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Rare meeting: Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday

February 1st, 2018 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: ,

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WASHINGTON — Many people looking at their February calendars are doing a double-take with Ash Wednesday falling on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.

The two days, steeped in tradition, don’t have too much in common beyond their religious roots. Valentine’s Day, named after St. Valentine, a third-century martyr, is all about romance with its emphasis on cards, candy, flowers and nice dinners, where Ash Wednesday takes a more somber tone as the start of 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving of Lent.

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Churches no longer exempt from FEMA disaster aid

January 6th, 2018 Posted in National News Tags:

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WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is revising its policies to no longer exclude houses of worship from applying for federal aid to recover from damages caused by natural disasters.

The policy change was outlined in the agency’s revised 217-page manual: “Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide” issued Jan. 2.

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No dispensation for this year’s Christmas Mass on Monday

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Although Christmas this year is the day after the fourth Sunday of Advent, Catholics looking to count a Sunday evening Mass Dec. 24 for both that Sunday obligation and Monday’s Christmas Mass obligation will have to think again.

The U.S. bishops already saw this coming at the beginning of the year and said Catholics should attend separate Masses for the two days. Read more »

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Theology teacher on Meghan Markle: ‘I would have remembered her anyway’

December 4th, 2017 Posted in National News

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — Maria Pollia, a theology teacher at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, did not have to rack her brain to remember her former student Meghan Markle, the actress recently engaged to Prince Harry.

Pollia, who taught Markle during her junior year in 1997-1998 — when they examined mystics and writings on the church — said the student who is now in the media spotlight always took her writings a step further than her peers.

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Decorating for Christmas on Christmas Eve? It’s the beginning, not end, of the season

December 1st, 2017 Posted in National News Tags: , ,

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — During the weeks before Christmas, Catholic churches stand out for what they are missing.

Unlike stores, malls, public buildings and homes that start gearing up for Christmas at least by Thanksgiving, churches appear almost stark save for Advent wreaths and maybe some greenery or white lights.

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Royal engagement announcement brings attention to Catholic school

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON — When the news broke Nov. 27 of Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry, reporters descended upon the Los Angeles Catholic school Markle attended: Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School.

“They’ve been scaling the walls,” Callie Webb, communication director for the school, said with slight exaggeration, but maybe not too much, of the reporters calling and visiting the 112-year-old school with mission-style terra cotta roofs just a few miles from the landmark Hollywood sign. Read more »

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Catholic groups settle in lawsuit against HHS contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Dozens of Catholic groups that challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act have reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, they announced late Oct. 16.

The groups, including the Archdiocese of Washington and the Pennsylvania dioceses of Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Erie, were represented by the Cleveland-based law firm Jones Day.

Activists participate in a rally in late September to protect the Affordable Care Act outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl wrote an Oct. 16 letter to archdiocesan priests saying the “binding agreement” ends the litigation challenging the Health and Human Services’ mandate and provides a “level of assurance as we move into the future.”

The Washington archdiocese was one of dozens of groups challenging the mandate, which went to the Supreme Court last year in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. Although it was most often described as the Little Sisters of the Poor fighting against the federal government, the case before the court involved seven plaintiffs and each of these combined cases represented a group of schools, churches or church-sponsored organizations.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whom the case is named for, said he was grateful for the settlement, which he described as an “agreement with the government that secures and reaffirms the constitutional right of religious freedom.”

In an Oct. 17 statement, the bishop said the diocese’s five-year-long challenge to the mandate “has been resolved successfully” allowing Catholic Charities in the diocese and other religious organizations of different denominations to be exempt from “insurance coverage or practices that are morally unacceptable.”

He said the settlement follows the recent release of new federal regulations that provide religious organizations with a full exemption from covering items that violate their core beliefs.

On Oct. 6, the Trump administration issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate to include religious employers who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law.

Cardinal Wuerl said in his letter to priests that the new guidelines and regulations were extremely helpful but that the “settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases.”

“The settlement adds additional assurances,” he added, “that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward.”

The cardinal thanked the Jones Day law firm for its legal representation in the case and thanked Catholics for their prayers and support for the petitioners in the long legal fight.

Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, Calif., one of the groups that fell under the Washington archdiocese’s challenge of the HHS mandate to the Supreme Court, similarly thanked the law firm Jones Day for representing the school pro bono.

The school’s president, Michael McLean, said in an Oct. 16 statement that as part of the settlement, the government will pay a portion of the legal costs and fees incurred by the law firm.

He said the college welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate by the Trump administration in early October but he similarly said the settlement of the case provides “something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive and any similar future directive that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs.”

“This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom,” he added.

The school’s statement said according to the terms of the settlement, the government concedes that the contraceptive mandate “imposes a substantial burden” on the plaintiffs’ exercise of religion and “cannot be legally enforced” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The contraceptive mandate, in place since 2012, required all employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their employer insurance. Last year when opposition to this mandate came to the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, representing one of the groups that challenged the mandate, said in an Oct. 17 statement that it has been “difficult for people to understand that this lawsuit was not just about contraceptives.

