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Paralyzed NYPD officer who spoke of forgiveness dies at 59

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NEW YORK — Detective Steven McDonald, the New York City police officer who was paralyzed after being shot in the line of duty 30 years ago and famously forgave his teenage assailant and went on to became a prophetic voice for forgiveness and reconciliation, died Jan. 10. He was 59.

A New York police spokesman confirmed that McDonald, who was Catholic, had died at a Long Island hospital four days after suffering a heart attack.

Detective Steven McDonald of the New York Police Department, who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty in 1986, smiles as he is greeted by then Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in 2013. McDonald died Jan. 10 at a Long Island hospital at age 59. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Detective Steven McDonald of the New York Police Department, who was shot and paralyzed in the line of duty in 1986, smiles as he is greeted by then Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2013. McDonald died Jan. 10 at a Long Island hospital at age 59. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York called McDonald “a prophet, without speaking, of the pro-life cause.”

“He showed us,” the cardinal said, “that the value of life doesn’t depend on physical ability, but on one’s heart and soul, both of which he had in abundance.”

The cardinal told Catholic New York, newspaper of the New York archdiocese, that he had visited McDonald in the hospita’s intensive care unit and said that the many rosaries and religious statues there represented outward signs of a Catholic faith the detective dearly practiced.

“You could see that he was such a fervent Catholic,” Cardinal Dolan said.

McDonald often discussed his Catholic faith and the reason he forgave the teenage shooter, explaining that he believed what happened to him was God’s will and that he was meant to become a messenger for God’s message of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in the world.

While on patrol July 12, 1986, McDonald came upon three teenagers in Central Park and stopped to frisk them because he thought one of them had a weapon in his sock. One of the youths, then-15-year-old Shavod Jones, pulled out a weapon of his own and shot McDonald, leaving him for dead as the trio fled.

Three bullets struck McDonald, including one that pierced his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.

Doctors initially told McDonald’s wife, Patti, who was three months pregnant with the couple’s son, that the officer would not survive. However, McDonald pulled through. At the baptism of the son, Conor, March 1, 1987, McDonald asked his wife to read a statement about his feeling toward the shooter, saying “I forgive him and hope he can find a purpose in his life.”

McDonald remained on the police department payroll after being shot and later was named a detective.

McDonald long hoped that he and Jones could team up to speak about reconciliation. They corresponded while Jones served a 10-year sentence for attempted murder, but the correspondence ended when McDonald declined a request from Jones’ family for help in seeking parole, saying he was not knowledgeable enough or capable to intervene. Jones died in a 1995 motorcycle accident shortly after being released from prison on parole.

For years after the shooting, McDonald drew widespread attention and media coverage. He met with St. John Paul II in 1995 and with South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. Although he was able to breathe only with the help of a respirator, McDonald crossed the country speaking at schools and other venues about the importance of forgiveness and peace. He also became an advocate for peace in troubled lands, visiting Northern Ireland, Israel and Bosnia to take his message to communities in conflict.

Conor McDonald eventually joined the NYPD and became a sergeant in 2016. He is the fourth generation of the family to serve in the department.

McDonald was born March 1, 1957, in Queens Village, New York, and grew up in Rockville Centre on Long Island. He was one of eight children of David and Anita McDonald.

      A funeral Mass was scheduled for Jan. 13 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City with Cardinal Dolan presiding.

      – – –

      Contributing to this report was Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

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Cardinal Dolan to read from Book of Wisdom at inauguration

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said the Scripture passage he chose to read at the Jan. 20 inauguration of Donald J. Trump as president, Wisdom chapter 9 in which King Solomon prays for wisdom to lead Israel according to God’s will, was an easy one to make.

“I pray it all the time,” he said and joked that “the Lord still hasn’t answered the prayer.”

Jokes aside, Cardinal Dolan said that Solomon’s prayer has been one offered to God for centuries.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Bob Roller)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In the prayer, Solomon acknowledges that God made humankind “to govern the world in holiness and righteousness and to render judgment in integrity of heart.” The king continues by asking God for wisdom, “the consort at your throne, and do not reject me from among your children.”

Solomon also pleads with God to send wisdom “that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is pleasing to you.” He asks that his “deeds will be acceptable and I will judge your people justly and be worthy of my father’s throne.”

As for his appearance on the podium at the start of the inaugural ceremony with three other faith leaders, Cardinal Dolan explained that he was “flattered” to be invited to participate by inauguration planners.

