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Supreme Court upholds execution drug use

June 30th, 2015 Posted in National News


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In another in a series of bitterly divided end-of-term cases, the Supreme Court June 29 upheld the execution protocol used by Oklahoma and several other states.

The 5-4 ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito upheld lower courts that said the use of the drug midazolam in lethal injection does not violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling was among the last three opinions released, closing out the court’s 2014 term. Aside from announcing the disposition of other cases it has been asked to review, the court is not scheduled to conduct any further business in the public eye until the 2015 term opens Oct. 5.

The majority opinion in Glossip v. Gross noted that it has been previously established multiple times that capital punishment is constitutional and only delved into whether the claims by Oklahoma death-row inmates that the effects of the drugs used in lethal injection are unnecessarily painful. Among the reasons Alito cited in upholding lower courts were that “the prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain.”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas each filed concurring opinions. Alito’s majority ruling also was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Two of the four justices who disagreed with Alito each wrote a dissenting opinion, including one in which Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg called for briefings on whether the death penalty itself ought to be ruled unconstitutional. “I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” Breyer wrote. “At the very least, the court should call for full briefing on the basic question.”

In his majority ruling, Alito discussed at length the evidence presented about whether midazolam fails to act sufficiently as a sedative to prevent inmates who are being executed from suffering an undue amount of pain. The cases arose after several situations like that of Clayton Lockett. At his April 2014 execution, he writhed in pain for 40 minutes before dying of apparent heart failure.

Alito recounted the circumstances leading to the use of midazolam, which has become an alternative for other drugs, whose manufacturers refuse to supply them for use in executions. He went into graphic detail about the murders committed by the death-row inmates who sued.

In his concurrence and pointed disagreement with Breyer, Thomas also described brutal crimes that landed people on death row. It was the third criminal justice case in the last weeks of the term in which Thomas has made a point of writing about severe sentences being necessary because of the pain inflicted on crime victims and their families.

Like Alito’s majority opinion, Sotomayor devoted much of her dissent to dissecting the testimony about the effects of midazolam. She took issue with the majority brushing past the inmates’ plea “that they at least be allowed a stay of execution while they seek to prove midazolam’s inadequacy.” She was joined in the dissent by Breyer, Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan.

Sotomayor said the court accomplished that “first, by deferring to the District Court’s decision to credit the scientifically unsupported and implausible testimony of a single expert witness; and second, by faulting petitioners for failing to satisfy the wholly novel requirement of proving the availability of an alternative means for their own executions. On both counts the court errs. As a result, it leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

She said that in sweeping aside substantial evidence that midazolam “cannot be utilized to maintain unconsciousness in the face of agonizing stimuli,” the majority accepted one witness’s “wholly unsupported claims that 500 milligrams of midazolam will ‘paralyze the brain.’ In so holding, the court disregards an objectively intolerable risk of severe pain.”

The majority responded to Sotomayor’s points about the potential for such an outcome by calling it a “groundless suggestion that our decision is tantamount to allowing prisoners to be ‘drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake.’ That is simply not true and the principal dissent’s resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments.”

Scalia’s concurring opinion, joined by Thomas, mostly took on Breyer’s dissent, faulting him for suggesting the death penalty might be unconstitutional.

“Mind you, not once in the history of the American Republic has this court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible,” Scalia wrote. “The reason is obvious: It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates. The Fifth Amendment provides that “[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital … crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury,’ and that no person shall be ‘deprived of life … without due process of law.’ Nevertheless, today Justice Breyer takes on the role of the abolitionists in this long-running drama, arguing that the text of the Constitution and two centuries of history must yield to his ‘20 years of experience on this court,’ and inviting full briefing on the continued permissibility of capital punishment.”

Breyer’s argument, Scalia wrote, “is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledygook.”


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Catholic media urged to reveal Pope Francis’ revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy


Catholic News Service

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Catholic journalists could easily “remain on the surface” when reporting on Pope Francis with his great photo opportunities and “buzz-catching expressions,” but they need to take their coverage a step further, said Basilian Father Thomas Rosica.

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada's Salt and Light Media Foundation, gives a keynote address June 26 during the Catholic Media Conference in Buffalo, N.Y. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Media Foundation, gives a keynote address June 26 during the Catholic Media Conference in Buffalo, N.Y. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“Our work as Catholic media is not to remain on the surface but to go to the deeper level of that story within the story,” urged the priest, founding CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation.

