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Catholic group asks U.S. government to drop appeal in HHS mandate case

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Benefits Association has filed a motion with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver over a three-year-old appeal by three Cabinet departments in a case involving the “HHS mandate” that says all employers must provide contraceptive coverage.

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 photo/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 photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

The association, which counts 1,000 Catholic institutions and privately run companies among its membership, including dioceses and hospitals, filed suit in 2014, seeking elimination of the mandate. The court granted a preliminary injunction because it believed the government’s action violated RFRA.

The government promptly appealed the injunction and since then has asked for several delays to argue its appeal. Defendants in the case are the Cabinet departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services, which issued the mandate in 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act. 

The CBA wants the court to force the departments to meet a July 31 deadline the court set for them to address the association’s arguments.

In a filing made July 21, the CBA, based in Castle Rock, outside Denver, said the federal government does not need to ask for yet another extension in the matter.

The CBA motion cited four reasons the court should dismiss the appeal: “The parties agree that the mandate substantially burdens religious exercise. The parties agree that the mandate does not further a compelling interest. The parties agree that the departments have less restrictive means of advancing their interests. The parties agree that the mandate is illegal under RFRA,” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Since the preliminary injunction, “the departments have filed status reports in the CBA appeals on 10 separate occasions” — two in 2015, five in 2016 and three thus far this year – “each asking the court to delay ruling on the merits,” said the association’s motion for summary judgment in the case.

“There is a possibility, given the current climate, we agree and we’re going to drop this thing,” CBA executive director Doug Wilson told Catholic News Service, adding his confidence this would happen was “not terribly high.”

“We’re still fighting this despite what’s come out of our own agencies,” Wilson said July 28, referring to the Trump administration, which is seen as friendlier to the CBA’s stance. “It would be very hard to explain that (legal) position, but it’s certainly possible,” he added. “Unfortunately, despite the fact that the court was very clear that they wanted a specific response to our filing and not another request for a time extension, they could come back and say, ‘We’re close to a new regulation, could we please have one more extension?’”

Wilson cited President Donald Trump’s May 4 Rose Garden address at which he unveiled his “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty” executive order, when he told members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, another plaintiff fighting the mandate: “Your long ordeal will soon be over. … We are ending the attacks on your religious freedom.”

Almost a month later, on May 31, an HHS draft rule was leaked to the press. The 125-page draft would exempt religious groups from the contraceptive mandate. It still has not been formally issued, the CBA noted. It remained under final review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to the office’s website.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Senate bills fail but need to reform health care remains, says bishop

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WASHINGTON — After the Senate Republicans failed to get enough votes to pass a “skinny” repeal to remove parts of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of July 28, a U.S. bishop said the “task of reforming the health care system still remains.”

The U.S. Capitol is seen prior to an all-night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill July 27 in Washington. The Senate rejected legislation to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein,

The U.S. Capitol is seen prior to an all-night round of health care votes on Capitol Hill July 27 in Washington. The Senate rejected legislation to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein,

The nation’s system under the Affordable Care Act “is not financially sustainable” and “lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

It also “is inaccessible to many immigrants,” he said in a statement.

“Inaction will result in harm for too many people,” Bishop Dewane added.

The failed repeal bill was a pared-down version of earlier bills. It would have repealed both the individual mandate that says all Americans must buy health insurance or pay a penalty and the requirement all large employers offer health insurance to their workers. It would have expanded health savings accounts, delayed a tax on medical devices and increased funding for community health centers.

The vote was 51 against, and 49 in favor. All the Democrats voted “no.” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, joined two other GOP senators in rejecting the measure, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had pushed the latest version forward in hopes it would be passed and lead to a conference with the House, which May 4 passed the American Health Care Act to replace the ACA, to hammer out a compromise measure.

The Senate vote is over, but the need to reform health care remains, said Bishop Dewane, who urged the two political parties to get past their divisions and work for “the common good.”

“A moment has opened for Congress, and indeed all Americans, to set aside party and personal political interest and pursue the common good of our nation and its people, especially the most vulnerable,” he said.