The cardinal has one minute to read the passage. “That’s more than enough,” he said. “I’ve timed it.”

He also was asked to send his selection to the Trump team. “I don’t know if that was for vetting purposes or not, which I think is appropriate to do so,” he told CNS.

And in these divisive times in the country, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that he opened himself to critics by agreeing to be part of the ceremonies on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.

“I know they are (there) because they’ve written to me,” he said. “And as I tell them, had Mrs. (Hillary) Clinton won and invited me, I would have been just as honored.

“We pastors and religious leaders are in the sacred enterprise of prayer. People ask us to pray with them and for them. That doesn’t mean we’re for them or against them,” he added.

“That’s our sacred responsibility.”

The cardinal noted that he had met Trump twice. The first time came Oct. 14 in the midst of the presidential campaign when Trump and his wife, Melania, made the six-block trip from Trump Tower to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. At the time, diocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said that Trump had requested the meeting weeks before it occurred.

The two met again at the 71st annual dinner of the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation six days later.

For the record, Cardinal Dolan met Clinton a few months earlier and also at the dinner, according to Zwilling.

The inauguration of a new president can be a time of hope and renewal for the country, Cardinal Dolan said.

“Many people may have reservations of the president-elect and I certainly do, as with any incoming president. But in the great American tradition, we look at the time of an incoming president as a time of hope … a way to give a man a chance and try to fulfill some of the promises he made.”

Trump’s inauguration won’t be the first in which a Catholic cleric participated. History shows that Msgr. John Ryan, a pioneer of the church’s social justice advocacy who served a long term as director of the U.S. bishops’ social action department, offered a prayer at the President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 inauguration.

Prelates who prayed at inaugurations include Cardinal Richard J. Cushing of Boston at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961; Cardinal Terrence J. Cooke of New York, at both of President Richard Nixon’s inaugurations in 1969 and 1973; and, most recently, Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who was U.S. bishops’ conference president in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter took the oath of office.

Cardinal Dolan said he attended ceremonies as a private citizen for President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and President George H.W. Bush in 1989.

 

The full Bible passage of Wisdom chapter 9 can be found online at www.usccb.org/bible/wisdom/9:13.

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Charleston bishop opposes death sentence for Dylann Roof

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Jurors unanimously agreed to sentence Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black churchgoers.

In closing statements before the deliberation Jan. 10, the unrepentant 22-year-old told jurors that “I still feel like I had to do it,” the Associated Press reported.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., talks to Barbara Thompson of  Manning, S.C., while she waits in the heat outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia June 24. Inside the Capitol the body of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and state senator, lay in state. The pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was one of nine people shot and killed at the church June 17. (CNS photo/Mic Smith, The Catholic Miscellany) See story to come.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., talks to Barbara Thompson of Manning, S.C., while she waits in the heat outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia in 2015. Inside the Capitol the body of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, a pastor and state senator, lay in state. The pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was one of nine people  killed at the church by Dylann Roof in June 17. Sentencing Roof to death for the murders conflicts with church teaching that all life is sacred, Bishop Guglielmone said this week. (CNS /Mic Smith/The Catholic Miscellany) 

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston said in a statement that the Catholic Church opposes capital punishment and reminded people that all life is sacred.

“We are all sinners, but through the father’s loving mercy and Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice upon the cross, we have been offered the gift of eternal life. The Catholic opposition to the death penalty, therefore, is rooted in God’s mercy. The church believes the right to life is paramount to every other right as it affords the opportunity for conversion, even of the hardened sinner,” Bishop Guglielmone said.

“Sentencing Dylann Roof to death conflicts with the church’s teaching that all human life is sacred, even for those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. Instead of pursuing death, we should be extending compassion and forgiveness to Mr. Roof, just as some of the victims’ families did at his bond hearing in June 2015,” the bishop added.

The jury had to reach a unanimous decision to sentence Roof to death. Had they disagreed, he would have been automatically sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted of 33 federal charges last month, including hate crimes. Roof acted as his own attorney and did not question any witnesses. In his FBI confession, he said he hoped the massacre would bring back segregation or start a race war, the Associated Press reported.

Bishop Guglielmone offered prayers of support for those who were killed and their families.

“Our Catholic faith sustains our solidarity with and support for the victims of the Emanuel AME Church massacre and their relatives. We commit ourselves to walk with these family members as well as the survivors as they continue to heal from the trial and this tragedy,” he said.