Father Rosica was the keynote speaker June 26 at the Catholic Media Conference in Buffalo. He also was the recipient of the Clarion Award from the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals, presented June 25 at the organization’s Gabriel Awards banquet. The award recognizes creativity, excellence and leadership in communications and ecumenical cooperation.

The priest, born in Rochester, got his journalism start by writing a weekly section of the Courier-Journal daily newspaper about Catholic school events.

In his address, he told Catholic media representatives about the pope’s recent headline-making comments about how he doesn’t watch television, have a laptop or an iPhone.

Those remarks are not the end of the story though and Father Rosica said they shouldn’t suggest the pope has no interest in modern technology.

The “pope is by no means a Luddite,” he said, noting that Pope Francis “understands what authentic communication is all about” and demonstrates it in the ways he connects with people and what he wrote in “Laudato Si’” about how modern media can “shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”

Father Rosica said the pope’s ecumenical outreaches often make for nice photos or quick headlines but also should be given a deeper look. He said although these “gestures are new and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not.”

Another key aspect of the pope’s ministry, his calling together of the Synod of Bishops on the family last October, was also reduced to sound bites, that at times were inaccurate, the priest said.

He told the group of journalists and media professionals that they may have heard, read or even incorrectly reported that the synod was “about changing the teaching of the church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that the church strives to (give) people, the ‘motherly love of the church,’ especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.”

Father Rosica stressed that any reports that the synod “represented a defeat for Pope Francis or that he was disappointed at its outcome” are totally false. At the end of the two weeks, the pope said the gathering had been “a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber.”

The priest urged journalists to read the text of the pope’s closing address at the synod, which he said confirms the “story within the story” of the synod’s achievement.

Father Rosica also drew attention to the pope’s recent encyclical “Laudato Si,’” pointing out that “until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion.”

He said the document is “deeply uncomfortable” because it not only addresses climate change but the “deeper tragedy of humanity itself.”

He also disagreed with those who argue that the pope has no authority to speak on this issue, stressing that it builds on Catholic social teaching. He also noted that when journalists report on the encyclical, they need to present the full picture of the document which calls for a response to the cry of the earth and the poor.

Father Rosica reminded members of the Catholic media that Pope Francis has declared the upcoming year as a Year of Mercy, which means that the pope wants everyone in the church to “open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice.”

The church can live out mercy when parishes reflect the image of church as “field hospital” that Pope Francis has used, but such work also can be done by members of the Catholic media, he added.

“In this room, there are close to 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment,” he said, urging them to recognize how the world is in need of the pope’s “revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before.”

“Be sure to tell that story to the world,” he told them.


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Analyzing same-sex marriage ruling’s implications will take time, say church officials


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Analyzing the ramifications of the June 26 same-sex marriage ruling for the Catholic Church at the national, state and local levels will take time, said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore.

It has implications for “hundreds, if not thousands” of laws at all levels, and there is “a difficult road ahead for people of faith,” he said.

Gay rights supporters celebrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington June 26 after the justices ruled in a 5-4 decision that the U.S. Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry. (CNS photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters)

Gay rights supporters celebrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington June 26 after the justices ruled in a 5-4 decision that the U.S. Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry. (CNS photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters)

Archbishop Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, made the comments in a teleconference for news media held about three hours after the Supreme Court issued its 5-4 decision that states must license same-sex marriage.

Joining him in the media briefing were two members of the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military, and Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas; and Anthony Picarello, associate general secretary and general counsel at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Tragically, the court was wrong,” said Archbishop Broglio, adding that this is “not the first time” a “false understanding of marriage” has been forced on the country, as by lower court rulings.

“Clearly the decision was not required by the Constitution (and) the narrowness of the decision reveals it is not settled,” he continued. “Marriage is unchangeable.”

Echoing an earlier statement by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB president, Archbishop Broglio said the church will continue to follow Christ,” in solidarity with pope,” in adhering to the church’s teaching on marriage being between one man and one woman.

Archbishop Lori acknowledged that the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges “makes a nod in the direction of religious liberty.” But that, he said, is too narrow.

The ruling “recognizes free speech, the right of religion to teach or advocate with regard to the true definition of marriage, but it does not acknowledge (that) the First Amendment also protects freedom of religion and the right to follow our teaching,” he said.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, recognized in several places the role of religious beliefs in the questions surrounding same-sex marriage, saying that “it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Kennedy also said in part that “those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate.”

