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President, first lady to welcome Pope Francis to White House Sept. 23


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will welcome Pope Francis to the White House Sept. 23.

“During the visit, the president and the pope will continue the dialogue, which they began during the president’s visit to the Vatican in March 2014, on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” said a statement released March 26 by the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House.

Those issues, it said, include “caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican a year ago. Pope Francis will visit the White House on Sept. 23. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican a year ago. Pope Francis will visit the White House on Sept. 23. (CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool)

The statement added, “The president looks forward to continuing this conversation with the Holy Father during his first visit to the United States as pope.”

Last year, in their first encounter, Pope Francis received the president at the Vatican for a discussion that touched on several areas of tension between the Catholic Church and the White House, including religious freedom and medical ethics.

During an unusually long 50-minute meeting, the two leaders discussed “questions of particular relevance for the church in (the U.S.), such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection as well as the issue of immigration reform,” the Vatican said in statement afterward.

While in Washington, Pope Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress Sept. 24, making him the first pope to do so.

The Archdiocese of Washington said it would host the pope for his visit, but did not announce dates. On his flight from the Philippines to Rome in January, Pope Francis said he would canonize Blessed Junipero Serra at Washington’s Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On March 18, the United Nations announced Pope Francis will visit there the morning of Sept. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly. The pope also will meet separately with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and with the president of the General Assembly. The pontiff also is scheduled to a town hall gathering with U.N. staff.

In a statement, Ban noted that the pope’s visit came during the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, in which its members would make decisions about sustainable development, climate change and peace. He said he was confident the pope’s visit would inspire the international community to redouble its efforts for social justice, tolerance and understanding.

The United Nations did not release the detailed itinerary for the meetings, part of a larger papal visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia. The Vatican is expected to release the official itinerary about two months in advance of the trip, unless local officials release it earlier.

Pope Francis already had announced his participation Sept. 26 and 27 for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

During his pontificate, St. John Paul II visited the United States seven times, two of which were fuel stopovers, making the country his most frequent foreign destination after his native Poland. He addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 and 1995; Blessed Paul VI did so in 1965 and Pope Benedict XVI addressed the assembly in 2008, during his one U.S. visit as pope.


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Christ at spring training: Catholic baseball players given the Good News


Catholic News Service

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The crack of the bat is a sure sign of spring, one that calls Ray McKenna to the field.

“How’s the team looking this year?” he asked the top trainer for the Texas Rangers. “Anything we can do? Please let us know,” he told catcher Tyler Flowers of the Chicago White Sox.

Ray McKenna of Catholic Athletes for Christ talks with Kansas City Royals special assistant Mike Sweeney, right, and relief pitcher Ryan Madson before a spring training game March 10 in Surprise, Arizona. Madson is in the Rite of Christian Initiation program and will join the Catholic Church at Easter. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Ray McKenna of Catholic Athletes for Christ talks with Kansas City Royals special assistant Mike Sweeney, right, and relief pitcher Ryan Madson before a spring training game March 10 in Surprise, Arizona. Madson is in the Rite of Christian Initiation program and will join the Catholic Church at Easter. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Washington-based attorney was busy checking in with baseball players, coaches, trainers and fans at spring training camps in Arizona and Florida.

McKenna though was not dispensing batting tips or offering legal advice. He was there to make sure Catholic players have access to the sacraments and to share the good news.

A former minor-league baseball chaplain, McKenna is the founder and president of Catholic Athletes for Christ. He said the 10-year-old sports ministry has a two-fold mission of service and evangelization.

“The service is to provide the sacraments to the players so the players are able to practice their faith,” he said. Evangelization, he continued, “is simply a fancy word for going out and sharing the good news and telling people that God is good.”

McKenna said he saw a need for the formal sports outreach while working as a lay chaplain. He could impart spiritual messages and support to athletes, but he could not provide the sacraments.

“The result of that logically was that players were leaving the Catholic faith and becoming so-called non-denominational, born-again Christians and not understanding and receiving the fullness of our Catholic faith,” he said.

