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Capitol address: Scenes from pope’s speech to Congress

September 25th, 2015 Posted in National News Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — As Pope Francis spoke to a joint meeting of Congress Sept. 24, the members of the House and Senate vacillated between their usual response to similar addresses and intensely focusing on the pontiff’s heavily accented, carefully pronounced delivery of a text in English.

Pope Francis pauses in front of the  sculpture of St. Junipero Serra in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, pool)

Pope Francis pauses in front of the sculpture of St. Junipero Serra in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Sept. 24. (CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, pool)

Every seat in the chamber and the galleries above was occupied for the much-anticipated first speech by a pope to the combined members of Congress, the Cabinet, four members of the Supreme Court and representatives of the diplomatic corps and many guests.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic Republican from Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat from California, invited the pontiff.

Previously, Boehner had unsuccessfully invited Pope Francis’ two predecessors to address a joint meeting. His counterpart as head of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden, sat alongside him behind Pope Francis, much as they do during the president’s State of the Union addresses.

It was perhaps a measure of the unusual speech that Pope Francis’ arrival in the chamber was announced ceremonially with the awkward-sounding: “the pope of the Holy See.” The pope is the head of the Catholic Church, and the Holy See is generally used as a religious reference. But the Holy See also is recognized as a sovereign state.

Boehner, who is known for readily crying, was true to his reputation, appearing to choke up at points during the speech and clearly doing so as he later stood alongside him on the West Terrace of the Capitol when the pope briefly greeted an assembled crowd of tens of thousands of people on the lawn.

In very brief remarks from the terrace, translated into English for the public, Pope Francis said he was grateful for all who came to the event, particularly for the children. “God bless them,” he said.

He also asked those gathered to “pray for me. And if there are any of you who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to send good wishes my way.”

A speech that referenced President Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and American Catholics Father Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day provided fodder for numerous applause interruptions. Some of the sure-fire applause triggers included the pope’s opening line, thanking the members of Congress for their invitation to “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as well as references to freedom.

At other points in the 45-minute speech, however, the body’s partisan roots seemed to carry the moment. At the pope’s laudatory mention of reopening dialogue between countries that have been at odds, some members of Congress were quick to respond with applause. Others seemed uncertain whether the reference was about Iran, Cuba, Colombia or some other situation with which they might or might not agree.

Also drawing mixed reactions, often along partisan lines, were his references to protecting the environment, ending the arms trade, welcoming refugees, cooperating toward the common good and the responsibility “to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

The speech was among the hardest tickets to get during the pope’s three-day visit in Washington. Each member of Congress was allotted one guest ticket. More than a dozen bishops and cardinals were in the room, however. Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Washington’s retired archbishop, were among them. Nearly all the seating sections in the gallery above the House floor appeared to include at least one priest and/or a bishop.

Reporters from around the globe were added into the normal contingent of political writers, crammed into standing-room spots above the speaker’s rostrum, with no view of the podium. Vatican reporters accustomed to parsing the tightly written prose of papal speeches worked alongside Washington-based writers whose usual work involves vote-counting and filtering broad political rhetoric.

While the pope was in the Capitol, Boehner met with him and a contingent of Catholic bishops in his office, and took him on a brief tour of Statuary Hall. There, the pope was shown the statue of St. Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis just the day before. Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary is one of the two statues placed in the Capitol by the state of California. Each state is allocated two slots.

Video shot by the press pool also captured a moment in a hallway, when Pope Francis was shown bowing his head for a blessing. Fellow Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy, chaplain of the House of Representatives, placed his hands on either side of the pope’s head for the blessing.

Father Conroy said later that he thought to offer the pope a blessing rather than making a typical comment in the brief time they would have to speak when they met in the hallway off the Capitol’s carriage entrance.

“I figured he’d probably be willing to accept that,” he said, particularly in light of Pope Francis’ first remarks to the public after his election in 2013.

Speaking from the balcony of the papal apartment in the Vatican, the newly elected pope asked the people to pray for him.

Father Conroy said he introduced himself, welcomed him to Washington and speaking as one Jesuit to another, offered the blessing.

