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Catholic groups settle in lawsuit against HHS contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Dozens of Catholic groups that challenged the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act have reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department, they announced late Oct. 16.

The groups, including the Archdiocese of Washington and the Pennsylvania dioceses of Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Erie, were represented by the Cleveland-based law firm Jones Day.

Activists participate in a rally in late September to protect the Affordable Care Act outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS photo/Aaron P. Bernstein, Reuters)

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl wrote an Oct. 16 letter to archdiocesan priests saying the “binding agreement” ends the litigation challenging the Health and Human Services’ mandate and provides a “level of assurance as we move into the future.”

The Washington archdiocese was one of dozens of groups challenging the mandate, which went to the Supreme Court last year in the consolidated case of Zubik v. Burwell. Although it was most often described as the Little Sisters of the Poor fighting against the federal government, the case before the court involved seven plaintiffs and each of these combined cases represented a group of schools, churches or church-sponsored organizations.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whom the case is named for, said he was grateful for the settlement, which he described as an “agreement with the government that secures and reaffirms the constitutional right of religious freedom.”

In an Oct. 17 statement, the bishop said the diocese’s five-year-long challenge to the mandate “has been resolved successfully” allowing Catholic Charities in the diocese and other religious organizations of different denominations to be exempt from “insurance coverage or practices that are morally unacceptable.”

He said the settlement follows the recent release of new federal regulations that provide religious organizations with a full exemption from covering items that violate their core beliefs.

On Oct. 6, the Trump administration issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate to include religious employers who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance to all administrative agencies and executive departments regarding religious liberty protections in federal law.

Cardinal Wuerl said in his letter to priests that the new guidelines and regulations were extremely helpful but that the “settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward. It removes doubt where it might otherwise exist as it closes those cases.”

“The settlement adds additional assurances,” he added, “that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward.”

The cardinal thanked the Jones Day law firm for its legal representation in the case and thanked Catholics for their prayers and support for the petitioners in the long legal fight.

Thomas Aquinas College of Santa Paula, Calif., one of the groups that fell under the Washington archdiocese’s challenge of the HHS mandate to the Supreme Court, similarly thanked the law firm Jones Day for representing the school pro bono.

The school’s president, Michael McLean, said in an Oct. 16 statement that as part of the settlement, the government will pay a portion of the legal costs and fees incurred by the law firm.

He said the college welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate by the Trump administration in early October but he similarly said the settlement of the case provides “something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive and any similar future directive that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs.”

“This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom,” he added.

The school’s statement said according to the terms of the settlement, the government concedes that the contraceptive mandate “imposes a substantial burden” on the plaintiffs’ exercise of religion and “cannot be legally enforced” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The contraceptive mandate, in place since 2012, required all employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their employer insurance. Last year when opposition to this mandate came to the Supreme Court, the justices unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico, representing one of the groups that challenged the mandate, said in an Oct. 17 statement that it has been “difficult for people to understand that this lawsuit was not just about contraceptives.

“The real issue,” he said, “was the government attempting to narrow the definition of freedom of religion, using the HHS mandate to exempt only a small subset of religious employers. Churches were declared exempt, but their hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, schools, and universities were not.”

The bishop said he was pleased with the settlement particularly because the church continues to assert that all of its ministries “are inextricably tied to the practice of our faith.”

     

Mark Zimmermann, editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, contributed to this report.

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      Follow Carol Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim.

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This is your moment to evangelize, convocation delegates told

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Catholic News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. —Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl urged participants at the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America” to take a look at each other in the hotel ballroom and realize that they, as lay leaders in the church, are responsible for spreading the Gospel message and they shouldn’t waste the moment.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl  smiles while speaking during the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" July 2 in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations are gathering for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl smiles while speaking during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” July 2 in Orlando, Fla. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations are gathering for the July 1-4 convocation. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“This is not something new that we haven’t heard before,” he told the delegates in Orlando in a July 2 keynote address.

The cardinal stressed the sense of urgency of evangelizing and inviting others to Christ, stressing that Catholics have a perfect role model for this in Pope Francis, who has continually presented the church as inviting and open.

Cardinal Wuerl also acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable with the idea of evangelizing but they need to be willing to step out of themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter often spoken of by Pope Francis.

