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


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


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


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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Bishops’ committee chairman: Fix flaws in American Health Care Act


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development.

“It is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded,” Bishop Dewane said in a May 4 statement. “The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act.”

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has "major defects," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

Signs point toward the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Jan. 4, 2008. The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has “major defects,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development. (CNS/Paul Buck, EPA)

He added, “When the Senate takes up the AHCA, it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people, including immigrants, as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system.”

One of 20 Republicans to vote against the bill was Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

“I voted no on the AHCA largely because it cuts Medicaid funding by $839 billion; undercuts essential health benefits such as maternity care, newborn care, hospitalization and pediatric services; includes ‘per capita caps’ and weakens coverage for pre-existing health conditions — all of which will hurt disabled persons, especially and including children and adults with autism, the elderly and the working poor,” Smith said in a May 4 statement.

“Over the past several years, we have seen the flaws of Obamacare, including increased premiums and deductibles, diminishing health care options and patients losing plans they were assured they could keep. These very real problems underscore the need for meaningful bipartisan reform,” Smith added.

Those opposing the bill cited reductions in coverage and cost increases. Those favoring the bill cited its pro-life provisions.

“The vote falls far short of protecting the millions of Americans who have insurance or gained it under the Affordable Care Act,” said a May 4 statement from Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “It also fails to provide access to affordable health care for the millions who still live without coverage.”

“The role of health care should implicitly be to provide the highest quality care for the largest number of people, in the interest of maintaining dignity and quality of life, as our faith calls us to do. It is immoral to restrict access to care for anyone, but especially for the most vulnerable, including those who need consistent treatment and our aging population,” said a May 5 statement by Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

“As arguably the most powerful, developed country in the world, it is inexcusable that our health care system is failing so many. We can and must do better,” Carolan said.

“The passage of the American Health Care Act in the House is a dangerous and irresponsible step that threatens access to health care for at least 24 million Americans. It violates Christian and Catholic faith teaching and the values of our nation,” said Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who is executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, in a May 4 statement.

“This was not the faithful way forward,” she added. “We are hurting our people and rewarding the rich through tax breaks disguised as a health care reform bill. This is literal ‘blood money.’ The blood of those who are denied coverage will be on the hands of those who voted for this bill.”

“Today’s House vote marks the beginning of the end of the shell game Planned Parenthood plays with public money. That the American Health Care Act limits Medicaid funds to entities that don’t kill people is entirely appropriate, not to mention a step that’s long overdue,” said a May 4 statement by Father Frank Pavone, national president of Priests for Life.

“Sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to an organization that dismembers 320,000 unborn babies a year adds up to a travesty of justice,” he added. “The Senate should approve the defunding legislation as soon as possible and send it to the president’s desk. The scam of using public money to prop up abortion businesses needs to be terminated.”

“Abortion is not health care, and in light of that, this bill provides Hyde (Amendment)-like protections and redirects funding away from our America’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, to community health centers that offer comprehensive women’s care, and already outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by 20 to 1,” said a May 4 statement by Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.

“We urge our U.S. senators to follow the House’s lead and ensure that pro-life protections and the redirection of Planned Parenthood funding remain, because without it, this bill will fail,” Mancini said.

“National Right to Life praises the Republican leadership for putting this bill together and making sure the most vulnerable members of our society are protected,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a May 4 statement. “Over 2 million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. This new health care bill ensures that we are one step closer to getting the federal government entirely out of the business of subsidizing abortion.”

“This is a hugely important step, but it is just the first step to improving health care for all Americans, especially the vulnerable,” said a May 4 statement by Louis Brown, director of the Christ Medicus Foundation, based in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan.

“The American Health Care Act begins the process of increasing meaningful medical access for individuals and families across the country by returning focus to the doctor-patient relationship,” Brown said.

“Protecting Medicaid is a priority for the faith community. The ‘fixes’ made to the AHCA do nothing to change the fact that millions of low-income Americans will lose their health coverage,” said a May 4 statement by the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, the anti-hunger lobby. “Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty. We strongly urge the Senate to reject this bill.”

“Since failing to pass the original AHCA, House leadership has made the legislation worse by providing even fewer protections for family farmers and rural Americans,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, in a May 4 statement. “NFU’s priority for any bill is that it offers coverage for more people rather than fewer. We look forward to working with members of the Senate to defeat this legislation that would fail millions of people, especially family farmers and rural Americans.”

