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Utah to appeal ruling on same-sex marriage ban to Supreme Court


SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s attorney general said July 9 the state will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes of overturning a federal appellate court’s ruling that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

On the same day in neighboring Colorado, a judge overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The decision by Colorado District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree “advances a misinterpretation of the institution of marriage in modern society, reducing marriage to a sheer emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the impulses of culture,” said a July 10 statement by Colorado’s Catholic bishops.

“As Catholics, we have a duty to protect and preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman in our laws and policies. We are called to make this stand because redefining marriage will only further erode the family structure of our society,” the bishops added.

Colorado and Utah were two of six states affected by a 2-1 decision issued June 25 by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said states could not deprive people of the right to marry because they chose partners of the same sex. The other four states are Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

It marked the first time a federal appellate court had struck down state same-sex marriage bans. Crabtree’s ruling marked the 16th time a state judge had overturned its state’s same-sex marriage prohibition. In both cases, the judges put their rulings on hold pending probable appeals.

Despite the 10th Circuit’s stay on its own affecting six states, Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall in Colorado had been giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On July 10, a county judge said Hall could continue to give the licenses, with the understanding that the licenses could be declared invalid at some point in the future.

The judge, Andrew Hamilton, noted, though, that every state judge issuing a ruling in the past year had declared same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, and that Colorado’s own ban was “hanging by a thread.”

Voters approved Utah’s same-sex marriage ban in 2004. Colorado voters had done the same in 2006.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes chose to bypass the full 10th Circuit in a bid to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear Utah’s case. The high court is under no obligation to hear the appeal. It often does not consider appeals unless there are conflicting judgments from other federal or state courts.

At the federal judicial level, a ruling is expected soon by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Virginia’s statewide ban; the case was heard in May. Federal courts are also due to hear arguments in August and September for cases out of Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Tennessee.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had said he hoped the state would appeal directly to the Supreme Court, his office said recently. He added the state already budgeted money needed to defend the law. It has already spent about $300,000 paying three outside attorneys to defend its same-sex marriage ban, and estimates paying another $300,000 to argue its case before the Supreme Court.


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Louisiana court may compel priest to break seal of confession


BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana’s Supreme Court has ruled that a priest may be compelled to testify as to what he heard in the confessional in 2008 concerning an abuse case.

The priest, Father Jeff Bayhi, faces automatic excommunication if he breaks the seal of the confessional. But he also could face jailing if found to be in contempt of the court should he refuse to testify.

In the case, a girl who was 14 in 2008 said she told her parish priest, Father Bayhi, pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Zachary, in the confessional that she was abused by a now-dead lay member of the parish.

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation  (CNS file)

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation (CNS file)

The girl’s parents sued Father Bayhi and the Diocese of Baton Rouge for failing to report the abuse. The parents won at the district court level about compelling the priest to testify, but lost in Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeals, before the state’s highest court reversed and vacated the appellate court’s decision.

“As you know, one of the great sacraments of healing in the church is the sacrament of reconciliation/confession. It has given hope and comfort to all Catholics throughout the centuries and continues to do so today,” Father Bayhi said in a July 7 statement.

“The seal of confession is one that can never be broken. Through its use the faithful must always be protected, so much so, that as a priest I cannot even say someone has come to confession, let alone divulge the contents of what was revealed.”

The Baton Rouge diocese, in its own statement July 7, said the state Supreme Court violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in its decision.

“A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable. Pursuant to his oath to the church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal,” the diocese said. “Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. If necessary, the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil court and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent.

“This is not a gray area in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. A priest/confessor who violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved for forgiveness to the Apostolic See in Vatican City.”

The diocese added, “In this case, the priest acted appropriately and would not testify about the alleged confessions. Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession.

“This matter cuts to the core of the Catholic faith, and for a civil court to inquire as to whether or not a factual situation establishes the sacrament of confession is a clear and unfettered violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States,” it continued. “This matter is of serious consequence to all religions, not just the Catholic faith. The statutes involved in this matter address ‘sacred communications’ which are confidential and are exempt from mandatory reporting.”

The diocese said, “For a civil court to impinge upon the freedom of religion is a clear violation and the matter will be taken to the highest court in the land by the church in order to protect its free exercise of religion.”