An encounter is not meant to tell people “they can be as wonderful as we are,” the cardinal said. It is about telling them about Christ. He also noted that as people take this Gospel message out to the peripheries that doesn’t just mean economic peripheries either but spiritual ones as well.

People need to be asked about their faith and encouraged in it, he added.

He spoke about an experience he had on a plane where a woman sitting beside him asked him if he was “born again.” When he said he was at his baptism, his seatmate said: “You Catholics are big into this church thing, aren’t you?”

She then asked him to tell her more and joking, he told the crowd: “You asked for it!”

His point was that many people have questions or even misconceptions about faith and need to be part of a conversation about it.

Stressing that church members today, as always, are called to be evangelizing disciples, the cardinal said this role requires courage, a sense of urgency, compassion and joy.

A panel of church leaders who spoke just before the cardinal, similarly stressed the need to evangelize in simple ways of sitting and eating together, sharing conversion stories, and also reaching out to parishioners and urging them to be more involved.

The cardinal and many of the panelists also emphasized that reaching out to others requires a reconnection of one’s personal faith.

Or as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said: “If you want to go out in world, start by going in.”

One of the panelists, Piarist Father Rafael Capo, who directs the Southeast Pastoral Institute based in Miami, which coordinates and assists diocesan Hispanic ministry programs, told the crowd that what they need to do as Catholic evangelizers echoes what his mother always said about having company.

Her motto was make sure the house was clean, there was enough food, and when people came, they were considered family, the priest said. With that in mind, in a spiritual sense, he added: “We have some work to do.”

Part of making people feel welcome is simply listening to them, caring for them and leading them to Jesus, noted Sister Miriam James Heidland, a sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

Sister Miriam, whose Twitter handle is @onegroovynun, said she was brought back to her faith by a parish priest. “I’m sitting here today because somebody loved me in my brokenness,” she said.

“We ache for more,” she told the crowd, stressing the need to offer a “continual invitation” to those around them who might be searching for God.

Taking this idea of invitation a step further, Sherry Weddell, author of “Forming Intentional Disciples,” urged the convocation delegates to look around in their parishes and get others involved in ministry.

“The future of the church depends on the number of people we empower to be true missionary disciples,” she added, noting that those who do this say “it changes everything.”

Father Capo had a similar message for church leaders specifically about Hispanic Catholics. “You need to be opening spaces for young Hispanics, not just opening doors for them but empowering them,” he said urging them to train and form future church leaders from the Hispanic community.

Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, likewise challenged leaders to get young people more involved saying: we are not asking enough of them.

This refrain of deepening one’s faith and inviting others to know God more was summarized by Cardinal Wuerl in quoting Pope Francis’ invitation for “all Christians to renew their personal encounter with Jesus.”

If convocation delegates do that, the cardinal said, all the years of preparation for this convocation “will be worth it.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Federal authorities investigating shooting of congressman, others

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal authorities are investigating a shooting that resulted in injuries for Catholic congressman and Republican Steve Scalise and others when a gunman opened fire on him and the others during a June 14 practice for an annual congressional baseball game. 

Scalise’s injuries are not life-threatening, authorities said. The suspected gunman was identified as James Hodgkinson of Illinois, and President Donald Trump said in a briefing that the shooter was dead.

First responders are seen early June 14 after U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was shot while practicing baseball, according to news reports. Multiple reports said two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of the Catholic congressman's protective detail also were shot. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

First responders are seen early June 14 after U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was shot while practicing baseball, according to news reports. Multiple reports said two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of the Catholic congressman’s protective detail also were shot. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Five people were medically transported from the scene at Simpson Park in Alexandria, shortly after the 7 a.m. shooting, said Michael Brown, police chief for the city of Alexandria, in a press briefing. He would not say whether the gunman was one of those transported.

Scalise is the U.S. House Majority Whip and represents Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District. He and his wife, Jennifer, belong to St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans. The couple’s children attend the parish school.

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond said in a statement: “We are saddened by this act of violence. Our prayers are with Congressman Scalise, for his healing, his wife, Jennifer, and their children, and for all involved in this shooting.”

“Our prayers go out for @SteveScalise, the Capitol Police and others wounded or affected by this morning’s attack,” said Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl via Twitter.