As the pope bowed his head, Father Conroy said his prayer, in Spanish, was “may the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit come upon you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”


A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/GiZWs08RQcY

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Supreme Court upholds execution drug use

June 30th, 2015 Posted in National News


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In another in a series of bitterly divided end-of-term cases, the Supreme Court June 29 upheld the execution protocol used by Oklahoma and several other states.

The 5-4 ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito upheld lower courts that said the use of the drug midazolam in lethal injection does not violate Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling was among the last three opinions released, closing out the court’s 2014 term. Aside from announcing the disposition of other cases it has been asked to review, the court is not scheduled to conduct any further business in the public eye until the 2015 term opens Oct. 5.

The majority opinion in Glossip v. Gross noted that it has been previously established multiple times that capital punishment is constitutional and only delved into whether the claims by Oklahoma death-row inmates that the effects of the drugs used in lethal injection are unnecessarily painful. Among the reasons Alito cited in upholding lower courts were that “the prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain.”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas each filed concurring opinions. Alito’s majority ruling also was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Two of the four justices who disagreed with Alito each wrote a dissenting opinion, including one in which Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg called for briefings on whether the death penalty itself ought to be ruled unconstitutional. “I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,” Breyer wrote. “At the very least, the court should call for full briefing on the basic question.”

In his majority ruling, Alito discussed at length the evidence presented about whether midazolam fails to act sufficiently as a sedative to prevent inmates who are being executed from suffering an undue amount of pain. The cases arose after several situations like that of Clayton Lockett. At his April 2014 execution, he writhed in pain for 40 minutes before dying of apparent heart failure.

Alito recounted the circumstances leading to the use of midazolam, which has become an alternative for other drugs, whose manufacturers refuse to supply them for use in executions. He went into graphic detail about the murders committed by the death-row inmates who sued.

In his concurrence and pointed disagreement with Breyer, Thomas also described brutal crimes that landed people on death row. It was the third criminal justice case in the last weeks of the term in which Thomas has made a point of writing about severe sentences being necessary because of the pain inflicted on crime victims and their families.

Like Alito’s majority opinion, Sotomayor devoted much of her dissent to dissecting the testimony about the effects of midazolam. She took issue with the majority brushing past the inmates’ plea “that they at least be allowed a stay of execution while they seek to prove midazolam’s inadequacy.” She was joined in the dissent by Breyer, Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan.

Sotomayor said the court accomplished that “first, by deferring to the District Court’s decision to credit the scientifically unsupported and implausible testimony of a single expert witness; and second, by faulting petitioners for failing to satisfy the wholly novel requirement of proving the availability of an alternative means for their own executions. On both counts the court errs. As a result, it leaves petitioners exposed to what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

She said that in sweeping aside substantial evidence that midazolam “cannot be utilized to maintain unconsciousness in the face of agonizing stimuli,” the majority accepted one witness’s “wholly unsupported claims that 500 milligrams of midazolam will ‘paralyze the brain.’ In so holding, the court disregards an objectively intolerable risk of severe pain.”

The majority responded to Sotomayor’s points about the potential for such an outcome by calling it a “groundless suggestion that our decision is tantamount to allowing prisoners to be ‘drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake.’ That is simply not true and the principal dissent’s resort to this outlandish rhetoric reveals the weakness of its legal arguments.”

Scalia’s concurring opinion, joined by Thomas, mostly took on Breyer’s dissent, faulting him for suggesting the death penalty might be unconstitutional.

“Mind you, not once in the history of the American Republic has this court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible,” Scalia wrote. “The reason is obvious: It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates. The Fifth Amendment provides that “[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital … crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury,’ and that no person shall be ‘deprived of life … without due process of law.’ Nevertheless, today Justice Breyer takes on the role of the abolitionists in this long-running drama, arguing that the text of the Constitution and two centuries of history must yield to his ‘20 years of experience on this court,’ and inviting full briefing on the continued permissibility of capital punishment.”

Breyer’s argument, Scalia wrote, “is full of internal contradictions and (it must be said) gobbledygook.”


