "limited service pregnancy centers" to display "in a clear and conspicuous place" the following message on letter-size paper in no less than 22-point-size type:

"Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including, but not limited to, all FDA-approved methods of contraception and pregnancy-related services for eligible women. To apply online for medical insurance coverage, that will cover the full range of family planning and prenatal care services, go to mybenefits.hawaii.gov. Only ultrasounds performed by qualified health care professionals and read by advanced clinicians should be considered medically accurate."

An alternative would be to give each client a "printed or digital notice" of the message in no less than 14-point-size type.

"Freedom of speech also means the freedom to not express views that would violate one's conscience," said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Elissa Graves in a news release. "Yet, under this law, Hawaii is forcing pro-life centers and physicians to provide free advertising for the abortion industry against their conscience. Because of the First Amendment's protections, courts have repeatedly rejected these types of laws as unconstitutional."

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, courts on the U.S. mainland have "invalidated or mostly invalidated" similar laws in Texas, Maryland and New York City.

Hawaii has six pro-life pregnancy counseling centers and all have some kind of religious affiliation. The Pregnancy Problem Center of Hawaii in Oahu was founded by a Catholic, Robert Pearson.

According to their websites, all offer pregnancy tests and counseling. Most advertise adoption information, childbirth classes, abstinence education, and post-abortion recovery counseling. Some offer ultrasound exams.

Some centers explicitly say they do not offer abortions or abortion referrals, while offering information about "abortion methods and risks."

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Downes is editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu.

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Pope, others pray as parents of Charlie Gard end legal struggle for help

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 4:43pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Peter Nicholls, Reuters

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) -- Pope Francis is praying for the parents of Charlie Gard after a U.S. doctor told them nothing could be done to help their son.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates announced in London's High Court July 24 that they had ended their legal struggle to take their baby overseas for treatment after a U.S. neurologist, Dr. Michio Hirano, said he was no longer willing to offer Charlie experimental nucleoside therapy after he examined the results of a new MRI scan.

Their decision means that the child, who suffers from encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, will receive only palliative care and most likely will die before his first birthday Aug. 4.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said in a July 24 statement that Pope Francis, who had taken a personal interest in the case, "is praying for Charlie and his parents and feels especially close to them at this time of immense suffering."

He said: "The Holy Father asks that we join in prayer that they may find God's consolation and love."

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales also issued a statement July 24 in which they expressed their "deepest sympathy and compassion" for Charlie and his parents.

"It is for Charlie, his parents and family that we all pray, hoping that they are able, as a family, to be given the support and the space to find peace in the days ahead," the statement said.

"Their farewell to their tiny and precious baby touches the hearts of all who, like Pope Francis, have followed this sad and complex story. Charlie's life will be lovingly cherished until its natural end," the statement continued.

A July 24 statement from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a bioethical institute of the Catholic Church in the U.K. and Ireland, said it was now time "to remember the preciousness of the child at the heart of this case, and to allow his parents to be with him until he passes from this life."

"If further treatment may no longer be worthwhile, Charlie's life is inherently worthwhile, having the dignity and irreplaceability of every human life, and this will remain so even in the coming days," it said.

Charlie's parents, who live in London, had fought for eight months for medical help that might have saved the life of their son.

They raised 1.3 million pounds (US$1.7 million) to take him abroad for treatment, but the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London had argued that Charlie was beyond help and that it was not in his best interests to be kept alive, triggering a protracted legal battle with the parents that led to interventions from U.S. President Donald Trump and from the pope.

"We are about to do the hardest thing that we'll ever have to do, which is to let our beautiful little Charlie go," the parents said in their statement to the court. "Put simply, this is about a sweet, gorgeous, innocent little boy who was born with a rare disease, who had a real, genuine chance at life and a family who love him so very dearly, and that's why we fought so hard for him."

"Had Charlie been given the treatment sooner, he would have had the potential to be a normal, healthy little boy," they said. "We have always believed that Charlie deserved a chance at life."

"One thing that does give us the slightest bit of comfort is that we truly believe that Charlie may have been too special for this cruel world," they continued.

Concluding the statement, the couple said: "Mummy and Daddy love you so much Charlie, we always have and we always will, and we are so sorry that we couldn't save you. We had the chance but we weren't allowed to give you that chance. Sweet dreams baby. Sleep tight our beautiful little boy."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope prays for dialogue, reconciliation in Jerusalem

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 10:11am

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis called on Muslims and Jews in the Holy Land to "moderation and dialogue" as tensions continued around a key site in Jerusalem that is sacred to members of both faiths.

