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Trump nominates Callista Gingrich ambassador to Vatican

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WASHINGTON — As he prepared to meet Pope Francis for the first time, President Donald Trump formally nominated Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

The White House announced the nomination late May 19 as Trump was beginning his first overseas trip, a trip that would include a meeting with Pope Francis May 24 at the Vatican.

Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. She is pictured as her husband speaks at Peachtree Academy in Covington, Georgia, in this Feb. 29, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Erik S. Lesser, EPA)

Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. She is pictured as her husband speaks at Peachtree Academy in Covington, Georgia, in this Feb. 29, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Erik S. Lesser, EPA)

The nomination of Gingrich, 51, a former congressional aide, had been rumored for months. If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed Ambassador Ken Hackett, who retired in January. She would be the third woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See after Lindy Boggs, who held the post in 1997-2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who served in 2008-2009.

Gingrich is president of Gingrich Productions, which produces documentaries as well as other materials related to her husband, Republican Newt Gingrich, who served from 1995 until 1999 as the 50th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2010, the company released the film “Nine Days That Changed the World” about Pope John Paul II’s nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and how it played a part in the fall of communism in Europe. Callista Gingrich graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988, majoring in music, a passion that has remained with her throughout life. She is a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Some like John Schlageter, executive director of the Bethlehem University Foundation in Washington, hailed the choice.

“It might make me biased, but I think that her years of singing in the choir at the national shrine has given her a backstage pass to some of the most important events in the life in the church in the United States, including two papal visits,” said Schlageter, who is a friend of the couple. The Gingriches are patrons of Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land founded by the Vatican and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, he said.

Schlageter said Callista Gingrich’s time producing the documentary about Pope John Paul helped her create professional relationships and friendships in the U.S. and Rome that will serve her well should she be confirmed to the post.

“She also loves the church and the United States,” he said May 15. “I think she’s a wonderful choice.”

Others criticized the choice online because she admitted to having an affair for years with Newt Gingrich while he was married to his second wife. After his 1999 divorce, the two married the following year and he became a Catholic in 2009, saying Callista, a lifelong Catholic, was instrumental in making that choice.

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Justice Alito warns of infringements to freedom of religion

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Catholic News Service

WYNNEWOOD, Pa. — The graduating class at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Philadelphia archdiocese received a special treat at the Concursus graduation ceremony held in the seminary chapel May 17.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. received an honorary doctorate of letters and delivered the formal address.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia applauds after awarding an honorary degree to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito May 17 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS /SarahWebb/CatholicPhilly.com)

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia applauds after awarding an honorary degree to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito May 17 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS /SarahWebb/CatholicPhilly.com)

The award to Alito was “in testimony to and recognition of his many outstanding contributions to society,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in his introduction, “especially in protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, the full responsibilities of the human person and promoting true justice and lasting peace.”

In his address Alito spoke of the freedom of religion as enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution and encroachments on that freedom today.

A southern New Jersey native, he is well versed in the history of religious toleration as it developed in Philadelphia, and the important role that religion played in the development of the Constitution, including the visits by the Founding Fathers to the city’s various churches, among them Old St. Mary’s, tracing back to the Revolution.

Part of freedom of religion is “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” Alito said. “Most of my life Americans were instilled in this,” he added, urging his audience to “keep the flame burning.”

In an interview for the seminarians’ blog, “Seminarian Casual,” Alito said that “our most foresighted Founders understood that our country could not hold together unless religious freedom was protected.”

Which is why, he said, George Washington, shortly after his election as the nation’s first president “made a point of writing to minority religious groups, to the United Baptist churches in Virginia, the annual meeting of Quakers, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, and to the nation’s tiny Catholic population.”

“Washington and other founders also saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government,” Alito added. “What the founders understood more than 200 years ago is just as true today.”

Regarding threats to religious freedom, the justice said, “There is cause for concern at the present time.”

He noted that in his dissent in the Obergefell decision in which the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, I anticipated that the decision would “be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

“I added, ‘I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.’”

After Alito’s talk, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of St. Charles Seminary, told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan news website, said the justice “was very inspiring.” “”He reminded us that of the rights imbedded in our Constitution, religious freedom is the most fundamental and it is not respected throughout the world today.”

Jim Godericci, who attended Concursus with his wife, Regina, who is a member of the seminary’s development committee of the seminary, found it encouraging that “there are still some people in the justice field who still have a God-fearing, God-respecting attitude.”

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, who has seminarians at St. Charles and is himself a graduate, appreciated the topic of religious freedom, especially the local flavor and historical perspective.

“It’s extremely important; so many of our citizens have no clue of the history of these issues,” he said. “The contemporary feeling is not the same as at the roots.”

