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Cardinal Francis E. George, retired archbishop of Chicago, dies at 78

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CHICAGO — Cardinal Francis E. George, the retired archbishop of Chicago who was the first native Chicagoan to head the archdiocese, died April 17 at his residence after nearly 10 years battling cancer. He was 78.

His successor in Chicago, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, called Cardinal George “a man of peace, tenacity and courage” in a statement he read at a news conference held outside Holy Name Cathedral to announce the death.

Retired Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George died April 17, after a 10-year bout with cancer. CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Retired Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George died April 17, after a 10-year bout with cancer. CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Archbishop Cupich singled out Cardinal George for overcoming many obstacles to become a priest, and “not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most.”

A childhood bout with polio had left the prelate with a weakened leg and a pronounced limp throughout his life.

With the cardinal’s death, the College of Cardinals has 223 members, of whom 121 are under 80 and thus eligible to vote for a pope.

Cardinal George was a philosophy professor and regional provincial then vicar general of his religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, before being named a bishop in 1990.

He was named bishop of Yakima, Washington, in 1990, then was appointed archbishop of Portland, Oregon, in April 1996. Less than a year later, St. John Paul II named him to fill the position in Chicago, which was left vacant by the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in November 1996.

By retiring in 2014, Cardinal George accomplished what he often joked was his aspiration, to be the first cardinal-archbishop of Chicago to step down from the job, rather than dying in office, as his predecessors had. In the last few months the archdiocese had issued a series of press releases about changes in Cardinal George’s health status as it declined.

At an event Jan. 30 where he received an award from the Knights of Columbus, Cardinal George spoke frankly about living with terminal illness, saying that his doctors had exhausted the options for treating his disease and that he was receiving palliative care.

“They’ve run out of tricks in the bag, if you like,” he said. “Basically, I’m in the hands of God, as we all are in some fashion.”

In a catechesis session during World Youth Day in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2005, Cardinal George told the youths that having polio at the age of 13 left him, “a captive in my own body. I soon learned that self-pity got me nowhere. Faith was the way out, because in faith I was not alone, and good can come of something that appears bad at that time.”

Archbishop Cupich in his statement also noted that when the U.S. church “struggled with the grave sin of clerical sexual abuse, (Cardinal George) stood strong among his fellow bishops and insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our beliefs.”

He observed that Cardinal George had offered his counsel and support to three popes, serving the worldwide church. In Chicago, Archbishop Cupich noted, the cardinal “visited every corner of the archdiocese, talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction.”

 

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Cancer claims NCAA basketball player known for her ‘determined spirit’

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CINCINNATI — Lauren Hill, a Mount St. Joseph University freshman who gained international attention when she pursued her dream of playing college basketball even as her inoperable brain cancer advanced, died April 10. She was 19.

She suffered from a brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, known as DIPG.

Ohio college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died of cancer April 10, is pictured in a 2014 photo. A student at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Hill gained international attention when she decided to play on the college's freshman basketball team even as her inoperable brain tumor advanced. (CNS photo/courtesy Mount St. Joseph University)

Ohio college basketball player Lauren Hill, who died of cancer April 10, is pictured in a 2014 photo. A student at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Hill gained international attention when she decided to play on the college’s freshman basketball team even as her inoperable brain tumor advanced. (CNS photo/courtesy Mount St. Joseph University)

“God has a new game plan for Lauren Hill,” said a statement from Tony Aretz, president of Mount St. Joseph University.

“Her light will continue to shine on us all as her supporters worldwide continue her mission of increasing awareness and finding a cure for DIPG,” he said. “We are forever grateful to have had Lauren grace our campus with her smile and determined spirit. She has left a powerful legacy. She taught us that every day is a blessing; every moment a gift.”

Hill rose to national fame Nov. 2 after Mount St. Joseph, a Catholic university, petitioned the NCAA to open the season early so that she could achieve her dream of playing collegiate basketball. Hill scored a layup to open the game, a highlight that has been viewed on YouTube more than half a million times.

The university held an evening memorial service for Hill April 13.

“As Lauren’s family and friends grieve, I am sure I speak for many who will choose to reflect on her incredible life with admiration and find ways to remember her selfless generosity,” Aretz said. “We thank God for the gift of Lauren and thank her parents and family for the honor of allowing the Mount to be a part of her life. Her love and laughter will remain in our hearts.”

Following her diagnosis, Hill worked to raise money and awareness for research on her cancer with the Cure Starts Now Foundation, granting interviews and making appearances even as her conditioned worsened.

