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Catholic groups decry U.S. decision to abandon climate accord

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WASHINGTON — Catholic leaders said President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change agreement snubs the needs of impoverished people around the world and avoids the responsibility to begin addressing the causes of global warming.

They joined a broad cross section of U.S. society and world leaders and organizations in decrying the June 1 announcement.

U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement June 1 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement June 1 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Trump’s decision sets in motion a long formal process for withdrawal from the agreement, which entered into force Nov. 4. Under rules of the agreement, no nation can withdraw until November 2019 and mandate a one-year notice period. The earlier total withdrawal can be accomplished is in November 2020.

The leaders focused their concerns on the needs of communities around the world that they say contribute least to climate change but suffer the most from it. They pointed to impoverished people who have been forced to migrate to other lands to make a living because of drought, changing weather patterns or rising sea levels.

Many organizations pointed to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” in which he called all people to respect God’s creation and remember that the welfare of each person is integral to human life and future of the planet.

A statement from the leaders of 11 organizations asked Trump to reconsider his action. The leaders said Catholic teaching maintains that climate change is a “grave moral issue” that threatens commitments to protect human life, health, dignity and security, promote the common good, exercise a preferential option for the poor, living in solidarity with future generations, realize peace and care for creation.

“The international agreement of 2015 demonstrates that all nations will be impacted by a warming world and that all nations have a corresponding responsibility to limit greenhouse gas pollution causing climate change,” said a statement released through the Catholic Climate Covenant soon after Trump’s announcement.

“The Catholic Church recognizes that climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions,” the statement said.

The signers included leaders of Catholic Climate Covenant, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Franciscan Action Network, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Global Catholic Climate Movement, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, National Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Health Association of the United States, Catholic Charities USA, Carmelite NGO and Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, called Trump’s decision “deeply troubling.”

“The Scriptures affirm the value of caring for creation and caring for each other in solidarity. The Paris agreement is an international accord that promotes these values,” Bishop Cantu said in a statement released shortly after the president made his announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

“President Trump’s decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities,” the bishop said.

Several other organizations issued statements in the hours after the withdrawal announcement and early into June 2.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for advocacy and government relations at Catholic Relief Services, called the withdraw “terrible,” but said that the staff of the bishops’ overseas relief and development agency hope it could be reversed.

“American leadership is absolutely necessary on this critical global issue,” he said. “We believe we can both grow our economy and respond to the Holy Father’s call to care for creation.”

Like many newspapers around the world, the Vatican newspaper ran Trump’s decision as its top story June 2.

“Trump announces withdrawal from the Paris accord,” said the headline in L’Osservatore Romano. Above the headline, in smaller letters, it said: “Criticism from the European Union and China.”

The article itself was a brief news story that included reaction from Bishop Cantu. In a commentary further down the front page, the Vatican newspaper said the crucial question is whether a U.S. withdrawal would “neutralize all the efforts made to combat global warming.”

While one country, even a powerful one, cannot stop the rest of the world from taking action to mitigate the human impacts on climate change, the commentary said, without the United States a truly global effort “becomes unrealistic.”

The article said Trump’s decision was not based on providing economic help to large companies like Exxon, Dupont or Shell, because those companies are already reaping the rewards of investing in renewable energy. Instead, Trump “looks to his base: to the miners in West Virginia and Kentucky or the factory workers in Pennsylvania crushed” by the economic crisis.

For them, the paper said, withdrawing from the Paris accord “means saving jobs.”

Geopolitically, the L’Osservatore Romano article said, Trump’s decision “could have a domino effect,” leading other countries to withdraw and dismantle what already has been achieved. “A new world order is on the line.”