But Archbishop Lori said free speech is not at issue. Under the ruling, “we retain the right to think what we want at home and within the confines of the church” but it does not address the First Amendment’s guarantee to free exercise of religion. The church should be able to operate “our ministries … without fear of being silenced, penalized,” he said.

Through social services, “we serve millions of people every day. We do it well and we do it lovingly,” he added.

He foresees many legal challenges and controversies as the church seeks to protect itself from the fallout of the marriage ruling by advocating at the federal, state and local levels for protections for its faith-based practices.

Some areas where there will be legal disputes, Picarello said, were outlined by Chief Justice John Roberts, including tax exemptions, campus housing, academic accreditation, employment and employee benefits.

The U.S. Catholic Church will have to look at internal ways to protect itself against legal challenges, Picarello said, and “advocate externally for legislation, regulation and, if necessary, litigation.”

Picarello said free speech protections for opponents of same-sex marriage were already under attack. Within a couple of hours of the decision being issued, he said, a newspaper in Pennsylvania announced it will no longer accept op-eds criticizing same-sex marriage.

“Some things will happen immediately,” as seen by that newspaper’s announcement, he said, and some will take time to unfold, like challenges to churches receiving tax exemptions.

Another area that will require study, Archbishop Broglio said, is the military chaplaincy, because the Catholic priest-chaplains whom his archdiocese oversees also come under civil authorities.

While polls show a majority of Catholics say they approve of same-sex marriage, Catholic teaching is “never determined by numbers but by the truth,” Archbishop Broglio said. “We have to be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel.”

“In a pastoral context we respond to the individual in his or her need and that’s quite different than what we teach concretely,” he added. The church must make its “teaching on marriage very, very clear,” while at the time be pastoral to individuals.

The church teaches marriage is between a man and a woman and that sex outside marriage is a sin. At the same time the church upholds the human dignity of all people, Archbishop Lori said, adding, “We preach the truth with love in season and out of season.”

“It is evident we are living in an age of dramatic cultural shift,” said Bishop Flores, and the church has to think about how to share its teaching and “announce the good news … as creatively as possible in current cultural context.”

But he added that the church’s teaching on marriage “also has something to do with bringing children into the world” and about stable families. “We ought to have our eye not on ourselves or our own emotional needs … but the needs of the young.”

Bishop Flores said rhetoric such as calling opponents of same-sex marriage bigots is used at times “to avoid understanding the rationale” of what the church teaches.

“For our part we have to be prepared for that kind of rhetoric and simply respond with charitable but persuasive” explanations of the church’s rationale and what word “marriage” means and the way it has been understood for millennia, he added.

Archbishop Broglio added that the Catholic Church survived the anti-Catholicism of the Know-Nothing period, “so we will survive this.”


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U.S. bishops’ president calls Supreme Court ruling on marriage ‘tragic error’


WASHINGTON — The president of the U.S. bishops’ conference called the Supreme Court’s June 26 marriage ruling “a tragic error” and he urged Catholics to move forward with faith “in the unchanging truth about marriage being between one man and one woman.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said June 26 that, “Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable." (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said June 26 that, “Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable.” (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.

“It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage,” he said.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court June 26 said same-sex marriage is constitutional nationwide.

“Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over 40 years ago,” when it legalized abortion in the U.S. virtually on demand, Obergefell v. Hodges “does not settle the question of marriage today,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

“Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail,” he added.

The court had several marriage cases to consider and bundled them under the title of the Ohio case, Obergefell v. Hodges. That case arose after the October 2013 death of John Arthur of Cincinnati. He and his longtime partner, Obergefell, had married earlier that year in Maryland. When the local Ohio registrar agreed to list Obergefell as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate, which is key to a range of survivor’s benefits, the state attorney general challenged the status because Ohio law bars same-sex marriages.

The other cases included: Tanco v. Haslam, the Tennessee case, and Bourke v. Beshear, the Kentucky case, which similarly challenge those states’ refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, and DeBoer v. Snyder, the Michigan adoption case.

“The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female,” Archbishop Kurtz said in his statement. “The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the integral ecology that Pope Francis has called us to promote.

“Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.”

The archbishop said the U.S. bishops will continue to teach as Jesus did. Christ taught with great love and “unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman,” he added.

Archbishop Kurtz encouraged Catholics “to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.”

He urged all people of goodwill to join the Catholic Church “in proclaiming the goodness, truth, and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for millennia, and I ask all in positions of power and authority to respect the God-given freedom to seek, live by, and bear witness to the truth.