“We are saddened to hear that our friend Lauren Hill has passed away this morning,” said a foundation posting on Facebook. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this difficult time. … Throughout her diagnosis Lauren was a tireless advocate and spokesperson for the Cure Starts Now’s efforts to find the ‘homerun cure.’ Lauren captured the hearts of people worldwide with her tenacity and determination to play in her first collegiate basketball game with her Mount St. Joseph University team.”

The Cure Starts Now added that Hill’s efforts have raised $1.4 million for research on diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

 

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U.S. bishops’ committee chair hails framework on Iran’s nuclear program as a step to peace

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WASHINGTON — The adoption of a framework related to Iran’s nuclear program by the United States and other countries is an important step in “advancing a peaceful resolution” to the questions surrounding the program, the chairman of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector checks the uranium enrichment process inside Iran’s Natanz plant last year. The chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace has praised the framework reached with Iran last week as "a step toward peace." (CNS/EPA)

An International Atomic Energy Agency inspector checks the uranium enrichment process inside Iran’s Natanz plant last year. The chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace has praised the framework reached with Iran last week as “a step toward peace.” (CNS/EPA)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said April 8 in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and April 13 in letters to every member of Congress that the framework was a milestone in the long-standing negotiations to curb the “unacceptable prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons.”

Copies of the letters were released April 14 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The framework was announced April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, and involved Iran and what is often referred to as the “P5+1,” or the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — plus Germany.

The talks have been criticized by some members of Congress, who argue that Iranian officials cannot be trusted to abide by any deal and that any agreement with Iran could be disregarded once President Barack Obama concludes his term Jan. 20, 2017.

Bishop Cantu wrote that despite the challenges in reaching an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, “it is vital to continue to foster an environment in which all parties can build mutual confidence and trust in order to work toward a final accord that enhances peace.”

“For this reason, our committee will continue to oppose congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multiparty agreement more difficult to achieve and implement,” the letter continued. “The alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the church.”

The letter cited the words of Pope Francis, who prayed Easter Sunday that the framework “may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

“We share the Holy Father’s hope,” Bishop Cantu wrote.

The bishop called for a final agreement to secure peace in southwestern Asia and to “ensure its full implementation.”

“As we have noted in the past, Iran has threatened its neighbors, especially Israel, and contributed to instability in the region. We hope this agreement is a first step in fostering greater stability and dialogue in the region,” the letter said.

As congressional representatives received the letter, an advertisement supporting the framework was published in the April 13 edition of Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.

More than 45 Christian leaders signed the ad, including Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby Network; Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA; Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International; and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

 

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Catholic school grad looks good in green

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U.S. golfer Jordan Spieth smiles April 12 as he wears his champion green jacket on the putting green at the Augusta National Golf Course in

. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

Georgia after winning the Masters golf tournament. Spieth, 21, who attended St. Monica’s Catholic School in Dallas and graduated in 2011 from Jesuit College Prep in Dallas, won the Masters with an 18 under par score. He called his sister Ellie, who is autistic, “the most special part of his family.”

(CNS photo/Mark Blinch, Reuters)

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Obama and Castro take next steps to normalize U.S.-Cuba ties

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PANAMA CITY — An hourlong meeting April 11 between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro marked the first such personal encounter between the leaders of the two neighboring countries since 1958.

The session held during the Summit on the Americas, in which Cuba participated for the first time, was the most visible step toward ending a half century of strained relations dating back to the Cuban revolution.

Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they hold a bilateral meeting during the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City  April 11. Obama and Castro, who shook hands at the summit, seek to restore ties between the Cold War foes. CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Cuba’s President Raul Castro shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they hold a bilateral meeting during the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City April 11. Obama and Castro, who shook hands at the summit, seek to restore ties between the Cold War foes. CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, extended Pope Francis’ greetings to the gathering. His presence at the summit served as a reminder of the pope’s hand in encouraging Obama and Castro to move toward restoring diplomatic relations and ending the decades-long U.S. embargo of the nation that sits 90 miles off the tip of Key West, Florida.

A day earlier, the highest-level official meeting between Cuban and U.S. representatives in decades took place in Panama City as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in what the State Department described as a lengthy and productive session.

In remarks to reporters April 11, Obama said he and Castro have concluded “that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility.” Over time, he added, “it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

Castro spoke at length in formal remarks at the summit, in part listing what Cubans have considered U.S. offenses against his country, but then agreeing with everything Obama had said. He said while the two nations have “agreed to disagree” sometimes, Cuba is willing to take up any topic of stress between the two countries, including human rights and press freedom.

