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‘Good Is Winning’ — Social media effort for Pope Francis’ U.S. visit is fully engaged

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A broad digital media project to coincide with Pope Francis’ visit this fall to the United States aims to recruit and interact with young people, particularly those who do not think of themselves as religious.

These “nones,” as researchers have called them, are especially found among the millennial generation, generally defined as those who came of age around the year 2000. Read more »

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Cardinal Baum, longest serving U.S. cardinal, dies at 88

July 24th, 2015 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Cardinal William W. Baum, the archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980, died July 23 at the age of 88 after a long illness. He was a cardinal for 39 years, the longest such tenure in U.S. church history.

Cardinal Baum witnessed history from the Second Vatican Council through the election of the first Latin American pope, and he made history himself.

Pope John Paul II greets Cardinal William W. Baum of Washington at the Vatican in 1997. Cardinal Baum, the archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980, died July 23 at age 88 after a long illness. He was a cardinal for 39 years, the longest such tenure in U.S. church history. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope John Paul II greets Cardinal William W. Baum of Washington at the Vatican in 1997. Cardinal Baum, the archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980, died July 23 at age 88 after a long illness. He was a cardinal for 39 years, the longest such tenure in U.S. church history. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

By the spring of 2011, he had worn the red cardinal’s hat for nearly 35 years and surpassed the record of Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons, who had been a cardinal from 1886 until his death in 1921. The soft-spoken Cardinal Baum, whom some of the Vatican’s Swiss Guards called “the gentle cardinal,” found no merit in his longevity. “It’s a gift from God,” he said.

Services for Cardinal Baum will include a vigil from 3 p.m.-6:30 p.m., July 30, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, a vigil Mass the same day at 7 p.m. and a funeral Mass at the cathedral at 2 p.m. July 31. Interment will be in the crypt of the cathedral.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the current archbishop of Washington, said in a statement that Cardinal Baum would be “remembered for his kindness and dedication to the ministry to which God called him.”

“Cardinal Baum was a joy-filled priest with a firm personal commitment to serve the Lord, which he did faithfully for 64 years of ordained life,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “With his death I have lost a longtime friend.”

Then-Archbishop Baum in 1976 was named a cardinal, becoming at 49 one of the world’s youngest cardinals. Beginning in 1980, he served at the Vatican, first as prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and then as major penitentiary, or head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Vatican’s three tribunals, until his retirement in 2001.

In 1979, as the archbishop of Washington he hosted St. John Paul II on his first pastoral visit to the U.S., joining him for a Mass for 175,000 people at the National Mall and for a visit to the White House with President Jimmy Carter.

One year earlier, the cardinal had participated in the conclaves that elected Pope John Paul I and later Pope John Paul II. While the public was surprised when the new Polish pope appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Baum said the world’s cardinals were not surprised by his election ; they knew him well as a man of great faith, intellect and courage.

In 2005 following the death of St. John Paul II, Cardinal Baum acted as the senior cardinal priest in the conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name Benedict XVI. Only Cardinal Baum and Cardinal Ratzinger participated in the conclaves of 1978 and 2005, choosing three popes.

A pioneer in ecumenism, then-Msgr. Baum served during Vatican II as a theological expert, working with the Vatican’s Secretariat for Christian Unity. He participated in drafting the council’s landmark Decree on Ecumenism that was approved in 1964. That same year, the U.S. bishops formed their Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, choosing Msgr. Baum as the committee’s first executive director.

After serving in that role for five years and as chancellor in his home diocese, Msgr. Baum was appointed by Pope Paul VI to be the bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1970. Three years later, the pope named him archbishop of Washington. From 1972 to 1975, he served as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

As bishop in Missouri and Washington, he made ecumenical and interfaith dialogue a priority, including for instance, supporting the work of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.

On a larger stage, Cardinal Baum led the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education from 1980 to 1990 as it undertook studies of every U.S. seminary and oversaw the drafting of new guidelines for Catholic colleges and universities. In that capacity he oversaw, at the request of St. John Paul, the apostolic visitation of all of the seminaries and houses of formation in the United States.

While at the education congregation, he also served on the commission that developed the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“It (the catechism) is a great achievement. Every home should have it, and it should be read,” he said. “We live in a world of flux. We’re buffeted by winds (of change) in doctrines and ideologies. We need very much a sure Catholic guide to what the church believes, teaches and transmits.”

