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Robust pain management, emotional and spiritual support offer alternatives to suicide

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Catholic News Service

MC Sullivan has heard all of the arguments in favor of assisted suicide.

“There are arguments that would touch anyone with a heart,” said the director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. “They are couched in emotional language, emotional stories and the reality of a human being who is suffering unbearably.”

In this April 19, 2011, file photo, patient Warren Saunders smiles as Dominican Sister Agnes Mary plays the piano at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who staff a nursing home there that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. The Catholic Church's main weapon against assisted suicide rests in "robust palliative care," said MC Sullivan, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Warren Saunders smiles as Dominican Sister Agnes Mary plays the piano at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, N.Y., the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne, who staff a nursing home there that provides palliative care to people with incurable cancer and are in financial need. The Catholic Church’s main weapon against assisted suicide rests in “robust palliative care,” said MC Sullivan, director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Initiative for Palliative Care and Advance Care Planning. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Sullivan, a registered nurse and attorney who holds a master’s degree in bioethics from Harvard Divinity School, nevertheless spends her days articulating the Catholic Church’s stand against assisted suicide and promoting the pain relief and emotional, physical and spiritual support system that are part of palliative care.

Assisted suicide is promoted as “a literal and figurative last resort” for those who are dying, she said. Its supporters rely on patients’ and their family members’ “fear of the pain that they are told is coming,” as well as their fears of becoming dependent on others or experiencing a loss of their dignity.

“The day that those arguments don’t touch us is a day we have to worry about ourselves,” Sullivan said.

“But there are other realities that I think we lose sight of when we engage with those realities and those fears,” she said. “Life is a joyous and wonderful gift and it is not ours to do with as we will.”

Sullivan was serving as director of ethics for Covenant Health in Tewksbury, Massachusetts, in 2012 and joined with the Archdiocese of Boston and other organizations in a coalition that narrowly defeated a ballot question that would have allowed assisted suicide in the commonwealth.

Under Massachusetts law, when a ballot question is defeated it cannot be put on the ballot again until six years later. But that has not kept proponents of assisted suicide from bringing up the matter in the legislature and trying to influence public opinion.

“We hoped the issue would go away, but that has not been the case,” she said.

When Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston decided to open a new office on palliative care in 2015, Sullivan was his choice to lead the initiative, believed to be the only archdiocesan agency in the nation with such a charge.

Compassion & Choices, a leading proponent of assisted suicide in the United States formerly known as the Hemlock Society, presents its arguments in terms of individual autonomy, free choice and “better end-of-life options,” Sullivan said. But “it’s not about end-of-life care choices,” she added. “It’s about ending life.”

The church’s main weapon against assisted suicide rests in “robust palliative care,” she said, describing it as “a comprehensive model of being with and caring for someone with a serious, life-limiting illness.”

Sometimes confused with hospice care, palliative care is not only for those close to death and can begin at any stage of an illness, Sullivan said. It also includes effective pain management and encompasses all of the family members and friends involved as caregivers for the patient, “the people who are your people.”

Palliative care is “patient-centered and family-oriented,” she added.

Sullivan said anyone with a life-limiting illness can reach the point of letting go of the fears associated with death if they have help with pain management and handling of the “practical considerations” sometimes associated with an illness.

“I know how fearful letting go can be,” she said. “But at the same time there can also be an amazing richness of experience of loving and being loved that happens in states of serious illness.”

Surveys nationwide have shown that the vast majority of Americans are not interested in participating in an assisted suicide or even in talking about it, Sullivan said.

“Even its proponents will tell us that it just for a small part of the population,” she added. “So why has it become a matter for public policy, which is meant to be applied broadly? That’s turning it on its head.”

 

O’Brien is retired deputy editor of CNS and is freelance book review editor for CNS.

 

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Why the Catholic Church opposes legalized assisted suicide

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Catholic News Service

Concern for human life and dignity from conception to natural death is a fundamental principle of Catholic teaching. But new challenges continue to crop up for those at the end of their lives, as backers of assisted suicide make inroads in various states through legislative action, voters’ choices or judicial fiat.

