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Backgrounder: Long-awaited executive order on religion has unclear path ahead

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, President Donald Trump told a group of religious leaders: “It was looking like you’d never get here, but you got here, folks,” referring to their presence at the signing of the executive order on religious liberty.

Maybe some in the group wondered where “here” was since they hadn’t even seen the two-page executive order they were gathered to congratulate and only knew the general idea of it from a White House memo issued the previous night with just three bullet points.

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The order didn’t seem to part any seas to make an immediate path to religious freedom, especially since it places decisions for how this will play out in the hands of federal agencies and the attorney general.

Catholic leaders in general seemed to view it with cautious optimism, praising the order as a first step but not the final word.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who attended the White House ceremony also celebrating the National Day of Prayer, said immediately after the event that he had yet to see the entire executive order. He defined the principle of it: “There should not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when people are exercising their religious freedom in the public square or institutions they run.

The two-page order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” was posted on the White House website hours after it was signed. It is half the length of a leaked draft version of this order published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine. The order signed by the president is short on specifics and far less detailed than the leaked draft.

It devotes the most space to a promised easing of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bans churches and nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status from taking part in partisan political activity. Although it would take an act of Congress to do away with this regulation, Trump can direct the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce it.

Many people likely aren’t familiar with the amendment by name, or they weren’t before this executive order, but they support the idea of it, according to a May 4 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows 71 percent of Americans favor the law, as do most all major U.S. religious groups Only about one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to 56 percent who oppose it. Also, just 23 percent of white mainline Protestants, 25 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of black Protestants support churches endorsing political candidates.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport May 4 on his way back to his diocese for a confirmation Mass, Cardinal DiNardo said the amendment was likely more important to evangelical Christians than Catholics because, as he pointed out, the Catholic Church “has the tradition of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’” which he said puts the Johnson Amendment in a bigger context.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility, guides voters not according to the stances of specific political candidates but Catholic social teaching.

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email to Catholic News Service that the order’s emphasis on weakening the Johnson Amendment did not seem particularly significant, noting: “it is already the case that the relevant agencies and officials are highly deferential — as they should be — to churches and religious leaders, especially when it comes to what’s said in the context of sermons and homilies.”

Commenting on another major point of the executive order, relief to employers with religious objections to include contraception coverage in their employees’ health care plans, Garnett called it “a good thing — and long overdue,” but he also noted that “such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions.”

In a statement after the order was signed, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised to take action “to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.” The promise didn’t give any specifics.

The lack of details in the order even caused the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been poised to sue, to change its course. In a statement issued hours after the order’s signing, ACLU director Anthony Romero said the order had “no discernible policy outcome.”

“After careful review of the order’s text, we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process,” he said.

But the group also stands ready to sue the Trump administration if the order generates any official government action. Religious groups, for opposite reasons, likewise stand ready to see if the order has any teeth.

As Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement: “This order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American,” with the added caveat, “There is still work to be done.”

 

Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth.

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Cardinal says Trump’s religious freedom order begins to relieve burden of HHS mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Many religious leaders viewed President Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which he signed in a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, as a step in the right direction.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

In a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer prior to signing the executive order, Trump told the assembled religious leaders: “We’re taking big steps to protect religious liberty” and he assured them the government “won’t stand for religious discrimination.”

Three religious leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, offered prayers during the ceremony. Just prior to the event, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Trump about the order.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport just after the White House ceremony, Cardinal DiNardo said the meeting with the president was brief but productive.

Earlier, in a statement, the cardinal said the executive order “begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” referring to the mandate issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if they morally oppose it.

But Cardinal DiNardo also stressed that the U.S. bishops will “have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.”

The text of the order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” states that cabinet offices “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

During the White House ceremony, Trump told some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the crowd: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.” The sisters are just one of the groups that challenged the federal contraceptive mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province, said in a statement that the sisters are “grateful for the president’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying” without fear of government punishment.

Another aspect of the order is a weakening of what Trump called the “unfair” Johnson Amendment during the May 4 event. The 1954 amendment bans churches and nonprofit organizations of all types from participating in partisan political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

Trump told the religious leaders that the order’s attempt to lessen restrictions of the amendment will be “giving our churches their voices back.”

The order states the Treasury Department shall ensure and “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” 

It also calls for department officials to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” for speaking about “moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Regarding religious liberty, the order is not very specific. It states: “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the attorney general shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.”