Castro acknowledged that as president only since 2009, Obama had no role in the long history of strained U.S.-Cuba relations. “I apologize to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.”

Obama said the Cold War “has been over for a long time,” and that “I’m not interested in having battles frankly that started before I was born.”

Obama and Castro in December simultaneously announced the two estranged nations would re-establish official diplomatic relations. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 first imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in reaction to the repression and human rights abuses which followed the Marxist revolution that put Fidel Castro in power the previous year. President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo and subsequent presidents maintained it.

In 2009, Obama became the first president to substantially loosen restrictions, making it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba for family and cultural visits and allowing U.S. citizens to send more money to their relatives there. Cuba, for its part, has in the last few years begun to allow privately owned businesses, now permits people to own, buy and sell their homes and automobiles, and stopped requiring permission from the government to leave the country.

In announcing the moves toward normalized relations in December, Castro and Obama acknowledged the role the Vatican had played in what turned out to have been 18 months of secret negotiations.

Obama said during the Panama summit that he had a State Department report awaiting his return to Washington about whether the U.S. should remove Cuba from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

Removing Cuba from the list would make it easier for Cuba to participate in certain types of financial transactions and eliminate a status Cubans see as an unfair blot against the country.

Although Obama can officially renew diplomatic relations, reopen the U.S. Embassy in Havana and remove Cuba from the list of terrorism sponsors, only Congress can end the trade embargo that blocks most financial transactions between the two countries and makes it illegal for U.S. citizens to travel there for business or tourism.

 

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Washington Letter: Religious freedom debates and laws have a roller coaster history

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — It started with hallucinogenic peyote and a couple of guys in Oregon who were fired after they used it in a religious ritual.

Over the course of 25 years, the U.S. debate over religious rights moved from there to the current social and political uproar about Indiana’’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether it would give legal cover to those who might discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Within hours of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act March 26, critics slammed the legislation as going further than the federal version of the same law does and said it would enable individuals and businesses to claim a religious right to discriminate in ways not foreseen in other versions. Highly publicized protests and boycotts of Indiana and Indiana-based businesses were launched. Read more »

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White House Easter prayer breakfast welcomes cross-section of Christians

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Quoting Pope Francis and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama observed that the celebration of Easter puts other concerns into context.

“With humility and with awe, we give thanks to the extraordinary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our savior,” Obama said at the annual event in the East Room. “We reflect on the brutal pain that he suffered, the scorn that he absorbed, the sins that he bore, this extraordinary gift of salvation that he gave to us. And we try, as best we can, to comprehend the darkness that he endured so that we might receive God’s light.”

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, right, talks to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, during an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House in Washington April 7. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, right, talks to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, during an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House in Washington April 7. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Speaking to an audience of Christian religious leaders from around the country, Obama added that “even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice, on Easter we can’t lose sight of the fact that the story didn’t end on Friday. The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious Resurrection of our savior.”

Noting that Pope Francis would be visiting Washington later this year, Obama went on to quote him, encouraging people to seek peace, serve the marginalized and be good stewards of God’s creation.

“He says that we should strive ‘to see the Lord in every excluded person who is thirsty, hungry, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith … imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper — whether in body or soul — who encounters discrimination.’”

Obama observed that this was how Jesus lived and loved. “Embracing those who were different; serving the marginalized; humbling himself to the last,” and that “this is the example that we are called to follow — to love him with all our hearts and mind and soul, and to love our neighbors — all of our neighbors — as ourselves.”

Gospel and pop singer Amy Grant performed her hit “Thy Word,” based upon phrases from Psalm 119, and the Howard Gospel Choir of Washington’s Howard University also sang.

Among the Catholic participants spotted in the room were Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington; Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association; Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Jesuit Father Tom Reese, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter; and White House staffers that included Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Other prominent faith leaders attending included the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners; Melissa Rogers, head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and her predecessor in the post, Joshua DuBois; the Rev. Al Sharpton; Bishop Vashti McKenzie, presiding prelate of the 13th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

Scripture readings and prayers were offered by an ecumenical assortment: Dominican Sister Donna Markham, incoming president of Catholic Charities USA, read one passage, while Coptic Orthodox Father Anthony Messeh of St. Timothy and St. Athanasius Church in Arlington, Virginia, read another. Formal prayers were offered by the Rev. Amy K. Butler of the Riverside Church in New York, and the Rev. Justin B. Fung of the District Church in Washington, while the Rev. Ann Lightner-Fuller of Mount Calvary African Methodist Episcopal Church in Towson, Maryland, provided a closing reflection.

