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U.S. bishops’ leader disappointed in latest HHS rules revision

August 22nd, 2014 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: , , ,

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Aug. 22 that it is issuing an additional set of interim final rules to implement its requirement that health plans, including employer-sponsored plans, provide for sterilization, contraception, and drugs that can cause an abortion.

 

The headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seen in Washington in this file photo. CNS

The headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seen in Washington in this file photo. CNS

In response, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), provided the following statement:

“The Administration is once again revising its regulations on the HHS mandate. We will study the regulations carefully and will provide more detailed comments at a later date. In keeping with our practice, we will evaluate the regulations according to the principles set forth in “United for Religious Freedom,” a March 2012 statement of the USCCB Administrative Committee that was later affirmed unanimously by the body of bishops at the General Assembly of June 2012.

“On initial review of the government’s summary of the regulations, we note with disappointment that the regulations would not broaden the “religious employer” exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate.

Instead, the regulations would only modify the “accommodation,” under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage.

Also, by proposing to extend the “accommodation” to the closely held for-profit employers that were wholly exempted by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hobby Lobby, the proposed regulations would effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom.”

 

Stolen consecrated host intended for a “black Mass’ returned, lawsuit dropped

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A stolen consecrated host that was at the center of a lawsuit filed by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley and intended for use at a planned Satanic “black mass” in Oklahoma City has been returned.

According to the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, an attorney representing the head of the satanic group presented the host to a Catholic priest the afternoon of Aug. 21.

With the return of the host and an accompanying signed statement from the satanic group leader that the group no longer possesses a consecrated host, nor will they use a consecrated host in their rituals, the Oklahoma City archbishop agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.

Archbishop Coakley filed suit Aug. 20 to get the host returned after the Satanic group’s leader made several public statements that its members planned “to defile and desecrate” it during a “black mass” Sept. 21 at the Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City.

“I am relieved that we have been able to secure the return of the sacred host, and that we have prevented its desecration as part of a planned Satanic ritual,” the archbishop said in a statement. “I remain concerned about the dark powers that this Satanic worship invites into our community and the spiritual danger that this poses to all who are involved in it, directly or indirectly.”

In early August, Archbishop Coakley asked Catholics to offer prayer and penance to prevent the Satanic group Dakhma of Angra Mainyu from holding a “black mass.”

“Even though tickets are being sold for this event as if it were merely some sort of dark entertainment, this Satanic ritual is deadly serious. It is a blasphemous and obscene inversion of the Catholic Mass,” he said.

The lawsuit named Adam Daniel, the head of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu, and the Satanic group itself as plaintiffs.

Daniel told news outlets he had received the host by mail from a priest in Turkey. Rituals during a “black mass” include having attendees throw Communion wafers on the floor and stomp on them. In addition a Satanic “nun” urinates in a chamber pot.

Daniel said his group should be able to practice its religion freely. He considers Catholic dogma “enslavement.”

“All I’m trying to do is free people’s minds and allow them to live as they want,” he was quoted as saying.

In his Aug. 4 letter to priests and parishioners, Archbishop Coakley called for a united campaign of prayer, procession and benediction in response to the “black mass.” He specifically asked that the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel be included at the conclusion of every Mass, from the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, which was Aug. 6, and continue through the feast of the Archangels, Sept. 29.

“I invite all Catholics to pray daily for divine protection through the intercession of this heavenly patron who once defeated Lucifer in his rebellion against the Almighty and who stands ready to assist us in this hour of need,” he said in the letter.

He also encouraged parishioners to write to Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett “to express your outrage over this offensive and blasphemous sacrilege and this misuse of a tax-supported public space.”

Archbishop Coakley said he would lead a Holy Hour, an outdoor eucharistic procession and Benediction the afternoon of Sept. 21 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Oklahoma City.

On “the day of the proposed sacrilege,” he said, “we will pray to avert this sacrilege and publicly manifest our faith in the Lord and our loving gratitude for the gift of the holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives.”

Archbishop Coakley has said that despite repeated requests and telling city officials how offensive the “black mass” will be to Oklahoma’s more than 250,000 Catholics, there was no indication “the city intends to prevent this event from taking place.”

City officials said the event is protected by the First Amendment and there were no plans to cancel it.

Parents of slain U.S. journalist discuss phone call from Pope Francis — second update

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Pope Francis phoned the bereaved family of James Foley, a U.S. journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Syria.