Cardinal DiNardo, in his statement, stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”

He noted that church agencies have specifically experienced such a restriction in adoption, education, health care and other social services, where he said “widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility.”

“But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity,” he added.

Cardinal DiNardo told CNS that the executive order emphasizes that there should “not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when a person or group is exercising one’s faith.

He also said the president seems to be putting some of these religious liberty issues directly in the hands of federal departments and the attorney general, which he called “an important dimension” and a “good way to have this unpacked.”

The White House did not release the full text of the order prior to its signing. A draft of an earlier version of the order, which included stronger language, was leaked and published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine.

Regarding the new order, Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement that the bishops will “continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith,” noting that religious freedom is “a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims.”

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email that the order will likely be viewed as a commitment from the administration that it wants to protect religious liberty. “In terms of specifics, however, the order does very little and does not address a number of pressing and important questions.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also welcomed the order and said the organization “looks forward to reviewing the details” of it with the hope that applying it will “allow Catholic Charities agencies to continue to serve all their clients in accordance with their inherent dignity while at the same time preserving the freedom of these agencies to serve in conformity with our beliefs.”

 

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Catholic leaders praise stays of executions for Arkansas death-row inmates

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Catholic leaders praised the federal and state rulings that granted stays of executions for a group of Arkansas death-row inmates during the week of April 17.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pictured in a 2013 photo. Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state's lethal injection drugs expires. Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pictured in a 2013 photo. Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state’s lethal injection drugs expires. Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

“After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network against the Death Penalty, said in an April 16 statement. She said the plan to execute these men in such a short period of time brought about “an extraordinary response from so many people calling for a culture of life and an end to this practice of retribution.”

A federal judge’s April 15 ruling stopped the state from executing six of the inmates with a preliminary injunction handed down in response to a lawsuit filed by the inmates, who claimed the executions were unconstitutional because of their rapid pace and the ineffectiveness of the lethal injection drug midazolam. They claimed the sedative drug doesn’t always work and causes those who are being executed to feel pain from the use of other two lethal injection drugs.

The previous day, an Arkansas judge, responding to a lawsuit from two pharmaceutical companies, issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s executions based on evidence the state may not have obtained midazolam properly.

The state and federal judges’ rulings are both under appeal by the state. A significant delay in these arguments could indefinitely halt these executions since the state’s supply of midazolam will run out at the end of the month and state officials have said they have no source to obtain a further supply of the sedative.

But even with the court-issued stays, the executions are still possible before the end of April if the cases are sent to the Supreme Court and it sides with the state of Arkansas in its appeal.

Arkansas officials originally scheduled eight executions from April 17-27. Two of the inmates were granted stays of execution outside of the federal judge’s April 15 decision.

These executions were announced months ago by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said they had to be done in quick succession to use the state’s final batch of the midazolam before it expired at the end of April.

Many people have demonstrated against the state’s plan to execute these man in such quick succession, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In an April 13 statement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the state’s governor to reconsider the scheduled executions and reduce the sentences to life imprisonment.

“May those in Arkansas who hold the lives of these individuals on death row in their hands be moved by God’s love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the current plans for execution,” he wrote.

The bishop said the timing for these executions “was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment,” referring to the state’s supply of the sedative used in executions. “And so, in a dark irony, a safeguard that was intended to protect people is now being used as a reason to hasten their deaths.”

After the rulings temporarily halting the executions were issued, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, thanked all of those who had “prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place.”

“Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country,” he said in a statement. He also urged for prayers for “healing for the victims of the horrific crimes” and for the perpetrators of these crimes, saying: “The Lord never gives up on anyone and neither should we.”

 

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New U.S. health care bill withdrawn after if falls short of votes in the House of Representatives

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn't have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn’t have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Two days before the GOP legislation was set for an initial vote in Congress and then delayed due to last-minute wrangling and efforts to gain support, she described the bill as a disgrace, a pro-life disaster, a huge step back, catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and something that would do incredible damage.

The woman religious, who heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, has a vested interest in the nation’s health care and she also knows the ins and outs of health care legislation from working behind the scenes “forever,” as she describes it, on the Affordable Care Act.