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Court rules same-sex marriage legal nationwide

June 26th, 2015 Posted in Featured Tags: ,


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a landmark ruling, a divided Supreme Court June 26 said same-sex marriage is constitutional nationwide.

“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 5-4 majority. “This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.” Read more »

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Supreme Court upholds health care subsidies in states with federal exchanges


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Writing that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court June 25 upheld tax subsidies for participants in health care exchanges run by the federal government in states that refused to create them.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts disentangled what he said was “more than a few examples of inartful drafting” in how the 2010 law was written that contributed to the interpretation that federal subsidies for people with lower income should only be available to residents of states that created their own health care exchanges. Read more »

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5th Circuit says HHS accommodation on mandate not a burden on religion


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The religious rights of faith-based entities — including the dioceses of Fort Worth and Beaumont, Texas, and the University of Dallas — are not substantially burdened by the process to receive an accommodation from the federal government to avoid participating in a health care mandate for contraceptive coverage, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 22.       Read more »

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Supreme Court lets block on North Carolina ultrasound law stand


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court June 15 left a lower court ruling intact that blocked North Carolina’s law requiring physicians to perform an ultrasound on women seeking abortions, and to show it to the women and describe the fetus’ features.

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (CNS/Reuters)

The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (CNS/Reuters)

Without comment, the court let stand a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last December that overturned the 2011 law on First Amendment grounds.

The Supreme Court also is being asked to take at least two other cases involving state restrictions on abortion. One, which has been on the court’s calendar for consideration for several weeks, asks for review of a July 2014 ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Mississippi’s requirements for hospital-like standards at abortion clinics. The 2012 law also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

A Texas law requiring similar standards at abortion clinics was upheld earlier in June by the 5th Circuit. Opponents of the law have asked the Supreme Court to fast-track review of that ruling.

Meanwhile, in the North Carolina case, by declining to take the case, the court let stand lower court rulings blocking the law as violating the First Amendment rights of physicians.

The lower court said: “This compelled speech, even though it is a regulation of the medical profession, is ideological in intent and in kind.” The ruling said North Carolina’s law goes too far beyond what states have customarily done in the interest of “ensuring informed consent and in protecting the sanctity of life in all its phases.”

In other matters, the Supreme Court also June 15 issued two rulings on immigration legal procedures. In Reyes Mata v. Lynch, the court ruled 8-1 that the 5th Circuit was wrong to say it lacked jurisdiction in considering an appeal of a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals. In that case Noel Reyes Mata appealed to the Circuit Court after the immigration court refused to reopen his case because he missed a filing deadline. The ruling will allow him to once again ask the Circuit Court to decide whether the immigration court should reopening his case.

In the second immigration matter, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the federal government’s authority to deny a visa to the spouse of a U.S. citizen without giving the specific reason for denying it.

Fauzia Din, a naturalized U.S. citizen, had petitioned for a spousal visa for her husband, Kanishka Berashk. The U.S. embassy in Pakistan refused the request, citing its broad discretion to deny visas on the basis of “terrorist activities.” The agency refused to elaborate to the couple about how that provision applied. Berashk had worked as a clerk for the Afghan government while it was controlled by the Taliban, the record said.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that although marriage may be a fundamental right, the visa denial doesn’t affect that. Legal cases establishing a right to marry “cannot be expanded to include the right Din argues for, the right to live in the United States with one’s alien spouse,” he wrote.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had tossed out lower court rulings in favor of the government’s position, saying her right to marry included the right to a better explanation of why her husband was denied a visa.


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Obama thanks Catholic Health Association for support of Affordable Care Act


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Telling the Catholic Health Association that he was there to say thank you, President Barack Obama June 9 recalled the struggles of passing the Affordable Care Act and ticked off the successes since it became law five years ago.

“Every one of these stories touched me,” Obama said of those without affordable health care before the ACA took effect, referencing an emergency room visit when his daughter Sasha had meningitis. He said he had good insurance at the time but wondered about the families in the ER who did not.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, greets U.S. President Barack Obama June 9 in Washington during CHA's annual assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, greets U.S. President Barack Obama June 9 in Washington during CHA’s 100th anniversary assembly. (CNS photo/Bob Roller

“There is something deeply cynical” about attempts to roll back health care that works, Obama said of ongoing Republican-led efforts to kill the program.