 

Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Eric Banecker contributed to this story.

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United States urged to address religious freedom violations worldwide

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WASHINGTON — A U.S. congressman told attendees at a Washington summit on Christian persecution that “more than ever before, vigorous U.S. leadership and diplomacy are needed to address religious freedom violations globally.”

“Religious persecution is festering and exploding around the world. What has been unconscionable for decades, centuries, has gotten worse,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said May 12 in remarks at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. Read more »

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Retired Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn dies

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DOUGLASTON, N.Y. — Retired Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, who headed the diocese from 1990 until his retirement in 2003, died early May 15 at the Immaculate Conception Center’s Bishop Mugavero Residence in Douglaston in the borough of Queens. He was 89.

Funeral arrangements were not yet available.

Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y., applauds as he shares a laugh with President George H. Bush in 1992. Bishop Daily, who retired in 2003, died May 15 at Immaculate Conception Center's Bishop Mugavero Residence in the Queens borough of New York City. (CNS photo/Ed Wilkinson, The Tablet)

Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y., applauds as he shares a laugh with President George H. Bush in 1992. Bishop Daily, who retired in 2003, died May 15 at Immaculate Conception Center’s Bishop Mugavero Residence in the Queens borough of New York City. (CNS photo/Ed Wilkinson, The Tablet)

“Bishop Daily was a man who personified the Second Vatican Council’s call for a preferential option for the poor,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said in a statement. “He ministered to indigenous people amidst poverty in Peru, women in crisis pregnancies, as well as new and often poor immigrants living in Brooklyn.

“He never acted out of malice or to further his own self-interest. At heart he was a missionary. I suspect he wished he could have remained in the missions his entire life,” Bishop DiMarzio added.

Bishop Daily was installed as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn in 1990 and served during a time of racial tension and financial hardship. In his later years, Bishop Daily suffered declining health.

As a young priest, then-Father Daily served the indigenous people of Lima, Peru, for five years. Ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1952 by Cardinal Richard Cushing, he joined the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle in 1960 and moved to the Minatambo area of Lima. He often referred to his time there, ministering to the poor, as the happiest of his life.

Founded in 1958 by Cardinal Cushing, the missionary society is an international organization of diocesan missionary priests who volunteer a minimum of five years of their priestly lives to service in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. It was established by the cardinal in response to St. John XXIII’s call for members of the Catholic Church in economically favored nations to assist their fellow Catholics in Latin America.

Thomas Vose Daily was born Sept. 23, 1927, to Mary McBride Vose and John F. Daily, in Belmont, Massachusetts.

His graduated from Boston College, and after his studies at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., he was ordained by Cardinal Cushing at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Following ordination, he was assigned as curate for St. Ann’s Church in the Wollaston neighborhood of Quincy, Massachusetts. He remained in that post through the rest of the 1950s.

After returning to Boston after his time as a missionary, he was assigned again to St. Ann’s, where he served as assistant pastor until 1971. Father Daily was appointed to the position of secretary to Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, who succeeded Cardinal Cushing as Boston’s archbishop.

In 1975, Father Daily was ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Boston and in 1976, he was appointed vicar general of the archdiocese. Because of his fluency in Spanish, he was given special duties regarding the Spanish-speaking members of the archdiocese.

On July 17, 1984, Bishop Daily was appointed the first bishop of the new Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla. Among his most noteworthy actions was his leading of pro-life prayer vigils at local abortion clinics.

Bishop Daily also served as the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus for many years. With the Knights, the Diocese of Brooklyn hosted Pope John Paul II for a celebration of the Mass at Aqueduct Race Track Oct. 6,1995.

On Aug. 1, 2003, Bishop Daily announced that his resignation as bishop of Brooklyn had been accepted by the pope.

As bishop emeritus, he was a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, a member of the boards of the Society of St. James the Apostle in Boston, and a member of the National Catholic Office for Persons With Disabilities in Washington.

Bishop Daily “served the Knights as supreme chaplain with dedication and joy from 1987 to 2005, and will be deeply missed,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a May 15 statement. “In life, he followed the example of the Good Shepherd and cared deeply for his diocesan flock and for the Knights of Columbus. I invite all Knights and their families to remember him in their prayers.”

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N.C. priest at Phila. seminary named auxiliary bishop for Atlanta

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has appointed Father Bernard E. Shlesinger III, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, to be an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Bishop-designate Shlesinger, 56, is currently the director of spiritual formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.

