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Santa Rosa diocese hit hard by ongoing wildfires


SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The Diocese of Santa Rosa “has been hit hard” and “is in an ongoing state of uncertainty” because of Northern California wildfires that began the night of Oct. 8, said Bishop Robert F. Vasa.

At least 12 major fires were raging across the region, according to news reports. Of those 12, at least five were zero to 5 percent contained, and the rest were 15 to 70 percent contained. Fanned by warm winds, they devastated a vast swath of North California’s wine country and forced 20,000 to evacuate. They left at least 23 people dead, and hundreds of others were missing.

A destroyed section of Cardinal Newman High School is seen following wildfires in Santa Rosa, Calif. A series of deadly Northern California wildfires has killed at least 17 people, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, including a section of the Catholic school. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Santa Rosa)

“Santa Rosa is extremely smoky with the sun a mere red ball,” the bishop said in an Oct. 10 statement. He also noted that for the many hundreds who have lost their homes, “the sense of great helplessness is palpable.”

A CNN report noted how fast-moving the fires are, saying they “torched 20,000 acres in 12 hours.” Local civic authorities said factors that contributed to the rapid spread of the flames included dry conditions, high-speed winds and lots of vegetation.

Over 17 fires were burning across the state, including in Southern California; more than 115,000 acres had burned.

In a statement Oct. 12, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic policy committee called for prayer for all impacted by the fires. “Today we ask for the intercession of Almighty God as wildfires rage in Northern California,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., quoting from Verse 10, from Isaiah 41. “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious. I am your God.”

“As brave men and women respond to these disasters, battling the fires and helping people to safety, we call upon God for improved weather, for the blessing of rain and favorable winds, to assist them,” the bishop said. “We pray that those who are missing or are still in harm’s way will be found and protected. May God grant eternal rest to those who have died, and bring them into glory with him forever.”

He also prayed “for generosity, care, and concern from neighbors and surrounding communities for those who are grieving and displaced.”

Bishop Dewane acknowledged that the natural disasters and other calamities the nation has endured as of late have left many feeling weary, but “we know that God cannot be outdone in generosity and charity.” He prayed God would provide all “with new wellsprings of love” to help those “hurting so deeply today.”

In Santa Rosa, Bishop Vasa reported that most of the parishes in the diocese were fine but that a Catholic high school and elementary school that share a campus suffered serious damage. Early reports indicated that “a significant portion” of the high school had been destroyed.

After Cardinal Newman High School officials were able to assess the damage, they reported that the news was better than first thought and that most of the high school’s facilities, including the chapel and retreat center, were “unscathed.”

However, they verified that the library, the main office building and portable buildings that housed several classrooms were lost. Another classroom building suffered roof damage and some of its windows were blown out. Of the athletic facilities, the school’s baseball infield and dugouts were damaged.

The diocesan chancery also was “in the heart of a severely fire damaged part of the city but fortunately was entirely spared,” Bishop Vasa said in his statement, but it was being used as an evacuation center and would remain closed to diocesan staff “for the unforeseeable future.”

“So I am currently working from my car and trying to visit a few of the evacuation centers,” the bishop said.

Residents embrace near the remains of destroyed homes Oct. 9 after wildfires in Santa Rosa, Calif. A series of deadly Northern California wildfires has killed at least 17 people, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, including a section of Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa. (CNS photo/John G. Mabanglo, EPA)

“In the city, they estimate that 1,500 homes and businesses have been lost,” he continued. “I have met numerous folks who are in shelters and who have no home to which to return. The sense of great helplessness is palpable.

“That helplessness extends to the caregivers who know that short term solutions are necessary but also severely inadequate to meet the long-term needs.”

The six-county Diocese of Santa Rose includes four of the counties hit hard by the fires — Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. Bishop Vasa called on all Catholics of the diocese to help their brothers and sisters who “have been severely impacted by the devastating fires and are in immediate need of your prayers. Please do not hesitate to offer your help though ongoing prayer, donations, and emotional support.”

