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U.S. bishops’ committee chair sees little improvement in Senate’s revised health bill

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Republicans’ latest effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is “unacceptable” and shows little improvement over the lawmakers’ first attempt to reform the federal health care law, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

“On an initial read, we do not see enough improvement to change our assessment that the proposal is unacceptable,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. The Senate Republicans’ latest effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is “unacceptable” and shows little improvement over the lawmakers’ first attempt to reform the federal health care law, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. The Senate Republicans’ latest effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act is “unacceptable” and shows little improvement over the lawmakers’ first attempt to reform the federal health care law, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“We recognize the incremental improvement in funding the fight against opioid addiction, for instance, but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill,” he said July 13.

Bishop Dewane said the USCCB “is reviewing carefully the health care bill introduced by Senate leadership earlier today.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, introduced the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act. The measure needs 50 votes to pass.

In his July 13 statement, Bishop Dewane referred back to his June 27 letter to senators that said any health care reform bill must uphold several moral principles: affordability; access for all; respect for life; and protection of conscience rights. The bishops also have stressed the need for U.S. health care policy “to improve real access” to health care for immigrants.

The U.S. Senate must reject any health care reform bill that will “fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people,” he said in the June letter. “Removing vital coverage for those most in need is not the answer to our nation’s health care problems, and doing so will not help us build toward the common good.”

Bishop Dewane also said in that letter the U.S. bishops valued the language in the earlier Senate bill that recognizes “abortion is not health care,” and that it at least partially succeeded on conscience rights. But he said it had to be strengthened to fully apply “the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

The June 27 letter reiterated points the U.S. bishops made in reaction to a June 22 draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Bishop Dewane had warned that the bill’s “restructuring of Medicaid will adversely impact those already in deep health poverty. At a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable.”

The revised GOP bill introduced July 13 retains big cuts in Medicaid funding and in subsidies for low- and moderate-income people. It also scales back the federal portion that covers the cost of Medicaid, leaving states to pay more and find new funding and/or reduce benefits and limit who can enroll in the program.

The measure provides for $45 billion in grants to help states combat abuse of opioids and other drugs; the first version allowed $2 billion. It also would let people use money from their tax-exempt health savings accounts to pay for insurance premiums.

In addition, people would be allowed to buy just a catastrophic health insurance policy to cover serious accidents and diseases, like cancer. Insurance companies also would be allowed to sell policies that do not include all the coverage mandated by the ACA, such as preventive care and mental and substance abuse treatment, as long as they sell one policy that includes those requirements.

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Bishops grant religious liberty committee permanent standing

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Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. bishops voted June 15 to make the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty a permanent standing committee.

The 132-53 vote came on the second day of the bishops’ spring assembly in Indianapolis. There were five abstentions. A simple majority was required for approval.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., left, and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., pray June 14 during the opening session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual spring assembly in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., left, and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., pray June 14 during the opening session of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual spring assembly in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

The bishops’ action came less than a week before the start of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom June 21-July 4. It is a two-week period of prayer, advocacy and education on religious freedom.

Before the vote, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the committee since its creation in 2011, spoke in favor of making it permanent, arguing the need for the body stretches beyond the specific legal and public policy issues challenging religious freedom that continue to emerge.

“Rather, the very idea of religious freedom and its roots in human nature is challenged,” he said, “along with the right of religious people and institutions to raise their voices in the public square and to perform ministries that serve the common good in accordance with their religious and moral convictions.”

Archbishop Lori also expressed his hope the ad hoc committee’s work up to now and in the future would help “plant the seeds of a movement for religious freedom, which will take years of watering and weeding in order for it to grow, to grow strong and to bear fruit.”

“In the face of these challenges, our voice is vital,” he said. “Debates about religious freedom in our country are often, sadly, polarizing. In our tumultuous political culture, Catholic laity must be equipped to participate in conversations about the future direction of our country.”

Archbishop Lori will celebrate the fortnight’s opening Mass the evening of June 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. The archbishop will celebrate a special closing Mass July 4 in Orlando, Fla., during the Convocation of Catholic Leaders.

In the discussion that followed Archbishop Lori’s presentation, some bishops spoke in favor of establishing a standing committee on religious freedom. Among them was Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl.

