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Cardinal: Secularism threatens health care

October 13th, 2011 Posted in National News

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J.D. Long-Garcia and Joyce Coronel
Catholic News Service

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. The greatest challenge faced by Catholic health care workers is growing secularism, said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.

“This growing secularism endangers our religious freedom,” he said Oct. 8, giving a keynote address that concluded the Oct. 6-8 Catholic Medical Association annual conference.

The archbishop noted the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception and sterilization.

“When we stop acknowledging our creator, we stop acknowledging who we are,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Without God, we lose our ethics and the reason for human rights.”

More than 300 Catholic health care professionals from across the United States attended the educational conference. The association’s numbers are growing, according to the group’s leadership, and medical students are joining its ranks.

The archbishop said Catholic health care workers’ greatest responsibility is the sanctity of the human person.

“We’re not just biological,” he said, “our life is also theological.”

During the conference, held in the Phoenix Diocese, speakers addressed Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s decision to revoke St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center’s status as a Catholic institution.

The Phoenix bishop’s decision involved many factors, including an abortion performed at the hospital in late 2009. The hospital has stated that the abortion saved the life of the mother, who was suffering from pulmonary hypertension.

John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said aborting the child violated the Ethical and Religious Directives issue by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

When the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine took on the case — commonly referred to as “the Phoenix case” — many scholars asked the committee to change the directives, Haas said. The committee’s statement, issued June 23, 2010, appeared to confirm Bishop Olmsted’s evaluation that the procedure was a “direct abortion.”

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Santa Rosa, Calif., episcopal adviser of the Catholic Medical Association, said he was disappointed that the U.S. bishops haven’t made a more public stand in support of Bishop Olmsted.

Bishop Olmsted said the medical association came out in strong support of his position from the beginning.

“As did individual members,” he added. “They’ve been a great help, especially in helping others around the country to understand the decision as well.”

A panel answered questions following an ethical, medical and canonical assessment of the Phoenix case. Panelists stressed that they only comment generally on the abortion and its aftermath.

“Ultimately, a Catholic hospital should let God play God, and not play God themselves,” said Father John Ehrich, the association’s chaplain and director of medical ethics for the Phoenix Diocese. “God is the only one who should determine life or death.”

Dominican Sister Mary Diana Dreger, an internal medicine physician, spoke Oct. 7 on virtue in the practice of medicine.

“One of the noble joys of being a physician, which makes our profession uniquely different from being just another job, is that you could be a very good hair dresser or car mechanic or accountant without being a good person — you can do the art and science of your field,” Sister Diana said.

“But in the field of medicine, you can’t really be a good doctor without being a good person — you are not just taking care of person’s parts but you are taking care of a person.”

Dr. John Brehany, executive director and ethicist for the association, spoke to participants about the basics of the Ethical and Religious Directives, better known as ERDs.

The purpose of the directives, Brehany said, is to “reaffirm the ethical standards of behavior in heath care that flow from the Catholic Church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person.”

“A lot of people don’t understand that in order for their action to be good, it’s not enough that your motive is good, it’s not enough that you’re sincere,” he said. “Yes, your intention must be right, but so must the moral object and so must the circumstances.”

The battle over conscience rights has been ongoing, said Nik Nikas, president and general counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund.

“When you stand for conscience,” Nikas said, “you are indicting others.” He told a story of a Catholic medical student who was mocked by his professor for stepping out during a sterilization procedure.

Alan Sears, CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, lauded legislation recently passed in Arizona that limits and restricts the right to abortion. Religious communities are an essential part of the fabric of America, he said, and their rights of conscience must be protected.

“Those who are treated in Catholic hospitals and by people like you … receive better care,” Sears said.

The Catholic Medical Association, organized by into chartered guilds throughout the United States, supports Catholic physicians in living out their faith.

“It’s very important that the doctors themselves know that there are doctors that share their convictions about the need to practice medical with the guidance of the church,” Bishop Olmsted said. “That’s why these meetings are held every year — to give courage and new hope to them.”

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Bishops’ agency denied federal grant

October 13th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Since 2006, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care.