“You may even be inspired to offer your home to a family who has lost everything. Simply imagine yourself and your family going through what many are experiencing now in reality, and act accordingly,” he advised.

Bishop Vasa said he would try to send occasional updates to the people of the diocese. “I appreciate the outpouring of concern and especially prayers. When people ask how they can help, I answer that I really do not know. I do know that prayers are the greatest source of solace and help.”

“My heart and prayers go out to all this displaced by the fire, especially those who have lost their homes,” he said. “I am extremely grateful to all the caregivers who have reached out so generously to your brothers and sisters in need.”

He added: “We all need to recognize that this is a long-term recovery and we are not yet done with the active fires. There is always need for ardent, consistent and devout prayers. I know that we can all count on you for this as well.”

In a letter to the Cardinal Newman High School community, church officials said that until further notice, all students, families and staff “are to stay away from the campus as it is in the evacuation zone and the site is not safe.”

School officials were working on a way to hold classes in another location, suggesting they might come up with a “hybrid” solution, offering some classes online. They invited families from the high school and St. Rose Elementary School to an evening meeting Oct. 12 on the “state of the schools” to share information and “how we plan to go forward.”

“We continue to pray for our families and our community who have suffered during this time, especially those who have lost their homes, business and have been displaced due to evacuation,” the letter said. “May God’s grace give you peace in this challenging time.”

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Much of Puerto Rico still has no power, aid distribution facing obstacles


By Catholic News Service

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico — The only way a military veteran who works for the Diocese of Caguas could get a message out from Puerto Rico to contacts elsewhere illustrates conditions in Puerto Rico nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island Sept. 20.

Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico, speaks during an Oct. 10 news conference in San Juan. The Catholic Church in Puerto Rico announced that it has already helped at least 50,000 affected by the Hurricane Maria with food and clothes. (CNS photo/Jorge Muniz, EPA)

“He sent the email from his car in the mountains, the only place where he can charge his phone and get some periodic reception,” reported Joe Boland, vice president of mission at Chicago-based Catholic Extension.

He got word from the veteran “that they have armed guards at gas stations. Communications and transportation are still a mess,” Boland said in an email sent to Catholic News Service in Washington Oct. 10.

After surviving the devastation wrought by Maria, Bishop Eusebio Ramos Morales of Caguas finally reached a functioning land line at one of his parishes and the first phone call he made was to Catholic Extension.

The bishop reached Boland and described the island of 3.4 million people as being in a total state of chaos. He said the Catholic Church was paralyzed due to the inability for anyone to travel or communicate. He reached out, hoping that Catholic Extension could help in some way.

A week after Maria hit, Catholic Extension was able to send $325,000 in relief funds for the six dioceses of Puerto Rico, with another $25,000 going to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Catholic Extension is a national fundraising organization that helps build churches and supports church ministries and other efforts in U.S. home missions. It has had a decades-long relationship with Puerto Rico. It first assisted the Archdiocese of San Juan with a church-building project in 1908.

“Catholic Extension is once again stepping forward to assist Catholic churches in need, continuing its century long mission of building faith, inspiring hope and igniting change,” said Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, chancellor of Catholic Extension, in a statement. “Chicagoans once again have a reason to be proud that Catholic Extension has its roots here.”

Other agencies that have provided aid include Catholic Charities USA, which sent $1 million in emergency aid to Caritas Puerto Rico, and the Knights of Columbus, which has sent $100,000 in aid.

As of Oct. 10, just 16 percent of electricity service had been restored. At an Oct. 6 news conference, Gov. Ricardo A. Rossello told reporters officials expected to have 25 percent of the electrical system restored “within the next month.” About 67 percent of cellphone towers remained down.

      Most Puerto Ricans are still struggling to get basic necessities — food, water, fuel, medicine, currency — and several relief organizations continue to face obstacles getting aid to those who need it most because of fuel shortages, and a majority of the roads are in ruins. The New York Times reported that only 392 miles of the 5,073 miles of the island’s roads are open.