The bishop asked people to continue to pray for the victims, survivors and families connected with the shooting. He also encouraged people to pray for Roof and his family.

“May he acknowledge his sins, convert to the Lord and experience his loving mercy,” Bishop Guglielmone said.

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., the Rev. Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson were killed in the shooting.

 

Contributing to this report was The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.

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Retired Archbishop Flores, first Hispanic bishop in U.S., dies

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SAN ANTONIO — Retired Archbishop Patrick F. Flores, 87, the first Mexican-American bishop in the United States, died of pneumonia and congestive heart failure Jan. 9 at Padua Place Residence for retired priests in San Antonio.

The bishop, who dropped out of school to be a migrant farmworker, was known for his support for farmworkers, Mexican-American civil rights and his love of his culture and heritage.

The late Archbishop Patricio Fernandez Flores, retired archbishop of San Antonio and the first Mexican-American elevated to the hierarchy in the Catholic Church in the United States, is pictured in this photo from the 1990s. Archbishop Flores, 87, died Jan. 9 of complications of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. (CNS file photo)

The late Archbishop Patricio Fernandez Flores, retired archbishop of San Antonio and the first Mexican-American elevated to the hierarchy in the Catholic Church in the United States, is pictured in this photo from the 1990s. Archbishop Flores, 87, died Jan. 9 of complications of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. (CNS file photo)

A funeral Mass was scheduled for Jan. 17 at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio with Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller presiding. The archbishop also will celebrate a Mass for the Dead Jan. 16 at the cathedral followed by visitation.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez described Archbishop Flores as his good friend and mentor and “a pioneer and role model not only for me but also for a generation of Hispanic priests and Latino leaders.”

He said the archbishop of San Antonio, who retired in 2004, “knew the struggles of Hispanics in this country, and he was a friend to the farmworker and a voice of conscience for dignity and human rights. He taught all of us to celebrate our heritage and traditions and encouraged us to share our faith and values proudly and to become leaders in our communities.”

Archbishop Flores, born in Ganado, was one of nine children and called “Ticho” by his family.

His younger sister, Mary Moreno, told Today’s Catholic, newspaper of San Antonio archdiocese, in 2004 that her brother would often walk up and down the road in front of the family home praying the rosary. “He was always very close to God,” she said.

He also had a light side, often winning dance contests with his sister Mary, and played a number of instruments and sang.

He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956 in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston and was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Antonio in 1970. Eight years later, he was installed as bishop of El Paso, and in 1979, he was appointed archbishop of San Antonio.

He was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Department of the U.S. Catholic Conference, chairman of the Church in Latin America Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and chairman of the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In 1987, he welcomed Pope John Paul II to the San Antonio archdiocese as part of the pope’s nine-city tour. The pope celebrated Mass for a crowd of 330,000 people in a field that is now the site of John Paul Stephens High School. The Mass still holds the record for the largest gathering in the state.

In an interview with Today’s Catholic newspaper in preparation for his retirement, Archbishop Flores said what he remembered most fondly of his time as archbishop was simply his life as a priest.

“I’ve spent 48 years as a priest, and I have loved it all. If I had the chance to start all over again, I would not hesitate. I might have prepared better academically and in some other ways. But I have literally found great satisfaction in simply being a priest, being a bishop is simply assuming additional responsibility.”

“I have found it very challenging and very satisfying. So I’ve been happy at it and will continue to be happy,” he added.

Following Archbishop Flores’ retirement, he resided briefly at Casa de Padres retirement center for priests of the archdiocese, but he spent the past several years at the Padua Place residence for priests needing medical assistance.

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Salt Lake City’s new bishop was born in Philippines – updated

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has named Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Los Angeles as bishop of Salt Lake City.

Bishop Solis, 63, a native of San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, Philippines, has been auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles since 2004. Previously he served the Archdiocese of Manila and the Diocese of Cabanatuan, both in the Philippines before coming to the United States in 1984.

Pope Francis has named Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Los Angeles as bishop of Salt Lake City. The first Philippine-born prelate to head a U.S. diocese, Bishop Solis is pictured in a Jan. 5 photo. (CNS photo/J.D. Long-Garcia, The Tidings)

Pope Francis has named Auxiliary Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Los Angeles as bishop of Salt Lake City. The first Philippine-born prelate to head a U.S. diocese, Bishop Solis is pictured Jan. 5 . (CNS photo/J.D. Long-Garcia, The Tidings)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, announced the appointment Jan. 10 in Washington.