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Minnesota archbishop orders investigation of claims against him


ST. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis told priests and staff about recent allegations against him involving events alleged to have occurred a decade ago before he began serving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, calling them “absolutely and entirely false.”

The claims do not involve minors, and they do not implicate any kind of illegal or criminal behavior.

The new allegations were made public in an article posted on Commonweal magazine’s website. The article notes an internal investigation Archbishop Nienstedt ordered after he became aware of the allegations.

“I have ordered that the investigation be conducted for the benefit of the archdiocese. It would be unfair to ignore these allegations simply because I know them to be false,” Archbishop Nienstedt said in a July 1 statement sent to all priests, deacons and archdiocesan staff, and posted at archspm.org.

“Since I would instruct the archdiocese to investigate similar allegations made against any priest, I had ordered the archdiocese to independently investigate the allegations made against me,” he said.

In overseeing the investigation, which is ongoing, Auxiliary Bishop Lee A. Piche hired an outside firm unaffiliated with the archdiocese to conduct it.

The archdiocese also notified the apostolic nuncio, who oversees all bishops in the U.S., of the allegations, and will inform him of the results of the investigation once it’s completed.

Ordained a priest of the Detroit Archdiocese in 1974, then-Father Nienstedt was appointed an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. In 2001, he was named to head the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. In 2007, he was named coadjutor archbishop for St. Paul and Minneapolis and about a year later automatically became head of the archdiocese when Archbishop Harry J. Flynn retired.

Commonweal, a lay-run magazine published in New York, quoted the archdiocese’s former top canon lawyer, Jennifer Haselberger, as saying the claims involve “sexual impropriety on the part of the archbishop.”

In a written response, Archbishop Nienstedt told Commonweal the allegations are nothing more than a “personal attack against me due to my unwavering stance on issues consistent with church teaching, such as opposition to so-called same-sex marriage.”

Associate editor Grant Gallicho, who wrote the story, also reported that Archbishop Nienstedt told him: “I have never engaged in sexual misconduct and certainly have not made any sexual advances toward anyone.”

Haselberger resigned from her position as archdiocesan chancellor for canonical affairs in April 2013 over what she said were serious disagreements she had with archdiocesan officials on procedures for handling abuse claims.

In October 2013, the archdiocese announced a newly formed Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force to conduct a full review of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ policies and practices and “any and all issues” related to clergy sexual misconduct.

The task force was created amid media reports of sexual misconduct allegations concerning certain priests in the archdiocese and criticism of how their cases were handled by archdiocesan officials.

In November, Archbishop Nienstedt released the names of priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against them after getting court permission.

In December, the archbishop voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry while St. Paul Police investigated an allegation that he inappropriately touched a male minor on the buttocks in 2009 during a group photo session after a confirmation ceremony.

The allegation was brought to the police Dec. 16, 2013. In a letter to Catholics released the following day, Archbishop Nienstedt called the allegation “absolutely and entirely false.”

He returned to public ministry in March of this year, following a thorough investigation by police of the claim and the announcement by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office no charges would be filed against the archbishop.

A memo accompanying the announcement said the case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney “with many years of experience prosecuting child sex abuse cases,” who agreed that there should be no charges in the case.


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Catholic leaders join others in asking for religious exemption in executive order


Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Catholic and other religious and civic leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in the planned White House executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a July 1 letter, the group of 14 faith leaders said they agreed with the idea of “banning discrimination” but they also asked that an “extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.”

The letter stressed the importance of a religious exemption in the planned executive order “disqualifying organizations” that do not hire lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans from receiving federal contracts.

“This religious exemption would be comparable to what was included in the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan vote,” it said.

The letter pointed out that a religious exemption “would not guarantee that religious organizations would receive contracts. Instead, a religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

The letter’s signers, included Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America; Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of the World Relief, run by the National Association of Evangelicals; Senior Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California; and Kathy Dahlkemper, a former member of Congress who is currently county executive of Erie County, Pennsylvania.

They said an executive order that does not include a religious exemption will “significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government.”

“In a concrete way, religious organizations will lose financial funding that allows them to serve others in the national interest due to their organizational identity. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers,” they added.

The writers said their concern went beyond a “direct financial impact on religious organizations” stressing that the nation must “find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability.”

The chairmen of four committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops June 20 issued a statement expressing concern about the expected order.

They reiterated the objections they initially raised with the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stating: “We say again now, as we said in connection with the Senate bill and have said many times before, that we oppose any unjust discrimination against any person on any grounds.”