“The challenge to religious liberty is a growing one,” he said. “The dominant culture increasingly now finds that it’s not just a matter of disagreeing with religious principles and positions. But there’s a certain level of hostility becoming more and more evident. … This problem is not going to go away.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who was USCCB president when the ad hoc committee was created, also spoke in favor of making it permanent.

He noted that bishops around the world “look to us in the United States (as) real quarterbacks when it comes to the defense of religious freedom” and added that “ecumenical partners how deeply they cherish our leadership on this issue.”

“I think it’s enhanced the cause of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, because we’re not the only ones concerned,” Cardinal Dolan said. “So, we need some permanence. We need some stability. And I think this is the way to go.”

Some bishops felt the ad hoc committee did not need to become permanent because they felt religious liberty could be addressed by existing standing committees.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, also noted that it was “very unfortunate” that the vote on the committee was taking place a day after the bishops allowed its working group on immigration to cease to exist.

However, after the vote on the committee, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo announced he would allow the working group to continue its efforts, prompting applause from the bishops.

In a news conference after the meeting session, Archbishop Lori said he was grateful “it was not a pro forma discussion, but rather an opportunity for bishops in a wonderfully respectful and dialogic way, to express their views about” religious liberty.

By Sean Gallagher, a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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Trump’s decision to abandon Paris climate pact called troubling, harmful

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President Donald Trump’s June 1 decision “not to honor the U.S. commitment” to the Paris climate agreement “is deeply troubling,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“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 Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said in a statement released shortly after the president made his announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

Protesters carry signs during the People's Climate March April 29 outside the White House in Washington. The U.S. bishops June 1 urged President Donald Trump to honor the nation's commitment to the Paris climate pact and protect the planet.  (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

Protesters carry signs during the People’s Climate March April 29 outside the White House in Washington. The U.S. bishops June 1 urged President Donald Trump to honor the nation’s commitment to the Paris climate pact and protect the planet. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

“President Trump’s decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities,” the bishop said after Trump announced the U.S. will withdraw immediately from the Paris accord.

“The impacts of climate change are already being experienced in sea level rise, glacial melts, intensified storms, and more frequent droughts,” Bishop Cantu said. “I can only hope that the president will propose concrete ways to address global climate change and promote environmental stewardship.”

Trump said the climate accord “is less about the climate and more about other countries obtaining a financial advantage over the United States.”

He said he wants to create a “level playing field” and establish the “highest standard of living, highest standard of environmental protection.” The United States now joins Syria and Nicaragua in not being part of the accord.

Bishop Cantu said that although the Paris agreement is not the only possible mechanism for addressing global carbon mitigation, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.

He said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Pope Francis “and the entire Catholic Church have consistently upheld the Paris agreement as an important international mechanism to promote environmental stewardship and encourage climate change mitigation.”

Before Trump made his announcement, Bishop Cantu issued a statement saying the United States had an obligation to honor the Paris agreement to protect “our people and our planet” and “mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.” He urged Trump to honor the accord.

The USCCB released the earlier statement along with copies of letters sent weeks earlier to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. The letters were signed by Bishop Cantu; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Sean L. Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.

“We write about our shared obligation to care for the environment. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always understood ‘the environment’ to be a gift from God,” said the letters urging the Trump administration officials in their respective capacities to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Paris accord.

“Pope Francis called on the world’s leaders to come together to protect the gift of our common home. … We have one common home, and we must protect it,” they said.

In both statements Bishop Cantu noted that the U.S. bishops have for years “voiced support for prudent action and dialogue on climate change,” as far back as their 2001 statement on global climate change and again in 2015 in a letter to Congress. They have, he said, “reiterated their support on several occasions.”

“Pope Francis and the Holy See have also consistently voiced support for the Paris agreement,” Bishop Cantu said. In his earlier June 1 statement, Bishop Cantu said the pope’s 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” was timed “to urge the nations of the world to work together in Paris for an agreement that protects our people and our planet.”

The Paris accord has been ratified by 134 of the 197 countries that approved it in December 2015 under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. President Barack Obama ratified on its own, bypassing the U.S. Senate. The agreement went into force in October after enough countries ratified it.