A demonstrator against assisted suicide joins a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London Sept. 11, 2015. St. John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, "The Gospel of Life" ("Evangelium Vitae"), forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

A demonstrator against assisted suicide joins a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London Sept. 11, 2015. St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life” (“Evangelium Vitae”), forcefully affirms the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death and encourages a heightened commitment to supporting and caring for it. (CNS photo/Stefan Wermuth, Reuters)

Assisted suicide became legal this year in California and Canada. Those jurisdictions joined Oregon, Vermont, Montana and Washington state in allowing physicians to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who are believed to be close to death and have requested them.

The Catholic Church has long been a staunch opponent of efforts to legalize assisted suicide, describing it as not just a religious issue but a matter of human rights.

“From not only a Catholic perspective but any rational perspective, the intentional, willful act of killing oneself or another human being is clearly morally wrong,” said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, as Canada prepared for the legalization of assisted suicide earlier this year.

He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the issue with the 2011 statement, “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” which takes on many of the arguments used to justify assisted suicide.

“One cannot uphold human freedom and dignity by devaluing human life,” the statement says. “A choice to take one’s life is a supreme contradiction of freedom, a choice to eliminate all choices. And a society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms.”

The church also sees assisted suicide as a failure to address people’s very real fears about overly burdensome medical treatments and intractable pain at the end of life, as well as the depression and guilt that sometimes fuel decisions to commit assisted suicide.

But opponents of assisted suicide see the answer to those concerns in greater reliance on palliative care.

“Palliative care implements a holistic, interdisciplinary care plan that identifies, assesses and addresses the comprehensive needs of the seriously ill patient, including pain and other symptom management, psychosocial issues, emotional support and spiritual care,” according to a brochure from the Supportive Care Coalition, composed of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Catholic Health Association and 17 Catholic health care ministries serving in 43 states.

The coalition, based in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, sees palliative care as “a hallmark of Catholic health care.”

“It embodies our commitment to provide compassionate, high-quality, patient- and family-centered care for the chronically ill and dying by anticipating, preventing and treating suffering,” the brochure adds.

In June, just days after California began permitting assisted suicide, Pope Francis said some supporters of euthanasia tend to “hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient.”

“True compassion marginalizes no one, it does not humiliate people, it does not exclude them, much less consider their death as a good thing,” the pope said in a talk to health professionals from Spain and Latin America. “This would mean the triumph of selfishness, of that ‘throwaway culture’ that rejects and scorns people who do not fulfill certain criteria of health, beauty and usefulness.”

His predecessor, St. John Paul II, wrote in his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (“The Gospel of Life”), “To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called ‘assisted suicide’ means to cooperate in and at times to be the actual perpetrator of an injustice that can never be excused even if it is requested.”

He also criticized laws that “legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia.”

The U.S bishops’ 2009 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services state that Catholic health care institutions “may never condone or participate in euthanasia or assisted suicide in any way.”

“Dying patients who request euthanasia should receive loving care, psychological and spiritual support and appropriate remedies for pain and other symptoms so that they can live with dignity until the time of natural death,” the directives add.

But part of the church’s role in fighting assisted suicide is in educating people that church teaching does not require the continuation of aggressive or extraordinary medical treatments when their benefit is outweighed by the burdens placed on the patient and his or her family.

In addition, many Catholics are unaware that suffering patients may receive as much pain medication as needed, even if it might hasten the patient’s death, as long as the intention is not to cause death but to relieve pain.

But in nearly every U.S. state, efforts continue in the legislatures, the courts or the court of public opinion to make assisted suicide a legal option.

 

O’Brien is retired deputy editor of CNS and is freelance book review editor for CNS.

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Bishops approve budgets, fail to OK diocesan assessment increase

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — The U.S. bishops approved a $24.2 million budget for the work of their national conference in 2016, but their vote was inconclusive on a proposed 3 percent increase in 2017 of the assessment on dioceses that funds the conference.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia works on his laptop during a break at the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 17. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia works on his laptop during a break at the 2015 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 17. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The $24.2 million represented unrestricted funds available to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A separate $190 million budget of restricted funds for 2016 include funds subject to “donor intent” such as federal grants to Migration and Refugee Services and national collections for retired religious or other purposes. A third category of “designated funds” to the USCCB Communications Department projected a loss of more than $850,000 next year.