“We intend to review the details of the executive order carefully once it is available, in order to assess whether it serves the dignity of the human person and the common good,” the statement said.

According to The Associated Press, the White House has not provided details about the executive order but some advocates say it will likely be similar to an order President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 that barred the federal government from firing workers for being gay and lesbian. Activists also said Obama’s expected executive will likely include language specifically referring to gender identity.

The letter from religious and civic leaders referred to differing views on same-sex marriage, pointing out that Obama, in his first presidential campaign, withheld support for same-sex marriage, saying he believed marriage is a “sacred union” between a man and a woman.

“You justified withholding your support for same-sex marriage, at least in part, by appealing to your Christian faith. Yet you still believed you could serve your country, all Americans, as president,” they said. “Similarly, some faith-based organizations’ religious identity requires that their employees share that identity. We still believe those organizations can serve their country, all Americans, in partnership with their government and as welcome members of the American family.”

“Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again,” the signers said. “We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future.

“A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government’s interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values.”


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Phila. archdiocese sells nursing homes for $145 million


Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced July 1 that it is selling six nursing homes and one assisted living facility operated by archdiocesan Catholic Health Care Services to a Flushing, New York, health care management company for $145 million.

The company, Center Management Group, owns and operates 15 nursing homes in New York and New Jersey. Under the agreement, the company has pledged to maintain the Catholic character of the nursing homes.

The date for the sale has not been set.

Under terms of the agreement, current nursing home staff members will become employees of Center Management Group at their current rate of pay when the agreement closes. They will receive health benefits under the new company’s health care plans. The management group also has agreed to retain all residents currently living in the facilities.

The sale does not affect nursing facilities owned and operated by religious congregations, but only those directly owned by the archdiocese.

Under an agreement with the archdiocese, Center Management Group will operate each facility in accordance with the moral, ethical and social teachings of the church outlined in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.”

The health care management group will keep Catholic priests and chaplains and a pastoral care department at each facility. Existing chapels and places of worship will remain and Masses will continue to be celebrated.

The sale of the nursing homes, placed on the market last August, is part of the ongoing effort to address the financial problems that built up for decades which have jeopardized the ability of the archdiocese to cover employee and priest pensions as well as the deposits by the parishes into the archdiocesan-operated Trust and Loan Fund.

The $145 million sale price for the nursing homes will be decreased by certain obligations under the terms of the agreement. Coupled with the initial payment of $53 million for the long-term lease of the archdiocesan cemeteries, both deals will go a long way toward easing the financial crisis.

“This agreement will serve the archdiocese and its people well by ensuring the nursing homes presently operated by Catholic Health Care Services will continue to be dignified centers of care for the elderly in the Catholic tradition and in accord with the moral and ethical teachings of the church,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a statement. “I did not arrive at this decision lightly. It came only after a great deal of consultation, discussion and prayer.”

In describing the archdiocese’s financial status, he said: “We become a little more stable with each step we take. We still have a way to go, but everything is being done so that we can best fulfill the church’s mission of evangelization and service to those in need.”

“We are enthusiastic about the future and grateful for Archbishop Charles Chaput’s confidence in our ability,” said Charles-Edouard Gros, the CEO of Center Management Group, which he founded in 1999.

“We have the experience of maintaining Catholic presence in skilled nursing communities,” he said. “Part of Center Management is to service the residents and the staff and to give the residents what they need to live optimally and happily and part of that is that they are able to practice their religion appropriately and have the love and support associated with that. We are very excited to be working with the archdiocese to maintain the same level of religious conviction and religious ability as to the residents of the facilities.”

Gros received his master’s degree in public health service management and policy with a concentration in gerontology from New York Medical College in 2001. He trained as an EMT/paramedic and still volunteers as a paramedic.

“I want to bring a high level of professionalism to the industry, coupled with my love for medicine,” he said. “I have also always loved hotels and another dream I had as a child was owning hotels. Even if I haven’t owned hotels, I’ve taken that philosophy of hospitality and brought it to the nursing environment. We hope to bring that to the forefront coupled with the strong Catholic basis in the community. It will be a special and wonderful environment for the residents.”

Although the sale is generally expected to close before the end of the year, there are several conditions that must be met including Vatican approval for the sale, which has already been requested.