Bishop Solis served as associate pastor of St. Rocco Church in Union City, N.J., from 1984 to 1988 and was incardinated in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La., in 1988 and served as a parish priest for 15 years prior to his appointment to Los Angeles.

In the archdiocese, he was the vicar for ethnic ministry and was the auxiliary bishop of the San Pedro Pastoral Region, covering southern Los Angeles County.

At a news conference at diocesan offices where he was introduced, Bishop Solis said the visit was only his second in Utah, but he pledged to quickly learn about the Catholic community of 300,000 people.
“I humbly submit myself to you as the new servant leader of the Diocese of Salt Lake City and a shepherd for the people of the state of Utah,” he said.
Bishop Solis said he worked “very hard” for the past 13 years in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. “I would like to emphasize the words ‘very hard,'” he said, to laughter from those gathered at the news conference. “And lo and behold, I received a very surprising and shocking phone call informing me that Pope Francis was asking me to become the 10th bishop of Salt Lake City.”

The call from Archbishop Pierre was “a curveball out of nowhere,” Bishop Solis said, recalling how he asked, “Am I in trouble?” But the nuncio “made me feel at peace” with the assignment, the bishop said.

After the call, the bishop said his life changed completely, and he felt that the “world stopped turning around.” He felt afraid of the uncertainties and that the human element somehow overcame the grace of God.

“I was living and working comfortably in Los Angeles,” he said, thinking it would be the place in which he retired, “but the walls of heaven were made open, and a voice came out and said, ‘You fool!’ Because man proposed and God disposes.”

Since receiving the appointment, he has learned about Catholic Community Services’ and other pastoral outreach to the poor and needy. He said he looked forward to hearing the voices of the well-known Madeleine Choir School students and work with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to enhance the well-being of all the people of Utah.

Bishop Solis’ installation is March 7 at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.

The Diocese of Salt Lake City has been without a bishop since Archbishop John C. Wester was installed in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe June 4, 2015.

Bishop Solis earlier told the Angelus News, the archdiocesan multimedia platform, that his appointment is “a recognition of the diversity of the church in America and the universality of the church.” He added, “I know what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of a particular diocese. It is a tremendous blessing and a responsibility and a privilege to be of service to the local church in the United States of America, coming from the Philippines.”

He said he would miss friends and priests in Los Angeles. “But I know God has something in store for us when he leads us to a new place,” he said. “I have wonderful priests in Utah and wonderful people. I know we won’t go wrong if we work together as a church, as a community. God will provide the rest.”

He added that there’s always a reason when God puts you in a new place.

“It’s always God’s will. I don’t have expectations. I don’t have any hidden, personal agenda,” he said. “I’m just going with an open heart and an open mind, with the willingness to embrace and love the people that I will shepherd, to listen to them, and to establish a beautiful working relationship to build the local church in Utah.”
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said Bishop Solis will be missed by the archdiocese.

“Our loss will be a gift to the family of God in Salt Lake City,” he said. “I know that Bishop Solis will be for them a model of prayer and compassion and a great bishop. And I fully expect that he will become the leading voice for the millions of Filipino Catholics in this country, who are a beautiful sign of growth and renewal in our church and in our country.”
After arriving in the U.S., Bishop Solis served as associate pastor of St. Rocco Church in Union City, New Jersey, from 1984 to 1988 and was incardinated in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, in 1988 and served as a parish priest for 15 years prior to his appointment to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Bishop Solis served in a variety of roles, including as vicar for Ethnic Ministry from his ordination in 2004 until 2009. He also served as the director of the Office of Justice and Peace from 2005 to 2009. Then he was assigned to the San Pedro Pastoral Region, covering southern Los Angeles County, where he serves today.

Contributing to this report were Marie Mischel, editor of the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Salt Lake City Diocese, and J.D. Long-Garcia is editor-in-chief of Angelus News, the multimedia platform of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

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Cardinal Tobin installed as Newark, N.J., archbishop

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Catholic News Service

NEWARK, N.J. — The chasm between faith and life is the greatest challenge facing the Catholic Church today, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin said at his installation Mass, and he urged the church to be salt for the earth so that the presence of Christ does not become “a comforting, nostalgic memory.”