He laid out four action items he said are essential to any bill to be considered in the future:

  • “Protect the Medicaid program from changes that would harm millions of struggling Americans.”
  • “Protect the safety net from any other changes that harm the poor, immigrants, or any others at the margins.”
  • “Address the real probability of collapsing insurance markets and the corresponding loss of genuine affordability for those with limited means.”
  • Provide full Hyde Amendment provisions and much-needed conscience protections.”

 “The greatness of our country is not measured by the well-being of the powerful but how we have cared for the ‘least of these,'” Bishop Dewane said. “Congress can and should pass health care legislation that lives up to that greatness.”

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Catholic governor nominated for religious freedom ambassador post

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback got emotional about international religious freedom in a news conference livestreamed July 27 from his home state.

“At noon today, I went and did something that is simple and done by millions of Americans every day,” Brownback said. “But other people in different parts of the world, they risk their lives or could face death, and some have faced death for doing it.”

President Donald Trump nominated Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas as an ambassador of for religious freedom July 26. Brownback, a Catholic, is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

President Donald Trump nominated Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas as an ambassador of for religious freedom July 26. Brownback, a Catholic, is pictured in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

“I took Communion. And people face death around the world, for this simple act.”

President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to the position of ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, according to a White House announcement July 26.

The governor tweeted Wednesday night, “Religious freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”

The governor has a long record of upholding religious freedom, since his support of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 as a U.S. Senator. This is the act which created office for which he was just nominated. In 2002, Brownback became a Catholic.

If approved by the Senate, Brownback will work with foreign policy makers to preserve religious freedom worldwide as the head of the office of international religious freedom in the U.S. State Department.

According to World, an online magazine, Brownback said, “The level of persecution continues to grow,” and that since the office was created, not enough has been done.

Senate approval is unlikely to occur prior to lawmakers leaving for their summer recess. His position cannot be confirmed without Senate approval.

With his predicted resignation from governorship if the nomination is confirmed, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a fellow Catholic and two-time running mate of Brownback, will assume the role as governor.

Brownback has served on the Hill in various capacities including as congressman for Kansas’ second congressional district in 1994 and as U.S. senator for 14 years. In 2010, Brownback was elected governor of Kansas.

His record has been far from favorable due to his experimental tax cuts, with a 2016 New York Times survey naming him the most unpopular governor, with only 26 percent approval rating. His tax cuts, which were implemented in 2012, severely cut back Kansas’ revenue to the point of threatening its schools and other programs. The Kansas Legislature, with a Republican majority, reversed these tax cuts in early June, returning tax rates to their levels prior to Brownback’s term.

But despite his tax policy failure, Brownback said in the July 27 news conference that he is most proud of the pro-life legislation that has passed under his governorship. He said that he has signed 19 pro-life bills.

“The one thing I am most pleased about is that we have really moved as a culture of life state,” Brownback said. “And we are not going back.”

Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who is chairman of the House panel on global human rights, said Brownback has the experience to effectively promote religious freedom around the world.

“He is a man of deep religious faith and will work tirelessly to combat religious persecution and extremism,” Smith, a Catholic, said in a statement. “I congratulate him on his recent nomination and urge the Senate to move quickly on his confirmation — religious minorities abroad depend on it.”

Brownback spoke about his run as governor, senator and congressman throughout the years for the state of Kansas. But also about how his experience with the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 has prepared him for this potential new role.

“International religious freedom is going the wrong way, its getting worse,” Brownback said. “It hasn’t improved. We passed a bill in 1998 and the situation hasn’ improved. You could argue that it has gotten worse.” 

The governor confirmed that he has not spoken with anyone within the Senate and so a timeline on his nomination vote is unknown.

By Josephine von Dohlen

 

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World ‘sorely needs’ Scouts’ values of generosity, service, says nuncio

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GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Scouting develops generosity, service and fraternity, which are all values “our world sorely needs,” the papal nuncio told Catholic Scouts gathered for a July 23 Mass during the annual Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree.

“These values are the antidote to the selfishness and individualism of our society,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre said in his homily. “Scouting also encourages you to work together as a team, to share adventures, and to have a greater vision of life and creation.”

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, poses for a photo with Scouts following Mass July 23 at the Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.Va. (CNS photo/Michael Roytek, courtesy Boy Scouts of America)

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, poses for a photo with Scouts following Mass July 23 at the Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.Va. (CNS photo/Michael Roytek, courtesy Boy Scouts of America)

The archbishop was the principal celebrant of the outdoor Mass celebrated in Glen Jean at the Summit Betchel Reserve in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia. The July 19-28 jamboree drew 25,000 Scouts and troop leaders from around the country; about 7,500 attended the Mass.

