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New U.S. health care bill withdrawn after if falls short of votes in the House of Representatives

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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Health Association, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.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

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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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Trump visits Catholic school in Florida to show support for school choice

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ORLANDO, Fla. — President Donald Trump visited St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando March 3 to show his support for school choice.

The president was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott in a tour of the school that started with a visit to a fourth-grade class.

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump chats with students from St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., March 3. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also joined the president. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

The visit was called a listening session.

One of the tour guests was Denisha Merriweather, who attended a private high school through Florida’s voucher program, which she credits with turning her life around.

“We want millions more to have the same chance to achieve the great success that you’re achieving,” Trump said. The president also told school administrators that “the love you have for what you do is really fantastic,” The Associated Press reported.

In his address to Congress Feb. 28, Trump said that education was the “civil rights issue of our time” and urged Congress to pass legislation to fund school choice for disadvantaged young people, but he did not offer any details.

St. Andrew Catholic School, which opened in 1962, teaches 350 children from pre-K to eighth grade. On its website it says: “Our goals are simple: college and heaven.”

The school partners with the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE,  which serves under-resourced Catholic schools.

A March 3 statement from ACE said the president’s visit gave the St. Andrew’s students “a historic opportunity to share their story with the nation.”

“We are acutely aware that the current political climate is among the most polarized in American history,” the statement said. “These divisions have real implications for relationships here in the St. Andrew community.”

It also stressed that “every family has the right to choose the best school for their child” and that “because of the parental choice program in Florida, this school will continue to empower families, form faithful citizens, strengthen the Pine Hills community, and provide children with educational opportunities.”

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Judge Gorsuch nominated to fill Supreme Court vacancy

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court that has been empty since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February.

Judge Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice Jan. 31 at the White House in Washington. If confirmed, Gorsuch will fill the seat that has been empty since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February. (CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, EPA)

Judge Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice Jan. 31 at the White House in Washington. If confirmed, Gorsuch will fill the seat that has been empty since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February. (CNS photo/Michael Reynolds, EPA)

Gorsuch is a man the country needs, Trump said in announcing his nominee the evening of Jan. 31. He added that his pick for the high court already has had bipartisan support. “Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline,” he said.

When Trump announced his choice at the White House, in the audience was Maureen McCarthy Scalia, the widow of the late justice. One of the couple’s children also was present: Father Paul Scalia, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

In his remarks, Gorsuch said he was thankful for friends, family and faith giving him balance. He also said he was honored and humbled to be chosen as a nominee to the nation’s highest court. He described Scalia as “lion of the law” and said he misses him.

He said he respects the fact that Congress, not the courts, writes new laws. “It is the role of judges to apply, not alter, the work of the people’s representatives. A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge, stretching for results he prefers rather than those the law demands.”

Several news outlets reported that hundreds of demonstrators held a rally outside the Supreme Court building to protest Trump’s choice of Gorsuch. Pro-life organizations, however, were quick to praise the president’s selection of someone who they said will “carry on the legacy” of Scalia.

Gorsuch, judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, is 49, making him the youngest Supreme Court nominee in 25 years. He was born in Denver. He currently lives outside of Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two daughters, he lived in the Washington area as a teenager when his mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Gorsuch attended the Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School where he won a national debate championship.

Gorsuch has the typical qualifications of a high court justice. He graduated from Columbia, Harvard and Oxford, clerked for two Supreme Court justices and also worked for the Department of Justice.

He also is an adjunct law professor at the University of Colorado and he wrote a 2009 book arguing against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Gorsuch hasn’t written a ruling specifically on abortion but he has strong views on religious liberty. He sided with the Little Sisters of the Poor in their challenge of the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. And in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius, in June 2013, the 10th Circuit ordered the federal government to stop enforcement of the federal mandate against Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based Christian chain of retail arts and crafts stores. In his concurrence, Gorsuch said the contraception mandate substantially burdened the company’s religious exercise, a decision the Supreme Court later upheld.

Gorsuch is an Episcopalian. Scalia, who had been one of six Catholic members of the court, was often described as its most conservative voice and known for his strict interpretation of the Constitution’s intent.