In an Aug. 22 interview on NBC’s “Today” show, John and Diane Foley briefly described the previous day’s discussion with the pope, in which they spoke of shared grief at the death of loved ones.

“Pope Francis was so dear because he is grieving himself, having just lost three members of his family and (with) his nephew critically ill,” Diane Foley said on the program. “Here in the midst of his tremendous grief, he took the time to call. Our whole family was there, one of our beloved priest friends … was there, my brother-in-law spoke in Spanish to him. He was just so kind.”

The wife and two young children of the pope’s nephew, 35-year-old Emanuel Horacio Bergoglio, were killed in a car crash Aug. 19 in Argentina. Bergoglio was critically injured.

John Foley said on the “Today” show that “we felt very comforted and supported” that the pope offered his personal prayer.

Father Paul Gousse, pastor of the family’s parish, Holy Rosary Church in Rochester, New Hampshire, told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 22 phone call that the Foleys told him they were especially struck by the pope’s outreach to them at a time when he is grieving himself. He said the pope spoke with several members of the family in a call that lasted more than 20 minutes.

Shortly after the call was made, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, told the Vatican press that Pope Francis called to console the family for their loss and assure them of his prayers.

U.S. journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., after being released from imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and a Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Tommy Giglio, Northwestern University via Reuters)

U.S. journalist James Foley speaks at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., after being released from imprisonment in Libya in 2011. Foley, a freelance war correspondent from New Hampshire and a Marquette University alum, was killed at the hands of the Islamic State militant group. (CNS photo/Tommy Giglio, Northwestern University via Reuters)

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, assistant director of the Vatican press office, told reporters the next day that the pope’s call came shortly after 2 p.m. New Hampshire time, and that the conversation was “long and intense.”

Pope Francis was particularly “struck by the faith” of the late journalist’s mother, Diane Foley, the spokesman said. The pope spoke with her and the deceased’s father, John Foley, through an interpreter. At one point, an unidentified family member came on the line and was able to converse with the pope directly in Spanish.

According to The Associated Press, U.S. officials confirmed a graphic video released Aug. 19 that showed Islamic State fighters beheading Foley, a 1996 graduate of Marquette University who had been a freelance journalist for the past several years, mostly in the world’s trouble spots. In 2011, he was kidnapped on a Libyan battlefield and held captive in Tripoli for 45 days.

Sometime in late 2012, he went missing in Syria. The last time his family heard from him was before Thanksgiving that year.

The Islamic State militants said they killed Foley in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes on their strongholds, and the group threatened to kill another U.S. hostage also shown in the video.

President Obama called Foley’s parents  Aug. 20 before addressing the nation about their son’s death and told them: “We are all heartbroken.”

When the president was making his televised remarks about James Foley’s death, his parents spoke to reporters on the front yard of their home.

“We thank God for the gift of Jim. We are so, so proud of him,” said Diane Foley.

She added that he was “a courageous, fearless journalist, the best of America.”

John Foley told reporters: “We think his strength came from God,” and his wife interjected: “We know it did.”

His father also described how their son not only wanted to humanize the wars he was covering but would also “take a bullet” for any of his colleagues.

“It’s not difficult to find solace,” his father added, saying he knows his son is “in God’s hands.”

He said it is now up to others to “pick up the gauntlet” and continue the work his son was doing.

 

Cardinal Szoka, former Detroit archbishop and Vatican official, dies

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DETROIT — Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, who rose from poor beginnings to reach the highest levels of service to the church, died Aug. 20 at Providence Park Hospital in Novi. The cardinal, who was 86, died of natural causes.

His death leaves the College of Cardinals with 210 members, 117 of whom are under 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, pictured in a 2004 photo, died Aug. 20 at age 86 at Providence Park Hospital in Novi, Mich. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, pictured in a 2004 photo, died Aug. 20 at age 86 at Providence Park Hospital in Novi, Mich. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Funeral arrangements will be made public as they become available.

While his accomplishments were often larger-than-life, Cardinal Szoka carried lessons learned growing up poor in hard-working Polish-American communities with him as he served as parish pastor, chancery official, founding bishop of a new diocese, archbishop of Detroit and in high Vatican posts.

Then-Archbishop Szoka was installed to head the Detroit Archdiocese in 1981. He was named a cardinal in 1988, and was Detroit’s archbishop until 1990, when he began a 16-year tenure at the Vatican, serving under both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

In 1990, he was appointed president of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See, the Vatican’s budget management office, and seven years later was named president of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State, a post he retired from in 2006.

