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Bishops: 22 million people losing insurance under GOP plan ‘simply unacceptable’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in its analysis of the Senate health care bill, said late June 26 the measure would leave 22 million more people without insurance.

“This moment cannot pass without comment,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

A protester demonstrating against the Senate health care bill is escorted away by police outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's constituent office in Washington June 22. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

A protester demonstrating against the Senate health care bill is escorted away by police outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s constituent office in Washington June 22. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

“Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the ‘discussion draft’ of the Senate health care proposal, indicating that millions of people could lose their health insurance over time,” he said in a statement issued in response to the just-released analysis.

“As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable,” the bishop said, noting he would continue to study the full CBO report. “These are real families who need and deserve health care.”

He added, “We pray that the Senate will work in an open and unified way to keep the good aspects of current health care proposals, to add missing elements where needed, and to not place our sisters and brothers who struggle every day into so great a peril on so basic a right.”

Meanwhile, the bill prompting the CBO review, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, drew opposition from Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. In a letter to senators June 26, Sister Markham urged senators to reject the bill and “craft a health care bill which truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respect human life and dignity.”

The bill in its current form “will have a devastating impact on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable in our country,” Sister Markham wrote.

While welcoming provisions in the bill to protect human life and increase flexibility to states in paying for health care, “a bill that rolls back gains in health care for the poor and vulnerable is deeply regretful,” the letter said.

“It is deeply shameful that instead of improving our health care system, the bill provides tax cuts for people making over $200,000 per year while at the same time demanding dramatic cuts or eliminating programs which help those most in need and most unlikely to afford health care,” the letter said.

The Senate released its Better Care Reconciliation Act in
“discussion draft” form June 22.

In a statement the same day, Bishop Dewane said the Senate version contains “many of the fundamental defects” that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act “and even further compounds them.”

“As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

One part of the bill cuts the federal government’s share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Bishop Dewane criticized the “per-capita cap” on Medicaid funding, which would no longer be an entitlement but have its own budget line item under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The effect, he said, “would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported.”

He indicated the Better Care Reconciliation Act at least partially succeeds on conscience rights by “fully applying the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

However, the bishops “also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal,” Bishop Dewane said in his June 22 statement.

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Texas pastor named bishop for Florida diocese

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has named Holy Cross Father William A. Wack, who is a pastor in Texas, to be the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

Bishop-designate Wack, 49, has been pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin, Texas, since 2009. He succeeds Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, who was named last November to head the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Pope Francis has named Holy Cross Father William A. Wack, pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin, Texas, since 2009, to be the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla. He succeeds Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, who was named last November to head the Diocese of St. Petersburg. (CNS photo/courtesy Congregation of Holy Cross)

Pope Francis has named Holy Cross Father William A. Wack, pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin, Texas, since 2009, to be the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla. He succeeds Bishop Gregory L. Parkes, who was named last November to head the Diocese of St. Petersburg. (CNS photo/courtesy Congregation of Holy Cross)

The appointment was announced in Washington May 29 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The date of Bishop-designate Wack’s episcopal ordination has not yet been determined.

“Now I know for sure that God is merciful, having called this sinner to serve in this capacity,” Bishop-designate Wack said May 29 in a statement about his appointment. “The first words which came to mind when I heard of the appointment were, ‘Lord I am not worthy … but only say the Word … .’ With joy and zeal, I accept this appointment, and I am thrilled to begin service to God’s people as a bishop.”

“While I am very sad to be leaving the parish of St. Ignatius Martyr in Austin … I couldn’t be more excited to move in and get to work here in the diocese,” he added.

He said he has always loved being a priest. “For me there is nothing higher than the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments,” Bishop-designate Wack said. “Over the past 23 years I have grown tremendously in my faith, through the very mysteries I have served.”

As a Holy Cross priest, he continued, “I know of the power of the cross of Christ, and the hope that it brings to all creation. We in Holy Cross strive to be ‘educators in the faith’ wherever we go, and I am happy to continue to do this in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.