At least 43 people have died as a result of the hurricane; officials said that number could rise as communication systems improve.

Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan announced at a news conference Oct. 10 that the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico has already helped at least 50,000 affected by the Hurricane Maria with food and clothes.

A few days after the hurricane hit, Archbishop Gonzalez’s staff sent an email to Catholic Extension at his request with a subject line that said: “WE WILL RISE!” It asked for help to “lift our diocesan infrastructure and (support) the parishes with the biggest damage.”

Catholic Extension said it has been “extraordinarily difficult for the Puerto Rican bishops and diocesan leaders to communicate with us, because provisional cellphone towers are only located in certain places and only function during certain hours. It is even hard for them to communicate with one another because many roads are still blocked or ripped up due to mudslides, and gasoline is nearly impossible to procure.”

As a result, it has been difficult for dioceses to assess the extent of damage to church property.

Beyond the obstacles to getting around to assess property damage in Puerto Rico’s six dioceses has been the challenge of getting the Catholic Church on the island “up and running again without having any sources of income for the foreseeable future — paying staff, keeping the lights on, and maintaining operations,” as well as “dealing with the humanitarian crisis” that is ongoing in terms of “feeding and sheltering people.”

Catholic Extension said it will help with the rebuilding and repairing of churches destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Maria, but, the statement said, that “will be a priority down the road.”

The organization is accepting donations at www.catholicextension.org/give/hurricane-support, with the amount to be matched dollar by dollar by some of Catholic Extension’s longtime donors.

Health care workers continue to sound the alarm about dire conditions and countless numbers of residents they say are still in desperate need of assistance.

Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said 16,000 federal and military assets are on the ground in Puerto Rico and about 350,000 Puerto Ricans have registered so far in the FEMA system to receive financial assistance.

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Stewardship experts discuss faith practices of millennials


Catholic News Service

ATLANTA — With two youngsters in tow for Sunday Mass, things can get forgotten, like cash, which Ryan Johnson admitted he rarely carries.

He’d love the option to use his mobile phone to donate to a cause at the parish on the spur of the moment.

Jamie Crane, with the Office of Planned Giving in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo., shares some insights on reaching out to millennial Catholics Sept. 19 at the International Catholic Stewardship Council’s annual conference in Atlanta. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

“We like cashless, paperless, checkless,” said Johnson, a millennial Catholic. The family gives money to the church with an automatic electronic check from his bank.

Faith is so important to him that the 35-year-old Johnson knits it together with his career as an energy engineer by nurturing a network of Catholic young professionals with Catholic Charities Atlanta that he hopes to see grow.

Ryan and his wife, Caroline, 30, joined St. Ann Church in Marietta, selecting from five nearby parishes in part because they can use their phones to read its website, keep up to date with parish news by reading an electronic newsletter, and interact with the 2,500 Facebook followers.

“You want to feel like, if I am talking about the parish, the parish is listening. If I’m commenting sometimes (on the Facebook page), I want an answer. I want to be engaged,” Johnson told The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

The leading edge of millennial-age believers is marrying and starting families. Parishes preparing for the future will evolve to meet the habits of this group, said a panel of four Atlanta millennials at the International Catholic Stewardship Council conference.

The conference drew some 1,100 to Atlanta Sept. 17-20. Church workers and priests attended scores of workshops during those four days on drawing people into a richer faith life.

Panels sharing insights on connecting with this digital native generation, who recently outnumbered baby boomers in the national population, were well attended at the conference.

Churches need to be aware of trends to serve those born after 1980 in effective ways. These young adults use technology to streamline their lives, using mobile payment apps instead of cash, are passionate about issues and want to engage with an authentic and personalized community.

Millennials are increasingly important as they move into adulthood and start families, said Father Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Denver. The church must train this age group as good stewards since parents are the most generous of its members, he said.