Retired from active ministry since 2006, Cardinal Szoka had been living in Northville, and had recently been active again in the life of the archdiocese he once led.

“We mourn the loss of a dedicated shepherd,” said Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, the current head of the archdiocese, who had served as a priest under Cardinal Szoka in the 1980s. “For 60 years, Cardinal Szoka gave himself totally to his priestly service of Christ and his church. He has gone home to the heavenly Father with our prayers. May the Lord give him the reward of his labors.”

Cardinal Szoka considered his greatest accomplishment in the city of Detroit the transformation of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in 1988, according to a 2011 interview during the celebration of his 40th anniversary of episcopal ordination.

And although he headed up one of the largest U.S. archdioceses and achieved acclaim for restoring the financial condition of the Vatican, he pointed to his role in setting up the Diocese of Gaylord in northern Michigan as the accomplishment that meant the most to him personally.

“When I came there, I had no place to live, I had no chancery office, I had no secretary. I had a territory, but none of the facilities I needed,” Cardinal Szoka told The Michigan Catholic, Detroit’s archdiocesan newspaper. “God really helped me, because when I think back on it now, it went much easier than you might think.”

His episcopal motto – “To Live in Faith” — was one the cardinal took to heart.

“It is the perennial challenge the church always faces, strengthening the faith of the people and helping them to live that faith fully and actively,” he once said.

Edmund Casimir Szoka was born Sept. 14, 1927, in Grand Rapids to Polish immigrants Casimir and Mary Szoka. His father had immigrated from what is now Belarus; his mother from Poland.

In the 1930s, the Szoka family, including an older sister, Irene, moved to Muskegon as his father sought sufficient work to support the family.

Young Edmund studied at St. Joseph Seminary College in Grand Rapids for two years, transferring to Sacred Heart Seminary College in Detroit for his junior and senior years. He studied theology at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth Township. He was ordained June 5, 1954, for the Marquette diocese by Bishop Thomas Noa.

His first assignment was as an associate pastor at a parish in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, then he served as Bishop Noa’s secretary and as a hospital chaplain. He also was named chaplain to the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base.

In 1957, then-Father Szoka went to Rome to study canon law at the Pontifical Lateran University. He returned to Marquette in 1959 and resumed his hospital and chancery duties.

As secretary to the bishop, in October 1962 he accompanied Bishop Noa to Rome for the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

In 1963, he was named the first bishop of Gaylord. To fund diocesan operations, he launched the Catholic Services Appeal, forerunner of a successful campaign he would start in the Detroit Archdiocese.

He was named to Detroit in 1981. During his tenure he expressed deep concern over the racism and poverty that plagued the city. In 1985, he sponsored Detroit Mayor Coleman Young’s membership as the first black member of the all-white Detroit Golf Club.

Then-Archbishop Szoka also had to deal with the financial difficulties of the archdiocese. His other challenges included handling two church discipline cases: one involving a woman religious who had become head of a state agency that paid for abortions among its activities, and the other involving a priest-theologian who had co-wrote a controversial book on sexuality.

In 1987, he hosted his friend and mentor, Pope John Paul, on a visit to Detroit and elsewhere in the archdiocese as part of a major U.S. papal trip.

In 1988, the year he was named a cardinal, he oversaw major changes at Sacred Heart Seminary with the addition of a graduate school of theology, plus a revamping of its undergraduate program and the addition of lay ministry programs.

It also was a year of controversy sparked by Cardinal Szoka’s decision, after several years of studies and consideration, to close several dozen parishes in the city of Detroit that had experienced declining membership.

It was one of the first large waves of parish closures in the U.S. After a plan to shutter 46 of 114 city parishes was unveiled, the final number closed was trimmed to 31 in 1989. Another five closed the following year. Outraged Catholics protested, rallied against archdiocesan officials and filed appeals in civil court in Detroit and church courts at the Vatican. Their appeals ultimately failed.

Cardinal Szoka also presided over pockets of growth in the archdiocese, including the opening of new parishes, including multicultural parishes.

In 1990, Pope John Paul named him president of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See. Faced with a budget crisis, he initiated reforms that stanched a 20-year flow of red ink, and set the course for healthy balance sheets for the rest of his time in the position and for several years thereafter.

In 1997, he was named president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, informally the governor, which put him in charge of a wide range of activities such as the Vatican Museums, and the microstate’s mint, post office and police force.