Bishop-designate Wack added: “While I embrace a leadership position in the church once again, I believe that I stand to learn much from the very people I will serve. We are all God’s children, for we have been given God’s Spirit. It is our sacred duty to celebrate and practice our faith together, and to make God known, loved and served in all that we do.”

“Father Wack is an exemplary priest who is well respected by his brother priests and loved by those he serves,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin said in a statement. “Father Wack has been of great help to me, and I express my deep appreciation to him for his years of service in the Diocese of Austin.”

“As the people of Pensacola-Tallahassee come to know him, they will see his love for the church and his desire to serve his flock with warmth and compassion,” he added.

Holy Cross Father Thomas O’ Hara, provincial superior of the U. S. province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, called Bishop-designate Wack “a gifted pastor and administrator who possesses an extremely welcoming personality.”

“He is quick to reach out to all, is strong enough to lead and humble enough to listen. Above all, he is an outstanding priest who is passionate in his faith and absolutely dedicated to serving the people of God,” Father O’Hara said.

Bishop Parkes said he shared in the joy of Catholics of Pensacola-Tallahassee getting a new shepherd, who with the diocese “will be in my prayers during this time of transition.” 

Since Bishop Parkes’ appointment to St. Petersburg, Msgr. James Flaherty has served as Pensacola-Tallahassee’s diocesan administrator.

Born June 28, 1967, in South Bend, Indiana, Bishop designate-Wack is the second-youngest of 10 children. His younger brother also is a Holy Cross priest, Father Neil Wack.

William A. Wack entered the novitiate for the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1989. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in government and international relations from the University of Notre Dame in 1989. He earned a master of divinity degree in 1993, also from Notre Dame.

He professed his final vows in 1993 and was ordained a priest April 9, 1994. His assignments after ordination included associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from 1994-1997. He was associate director of vocations for his congregation from 1997-2002 at Notre Dame; at that time, he also was with the Holy Cross Associates, 1998-2002.

He then spent six years, from 2002 to 2008, as director of Andre House of Hospitality in downtown Phoenix, which is ministers to the city’s poor and homeless. It runs a soup kitchen, which serves over 200,000 meals per year, and provides a small transition shelter for men and women; clothing and blanket distribution; and showers and lockers for its clients.

The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee covers about 14,000 square miles in Florida’s panhandle. Out of a total population of 1.46 million people, about 5 percent, or 67,316 people, are Catholic.

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Catholic leaders meeting in Orlando seeks to bring ‘Joy of the Gospel’ vision to U.S. church

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — This summer’s Convocation of Catholic Leaders comes at a time when the U.S. Catholic Church is seeking how best to respond to a changing social landscape while bringing Pope Francis’ vision for a church that offers mercy and joy to the world.

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America" sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Volunteers serve guests lunch in the main dining hall of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2016 in Phoenix. Leaders from dioceses and various Catholic organizations will gather July 1-4 in Orlando, Fla., for the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America” sponsored by the U.S. bishops.(CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Called by the bishops, the historic convocation will find more than 3,000 Catholic leaders — bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — meeting July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida, to focus on how the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), applies in the United States.

The pope’s document lays out a vision of the church dedicated to evangelization, missionary discipleship, in a positive way, with a focus on society’s poorest and most vulnerable, including the aged and unborn.

Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner, sees the gathering as a way for Catholics across the diverse spectrum of the church to unify in Christ.

“The beauty of it for us as Catholics is it’s not just another trade meeting,” Reyes said. “This is centered, as Pope Francis said again and again, in the encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what holds us together. Even Catholics need a moment of unity these days. Not just our country, but we as Catholics need a moment of unity around Christ.”

The idea of missionary discipleship expressed by the pope has taken root in the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s the pre-eminent theme in the 2017-2020 strategic plan the bishops adopted during their annual fall general assembly in November.

Planning for the gathering, titled “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America,” has been underway for a few years. It is being called to examine today’s concerns, challenges and opportunities for action in light of the church’s evangelization mission, Reyes said.