Stewardship is “a way of life for people,” said Father Kemberling, chairman of the International Catholic Stewardship Council. “We want to offer the best of our tradition. We are not going for the dollars. We are going for evangelizing. The point is to save souls.”

Audience members anxious to draw these young adults into the pews and schools left the conference rethinking old ways.

Carol English, who works at St. Joseph School in Marietta, wants these young men and women to think about Catholic schools for their children. But after hearing that mass-marketing pitches fail, she said the school needs to rethink its outreach toolbox.

“We do have to make our online presence a higher priority, above and beyond,” English said, after learning how this tech-savvy generation lives online and relies on social media.

Schools and parishes could rethink events to appeal to millennial interests, replacing an afternoon of golf with a social event, for example, featuring craft beer and food, she said.

In Marietta, St. Ann Church made an investment in 2012 and again in 2016 to hire professionals to design the parish website, said Graham Kuhn, who is responsible for parish communications.

“You shouldn’t have to lower your standards to look at a Catholic church website,” he said in a phone interview.

A site needs to be attractive, engaging and informative to draw people in, he said.

“Our whole angle on everything is we are focused on building for the future,” said Kuhn.

The parish Facebook page can serve as a community bulletin board. Kuhn’s policy is to respond to all comments. When a parishioner who had a bad experience with a ministry posted it online, she received a call and visit from a pastoral staff person to talk, he said. And other parishioners offered words of encouragement.

Kuhn said he sees that as a strength of social media, when parishioners respond to people’s comments to “heal wounds and build unity.”

In the hotel conference room, a standing-room-only crowd listened to back-to-back sessions on millennials, the generation born between 1980-2000. The first session focused on starting ministries targeting them.

Retaining Catholic millennials is increasingly a challenge. The number of people who identify as having no religious affiliation continues to rise. Fewer people in their 20s and 30s are interested in the Catholic Church. In 2014 the Pew Research Center found only 16 percent of millennials called themselves Catholic versus 23 percent of baby boomers.

For Abby Byron-Goslin, who works in the Diocese of Savannah, these adults in their 20s and 30s have gifts to be tapped to serve the church. She began a ministry called To Be Catholic and serves as the director of campus ministry in Savannah.

Millennials, like others before them, want answers to questions of identity and to belong to a community, she said. “Who they are and whose they are? They are children of God and they are his,” she said.

She believes millennials should be integrated into the parish community, serving in ministries, not an island by themselves.

Byron-Goslin said church leaders could do a better job building bridges starting from the youngest Catholics learning the faith and going up to college graduates. The problem is people leave the faith when there are gaps between ministries and some 80 percent of believers stop attending church in college, she said.

Janice Givens, a young adult pastoral leader who attends St. Brigid Church in Johns Creek, told the crowd there are people in their 20s and 30s in the pews just waiting for a nudge to come together.

“If you throw the net, you are going to get a ton of fish. Nobody is throwing the net,” said Givens, who funded Go FISH Outreach.

John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson environmental foundation, said he gives to causes if an organization explains how his family’s support changes lives.

“We are all issue driven. Our issues are diverse,” he said. “It’s got to be something you can connect to.”

Jeff Adams, a corporate real estate lawyer, said he values authenticity, so parishes that treat him impersonally are turnoffs.

If the vision for a parish and leadership is engaging, “you have my money, you have my time, you have my attention,” he said.     

Nelson is a staff reporter at The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

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Rosenbaum’s tally lifts Auks in visit to home of the Union


Dialog reporter


CHESTER, Pa. – Archmere and Wilmington Charter took to the road Oct. 10 for their Diamond State Athletic Conference boys soccer match, and under the lights at Talen Energy Stadium, the Auks ended up shining the brightest. Andrew Rosenbaum scored the only goal of the evening as Archmere made the short trip home to Claymont with a 1-0 win.