Concelebrants included two officials of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, both of whom are Eagle Scouts: Msgr. John J.M. Foster, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer, episcopal vicar for Europe and Asia. More than a dozen priests also concelebrated.

As he began his homily, Archbishop Pierre thanked Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston for hosting the Mass and acknowledged Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., who is episcopal liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. He also assured everyone of Pope Francis’ prayers and his “personal closeness to all gathered here.”

The French-born archbishop recalled his own years as a Scout and how Scouting has benefited members of his family.

“This jamboree brings back a flood of memories from my youth. I was a Scout for five years, right up until I entered the seminary,” he said in his homily. “I know the value of Scouting in my own life as I have traveled all over the world serving as a diplomat, and I have seen the real fruits of Scouting in my own family, especially in the lives of my nephews and nieces.”

Turning to the spiritual, he said that “amid the beauty of creation, Scouts ponder the God who made all things and who invites us to a relationship with Him. Scouting demands that we do our duty toward God, including worshipping him.”

Drawing on the first reading from the Book of Wisdom, he told the Scouts: “We have a God who cares for us” and he sent his Son to be born, not in power and majesty, but in poverty and weakness — as a child.”

Jesus “wanted to be close to the people and to teach them about the kingdom of his father,” Archbishop Pierre said. “It was not a kingdom of power or violence, but one of justice, love, and truth. To teach the crowds, Jesus told parables — stories — just like we share stories in Scouting. Jesus’ stories point us to something new, something beyond this world.”

With God, “our lives are filled with joy, blessing, and fruitfulness,” he said.

“Before we can make known to others this joyful message of the kingdom, we must first attend to the field of our hearts,” he said, urging them also to be vigilant in safeguarding “the seed of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit” sown within each of them.

“Jesus reminds us of the need to be vigilant — to stay awake, to be vigilant and keep watch, to be ready to preserve the grace we first received in baptism,” Archbishop Pierre continued. “Scouts know about staying awake and keeping vigil by the camp fire; about being ready and alert; about watching for danger. We need to do the same with our souls, guarding them from the enemy.

“After keeping watch over our souls, we can look to the needs of others, as a church that goes forth,” he said. “Our own commitment to holiness, to our neighbor, to the environment, and to being honest and decent can be an antidote for our culture and world.”

He quoted Pope Francis: “An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds.”

“The Holy Father is asking you, the Scouts, to be vigilant, to look out for your brothers and sisters and to be patient,” Archbishop Pierre said. “The important thing is to persevere, to not give up in your mission and to not give up on others, hoping that they might have new life.”

He said the pope “constantly refers to all the baptized as missionary disciples.”

“Scouts cultivates in young people a real spirit of adventure, a zeal for exploration and for mission. The Lord is counting on you,” he added.

Archbishop Pierre said the Scouts are called to be “leaven” in a world today that “is plagued by isolation, selfishness and individualism. In contrast, Scouts know something about being together, including others, and teamwork. Everyone must contribute something.”

He said he has always been impressed by Scouts’ spirit of “commitment and generosity.” He closed his homily with “a prayer for generosity,” the Scout Prayer, “which I learned many years ago.” He asked the Scouts to make the prayer there own reciting it first in French and then in English:

“O Lord, teach me to be generous; To serve you as you deserve; To give and not to count the cost; To fight and not to heed the wounds; To labor and not to seek for rest; To toil and not to seek any reward; Except that of knowing that I am doing your holy will.”

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Now Hiring: Vatican ambassador is unique post in U.S. diplomatic corps

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As the U.S. president’s personal envoy to the Vatican, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See has a unique role in building a bridge between the political center of the United States and the religious-spiritual center of the universal Catholic Church in Rome. Read more »

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Washington letter: 80 percent of U.S. immigrants with Temporary Protected Status have jobs

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Citing the significant economic contributions of immigrants under a federal program known as Temporary Protected Status, a new study says ending the program, as some in the Trump administration have suggested, would negatively impact the U.S. economy.