William Wakefield Baum was born Nov. 21, 1926 in Dallas, but his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, when he was young. He wanted to be a priest from a young age, inspired by the faith of his family and by the example of his parish priest and the Sisters of Mercy from Alma, Michigan, who taught him.

On May 12, 1951, he was ordained a priest of his home Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

The cardinal’s work in reaching out to people of other faiths made a lasting impression on his priests, including Father Tom Kalita, the pastor of St. Peter Parish in Olney, Maryland, who was ordained by then-Archbishop Baum in 1974. He praised the cardinal as a man whose dialogue with people of other Christian denominations was rooted in respect. “You build bridges by having a respect for individual persons. … He always sees people as children of God, as brothers and sisters in Jesus,” Father Kalita said.

As the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Baum issued pastoral letters on spiritual issues such as the Eucharist and Mary, and on social questions such as racism and capital punishment. In his pastoral on racism, he called it a “heresy and sin,” and said racism was “one of the most serious violations of justice in our community and even in our church.”

In 1995, Cardinal Baum returned to Washington to celebrate a Mass marking his 25th anniversary as a bishop. He described his service in the church as “a pilgrimage of faith and thanksgiving.”

He died in Washington at a residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

 

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Little Sisters take their case to highest court

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DENVER — In a July 23 filing with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Little Sisters of the Poor have asked the court for relief from being forced to comply with the federal contraceptive mandate or face heavy fines.

The sisters are being asked to choose between adhering to their Catholic faith — which prohibits them from providing contraceptives and continuing to pursue their religious mission of serving the elderly poor, according to Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the order.

“As Little Sisters of the Poor we dedicate our lives to serving the neediest in society, with love and dignity,” she said in a statement.

“We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to,” Sister Maguire said. “We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

The latest action by the Denver-based Little Sisters follows a July 14 ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the religious order and other religious entities are not substantially burdened by procedures set out by the federal government by which they can avoid the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance.

The circuit court ruling also affected Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, the Catholic ministries through which the Little Sisters obtain their health coverage, and included challenges to the procedures filed by Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America Christian University, Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls, an Oklahoma-based a nonprofit corporation founded by a Southern Baptist minister that trains pastors and evangelists and provides care to orphans in Africa, India and Cuba.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to provide coverage for birth control drugs and procedures. Churches themselves and other institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the churches are exempt.

Nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies are not exempt, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services created what it calls an “accommodation” under which such organizations morally opposed to the coverage may file a particular form or notify HHS that they will not provide it.

The contraceptive coverage is then provided to those organizations’ employees, but through third parties, and with no cost or further involvement to the employer. Entities that refuse to comply with the mandate are subject to significant fines.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations that sued say that the acts of filling out the form or notifying HHS are a substantial burden on their religious rights because the steps implicate them in the ultimate provision of contraceptives. The court disagreed.

“The Little Sisters consider it immoral to help the government distribute these drugs,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the religious order.

“But instead of simply exempting them, the government insists that it can take over their ministry’’s employee health care to distribute these drugs to their employees, while dismissing the Sisters’ moral objections as irrelevant,” he said in a statement July 23. “In America, judges and government bureaucrats have no authority to tell the Little Sisters what is moral or immoral. And the government can distribute its drugs without nuns — it has its own health care exchanges that can provide whatever it wants.”

 

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‘We must recommit ourselves to end’ death penalty, say U.S. bishops

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WASHINGTON — The Catholic faith tradition “offers a unique perspective on crime and punishment, one grounded in mercy and healing, not punishment for its own sake,” two bishops said in a statement renewing the U.S. Catholic Church’s push to end the death penalty.

“No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so. Today, we have this capability,” wrote Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami. Read more »

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Media-savvy bishop-designate appointed to Los Angeles

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Catholic News Service

In an era where Catholics are pretty much an afterthought on television, the sight of any cleric on the small screen almost immediately evokes thoughts of “the next Bishop Sheen,” the 1950s prime-time inspirational program host Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

Father Robert Barron is pictured in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles July 20. Pope Francis has named Father Barron an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Father Barron, 55, is a native of Chicago who has served as rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, also in Mundelein, Ill., since 2012. (CNS photo/J.D. Long-Garcia, The Tidings)

Father Robert Barron is pictured in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles July 20. Pope Francis has named Father Barron an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Father Barron, 55, is a native of Chicago who has served as rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, also in Mundelein, Ill., since 2012. (CNS photo/J.D. Long-Garcia, The Tidings)

But in pretty much all past cases, those clerics weren’t bishops themselves. But now Father Robert E. Barron, a media savvy priest, has been named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and will be moving to the heart of the television industry.