Multiple news reports said two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of the Catholic congressman’s protective detail also were shot, as well as an aide to Texas Congressman Roger Williams.

U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., seen speaking in early January, was shot early June 14 in Alexandria, Va., while practicing baseball, according to news reports. Multiple reports said two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of the Catholic congressman's protective detail also were shot. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., seen speaking in early January, was shot early June 14 in Alexandria, Va., while practicing baseball, according to news reports. Multiple reports said two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were part of the Catholic congressman’s protective detail also were shot. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said in a statement he was “profoundly saddened” by the events and offered prayers for those wounded in “this senseless attack.”

Scalise, who suffered a hip injury and is expected to recover, was with a group of House members and staff at a baseball practice to prepare for the 56th annual Congressional Baseball Game, played each summer by members of Congress, when the shots rang out.

Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama was on third base during the practice when the shooting occurred.

“All of a sudden I notice a guy’s got a rifle and he’s shooting at us,” he told a news station.

Brooks said the weapon looked to be a semi-automatic. During a break in the gunfire, he said he ran for cover and went to render help to those injured. While he was helping, he said he heard security detail open fire on the shooter.

“On days like today, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans united in our thoughts for the wounded,” tweeted Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and Democrat representing California.

Scalise was first elected to the U.S. House in 2008. He represents Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District. Before that, he was a member of the Louisiana House and the Louisiana Senate, serving from 1996 to 2008.

“Prior to entering surgery, (Scalise) was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone. He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues,” said a statement released by the congressman’s staff. “We ask that you keep the Whip and others harmed in this incident in your thoughts and prayers.”

Schools in the area near the shooting were immediately put on lockdown and bomb-sniffing dogs monitored the grounds of the U.S. Capitol at mid-morning. Federal authorities in a press conference said it was too early to tell anything about the incident, whether it was terrorism, targeted toward Congress or Scalise, or what exactly motivated it.  

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U.S. bishops have varied stances on offering sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation

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WASHINGTON — The bishop of Sacramento, California, said Catholic churches in the diocese could offer sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, while the archbishop of Washington cautioned that offering sanctuary does not legally guarantee protection if federal agents come calling.

Victoria Daza, a native of Peru and an immigrants' rights activist, holds her daughter during a rally in support of immigrants in Massapequa Park, N.Y., Feb. 24. The demonstration was held outside Republican Rep. Peter King's district office in an effort to urge the congressman to help protect unauthorized immigrants who currently have reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Victoria Daza, a native of Peru and an immigrants’ rights activist, holds her daughter during a rally in support of immigrants in Massapequa Park, N.Y., Feb. 24. The demonstration was held outside Republican Rep. Peter King’s district office in an effort to urge the congressman to help protect unauthorized immigrants who currently have reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said his concern for immigrants revolved around the possibility of an order for mass deportation from President Donald Trump’s administration. He told The Sacramento Bee March 1 that offering protection to people would be something local parishioners could consider if such an order was issued.

“We have to be ready to respond if and when that happens,” he said.

Bishop Soto also said he hoped that “all the hysteria” in the country over unauthorized immigrants would lead to comprehensive immigration reform, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated for years.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said in a March 2 interview with editors at The Washington Post that while the Catholic Church’s values mandate opposition to deportation of people already living in the United States, there is no certainty that immigrants staying on church grounds would avoid being arrested and eventually sent to their home country.

“When we use the word sanctuary,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “we have to be very careful that we’re not holding out false hope. We wouldn’t want to say, ‘Stay here, we’ll protect you.’”

Although a parish might offer sanctuary, it does not obligate federal agents to respect church property boundaries, he said.

“With separation of church and state, the church really does not have the right to say, ‘You come in this building and the law doesn’t apply to you.’ But we do want to say we’ll be a voice for you,” the cardinal explained.

Cardinal Wuerl said that providing food and legal representation for immigrants was among the Washington archdiocese’s top priorities.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago told priests and school officials in the archdiocese not to allow federal immigration agents onto church property without a warrant in a Feb. 28 letter.

He asked parish and school officials to immediately call diocesan attorneys if agents appear at their door.