Center Management Group also must obtain the necessary licensing to operate the nursing homes. Both conditions are not expected to be problematic.


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U.S. bishops say ‘justice has prevailed’ in high court decision on religious freedom for family businesses

June 30th, 2014 Posted in National News


WASHINGTON  —The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties means “justice has prevailed,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. CNS/CRS

The Court ruled that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “preventive services” mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as applied to these employers to the extent that it would have forced them to provide insurance coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions on respect for human life.

The statement follows:

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business. In this case, justice has prevailed, with the court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines.

Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.

“The Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise. ”

“We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.”


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Supreme Court rules some for-profit companies have religious rights, can’t be required to cover contraception


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In a narrowly tailored 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court June 30 said closely held companies may be exempted from a government requirement to include contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.The court said that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, the two family-run companies that objected to the government mandate that employees be covered for a range of contraceptives, including drugs considered to be abortifacients, are protected from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The opinion essentially held that for-profit companies may hold protected religious views.

Pro-life demonstrators celebrate June 30 outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington as its decision in the Hobby Lobby case is announced. The high court ruled that owners of closely held corporations can object on religious grounds to being forced by the government to provide coverage of contraceptives for their employees. (CNS photo/ Jonathan Ernst)

But the court also said that government requirements do not necessarily lose if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.

The ruling is not a slam-dunk for all entities that oppose the contraceptive mandate for religious reasons. The court noted that cases challenging the mandate for nonprofit entities, such as Catholic colleges and faith-based employers, are pending and that the June 30 ruling doesn’t consider them. The decision also did not delve into whether the private employers have religiously motivated protection from laws under the First Amendment.

It said the government failed to satisfy the requirement of RFRA, a 1993 law, that the least-restrictive means of accomplishing a government goal be followed to avoid imposing a restriction on religious expression.

The majority opinion said the ruling applies only to the contraceptive mandate and should not be interpreted to hold that all insurance coverage mandates — such as for blood transfusions or vaccinations — necessarily fail if they conflict with an employers’ religious beliefs.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the primary holding, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate concurring opinion, which agreed with the ruling, but made clear that while the opinion applies to the particular companies involved in this case, it’s not a sweeping condemnation of the key elements of the contraceptive mandate itself.

“It is important to confirm that a premise of the court’s opinion is its assumption that the HHS regulation here furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees,” wrote Kennedy in his concurrence. He went on to say that the federal government failed to use the least restrictive means of meeting that interest, pointing out that it has granted exemptions from the mandate for employees of nonprofit religious organizations.

“That accommodation equally furthers the government interest, but does not impinge on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs,” he wrote.

In her dissent with the main opinion, Justice Ruth Ginsburg called the court’s decision one of “startling breadth” allowing commercial enterprises to “opt out of any law” except tax laws that they “judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ginsburg, joined on its merits by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, said she was “mindful of the havoc” the ruling could produce and noted that the court’s emphasis on RFRA failed to take into account the impact the decision would have on “third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith.” She said she believed the law was enacted by Congress “to serve a far less radical purpose.”

“Until today,” she wrote, religious exemptions have not been extended to the “commercial profit-making world” because these groups do not exist to foster the interests of those of the same faith, as religious organizations do. She also questioned why the court failed to make the distinction between a group’s members of diverse beliefs and members who share the same faith.

“The court’s determination that RFRA extends to for-profit corporations is bound to have untoward effects,” she said, adding that even though the court “attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private.”

As a result, she said, “RFRA claims will proliferate.”


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Supreme Court strikes down ‘buffer zones’ at abortion clinics


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In a June 26 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics, meant to keep demonstrators away, violates First Amendment rights.

Pro-life activists from Crossroads USA pray across from a Planned Parenthood clinic on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. (CNS file)

The decision, a victory for pro-life groups, reversed an appellate court decision upholding a 2007 Massachusetts law that made it a crime for anyone other than clinic workers to stand within the yellow semicircular lines painted 35 feet from entrances of Planned Parenthood clinics in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.

Eleanor McCullen, lead plaintiff in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, said she should be able to speak and offer advice to women going to these clinics. McCullen, a 77-year-old who attends Mass at St. Ignatius Church at Boston College said when the case was brought to the Supreme Court that she had helped many women decide against abortion.