Below are excerpts of statements from other Catholic organizations:

  • Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns: “Through our witness, we recognize that our government has a moral responsibility, as one of the richest countries in the world and one of the largest historical contributors to climate change, to protect all life on earth and to prevent the worst impacts of climate.”
  • Tomas Insua, executive director, Global Catholic Climate Movement: “Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement is a backward and immoral action. Catholics are saddened and outraged that Trump is not listening to Pope Francis after their meeting last week. Still, the world will continue to accelerate climate action despite the White House’s retrograde stance.”
  • Patrick Carolan, executive director, Franciscan Action Network: “When large countries like the U.S. deny the reality of the climate crisis and pull out of commitments holding us accountable for doing our part to curb global temperature rise, we are turning our backs on the poor and vulnerable, which goes directly against our Franciscan-Christian values.”
  • Sister Patricia Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, executive director, Pax Christi USA: “The biblical mandate to care and tend to the earth for its people transcends individual countries and nations. Today’s decision makes a mockery of democracy and Pax Christi USA pledges to use every nonviolent means in joining with others to resist this decision.”
  • General Council, Adrian Dominican Sisters: “It diminishes our standing as a world leader, aligning us with Syria and Nicaragua as the only non-signatories to the landmark accord … . It blunts our competitive edge in an emerging renewable energy based global economy. And it threatens to condemn earth, our common home, and future generations to potentially catastrophic climate change.”
  • Institute Leadership Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas: “This decision, unfortunately, is by far the most concerning among a number of actions taken by the Trump administration to weaken the country’s commitment to address climate change and to protect those most at risk from its effect: saying he’s ‘not a believer’ in human impact on global warming, urging a review of the Clean Power Plan, proposing drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and approving the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, to name just a few.”
  • Steve Krueger, president, Catholic Democrats: “While representing his only apparent train of thought as a deal maker, President Trump once again ignored Jesus’ exhortation (Luke 12:48) best paraphrased by President John F. Kennedy, that ‘for those to whom much is given, much is required.’ We believe that this applies to nations as well, particularly given the fact that the U.S. is the largest carbon polluter in history.”

Cindy Wooden contributed to this report from Rome.

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As Trump and the pope meet, peace offerings in person and via Twitter

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Though there are few details about what was said when Pope Francis and Donald Trump talked privately May 24, much was made online about the U.S. president’s wide smile and the pope’s more serious stance as the two posed for public photos at the Vatican.

The pope showed his trademark smile when he met the president’s accompanying family members — his wife, daughter and son-in-law — after their meeting, which was described as “cordial” by the Vatican. Read more »

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Pope Francis and President Trump speak of hopes for peace — updated

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump spent 30 minutes speaking privately in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 24, and as the president left, he told the pope, “I won’t forget what you said.”

Pope Francis greets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets U.S. President Donald Trump during a private audience at the Vatican May 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The atmosphere at the beginning was formal and a bit stiff. However, the mood lightened when Pope Francis met the first lady, Melania Trump, and asked if she fed her husband “potica,” a traditional cake in Slovenia, her homeland. There were smiles all around.

Pope Francis gave Trump a split medallion held together by an olive tree, which his interpreter told Trump is “a symbol of peace.”

Speaking in Spanish, the pope told Trump, “I am giving you this because I hope you may be this olive tree to make peace.”

The president responded, “We can use peace.”

Pope Francis also gave the president a copy of his message for World Peace Day 2017 and told him, “I signed it personally for you.” In addition, he gave Trump copies of his documents on “The Joy of the Gospel,” on the family and “Laudato Si’” on the environment.

Knowing that Pope Francis frequently has quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump presented Pope Francis will a large gift box containing five of the slain civil rights leader’s books, including a signed copy of “The Strength to Love.”

“I think you will enjoy them,” Trump told the pope. “I hope you do.”

After meeting the pope, Trump went downstairs to meet Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. He was accompanied by Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, and H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser. The meeting lasted 50 minutes.

Tillerson later told reporters that climate change did not come up in the meeting with the pope, but that U.S. officials had “a good exchange on the climate change issue” with Cardinal Parolin.

“The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it’s an important issue,” Tillerson said. “I think they were encouraging continued participation in the Paris accord. But we had a good exchange (on) the difficulty of balancing addressing climate change, responses to climate change, and ensuring that you still have a thriving economy and you can still offer people jobs so they can feed their families and have a prosperous economy.”

