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Catholic leaders urge Israel to meet Palestinian hunger strikers’ demands

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17.

The prisoners are seeking an improvement in their prison conditions and an end to administrative detention, which allows Israel to hold prisoners almost indefinitely without having to charge them with a crime.

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

A Palestinian protester in Beita, West Bank, moves a burning tire during clashes with Israeli troops April 28. Catholic leaders in the Holy Land urged Israel to concede to demands of Palestinian political prisoners on a hunger strike since April 17. (CNS photo/Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)

The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said the prisoners are asking that their human rights and dignity be respected according to international law and the Geneva Convention.

“We urge the Israeli authorities to hear the cry of the prisoners, to respect their human dignity, and to open a new door toward the making of peace,” the bishops said in a statement released April 29. “The aim of this desperate act is to shed light, both locally and internationally, on the inhuman conditions in which they are detained by the Israeli authorities.”

The bishops affirmed the need to apply international law to the conditions of incarceration of political prisoners and condemned “the use of detention without trial, all forms of collective punishment, as well as the use of duress and torture for whatever reason.”

“Furthermore, we can never forget that every prisoner is a human being and his God-given dignity must be respected,” said the bishops.

Freeing prisoners will be a “sign of a new vision” which could mark a new beginning for Israelis and Palestinians, they said.

“As Christians, we are sent to work for the liberation of every human being, and for the establishment of a human society in which there is equality for all, Israelis and Palestinians,” they said.

According to reports in the Israeli press, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said 300 of the hunger strikers have agreed to start taking food, although none of their demands has been met. Palestinians maintain the 1,500 prisoners are continuing their water-and-salt only fast.

The political prisoners are demanding improved visitation rights for family members, better access to phone calls and medical care. Some 6,500 Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails for alleged offenses ranging from murder to throwing stones.

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Catholic leaders in Holy Land pray for those hit by wildfires

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Catholic leaders in the Holy Land expressed solidarity with those affected by regional wildfires, which continued to burn after five days.

“We thank God for the fact that the majority of human injuries were light; we express our solidarity with those who suffer from physical or material damage,” they said in a Nov. 25 statement.

A plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire near Nataf, Israel, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

A plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire near Nataf, Israel, Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Ronen Zvulun, Reuters)

“Our country needs the fire of love which unites people, expands hearts and thoughts and enables a safe life full of faith, justice and love,” they said.

By Nov. 28 security officials said most fires were under control; of the 90 fires that broke out throughout Israel and the West Bank, 40 were suspected arson, they said, adding they believe the outbreak of the initial fires was due to a combination of negligence, accidents and dry, windy weather after a two-month drought.

Local mosques and Christian institutions made themselves available for those evacuees in need of a place to stay, though the majority of the people stayed with family and friends or in hotels.

The fires broke out Nov. 22 and spread across the countryside, damaging hundreds of properties and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, 60,000 of those in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Haifa, Israel’s third -largest city. Firefighters also battled flames in several Arab and Druze villages, including a village outside of Nazareth, and several communities outside of Jerusalem, including the Neve Shalom community, where Jews and Arabs live together.

Haifa is home to a large population of Christian residents who make up 14 percent of the city’s inhabitants. The numerous brush fires in the city did not affect the neighborhoods where the majority of Christians and Christian institutions are located.

At the same time in a sign of rare regional cooperation with its Arab neighbors, Israel received assistance in form of personnel and equipment from Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in addition to other countries, including the United States, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Italy and Russia.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for his assistance, and the Israeli press reported that Jewish settlers from Halamish, one of the hardest-hit communities, came out to thank the Palestinian firefighters who had helped battle the flames.

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Religious leaders praise Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew as a great ecumenist

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — As leaders of dozens of religions gathered in Assisi for dialogue and prayers for peace, they honored Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as an exemplar of one who is so deeply rooted in his own religious tradition that he can reach out to others without fear.

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders paid tribute to Patriarch Bartholomew as he was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis was scheduled to participate in a celebratory luncheon for the patriarch Sept. 20 in Assisi.

The Assisi celebrations Sept. 18-20 were organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars.

In a formal meeting hall at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Sept. 19, the leaders praised Patriarch Bartholomew as an ecumenist, theologian and leading religious defender of God’s creation.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the tribute to the patriarch, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the main talk, highlighting how “with great tact in difficult situations” the patriarch “always helped to overcome complicated twists and turns with the grand dexterity of a ‘pontiff,’ that is, a builder of bridges.”

“Like you,” Cardinal Kasper told the patriarch, “we are certain that unity is a command of the Lord and a response to the signs of the times in a world that is increasingly united, but at the same time profoundly lacerated by many conflicts.”

The unity Christians hope and pray for, he said, will not be the result of “any absorption, or watering down or homogenization, but a unity in reconciled diversity.”