A day before Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. from the climate accord, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Integral Development of People, told reporters in Washington that “the decision to possibly pull out for us is something we hoped would not have happened.”

“Certain issues should be taken out of the political discussion and not be politicized. … The truth is, climate is a global public good and not limited to any country, not limited to any nation,” the cardinal said.

“The Vatican would always respect the decision of a sovereign state,” added Cardinal Turkson, who was in Washington for a conference at Georgetown University. “We will continue to still talk about climate change and all of that, and hope that some change can occur midstream.”

Also commenting ahead of Trump’s decision was Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, who said if the president decided to withdraw the United States, “it will be a disaster for everyone.”

The bishop and the academies are at the forefront of promoting scientific studies on climate change and implementation of the recommendations in Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” on care for the environment. The pope gave Trump a copy of the document when they met May 24 at the Vatican.

In an interview June 1 with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Bishop Sanchez said he did not think Trump and Pope Francis discussed climate change in any depth when they met, however climate change was a significant part of the discussions the president and top staff members had with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

“In that sense, if he really does what the leaks suggest, for us it will be a huge slap in the face,” the bishop said.

Obama deserves some of the blame, the bishop said, because “he took decisions on climate only through presidential orders, leaving open the possibility that his successor would change everything. That’s the problem. Today, in just one day, Trump could change all the cards on the table to the disadvantage of many and to the advantage of the oil lobby.”

Tillerson participated in Trump’s meeting with Cardinal Parolin and told reporters that while climate change did not come up in Trump’s meeting with the pope, they had “a good exchange on the climate change issue” with the cardinal.

“The cardinal was expressing their view that they think it’s an important issue,” Tillerson said shortly after the meeting. “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.”

 

Dennis Sadowski in Washington and Cindy Wooden in Rome contributed to this story.

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Bishop urges Tillerson to use diplomacy to resolve simmering Congo crisis

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to undertake diplomatic efforts to ensure that democratic elections are carried out by the end of the year to avoid continued strife and the possible outbreak of civil war.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., gestures during a March 23 meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the State Department in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

In a May 1 letter to Tillerson, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, the committee chairman, shared the concern of the Congolese Catholic bishops’ conference that an agreement between the country’s government and opposition parties governing a presidential election in 2017 was not being followed.

The Congolese bishops voiced their concern over rising tension in Congo in an April 20 statement after President Joseph Kabila unilaterally nominated Bruno Tshibala as prime minister over the objection of opposition parties.

Tshibala, a former member of the largest opposition party, was named prime minister of a new transitional government established to organize a presidential election by the end of the year after Kabila refused to step down when his second term in office expired in December.

Kabila has said, however, that the government needs more time to overcome the massive logistic and financial challenges to holding an election. The opposition maintains that Kabila is trying to cling to power beyond his constitutional mandate.

Demonstrations in December resulted in at least 40 deaths at the hands of government forces.

The Catholic bishops’ conference helped negotiate Dec. 31 what has been called the St. Sylvester Accord. The agreement called for elections in 2017, after which Kabila would step down. Kabila’s appointment of Tshibala violates that agreement, the bishops said.

Bishop Cantu said Congo could resolve its electoral crisis this year by holding free and fair elections that would lead to the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s 57-year history or it could descend into autocracy, riots or perhaps civil war.

U.S. diplomacy could head off violence and instability, the committee chairman said.

The Congolese bishops “used their moral authority” to become involved in the talks to create conditions of “peaceful, constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis,” Bishop Cantu explained in his letter.

“It’s not the church’s place to take on a political role by applying pressure on the political parties to resolve the crisis and protect democracy and the common good. The Congolese people need the international community, the United Nations and the regional countries to work together to convince the Congolese government to prepare inclusive, free and fair elections, as called for by the constitution to allow civil society and the common good for the country to flourish,” Bishop Cantu said.

Bishop Cantu urged Tillerson to “deploy the diplomatic and development resources at your discretion to ensure that the government honors its constitution and the democratic principles on which it is built.”

“An investment in diplomacy and promotion of good governance will save many millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping expenditures in the long run,” Bishop Cantu wrote. “It will also rescue millions of people from needless suffering.”

