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Cardinal Dolan praises State Department decision to defund U.N. Population Fund

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee and other prominent pro-life leaders cheered the U.S. State Department’s April 3 announcement that it would no longer contribute to the U.N. Population Fund because of the agency’s involvement in China’s Population and Family Planning Law, long known as the “one-child policy.” Read more »

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Bishop welcomes federal court ruling against President Trump’s refugee ban

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country’s refugee resettlement program.

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf and her daughter, 1-year-old Shams, wave after arriving Feb. 7 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. (CNS photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, Reuters)

“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in a statement Feb. 10.

“At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed in our country,” the statement said.

The bishop pledged that church agencies would continue to welcome people “as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and traditions.”

In a decision issued late Feb. 9, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the government’s argument to lift the freeze on the president’s order and maintained that the court had jurisdiction in the case as a check on executive power.

Trump had argued that his order was a matter of national security and that the courts had no claim to adjudicate the issue.

The panel ruled otherwise saying that such an argument “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

Further, the judges said, “although courts owe considerable deference to the president’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.”

The administration is expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump said in a posting on Twitter minutes after the ruling was released: “see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake!”

He later told reporters that the judges had made “a political decision.”

The case was filed by the state of Washington, which argued that Trump’s order was unconstitutional because it discriminated against Muslims and that state agencies were harmed because students and employees were barred from re-entering the country. The state of Minnesota subsequently joined the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle halted Trump’s travel ban Feb. 3 by granting a temporary restraining order.

Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days.

Another clause in the order established religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

In its 29-page ruling, the appeals court said the administration’s lawyers had provided no evidence that refugees from the seven countries named in the ban posed a national security threat through terrorism.

The judges also wrote that the government had not shown Trump’s order provides any avenue for those restricted from traveling to the U.S. to appeal the decision or seek a hearing to present their reasons for entering the country. The decision said that earlier court cases had determined that the protections established under the due process clause in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment “apply to all ‘persons’” within the U.S. including aliens whose presence is “lawful, unlawful, temporary or permanent” as well as to people attempting to reenter the U.S. after traveling.

The court also considered the public’s interest in the case and determined that the public “has an interest in the free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families and in freedom from discrimination.”

 

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Cardinal Dolan: If sanctuary of the womb is violated, no one is safe

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

“Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother’s womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?” he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, waves as he arrives to concelebrate the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan. 26. The all-night vigil is held before the annual March for Life, which this year marked the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation. (CNS/Bob Roller)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, waves as he arrives to concelebrate the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan. 26. The all-night vigil is held before the annual March for Life, which this year marked the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb “a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother’s tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity.”

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States, first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but “clinging within to that pearl of great price, their faith,” and today’s immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, “should it shock us” that “such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth’s environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers?” Cardinal Dolan asked.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine’s Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year’s March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of “several hundred” seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry R. Knestout of Washington received applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included “senior White House officials and a special guest.” No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court.

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond’s homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan’s in terms how acceptance of abortion is “used to justify” other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day’s Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, “Jesus says, ‘Let them come to me, let them come to me.’”

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed “the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade.” Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but one was not mentioned.

That reason was “the witness of so many people for life,” he said. “Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church,” he added to applause. “You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life,” the archbishop said to more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers’ parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, “we will continue to witness, and with God’s help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Trump’s move to build border wall will ‘tear families apart,’ bishop warns

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration criticized President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it would “put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way.”

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, also criticized Trump’s memorandum on a surge in immigrant detention and deportation forces, saying it would “tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities.”

A photo taken in 2016 shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, N.M., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. President Donald Trump enacted two executive memorandums to deal with security, including one that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

A photo taken in 2016 shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, N.M., opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. President Donald Trump enacted two executive memorandums to deal with security, including one that calls for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Trump signed the two executive memorandums on national security Jan. 25 during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the wall, a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign, would “stem the flow of drugs, crime and illegal immigration” along the southern border. He also said Trump’s top priority was the nation’s security.

But hours later, Bishop Vasquez issued a statement saying that construction of the wall would “make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.

“Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will ‘look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.’”

During a February 2016 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis traveled to the U.S. border at Ciudad Juarez and pleaded for the plight of immigrants. He said those who refuse to offer safe shelter and passage were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”

Bishop Vasquez said the bishops respected the government’s right to control its borders and to ensure the safety of all Americans, but said, “We do not believe that a large-scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform.”