In comments that started with jokes about his backyard being overrun the day before with thousands of participants in the Easter Egg Roll, and about getting teary-eyed as he contemplates his daughters growing up, Obama began to, as he put it, veer off track from the tone of joy and humility of the event. He said that he reflects on the Christian obligation to love, but that “sometimes when I listen to less than loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that’s a topic for another day.”

“Where there is injustice we defend the oppressed,” he said, “where there is disagreement, we treat each other with compassion and respect. Where there are differences, we find strength in our common humanity, knowing that we are all children of God.”

In introducing Obama, Vice President Joe Biden also referenced Pope Francis’ words, quoting from the pontiff’s homily at the Easter vigil, saying “we cannot live Easter without entering into mystery. To enter into mystery means the ability to wonder, to contemplate, the ability to listen to the silence and hear the tiny whisper amid the great silence by which God speaks to us.”

Biden, a Catholic, added that he thinks that’s “who we are as Christians, and quite frankly, I think that’s who we are as Americans. We’re constantly renewed as a people and as individuals by our ability to enter into the mystery. We live our faith when we instill in our children the ability to wonder, to contemplate, and to listen to that tiny whisper amid the great silence. We live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country. We live Easter — and to live Easter is to live with the constant notion that we can always do better. We can always do better.”

 

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Mass. bishops oppose death penalty as punishment for Boston bomber — updated

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BOSTON — As the trial of Boston Marathon bombing defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went to the jury April 6, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts released a statement reiterating the church’s teaching on the death penalty.

If convicted, Tsarnaev could be sentenced to death or to life without the possibility of parole.

A man holds a sign reading "Death penalty is murder" March 4 outside the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston. Four nationally circulated Catholic publications called for abolishing the death penalty in the United States in a jointly published editorial March 5. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

A man holds a sign reading “Death penalty is murder” March 4 outside the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston. Four nationally circulated Catholic publications called for abolishing the death penalty in the United States in a jointly published editorial March 5. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

The Catholic Church opposes the death penalty except “if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor,” but such cases “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

In Tsarnaev’s case, the Massachusetts bishops said, the defendant “has been neutralized and will never again have the ability to cause harm. Because of this, we … believe that society can do better than the death penalty.”

 

On April 8, the jury convicted Tsarnaev on all 30 counts against him, including the deaths of three spectators and a police officer who was shot as Tsarnaev and his now-dead older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, tried to get away. Tamerlan, 26, died when police shot him and his brother ran over him in the chaos.

Seventeen of the counts Tsarnaev has been found guilty of are eligible for the death penalty. Starting possibly as soon as April 13, the jury was to hear evidence on whether the 21-year-old should be put to death or receive a life sentence.

 

Tsarnaev’s trial in federal court in Boston began March 4, where prosecutors have presented evidence that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, planted the bombs that exploded April 15, 2013, near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. The attack wounded more than 260 people and killed 8-year-old Martin Richard of Dorchester; 29-year-old Medford native Krystle Campbell; and Lu Lingzi, 23, a Chinese national studying at Boston University.

Later, Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier was killed as the brothers attempted to escape from the Boston area.

From their opening statements, his lawyers admitted that Tsarnaev participated in the crimes.

Instead, in an apparent attempt to avoid the death penalty, the defense centered their arguments on demonstrating that older brother Tamerlan was the mastermind behind the plot and that then 19-year-old Dzhokhar was merely a follower.

In their statement, the bishops acknowledged the profound effect of the bombings and their aftermath has had on the Boston area.

“The Boston Marathon Bombing trial is a painful reminder of the harm that impacts many people even beyond those who are killed or maimed by violent criminal acts,” the bishops said in their statement.

The statement also addressed the specifics of the Tsarnaev trial and reiterated Catholic Church teaching on the use of the death penalty.

“Given that the defendant, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is being tried in federal court with the possibility of capital punishment, and that the bishops have testified against capital punishment in the past, we feel it is fitting to clarify the church’s teaching regarding the use of the death penalty,” it said.

Drawing on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the statement said, “The church has taught that the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are ‘rare, if not practically nonexistent.’ The church’s teaching is further developing in recognition of the inherent dignity of all life as a gift from God.”