Despite such major responsibilities, Cardinal Szoka said he accepted the appointments with humility.

“When I was in the seminary, my only ambition was to be a parish priest,” he said at the time. “But a priest is obedient. I did not go asking for these jobs”

On June 22, 2006, Pope Benedict accepted his resignation. In retirement, he returned to the Detroit. Until 2008, he remained a member of five Vatican congregations including the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

Residing in Northville and aiding local parishes in the following years, Cardinal Szoka also participated in social and fundraising events to help support the local church.

Contributing to this story was the staff of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese.

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Iowa judge backs ban on ‘webcam’ abortion-inducing drugs

August 21st, 2014 Posted in National News Tags: , ,

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DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa judge Aug. 19 upheld a state medical board’s ban on a first-in-the-nation videoconferencing system that allows physicians in different locations to dispense abortion-inducing drugs to women in rural clinics.

Judge Jeffrey Farrell of the Polk County District Court said the Iowa Board of Medicine was within its rights to ban the method.

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City called the ruling “a small, and yet, very important victory for the culture of life.”

“The intentional killing of innocent human life, including webcam abortions, is always deplorable and intrinsically evil,” he said. “No matter the intentions and circumstances, abortion always harms the lives of the mother and baby.”

Under the system used in some Planned Parenthood clinics, an out-of-town doctor first discusses the drug-induced abortion method via closed-circuit video with the patient at the clinic. If the physician agrees it is appropriate for the woman to have an abortion, the doctor enters a computer code from his location that opens a drawer with the abortifacient drugs in the rural clinic. The woman ingests the first pill while the doctor watches, then goes home, takes the remaining pills and waits for the abortion to take place.

“Women can die when life-ending drugs are carelessly administered,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, based in Washington.

“Iowa’s regulation and today’s decision demonstrate that doctors agree that chemical abortion can be dangerous for women and requires a careful examination,” she said. “Providing these drugs without a physical examination by a physician amounts to nothing less than reckless gambling with the lives of women.”

The Iowa Board of Medicine voted 8-2 in 2013 to adopt language that would require doctors to be physically present when dispensing abortion pills and to provide follow-up exams.

The board stated at the time that “the goal of the new rule is to protect the health and safety of Iowans.”

“The board believes that all patients, including those in rural Iowa, deserve the highest level of care,” it said. “The board believes that a physician must establish an appropriate physician-patient relationship prior to the provision of a medical abortion. The physician’s in-person medical interview and physical examination of the patient are essential to establishing that relationship.”

In his decision, Farrell said there was “no question that the board has the power to establish standards of practice for the medical profession. Those standards include the authority to adopt and enforce standards regarding the minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing practice.”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Des Moines had sued the board, arguing its decision to not allow doctors the use of the videoconferencing system would limit rural women’s access to abortions. The agency began using the practice in 2008.

The system has remained in place during the court challenge. The judge’s ruling is set to take effect in 30 days. Planned Parenthood will appeal.

Iowa Right to Life alerted the public about what it “webcam abortion” when the practice was implemented.

“Over the last six years, we have worked tirelessly to educate Iowans about this dangerous practice that risks the health of women all over Iowa,” said Jennifer Bowen, executive director of Iowa Right to Life. She welcomed Farrell’s ruling.

“While the plaintiffs have vowed to appeal this common-sense decision,” she said, “we know having reviewed the Iowa Board of Medicine’s rationale behind the rule at question in the case and after hearing from women who have suffered complications and negative effects of the procedure, a ban on the practice was the only logical outcome in this case.”

Penny Dickey, Planned Parenthood’s chief operating officer, said the Iowa Board of Medicine’s “true purpose” is not to protect women’s safety and health but “to prevent women from receiving an abortion if and when they need one.”

Tom Chapman, director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said there is plenty of evidence that “drugs that cause a chemical abortion have serious effects. The safety and informed consent for the women involved should be among our chief concerns.”

The Thomas More Society submitted a friend of the court brief in the case along with research that supports the need to protecting women’s health.

Matthew Heffron, the society’s Omaha, Nebraska, attorney who wrote the brief, echoed what Chapman said about the “numerous complications” of the abortion drugs that women’s health and lives. “These complications are exacerbated when a doctor is not physically present for the procedure,” he said.

 — By Joanne Fox

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St. Louis archbishop praying for peace and justice in Ferguson

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ST. LOUIS — Residents of Ferguson “are struggling to find peace in the chaos” that has followed the shooting death of an unarmed teen by a police officer and “as people of Christ, we are struggling to find direction in the unrest,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis.

