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Religious leaders condemn U.S. torture practices as report is released


The chairman of the U.S bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace said acts of torture outlined in a Senate Intelligence Committee report “violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong.” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, also called on President Barack Obama to strengthen the legal prohibitions against torture “to ensure that this never happens again.”

This is the logo for a 2008 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' guide, titled "Torture: Torture Is a Moral Issue, a Catholic Study Guide," which looks at church teaching as it relates to the use of torture by government authorities around the world and mixes in biblical passages that evoke Jesus' call to "love your enemies." The full guide is available on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org. It's in the Issues and Action section.

This is the logo for a 2008 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ guide, titled “Torture: Torture Is a Moral Issue, a Catholic Study Guide,” which looks at church teaching as it relates to the use of torture by government authorities around the world and mixes in biblical passages that evoke Jesus’ call to “love your enemies.” The full guide is available on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org. It’s in the Issues and Action section.

The bishop joined several religious leaders who condemned the use of torture by the CIA after Democrats in the Senate released a 500-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence findings Dec. 9. The full 6,000-page report remains classified. The comments were provided by the Washington-based National Religious Campaign Against Torture after the report became public. The intelligence committee began investigating the CIA’s treatment of detainees in the so-called war on terror almost six years ago. Committee members adopted the report in 2012 and agreed to release it in April, but Senate Democrats waited eight months to do so. The report slammed U.S. tactics, which critics have described as torture, used against detainees. It said some of the tactics were more brutal than first described, produced little information that prevented an attack and often resulted in “fabricated” information. Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, said she was appalled by the “lack of moral integrity of a nation and individuals who justify the use of torture in the name of national security.” She called the actions by the CIA a “travesty of justice and a flagrant violation of human rights, with no reverence for the dignity of human life.” Gerry Lee, executive director of the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, said the report should drive Congress to enact new laws to permanently prevent the use of torture. “Maryknoll missioners have very often served in communities alongside torture survivors, and some have experienced torture themselves,” he said. “As Christians, they know that it is horrific, dehumanizing behavior and its use must be stopped immediately.” Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said torture is never justified, adding that the report “makes very clear that crimes were committed, laws were broken and lies were told to the American people by our government. We must never as a nation go down that path again.” The acts of torture described in the report “are not just horrific,” but also represent a “brutal violation of our country’s most basic values,” said Matt Hawthorne, policy director for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. With the report’s release, the U.S. can begin healing “from self-inflicted spiritual wounds,” he said. “The revelations about the use of torture have been a source of torture to many of us,” said Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America. “We had taken pride in the fact that we have left behind many societies where it was a norm and that we had chosen to be part of a nation that prided itself on its belief in human dignity and human rights.” The Rev. Susan T. Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, concluded that the report’s findings “shock the conscience.” She called for actions that respect life as a gift from God in condemning any government-sanctioned practices that violate moral teachings. The Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches, said he was grieved that “in our name others were tortured.” “May God give us the moral courage to never again betray the core principles that have guided our nation as a leader in the struggle for human rights,” he added.

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Court hears arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor appeal


DENVER — Speaking on the steps of a federal courthouse in Denver Dec. 8, the mother provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor said the religious order cannot and “should not have to” choose between “our care for the elderly poor and our faith.”

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire said that is what the U.S. government is demanding by requiring the order to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

“It is a choice that violates our nation’s historic commitment to ensure that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives,” she said in a statement. “But the government forces us to either violate our conscience or take millions of dollars that we raise by begging for the care of the elderly poor and instead pay fines to the IRS.”

She made the comments after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in an appeal filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor and in two related cases, Southern Nazarene University in Denver and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma nonprofit.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead attorney for the Little Sisters, delivered the oral arguments on behalf of the order. Adam C. Jed, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, delivered the oral arguments on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, headed by Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

“Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without the involvement of nuns,” Rienzi said in a statement afterward. “The idea that the most powerful government in the world cannot come up with a way to distribute these products without forcing the Little Sisters to participate is ridiculous.”

A Catholic News Service request for comment from HHS was not immediately returned.

The Little Sisters of the Poor first filed suit against the HHS mandate in September 2013 in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado and lost.