After reciting the Angelus July 23, the pope asked people gathered in St. Peter's Square for the midday prayer to join him in asking the Lord to inspire reconciliation and peace in the region.

Tensions in Jerusalem have been high since July 14 when three Israeli Arabs armed with knives and guns killed two Israeli police officers at an entrance to the site the Jews call Temple Mount and the Muslims call Haram al-Sharif. The site includes the Western Wall and Al Aqsa mosque.

In his main Angelus talk, Pope Francis spoke about the parable of the weeds among the wheat from the Sunday Gospel reading.

The farmer in the parable from the Gospel of Matthew tells his workers not to pull up all the weeds because they might uproot the wheat, but to wait until the harvest when the wheat and weeds can be separated.

"With this image, Jesus tells us that in this world good and evil are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate them and eradicate all the evil -- only God can do that," the pope said.

Human beings are called to the "difficult exercise of discernment" in choosing between good and what is evil, he said, and when they fail -- which all people do sometimes -- the church stands ready to help with the grace of baptism and of confession.

Like the farmer in the parable, the pope said, God calls Christians to be patient as they await the harvest.

"Patience means preferring a church that is leaven in the dough, that is not afraid of getting its hands dirty washing the clothes of its children, rather than being a church of the 'pure,' who insist on judging beforehand who is in the kingdom of God and who isn't."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Doing well and doing good: Charities wary of Trump tax plan

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 1:27pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Eugene Garcia, EPA

By Carolyn Mackenzie

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While Capitol Hill and much of the nation have been following the roller coaster of debate surrounding what will come of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, some are focused on what President Donald Trump's proposed tax plan might mean for charitable giving.

His proposed tax plan would place a cap on total itemized deductions, including those for charitable giving. By raising the standard deduction and eliminating the estate tax, experts say that this plan would reduce incentives that often prompt donations to charities.

According to Giving USA's "Annual Report on Philanthropy," individual donors drove the rise in philanthropic giving seen in 2016. Giving to religion increased by 3 percent, 1.8 percent adjusted for inflation, in 2016, with an estimated $122.94 billion in contributions. This accounted for 32 percent of all charitable giving in 2016, which totaled at $390.05 billion.

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy prepares these estimates for the Giving USA Foundation. Though giving rates rose across the board, giving by individuals grew at a higher rate than did giving by foundations or corporations.

Rick Dunham, board member of Giving USA and CEO of Dunham+Company, a consulting company based in Plano, Texas, remarked that two factors that significantly affect charitable giving are the stock market and attendance at religious services.

"When you look at those who give charitably, there's a direct correlation between those who attend church or religious services at least weekly," Dunham told Catholic News Service in a phone interview.

Furthermore, Dunham noted, donations by the top 2 percent of income earners account for a large percentage of charitable giving by individuals. As such, the stock market has a direct impact upon charitable giving.

Joseph Rosenberg, senior researcher at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington, noted that tax incentives are just one of many reasons why people donate to charity. One tax policy that may motivate donations, he explained, is the individual income tax deduction for charitable contributions.

"The clear consensus is that the deduction does increase giving," Rosenberg told CNS. "It's unclear how big the size of the effect is."

While it is theoretically available to all taxpayers, Rosenberg observed, as an itemized deduction it goes unused by most taxpayers, who claim a standard deduction instead.

"Roughly speaking, only about 30 percent of taxpayers elect to itemize deductions," Rosenberg said. "But, those 30 percent obviously make up a very large chunk of charitable giving, in particular our higher income households."

Under Trump's proposed plan, the standard deduction would double. For the 2016 tax year, the standard deduction for singles and married persons filing separate returns was $6,300; under Trump's plan it would be $12,600. For married couples filing jointly it was $12,600 in 2016; under Trump's plan it would be $24,000.

Rosenberg indicated that an increase in the standard deduction would result in a decrease in the number of people who itemize their deductions. If people who choose the standard deduction make charitable donations, Rosenberg explained, they are not necessarily paying more taxes than they would if they choose to itemize.

"It does mean that what they're sort of mentally thinking about is, 'What if I gave $100 more to charity?'" Rosenberg said. "If they're not itemizing their deductions, they're not changing their taxes. They get no additional tax benefit unless they itemize."

