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Bishop: ‘Fundamental defects’ persist in Senate’s version of health bill

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 Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act contains “many of the fundamental defects” that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act “and even further compounds them,” said the bishop who heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The Senate released its health care reform bill in “discussion draft” form June 22.”As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, said in a statement released late June 22. “It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.” Read more »

High court: State erred in denying poor defendant independent evaluation

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the state of Alabama erred in denying an indigent defendant now on death row a separate psychiatric evaluation that would assist in his own defense.

The ruling, issued June 19, overturned the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in 2015 in the case of James McWilliams, and returned it to that court for further review. Read more »

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Washington Letter: Forum looks at two decades of religious freedom fight in world

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — It has been nearly 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act became law. Organizers of a forum at Georgetown University thought it a good time to see how the religious freedom landscape worldwide has changed since 1998.

People display signs showing their support for religious freedom during a 2012 rally in downtown Minneapolis. It has been 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act was passed by Congress and became law. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

People display signs showing their support for religious freedom during a 2012 rally in downtown Minneapolis. It has been 20 years since the International Religious Freedom Act was passed by Congress and became law. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton that year, the U.S. law created a multifacted system for promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, monitoring religious persecution in foreign countries and advocating on behalf of individuals persecuted in other countries for their religion.

At the forum, while the view wasn’t always encouraging, speakers professed hope for the future, along with a side dish of skepticism.

Andrew Bennett said those concerned about the issue should ask whether they ought to be similarly concerned about protecting religious beliefs of someone in another country as they are about fighting political discrimination against individuals overseas. He had been the first ambassador for religious freedom within Canada’s foreign ministry, from 2013 to 2016 until the Cabinet position created by the Conservative Party was abolished by the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We in Canada are increasingly vague as to what those answers should be,” said Bennett, now a research fellow at the Religious Freedom Research Project of Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, which sponsored the forum.

Canada’s founding story, he noted, is quite different from that of the United States, whose first refugees were those who fled England because of religious persecution, Bennett said at the forum, “Best Practices in International Religious Freedom Policy.”

Bennett cited “ignorance of religious faith and tradition” for liberal Western democracies being diplomatically tone-deaf on the matter. A “narrowing of our understanding of human rights” that may leave religious freedom out of the picture can result, he said. “We should not be equating freedom of expression with freedom of religion,” Bennett added.

Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a Cuban-American who is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, created as a result of the 1998 law, said her experience working in the Reagan-era State Department led her to believe that “giving a religious freedom speech was a career-killer and still is.”

Religious freedom does not always get the high priority it deserves, according to Arriaga, who noted that women’s rights trump religious freedom among key decision-makers.

In other cases, countries enforce restrictions based on religion. In Saudi Arabia, she said, “women cannot get surgery unless they have permission from a (male) guardian,” which Arriaga held as an interpretation of religious codes in the predominantly Muslim nation. Americans looking to make trade deals in that country, she added, may look askance at its “open for business” sign because of these and similar religion-based restrictions.

Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Research Project and forum moderator, noted that nations that give greater religious freedom to its people are both more stable and more attractive trading partners.

Arriaga outlined several suggestions for improving U.S. analysis of religious freedom issues in other nations. One was to develop an “international balancing test” for the issues involve to avoid the dangers of missteps on religious freedom, calling for more comprehensive education for diplomats and others receiving foreign postings.

“We should be working with all the (United Nations’) special rapporteurs who work in the area” to get them attuned to religious freedom issues, Arriaga said. The United Nations’ own religious freedom specialist has no staff save for a part-time secretary, she added; the State Department, by comparison, now has about 50 people on staff working on religious freedom issues.

“We should all be principled” in international dealings, Arriaga said, such as taking Iran to task for its treatment of Baha’is living there despite the lifting of U.N. sanctions against Iran in 2015. And “raise religious freedom to the seventh floor always,” where the secretary of state’s office is in the State Department building in Washington, she added.