Father Bernard E. Shlesinger III, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., speaks during a May 15 news conference after Pope Francis appointed him as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Bishop-designate Shlesinger, 56, is currently director of spiritual formation in the theology division at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. (CNS/Micael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Father Bernard E. Shlesinger III, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., speaks during a May 15 news conference after Pope Francis appointed him as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Bishop-designate Shlesinger, 56, is currently director of spiritual formation in the theology division at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. (CNS/Micael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

The appointment was announced in Washington May 15 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop-designate Shlesinger’s episcopal ordination will take place at Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta, but the date has not yet been announced.

“I warmly welcome him to the Archdiocese of Atlanta and I look forward to working with him in service to this local church,” Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said in a statement about the newly named bishop.

As a Raleigh diocesan priest, Bishop-designate Shlesinger “comes to us from a diocese within the ecclesiastical province of Atlanta where he has longed enjoyed the endorsement of the bishops of our province and the well-deserved respect, admiration, and affection of the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Raleigh,” the archbishop said.

“Ned is a man of prayer, prudence, and apostolic zeal,” added Archbishop Gregory, who has headed the archdiocese since 2005. “He is eminently qualified to assume these new responsibilities as auxiliary bishop in Atlanta, and I welcome him with an enthusiastic and jubilant heart. I am certain that we all will come to know and love him and discover how truly fortunate we are to have been sent this man of faith and pastoral skill.”

Since 2013, Bishop-designate Shlesinger has been director of spiritual formation in the theology division of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Before that he served in many different capacities in the Diocese of Raleigh including as a pastor, a member of the priests’ council, and director of vocations and seminary formation, 2007-2013.

“We have been blessed to have him with us for the last four years as director of spiritual formation,” said the seminary’s rector, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior. “We were expecting him to return home for a new assignment in the Diocese of Raleigh. (He) will surely be a shepherd after the heart of Jesus, and the church will be blessed by his generous service as a successor to the apostles.”

Father Shlesinger is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, serving from 1983 to 1990, when he retired with the rank of captain. He flew the C-130E Hercules while stationed at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Born Dec. 17, 1960, Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger was raised in Northern Virginia. He is the youngest of six children of Bernard E. Shlesinger Jr. and Rita Belmont Shlesinger.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 1983. He went on to attend Theological College in Washington, where he studied pre-theology and philosophy. He attended Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning a bachelor of arts degree in sacred theology in 1995. That same year he then began studies for a licentiate of sacred theology Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also in Rome.

He was ordained a priest June 22, 1996.

The Archdiocese of Atlanta currently has one active auxiliary bishop, Bishop Luis R. Zarama. It encompasses just over 21,000 square miles across 69 counties in north and central Georgia and is home to 1.1 million Catholics, out of a total population of about 7 million.

 

Contributing to this story was Matthew Gambino in Philadelphia.

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Reports say Callista Gingrich will be nominated as Vatican ambassador

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, will be Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, two U.S. news outlets are reporting.

The New York Times and CNN reported May 14 that the official announcement of the nomination is waiting to be approved by the Office of Government Ethics.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich poses with his wife, Callista, in 2009 outside St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Callista Gingrich is said to be nominated  as the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. (CNS file photo)

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich poses with his wife, Callista, in 2009 outside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Callista Gingrich is said to be President Trump’s new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. (CNS file photo)

Callista Gingrich, 51, a former congressional aide, is the president of Gingrich Productions, which produces documentaries as well as other materials related to her husband, Republican Newt Gingrich, who served from 1995 until 1999 as the 50th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2010, the company released the film “Nine Days That Changed the World” about Pope John Paul II’s nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and how it played a part in the fall of communism in Europe. Callista Gingrich graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988, majoring in music, a passion that has remained with her throughout life. She is a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Some like John Schlageter, executive director of the Bethlehem University Foundation in Washington, hailed the choice.

“It might make me biased, but I think that her years of singing in the choir at the national shrine has given her a backstage pass to some of the most important events in the life in the church in the United States, including two papal visits,” said Schlageter, who is a friend of the couple. The Gingriches are patrons of Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land founded by the Vatican and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, he said.

Schlageter said Callista Gingrich’s time producing the documentary about Pope John Paul helped her create professional relationships and friendships in the U.S. and Rome that will serve her well should she be confirmed to the post.

“She also loves the church and the United States,” he told Catholic News Service May 15. “I think she’s a wonderful choice.”

Others criticized the choice online because she admitted to having an affair for years with Newt Gingrich while he was married to his second wife. After his 1999 divorce, the two married the following year and he became a Catholic in 2009, saying Callista, a lifelong Catholic, was instrumental in making that choice.

If confirmed, she will succeed Ken Hackett, former head of Catholic Relief Services, who served as the 10th ambassador to the Holy See under President Barack Obama. He held the post from October 2013 until mid-January.