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told participants, “There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance.”

The biblical model of excellence, though, is of “a luxuriant tree,” the rabbi said. It is the image of “one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all.”

Saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is such a man, Rabbi Rosen praised the patriarch’s leadership in condemning all violence in the name of religion and in addressing the issue of climate change and care for creation.

“His leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole,” he said.

Saying he was humbled by the tributes, Patriarch Bartholomew jokingly told the crowd present, “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

The patriarch said that while he was touched by the words of those he has collaborated with and admired, his work “resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering.”

“We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages,” he said.

The celebration serves only as an affirmation “that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the church,” the patriarch said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Bishops, others offer prayers, resolve after Orlando shootings

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WASHINGTON — Bishops of dioceses which themselves fell victim to mass shootings in recent years were among the flood of Catholic leaders offering condolences and consolation to survivors and family members of the victims of the mass shooting June 12 at a gay nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida.

Women cry near the body of Angel Candelairo Padro during his wake June 17 in his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico. Candelario was of the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Alvin Baez, Reuters)

Women cry near the body of Angel Candelairo Padro during his wake June 17 in his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico. Candelario was of the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Alvin Baez, Reuters)

The mass shooting left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 others wounded.

Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, a city that suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement: “For those of us in San Bernardino, this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center.

“In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the city itself,” said the statement. “Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, which takes in Newtown, where four years ago 20 children and six adults were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the gunman took his own life, said in a June 14 statement that all Catholic must raise their voices against hatred.

The attack in Orlando, he said, “”has unmasked once again the evil face of hatred and bigotry in our society. It is an evil that must spur us to rededicate ourselves to fostering a true spirit of unity and reconciliation.”

“How do we respond before such hate? At minimum, all Catholics must raise our voices against such hatred,” Bishop Caggiano said. “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society. The Lord Jesus extended his arms on the cross to embrace all people who respond to His offer of salvation.

“Who are we to close our hearts to anyone for whom the Lord has offered an invitation to experience his saving life? As a society and a church, we must do whatever we can to fight all hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms.”

“Yet another lament about the prevalence of guns throughout our society seems a pale response to the horror of the crimes in Orlando,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston in a June 13 statement.

“With each repeated occurrence of mass shootings in schools, theaters, churches and social settings it appears increasingly clear that any hope for thwarting these tragedies must begin with more effective legislation and enforcement of who has access to guns and under what conditions. However, legislation alone will not be sufficient as there are wider and deeper forces at work in these attacks.”

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas focused on gun violence in his June 13 statement.

“Our gun laws are an invitation to kill. They would be ludicrous if the situation were not so tragic. ‘By their fruits you know them,’” Bishop Farrell said, quoting the Gospel of Matthew, “and the fruits of our gun control laws are bitter indeed, no, they are fatal.”

He added, “The Second Amendment rightly protects our right to bear arms for hunting, sport, self-defense and other legitimate purposes. There is no legitimate purpose for making this kind of weapon available to the general public.

“It shouldn’t take 49 of our children being mercilessly shot to death for us to recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality,” said a June 16 statement by Bishop Felipe J. Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida, north of Orlando.

“When the victims of the Pulse shooting were made public, the world learned that they were predominately young and Latino,” he said. “This should sound familiar to the Catholic Church. We are young and Latino and we cannot fail to be attentive to people, whether they are found in our pews, our neighborhoods or gays and lesbians in our families.”

“We stand in solidarity with all those affected by this atrocity, for regardless of race, religion or personal lifestyle, we are all beloved children of God, called to respond to the mystery of iniquity with love and compassion,” said a June 13 statement by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco.

In his June 16 column in The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, New York, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany said that the objective of the gunman at the nightclub “seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live.”

“We must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community,” he wrote.

“There have always been and will be powers in this world whose design is to divide us as a nation by actions provoking us to respond in kind with hatred and violence,” the bishop wrote. “One thing that can unite us is our trust in God’s patience with us sinners, along with our uncompromised conviction as Americans, whatever our religious faith, that every human being is a being of moral worth, from conception to natural death. And this is so without regard to any class or status assigned us by human custom or judgment, or by personal or institutional convenience. … To devalue one human life is to devalue all human lives. United in the defense of human life we must stand.”     The Sisters of St. Joseph based in the Philadelphia suburb of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, posted a statement June 13 on Facebook which said, in part, “In a special way, our prayers are with the LGBT community, their families, and friends, as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. … Together, with all people of goodwill, let us work to eliminate gun violence and to eradicate every form of discrimination, that they peace for which Jesus lived and died may be realized on this earth.”

