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Abortion, assisted suicide are pro-life focus, says cardinal

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Catholic News Service

 

BALTIMORE — Assisted suicide and abortion remain the focus of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, according to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the committee chairman.

One of those issues was being taken up by the American Medical Association House of Delegates as the U.S. bishops held their fall general assembly in Baltimore Nov. 13-14. Read more »

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Catholic cemeteries often provide for the poor and forgotten

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Catholic News Service

 

It is not as if anyone has organized a parade or a public relations campaign to say so, but Catholic cemeteries around the country have, do and will bury the indigent and those whose bodies have gone unclaimed.

“It’s a way to help those in need. A program to help the poor,” said Stephen Bittner of the Cincinnati Catholic Cemetery Society and president of the Catholic Cemetery Conference, the Illinois-based nationwide association for diocesan Catholic cemetery organizations. Read more »

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Rev. King’s nonviolent philosophy needs to be lived today, speakers say

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s support of nonviolence to bring about social change applies as much to today’s society as it did when Rev. King put his philosophy to paper 60 years ago, said speakers at an Oct. 2 news conference at the memorial dedicated to the civil rights figure in Washington.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, is seen near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington Oct. 2. He and other faith leaders gathered near the monument to commemorate Rev. King’s 1957 essay about “Nonviolence and Racial Justice.” (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

That the news conference was scheduled in advance of, and held the day after, the Las Vegas shooting spree that killed 58 people and injured more than 500 only underscored the importance of Rev. King’s message, according to the speakers.

“It’s hard to find something in times like these that doesn’t sound like clichés,” said Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism. “As a society, we need to stop making excuses and commit to nonviolence.”

He added, “Pope Francis speaks of the earth as our common home. So it is. And so it is with our society. … It is so easy to speak of human dignity,” said, “but do we believe it selectively — applying it to some people but not to others?”

Bishop Murry, who is African-American, acknowledged he has been the target of racism and segregation. One of the more frustrating episodes for him, he told Catholic News Service, was when a white airline passenger called for a flight attendant because he did not want to sit next to Bishop Murry.

Rev. King’s essay, “Nonviolence and Racial Justice,” appeared in the Feb. 6, 1957, issue of the Christian Century, a theological journal. It laid out his principles for acting nonviolently to seek change.

In his essay, Rev. King wrote: “How is the struggle against the forces of injustice to be waged? There are two possible answers. One is resort to the all too prevalent method of physical violence and corroding hatred. The danger of this method is its futility. Violence solves no social problems; it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Through the vistas of time a voice still cries to every potential Peter, ‘Put up your sword!’ The shores of history are white with the bleached bones of nations and communities that failed to follow this command.”

One of the points Rev. King made about nonviolent resistance as an alternative is that it “does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

“The nonviolent resister,” he said, “must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”

“Things looked bleak, and the violence was real, but Rev. King held that high ground. And people rallied to him,” said Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, which sponsored the news conference. “He understood that there were two non-negotiable principles in our democracy: first, that all are created equal and are entitled to the equal protection of our nation’s laws; second, that in our democracy, there can be no place for political violence.”

The United States has many challenges, including renewed racism by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, he said, noting that from its founding in 1882, the Knights as an organization “has long assisted the cause of racial equality.”

Anderson added, “Today, as then, we stand united in the principle that all are created equal, and we reiterate the words of Pope Francis last month calling for ‘the rejection of all violence in political life.’ We believe the way of nonviolence is as relevant today as ever.”

“Dr. King is still the beacon of the way forward,” said Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, in remarks delivered by Bishop Edwin C. Bass, president of the denomination’s Urban Initiatives. Bishop Blake added that 2018, the 50th anniversary of Rev. King’s assassination, should be seen as “the year of Martin Luther King Jr.,” with programs and conferences to renew the commitment to nonviolence.

The Rev. Eugene Rivers, founder and director of the Boston-based W.J. Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, called this moment “a biblical opportunity to be salt and light in the midst of this political darkness. … We have to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.”

Rev. Rivers cautioned the change would not be instantaneous: “I’m not optimistic, yes, but I’m full of faith.”

     

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Bishops’ Labor Day statement sees threat of ‘excessive inequality’

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Catholic News Service

“Excessive inequality” threatens cooperation among all people in society “and the social pact it supports,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, in the U.S. bishops’ annual Labor Day statement.

Tires leave the curing presses in Union City, Tenn., in this file photo. (CNS photo/Goodyear via EPA)

In the message, Bishop Dewane cited the words of Pope Francis, who told factory workers in Genoa, Italy, “The entire social pact is built around work. This is the core of the problem. Because when you do not work, or you work badly, you work little or you work too much, it is democracy that enters into crisis, and the entire social pact.”