Catholic Athletes for Christ now has a cadre of priests it works with to make sure that athletes can go to confession and celebrate Mass at stadiums, club houses and practice fields, accommodating their game schedules. It also coordinates events with the Vatican’s Church and Sports office within the Pontifical Council for the Laity and with the Knights of Columbus.

Msgr. Ned Brockhaus, a priest of the Diocese of San Diego, is active with the Catholic group and is the chaplain for the Padres. He celebrates Sunday Mass in the Padres’ press room when they are in town.

A baseball fan since he was a boy, the priest considers himself a missionary to the sport. He said he helps players to “keep their faith alive” and give them some reason to come to Mass.

He said pro athletes have a lot of demands and pressure, and unique needs. “I try to help them in the unusual life that they lead.”

Spring training, the yearly passage to opening day, is just one stop on the Catholic Athletes for Christ’s annual agenda. The organization holds a yearly retreat for baseball players and is also working to build stronger relationships and initiatives with the national football, hockey and basketball leagues.

It has a program for middle school and high school athletes. With more than 100 chapters in formation, “it’s growing like wildfire,” McKenna said.

If baseball mirrors religion in its rituals, then for Catholics one might say that Mike Sweeney of the Kansas City Royals is a key evangelist.

Sweeney, the team’s former first baseman and now special assistant, was recently named to the club’s Hall of Fame. He is chairman of the athletes advisory board for Catholic Athletes for Christ and sponsors a Catholic baseball camp for kids. With his wife, he runs the Mike and Shara Sweeney Family Foundation, which supports youths and pro-life initiatives and encourages unity between Catholics and Protestants.

On a practice field in Surprise, Arizona, McKenna caught up with Sweeney and they chatted with Royals relief pitcher Ryan Madson, who will become a fully fledged Catholic at Easter. A talk given by Sweeney had inspired Madson to learn more about Catholicism and enter the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program.

Their conversation was interrupted by fans calling out to Sweeney for autographs. He graciously accommodated them, and with his signature added a Bible reference.

“We got a good Scripture for ’em,” Sweeney said as he signed and passed back a fan’s souvenir baseball.

McKenna watched most of the Royals-White Sox matchup from the Kansas City dugout. It ended with a White Sox 6-2 win.

On his second day in Phoenix, McKenna met up with Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, one of 22 bishops who serve on Catholic Athletes for Christ’s board. He was taking some vacation time and had tickets for that day’s game between the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers.

When asked which team he was rooting for, Bishop Olson answered with prudence. “I’m rooting for a well-played game.”

“I am a loyal lifelong Chicago White Sox fan,” he admitted. But said as bishop of Fort Worth he also cheers for the Rangers. And his third-favorite team? “Whoever plays the Cubs,” he quipped.

McKenna, Bishop Olson, catcher Flowers, Msgr. Brockhaus and Jaime Reed, the senior director of medical operations for the Rangers, stood talking near home plate at the Camelback Ranch ballpark. The White Sox-Rangers game was to start in about an hour.

Reed said that he often prays the rosary using a knotted string made by his daughter. On his way to work or on the way to the ballpark, “it just kind of balances me a little bit, kind of put my priorities in the right place,” he said. “It lets me know that I don’t have to worry about a lot of things, but God’s got it under control.”

Flowers said he appreciates the work of Catholic Athletes for Christ and the chaplains.

“They do a great job helping us,” he said. “We can have Mass at the stadium at the majority of places we go.” He added that Sunday Mass is a “good refresh, a good reset” for the beginning of his week.


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Louisville archbishop honors Prince Charles for interfaith relations work


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Prince Charles and Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz entered the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville March 20 shoulder to shoulder before a crowd of about 700 people, some hoping to catch a glimpse of the prince and others interested in what he had to say about sustainable living.

Britain's Prince Charles leaves the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky., alongside Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville after addressing those in attendance at the cathedral event March 20. The Prince of Wales' visit to Louisville was the last stop on his U.S. visit with wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. (CNS photo/William DeShazer, EPA)

Britain’s Prince Charles leaves the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky., alongside Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville after addressing those in attendance at the cathedral event March 20. The Prince of Wales’ visit to Louisville was the last stop on his U.S. visit with wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. (CNS photo/William DeShazer, EPA)

The Prince of Wales visited Louisville on the last day of his four-day trip to the United States. He and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited several local organizations where they met with students and spoke about “harmony and health,” the subject of a book the prince published in 2010.