Bishop-designate Barron, appointed July 21, may be best known to TV viewers for having hosted “Catholicism,” a 10-part DVD series. Four parts of the series aired on 90 PBS affiliates in fall 2011. The series earned him a Christopher Award and the Clarion Award the following year from the Catholic Academy of Communications Arts Professionals.

It was discovered by Catholic News Service earlier this year that “Catholicism” is available on the black market in Cuba, purchased for download onto a thumb drive so that Cuban Catholics can watch it, not because the series is illegal but because it’s not readily available in a store.

In a 2013 interview, Bishop-designate Barron said his dream was to assemble another sweeping documentary on Catholicism. With Hollywood in his new backyard, that dream could become reality. He once estimated it would cost $4 million to produce the documentary, tentatively titled “Pivotal Players.”
The new series is still in the pipeline.

He also appeared on EWTN in 2007 on “Untold Blessings: Three Paths to Holiness,” providing concrete, practical advice on how to become a saint.

Bishop-designate Barron’s reason for using video?

“If you want to reach people who are under 40, you have to use media. Things like YouTube had just come into being and we jumped into that with two feet,” he said in 2013. “If you want to find the unchurched Catholics and the secularists, you aren’t going to find them by staying in church and inviting them to programs. You have to use this new means. We have to invade that space.”

The 55-year-old bishop-designate has taught systematic theology, but outside seminary education, his stock in trade has been evangelization. The Chicago-born cleric is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and he has traveled across the United States to speak at conferences, conventions and symposiums on spreading the Christian message. In 2010 he launched a Sunday morning TV show, “Word on Fire,” on the WGN America cable channel.

“It is a blessing for me to work with you to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite them to share all the gifts he wants his people to enjoy,” Bishop-designate Barron said in a July 21 statement released by Word on Fire.

He is slated to be a speaker at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September, although it was not immediately clear whether his new duties as a bishop would allow him to remain on the schedule.

In an interview with The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles archdiocese, he said his main responsibility will be to serve as auxiliary bishop. “I have to be present to the people of the archdiocese,” he said.

For those who don’t watch TV or videos, Bishop-designate Barron also has written 10 books and does radio commentary. His book “The Strangest Way” took second place in the 2003 Catholic Press Association’s book awards for best popular presentation of the Catholic faith. There’s also a 300-page stand-alone “Catholicism” book that complements the DVD series.

 

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Medical professionals oppose assisted suicide bill in D.C.

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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in the District of Columbia are considering legislation that permits doctors to prescribe medications that would enable terminally ill patients to end their lives.

The Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on Health and Human Services held a daylong hearing July 10 on the proposed Death with Dignity Act of 2015.

Members of the public attend a July 10 hearing at the Wilson Building in Washington. A Council of the District of Columbia committee heard testimony on the Death of Dignity Act of 2015 that would legalize assisted suicide in the nation's capital. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Members of the public attend a July 10 hearing at the Wilson Building in Washington. A Council of the District of Columbia committee heard testimony on the Death of Dignity Act of 2015 that would legalize assisted suicide in the nation’s capital. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Lawmakers heard testimony from opponents and supporters of the measure that would allow doctors to legally prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a patient who is deemed mentally competent and who has received a terminal diagnosis.

The bill was introduced by council member Mary M. Cheh. She said that if the proposal passed, it would offer terminally ill patients “a peaceful exit.”

“The law should not force upon a person a punishing death,” she said.

Opponents of the measure contend that a doctor should not kill patients in an effort to ease their pain.

“It’s a really bad idea for physicians who are in charge of bringing health and comfort to their patients to be looked upon by some patients as someone who might be the bringer of death,” said Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics and professor at Georgetown University Medical Center.

The bill specifies that a physician may legally prescribe lethal drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.

“We physicians know that predicting the duration of a terminal disease is nearly impossible to do accurately,” Donovan said. “Rather than enable our patient’s suicide, we should be improving palliative care and hospice options near the end of life. That would allow patients to truly live their final days with comfort and dignity.”

Those opposing the bill point out that it does not require doctors to give patients a screening for depression before providing them with the lethal prescription; the patient is not required to notify family members before taking the medication; and no doctor, nurse, or legal witness is required to be present when the lethal dose is taken.