Dated Sept. 4, the federal Labor Day holiday, the statement was released Aug. 30.

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, pointed to a “twisted understanding of labor and laborers” that fosters deepening inequality.

In Genoa, the pope “acknowledges that ‘merit’ is a beautiful word,” Bishop Dewane said, “but the modern world can often use it ideologically, which makes it ‘distorted and perverted’ when it is used for ethically legitimizing inequality.”

“Wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller percentage collect the new wealth being generated. Economic stresses contribute to a decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households and child poverty,” Bishop Dewane added. “Economic instability also hurts the faith community, as Americans who have recently experienced unemployment are less likely to go to church, even though such communities can be a source of great support in difficult times.”

He said, “When a parent working full time, or even working multiple jobs beyond standard working hours, cannot bring his or her family out of poverty, something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person.”

“Pope Francis has said it is ‘inhuman’ that parents must spend so much time working that they cannot play with their children. Surely many wish for more time, but their working conditions do not allow it.”

He quoted St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.”

“A culture that obsesses less over endless activity and consumption may, over time, become a culture that values rest for the sake of God and family,” Bishop Dewane said.

He added, “Our Lord’s ‘gaze of love’ embraces men and women who work long hours without rest to provide for their loved ones; families who move across towns, states, and nations, facing the highest risks and often suffering great tragedy in order to find better opportunities; workers who endure unsafe working conditions; low pay and health crises; women who suffer wage disparities and exploitation; and those who suffer the effects of racism in any setting, including the workplace.”

Bishop Dewane suggested several approaches to right the imbalance brought by inequality.

“Worker-owned businesses can be a force for strengthening solidarity, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged businesses to consider the active sharing of all in the administration and profits of these enterprises in ways to be properly determined,” he said. “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce.”

Workers’ legal rights to “a just wage in exchange for work, to protection against wage theft, to workplace safety and just compensation for workplace injuries, to health care and other benefits, and to organize and engage in negotiations, should be promoted,” he added.

“Workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights. As an example, CCHD has supported the Don Bosco Workers in Westchester, N.Y., which has launched a successful campaign to combat wage theft. Persons returning from prison also need support to understand their legal rights as they seek new employment. CCHD has helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati and elsewhere as they work with returning citizens to find stable and meaningful jobs.”

Labor unions play an important role in this effort, according to Bishop Dewane, as he quoted from Pope Francis’ remarks in June in an audience with delegates from the Confederation of Trade Unions: “There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”

“Unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice, which ‘regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,’” he said, quoting further from Pope Francis, who added, “The union movement has its great seasons when it is prophecy.” Bishop Dewane added that unions should “resist the temptation of becoming too similar to the institutions and powers that it should instead criticize.”

Bishop Dewane said, “Unions are especially valuable when they speak on behalf of the poor, the immigrant, and the person returning from prison.”

     

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Just-war tests not met in North Korea situation, ethicists say

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The just-war criteria that would justify armed conflict with North Korea over its nuclear testing and threats to launch missiles have not been met, said ethicists interviewed by Catholic News Service.

Those criteria include right intention, last resort and proportionality.

Lightning strikes near Minot Air Force Base in Minot, North Dakota, Aug. 8. The Pentagon has put all U.S. military installations on alert in the wake of North Korea’s threats about using missiles. (CNS photo/U.S. Air Force via Reuters)

“Preventive war in North Korea would be morally unjustifiable,” said Gerard Powers, director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. “That’s what the Trump administration is proposing, the preventive use of military force.

“As it was in Iraq, it is a major departure from international legal norms and ethics, and accepted ethical norms on the use of force,” he added. “Bellicose rantings by North Korea, or anyone else, don’t constitute just cause for the use of force.”

“Preventive was is a war of aggression. The possible use of nuclear weapons takes it to a whole new order of magnitude,” Powers continued. “The U.S. bishops have said for many years that nuclear war is morally impermissible. The Second Vatican Council said the destruction of whole cities, which is what would happen in a nuclear war, was a full condemnation. … That’s what would be inevitable if there were to be a nuclear war with North Korea.

“So a nuclear war would be morally reprehensible. Period.”

“If you look at the criteria of the (just-war) principles, there has to be just cause and the right intention. There has to be proportionality. We’re talking about going to war,” said Necla Tschirgi, a professor of human security and peacebuilding, at the University of San Diego.