“The real issue,” he said, “was the government attempting to narrow the definition of freedom of religion, using the HHS mandate to exempt only a small subset of religious employers. Churches were declared exempt, but their hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, schools, and universities were not.”

The bishop said he was pleased with the settlement particularly because the church continues to assert that all of its ministries “are inextricably tied to the practice of our faith.”

     

Mark Zimmermann, editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, contributed to this report.

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      Follow Carol Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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Victims of Las Vegas shooting remembered at funeral Masses, vigils

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Catholic News Service

Immediate makeshift memorials in Las Vegas to the 58 victims killed during the Oct. 1 outdoor country music concert are being replaced by memorial services, vigils and Catholic funerals at the victims’ hometowns across the country and in Canada.

Many of the services are taking place in California since 33 of the victims, more than half of those killed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, were from the Golden State.

A couple prays during an Oct. 3 vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas. A gunman, identified as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, was perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a hotel and unleashed a shower of bullets on concertgoers below late Oct. 1. He killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. (CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters)

Bakersfield, Calif., two hours north of Los Angeles, was home to three victims of the shooting. A memorial service was held there Oct. 6 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church for Jack Beaton, a 54-year-old father of two who worked with a roofing company.

More than 800 people attended the service where Beaton was remembered as a fun-loving friend, a hard worker, a kindhearted neighbor and a devoted husband and father of an 18-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son. He and his wife, Laurie, attended the concert to celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. He died in her arms after putting his body on top of hers to protect her.

“I knew every day that he would protect me and take care of me and love me unconditionally, and what he did is no surprise to me,” Laurie Beaton told The Associated Press before the service, adding: “He is my hero.”

In San Francisco, a funeral Mass was celebrated Oct. 12 at St. Mary’s Cathedral for Stacee Etcheber, a 50-year-old hairstylist and mother of two children, 10 and 12, who was attending the Las Vegas concert with her husband, Vince, a San Francisco police officer.

At the funeral Mass, so close to where devastating wildfires are happening, the San Francisco Chronicle said it was not lost at anyone that Etcheber was exactly the kind of person the area needed at this time.

She was described as someone who wouldn’t have thought twice about volunteering and doing what she could for the thousands affected by the fires. She also would have been the “the incident commander” getting horses to safety, Father Michael Quinn, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Sausalito, California, told the congregation.

The Etchebers had been separated during the chaos of the shooting. Her husband, who survived, was helping many of the wounded at the concert.

Although Stacee was not a member of the San Francisco Police Department, her funeral included many of the honors of an officer’s funeral. Bagpipers played as officers with the department’s mounted unit stood their horses at attention outside the cathedral.

Some of those in attendance wore orange ribbons for Stacee’s favorite color.

The same day, a funeral Mass was celebrated for 28-year-old Christopher Roybal, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Navy at St. Matthew’s Church in Corona, Calif.

Roybal had gone to the concert with his mother, and like many others, they were separated in the confusion during and after the shooting took place.

“He always made me feel so beautiful, so amazing, and I’m sure that a lot of you in here understand exactly what I’m saying because he was such an amazing soul,” his mother said at the funeral, according to the local ABC news affiliate KABC, which also reported that the priest encouraged the congregation to sing Roybal a country song as a final goodbye.

Roybal’s father said his son’s Navy training immediately kicked in when the gunfire started.

He suspected that his son “immediately went into that mode of protecting everybody around him like he did in Afghanistan, the sound nobody will understand, Christopher just started saving lives and not for one second thought about his own life,” he said.

In Alberta, Canada, a candlelight vigil took place just two days after the Las Vegas shooting at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Valleyview for Jessica Klymchuk, a 34-year-old mother of four and educational assistant at St. Stephen’s Catholic School, across the street from the church.

“I just really, really miss her,” said a 10-year-old at the vigil. An 11-year-old described her as the kindest person he knew, reported CBC News in Canada.

Klymchuk, one of four Canadians killed in the mass shooting, attended the festival with her fiance. She wore several hats at the school where she was a bus driver, a classroom aide and librarian.

“She had this heart of gold,” said Christine Ikonikov, a friend of who organized the vigil, and described her as a “wonderful woman, strong, always put other people first.”

A celebration of life for Sandy Casey, a newly engaged 35-year-old resident of Redondo Beach, Calif., was scheduled to take place Oct. 17 at the United Church of Dorset and East Rupert in Dorset, Vt., where her family lives.

Casey, who was a special education teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School near Los Angeles, attended the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vt., and received a master’s degree in special education in 2005 from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.

The Massachusetts Catholic college is planning to hold a memorial for Casey. The school’s president, Francesco Cesareo, said in a statement that the mass shooting is a “harsh reminder of the darkness that attempts to consume the world in which we live.”