“This isn’t a health care bill; it’s a half-a-billion-dollar tax cut for corporations, insurance executives, and the wealthiest Americans,” said Communications Workers of America president Chris Shelton in a May 4 statement. “At least 24 million people will lose their health care and Americans age 50 and older will see their costs skyrocket under the ‘age tax’ the bill institutes, all to provide a big tax break for corporations and the wealthy.”

“We support efforts to strengthen and stabilize our nation’s health care system and extend insurance coverage and protections,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. “However, the American Health Care Act is not the answer. Accordingly, we call on the Senate to reject the bill due to its projected adverse impact on the well-being of our nation, particularly on individuals with mental health, behavioral and substance use disorders.”

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Cardinal says Trump’s religious freedom order begins to relieve burden of HHS mandate


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Many religious leaders viewed President Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which he signed in a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, as a step in the right direction.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

In a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer prior to signing the executive order, Trump told the assembled religious leaders: “We’re taking big steps to protect religious liberty” and he assured them the government “won’t stand for religious discrimination.”

Three religious leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, offered prayers during the ceremony. Just prior to the event, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Trump about the order.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport just after the White House ceremony, Cardinal DiNardo said the meeting with the president was brief but productive.

Earlier, in a statement, the cardinal said the executive order “begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” referring to the mandate issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if they morally oppose it.

But Cardinal DiNardo also stressed that the U.S. bishops will “have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.”

The text of the order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” states that cabinet offices “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

During the White House ceremony, Trump told some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the crowd: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.” The sisters are just one of the groups that challenged the federal contraceptive mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province, said in a statement that the sisters are “grateful for the president’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying” without fear of government punishment.

Another aspect of the order is a weakening of what Trump called the “unfair” Johnson Amendment during the May 4 event. The 1954 amendment bans churches and nonprofit organizations of all types from participating in partisan political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

Trump told the religious leaders that the order’s attempt to lessen restrictions of the amendment will be “giving our churches their voices back.”

The order states the Treasury Department shall ensure and “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” 

It also calls for department officials to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” for speaking about “moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Regarding religious liberty, the order is not very specific. It states: “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the attorney general shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.”

Cardinal DiNardo, in his statement, stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”

He noted that church agencies have specifically experienced such a restriction in adoption, education, health care and other social services, where he said “widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility.”

“But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity,” he added.

Cardinal DiNardo told CNS that the executive order emphasizes that there should “not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when a person or group is exercising one’s faith.

He also said the president seems to be putting some of these religious liberty issues directly in the hands of federal departments and the attorney general, which he called “an important dimension” and a “good way to have this unpacked.”

The White House did not release the full text of the order prior to its signing. A draft of an earlier version of the order, which included stronger language, was leaked and published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine.

Regarding the new order, Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement that the bishops will “continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith,” noting that religious freedom is “a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims.”

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email that the order will likely be viewed as a commitment from the administration that it wants to protect religious liberty. “In terms of specifics, however, the order does very little and does not address a number of pressing and important questions.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also welcomed the order and said the organization “looks forward to reviewing the details” of it with the hope that applying it will “allow Catholic Charities agencies to continue to serve all their clients in accordance with their inherent dignity while at the same time preserving the freedom of these agencies to serve in conformity with our beliefs.”


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House narrowly OKs Affordable Care Act repeal-replace bill


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by a four-vote margin May 4. The final vote was 217-213.

Assuming that all Democrats voted against the bill, which they did, the Republicans needed to avoid having 22 of its own House members defect to the “no” camp. In the finally tally, 20 Republicans voted against the measure.

President Donald Trump gathers with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans at the White House in Washington May 4 after the House of Representatives approved a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican health care bill. (CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

President Donald Trump gathers with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans at the White House in Washington May 4 after the House of Representatives approved a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican health care bill. (CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

This latest GOP repeal-and-replace bill was rushed through with such speed that the Congressional Budget Office did not have time to prepare an analysis of it before the vote.

The previous American Health Care Act was dealt a big blow after the CBO said that 24 million people would lose health insurance over the next decade had the bill become law. That version of the bill never came to a vote as different factions among House Republicans voiced their opposition.

