As the first pope in history to address a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis, defended the human right of masses of oppressed and poor people to immigrate. Read more »
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — As Pope Francis spoke to a joint meeting of Congress Sept. 24, the members of the House and Senate vacillated between their usual response to similar addresses and intensely focusing on the pontiff’s heavily accented, carefully pronounced delivery of a text in English.
Every seat in the chamber and the galleries above was occupied for the much-anticipated first speech by a pope to the combined members of Congress, the Cabinet, four members of the Supreme Court and representatives of the diplomatic corps and many guests.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic Republican from Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic Democrat from California, invited the pontiff.
Previously, Boehner had unsuccessfully invited Pope Francis’ two predecessors to address a joint meeting. His counterpart as head of the Senate, Vice President Joe Biden, sat alongside him behind Pope Francis, much as they do during the president’s State of the Union addresses.
It was perhaps a measure of the unusual speech that Pope Francis’ arrival in the chamber was announced ceremonially with the awkward-sounding: “the pope of the Holy See.” The pope is the head of the Catholic Church, and the Holy See is generally used as a religious reference. But the Holy See also is recognized as a sovereign state.
Boehner, who is known for readily crying, was true to his reputation, appearing to choke up at points during the speech and clearly doing so as he later stood alongside him on the West Terrace of the Capitol when the pope briefly greeted an assembled crowd of tens of thousands of people on the lawn.
In very brief remarks from the terrace, translated into English for the public, Pope Francis said he was grateful for all who came to the event, particularly for the children. “God bless them,” he said.
He also asked those gathered to “pray for me. And if there are any of you who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to send good wishes my way.”
A speech that referenced President Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and American Catholics Father Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day provided fodder for numerous applause interruptions. Some of the sure-fire applause triggers included the pope’s opening line, thanking the members of Congress for their invitation to “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” as well as references to freedom.
At other points in the 45-minute speech, however, the body’s partisan roots seemed to carry the moment. At the pope’s laudatory mention of reopening dialogue between countries that have been at odds, some members of Congress were quick to respond with applause. Others seemed uncertain whether the reference was about Iran, Cuba, Colombia or some other situation with which they might or might not agree.
Also drawing mixed reactions, often along partisan lines, were his references to protecting the environment, ending the arms trade, welcoming refugees, cooperating toward the common good and the responsibility “to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
The speech was among the hardest tickets to get during the pope’s three-day visit in Washington. Each member of Congress was allotted one guest ticket. More than a dozen bishops and cardinals were in the room, however. Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Washington’s retired archbishop, were among them. Nearly all the seating sections in the gallery above the House floor appeared to include at least one priest and/or a bishop.
Reporters from around the globe were added into the normal contingent of political writers, crammed into standing-room spots above the speaker’s rostrum, with no view of the podium. Vatican reporters accustomed to parsing the tightly written prose of papal speeches worked alongside Washington-based writers whose usual work involves vote-counting and filtering broad political rhetoric.
While the pope was in the Capitol, Boehner met with him and a contingent of Catholic bishops in his office, and took him on a brief tour of Statuary Hall. There, the pope was shown the statue of St. Junipero Serra, canonized by Pope Francis just the day before. Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary is one of the two statues placed in the Capitol by the state of California. Each state is allocated two slots.
Video shot by the press pool also captured a moment in a hallway, when Pope Francis was shown bowing his head for a blessing. Fellow Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy, chaplain of the House of Representatives, placed his hands on either side of the pope’s head for the blessing.
Father Conroy said later that he thought to offer the pope a blessing rather than making a typical comment in the brief time they would have to speak when they met in the hallway off the Capitol’s carriage entrance.
“I figured he’d probably be willing to accept that,” he said, particularly in light of Pope Francis’ first remarks to the public after his election in 2013.
Speaking from the balcony of the papal apartment in the Vatican, the newly elected pope asked the people to pray for him.
Father Conroy said he introduced himself, welcomed him to Washington and speaking as one Jesuit to another, offered the blessing.
As the pope bowed his head, Father Conroy said his prayer, in Spanish, was “may the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit come upon you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/GiZWs08RQcY
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Along with having a winning smile and a warm embrace, Pope Francis is known for challenging people.
He does it regularly at morning Mass — particularly calling out hypocrisy and gossip — and does not spare even his closest aides in the Roman Curia, so it is unlikely his speeches to the U.S. Congress and the U.N. General Assembly will let his audiences leave without a suggested examination of conscience. Read more »
VATICAN CITY — The Holy See welcomed Iran’s historic nuclear deal and expressed hopes that more future breakthroughs be on the horizon on other issues.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said that “the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is viewed in a positive light by the Holy See.”
