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Atlanta archbishop apologizes, responds to critics of new residence

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Catholic News Service

ATLANTA — Responding to public and media criticism about his new $2.2 million residence, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory issued a statement of apology in his April 3 column in the archdiocesan newspaper.

“As the shepherd of this local church, a responsibility I hold more dear than any other, certainly more than any configuration of brick and mortar, I am disappointed that, while my advisers and I were able to justify this project fiscally, logistically and practically, I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia,” he wrote in The Georgia Bulletin.

This photo, taken March 15, shows Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s new residence, which was built on land left to the archdiocese. Responding to criticism about the $2.2 million residence, Archbishop Gregory apologized in a column in the April 3 issue of The Georgia Bulletin. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

The archbishop acknowledged that he had received “heartfelt, genuine and candidly rebuking letters, emails and telephone messages” during the past weeks about his residence.

“Their passionate indictments of me as a bishop of the Catholic Church and as an example to them and their children are stinging and sincere. And I should have seen them coming,” he wrote.

“To all of you,” he said, “I apologize sincerely and from my heart.”

The archdiocesan communications office has received more than 100 emails and messages, mostly positive, about the archbishop’s column.

The new 6,000-square-foot residence is located on property donated to the archdiocese from the estate of Joseph Mitchell, nephew of Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With The Wind.”

In his will, Mitchell requested that primary consideration be given to the Cathedral of Christ the King, where he worshipped. The cathedral received $7.5 million for its capital fund and spent roughly $1.9 million to buy the archbishop’s former residence. Cathedral officials are planning to spend an additional $292,000 to expand the archbishop’s former residence so its priests can live there, freeing up space on the cathedral’s cramped campus.

Cathedral officials have budgeted an additional $1 million to expand the archbishop’s former residence so its six priests can live there, freeing up space on the cathedral’s cramped campus. The cathedral rector, Msgr. Frank McNamee, asked Archbishop Gregory to sell the residence to the cathedral because it is in walking distance and parishioners strongly wanted their priests to be that close.

The sale funds were used to build the new residence. An additional $300,000 went toward making it handicapped accessible and including a larger chapel than the one in the older residence.

Archbishop Gregory moved into the newly built home in January. Some local Catholics reacted unfavorably to the move and articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other media outlets were critical of it.

In his April 3 column, the archbishop said he would meet with archdiocesan consultative bodies in upcoming weeks to hear their assessment of what he should do about the new residence.

If the groups recommend he no longer live in the residence he said the archdiocese will begin the process of selling the property and would “look to purchase or rent something appropriate elsewhere.”

Conventual Franciscan Father John Koziol, chairman of the archdiocesan priests’ council, said he admired the archbishop for “trying to do the right thing” and for “being so up front and transparent.”

Archbishop Gregory noted that bishops have been “called to live more simply, more humbly, and more like Jesus Christ who challenges us to be in the world and not of the world.”

He added that by example, Pope Francis has profoundly communicated the call to simplicity.

He ended the column with the assurance that he values the privilege and honor of being the archbishop of Atlanta. “I promise you that my service to you is the reason I get up each day, not the house in which I live or the ZIP code to which my mail is sent.”

 

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Church leaders urge Senate to pass Smarter Sentencing Act

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WASHINGTON — Two Catholic leaders called on the U.S. Senate to pass the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reform rigid sentencing policies for certain nonviolent drug offenders.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said in a March 27 letter to senators that tough minimum sentences “are costly, ineffective and can be detrimental to the good of persons, families and communities.”

They called the bill a “modest first step in reforming our nation’s broken sentencing policies.”

The bill would cut minimum existing sentences by half and allow judges to use discretion when imposing jail terms against lower-level offenders. The legislation also would permit crack cocaine offenders to seek lighter sentences if they were jailed under the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

The bill’s supporters tout it as a necessary first step to reduce overcrowding in prisons and begin whittling down the massive cost of incarceration.

Despite supporting the bill, Archbishop Wenski and Father Snyder questioned three new categories of mandatory sentencing minimums that were added to the original bill, saying they would not ease prison overcrowding or reduce costs.

The new categories cover sexual assault, domestic violence and arms trading.

The Steering Committee of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, support the bill but also opposed the new measures, saying they do nothing to protect victims.

“We continue to urge that one-size-fits-all sentencing policies, such as mandatory minimums, are inadequate in addressing the complexities of crime and community safety,” the letter said.