Protesters hold their hands in the air during an Aug. 16 demonstration against the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The unarmed teen was shot and killed Aug. 9 by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa

Protesters hold their hands in the air during an Aug. 16 demonstration against the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The unarmed teen was shot and killed Aug. 9 by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa

“We are all aware of the turmoil and tragedy our St. Louis community is experiencing,” he said in an Aug. 18 letter to Catholics of the archdiocese.

After visiting Ferguson, about 11 miles from downtown St. Louis, and offering prayers at a memorial there to 18-year-old Michael Brown, Archbishop Carlson said he has been observing and reflecting “through much prayer” on what has taken place on a daily basis since the Aug. 9 shooting, the events that have gone back and forth from peaceful protests to violence and looting.

Brown’s shooting has brought renewed attention to deep racial tensions in Ferguson and long-standing divisions between minorities and law enforcement. Brown was black, and the police officer who shot him is white.

President Barack Obama has sent U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to Ferguson to assess the situation.

“I find strength in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,’” Archbishop Carlson said. “In all circumstances, but especially in these difficult times, we are all called to be instruments of peace through our words and actions.”

He quoted Pope Francis as saying: “All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace.”

Archbishop Carlson invited Catholics to attend an early evening Mass for peace and justice he planned to celebrate Aug. 20 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

He said that during the Mass, a special collection would be taken for funds to assist food pantries and parishes in the Ferguson area that offer assistance to those who have been affected by the looting and destruction of property.

He encouraged all parishes in the archdiocese to offer Masses “for peace in our community” and have other activities such as a Holy Hour or a parish rosary as part of the effort.

As Catholic schools start the new year, he has asked them to begin a daily rosary for peace and to offer special intentions during all school Masses.

He also noted in his letter that Catholic Family Services, an agency of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese, has made counselors available to any Catholic school that requests assistance. The agency has also publicized tips for parents and schools when dealing with crisis situations, he said.

“Pope Francis has encouraged us again and again to ask Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, to intercede for us in difficult circumstances,” Archbishop Carlson said, referring to a special Marian devotion of the pope.

He urged all in the St. Louis Archdiocese to join him in praying to Mary and her son, Jesus, “for peace and justice in our community.”

In an Aug. 13 statement, the new president of Jesuit-run St. Louis University joined the growing call for peace and dialogue.

“Like you, I have watched the events unfolding this week in the North St. Louis County suburb of Ferguson with shock and sadness,” said Fred P. Pestello. “First and foremost, we extend our deepest sympathies to Michael Brown’s family and friends during this heartbreaking time.”

He said the university would hold a nondenominational prayer service in coming days and also would host a forum to talk about the various issues fueling the situation in Ferguson.

“Given our commitment to justice, it also is imperative that we continue our efforts to shine a light on the issues of poverty, violence and racial disparity,” Pestello said.

“I ask that you please keep everyone affected by this tragedy — including our SLU colleagues who live in the Ferguson area — in your prayers,” he added. “There are many people who are deeply affected by this tragedy. We should seek ways to heal together.”

 

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U.S. nuns’ leadership group restates hope to resolve issues with Vatican

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Members of the national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious said their “deepest hope” is to resolve the issues between them and the Vatican doctrinal congregation in a way that honors LCWR’s mission and integrity.

The board issued the statement after the close of LCWR’s annual assembly Aug. 12-15 in Nashville.

The leaders of orders of women religious took part in the assembly under the continuing doctrinal assessment by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which cited “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.”

The assessment called for the organization’s reform to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

In Nashville, LCWR’s officers updated the members on their work with the bishops delegated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to implement a mandate of reform. Following discussion of the update, the members offered direction to the LCWR national board and president for their work with Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, appointed in 2012 to implement the doctrinal assessment by providing “review, guidance and approval, where necessary” of LCWR’s work.

After the assembly was over, LCWR’s national board of 21 members took part in a three-day meeting that began with a one-hour session with Archbishop Sartain. The meeting was held in executive session and not open to press coverage.

The group in the statement issued afterward reiterated members’ belief that “ongoing conversation with church leadership is key to building effective working relationships that enable both women religious and church leaders to serve the world.”

“We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences,” the statement added.

It also said the “ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.”

In his remarks during the opening session, Archbishop Sartain told the 800 women in the audience he was there “to be with you as a brother and a friend.”