Dunham affirmed that an increase in the standard deduction would likely reduce the amount that people give to charity.

"I don't believe that the charitable tax deduction is an incentive to give as much as it is an incentive to give more," Dunham said.

Lucas Swanepoel, senior director of government affairs at Catholic Charities USA, said that with less of an incentive, donations from individuals will likely decrease, calling it an "unintended consequence."

"If we were to double the standard deduction, only about 5 percent of taxpayers would itemize," Swanepoel told CNS, citing a study done by Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The same study found that reducing the top tax bracket to 35 percent and doubling the standard deduction, as outlined in Trump's plan, could potentially lead to a $13.1 billion reduction in charitable giving, which Dunham also noted. The study further estimates that this would reduce charitable giving to religious congregations by up to 4.7 percent.

"One of the interesting things about the Indiana University study is that it looked at secular givers and religious givers," Swanepoel said. "Even in religious giving, we see that there is a change in incentive to give based on tax policy."

A second issue that Rosenberg raised is that of the estate tax, which Trump often refers to as the "death tax." Trump's proposal would eliminate the estate tax. Under current tax law, if the decedent leaves property to a qualifying charity, that amount is deductible.

"When people die, they can leave assets to charity and they get a full deduction against the estate tax," Rosenberg said.

According to Giving USA, giving by bequest accounted for 8 percent, or $30.36 billion, of all charitable giving in 2016.

"There should be some concern about what would happen to charitable bequests if they eliminate the estate tax," Rosenberg said. "That's not to say that folks like Warren Buffett wouldn't leave their money to charity just because they're not getting a deduction."

Dunham explained that while giving by bequest accounts for about 8 percent of charitable giving, giving by individuals accounts for about 72 percent. As such, Dunham expressed more concern about the changes that may occur with itemized deductions under Trump's proposed plan.

Swanepoel highlighted other important aspects of tax policy, such as the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit, that are important for families and low income individuals, explaining that charitable giving is just one dimension of charity in tax law.

"We want to foster a culture of giving, and the tax code is one way in which we help that effort," Swanepoel said.

Trump's plan proposes to boost the child and dependent care credit, according to a one-page document distributed by the White House. The Trump administration released this proposal April 26 and hopes to have a tax plan in place before Congress departs for its August recess.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Colombian martyrs: witnesses to the point of death

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 11:15am

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ricardo Maldonado Rozo, EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' decree to beatify two Colombian martyrs from two troubled eras in the South American country's history underscores his call for courageous witness amid violence and persecution.

"What does the church need today?" the pope asked earlier this year at an evening prayer service honoring Christians killed under Nazism, communism, dictatorships and terrorism.

"Martyrs and witnesses, those everyday saints, those saints of an ordinary life lived with coherence. But it also needs those who have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses to the end, to the point of death," he said.

The lives of Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948, seemingly fit the pope's description.

Their beatification, which will take place during the pope's visit to Colombia Sept. 6-10, comes at a time when the nation focuses on reconciliation after decades of conflict that saw the deaths of more than 200,000 people.

Bishop Jaramillo was among the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives caught in the crossfire of Colombia's 52-year civil war between government forces and guerrilla groups.

Born in Santo Domingo, Colombia, in 1916, he entered the Xaverian Missionaries and was ordained Sept. 1, 1940. In 1984, St. John Paul II appointed him as the first bishop of the Diocese of Arauca.

It was there where he spoke out not only against the atrocities committed by the National Liberation Army -- known by the Spanish acronym ELN -- but also denounced the climate of fear among the people he served.

"We are afraid of the armed groups. We all are afraid, we all remain silent because of fear. And worst of all, my brothers and sisters, we kill out of fear," he said in an undated recorded homily. "Colombia's great sickness is called fear. Fear kills us all."

It was his words of encouragement against violence that prompted the ELN to order his kidnapping Oct. 2, 1989, while visiting local parishes. According to his biography, one of his parish priests, Father Jose Munoz Pareja, refused to leave his side.

However, after praying together and absolving each other's sins, Bishop Jaramillo told Father Munoz to leave out of obedience. As the priest walked away, he heard the bishop tell his captors, "I'll speak to whoever you want me to speak to, but please don't do anything to my child."

