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Catholic leaders urge help for migrant kids crossing U.S. border


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Latin America expert for Catholic Relief Services, the head of the bishops’ migration committee and the president of a Catholic college in Michigan were among those urging the government toward humanitarian responses to a surge of children and families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.

Among their recommendations were: fully funding a requested federal appropriation for services to deal with the influx of people; investigating and working to address the root causes of emigration from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; and creating a program so people may seek permission to come to the United States without having to make the treacherous and illegal journey. Such programs have been successful in Iraq, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs July 16, Richard Jones, the CRS deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said his agency has seen the numbers of unaccompanied youth fleeing Central America double yearly since 2011.

“We have seen the homicide rates grow, forced displacement increase and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels battle over who controls the routes through Central America,” he said in written testimony. “In El Salvador and Honduras, there are more gang members than police.”

He gave the example of four boys who were killed and dismembered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last month because they refused to be drug couriers.

“Two of the four were brothers, one age 10, the other age 6,” Jones said.

Violence in El Salvador also has increased since March 2013, when a truce negotiated between gangs unraveled, Jones said. And since the election of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren earlier this year, he said, “violent deaths have risen to 13 per day or over 70 homicides (per) 100,000 people — nearly double what they were at the same time the previous year.”

In Guatemala City, that nation’s capital, the homicide rate is 116 per 100,000 people, he said, noting that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, in just the past six months, more than 600 unaccompanied children from that city were apprehended in the United States.

He went on to discuss the various social factors complicating the raw violence, and to describe some of the programs CRS and other organizations are providing to try to address the problems at the core and keep families intact in their home countries, with education, skills and ways of improving their situations.

He mentioned various ways the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are trying to address their problems, including how to protect people who are returned there after being deported by the United States and Mexico. The efforts are inadequate, he said.

Jones gave several specific recommendations for ways the U.S. can best direct resources to the countries.

Among them, investing in community-based programs focused on security, job creation and violence prevention; including trying to better understand the local conditions causing people to flee.

In a July 17 letter to members of Congress, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, who heads the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly support supplemental funding requested by President Barack Obama to take care of the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and 36,000 families that have come into the country since October.

He said they also oppose changes to current laws “that would roll back protections for these children that were enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.”

Bishop Elizondo said that “this vulnerable group is fleeing violence from organized criminal networks. Many are likely to be eligible for a variety of forms of immigration relief, including asylum and various visas. Sending these vulnerable children back to their persecutors without a meaningful immigration hearing would severely decrease their opportunity for legal protection and possibly lead to their bodily harm or even death. We would oppose the repeal of key provisions of these laws in the supplemental appropriations bill or any other legislative vehicle.”

He also opposed placing families into detention facilities, and encouraged increasing funding for community-based alternatives to detention, as well as increased funding for legal representation and for the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with caring for the children.

Bishop Elizondo also asked for funding to address the reasons why people flee their homelands and to support a program for orderly departure in the region.

“Such programs have worked successfully in Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and other locations around the globe,” he said. “The United States and countries in the region could accept a number of children and youth each year, consistent with the best interest of the child standard. Such a program would ensure that children are protected and our international obligations are met while sparing children the dangers of a migration journey.”

And at Marygrove College in Detroit, President David J. Fike called the situation a humanitarian refugee crisis that warrants a different kind of response than has been happening.

“This shouldn’t be a debate,” he said July 17. “The fleeing of vulnerable women, children, and young adults we are witnessing has all of the classic markings of what the world has seen in war-torn regions over and over again, war-torn regions in which unprotected, threatened civilians will take extreme measures to reach a safe haven.

“The only difference in this instance,” he said, “is that the threat to vulnerable civilians is not from standing armies engaged in traditional combat or even organized guerrilla warfare. In this instance, the threat is from brutally violent gangs, extortionists, and narco-traffickers operating with impunity in widespread areas of extreme lawlessness.”

Fike said at a news conference at the Catholic college that the situation calls for a charitable and humanitarian response, yet political leaders and news media debate whether to do that.