“So we’re going to encounter Christ together, converse together, pray together, encounter one another and talk very practically about what are the challenges, what’s it mean to be missionary disciples at this moment and how do we go out and do it,” Reyes said.

Planners want people to mix and mingle and learn from each other during the invitation-only event.

“This group of people would never be in the same strategic conversations together if it weren’t for the bishops calling them together. They are in all kinds of ministries throughout the church. They are professionals in all the different fields, education, business, teachers. We have people from all socioeconomic groups,” Reyes said.

Such a gathering of bishops and key church leaders has occurred just once before within the U.S. church.

In 1917, in response to the country’s entry into World War I, the bishops met with a select group of leaders to determine how to respond to social needs emerging from the war. That meeting at The Catholic University of America in Washington led to the formation of the National Catholic War Council “to study, coordinate, unify and put in operation all Catholic activities incidental to the war.” After the war, the bishops met to make the council permanent and established the National Catholic Welfare Council, the forerunner to today’s USCCB.

“They were responding to a very different crisis, World War I. But there was a sense of the importance of the moment that the church of the United States had to come together under the bishops to find a way of going forward, a vision of hope for the country and to serve,” Reyes said.

Today, like the wider society, the U.S. church is grappling with how best to respond to rapid sociological changes: demographics including a rising Latino population and people leaving organized religion, an economy that has led to a smaller middle class, a broadening of the legal definition of marriage, polarization along ideological lines and technological advances that have changed how people relate with each other.

How to respond under the guidance of Pope Francis will begin to be discussed during the convocation. Each day has its own theme for participants to consider in light of changing church and social structures:

  • July 1: National Unity
  • July 2: Landscape and Renewal
  • July 3: Work and Witness
  • July 4: A Spirit of Mission

On days 2 and 3, plenary sessions will feature panel discussions pertaining to an aspect of the themes with nearly two dozen breakout sessions exploring topics influencing the church’s work.

Mass will be part of each day as well. The July 3 Mass will incorporate religious liberty as part of the bishops’ annual Fortnight for Freedom observance.

Reyes and planners, including the bishops envision the convocation as a starting point with Pope Francis providing the inspiration through his call to bring the Gospel to others.

“The Gospel is a pretty good thing to rally around,” Reyes told CNS. “You can build a lot unity out of it.”

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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House’s health care bill has both laudable and troubling aspects, bishop says

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WASHINGTON — The inclusion of “critical life protections” in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits, are “troubling” and “must be addressed” before the measure is passed, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, sent a letter March 17 to House members. It was released March 20 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Congressman Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, takes notes as he listens to House Budget Committee lawmakers deliver statements on the American Health Care Act during a March 16 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Congressman Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, takes notes as he listens to House Budget Committee lawmakers deliver statements on the American Health Care Act during a March 16 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Regarding life protections in the bill, Bishop Dewane said: “By restricting funding which flows to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion, including with current and future tax credits, the legislation honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.”

Among the “very troubling features” of the bill are the Medicaid-related provisions, he said. Other aspects that must be addressed before the bill is passed include the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services, Bishop Dewane said.

His letter follows one sent March 8 to House members by him and three other bishops’ committee chairmen stating they would be reviewing closely the American Health Care Act, introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The other signers of the earlier letter were: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration.

In his March 17 letter, Bishop Dewane said one area in the new bill that could be helpful, with “appropriate safeguards,” is an effort to increase flexibility for states and provide more options for health care savings and different kinds of coverage based on economic levels. But still, Bishop Dewane said, “efforts to increase flexibility must be carefully undertaken so as not to undermine” a given program’s “effectiveness or reach.”

In the House bill, Medicaid expansion would be repealed and replaced with a “per capita allotment.” Under the current law, more Americans became eligible for Medicaid, so long as their states opted into the entitlement program’s expansion.

The House bill’s “proposed modifications to the Medicaid program, a vital component of the social safety net, will have sweeping impacts, increasing economic and community costs while moving away from affordable access for all,” Bishop Dewane said.

He also cited the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the bill that said “as many as 24 million additional people could be uninsured in the next 10 years for a variety of reasons.”