At the time that the ACA was being drafted, some Catholic organizations opposed key elements of the measure. Once it became law, more than 40 lawsuits were filed to challenge the subsequent Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

Sister Keehan is quick to point out that the health care legislation signed into law seven years ago is far from perfect, but she says it was an “incredible step forward.”

“I do recognize the political conflict and the imperfections in the bill, but when you can make insurance that much better for people who have it and give 20 million Americans insurance, that is a huge step forward,” she said March 21 in her Washington office.

At a 2015 Catholic Health Association gathering in Washington, President Barack Obama thanked Sister Keehan for her steadiness, strength and “steadfast voice.”

“We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her,” he said.

The immediate repeal and replacement of the ACA was a key promise of President Donald Trump’s campaign, but the GOP health care measure has faced opposition from both conservative and moderate Republicans. Trump told House Republicans that he will leave ACA in place and move on to tax reform if they do not support the new health care legislation.

Watching the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA has been hard for Sister Keehan mainly because she and other health care leaders were not consulted in the process.

“We should never, ever throw together a bill that’s going to be such a profound impact on the people of this country in this short of time and without any input from those who care for them,” she said.

The work on these two health care bills couldn’t have been more different, she pointed out, noting that prior to the ACA launch she felt like she “lived in committee rooms” because she was constantly meeting with committees, groups and subgroups at the White House and Congress.

With the GOP health care plan, she said there wasn’t any opportunity for hospital groups or the American Medical Association to give any advice.

“We’ve just been dismissed,” she said, noting that she attended a few small group meetings on Capitol Hill but “they were not meetings to get our input on what ought to be done with the bill but meetings to tell us what was going to be done.”

“This has just been railroaded through Congress,” she added.

While the U.S. bishops have applauded pro-life elements of the American Health Care Act, they also have criticized other elements and expressed concern for its impact on the disadvantaged.

In a March 17 letter to House members about the GOP measure, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the inclusion of “critical life protections” in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits are “troubling” and “must be addressed.”

He said the bill’s restriction of funds to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion “honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.” But he also criticized the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services considered morally objectionable by employers and health care providers.

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society.”

Main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions.

Sister Keehan said she thanked Bishop Dewane for his letter to Congress and said the bishops had carefully gone through the legislation measure by measure on a number of issues. She also noted that she knows people in the pro-life community either think the new bill is strong enough or not doing enough.

As she sees it, the bill is “a pro-life disaster in the fact that when you take health care away from people, you take life.”

“If you want to really, really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their children are so valued by our country,” she said, which means providing quality maternity and pediatric care and offering programs like Head Start and food stamps.

Although she said under the ACA no federal funds could be spent on abortion, a nonpartisan government agency in an assessment of the law in 2014 said abortion coverage was available in some plans. Sister Keehan also said the law included help for pregnant mothers to get drug rehabilitation, housing and maternity care, which are not included in the new bill.

“I don’t find this a pro-life bill at all from every perspective,” she added about the new measure.

When asked if there was a silver lining with people at least talking about the need to provide insurance for all Americans, Sister Keehan said the health care crisis for so many people doesn’t give “the luxury of time.”

“To be the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee all its citizens health care is a disgrace,” she said, adding: “We are at a real crossroads in our country’s sense of its responsibility to its people.”

 

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Democratic filibuster looms as senators quiz Gorsuch about abortion, religious liberty

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON— As the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, moved into the March 23 testimony phase with those for and against his nomination taking the floor, the Democrats announced plans to filibuster his nomination.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, announced on the Senate floor he would oppose Gorsuch’s nomination by joining other Democrats in a filibuster. This means Gorsuch will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate, and with only 52 Republicans, this would be unlikely.

Schumer said that during the hearings Gorsuch was “unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check” on the presidency.

One way around the filibuster is if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, makes a rule change, allowing Gorsuch to be confirmed with 51 votes. A vote to confirm the judge for the high court is scheduled for April 3.

The third day of confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee for Judge Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee failed to spark high drama. Read more »

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Will you ‘ashtag’ on March 1? On posting Ash Wednesday selfies

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Catholic News Service

Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes and walking around with them is pretty public.