The new version was nearly scuttled when key Republican lawmakers said they would vote against it because it would have allowed insurance companies to charge more to Americans with pre-existing conditions, which had been banned under the Affordable Care Act. Some of them announced they would support the bill after an added $8 billion over the next five years was added to an original allocation of $130 billion it to help alleviate those issues.

Even with the bill’s passage in the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Planned Parenthood would be blocked from receiving federal funding for one year under the new bill.

Catholic leaders were wary of the repeal-and-replace efforts.

Sister Carole Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said in an April 26 statement that changes to the bill, “intended to make it more palatable to those who did not support it initially, are even more disastrous for people who have just gotten health care.”

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” said a March 17 letter to members of Congress by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee Domestic Justice and Social Development. “The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society.”

At that time, Bishop Dewane lauded the “critical life protections” in the original bill,

In her own letter, sent March 8 to members of Congress, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said that despite the “commendable efforts” to protect the unborn and give states greater flexibility, the prospect of 70 million people on Medicaid getting reductions in health care “undermines access to life-saving coverage.”

One provision of the bill would let the federal government stop providing enhanced funding for new Medicaid enrollees after 2019, which would likely cause most of the 31 states and Washington that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to drop it, according to a May 3 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. An estimated 11 million people receive Medicaid under the ACA. The bill also allows states to impose a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.

The legislation also would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those in their 50s and early 60s, compared to younger consumers. Taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others under the ACA would be eliminated under the new bill, as would the individual mandate imposed by the ACA with its attendant penalties for noncompliance. The bill also would replace federal subsidies tied to personal income and insurance premiums and replace it with refundable tax credits based mainly on age to purchase health insurance.

One popular part of the ACA that was retained in the new bill was a requirement that children be carried on their parents’ family policies to age 26.

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Retired Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco dies


SAN FRANCISCO — Retired Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, a longtime English professor and 11-year bishop of Salt Lake City, died May 2 at 80.

He had been living at Nazareth House in San Rafael, California, for several months following a diagnosis of interstitial lung disease.

Retired San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederaue died May 2 at 80. . (CNS/Catholic San Francisco)

Retired San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederaue died May 2 at 80. . (CNS/Catholic San Francisco)

“Archbishop Niederauer was known for his spiritual leadership, intelligence and wisdom, compassion and humor, and was always focused on his responsibility to live and teach the faith,” said San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in an announcement to the priests of the archdiocese.

“When he was named archbishop, he was asked what he would want the people of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to know about him,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “He answered, ‘I’ve chosen the motto for my coat of arms, ‘to serve and to give,’ because I am convinced servant leadership in the church defines the role of the bishop.’”

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, expressed sadness when he learned about the archbishop’s death. “May God’s warm embrace encircle him unto eternal life,” he said.

“His engaging wit and humor became hallmarks of his open and loving personality, and he always had just the right words and the turn of a phrase to help defuse tensions and to uplift people, no matter what cloud was overhead,” Cardinal Mahony added.

The eighth archbishop of San Francisco, Archbishop Niederauer succeeded seminary classmate and boyhood friend Cardinal William J. Levada, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005. Archbishop Niederauer served in San Francisco from 2006 to 2012.

Born June 14, 1936, in Los Angeles, the only son of a banker-turned homebuilder and a homemaker, Archbishop Niederauer attended Stanford University for one year before he entered St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California. He was ordained to the priesthood April 30, 1962, for the Los Angeles archdiocese.

He earned a doctorate in English from the University of Southern California in 1966, and spent 27 years as English professor, spiritual director, theology teacher and rector at St. John’s Seminary and at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles before his 1994 appointment by St. John Paul II as bishop of Salt Lake City. He also served as associate pastor from 1962 to 1963 in the Los Angeles area.

Coming to San Francisco, Archbishop Niederauer left behind a Utah diocese in an area heavily influenced by the traditional values of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to grapple with a number of controversial issues.

In 2008, he supported California Proposition 8, which declared marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The proposition passed although it was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time that a Latter-day Saints official credited Archbishop Niederauer’s outreach in support of the proposition with a commitment to grass-roots campaigning and $20 million.

In 2006, Archbishop Niederauer closed the archdiocese’s 99-year-old Catholic Charities adoption service, and in 2008 severed ties with a contracted adoption agency after Cardinal Levada at the Vatican directed an end to all adoptions by same-sex couples.

