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FCC ending closed-captioning exemption for dioceses

December 15th, 2011 Posted in National News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Ten U.S. dioceses are considering whether to appeal a Federal Communications Commission order lifting the waiver they had earlier been granted that had permitted the dioceses to not use closed-captioning for the programs they produce.

Most of the dioceses produce a weekly televised Mass.

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Catholic DVD on marriage is not lobbying, board rules

December 15th, 2011 Posted in National News

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota’s Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has dismissed a complaint stemming from a DVD on marriage mailed to 400,000 Catholics in the state by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in September 2010.

The complainant, Minneapolis attorney Kurt M. Anderson, had argued that the mailing constituted a lobbying effort by the archdiocese and therefore triggered certain registration and reporting requirements under Minnesota campaign law.

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Suit challenging contract with bishops’ agency awaits decision

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A lawsuit pending in a Massachusetts federal court may determine if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can allow religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services in agreements with private agencies to provide social services.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in Boston in January 2009, stems from a now ended five-year contract that HHS signed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide case management services to foreign-born victims of human trafficking through its Migration and Refugee Services.

ACLU claims that the bishops’ conference dictated terms of the contract it received from the government to serve trafficking victims in violation of the separation of church and state provisions of the U.S. Constitution. ACLU attorneys maintain that the government, because it is spending taxpayer dollars, must set the terms of the contract.

The headquarters of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is seen in Washington Nov. 4. Staff with the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services said they were shocked and mystified in September when HHS notified MRS it had denied a federal grant for the MRS program aiding foreign-born victims of human trafficking. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Michael O. Leavitt, then Secretary of Health and Human Services, was named as the chief defendant. Since then Kathleen Sebelius, current health and human services secretary, has replaced Leavitt as the government’s defendant.

The USCCB joined the case as an intervenor and, through its attorney, argued that its intention under the contract not to fund abortion or contraceptive services was permitted because of religious freedom and conscience provisions in federal law.

The parties submitted final arguments to Judge Richard G. Stearns Oct. 18. He is expected to issue his decision early in 2012.

The contract in question, which expired Oct. 10, permitted MRS to adhere to church teaching and restrict agencies subcontracted to work with trafficking victims from providing services that were contrary to church teaching.

ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri told CNS the case was filed because it is not the government’s prerogative to restrict access to health services that are legal.

“We believe it’s a violation of the separation of church and state to allow a religious entity to dictate the terms of a federal contract on how money should be spent,” Amiri said. “Not all trafficking victims need such services, but they need a host of reproductive services including contraception and, if pregnant, abortion.”

She added that the civil liberties organization found it “disturbing that the Catholic bishops forced this on the case managers even if they themselves have no objection to referring for such services.”

Attorney Henry C. Dinger, representing the USCCB, told CNS that a key argument focused on whether the ACLU was permitted to challenge the provisions of the contract because it was not an injured party.

The judge ruled that ACLU was within its rights to file the suit.

“If they have standing, then we’ve argued that the decision to award the contract was not a violation of the Establishment Clause (in the Constitution),” Dinger said.

“Health and Human Services awarded the contract in spite of the conscience exemption over abortion and contraceptive services,” he explained. “They didn’t view the unwillingness to fund abortion and contraceptive services as an impediment and that the other positives (MRS provided) outweighed that.”

U.S. Department of Justice attorneys argued that the contract had expired, making the case moot.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Dinger and Amiri said it was in both organizations’ interest to get a decision because it is likely the issue will surface again. An appeal is expected no matter how Stearns rules.

The suit has moved slowly because of numerous freedom of information requests filed by the ACLU to obtain public documents related to the contract award and subsequent motions by both parties.

Among the documents cited in the lawsuit was the church agency’s Feb. 23, 2006, technical proposal to the HHS office that administers human trafficking programs. It said, “As we are a Catholic organization we need to ensure that our victim services funds are not used to refer or fund activities that would be contrary to our moral convictions and religious beliefs. … Specifically, subcontractors could not provide or refer for abortion services or contraceptive materials.”