That service has come to a halt because the agency recently learned it did not receive a new grant award for this work from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. MRS’ prior contract for the trafficking program ended Oct. 10.

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that she hoped the Catholic Church’s “position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision” by the HHS refugee office to reject MRS’ application for a new grant, “especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience.”

She noted that the MRS’s anti-trafficking program “ran quite well without these services” and said it would be “tragic if abortion politics harmed the men, women and children already at risk because of the crime and scandal of human trafficking.”

MRS officials had no immediate comment, and HHS officials contacted by Catholic News Service did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not making the U.S. Catholic bishops’ agency include referrals for abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception in its anti-trafficking program. That case is still pending.

Sister Mary Ann said in an email to CNS that MRS officials are concerned about their clients and hope they will “not suffer from a clumsy transition to new agencies or from limited or lack of services.”

MRS worked with numerous agencies in its anti-trafficking program across the United States. About one-third of these subcontractors were Catholic agencies; others included Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services and anti-domestic violence groups.

Three groups were awarded federal grants for anti-trafficking programs. The groups are Tapestri, based in Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services in Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants based in Washington. The groups were awarded a $5 million grant for the first year with the possibility of adding two additional years.

The U.S. bishops spoke of the relationship between MRS and HHS when they formed an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in late September to specifically address actions at various levels of government that pose dangers to the free exercise of religion.

In announcing the new committee, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, called into question the HHS requirement that MRS provide the “full range of reproductive service” — including abortion and contraception — to trafficking victims in its cooperative agreements and government contracts.

Archbishop Dolan also reiterated the U.S. bishops’ concern about HHS regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception and sterilization in all private health insurance plans while failing to adequately exempt insurers and individuals that have religious or moral objections to the mandate.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities agencies are listed as recipients of grants announced in early October for organizations that help support poor and vulnerable families and especially focus on responsible fatherhood. The grants are distributed by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families.

The church’s role in ending human trafficking cannot be overlooked, according to Miguel H. Diaz, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

In a conference in May at the Vatican on building public-private partnerships in the battle against modern-day slavery, he said the only way to end this global human rights violation is for governments to enlist the help of religious leaders, businesses, consumers and other private entities.

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ANALYSIS: Response to ‘Faithful Citizenship’

October 13th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — It didn’t take long for the “spin” to start after the U.S. bishops reissued their 2007 document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” with a new introductory note signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of nine USCCB committees.

The reissuance without changes to the body of the text “will not please some conservatives,” wrote John Gehring, senior writer and outreach coordinator for Faith in Public Life, adding that “it’s good to see the bishops affirm that Catholics should not be single-issue voters.”

But Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, emphasized a line from the introductory note, praising the “especially helpful comment” that the document “does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration.”

“To that we say, ‘Amen!” he added. “Not all issues are equal; at the core of every issue is the right to life.”

Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, said the introductory note “reaffirms the 2007 insistence that Catholics are morally obliged in political life to attend not only to the most important issue of abortion but also to those of family, poverty, social justice, environment and peace.”

But Deal W. Hudson and Matt Smith, president and vice president, respectively, of Catholic Advocate, found in the introductory note a criticism of “those Catholics whose ‘social justice’ orientation narrows their issues to those of poverty and war, thus ignoring the settled issues of life, marriage, religious liberty and euthanasia.”

That early reaction seems to indicate that in a polarized political environment, various constituencies in the Catholic Church will continue to respond differently to the U.S. bishops’ call to political responsibility.

It’s a situation with which Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the current USCCB president, is well familiar.

In “A People of Hope,” an upcoming book by John L. Allen Jr., Archbishop Dolan talked about the perception that the U.S. Catholic bishops have aligned themselves in recent years with the Republican Party.

“Certainly there is that perception, but I don’t think it’s always accurate,” he said. “To tell the truth, I get far more criticism from people who feel we bishops are much too soft on the Democrats, who feel that we are actually in the pocket of the Democrats.”

