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Backgrounder: Long-awaited executive order on religion has unclear path ahead


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, President Donald Trump told a group of religious leaders: “It was looking like you’d never get here, but you got here, folks,” referring to their presence at the signing of the executive order on religious liberty.

Maybe some in the group wondered where “here” was since they hadn’t even seen the two-page executive order they were gathered to congratulate and only knew the general idea of it from a White House memo issued the previous night with just three bullet points.

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The order didn’t seem to part any seas to make an immediate path to religious freedom, especially since it places decisions for how this will play out in the hands of federal agencies and the attorney general.

Catholic leaders in general seemed to view it with cautious optimism, praising the order as a first step but not the final word.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who attended the White House ceremony also celebrating the National Day of Prayer, said immediately after the event that he had yet to see the entire executive order. He defined the principle of it: “There should not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when people are exercising their religious freedom in the public square or institutions they run.

The two-page order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” was posted on the White House website hours after it was signed. It is half the length of a leaked draft version of this order published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine. The order signed by the president is short on specifics and far less detailed than the leaked draft.

It devotes the most space to a promised easing of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bans churches and nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status from taking part in partisan political activity. Although it would take an act of Congress to do away with this regulation, Trump can direct the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce it.

Many people likely aren’t familiar with the amendment by name, or they weren’t before this executive order, but they support the idea of it, according to a May 4 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows 71 percent of Americans favor the law, as do most all major U.S. religious groups Only about one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to 56 percent who oppose it. Also, just 23 percent of white mainline Protestants, 25 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of black Protestants support churches endorsing political candidates.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport May 4 on his way back to his diocese for a confirmation Mass, Cardinal DiNardo said the amendment was likely more important to evangelical Christians than Catholics because, as he pointed out, the Catholic Church “has the tradition of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’” which he said puts the Johnson Amendment in a bigger context.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility, guides voters not according to the stances of specific political candidates but Catholic social teaching.

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email to Catholic News Service that the order’s emphasis on weakening the Johnson Amendment did not seem particularly significant, noting: “it is already the case that the relevant agencies and officials are highly deferential — as they should be — to churches and religious leaders, especially when it comes to what’s said in the context of sermons and homilies.”

Commenting on another major point of the executive order, relief to employers with religious objections to include contraception coverage in their employees’ health care plans, Garnett called it “a good thing — and long overdue,” but he also noted that “such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions.”

In a statement after the order was signed, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised to take action “to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.” The promise didn’t give any specifics.

The lack of details in the order even caused the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been poised to sue, to change its course. In a statement issued hours after the order’s signing, ACLU director Anthony Romero said the order had “no discernible policy outcome.”

“After careful review of the order’s text, we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process,” he said.

But the group also stands ready to sue the Trump administration if the order generates any official government action. Religious groups, for opposite reasons, likewise stand ready to see if the order has any teeth.

As Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement: “This order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American,” with the added caveat, “There is still work to be done.”


Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth.

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Bishop Malooly leads ecumenical prayer service for peace and justice in communities


Dialog Editor

“Strip away pride, suspicion and racism so that we may seek peace and justice in our communities,” Bishop Malooly prayed at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington Sept. 9.

Bishop Malooly delivers he homily during the Ecumenical Prayer Service for the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Friday, Sept. 9,. (The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)

Bishop Malooly delivers he homily during the Ecumenical Prayer Service for the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Friday, Sept. 9,. (The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)

He was leading an ecumenical prayer service the U.S. bishops called for during the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

The national event was scheduled in response to recent “racially-related shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB said in July.

Ministers of other faith communities joined Bishop Malooly at the cathedral for the service, along with priests, deacons, parishioners and students of the diocese.

The bishop said Sept. 9 was picked for the national day of prayers because it’s the feast day of St. Peter Claver, a patron saint of African peoples and the patron of the Knights and Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver in the diocese at St. Joseph Church.

Bishop Malooly noted that at St. Peter Claver Parish in Baltimore City, parishioners had started a dialogue with city police and staged peace walks four years before the Freddie Gray tragedy in the area.

“They’ve been doing many things since then to try to bring people together, the bishop said. “It’s something that’s very important.”

The first reading at the service from the Book of Genesis recalled that everything in God’s creation was good, including mankind created in God’s image.

“But then sin came” and rejection came from man, the bishop noted.

The bishop told a personal story exemplifying the fall.

“Ten years ago, I was held up at gunpoint in Baltimore City,” he said. Because he had recently served on a jury, he recognized the gun as a quick-trigger gun.

“I gave the two young fellows, they were 15 and 16, a couple of dollars I had. Then I walked away and heard a gun go off about three blocks later.”

One of the robbers had shot himself in the leg.

The bishop encountered the young men a month later in a courtroom. Then he saw two women crying on a bench “holding hands and sobbing.” They were the boys’ mothers.

“They had tried everything they could to keep them on the narrow and right path, but the drug culture and crime-ridden area of East Baltimore was just too much.

“We have to try to make everything good again,” Bishop Malooly said.

The second reading of the service quoted St. Paul’s words to the Galatians, that through baptism, “there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are one in Christ.”

The message is clear, the bishop said. “It is so important to look at every individual person and not put anybody into a category but to recognize each person is a creation of God and try to make their place in life a little bit better.”

The Gospel from John at the service recounted Jesus telling his disciples that the father would send them the Holy Spirit to “teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you.”

The message not to be afraid and that the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples applies to us in our lives of service and ministry to others, the bishop said.