Both teams had opportunities to score, and Charter had controlled the play in the second half before the Auks struck. Archmere turned away a Force shot into the crease, and Rosenbaum took possession of the ball. He sent it to Zach Dainton near midfield and took off downfield. Dainton pushed a through ball on the give-and-go, and Rosenbaum had a step on the nearest Charter defender. Keeper Matt Bowen came out, but Rosenbaum was able to drill it belt high to Bowen’s left in the 65th minute. Read more »

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Poverty, violence hinder progress for many women, says nuncio at U.N.


UNITED NATIONS — Conditions in many parts of the world force women and girls to bear the burden of carrying out everyday chores for their families and communities, keeping many of them from getting even a basic education, the Vatican’s U.N. nuncio said Oct. 6.

A Palestinian woman harvests wheat by hand on a farm near Salfit, West Bank, in 2016. Education is essential in enabling women in every country “to become dignified agents of their own development,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations Oct. 6 at U.N. headquarters in New York. (CNS photo/Alaa Badrneh, EPA)

Females are often the victims of sexual and other violence, which prevents them from improving life for themselves and their families, said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations. Migrant women and girls are particularly vulnerable to these situations, he added.

He addressed the issue of women’s advancement during a session at the United Nations of the Third Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

“Young women in rural areas are disproportionately involved in unpaid domestic work and especially bear the greatest burden when access to clean water and sanitation is not readily available,” Archbishop Auza said. “They are forced to spend considerable time and effort collecting water for the community, and in doing so, their access to basic education is often thwarted, not to mention that, in many isolated places, they are also exposed to risks of violence.”

Failure to achieve “that basic human right” of universal access to safe drinkable water “can undermine other human rights, as it is a prerequisite for their realization,” he said.

Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’” points to “the abandonment and neglect … experienced by some rural populations which lack access to essential services,” Archbishop Auza said, quoting the document. In many areas, the pope noted, “some workers are reduced to conditions of servitude, without rights or even the hope of a more dignified life.”

Women and girls often bear “the heaviest burden from these deprivations,” the archbishop said.

Regarding education, “significant progress has been made toward parity between boys and girls from families of relative wealth or decent economic standing,” the archbishop said, but women and girls who live in poverty lack schooling, literacy skills and opportunities for adult education.

Adolescent girls “are at the greatest risk of exclusion from education due to social and economic hardships,” Archbishop Auza said. “Whenever young women and girls do not have access to education, they are hindered from becoming dignified agents of their own development.”

To change this reality, the “basic material needs of every school-age girl living in rural areas must be addressed,” Archbishop Auza said. One initiative that has “proven efficient,” he said, is providing school meals to reduce girls’ absenteeism. Such efforts should be encouraged “to guarantee access to education to each and every girl,” he added.

A current partnership between local farmers, including women, and the World Food Program of the United Nations to provide “homegrown school meals” in 37 countries is “a hopeful example,” Archbishop Auza said. The effort “attends to the needs of girls and boys, fosters education and increases market access for women, all at the same time,” he said.

Based in Rome, the World Food Program is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security. It provides food aid to an average of 80 million people in 76 countries each year.

Addressing the violence women and girls face, Archbishop Auza again quoted Pope Francis in saying that eliminating violence is impossible “until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed.”

“Through poverty and exclusion, adolescent girls, especially those in rural areas, also experience heightened vulnerability to sexual exploitation, child marriage and other unacceptable forms of violence,” the archbishop said. “The horrifying prevalence of violence against women, thus, remains a salient and sad example of the deep connection between economic exclusion and violence.”

Archbishop Auza also discussed the current global migration crisis and its effect on migrant women and girls in particular, reminding the global community it has a responsibility “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate” migrants and refugees.

“Millions of women and girls are fleeing violent conflicts or extreme poverty only to find themselves exploited by traffickers and manipulators along perilous routes and even in host communities,” the archbishop said.

The Vatican’s U.N. delegation, he said, “strongly supports the international community in its efforts to raise awareness and take concrete steps to prevent the abhorrent phenomenon of violence perpetrated against migrant women and girls.”