The order appealed the decision to the 10th Circuit. Last December, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the religious order a temporary injunction on enforcement of the mandate and now the order seeks a permanent injunction.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, a Denver-based religious order that cares for the elderly poor in several facilities around the U.S., has been steadfast in its refusal to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees as required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Health Care Act.

Refusal to comply with the mandate may force the Little Sisters to pay millions of dollars in fines to the federal government. The fine is set at $1,000 a day per enrollee in an employer’s health plan.

HHS requires nearly all employers to cover contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortion-inducing drugs for all employees in company health plans. It includes a narrow exemption for religious employers that fit certain criteria.

To opt out, nonexempt religious employers must inform the government of its religious objections to the mandated coverage. The government then informs a third party — such as the employer’s insurer or the administrator of its plan — that it must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee.

Nonexempt employers, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, had been required to fill out a self-certification form, known as EBSA Form 700, to direct a third party to provide the contested coverage.

Many religious employers that have sued over the mandate argue that even filling out Form 700 makes them complicit in providing coverage they find objectionable.

So last August, the Obama administration issued revised rules, which religious employers say they still find objectionable.

Under the new procedure, an eligible organization must advise HHS in writing of its religious objection to contraception coverage.

HHS itself will then notify the insurer for a health plan, or the Department of Labor will notify the third-party administrator for a self-insured plan, that the organization objects to providing contraception coverage. The insurer or third-party administrator must provide the coverage at no cost to the employee.

When the new rules were released, an HHS statement said they “balance our commitment to helping ensure women have continued access to coverage for preventative services important to their health, with the administration’s goal of respecting religious beliefs.”

In her statement, Sister Maguire said her order is “not seeking special privileges.”

“The government exempts huge corporations, small businesses, and other religious ministries from what they are imposing on us, we are simply asking to carry on our mission to serve the elderly poor as we have always done for 175 years,” she said.


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Knights of Columbus send $2.2 million to help refugees in Iraq, Syria


NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The Knights of Columbus announced its Christian Refugee Relief Fund has donated $2.2 million to help displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christians and other religious minorities who continue to face violent persecution “and the very real prospect of extinction.”

“This is a concrete response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Iraq and to the urgent appeals from the region as well as Pope Francis’ request for material assistance for those affected by this persecution,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement.

The funds will help provide permanent housing for the increasing number of displaced families in Iraq, according to a news release.

Specifically, it said, the Knights’ donation of $2 million will pay for the construction of new homes on property owned by the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq.

The Knights’ Supreme Council, which has its headquarters in New Haven, began the fund in August with $1 million and has since raised an additional $1.7 million in donations from individual Knights, local Knights councils and others, for a total of $2.7 million.

The donations were “accompanied by fervent prayers for all those suffering in the land of the holy apostles,” Anderson said.

Houses will be built for Iraqi Christians who were driven from their homes in Mosul and the surrounding area and who have been living in emergency shelters and random locations far from home.

“With winter setting in, already grave conditions are expected to only worsen as these families are going without proper shelter, which is so fundamental to living their lives,” said Anderson. “These new homes are signs of hope that will allow this community to begin to blossom once again.”

The Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief Fund also has made a separate donation of $200,000 in general aid to the Melkite Catholic Archdiocese of Aleppo, Syria.

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization with more than 1.8 million members worldwide.


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Court stays execution of Texas inmate argued to be too mentally ill – update



AUSTIN, Texas — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Dec. 3 stayed the execution of Scott Louis Panetti to “fully consider the late arriving and complex legal questions at issue” in response to appeals citing his severe mental illness.

The brief order from the New Orleans-based court came hours before Panetti was due to be executed for the 1992 murders of his in-laws.

The court added that a schedule for briefs and oral argument would follow.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (above) cannot act alone to commute the death sentence. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles would have to vote to recommend Perry grant clemency. However, the board recently voted unanimously to let the execution be carried out. The Catholic bishops of the state are asking that Scott Penetti's execution be commuted on grounds of his mental illness. (CNS file)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (above) cannot act alone to commute the death sentence. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles would have to vote to recommend Perry grant clemency. However, the board recently voted unanimously to let the execution be carried out. The Catholic bishops of the state are asking that Scott Penetti’s execution be commuted on grounds of his mental illness. (CNS file)

The Texas Catholic Conference had been among those urging Texas Gov. Rick Perry to act in according with his “deep Christian values” and commute Panetti’s sentence to ensure that the inmate receives proper medical treatment for mental illness.