Noting that annual incarceration costs for state and federal governments total about $80 billion annually, the clergymen wrote that it is time for the government to support programs aimed at crime prevention, rehabilitation, education and substance abuse treatment and as well as probation, parole and reintegration into society.

“Our Catholic tradition supports the community’s right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good. But our faith teaches us that both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity that calls for justice and restoration, not vengeance,” the letter said.

 

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$1.1million stolen from U.S. Pontifical Mission Societies recovered

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NEW YORK — Following an 18-month investigation, the Pontifical Mission Societies announced March 25, in a joint statement with the Office of the New York State Attorney General, the recovery of some $1.1 million in funds stolen by a now-deceased official of the organization.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman praised the Pontifical Mission Societies for its full cooperation in the investigation, including for reporting financial irregularities as soon as the staff discovered funds were missing and verified they had been diverted.

“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to recover the stolen charitable funds and return a large sum to the societies so they can continue their important mission,” Schneiderman said. “Today’s agreement also ensures that these organizations will continue to enhance their controls to operate in a responsible fashion and prevent any future abuses.”

“It’s crucial that victimized organizations come forward and, like the Pontifical Mission Societies, take necessary steps to guard against future misconduct,” he said.

Oblate Father Andrew Small, the organization’s national director, thanked Schneiderman’s office for all of its efforts.

“Following our uncovering and reporting of the theft, we worked with the Attorney General’s Office to achieve a recovery of stolen funds that rightly belong to the poor and to strengthen our internal controls and board oversight,” he said in a statement.

The priest called it “a model form of collaboration,” saying the day’s announcement “allows us to put this sad affair behind us and to focus on our mission of helping poor churches and communities around the world.”

According to the Pontifical Mission Societies, the organization began making some changes to its accounting procedures in 2011. In the summer of 2012, the staff found inconsistencies in financial records for one of the organization’s funds.

In September 2012, when chief financial officer Raymond Schroeck fell ill, the organization verified that checks had been diverted and reported the discovery immediately to church and civil authorities, including the New York State Office of the Attorney General.

A subsequent investigation conducted by the attorney general found that Schroeck had stolen about $1.7 million dollars over a nine-year period, starting in 2003. The investigation found that while his wife benefited from the theft, there is no evidence that she was actually involved. Schroeck died in September 2012.

During the 18 months it took authorities to investigate the theft and recover most of the stolen funds, the Pontifical Mission Societies organization was asked by the attorney general’s office to make no public statement about the probe.

But the organization said it kept its board of directors and other church authorities informed of the situation.

With the recovery of nearly all the stolen funds, “there will likely be no net loss to the missions,” Father Small said.

The Pontifical Mission Societies said no monies it received from U.S. dioceses were ever part of the theft. The theft was limited to one account housed at the national office called the Pooled Income Fund.

A spokesperson for the organization said the Office of the Attorney General is satisfied with changes it has made in its accounting procedures since the theft was discovered and those changes will remain in place.

The Pontifical Mission Societies include the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Missionary Childhood Association, the Society of St. Peter Apostle and the Missionary Union of Priests and Religious. The societies support more than 9,000 health clinics, 10,000 orphanages, 1,200 schools, 80,000 seminarians and 9,000 religious sisters and brothers in more than 1,150 mission dioceses, mostly in Africa and Asia.

The Missionary Union of Priests and Religious is a spiritual society of prayer for the missions.

 

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World Meeting of Families in Phila. next year will engage all society

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next year will be open to families and people of different faiths, including no faith at all, to engage the wider society in dialogue and to serve and strengthen all families, organizers said.

The gathering Sept. 22-27, 2015, “is meant to be a gift not just for Catholics in Philadelphia, but for every person of good will in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the surrounding regions and the wider world,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, center, looks on as Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, right, speaks during a press conference with a delegation from Pennsylvania at the Vatican March 25 to discuss the September 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Meetings that bring together thousands of people from many different parts of the world with different experiences are a source of “tremendous joy” and grace and “have the power to transform, in deeply positive ways, the whole public community,” the archbishop said at a Vatican news conference March 25.

Archbishop Chaput visited the Vatican with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as part of a delegation of government, religious and community leaders meeting with Vatican officials to plan the 2015 international family gathering. They also expected to have an audience with Pope Francis during their March 24-26 visit.