At the cathedral, Archbishop Kurtz, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, presented a lifetime achievement award to the prince on behalf of the Center for Interfaith Relations. The award recognized the prince’s three decades-long dedication to promoting harmony and health in the world. The Center for Interfaith Relations, which sponsors the annual Festival of Faiths, has focused on care for creation in recent years.

The archbishop thanked the prince for promoting “the deepest levels of global interreligious understanding.”

“We believe there is, can and must be a growing spirit of harmony and health in our region, and for that reason we are eternally grateful for your coming, allowing us to be inspired by you and motivated to embark on new journeys of learning about how we are all sisters and brothers to each other and all living creatures within all of God’s creation,” he told Prince Charles.

The royal visit was organized by the relatively new Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil, co-founded by Christy Brown, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption and a co-founder of the Center for Interfaith Relations.

Prince Charles spoke about striking a balance between humankind and natural resources during his 30-minute keynote address at the cathedral.

He noted that in the 1960s, a “frenzy of change” caused traditional ideas to be discarded. This “seemed to me a dangerously shortsighted approach” to the natural world, agriculture, education and health care, he said.

“If we wish to maintain our civilizations, then we must look after the earth and actively maintain its many intricate states of balance so that it achieves the necessary active state of harmony which is the prerequisite for the health of everything in creation,” said Prince Charles. “In other words, that which sustains us must also itself be sustained. But we are not keeping to our side of the bargain and, consequently, the sustainability of the entire harmonious system is collapsing. In failing the earth we are failing humanity.”

Prince Charles said that the solution lies in balance. And there’s a place not only for empiricism, he said, but also for philosophy and religion.

The prince congratulated the city of Louisville on its efforts to promote heath and harmony.

“Having spent the day here in Louisville, I can only offer my warmest congratulations not only for what you have already achieved, but also what you are striving for in the future, a model of truly integrated and holistic thinking on a city scale,” he said.

He also noted during his address that Kentucky farmer and celebrated author Wendell Berry is one of his heroes.

Berry was chosen to introduce the prince, whom he said during the introduction is “almost alone among world leaders raising warning.”

“Incomprehension still reigns among politicians,” Berry said.

Berry noted that Prince Charles is “one of the few people on earth who can be called a landlord.” He called the prince courageous for vocalizing his concerns for the earth.

Prior to Prince Charles’ keynote address, he attended roundtable discussions at the cathedral with local business leaders and faith leaders, including Archbishop Kurtz, archdiocesan chancellor Brian Reynolds and priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Earlier in the day, eight students from Assumption High School were among the many students who greeted the prince at the African American Heritage Museum. The museum hosted the Harmony and Health Initiative, a symposium where local advocates discussed local health issues.

The students said the prince complimented their school uniforms and senior Lauren Monaghan shook hands with the prince.

“Everyone got a chance to talk to him,” Monaghan told The Record, Louisville’s archdiocesan newspaper. “It was so cool. He was really nice.”

The experience wasn’t just about being impressed by royalty, though, noted Maddy Blandford, an Assumption junior. She and her classmates heard statistics during the program that disturbed her, she said.

“I was surprised by the statistics about Louisville and how polluted it is,” she said. “The changes they’re trying to make are really important, I think.”

 — By Marnie McAllister



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Catholic Press group presents Sister Mary Ann Walsh with St. Francis de Sales Award


ALBANY, N.Y. — Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh was surprised at her home at the Sisters of Mercy motherhouse in Albany March 12 when visitors presented her with the Catholic Press Association’s St. Francis de Sales Award.

“Her life of service to the Catholic press, the USCCB and the church is outstanding and a model for all,” said Rob DeFrancesco, president of the CPA and associate publisher of the Catholic Sun in the Diocese of Phoenix, in explaining the decision to bestow the award.

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh has been presented the St. Francis de Sales Award for her work in the Catholic press and communications.  (CNS photo/courtesy Catherine Walsh, Northeast Communications for the Sisters of Mercy).