“We come because the Lord has called us and the Lord has sent us,” he said. “That is what unites us in our faith. … I know this is fertile ground for us to discuss our love of God.”

LCWR has about 1,400 members who are leaders of their orders in the United States. The members represent about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country.

 

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LCWR Assembly: Religious women urged to evolve to serve changing church, world

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Religious congregations must evolve to meet the needs of a changing society and church, Sister Carol Zinn, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told members of the organization during its annual assembly Aug. 12-15 in Nashville.

“Religious life is always a radical response to the Gospel in a particular historical and cultural context. It is always a response to where you are, making the Gospel present where we are,” Sister Carol said after delivering her presidential address Aug. 13, the first full day of the assembly.

Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph, who is president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, receives a blessing before her Aug. 12 address at the annual LCWR assembly held in Nashville, Tenn., Aug. 12. LCWR members represent about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country. (CNS photo/Andy Telli, Tennessee Register)

Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph, who is president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, receives a blessing before her Aug. 12 address at the annual LCWR assembly held in Nashville, Tenn., Aug. 12. LCWR members represent about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country. (CNS photo/Andy Telli, Tennessee Register)

“I want us to be clear about where we are,” the Sister of St. Joseph added.

LCWR has about 1,400 members who are leaders of their orders in the United States. The members represent about 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the country.

Many of the congregations of women religious among the LCWR’s membership are becoming smaller and their members are aging, Sister Carol noted. At the same time, the Catholic Church in the United States is changing along with the needs of the laity and people in society at large.

“When many of us started in religious life, our congregations were serving in an institutional way,” running schools, hospitals and other large institutions, Sister Carol said. “That’s shifting. We’re not doing the shifting, God is.”

Religious congregations might have to change how they live their charisms, she said. “It might not be consecrated life the way we’ve lived it.”

LCWR’s role is to help the leaders of congregations of women religious lead their communities during this time of change, Sister Carol said.

The organization held its annual assembly under the continuing doctrinal assessment by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which cited “serious doctrinal problems which affect many in consecrated life.” The assessment called for the organization’s reform to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in areas including abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to implement the doctrinal assessment by providing “review, guidance and approval, where necessary, of the work” of LCWR.

Members were expected to discuss the doctrinal assessment during four sessions closed to the press. After the assembly concluded, LCWR’s board planned to stay in Nashville for a few days to consider comments from members and to decide how to proceed regarding the doctrinal assessment, Sister Carol said.

LCWR is expected to release a statement after the board meeting.

In his remarks during the opening session, Archbishop Sartain told the 800 women in the audience he was there “to be with you as a brother and a friend.”

“We come because the Lord has called us and the Lord has sent us,” Archbishop Sartain said. “That is what unites us in our faith. … I know this is fertile ground for us to discuss our love of God.”

Oblate Father Hank Lemoncelli, representing the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, read a letter of welcome from the congregation’s prefect, Brazilian Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz.

In the letter, the cardinal posed questions he is asking all men’s and women’s religious orders to contemplate as they prepare for the Year of Consecrated Life, which will begin Nov. 30.

Among the questions are:

• “At what point are we to return to the source of every form of Christian life and to the founding charisms of our institutes?”

• “Are our institutes adapting in an evangelical way to changing conditions?”

• “Is following Christ, as taught by the Gospels, the fundamental norm?”

• “Are we faithfully observing the spirit and names of our founders and foundresses so as to preserve their charism?”

• “Are obedience and authority dimensions of a life of true fraternity among us, or do they remain instruments of power and enslavement, perhaps disguised by unhealthy spirituality?”

In her presidential address, Sister Carol drew on the assembly’s location in Nashville, known throughout the world as Music City, for inspiration.

“This assembly comes at a time when our consciousness is increasingly heightened to the lamentations of our world, country, church and vocation,” she said. “And we are called to stand in those lamentations singing the music in God’s heart. As we begin this significant and important assembly, may we know where we really are, who we really are, and who we’re really called to become.”

Religious life continues to evolve, as it has throughout history, Sister Carol said.

“We look to the Gospel to see how this life is lived and we learn that the main melody is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing more and nothing less,” she said.

“What would religious life look like if we were to harmonize our charisms anew that freed us to live this life more fully, more creatively, more boldly, more at the periphery?” Sister Carol asked. “Could it be that the divestment of buildings, ministries, land, provinces and even congregations is the prelude to a new harmony?”