“Our elected leaders are all-too-frequently characterizing this situation as being the result of our broken immigration system, or as being the result of our lack of comprehensive immigration reform, or as being the result of some sort of mass psychosis afflicting mothers in specific parts of this hemisphere who are spontaneously deciding to send their children on extraordinarily life-threatening journeys to far off lands,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Fike, said his personal passion on the topic comes from his time spent in Central America and his friendship with some of the University of Central America faculty and staff who were murdered during the El Salvador civil war.

“I’ve seen and understand the results of dehumanization and I don’t like it … it’s painful, it denies our better selves, it makes us smaller and meaner as a country,” he said.

He said he is frustrated by the lack of moral leadership and called on Obama to recognize the migrants as refugees. He said he would marshal the resources of Marygrove to help in any way possible, and encouraged other higher education administrators to do the same.


Senate blocks bill that aimed at reversing Hobby Lobby ruling


A woman walks toward a Hobby Lobby store in Phoenix. CNS/Nancy Wiechec

A woman walks toward a Hobby Lobby store in Phoenix. CNS/Nancy Wiechec

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate July 16 voted to block consideration of a bill aimed at reversing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and forcing businesses to provide contraceptive coverage for employees even if they object to it on religious grounds.

Known as the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014,” or S. 2578, the measure was co-written by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Mark Udall of Colorado. Murray introduced the bill July 9. The 56-43 vote fell four short of the 60 needed to move ahead on the bill.

“While the outcome of today’s vote is a relief, it is sobering to think that more than half the members of the U.S. Senate, sworn to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States, would vote for a bill whose purpose is to reduce the religious freedom of their fellow Americans,” said Jayd Henricks, director of government relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We need more respect for religious freedom in our nation, not less,” he said in a statement.

In a July 14 letter to U.S. senators, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, chairman of the Committee on Pro-life Activities, and Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, urged the lawmakers to oppose the measure.

They said it had the potential to affect “all existing federal protections of conscience and religious freedom” when it comes to health care mandates, telling senators: “Though cast as a response to the Supreme Court’s narrow decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the bill ranges far beyond that decision. … We oppose the bill and urge you to reject it.”

On June 30, the Supreme Court, citing the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, ruled that closely held for-profit companies cannot be forced to abide by the federal Health and Human Service’s mandate that requires nearly all employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, elective sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees free of charge if the individual or families that own these businesses have religious objections to the mandate.

Murray and Udall said their bill was “consistent with congressional intent” in RFRA, but Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori said that the measure’s “operative provisions explicitly forbid application if RFRA whenever the federal government wishes to override the religious freedom rights of Americans regarding health coverage.”

After the July 16 vote, Udall said the Democratic Party would continue to contest a ruling that says “a boss’ beliefs can supersede a woman’s rights to health care benefits that she has earned.”

S. 2578 would have kept in place the Obama administration’s exemption from the HHS mandate for houses of worship and some other employers who fit its criteria for that exemption. It also would have kept intact the accommodation for nonexempt employers.

Under that accommodation, organizations self-certify that their religious objections entitle them to an exemption from the mandate and direct a third-party, in most cases the company that manages their health care plan, to provide the objectionable coverage.

But several Catholic and other religious employers who are not exempt and have sued over the mandate argue the exemption is too narrowly drawn and the accommodation itself still involves them in coverage they morally oppose.

In their letter, Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori wrote: “In short, the bill does not befit a nation committed to religious liberty. Indeed, if it were to pass, it would call that commitment into question. Nor does it show a genuine commitment to expanded health coverage, as it would pressure many Americans of faith to stop providing or purchasing health coverage altogether.”

A companion bill was introduced in the House July 9 by Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Louise Slaughter and Jerry Nadler, who are both from New York. As of July 17, no vote on the measure had been scheduled yet.


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Knights pledge $1.4 million to Special Olympics


The Knights of Columbus has pledged $1.4 million to help cover costs for next year’s Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.

The donation, announced July 14 in Los Angeles, will help cover on-the-ground costs for the 7,000 participants expected to compete in the games.

The contribution covers more than 8 percent of the Special Olympics’ projected $17 million budget for the 2015 games. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, the head of the fraternal organization, told Catholic News Service that the donation would cover the costs of all Americans and Canadians expected to participate.

In tandem with the Knights’ announcement, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles outlined the archdiocese’s spiritual support for the athletes attending the games.