Delivering the homily during the liturgy Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany, Cardinal Tobin said he wanted to head off “a growing trend that seems to isolate us, convincing us to neatly compartmentalize our lives” as people attend Mass on Sunday and then doing “whatever we think we need to do to get by” the rest of the week.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin smiles as he greets a clergyman before his Jan. 6 installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin smiles as he greets a clergyman before his Jan. 6 installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Tobin said his appointment reminded him “that stakes are incredibly high” as he assumes leadership of the richly diverse Archdiocese of Newark.

“If we permit the chasm between faith and life to continue to expand, we risk losing Christ, reducing him simply to an interesting idea of a comforting, nostalgic memory. And if we lose Christ, the world has lost the salt, light and leaven that could have transformed it,” he said.

He recalled how the church is “the place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world. The church senses a responsibility for the world, not simply as yet another institutional presence or a benevolent NGO, but as a movement of salt, light and leaven for the world’s transformation. For this reason, our kindness must be known to all.”

The installation took place before more than 2,000 people at Newark’s towering Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Cardinal Tobin concelebrated the Mass with six other cardinals and more than 60 archbishops and bishops. Five hundred priests and deacons also participated.

After a 30-minute processional, Archbishop John J. Myers, retired archbishop of Newark, welcomed participants and took special note of members of Cardinal Tobin’s religious community, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, his mother, Marie Terese Tobin, and his extended family. Cardinal Tobin, 64, is the eldest of 13 children.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, recalled when St. John Paul visited Newark in 1995, he described the nearby Statue of Liberty as a symbol of “the nation America aspires to be.” Archbishop Pierre told Cardinal Tobin, “We are confident that in imitation of the Good Shepherd, your episcopal ministry will be both hospitable and welcoming.”

The nuncio read the apostolic mandate from Pope Francis to the College of Consultors to authorize Cardinal Tobin as the new archbishop of Newark.

Carrying the unfurled scroll with the mandate raised high in front of him, Cardinal Tobin walked down the main aisle and was greeted with sustained applause.

The cathedral was filled to capacity with the cardinal’s family and well-wishers from Newark and Indianapolis. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, as well as Sen. Robert Menendez were among the civic representatives.

The installation took place on the feast of the Epiphany and the choice of music reflected the liturgical season, as well as the special occasion. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” was the opening hymn.

Ethnic diversity in the archdiocese was represented by prayers of intercession in Spanish, English, Korean, Polish, Creole, Ibo, Portuguese, Tagalog and Italian.

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Tobin thanked “all those families to which I belong, beginning with the one that’s put up with me for 64 years,” specifically his mother, 12 brothers and sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles who were present. He said his family taught him how to love and share while growing up in a one-bathroom house with eight sisters.

The cardinal extended thanks to his Redemptorist family and “bishops in episcopal service in Indiana and New Jersey.” When he thanked Archbishop Meyers for his welcome and “the care you’ve given to this archdiocese for 15 years,” the congregation offered sustained applause.

Thanking the people in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for all they taught him and now mean to him, Cardinal Tobin said, “I showed up there unexpectedly four years ago and I was a little embarrassed to be parachuted in on top of these unsuspecting Hoosiers.”

Of his newest family in Newark, Cardinal Tobin said, “These past couple of months have been an interesting roller coaster of emotions, a time of preparation, anticipation and change for all of us.” He expressed heartfelt thanks to the army of people who worked since his appointment was announced Nov. 7 to plan multiple services and celebratory events.

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Catholics in 115th Congress: One-third of House, one-quarter of Senate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The religious makeup of the 115th Congress is significantly Christian, 91 percent, with Catholics comprising one-third of the House of Representatives and about a quarter of the Senate.

Overall, there are six fewer Christians in the new Congress, at 485 members. But there are four more Catholics, who now total 168.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., raises the gavel during the opening session of the new Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 3. Ryan, who is Catholic, was re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives earlier in the day. (CNS /Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., raises the gavel during the opening session of the new Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 3. Ryan, who is Catholic, was re-elected speaker of the House of Representatives earlier in the day. (CNS /Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The high percentage of Christians in Congress is similar to the 87th Congress in 1961, when such information was first collected. At the time, 95 percent of Congress members were Christian.

The data on the religious makeup of the current senators and representatives was collected by Pew Research Center and announced Jan. 3.

The Pew report notes that the large number of Christians in Congress has shifted in recent years with a decline in the number of Protestants. In 1961, Protestants made up 87 percent of Congress, compared with 56 percent today. Catholics, conversely, made up 19 percent of the 87th Congress, and now are 31 percent of the legislative body.