The U.S. bishops, he said, have stressed that “all people and every family must be able to see clearly how they will fit within and access the health care system in a way that truly meets their needs.”

The CBO estimates millions of people currently eligible for Medicaid under the law “will be negatively impacted due to reduced funding from the per capita cap” proposal, Bishop Dewane said.

“State and local resources are unlikely to be sufficient to cover the gaps,” he continued.

Congress needs “to rework the Medicaid-related provisions of the AHCA to fix these problems and ensure access for all, and especially for those most in need,” said Bishop Dewane.

He also pointed out that the House measure does not provide “conscience protection against mandates to provide coverage or services, such as the regulatory interpretation of ‘preventive services’ requiring contraception and sterilization coverage in almost all private health plans nationwide.”

The mandate requiring most employers to provide such coverage even if they are morally opposed to it, he reminded House members, “has been the subject of large-scale litigation especially involving religious entities like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Bishop Dewane outlined other provisions he said need to be addressed before the legislation is passed, including:

  • The new tax credit system, which “appears to create increased barriers to affordability, particularly for older and lower-income people when compared with the cost assistance” allowed under the current health care law.
  • The cap on the cost of plans for older Americans relative to plans for younger people would increase to a 5-to-1 ratio over the current 3-to-1 ratio. Studies show, Bishop Dewane said, that “premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically” under the House proposal.
  • A 30 percent surcharge for a 12-month period for those who do not maintain continuous coverage “presents a serious challenge.”
  • No longer any requirement for states to allow individuals seeking Medicaid benefits a reasonable opportunity to verify that they are either U.S. citizens or have a qualified immigration status. “This change would undoubtedly threaten eligible individuals’ access to essential and early medical care,” the bishop said.

The current federal health care law “is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said, noting the U.S. bishops “registered serious objections at the time of its passage” in 2010.

“However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society,” he said.

The U.S. bishops “look forward to working with Congress to address the problems found in the AHCA, to ensure that all people can benefit from comprehensive, quality health care that they can truly afford.”

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Trump visits Catholic school in Florida to show support for school choice

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ORLANDO, Fla. — President Donald Trump visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando March 3 to show his support for school choice.

The president was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a tour of the school that started with a visit to a fourth-grade class.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

The visit was called a listening session.

One of the tour guests was Denisha Merriweather, who attended a private high school through Florida’s voucher program, which she credits with turning her life around.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving,” Trump said. The president also told school administrators that “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic,” The Associated Press reported.

In his address to Congress Feb. 28, Trump said that education was the “civil rights issue of our time” and urged Congress to pass legislation to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, but he did not offer any details.

St. Andrew Catholic School, which opened in 1962, teaches 350 children from pre-K to eighth grade. On its website it says: “Our goals are simple: college and heaven.”

The school partners with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE,  which serves under-resourced Catholic schools.

A March 3 statement from ACE said the president’s visit gave the St. Andrew’s students “a historic opportunity to share their story with the nation.”

“We are acutely aware that the current political climate is among the most polarized in American history,” the statement said. “These divisions have real implications for relationships here in the St. Andrew community.”

It also stressed that “every family has the right to choose the best school for their child” and that “because of the parental choice program in Florida, this school will continue to empower families, form faithful citizens, strengthen the Pine Hills community, and provide children with educational opportunities.”

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Bishop Parkes named bishop of St. Petersburg, Fla.

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WASHINGTON — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, and named as his successor Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida.

The changes were announced Nov. 28 in Washington by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., center, is seen during morning prayer Nov. 15 at the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops  in Baltimore. Pope Francis Nov. 28 named him to succeed retiring Bishop Robert N. Lynch as head of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., center, is seen during morning prayer Nov. 15 at the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Pope Francis Nov. 28 named him to succeed retiring Bishop Robert N. Lynch as head of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Lynch, who has headed the St. Petersburg Diocese since 1996, is 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. Bishop Parkes, 52, has been the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee since 2012.