Mass will be celebrated daily, but efforts will also be made to open up Los Angeles Catholics’ homes to athletes and coaches.

“A big part of Special Olympics is athletes’ interaction with the community around the sponsoring city,” Anderson said. “That’s going to be very important.”

The Knights’ affiliation with a sponsorship of Special Olympics dates back to 1968, the year of the very first Special Olympics games, conducted at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Anderson told CNS that Sargent Shriver, Peace Corps director under President John Kennedy and Job Corps director under President Lyndon Johnson, “was a longtime member of the Knights of Columbus. So when Eunice (Kennedy Shriver) and Sarge started Special Olympics, it was just natural for his brother Knights to rally around and help out.”

He added, “I remember having the opportunity to meet with Sarge in Dublin for first the Special Olympics international games that were held outside the U.S. That was a special occasion to be with him. That was in 2003.”

As large as the Knights’ gift is to Special Olympics, it is dwarfed by the contributions made by members of the Knights at the state and local levels.

“The $1.4 million comes from our international headquarters, but last year, for example, at the local level we donated $3.6 million to Special Olympics,” Anderson said. “And 130,000 of our members volunteer at the different Special Olympics games. So we are very much involved. … Since 1968 the big involvement has been at the local level.”

Anderson added, “Getting there, working with the athletes, seeing what it means to them, seeing what it means to their families, you learn the lesson: It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”


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Utah to appeal ruling on same-sex marriage ban to Supreme Court


SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s attorney general said July 9 the state will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of overturning a federal appellate court’s ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

On the same day in neighboring Colorado, a judge overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The decision by Colorado District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree “advances a misinterpretation of the institution of marriage in modern society, reducing marriage to a sheer emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the impulses of culture,” said a July 10 statement by Colorado’s Catholic bishops.

“As Catholics, we have a duty to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman in our laws and policies. We are called to make this stand because redefining marriage will only further erode the family structure of our society,” the bishops added.

Colorado and Utah were two of six states affected by a 2-1 decision issued June 25 by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said states could not deprive people of the right to marry because they chose partners of the same sex. The other four states are Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

It marked the first time a federal appellate court had struck down state same-sex marriage bans. Crabtree’s ruling marked the 16th time a state judge had overturned its state’s same-sex marriage prohibition. In both cases, the judges put their rulings on hold pending probable appeals.

Despite the 10th Circuit’s stay on its own affecting six states, Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall in Colorado had been giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On July 10, a county judge said Hall could continue to give the licenses, with the understanding that the licenses could be declared invalid at some point in the future.

The judge, Andrew Hamilton, noted, though, that every state judge issuing a ruling in the past year had declared same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, and that Colorado’s own ban was “hanging by a thread.”

Voters approved Utah’s same-sex marriage ban in 2004. Colorado voters had done the same in 2006.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes chose to bypass the full 10th Circuit in a bid to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear Utah’s case. The high court is under no obligation to hear the appeal. It often does not consider appeals unless there are conflicting judgments from other federal or state courts.

At the federal judicial level, a ruling is expected soon by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Virginia’s statewide ban; the case was heard in May. Federal courts are also due to hear arguments in August and September for cases out of Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had said he hoped the state would appeal directly to the Supreme Court, his office said recently. He added the state already budgeted money needed to defend the law. It has already spent about $300,000 paying three outside attorneys to defend its same-sex marriage ban, and estimates paying another $300,000 to argue its case before the Supreme Court.


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Louisiana court may compel priest to break seal of confession


BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s Supreme Court has ruled that a priest may be compelled to testify as to what he heard in the confessional in 2008 concerning an abuse case.

The priest, Father Jeff Bayhi, faces automatic excommunication if he breaks the seal of the confessional. But he also could face jailing if found to be in contempt of the court should he refuse to testify.

In the case, a girl who was 14 in 2008 said she told her parish priest, Father Bayhi, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Zachary, in the confessional that she was abused by a now-dead lay member of the parish.

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation  (CNS file)

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation (CNS file)

The girl’s parents sued Father Bayhi and the Diocese of Baton Rouge for failing to report the abuse. The parents won at the district court level about compelling the priest to testify, but lost in Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeals, before the state’s highest court reversed and vacated the appellate court’s decision.