Asked how Trump responded to Cardinal Parolin’s encouragement to stick with the Paris climate agreement, Tillerson said: “The president indicated we’re still thinking about that, that he hasn’t made a final decision. He, I think, told both Cardinal Parolin and also told Prime Minister (Paolo) Gentiloni that this is something that he would be taking up for a decision when we return from this trip. It’s an opportunity to hear from people. We’re developing our own recommendation on that. So it’ll be something that will probably be decided after we get home.”

Tillerson also told reporters he did not know what Trump meant when he told the pope, “I won’t forget what you said.”

The Vatican described the president’s meetings with both the pope and with top Vatican diplomats as consisting of “cordial discussions,” with both sides appreciating “the good existing bilateral relations between the Holy See and the United States of America, as well as the joint commitment in favor of life, and freedom of religion and of conscience.”

“It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic Church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of health care, education and assistance to immigrants,” the Vatican said.

The discussions also included “an exchange of views” on international affairs and on “the promotion of peace in the world through political negotiation and interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to the situation in the Middle East and the protection of Christian communities.”

Because of the pope’s weekly general audience, Pope Francis and Trump met at 8:30 a.m., an unusually early hour for a formal papal meeting. The early hour meant Pope Francis still could greet the thousands of pilgrims and visitors waiting for him in St. Peter’s Square.

Many of those pilgrims, though, had a more difficult than normal time getting into the square. Security measures were tight, with hundreds of state police and military police patrolling the area and conducting more attentive searches of pilgrims’ bags.

Reaching the St. Damasus Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, where the U.S. flag flew for the morning, Trump was welcomed by Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, and a formation of 15 Swiss Guards.

Accompanied by the archbishop up an elevator and down a frescoed hallway, the president passed more Swiss Guards in the Clementine Hall.

Although the president and Pope Francis are known to have serious differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy and climate change, the pope told reporters 11 days before the meeting that he would look first for common ground with the U.S. leader.

“There are always doors that are not closed,” the pope told reporters May 13. “We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward.”

After leaving the Vatican, the president was driven across Rome for meetings with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Asked by reporters there how his meeting with the pope went, Trump responded, “Great.”

“He is something,” Trump said. “We had a fantastic meeting.”

Meanwhile, the first lady went to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesu children’s hospital, right next door to the Pontifical North American College, which is where U.S. seminarians in Rome live. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, went to the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay movement, for a meeting on combating human trafficking.

The United States and the Vatican have long partnered on anti-trafficking initiatives, a common effort White House officials had said Trump hoped to discuss with the pope. The White House also pointed to a shared commitment to promote religious freedom around the world and to end religious persecution.

The evening before Trump met the pope, the Vatican newspaper carried two articles on Trump policies. One, echoing the U.S. bishops, praised the Trump administration’s decision to extend by six months the Temporary Protected Status program for Haitian citizens in the United States.

The second article was about the budget plan the Trump White House released May 23. L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, noted that it contained cuts in subsidies “for the poorest segments of the population” and “a drastic — 10 percent — increase for military spending.”

What is more, the newspaper said, “the budget also includes financing for the construction of the wall along the border with Mexico. We are talking about more than $1.6 billion.”

The border wall is an issue where Pope Francis and President Trump have a very clear and public difference of opinion.

In February 2016, shortly after celebrating a Mass in Mexico just yards from the border, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about then-candidate Trump’s promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

“A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said.

Trump, asked by reporters to comment on that, said Mexico was “using the pope as a pawn,” and he said it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question someone’s faith.

On the eve of the pope’s meeting with Trump, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of an influential Italian Jesuit journal, noted that the differences between the two were drawing a lot of attention. However, he wrote, “Francis, the pope of bridges, wants to speak with any head of state who asks him to because he knows that in crises” like the world faces today “there are not only absolute good guys and absolute bad guys.”

“The history of the world is not a Hollywood film,” Father Spadaro wrote on his blog May 23.

The pope’s approach, he said, is “to meet the major players in the field in order to reason together and to propose to everyone the greatest good, exercising the soft power that seems to me to be the specific trait of his international policy.”

Contributing to this story were Junno Arocho Esteves and Carol Glatz at the Vatican.

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Trump arrives in Holy Land, visits Church of the Holy Sepulcher — updated

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — Following his official welcome to Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump began his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Western Wall.

