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Catholic tradition guides teaching on contraception, archbishop says


Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage, abortion, human sexuality and contraception is rooted in the same respect for human dignity that guides its work for social justice and care for poor people, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told a Catholic University of America audience.

It is imperative that the church make known why it upholds its teaching, as reiterated in Blessed Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), so that Catholics and the world understand God’s plan for humanity, the archbishop said during the April 4 opening session of a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the papal teaching.

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New Zika infection fears spark renewed debate on abortion, birth control


Catholic News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — With a growing number of U.S. travelers returning from abroad with the Zika virus and with several cases of Zika-related microcephaly and birth defects reported in the U.S., the disease has inflamed the abortion debate domestically.

A view through a microscope shows larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus Zika, at a laboratory at the National Institute of Health in Bogota, Colombia, April 26. In February, the National Catholic Bioethics Center issued a statement saying that concerns about Zika does not justify abortion or allowing artificial birth control even with the suspected connection between Zika causing birth defects in an unborn child. (CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA)

A view through a microscope shows larvae of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits the virus Zika, at a laboratory at the National Institute of Health in Bogota, Colombia, April 26. In February, the National Catholic Bioethics Center issued a statement saying that concerns about Zika does not justify abortion or allowing artificial birth control even with the suspected connection between Zika causing birth defects in an unborn child. (CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA)

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. a Republican from Miami, where the Zika virus has now started spreading in one neighborhood through mosquito transmission, said he does not believe the Zika virus should be a pretext for an infected pregnant woman to get an abortion.

Rubio met in Miami Aug. 4 with Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention {CDCP), and Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. The senator also was making a renewed push to call the U.S. Congress back into session to approve funding for combating Zika domestically and to introduce legislation that would provide U.S. troops serving in high-risk areas with additional protections from Zika.

He also reportedly told the news magazine Politico Aug. 8: “Obviously, microcephaly is a terrible prenatal condition that kids are born with. And when they are, it’s a lifetime of difficulties,” he said. “So I get it. I’m not pretending to you that that’s an easy question you asked me. But I’m pro-life. And I’m strongly pro-life. I believe all human life should be protected by our law, irrespective of the circumstances or condition of that life.”

[It was reported on Aug. 19 that the CDCP announced that “pregnant women and their sexual partners who are concerned about potential Zika virus exposure may also consider postponing nonessential travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County” in Florida.]

Earlier this year, Rubio co-sponsored President Barack Obama’s Zika-fighting legislation, which failed to pass into law in part because of partisan divisions over the bill’s inclusion of components of birth control services from Planned Parenthood.

New York and California officials have indicated cases of babies in those states born with Zika-related microcephaly, and at least 15 babies nationally have been born with Zika-related birth defects as of late July, according to the CDC.

In February, the National Catholic Bioethics Center issued a statement that Zika does not justify abortion or artificial birth control even with the suspected connection between the Zika virus and birth defects.

Zika is the most recent and high-profile instance of any number of diseases that might have deleterious effects on the unborn children whose mothers contract it while pregnant, the statement noted.

“In no way, however, would it justify a change in the Catholic Church’s consistent teachings on the sacredness and inviolability of human life and the dignity and beauty of the means of transmitting life through marital relations. Direct abortion and contraceptive acts are intrinsically immoral and contrary to these great goods, and no circumstances can justify either.”

In February, U.N. officials said pregnant women infected with the Zika virus should be allowed easier access to abortion and birth control and criticized countries whose governments urged women told hold off getting pregnant as Zika cases have increased.

In New York, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, issued a statement on the Zika-abortion debate last April following the CDC’s finding that the Zika virus can cause some babies to be born with microcephaly.

“Naturally the Zika virus is a cause for concern, and we call upon governments and medical professionals to continue to develop appropriate treatments and interventions,” Father Pavone said. “But in no way does this justify recourse to abortion. The child in the womb is a patient too, and killing one’s patient is never an appropriate response.”

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Pope Francis suggests church could tolerate some civil unions


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis suggested the Catholic Church could tolerate some types of nonmarital civil unions as a practical measure to guarantee property rights and health care. He also said the church would not change is teaching against artificial birth control but should take care to apply it with “much mercy.”