“Our request for mercy in this case is motivated not only by the Catholic Church’s active opposition to the death penalty as a desecration of human life, but also in part by Mr. Panetti’s circumstances,” said the conference, which is the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops.

The Associated Press reported that Panetti has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. For several years leading up to the 1992 murders he was convicted of committing, he was hospitalized several times for mental illness. At times, he believed he was in a spiritual war with the devil.

Panetti was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death by a jury in 1995 for the brutal slaying of his mother-in-law and father-in-law. AP said he never denied that he had entered their home in Fredericksburg heavily armed and shot them multiple times. At his trial, Panetti wore a cowboy costume and defended himself.

His attorneys have fought to at least get his execution postponed so he could be tested further to see if he is competent to be executed. Prosecutors claimed Panetti is faking his mental problems.

The Catholic bishops and other opponents of his execution argued that it is especially heinous to put to death someone in his mental state.

“Mr. Panetti’s lengthy history of mental illness, his delusional behavior while defending himself at trial in 1995, and the multiple diagnoses from mental health professionals confirming his severe mental illness, provide even more reason to stop his execution,” the Texas Catholic Conference said its Nov. 21 letter to Perry.

“While government has an obligation to protect the community from violent offenders, it also bears a responsibility to ensure justice and proper treatment for our brothers and sisters suffering from mental illness,” it said. “Putting to death anyone whose faculties are so severely debilitated by mental illness as to not comprehend nor be responsible for his actions is not merely unjust, but immoral.”

Abby Johnson, a former director for Planned Parenthood in Texas who quit her job in 2009 and became pro-life, is among those who have called on Perry to stop Panetti’s execution.

“The execution of Panetti would be more than an embarrassment to our state. It would undermine our commitment to protecting life, especially the most vulnerable, by extinguishing the life of someone clearly suffering from mental illness,” she wrote in an opinion piece in The Dallas Morning News.

The planned execution “shows a troubling disregard toward the reality of mental illness and protecting those who suffer from it,” she said.

The effort to see Panetti’s death sentence commuted has brought together people from both ends of the political spectrum who agree he is too mentally ill to be executed. An online petition has drawn 93,000 signatures.

Perry’s office did respond to pleas he stay Panetti’s sentence. As governor, he cannot act alone to commute the death sentence. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles would have to vote to recommend Perry grant clemency. However, the board recently voted unanimously to let the execution be carried out.

In its letter to Perry, the Texas Catholic Conference said the church “has tremendous sympathy” for the family of Panetti’s victims. “In no way do we wish to diminish their suffering and loss.”

“However, as you know, it is the parable of the good Samaritan where Jesus teaches that a true neighbor is one who shows mercy. … Showing mercy does not mean neglecting to administer justice or punish people for their crimes,” it said. “Showing mercy does mean exhibiting compassion toward all of our brothers and sisters, and providing them with an opportunity for atonement and rehabilitation.”


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Some see unity vision reignited by pope, patriarch’s gestures in Turkey


Catholic News Service

After watching firsthand as Pope Francis bowed his head for a blessing from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the pope’s Nov. 28-30 trip to Turkey, an American-born Orthodox priest felt a joyful disbelief.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet a small crowd after delivering a blessing in Istanbul Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople greet a small crowd after delivering a blessing in Istanbul Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” said Orthodox Father Emmanuel Lemelson, an American priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who was part of the official Orthodox delegation during the papal visit to Turkey.

Father Lemelson, who holds a bachelor’s degree in theology and religious studies from the Jesuit-run Seattle University and master’s of divinity from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, said that, as a young man, he fostered a vision that Catholics and Orthodox Christians would soon be reunited.

“Suddenly that vision has been reignited. I believe that Pope Francis is truly a great leader and has shown great humility, and that he is not afraid,” Father Lemelson said, adding that he thought the ecumenical meeting in Turkey was a sign of greater things to come, of more meetings and of moving things forward in the right direction.

The Catholic and Orthodox churches split in 1054 over differences on the primacy of the papacy. The two churches have grown closer together in recent decades, but there are long-running tensions in Russia and Ukraine, especially between Orthodox faithful and Eastern Catholics, along with some internal resistance to ecumenical dialogue, especially among the Orthodox.