While the delegation leaders vowed to convince the pope to travel to Philadelphia to celebrate the closing Mass of the eighth World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Chaput said confirmation of the pope using the occasion to make his first pastoral visit to North America was not expected “anytime soon.”

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which is helping prepare the meeting, said confirmation could come as late as six months before the event.

The aim of the global gathering will be to help all families of the world and accompany them “with an intelligent, courageous and loving” pastoral approach, the Italian archbishop said.

Archbishop Paglia called for intelligence in being able to read the current situation of today’s families; “courage to face the complex and numerous problems; (and) love for trying to solve them, keeping ever present the Gospel of the family and life.”

Vatican and church organizers are looking for the widest participation and input possible, the two archbishops said, including from members and representatives of other Christian churches and communities, different religions and women and men who are not religious, but are committed to “bringing peace and good will to our world.”

People from different Christian communities and faiths who place value on the family “can teach us something,” Archbishop Chaput said, and “we are sincere about being available and open to all kinds of input.”

When asked to what extent the gathering will open discussion up to the realities of single-parent homes, the divorced and same-sex couples, Archbishop Chaput said the church “always embraces people who differ with the church and I hope that’s a stance we all take.”

“I think all of us here have someone in our family who is divorced and maybe remarried again,” he said, or “have family members who are in a same-sex relationship.”

These are the reality facing many people today, “so not to deal with those kinds of issues” would be to ignore the situation many people live in, he said.

“But we’re not going to start to focus on the problems and the conflicts,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We certainly want everyone to have a chance to speak when those opportunities are provided, but we’re not going to be promoting positions that are contrary to the church’s expectations about family life either.”

It is a Catholic gathering and it will emphasize Catholic teaching about the family and openness to life, he said.

A marriage is more than problems. “It’s a grace, it’s a gift and we really want to start there and not start off with problems and differences and condemning. We want it to be an occasion of honest reflection, the joyful commitment to family life,” he said.

Corbett and Nutter told Catholic News Service they are excited about hosting the World Meeting of Families and would love to have Pope Francis attend. They cited a real need to help today’s families.

The family is “so important to society and, particularly in this day and age, I think we see very much a greater need for greater emphasis on the family,” Corbett said.

More attention and focus on the family “would help solve some of the problems of cities and countries,” he said.

Nutter said making Philadelphia the destination of a papal visit would have “great meaning to the millions of Catholics and other people of faith” in the United States.

The pope “is a world leader, and so whether you are Catholic or not, people are paying attention to what’s going on with Pope Francis, and certainly with the Catholic Church,” he said.

 

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Michigan bishops call judge’s ruling on same-sex marriage ban ‘regrettable’

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LANSING, Mich. — A U.S. District Court judge’s March 21 ruling that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional does not change the fact “marriage is and can only ever be a unique relationship solely between one man and one woman,” said the state’s Catholic bishops.

“Nature itself, not society, religion or government, created marriage. Nature, the very essence of humanity as understood through historical experience and reason, is the arbiter of marriage, and we uphold this truth for the sake of the common good,” they said in a statement released by the Michigan Catholic Conference in Lansing.

“The biological realities of male and female and the complementarity they each bring to marriage uniquely allows for the procreation of children,” they said.

The Catholic conference is the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a Detroit-area couple who are raising three children together, filed suit in 2012 to challenge the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The law also prohibits same-sex couples from jointly adopting children; only heterosexual married couples are allowed to do so.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman in Detroit overturned the same-sex marriage ban, which voters passed overwhelmingly in 2004, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution because it deprives same-sex couples the same rights guaranteed to heterosexual couples. He also said barring same-sex couples from adopting children was unconstitutional.

“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage,” Friedman wrote in his 31-page ruling. “Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”

Friedman did not stay his ruling, and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a request for an emergency stay with a federal appeals court March 21 to prevent same-sex couples from getting marriage licenses immediately.

Late March 22 the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted the stay until at least March 26. Before the appeals court acted, however, several hundred same-sex couples went to county clerks’ offices around Michigan to get married.

With Friedman’s ruling, Michigan becomes the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage.

An AP story said that DeBoer and Rowse were not among the couples who went immediately to get a marriage license. The couple will get married, DeBoer told AP, “when we know our marriage is forever binding.”