Details of the visits to the holy sites had been a carefully guarded secret until the last moment, but from early May 22 the alleyways of the Old City were closed to both residents and tourists, and the main thoroughfares leading to the Old City were closed off to all traffic.

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 22. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump speak to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher May 22. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honor guard announcing the way with the thumping of their ornamental staffs, the president made his way by foot through the Old City’s alleyways to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed at the entrance of the church courtyard by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilos III; Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land; and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. The president spoke briefly to the religious leaders and stopped at the entrance of the church for a group photograph after also speaking to a few other religious.

Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent about 30 minutes in the church, which encompasses the area where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and later rose from the dead. At the entrance of the church is the stone of unction, where tradition holds that Jesus’ body was laid out and washed after his crucifixion. Inside the central rotunda is the newly renovated Edicule, where Jesus was buried.

The delegation then walked the short distance to the Western Wall plaza, where Trump was greeted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall. Wearing the traditional Jewish kippa or skullcap, Trump walked alone to the wall, where he placed his hands on the stones for several minutes. He then placed a note with a prayer into a crack in the wall, a Jewish tradition. Melania and Ivanka Trump visited the women’s section of the wall separately, and the first lady spent a few minutes silently in front of the wall, touching it with her hand.

Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital city.

The Western Wall, considered the holiest site for Judaism today as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple, also surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Jewish temple once stood and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Avoiding any symbolic controversy involving the issue of the city’s sovereignty, the Trump administration insisted the visit to the sites be private, vexing Israel by Trump’s refusal to be accompanied by Israeli political leaders to the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israel had not allowed a Greek Orthodox Scout marching band to accompany the delegation to Church of the Holy Sepulcher as planned because of the Palestinian flags on their uniform. A spokesman from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Israeli involvement in the matter, suggesting that it might have been a U.S. security issue.

In a visit that encompasses both political and religious symbolism, Trump spent two days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with King Salman and other Muslim leaders. He was scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas May 23 in Bethlehem, West Bank, and was expected to urge the Palestinian leader to take productive steps toward peace.

According to media reports, he did not plan to visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity because of an exhibit there supporting hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly about the U.S.-Israeli bond and his deep sense of admiration for the country. He also spoke of the need to unite against “the scourge of violence.”

“We have the rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people by defeating terrorism,” Trump said at the welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. “But we can only get there by working together. We love Israel. We respect Israel and I send your people the warmest greeting from your friend and ally, from all people in the USA, we are with you.”

The next leg of his first overseas trip as president is slated to include a visit to the Vatican as well as to Brussels.

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Trump nominates Callista Gingrich ambassador to Vatican

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WASHINGTON — As he prepared to meet Pope Francis for the first time, President Donald Trump formally nominated Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

The White House announced the nomination late May 19 as Trump was beginning his first overseas trip, a trip that would include a meeting with Pope Francis May 24 at the Vatican.

Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. She is pictured as her husband speaks at Peachtree Academy in Covington, Georgia, in this Feb. 29, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Erik S. Lesser, EPA)

Callista Gingrich, wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. She is pictured as her husband speaks at Peachtree Academy in Covington, Georgia, in this Feb. 29, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Erik S. Lesser, EPA)

The nomination of Gingrich, 51, a former congressional aide, had been rumored for months. If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed Ambassador Ken Hackett, who retired in January. She would be the third woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See after Lindy Boggs, who held the post in 1997-2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who served in 2008-2009.

Gingrich is president of Gingrich Productions, which produces documentaries as well as other materials related to her husband, Republican Newt Gingrich, who served from 1995 until 1999 as the 50th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2010, the company released the film “Nine Days That Changed the World” about Pope John Paul II’s nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 and how it played a part in the fall of communism in Europe. Callista Gingrich graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 1988, majoring in music, a passion that has remained with her throughout life. She is a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Some like John Schlageter, executive director of the Bethlehem University Foundation in Washington, hailed the choice.