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh has been presented the St. Francis de Sales Award for her work in the Catholic press and communications. (CNS photo/courtesy Catherine Walsh, Northeast Communications for the Sisters of Mercy).

Sister Walsh, the U.S. church correspondent for America magazine, stepped down last summer as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“What a great honor,” Sister Walsh said in a note to Catholic News Service. “Once I moved from journalism to media relations, I thought such an honor was out of reach. I love the Catholic Press Association and the writing world. I am a writer at heart.”

She previously had been media editor and a Vatican correspondent for Catholic News Service and a reporter for The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, her hometown. She also has edited several books, produced two videos, written commentaries or op-eds for numerous publications and appeared many times on radio and television programs.

The honor from the professional organization representing members of the Catholic news media in the U.S. and Canada was presented by Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester, chairman of the Committee on Communications of the USCCB, and Helen Osman, secretary of communications for the USCCB.

In presenting Sister Walsh with a bronze statue of the patron saint of journalists, Bishop Wester quoted St. Francis, saying “nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”

DeFrancesco said the CPA board was unanimous in deciding to honor the life and work of Sister Walsh.

“We were contacted by at least two of our members urging us to consider honoring Sister Mary Ann Walsh with the St. Francis de Sales award,” he told Catholic News Service in an email. “It was a great idea. So we forwarded this recommendation to the St. Francis de Sales committee, who then recommended that the board honor Sister Mary Ann with the award.”

Osman said Sister Walsh was totally surprised by the presentation and that the sisters who live with her at the motherhouse were pleased they could pull off a celebration in her honor without the famously well-sourced nun catching on. Members of her family, retired Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard and other friends were among the guests who packed the community room at the motherhouse for the presentation.

Bishop Wester and Osman already had plans to visit their friend and former colleague when the CPA decision was made, so they were asked to present the statue.

The St. Francis de Sales Award is the highest award the CPA presents to an individual for “outstanding contributions to Catholic journalism” and is normally presented during the annual Catholic Media Conference. Tim Walter, executive director of the CPA, said a second “Frannie,” as the award is known, would be presented as usual during this year’s convention.

Walter explained that as nominations were being taken for the award, Sister Walsh was nominated, with a recommendation that the honor be given “in a timely manner” because of the nun’s declining health.

Sister Walsh has been battling what she called an aggressive form of metastatic cancer.

Walter said the CPA is proceeding with the voting process for the Frannie to be awarded according to the normal procedures during the convention, being held this year in Buffalo, New York, June 24-26.

Walter said the Frannie has been awarded outside the normal system once or twice previously. The most recent such honor was given to longtime CPA director Owen McGovern in 2006 after his retirement the previous year, Walter said. Other special recipients have included Cardinal Avery Dulles, in 2001, and Archbishop (then-Bishop) John P. Foley, in 1984.

Osman said Sister Walsh told her she didn’t think she would ever receive a Frannie “after she went to the other side of the house (from reporter to media relations). She was very happy.”


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San Jose bishop to lead Spokane diocese; Franciscan named to Lexington


Pope Francis has named Auxiliary Bishop Thomas A. Daly of San Jose, California, to head the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, and Conventual Franciscan Father John Stowe to be bishop of Lexington, Kentucky.

Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Thomas A. Daly of San Jose, Calif., to be the new bishop of Spokane, Wash. (CNS/Diocese of San Jose)

Pope Francis has appointed Auxiliary Bishop Thomas A. Daly of San Jose, Calif., to be the new bishop of Spokane, Wash. (CNS/Diocese of San Jose)

Bishop Daly, 54, has been an auxiliary of the San Jose Diocese since 2011. Bishop-designate Stowe is a vicar provincial for his community and rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio.

The appointments were announced March 12 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Daly will be installed in Spokane May 20. The date and time of Bishop-designate Stowe’s episcopal ordination and installation in Lexington has not been announced.

San Jose Bishop Patrick J. McGrath in congratulating Bishop Daly on his appointment called him a true collaborator and co-worker as “shepherd of the flock of the Lord.”

“I will miss Bishop Daly greatly, but I know that he will be a loving shepherd of the church now entrusted to his care,” he said.

Bishop Daly was born April 30, 1960, in San Francisco. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Francisco in 1982; a master’s degree in divinity from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, in 1987; and a second master’s degree, this time in education, from Boston College in 1996.