“I’m very grateful to Pope Francis for appointing me bishop of St. Petersburg,” Bishop Parkes said in a statement. “It has been a joy to serve as bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee for the past four and a half years. I’m going to miss the panhandle and all those I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my time here.”

He will be installed as the fifth bishop of St. Petersburg Jan. 4 at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg.

Bishop Parkes told Catholics of the St. Petersburg diocese that he felt “blessed to be your new shepherd. Please pray for me that I will be a good shepherd, that I will be faithful shepherd, a holy shepherd.”

Bishop Lynch said in a statement he is “relieved and grateful to Pope Francis” for giving the diocese a new bishop who is “a shepherd like his own heart.”

On March 20, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI appointed then-Father Parkes to be the fifth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee. He was installed June 5, 2012.

Born in Mineola, New York, April 2, 1964, Bishop Parkes attended Daytona Beach Community College in Florida before earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State University. He went to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, from 1993 to 1996, and the Pontifical North American College in Rome, from 1996 to 2000.

He earned a sacred theology degree in 1988 and a canon law degree in 2000, both from the Pontifical Gregorian University, also in Rome.

He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, by Bishop Norbert M. Dorsey June 26, 1999. He has two brothers, Christopher Parkes and Father Stephen Parkes, who is a priest of the Diocese of Orlando.

After his priestly ordination, then-Father Parkes’ parish assignments included parochial vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church in Orlando, 2000-2004, and parochial administrator and pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Celebration, Florida, 2005-2012. He also was the Orlando diocese’s vicar general and chancellor for canonical affairs.

For six years before his episcopal ordination to head the St. Petersburg Diocese in January 1996, Bishop Lynch was general secretary of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington. Before that, he was a staff member at the bishops’ conference as both layman and priest, including a stint as associate general secretary.

Born May 27, 1941, in Charleston, West Virginia, Robert Nugent Lynch received his bachelor of arts degree from the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, in May 1963 and his master of divinity degree from Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, in May 1978. That same month, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Miami.

He served as associate pastor of St. James in North Miami, then as rector and president of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. As the fourth bishop of St. Petersburg, he succeeded Archbishop John C. Favalora, who had been named Miami archbishop a year earlier. Bishop Lynch chose as his motto, “Pro Amicis Suis” (“For his friends”).

Bishop Lynch continued the reorganization and management of the diocese begun under Archbishop Favalora. He commissioned the building of a new pastoral center, which was formally dedicated March 31, 2000. He also took an active role in planning for the future construction of new Catholic high schools, and improvements to the existing schools.

In one of his last blog posts as St. Petersburg’s bishop, Bishop Lynch recounted his recent trip in late October to Rome, where among other things he visited four men studying there to be priests for St. Petersburg.

“As I enter the remaining months of my leadership of the local church of St. Petersburg, I do so with the knowledge that almost all of my seminarians are not pursuing priesthood for respectability, ambition, power and influence but to be comfortable with a pastoral strategy that makes sense in a changing world and culture,” he wrote Oct. 28.

He added: “The very best things I bequeath to my successor are the future priests he will ordain for your service and that of the Lord.”

The St. Petersburg diocese covers about 3,200 square miles. It has a total population of just over 3 million, of whom just over 445,000, or 14 percent, are Catholic.

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Castro’s death spurs prayers for peace in Cuba, condolences from pope, Miami archbishop

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WASHINGTON — In a video message, Cuban President Raul Castro announced the Nov. 25 death of his 90-year-old brother and longtime Cuban leader and Communist icon whom many in Latin America know by just one name: Fidel.

“It is with great sorrow that I come before you to inform our people, friends of our America and the world, that today, November 25, 2016, at 10:29 p.m., the commander in chief of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro Ruz passed away,” said his brother Raul, who took over control of the island in 2006, after Fidel Castro, became too sick to govern.

Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures to Pope John Paul II during the pope's arrival ceremony at Jose Marti Airport in Havana Jan. 21, 1998. Castro, who seized power in a 1959 revolution and governed Cuba until 2006, died Nov. 25 at the age of 90. (CNS photo/Zoraida Diaz, Reuters)

Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures to Pope John Paul II during the pope’s arrival ceremony at Jose Marti Airport in Havana Jan. 21, 1998. Castro, who seized power in a 1959 revolution and governed Cuba until 2006, died Nov. 25 at the age of 90. (CNS photo/Zoraida Diaz, Reuters)

Until that year, Fidel Castro had ruled Cuba in some form since 1959, the year he led a revolution that toppled the government of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Over the years, he survived attempts to be toppled by others, including the United States. He gained fame throughout Latin America, where many saw him as a David-against-Goliath figure each time he denounced the commercial, “imperialist” interests of the U.S. as attempts to rob the region of its riches.

But for others Castro was a menace and a dictator, particularly those whose properties were seized when his regime nationalized homes and businesses on the island nation without compensation. Over the decades, he was accused him of a range of wrongdoings, from unjust imprisonment to executions to religious persecution. Others lauded him and pointed to Cuba as a model for other Latin American countries to emulate in the areas of education, medicine, and gender and racial equality. Many also blamed the U.S. embargo against Cuba, not Castro’s governance, for the island’s financial woes.

Recognizing the complexity of the different feelings the Cuban leader evoked in life, and now in death, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, where many Cuban exiles live, released a brief statement Nov. 26.

“His death provokes many emotions, both in and outside the island. Nevertheless, beyond all possible emotions, the passing of this figure should lead us to invoke the patroness of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity, asking for peace for Cuba and its people,” Archbishop Wenski said.

He repeated the words later that day during a Mass “for peace in Cuba” at the Ermita de la Caridad in Miami, a shrine devoted to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba, and a place, he said, built by the sacrifices of Cubans in exile.

“On the eve of this first Sunday of Advent … we have learned that Fidel Castro has died,” Archbishop Wenski said during the homily. “Each human being, each one of us, will die and we will all be judged one day. And now it’s his turn.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration restored diplomatic relations with the island in 2015, expressed “a hand of friendship to the Cuban people” in a statement but also recognized the range of feelings surrounding the leader’s death.

“We know that this moment fills Cubans, in Cuba and in the United States, with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” he said.

In an interview with Spanish radio COPE, the president of the Cuban bishops’ conference, Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago, said that each time there’s a change of government,  there’s a change for a country, but in this case, there hasn’t been a change in the presidency.

“The figure of Fidel has been so significant, so influential, that it will always have an impact on society,” he said.

In a telegram in Spanish, Pope Francis extended his condolences to Raul Castro on the “sad news” of “the death of your dear brother.” The pope, credited with the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba, also expressed condolences to the government and to the Cuban people, and said he was offering prayers.

Though Raul Castro has publicly expressed admiration for Pope Francis, the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Cuban government can be described as a work in progress.

Catholics, like other religious groups in the country, witnessed the seizing of church properties, including schools, churches and other centers used for religious gatherings, following the 1959 revolution. Some locales were closed; others were put to nonreligious uses.

Priests and religious suspected of being against the revolution were jailed or expelled and practice of the Catholic faith dwindled on the island, particularly when the nation, under Soviet influence, was for a period an officially atheist country.

In recent years, however, the government allowed physical reconstruction of church buildings and some properties were returned to the care of the church.

In 2015, the government granted permission for the construction of a new Catholic church on the island, something it hadn’t allowed in more than five decades.

In 1998, then Pope John Paul II paid a visit to the island that many credit with loosening religious limitations in Cuba. Since then, each pope who has visited the island also met with Fidel Castro, even after he ceded power.

Fidel Castro was last seen in public Nov. 16 when he met with the president of Vietnam. In the video announcing his death, his brother said Fidel Castro’s body was to be cremated, as he had wished.

Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba’s Communist party, announced nine days of national mourning from Nov. 26 until Dec. 4. His ashes, the newspaper said in an online article, will travel through some parts of Cuba, and mourners are expected to pay their respects during rallies that have been organized in his honor. His ashes will ultimately be interred at St. Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, where Cuban national leader and Latin American icon Jose Marti is buried.