In their statement, Michigan’s Catholic bishops said the judge’s decision “to redefine the institution of marriage by declaring Michigan’s Marriage Amendment unconstitutional strikes at the very essence of family, community and human nature.”

“In effect, this decision advances a misunderstanding of marriage, and mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults,” they said. “Judge Friedman’s ruling that also finds unconstitutional the state’s adoption law is equally of grave concern.”

“Every child has the right to both a mother and a father and, indeed, every child does have lineage to both,” the bishops said. “We recognize not every child has the opportunity to grow in this environment, and we pray for those single mothers and fathers who labor each day to care for their children at times amid great challenges and difficulties. They deserve our constant support and encouragement.”

The bishops declared, “Persons with same-sex attraction should not be judged, but rather accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

“We rejoice with those brothers and sisters in Christ living with same-sex attraction who have found great freedom through Jesus’ call to chastity communicated through the church,” they said, adding that those struggling to live “in harmony” with church teaching on sexuality continue to pray and seek the Lord “with the help and guidance of the church.”

The Catholic Church teaches that sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman is sinful.

They also said they would work through the Michigan Catholic Conference and with other supporters of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage to appeal Friedman’s “most regrettable ruling.”

Signing the statement were Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron; Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing; Bishop Paul J. Bradley of Kalamazoo; Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of Saginaw; Bishop John F. Doerfler of Marquette; Bishop David J. Walkowiak of Grand Rapids; and Msgr. Francis J. Murphy, diocesan administrator of Gaylord.

 

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National shrine a ‘fitting tribute’ to John Paul II, says U.S. bishops’ president

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops’ March 19 designation of a center in Washington as the St. John Paul II National Shrine reflects U.S. Catholics’ love for the late pope, said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.

As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he signed the decree declaring the designation for the site of the former John Paul II Cultural Center.

Beginning April 27, the day Pope Francis will canonize Blessed John Paul II, a Washington center named for the late pope will be known as the St. John Paul II National Shrine. The U.S. bishops March 19 designated the facility as a national shrine in his name “to reflect the love of Catholics in America for John Paul II,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops signed the decree. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

It takes effect April 27, the day Pope Francis will canonize Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII.

Liturgical celebrations, a reception and a gathering of young people will mark the occasion.

“This national shrine is truly America’s fitting tribute and remembrance of his legacy,” Archbishop Kurtz said in a statement.

The center, which first opened in 2001 as a cultural center, named for the pope, with a research component, museum and gallery, sits on 12 acres in Washington’s northeast quadrant just steps from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America.

The Knights of Columbus took ownership of the facility in 2011, with plans to create a shrine dedicated to the pope and his contributions to the church and society. It is currently known as the Blessed John Paul II Shrine.

“Pope John Paul II shaped an entire generation of Catholics, and the shrine serves to remind people throughout this country of his saintly life, and of his call to holiness for each of us,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement. “This shrine gives us the opportunity and privilege of continuing Pope John Paul II’s mission of the new evangelization for future generations of Catholics and we gladly accept it.”

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington in 2011 blessed the Knights’ initiative and declared the site an archdiocesan shrine.

In a statement about the national shrine designation for the facility, Cardinal Wuerl noted that Blessed John Paul had visited Washington in 1979. Three years earlier, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the future pope paid a visit to the nation’s capital.

“Pope John Paul … was an important force for good in America, so we are particularly honored to have this saint’s national shrine here and to be one of the first places of worship in the world to bear his name,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “In its three years as a local shrine, it has also become a place of pilgrimage and prayer, attracting people from far beyond this city.”

A centerpiece of the shrine will be a relic consisting of a vial of Blessed John Paul II’s blood. The Knights received it from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Poland, longtime personal secretary to the late pontiff.

According to a news release from the Knights, the shrine’s lower level will feature a 16,000-square-foot permanent exhibition on the pope’s life and teaching slated to open later this year. The main floor will be converted into a church, and the current chapel will serve as a reliquary chapel. Both will feature floor-to-ceiling mosaics.

The shrine’s executive director, Patrick Kelly, said the shrine will be the premier U.S. site dedicated to the soon-to-be saint.

“We are grateful that the U.S. bishops have elevated our status to a national shrine and we look forward to welcoming pilgrims to this place of prayer,” he said in a statement. “It is dedicated to a great saint who bore courageous witness to the love of God and the dignity of the human person.”