He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. After ordination, he served in various capacities, including parochial vicar, teacher, campus minister and chaplain over the first 16 years of his priestly ministry.

Bishop Daly became vocations director for the archdiocese in 2002 and president of Marin Catholic High School in 2003, serving in both capacities until Pope Benedict XVI named him auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of San Jose in 2011, becoming the diocese’s first auxiliary bishop. With his appointment to Spokane, he succeeds Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, who was appointed archbishop of Chicago last September.

For Lexington

Bishop-designate Stowe was born April 15, 1966, in Amherst, Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Louis University in 1990; a master’s degree in divinity from Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, in 1993; and a licentiate in sacred theology from Jesuit School of Theology in 1995.

He made his solemn profession to the Conventual Franciscans, in the Ohio-based Our Lady of Consolation Province, in 1992, and was ordained a priest in 1995.

Pope Francis has named Conventual Franciscan Father John Stowe to be bishop of Lexington, Ky.  (CNS photo/Skip Olson, Cross Roads)

Pope Francis has named Conventual Franciscan Father John Stowe to be bishop of Lexington, Ky. (CNS photo/Skip Olson, Cross Roads)

Following ordination, he served as associate pastor (1995-97), administrator (1997-2000) and pastor (2000-03) of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in El Paso, Texas. He served as vicar general (2003-10) and chancellor (2008-10) of the Diocese of El Paso, while also serving as administrator of Our Lady of the Valley Parish (2006-2010).

He was elected vicar provincial of his congregation’s Province of Our Lady of Consolation based in Mount St. Francis, Indiana, and has served as rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Cary, Ohio, since 2010.

In September 2001, he was one of 2,000 religious and lay leaders of various faiths across the United States who signed a statement urging Americans to deny any claim to victory by the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks that took place less than two weeks earlier.

“We can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims,” the statement said. “We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions.”

In Lexington, he succeeds Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, who was appointed bishop of Harrisburg, Pa., in January 2014.

News of Bishop-designate Stowe’s appointment “brought me great joy,” said Bishop Gainer in a March 12 statement. “I welcome him as a brother bishop and wish him every blessing as he prepares to shepherd the wonderful Diocese of Lexington.” He added, “The appointment of a Conventual Franciscan friar is especially significant as the Catholic Church observes the Year for Consecrated Life.”


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Court rules Milwaukee archdiocese’s cemetery trust part of bankruptcy reorganization


CHICAGO — The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled March 9 that it would not violate the free exercise of religion to consider the Milwaukee archdiocese’s cemetery trust fund in its Chapter 11 reorganization proceedings.

The court overturned a July 29, 2013, ruling by Judge Rudolph Randa of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Randa said that applying the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to $55 million transferred from the archdiocese’s general accounts to a trust earmarked for cemetery maintenance would violate Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s religious freedom rights as trustee for the cemetery trust.

He cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, better known as RFRA, and the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause.

“It cannot be denied that this court’s decision, or a further ruling on appeal from this court’s decision, will shape the course of future proceedings in bankruptcy,” he wrote.

In overturning Randa’s decision, the 7th Circuit said: “Based on RFRA’s plain language, its legislative history and the compelling reasons offered by our sister circuits, we now hold RFRA is not applicable in cases where government is not a party.”

It also said that the First Amendment’s free exercise clause does not prevent application of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to the cemetery trust funds.

In 2011, Milwaukee’s archdiocesan attorneys filed a petition for a Chapter 11 reorganization of its financial affairs under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to provide a settlement to victims of past sexual abuse.

Chief Judge Susan V. Kelley of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin is handling the proceedings.

On Jan. 11, 2013, Kelley offered an opinion that neither the First Amendment nor RFRA protected the money in the cemetery trust. Attorneys for the archdiocese appealed her ruling to the District Court, which overruled her.

The Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which is seeking compensation for victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, then appealed Randa’s decision to the circuit court.

The archdiocese in its appeal of Kelley’s ruling argued the committee acted under “color of the law,” thus making it “government.” The committee countered that it was not “government.”