“All too often, our efforts to protect unborn children and other vulnerable humans have been overridden by judges who believe they have a right to impose their own policy preferences,” Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said in a statement.

“We are heartened that Judge Gorsuch appears to share Justice Scalia’s view that federal judges are constrained to enforce the text and original intent of constitutional provisions, and on all other matters should defer to democratically elected lawmakers,” Tobias added.

Priests for Life, the American Life League, the Susan B. Anthony List and other groups echoed those sentiments.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called Gorsuch “an exceptional choice.”

“In the coming days, we will mobilize the pro-life grass-roots nationwide and in key Senate battleground states to urge the Senate to swiftly confirm” she said in a statement. “Should pro-abortion Democratic Senators choose to filibuster this immensely qualified nominee, they do so at their own political peril.”

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‘We must wait and see,’ pope says of President Trump

January 23rd, 2017 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As President Donald Trump was being sworn in, Pope Francis told an interviewer it would be “reckless” to pass judgment on the new president before he had a chance to do anything.

“We must wait and see,” the pope told two reporters from the Spanish newspaper El Pais during a 75-minute interview Jan. 20.

The interview was published late Jan. 21 in its original Spanish with an English translation.

Asked if he wasn’t worried at least about some of the things Trump said before his election, the pope responded, “I’m waiting. God waited so long for

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington during an interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington Jan. 21, the day after Trump's swearing-in as the country's 45th president. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington during an interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s swearing-in as the country’s 45th president. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

me, with all my sins.”

“Being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite reckless,” the pope said. “We will see. We will see what he does and then we will judge, always on the concrete. Christianity either is concrete or it is not Christianity.”

El Pais asked another question about Trump and populists in the United States and Europe who, the interviewer said, “capitalize on fear in the face of an uncertain future in order to form a message full of xenophobia and hatred toward the foreigner.”

“”Crises provoke fear, alarm,” the pope said. “In my opinion, the most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933. After (Paul von) Hindenburg, after the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler who says: ‘I can, I can.’”

“Hitler didn’t steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people,” Pope Francis said.

In times of crisis, he said, large segments of the population think, “Let’s look for a savior who gives us back our identity and let’s defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other peoples who may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing.”

Obviously, Pope Francis said, nations have a right and duty to control their borders, especially under the threat of terrorism, but “no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility of talking with their neighbors.”

The El Pais reporters also asked Pope Francis about his hopes for improved diplomatic relations with China. As he has done in the past, the pope reported that a Vatican-Chinese committee has been meeting regularly for years and the dialogue continues.

“Are you ready to go to China?” he was asked.

“When they invite me,” he replied. “In China the churches are full. One can practice one’s religion in China,” he added, without mentioning the fact that religious practice is tightly controlled by the government.

El Pais also asked the 80-year-old pope if he expects to resign like Pope Benedict XVI did.

“That I don’t know. That is for God to decide,” he said. “When I feel that I cannot go on, my great teacher Benedict taught me what to do. And, if God takes me before that, I will see it from the other side, hopefully not from hell.”

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Pope Francis offers prayers for President Trump

January 20th, 2017 Posted in Featured, National News Tags: , ,

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis sent best wishes and prayers to incoming President Donald J. Trump shortly after he took the oath of office.

“I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office,” the pope’s message said.

U.S Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump stand for the singing of the national anthem after Trump's swearing-in as the country's 45th president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump stand for the singing of the national anthem after Trump’s swearing-in as the country’s 45th president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

Saying that the human family faces “grave humanitarian crises” that demand “far-sighted and united political responses,” the pope said he would pray that Trump’s decisions “will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide.”

 The pope also said he hoped that America’s “stature” continued to be measured by “above all its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door.”

The message concluded with the pope saying he would ask God to grant the new president, his family and all Americans “peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity.”

 

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Commentary: A king’s advice to a president

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I believe it is no mere coincidence that the U.S. national holiday celebrating the inspiring life of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jan. 16) is within the same week as the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration of Donald J. Trump.   

I believe a king has wise and holy advice for the president. Read more »

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