In 2010, House Speaker and San Francisco Representative Nancy Pelosi contended in a Newsweek interview that freedom of conscience meant her advocacy for abortion rights was compatible with her Catholic faith. Archbishop Niederauer disagreed in a January 2010 column in Catholic San Francisco, saying “while we deeply respect the freedom of our fellow citizens, we nevertheless are profoundly convinced that free will cannot be cited as justification for society to allow moral choices that strike at the most fundamental rights of others. Such a choice is abortion, which constitutes the taking of innocent human life, and cannot be justified by any Catholic notion of freedom.”

Archbishop Niederauer also defended religious freedom, opposing a proposed ban on circumcision by the Board of Supervisors, and actively supported immigrant rights.

In retirement, Cardinal Levada and Archbishop Niederauer shared a home on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California. During his nearly five years of retirement, he regularly led retreats for bishops, priests, deacons, men and women religious and seminarians.

Archbishop Niederauer served as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Communication, and as a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. His book, “Precious as Silver: Imagining Your Life with God” was published in 2003. It explores biblical images of Christian life and reflects on spirituality centered on Jesus.

A funeral Mass was set for May 12 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco.




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Bishop urges Tillerson to use diplomacy to resolve simmering Congo crisis


WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to undertake diplomatic efforts to ensure that democratic elections are carried out by the end of the year to avoid continued strife and the possible outbreak of civil war.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In a May 1 letter to Tillerson, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, the committee chairman, shared the concern of the Congolese Catholic bishops’ conference that an agreement between the country’s government and opposition parties governing a presidential election in 2017 was not being followed.

The Congolese bishops voiced their concern over rising tension in Congo in an April 20 statement after President Joseph Kabila unilaterally nominated Bruno Tshibala as prime minister over the objection of opposition parties.

Tshibala, a former member of the largest opposition party, was named prime minister of a new transitional government established to organize a presidential election by the end of the year after Kabila refused to step down when his second term in office expired in December.

Kabila has said, however, that the government needs more time to overcome the massive logistic and financial challenges to holding an election. The opposition maintains that Kabila is trying to cling to power beyond his constitutional mandate.

Demonstrations in December resulted in at least 40 deaths at the hands of government forces.

The Catholic bishops’ conference helped negotiate Dec. 31 what has been called the St. Sylvester Accord. The agreement called for elections in 2017, after which Kabila would step down. Kabila’s appointment of Tshibala violates that agreement, the bishops said.

Bishop Cantu said Congo could resolve its electoral crisis this year by holding free and fair elections that would lead to the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s 57-year history or it could descend into autocracy, riots or perhaps civil war.

U.S. diplomacy could head off violence and instability, the committee chairman said.

The Congolese bishops “used their moral authority” to become involved in the talks to create conditions of “peaceful, constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis,” Bishop Cantu explained in his letter.

“It’s not the church’s place to take on a political role by applying pressure on the political parties to resolve the crisis and protect democracy and the common good. The Congolese people need the international community, the United Nations and the regional countries to work together to convince the Congolese government to prepare inclusive, free and fair elections, as called for by the constitution to allow civil society and the common good for the country to flourish,” Bishop Cantu said.

Bishop Cantu urged Tillerson to “deploy the diplomatic and development resources at your discretion to ensure that the government honors its constitution and the democratic principles on which it is built.”

“An investment in diplomacy and promotion of good governance will save many millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping expenditures in the long run,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “It will also rescue millions of people from needless suffering.”

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45 people saved from tornado’s fury in hallway of Texas church


Catholic News Service

In the insurance world, extreme weather events such as tornadoes are often referred to as “acts of God.”

But in the small Texas town of Emory, about 50 miles northwest of Tyler and 70 miles east of Dallas, some 45 people are considering it an act of God that they survived a twister that took out all of their church except for the hallway in which they were huddled.

St. John the Evangelist church in Emory, Texas, is seen April 30 after a tornado hit the area a day earlier. (CNS/Diocese of Tyler)

The remains of St. John the Evangelist church in Emory, Texas,  on April 30 after a tornado hit the area a day earlier. (CNS/Diocese of Tyler)

The providential event took place the evening of April 29, as severe storms tore through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on a northeasterly path that killed at least 13 people in three states.