The Supreme Court, in its opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the state law blocked public sidewalks that have been traditionally viewed as open for free speech. It also said the government’s ability to limit speech in those places is “very limited.”

The law in question was put in place in an attempt to prevent violent demonstrations or protests outside clinic entrances. It replaced a 2000 state law that kept protesters from approaching within 6 feet of a person who was within 18 feet of an abortion clinic, similar to a 2000 law in Colorado that the Supreme Court upheld that year.

The Supreme Court’s opinion distinguished protesters from those who “seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.”

In a concurrence with the main opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia discusses what he sees as the court’s “onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence.” His concurrence was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

He observed that the court’s majority opinion “carries forward this court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents.”

He said that the opinion “has something for everyone,” by invalidating the law in question because it is inadequately tailored to circumstances, is “certainly attractive to those of us who oppose an abortion-speech edition of the First Amendment.”

But the main part of the opinion moves toward creating a version of the First Amendment that applies only to speech about abortion, he said. By concluding that a statute like the one overturned is not content-based and therefore not subject to strict scrutiny under the law, “the court reaches out to decide that question unnecessarily,” Scalia wrote.

Scalia cited ways in which he says the main opinion singled out abortion-only speech in reaching its conclusion that the law was unconstitutional. And he concluded that although he agrees with what the court decided, he thinks it unnecessarily addressed the issue of whether the law was sufficiently narrowly tailored.

“The obvious purpose of the challenged portion of the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act is to protect prospective clients of abortion clinics from having to hear abortion-opposing speech on public streets and sidewalks,” he said.

“The provision is thus unconstitutional root and branch and cannot be saved, as the majority suggests, by limiting its application to the single facility that has experienced the safety and access problems to which it is quite obviously not addressed,” he concluded.

Justice Samuel Alito also had a separate concurrence. In it he faulted the majority for concluding that the Massachusetts law is viewpoint neutral, but he nevertheless agreed that it is unconstitutional because it burdens free speech more than necessary to accommodate state interests.

Contributing to this report was Patricia Zapor.


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Vatican denies Boston parishioners’ appeal to keep churches open


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Parishioners who have occupied a closed Massachusetts Catholic church for nearly a decade said they plan one final petition to Pope Francis to prevent the building from being sold by the Boston Archdiocese.

Jon Rogers, a member of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Scituate, said petitioning the pope was a last resort measure. Despite the step, he said he was not sure it would succeed.

“We promised 10 years ago when we started this we would exhaust every avenue of appeal,” Rogers told Catholic News Service June 24.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parishioners have kept an around-the-clock presence in the church since October 2004 in the hope that various appeals based on canon law would be successful. The parish was one of 70 that closed beginning in 2004 in a downsizing plan carried out under Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley.

The parishioners involved in the occupation announced June 21 that the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest court, denied their final appeal. The decision means the parish is automatically deconsecrated, or in canonical terms, relegated to profane use.

The court ruled similarly on the appeals by parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Boston and St. James the Great Parish in Wellesley. Parishioners ended their occupations of the parishes in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Lorenzo Grasso, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, said parishioners planned to petition Pope Francis as well.

Suzanne Hurley, a St. James the Great Parish member, said the community decided to end its effort to save the church.

“If I knew 10 years ago what I do today, I still would have gone ahead with my action,” she told CNS. “There are times when you may not win because you have to believe in something. You have to fight for things because somebody will benefit from the actions of others.”

Rogers said he preferred to negotiate a deal to buy the Scituate church from the archdiocese. An archdiocesan spokesman said, however, the building would not be sold to the group.

“After 10 years of going through the circuslike atmosphere of the Vatican court and seeing how it operates, we’re glad it’s over and now the time for real hard-nose negotiations is at hand,” a defiant Rogers said.

Peter Borre, co-chairman of the Council of Parishes, a group formed to appeal the closures, said it would take several weeks to prepare the petition to Pope Francis. Borre told CNS he expects to deliver the documents to the Vatican in September, after the usual summer hiatus of church officials.

For now, Borre said, “The canonical process is finished. Rome has spoken.”

Terrence C. Donilon, the archdiocesan spokesman, told CNS June 24 he could not comment on the Vatican’s decision because no notice had been received by the archdiocese.

“We have all gone into this process understanding the rule and the way it could go, one way or the other. It just seems that the process is nearing an end here,” Donilon said.