The three budgets were approved by the bishops in a single voice vote Nov. 17 during their fall general assembly in Baltimore. But a separate written ballot on the diocesan assessment failed to gain the required two-thirds majority of bishops who head dioceses or eparchies.

The vote was 123-49 in favor of the 3 percent increase, and 132 votes were needed to reach the two-thirds majority. Heads of dioceses who were not present at the Baltimore meeting will be polled by mail on the matter.

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas, USCCB treasurer and chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Budget and Finance, reported to the bishops that the proposed increase amounted to “only $300,000 for the whole conference.” For more than half of U.S. dioceses, he said, that would mean a rise of less than $100 a month in their diocesan assessment.

He said the 3 percent increase represented “the minimum that we need to maintain the conference in a sound financial position for the next year.”

But he acknowledged that the current formula for assessing dioceses, which is based on offertory collections, the number of registered households and the amount donated to three national collections, was outdated and unfair to some dioceses. He said the committee had commissioned the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference to develop a new formula.

The fiscal managers had made a recommendation for a new formula, based more heavily on offertory collections, but the committee had not had time to study it, said Bishop Farrell, who promised to present it next year before the bishops voted on a diocesan assessment for 2018.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia spoke against the increased assessment, saying that dioceses especially in the Northeast are experiencing lower offertory collections and are being forced to cut their budgets.

Bishop Farrell said the new formula would help with that issue. “If the offertory goes up, the assessment goes up,” he said. “If the collections go down, then the assessment would go down.”

The unrestricted budget for 2016 includes a 3 percent increase in salaries and a 1 percent increase in other operating expenses, Bishop Farrell said.

He said the USCCB “needs to have a sustainable income” that does not rely on growth in the conference’s long-term investments. “As we have seen between 2008 and 2009, we should not have our fates so heavily dependent on financial markets over which we have no control whatsoever,” he added.

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U.S. bishops’ president calls for colleagues to be a ‘pastor’s presence’ amid challenges of the world

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — In the face of “the heartbreaking crises and challenges in our world,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, called on his fellow bishops Nov. 16 to imitate the “pastor’s presence” exhibited by Pope Francis during his recent U.S. visit, “touching the hearts of the most influential, the forgotten and all of us in between.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called on U.S. bishops to imitate the pastor's presence of Pope Francis in their ministry in his opening talk in Baltimore to the U.S. bishops' general assembly. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called on U.S. bishops to imitate the pastor’s presence of Pope Francis in their ministry in his opening talk in Baltimore to the U.S. bishops’ general assembly. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The talk by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened the annual USCCB fall general assembly in Baltimore, which was to include discussion of political responsibility, religious freedom, pornography and other topics.

Noting the upcoming Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8, Archbishop Kurtz said a ministry of “presence means making time and never letting administration come between me and the person. It’s seeing the person first.”

“Our hearts respond to (the pope’s) call to be pastors who are present, welcoming and eager to walk with our people,” he added.

The archbishop said the updated document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which was to come up for a vote at the meeting, sums by the challenges confronting the bishops.

“We face the ongoing destruction of over 1 million innocent human lives each year by abortion; the redefinition of marriage; the excessive consumption of material goods and destruction of natural resources; the deadly attacks on fellow Christians and religious minorities throughout the world; the narrowing of religious freedom … economic policies that fail to prioritize the poor; a broken immigration system and a worldwide refugee crisis; wars, terror, and violence that threaten every aspect of human life and dignity,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

He said the role of the bishops “as a conference in our public actions” was to “seek to be a presence in the public square, always seeking the common good and making room for faith to act, never imposing but always inviting, serving.”