“It constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit,” he said in a written statement in response to reporters’ questions July 14.
“It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of nuclear program, but may indeed extend further,” he said, without specifying what other areas of progress the Vatican hoped to see.
Hours after the deal was announced, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace also welcomed the agreement in a letter to members of the U.S. Congress.
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, encouraged the lawmakers to “support these efforts to build bridges that foster peace and greater understanding” and said it signaled progress in global nuclear weapons nonproliferation.
“We hope that the full implementation of the agreement will gradually foster an environment in which all parties build mutual confidence and trust so that progress will be made toward greater stability and dialogue in the region,” the letter said. “In that spirit, our committee will continue to urge Congress to endorse the result of these intense negotiations because the alternative leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the church.”
Under the new deal, decades-long sanctions by the United States, European Union and the United Nations eventually would be lifted in exchange for an agreement by Iran to restrict its nuclear program to peaceful purposes.
The negotiations involved Iran and what is often referred to as the “P5+1,” or the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States —plus Germany.
The U.S. Congress and Iranian authorities would still need to review the agreement.
In January and in April, Pope Francis had expressed hopes that negotiations would end in an agreement. In his Easter message April 5, he said he hoped preliminary talks then underway would “be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”
Catholic News Service
NEW ORLEANS — An Obama administration proposal to pay doctors for “advance care planning” for Medicare patients is fraught with dangers for the elderly and those facing serious illnesses, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
Congress needs to act quickly to protect those patients from making uniformed decisions about their care, Burke Balch said during the organization’s annual convention July 9-11 in New Orleans.
Balch, director of the NRLC’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics, said an Obama administration proposal to institute “advance care planning” is designed to “nudge” patients to forgo life-saving treatment and even assisted feeding by giving them “unbalanced, distorted and even inaccurate information” about their condition and the effectiveness of treatment options.
Citing a 2013 Health Affairs article titled “Decision Aids: When ‘Nudging’ Patients to Make a Particular Choice is More Ethical Than Balanced, Nondirective Content,” Balch said advance care planning is touted as a means of drastically cutting health care costs.
Balch said the NRLC favors advance medical directives, it has developed its own “Will to Live” document, and supports alternatives that “provide truly informed consent to decisions about medical treatment.”
The 2013 Health Affairs article offered advice on how doctors could persuade men with prostate cancer to agree not to undergo expensive surgery.
“If incontinence and impotence are presented as plainly stated, that is, with no detailed description of these risks, men with early stage prostate cancer may be swayed toward the option of surgery,” the article said. “If instead those possible side effects of surgery are presented vividly via personal stories, men may be swayed away from the surgery option.”
The Powell Center report, available at www.nrlc.org, cited other widely available advance care planning materials that violate the principle of informed consent by presenting unbalanced facts so that patients might be convinced to forgo cardiopulmonary resuscitation, IV fluids and medically assisted feeding.
Other materials paint disabilities and illnesses in such “an inaccurately repugnant way” they may convince people that a low “quality of life” is not worth living, Balch said.
Balch said Aetna hired the “Center to Advance Palliative Care” in preparing its advance care planning program. The center reported that its program had resulted in a $12,000 average annual reduction in medical benefits.
Balch said using taxpayer money for Medicare advance care planning was so controversial in the original House Affordable Health Care measure that the proposal eventually was dropped.
But July 9, the Obama administration opened a 60-day “notice and comment” period to re-establish the proposal. It was contained in a large set of Medicare regulations. The administration said it plans to finalize the rule on advanced care planning by Nov. 1 and implement it Jan. 1.
Dr. Patrick Conway, the principal deputy administrator and chief medical officer of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a statement that the administration’s proposal “supports individuals and families who wish to have the opportunity to discuss advance care planning with their physician and care team, as part of coordinated, patient- and family-centered care.”
The proposal says Medicare patients will not be required to have that discussion with a physician or sign any directive.
But, Balch said, “we are concerned about the rationing of health care through government action.”
“We support advance directives,” he continued. “We believe patients ought to have the right to make decisions about what medical care they receive. Our ‘Will to Live’ starts with a presumption for treatment, although an individual can indicate specific treatments that he doesn’t want,” he said.
“Tragically, however, there is considerable evidence that in practice, advance care planning is being used deliberately to nudge patients toward accepting a denial of life-saving treatment.”
Balch said many private insurance companies have hired organizations to “cold call” beneficiaries “to talk them into rejecting treatment,” and they usually “report how much money they are saving per beneficiary.”
“In this context, we greatly fear that this advance care planning will not be balanced,” Balch said. “Despite giving lip service to balance, it will be used deliberately to try to reduce health care spending. We are calling on Congress to block this rule.”
Finney is executive editor and general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.