He said the new policies would “make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Every day my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”

“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey,” Bishop Vasquez said.

At the Jan. 25 White House briefing, Spicer reiterated that Mexico would end up paying for construction of the wall. He said Trump would work with Congress on finding money to pay for the construction, noting, “there are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used.”

Trump’s second executive memorandum also directed John F. Kelly, secretary of homeland security, to look at how federal funding streams can be cut for cities and states that illegally harbor immigrants. Spicer said the so-called “sanctuary cities” create a problem for taxpayers.

“You have American people out there working” and their tax funds are sent to places that do not enforce the law, he said.

The executive memorandums did not address the issue of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nor did they discuss emigration from the Middle East, which Spicer said would be addressed later in the week.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile U.S. frontier with Mexico. The Associated Press reported that legislation led to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to block both vehicles and pedestrians, primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It said the final sections were completed after President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

AP reported that a 1970 treaty with Mexico requires that structures along the border cannot disrupt the flow of rivers that define the U.S.-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona.

The PICO National Network, the largest network of congregations and faith-based groups in the country, including Catholics, challenged the executive memorandum on sanctuary cities.

“Retaliating against local communities because they refuse to follow immoral policies is part of an emerging pattern of President Trump of not only bullying people who dare to disagree with him, but isolating and further marginalizing people who are different than him,” said Eddie Carmona, campaign director for PICO National Network’s LA RED campaign. “Such behavior is inconsistent with the long-held notion that America was a place of opportunity for all.”

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization, called the presidential orders “antithetical to our faith.”

“When Nuns on the Bus visited the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, we walked along the wall and listened to the stories of communities that have been torn apart for decades. That is the reality experienced by border communities: The wall is there and it affects the daily life and commerce of the people.

“Federal appropriations for border security have grown to $3.8 billion in FY2015, from $263 million in FY1990, and fencing exists for hundreds of miles along our southern border,” she said in a statement.

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Cardinal Dolan urges stronger effort to stop physician-assisted suicide

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities has called for increased efforts and “renewed vigor” to stop legalized physician-assisted suicide after the practice was approved by voters in Colorado and the District of Columbia City Council.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York urged Catholics to join medical professionals, disability rights groups and others “in fighting for the authentic care” of people facing terminal illness in a statement released Nov. 21.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan speaks Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“The act of prescribing a fatal, poisonous dose, moreover, undermines the very heart of medicine,” Cardinal Dolan said. “Doctors vow to do no harm, and yet assisted suicide is the ultimate abandonment of their patients.”

His concern comes after voters in Colorado passed a physician-assisted suicide measure that was on the ballot Nov. 8. The law also allows insurance companies to refuse treatment of patients they consider terminal.

Colorado became the sixth state in the nation with a so-called “right-to-die law,” joining Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont and Montana.

In Washington, D.C. City Council members in a second vote Nov. 15 approved the “Death with Dignity Act” that permits physicians in the district to legally prescribe the drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less. Under the measure, third parties are allowed to administer the drugs used in the procedure. The bill goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser to veto it, sign it or let it become law without any action on her part. If it becomes law, it would be subject to congressional review before it takes affect.

Cardinal Dolan called the district’s measure “the most expansive and dangerous so far” because it opens “the door to even further coercion and abuse.”

“Every suicide is tragic, whether someone is young or old, healthy or sick,” the cardinal added. “But the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide creates two classes of people: those whose suicides are to be prevented at any cost, and those whose suicides are deemed a positive good.

“We remove weapons and drugs that can cause harm to one group, while handing deadly drugs to the other, setting up yet another kind of life-threatening discrimination,” he continued. “This is completely unjust. Our inherent human dignity does not wane with the onset of illness or incapacity, and so all are worthy of protection.”

Seriously ill people require “authentic support, including doctors fully committed to their welfare and pain management as they enter their final days,” the statement said. “Patients need our assurance that they are not a burden; that it is a privilege to care for them as we ourselves hope to be cared for one day. A compassionate society devotes more attention, not less, to members facing the most vulnerable times in their lives.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on assisted suicide 2011 titled “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” the full text is online at http://bit.ly/2ga5cht.  

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Trump talks deporting millions, while bishop sends message on immigrants’ dignity

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — In a letter read Nov. 14 during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, called on President-elect Donald Trump “to continue to protect the inherent dignity of refugees and migrants.”