Pope Francis prays during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 26. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

Pope Francis’ words appeared in an interview published March 5 in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

In the wide-ranging conversation with the paper’s editor-in-chief, Ferruccio de Bortoli, the pope defended the church’s response to clerical sex abuse and lamented that popular mythology has turned him into a kind of papal superhero. He also addressed the role of retired Pope Benedict XVI and the church’s relations with China.

“Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” the pope said, but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.” Asked to what extent the church could understand this trend, he replied: “It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

Bishops around the world have differed in their responses to civil recognition of nonmarital unions. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said in February 2013 that some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of nonmarried couples. But until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.

In the interview, Pope Francis praised Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which prohibited the use of contraception.

In contradicting contemporary pressures for population control, Pope Paul’s “genius was prophetic, he had the courage to side against the majority, defend moral discipline, put a brake on the culture, oppose neo-Malthusianism, present and future,” Pope Francis said.

But he also noted that Pope Paul had instructed confessors to interpret his encyclical with “much mercy, attention to concrete situations.”

“The question is not whether to change the doctrine, but to go deeper and make sure that pastoral care takes account of situations and of what each person is able to do,” Pope Francis said.

The pope said birth control, like the predicament of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, would be a topic of discussion at the Vatican in October at an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. He said the synod would approach all such problems “in the light of profound reflection,” rather than casuistry, which he described as a superficial, pharisaical theology focused exclusively on particular cases.

The pope said he had welcomed the “intense discussion” at a February gathering of cardinals, where German Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a talk suggesting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics might sometimes be allowed to receive Communion even without an annulment of their first, sacramental marriages.

“Fraternal and open confrontations foster the growth of theological and pastoral thought,” he said. “I’m not afraid of this; on the contrary, I seek it.”

Asked if the church’s teachings on sexual and medical ethics represented “non-negotiable values,” a formulation used by Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said he had “never understood the expression ‘non-negotiable values.’”

“Values are values, period,” he said. “I cannot say that, among the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than another. That is why I cannot understand in what sense there could be negotiable values.”

Pope Francis said cases of sex abuse by priests had left “very profound wounds,” but that, starting with the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the church has done “perhaps more than anyone” to solve the problem.

“Statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show the great majority of abuses occur in family and neighborhood settings,” Pope Francis said. “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one attacked.”

Reflecting on his own colossal popularity, the pope criticized “ideological interpretations, a certain mythology of Pope Francis. When it is said, for instance, that he leaves the Vatican at night to go feed the tramps on Via Ottaviano. That never even occurred to me.”

“To portray the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, strikes me as offensive,” he said. “The pope is a man who laughs, weeps, sleeps soundly and has friends like everybody else. A normal person.”

He acknowledged that he has continued his longtime practice of phoning people who write to him with their problems, including an 80-year old widow who lost her son, whom he calls once a month.

Pope Francis said he has sought out his predecessor Pope Benedict for advice and encouraged him to “go out and participate in the life of the church,” most recently by appearing at a Feb. 22 ceremony with the College of Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum,” Pope Francis said. Noting that bishops never retired until after the Second Vatican Council, but that the practice has since become the norm, Pope Francis said the “same thing should happen with the pope emeritus. Benedict is the first and maybe there will be others. We don’t know.”

Asked about the Vatican’s lack of diplomatic relations with China, whose government requires Catholics to register with a state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and punishes members of the clandestine “underground” church, Pope Francis said he had written to Chinese President Xi Jinping “when he was elected, three days after me. And he answered me. There are some relations.”


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Courts provide Catholic groups last-minute relief from Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the midst of their New Year’s Eve celebration with low-income elderly residents, the Baltimore-based Little Sisters of the Poor learned that the Supreme Court issued an injunction temporarily protecting them from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (CNS file)

The order by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, issued within hours of the mandate taking effect at midnight Jan. 1, applies to the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor and their co-plaintiffs, Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, in a lawsuit against the federal government.

The same evening, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an emergency stay for Catholic organizations in a lawsuit filed by the Archdiocese of Washington, including The Catholic University of America, Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington; Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md.; and Mary of Nazareth Roman Catholic Elementary School in Darnestown, Md.

The 2-1 ruling in the Circuit Court included a comment from Judge David S. Tatel explaining why he voted to deny the injunction.

“Because I believe that appellants are unlikely to prevail on their claim that the challenged provision imposes a ‘substantial burden’ under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would deny their application for an injunction pending appeal,” Tatel said, according to the Associated Press.