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Texas bishops oppose state’s new ‘anti-sanctuary’ law

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Catholic bishops of Texas said the state’s move to prohibit cities and other jurisdictions from providing sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation “does not help peace officers build trust with the migrant community.”

On May 7, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the “anti-sanctuary” measure passed by the Texas Legislature.

In a May 5 statement, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops had urged Abbott to veto the bill, known as S.B. 4, saying they were disappointed lawmakers had voted for the bill and said it went beyond the governor’s goal “to ensure local sheriffs and police did not undermine the immigration laws enforced by the federal government.”

“The bill exceeds this goal, because it also allows local peace officers to inquire into the legal status of people who are detained, rather than just those who are arrested,” the bishops said. “With such a law, people who have done nothing to merit arrest or citation can be asked for their legal status. The bill will decrease trust from our immigrant community in our law enforcement officers.”

The new law bans cities and other jurisdictions from providing sanctuary to immigrants in the country without legal permission if they are facing deportation. It says police chiefs and county sheriffs who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities would face jail time.

It also allows police officers to ask people they detain, including for a routine traffic stop, about their immigration status.

“Enforcement measures should have the goal of targeting dangerous criminals for incarceration and deportation. S.B. 4 does not meet these standards,” the Texas bishops said.

“Our clergy, religious brothers and sisters, and laity have a long history of involvement in serving migrants,” they said. “Our ministry compels us to speak out on the issue of immigration reform, which is a moral issue that impacts human rights. We continue to advocate for more just and comprehensive immigration laws, which include reunification of families and creating more just pathways to citizenship.”

The bishops asked all Texans to join them “in praying for our leaders, peace officers, migrants and citizens. May we give thanks for the good laws of our state, and tirelessly work to ensure that our laws always protect each of our God-given rights.”

On May 8, the state of Texas filed a lawsuit in federal court as a preemptive move against local officials who oppose the new law and are expected to fight it in court.

State Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

The new law “is constitutional, lawful and a vital step in securing our borders,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, some municipalities and law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with the federal government and claim that S.B. 4 is unconstitutional.”

In January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order saying the federal government would withhold funds from cities and other entities if local officials do not cooperate with immigration enforcement. A federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked the order, ruling that only Congress could withhold funds.

According to news reports from around the country, several cities, towns and counties, have revised or reversed “sanctuary” declarations for their jurisdictions after the threat of losing federal money.

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Minnesota bishop denies coercing abuse victim from reporting allegation

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston “categorically denies that he in any way forced, coerced or encouraged” a candidate for the permanent diaconate not to report his claim of sexual abuse against a priest of the diocese, the Diocese of Crookston stated May 9.

The diocese issued the statement in response to a lawsuit filed that day against the bishop and the diocese.

Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston, Minn.,  (CNS file/Paul Haring) (

Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston, Minn., (CNS file/Paul Haring) 

At a news conference held at attorney Jeff Anderson’s St. Paul office, the plaintiff, Ron Vasek, said he told Bishop Hoeppner about the abuse, which he said he suffered as a teenager, while he was considering becoming a permanent deacon for the diocese in 2009 or 2010. He said the bishop told him that he couldn’t tell anyone, including his wife, because it would damage the reputation of the accused priest, Msgr. Roger Grundhaus, who had held leadership positions in the diocese.

According to the Diocese of Crookston, the abuse allegation was reported to law enforcement in 2011. According to Anderson, Msgr. Grundhaus’ name was not included on a list of priests accused of abuse that the diocese released in 2014.

Vasek, 62, entered the diaconate program in 2011. He said that in 2015, Bishop Hoeppner asked him to sign a letter stating that the abuse didn’t happen, as the abuse accusation was prohibiting the bishop from clearing Msgr. Grundhaus for ministry in another diocese. Vasek also said that the bishop told him that not signing the letter would make it difficult for the bishop to ordain Vasek a deacon and it could affect assignments for his son, who was recently ordained as a priest. Vasek said he felt that the statement was a threat, but he signed the letter to protect his son.

Vasek also said that Bishop Hoeppner recently tried to prevent his ordination to the diaconate, which was scheduled for June, by asking his pastor to withdraw support for his ordination. At that time, he shared the story of his abuse for the first time with his wife, Patty, and the director of the diocese’s diaconate program, Father Robert Schreiner.

According to the complaint, around 1971 Msgr. Grundhaus sexually abused Vasek, who was then 16, while Vasek was accompanying the priest to a meeting of canon lawyers in Columbus, Ohio. Msgr. Grundhaus retired from full-time ministry in 2010 but has continued to assist at parishes. According to the diocese’s statement, he is currently suspended from active ministry.