“As you know, one of the great sacraments of healing in the church is the sacrament of reconciliation/confession. It has given hope and comfort to all Catholics throughout the centuries and continues to do so today,” Father Bayhi said in a July 7 statement.

“The seal of confession is one that can never be broken. Through its use the faithful must always be protected, so much so, that as a priest I cannot even say someone has come to confession, let alone divulge the contents of what was revealed.”

The Baton Rouge diocese, in its own statement July 7, said the state Supreme Court violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in its decision.

“A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable. Pursuant to his oath to the church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal,” the diocese said. “Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. If necessary, the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil court and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent.

“This is not a gray area in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. A priest/confessor who violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved for forgiveness to the Apostolic See in Vatican City.”

The diocese added, “In this case, the priest acted appropriately and would not testify about the alleged confessions. Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession.

“This matter cuts to the core of the Catholic faith, and for a civil court to inquire as to whether or not a factual situation establishes the sacrament of confession is a clear and unfettered violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States,” it continued. “This matter is of serious consequence to all religions, not just the Catholic faith. The statutes involved in this matter address ‘sacred communications’ which are confidential and are exempt from mandatory reporting.”

The diocese said, “For a civil court to impinge upon the freedom of religion is a clear violation and the matter will be taken to the highest court in the land by the church in order to protect its free exercise of religion.”


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Minnesota archbishop orders investigation of claims against him


ST. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis told priests and staff about recent allegations against him involving events alleged to have occurred a decade ago before he began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, calling them “absolutely and entirely false.”

The claims do not involve minors, and they do not implicate any kind of illegal or criminal behavior.

The new allegations were made public in an article posted on Commonweal magazine’s website. The article notes an internal investigation Archbishop Nienstedt ordered after he became aware of the allegations.

“I have ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the archdiocese. It would be unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I know them to be false,” Archbishop Nienstedt said in a July 1 statement sent to all priests, deacons and archdiocesan staff, and posted at archspm.org.

“Since I would instruct the archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I had ordered the archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me,” he said.

In overseeing the investigation, which is ongoing, Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche hired an outside firm unaffiliated with the archdiocese to conduct it.

The archdiocese also notified the apostolic nuncio, who oversees all bishops in the U.S., of the allegations, and will inform him of the results of the investigation once it’s completed.

Ordained a priest of the Detroit Archdiocese in 1974, then-Father Nienstedt was appointed an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2001, he was named to head the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. In 2007, he was named coadjutor archbishop for St. Paul and Minneapolis and about a year later automatically became head of the archdiocese when Archbishop Harry J. Flynn retired.

Commonweal, a lay-run magazine published in New York, quoted the archdiocese’s former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, as saying the claims involve “sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop.”

In a written response, Archbishop Nienstedt told Commonweal the allegations are nothing more than a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.”

Associate editor Grant Gallicho, who wrote the story, also reported that Archbishop Nienstedt told him: “I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone.”

Haselberger resigned from her position as archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs in April 2013 over what she said were serious disagreements she had with archdiocesan officials on procedures for handling abuse claims.

In October 2013, the archdiocese announced a newly formed Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force to conduct a full review of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ policies and practices and “any and all issues” related to clergy sexual misconduct.

The task force was created amid media reports of sexual misconduct allegations concerning certain priests in the archdiocese and criticism of how their cases were handled by archdiocesan officials.

In November, Archbishop Nienstedt released the names of priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against them after getting court permission.

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

The allegation was brought to the police Dec. 16, 2013. In a letter to Catholics released the following day, Archbishop Nienstedt called the allegation “absolutely and entirely false.”

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

A memo accompanying the announcement said the case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney “with many years of experience prosecuting child sex abuse cases,” who agreed that there should be no charges in the case.


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Catholic leaders join others in asking for religious exemption in executive order


Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Catholic and other religious and civic leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in the planned White House executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a July 1 letter, the group of 14 faith leaders said they agreed with the idea of “banning discrimination” but they also asked that an “extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.”

The letter stressed the importance of a religious exemption in the planned executive order “disqualifying organizations” that do not hire lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans from receiving federal contracts.

“This religious exemption would be comparable to what was included in the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan vote,” it said.