The mass shooting in Orlando and other such “tragic moments serve add to a culture of fear in our nation that makes us suspicious of anyone we define as ‘other,’” said a June 17 statement from the provincials of the Franciscan Friars of the U.S.

“We, of course, join our voices to the chorus of those offering thoughts and prayers for the victims in Orlando. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you,” the statement said.

The provincials also urged universal background checks and other common sense reforms to help reduce “the violence of a gun culture run amok in the U.S. It is time that we stand up as a people and say enough is enough.”

Prayer services took place around the country in cities large and small to remember the Orlando victims.

A prayer service in the Skaggs Catholic Center grotto in Draper, Utah, drew more than 100 people June 13, less than 24 hours after the calamity. They prayed a decade of the rosary in memory of the victims of the Pulse shooting. They also prayed for the victims’ families. The prayer service was organized by officials of Juan Diego Catholic High School, one of three schools in the Skaggs Catholic Center.

William Flanagan, a Juan Diego senior who was among those who led a decade of the rosary during the prayer vigil, said the shootings saddened him, and that he hoped the vigil “helps get all those innocent souls into heaven and with that said, I hope it helps the families, too.”

“A good response to a tragedy like this is prayer,” Galey Colosimo, Juan Diego Catholic High School’s principal, told those gathered in the grotto. “Whether you’re Catholic or not, it doesn’t matter. I think we’re all here in solidarity together tonight. Just pray for so many things: the victims and their families, certainly, and for our country, and for our world.”

 

Contributing to this roundup was Marie Mischel in Draper.

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Catholic leaders urge help for migrant kids crossing U.S. border

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A Latin America expert for Catholic Relief Services, the head of the bishops’ migration committee and the president of a Catholic college in Michigan were among those urging the government toward humanitarian responses to a surge of children and families crossing the U.S. border from Central America.

Among their recommendations were: fully funding a requested federal appropriation for services to deal with the influx of people; investigating and working to address the root causes of emigration from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala; and creating a program so people may seek permission to come to the United States without having to make the treacherous and illegal journey. Such programs have been successful in Iraq, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In this handout photo courtesy of the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, unaccompanied migrant children are shown at a Department of Health and Human Services facility in south Texas. . Many undocumented minors coming across the U.S. border claim they are escaping gang violence in their home countries. (CNS photo/ handout, Reuters)

In testimony to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs July 16, Richard Jones, the CRS deputy regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said his agency has seen the numbers of unaccompanied youth fleeing Central America double yearly since 2011.

“We have seen the homicide rates grow, forced displacement increase and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels battle over who controls the routes through Central America,” he said in written testimony. “In El Salvador and Honduras, there are more gang members than police.”

He gave the example of four boys who were killed and dismembered in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, last month because they refused to be drug couriers.

“Two of the four were brothers, one age 10, the other age 6,” Jones said.

Violence in El Salvador also has increased since March 2013, when a truce negotiated between gangs unraveled, Jones said. And since the election of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren earlier this year, he said, “violent deaths have risen to 13 per day or over 70 homicides (per) 100,000 people — nearly double what they were at the same time the previous year.”

In Guatemala City, that nation’s capital, the homicide rate is 116 per 100,000 people, he said, noting that, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, in just the past six months, more than 600 unaccompanied children from that city were apprehended in the United States.

He went on to discuss the various social factors complicating the raw violence, and to describe some of the programs CRS and other organizations are providing to try to address the problems at the core and keep families intact in their home countries, with education, skills and ways of improving their situations.

He mentioned various ways the governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are trying to address their problems, including how to protect people who are returned there after being deported by the United States and Mexico. The efforts are inadequate, he said.

Jones gave several specific recommendations for ways the U.S. can best direct resources to the countries.

Among them, investing in community-based programs focused on security, job creation and violence prevention; including trying to better understand the local conditions causing people to flee.

In a July 17 letter to members of Congress, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, who heads the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly support supplemental funding requested by President Barack Obama to take care of the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors and 36,000 families that have come into the country since October.

He said they also oppose changes to current laws “that would roll back protections for these children that were enacted as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.”

Bishop Elizondo said that “this vulnerable group is fleeing violence from organized criminal networks. Many are likely to be eligible for a variety of forms of immigration relief, including asylum and various visas. Sending these vulnerable children back to their persecutors without a meaningful immigration hearing would severely decrease their opportunity for legal protection and possibly lead to their bodily harm or even death. We would oppose the repeal of key provisions of these laws in the supplemental appropriations bill or any other legislative vehicle.”

He also opposed placing families into detention facilities, and encouraged increasing funding for community-based alternatives to detention, as well as increased funding for legal representation and for the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with caring for the children.

Bishop Elizondo also asked for funding to address the reasons why people flee their homelands and to support a program for orderly departure in the region.