Rabbi David Saperstein, now a senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Research Project after his term ended earlier this year as U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, another outgrowth of the 1998 law, said he had then-Secretary of State John Kerry’s ear on religious freedom issues during his tenure.

He said one reason he accepted the appointment was because he was promised “structural access” to Kerry, adding Kerry would get back to him within 30 minutes on notes he had written.

Kerry set up the office on global religious freedom and that it had worked well. But “it’s not enough to talk theoretically about the role of religious freedom in statecraft,” Rabbi Saperstein said. “These issues really had to be woven in at the macro level.”

No replacement for Rabbi Saperstein has been nominated yet, but rumors were circulating aloud during the forum, and Arriaga even gave the initials of who she believed would be President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Rabbi Saperstein cautioned that diplomats have to avoid being seen as “Western imperialists” by extremists in any one country by the mere giving of assent to an event or initiative in that country that promises to expand religious freedom within that country which would win approval by its moderates. Even so, he said, “I was encouraged by how many people wanted our support, our stamp of approval.”

He added, “There are times when the tools that we have really make a difference,” referring to sanctions or the threat to apply them. “I don’t think we use the tools nearly as well as we can.”

“We feel that the problem is too large and it’s impossible to do well. That’s not true,” Arriaga said. “It is our right to live according to our deeply heal convictions. It’s our duty to defend those to others.”

 

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Theologians ask if Luther split needed to be a ‘church-dividing’ event

June 1st, 2017 Posted in Uncategorized

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Did the split between Martin Luther and the Catholic Church in 1521 have to be what theologians call a “church-dividing” event?

That is the question some theologians and historians are asking in 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Read more »

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After furor over ‘litmus test’ remarks, DNC chair to meet with Democrats for Life leader

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — After a furor erupted over his statement that the Democratic Party should support only those candidates who support legal abortion, Democratic National Committee chairman Thomas Perez will meet with the head of Democrats for Life of America, Kristen Day.

Democratic National Committee chairman Thomas Perez is seen outside the White House in Washington May 10. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Democratic National Committee chairman Thomas Perez is seen outside the White House in Washington May 10. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Day, in a May 16 interview with Catholic News Service, said she had sought the meeting with Perez before he issued his statement prior to Democrat Heath Mello’s loss May 9 in the mayor’s race in Omaha, Nebraska.

“We’re still working on the date,” said Day, who added she had been able to meet with previous DNC chairs Terry McAuliffe and Howard Dean, but not Perez’s predecessor, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Perez was criticized in pro-life circles when he said, “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable,” adding, “We must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who had given the invocation at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2012, called Perez’s remarks “disturbing.” The cardinal, who is chairman of U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged members of the Democratic Party to “challenge their leadership to recant this intolerant position.”

Many point to the flap as having contributed to the loss for Mello, a pro-life Democrat. NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood had lashed out against Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and deputy DNC chair Keith Ellison, for saying they would stump for Mello in Omaha, calling it “politically stupid.”

Day disputes that assertion. Demanding adherence to a right to abortion “got us to where we are today,” she said, with 38 of the 50 states having Republican electoral majorities, 27 of them under full GOP control, compared to just five states where Democrats have full control. “The numbers kind of speak for themselves,” she said. “And when we push pro-life Democrats out of the party, this is what happens.”

At the federal level, “this abortion litmus test has hurt us dramatically. If you look at 30 years ago in the United States House, we had 135 pro-life Democrats and a 292-seat majority. Today, we have 30. We can’t get the majority we want without electing pro-life Democrats. The number of pro-choice Democrats has stayed at about 185, 180. If we want to follow NARAL and Planned Parenthood’s strategy, we’re going to stay there” in the minority, Day said.

She added Mello didn’t help his own cause when he said he was “personally pro-life” after “NARAL came into the district and badgered him.” “It’s not a winning position. You can’t do that with any issue,” Day said. “It just sounds ridiculous. If you say, ‘I believe climate change is real but I’m not going to vote that way,’ or ‘I believe guns are harming society but I’m not going to vote for any gun control legislation,’ nobody would vote for you.”