This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years. Read more »

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Executive order missing? No religious freedom action from Trump yet

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Talk of President Donald Trump possibly signing an executive order on religious freedom, which drew both criticism and praise, has been replaced with discussion about what happened to it and what a final version, if there is one, will look like. Read more »

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Catholics in 115th Congress: One-third of House, one-quarter of Senate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The religious makeup of the 115th Congress is significantly Christian, 91 percent, with Catholics comprising one-third of the House of Representatives and about a quarter of the Senate.

Overall, there are six fewer Christians in the new Congress, at 485 members. But there are four more Catholics, who now total 168.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., raises the gavel during the opening session of the new Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 3. Ryan, who is Catholic, was re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives earlier in the day. (CNS /Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., raises the gavel during the opening session of the new Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 3. Ryan, who is Catholic, was re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives earlier in the day. (CNS /Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The high percentage of Christians in Congress is similar to the 87th Congress in 1961, when such information was first collected. At the time, 95 percent of Congress members were Christian.

The data on the religious makeup of the current senators and representatives was collected by Pew Research Center and announced Jan. 3.

The Pew report notes that the large number of Christians in Congress has shifted in recent years with a decline in the number of Protestants. In 1961, Protestants made up 87 percent of Congress, compared with 56 percent today. Catholics, conversely, made up 19 percent of the 87th Congress, and now are 31 percent of the legislative body.

Looking at each party, two-thirds, or 67 percent, of Republicans in the new Congress are Protestant and 27 percent of Republicans are Catholic. The breakdown between Protestants and Catholics is more evenly divided among the Democrats: 42 percent are Protestant and 37 percent are Catholic.

Of the 293 Republicans in the new Congress, all but two, who are Jewish, are Christian. Democrats in Congress also are predominantly Christian, 80 percent, but they have more religious diversity among non-Christians.

The 242 Democrat Congress members include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist in addition to one religiously unaffiliated member and 10 who declined to state their religious affiliation.

Overall, the new Congress has seven fewer Protestants than the last Congress. Baptists had the biggest losses, down seven seats, followed by Anglicans and Episcopalians, down six seats.

Among non-Christian religious groups, Jews and Hindus had the biggest gains — an increase of two seats each. Jews now hold 30 seats in Congress. The number of Hindus rose from one to three and the number of Buddhists increased from two to three.

The number of Muslims in Congress, two, remained unchanged.

The new legislative group also has the smallest freshman class of any Congress in the past 10 years with 62 new members joining the 473 returnees. Of the new members, half are Protestant and roughly a third are Catholic.

The Pew report points out that some religious groups, including Protestants, Catholics and Jews, have greater representation in Congress than in the general population. Jews, for example, make up 2 percent of the U.S. adult population but account for 6 percent of Congress. Other groups, including Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the U.S. public.

Another significant finding is that the most notably underrepresented group in Congress is the religiously unaffiliated. This group, also known as religious “nones,” accounts for 23 percent of the general public but makes up just 0.2 percent of the 115th Congress.

 

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Catholic college presidents pledge help for ‘childhood arrivals’ — undocumented students with DACA status

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — More than 70 presidents at Catholic colleges and universities have signed a statement pledging their support for students attending their schools who are legally protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The statement, posted Nov. 30 on the website of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, says it hopes “the students in our communities who have qualified for DACA are able to continue their studies without interruption and that many more students in their situation will be welcome to contribute their talents to our campuses.”

Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran is  president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. (CNS photo/courtesy Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities)

Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran is president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. (CNS photo/courtesy Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities)

President Barack Obama’s DACA program protects young immigrants brought into the United States by their parents as young children without legal permission. More than 720,000 of these young immigrants have been approved for the program, which protects them from deportation for two-year periods.

The college leaders’ statement also points out that “undocumented students need assistance in confronting legal and financial uncertainty and in managing the accompanying anxieties. We pledge to support these students, through our campus counseling and ministry support, through legal resources from those campuses with law schools and legal clinics and through whatever other services we may have at our disposal.”

The statement was released three weeks after the presidential election. During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump promised to deport those who are in the country without legal permission; build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; and enact a ban on Muslims entering the country until a system for what he called “extreme vetting” of refugees is in place.

Trump also made promises during his campaign to undo what he called Obama’s “overreaching” executive orders, including the president’s November 2014 expansion of his 2012 DACA program to allow more young immigrants people to benefit from its provisions that defer deportations and allow them to have work permits.

“Many of us count among our students young men and women who are undocumented, their families having fled violence and instability,” the presidents’ letter said, adding that these students have met the DACA criteria.