“They’ve had some pretty harsh things to say recently which are insensitive and not respecting the process,” Donilon added in reference to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini parishioner statements. “They went into this fully aware knowing of what the possibilities were. Now it appears when it’s not going their way, they want to change the rules.”

The spokesman urged parishioners to join a neighboring parish to take advantage of the full life of the Catholic Church.

“No one is saying we want them to not be part of a parish or the church anymore. We want them to join an open parish and help in ministry work that’s there, whether that’s serving on the parish council, helping with religious ed or helping with the food bank. The whole spectrum of ministries a parish offers, they’re not experiencing,” Donilon said.

Rogers promised that parishioners would stay in the church building as long as necessary.

“They’re going to have to arrest us (to remove us), but we hope the time for real negotiations is at hand,” he said.

Donilon, however, declined to speculate on what actions the archdiocese might take to remove parishioners from the church.

“My hope is that through prayer and reflection, reason will emerge in their internal deliberations,” he said.

“This was not an enjoyable experience for anybody. It can’t go on forever and it won’t.”


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Fortnight for Freedom: Catholics should be free to serve with ‘eucharistic heart,’ says Baltimore archbishop


Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — The Eucharist conforms Catholics to “the pattern of Christ’s self-giving love” and compels them to see the dignity of the poor and perform acts of mercy, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said at the June 21 opening Mass for this year’s Fortnight for Freedom.

The Little Sisters of the Poor were among those Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori thanked for their service June 21 during the celebration of the third annual Fortnight for Freedom Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review)

The Mass coincided with the feast of Corpus Christi.

“By entering the dynamic of Christ’s self-giving eucharistic love, we are impelled … to work for a loving and just society where the dignity of human life is respected from conception until natural death and all the stages in between,” he said in his homily.

More than 1,000 people packed the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the opening of the third annual Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks dedicated to prayer, education and advocacy for religious freedom.

Concelebrating the Mass were Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington; Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore; Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, an auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and bishop-designate of Springfield, Mass.; and a dozen priests.

Archbishop Lori is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, formed in 2011. In 2012, it published a letter titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” and launched the Fortnight for Freedom event in response to government infringement on religious freedom rights in the United States and abroad.

Chief among those perceived threats are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most employers, including religious employers, provide insurance for artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs. Archbishop Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore are among plaintiffs in 100 lawsuits nonprofit and for-profit organizations and businesses have brought against the federal government over the mandate.

In his homily, Archbishop Lori criticized the mandate, as well as state laws criminalizing churches that serve immigrants living in the country illegally and “discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services because they refuse to provide so-called services that violate Catholic teaching.”

Subtle threats

Archbishop Lori acknowledged that in other countries, people are killed for professing their faith. In the United States, he said, the challenges to religious freedom are more subtle yet very real.

“Increasingly, government at all levels is asserting itself in the internal life of churches, telling them that houses of worship are fully religious, whereas religious schools and charities that serve the common good are less so, and therefore less deserving of religious freedom protections,” he said.

The 2014 fortnight theme is “The Freedom to Serve” to emphasize the charitable works of Catholic organizations and individuals. During the Mass, Archbishop Lori distinguished the church’s work from that of nongovernmental agencies, as Pope Francis has done, adding that Catholics “are to be more than an NGO” by virtue of a “eucharistic heart.”

“We are seeking for the church and for church institutions no special privileges,” he said. “We are seeking the freedom to serve, or as Pope Francis once put it, the freedom to proclaim and live the Gospel in its entirety.”

He asked Catholics to keep “in the forefront of our heart” people whom U.S. Catholic humanitarian agencies, parishes and individuals serve.

“Let us look at them not merely as statistics but as persons created in God’s image and called to enjoy friendship with God,” he said.

Among the Mass attendees were members of the Baltimore-based Little Sisters of the Poor, plaintiffs in a well-publicized lawsuit against the federal government over the HHS mandate. The U.S. Supreme Court granted the sisters a temporary injunction in January.

In an interview after Mass, Mother Loraine Marie Clare Maguire, the Little Sisters’ provincial superior, urged Catholics to pray for religious freedom.

“Religious freedom is very important to us and to our mission of caring for the elderly,” she told The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. “You can’t do anything without prayer, and the Eucharist is the summit of our prayer life. It’s what brings us together as a community to pray.”

The Fortnight for Freedom will culminate with a July 4 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.


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