The definition of “pro-life” is “different in different parts of the country,” Day told CNS. “In some districts, like in Michigan where I’m from, if you run in Detroit, running as pro-life won’t get you very far but if you run as a pro-life Democrat in the Upper Peninsula, you have a pretty good chance of winning, or in Bay City. The party needs people who match the district rather than finding people with California values and running them instead.”

Despite the recent controversy, or maybe because of it, “I expect it be a really good meeting,” Day said. “Actually with Dean, there were 18 of us. It was a pretty good dialogue.”

 

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Bishops’ committee chairman: Fix flaws in American Health Care Act

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development.

“It is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded,” Bishop Dewane said in a May 4 statement. “The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act.”

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has "major defects," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

He added, “When the Senate takes up the AHCA, it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people, including immigrants, as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system.”

One of 20 Republicans to vote against the bill was Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

“I voted no on the AHCA largely because it cuts Medicaid funding by $839 billion; undercuts essential health benefits such as maternity care, newborn care, hospitalization and pediatric services; includes ‘per capita caps’ and weakens coverage for pre-existing health conditions — all of which will hurt disabled persons, especially and including children and adults with autism, the elderly and the working poor,” Smith said in a May 4 statement.

“Over the past several years, we have seen the flaws of Obamacare, including increased premiums and deductibles, diminishing health care options and patients losing plans they were assured they could keep. These very real problems underscore the need for meaningful bipartisan reform,” Smith added.

Those opposing the bill cited reductions in coverage and cost increases. Those favoring the bill cited its pro-life provisions.

“The vote falls far short of protecting the millions of Americans who have insurance or gained it under the Affordable Care Act,” said a May 4 statement from Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “It also fails to provide access to affordable health care for the millions who still live without coverage.”

“The role of health care should implicitly be to provide the highest quality care for the largest number of people, in the interest of maintaining dignity and quality of life, as our faith calls us to do. It is immoral to restrict access to care for anyone, but especially for the most vulnerable, including those who need consistent treatment and our aging population,” said a May 5 statement by Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

“As arguably the most powerful, developed country in the world, it is inexcusable that our health care system is failing so many. We can and must do better,” Carolan said.

“The passage of the American Health Care Act in the House is a dangerous and irresponsible step that threatens access to health care for at least 24 million Americans. It violates Christian and Catholic faith teaching and the values of our nation,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, in a May 4 statement.

“This was not the faithful way forward,” she added. “We are hurting our people and rewarding the rich through tax breaks disguised as a health care reform bill. This is literal ‘blood money.’ The blood of those who are denied coverage will be on the hands of those who voted for this bill.”

“Today’s House vote marks the beginning of the end of the shell game Planned Parenthood plays with public money. That the American Health Care Act limits Medicaid funds to entities that don’t kill people is entirely appropriate, not to mention a step that’s long overdue,” said a May 4 statement by Father Frank Pavone, national president of Priests for Life.

“Sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to an organization that dismembers 320,000 unborn babies a year adds up to a travesty of justice,” he added. “The Senate should approve the defunding legislation as soon as possible and send it to the president’s desk. The scam of using public money to prop up abortion businesses needs to be terminated.”

“Abortion is not health care, and in light of that, this bill provides Hyde (Amendment)-like protections and redirects funding away from our America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, to community health centers that offer comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by 20 to 1,” said a May 4 statement by Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.

“We urge our U.S. senators to follow the House’s lead and ensure that pro-life protections and the redirection of Planned Parenthood funding remain, because without it, this bill will fail,” Mancini said.

“National Right to Life praises the Republican leadership for putting this bill together and making sure the most vulnerable members of our society are protected,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a May 4 statement. “Over 2 million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. This new health care bill ensures that we are one step closer to getting the federal government entirely out of the business of subsidizing abortion.”

“This is a hugely important step, but it is just the first step to improving health care for all Americans, especially the vulnerable,” said a May 4 statement by Louis Brown, director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, based in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan.

