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Justice Alito warns of infringements to freedom of religion

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Catholic News Service

WYNNEWOOD, Pa. — The graduating class at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Philadelphia archdiocese received a special treat at the Concursus graduation ceremony held in the seminary chapel May 17.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. received an honorary doctorate of letters and delivered the formal address.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia applauds after awarding an honorary degree to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito May 17 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS /SarahWebb/CatholicPhilly.com)

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia applauds after awarding an honorary degree to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito May 17 at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. (CNS /SarahWebb/CatholicPhilly.com)

The award to Alito was “in testimony to and recognition of his many outstanding contributions to society,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in his introduction, “especially in protecting the sanctity and dignity of human life, the full responsibilities of the human person and promoting true justice and lasting peace.”

In his address Alito spoke of the freedom of religion as enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution and encroachments on that freedom today.

A southern New Jersey native, he is well versed in the history of religious toleration as it developed in Philadelphia, and the important role that religion played in the development of the Constitution, including the visits by the Founding Fathers to the city’s various churches, among them Old St. Mary’s, tracing back to the Revolution.

Part of freedom of religion is “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” Alito said. “Most of my life Americans were instilled in this,” he added, urging his audience to “keep the flame burning.”

In an interview for the seminarians’ blog, “Seminarian Casual,” Alito said that “our most foresighted Founders understood that our country could not hold together unless religious freedom was protected.”

Which is why, he said, George Washington, shortly after his election as the nation’s first president “made a point of writing to minority religious groups, to the United Baptist churches in Virginia, the annual meeting of Quakers, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, and to the nation’s tiny Catholic population.”

“Washington and other founders also saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government,” Alito added. “What the founders understood more than 200 years ago is just as true today.”

Regarding threats to religious freedom, the justice said, “There is cause for concern at the present time.”

He noted that in his dissent in the Obergefell decision in which the Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, I anticipated that the decision would “be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.”

“I added, ‘I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.’”

After Alito’s talk, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, rector of St. Charles Seminary, told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocesan news website, said the justice “was very inspiring.” “”He reminded us that of the rights imbedded in our Constitution, religious freedom is the most fundamental and it is not respected throughout the world today.”

Jim Godericci, who attended Concursus with his wife, Regina, who is a member of the seminary’s development committee of the seminary, found it encouraging that “there are still some people in the justice field who still have a God-fearing, God-respecting attitude.”

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Harrisburg, who has seminarians at St. Charles and is himself a graduate, appreciated the topic of religious freedom, especially the local flavor and historical perspective.

“It’s extremely important; so many of our citizens have no clue of the history of these issues,” he said. “The contemporary feeling is not the same as at the roots.”

 

Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Eric Banecker contributed to this story.

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Priest out of prison after posting bail; to be retried next year

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Catholic News Service

 

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Although the former secretary for clergy of the Philadelphia Archdiocese was freed from prison after posting $250,000 bail Aug. 2, he will be retried next year on the same charge of endangering the welfare of a child for which he was convicted and incarcerated for most of the past three years.

Msgr. William Lynn was arrested and charged in February 2011, and convicted by a jury in 2012, for failing to properly supervise a now-laicized priest, Edward Avery. Read more »

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Philadelphia archdiocese to sell its seminary property, move operations

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The board of trustees of Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood has called for scrapping the planned consolidation of seminary operations on one 30-acre section of the campus and instead moving its operations off campus. Read more »

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Phila. archdiocese sells three properties for $56 million

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PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s finances took a major step toward good health with the announcement Oct. 2 of agreements of sale for three archdiocesan properties collectively worth an estimated $56.2 million.

Proceeds from the latest transactions along with the $53 million initial payment from long-term leasing of the 13 archdiocesan cemeteries completed last May and the sale of the archdiocesan nursing homes, projected to net $95 million after closing costs, will address three underfunded obligations of the archdiocese.

Collectively underfunded by $340 million in June 2013, those three funds plus the Lay Employees Retirement Plan include the Trust and Loan Fund, the Self-Insurance Fund and the Priests Pension Fund.

The lay employees’ traditional pension plan, underfunded by $142 million, was frozen last July as the archdiocese began to offer its employees a 403(b) employee-contribution retirement plan. At the end of fiscal year 2013, the plan had $522 million of assets against actuarially determined liabilities of approximately $664 million, a funding rate of about 79 percent. Funds in the plan are more than sufficient for immediate and mid-term payments, but the goal is to have it fully funded.

The property sales announced Oct. 2 include the 213-acre site of Don Guanella Village and Cardinal Krol Center in Marple Township, for $47 million; the 454 acres of the former Mary Immaculate Retreat Center, which is in the Diocese of Allentown, for $5.5 million; and a 55-acre tract of the St. John Vianney Center property in Downingtown, for $3.7 million.

The Trust and Loan Fund, which like a bank accepts deposits from parishes and makes loans to them for projects, was underfunded by $79.8 million as of June 30, 2013. A promissory note was executed in May 2012 that pledged archdiocesan properties to address the underfunding.

The cemeteries transaction produced $30 million for the fund, and $52.2 million from sale of the Don Guanella Village site and Mary Immaculate Center’s property should satisfy the current estimated underfunded amount of $49.8 million.