At the same time, Cardinal Cupich wrote that he will not declare Catholic churches as sanctuary for immigrants. The letter also restated archdiocesan policy that forbids anyone other than assigned priests to live in a rectory or other church facility without written permission of the appropriate regional vicar.

The situation of immigrants seems to have divided the country’s Catholics. The majority of Catholics voted for Trump, according to polling data. However, bishops and leaders of Catholic nonprofit organizations have decried Trump administration policies regarding the suspension of refugee admissions to the U.S. and stricter enforcement of immigration laws even on people in the country for years.

Bishop Soto in his interview pointed to efforts in the 1980s by Catholic and Protestant churches to provide sanctuary for Guatemalans and Salvadorans who fled civil wars in their homelands for safety in the U.S. despite not being legally allowed in the country.

The Sacramento diocese provides services to immigrants and refugees through its Diocesan Immigrant Support Network, which includes Bishop Soto, Catholic Charities, parishes, legal experts and community organizations.

About 60,000 immigrants who are not authorized to be in the U.S. live in the 20 counties of the diocese, according to a diocesan official.

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New Trinity dome mosaic at national shrine will be ‘wonder to behold,’ says cardinal

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Builders, church leaders, choir members and journalists gathered atop eight floors of scaffolding, 159 feet high, in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Oct. 28 for the blessing of the workspace where a new mosaic will be installed on the shrine’s Trinity Dome.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington addresses media and workers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception prior Oct. 28 before blessing the shrine's Trinity Dome and the workers. A mosaic project to complete the dome is  scheduled to be finished in December 2017. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington addresses media and workers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception prior Oct. 28 before blessing the shrine’s Trinity Dome and the workers. A mosaic project to complete the dome is scheduled to be finished in December 2017. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“It will be a wonder to behold,” said Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of the dome, which is expected to be completed by the end of next year. The mosaic will depict the Trinity, Mary and 13 saints associated with the United States or the national shrine, the four evangelists and words from the Nicene Creed.

The finished dome also will mark the completion of the national shrine, according to the original architectural plans for the church set to mark its centennial in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the placement of its foundational stone.

During the blessing, Cardinal Wuerl offered prayers for the success of the project and the safety of the workers involved. He said the shrine puts into “image form” the message of the Gospel and does so “in a way that everyone can bask in its beauty.”

He said the finished dome, with its emphasis on American saints, will remind people of the “face of who we are and the face of God.” He also said it will reflect “living images of God and living images of everything we are capable of being.”

In introductory remarks, Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the national shrine, stressed the parallels between the mosaic design on the dome and the very character of the shrine itself, representing a mosaic of Catholic parishioners from every corner of the globe.

He said a one-time collection for the dome work will take place on Mother’s Day, May 14, 2017. The last time a national collection was done for the shrine was in 1953 when it was being built.

The mosaic work is being done at the Travisanutto Giovanni mosaic company in Spilimbergo, Italy, and will be shipped to the national shrine in 30,000 sections weighing 24 tons and composed of more than 14 million pieces of glass.

Cardinal Wuerl, who blessed the work site, the workers and those present, urged the group of about 90 people at the ceremony to be sure they touched the wall of the dome before they left “because you’ll never have a chance to do it again.”

Remind yourself, he said, that this is “the completion of a 100-year project” which reflects to whoever comes in this building that God is with us.

     

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Washington’s Bishop Holley named bishop of Memphis

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Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tennessee, and has appointed as his successor Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him the new bishop of Memphis, Tenn., Aug. 23. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Standard)

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley is seen in this undated photo. Pope Francis appointed him the new bishop of Memphis, Tenn., Aug. 23. (CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Standard)

Bishop Steib has headed the Memphis diocese since 1993. He is 76. Canon law requires all bishops to turn in their resignation at age 75. Bishop Holley, 61, has been a Washington auxiliary since 2004.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said the appointment was “a blessing for that diocesan church” and “also a joy for all of us in Washington.”

“Bishop Holley has demonstrated both pastoral sensitivity and administrative ability that should serve him well as he now undertakes his new ministry in western Tennessee,” he said in a statement. “We rejoice that the Church of Memphis is receiving such a talented and caring pastor of souls.”

Bishops Steib and Holley are two of the nation’s 15 black Catholic bishops. With Bishop Steib’s retirement, eight of them remain active, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church.