“Despite that darkness,” he said, “the light of hope can be found illuminating such tragedies in the selfless actions of those that put their own lives in jeopardy assisting others.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Trump administration expands exemptions on contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington Sept. 26. The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

While providing an exemption for religious employers, the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

President Donald Trump had pledged to lift the mandate burden placed on religious employers during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, but Catholic leaders and the heads of a number of Catholic entities had criticized the administration for a lack of action on that pledge in the months that followed.

From the outset, churches were exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers. The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.

A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Senior Health and Human Services officials who spoke to reporters Oct. 5 on the HHS rule on the condition of anonymity said that the exemption to the contraceptive mandate would apply to all the groups that had sued against it. Groups suing the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Eternal Word Television Network and some Catholic and other Christian universities.

In reaction immediately after the 150-page interim ruling was issued, religious groups that had opposed the mandate were pleased with the administration’s action.

An Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the new rule “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The church leaders also said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Lori said the decision was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

Michael Warsaw, EWTN chairman and CEO president, said the television network’s legal team would be “carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, told reporters in a telephone news conference an hour after the rule was released that it is a “common sense and balanced rule and a great step forward for religious liberty.”

He said the rule “carves out a narrow exemption” and keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for those without moral or religious objections to it.

He noted that it does not provide immediate relief for those groups who had challenged it, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which Becket represents. They will “still need relief in courts,” he said, but was confident now that it would happen.

“We’ve traveled a long way,” he added, of the multiple challenges to the contraceptive mandate in recent years, which he described as an “unnecessary culture war fight.”

Rienzi, noted that the HHS rule could have eliminated the contraceptive mandate completely but it did not do so. He also said the new rule is open for comments for a 90-day period and will likely face legal challenges, which already began in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of members of the ACLU and Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West who say they are at risk of losing their contraception coverage because of where they work or attend school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the interim rules violate the establishment clause regarding religion in the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution “by authorizing and promoting religiously motivated and other discrimination against women seeking reproductive health care.”

     

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

 

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Bishop urges Senate to remedy health care for the ‘common good’ — Updated

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — After the Senate voted July 25 to proceed with the health care debate, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., urged senators of both parties to “work together to advance changes that serve the common good.”

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

The statement from Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the health care reform proposals currently under consideration would “harm millions of struggling Americans by leaving too many at risk of losing adequate health coverage and continue to exclude too many people, including immigrants.”

“We are grateful for the efforts to include protections for the unborn, however, any final bill must include full Hyde Amendment provisions and add much-needed conscience protections. The current proposals are simply unacceptable as written, and any attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) without a concurrent replacement is also unacceptable,” he said in a July 25 statement.

During the procedural vote on the Senate floor, 50 Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted no, along with the Senate’s 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate.

The vote to debate health care legislation took place after months of ongoing discussion and leaves Senate Republicans with a few options, including completely replacing the health care law, or voting for what has been described as a “skinny” repeal that would remove parts of the Affordable Care Act. They also could pass a measure that would repeal the current law without implementing a replacement.

Late July 25, the Senate voted down one of these proposals in a 57-43 vote with nine Republicans voting against it. The proposal — an updated version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act — would have done away with the ACA’s tax penalties for those not buying insurance, cut Medicaid and allowed insurers to sell cheaper policies with less coverage. It also included $100 billion in extra funds to help people losing Medicaid.

Senators were expected to vote on a “repeal-only” proposal July 26 that also was likely to face defeat since many in both parties have spoken against repealing the ACA without a replacement plan.

As votes were being cast, all eyes were on Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Senate floor just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who had not assured the Senate of his vote prior to the tally.

Just prior to the procedural vote, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, majority leader, urged fellow senators not to let this moment slip by.

“All we have to do today is to have the courage to begin the debate,” he added as protesters yelled in the background: “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.” “Shame.”

“Will we begin the debate on one of the most important issues confronting America today?” he asked before answering: “It is my hope that the answer will be yes.”

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, minority leader, stressed that Democrats had been locked out of the recent health care debate and he warned that the Republican plan will “certainly mean drastic cuts” in Medicaid and would cause many to lose health care insurance.

McCain urged his colleagues to “trust each other” and “return to order” after casting his vote to move the debate forward.

In his July 25 statement, Bishop Dewane said, “There is much work to be done to remedy the ACA’s shortcomings” and he called on the Senate to make the necessary changes.

He also stressed that “current and impending barriers to access and affordability under the ACA must be removed, particularly for those most in need. Such changes can be made with narrower reforms that do not jeopardize the access to health care that millions currently receive,” he added.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said in a July 26 statement that she was disappointed with the Senate’s vote to attempt to repeal and replace the ACA “without a clear plan to protect access to affordable health care coverage.”

She said that throughout the health care reform debate, Catholic Charities has insisted that any reform must protect those who have health care coverage and provide more health insurance to those without it.

“We urge senators to work together to reject dramatic cuts to Medicaid coverage and provide a health care bill that truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respects human life and dignity, especially for those who are most in need,” she said.

 

Carolyn Mackenzie contributed to this report. Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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