A teenage girl from El Salvador is embraced by a family friend before leaving Viva La Case refugee center with her family in Buffalo, N.Y., to file a claim July 5 with customs officials at the U.S.-Canadian border to remain in the United States. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

A teenage girl from El Salvador is embraced by a family friend before leaving Viva La Case refugee center with her family in Buffalo, N.Y., to file a claim July 5 with customs officials at the U.S.-Canadian border to remain in the United States. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

That’s because more than 80 percent of the approximately 325,000 immigrants in the country with the status known as TPS have jobs, many have mortgages, pay taxes and work in industries crucial to the economy, such as construction, child care and health care, and collectively have some 273,000 U.S.-born children, says a July report by the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

Kevin Appleby, the center’s senior director of international migration policy, said if extensions for the migrants are not granted or the program is terminated, crucial industries would see a shortage of workers, banks would see defaults in mortgages, and government coffers would lose out on tax revenues and consumer spending.

“Let’s hope the financial industry realizes that,” he said.

Deporting TPS recipient parents also would create thousands of orphans in the country, which would increase foster care costs, place a burden on local and state governments, and alienate the children affected, said Appleby. He was one of three officials from the center who explained the report “Statistical and Demographic Profile of the U.S. Temporary Protected Status Populations From El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti” in a July 20 video conference.

Demographer Robert Warren said TPS recipients have high participation in the U.S. labor force, 81 percent to 88 percent, well above the 63 percent rate for the total U.S. population; almost half of them have mortgages, and 11 percent are self-employed, creating jobs for themselves and others, the study says. They work in construction, food service, child care centers and the health care industry, said Warren, senior visiting fellow at the Center for Migration Studies.

The TPS program has been around for 27 years and provides a work permit and reprieve from deportation to immigrants from some countries recovering from conflicts or natural disasters. Immigrants from war-torn countries such as El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti account for 90 percent of program’s beneficiaries in the U.S.

Donald Kerwin, the center’s executive director, said: “TPS has been a vitally important and successful protection and humanitarian program for 27 years. It’s definitely not a perfect program, but its imperfections have more to do with who it doesn’t cover than who it does.” 

The program also doesn’t provide a path toward a more permanent status for migrants since the Department of Homeland Security has to periodically grant extensions.

A TPS beneficiary from Haiti, for example, who was granted protections following the devastating earthquake in 2010 has to see if the U.S. government will grant extensions to the program to determine whether she or he can legally remain the U.S. The extensions can go on for years and, in the meantime, TPS beneficiaries get jobs, get married, have children, buy homes and become involved in the community.

Though recently a six-month extension was granted to Haitians, Homeland Security on its webpage tells Haitian TPS recipients to use the time before Jan. 22, 2018, to prepare for and arrange departure from the United States. DHS also will look at what to do with TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador and Honduras in early 2018.

Kerwin said many are deeply embedded in the U.S. communities and have long contributed to the country, adding that roughly half of Salvadorans and Honduran TPS recipients have been in the country 20 years or more.

“The concern is that the Trump administration could terminate the TPS designations for these nations, which our paper concludes is the worst option,” Kerwin said. “It’s really not just a lose-lose option. It’s a lose-lose-lose option because, as the report shows, it would be bad for the U.S., for its communities, for families, for the housing market, for certain industries in particular and for the economy overall.”

It also would be detrimental to the migrants’ countries of origin, said Kerwin, because they already have said they can’t safely accommodate returning populations. Some migrants may not leave and even those who do may attempt a return to be with family in the U.S. in the future, he said. Termination of TPS would only create yet another group of residents in the United States without legal permission, Kerwin said.

Immigrant advocate groups are urging more extensions, knowing that under a Trump administration more permanent options, and even legislative options, are simply not a reality.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration has repeatedly advocated for the extensions and, in May, its chairman, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, thanked DHS for the TPS extension for Haitians.

Other groups, such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said even though the extension was a positive development, it was a temporary fix. Countries such as Haiti, whose citizens benefit from the program, need more stability before masses of people are sent back, CLINIC officials said. Some say that destabilizing these countries with the influx of people is only going to result in even more people trying to leave their homelands for the U.S.

“Extension of TPS is not the perfect option but it looks to be the best available option at this point,” said Kerwin, adding that legislative options would be more difficult to bring to fruition.