“Women often heroically defend and protect their families, sacrificing much to achieve a better life for themselves and their children,” Archbishop Auza said. “They deserve to be assisted and supported in order to realize their legitimate aspirations to a better life for themselves and for their loved ones.”

He said the Vatican “remains strongly committed” to endeavors aimed “at truly protecting women’s dignity, while promoting their integral development and advancement within the family and society.”

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Sals ground out win, turn attention to top-ranked Middletown


For The Dialog


WILMINGTON – Salesianum, ranked second in the 302 Sports top 10, scored four rushing touchdowns and held off visiting Episcopal Academy (Pa.), 28-20, on Oct. 7. The Sals improved to 4-1 and will host No. 1 Middletown on Friday the 13th and looked to pass this test against a strong opponent. Read more »

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Watkins scores three times in Spartans big win on homecoming weekend


Dialog reporter


MILLTOWN – Andrew Watkins ran for 145 yards and three touchdowns, and the St. Mark’s defense clamped down on Mount Pleasant, leading the Spartans to a 58-7 nonconference football win Oct. 6. It was the third straight convincing win for the Spartans, and it came in front of a homecoming crowd that included several recent graduates.

St. Mark’s held a 13-7 lead midway through the second quarter on touchdown runs of one yard by Watkins and 10 yards by Matt Dougherty, and they erased any doubt about the outcome of the game with three more scores before halftime. Read more »

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Trump administration expands exemptions on contraceptive mandate


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington Sept. 26. The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

While providing an exemption for religious employers, the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

President Donald Trump had pledged to lift the mandate burden placed on religious employers during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, but Catholic leaders and the heads of a number of Catholic entities had criticized the administration for a lack of action on that pledge in the months that followed.

From the outset, churches were exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers. The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.

A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Senior Health and Human Services officials who spoke to reporters Oct. 5 on the HHS rule on the condition of anonymity said that the exemption to the contraceptive mandate would apply to all the groups that had sued against it. Groups suing the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Eternal Word Television Network and some Catholic and other Christian universities.

In reaction immediately after the 150-page interim ruling was issued, religious groups that had opposed the mandate were pleased with the administration’s action.

An Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the new rule “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The church leaders also said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Lori said the decision was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

Michael Warsaw, EWTN chairman and CEO president, said the television network’s legal team would be “carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, told reporters in a telephone news conference an hour after the rule was released that it is a “common sense and balanced rule and a great step forward for religious liberty.”

He said the rule “carves out a narrow exemption” and keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for those without moral or religious objections to it.

He noted that it does not provide immediate relief for those groups who had challenged it, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which Becket represents. They will “still need relief in courts,” he said, but was confident now that it would happen.

“We’ve traveled a long way,” he added, of the multiple challenges to the contraceptive mandate in recent years, which he described as an “unnecessary culture war fight.”

Rienzi, noted that the HHS rule could have eliminated the contraceptive mandate completely but it did not do so. He also said the new rule is open for comments for a 90-day period and will likely face legal challenges, which already began in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of members of the ACLU and Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West who say they are at risk of losing their contraception coverage because of where they work or attend school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the interim rules violate the establishment clause regarding religion in the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution “by authorizing and promoting religiously motivated and other discrimination against women seeking reproductive health care.”


Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.


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Women must not be subjugated, but eliminating differences between sexes ‘isn’t right,’ pope says


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While societies must find a way to overcome the subjugation of women, pretending there are no differences between men and women or even using technology to change a person’s sex is not the answer, Pope Francis said.

Using science “to radically eliminate any difference between the sexes, and, as a result, the covenant between man and woman, is not right,” the pope said Oct. 5, opening the Pontifical Academy for Life’s general assembly. Read more »

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40 Catholic institutions plan to divest $5 trillion from fossil fuel companies


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Forty Catholic institutions, including the Belgian bishops’ conference and a leading church social welfare agency in South Africa, have decided to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The organizations cited the call of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” to take steps to protect the environment as well as the importance of making investments that lead to a carbon-neutral economy in an effort to address climate change. Read more »

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