To build peace in our community, Bishop Malooly recommended three things to do as individuals, as faith communities and as parishes — prayer, conversation and ministry.

“Let us always be conscious of God’s presence and the importance of sharing prayer with one another,” the bishop said.

“Conversation is important. It’s what’s been happening at St. Peter Claver in Baltimore, a longstanding tradition of having the police and citizens speak to each other. Listen and try to understand where people are, what’s difficult for them.”

As for ministry, the bishop noted that “our various congregations within the city do many things. We take care of the poor; we have schools and a hospital not far from here. We have health resources; we have food pantries. We do a lot of these things because we are Christians.”

Bishop Malooly quoted Pope Francis on mission and mercy: “God’s mercy is infectious and must be shared with others. Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart to arrive at the hands.”

‘Too much violence’

Following the service Rev. Bob Hall, executive director of United Methodist Church Peninsula Delaware Conference, hailed the multi-faith service.

“We have to engage in ecumenical activities; it’s important because the Lord has directed us to do it.

“In this cause, bringing the faith community into play on the problems of racism and violence — it can’t be more important. Who’s going to do it, if we don’t?”

Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Wilmington and head of the diocesan Ministry for Black Catholics, called the prayer service is a good start.

“I’m praying it will be because there’s too much violence here in Wilmington for it being such a small town. If you want to stop something like this, first of all get on your knees and beg for God’s mercy and grace, because it’s his grace that will strengthen us to be able to make a change in our society.”

Communication is crucial in peace making, Father Williams said, “because without dialogue everything remains the same. The community needs to be able to trust the police and the police need to be able to trust the community.”

At St. Joseph’s, the pastor said, “We work with Urban Promise (a citywide ecumenical organization)” to provide programs year-round for young people in the neighborhood.

“Every year we have a major coat drive where we give a coat to the children in the neighborhood. And we just recently had a backpack program for the start of school.”

Brenda Burns, a St. Joseph parishioner and member of the Peter Claver Auxiliary at the parish, said that the community needs “to continue with conversation and dialogue between all the denominations that were here and those that are not here. We have to get control of our neighborhoods. We have to teach our children how to have better coping skills and deal with adversity.

“That’s what it will take — prayer, conversation and implementing a positive plan.”

More dialogue

Creating peace, racial and otherwise is “a complex issue,” said Deacon Robert Cousar, who ministers at St. Joseph’s.

The quest to end violence and racism “has to translate into mutual respect, more dialogue, getting to know people rather than allowing cultural stereotypes to inhibit our relationships and create fear,” said the deacon.

“People avoid the issue, even talking about it. It comes to the point where we need to collaborate. I can’t answer for the community but I know there must be more dialogue than there has been.

“A lot of people have a judgment on the Black Lives Matter movement. But not all the people are racist. Their primary point is that many African-Americans feel devalued, feel that they have no worth in the eyes of the majority.

“We’ve been subject to benign neglect. It’s no longer benign but the [lack] of black jobs in the community, the mass incarceration rate that we’re seeing, the lack of resources for mental health, the three strikes you’re out [sentencing]. How can a person live with no support, no resources whatever.

“We need more people willing to engage and dialogue, willing to reach out to the African-American community without being judgmental when protests arise over police brutality. Many African-Americans are in law enforcement. We rely upon that service and protection and we appreciate their dedication and the risks that they take every day. I just ask people not to be so judgmental but to try to put themselves in other people’s shoes.”
















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Atlanta archbishop to lead U.S. bishops’ new task force on race


Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta has been appointed as chair of a new task force of the U.S. bishops to deal with racial issues brought into public consciousness following a series of summertime shootings that left both citizens and police officers among those dead.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta  has been named to lead a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' task force to deal with racial issues. (CNS file / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta has been named to lead a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ task force to deal with racial issues. (CNS file / Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

The task force’s charge includes helping bishops to engage directly the challenging problems highlighted by the shootings. Task force members will gather and disseminate supportive resources and “best practices” for their fellow bishops; actively listening to the concerns of members in troubled communities and law enforcement; and build strong relationships to help prevent and resolve conflicts.

“By stepping forward to embrace the suffering, through unified, concrete action animated by the love of Christ, we hope to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in our own communities,” said a July 21 statement from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In addition to creating the task force and appointing its members, Archbishop Kurtz also called for a national day of prayer for peace in our communities, to be held Sept. 9, the feast of St. Peter Claver.

Archbishop Gregory is a former USCCB president. Other task force members are Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for African-American Affairs; Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; and retired Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, who is president of the National Black Catholic Congress.

The day of prayer, according to a July 21 USCCB announcement about the task force’s formation, will “serve as a focal point for the work of the task force.”

The task force’s work will conclude with the USCCB’s fall general meeting in November, at which time it will report on its activities and recommendations for future work.

“I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “The day of prayer and special task force will help us advance in that direction.”

The task force will have bishop consultants, including Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is USCCB vice president, as well as bishops whose jurisdictions have experienced extreme gun violence, or who otherwise bring special insight or experience on related questions. An equal or smaller number of lay consultants with relevant expertise will be appointed soon thereafter, the USCCB announcement said.

“I am honored to lead this task force which will assist my brother bishops, individually and as a group, to accompany suffering communities on the path toward peace and reconciliation,” said Archbishop Gregory in a July 21 statement. “We are one body in Christ, so we must walk with our brothers and sisters and renew our commitment to promote healing. The suffering is not somewhere else, or someone else’s; it is our own, in our very dioceses.”

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