Bishop Holley was appointed auxiliary bishop of Washington May 18, 2004, and was ordained a bishop July 2, 2004. He is vicar general for the Archdiocese of Washington and is a member of the archdiocesan college of consultors, priests’ council, seminarian review board, administrative board and chairman of the College of Deans.

Cardinal Wuerl in his statement noted that Bishop Holley is a former moderator of the archdiocese’s ethnic ministries and in that capacity “was able to see that the pastoral needs of all the ethnic and language communities” in the archdiocese “were appropriately addressed.”

Martin D. Holley was born Dec. 31, 1954, in Pensacola, Fla. He attended Alabama State University in Montgomery, where he specialized in administration and earned a bachelor of science degree.

After working from 1977 to 1982 in the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocesan chancery, he studied theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington and at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla.

He was ordained a priest of the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese May 8, 1987.

In addition to parish assignments after his ordination, he was spiritual director of the Serra Club of West Florida, director of the diocesan Department of Ethnic Concerns, a member of the diocesan education commission and spiritual director and instructor of the permanent diaconate formation program. He also was adjunct director of vocations and president of the priests’ council.

When he was named a bishop, then-Father Holley had been pastor of Little Flower Parish in Pensacola for two years. Before that, he was administrator there for two years.

James Terry Steib was born May 17, 1940, the eldest of five children of a sugar cane worker. He grew up on a farm in Vacherie, Louisiana. He entered the Society of the Divine Word order at a high school seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

After studies at three Divine Word collegiate seminaries, he was ordained a priest Jan. 6, 1967. Then-Father Steib served his order first at seminaries and then as provincial of the Divine Word’s Southern province until he appointed an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Dec. 6, 1983. He was ordained a bishop Feb. 10, 1984. He also served as vicar general of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

He was appointed fourth bishop of Memphis in March 23, 1993, and when he was ordained a bishop and installed to head the diocese in May of that year, he was one of only two black bishops heading the U.S. dioceses at that time. The other was the now-retired Bishop Joseph L. Howze of Biloxi, Miss.

On the national level, he is a former executive director of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus and a former vice president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men Congregation.

Bishop Steib is a former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Missions and its Committee on Black Catholics and has been a member of a number of other committees, including the Administrative Committee.

The Diocese of Memphis comprises 10,682 square miles in the state of Tennessee. It has a total population of 1.57 million; just over 65,000, or about 4 percent, are Catholic.

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Church’s teachings contribute to better society for all, says cardinal

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WASHINGTON — The Catholic Church’s teachings on morals and social justice not only have a right to be heard in the public square, but add to creating a better society for all, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said during an address at the American Enterprise Institute.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl gives a keynote address during a June 23 conference at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The conference explored the intersection of Catholic thought and U.S. public policy and culture. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl gives a keynote address during a June 23 conference at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The conference explored the intersection of Catholic thought and U.S. public policy and culture. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard)

“There are fundamental truths against which our judgments and our legislative decisions should be measured, and to which we are all called to conform,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “This is not an imposition of narrow moral judgments, but a recognition of right and wrong, of basic fundamental human values.”

Cardinal Wuerl made his remarks June 23, when he gave a keynote address at the institute’s daylong conference, “Catholic Thought and Human Flourishing: Culture and Policy.”

The American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank that examines government, political, economic and social welfare issues, hosted the gathering to explore what it called “the intersection of Roman Catholic thought and U.S. public policy and culture.”

Cardinal Wuerl, during his talk, lamented what he called an “assertion of the primacy of the secular” in today’s society, which “tempts us to transfer authorship and ownership of all human life to ourselves.”

“There is a movement in some parts of our society to move away from the basic religious values,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “The assertion of the primacy of the secular comes with its own biases, its own orientations, its own orthodoxies.”

He said society faces “a daunting challenge” to protect “the self-evident truth of ‘One nation under God with liberty and justice for all.’”

By separating religious values and morals from society, Cardinal Wuerl said, “we have a culture that is losing respect for human life and dignity, family and sacrifice for others … We are losing a sense of right and wrong and the intrinsic value of every human life.”

Pointing to issues of racism, poverty, discrimination, abortion and other societal problems that are addressed without a religious framework has led to “a polarized society” with “dysfunctional politics that too often demonstrate paralysis and little cooperation working towards the common good.”