“Our health care system is failing people with disabilities, including disabilities caused by terminal illnesses and this legislation is not the answer. We need to make sure people are receiving the supports they need in order to live in their own homes — not to create a new fast track toward death,” said Samantha Crane, director of public policy for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People who need these supports shouldn’t have to die to have dignity.”

Crane also is a spokeswoman for No DC Suicide, a coalition of health care professionals, disability advocates, representatives of various faiths and concerned citizens that was formed to advocate against the District’s proposed Death with Dignity Act of 2015.

The No DC Suicide coalition stresses that it is impossible to accurately predict a patient’s terminal prognosis. It also said that the proposal before the district council does not have safeguards to ensure that a patient is not coerced into ingesting the drug, or to prevent another person from administering the drug.

Elaine Petty, a registered nurse and director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and part of the No DC Suicide coalition, said that physician-assisted suicide would lead to “medical abandonment” at the very time people most need such support.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Health, also told committee members that she opposed the measure because “a physician’s oath is to do no harm.”

She said that the legislation is vague and “catapults the District into uncharted territory we are not prepared to navigate.” She told lawmakers that the bill does not specify the type of lethal medication to be prescribed or outline what qualifications a doctor needs in order to be able to determine if a patient is terminal or is mentally competent.

Other medical professionals also urged the committee not to pass the legislation.

Dr. Sarah Murray, an attending physician at Georgetown University Hospital, said, “physician assisted suicide goes against everything we do as doctors.” Dr. John Campbell from Providence Hospital’s Center for Geriatric Medicine called the proposed bill “false compassion.”

Cheh said she modeled her bill on the assisted suicide law in Oregon which allows doctors to prescribe medicines so that terminally ill patients may end their lives. That is that state where 29-year-old Brittany Maynard moved last year in order to terminate her life. The California woman, who was diagnosed with brain cancer, gained national attention as she advocated for “death with dignity” for terminally ill patients by publically announcing her decision to kill herself. She did so Nov. 1.

Maynard’s husband, Dan Diaz, testified at the council hearing via telephone hookup.

Diaz, who said he is a practicing Catholic, noted that he was “keenly aware of the doctrinal side of this” proposal, but added that “nobody should impose their doctrine on somebody else … and submit them to a brutal death.”

Council member Yvette Alexander, a Catholic and chairperson of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, said that “the greatest human freedom is to live and die according to one’s belief,” but she conceded that “there are ethical, moral and religious issues that must be addressed.”

Seattle-based attorney Margaret Dore, president of the “Choice is an Illusion” human rights organization opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, also testified via telephone hookup. She said that under the proposed bill, a person can commit suicide and the “the death certificate is falsified and does not reflect the true cause of death” because it would list the person’s diagnosis and not suicide as the cause of death.

She also warned that “predicting life expectancy is not an exact science” and because of a “complete lack of oversight,” anyone can administer the lethal drugs to the terminally ill patient.

Council member LaRuby May, also a member of the committee hosting the hearing, noted that some residents in her ward are opposed to the measure and that “passion in opposition to this bill is very real.”

However, she dismissed that by saying such opposition “is based on fear.”

Michael Scott, director of the District of Columbia Catholic Conference, told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, the Committee on Health and Human Services was accepting written testimony through July 24. After that, the committee will compile a report during the July 15-Sept. 15 legislative recess.

By Richard Szczepanowski, who is a staff writer at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

 

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Three auxiliary bishops named for Los Angeles

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Pope Francis has named three auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson, 75.

The changes were announced July 21 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The pope appointed two priests from Los Angeles and one from Chicago, the rector of Mundelein Seminary, to be auxiliary bishops.

Father Robert Barron, 55, is a native of Chicago who has served as rector of Mundelein and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, also in Mundelein, Illinois, since 2012. He is the founder of the global Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and has long been involved in media ministry.

Msgr. Joseph V. Brennan, 61, vicar general and moderator of the curia in Los Angeles since 2013, is a native of Van Nuys, California, whose studies and assignments have all been in the Southern California archdiocese.

Msgr. David G. O’Connell, 61, is a native of County Cork, Ireland, who studied at All Hallows College in Dublin before being ordained a priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese in 1979. He has been pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Los Angeles since 2003.