“It might make me biased, but I think that her years of singing in the choir at the national shrine has given her a backstage pass to some of the most important events in the life in the church in the United States, including two papal visits,” said Schlageter, who is a friend of the couple. The Gingriches are patrons of Bethlehem University, the first Catholic university in the Holy Land founded by the Vatican and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, he said.

Schlageter said Callista Gingrich’s time producing the documentary about Pope John Paul helped her create professional relationships and friendships in the U.S. and Rome that will serve her well should she be confirmed to the post.

“She also loves the church and the United States,” he said May 15. “I think she’s a wonderful choice.”

Others criticized the choice online because she admitted to having an affair for years with Newt Gingrich while he was married to his second wife. After his 1999 divorce, the two married the following year and he became a Catholic in 2009, saying Callista, a lifelong Catholic, was instrumental in making that choice.

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Search for common ground will be key to pope’s May 24 meeting with Trump

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Despite a few pointed comments in the past and fundamental differences on issues such as immigration, economic policy, military spending and climate change, sparks are not expected to fly May 24 when Pope Francis welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to the Vatican.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis are scheduled to meet at the Vatican May 24. (CNS/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump and Pope Francis are scheduled to meet at the Vatican May 24. (CNS/Reuters)

The two will have a private conversation, with interpreters present, and while anything is possible, protocol dictates that the joint statement issued after the meeting will describe it as “cordial.”

Going into the meeting, Pope Francis made it clear he hoped it would be.

On Pope Francis’ flight back to Rome from Portugal May 13, a reporter asked him, “What are you expecting from a meeting with a head of state who seems to think and act in a way contrary to your own?”

The pope replied, “I never make a judgment about people without hearing them first. It is something I feel I should not do. When we speak to each other, things will come out. I will say what I think; he will say what he thinks. But I have never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person.”

Pope Francis said he would look first for areas of agreement and shared principles, his basic recipe for creating “a culture of encounter.”

“There are always doors that are not closed,” the pope said about his meeting with Trump. “We have to find doors that are at least a little open in order to go in and speak about things we have in common and go forward. Step by step.”

The key, he said, is “respect for the other, saying what we think, but with respect, walking together. Someone sees things in a certain way: say so, be honest in what each of us thinks.”

Honesty, even if not completely diplomatic, characterized a couple of pointed remarks Pope Francis and then-presidential candidate Trump made in reference to the other’s positions.

Flying in February 2016 to Rome from Mexico, where he had just paid homage to people who have lost their lives trying to cross into the United States, Pope Francis was asked about candidate Trump’s promise to build a wall the entire length of the border.

“A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever it may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian,” the pope said. He added that he would not tell anyone how to vote and that he would “have to see if he said these things, and thus I will give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Trump responded by saying that the Mexican government had given Pope Francis only “one side of the story” and was “using the pope as a pawn.”

Also, he said, “for a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now.”

Efforts to protect freedom of conscience for employers and health-care workers and the need to defend religious freedom are likely to be a starting point for finding common ground.

A discussion about religious persecution could open the door to Pope Francis restating his conviction of the moral obligation to welcome strangers, especially those fleeing persecution, terrorism, war and abject poverty.

Protecting the unborn is another common concern and would provide an opening for Trump to talk about his Supreme Court nominee and his steps to halt funding of abortions overseas. It also would give Pope Francis an opening to talk about the protection of all life, especially the weakest, with health care, education, job opportunities and a clean environment where people can thrive.

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House narrowly OKs Affordable Care Act repeal-replace bill

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by a four-vote margin May 4. The final vote was 217-213.

Assuming that all Democrats voted against the bill, which they did, the Republicans needed to avoid having 22 of its own House members defect to the “no” camp. In the finally tally, 20 Republicans voted against the measure.

President Donald Trump gathers with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans at the White House in Washington May 4 after the House of Representatives approved a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican health care bill. (CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

President Donald Trump gathers with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans at the White House in Washington May 4 after the House of Representatives approved a repeal of major parts of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a Republican health care bill. (CNS/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

This latest GOP repeal-and-replace bill was rushed through with such speed that the Congressional Budget Office did not have time to prepare an analysis of it before the vote.