RFRA says: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability,” unless two conditions are met, that it advances “a compelling government interest” and that it does so in the least restrictive way possible.

At various times during the past nine months, Kelley has told attorneys for the archdiocese and the committee that she would not proceed on certain matters in the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization until she heard from the 7th Circuit.

She has had the archdiocesan plan for reorganization since it was filed Feb. 12, 2014. Kelley said she couldn’t rule on it until she received the circuit court ruling.

“We have a ruling; now she can rule on the plan,” Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Archbishop Listecki,” said in a statement.”And in the plan the litigation is settled.”

When the plan was filed, Archbishop Listecki called it “the next major step toward ending the bankruptcy and returning our focus to the primary mission of the church; proclaiming the Gospel, worshipping more fully, and serving our sisters and brothers in need.”

The plan would provide about $4 million in abuse settlements and it includes a Lifetime Therapy Fund to provide help to abuse survivors as long as they need it.

It demonstrates a commitment by the archdiocese, according to the archbishop, to abuse survivors and to serving the people of God in southeastern Wisconsin.

“It’s time for us to get back to what the church is supposed to be doing. It’s time for the archdiocese to return its focus to its ministry. Outreach to and the support of abuse survivors will always be part of that ministry,” he wrote.

The 7th Circuit sent the case over the cemetery funds back to the lower court for further proceedings.

“Our decision does not resolve all the issues in the archdiocese’s complaint, nor do we make any finding as to whether the transfer of the funds to the trust was fraudulent, avoidable or preferential,” it said in its 38-page ruling.

Topczewski said the case was never about the fraudulent transfer of funds.

“The issue was is the money the property of the state or is it a separate trust?” he said.

Timothy Nixon, the attorney representing the cemetery trust, said the court made “a very narrow ruling on a technical legal issue.”

According to Nixon, it doesn’t change the status of the trust.

“As of today, the money is still in the cemetery trust. No court has ruled that it shouldn’t be,” he said March 10 in an interview with the Catholic Herald, which serves the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.

Asked if the cemeteries would receive the care for which people paid, Nixon said, “Yes. We are confident that there will be money there. They’ll be taken care of.”

Topczewski concurred.

“The intention of the archdiocese is to continue to provide perpetual care for the archdiocesan cemeteries through the financial support provided by the Cemetery Perpetual Care Trust in the plan of reorganization,” he said.

Contributing to this story was Brian T. Olszewski of the Catholic Herald, a publication that serves the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin.


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U.S. bishops urge prayers for those facing religious persecution


WASHINGTON — Leaders of the U.S. bishops’ conference invited people to pray for “those facing the stark reality of religious persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

Pakistanis protest Christian couple burned alive for alleged blasphemy in Islamabad, Pakistan Nov. 14, 2014. The U.S. bishops are calling on people of all faiths to pray for those facing religious persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. (CNS photo/Sohail Shahzad, EPA)

Pakistanis protest Christian couple burned alive for alleged blasphemy in Islamabad, Pakistan Nov. 14, 2014. The U.S. bishops are calling on people of all faiths to pray for those facing religious persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. (CNS photo/Sohail Shahzad, EPA)

In a statement, the bishops’ Administrative Committee also called on people to work to protect those who are marginalized and persecuted.

The committee urged Catholics to use Lent to “unite with our suffering brothers and sisters and pray for them and with them in a special way.”

“In union with the local churches and Holy See, we call upon our nation to work with the international community to intervene and protect the rights of religious minorities and civilians within the framework of international and humanitarian law; address political and economic exclusion that are exploited by extremists; and increase humanitarian and development assistance,” said the statement, dated March 10.


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Knights of Columbus send aid to Ukraine’s Catholics

March 10th, 2015 Posted in National News Tags: , , ,


NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The Knights of Columbus is providing $400,000 to relief programs sponsored by the Catholic Church in Ukraine.

The violent conflict in Ukraine has created “an enormous humanitarian disaster in the freezing winter months,” the fraternal organization said in announcing the aid.

Gifts by the Knights of $200,000 each to the Eastern- and Latin-rite Catholic communities of Ukraine are being used for humanitarian relief, including projects that feed and aid homeless children and refugees living on the streets of the capital city of Kiev, it said.