“I hate this word, but the situation is much more ‘nuanced’ than simply saying we’re in bed with one party or the other,” Archbishop Dolan added. “In general, I find bishops almost bend over backwards trying to make sure that we don’t seem to favor one party over the other. … As an American historian, I could go on at length about what I see as the tragic turning away by the Democrats from the pro-life issue. In fairness, however, the Republicans have not always been as aggressive on the issue as we might hope they would have been. In some ways, both parties have let us down.”

The bishops have issued some form of a “Faithful Citizenship” document every four years since 1976. It began as a 3,400-word document called “Political Responsibility: Reflections on an Election Year,” which addressed only eight specific issues, but grew by 2007 to more than 10,000 words mentioning dozens of issues.

It used the “Political Responsibility” title for more than two decades, with various subtitles, but in 1999 became “Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium.”

As early as 1997, Bishop James T. McHugh, who then headed the Diocese of Camden, N.J., urged the bishops to bring the document to a vote of the full body of bishops, rather than leaving its approval to the 50-member Administrative Committee. The first vote by the full USCCB was in 2007, seven years after Bishop McHugh’s death.

Of the 1996 statement Bishop McHugh said: “More than 500,000 copies were circulated; it was often quoted or referred to in articles in Catholic journals about the election and in September a special update was sent to all the bishops urging that they continue their efforts to inform people on the moral dimensions of campaign issues.”

“When we look at the election results,” he added, “we must admit that our great effort was a failure. Many of those elected, especially President (Bill) Clinton, took positions directly opposed to church positions on abortion, aid to parents for educational choice, welfare, immigration, the economy and international affairs. And Catholics voted for such candidates without any apparent scruple or concern.”

Challenges still remain before “Faithful Citizenship” is fully understood and implemented by U.S. Catholics, as evidenced by the results of a recent survey commissioned by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture in New York and carried out by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington.

Asked whether they had heard about “Faithful Citizenship” before the 2008 presidential elections, only 16 percent of adult Catholics said they had. More than half (54 percent) said they had not heard of the document and 30 percent were not sure.

The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Among those who were aware of “Faithful Citizenship,” 43 percent said they thought the bishops had “outlined the moral principles in a way that left little doubt about which party or candidates they thought Catholics should support,” while 34 percent said the bishops “stuck to moral principles and left the final choice to Catholic voters.” Nearly a quarter (23 percent) said they had no impression one way or the other.

In addition, less than 1 percent of adult Catholics said they had read the full document, while 2 percent said they had read a short-form version of “Faithful Citizenship,” and 8 percent said they had read excerpts in their parish bulletin or elsewhere.

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Chaplains object to same-sex weddings memo

October 13th, 2011 Posted in National News

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WASHINGTON — Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services and a group representing hundreds of other Christian military chaplains have objected to a Pentagon memo allowing military chaplains to participate in or officiate at same-sex marriages on or off military installations.

The memo was issued by Undersecretary of Defense Clifford L. Stanley Sept. 30. It followed the Sept. 20 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that banned gays from serving openly in the armed forces.

Stanley’s memo said: “A military chaplain may participate in or officiate (at) any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.”

It also said that “a chaplain is not required to participate in or officiate (at) a private ceremony if doing so would be in variance with the tenets of his or her religion.”

Archbishop Broglio has questioned how the military could allow chaplains in the U.S. armed forces to be involved in same-sex marriage ceremonies when the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibits such unions.

“The Pentagon’s new policy, as outlined in these two memos, appears to ignore the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was signed into law 15 years ago and remains in effect,” Archbishop Broglio said in a statement emailed to Catholic News Service Oct. 12.

“How can Undersecretary Stanley say, on the one hand, that chaplains may take part in any private ceremony as long as it is ‘not prohibited by applicable state and local law,’ and on the other, say nothing of the federal law?” he asked.

A statement from a group called Chaplain Alliance for Liberty, which represents evangelical and Orthodox chaplains, raised the same concerns.

The alliance’s executive director, Ron Crews, told reporters that despite the Pentagon saying that chaplains are not required to participate in same-sex weddings, as stated in Stanley’s memo, he is concerned that a chaplain who refuses to perform such a ceremony will not be seen as “a team player” by the military and would be reassigned.

The Chaplain Alliance for Liberty does not allow its members to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies “under any circumstances,” he said.