In a television interview Nov. 13, Trump said he is looking at a plan to deport 2 million to 3 million people whom he described as “criminal and have criminal records” and entered the country without permission.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, center, applauds with other prelates Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, center, applauds with other prelates Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A day later, the U.S. bishops, meeting in Baltimore, affirmed Bishop Elizondo’s letter encouraging efforts “to work together to promote the common good, especially those to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

In the letter, first released late Nov. 11, Bishop Elizondo said he was praying for Trump, “all elected officials and those who will work in the new administration. I offer a special word to migrant and refugee families living in the United States: Be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.”

Bishop Elizondo asked for the protection of the family unit, as “the cornerstone of society,” and asked that the new administration recognize the contributions of refugees and immigrants “to the overall prosperity and well-being of our nation.”

He said the migration committee would continue to work to protect human policies for refugees and immigrants and their inherent dignity.

“Serving and welcoming people fleeing violence and conflict in various regions of the world is part of our identity as Catholics,” he said. “The church will continue this life-saving tradition.”

With more than 65 million forcibly displaced around the world, he said, “the need to welcome refugees and provide freedom from persecution is more acute than ever, and 80 of our dioceses across the country are eager to continue this wonderful act of accompaniment born of our Christian faith.”

Trump, during his campaign, vowed to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for it and deport 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally by using a “deportation force.” He also said he would ban Muslims from entering the country and he called for a “pause” in allowing refugees into the country until some form of “extreme vetting” of their background could be put in place.

During his interview with CBS, he told interviewer Lesley Stahl: “What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers. We have a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million. We are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate. But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.”

Bishop Elizondo said the bishops’ committee was willing to work with the new administration “to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans,” adding that “a duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need.”

 

 

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Priest’s prayer reminds GOP convention of importance of all human life

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Catholic News Service

CLEVELAND — When Msgr. Kieran Harrington delivered the invocation on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, it wasn’t just a coincidence that he ended up on the same stage where high-scale politics would dominate for four days.

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., delivers the invocation July 18 during the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (CNS photo/Tannen Maury, EPA)

Msgr. Kieran Harrington, vicar of communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., delivers the invocation July 18 during the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (CNS photo/Tannen Maury, EPA)

The priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, told Catholic News Service that he worked for the Republican National Committee for five years in the 1990s and was known to some of the party’s highest-ranking officials.

The process was not planned far in advance and his on-stage appearance was finalized only days before the convention began, he said. Things happened so quickly that Msgr. Harrington ended up driving from Brooklyn to Cleveland, arriving at 3 a.m. July 18, about 17 hours before offering the prayer.

“The way I look at it is I’m here to bring the Gospel. It’s very important to hold up a mirror to let people know what their deliberations really are about,” said Msgr. Harrington, chairman of the DeSales Media Group in the diocese and pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn.

The invitation came after he inquired about the status of press credentials for the staff of the diocese’s New Evangelization Television cable TV network. Msgr. Harrington received a call from Sean Spicer, communications director and chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, who not only confirmed the credentials, but invited the priest to offer the prayer.

Msgr. Harrington cleared the request with Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and began coordinating his short appearance at the convention.

Aside from Bishop DiMarzio, few knew about Msgr. Harrington’s part at the convention until he told St. Joseph parishioners at Masses the weekend of July 16-17.

“I told them, ‘’I don’t want you to be surprised. You may see my on TV. I want to tell you I believe you bring the Gospel everywhere and anywhere,’” he recalled.

Lasting about three minutes, the prayer referenced the example of the good Samaritan as told in the Gospel of Luke, which had been read at Masses the weekend of July 9-10.

“To me, the good Samaritan was important especially because, I think, of the great issues our country faces. The perennial issues on human life. To me, I don’t think there is any way around saying this is the greatest evil our nation is engaged with at the moment. To take the life of child in the womb is barbaric,” he said.

“At same time, as people who stand for human life, we understand life begins at conception, but it doesn’t end when the child is born. There are people who are vulnerable and who are here in this country and are strangers. To my mind I wanted to hold that up because the rhetoric can be un-neighborly to say the least,” Msgr. Harrington said.

The prayer included a request for blessings and inspiration for the delegates and party leaders that their deliberations “might be earnest and fruitful.”

