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All Catholics must take faith, witness to the public square, bishop says

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In his famous work “Democracy in America,” published in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Where education and freedom are the children of morality and religion … democracy … makes better choices than anywhere else.”

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, made the case March 9 that those words remain true nearly two centuries later, and that Catholics need to engage in the public square.

He made the comments in an address to more than 1,000 Catholics gathered for Minnesota’s first Catholics at the Capitol event.

Organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the education and advocacy event drew Catholics from every region of the state.

A member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Conley noted that the Minnesota Capitol stands at the confluence of streets named for two prominent American leaders: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Irish-born Archbishop John Ireland, St. Paul’s first archbishop.

“Those two streets on which the Capitol stands,” he said, “should remind us of two fundamental and important truths: that democracies depend on believers to witness prophetically to virtue, to truth, to goodness and to beauty; that believers have a critical and important role to play in the public life for the common good, to build a culture of life and a civilization of love; and we must do all of this as … missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Your state needs your faith and your witness.”

He told Catholics that democracy’s success depends on the “generous participation of believers.”

“Secular activists argue that our faith should stay out of the public square, that debates over public policy shouldn’t involve religious perspectives, (and) that we have no right to bring faith into the voting booth, or into the Capitol, or into the media,” he said.

But, he said, America’s Founding Fathers saw things differently. “”The Founding Fathers believed that well-formed believers were essential and critical for maintaining the social contract underlying the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

He pointed to the words of President John Adams, written in 1798 to soldiers of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Public religious faith provides the ability to make moral judgments, which are rooted in a sense of common good rather than the individual good or personal gain,” Bishop Conley said.

He said in the first part of the 20th century, Catholics were observed to have kept their faith out of their political engagement, as they viewed it as a private or family matter “with no political implications.”

“But our faith is more than a family matter. Our faith is not private,” he said. “Our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is teeming with political implications, and we cannot live our faith in Jesus Christ as a private affair. We cannot be afraid to challenge our democracy with the truths of the Gospel. In fact, our democracy depends on that challenge.”

He said that our faith upholds a vision of the common good under which all people can flourish.

“The Gospel calls the world to objective standards of truth,” Bishop Conley said. “The Gospel promotes human dignity and protects the family and orders justice. Jesus Christ tells us what freedom is, what justice is, what it means to have peace and what it means to prosper. The Founding Fathers knew that the American Experiment would depend on the public faith of religious believers, and they knew that democracy itself depends on people of faith.”

During the last election cycle, many American Catholics considered themselves “politically homeless” because their values didn’t fit easily in either the Democratic or Republican parties. While it’s true that neither party represents a Catholic worldview, Catholics should not feel “homeless,” Bishop Conley said.

“Catholics do not have a political party, but we do have a political home,” he said. “Catholics are not politically liberal or politically conservative; we are simply Catholics, disciples of Christ and his Gospel. Our mission in the public life is to be faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ and his church, and the truths he’s revealed to us.”

“Our political home is our eternal home, the city of God,” he said. “Because of that, our political mission in this world is to build a culture of life, a civilization of love.”

He said Catholics are meant to be prophetic voices who speak the word of God and trust in its power. He quoted G.K. Chesterton: “When the world is upside down, prophets are the ones who stand on their heads to see things as they are.”

“Today, in a world that is upside down, God calls us to stand on our heads … to see things as they are and to speak the truth,” he said, pointing to abortion and other life issues, marriage, and the need to help people who are poor, immigrant, refugees or incarcerated.

Speaking truth might mean that Catholics lose friends, he said. “If we are faithful witnesses to the church’s teaching, we will make our neighbors from every political party unhappy and uncomfortable,” he said.

Catholics also need to trust in God’s providence, he said. Success is measured by fidelity, not results, and God may use people’s efforts in ways they may never see.

“The time in which we live is a very difficult one for Catholics and for our nation,” Bishop Conley said. “May we together work for the kingdom of God, for justice, for truth, for charity. May we do all of this as disciples of Jesus Christ and may we trust in the Lord, who calls us to be holy above all things, who has a plan for each one of us, and who knows how that plan will unfold in his glory, in the providence of eternity.”

 

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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Bishops call Obama directive on transgender access to bathrooms ‘deeply disturbing’

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration’s May 13 directive on transgender access to bathrooms “that treats ‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex’ is deeply disturbing,” said the chairmen of two U.S. Catholic bishops’ committees.

The Obama administration’s May 13 directive on transgender access to bathrooms “that treats ‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex’ is deeply disturbing,” said the chairmen of two U.S. Catholic bishops’ committees.

The Obama administration’s May 13 directive on transgender access to bathrooms “that treats ‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex’ is deeply disturbing,” said the chairmen of two U.S. Catholic bishops’ committees.

“The guidance fails to address a number of important concerns and contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: that ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created,’” the two bishops said in a statement May 16.

The statement was issued by Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, who chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education.

The directive, or guidance, was issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education. The departments said it applies to all public schools and colleges and universities that received federal funding. It “summarizes a school’s Title IX obligations regarding transgender students,” they said, and also explains how the Education and Justice departments will “evaluate a school’s compliance with these obligations.”

The federal Title IX statute prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, like sports. AP reported that the Obama administration earlier had warned schools that denying transgender students access to the facilities and activities of their choice was illegal under its interpretation of federal sex discrimination laws.

In their statement Bishop Malone and Archbishop Lucas noted that the Catholic Church “consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the well being of all people, particularly the most vulnerable.”