 

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N.J. priest laicized by Vatican

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NEWARK, N.J. — Vatican officials laicized a New Jersey priest who violated a 2007 court memorandum of understanding that prohibited unsupervised contact with minors.

Michael Fugee, 53, is no longer a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, said James Goodness, archdiocesan communications director.

“There is no connection with the archdiocese any longer,” Goodness told Catholic News Service March 18.

The notification releasing Fugee from the priesthood arrived in February, he said.

The Vatican action came three months after prosecutors said they would not pursue charges against Fugee stemming from the violation of the memorandum if he sought laicization.

Fugee was ordained to the priesthood for the archdiocese in 1994.

He resigned from active ministry May 2, 2013, after reports surfaced that he was with minors in an apparent violation of the memorandum prohibiting such contact. He was arrested May 20 of that year for violating the conditions laid out in the agreement, which also was approved by the archdiocese.

Prosecutors said investigators found Fugee had violated the order by attending youth retreats and hearing minors’ confessions on seven separate occasions between April 2010 and December 2012.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said after the arrest that he was unaware that Fugee was working with youngsters.

The archbishop allowed Fugee to return to active ministry in 2009 despite his past. The former priest subsequently was appointed as co-director of the archdiocese’s Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests in October 2012. He also celebrated Mass at parishes around the diocese, filling in for priests on vacation or who were ill.

When photos surfaced showing Fugee on several retreats with teenagers, the archdiocese said he was working under supervision, but acknowledged the then-priest had not asked permission to be part of the retreats.

The memorandum of understanding was developed after a criminal trial in 2003 in Bergen County Superior Court in which Fugee was convicted by a jury of sexual assault by sexual contact. Fugee’s attorney appealed the conviction and an appellate court upheld the appeal on grounds that the superior court judge in the case improperly instructed the jury.

The reversal also meant that Fugee did not have to register as a sex offender.

Rather than take the case to trial a second time, prosecutors allowed Fugee to enter a pretrial intervention program for first offenders. Prosecutors also sought the memorandum, which required Fugee to undergo counseling for sex offenders and to have no unsupervised contact with children as long as he was a priest.

Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told CNS the removal of Fugee from the priesthood was long overdue.

“I’m very disappointed it took this long. According to the (U.S. bishops’) charter (governing the actions of dioceses in abuse cases), it should have happened years ago,” Crawford said.

He added that he was satisfied that under the agreement between Fugee and prosecutors the former priest will continue to be supervised by mental health workers.

“There are professionals involved. We trust that he will be monitored. We are pleased that that is the case,” he said.

 

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Frustrations over immigration reform bring pressure for fixes

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — As frustration grows over the lack of progress on immigration reform and protests about the high number of deportations become more widespread and dramatic, President Barack Obama March 13 and 14 told activists he would consider ways to ease the effects of strict enforcement.

An activist leads a chant as people prepare to enter U.S. Customs during a protest at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, March 16. Frustration is growing over the lack of progress on immigration reform and protests about the high number of deportations have become more widespread. (CNS photo/ Sandy Huffaker, Reuters)

The announcement came as immigrants facing deportation have been waging hunger strikes in detention centers and religious leaders, immigrants and other activists have been participating in advocacy campaigns involving fasting, prayer and public actions. Meanwhile, the House passed two bills aimed at reining in the kind of administrative steps Obama might take.

In a meeting at the White House with congressional Hispanic leaders March 13, Obama said he would ask Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to “do an inventory” of current practices related to deportation and “see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law,” said a readout on the session from the White House.

A day later, Obama, Johnson and other key administration officials met with representatives of more than a dozen organizations working for comprehensive immigration reform. The president reiterated his concern for the pain faced by families affected by deportation, but said a permanent solution to the problems of the immigration system must come through “meaningful comprehensive legislation,” according to the White House.

Some participants in the meeting told reporters or issued statements saying that while they encouraged administrative actions to ease the effects of deportation, they also agree it’s up to Congress to fix the whole system.

The Associated Press said Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voice, said he encouraged the president to “go bold, go big, go now.”

“The president has the ability to step into the vacuum created by the House Republican inaction to protect millions of people who are low priority, use his executive authority in an expansive way,” he said.

Two years ago, Obama created the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides a way for young adults who came to the United States as minors to avoid deportation and get permission to work, as long as they attend school and meet other requirements. While more than half a million people have been approved for DACA, the administration also has been deporting people at record rates; about 2 million have been deported since Obama took office.