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South Carolinians pay tribute to slain pastor-senator, other victims


Catholic News Service

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNS) — The crowd that poured onto the Capitol grounds June 24 to mourn a slain state senator and pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a tribute not just to him, but to each of the victims shot a week earlier at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Thousands of mourners stood together for hours on a brutally hot day, waiting patiently for the chance to pay their respects. Strangers struck up conversations, sharing fans and umbrellas against the sun; showing through their actions once again that even though an act of hate had brought them there, it had no place in their midst.

“We wanted to show our respect not only to Rev. Pinckney, but to all those affected. And to show hate doesn’t win; love wins,” said Sandra Johnson, from Columbia. Read more »

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Organizers for meeting of families expect 1.5 million for papal Mass


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — More than 1.5 million people are expected for the Mass with Pope Francis in Philadelphia this September, said organizers of the next World Meeting of Families.

A high-level delegation from Philadelphia, led by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, was in Rome as of June 22 to meet with Vatican officials, review some of the planning and promote the weeklong congress. Read more »

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Compassion in physician-assisted suicide ‘hollow,’ says L.A. archbishop


LOS ANGELES (CNS) — After the California Senate voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez called it the wrong response to a “public health crisis.”

“The compassion that doctor-assisted suicide offers is hollow. And this legislation has dangerous implications for our state, especially for the poor and vulnerable,” Archbishop Gomez said. Read more »

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5th Circuit says HHS accommodation on mandate not a burden on religion


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The religious rights of faith-based entities — including the dioceses of Fort Worth and Beaumont, Texas, and the University of Dallas — are not substantially burdened by the process to receive an accommodation from the federal government to avoid participating in a health care mandate for contraceptive coverage, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 22.       Read more »

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Charleston, S.C., mourns nine people murdered at historic black AME church


WASHINGTON — The tragic taking of nine lives at a historically black church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, brought an outpouring of solidarity, compassion and sorrow from around the country.

A small prayer circle forms nearby where police responded to a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., June 17. A white gunman was still at large in the morning hours of June 18 after killing nine people during a prayer service at Charleston's historic African-American church, the city's police chief said, describing the attack as a hate crime. (CNS photo/Randall Hill, Reuters)

A small prayer circle forms nearby where police responded to a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., June 17. A white gunman was still at large in the morning hours of June 18 after killing nine people during a prayer service at Charleston’s historic African-American church, the city’s police chief said, describing the attack as a hate crime. (CNS photo/Randall Hill, Reuters)

After an all-night search, police June 18 captured a white man who had joined a prayer meeting the previous evening inside at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and then fatally shot nine people, including a senior pastor.

Religious leaders as well as government leaders issued their condolences and condemned the shooting, which is being investigated as a hate crime.

Catholic Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston expressed a deep sadness over the tragedy.

“The inside of any church is a sanctuary,” he said in a statement. “When a person enters, he or she has the right to worship, pray and learn in a safe and secure environment. For anyone to murder nine individuals is upsetting, but to kill them inside of a church during a Bible study class is devastating to any faith community.”

Bishop Guglielmone also shared his sympathies with those who lost loved ones in the shooting and prayed they will “feel the comforting presence of our Lord surrounding them during this difficult time.”

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh in the neighboring state of North Carolina, said: “In solidarity with my brother bishop … I ask all the Catholic faithful and people of goodwill in the Diocese of Raleigh to stop at some point today, and offer sincere and thoughtful prayer for the nine victims of this horrific crime and for their families.”

A number of Jewish groups issued strong statements on the crime that took place in Charleston.

“Hate crimes attack both individual victims and entire communities,” said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “They are meant to isolate and terrorize. We stand in direct contrast: for an inclusive and pluralistic community, one that cherishes life and recognizes that every person is created in the divine image.”

The statement went on to point out that tragic act “highlights that there is still racism in our society and that there is urgent need to address the issue directly. We must clearly and unequivocally demonstrate that hate violence has no place in our society.”

Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations at AJC Global Jewish Advocacy, said that “this horrific massacre of innocents at prayer is extreme depravity. We are shocked beyond words that someone could enter a house of worship in our country and commit such a horrific crime, all the more so if it was racially motivated.”

Numerous government officials weighed in on the shooting, with some citing an attachment to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Closely impacted by the tragedy was Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley.

According to AP coverage of a news conference, Riley, who is Catholic, said that for someone to go into a church and kill people who had gathered to pray and worship “is beyond any comprehension. We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family.”

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, released a joint statement recalling meeting the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor who was shot dead.