“Our calling is to be present in this world, in the very places where people are hurting the most,” the archbishop said. “What a great tragedy it will be if our ministries are slowly secularized or driven out of the public square because of short-sighted laws or regulations that limit our ability to witness and serve consistent with our faith.”

He closed his talk with a prayer that “we don’t lose our presence in the public square to a misguided secularization that reduces faith to the least common denominator and erodes the very richness of belief that impels people of faith to serve unselfishly those most in need.”

On a more personal note, Archbishop Kurtz spoke of his brother Georgie, who had Down syndrome and “served as a glue in our family, drawing out love and service, forcing us to slow down, ask for help and focus on time together.”

“In fact, when he lived with me, he brought those same gifts to my rectory life and drew the other priests and me together into a makeshift family,” he added

Before Archbishop Kurtz spoke, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, spoke at length about the importance of Catholic education in the United States, both historically and in the present day.

In the past, the”main tool” of Catholic evangelization was the building of parishes with their own schools, where “solid Catholic information” could be imparted to those “who would take their place in America’s future,” he said.

At this “critical point for family life in our Western world,” he encouraged the bishops to provide strong support for families and for Catholic schools that remain true to their Catholic identity.

“You have a tremendous obligation to look out for and protect families and schools for the good of the people,” the archbishop said. “You are compelled to proclaim the Gospel message in season and out of season.”

The product of a Jesuit education in Milan, Italy, and in Rome, Archbishop Vigano called especially on the Jesuits to remain true to their “long and rich tradition of imparting the Catholic faith” and to safeguard the Catholic identity of their educational institutions.

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Catholic-Lutheran document maps steps to full unity, sees 50 years of progress in relations

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — A new 120-page document marks the progress in Catholic-Lutheran relations over the past 50 years and maps the remaining steps needed to achieve full unity.

The “Declaration on the Way” was prepared by a joint task force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has more than 3.7 million members in 9,300 congregations across the United States.

Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore answers questions during a news teleconference Nov. 4 in Washington. Reporters asked questions about a newly released 120-page document marking the progress in Catholic-Lutheran relations over the past 50 years and maps the remaining steps needed to achieve full unity. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore answers questions during a news teleconference Nov. 4 in Washington. Reporters asked questions about a newly released 120-page document marking the progress in Catholic-Lutheran relations over the past 50 years and maps the remaining steps needed to achieve full unity. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The document was inspired by a December 2011 speech by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and draws on the work of national and international Catholic-Lutheran dialogues since 1965, particularly on the topics of church, ministry and the Eucharist. It was intended to mark the 50th anniversary of Catholic-Lutheran dialogue in 2015 and the upcoming 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.

“It’s amazing to think that 500 years ago we were killing each other over” issues on which there is now consensus between the two communions, said ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton in a Nov. 4 telephone news conference about the declaration.

“We grew up in a time when our communities were absolutely divided; now instead we are rejoicing in the places we find agreement,” she added.

Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, the Catholic co-chairman of the task force, said Pope Francis on his recent U.S. visit and throughout his papacy has emphasized “a culture of dialogue” that is reflected in concrete form in the new declaration.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, a former ELCA presiding bishop, served as Lutheran co-chairman of the task force.

The document’s introduction says the two churches have come a long way since “the disunity, suspicions and even hostilities that characterized our relationships for generations,” but says the time has come “to claim the unity achieved through these agreements, to establish church practices that reflect this growth into communion and to commit ourselves anew to taking the next steps forward.”

It concludes by asking the Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 145 churches in 98 countries, and the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity to jointly “receive, affirm and create a process to implement” the 32 statements of agreement outlined in the declaration and to establish “a process and a timetable for addressing remaining issues on church, Eucharist and ministry.”

“The expansion of opportunities for Catholics and Lutherans to receive holy Communion together would be a significant sign of the path toward unity already traveled and a pledge to continue together on the journey toward full communion,” the task force added.

In addition, the task force urged action and study at the local level between Lutheran congregations and Catholic parishes, as well as formal and informal cooperation among bishops of both denominations at the regional level.