The previous American Health Care Act was dealt a big blow after the CBO said that 24 million people would lose health insurance over the next decade had the bill become law. That version of the bill never came to a vote as different factions among House Republicans voiced their opposition.

The new version was nearly scuttled when key Republican lawmakers said they would vote against it because it would have allowed insurance companies to charge more to Americans with pre-existing conditions, which had been banned under the Affordable Care Act. Some of them announced they would support the bill after an added $8 billion over the next five years was added to an original allocation of $130 billion it to help alleviate those issues.

Even with the bill’s passage in the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Planned Parenthood would be blocked from receiving federal funding for one year under the new bill.

Catholic leaders were wary of the repeal-and-replace efforts.

Sister Carole Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said in an April 26 statement that changes to the bill, “intended to make it more palatable to those who did not support it initially, are even more disastrous for people who have just gotten health care.”

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” said a March 17 letter to members of Congress by Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee Domestic Justice and Social Development. “The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. 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.”

At that time, Bishop Dewane lauded the “critical life protections” in the original bill,

In her own letter, sent March 8 to members of Congress, Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said that despite the “commendable efforts” to protect the unborn and give states greater flexibility, the prospect of 70 million people on Medicaid getting reductions in health care “undermines access to life-saving coverage.”

One provision of the bill would let the federal government stop providing enhanced funding for new Medicaid enrollees after 2019, which would likely cause most of the 31 states and Washington that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to drop it, according to a May 3 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. An estimated 11 million people receive Medicaid under the ACA. The bill also allows states to impose a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.

The legislation also would allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those in their 50s and early 60s, compared to younger consumers. Taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others under the ACA would be eliminated under the new bill, as would the individual mandate imposed by the ACA with its attendant penalties for noncompliance. The bill also would replace federal subsidies tied to personal income and insurance premiums and replace it with refundable tax credits based mainly on age to purchase health insurance.

One popular part of the ACA that was retained in the new bill was a requirement that children be carried on their parents’ family policies to age 26.

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Vatican says it would welcome visit by President Trump

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VATICAN CITY — If U.S. President Donald Trump requests a meeting with Pope Francis in May, the Vatican will try to make it work, a top Vatican official said.

“Pope Francis always is willing to welcome heads of state who ask,” Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Vatican substitute secretary of state, told the Italian news agency ANSA April 19.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump is scheduled to be in Taormina, in southern Italy, May 26-27 for a summit of G-7 leaders and representatives of the European Union. (CNS photo/Andrew Harrer, EPA pool)

U.S. President Donald J. Trump is scheduled to be in Taormina, in southern Italy, May 26-27 for a summit of G-7 leaders and representatives of the European Union. (CNS photo/Andrew Harrer, EPA pool)

Trump is scheduled to be in Taormina, in southern Italy, May 26-27 for a summit of G-7 leaders and representatives of the European Union.

Sean Spicer, White House spokesman, told reporters April 19, “We will be reaching out to the Vatican to see if a meeting, an audience with the pope can be accommodated. We’ll have further details on that. Obviously, we would be honored to have an audience with his holiness.”

Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has visited the Vatican to meet the pope. Eisenhower met St. John XXIII at the Vatican in December 1959.

But Woodrow Wilson was the first sitting U.S. president to meet a pope at the Vatican. He met with Pope Benedict XV in 1919 while on a European tour after World War I.

The visits are a mix of policy discussions and protocol, very civil and even warm affairs where, however, serious policy differences are raised. Depending on the president, his party and policies, the divergences run from issues related to the sacredness of the unborn to the obligation to care for creation and to welcome refugees.

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New U.S. health care bill withdrawn after if falls short of votes in the House of Representatives

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn't have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn’t have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Two days before the GOP legislation was set for an initial vote in Congress and then delayed due to last-minute wrangling and efforts to gain support, she described the bill as a disgrace, a pro-life disaster, a huge step back, catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and something that would do incredible damage.

The woman religious, who heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, has a vested interest in the nation’s health care and she also knows the ins and outs of health care legislation from working behind the scenes “forever,” as she describes it, on the Affordable Care Act.