Before leaving Turkey, Pope Francis said he is ready to go anywhere, anytime to meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, even while acknowledging that Catholic and Orthodox theologians might be slow to agree to end the 1,000-year schism.

Father Lemelson speculated that the dwindling presence of Christians in Turkey and the Middle East, along with the persecution of Christianity in Turkey and elsewhere, is a cause for hastening the ecumenical dialogue and efforts toward greater unity.

Turkey is now 99.8 percent Muslim. Just across the border from Turkey, in Syria and Iraq, Christian minorities are being slaughtered or driven from their homes by militants of the Islamic State.

“I think this comes at a critical moment in history; this sign of unity is important to all Christians to put their nominal differences aside,” Father Lemelson said. “I really believe, based on Pope Francis’ statements and actions, that he has the proclivity and openness to seeking unity.”

Father Lemelson noted Pope Francis’ comment that ecumenical unity would not necessarily mean the Orthodox would have to accept conditions to that unity, except the shared profession of faith.

“Maybe it is because this church in Constantinople, in a region where there is incredible violence and where the church has shrunk (in numbers), it is not inconceivable that the See might have to leave Istanbul. And makes you wonder if there is a silver lining in this unfortunate suffering, this ecumenism in blood.

“To pick up now where we left off in the 12th century, when Eastern Christendom was under attack, and now when there is a new Ottomanism, maybe something good will come from all this new suffering. If Christians come together now that would an extraordinary thing to witness in our lifetime,” he said.

Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew is part of a long tradition of exchanges of visits, and there was nothing necessarily earth-shattering about an exchange of delegations in and of itself.

But the energetic nature of the papal encounter in Turkey gives the world reason to believe there is renewed energy in ecumenical dialogue at the highest levels, said Father Roberson, who staffs dialogues on the national level with the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Polish National Catholic and Episcopal Churches, as well as the new ecumenical initiative, Christian Churches Together in the USA.

He is also a Catholic member of the international dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches.

“In terms of the images there, a lot was done that showed a unity of purpose, conversation about the need to work together on the issue of Christian persecution, and the way the two embraced and looked at ease with each other recommits both churches to the dialogue and overcoming our difference,” Father Roberson said.

The international dialogue itself has gotten bogged down on the contentious issue of church primacy, Father Roberson noted, and while members will not meet again for another three years, the signing of a joint declaration in Turkey “gave a general push for Catholics and Orthodox to do more things together and make a common witness not only in the Middle East but in other parts of the world,” he added.

Still, there are items from the encounter in Turkey that need to be parsed through, Father Roberson noted, including the full implications of Pope Francis’ comment that Catholic Church does not intend to impose conditions on unity other than a profession of faith.

“I am not quite sure what that means, and it is a little bit vague and will need to be made more concrete. What he means by unity of the faith goes to the heart of the question,” the priest said.

He added that the leadership of the Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. enthusiastically followed the meetings and posted texts and related information on its website.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, headquartered in New York City, is an eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

“They have put a lot of effort into that and were making the meetings more visible,” Father Roberson said.

Father Lemelson said Pope Francis’ final gesture in Turkey was a brilliant stroke.

“He immediately extended himself to the Russian Orthodox Church, saying he wants this unity, and although relations between Moscow and the Vatican have remained cold … if anyone can overcome that, Pope Francis can,” he said.

“What a beautiful move and I think it will happen, and I don’t think the (Russian Orthodox) patriarch will turn down that invitation,” he said.


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After grand jury report, Archbishop urges Ferguson, ‘Choose peace!’



ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis urged residents of Ferguson, “Choose peace!” He made the comment in a statement Nov. 24 following the issuance of a grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, in the August shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, an African-American. “Reject any false and empty hope that violence will solve problems. Violence only creates more violence,” Archbishop Carlson said in his statement, released shortly after the grand jury announced its findings. “Let’s work for a better, stronger, more holy community — one founded upon respect for each other, respect for life and our shared responsibility for the common good.” Read more »

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Millions could benefit from Obama’s new immigration policies


Catholic News Service

HYATTSVILLE, Md. — The meeting room in the middle of Maryland’s most immigrant-dense ZIP code Nov. 20 was full of people who epitomize the problems President Barack Obama is trying to address with executive action.