Bishop Wilkerson turned 75 last October. Canon law requires bishops to offer their resignations at that age. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Bishop Wilkerson was ordained for the Los Angeles archdiocese in 1965. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop Jan. 21, 1998.

Los Angeles is the largest archdiocese in the country by population, with about 4.3 million Catholics. It has four other active auxiliary bishops and two others who are retired.

 

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Prayers, sympathy shared after four Marines and a sailor killed in Tennessee – updated

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — An outpouring of sympathy and prayer washed over Tennessee for the victims of the July 16 shootings that left four Marines and the shooter dead. A fifth victim of the shootings, a U.S. sailor, died July 18.

Mourners place flags at a makeshift memorial for shooting victims in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., July 16. The shooter, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, was killed by police gunfire after he fatally shot four U.S. Marines and wounded three more people at two military offices that day in Chattanooga. (CNS photo/Tami Chappell, Reuters)

Mourners place flags at a makeshift memorial for shooting victims in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., July 16. The shooter, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, was killed by police gunfire after he fatally shot four U.S. Marines and wounded three more people at two military offices that day in Chattanooga. (CNS photo/Tami Chappell, Reuters)

Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, whose diocese includes Chattanooga, encouraged all Catholics and people of faith to participate in a community prayer service at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga held the afternoon of the shootings at a military recruiting center and a Navy-Marine training center a few miles away.

“Our community is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of four United States Marines in this senseless act of violence,” said a statement from Bishop Stika. “I have two brothers who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and I recognize and appreciate the selfless service all members of the military give to protect us. We ask for your prayers for the souls of those who lost their lives, the recovery of those wounded in these shootings, and for all of their families.”

Bishop Stika also planned to preside at a Mass July 19 at the basilica.

Father David Carter, pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, led the prayer service for all the victims of the incident, including Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, of Hixson, Tennessee, who was identified by law enforcement authorities as the gunman, and three people who were wounded in the attack.

Tennessee news reports identified the four murdered Marines as: Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, 40; Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, 21; and Staff Sgt. David Wyatt and Sgt. Carson Holmquist, whose ages were not available. The murdered sailor was Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith of Ohio. He was 26.

Abdulazeez was shot to death by police, The Associated Press reported.

Father Carter said about 50 people attended the prayer service. He said they were seeking solace and guidance in dealing with the situation.

It was a sobering, somber experience, he said, that changed into one of hope “as we invited God to help us make sense of this situation.”

“We’re all shocked by the shooting. We didn’t expect it to happen in Chattanooga, this close to home. I have parishioners who went to high school with the young man identified as the assailant,” Father Carter told The East Tennessee Catholic, newspaper of the Knoxville diocese.

“We’re saddened that our city had to experience such violence, but we have a way of uniquely responding to this situation,” he said. “We’re responding with hope and the belief that we play a part in making the world a better place. There’s far more good we can do to overcome the senseless acts of violence. We’re called to be light in the darkness.”

Another community-wide prayer service was planned for the afternoon of July 17 at Olivet Baptist Church.

In a statement, Bassam Issa, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said that in his community, “our hearts are with the families of the brave Marines who died today and with the police officer and two bystanders who were shot and injured in this cowardly act.

“We condemn this act in the strongest possible terms as one of cowardice and hate. At the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, we don’t see our community center as a ‘Muslim’ community; we are Chattanoogans first, and we see ourselves as part of the larger community of Tennesseans grieving today’s act.”

He said it is “vital, crucial, and essential that all Muslims in the Greater Chattanooga Community attend this event to express our con-solidarity, unity, empathy, and compassion. We are part of this great City of Chattanooga and should unite with our neighbors during these tragic times.

Bill Brewer, editor of The East Tennessee Catholic, contributed to this story.

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Court: Religious groups aren’t unduly burdened by procedures to opt out of providing birth control coverage — Updated

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DENVER — The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious entities are not substantially burdened by procedures set out by the federal government by which they can avoid a requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14.

Members of the Little Sisters of the Poor attend the 2014 celebration of the third annual Fortnight for Freedom Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14 the Little Sisters and other religious entities are not substantially burdened by federal procedures that would enable them to avoid providing contraceptives in health insurance coverage. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

Members of the Little Sisters of the Poor attend the 2014 celebration of the third annual Fortnight for Freedom Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 14 the Little Sisters and other religious entities are not substantially burdened by federal procedures that would enable them to avoid providing contraceptives in health insurance coverage. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

In a lengthy opinion that considered arguments raised by the organizations under First Amendment religious rights protections and under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the court said the groups are not substantially burdened by filing out a form or notifying Health and Human Services via email or a letter that because of their religious-based objections to the mandated coverage, they will not provide it.