Obama acknowledged that without the support of CHA president and CEO Sister Carol Keehan and its members, the legislation would not have passed. He said he told Sister Carol, a Daughter of Charity, backstage, “I love you” and meant it.

“Her dedication to doing God’s work here on earth, her commitment to serving ‘the least of these,’ her steadiness, her strength, her steadfast voice have been an inspiration to me,” Obama said. “We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her. I want to thank the entire Catholic Health Association for the incredible work you do.”

The speech at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington was part of the 100th anniversary observances for the CHA, the leadership organization representing more than 600 Catholic hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in all 50 states.

Sister Carol told Catholic News Service after the event that getting the president to address the Catholic Health Assembly, as the CHA conference is known, was “the icing on the cake” of special events planned for the 100th anniversary year. The assembly attended by more than 1,000 people opened with a Mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception across town, with Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the current and retired archbishops of Washington, respectively, and other bishops. “The shrine was packed,” she said. “It was as beautiful a Mass as I’ve seen.”

She said she personally handed off the invitation to Obama during a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough several months ago. Sister Carol has worked closely with the White House staff over the years on a variety of issues.

Sister Carol told CNS that the current system of health care “is not everything we need by a long shot, but it is an incredible step forward.”

In addition to a majority of Republicans in Congress, some Catholic organizations also opposed key elements of the ACA. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has challenged in court the law’s provisions for requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

In his remarks, Obama referenced his first job after college, working as a community organizer in a program funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, operating out of Holy Rosary Church on Chicago’s South Side.

“The work was hard, and there were times where it was dispiriting,” he said. “We had plenty of setbacks. There were times where I felt like quitting, where I wondered if the path I’d chosen was too hard.”

“But despite these challenges, I saw how kindness and compassion and faith can change the arc of people’s lives,” he continued. “And I saw the power of faith, a shared belief that every human being, made in the image of God, deserves to live in dignity; that all children, no matter who they are or where they come from or how much money they were born into, ought to have the opportunity to achieve their God-given potential; that we are all called, in the words of His Holiness Pope Francis, ‘to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.’”

At the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin headed the Archdiocese of Chicago and Obama was struck by his example, he said. “He understood that part of that commitment, part of that commitment to the dignity of every human being also meant that we had to care about the health of every human being. And he articulated that, and the church articulated that, as we moved at the state level in the Illinois legislature, once I was elected there later on in life, to advance the proposition that health care is not a privilege, it is a right.”

That is the core of the CHA mission, Obama said, going on to thank the members for their role in helping reform the nation’s health care system.

He and Sister Carol both acknowledged that the ACA is far from perfect.

“Like any serious attempt at change, there were disruptions in the rollout, there are policies we can put in place to make health care work even better,” he said. He said the system needs reforms to how health care is delivered, it needs protection for the coverage of the 16 million people who signed up under the ACA; more states must expand Medicaid for the working poor and improvements are needed in quality of care while bringing down costs.



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Survey shows increase in Americans who aren’t part of any religion — 12 percent of U.S. adults are former Catholics


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A major study of the religious landscape of the United States shows a continuing decline in the number of people who consider themselves part of any religion, with the largest shift occurring among the “millennial” generation.

The Pew Research Center survey of 35,000 people, conducted in 2014, found that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians declined by 8 percentage points since the last religious landscape survey in 2007. The first data from the survey, released May 12, dealt primarily with religious affiliation. Future reports will address other parts of the survey, such as religious beliefs and practices.

A Pew Survey has found that the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has declined. (CNS file/Sam Oldenburg/Catholic Courier)

A Pew Survey has found that the percentage of Americans who call themselves Christians has declined. (CNS file/Sam Oldenburg/Catholic Courier)

The phenomena of people changing religions also has become more pronounced, the survey found, and said that is especially true for people who were raised Catholic.

“Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7 percent) say they were raised Catholic,” the report said. “Among that group, fully 41 percent no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9 percent of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2 percent of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.”