A woman at CASA de Maryland's Multicultural Center in Hyattsville, Md., applauds Nov. 20 after hearing President Barack Obama's national address on immigration. The president extended deferral of deportations to parents of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

A woman at CASA de Maryland’s Multicultural Center in Hyattsville, Md., applauds Nov. 20 after hearing President Barack Obama’s national address on immigration. The president extended deferral of deportations to parents of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Families with roots in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala — some with U.S. citizen children, some with one adult child who has legal permanent residency (a green card), and other adults who are in the country illegally — all watched the big screen as Obama announced his plans for allowing perhaps 40 percent of the 11 million people without legal immigration status to be temporarily protected from deportation.

The package of administrative actions, explained in more detail starting with an Obama appearance Nov. 21 in Nevada, includes reprioritizing who the government will target for deportation, cracking down primarily on dangerous criminals and new arrivals at the border.

“We’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security,” Obama said in his televised address from the White House. “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.”

Another component will change the approach in granting visas to foreign students in science and technology who want to remain in the U.S. after graduation, according to the White House.

The Justice Department also will change the Secure Communities program, under which local law enforcement agencies did immigration screening on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to circumstances like what a senior administration official described as a “broken taillight arrest.”

In a background telephone briefing before the president’s announcement, the official said, “An arrest for a broken taillight alone is not going to trigger ICE pickup.”

That’s the sort of thing that Carlos Velasquez said is so helpful about the president’s actions.

Velasquez, attending the Hyattsville viewing party with other members of St. Camillus Church in nearby Silver Spring, where he is active in a variety of ministries, said he knows many, many families who will potentially benefit from the extension of deferred action to new segments of the population.

So happy the words tumbled out in a giddy mixture of English and Spanish, he said, “They’re going to be safe. Some people get to be no longer afraid they will be arrested and deported for just walking down the street or driving or going to work.”

The simple step of having a Social Security number will make it possible for some of his friends to finally buy homes, Velasquez said. They have the financial resources and pay taxes using an identification number from the Internal Revenue Service, he explained, but lacking a Social Security number is an obstacle to obtaining a mortgage.

Obama’s orders basically would expand upon the 2-year-old program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Immigrants, or DACA. Through it, more than half a million young adults and teens who came to the U.S. as minors have been promised they won’t be deported if they stay out of trouble.

In exchange for registering with the government, going through background checks and other requirements and paying fees, they received work permits and Social Security numbers. More than 600,000 people have applied for the program launched in summer 2012. Of that, 27,000 applications were rejected (and could perhaps be resubmitted) and about 16,000 have been denied. Others are in various stages of the approval process.

The new program would offer the same deal to parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders who have lived in here for at least five years, a potential pool of more than 4 million people, according to the White House. Both the parents-of-citizens program and DACA will now be good for three years, and renewable.

The program is expected to be up and running in the spring.

The administration officials said they estimate about 270,000 additional people will be eligible for DACA under new rules that drop the previous age limit of under-30 and roll forward the date by which applicants need to have arrived in the U.S. to 2010 from the original date of 2007.

Though the audience at the offices of CASA de Maryland, a community organizing service, was quiet throughout the 15-minute address, broadcast with simultaneous Spanish translation on Telemundo, the moments leading up to the president’s appearance were filled with cheerful chanting and applause as residents of the neighborhood stood to tell their stories.

“Si, se pudo!” they chanted, or “yes, we could,” or maybe “yes, he could.” That’s the past tense of the “si, se puede” or “yes, we can,” that has long been popular in rallying migrants to various causes.

Among those who were quick to applaud the president’s plans were, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration.

“We welcome any efforts … that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children,” said Bishop Elizondo in a statement from the USCCB.

Archbishop Kurtz quoted Pope Francis in saying every human being bears the image of Christ. “We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.”

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, also welcomed the package of executive actions, including plans to make it easier for immigrants who lack legal status to travel to their home countries without penalty.

Jeanne M. Atkinson, executive director CLINIC, said, “however, administrative relief is no substitute for legislative reform. We need a permanent fix to the immigration system that can only be achieved through bipartisan Congressional action.”

She added that the network has been gearing up to meet the need for legal advice the deferred action program will trigger. “We will be ready.”


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U.S. bishops welcome Obama’s action on undocumented immigrants




WASHINGTON—The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, has welcomed the news that the Obama administration will defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families.

Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, wrote in a Nov. 20 statement that, “We have a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, and the disadvantaged. Each day, the Catholic Church in the United States, in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes, witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families, when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other.”

Bishop Elizondo said that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has “been on record asking the Administration to do everything within its legitimate authority to bring relief and justice to our immigrant brothers and sisters. As pastors, we welcome any efforts within these limits that protect individuals and protect and reunite families and vulnerable children.”


Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the USCCB said, “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God. He or she bears the image of Christ. We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved.’”


Bishop Elizondo added, “I strongly urge Congress and the president to work together to enact permanent reforms to the nation’s immigration system for the best interests of the nation and the migrants who seek refuge here. We will continue to work with both parties to enact legislation that welcomes and protects immigrants and promotes a just and fair immigration policy.”


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Jesus invites all to risk ‘being more,’ says new Chicago archbishop

November 19th, 2014 Posted in Featured, National News


CHICAGO — At his installation as the ninth archbishop of Chicago Nov. 18, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich urged the congregation at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral to fearlessly share their faith recognizing that God calls them “to more” and “to greater things.”

Before an overflow crowd, the archbishop said he had “a bit of a panic attack” when he saw the day’s Gospel reading was about Jesus walking on water and calling his disciples to follow him.

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich walks down center aisle of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago at the start of his installation Mass Nov. 18. Pope Francis named Archbishop Cupich in September by Pope Francis to succeed Cardinal Francis E. George as Chicago's archbishop. (CNS photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, Reuters)

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich walks down center aisle of Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago at the start of his installation Mass Nov. 18. Pope Francis named Archbishop Cupich in September by Pope Francis to succeed Cardinal Francis E. George as Chicago’s archbishop. (CNS photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, Reuters)

“I realize this new responsibility is going to be demanding,” he said, “but seriously folks, I don’t do ‘walking on water.’ I can barely swim. So I hope this image in today’s Gospel is not reflective of anyone’s expectations.”

The archbishop, who succeeds Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, said the passage asks believers to “join Christ in seeking out, inviting and accompanying, by abiding with those to whom he sends us.”

In particular, he said Catholics today face the “formidable task of passing on the faith to the next generation, of evangelizing a modern and sometimes skeptical culture, not to mention inspiring young people to serve the church as priests and religious.” That challenge, he said, “all seems so daunting, as daunting as walking on water.”

Archbishop Cupich noted that catechists and educators are “on the front line of this struggle,” along with parents, grandparents, bishops and priests who can “find that the good news is increasingly difficult to proclaim in the midst of great polarization in church and society.”

In moving forward, he said Catholics need to go back to where their journey of faith began, at their baptism, and be “willing to share it with the next generation.”

“Young people have always been attracted to authenticity of life, where words match deeds. Let’s not be afraid to let our young people know about our life with God and how it began,” he said.

He stressed that such authenticity would similarly be demanded of him as archbishop “particularly as I reach out to those who have been sexually abused by church leaders.”

“That starting point will always be needed for me and my brother bishops to keep fresh the serious duty to honor and keep the promises we made in 2002,” he said, referring to the year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops developed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

“Working together to protect children, to bring healing to victim survivors and to rebuild the trust that has been shattered in our communities by our mishandling is our sacred duty, as is holding each other accountable, for that is what we pledge to do,” the archbishop added.

He told the congregation that Jesus invites them to “take the risk of leaving our comfort zone, but also to deal with the tension involved in change, not dismissively but in a creative way, and to challenge each other to do so.”

Some examples he stated included: going to Mass more than once a week and changing habitual bad behaviors, unhealthy dependencies or inordinate attachments.

He said Pope Francis has similarly urged Catholics to “walk with Christ, as he is always doing something new.”

“It is an invitation to leave behind the comfort of going the familiar way. He is challenging us to recognize that Christ is always inviting us to more, to greater things. It is the kind of invitation our bishops’ conference is making to our nation to be what it has always promised to be, to protect the vulnerable, poor and weak, to treat immigrants with justice and dignity, to respect life and to be good stewards of creation.”

The archbishop said it is “the invitation of Jesus: ‘Come, take the risk of being more.’”


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Maryland Catholic doctor who treated patients in Sierra Leone dies from Ebola


OMAHA, Neb. — A Maryland Catholic doctor who contracted the Ebola virus while working at a Methodist hospital in the West African nation of Sierra Leone died early Nov. 17 at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha from the virus.