Without specifying what policies might be affected, Obama had previously said that if he continues to be unable to get legislation passed in Congress, he would seek remedies through administrative actions.

The day after the meeting with the Hispanic Caucus leaders, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned that anything Obama does to bypass Congress when it comes to deportations could irreparably damage the chances of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

The AP quoted Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck as saying, “There’s no doubt we have an immigration system that is failing families and our economy, but until it is reformed through the democratic process, the president is obligated to enforce the laws we have. Failing to do so would damage, perhaps beyond repair, our ability to build the trust necessary to enact real immigration reform.”

Earlier in the week, a group of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders made the rounds of congressional offices, including Boehner’s, to push for immigration reform. In a press release about the sessions, the leaders said the broad consensus among Catholics and evangelicals in support of immigration reform illustrates the importance of the issue.

Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said that as pastors, the group that visited Capitol Hill knows “there is an urgency to this issue, as families are being separated daily. As a moral matter, Congress and the nation can no longer stand by as immigrant communities and families are being ripped apart.”

In the House the same week, two bills passed seeking to limit the president’s power to enact programs such as DACA. Neither the Faithful Execution of the Law Act (H.R. 3973) or the ENFORCE the Law Act (H.R. 4138) stands a chance of coming to a vote in the Senate, but both passed the House by more than 50-vote margins.

“ENFORCE” stands for the “Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments” of the law.

 

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Congress invites Pope Francis to address a joint session

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WASHINGTON — A bipartisan invitation to Pope Francis to address a joint session of Congress if he comes to the U.S. in 2015 recognizes “the importance of the qualities” the pontiff embodies that resonate with people around the globe, said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

The U.S. Capitol and its reflecting pool. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Those qualities include “a desire for peace, care for the poor, and an ability to bring people together to address the needs of the suffering and marginalized,” the cardinal said in a statement March 13, the first anniversary of the pope’s election.

“These are values that our broken world is so in need of at this moment in history. I am grateful to Congress for acknowledging the universal appeal of Pope Francis’ message with this invitation,” he added.

Earlier in the day House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a formal, open invitation to the pontiff to address a joint meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate as a visiting head of state.

It “would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions,” Boehner said in a statement. “It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.”

There has been speculation that Pope Francis will come to the U.S. in September 2015 to attend the last day of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, but there has been no official confirmation the pope will be there. Past popes have attended the final day of the gathering.

Boehner, who is Catholic, issued the formal invitation to the pope as the constitutional officer of Congress. News reports said he sent it to the Vatican.

If he were to agree to address American lawmakers Congress, Pope Francis would be the first pontiff to ever address from the U.S. Capitol, according to Boehner aides.

Boehner said that in the last year, the pope’s actions and words, especially about human dignity, freedom and social justice, “have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world.”

On March 7 in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput led a news conference with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to announce they planned to lead a delegation March 24-26 to meet with Vatican officials to plan the 2015 international family gathering. They also will have an audience with Pope Francis.

The three leaders vowed to personally convince the pontiff to make his first pastoral visit in North America to the city for the conclusion of what will be the eighth World Meeting of Families.

 

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Archbishop Nienstedt resumes public ministry

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis has returned to public ministry following a thorough investigation by police of an allegation that he had inappropriately touched a male minor in 2009.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office announced the evening of March 11 that it has declined to file charges against the archbishop.

He voluntarily stepped aside from all public ministry in December 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 Dec. 17 letter to the faithful, Archbishop Nienstedt called the allegation “absolutely and entirely false.”

“I am thankful to the St. Paul Police for their thorough investigation, as well as to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office for their professional work regarding this matter,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “I look forward to returning to public ministry during this Lenten season, especially during Holy Week and the great feast of Easter.”

At the same time, he said, “I remain committed to the ongoing work needed to provide safe environments for all children and youth.”

“I continue to offer my prayers for all victims, their families and their communities, as well as to all who have been harmed by clergy sexual abuse. I once again offer my apology to all who have been affected by these terrible offenses,” he added.

In a memo accompanying the announcement from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, Richard Dusterhoft, the office’s criminal division director, 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.

The archdiocese said it continues to urge anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse in church ministry, or anyone who knows a victim of such abuse, to call the police or other civil authorities. They also are invited to call the archdiocese’s director of advocacy and victim assistance.

 

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