Many advocates worry that the worst possible option, ending the program altogether, is under consideration by the Trump administration.

DHS Secretary John Kelly “has already indicated a posture of the administration not to extend TPS to these countries. … It’s becoming clear that the administration wants to end TPS to these countries and if at all possible … end it altogether,” Appleby said.

“This administration was elected to implement policies that are in the best interest of this nation and it’s clear from our report that extending TPS will be in the best interest of the nation,” said Appleby. “Many within the administration want to end it for ideological reasons, but that is not in the best interest of the country and does not best serve the U.S. citizenry.”

Advocates, including many faith communities, are getting ready battle in defense of the program and of the migrants affected. After all, faith communities were instrumental at the beginning of the TPS program in the late 1980s, early 1990s, said Appleby, recalling that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, who was then the head of the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, was involved in getting the program to become a reality under the Immigration Act of 1990.

“We anticipate the faith community to be involved in this fight, if not outright leaders of it,” Appleby said.

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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International gathering celebrates 50 years of Catholic Charismatic Renewal

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Catholic News Service

PITTSBURGH — Followers of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal came back to where it all began.

Some 6,200 of them gathered for the 2017 Jubilee Conference July 20-23 in Pittsburgh under the theme of “Rivers of Living Water.” The gathering included some 2,000 people from Haiti and a large number of Latinos.

People pray July 20 during the Catholic Charismatic Renewal's 50th Jubilee Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in  Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/John Franko, Pittsburgh Catholic)

People pray July 20 during the Catholic Charismatic Renewal’s 50th Jubilee Conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/John Franko, Pittsburgh Catholic)

“We are celebrating a current of grace that is 50 years young,” said Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka during his homily at the opening Mass. It “is ever-ancient and ever-new.”

The main celebrant at the Mass was retired Pittsburgh Auxiliary Bishop William J. Winter, as Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik continues to recover from recent back surgery.

General session speakers included Patti Mansfield, an original participant in the “Duquesne Weekend,” where the Catholic Charismatic Renewal began; Damian Stayne, founder of the community Cor et Lumen Christi; Msgr. Joseph Malagreca, coordinator of the Haitian and Hispanic Charismatic Renewal Center in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York; and retired Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, who is a longtime key figure in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

“If we want to receive more of the Holy Spirit, we have to pray,” said Mansfield during her address.

In describing her experience, she held up the 25-cent notebook that she had brought with her for the February 1967 weekend at The Ark and The Dove center in northern Allegheny County. She pointed to phrases she had written, such as “Jesus, be real for me” and “I want a miracle.” But never did she envision, she said, that what happened at the weekend would lead to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

She spoke of the irony that the experiences of a group of about 12 “insignificant young people” could lead to a movement of some 120 million Catholics worldwide. But she pointed out that the origins of the movement could never be traced to any one person. The beginning can be found only in God.

As part of the conference, bus tours were offered to The Ark and The Dove, and a large percentage of the conference attendees took advantage of the opportunity.

In fact, Father John Sweeney, pastor of St. Bonaventure Parish in Glenshaw, a Pittsburgh suburb, said July 22 that the number of visitors to the retreat center was overwhelming to the organizers. Many went by bus, but others drove their cars and just showed up hoping to tour the historic buildings.

Involved in the charismatic movement since he was ordained in 1973, Father Sweeney said he was pleased to have the 50th anniversary gathering in Pittsburgh, the fourth such meeting in the area.

“This weekend has been a great blessing for the diocese,” he told the Pittsburgh Catholic, the diocesan newspaper. “People tell me how beautiful the city is, so I think they’re glad to be here.”

Father Pivonka said that the Catholic Charismatic Renewal highlights the diversity of the church.

The priest pointed to the “channel of grace” referenced by Pope Francis with regard to the movement, adding, “The church has been drinking for the past 50 years from the well.”

He recalled how his life was transformed at age 20 when he experienced the full measure of the Spirit while a student at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. He touched on the conference theme by noting that, while a pond may dry out, a river never will.

“Rest and celebrate the current of grace, and hold on and go where it takes us from here,” he said.