Despite assurances from the captors that no harm would come to the bishop, Father Munoz found his body the next day, lying on his back in the form of a cross. Bishop Jaramillo was shot twice in the head with an assault rifle.

For his courage and witness, the faithful of Arauca honored the bishop with a title engraved on his tombstone that reads, "prophet and martyr of peace."

Forty years before Bishop Jaramillo's martyrdom, a local priest in Armero -- located roughly 200 miles south of Medellin -- quickly penned his last will and testament.

"I want to die for Christ and the faith," he wrote, before an angry mob dragged him outside, lynched him and butchered his body with machetes.

The martyrdom of Father Pedro Maria Ramirez came during another difficult period in Colombia's history, when escalating tensions between liberals and conservatives boiled over following the death of Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.

Gaitan's death sparked a 10-year civil war known in Colombia as "La Violencia" ("The Violence"). It also gave rise to the left-leaning guerrilla groups that battled against the government in the 20th century.

Violent Liberal Party members in Armero revolted against Gaitan's assassination and accused the Catholic Church of colluding with the Conservative Party due to the church's apparent support and continued calls for nonviolence.

On April 9, 1948, an angry mob attempted to arrest Father Ramirez and destroyed church property as well as a nearby convent. He was able to escape with the help of a nun, Sister Miguelina.

However, despite appeals from parishioners and family members to leave the town, Father Ramirez refused and, the following day, continued his work by celebrating Mass, hearing a sick patient's confession at a hospital and visiting prisoners.

Upon his return, he gave the last consecrated hosts remaining in the tabernacle to the nuns, keeping one for himself. He then remained in the convent to write his last will and testament as the sound of the returning mob could be heard approaching.

After thanking his bishop for allowing him to become a "priest of God," Father Ramirez wrote words of encouragement to his family and his flock.

"To my family, I say that I will be the first in the example that they must follow: to die for Christ. To all, with special affection, I will look after you from heaven," he wrote.

Bishop Fabio Duque of Garzon, the diocese where Father Ramirez served, said that, following his violent death, the mob decapitated him and "played with his body and his head" before his remains were rescued from further desecration.

"The ones who rescued his body were the prostitutes, who ferociously guarded the cemetery so that (the mob) wouldn't continue mistreating it," Bishop Duque said in a July 8 interview with the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

Even after his death April 10, 1948, Father Ramirez continued to be slandered and accused of calling for violence against Liberal Party members.

On June 8, Gloria Gaitan, daughter of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, wrote a letter to Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, apostolic nuncio to Colombia, asking the pope reconsider his decision.

Gloria Gaitan claimed many priests during that time, including Father Ramirez, used the pulpit to "denigrate and slanderously vilify" her father's candidacy, leading to his death.

"(Father Ramirez) was unfortunately lynched for having denied Christ's message," she wrote.

However, Vicente Silva Vargas, a journalist and author of an upcoming biography on Father Ramirez, said that, even after death, the priest was blamed for various occurrences in a smear campaign to justify his murder.

Most notably, a phrase erroneously attributed to him was believed to be a curse that caused the explosion of a nearby volcano in 1985 that claimed the lives of more than 25,000 people.

Silva told El Tiempo that the phrase, "In Armero, no stone will remain overturned," was said by the archbishop of Ibague, Colombia, a neighboring diocese; the archbishop shared the slain priest's name: Pedro Maria.

Bishop Duque said that, contrary to the false accusations, Father Ramirez remained an example of holiness and heroic virtue until his final breath.

"The clearest expression of his holiness is that, at the moment of his death, he forgave those who killed him," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Health bill must protect poor, unborn and conscience rights, bishop says

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 7:00am

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. senators must reject any bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act unless such a measure "protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn and supports conscience rights," said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on the Senate to fix problems with the ACA in a more narrow way, rather than repeal it without an adequate replacement.

"Both the American Health Care Act legislation from the U.S. House of Representatives and the Better Care Reconciliation Act from the Senate were seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways," Bishop Dewane said.

The House passed its bill to repeal and replace the ACA health care law May 4 with a close vote of 217 to 213. The Senate's version collapsed July 17 after four Republican senators said they couldn't support it, leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, short of the 50 votes needed to bring the bill to the floor for a debate.

"In the face of difficulties passing these proposals, the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement," he said.

Bishop Dewane made the comments in a June 20 letter to U.S. senators released July 21.