“Such programs have worked successfully in Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and other locations around the globe,” he said. “The United States and countries in the region could accept a number of children and youth each year, consistent with the best interest of the child standard. Such a program would ensure that children are protected and our international obligations are met while sparing children the dangers of a migration journey.”

And at Marygrove College in Detroit, President David J. Fike called the situation a humanitarian refugee crisis that warrants a different kind of response than has been happening.

“This shouldn’t be a debate,” he said July 17. “The fleeing of vulnerable women, children, and young adults we are witnessing has all of the classic markings of what the world has seen in war-torn regions over and over again, war-torn regions in which unprotected, threatened civilians will take extreme measures to reach a safe haven.

“The only difference in this instance,” he said, “is that the threat to vulnerable civilians is not from standing armies engaged in traditional combat or even organized guerrilla warfare. In this instance, the threat is from brutally violent gangs, extortionists, and narco-traffickers operating with impunity in widespread areas of extreme lawlessness.”

Fike said at a news conference at the Catholic college that the situation calls for a charitable and humanitarian response, yet political leaders and news media debate whether to do that.

“Our elected leaders are all-too-frequently characterizing this situation as being the result of our broken immigration system, or as being the result of our lack of comprehensive immigration reform, or as being the result of some sort of mass psychosis afflicting mothers in specific parts of this hemisphere who are spontaneously deciding to send their children on extraordinarily life-threatening journeys to far off lands,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Fike, said his personal passion on the topic comes from his time spent in Central America and his friendship with some of the University of Central America faculty and staff who were murdered during the El Salvador civil war.

“I’ve seen and understand the results of dehumanization and I don’t like it … it’s painful, it denies our better selves, it makes us smaller and meaner as a country,” he said.

He said he is frustrated by the lack of moral leadership and called on Obama to recognize the migrants as refugees. He said he would marshal the resources of Marygrove to help in any way possible, and encouraged other higher education administrators to do the same.

 

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Catholic leaders join others in asking for religious exemption in executive order

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Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

Same-sex marriage supporters chant outside the Miami-Dade County courthouse July 2. Religious leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in his planned executive order to end discrimination based on sexual orientation by federal contractors. The leaders said they agree with banning discrimination but said government must recognize religious groups differ on such issues as same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Zachary Fagenson, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Catholic and other religious and civic leaders urged President Barack Obama to include a religious exemption in the planned White House executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a July 1 letter, the group of 14 faith leaders said they agreed with the idea of “banning discrimination” but they also asked that an “extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need.”

The letter stressed the importance of a religious exemption in the planned executive order “disqualifying organizations” that do not hire lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Americans from receiving federal contracts.

“This religious exemption would be comparable to what was included in the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed the Senate with a strong, bipartisan vote,” it said.

The letter pointed out that a religious exemption “would not guarantee that religious organizations would receive contracts. Instead, a religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs.”

The letter’s signers, included Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America; Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of the World Relief, run by the National Association of Evangelicals; Senior Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California; and Kathy Dahlkemper, a former member of Congress who is currently county executive of Erie County, Pennsylvania.

They said an executive order that does not include a religious exemption will “significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government.”

“In a concrete way, religious organizations will lose financial funding that allows them to serve others in the national interest due to their organizational identity. When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers,” they added.

The writers said their concern went beyond a “direct financial impact on religious organizations” stressing that the nation must “find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability.”

The chairmen of four committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops June 20 issued a statement expressing concern about the expected order.

They reiterated the objections they initially raised with the Senate version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stating: “We say again now, as we said in connection with the Senate bill and have said many times before, that we oppose any unjust discrimination against any person on any grounds.”

“We intend to review the details of the executive order carefully once it is available, in order to assess whether it serves the dignity of the human person and the common good,” the statement said.

According to The Associated Press, the White House has not provided details about the executive order but some advocates say it will likely be similar to an order President Bill Clinton signed in 1998 that barred the federal government from firing workers for being gay and lesbian. Activists also said Obama’s expected executive will likely include language specifically referring to gender identity.

The letter from religious and civic leaders referred to differing views on same-sex marriage, pointing out that Obama, in his first presidential campaign, withheld support for same-sex marriage, saying he believed marriage is a “sacred union” between a man and a woman.

“You justified withholding your support for same-sex marriage, at least in part, by appealing to your Christian faith. Yet you still believed you could serve your country, all Americans, as president,” they said. “Similarly, some faith-based organizations’ religious identity requires that their employees share that identity. We still believe those organizations can serve their country, all Americans, in partnership with their government and as welcome members of the American family.”

“Religious organizations, because of their religious faith, have served their nation well for centuries, as you have acknowledged and supported time and time again,” the signers said. “We hope that religious organizations can continue to do so, on equal footing with others, in the future.

“A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government’s interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values.”

 

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