Sister Carol quoted Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”): “With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”

“In both formal and informal interviews, with impassioned clarity, Pope Francis identifies what that joy born anew looks like as it stands in the lamentations,” she added. “Discernment is a way of life. Community matters. Relationships come before anything and everything else. The church serves as a field hospital welcoming all. Consecrated life is to wake up the world with its mystical and prophetic presence. The co-essential dimensions of ecclesial communion are the hierarchic and the charismatic.”

Sister Carol encouraged the leaders of religious communities to be receptive to the changes in the world, the Church and their congregations. “All that we know about this life must be held lightly so conversion of worldview, ideology, ecclesiology and theology of this life in view of the God of the future can emerge.”

 

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Missouri parishioners pray for healing after violent protests follow shooting of teen

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FERGUSON, Mo. — Against the backdrop of demonstrations and unrest, some of it violent, that has followed the Aug. 9 killing of an unarmed black teenager by police in Ferguson, members of a local Catholic parish did perhaps the only thing they could; they prayed.

As police and protesters stood in an uneasy truce Aug. 11 close to a burned-out convenience store and businesses looted in an earlier demonstration, two miles away members of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish prayed the rosary.

Parishioners from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Ferguson, Mo., hold a prayer vigil for peace Aug. 11. Protests and riots in the neighborhoods of Ferguson have followed the Aug. 9 shooting and killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Parishioners from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Ferguson, Mo., hold a prayer vigil for peace Aug. 11. Protests and riots in the neighborhoods of Ferguson have followed the Aug. 9 shooting and killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

“As a community, we needed to come together in prayer,” said parishioner Cathy Cunningham, who described the community as “very sad.”

“We just have to put it in Jesus’ hands, and he will heal us,” she told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Led by their pastor, Father Robert Rosebrough, about 100 people gathered to pray the rosary at the parish’s Our Lady of Lourdes grotto.

Since the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the community is demanding answers. Emotions run deep in the biracial community of Ferguson, 11 miles from downtown St. Louis.

The shooting has been met with protests and some violence, like the night of Aug. 10 when some local businesses were looted and the QuikTrip convenience store was set on fire, after a vigil that drew a few thousand people.

The next day was void of that violence but the scene remained tense. Police cars and officers in riot gear filled the parking lot of the burned-out store. Meanwhile, protesters held signs in front of the former store and crowds gathered in the middle of the street and alongside it as cars inched through with horns honking.

Bystanders hooted and hollered, most shouting in protest and many raising their arms in surrender, the gesture they say Brown was making as he was shot to death by a Ferguson police officer. Officials say Brown, who was unarmed, resisted arrested and struggled for the officer’s gun, then was shot as he fled.

According to an AP story, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has instructed attorneys in the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division to monitor developments.

Cunningham was among four women from Blessed Teresa who hatched the rosary idea. They were driving home Aug. 10 from an event at St. Joseph Parish in Manchester.

“In the car, Cathy Cunningham said the community needs to heal; that’s basically how it happened,” said Dorothy Frese, one of the four. “We had to do something. It just got rolling.”

Another in the group, Jeanne Baer, who is the parish’s pastoral associate, bounced the idea off Father Rosebrough, who was immediately onboard.

The parish’s youth ministry director, Jeff Finnegan, suggested the grotto for a venue. An email blast to parishioners and notices on social media and the parish website spread the word.

On cue, just before the service, the sky opened and drenched all with rain. “Baptismal waters,” Father Rosebrough called it.

The rain stopped for the 30-minute service, which featured parishioner Jeff Mazdra’s singing and guitar playing.

Father Rosebrough chose the luminous mysteries for the rosary, added by St. John Paul II in 2002. They also are known as the mysteries of light.

Earlier that day, as he walked along the avenue past boarded-up businesses damaged by the previous night’s violence, the priest said, he kept coming back to the luminous mysteries.

“It seemed like it was right on target. It calls us to do something,” he said. On that walk he also stopped briefly at “ground zero,” the QuikTrip, and “just quietly blessed the place.”

“People have invested money there, people got injured last night, and people don’t realize that employees there are now out of a job for several months. I just asked the Lord to help them heal,” Father Rosebrough said.

Healing will come in time, after an investigation into the shooting of Brown and also an examination of the deeper issues that precipitated the Aug. 10 violence. Now, though, the wounds are raw.

“We don’t have the answers,” Father Rosebrough said. “We just ask for his presence and consolation; that’s what people need.”