Dr. Martin Salia, 44, was the third Ebola patient to be treated in Omaha, and the first patient to die there. There have been 10 Ebola patients in the United States; two have died.

Dr. Martin Salia, a U.S. surgeon originally from Sierra Leone, is shown in April at the United Methodist Church's Kissy Hospital outside Freetown, Sierra Leone. He died of Ebola Nov. 17 at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha where he was being treated after arriving from West Africa. (CNS photo courtesy Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service)

Dr. Martin Salia, a U.S. surgeon originally from Sierra Leone, is shown in April at the United Methodist Church’s Kissy Hospital outside Freetown, Sierra Leone. He died of Ebola Nov. 17 at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha where he was being treated after arriving from West Africa. (CNS photo courtesy Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service)

Salia was working as a general surgeon at Kissy United Methodist Hospital in the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, which is not an Ebola treatment unit.

It was not immediately clear how Salia contracted the virus. But sources at the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation say Salia worked in at least three other medical facilities in addition to Kissy Hospital.

Kissy serves some of Freetown’s poorest neighborhoods. Several units of the hospital, including its surgical wards, were shut down in October when a patient who was admitted to the hospital for other health conditions manifested signs of Ebola. That patient was taken to another hospital in Freetown where he died.

Salia’s infection came several weeks after the 21-day quarantine imposed on all staff who had direct dealings with the patient who died. Kissy Hospital was closed Nov. 11 and a new 21-day quarantine imposed on the hospital staff in the wake of Salia’s Ebola diagnosis.

Salia, a citizen of Sierra Leone who had been living in Maryland, had tested negative Nov. 6 for the Ebola virus, but a second test Nov. 10 was positive. He arrived Nov. 15 in Omaha.

“Salia was extremely critical when he arrived here, and unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to save him,” said a statement form Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the biocontainment unit at Nebraska Medical Center.

In an interview with United Methodist Communications earlier this year, Salia talked about how important it was for him to work at a Christian hospital.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be rosy, but why did I decide to choose this job? I firmly believe God wanted me to do it. And I knew deep within myself. There was just something inside of me that the people of this part of Freetown needed help,” Salia said.

“I see it as God’s own desired framework for me. I took this job not because I want to, but I firmly believe that it was a calling and that God wanted me to. … And I’m pretty sure, I’m confident that I just need to lean on him, trust him, for whatever comes in, because he sent me here. And that’s my passion,” Salia said.

“Whenever we want to start surgery, we pray. I am just being used as an instrument or as a surgeon to carry out God’s own plan for that person’s life,” he added.

“We’re very grateful for the efforts of the team led by Dr. Smith,” said a statement from Salia’s wife, Isatu. “In the short time we spent here, it was apparent how caring and compassionate everyone was. We are so appreciative of the opportunity for my husband to be treated here and believe he was in the best place possible.”

News reports said the couple made their home in New Carrollton, Maryland, a suburb of Washington. They have two sons, a 12-year-old and a 20-year-old. Maada Salia told NBC News in a recent interview that despite the risks posed by Ebola, his father “decided to still go and help his people because he wanted to show that he loves his people. He’s really, really a hero to me.”

Salia is the sixth doctor in Sierra Leone to be infected with the virus. The other five doctors also died.

Tributes poured in about Salia upon his death.

“It’s another sad day with challenges uncounted,” said a Nov. 17 statement from Ishmeal Charles, who is program manager for the Healey International Relief Foundation in Sierra Leone and works directly with Caritas, the Vatican’s international aid agency, in the Archdiocese of Freetown.

“Sierra Leone, a country with limited medical professionals, keeps losing our valuable human capacity. Dr. Martin Salia is not just an ordinary doctor but an unstoppable personality,” added Charles, a former child soldier who testified in September about the Ebola crisis at a U.S. Senate hearing. “He is now gone in the midst of this fight. I and many others see him as an hero. We love and greatly miss Dr. Martin Salia.”

“Dr. Salia was a dedicated Christian physician who was living out a calling to serve others. We are inspired by his faith and by other health care workers like him around the world who provide medical care to those who might not otherwise have care, even at risk to themselves,” said a Nov. 17 statement from Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr., president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.


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