Taylor Henry, spokesman for the military archdiocese, told Catholic News Service that it goes without saying that no Catholic chaplain will preside at same-sex weddings. “There is nothing that has changed in church teaching about that,” he said.

In his statement, Archbishop Broglio said the Pentagon’s new policy on chaplains and same-sex marriage “seems to undermine the will of the American people.”

“In no fewer than 29 states, men and women of goodwill have affirmed marriage as the union of a man and a woman,” he said. “Anywhere that the people have been allowed to decide, marriage has been reaffirmed as that union made clear by nature itself. Furthermore 41 states have statutory or constitutional ‘Defense of Marriage Acts.’”

He said the new policy “seeks to circumvent the clear will of the majority, whose unquestionable sovereignty has the last word in the system of government enshrined in the federal Constitution.”

He emphasized that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was passed through the “efforts of a substantial, bipartisan majority in Congress” and was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

“As a nation we walk down a dangerous path when appointed officials are allowed to undermine the will of the people,” Archbishop Broglio said.

“The women and men I am privileged to serve place their lives on the line every day to defend the country whose government is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Let us pray that the millions who have died to ensure those liberties did not die in vain,” he said.

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More objections to federal rule requiring contraception, sterilization coverage

October 4th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Catholic organizations filing comments on the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception and sterilization and a proposed religious exemption registered their strong disapproval.

The latest round of comments echoed objections raised in those filed earlier by, among others, attorneys for the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Health Association.
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Healing of Springfield, Pa., man key to Italian priest’s canonization

October 4th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Thanks to the healing of a young man from the United States, who was severely injured in a rollerblading accident, Italian Blessed Louis Guanella will be among three new saints proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI in late October.

William Glisson, now 30 and married, was 21 years old when he and a friend were rollerblading down the Baltimore Pike in Springfield, Pa., near Philadelphia. Glisson was skating backward, without a helmet, hit a hole and fell, hitting his head.
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Bishops reissue 2007’s ‘Faithful Citizenship’ with new introduction

October 4th, 2011 Posted in National News

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A new introduction to the U.S. bishops’ document on political responsibility reminds Catholics that some issues “involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified,” while others “require action to pursue justice and promote the common good.”

The brief Introductory Note to the 2011 reissue of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” was signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of nine USCCB committees. It was approved by the bishops’ Administrative Committee at its mid-September meeting and made public Oct. 4.
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Supreme Court term starts with case over church school employment

September 30th, 2011 Posted in National News

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WASHINGTON LETTER By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The constitutionally thorny question of where the line lies between a church school’s religious autonomy and the legal rights of its teachers comes before the Supreme Court Oct. 5, two days after the term starts.

Other cases on the court’s docket this fall include consideration of standards of indecency on network television and at least two cases over what activities warrant deporting immigrants.
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Pro-life groups offer practical help to pregnant women

September 30th, 2011 Posted in National News

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By Carol Zimmermann

For women facing unplanned pregnancies, the price of disposable diapers alone can be daunting.

That’s because they cost an estimated $800 per year and are just one expense among many.

And that’s why Mimi Eckstein, director of the Denver archdiocese’s Gabriel Project — which supports pregnant women and new mothers — makes sure she has plenty of diapers in all sizes to offer new mothers.
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Catholic theologians call for end to death penalty

September 30th, 2011 Posted in National News

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WASHINGTON — More than 200 Catholic theologians, scholars and social justice advocates cite the executions of Troy Davis in Georgia and Lawrence Brewer in Texas in mid-September as the impetus for their call to abolish the death penalty.

In “A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty,” posted Sept. 26 on the website Catholic Moral Theology, the signers said they protest the state-sanctioned killings of the two men and call for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States.

They said Davis’ execution is “particularly troubling for it shines a stark light upon many long-standing concerns about capital punishment.” While noting that they mourn the death of Mark McPhail, the Savannah, Ga., police officer Davis was convicted of killing, “we believe that a grave miscarriage of justice took place with Davis’ execution.” Serious doubt remains about Davis’ guilt, they said, and he maintained his innocence to his last breath.
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