 — By Dave Luecking

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Minn. archbishop says he won’t resign, points to progress on abuse claims

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis said the archdiocese has made significant progress in improving procedures for addressing sexual abuse claims and he will not resign over past missteps on such cases.

“We must continue to address head-on the terrible scandal of clerical sexual abuse,” he said in his column in the July 30 issue of The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “It is apparent that this is the work of the church we are called to address at this time.”

“To say that this has been a difficult year is quite an understatement,” he said. “Catholics have witnessed many troubling media reports, and many of us have had difficult conversations with friends and family about what it means to be Catholic and why we still profess the faith.”

Archbishop Nienstedt and the archdiocese have faced severe criticism amid sexual misconduct allegations in the media last year concerning certain priests in Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and how their cases were handled by archdiocesan officials.

In response, the archdiocese established a new lay-run Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force last October. It was charged with conducting a full review of archdiocesan policies and practices and “any and all issues” related to clergy sexual misconduct.

Archbishop Nienstedt also appointed an archdiocesan vicar for ministerial standards responsible for all issues related to clergy sexual misconduct and the archdiocese hired a Los Angeles-based firm to review all clergy files. The majority of recent claims are about alleged abuse that took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

In his column, he acknowledged he has been “the subject of two investigations, which have brought with them more public scrutiny.”

“I am sorry for the distractions I have inadvertently caused that have taken the focus away from the challenging and rewarding work we do as the Catholic Church in our local community,” he said.

In response to calls that he resign, he said he will continue to serve. Among those urging he resign were the Minneapolis Star Tribune in a July 27 editorial and a columnist for the Pioneer Press.

“I have acknowledged my responsibility in the current crisis we face, and I also take responsibility for leading our archdiocese to a new and better day,” said the archbishop, who has headed the archdiocese since 2008; previously he was its coadjutor archbishop.

He said he has received messages calling him “a hypocrite, a domineering boss and a liar.”

“Others have written that I am a courageous moral leader and a true shepherd,” he continued. “I have read them all. I am grateful for everyone who has taken the time to write, regardless of how they feel, as most believe they are acting in the best interests of the church.”

“I will continue to listen to those who express concerns about my leadership, but I will also continue serving as I have been called to do,” he wrote. “I am devoted to serving this local church, and I will continue to do so and to apply these hard lessons that I have learned over the past months.

“While it may be difficult to believe, the suffering we have endured is bearing much fruit in reform of practices and correction of decisions that were made in the past, either by me or my predecessors.”

Archbishop Nienstedt highlighted his creation of a new leadership team that he said “operates under the philosophy of ‘victims first.’”

“I have empowered a new team of bishops, parish and religious order priests, archdiocesan employees, lay Catholics and non-Catholics to assist me and provide consultation,” he said. “They continually operate from the perspective of how we can best help victims of sexual abuse and their families.”

He stated that he has “never knowingly covered up clergy sexual abuse.”

“I have, however, been too trusting of our internal process,” he said, adding that he should have been more personally involved in addressing “matters of priest misconduct.”

“Since the completion of the independent internal review of all our clergy files, I have removed several clergy from active ministry and publicly named them while we await review of their files by the police and the archdiocese’s Clergy Review Board,” he said.

“While it is very clear that we did not handle all complaints the way we should have in the past, we are now doing all we can to make sure that we are living up to our commitment to be accountable, transparent, and are, in fact, providing safe environments for our children” he said. “I receive regular updates on any misconduct cases and the work of the Clergy Review Board.”

Archbishop Nienstedt said he has “always been honest with the Catholics of this local church.”

“I have addressed the accusations against me head on, following all the protocols we have in place for all of our priests. I have asked for the recent investigation because I had nothing to hide and wanted to be vindicated from false allegations, as anyone would,” he said.

In early July, the archbishop ordered an investigation of himself immediately after he became aware of allegations against him involving events alleged to have occurred a decade ago before he began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In announcing the investigation, he called the accusations “absolutely and entirely false.” They do not involve minors and do not implicate any kind of illegal or criminal behavior.

In December 2013, the archbishop voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry while St. Paul Police investigated an allegation made Dec. 16 that year that he inappropriately touched a male minor on the buttocks in 2009 during a group photo session after a confirmation ceremony.

He returned to public ministry this March, following a thorough investigation by police of the claim and the announcement by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office that no charges would be filed against the archbishop.

 

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