He called on politicians and others to “lower the decibel level and increase the respect with which we address each other.”

Noting that today’s political climate “is increasingly marked by an abandonment of civility,” Cardinal Wuerl said that “sadly some Catholics identify more with their own political party, ideology and interests rather than with the obligation that flows from the Gospel itself, and the words of Jesus Christ and the teaching of the church in her social and moral teachings.”

“Religion and religious principles, enhance, they don’t diminish our search for the common good,” he said. “They enrich, they don’t threaten pluralism.”

He warned “politics can be just about power, money, expediency and the contest of very narrow interests without solid, moral and social justice principles to guide us.”

“The foundation, the unfolding of our way of life, the way of life we have recognized from our country’s very beginning, has always recognized that good public policy that results in a good and just society and virtuous citizens ultimately must have some religious antecedents,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “There are moral imperatives not created by us. We don’t get to create right and wrong.”

He added that there will be “a mess we face if there are no solid moral and social justice principles to guide us” and to which “laws should be measured and called to conform.”

“Long accepted moral principles should not be seen as a threat, we should recognize them as a blessing,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “To speak out (with a moral or religious voice) is not to force values upon society but to call it back to recognize its own long accepted moral principles and traditional commitment to defend basic human dignity and life. It is not a threat, it is a blessing.”

He said the Archdiocese of Washington and other Catholic entities are working hard to protect “religious liberty as a basic, fundamental right.”

The archdiocese has joined with other dioceses, the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic groups to fight the Health and Human Services mandate that would force those entities to violate their beliefs by providing abortion and contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

“We are standing up in court for religious rights,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “We are not asking for special treatment. This is not just to protect a narrow privilege, but to uphold the constitution and exercise our right to minister to the least of our brothers and sisters.”

He said that “recognition of human values remain at the heart of the American experience.”

What the church brings to the public square, Cardinal Wuerl said, is a reminder that “we don’t create this world we live in. We don’t create the moral order. We don’t create the moral framework in which we act.” It also brings “a recognition of the spiritual dimension of human life,” he said.

Calling the Catholic Church’s social teaching “nuanced and complicated,” he said, “the church’s social and moral vision is complex and cannot be reduced to sound bites.”

He asked those at the conference to consider “how much more harsh would our world be if we did not grow up hearing, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers.’”

He urged young people especially “to be engaged in the sanctification of the temporal order.”

“You know in your heart there is a right and wrong. Bring that with you into whatever vocation Providence has called you,” he said.

He called on young people to bring their religious values to “political, medical and entrepreneurial enterprises.”

“Remember you count and you can make a difference and you can renew the face of the earth. Now go do it,” he said.

By Richard Szczepanowski

Szczepanowski is a staff writer at the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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Baltimore Mass June 21 to open U.S. bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom

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WASHINGTON — “Witnesses to Freedom” is the theme of the U.S. bishops’ fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom, which opens June 21, the vigil of the feast of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, and closes on Independence Day, July 4. Read more »

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Cardinal Wuerl, Biden among speakers at Georgetown interfaith peace forum

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Even though he wasn’t on the program, Vice President Joe Biden stole the show at a Georgetown University program promoting peace in wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California.

Laila Brothers, a Georgetown freshman, had just given a moving reflection about being Muslim and her hijab-wearing mother feeling as if she had “a target on her back” in the month following the terror attacks.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Dec. 16 forum, billed as "Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace," at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Georgetown University)

Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a Dec. 16 forum, billed as “Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace,” at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Georgetown University)

Brothers talked about how Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump had suggested that Muslims wear a badge to identify them to others. She added how she wanted to spare her mother the stress that comes with wearing the hijab. Her mother’s response: “If they’re talking about Muslims wearing a badge, I already have a badge. My hijab is my badge.”

While Brothers was receiving applause after her remarks, Biden walked up onto the stage and greeted some of the other participants at the Dec. 16 forum, billed as “Interfaith Gathering for Solidarity, Understanding and Peace,” but gave Brothers a warm embrace.

Stepping to the microphone, he said, “My name’s Joe Biden, and I align myself with the words of this courageous young woman.”