The statement also quoted the March 20 remarks by Pope Francis to the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, in which the pope called capital punishment “an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person.”

“When the death penalty is applied, it is not for a current act of oppression, but rather for an act committed in the past. It is also applied to persons whose current ability to cause harm is not current, as it has been neutralized; they are already deprived of their liberty,” the pope said.

The bishops said with the defendant behind bars, the interest of protecting public safety has been fulfilled.

They added, “As the bishops of the United States said in their 2005 statement ‘A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death,’ ‘No matter how heinous the crime, if society can protect itself without ending a human life, it should do so.’ We believe these words remain true today in the face of this most terrible crime.”

By Christopher S. Pieno and Gregory L. Tracy

Pineo is a staff writer and Tracy is managing editor at The Pilot, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.

 

 

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Indiana bishops call for ‘mutual respect,’ dialogue on religious freedom bill

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Catholic News Service

INDIANPOLIS — Indiana’s Catholic bishops April 1 urged people to show mutual respect for one another and allow “the necessary dialogue” to take place to make sure no one in the state will face discrimination, “whether it is for their sexual orientation or for living their religious beliefs.”

Demonstrators rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis March 28 to protest a religious freedom bill signed in to law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. More than 2,000 people gathered at the state Capitol to protest Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they say it would promote discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation. (CNS photo/Nate Chute, Reuters)

Demonstrators rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis March 28 to protest a religious freedom bill signed in to law by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. More than 2,000 people gathered at the state Capitol to protest Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they say it would promote discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation. (CNS photo/Nate Chute, Reuters)

Remarking on the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law March 26, they said it “appears to have divided the people of our state like few other issues in recent memory.”

Their statement came amid protests by gay rights groups and others who say that the new religious freedom law could be a vehicle of legal discrimination.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence said he stood behind the religious freedom bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly when he signed it into law, but has since asked state lawmakers to send him some clarifications to make “it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.”

“We want to make it clear that Indiana is open for business, we want to make it clear that Hoosier hospitality is not a slogan, it’s our way of life,” he said at a morning news conference March 31.

Pence attributed the firestorm over the measure to a combination of what he called “mischaracterization,” “misunderstanding” and “sloppy reporting.” As a result “Indiana has come under the harsh glare of criticism from around the country,” he said.

In their statement, the Catholic bishops reiterated the Catholic Church’s teaching that “every human being is created in the image of God,” that “every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect” and that everyone has a right to life’s basic necessities.

“We believe that it is crucial that religious freedom be protected,” they said.

“We support efforts to uphold the God-given dignity of all the people of this state while safeguarding the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion without undue burden from the government,” they said in conclusion.

At the signing ceremony, Pence said if he thought the religious freedom bill “legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.”

“Indiana’s law contains no reference to sexual orientation,” he said, adding that it “simply mirrors” the federal law, known as RFRA.

The 1993 law says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.” It does not apply to the states, so with Indiana, there are now 20 that have passed such legislation.

In a March 27 post on a blog for lawyers called IN Advance, Indiana trial lawyer Matt Anderson called his state’s measure a “vague and just a poorly written law” that he said could be applied to disputes between private citizens. “You can defend yourself in a criminal or civil action on the very broad basis of ‘any exercise of religion,’” which is how it could be used to discriminate against gays and others, he argued.

Richard Garnett, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana, in an opinion column in the March 26 issue of the South Bend Tribune, called the state’s RFRA a “moderate measure” modeled after the federal law and those of several other states and said it “does not give anyone a ‘license to discriminate.’”

Garnett noted that the more than 20 years of history of the applying of RFRA statutes to specific cases shows that courts across the country “have not applied it to require excessive accommodations or exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and civil-rights protections.”

In response to criticism, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long announced that the General Assembly will consider legislation to clarify the religious freedom law, which received a large majority of support from both chambers. The Senate passed the bill 40-10, and the House approved it 63-31.

Several House members spoke out against the bill during floor debate.

Democratic Rep. Ed Delaney of Indianapolis called the bill “futile and destructive,” adding that he felt the bill would allow discrimination. House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Pelath, a Democrat from Michigan City, also raised concerns, saying that he also believed the bill would permit discrimination.

Democratic Reps. Vernon Smith of Gary and Cherrish Pryor of Indianapolis, who are African-Americans, said even though they were devout Christians, they opposed the bill because they believed it could potentially cause discrimination.

In his opinion piece, Garnett pointed out that religious freedom laws have helped people of a broad variety of faiths.