Looking at each party, two-thirds, or 67 percent, of Republicans in the new Congress are Protestant and 27 percent of Republicans are Catholic. The breakdown between Protestants and Catholics is more evenly divided among the Democrats: 42 percent are Protestant and 37 percent are Catholic.

Of the 293 Republicans in the new Congress, all but two, who are Jewish, are Christian. Democrats in Congress also are predominantly Christian, 80 percent, but they have more religious diversity among non-Christians.

The 242 Democrat Congress members include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist in addition to one religiously unaffiliated member and 10 who declined to state their religious affiliation.

Overall, the new Congress has seven fewer Protestants than the last Congress. Baptists had the biggest losses, down seven seats, followed by Anglicans and Episcopalians, down six seats.

Among non-Christian religious groups, Jews and Hindus had the biggest gains — an increase of two seats each. Jews now hold 30 seats in Congress. The number of Hindus rose from one to three and the number of Buddhists increased from two to three.

The number of Muslims in Congress, two, remained unchanged.

The new legislative group also has the smallest freshman class of any Congress in the past 10 years with 62 new members joining the 473 returnees. Of the new members, half are Protestant and roughly a third are Catholic.

The Pew report points out that some religious groups, including Protestants, Catholics and Jews, have greater representation in Congress than in the general population. Jews, for example, make up 2 percent of the U.S. adult population but account for 6 percent of Congress. Other groups, including Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Christians, are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their numbers in the U.S. public.

Another significant finding is that the most notably underrepresented group in Congress is the religiously unaffiliated. This group, also known as religious “nones,” accounts for 23 percent of the general public but makes up just 0.2 percent of the 115th Congress.

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Federal judge blocks HHS transgender regulation

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AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge in Texas Dec. 31 blocked a regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring Catholic hospitals and health care providers to perform or provide gender transition services, saying it would place “substantial pressure” on the plaintiffs, a coalition of religious medical organizations who said the ruling was contrary to their religious beliefs.

“Plaintiffs will be forced to either violate their religious beliefs or maintain their current policies, which seem to be in direct conflict with the rule and risk the severe consequences of enforcement,” U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor wrote.

The injunction comes four months after the same judge blocked a federal directive requiring public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.

The regulation from the Department of Health and Human Services requires that Catholic hospitals and health care providers perform or provide gender transition services, hormonal treatments and counseling as well as a host of surgeries that would remove or transform the sexual organs of men or women transitioning to the other gender. The HHS regulation requires group health plans to cover these procedures and services.

In the suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Wichita Falls, the Washington-based Becket Fund represented two groups against the new government regulation: Franciscan Alliance, a religious hospital network sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration and the Christian Medical and Dental Association. The states of Texas, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wisconsin also joined in the suit.

“This court ruling is an across-the-board victory that will ensure that deeply personal medical decisions, such as gender transition procedures, remain between families and their doctor,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket Law.

She also said the judge’s decision was “a common-sense ruling” noting that the government “has no business forcing private doctors to perform procedures that the government itself recognizes can be harmful, particularly to children, and that the government exempts its own doctors from performing.”

A similar lawsuit was filed against the HHS ruling Dec. 28 by the Catholic Benefits Association, the Diocese of Fargo and Catholic Charities North Dakota in U.S. District Court in North Dakota.

“We ask only for the freedom to serve consistent with our conscience and our Catholic faith,” Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo said in a statement, released by the Catholic Benefits Association. “While we do not discriminate against individuals because of their orientation, our Catholic values will not permit us to pay for or facilitate actions that are contrary to our faith.”

The Catholic Benefits Association is made up of Catholic dioceses, hospitals, school systems, religious orders and other entities that offer their employees insurance and benefit programs that adhere to Catholic teaching.

The regulation, which also mandates abortions be performed, affects health insurers, hospitals and health plans administered by or receiving federal funds from HHS. There is no religious exemption.

The final HHS regulation was published in May. It applies to implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which provides that individuals cannot be subject to discrimination based on their race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.       