At the time that the ACA was being drafted, some Catholic organizations opposed key elements of the measure. Once it became law, more than 40 lawsuits were filed to challenge the subsequent Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

Sister Keehan is quick to point out that the health care legislation signed into law seven years ago is far from perfect, but she says it was an “incredible step forward.”

“I do recognize the political conflict and the imperfections in the bill, but when you can make insurance that much better for people who have it and give 20 million Americans insurance, that is a huge step forward,” she said March 21 in her Washington office.

At a 2015 Catholic Health Association gathering in Washington, President Barack Obama thanked Sister Keehan for her steadiness, strength and “steadfast voice.”

“We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her,” he said.

The immediate repeal and replacement of the ACA was a key promise of President Donald Trump’s campaign, but the GOP health care measure has faced opposition from both conservative and moderate Republicans. Trump told House Republicans that he will leave ACA in place and move on to tax reform if they do not support the new health care legislation.

Watching the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA has been hard for Sister Keehan mainly because she and other health care leaders were not consulted in the process.

“We should never, ever throw together a bill that’s going to be such a profound impact on the people of this country in this short of time and without any input from those who care for them,” she said.

The work on these two health care bills couldn’t have been more different, she pointed out, noting that prior to the ACA launch she felt like she “lived in committee rooms” because she was constantly meeting with committees, groups and subgroups at the White House and Congress.

With the GOP health care plan, she said there wasn’t any opportunity for hospital groups or the American Medical Association to give any advice.

“We’ve just been dismissed,” she said, noting that she attended a few small group meetings on Capitol Hill but “they were not meetings to get our input on what ought to be done with the bill but meetings to tell us what was going to be done.”

“This has just been railroaded through Congress,” she added.

While the U.S. bishops have applauded pro-life elements of the American Health Care Act, they also have criticized other elements and expressed concern for its impact on the disadvantaged.

In a March 17 letter to House members about the GOP measure, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said 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.”

He said the bill’s restriction of funds to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion “honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.” But he also criticized the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services considered morally objectionable by employers and health care providers.

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. 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.”

Main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions.

Sister Keehan said she thanked Bishop Dewane for his letter to Congress and said the bishops had carefully gone through the legislation measure by measure on a number of issues. She also noted that she knows people in the pro-life community either think the new bill is strong enough or not doing enough.

As she sees it, the bill is “a pro-life disaster in the fact that when you take health care away from people, you take life.”

“If you want to really, really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their children are so valued by our country,” she said, which means providing quality maternity and pediatric care and offering programs like Head Start and food stamps.

Although she said under the ACA no federal funds could be spent on abortion, a nonpartisan government agency in an assessment of the law in 2014 said abortion coverage was available in some plans. Sister Keehan also said the law included help for pregnant mothers to get drug rehabilitation, housing and maternity care, which are not included in the new bill.

“I don’t find this a pro-life bill at all from every perspective,” she added about the new measure.

When asked if there was a silver lining with people at least talking about the need to provide insurance for all Americans, Sister Keehan said the health care crisis for so many people doesn’t give “the luxury of time.”

“To be the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee all its citizens health care is a disgrace,” she said, adding: “We are at a real crossroads in our country’s sense of its responsibility to its people.”

 

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Trump signs new order on refugees, excludes Iraq from ban

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s new executive order temporarily banning refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries, signed March 6, now excludes Iraq from the ban.

Iraq had been one of seven nations in the original order, issued Jan. 27 but the implementation of which was blocked in the courts. The new order will not take effect until March 16.

A displaced Iraqi girl holds a lamb in a safe area in Mosul Feb. 28. President Trump signed a new order March 6 that eliminates the previous U.S. temporary ban on admitting refugees from Iraq. CNS photo//Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

A displaced Iraqi girl holds a lamb in a safe area in Mosul Feb. 28. President Trump signed a new order March 6 that eliminates the previous U.S. temporary ban on admitting refugees from Iraq. CNS photo//Alaa Al-Marjani, Reuters

Citizens of four of the countries still part of the ban — Iran, Libya, Somalia and Syria — will be subject to a 90-day suspension of visa processing. This information was given to Congress the week prior to the new executive order. The other two countries that remain part of the ban are Sudan and Yemen.