The report said the number of people who define themselves as religiously unaffiliated changed from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014.

Among those, the 51 million Catholics represents a decrease of about 3 million, or from 24 percent of the population to 21 percent. The study noted that the figure might be somewhat explained by the statistical margin of error, and could be as little as a decline of 1 million people.

It also added that Catholics’ percentage share of the population has remained relatively stable over decades, in comparison to Protestants, who have steadily declined.

A quibble with Pew’s numbers on Catholics was posted by Mark Gray, who studies Catholics for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Gray said Pew’s figures for Catholics don’t reflect what other polls by Gallup, Public Religion Research Institute and the General Social Survey have found. Those consistently find between 21 percent and 26 percent of the U.S. population is Catholic, Gray said in a post on CARA’s “1964” blog.

Catholics are represented strongly among immigrants, however, the survey said. About 15 percent of those surveyed were born outside the U.S., and two thirds of those are Christians, including 39 percent who are Catholic. About 10 percent of immigrants said they belong to a non-Christian faith, including Islam or Hinduism.

However, among millennials, the survey showed sharp differences in the percentage of people who say they’re Catholic, in comparison to older generations. In the three older generations the survey considered, 20-23 percent of adults said they are Catholics. Among millennials, the percentage was 16 percent. Pew counted as millennials those who were born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s.

Pew also considered how the people who say they have no religious affiliation define their beliefs. Between the surveys in 2007 and 2014, the number of “unaffiliated” people who say they are atheist or agnostic grew from 25 percent to 31 percent. Those who said religion is unimportant their lives also increased slightly.

Religions are also becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, the survey said.

Minorities now account for 41 percent of Catholics, it found, up from 35 percent in 2007. Among evangelical Protestants the increase was 24 percent, up from 19 percent seven years earlier, and 14 percent for mainline Protestants, up from 9 percent in 2007.

Religious intermarriage was found to be more common. The survey said 39 percent of people who said they had married since 2010 are in religiously mixed marriages, compared to 19 percent of those who married before 1960.

Other findings of the survey:

  • The state with the highest percentage of Catholics is Rhode Island, with 42 percent. Other states on the high end include: Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico, each with 34 percent, and Connecticut, with 33 percent. These states each have 25 percent Catholics or more: California, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

On the low end, Mississippi has the fewest Catholics, at 4 percent, Utah has 5 percent and West Virginia has 6 percent. Each of these states has fewer than 10 percent Catholics: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

  • The age group with the most Catholics remained the same in the seven years between studies, but the percentages shifted a bit. The largest number of Catholics are still in the 30-49 age range, but now that age group makes up 33 percent of Catholics, compared to 41 percent in 2007. Now 20 percent of Catholics are over 65, compared with 16 percent seven years ago. The number of 18- to 29-year-old Catholics is about the same, 17 percent; it was 18 percent in 2007. And the percentage between ages 50 and 60 increased to 29 percent, up from 24 percent.
  • Race and ethnic composition among Catholics changed most significantly in the percentages of whites and Latinos. In 2007, 65 percent were white and 29 percent Latino. In 2014, 59 percent were white and 34 percent Latino. In 2007, 2 to 3 percent of Catholics were and still are Asian, black or “other/mixed.”
  • A higher percentage of Catholics in 2014 were lower income. In 2007, 31 percent of Catholics earned less than $30,000 a year, and 30 percent earned between $50,000 and $99,999. In 2014, 36 percent of Catholics earned less than $30,000 and 26 percent earned between $50,000 and $99,999. The other income categories remained about the same, with 19 percent of Catholics earning more than $100,000 and a similar percentage earning between $30,000 and $49,999.
  • Fewer Catholic adults are married. In 2007, 58 percent of Catholics said they were married; in 2014, 52 percent were married. Slightly more Catholics said they are divorced, 12 percent in 2014, up from 10 percent in 2007. The number of those never married was 21 percent, up from 17 percent.


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Bishops call for dismantling U.S. immigrant detention system — ‘Goes against values of our nation’


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A scathing new report on the conditions under which immigrants are detained concludes with the U.S. bishops’ recommendation that the current system be dismantled and replaced with less drastic approaches for keeping track of people whose immigration cases are pending.