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Cardinal Dolan to participate at Trump inauguration

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan will take part in the upcoming presidential inauguration of Republican Donald Trump.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has been invited to read from Scripture at the upcoming Trump inauguration. (CNS/Bob Roller)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has been invited to read from Scripture at the upcoming Trump inauguration. (CNS/Bob Roller)

“I am honored to have been asked to offer a reading from Scripture at the upcoming presidential inauguration, and look forward to asking almighty God to inspire and guide our new president and to continue to bless our great nation,” Cardinal Dolan said in an email to Catholic News Service.

Trump, a lifelong New Yorker, will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States Jan. 20.

According to the president-elect’s inaugural committee, other faith leaders who are scheduled to be present include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Paula White of New Destiny Christian Center; Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Rev. Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International.

 

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Bishop Lennon of Cleveland resigns for health reasons

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Catholic News Service

CLEVELAND — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland. He has headed the diocese since 2006.

Bishop Lennon, who turns 70 in March, said during a news conference at diocesan offices Dec. 28 that he had developed vascular dementia, leading to his decision to submit his resignation for health reasons to the pope in November.

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland during a 2012 meeting at the Vatican. Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Lennon, who has headed the Ohio diocese since 2006. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict XVI greets Bishop Richard G. Lennon of Cleveland during a 2012 meeting at the Vatican. Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Lennon, who has headed the Ohio diocese since 2006. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

“Recently it has come to my awareness that my health has declined to such an extent that I should resign as diocesan bishop,” he said.

“Given the progressive nature of this illness,” he added. “Pope Francis has accepted my request for an early retirement.”

Normally, bishops do not turn in their resignation to the pope until they turn 75, as required by canon law.

The pope named Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of Toledo, Ohio, as the apostolic administrator of the diocese until the installation of a new bishop.

The changes were first announced in Washington early Dec. 28 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Thomas, 57, called Bishop Lennon’s request for an early retirement “both a humble and courageous act, one that speaks volumes to his love for the local church and his desire that the people of God receive the pastoral care they need.”

Having to take on the additional responsibilities of overseeing the Cleveland Diocese was unexpected, Bishop Thomas said. He compared his appointment as apostolic administrator to that of an interim coach.

“My job is to be the conduit from the past to the future,” he said.

Bishop Thomas admitted during the news conference that he had ‘limited’ knowledge of the diocese and that he would undertake a quick study of the Catholic Church that serves 692,000 Catholics in eight counties.

As apostolic administrator, Bishop Thomas said, he would regularly travel between Toledo and Cleveland, a distance of about 120 miles.

“My sister-in-law texted me this morning and said, ‘Well, maybe they should clone you even though the church doesn’t believe in that,’” Bishop Thomas said, smiling. “Someone else said, ‘Well, maybe you should follow the example of Padre Pio.’ But I’m not a saint, so I can’t bi-locate yet.

“But I hope you know I will do everything in my power to work so well with the good folks here and in the Diocese of Toledo to be able to govern the people entrusted to me by Pope Francis until a successor is named,” he said.

Bishop Thomas pointed particularly to the “rich ethnic culture and traditions” represented in northeast Ohio and said he was looking forward to meeting parishioners in the diocese’s 185 parishes as well as the priests, deacons and religious communities that minister to them.

“There is much for me to learn, understand and embrace as I strive, with your help, to get down to the work of governance in shepherding the diocese,” Bishop Thomas said.

Prior to his appointment to head the Toledo diocese in 2015, Bishop Thomas was auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia beginning in 2006. At the archdiocese, he oversaw the Media Affairs Department, the Office for Clergy, including the Department of Permanent Deacons, and the Vocation Office for the archdiocesan priesthood. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1985 by Cardinal John J. Krol, a native Clevelander.

Bishop Lennon was an auxiliary bishop of Boston before he was named Cleveland’s 10th bishop by Pope Benedict XVI. During his decade in Cleveland, he led the revision of the statutes governing the diocese’s finance, pastoral and presbyteral councils, established norms governing internal audits of parishes and schools, and carried out a plan to consolidate parishes. The diocese also completed a capital campaign in 2016 that raised more than $170 million for parish and diocesan needs.

A Boston area native, Bishop Lennon was ordained in 1973 and served in the Boston Archdiocese as a parish priest, fire department chaplain, assistant for canonical affairs and rector of St. John’s Seminary.

He was ordained auxiliary bishop for Boston in 2001 and served as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese from December 2002 to July 2003 after Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned as archbishop in the midst of Boston’s crisis over clergy sexual abuse of minors. Cardinal Law’s successor as archbishop, then-Bishop Sean P. O’Malley, was named that July.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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