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Civility must guide debate on social challenges, USCCB president says

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Catholic News Service

 

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Acknowledging wide divisions in the country over issues such as health care, immigration reform, taxes and abortion, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for civility to return to the public debate.

Contemporary challenges are great, but that they can be addressed without anger and with love Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said in his first address as USCCB president during the bishops’ fall general assembly. Read more »

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Supreme Court tie vote blocks temporary plan to stop deportations

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — With a tie vote June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration’s plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Read more »

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U.S. bishops discuss upcoming papal letter on ecology, the pope’s visit and church app

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Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. bishops gathered in St. Louis for their spring general assembly heard presentations on the pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment, the U.S. church’s ongoing work in promoting traditional marriage and the need to remain vigilant in protecting children from abuse.

On the first day of their meeting June 10, there also were reports on the bishops’ efforts to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and help rebuilding work in Haiti, which is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

In the second day of the assembly’s public sessions June 11, the bishops heard a report on a draft for priorities and plans for the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishop for 2017-2020. The report, which was up for a vote, started a lively discussion about what the bishops’ top focus should be.

Several bishops spoke up about the need to put concern for poverty at the top of the list to keep in line with the message and ministry of Pope Francis. The bishops voted to rework the draft document, incorporating the feedback given.

In a 165-5 vote, the bishops approved the inclusion of revised canticles for the Liturgy of the Hours for use in U.S. dioceses. It required a two-thirds vote of the Latin Church members of the USCCB. The bishops also voted to permit the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations to seek a renewed recognitio, or approval, from the Vatican for the USCCB’s “Program of Priestly Formation, Fifth Edition” for an additional five-year period without any changes to the norms.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori attends a morning session June 10 during the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori attends a morning session June 10 during the annual spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

Other highlights were discussions on the much-anticipated arrival of Pope Francis in September and the World Meeting of Families and on other upcoming gatherings such as next year’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland and a 2017 convocation.

The bishops also were urged to keep pace with technological advances as a means to spread the Gospel message and advised to keep the “digital doors” of the church open.

In the discussion of the pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment and human ecology, eight days before its scheduled release, the bishops were called on to help Catholics understand its message.

Pope Francis will challenge the assumptions of “both the left and the right” with the document, said Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

He also said it would have international implications, particularly regarding solidarity with the world’s poor.

Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the document will likely highlight climate change as “a moral issue,” pointing out that the poor suffer the most from consequences of improper care of the environment even though “they have contributed the least to climate change.”

He said the pope would not be speaking as a scientist or a politician but as a shepherd and that the bishops, who “aren’t novices” on care for the environment, can’t “opt out” of this conversation.

Addressing the pending U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, expected in late June, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said that no matter how the court rules, it “won’t change traditional marriage” and the bishops will continue to defend it as the church teaches.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, praised the “courageous leadership” of Archbishop Cordileone in the effort and the bishops gave him a sustained round of applause.

A major topic of the day was Pope Francis’ September visit to the U.S. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the Sept. 22-27 World Meeting of Families, the pope will be there for the last two days, is expected to draw the most participants from the United States, Canada, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. He also said an expected crowd of more than 1 million will be in Philadelphia.

A message to the pope from the bishops, which was read to the assembly, stressed how they looked forward to meeting him and would “accompany him in prayer” in his visit.

A few of the bishops told reporters in an afternoon news conference that they hoped the pope would address religious liberty and immigration reform during his U.S. visit.

In their morning session, the bishops did not specifically address the June 10 announcement from the Vatican about a new process for holding bishops accountable for protecting children from abuse, but in response to a reporter’s question about it, it was clear they welcomed and supported the Vatican action.

“We have a long track record of wanting to help the bishops be transparent” in their efforts to protect children, said Archbishop Kurtz.

At the start of the meeting, the USCCB’s president noted that for their spring meeting, the bishops were gathered not far from Ferguson and that the bishops’ November general assembly will be in Baltimore, two places roiled in past months by protests, violence in the streets and looting following the deaths of two young African-Americans after confrontations with white police officers.

Archbishop Kurtz urged the bishops to encourage Catholics to take concrete measures to help end racism, including praying for peace and healing, promoting justice for all people, being “truly welcoming” of families of different racial and religious backgrounds. People also should get to know their community’s law enforcement officers, he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the Committee on Migration, encouraged the bishops to visit immigrant detention centers in their dioceses to better understand the conditions under which immigrants who enter the country without documents are being held.

He said his committee has been advocating for migrants who might be eligible for asylum or other forms of legal status in the U.S., and pushing for a dramatic increase in the number of refugees from Syria, especially, and others who are fleeing their countries due to religious persecution.

He said a pervasive concern is that new interdiction efforts in Mexico to turn back Central American migrants before they can reach the U.S. border mean that many people who would be eligible for asylum in the United States instead are summarily sent back to their home countries.