Religious leaders, including Catholic and Lutheran bishops, met outside St. Joseph Church in Pearsall, Texas, March 27. After visit to a nearby detention facility, After visit to a nearby detention facility, the group called on U.S. government to halt the practice of family detention and to adopt humane alternatives. (CNS photo/Jordan McMorrough, Today's Catholic)

Religious leaders, including Catholic and Lutheran bishops, met outside St. Joseph Church in Pearsall, Texas, March 27. After visit to a nearby detention facility, After visit to a nearby detention facility, the group called on U.S. government to halt the practice of family detention and to adopt humane alternatives. (CNS photo/Jordan McMorrough, Today’s Catholic)

Drawing on international law, analyses of who is detained, how the mostly for-profit prison industry manages detention and bishops’ personal experiences with people in detention, the report called instead for more supervised release, better case management and community support programs to ensure that people show up for court appearances or deportation orders.

The report released May 11, “Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” was a joint project of the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Center for Migration Studies, a Catholic migration policy think tank.

In a teleconference about the report that same day, two bishops said they expect Pope Francis will address the topic when he visits the United States in September. Among the events on the pope’s agenda are speeches to a joint meeting of Congress and the United Nations.

“The pope will certainly address this issue,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. The pope has spoken several times about immigrants who are drowning as they try to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy and Greece, he noted. The pope is also concerned about the situations people are forced to live in after they flee famine or war in their own countries, he said.

“I’d be surprised if Holy Father did not address this. It is close to his heart,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, a member of the migration committee and chairman of the Center for Migration Studies.

The bishops said the report outlines unacceptable detention practices, especially for mothers and children.

Bishop Elizondo said the use of detention for entire families must end and that the detention system “goes against the values of our nation.”

Bishop DiMarzio said the vast expansion of immigrant detention centers, up to 250 nationwide, which cost $1.7 billion to maintain, amounts to corporations making money out of “the misery of other human beings.”

“No one should be locked up,” he said. “There are more effective and cheaper ways to ensure court appearances.”

Don Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, said the report’s main findings include replacing the detention centers with different types of supervision — such as ankle bracelet monitoring and other systems for checking in — and putting immigrants in the least restrictive settings.

While efforts in the Obama administration to reform the immigrant detention system have had some success, Kerwin said, it’s not enough and the number of people in detention has continued to rise.

The report described the current backlog of immigration cases in the federal court system, typically 18 months, and the conditions under which tens of thousands of people are being held. Meanwhile, the immigration court system is severely underfunded, which means immigrant detainees, most of whom do not have criminal records and are charged only with civil violations of immigration law, spend that time in prisonlike conditions, the report noted.

Among the report’s findings and recommendations:

  • Immigrants awaiting adjudication of their cases, ranging from applications for asylum to charges of being in the country illegally, are held in more restrictive prisonlike situations, with less recourse to judicial review, than some people who have been convicted of crimes. “No other U.S. legal system permits a deprivation of liberty without review and oversight by an independent judiciary,” it said.
  • Detention has been proven to not be an effective deterrent to illegal immigration and “the vast majority of families would appear for removal proceedings with appropriate orientation, supervision and community support.”
  • Congress should repeal its mandatory detention requirements for all but “the most egregious criminal and national security cases. U.S. mandatory detention laws cover lawful permanent residents, asylum-seekers, petty offenders, and persons with U.S. families and other enduring ties to the United States.” This prevents the release of people who have family ties, jobs and housing which tie them to the community.
  • The report said people charged with immigration-related crimes have the highest rate of being jailed pre-trial of all criminal defendants, including those accused of violent crimes and weapons charges.
  • “Private corporations should have more limited, regulated and modest role in a shrinking detention system.”

The report noted that the companies running immigrant detention centers under contract with the government reported revenues in the billions of dollars in 2014. Those companies have strong lobbying efforts including those encouraging “draconian immigration enforcement laws (like Arizona’s S.B. 1070) that have been opposed by the Obama administration and for funding for services that government agencies do not need or want.”