“President (Donald) Trump has been threatening North Korea with extermination on the grounds that they have nuclear weapons,” Tschirgi added. “There’s a question of proportionality, a question of last resort, the criteria of probability of success, proper authority and all these things are really to be questioned very closely where we are in relationship with North Korea at this point in time.”

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are four conditions for a war to be just, all of which must be met: The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain; all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; there must be serious prospects of success; and the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders greater than the evil to be eliminated.

Tschirgi said the Vatican is currently considering whether any war can be considered just, given the power of modern weapons of war, such as the nuclear missiles at issue with North Korea.

“North Korea has nuclear capabilities,” Tschirgi told CNS. “Many administrations have been dealing with this problem through different strategies.”

Those strategies have been met with limited success. Western nations have complained that North Korea is unpredictable, but North Korea expert Andrew Yeo, an associate professor of politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said North Korea’s mindset is not that of other nations.

That, according to Yeo, can be traced to the Korean War of the early 1950s. North Korea signed the armistice to end the war, but South Korea refused, lest it be seen as legitimizing the North Korean government. South Korea hopes for a reunified Korea, which is opposite of the intent of the ruling Kim family of North Korea; Kim Jong Un has headed the north since the death five years ago of his father, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea embraces an “us against the world” mentality that makes it look askance at most foreign aid. Even the 1994-98 famine didn’t result in an opening to other nations, but Kim Jong Il allowed his countrymen to grow crops on their land to sell at strictly regulated markets. Since pay for all jobs in North Korea is severely stratified and pretty much frozen in place, lower-income Koreans put in less effort at their state-given jobs and more in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Yeo said.

“Their rationale is to survive and the best way to do that is through nuclear weapons,” he added about the country’s leaders. Engagement doesn’t work “because usually the assumptions in the past are if you engage with North Korea you start with a freeze and you get North Korea to halt its nuclear tests. Over time you might be able to reward North Korea with economic aid or humanitarian assistance.” Until now, though, Yeo said, no one has been able to convince North Korea that “there’s a better way forward than being a nuclear pariah state.”

Still, said Joseph Capizzi, a professor of moral theology at Catholic University, “we’re not at the situation where we’ve exhausted diplomacy, which seems to be gaining some traction. The Chinese are interested in exerting diplomatic force. North Korea seems to be backing away from its mention of Guam” as a target for one of its nuclear missiles.

“The (just-war) criterion we’re thinking through here is last resort,” Capizzi said. “Are we at last resort where the only means is military means? No.”

Since it has been 72 years since the only nuclear weapons were ever deployed in warfare, most people in the world have little idea of the destruction such a bomb would wreak.

“On the other hand,” Capizzi said, “there are people in North Korea, South Korea and parts of Vietnam who lived through the experience of civilian bombing that was associated with those campaigns, that it was similar enough that it would be in their memories and provoke significant anxiety about any contest between the United States and North Korea. 

“That’s a very important factor that looms in the background about the force, or threat of force, either by North Korea or the United States.”

     

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Catholic group asks U.S. government to drop appeal in HHS mandate case

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Benefits Association has filed a motion with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver over a three-year-old appeal by three Cabinet departments in a case involving the “HHS mandate” that says all employers must provide contraceptive coverage.

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 photo/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 photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

The association, which counts 1,000 Catholic institutions and privately run companies among its membership, including dioceses and hospitals, filed suit in 2014, seeking elimination of the mandate. The court granted a preliminary injunction because it believed the government’s action violated RFRA.

The government promptly appealed the injunction and since then has asked for several delays to argue its appeal. Defendants in the case are the Cabinet departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, which issued the mandate in 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act. 

The CBA wants the court to force the departments to meet a July 31 deadline the court set for them to address the association’s arguments.

In a filing made July 21, the CBA, based in Castle Rock, outside Denver, said the federal government does not need to ask for yet another extension in the matter.

The CBA motion cited four reasons the court should dismiss the appeal: “The parties agree that the mandate substantially burdens religious exercise. The parties agree that the mandate does not further a compelling interest. The parties agree that the departments have less restrictive means of advancing their interests. The parties agree that the mandate is illegal under RFRA,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Since the preliminary injunction, “the departments have filed status reports in the CBA appeals on 10 separate occasions” — two in 2015, five in 2016 and three thus far this year – “each asking the court to delay ruling on the merits,” said the association’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

“There is a possibility, given the current climate, we agree and we’re going to drop this thing,” CBA executive director Doug Wilson told Catholic News Service, adding his confidence this would happen was “not terribly high.”