The HHS office then asked the USCCB, according to the lawsuit, whether a “‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy (would) work regarding the exception. What if a subcontractor referred victims supported by stipend to a third-party agency for such services?”

In response, the lawsuit said, the USCCB explained it “cannot be associated with an agency that performs abortions or offers contraceptives to our clients. If they sign the written agreement (the subcontract), the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ wouldn’t apply because they are giving an assurance to us that they wouldn’t refer for or provide abortion service to our client using contract funding.”

The USCCB program received slightly more than $19 million during the five-and-a-half years of the contract, assisting nearly 2,783 trafficking victims and family members.

MRS officials have maintained that requests for services the church opposes were rare during the contract term.

 

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Archbishop Kelly, retired Louisville leader, dead at 80

December 14th, 2011 Posted in National News Tags: , , ,

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who led the Archdiocese of Louisville from 1982 until his retirement in 2007, died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of Dec. 14 at his home on the campus of Holy Trinity Church. He was 80.

Funeral arrangements were not announced immediately.

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Evidence of miracle credited to late Archbishop Sheen heads to Rome

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Catholic News Service

PEORIA, Ill. — Boxes wrapped in ribbon and a happy little boy are Christmas images, but the combination had another joyful meaning Dec. 11 during ceremonies closing the Diocese of Peoria’s inquiry into an alleged miraculous healing through the intercession of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

“May God, who has begun this great work, bring it to fulfillment,” said Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky after affixing a wax seal on a box containing evidence gathered in the past three months by an investigative tribunal. The assembly gathered for the special Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral responded with sustained applause.

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Bishop urges Congress to help jobless and their families

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WASHINGTON — With the median length of unemployment reaching 10 months and more than four job seekers for every opening, Congress must find ways to continue unemployment compensation to protect jobless workers and their families, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“For millions of American workers and their families, economic hardship continues and grows,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., in a Dec. 12 letter to House members.

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Phila. archbishop foresees school and parish closings

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PHILADELPHIA — Three months after his installation, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia warned Catholics that the archdiocese faces “very serious financial and organizational issues that cannot be delayed.”

In a pastoral letter dated Dec. 8, the archbishop called Advent “a season of self-examination in the light of God’s word” and said there was “no better time to speak frankly about the conditions we now face as a community of believers.”

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‘Morning- after’ pill won’t be available to girls under 17

December 12th, 2011 Posted in National News Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops’ pro-life spokeswoman said she was relieved that the Obama administration has decided not to allow the Plan B One-Step “morning-after pill” to be sold without a prescription to those under 17.

“Luckily, things did not go from bad to even worse,” Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications at the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, told Catholic News Service Dec. 8. “We’re pleased that they did not expand access to this very powerful drug.”

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Cardinal Foley dies; U.S. Catholic press leader held two Vatican posts

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DARBY, Pa. — U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley, who spent more than two decades leading the church’s social communications council and later worked for the church in the Middle East, died Dec. 11 after a battle with leukemia. The cardinal, who had been residing at Villa St. Joseph, the home for retired Philadelphia archdiocesan priests, was 76.

Cardinal Foley’s media-friendly style and quick sense of humor shone in person and throughout the numerous speeches and homilies he delivered around the world. He often spoke of the joys of working for the church, telling his audiences that while the pay often is not great “the benefits are out of this world.”

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Arizona Mercy nun reinstated with the church

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PHOENIX — A Mercy sister who was automatically excommunicated because of her role on the ethics committee that allowed an abortion to be performed at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix in 2009 is back in good standing in the Catholic Church.

In May 2010, officials at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center publicly acknowledged that an abortion had occurred at the hospital in late 2009. Officials said the woman was 11 weeks pregnant and suffered from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that the hospital said carried a near-certain risk of death for the mother if the pregnancy continued.

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