The Knights of Columbus sent the aid to Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kiev-Halych, and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, the leaders of the Ukraine’s Eastern and Latin churches, respectively.

“Too often, the conflict in Ukraine is discussed purely in military or geopolitical terms, while the most vulnerable and marginalized — the young and old, the poor, the sick, and the increasing number of refugee families — are almost invisible to the outside world,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Our support is meant to further enable the bishops of Ukraine as they help their people and further implement the Holy Father’s call to aid those most in need.”

During their “ad limina” visit to the Vatican in February, Pope Francis assured Ukraine’s Eastern- and Latin-rite bishops that “the Holy See is at your side,” and urged them “to be attentive and considerate to the poor.”

“Working in the midst of uncertainty, many of the Catholic efforts are designed to help provide a social safety net for the needy, especially orphans and children who are separated from their parents,” the Knights said in the announcement on the group’s aid.

The programs are an effort to carry out “in a practical way the spiritual message of Pope Francis,” the organization added.

According to AP, the fighting in eastern Ukraine was diminishing as a cease-fire agreement reached Feb. 12 began to take hold. On March 2, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said more than 6,000 people have died since fighting began in April 2014. The U.N. refugee office puts the number of Ukrainians displaced within their own country at close to 1 million.

Last March, Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine, and pro-Russian separatists control Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the eastern part of the country.


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Alabama archbishop: Respect for human dignity is anchor of civil rights movement


SELMA, Ala. — The message of the civil rights movement has always been that all people are created in the image and likeness of God and that the dignity of all must be respected, said Mobile Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi.

He was the main celebrant and homilist at a Mass March 8 at Queen of Peace Church in Selma marking the 50th anniversary of the 1965 civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery.

Respect for the dignity of all remains the challenge for today, Archbishop Rodi said, adding that he wondered what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who led the marches and was “first and foremost a religious leader,” would think about things today.

Dorothy Tillman Wright, center, one of the original "foot soldiers" who marched on Bloody Sunday in 1965, shouts March 8 during a prayer on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. Wright was among thousands who participated in a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital of Alabama. (CNS photo/Tami Chappell, Reuters)

Dorothy Tillman Wright, center, one of the original “foot soldiers” who marched on Bloody Sunday in 1965, shouts March 8 during a prayer on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. Wright was among thousands who participated in a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital of Alabama. (CNS photo/Tami Chappell, Reuters)

“Do we respect the dignity of the elderly, the immigrant, the baby in womb? That continues to be the struggle for each of us,” Archbishop Rodi said in a homily that described the Catholic Church’s persistent presence in addressing both the spiritual and temporal needs of God’s people.

He said that the media often leave out “Rev.” in describing the civil rights giant, and in doing so they are omitting the spiritual and primary vehicle that carried his nonviolent quest forward, one anchored in the dignity of the human person.

Concelebrants included three of the nation’s African-American Catholic bishops — Louisiana Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley and retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida.

Others who concelebrated were Edmundite Father Stephen Hornat, superior general of the Society of St. Edmund; Edmundite Father Richard Myhalyk, pastor of Queen of Peace; Father James Curran from the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia; and Father Thomas Weise, retired pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Phenix City, Alabama, and a longtime civil rights advocate.


On March 7, 1965, a young Alabaman named John Lewis — now a veteran congressman representing Georgia’s 5th District — and other local civil rights activists led about 600 marchers in a peaceful procession from Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery.

They risked imprisonment and injury to protest infringement of voting rights against African-Americans in Selma and the brutal murder of a demonstrator by a state trooper a month earlier. March 7 came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” as police — some on horseback — released tear gas and beat some of the marchers over the heads with truncheons.

The Rev. Martin Luther King led the second march, which took place March 9, 1965. He galvanized more than 2,000 people to participate. They included ministers, priests, nuns and rabbis around the country who answered a call to join him. Through newspaper accounts and television coverage, the world saw blacks and whites, men and women, clergy of all faiths, Catholic priests and nuns, walking arm-in-arm.