In addition to accusing Bishop Hoeppner of coercion, the suit files a count against the bishop for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Filed against the diocese are counts of neglect, negligent supervision, negligent retention and two counts of nuisance.

Vasek is seeking at least $50,000 in damages, as well as an order requiring the diocese to publicly release the names of “all agents” accused of abuse, and an order for the diocese to “discontinue its current practice and policy of dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse by its agents secretly, and that it work with civil authorities to create, implement and follow a policy for dealing with such molesters that will better protect children and the general public from further harm.”

Father Schreiner stood alongside Ron and Patty Vasek and spoke in support of Ron.

“I believe him,” he said. “My experience of Ron over these many years is that he simply isn’t capable of manufacturing this.”

Vasek said his Catholic faith hasn’t been shaken by the situation.
“My faith in the Catholic Church has never wavered one bit and never will,” he said.

“I don’t want this at all, ever, to be talked about as to be against the Catholic Church,” he added. “This is to purify the men in the church (because of) their sinful actions and their unlawful actions that has nothing to do with the Catholic faith, but has to do with men within the corporation part of the Catholic faith. … The truth will set you free, and that’s why I’m here today.”

A native of Winona, Bishop Hoeppner has served since 2007 as bishop of Crookston in northwestern Minnesota.

“Bishop Hoeppner and other diocesan leaders are deeply saddened and troubled about the allegations made today by Ron Vasek,” the Diocese of Crookston said in its statement. “The Diocese of Crookston takes all allegations of sexual abuse very seriously.”

It stated that it “plans to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter” and that Bishop Hoeppner “asks that all those involved be kept in prayer during this difficult time.”

 

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Backgrounder: Long-awaited executive order on religion has unclear path ahead

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, President Donald Trump told a group of religious leaders: “It was looking like you’d never get here, but you got here, folks,” referring to their presence at the signing of the executive order on religious liberty.

Maybe some in the group wondered where “here” was since they hadn’t even seen the two-page executive order they were gathered to congratulate and only knew the general idea of it from a White House memo issued the previous night with just three bullet points.

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The order didn’t seem to part any seas to make an immediate path to religious freedom, especially since it places decisions for how this will play out in the hands of federal agencies and the attorney general.

Catholic leaders in general seemed to view it with cautious optimism, praising the order as a first step but not the final word.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who attended the White House ceremony also celebrating the National Day of Prayer, said immediately after the event that he had yet to see the entire executive order. He defined the principle of it: “There should not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when people are exercising their religious freedom in the public square or institutions they run.

The two-page order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” was posted on the White House website hours after it was signed. It is half the length of a leaked draft version of this order published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine. The order signed by the president is short on specifics and far less detailed than the leaked draft.

It devotes the most space to a promised easing of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bans churches and nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status from taking part in partisan political activity. Although it would take an act of Congress to do away with this regulation, Trump can direct the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce it.

Many people likely aren’t familiar with the amendment by name, or they weren’t before this executive order, but they support the idea of it, according to a May 4 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows 71 percent of Americans favor the law, as do most all major U.S. religious groups Only about one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to 56 percent who oppose it. Also, just 23 percent of white mainline Protestants, 25 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of black Protestants support churches endorsing political candidates.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport May 4 on his way back to his diocese for a confirmation Mass, Cardinal DiNardo said the amendment was likely more important to evangelical Christians than Catholics because, as he pointed out, the Catholic Church “has the tradition of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’” which he said puts the Johnson Amendment in a bigger context.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility, guides voters not according to the stances of specific political candidates but Catholic social teaching.

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email to Catholic News Service that the order’s emphasis on weakening the Johnson Amendment did not seem particularly significant, noting: “it is already the case that the relevant agencies and officials are highly deferential — as they should be — to churches and religious leaders, especially when it comes to what’s said in the context of sermons and homilies.”

Commenting on another major point of the executive order, relief to employers with religious objections to include contraception coverage in their employees’ health care plans, Garnett called it “a good thing — and long overdue,” but he also noted that “such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions.”

In a statement after the order was signed, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised to take action “to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.” The promise didn’t give any specifics.

The lack of details in the order even caused the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been poised to sue, to change its course. In a statement issued hours after the order’s signing, ACLU director Anthony Romero said the order had “no discernible policy outcome.”

“After careful review of the order’s text, we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process,” he said.

But the group also stands ready to sue the Trump administration if the order generates any official government action. Religious groups, for opposite reasons, likewise stand ready to see if the order has any teeth.

As Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement: “This order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American,” with the added caveat, “There is still work to be done.”

 

Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth.

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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