President Donald Trump had lunch with the GOP senators at the White House July 19 in an effort to get them to commit to moving forward a repeal and replace measure. A new Senate draft of a bill was released July 20, and McConnell is expected to hold a vote to begin debate July 25.

Bishop Dewane referred back to a Jan. 18 letter in which the U.S. bishops "encouraged Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to protect vulnerable Americans and preserve important gains in health care coverage and access."

That letter reiterated principles he said the bishops laid out when the ACA was being debated in early 2010. "All people need and should have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they can afford, and it should not depend on their stage of life, where or whether they or their parents work, how much they earn, where they live, or where they were born," the bishops said at the time. "The bishops' conference believes health care should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable."

"Before any legislation had been proposed, the bishops were clear" in their Jan. 18 letter to lawmakers, Bishop Dewane said, "that a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their well-being.

"To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating," he said. "Nothing has changed this analysis."

At the same time, "reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability," Bishop Dewane said.

"Problems with the ACA can be fixed with more narrow reforms, and in a bipartisan way," he said, "Congress can extend full Hyde Amendment protections to the ACA, enact laws that protect the conscience rights of all stakeholders in health care, protect religious freedom, and pass legislation that begins to remove current and impending barriers to access and affordability, particularly for those most in need."

In an analysis issued late July 20, the Congressional Budget office said the new version would still increase the current number of uninsured Americans by 22 million by 2026. In 2016, 28 million people were uninsured last year; in 2010, just over 48 million were uninsured in 2010, the year the ACA was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

It would reduce average premiums in the ACA exchanges by 25 percent in 2026, end the individual and employer mandates, and rescind the Medicaid expansion under the current law. Taxes on investment income and payroll taxes affecting higher-income Americans would remain.

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Dewane: Budget 'moral document'; House bill puts poor in 'real jeopardy'

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 12:00pm

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. House budget resolution "will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy" because it reduces deficits "through cuts for human needs" and by trying to slash taxes at the same time, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' domestic policy committee.

"A nation's budget is a moral document," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country."

Bishop Dewane's July 20 statement was issued in response to the budget resolution that was voted out of the House Budget Committee along party lines July 19.

The nonbinding Republican measure is a 10-year budget blueprint that calls for $621.5 billion in national defense spending, provides for $511 billion in nondefense spending and ties cuts to a major overhaul of the U.S. tax code.

It makes at least $203 billion in cuts over a decade in Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits for the working poor and other programs that help low-income Americans. The bill also would change Medicare into a type of voucher program for future retirees.

"The USCCB is monitoring the budget and appropriations process in Congress very carefully, and is analyzing the proposed House budget resolution in more detail," Bishop Dewane said. "We note at the outset that the proposal assumes the harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid from the American Health Care Act."

The House May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act. The Senate effort to repeal and replace the health care law collapsed late July 17.

In the House budget resolution, "steady increases to military spending ... are made possible by cutting critical resources for those in need over time, including potentially from important programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that provide essential nutrition to millions of people," Bishop Dewane said.

"This would undo a bipartisan approach on discretionary spending from recent years, that, while imperfect, was a more balanced compromise given competing priorities," he added.

Catholic Charities USA also rejected the measure's "dramatic cuts in key social safety net programs."

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the national Catholic Charities network, urged House members "to prioritize and protect programs that support and uplift the poor and vulnerable in our country."

"While CCUSA supports the responsible use of our nation's fiscal resources and has worked consistently to improve effectiveness in anti-poverty programs, reforms that seek only to cut our nation's social safety net will further strain efforts to meet individual needs and risk pushing more Americans into poverty," Sister Markham said July 20.

She made the comments in a letter to Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, who is chair of the House Budget Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, ranking member.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, also wrote to Black and Yarmuth expressing her opposition to the budget resolution.

"As an organization guided by the social teachings of the Catholic Church, we firmly believe that the federal budget should be informed by moral principles and offer special protections for the poor and vulnerable," she wrote July 18, the day the measure was unveiled.

"A budget must be fair and just and cannot be balanced on the backs of those among us who least can afford it," Sister Keehan said. "We recognize that the proper role of federal spending programs should be to lift up the neediest among us enabling them to active participants in society.

"Unfortunately, the deep cuts in programs and services assumed by this budget proposal will severely reduce or eliminate access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, health care, education and other social supports that help lift families and individuals out of poverty and improve their health outcomes," she said.

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