The Archdiocese of Washington issued a statement saying the stay vindicates “the pledge of the U.S. Catholic bishops to stand in resolute defense of the first and most sacred freedom, religious liberty.”

Sotomayor’s order came in her capacity as the justice assigned to hear emergency applications from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Denver. Her two-sentence order also instructed the federal government to file its response by 10 a.m. Jan. 3.

The injunction means the Little Sisters and the Christian Brothers will, for now, not be required to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs and devices that cause abortions as part of their employee health insurance coverage.

Sotomayor’s order came as faith-affiliated groups around the nation rushed to federal courts to halt the provision. Several efforts were successful in obtaining temporary injunctions in the last days of 2013.

Also Dec. 31, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed a decision by the Nashville District Court. The HHS mandate now may not be enforced while a lawsuit by the Diocese of Nashville and others works its way through the legal process. The plaintiffs there include Catholic Charities of Tennessee; Camp Marymount; Mary, Queen of Angels; St. Mary Villa; the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia; and Aquinas College.

Sister Constance Veit, communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, told Catholic News Service in a phone interview that the call from their attorney about Sotomayor’s order came just as the sisters were finishing a party with residents at their Baltimore base. The sisters operate 29 homes for the elderly around the country.

“It was surprising that we heard anything because we knew Justice Sotomayor was in New York City for the celebration, and we are grateful for the move in the right direction,” she told CNS. Sotomayor led the countdown to midnight as the crystal ball was dropped in Times Square.

In general, employers who provide health insurance to workers are required as of Jan. 1 to comply with the mandate that those policies include various types of contraceptives, including sterilization and abortifacients. The penalty for noncompliance is potentially thousands of dollars daily in fines. Although the Obama administration has made some allowances for exemptions for religious institutions, when final rules were issued in June, some Catholic employers said the exception still did not address their moral objections.

The sisters said they hope and pray for a favorable outcome so they can continue to serve the elderly of all faiths.

“If we were subject to the fines, it would impact all our homes around the country,” Sister Veit said. “We have 13,000 residents.”

Prior to the order, preliminary injunctions had been awarded in 18 of 20 similar cases, according the Washington-based Becket Fund, which represents many organizations suing over the mandate and maintains data about the cases on its website.

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund, told CNS it makes no sense for the Little Sisters to be fined for noncompliance before the lawsuit can even be decided.

“For the most part, the religious nonprofits are winning their cases, and the courts have said the governments are wrong here and that people have a right to exercise their religion,” Rienzi told CNS shortly before Sotomayor’s order. “Some, unfortunately, didn’t get preliminary injunctions and therefore face an imminent choice of either violating their religions or facing enormous fines.”

There are 91 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate, according to the Becket Fund. Rienzi added that until the Supreme Court provides a clear answer to the legal challenges there will be a patchwork of court decisions in which some groups win and others face massive fines that may force some to close.

In Nashville, Rick Musacchio, diocesan director of communications, told CNS that its lawsuit is “not about access to contraception, it is about making Catholic entities facilitate and provide those services even though we find them morally objectionable.”

“We think the government mandates unfairly and unconstitutionally drive a wedge between the Catholic faith and the works we do through these affiliated entities,” he said, explaining that the mandate penalizes organizations for refusing to participate in providing morally objectionable products and services that are readily available anywhere.

“We still know that there is a long road ahead, but we are delighted about this outcome,” said Sister Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, president of Aquinas College in Nashville.

Elsewhere, the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based U.S. District Court entered a preliminary injunction temporarily barring enforcement of the contraceptive mandate against the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The suit included the diocesan Catholic Charities, St. Anne Home and Retirement Community, Franciscan Alliance, Specialized Physicians of Illinois, the University of St. Francis and Our Sunday Visitor.

The Dec. 27 order by Judge Jon DeGuilio focused only on the request for an injunction against enforcement while the lawsuit proceeds.

“It is small first step, a touchdown in the first quarter, but there is still a lot of game to be played; this is not over by any means,” Sean McBride, diocesan spokesman, told CNS.

“Clearly this is an affirmation for religious freedoms, of the First Amendment, and an opportunity for us to operate on a daily basis without violating our deeply held religious beliefs,” McBride added.

The Supreme Court will hear, probably in March, two cases by for-profit employers that are challenging the contraceptive mandate. Challenges by entities similar to the religious orders are working their way to the high court.


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