The youth ministry at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Emory was hosting a dinner honoring the parish’s graduating high school seniors in conjunction with the parish’s Knights of Columbus council and its ladies’ guild.

“I got a phone call from Maggie (Conder), the volunteer in the office,” youth minister Monica Hughes told Catholic News Service May 1. “I almost didn’t answer, because I didn’t want to interrupt the speaker.” But Hughes knew Conder was monitoring the paths of storms in Texas, and “she wouldn’t have interrupted unless it was important,” Hughes said.

It was: “The tornado that hit Canton was heading straight for us,” she recalled.

Hughes said she and her husband both tried to pull up weather radar on their cellphones without luck. Then Hughes made the decision to tell teens and adults to move to the church hallway. The decision, she said, was based on “this instinct when you learn when you’re a child; you go to the hallway and you cover your head.”

There was some grumbling by the teens but everyone complied, Hughes remembers. “It’s the innermost place of the building,” she said of the hallway. “Everything else had exterior walls. On my way, I went around and I locked all the exterior doors to the building, just one little extra step to keep the wind from ripping them open.”

Thirty seconds after Hughes got into the hallway after completing her rounds, “my husband said, ‘It’s hitting.’ He saw the roof of the sanctuary rip off — one piece. We saw the doors fly open into the sanctuary space. My husband grabbed the door and he held on with everything (he had) to the other,” Hughes said. “What I saw was people covering each other, comforting each other — parents covering small children, teenagers huddling together. We began to pray.”

The parish’s deacon, Marcelino Espinosa, was at one end of the hallway as he began a rosary; Hughes was at the other end beginning the Divine Mercy chaplet.

“We didn’t have this horrible fear, we felt protected,” she told CNS. “The whole time that we were in there and we were holding those doors, I felt that Jesus was over us … whispering to me, ‘It’s OK, I’ve got you.’”

She added, “I described it … as a Passover. The tornado came, and it his us with full force and it was over.”

After a quick assessment of the damage, the group decided to stay put as another storm was bearing down on them. Firefighters coming after the second storm advised them to evacuate as the combination of a downed power line and a gas leak threatened catastrophe, Hughes said.

Once outside, they saw the church was destroyed, except for the hallway. The pastor’s house nearby was spared, save for a damaged backyard fence. One irony in the storm: Hughes’ 22-year-old daughter, who was at the dinner as well, had been evacuated in March from Peru where flooding and landslides wiped out destroyed entire communities. “And now we had to pluck her out of a tornado,” Hughes said.

“It’s a miracle,” declared the pastor, Father Victor Hernandez. “People could experience the hands of God protecting them.”

He was not at the dinner, having been summoned to celebrate Mass in Pittsburgh, Texas, about 75 minutes from Emory. On his drive back, “I heard the sirens go off and I wanted to be with my community,” he said.

Parishioners celebrated Mass as usual April 30, but outside on parish property. “We’re going to come out of this stronger than ever,” Father Hernandez said. “We are going to have a new building and church, which was not in our plans. We are going to move bigger and faster.”


Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Catholics bring Pope Francis’ call to protect creation to climate march


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Carrying banners and signs with quotes from Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” hundreds of Catholics joined the People’s Climate March to call for moral and prayerful action to protect creation.

On a sweltering day that reinforced the message about the need to respond to climate change, the 91-degree temperature at 3 p.m. April 29 tied a 43-year-old Washington record for the date, many in the Catholic contingent said they felt they had a moral obligation to witness in the streets.

Parishioners from various parishes in New York City hold sunflower signs during the People's Climate March in Washington April 29. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Parishioners from various parishes in New York City hold sunflower signs during the People’s Climate March in Washington April 29. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

“We march for our grandchildren. Stop global warming,” read one sign propped up in the back of St. Dominic Church in Washington, where about 300 people gathered before the march for Mass celebrated by Dominican Father Hyacinth Marie Cordell, the parish’s parochial vicar.

“The Vatican is solar. What about US?” read another. “We resist, we build, we rise,” read a sign from St. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker Community in Worcester, Mass.

Underlying the messages on the signs and banners were people who shared a heartfelt concern to carry out Pope Francis’ call in his 2015 encyclical to live responsibly with the planet, remember the needs of others around the world and to reduce consumption and energy usage for the sake of God’s creation.