“The American Health Care Act begins the process of increasing meaningful medical access for individuals and families across the country by returning focus to the doctor-patient relationship,” Brown said.

“Protecting Medicaid is a priority for the faith community. The ‘fixes’ made to the AHCA do nothing to change the fact that millions of low-income Americans will lose their health coverage,” said a May 4 statement by the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, the anti-hunger lobby. “Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty. We strongly urge the Senate to reject this bill.”

“Since failing to pass the original AHCA, House leadership has made the legislation worse by providing even fewer protections for family farmers and rural Americans,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, in a May 4 statement. “NFU’s priority for any bill is that it offers coverage for more people rather than fewer. We look forward to working with members of the Senate to defeat this legislation that would fail millions of people, especially family farmers and rural Americans.”

“This isn’t a health care bill; it’s a half-a-billion-dollar tax cut for corporations, insurance executives, and the wealthiest Americans,” said Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton in a May 4 statement. “At least 24 million people will lose their health care and Americans age 50 and older will see their costs skyrocket under the ‘age tax’ the bill institutes, all to provide a big tax break for corporations and the wealthy.”

“We support efforts to strengthen and stabilize our nation’s health care system and extend insurance coverage and protections,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. “However, the American Health Care Act is not the answer. Accordingly, we call on the Senate to reject the bill due to its projected adverse impact on the well-being of our nation, particularly on individuals with mental health, behavioral and substance use disorders.”

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House narrowly OKs Affordable Care Act repeal-replace bill

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by a four-vote margin May 4. The final vote was 217-213.

Assuming that all Democrats voted against the bill, which they did, the Republicans needed to avoid having 22 of its own House members defect to the “no” camp. In the finally tally, 20 Republicans voted against the measure.

President Donald Trump gathers with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans at the White House in Washington May 4 after the House of Representatives approved a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican health care bill. (CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

President Donald Trump gathers with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans at the White House in Washington May 4 after the House of Representatives approved a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican health care bill. (CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

This latest GOP repeal-and-replace bill was rushed through with such speed that the Congressional Budget Office did not have time to prepare an analysis of it before the vote.

The previous American Health Care Act was dealt a big blow after the CBO said that 24 million people would lose health insurance over the next decade had the bill become law. That version of the bill never came to a vote as different factions among House Republicans voiced their opposition.

The new version was nearly scuttled when key Republican lawmakers said they would vote against it because it would have allowed insurance companies to charge more to Americans with pre-existing conditions, which had been banned under the Affordable Care Act. Some of them announced they would support the bill after an added $8 billion over the next five years was added to an original allocation of $130 billion it to help alleviate those issues.

Even with the bill’s passage in the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Planned Parenthood would be blocked from receiving federal funding for one year under the new bill.

Catholic leaders were wary of the repeal-and-replace efforts.

Sister Carole Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said in an April 26 statement that changes to the bill, “intended to make it more palatable to those who did not support it initially, are even more disastrous for people who have just gotten health care.”

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” said a March 17 letter to members of Congress by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee Domestic Justice and Social Development. “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.”

At that time, Bishop Dewane lauded the “critical life protections” in the original bill,

In her own letter, sent March 8 to members of Congress, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said that despite the “commendable efforts” to protect the unborn and give states greater flexibility, the prospect of 70 million people on Medicaid getting reductions in health care “undermines access to life-saving coverage.”

One provision of the bill would let the federal government stop providing enhanced funding for new Medicaid enrollees after 2019, which would likely cause most of the 31 states and Washington that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to drop it, according to a May 3 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. An estimated 11 million people receive Medicaid under the ACA. The bill also allows states to impose a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.

The legislation also would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those in their 50s and early 60s, compared to younger consumers. Taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others under the ACA would be eliminated under the new bill, as would the individual mandate imposed by the ACA with its attendant penalties for noncompliance. The bill also would replace federal subsidies tied to personal income and insurance premiums and replace it with refundable tax credits based mainly on age to purchase health insurance.