The ruling is the latest in a string of circuit court decisions finding that nonprofit religious institutions may not be protected from complying with the procedures set out by HHS for being excused from what is known as a mandate to provide coverage for a variety of types of contraceptives in employee health insurance.

“The departments have made opting out of the mandate at least as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote — in other words, a routine, brief administrative task,” wrote Judge Scott M. Matheson Jr. He was joined by two other judges in parts of the ruling. However, Judge Bobby Baldock in a partial dissent from the majority’s decision, said he would rule that the religious exercise rights of self-insured employers are more substantially burdened than are those that have outside insurers. “Moreover, less restrictive means exist to achieve the government’s contraceptive coverage goals here,” he wrote.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to provide coverage for birth control drugs and procedures. If providing such coverage is morally objectionable according to their faith, churches themselves and other institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the churches are exempt.

The organizations that sued say that the acts of filling out the form or notifying HHS are a substantial burden on their religious rights because the steps implicate them in the ultimate provision of contraceptives. The court disagreed.

In addition to the Little Sisters, who operate homes for the aged, the ruling affects Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, the Catholic ministries through which the Little Sisters obtain their health coverage, and included challenges to the procedures filed by Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Mid-America Christian University, Truett-McConnell College and Reaching Souls, an Oklahoma-based a non-profit corporation founded by a Southern Baptist minister that trains pastors and evangelists and provides care to orphans in Africa, India and Cuba.

Matheson’s ruling took into account the Supreme Court’s June 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, which found that the owners of the for-profit chain of crafts stores had a legitimate claim that their religious beliefs are burdened by the mandate for contraceptive insurance.

On July 10, HHS issued a new set of rules in light of the Hobby Lobby decision, extending to closely held, for-profit companies the same accommodation it created for the nonprofits. The rules would apply to for-profit entities owned by five or fewer individuals which are not publicly traded. The HHS press release about the rules said that based on available information, that definition would include “all of the for-profit companies that have challenged the contraceptive-coverage requirement on religious grounds.”

Matheson said that unlike in the Hobby Lobby case, the federal government had provided a process of accommodating the plaintiffs’ religious objections to the requirement for contraceptive coverage.

The accommodation makes the situation unlike typical cases brought under RFRA, he said. In Hobby Lobby and other recent RFRA cases, “the government either required or prohibited acts of religious significance to the plaintiffs. In the cases before us, the government has freed plaintiffs from the responsibility to perform the act they consider religiously objectionable, namely, providing contraceptive coverage.

“Nonetheless, the plaintiffs argue an act they do not consider objectionable in itself, completing a form or writing to HHS, becomes objectionable because it either causes the provision of contraceptive coverage or renders them complicit in the provision of contraceptive coverage. Therefore, unlike the aforementioned cases, we are in the slightly different position of considering whether an otherwise unobjectionable act, understood in context, constitutes a substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise.” It does not, the court concluded.

Daniel Blombert, counsel at the Becket Fund, which represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement that “we will keep on fighting for the Little Sisters, even if that means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The Becket Fund statement also included a comment attributed to Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, mother provincial of the order. It framed the ongoing legal battle as a choice “between our care for the elderly poor and our faith,” adding “we should not have to make that choice.”

The 10th Circuit was the fifth federal appeals court to decide that religious rights of faith-based institutions are not burdened by the process of filing the form or notifying HHS that due to religious objections an employer will not be providing coverage for contraceptives. The rulings said that the act of notifying the government is not what “triggers” access to birth control, as the Little Sisters and other plaintiffs have argued. The ACA legislation itself is what triggers someone being able to receive contraceptives, the courts said.

In addition to the 10th Circuit, the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and D.C. Circuits have ruled similarly, all in decisions issued after last summer’s Hobby Lobby ruling. Some of those cases are likely to reach the Supreme Court in the coming term, but it has not yet accepted one.

Legal challenges to the contraceptive mandate by for-profit and nonprofit employers have played out on separate tracks. For-profit cases like Hobby Lobby’s moved through the courts faster, as HHS several times reworked its rules for how nonprofits might seek to be taken out of the contraceptive mandate portion of the ACA.