They also wanted to send a message to President Donald Trump that his policies on the environment and energy development do not follow the pontiff’s call to protect Earth.

For Manny and Mary Hotchkiss, the march was their second in two weeks. Both scientists, the couple from Portland, Oregon, joined a regional March for Science in New Orleans April 22 as they made their way on a cross-country trip to a meeting of Maryknoll affiliates in Ossining, New York.

After the Mass, Mary Hotchkiss, 72, a chemist, said the couple’s involvement was required by their Catholic faith. Manny Hotchkiss, 74, a mechanical engineer, expressed dismay about the president’s policies.

“The most important thing I see with this political scene, and it brings a tear to my eye to think about it, is that everything I tried to teach our kids growing up (about science) is fully rejected by the current administration,” he said.

The 300 people at the Mass heard Father Cordell call for an “ecological conversion” during his homily. He said each person must act in any way possible to protect God’s creation: reducing energy usage; limiting waste; choosing carpooling or biking and walking more; and buying less.

“We can learn increasingly to act not only with our own good and convenience in mind, but above all to think and choose according to what is best for all, especially for the poor and for future generations,” the Dominican said. “This ecological conversion calls us to self-examination, to make an inventory of our lives and habits so that we can learn to be better stewards of our common home and its resources, which are meant for the good of all.”

He said such steps require a revolution of the heart, as Pope Francis has called each person to undertake. He described it as a “change toward responsibility and virtue, a transition to thinking about the common good, future generations, the poor, other living beings, God’s glory and the environment in all of our decisions instead of thinking only in terms of a short-term, fleeting and superficial good or convenience for ourselves.”

Sister Kathy Sherman, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph in LaGrange Park, Illinois, was pleased to hear Father Cordell stress the encyclical’s themes.

“I feel like I’m marching for the children, for the future,” she said. “Earth is getting bad for us. If we don’t do something there’s not going to be anything like we’ve known for the future generations, and it breaks my heart.”

Other members of Sister Sherman’s congregation joined a satellite march in Chicago, but she made the trek to Washington on her own because she said she felt it was important to take a message directly to administration officials.

“I think it’s so essential that we connect climate degradation with economic and racial justice,” Sister Sherman added. “It’s just the whole sense of the oneness.”

A large banner mounted on a 12-foot bamboo pole carried by Malcolm Byrnes, 57, a member of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., was one of several that quoted the pope’s encyclical. It read: “We need to reject a magical conception of the market.”

“We have to bring things back into focus and see climate change as a human issue involving all of humanity, especially the poor,” Byrnes said as he waited for the Mass-goers to begin walking to the assembly point for faith communities near the U.S. Capitol.

Byrnes said Pope Francis’ words had inspired him to consider his own actions in response to the divisive language the president and members of his administration have used during the first 100 days in office.

“We have to be activist,” he said. “We have to continue to put the pressure on and to be active. Doing it as a Catholic is ever more poignant for me.”

March organizers said the event had been planned as a follow-up to the September 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City before Trump’s election in November. The April 29 march was led by indigenous people who already are facing disrupted lives as the climate warms and causes drought and rising ocean levels.

The march kicked off less than 48 hours after the Environmental Protection Agency began to revamp its website, taking down pages devoted to climate science. The agency said in a statement late April 28 that the information was “under review.”

Some of the Catholic marchers, a multicultural mix of young and old, families, and clergy, religious and laity, said they never had been involved in such a massive event, but that it was time to put their faith into action.

Rosio Ramirez, 58, a member of St. Jerome Church in New York City, said as she waited for the march to start that she decided to travel to Washington “for our rights.”

“This president does not believe in science, so I’m trying to raise my voice for my grandson, his future,” said the native of Mexico City.

Along the march route on Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House, Nancy Lorence, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in New York City, said personal actions are crucial if people of faith are going to make a difference. She carried a colorful cardboard sunflower on a short stick that read, “Catholics 4 the EPA,” one of 45 similar signs that she and others making the trip had made.

“We feel like ‘Laudato Si’’ calls us to be in the streets, as Pope Francis says, and be active on the social justice issues and climate change,” Lorence told CNS.

“I’ve read enough to really think that this is an emergency,” Lorence continued. “It might not affect us directly right now. But I think we are all called to think about the common good. We’re all called to think about the least of these, and the people who are the least of these are being affected by climate change.”


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