One popular part of the ACA that was retained in the new bill was a requirement that children be carried on their parents’ family policies to age 26.

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45 people saved from tornado’s fury in hallway of Texas church

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Catholic News Service

In the insurance world, extreme weather events such as tornadoes are often referred to as “acts of God.”

But in the small Texas town of Emory, about 50 miles northwest of Tyler and 70 miles east of Dallas, some 45 people are considering it an act of God that they survived a twister that took out all of their church except for the hallway in which they were huddled.

St. John the Evangelist church in Emory, Texas, is seen April 30 after a tornado hit the area a day earlier. (CNS/Diocese of Tyler)

The remains of St. John the Evangelist church in Emory, Texas,  on April 30 after a tornado hit the area a day earlier. (CNS/Diocese of Tyler)

The providential event took place the evening of April 29, as severe storms tore through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on a northeasterly path that killed at least 13 people in three states.

The youth ministry at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Emory was hosting a dinner honoring the parish’s graduating high school seniors in conjunction with the parish’s Knights of Columbus council and its ladies’ guild.

“I got a phone call from Maggie (Conder), the volunteer in the office,” youth minister Monica Hughes told Catholic News Service May 1. “I almost didn’t answer, because I didn’t want to interrupt the speaker.” But Hughes knew Conder was monitoring the paths of storms in Texas, and “she wouldn’t have interrupted unless it was important,” Hughes said.

It was: “The tornado that hit Canton was heading straight for us,” she recalled.

Hughes said she and her husband both tried to pull up weather radar on their cellphones without luck. Then Hughes made the decision to tell teens and adults to move to the church hallway. The decision, she said, was based on “this instinct when you learn when you’re a child; you go to the hallway and you cover your head.”

There was some grumbling by the teens but everyone complied, Hughes remembers. “It’s the innermost place of the building,” she said of the hallway. “Everything else had exterior walls. On my way, I went around and I locked all the exterior doors to the building, just one little extra step to keep the wind from ripping them open.”

Thirty seconds after Hughes got into the hallway after completing her rounds, “my husband said, ‘It’s hitting.’ He saw the roof of the sanctuary rip off — one piece. We saw the doors fly open into the sanctuary space. My husband grabbed the door and he held on with everything (he had) to the other,” Hughes said. “What I saw was people covering each other, comforting each other — parents covering small children, teenagers huddling together. We began to pray.”

The parish’s deacon, Marcelino Espinosa, was at one end of the hallway as he began a rosary; Hughes was at the other end beginning the Divine Mercy chaplet.

“We didn’t have this horrible fear, we felt protected,” she told CNS. “The whole time that we were in there and we were holding those doors, I felt that Jesus was over us … whispering to me, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got you.’”

She added, “I described it … as a Passover. The tornado came, and it his us with full force and it was over.”

After a quick assessment of the damage, the group decided to stay put as another storm was bearing down on them. Firefighters coming after the second storm advised them to evacuate as the combination of a downed power line and a gas leak threatened catastrophe, Hughes said.

Once outside, they saw the church was destroyed, except for the hallway. The pastor’s house nearby was spared, save for a damaged backyard fence. One irony in the storm: Hughes’ 22-year-old daughter, who was at the dinner as well, had been evacuated in March from Peru where flooding and landslides wiped out destroyed entire communities. “And now we had to pluck her out of a tornado,” Hughes said.

“It’s a miracle,” declared the pastor, Father Victor Hernandez. “People could experience the hands of God protecting them.”

He was not at the dinner, having been summoned to celebrate Mass in Pittsburgh, Texas, about 75 minutes from Emory. On his drive back, “I heard the sirens go off and I wanted to be with my community,” he said.

Parishioners celebrated Mass as usual April 30, but outside on parish property. “We’re going to come out of this stronger than ever,” Father Hernandez said. “We are going to have a new building and church, which was not in our plans. We are going to move bigger and faster.”