The letter pointed out that a religious exemption “would not guarantee that religious organizations would receive contracts. Instead, a religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

The letter’s signers, included Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America; Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of the World Relief, run by the National Association of Evangelicals; Senior Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California; and Kathy Dahlkemper, a former member of Congress who is currently county executive of Erie County, Pennsylvania.

They said an executive order that does not include a religious exemption will “significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government.”

“In a concrete way, religious organizations will lose financial funding that allows them to serve others in the national interest due to their organizational identity. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers,” they added.

The writers said their concern went beyond a “direct financial impact on religious organizations” stressing that the nation must “find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability.”

The chairmen of four committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops June 20 issued a statement expressing concern about the expected order.

They reiterated the objections they initially raised with the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stating: “We say again now, as we said in connection with the Senate bill and have said many times before, that we oppose any unjust discrimination against any person on any grounds.”

“We intend to review the details of the executive order carefully once it is available, in order to assess whether it serves the dignity of the human person and the common good,” the statement said.

According to The Associated Press, the White House has not provided details about the executive order but some advocates say it will likely be similar to an order President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 that barred the federal government from firing workers for being gay and lesbian. Activists also said Obama’s expected executive will likely include language specifically referring to gender identity.

The letter from religious and civic leaders referred to differing views on same-sex marriage, pointing out that Obama, in his first presidential campaign, withheld support for same-sex marriage, saying he believed marriage is a “sacred union” between a man and a woman.

“You justified withholding your support for same-sex marriage, at least in part, by appealing to your Christian faith. Yet you still believed you could serve your country, all Americans, as president,” they said. “Similarly, some faith-based organizations’ religious identity requires that their employees share that identity. We still believe those organizations can serve their country, all Americans, in partnership with their government and as welcome members of the American family.”

“Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again,” the signers said. “We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future.

“A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government’s interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values.”


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Phila. archdiocese sells nursing homes for $145 million


Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced July 1 that it is selling six nursing homes and one assisted living facility operated by archdiocesan Catholic Health Care Services to a Flushing, New York, health care management company for $145 million.

The company, Center Management Group, owns and operates 15 nursing homes in New York and New Jersey. Under the agreement, the company has pledged to maintain the Catholic character of the nursing homes.

The date for the sale has not been set.

Under terms of the agreement, current nursing home staff members will become employees of Center Management Group at their current rate of pay when the agreement closes. They will receive health benefits under the new company’s health care plans. The management group also has agreed to retain all residents currently living in the facilities.

The sale does not affect nursing facilities owned and operated by religious congregations, but only those directly owned by the archdiocese.

Under an agreement with the archdiocese, Center Management Group will operate each facility in accordance with the moral, ethical and social teachings of the church outlined in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”

The health care management group will keep Catholic priests and chaplains and a pastoral care department at each facility. Existing chapels and places of worship will remain and Masses will continue to be celebrated.

The sale of the nursing homes, placed on the market last August, is part of the ongoing effort to address the financial problems that built up for decades which have jeopardized the ability of the archdiocese to cover employee and priest pensions as well as the deposits by the parishes into the archdiocesan-operated Trust and Loan Fund.

The $145 million sale price for the nursing homes will be decreased by certain obligations under the terms of the agreement. Coupled with the initial payment of $53 million for the long-term lease of the archdiocesan cemeteries, both deals will go a long way toward easing the financial crisis.

“This agreement will serve the archdiocese and its people well by ensuring the nursing homes presently operated by Catholic Health Care Services will continue to be dignified centers of care for the elderly in the Catholic tradition and in accord with the moral and ethical teachings of the church,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a statement. “I did not arrive at this decision lightly. It came only after a great deal of consultation, discussion and prayer.”

In describing the archdiocese’s financial status, he said: “We become a little more stable with each step we take. We still have a way to go, but everything is being done so that we can best fulfill the church’s mission of evangelization and service to those in need.”

“We are enthusiastic about the future and grateful for Archbishop Charles Chaput’s confidence in our ability,” said Charles-Edouard Gros, the CEO of Center Management Group, which he founded in 1999.