“We expect that the proceeds from these transactions should be sufficient to fully satisfy the remaining shortfall in Trust and Loan,” said Timothy O’Shaughnessy, chief financial officer of the archdiocese. “If the proceeds fall short of what is necessary, we will apply amounts from the sale of remaining pledged properties as needed.”

Proceeds from the sale of the Downingtown property will be put toward the Priests Pension Plan, currently underfunded by an estimated $76.3 million after an allocation of $11.5 million from the cemeteries transaction. The Self-Insurance Fund remains underfunded at $18.9 million after its allocation of $11.5 million from the cemeteries deal.

All the total underfunding of $95.2 million remaining in those funds conceivably could be covered by the sale of the six skilled nursing homes and one independent living facility of archdiocesan Catholic Health Care Services. That deal was valued at $145 million when announced last July.

An Oct. 2 statement by the archdiocese alluded to the possibility, saying the “underfunded balance-sheet liabilities will be further reduced upon closing of the transaction involving archdiocesan nursing homes. Specific allocations of the net proceeds from their transaction have not been determined.”

The property sales announced Oct. 2 are another step in the continuing efforts under Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to restore fiscal soundness to the archdiocese.

Early steps in 2012 included the sale of the archbishop’s residence in Philadelphia to St. Joseph’s University for $10 million and the priests’ summer home in Ventnor, New Jersey, for $4.5 million, which provided the archdiocese with funds for immediate cash flow.

Also over the past two years, the archdiocesan staff has been reduced by 25 percent.

Through such actions, the archdiocese stemmed its operational deficit. Audited financial statements for the fiscal year ended June 2013 showed a reduction of the core operational deficit to $4.9 million as opposed to the core deficit of $17.9 million reported for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.

“None of these measures were taken lightly,” the archdiocese said in its statement, “but all were essential to maintaining the presence of the Catholic Church in the Philadelphia region and the good works accomplished through its various ministries.”

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Lou Baldwin, a freelance writer in Philadelphia, also contributed to the story.

 

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Phila. archdiocese sues to stop federal mandate for contraception coverage

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia and its Catholic Charities affiliates sued three agencies of the U.S. federal government June 2 seeking relief from the federal mandate that most employers cover contraceptives in their employee health plans.

Under the federal health care law, the Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations requiring that employee health care coverage include contraception, sterilization procedures and potentially abortion-causing drugs, all of which violate Catholic Church teaching on the sanctity of human life.

The suit against HHS and the departments of Labor and Treasury, all of which have issued similar regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, was filed by the law firm Conrad O’Brien on behalf of the archdiocese in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The archdiocese’s suit also named as defendants Kathleen Sebelius, former HHS secretary; Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez and Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew.

In a statement June 3, the archdiocese said its suit was “grounded on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment” of the Constitution, and it asks the court “to block enforcement of portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that force religious employers to provide contraceptive services that violate Catholic belief.”

The Philadelphia archdiocese qualifies as a religious employer so it enjoys an exemption to provide contraceptive services. But Catholic Charities, and the 16 social service and health care agencies that comprise it, does not qualify.

“Houses of worship,” including churches and dioceses, are exempt, but religious institutions within a diocese, such as schools, universities, social service agencies and hospitals are not exempt.

The mandate does not include a conscience clause for employers who object to such coverage on moral grounds.

The filing of the archdiocese’s lawsuit “disputes the government’s power to order Catholic entities to offer or cooperate in such services,” the statement read.

There are only two options for Catholic Charities, the archdiocese and other dioceses that have filed similar lawsuits: These Catholic organizations can sign a form stating that a third-party provider will offer the objectionable services, but the organizations will still pay indirectly for services that are contrary to Catholic teaching, or they can refuse to sign the form and be subject to fines of $100 per each beneficiary for each day of noncompliance.

With 1,600 subscribers in the archdiocesan health care plan, Catholic Charities’ fines would amount to $160,000 per day. In only six months, the fines would reach nearly $1 million.

The potential financial duress would begin soon. The mandate would normally begin to take effect when the health care plan reached its renewal date. In the archdiocese’s case, that is July 1.

Joseph J. Sweeney Jr., secretary for Catholic Human Services and head of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, stated in the court filing that four options are open to the archdiocese, all of which he called “intolerable:”

— “Sponsor a group health plan that provides coverage for contraceptive services” (in violation of church teaching).

— “Sponsor a group health plan that excludes coverage for contraceptive services but subjects the archdiocese affiliates (the agencies of Catholic Charities) to onerous fines.”

— “Expel the archdiocese affiliates from the (archdiocese’s health) plan.”

— “Do not sponsor a group health plan at all.”

Sweeney suggested the latter point would be inconsistent with Catholic teaching on the right of basic health care for its employees.

“None of these options is morally acceptable to the archdiocese,” he said, “and each substantially burdens its religious exercise.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops have for many years supported health care reform so that health benefits might be extended to all Americans. But the bishops also have vigorously opposed the HHS mandate on the grounds that it restricts religious freedom.