Lawful permanent residents, green card holders, are excluded from any travel ban.

While the revised executive order is intended to survive judicial scrutiny, those opposed to it have declared plans to mobilize their constituencies to block it. Church World Service and the National Council of Churches announced March 2, that they will unveil a new grass-roots ecumenical initiative in support of refugees.

Catholic immigration advocates were on tenterhooks waiting for the revised executive order, the issuance of which had been long promised but slow in coming.

Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ international aid agency, told Catholic News Service that he had seen communications from “senior White House officials” that would retain the ban, but indicated the indefinite ban on Syrians would be lifted.

Religious preferences found in the would be original order would be erased, but green-card holders would be exempt from the ban. O’Keefe said. The halt of refugee admissions to “determine additional security vetting procedures” would stay in place, he added, and the number of refugee admissions would be cut for the 2017 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, from 110,000 to 50,000; an estimated 35,000 have already been admitted since October, according to O’Keefe.

“Some will argue that simply sectioning out the seven Muslim-majority countries is a form of religious discrimination,” O’Keefe said. “What is clear here is that it’s within the prerogative of the president to lower the threshold of refugee admissions.”

One effect of the order would be to further strain the refugee-processing system at its biggest point. “The bulk of the system and the biggest part of it are those countries like Lebanon, Turkey, which are taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees,” O’Keefe said. “When we don’t do our part, it’s tough for us to tell other countries to make the sacrifices we need to play their part. The risk of the system collapsing and of governments that are already strained not being willing to keep their doors open is very serious, and we’re very worried about that.”

In Syria, he added, “some people have been (refugees there) for five, six years. They’ve had the hope of resettlement in the United States as one of the things that keeps them going.”

Kim Pozniak, CRS’ communications director, spent a week in mid-February in Amman, Jordan, where untold thousands of refugees are living, two and three families at a time, in small apartments in the city.

“I’ve met with people that are worse off than they were three years ago (when she last visited), simply because they’ve started losing hope,” Pozniak said. “One woman, for example, said they’re so bad off they’re considering moving back to Syria.” Pozniak said the woman’s sister, who still lives in Syria, told her “Look, even if it’s so bad that you have to eat dirt, don’t come back here.”

“When I visited three years ago hope of (things being) better in Jordan, being resettled somewhere, or even going back to Syria,” Pozniak said. Now, none of those options seem to be on the table.

Even without a ban, the uncertainty can eat away at people, Pozniak said. “I talked with one 74-year-old woman who together with her son has been in the resettlement process in the United States. They had the interview with UN (High Commissioner for Refugees), the interview with the Embassy, had the iris scan taken, now they have no idea when they’ll be resettled. They’re never given an answer as to when, where, how, and that’s the really frustrating part, being in limbo and not knowing where you’re going to be next.”

Even though Jordan prohibits refugees from taking jobs, desperate people “find a way somehow” to provide for their family, Pozniak said. CRS is offering modest help to some refugees. “We support some cash-for-work projects through Caritas Jordan, teaching refugees and Iraqis some new skills they can use and make a little bit of money,” she added. “For example, we have people in workshops who create mosaics and create packaging, and create handicrafts.”

Pozniak said refugees were incredulous when she told them Americans are afraid of refugees, especially those from Syria. “They had this look on their faces, uncomprehending. ‘What are they afraid of? We’re fleeing the violence. We want the same thing, peace.’ If people could listen to their stories, I think the reactions would be a lot different.”

A Rasmussen Reports telephone poll of 1,000 American adults released Feb. 24 said 54 percent of all voters believe increasing the number of refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries included in the Jan. 27 executive order poses an increased national security risk to the United States. This is down from September, when 62 percent said President Barack Obama’s proposal to increase the number of Middle Eastern and North African refugees allowed into the United States posed an increased national security risk. The poll was conducted Feb. 20-21.

A Pew Research Center poll released Feb. 27 found Catholics opposing the ban, 62 percent-36 percent. White Catholics were very narrowly in favor, 50 percent-49 percent, while Hispanic and other minority Catholics opposed the ban 81 percent-14 percent.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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