“We have the experience of maintaining Catholic presence in skilled nursing communities,” he said. “Part of Center Management is to service the residents and the staff and to give the residents what they need to live optimally and happily and part of that is that they are able to practice their religion appropriately and have the love and support associated with that. We are very excited to be working with the archdiocese to maintain the same level of religious conviction and religious ability as to the residents of the facilities.”

Gros received his master’s degree in public health service management and policy with a concentration in gerontology from New York Medical College in 2001. He trained as an EMT/paramedic and still volunteers as a paramedic.

“I want to bring a high level of professionalism to the industry, coupled with my love for medicine,” he said. “I have also always loved hotels and another dream I had as a child was owning hotels. Even if I haven’t owned hotels, I’ve taken that philosophy of hospitality and brought it to the nursing environment. We hope to bring that to the forefront coupled with the strong Catholic basis in the community. It will be a special and wonderful environment for the residents.”

Although the sale is generally expected to close before the end of the year, there are several conditions that must be met including Vatican approval for the sale, which has already been requested.

Center Management Group also must obtain the necessary licensing to operate the nursing homes. Both conditions are not expected to be problematic.


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U.S. bishops say ‘justice has prevailed’ in high court decision on religious freedom for family businesses

June 30th, 2014 Posted in National News


WASHINGTON  —The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties means “justice has prevailed,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. CNS/CRS

The Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as applied to these employers to the extent that it would have forced them to provide insurance coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions on respect for human life.

The statement follows:

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business. In this case, justice has prevailed, with the court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.

“The Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise. ”

“We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.”


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Supreme Court rules some for-profit companies have religious rights, can’t be required to cover contraception


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In a narrowly tailored 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court June 30 said closely held companies may be exempted from a government requirement to include contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.The court said that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, the two family-run companies that objected to the government mandate that employees be covered for a range of contraceptives, including drugs considered to be abortifacients, are protected from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The opinion essentially held that for-profit companies may hold protected religious views.

Pro-life demonstrators celebrate June 30 outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington as its decision in the Hobby Lobby case is announced. The high court ruled that owners of closely held corporations can object on religious grounds to being forced by the government to provide coverage of contraceptives for their employees. (CNS photo/ Jonathan Ernst)

But the court also said that government requirements do not necessarily lose if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.

The ruling is not a slam-dunk for all entities that oppose the contraceptive mandate for religious reasons. The court noted that cases challenging the mandate for nonprofit entities, such as Catholic colleges and faith-based employers, are pending and that the June 30 ruling doesn’t consider them. The decision also did not delve into whether the private employers have religiously motivated protection from laws under the First Amendment.

It said the government failed to satisfy the requirement of RFRA, a 1993 law, that the least-restrictive means of accomplishing a government goal be followed to avoid imposing a restriction on religious expression.

The majority opinion said the ruling applies only to the contraceptive mandate and should not be interpreted to hold that all insurance coverage mandates — such as for blood transfusions or vaccinations — necessarily fail if they conflict with an employers’ religious beliefs.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the primary holding, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate concurring opinion, which agreed with the ruling, but made clear that while the opinion applies to the particular companies involved in this case, it’s not a sweeping condemnation of the key elements of the contraceptive mandate itself.

“It is important to confirm that a premise of the court’s opinion is its assumption that the HHS regulation here furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees,” wrote Kennedy in his concurrence. He went on to say that the federal government failed to use the least restrictive means of meeting that interest, pointing out that it has granted exemptions from the mandate for employees of nonprofit religious organizations.

“That accommodation equally furthers the government interest, but does not impinge on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs,” he wrote.

In her dissent with the main opinion, Justice Ruth Ginsburg called the court’s decision one of “startling breadth” allowing commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law” except tax laws that they “judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ginsburg, joined on its merits by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, said she was “mindful of the havoc” the ruling could produce and noted that the court’s emphasis on RFRA failed to take into account the impact the decision would have on “third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith.” She said she believed the law was enacted by Congress “to serve a far less radical purpose.”

“Until today,” she wrote, religious exemptions have not been extended to the “commercial profit-making world” because these groups do not exist to foster the interests of those of the same faith, as religious organizations do. She also questioned why the court failed to make the distinction between a group’s members of diverse beliefs and members who share the same faith.

“The court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects,” she said, adding that even though the court “attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private.”

As a result, she said, “RFRA claims will proliferate.”


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