Between conference sessions July 22, Bishop Jacobs called the gathering “a celebration of what God has done over 50 years. But it’s also a time to look forward to the future, to renew that vision that God has given us as the renewal. And that’s to bring this grace of Pentecost into the heart of the church.”

A highlight of the gathering was a Holy Hour and candlelight procession from the convention center, across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to Allegheny Landing Park on the North Shore by thousands of participants.

More information on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is available at www.nsc-chariscenter.org.

By John Franko, a staff writer at the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

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Bishop urges Senate to remedy health care for the ‘common good’ — Updated

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — After the Senate voted July 25 to proceed with the health care debate, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., urged senators of both parties to “work together to advance changes that serve the common good.”

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

The statement from Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the health care reform proposals currently under consideration would “harm millions of struggling Americans by leaving too many at risk of losing adequate health coverage and continue to exclude too many people, including immigrants.”

“We are grateful for the efforts to include protections for the unborn, however, any final bill must include full Hyde Amendment provisions and add much-needed conscience protections. The current proposals are simply unacceptable as written, and any attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) without a concurrent replacement is also unacceptable,” he said in a July 25 statement.

During the procedural vote on the Senate floor, 50 Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted no, along with the Senate’s 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate.

The vote to debate health care legislation took place after months of ongoing discussion and leaves Senate Republicans with a few options, including completely replacing the health care law, or voting for what has been described as a “skinny” repeal that would remove parts of the Affordable Care Act. They also could pass a measure that would repeal the current law without implementing a replacement.

Late July 25, the Senate voted down one of these proposals in a 57-43 vote with nine Republicans voting against it. The proposal — an updated version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act — would have done away with the ACA’s tax penalties for those not buying insurance, cut Medicaid and allowed insurers to sell cheaper policies with less coverage. It also included $100 billion in extra funds to help people losing Medicaid.

Senators were expected to vote on a “repeal-only” proposal July 26 that also was likely to face defeat since many in both parties have spoken against repealing the ACA without a replacement plan.

As votes were being cast, all eyes were on Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Senate floor just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who had not assured the Senate of his vote prior to the tally.

Just prior to the procedural vote, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, majority leader, urged fellow senators not to let this moment slip by.

“All we have to do today is to have the courage to begin the debate,” he added as protesters yelled in the background: “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.” “Shame.”

“Will we begin the debate on one of the most important issues confronting America today?” he asked before answering: “It is my hope that the answer will be yes.”

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, minority leader, stressed that Democrats had been locked out of the recent health care debate and he warned that the Republican plan will “certainly mean drastic cuts” in Medicaid and would cause many to lose health care insurance.

McCain urged his colleagues to “trust each other” and “return to order” after casting his vote to move the debate forward.

In his July 25 statement, Bishop Dewane said, “There is much work to be done to remedy the ACA’s shortcomings” and he called on the Senate to make the necessary changes.

He also stressed that “current and impending barriers to access and affordability under the ACA must be removed, particularly for those most in need. Such changes can be made with narrower reforms that do not jeopardize the access to health care that millions currently receive,” he added.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said in a July 26 statement that she was disappointed with the Senate’s vote to attempt to repeal and replace the ACA “without a clear plan to protect access to affordable health care coverage.”

She said that throughout the health care reform debate, Catholic Charities has insisted that any reform must protect those who have health care coverage and provide more health insurance to those without it.

“We urge senators to work together to reject dramatic cuts to Medicaid coverage and provide a health care bill that truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respects human life and dignity, especially for those who are most in need,” she said.

 

Carolyn Mackenzie contributed to this report. Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Catholic leaders mourn ‘senseless deaths’ in trafficking tragedy

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SAN ANTONIO — The “completely senseless deaths” of 10 people who died of heat exhaustion and suffocation they suffered from being held in a tractor-trailer “is an incomprehensible tragedy,” said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.

Police officers in San Antonio work a crime scene at Walmart July 23 after eight people were found dead inside an 18-wheeler truck. Several others were hospitalized in critical condition and the death toll reached 10 as of early July 24. Authorities say the truck was smuggling immigrants into the U.S. from Mexico and Central America. (CNS photo/Ray Whitehouse, Reuters)

Police officers in San Antonio work a crime scene at Walmart July 23 after eight people were found dead inside an 18-wheeler truck. Several others were hospitalized in critical condition and the death toll reached 10 as of early July 24. Authorities say the truck was smuggling immigrants into the U.S. from Mexico and Central America. (CNS photo/Ray Whitehouse, Reuters)

“There are no words to convey the sadness, despair and, yes, even anger we feel today,” he said in a statement released late July 23.