The declaration is not a statement of the full body of Catholic bishops, but was affirmed in October by the ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory body, which asked the ELCA Church Council to forward the document to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, its highest legislative body.

Bishop Madden said the Catholic bishops are not scheduled to vote on the declaration during their Nov. 16-19 annual fall assembly in Baltimore but that he hoped it would be the topic of much discussion among the bishops.

“We want all the bishops to know about this declaration and help promulgate it in their own dioceses,” he added.

Jesuit Father Jared Wicks, a Catholic member of the task force and scholar in residence at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, said in an ELCA news release that the document represented “a moment to move from study to declaration, to expand in Catholic and Lutheran believers a shared awareness of their real agreements on significant and well-defined essentials of our faith and life.”

Asked at the news conference what was the most difficult issue that continued to divide Lutherans and Catholics, Bishop Madden cited women’s ordination as “one of those issues that we are still discussing.”

The Lutherans have been ordaining women since 1970; the Catholic Church teaches it has no authority “to confer priestly ordination on women.”

Bishop Eaton said Lutherans still had difficulty with the Catholic understanding of “the role of the bishop of Rome” and the issue of papal infallibility.

“We are really sorry for some of the things (Martin) Luther said about (the pope) back in the day,” she said, adding that there have been “terrible misunderstandings and, on our part, unfortunate caricatures” surrounding the issue.

“But we really like this one (Pope Francis) a lot,” Bishop Eaton said.

Kathryn Johnson, ELCA director for ecumenical and interreligious relations, said the declaration marked the beginning of “a totally different world of relationship and hopefulness” between Catholics and Lutherans.

Father John Crossin, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said he had been approached by an Anglican colleague about doing a similar document that looks at remaining issues dividing the two communions.

The declaration “is already starting to have a little ripple effect,” he said.

 

An online version of “Declaration on the Way” and any recent developments can be found at this USCCB link: http://tinyurl.com/q8rptfn; and at this ECLA link: http://tinyurl.com/qa6wkn4.

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Priests in the U.S. previously granted authority to absolve sin of abortion

September 3rd, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

 

Pope Francis’ Sept. 1 announcement that priests worldwide will be able to absolve women for the sin of abortion will have little effect on pastoral practices in the United States and Canada, where most priests already have such authority in the sacrament of reconciliation.

“It is my understanding that the faculty for the priest to lift the ‘latae sententiae’ excommunication for abortion is almost universally granted in North America,” said Don Clemmer, interim director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read more »

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Natural family planners cautious about fertility monitoring apps

May 29th, 2014 Posted in National News Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — As new fertility monitoring apps such as Clue and Glow make news, specialists in natural family planning caution that any technological application is only as good as the expertise behind it and the comfort level of its users.

“The caveat with any app is: Who designed it? Is it a real NFP educator?” said Theresa Notare, assistant director of natural family planning in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Is there concrete, clear information folded into the app?” Read more »

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Nearly all US dioceses’ abuse policies found to comply with charter

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Catholic News Service

Ten years after passing their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” the heads of nearly all U.S. dioceses are in full compliance with the 17-point document, according to recently completed audits.

Two dioceses — Baker, Ore., and Lincoln, Neb. — and six Eastern Catholic eparchies refused to participate in the audits, as they had in past years, and were found to be noncompliant.

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Catholics urged to resist unjust laws, join in ‘fortnight for freedom’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — American Catholics must resist unjust laws “as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith,” a committee of the U.S. bishops said in a new statement on religious liberty.

Titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the 12-page statement by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty also calls for “a fortnight for freedom” from June 21, the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, to July 4, U.S. Independence Day.

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Commentary: Another Catholic swing vote? Supreme Court hears health law arguments

March 21st, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Although there are no specifically Catholic issues under consideration when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments March 26-28 on various aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Catholics will play some key roles.

With six of the nine current Supreme Court justices being Catholics, it is almost inevitable that a Catholic justice will be a “swing vote” determining the outcome in at least one of the cases. And Catholic groups and individuals have not been shy about filing friend-of-the-court briefs seeking to sway the justices toward their hoped-for outcome.

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