“We’re still fighting this despite what’s come out of our own agencies,” Wilson said July 28, referring to the Trump administration, which is seen as friendlier to the CBA’s stance. “It would be very hard to explain that (legal) position, but it’s certainly possible,” he added. “Unfortunately, despite the fact that the court was very clear that they wanted a specific response to our filing and not another request for a time extension, they could come back and say, ‘We’re close to a new regulation, could we please have one more extension?’”

Wilson cited President Donald Trump’s May 4 Rose Garden address at which he unveiled his “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” executive order, when he told members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, another plaintiff fighting the mandate: “Your long ordeal will soon be over. … We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

Almost a month later, on May 31, an HHS draft rule was leaked to the press. The 125-page draft would exempt religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. It still has not been formally issued, the CBA noted. It remained under final review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to the office’s website.

 

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Backgrounder: Getting a health care bill through Congress fraught with difficulties

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — When the vice president has to cast a vote to break a tie in the Senate on whether to debate U.S. health care policy, let alone revise it, as Mike Pence did July 25, it is obvious that passing legislation to repeal, and/or replace, and/or reform the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is going to be a heavy lift in Congress. Read more »

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U.S. bishops urge FCC to retain open internet, net neutrality

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In comments delivered July 17 to the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the FCC to use “the strongest legal authority available” to “retain open internet regulations.”

A man holds his smartphone in San Francisco in this  file photo. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged the Federal Communications Commission to use "the strongest legal authority available" to "retain open internet regulations." (CNS photo/Susanna Bates, EPA)

A man holds his smartphone in San Francisco in this file photo. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged the Federal Communications Commission to use “the strongest legal authority available” to “retain open internet regulations.” (CNS photo/Susanna Bates, EPA)

The current regulations, adopted in 2015 by a Democratic-majority FCC, treat the internet as a utility. A prior FCC effort to regulate the internet as a communication service did not stand up to judicial scrutiny. The regulations are now under review by a Republican-led FCC. The concept of an open internet has long been called “net neutrality,” in which internet service providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites.

The USCCB is “concerned that the FCC is contemplating eliminating current regulations limiting the manner by which the companies controlling the infrastructure connect people to the internet,” said USCCB assistant general counsel Katherine Grincewich.

“Without the current strong open internet regulations, including prohibitions on paid prioritization, the public has no effective recourse against internet service providers’ interference with accessibility to content,” Grincewich said.

“There will be uncertainty about how and whether those companies can block, speed up or slow down access to internet content, and nonprofit religious entities will be relegated to an internet slow lane,” she added. “Since public interest noncommercial, including religious, programming is a low priority for broadcasters and cable companies, the internet is one of the few mediums available to churches and religious groups to communicate their messages and the values fundamental to the fabric of our communities.”

Grincewich noted, “Without protections to prohibit internet providers from tampering with content delivery on the internet, the fundamental attributes of the internet, in which users have unfettered access to content and capacity to provide content to others, are jeopardized.” Such protections, she added, “have particular importance” for those “committed to religious principles” who depend on the internet to convey to the public information “on matters of faith” and on the services provided to the public by those organizations or individuals.

“The internet is an indispensable medium for Catholics, and others with principled values, to convey views on matters of public concern and religious teachings,” Grincewich said.

“The internet was constructed as a unique medium without the editorial control functions of broadcast television, radio or cable television. The internet is open to any speaker, commercial or noncommercial, whether or not the speech is connected financially to the company priding internet access or whether it is popular or prophetic These characteristics make the internet critical to noncommercial religious speakers.”

Grincewich added, “Just as importantly, the internet is increasingly the preferred method for the disenfranchised and vulnerable, the poor that the church professes a fundamental preference toward, to access services, including educational and vocational opportunities to improve their lives and their children’s lives.”

The USCCB “also supports the rights of parents to protect their children from pornography,” one consequence of an open internet, Grincewich said. “The means of protecting children from such material is available to parents,” she added, “without ceding it to companies providing internet access.”

In the USCCB’s filing, Grincewich noted how Pope Benedict XVI warned against the “distortion that occurs when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good,” which the pope said in this 2006 World Day of Communication message.

“As a public service, social communication requires a spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility with vigorous accountability of the use of public resources and the performance of roles of public trust,” Pope Benedict said, “including recourse to regulatory standards and other measure or structures designed to affect this goal.”

Grincewich also noted Pope Francis has called the digital world “a public square” and said the internet “can help us be better citizens.”

An online “day of action” July 12 on net neutrality issues resulted in a reported 2 million comments on the FCC proposal being sent online to the FCC.

 

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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 »

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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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