Earlier in the day, San Antonio law enforcement officials found eight bodies inside the trailer of an 18-wheeler sitting in the parking lot of a Walmart. The eight people who died were among 39 people packed in the trailer and suffering from extreme dehydration and heatstroke. At least 20 others rescued from the truck were in critical condition and transported to the hospital. Two later died, and by July 24 the death toll was at least 10.

In a July 24 statement, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration said the nation’s Catholic bishops joined their voices in mourning the loss of life and condemning the treatment of migrants, many of whom were from Mexico and Guatemala, in a suspected human trafficking operation.

“The loss of lives is tragic and avoidable. We condemn this terrible human exploitation that occurred and continues to happen in our country,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin.

“In a moment such as this, we reflect upon the words of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, ‘The defense of human beings knows no barriers: We are all united wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land,’” Bishop Vasquez said.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus called it “a horrific tragedy” and said it was being looked at as “a human trafficking crime.”

AP reported that James Matthew Bradley, 60, of Clearwater, Fla., believed to be the driver of the tractor-trailer, was a suspect in the case and had been arrested on charges of smuggling.

San Antonio is about 150 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. The temperature in the Texas city July 23 was 101 degrees all day and well into late evening. The human cargo in the tractor-trailer was discovered after someone left the truck and asked a Walmart worker for water, AP said.

In his statement, Archbishop Garcia-Siller said the community was praying for the recovery of the adults and children who were hospitalized. AP said that at least four of the survivors were between the ages of 10 and 17.

“Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio has already reached out to our mayor and promised to offer whatever assistance is needed. We will do anything possible for these brothers and sisters and their families,” he said.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller said the tragedy was “a clarion call” for the nation to make immigration reform a priority.

“Everyone — the churches, law enforcement, state and national elected officials, civic organizations, charitable groups — has to prioritize the immigration issue and truly work together in new ways which have eluded us in the past for common sense solutions. No more delays. No more victims,” he said.

He recalled that when 19 people died in similar circumstances in a locked trailer in nearby Victoria in 2003, “the nation was stunned, and people of good will vowed to work diligently to ensure that something such as this would never happen again.”

“Unfortunately, law enforcement has reported an upsurge in these types of human smuggling and trafficking operations at the border in recent months,” Archbishop Garcia-Siller said.

      Such incidents involve “increasingly desperate individuals seeking safety and a better life for their families placing their well-being and indeed their lives in the hands of reprehensible, callous smugglers and traffickers,” he said.

      “We pray for these victims and all victims of human smuggling and trafficking; that this monstrous form of modern slavery will come to a quick and final end,” the archbishop added. “God cries seeing this reality and many other situations such as this across our country and around the world.”

      In a separate statement, the Austin-based Texas Catholic Conference, which is the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, joined Archbishop Garcia-Siller in mourning the migrants’ deaths and praying for the survivors.

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Medicaid cuts would would be detrimental to West Virginians, bishop says

By

Catholic News Service

WHEELING, W.Va. — In the shadow of the national health care debate is West Virginia, a state where a large portion of the population is living in poverty, where Medicaid is the focus and concern.

Catholic Charities West Virginia reports that Medicaid serves more than

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is seen at Wheeling Hospital Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Colleen Rowan, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is seen at Wheeling Hospital Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Colleen Rowan, The Catholic Spirit)

546,000 people in the state, a third of the population. Last year alone, 170,000 West Virginians enrolled in the program.

Cuts to Medicaid in any overhaul of the federal health care law would be detrimental to West Virginia, said Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston and officials at Catholic-run Wheeling Hospital.

“It would be a monumental health care crisis in this state if this was to take place,” said Heidi Porter, vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at Wheeling Hospital.

“We are in a state that’s poor, highly co-morbid. People have a lot of health disparities; they have chronic conditions. They are the people who have multiple diseases who … could be restricted in terms of health coverage,” Porter told The Catholic Spirit, diocesan newspaper of Wheeling-Charleston.