“In practice, over the last two decades or so, Religious Freedom Restoration acts have been used not to excuse illegal discrimination or harmful behavior but instead to secure humane accommodations,” Garnett said, “such as allowing members of a small Brazilian church to possess plants that are necessary to make sacramental tea, or preventing the government from firing a Rastafarian with a traditional haircut, or respecting a family’s religious objections to an autopsy of their loved one.”

Professor Daniel Conkle of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law has repeatedly sought to debunk the claims that RFRA allows for discrimination, citing current legal cases in support of his position. He testified during the House and Senate hearings, and reiterated his position in a recent opinion column in The Indianapolis Star.

Conkle, a constitutional law expert who supports gay rights and same-sex marriage, said the RFRA legislation has “little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.”

He added that “most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination.”

Conkle said in his column the Indiana law is “anything but a license to discriminate, and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.”” According to Conkle, even in the narrow setting of wedding service providers, claims for religious exemptions recently have been rejected in various states, including states that have adopted RFRA legislation.

 

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Assyrian patriarch dies; was promoter of unity, served for 39 years

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By Catholic News Service

CHICAGO —  Catholicos Dinkha IV, patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, died March 26 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A virus infection and pneumonia were cited as the cause of death. He was 79.

In a message of condolence sent to the temporary head of the church, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the deceased patriarch and said, “The Christian world has lost an important spiritual leader, a courageous and wise pastor who faithfully served his community in extremely challenging times.”

Pope Francis said he knew from his conversation with the catholicos how he “suffered greatly because of the tragic situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and in Syria, resolutely calling attention to the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters and other religious minorities suffering daily persecution.”

Catholicos Dinkha was born Sept. 15, 1935, in Iraq. He was ordained a priest at age 21 and became a bishop just five years later. He was elected patriarch in 1976, at the age of 41, succeeding Catholicos Eshai Shimun XXIII, who was assassinated a year earlier. Catholicos Dinkha was the first patriarch to be elected; traditionally, succession was from uncle to nephew.

Because of political instability in Iraq, Catholicos Dinkha moved the patriarchal see in 1980 from its ancestral homeland in modern-day Iraq to suburban Chicago in the United States, where a growing diaspora community was located.

Religious leaders offered words of condolence on the patriarch’s death.

“We pray for his soul. We pray also that the fathers of the Assyrian Church of the East will elect a new shepherd who will lead the flock during this crucial time when Christians are persecuted in the Middle East and our Syriac-Chaldean-Assyrian people are being persecuted and forced to be displaced from their homelands,” Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch said in a statement to Catholic News Service.

“With great hope, we look forward to working together with the Assyrian community for the good of our people and a brighter future for all, following the footsteps of the late patriarch,” he said.

Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignatius Youssef III Younan told CNS in an email that he last met with the late patriarch in May at the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow.

“We then had the chance to discuss the tragic situation of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, as a sinister prelude of what will happen in Mosul on June 10 and in the Plain of Niniveh on the night of Aug. 6-7,” Patriarch Younan recalled, referring to the invasion of northern Iraq by Islamic State militants.

“He was equally concerned about the ongoing exodus of his church’s membership to the point to fear that a time would come when Iraq and Syria will be emptied of Christians,” Patriarch Younan added.

“Let us pray that the Lord inspire the Holy Synod of the sister church that they may elect a successor filled with wisdom, energy and charisma enabling him to defend the very survival of the Church of the East, either in the Middle East or in the diaspora,” he said.

Catholicos Dinkha has been credited with rebuilding the church and updating the liturgy, translating portions from classical to modern Assyrian. He was esteemed as a fatherly figure and as a strong promoter of ecumenism. The Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with any other churches, either Catholic or Orthodox.

During his 39-year term, he met with St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, the latter Oct. 2, just five months before his death. Catholicos Dinkha and St. John Paul II signed in 1994 the “Common Christological Agreement between the Church of the East and the Roman Catholic Church,” which expressed the two churches’ common faith in Christ’s incarnation. The two churches have a long-standing theological dialogue.

The majority of the Assyrian Church of the East’s faithful lives in the diaspora, mostly in the U.S. — about 300,000 — but also in Australia and Europe.

Metropolitan Aprim Mooken of India will serve as acting patriarch until a successor is elected.

A wake for Catholicos Dinkha was to be held April 7 at St. Andrew Church in Glenview, Illinois; the funeral will be held the following day at St. George Cathedral in Chicag

 

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