Carol Zimmermann contributed to this report.


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Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Vatican correspondent, church spokeswoman, dies


Catholic News Service

ALBANY, N.Y. — Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who went from hometown schoolteacher to Vatican correspondent, lived out her drive to be a writer even in her last days. She died April 28 in her hometown of Albany, New York, after a battle with cancer.

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh talks with a journalist during the U.S. bishops' fall 2007 meeting in Baltimore. Sister Mary Ann, 68, a writer in the Catholic press and longtime spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops, died April 28 in Albany, N.Y. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh talks with a journalist during the U.S. bishops’ fall 2007 meeting in Baltimore. Sister Mary Ann, 68, a writer in the Catholic press and longtime spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops, died April 28 in Albany, N.Y. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Sister Mary Ann, 68, had stepped down last summer from her role of 21 years in media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the last six years as director. Just as she began a transition to a new job she quickly came to love, writing for America Magazine as the Jesuit publication’s U.S. church correspondent, she learned that she had fast-growing metastatic cancer and moved home to the motherhouse in Albany where she had entered the Sisters of Mercy 50 years earlier.

Over the next nine months as her health declined, Sister Mary Ann wrote obliquely about her own impending death, such as in a piece about the “underutilized sacrament of anointing of the sick,” shortly after she hosted a gathering of friends as she received the sacrament herself.

Her articles included observations about journalism, politics, civility in society, the effects of youth sports schedules on families that attend church and many other topics. In her last blog, published March 25, Sister Mary Ann tackled the topic of the need for mercy, as Pope Francis declared a jubilee year of mercy beginning in December.

In interviews with Catholic News Service and for the Sisters of Mercy, she talked frankly about the progression of her cancer and the inevitability of its outcome, though never complaining and always with appreciation for the outpouring of support she was getting.

As word spread of her death, tributes were effusive from people who knew and worked with Sister Mary Ann.

Reporters, colleagues and bishops praised her deep faith, her determination, her trail-blazing as a woman and a nun and her abiding friendship.

In addition to being a good friend and gifted writer, said Susan Gibbs, a public relations professional who was formerly spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, Sister Mary Ann “helped break the marble ceiling for women in the church.”

Phil Pullella, senior correspondent in Italy and the Vatican for Reuters told of his friendship with Sister Mary Ann that began when she was a reporter in Rome for Catholic News Service.

“I always called her ‘Mother Mary’ and she always called me ‘my son,’” he said in a note to CNS. “Mary Ann was an exceptionally generous woman. … When she moved to America magazine, she wrote some of the clearest insightful, informed and entertaining columns about the U.S. church that I have ever read.”

Archbishop John Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City, who will become archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in June, visited Sister Mary Ann in March, presenting her with the St. Francis de Sales Award, the highest honor given by the Catholic Press Association. He is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications.

Archbishop Wester said he has “the deepest respect for her integrity and her love for the church. She was a clear thinker who could write persuasively and in a captivating manner.”

Like many others, he commented on her “clever wit” and her ability to “read people’s hearts with ease.”

Sister Mary Ann was born in Albany, Feb. 25, 1947, the only daughter of Irish immigrants. After attending local Catholic schools staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, she entered the order as a 17-year-old. She earned degrees in English at the College of St. Rose in Albany and began teaching elementary and then high school.

But the writing bug, which had led her as a child to stay up late, scribbling under the bedcovers under the light of a gooseneck lamp, soon led her to a reporting job at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Albany Diocese.

She went on to become a Vatican correspondent for Catholic News Service and then its media editor. In those roles, she traveled the world with Pope John Paul II and sat down for interviews with movie stars, including Raul Julia, Gene Hackman and Bruce Willis.

“Rome taught me how to cover Hollywood,” she told CNS in interviews in January. “They’re both complete bureaucracies.”

Her career path led her to the media relations staff of the USCCB, where she managed arrangements for press coverage of World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, for several other visits to the U.S. by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, and for the ins and outs of news about the U.S. church, from the sex abuse crisis to the annual meetings of the U.S. bishops.


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