Wheeling Hospital is the state’s only Catholic hospital and is operated by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

A key provision of the now-collapsed Senate health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was to make deep cuts to Medicaid, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic social service agencies and health care providers decried, saying the cuts would have harmed those most in need.

On July 25, the Senate took a procedural vote to debate health care legislation. Fifty Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted no, along with the Senate’s 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate. Late the same same day senators voted 57-43 to reject one proposal before them, a revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

Porter discussed the current health care debate and adverse effects cuts to Medicaid or repeal of the Affordable Care Act could have in West Virginia July 18, just hours after U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, announced that she would vote against any bill to just repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement plan.

Capito was among other GOP senators who said they would not vote on the measure, leaving the Senate without the needed 50 votes to bring the bill forward for a debate.

“As I have said before, I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” Capito said in a statement. “For months, I have expressed reservations about the direction of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. I have serious concerns about how we continue to provide affordable care to those who have benefited from West Virginia’s decision to expand Medicaid, especially in light of the growing opioid crisis.

“All of the Senate health care discussion drafts have failed to address these concerns adequately,” she added.

“I view Medicaid as a safety net for these folks,” said Kareen Simon, vice president of operations at Wheeling Hospital, who joined Porter in discussing health care with The Catholic Spirit. “Everybody has the right to have access to health care.”

Medicaid in West Virginia, Simon noted, provides coverage of specifics related to overall wellness, coverage of basic needs for individuals and families living in poverty and in need of assistance.

“Prenatal care, pharmaceuticals such as vaccines, being able to have your children vaccinated, dental, vision, mental health services — that is all available,” she said. “It’s wellness, all the way across the continuum from birth to elderly. If you do away with that, you are looking at a population that has no access to any health care.”

Bishop Bransfield emphasized this point in his column in the July 21 issue of The Catholic Spirit, noting that the state’s children and the elderly would suffer greatly from any cuts to Medicaid benefits.

“As many of you know, West Virginia has some of the poorest communities in the United States,” the bishop said in his column. “The largest number of poor in West Virginia are children and without a doubt many senior citizens live below the poverty line. The elimination or reduction of Medicaid, especially the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, will seriously affect our people.

“The CHIP program is one of the Medicaid programs that should be renewed and whose reach should be extended,” he wrote, “in order to ensure that our young people have access to regular pediatric care and annual physicals, so that all our young people have the chance to see a doctor at least yearly and not only in emergency situations. Likewise, in a state with so many elderly living on their own, it is important that they too have access to affordable health care.”

While saddled with poverty and health care issues, West Virginia also is facing an opioid addiction crisis. According to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, preliminary data shows that 879 people died of drug overdose in West Virginia last year. A total of 744 of those drug overdose deaths involved one or more opioids.

Access to Medicaid for those suffering and affected by this crisis, Porter and Simon said, has been vital to the state in terms of treatment and recovery.

“It’s bad,” Porter said of the state’s opioid crisis. “It’s a daily occurrence that everyone in every health care organization in West Virginia deals with. It has left zero portion of the state untouched.”

The biggest and most heartbreaking issue facing the state’s health care facilities in the opioid crisis is the treatment of babies born addicted to drugs. The condition is called NAS — neonatal abstinence syndrome, in which newborns suffer from withdrawal from the drugs they were exposed to in the womb.

“Every hospital in the state is seeing that,” Simon said. “Just by looking at a baby that’s born addicted, that’s worthwhile” to have Medicaid. “That baby needs to be treated.”

Although repeal of Obamacare seems unlikely now without the needed votes in the Senate, Porter stressed that repeal without knowing what is going to replace it is “dangerous.”

“Not knowing what is coming down the pike,” she said, “you are playing with people’s lives. It’s dangerous and could be deadly to people.”

Both Porter and Simon believe there are success stories in the expansion of and access to Medicaid in the Mountain State overall, especially with treatment of drug addiction and preventative care.

“If you have 53,000 people last year who sought treatment for substance abuse and other issues, there is success to be found in that program,” Porter said. “People are grateful to have that burden eased.

“Obviously, we are a Catholic health care institution and we will provide care regardless of whether or not someone has insurance, but you see relief in people’s faces to know that they are covered.”

By Colleen Rowan, executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

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