Msgr. Harrington’s career in politics lasted from 1994 to 1999. It began when he decided to take a year off from studying for the priesthood. He wanted to get a job and better understand the lives of people who go to work day in and day out so he could be a better priest. He joined the RNC doing research and working in campaign operations. One year stretched to five as he took on more responsibilities and became an aide to Jim Nicholson, then-party chairman, who later became U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and then secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Msgr. Harrington said today that he is a registered Democrat, but he did not offer any reason for his change in political allegiance.

When it comes to prayer though, he said, politics does not matter.

“Frankly in my time,” he said, “I find most people who are involved in the political process are extraordinarily earnest and really do want to accomplish good. So I think it was appropriate (to offer the prayer).”

 

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Report shows religious freedom is declining worldwide

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The state of religious freedom worldwide saw more decline than improvement in the last year, said Robert George, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

A refugee prays in front of an image of Christ in a makeshift church in a camp called "The Jungle" in 2015 in the port of Calais, France. (CNS photo/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)

A refugee prays in front of an image of Christ in a makeshift church in a camp called “The Jungle” in 2015 in the port of Calais, France. (CNS photo/Stephanie Lecocq, EPA)

“Regrettably, things have not improved, and in some places, things have gotten worse,” said George, a Princeton University law professor and director of the university’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, during a May 2 telephone news conference coinciding with the release of the commission’s annual report.

“At best, in most of the countries we covered, religious conditions have failed to improve in any demonstrable way. In most cases, they have spiraled downward,” he added.

The 2016 report, covering the year from March 1, 2015, to Feb. 29, 2016, notes the nations labeled by the State Department to be “countries of particular concern” for their treatment of its citizens’ religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Four of the countries — China, Iran, Myanmar and Sudan — have had the designation since it was first issued in 1999. An 11th nation, Tajikistan, was added by the State Department in April.

Myanmar, formerly Burma, remains on the list despite its transition from a military regime to a civilian government. “Among the displaced were thousands of Rohingya Muslims forced to flee their homes in Burma, joining other Rohingya already displaced internally. While last year’s general elections marked the country’s bid to emerge from its past as a military dictatorship, the government enacted four discriminatory ‘race-and-religion’ bills that not only effectively disenfranchised as many as one million Rohingya, but also denied them the right to contest the elections,” the report said. “These measures reflect a legacy of their brutal persecution by both government and society, which contributed to the refugee crisis.”

The commission identified seven countries that it recommends being added to the State Department list: the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam.

Another 10 countries were labeled by the commission as being “Tier 2” for their restrictions on religious practice: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey. The commission also monitored the situation in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Western Europe and the Horn of Africa.

The terror attacks late last year in Paris and Brussels “produced backlashes against Muslims by members of the wider society, in which Muslims often are blamed collectively,” the report said. “Mosques have been given police protection in several countries, and European Union officials have stressed the importance of not stigmatizing all Muslims.” Moreover, the number of French Jews leaving France for Israel quadrupled, from 2,000 to 8,000, it added.

The only nations and regimes to have had the country of particular concern label withdrawn are the Slobodan Milosevic regime of the former Yugoslavia in 2001, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2003, Iraq in 2004 and Vietnam in 2006.

George cited one example in Vietnam as particularly distressing. A Vietnamese religious figure had met with Rabbi David Saperstein, U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, who was visiting Vietnam. Almost immediately after the meeting, the Vietnamese activist was arrested by authorities.

“Egypt and India’s presidents have made positive remarks” regarding religious freedom, George said. “But rhetoric doesn’t really matter unless it is accompanied by action.”

India is a Tier 2 country, George said, because of “political violence and societal violence. It has also failed to reform a criminal justice system that fails to prosecute attackers in a timely manner. This leads to a sense of impunity.”

George said he hoped the United States would become more welcoming to refugees fleeing religious persecution in their homelands.

“The conception for religious freedom goes all the way to our founding,” he said. “It’s not a local right, it’s not a local privilege. … It’s not just for us, it’s for everybody. It’s a universal human right. Part of what makes America exceptional is our belief in universal human rights. The very founding documents of our country. It’s in our in political DNA.”

 

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House budget chairman defends plan as inspired by Catholic teaching

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan defended his party’s 2013 federal budget, which has drawn Catholic criticism, as a way to help all Americans gain a better life, free of government intrusion and overreach, in a speech at Georgetown University.

Citing principles of Catholic social teaching that promote the full involvement of people in the decisions that affect their lives, Ryan invited “well-informed public discourse” on the direction of the country as it debates how best to meet current and future needs in health care, Social Security and job creation.

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