“Especially at a young age and in schools, it is important that our children understand the depth of God’s love for them and their intrinsic worth and beauty. Children should always be and feel safe and secure and know they are loved,” they said.

They said that children, youth and parents in “difficult situations,” such as the focus of the federal guidance, “deserve compassion, sensitivity and respect.”

“All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents,” the two prelates said, but pointed out that the guidance issued May 13 “does not even attempt to achieve this balance.”

“It unfortunately does not respect the ongoing political discussion at the state and local levels and in Congress, or the broader cultural discussion, about how best to address these sensitive issues,” they said. “Rather, the guidance short-circuits those discussions entirely.”

They quoted Pope Francis, who said recently that “biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.

“We pray that the government make room for more just and compassionate approaches and policies in this sensitive area, in order to serve the good of all students and parents, as well as the common good,” Bishop Malone and Archbishop Lucas said. “We will be studying the guidance further to understand the full extent of its implications.”

 

 

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Nebraska repeals the death penalty

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By Catholic News Service

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Legislature May 20 passed a measure to repeal the death penalty with enough votes to override Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ promised veto.

Members of the unicameral body gave final approval to the bill with a 32-15 vote.

At a news conference a week earlier, Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha joined about 15 religious leaders, priests and women religious in calling for an end to the death penalty in the state.

Noting that all life is sacred, Archbishop Lucas said he was pleased and privileged “to join friends from other faith communities at this important moment.”

The archbishop also noted he was representing the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s three Catholic bishops.

There are currently 11 prisoners on death row in Nebraska.

According to a posting on the Catholic conference’s website, a total of 37 people have been executed in Nebraska since it became a state in 1867. Thirty-four took place before 1972, the year the U.S. Supreme Court put a moratorium on use of the death penalty.

After the high court restored the death penalty in 1976, the state executed three men: Harold Otey in 1994, John Joubert in 1996 and Robert Williams in 1997.

Nebraska lawmakers voted in 1979 to prohibit capital punishment, but then-Gov. Charlie Thone vetoed the measure and the Legislature did not have enough votes to override it.

News reports have made much of the fact that the Republican lawmakers were among those pushing to repeal the death penalty. Ricketts had five days to sign or veto the bill before it becomes law automatically. If it becomes law, L.B 268, will apply retroactively, giving those currently on death row a sentence of life without parole.

Catholic teaching recognizes the state has recourse to the death penalty if it is the only available means to protect society from a grave threat to human life, Archbishop Lucas said in the news conference, held May 13 at the Omaha Press Club. But because of improvements in the penal system, such cases are rare, if not practically nonexistent, he said.

The death penalty does not provide rehabilitation and there is no clear evidence that executions deter crime, the archbishop said. At the same time, some criminals will never be fit for reintegration into society and just sentences are needed to keep Nebraskans safe, he said.

“Public safety can be assured through other means,” the archbishop said. “And justice requires punishment, but it does not require that those who have committed capital crimes be put to death.”

 

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Searching ‘Nebraska’ for positive values amid bawdy humor

December 16th, 2013 Posted in Movies Tags: ,

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Catholic News Service

Never underestimate the restorative power of a road trip. That’s one of the messages of the comedy and drama blend “Nebraska.”

Bob Odenkirk, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray and June Squibb star in a scene from the movie “Nebraska.” The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. (CNS/Paramount)

This quiet, unassuming, yet in part delightful film tackles a big issue, caring for elderly parents, with realism and sensitivity. Even as it celebrates familial love, respect and understanding, however, screenwriter Bob Nelson’s script also includes material that makes this journey through the heartland an unsuitable outing for most viewers.

Director Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) made a wise decision to shoot his picture in black and white. The result is a canvas both stark and rich, a study in contrasts which suits the combative family relationships on display.

Woody (Bruce Dern), the grizzled and frail patriarch, receives a sweepstakes solicitation in the mail offering a prize of $1 million, to be collected in person in Lincoln, Neb. That’s a long way from his home in Montana, but Woody is convinced he’s a winner.

Unable to drive, showing signs of dementia, and an alcoholic to boot, Woody sets out on foot, much to the consternation of his overbearing wife, Kate (June Squibb). She sides with one of her sons, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), in deciding that it’s time for Woody to be committed to an institution.

Her other son, David (Will Forte), is much more sympathetic. “Dad doesn’t need a nursing home,” he tells Ross. “He needs something to live for.”

As crazy as it sounds, David consents to drive his father to Lincoln to collect his “winnings.” For David, it’s a change of pace from his mundane existence as a salesman, and an opportunity to mend fences with his estranged father. That’s easier said than done, given Woody’s short attention span and fondness for disappearing in search of beer.

An extended pit stop brings the duo to Woody’s hometown, now much changed. Enter the dotty extended family, including Woody’s brother, Ray (Rance Howard), Ray’s wife, Martha (Mary Louise Wilson), and their devious grown boys, Bart (Tim Driscoll) and Cole (Devin Ratray).

Before long, Woody reveals his status as a supposed millionaire. This makes him the hometown hero, and soon all of his old friends come calling, hoping to share in his good fortune. Among them is Woody’s former business partner Ed (Stacy Keach), who’s looking to settle a few scores.

“Nebraska” takes its good time, inviting the audience to savor the hard-bitten slice of middle America on display, warts and all. Amid the salty language and bawdy humor, there are some positive core values and good people on display, the latter too often obscured by the few bad eggs.

The film contains frequent profane and crude language, some sexual references and innuendoes and a few jokes directed at Catholics. The Catholic News Service classification is L, limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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