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Catholic Charities agencies begin helping Hurricane Matthew victims

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Catholic News Service

Catholic Charities agencies joined emergency response efforts in coastal communities in four Southeastern states as residents and parish staffers began returning to assess the damage Hurricane Matthew left behind.

Civilian rescuers Jeremy Blue and his father, Tommy Blue, ferry a family to safety from their flooded apartment Oct. 9 in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Matthew. The powerful storm killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 33 in the U.S. (CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Civilian rescuers Jeremy Blue and his father, Tommy Blue, ferry a family to safety from their flooded apartment Oct. 9 in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Matthew. The powerful storm killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti and at least 33 in the U.S. (CNS photo/Jonathan Drake, Reuters)

Some evacuation orders remained in effect in South Carolina, where the storm came ashore Oct. 7, dumping up to 18 inches of rain in communities near Charleston. High water blocked some roads, preventing people from returning to their homes in South Carolina and North Carolina and others were prevented from leaving their homes as they awaited the delivery of food and water.

In Florida, churches sustained serious damage and the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine experienced flooding, preventing Mass from being celebrated indoors the weekend of Oct. 8-9.

One Catholic Charities official in North Carolina said that in discussions with some residents he learned that the damage and flooding caused by Matthew exceeded that of the powerful Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Attempts to reach the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, were unsuccessful because telephone and electrical lines were down.

Some South Carolina communities in in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties faced the possibility of flooding, even though the storm’s initial fury bypassed them. Kelly Kaminski, a regional coordinator for Catholic Charities of Charleston, said Oct. 10 that authorities were keeping an eye on rivers that continued to rise from runoff from Matthew’s torrential rains.

Many of the same people affected by the storm or worried about potential flooding continue to recover from the historical floods that swamped the state a year ago, she said.

“We’re working with over 2,000 clients just on the flood stuff. Now in addition we have to handle everything from Hurricane Matthew,” Kaminski told Catholic News Service.

Kaminski had no word on damage to churches and schools because evacuation orders in some communities remained in effect.

New flooding also was a concern in North Carolina, said Daniel Altenau, director of communication and disaster services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Raleigh.

“The major concern right now is that rivers are increasingly rising. The flooding is not expected to peak in some areas until Friday (Oct. 14) and may not begin to subside until the 15th,” he said.

Catholic Charities planned to begin distributing food cards to families by Oct. 11 as people either returned home or could be reached by some of the 55 to 60 agency staff members working in the affected communities, Altenau said.

“Many of our own staff has been affected, which has limited the ability to be in the community,” he said.

Up and down the North Carolina coast, churches and schools sustained damaged. Altenau said he had reports from “at least a dozen parishes” reporting damage. “The major problem is roofing issues,” he said. “But because of power being out, we aren’t able to communicate with them. We expect more reports in the coming days as well.”

Hurricane Matthew’’s worst punch missed much of the Florida coast. The most serious damage occurred in the Diocese of St. Augustine, where church properties were seriously damaged or flooded and homes were destroyed.

Kathleen Bagg, director of communications for the diocese, said downed trees littered the property of the Mission Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of Our Lady of Le Leche. A tree fell onto the roof of the Our Lady of Le Leche Chapel, she said, but did not cause damage to the interior of the structure.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, which was renovated in time for the 450th anniversary of the city and cathedral parish, sustained enough flooding to render it unusable for Masses Oct. 8 and 9, Bagg said. Mass was celebrated in the west courtyard outside the church, she said.

Another church, St. Anastasia on a barrier island across from the center of St. Augustine, is believed to have sustained serious damaged in the storm. Authorities were not allowing residents, many of whom belong to the parish, to return to St. Anastasia Island Oct. 10.

Bagg said that power remained out for much of the region, making it difficult to contact other parishes to determine how they fared.

In Miami, parishioners at Notre Dame d’Haiti Parish began collecting donations of food for the Caribbean nation, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew. Parishioners prayed Oct. 7 for the estimated 300,000 Haitians affected by the storm.