Then, using only index cards as reference points, he spoke for nearly as long as the other speakers combined. Among those speakers was Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, who was quoted by Biden at one point during his remarks.

The immigrants who came “in waves” to the United States, Biden said, told themselves, “We don’t know the language. We’re not sure if they want us, but let’s go.”

Those immigrants, Biden added, had “the greatest fortitude, the greatest courage, the greatest sense of optimism.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, also attended the event but did not speak.

Cardinal Wuerl, in his remarks, reflected on the parable of the good Samaritan, which was read as part of the gathering.

While “e pluribus unum,” out of many, one, embodies the American idea in a legal framework, he said, when looking at the nation “through the eyes of faith,” Cardinal Wuerl said, it is incumbent for each person who answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

“We are part of one great human family,” Cardinal Wuerl added.

Imam Talib M. Shareef, president of the Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad, in Washington said that when God created Adam, the first man, “Adam’s own identity was not a racial identity. His identity was not a national identity. His identity was not an ethnic identity. The identity was human.” From that, the imam added, “that has to be the most important identity” when governing relationships with all other people.

“The idea of Genesis,” the first book of the Bible, “is that we are created in the image of God,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, senior rabbi of the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

He acknowledged how some have used their faith’s sacred scriptures to justify violence. But, he said, “if it can be used to teach hate, it can also be used to teach love.”

The gathering was the idea of Georgetown’s president. John DeGioia, who declared his intent to sponsor a forum exactly one week after the San Bernardino shootings. The event was held exactly one week after his announcement, as Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh clergy quickly committed to participating.

DeGioia had declared beforehand, “We shouldn’t let this moment go without an expression of solidarity by the university,” said John Carr, director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought & Public Life, before the event began. “Look at the turnout. You can see it’s the A-team,” he added, referring to the assembled clergy.

Despite the quick turnaround time, a 500-seat auditorium on the Georgetown campus was nearly filled, even though students, a reliable source of bodies for many a school’s events, had been dismissed the week prior after final exams.

At the gathering, DeGioia remarked on how the event was imbued with “a spirit of unity and solidarity with all members of the global family.” He said such a gathering was needed to enhance “the common good,” adding that it was necessary for it to be a sign “of where we are” and “what we would expect of ourselves.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Cardinal calls for solidarity with Middle East’s persecuted Christians

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called for solidarity with the persecuted Christians of the Middle East during a Sept. 9 prayer service at a Roman Catholic church on Capitol Hill.

The prayer service was held in conjunction with the In Defense of Christians summit held at a Capitol Hill hotel, within walking distance of St. Joseph Church.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington offers a reflection during a Sept. 9 ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill opening the In Defense of Christians Leadership Convention in Washington. At right is Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard) S

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington offers a reflection during a Sept. 9 ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill opening the In Defense of Christians Leadership Convention in Washington. At right is Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, the prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Eastern United States. (CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard) S

The Sept. 9-11 summit is the second for the organization, which Cardinal Wuerl noted in his reflections during the prayer service.

“All of us came together (in 2014) so the people could … express solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” he said, “and bear prayerful witness to the suffering of so many … especially our Christian brothers and sisters.”

This year, Cardinal Wuerl said, “we are gathered in solidarity and witness” again to support the region’s Christians who face tragedy every day. “Much, much needs to be said about what continues to happen in the Middle East,” he added.

“After the prayer service, we can walk out and enjoy freedom. So many of our brothers and sisters cannot do that.”

Cardinal Wuerl recalled the beatitudes, as proclaimed in English at the prayer service but also in sung chant by Melkite Father Nabil Haddad, founder of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, and in particular, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” These, the cardinal said, are today’s Middle East’s Christians.

“We know that we can offer our prayers,”he added. “Prayer helps. Prayer is effective.”

Cardinal Wuerl suggested praying to Our Lady Help of Christians on behalf of Middle East Christians, who face continuous pressures on whether to stay in their native homelands in the face of turbulence and war, or to flee to an uncertain future elsewhere in the region, or perhaps another continent.

“Jesus says let your light be seen, let your light shine,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

The prayer service featured the Marian hymn “Immaculate Mary,” sung in English and Arabic, and a procession with Marian icons. Elements of Melkite, Maronite, Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian and Syro-Malabar rites were incorporated into the service.

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