 

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Reaction to revised four-month refugee ban ranges from concern to opposition

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Within hours of President Donald Trump’s new executive order March 6 banning arrivals from six majority-Muslim nations, Catholic and other religious groups joined secular leaders in questioning the wisdom of such a move, with others vowing to oppose it outright.

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban March 6 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The executive order temporarily bans refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, and now excludes Iraq. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, said in a statement, “As the world’s most blessed nation, we should be doing more to provide assistance overseas and resettle the most vulnerable, not less. It is wrong, during this time of great need, to cut humanitarian assistance and reduce resettlement.”

O’Keefe added, “Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism that we seek to protect ourselves from. By welcoming them, we show the world that we are an open, tolerant nation which seeks to protect the vulnerable. That has always been America’s greatest strength.”

“At the heart of the work of Catholic Charities is the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and care for the most vulnerable among us,” said Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, in a statement.

“Today’s executive order not only hinders that work, but also effectively abandons, for four months, the thousands of endangered refugees fleeing violence, starvation and persecution,” she added. “It is deeply disturbing to know that the thousands of women, children and other persecuted individuals around the world will face a closed door rather than a helping hand from the United States.”

The revised order replaces Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which has been blocked in the courts. The new order imposes a 90-day ban on issuing visas to people from six predominantly Muslim nations; Iraq is no longer on the list. The countries are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

It suspends the U.S. refugee program for all countries for 120 days; Syrian refugees are now not banned indefinitely. The order limits the total number of refugees to be admitted this fiscal year to 50,000, instead of 110,000, as the Obama administration directed.

The order also excludes lawful permanent residents, green card holders, from any travel ban. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Trump’s new order still puts vulnerable populations at risk.

“We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences” of the order, he said in a statement. “While we note the administration’s efforts to modify the executive order in light of various legal concerns, the revised order still leaves many innocent lives at risk.”

He said the Catholic bishops welcomed Iraq being removed from the list of countries, but remain disappointed the order still temporarily shuts down the refugee admissions program, reduces by more than 60 percent the number of refugees who can enter the country and still bars nationals from six countries.

The bishops “have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal,” Bishop Vasquez said. “However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.”

“A ban regarding human beings, because they are from a certain country or practice a particular religion is clearly xenophobic, nationalistic and racist,” said a statement by Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who is executive director of Pax Christi USA.

“Now is the time to honor the commitment for justice expressed in all faith communities and to proclaim this commitment with actions that uphold the rights of all people,” she added.

Scott Wright, director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, said that Columbans “have always welcomed migrants and refugees, we do so every day at the U.S.-Mexico border.”

“We must always remember that we are a nation of immigrants and refugees and we are called to stand in solidarity with them,” he said.

People of faith “are called to both address the root causes of migration and seek policies of welcome toward our migrant sisters and brothers,” Wright continued. “We stand against any policies that seek to build a wall, inhumanely detain and deport women and families, or limit migration based solely on a person’s country of origin or religion.”

Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Congregation of Major Superiors of Men, called it “completely unjust to punish an entire country due to the suspicion of a potential crime by an individual.”

“We should be asking about the root causes of violent acts, such as U.S. militarization of conflicts, and giving our attention to addressing those concrete situations,” he said in a statement.

“Women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany and serve immigrant and refugee communities across this country for a very long time,” said a statement by Holy Cross Sister Joan Marie Steadman, executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “Catholic sisters remain committed to welcoming those who come to this country after passing through the U.S. government’s already rigorous screening processes.”

Larry Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, aimed his statement directly at Trump.

“Mr. President, why close our borders to those fleeing real atrocities, fleeing the ravages of war and the search for food, clean water and safety?” Couch asked. “This is not what America stands for and not who we are called to be. America is not a country that retreats and Americans choose to not live in fear of the ‘what if.’ Mr. President, welcome the refugee and welcome the face of God.”