The number of deaths reached 1,000 on Oct. 9, five days after the storm’s 145-mile-an-hour winds and torrential rains slammed into the country, according to a tally by Reuters based on conversations with local officials.

However, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency reported that 336 people had died. The agency’s accounting of casualties is lower because of a policy that requires emergency workers visit each village to confirm the number of deaths and injuries.

In the U.S., the death toll stood at 33 as of Oct. 11.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Miami archdiocese prepares to help hurricane Matthew victims

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Catholic News Service

MIAMI — Like the rest of South Florida, the Archdiocese of Miami was carefully watching the path of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that began pounding Haiti and Cuba Oct. 4 and was expected to hit Florida’s Atlantic coastal area late Oct. 6.

Residents stand outside their homes Oct. 5 in Cite Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew swept through the island nation. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/courtesy Malteser International)

Residents stand outside their homes Oct. 5 in Cite Soleil, a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Hurricane Matthew swept through the island nation. Rescue workers in Haiti are struggling to reach parts of the country cut off by Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. (CNS photo/courtesy Malteser International)

Chief among the preparations was prayer. Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski asked all South Florida parishes to include prayers for those affected in their daily Masses in the days ahead.

About 1.5 million Floridians were already fleeing the coast to take shelter elsewhere.

The archdiocese also was preparing to provide aid to the Caribbean nations hardest hit by Matthew, especially Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

According to Deacon Richard Turcotte, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, the archdiocese established contact with Catholic Relief Services’ Caribbean representative, who is stationed in Honduras and has responsibility for Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti.

“CRS has prepositioned supplies in the Dominican Republic (tarps, hygiene and cooking kits) that can be moved to Cuba or Jamaica if needed,” Deacon Turcotte told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Miami archdiocese.

Although the island avoided a direct hit, Jamaica experienced serious flooding caused by Matthew’s outer bands. Haiti, meanwhile, felt the full impact of the storm.

It left southwestern Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, in shambles after slamming into the country’s Caribbean coast Oct. 4. The cities of Les Cayes, on the southwest coast, and Jeremie, in the northwest, were said to be particularly hit hard by the strongest storm to strike the Caribbean region in a decade.

Haitian officials said at midday Oct. 6 that at least 108 people had been killed, and more casualties were expected.

In Miami, Father Reginald Jean-Mary, pastor of Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission in Little Haiti, has been in touch with Haiti’s Cardinal Chibly Langlois, who heads the Diocese of Les Cayes.

After striking Haiti and Cuba, the slow-moving storm continued on a northward path to batter the Bahamas. From there it was headed to the Florida coast.

“We have spoken with Archbishop (Patrick) Pinder of Nassau and representatives from the Archdiocese of Kingston, indicating to each that we are on standby to assist with post-storm recovery,” Deacon Turcotte added.

He said Catholic Charities also had communicated with a food supply wholesaler who could have rice, beans and cooking oils put on pallets and be ready to deliver to a freight forwarder by Oct. 7 or 8 to go to the islands.

Regarding Haiti, the immediate need is for cash donations to purchase water and nonperishable food items, as well as to aid in the cleanup.

All Miami archdiocesan aid would be funneled through church organizations such as Caritas Cuba; CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; and Amor en Accion, a lay missionary group that works with Miami’s sister Diocese of Port-de-Paix in Haiti’s northwest region — the poorest in that nation.

Teresita Gonzalez, executive director of Amor en Accion, noted that because the Catholic Church is already present in every one of the affected nations, its agencies offer the best and most effective way of providing relief.

That is especially true in northwestern Haiti, where “there are no NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), only the church,” Gonzalez said.

As Matthew moved closer to South Florida, the archdiocesan Office of Building and Property also reminded pastors and those in charge of parish plants to review their hurricane preparedness plans.

Archdiocesan schools planned to follow the lead of public schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties on school closures.

The archdiocese also will notify local radio and television stations regarding school closings or relief efforts.

Rodriguez-Soto is editor of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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

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Catholic News Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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