“He was a good man, a man of faith, a man of service who carried forward Mother Emanuel’s legacy as a sacred place promoting freedom, equality, and justice for all,” the statement said, using a popular name for the church. “We pray for him and his sister as we do for the seven other innocent souls who entered that storied church for their weekly Bible study seeking nothing more than humble guidance for the full lives ahead of them.”

They expressed support for Riley’s remarks, saying that as he made clear “all of Charleston’s heart bleeds today, but the overwhelming display of unity will bring forth the city’s healing. We will never forget those innocent souls who lost their lives. We will be there with all the strength and support and prayers we can offer to the families who now grieve.”

President Barack Obama in a statement said that he and first lady Michelle Obama know several members from Mother Emanuel church, including the pastor.

“There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship,” he said.

“Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church,” Obama continued, noting the church’s long and proud history. “This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshippers worked to end slavery.”

“When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret,” he said. “When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps.”

He said the kind of shootings that took place at the Charleston church don’t happen as often in other advanced countries and blamed the politics of gun control for keeping the U.S. from addressing the issue, but said such the country has to come to terms with such incidents.

“With our prayers and our love, and the buoyancy of hope,” he said, Mother Emanuel will be able to come back from this tragedy “as a place of peace.”

By Daniel O’Shea


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Pope speaks as a pastor in call to protect earth, U.S. bishops’ president says


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis speaks with a pastor’s voice and with deep respect for science in calling the world to address threats to all life on earth through environmental degradation and a the mindset of a “throwaway culture” in his encyclical, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addresses media at the National Press Club in Washington June 18 about the U.S. perspective on Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, addresses media at the National Press Club in Washington June 18 about the U.S. perspective on Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, said during a June 18 news conference in Washington that the encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” also urges people to remember that “we have a shared responsibility for one another” while calling for “urgent action” to work for the common good and the betterment of the planet.

He said the document is meant to be a valuable teaching tool and moral guide for “generations to come.”

“He’s painfully aware of what’s happening to our world and that we need to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care,” the archbishop said.

“He’s speaking to all of us now. What does it mean? It’s marching orders for advocacy.”

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington also addressed reporters and said that as he read the encyclical he immediately thought of the magnificence of God’s creation and how everyone must take steps to protect it.

“Our Holy Father is speaking out of our Catholic tradition,” the cardinal explained. “But if you read the document carefully, he is not saying to individuals whether you are in the economic area or the political area, ‘You must do this.’ He is saying, ‘Here is the moral frame of reference. I would like everyone to work together on this so that we individually would come to the conclusion this is the way things should be.’”

While the pope sounded an urgent call for action is urgent, Cardinal Wuerl told Catholic News Service he interpreted it as a call for conversations to begin on how to address the challenges facing the planet ecologically and economically.

“The urgency is to get started today,” he said. “That means it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

The encyclical provides an opening for people to cross political divides to discuss solutions to the challenges posed by climate change, polluting industries, drought brought on by changing weather and the failure to respect all of human life, Archbishop Kurtz told reporters, saying that solutions are not likely to come quickly.

“We need to give ourselves time, all of us including the bishops, to be able to reflect and read and study (the encyclical),” Archbishop Kurtz said. “Those who take this studying seriously I think will find an invitation to dialogue.”

Various parish and school study guides, homily aids and online resources have been developed by the USCCB and its partner, the Catholic Climate Covenant. Both prelates said the materials will help initiate those discussions.

Archbishop Kurtz said the formation of young people on the environment particularly will be important in the months and years ahead.

“What kind of world are we going to leave to those who come after us?” he asked.

Christiana Peppard, assistant professor of theology, science and ethics at Fordham University, described the pope’s message as pastoral and poetic, as has been his style since his election, and follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, particularly Pope Benedict XVI, who has been described as the “green pope.”

“He is attempting to take a global look at planetary problems,” said Peppard, one of three experts who appeared at the news conference to address questions on particulars of the document. “His views are not merely from a North American perspective.”

Pope Francis questions “short-term economic yield that leaves a trail of environmental destruction behind, which disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable,” she said. “That’s an important part of the idea that the few must not profit at the expense of the many.”

She noted that the pope draw upon the words and experiences of people around the world. The encyclical cites documents from the bishops’ conferences of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Southern Africa, Germany, Philippines and the United States.

“The question of whose voices get to be heard is important” to Pope Francis, she explained. “These folks have expertise on how the Gospel looks and the imperative to care for one another.”


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