“The ban goes against everything that we stand for as Franciscan Catholic Christians, and against what Jesus and Francis of Assisi taught and lived,” said a statement from Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network. “St. Bonaventure tells us that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference, first in what we become by our choices and second what the world becomes by our choices.”

A statement from the organization’s associate director, Franciscan Sister Marie Lucey, tied the situation of refugees and the need to welcome them into the U.S. to Lent.

“For Christians, Lent is a season of repentance for personal and social sin. The Franciscan Action Network will stand in prayer and solidarity with Muslim sisters and brothers, as well as all refugees and immigrants, during the forty days of Lent,” she said.

“While opposing bans and harmful executive orders, we also pray for a change of hearts and minds of this administration and legislators who support anti-refugee and anti-immigrant measures,” Sister Lucey added. “We will also continue to speak out against this injustice which is as cruel and unusual as it is astounding and irreconcilable.”

Sara Benitez, Latino program director for the interfaith group Faith in Public Life, said that once again Trump “is compromising our integrity as a nation.”

“The refugee ban introduced today is rooted in the same immoral and divisive policy we saw a few weeks ago, and we will not stand for it,” she said in a statement.

“We must continue the work on the ground to stand up for our immigrant and refugee neighbors who are under threat,” added Benitez, whose organization amassed dozens of pastors for a midafternoon protest March 6 in front of the White House.

Faith in Public Life also has mounted a “Build Bridges, Not Walls” campaign to list ways people can support refugees and other immigrants.

“The new order doubles down on demonizing refugees — implying that America should fear those who have been persecuted, tortured, threatened and victimized by terrorists. America is diminished when we abandon our values and close our doors,” said a statement by said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, or LIRS.

“Had the new executive order been in place last month, it would have likely prevented LIRS from reuniting Mushkaad Abdi, a 4-year-old Somali refugee who was alone in Kampala, Uganda, with her mother and sisters in Minneapolis,” Hartke added. “To close our nation’s doors on those who are simply seeking safety and protection is shameful and misguided.”

“While the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear. This doesn’t just harm the families caught in the chaos of President Trump’s draconian policies, it’s diametrically opposed to our values, and makes us less safe,” said a statement from Eric Schneiderman, New York state’s attorney general.

Schneiderman took the White House to court after Trump’s first executive order; other court challenges around the country followed.

“My office is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate, again, in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy,” Schneiderman said.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. called the new order “nearly as egregious” the earlier version. “While this order no longer includes an indefinite bar on refugees from Syria and has dropped the visa ban for Iraqis, it still fails to honor American ideals and protect people whose lives are at risk,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of CLINIC.

Without commenting on the executive order itself, Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said: “There’s a dire need for President Trump to issue a separate executive order — one specifically aimed to help ISIS (Islamic State) genocide survivors in Iraq and Syria. … Even if ISIS is routed from Mosul (Iraq), the Christian community is now so shattered and vulnerable, without President Trump’s prompt leadership, the entire Iraqi Christian presence could soon be wiped out.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Trump signs new order on refugees, excludes Iraq from ban

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s new executive order temporarily banning refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, signed March 6, now excludes Iraq from the ban.

Iraq had been one of seven nations in the original order, issued Jan. 27 but the implementation of which was blocked in the courts. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

A displaced Iraqi girl holds a lamb in a safe area in Mosul Feb. 28. President Trump signed a new order March 6 that eliminates the previous U.S. temporary ban on admitting refugees from Iraq. CNS photo//Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

A displaced Iraqi girl holds a lamb in a safe area in Mosul Feb. 28. President Trump signed a new order March 6 that eliminates the previous U.S. temporary ban on admitting refugees from Iraq. CNS photo//Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

Citizens of four of the countries still part of the ban — Iran, Libya, Somalia and Syria — will be subject to a 90-day suspension of visa processing. This information was given to Congress the week prior to the new executive order. The other two countries that remain part of the ban are Sudan and Yemen.

Lawful permanent residents, green card holders, are excluded from any travel ban.