“This is a violation of international law,” said Bishop Elizondo, adding that the committee and its USCCB staff are raising the issue with the U.S. government.

In a report, for the Subcommittee on the Church in Latin America, Bishop Elizondo said diocesan donations have helped rebuild structures in Haiti and coordinate adult literacy teacher training programs.

The work has been “accomplished with transparency and accountability,” he said, adding that it is something the bishops should be proud of even as they also recognize there is “still so much more to do.”

At times during the meeting, the bishops could be seen checking their tablets or smartphones, scrolling for messages. Such was the case for Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications.

Modern communications are “evolving at a dizzying rate,” the archbishop said in his committee report. He urged the bishops to reach out to Catholics where they are — online. To help them in that effort, he said, the USCCB would be launching a Catholic Church app this summer, something the bishops can make particular use of during the pope’s visit.

The bishops were not only urged to prepare for the papal visit but also to think ahead and plan to attend World Youth Day next year in Krakow and participate in a 2017 convocation on the life and dignity of the human person in Orlando, Florida.

At the conclusion of a full day of reports, the bishops concelebrated Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

In his homily, Archbishop Kurtz reminded the bishops that St. John Paul II led a vesper service in that cathedral during his 1999 visit and he spoke of the cathedral’s striking beauty.

He added that the bishops, in their work to promote human dignity, marriage, human ecology and an end to racism, have the opportunity to communicate and share God’s beauty with the world.

 

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Frustrations over immigration reform bring pressure for fixes

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — As frustration grows over the lack of progress on immigration reform and protests about the high number of deportations become more widespread and dramatic, President Barack Obama March 13 and 14 told activists he would consider ways to ease the effects of strict enforcement.

An activist leads a chant as people prepare to enter U.S. Customs during a protest at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, March 16. Frustration is growing over the lack of progress on immigration reform and protests about the high number of deportations have become more widespread. (CNS photo/ Sandy Huffaker, Reuters)

The announcement came as immigrants facing deportation have been waging hunger strikes in detention centers and religious leaders, immigrants and other activists have been participating in advocacy campaigns involving fasting, prayer and public actions. Meanwhile, the House passed two bills aimed at reining in the kind of administrative steps Obama might take.

In a meeting at the White House with congressional Hispanic leaders March 13, Obama said he would ask Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to “do an inventory” of current practices related to deportation and “see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law,” said a readout on the session from the White House.

A day later, Obama, Johnson and other key administration officials met with representatives of more than a dozen organizations working for comprehensive immigration reform. The president reiterated his concern for the pain faced by families affected by deportation, but said a permanent solution to the problems of the immigration system must come through “meaningful comprehensive legislation,” according to the White House.

Some participants in the meeting told reporters or issued statements saying that while they encouraged administrative actions to ease the effects of deportation, they also agree it’s up to Congress to fix the whole system.

The Associated Press said Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voice, said he encouraged the president to “go bold, go big, go now.”

“The president has the ability to step into the vacuum created by the House Republican inaction to protect millions of people who are low priority, use his executive authority in an expansive way,” he said.

Two years ago, Obama created the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides a way for young adults who came to the United States as minors to avoid deportation and get permission to work, as long as they attend school and meet other requirements. While more than half a million people have been approved for DACA, the administration also has been deporting people at record rates; about 2 million have been deported since Obama took office.

Without specifying what policies might be affected, Obama had previously said that if he continues to be unable to get legislation passed in Congress, he would seek remedies through administrative actions.

The day after the meeting with the Hispanic Caucus leaders, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned that anything Obama does to bypass Congress when it comes to deportations could irreparably damage the chances of passing comprehensive immigration reform.

The AP quoted Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck as saying, “There’s no doubt we have an immigration system that is failing families and our economy, but until it is reformed through the democratic process, the president is obligated to enforce the laws we have. Failing to do so would damage, perhaps beyond repair, our ability to build the trust necessary to enact real immigration reform.”

Earlier in the week, a group of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders made the rounds of congressional offices, including Boehner’s, to push for immigration reform. In a press release about the sessions, the leaders said the broad consensus among Catholics and evangelicals in support of immigration reform illustrates the importance of the issue.

Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, said that as pastors, the group that visited Capitol Hill knows “there is an urgency to this issue, as families are being separated daily. As a moral matter, Congress and the nation can no longer stand by as immigrant communities and families are being ripped apart.”

In the House the same week, two bills passed seeking to limit the president’s power to enact programs such as DACA. Neither the Faithful Execution of the Law Act (H.R. 3973) or the ENFORCE the Law Act (H.R. 4138) stands a chance of coming to a vote in the Senate, but both passed the House by more than 50-vote margins.

“ENFORCE” stands for the “Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments” of the law.

 

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