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RU-486 abortion pill can be reversed, says physician

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Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS — While the annual number of abortions in the U.S. has dropped from a high of 1.6 million in 1990 to about 1.06 million today, the number of chemical abortions through the use of RU-486 has increased and now represents about 25 percent of all abortions.

Rebekah Chaveste, who had successful RU-486 reversal after taking the pill at a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco, plays with her son, Zechariah. Chaveste took advantage of a recently developed medical protocol that has enabled more than half the women who used it to stop the chemical abortions caused by the drug RU-486. (CNS file)

Rebekah Chaveste, who had successful RU-486 reversal after taking the pill at a Planned Parenthood clinic in San Francisco, plays with her son, Zechariah. Chaveste took advantage of a recently developed medical protocol that has enabled more than half the women who used it to stop the chemical abortions caused by the drug RU-486. (CNS file)

But Dr. George Delgado, medical director of Culture of Life Family Health Care, said July 9 during the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans that the abortifacient effects of RU-486, known generically as mifepristone, can be safely reversed about 55 percent of the time by administering a high-dose progesterone protocol, preferably within 24 hours after a woman has taken the abortion pill.

“Time is of the essence,” Delgado told the 800 attendees at the July 9-11 conference. “This is new science, not junk science. There is a window of opportunity to reverse it. We want to go out and spread the word and tell everyone in the community that we have the ability to reverse RU-486.”

Delgado gave a detailed report on his findings.

Essentially, mifepristone works as a “progesterone receptor antagonist,” which effectively blocks all the effects of progesterone, “which is essential for a healthy pregnancy,” he said. Progesterone works to prepare “a rich, luxurious lining” of the uterus, allowing the embryo a nutrient-rich environment in which to develop.

Progesterone also relaxes the contractions of the uterus and keeps the cervix closed, further protecting the growing unborn baby, Delgado said.

However, RU-486 causes the placental lining to “separate, which destroys the placental connection and leads to the starvation of the baby.”

RU-486 was approved for use in the U.S. in 2008 and now represents about 18 to 25 percent of all U.S. abortions, Delgado said. That figure is about 75 percent in some European countries, which permitted the use of RU-486 earlier.

“The proponents of medical-induced abortion hailed this as a ‘Holy Grail,’” Delgado said. “They were effusive in their praise for mifepristone when it was coming on the market, because, of course, they wanted to take the abortion procedure and the abortion decision out of the purview of doctors and of clinics and make it as personal and private as possible, so a woman could have her abortion in the privacy of her own home without anybody interfering or trying to dissuade her or talk to her rationally about what she was doing.”

Delgado said RU-486 has led to “telemedicine” abortions in which women sometimes “don’t have to physically see a medical professional and can have a medical abortion in their own homes. Your sidewalk counselor can’t be in front of every person’s home trying to tell the women about the truth of the life that’s in her womb.”

“Telemedicine” involves a patient being prescribed abortion pills without any doctor being physically present. The patient goes to a clinic and consults with a doctor via webcam; the doctor remotely activates a drawer in an examination room that opens to provide the woman with abortion drugs.

In the case of RU-486, the patient takes the first part of the protocol at the clinic and completes the second part of what is a two-day regimen at home.

But Delgado said while surgical abortions result in ending the unborn child’s life virtually 100 percent of the time, a woman who takes RU-486 can change her mind and deliver a healthy baby.

The key is receiving a large dose of progesterone, about double the amount of the RU-486, to reverse the effect. Delgado’s studies have shown no harm to the mother or child.

“We don’t have a huge amount of data, but we don’t see that there are any associated birth defects,” he said. “We’re very confident in telling women that right now we have no evidence that mifepristone, RU-486, causes birth defects.”

Delgado has a website about his research, abortionpillreversal.com, and has a 24-hour hotline available at (877) 558-0333.

Delgado also said interviews with women who have taken the RU-486 abortion pill, only to change their minds about having an abortion, indicate they often are told by the abortion clinic staff that their original decision was irrevocable and changing that decision would be dangerous.

Even if the baby is born, they are told, it would have birth defects.

Delgado said his peer-reviewed studies prove those claims to be false. The abortion pill can be safely reversed.

“If our opponents are really pro-choice, why would they refuse a woman a second choice?” Delgado asked. “That leads me to believe they are really pro-abortion, not pro-choice.”

Finney is executive editor and general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

 

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