While the revised executive order is intended to survive judicial scrutiny, those opposed to it have declared plans to mobilize their constituencies to block it. Church World Service and the National Council of Churches announced March 2, that they will unveil a new grass-roots ecumenical initiative in support of refugees.

Catholic immigration advocates were on tenterhooks waiting for the revised executive order, the issuance of which had been long promised but slow in coming.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid agency, told Catholic News Service that he had seen communications from “senior White House officials” that would retain the ban, but indicated the indefinite ban on Syrians would be lifted.

Religious preferences found in the would be original order would be erased, but green-card holders would be exempt from the ban. O’Keefe said. The halt of refugee admissions to “determine additional security vetting procedures” would stay in place, he added, and the number of refugee admissions would be cut for the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, from 110,000 to 50,000; an estimated 35,000 have already been admitted since October, according to O’Keefe.

“Some will argue that simply sectioning out the seven Muslim-majority countries is a form of religious discrimination,” O’Keefe said. “What is clear here is that it’s within the prerogative of the president to lower the threshold of refugee admissions.”

One effect of the order would be to further strain the refugee-processing system at its biggest point. “The bulk of the system and the biggest part of it are those countries like Lebanon, Turkey, which are taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees,” O’Keefe said. “When we don’t do our part, it’s tough for us to tell other countries to make the sacrifices we need to play their part. The risk of the system collapsing and of governments that are already strained not being willing to keep their doors open is very serious, and we’re very worried about that.”

In Syria, he added, “some people have been (refugees there) for five, six years. They’ve had the hope of resettlement in the United States as one of the things that keeps them going.”

Kim Pozniak, CRS’ communications director, spent a week in mid-February in Amman, Jordan, where untold thousands of refugees are living, two and three families at a time, in small apartments in the city.

“I’ve met with people that are worse off than they were three years ago (when she last visited), simply because they’ve started losing hope,” Pozniak said. “One woman, for example, said they’re so bad off they’re considering moving back to Syria.” Pozniak said the woman’s sister, who still lives in Syria, told her “Look, even if it’s so bad that you have to eat dirt, don’t come back here.”

“When I visited three years ago hope of (things being) better in Jordan, being resettled somewhere, or even going back to Syria,” Pozniak said. Now, none of those options seem to be on the table.

Even without a ban, the uncertainty can eat away at people, Pozniak said. “I talked with one 74-year-old woman who together with her son has been in the resettlement process in the United States. They had the interview with UN (High Commissioner for Refugees), the interview with the Embassy, had the iris scan taken, now they have no idea when they’ll be resettled. They’re never given an answer as to when, where, how, and that’s the really frustrating part, being in limbo and not knowing where you’re going to be next.”

Even though Jordan prohibits refugees from taking jobs, desperate people “find a way somehow” to provide for their family, Pozniak said. CRS is offering modest help to some refugees. “We support some cash-for-work projects through Caritas Jordan, teaching refugees and Iraqis some new skills they can use and make a little bit of money,” she added. “For example, we have people in workshops who create mosaics and create packaging, and create handicrafts.”

Pozniak said refugees were incredulous when she told them Americans are afraid of refugees, especially those from Syria. “They had this look on their faces, uncomprehending. ‘What are they afraid of? We’re fleeing the violence. We want the same thing, peace.’ If people could listen to their stories, I think the reactions would be a lot different.”

A Rasmussen Reports telephone poll of 1,000 American adults released Feb. 24 said 54 percent of all voters believe increasing the number of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries included in the Jan. 27 executive order poses an increased national security risk to the United States. This is down from September, when 62 percent said President Barack Obama’s proposal to increase the number of Middle Eastern and North African refugees allowed into the United States posed an increased national security risk. The poll was conducted Feb. 20-21.

A Pew Research Center poll released Feb. 27 found Catholics opposing the ban, 62 percent-36 percent. White Catholics were very narrowly in favor, 50 percent-49 percent, while Hispanic and other minority Catholics opposed the ban 81 percent-14 percent.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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