But Rev. King turned the march back at the bridge, after time spent in prayer. He did so at the urging of members of Congress who wanted federal protection for the demonstrators but had not yet secured it. A third march started from Selma March 21, 1965, with federal protection for participants. Walking between seven and 17 miles a day, and camping along the way, the marchers reached the steps of the Capitol in Montgomery March 25, 1965. The crowd grew to 25,000 on the last day.


This year on March 7 in Selma, President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and the couple’s two daughters were joined by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, an Alabama native who walked with Rev. King in 1965, in leading an estimated 40,000 people who came from all over the country to take part in a commemorative march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

More than 100 members of Congress were in attendance, as was former President George W. Bush, who signed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

“The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations, the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes,” Obama said in his remarks.

“We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice,” he said.

“The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions,” said Obama. “They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities; but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.”

Selma is not “some outlier in the American experience,”” or a museum, or “a static monument to behold from a distance,” he said. “It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents” that “all men are created equal.”

He said the racial unrest and rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer last August “may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic (and) no longer sanctioned by law or custom,” as it was before the civil rights movement, he said.

At the same time, however, Ferguson is not “an isolated incident” and racism in the U.S. has not been “banished,” Obama said, adding that no one needs the Justice Department’s newly released report on racism in the Ferguson Police Department to know that racism has not been defeated.

“We just need to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over; we know the race is not yet won,” said Obama.

In Selma in 1965, Rev. King told John Wright Jr., a correspondent for the National Catholic News Service, as it was called then, that the presence of Catholic priests and nuns at the march “has given a new, creative and encouraging dimension to our whole struggle. It has identified the church with the struggle in a way that has not existed before.”

In one of his several reports filed back to the news service in Washington, Wright said Rev. King was deeply moved by the role priests and nuns played in the Selma march.

“(Rev. King) believes that the presence of the priests and nuns in Selma had a direct effect on the swiftness of President Johnson’s actions in recommending extensive voting laws to Congress,” Wright wrote.

Contributing to this story was Larry Wahl, editor of The Catholic Week, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Mobile.


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Practically unanimous: U.S. Catholics like the pope, Pew poll finds


Two years after he was elected pope, Pope Francis’ popularity rating among U.S. Catholics is at 90 percent, surpassing Pope Benedict XVI’s best-ever popularity, and rivaling that of St. John Paul II.

Pope Francis, who is scheduled to visit Washington, New York and Philadelphia in September, garnered a “very favorable” view from 57 percent of U.S. Catholics, and “mostly favorable” from another 33 percent.

By comparison, Pope Benedict’s highest favorability rating was 83 percent in April 2008, when he visited the United States. St. John Paul achieved favorability scores of 93 percent in May 1990 and June 1996, and 91 percent in May 1987, four months before his second U.S. visit. All of those scores were nearly a decade or more into his papacy.

All polls were conducted by the Pew Research Center, which issued its findings March 5.

Pope Francis scored 84 percent favorability at his March 2013 election, dipped to 79 percent that September, then rose to 85 percent in February 2014.

Among all Americans in the Pew survey, Pope Francis’ favorability ratings also have increased over the past two years. He started at 57 percent at the time of his election, inched upward to 58 percent the following September, increased to 66 percent last year and hit 70 percent this year.

In the latest survey, there was no segment of the U.S. population where Pope Francis did not gain majority favorability. In fact, every segment gave the pope a margin of at least 5-to-2 support.

Catholics who said they attend Mass regularly gave Pope Francis a 95 percent favorability rating, including two-thirds who said they held a very favorable opinion of the pope.

Pope Francis also gained favorability ratings of 90 percent or better among Catholic women, non-Hispanic whites, those ages 50 and up, Democrats or those who lean Democratic, and conservatives.

“This nearly unanimous approval of the pontiff is striking even for highly observant Catholics,” said a Pew report detailing the survey findings.

Even the worst margins for Pope Francis among certain categories of Catholics would be the envy of any other public figure. Those who identified themselves as Republican or leaning Republican were 89 percent-10 percent in favor of the pope. Liberals were 87 percent-11 percent for the pontiff. And among those who go to church less often, Pope Francis scored an 86 percent-10 percent margin.

The survey was conducted Feb. 18-22 on both landlines and cellphones among a national sample of 1,504 adults. The margin of error for the whole group was plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.


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