With its lawsuit, the archdiocese becomes the 50th nonprofit organization, including 17 individual dioceses and archdioceses,  to file suit seeking an injunction on the regulations, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which was not involved in the suit’s filing.

 

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Court orders Phila. priest released from prison

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PHILADELPHIA — A panel of judges for a Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the decision on a priest’s conviction in handling a clerical abuse case and ordered his release from prison.

The decision, announced Dec. 26, involves Msgr. William Lynn, former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Msgr. Lynn has served 18 months of a 2012 prison sentence of three to six years after being found guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, a felony.

Msgr. William Lynn, former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, walks from the courthouse in 2012 as the jury deliberates in his sexual abuse trial in Philadelphia. A panel of judges for a Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the decision on Msgr. Lynn’s conviction in handling a clerical abuse case and ordered his release from prison. (CNS photo/Tim Shaffer, Reuters)

Prosecutors had argued that the priest had reassigned abusive priests to new parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in his diocesan role as clergy secretary. However, Msgr. Lynn’s attorneys argued that Pennsylvania’s child-endangerment law at the time applied only to parents and caregivers, not to supervisors, which was Msgr. Lynn’s role.

The Superior Court’s 43-page opinion described Msgr. Lynn’s conviction under the state’s original child endangerment law of 1972 as “fundamentally flawed.”

It noted that the original meaning of the statute, revised in 2007, required a person who was not a parent or guardian of the endangered child to “at least be engaged in the supervision, or be responsible for the supervision” of the child. The court said the “evidence was insufficient” to demonstrate that Msgr. Lynn “acted with the intent of promoting or facilitating” child endangerment.

The court’s ruling, written by Judge Joseph D. Seletyn, also concluded that there was no evidence that Msgr. Lynn knew of the victim of sexual abuse at St. Jerome Parish or that he conspired with the accused priest’s plans to abuse the boy.

Prosecutors could appeal the Superior Court panel’s decision or ask the full Superior Court to rehear the case.

Msgr. Lynn’s lawyers told The Associated Press they will try to get the priest released from the state prison in Waymart by Jan. 2.

A statement from the Philadelphia Archdiocese said the Dec. 26 decision “does not and will not alter the church’s commitment to assist and support the survivors of sexual abuse on their journey toward healing or our dedicated efforts to ensure that all young people in our care are safe.”

The statement promised vigilance in child protection and said, “The reputation of the church can only be rebuilt through transparency, honesty and a fulfillment of our responsibility to the young people in our care and the victims and survivors who need our support.”

Msgr. Lynn, 62, who recommended priest assignments to the archbishop of Philadelphia and investigated claims of sexual abuse of minors by clergy from 1992 to 2004, became the first official of the U.S. Catholic Church to be convicted of a felony for his responsibilities in managing priests, some of whom abused children.

His conviction was based on the case of former priest Edward Avery, who admitted he had sexually assaulted a 10-year-old altar boy at his northeast Philadelphia parish in 1999. The former priest, laicized in 2006, is serving a sentence of two-and-a half to five years in prison. Earlier this year, Avery said he never touched the boy and only entered his guilty plea to get a lighter sentence.

The Seletyn opinion acknowledged one of the prosecutors’ central claims, which formed the main argument of Philadelphia grand jury reports in 2005 and 2011: that for decades archdiocesan administrators at the highest levels dealt poorly with child sexual assault by some clergy; and that administrators such as Msgr. Lynn appeared to prioritize the “disrepute” of the church over safeguarding children in the church.

But the judge said this was not the issue in the Msgr. Lynn case. Rather, the priest could not be charged, tried and convicted for his actions not to remove priests before they abused children according to a law written after the time in which he served.

A statement by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the group was “heartsick over this decision” and that “thousands of betrayed Catholics and wounded victims will be disheartened by this news.”

 

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Phila. ex-priest admits abuse; lawsuits settled, filed

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PHILADELPHIA — As two of his former colleagues prepared to face trial on abuse-related charges, a former priest of the Philadelphia archdiocese was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison March 22 after pleading guilty to conspiracy and sexual assault of a 10-year-old boy.

Edward V. Avery, 69, who was removed from the priesthood in 2006, admitted in an appearance before Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that he was guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse in the 1999 assault. He also said he conspired with co-defendant Msgr. William J. Lynn, then secretary for clergy in the archdiocese, to endanger children.

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Phila. closes 10 parish schools, 23 regional ones formed

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — Forty-nine Catholic schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese will form 23 regional schools and 10 schools will close outright, according to a Feb. 17 announcement by Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, who oversees the Secretariat for Catholic Education.

At a press briefing the bishop released the final decision on closings or consolidations of elementary schools as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission, which was formed about a year ago.

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Two archdioceses lose $1 million each in thefts

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Employees of the New York and Philadelphia archdioceses are accused of stealing $1 million each in church funds over the past decade.

In New York, archdiocesan spokesman Joseph Zwilling said Jan. 30 that Anita Collins, who had worked for the archdiocese since 2003, allegedly stole about $1 million before she was fired Dec. 6. Collins used “a sophisticated fraud to manipulate the accounts payable system in the Department of Education Finance Office,” Zwilling said.

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