Signers of the letter represent large schools, like Villanova, which is outside Philadelphia, DePaul University in Chicago and The Catholic University of America in Washington, and small schools, like Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and dozens of colleges in between. They include leaders who have been vocal in their support of students with DACA status, such as Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, and Jesuit Father Kevin Wildes, president of Loyola University New Orleans. 

Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, also signed the statement.

Many of the signers are presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities who signed a similar Nov. 30 statement issued by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities that reiterated support for students who are in the United States without legal documents.

That statement, signed by 28 leaders, said: “We feel spiritually and morally compelled to raise a collective voice confirming our values and commitments as Americans and educators.”

The leaders pledged to continue working “to protect to the fullest extent of the law undocumented students on our campuses” and to promote retention of students with DACA status.

Several of the signers of both statements also signed a Nov. 21 letter with more than 400 college and university presidents from public and private institutions across the U.S. offering to meet with U.S. leaders on the issue of immigrant students and urging business, civic, religious and nonprofit sectors to join them in supporting DACA and undocumented immigrant students.

The letter from Catholic college and university presidents stressed that their schools “share a long history of educating students from a diverse array of socioeconomic, geographical and ethnic backgrounds, often welcoming those on society’s margins, especially immigrants and underprivileged populations.”

It also cited what Pope Francis said last year at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia when he welcomed many recent immigrants to the United States, pointing out that many of them came to the United States “at great personal cost, in the hope of building a new life.”

“Do not be discouraged by whatever hardships you face,” the pope told them. “I ask you not to forget that, like those who came here before you, you bring many gifts to this nation.”

John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, who joined the statement with Jesuit college leaders, also sent a similar-themed message to members of the school community Nov. 29.

In the letter, he noted that he has been meeting with students, faculty and staff members from the university and “many of them have shared with me that they feel vulnerable and unsure about their futures or the futures of close friends and family.”

DeGioia stressed that Georgetown’s school community would continue to support the DACA program and “protect our undocumented students to the fullest extent of the law.”

“I wish to encourage each of us to recommit ourselves to supporting one another — to working together to do all that we can to ensure that our community is a place of deep care for each person, especially those who feel most vulnerable,” he wrote.

 

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Cardinal DiNardo, new USCCB president, says bishops ‘intend to be attentive’

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — The newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he is not planning on “creating a new vision” but hopes to continue the bishops’ priorities particularly focusing on dialogue and listening to Catholics.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston addresses a news conference Nov. 15 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The cardinal was elected USCCB president that morning. Seated to his left is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who was elected USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston addresses a news conference Nov. 15 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The cardinal was elected USCCB president that morning. Seated to his left is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who was elected USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The bishops “intend to be attentive,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston hours after his Nov. 15 election to a three-year term that begins at the close of the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.

For the past three years, he has served as USCCB vice president, a role that typically leads to election as president. He succeeds Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.

The cardinal said he plans to focus on the needs and concerns of Catholics, particularly members of the immigrant community who fear deportation with the recent election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. But he also said he remained hopeful about working with the new administration, saying its newness “offers options and possibilities.”

“We hope for a whole lot. This is brand new,” he told Catholic News Service.

The cardinal said he would listen to the voices of the immigrants and would work to ensure government leaders treat them with dignity, adding that the church in the U.S. has always stood with immigrants.

“We make our voices heard,” he said, “not by screaming in the streets but rather our voices are heard in the streets by our care and concern and our clarity, what we think is essential.”

Cardinal DiNardo, 67, said the key part of his role remains as a church leader, which is “where we show our shepherd’s heart.”

His Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston includes 1.3 million Catholics, 440 priests in 146 parishes and 60 schools spread over 8,880 square miles.

The cardinal, who was born in Steubenville, Ohio, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1977 and named a bishop 20 years later. He is a former bishop of Sioux City, Iowa. He has been archbishop of Galveston-Houston since 2006. He was named a cardinal in 2007 and participated in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

This summer, after the shooting of police officers in Dallas in response to shootings by police officers, Cardinal DiNardo said: “These tragedies call for our prayer for healing and for change. It seems as though at times our hearts are stony and paralyzed. We need God’s spirit of mercy to melt them and reopen our hearts to the beauty of human life and to rebuilding human communities.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter @carolmaczim.

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