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U.S. bishops say Syria peace can only come through ‘dialogue, reconciliation’

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WASHINGTON — Officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops April 7 urged renewed peace efforts for Syria, echoing Pope Francis’ call for “dialogue and reconciliation” as the only way to attain peace in a country rocked by an ongoing civil war.

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The U.S. Defense Department said it was a part of missile strike against Syria. (CNS photo/Ford Williams, U.S. Navyvia Reuters)

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The U.S. Defense Department said it was a part of missile strike against Syria. (CNS photo/Ford Williams, U.S. Navyvia Reuters)

“The long-standing position of our conference of bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution,” said a joint statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“We ask the United States to work tirelessly with other governments to obtain a cease-fire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities,” they said.

The U.S. launched 59 missiles from the USS Ross and USS Porter in the Mediterranean early April 7 local time. U.S. officials said they targeted Shayrat Air Base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas.

The United States was criticized for carrying out the missile strikes against Syria before investigations into the origins of chemical attacks reported April 4.

But U.S. President Donald Trump said Syrian President Bashar Assad “launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians” and “choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children.”

“No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” he said April 6, announcing that he had ordered the strike against the air base from which he said the chemical weapons attack was launched.

“The use of internationally banned indiscriminate weapons is morally reprehensible,” said Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Cantu, reiterating an April 5 statement that like Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops condemned the use of such weapons. “At the same time, our conference affirmed the call of Pope Francis to attain peace in Syria ‘through dialogue and reconciliation.’”

They said that again they make the pope’s call their own, that the international community “make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.”

Quoting the pope, they added: “May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”

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U.S. bishops ask Catholics ‘to accompany’ migrants, refugees seeking better life

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can “to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.”

Titled “Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times,” the reflection was issued “in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands,” said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

People in San Diego demonstrate in support of migrants and refugees Feb. 18. The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States." (CNS photo/David Maung, EPA)

People in San Diego demonstrate in support of migrants and refugees Feb. 18. The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can “to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States.” (CNS photo/David Maung, EPA)

“To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection,” said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 50-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation’s bishops between the twice-yearly general meetings.

“To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear,” it continued. “Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes.”

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and “listen to their story, and share your own”; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system “in a way that would safeguard the country’s security and “our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: “The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

The bishops urged Catholics to “not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future.”

“As shepherds of a pilgrim church,” they wrote, “we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: “We are with you.”

Those families could include “a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence,” they said, adding that “it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity.”

The bishops said that “intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well.”

“When we look at one another, do we see with the heart of Jesus?” they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration’s rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump’s new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was to take effect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find “common dreams for our children” in their “diverse backgrounds.”

“Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, ‘out of many, one,’” they said. “In doing so, we will also realize God’s hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin.”

Christ, as the word made flesh, “strengthens us to bring our words to life,” they said, and suggested three ways Catholics, “in our own small way,” can “bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life”: by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

“Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children,” the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to “listen to their story and share your own.” The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees “both to comfort them and to help them know their rights.”

They also urged Catholics to “to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other’s concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ.”

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they “fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration.”

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: “To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland.”

 

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U.S. bishops call for spirit of cooperation in revising health care program

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WASHINGTON — Calling health care “a vital concern for nearly every person in the country,” the U.S. Catholic bishops said March 8 they will be reviewing closely a measure introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Read more »

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U.S. Catholic, Lutheran bishops mark 500th anniversary of Reformation

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Catholic News Service

CHICAGO — Catholic and Lutheran bishops gathered in Chicago March 2 for a prayer service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and to release a statement on the event. Read more »

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U.S. bishops have varied stances on offering sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation

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WASHINGTON — The bishop of Sacramento, California, said Catholic churches in the diocese could offer sanctuary to immigrants facing deportation, while the archbishop of Washington cautioned that offering sanctuary does not legally guarantee protection if federal agents come calling.

Victoria Daza, a native of Peru and an immigrants' rights activist, holds her daughter during a rally in support of immigrants in Massapequa Park, N.Y., Feb. 24. The demonstration was held outside Republican Rep. Peter King's district office in an effort to urge the congressman to help protect unauthorized immigrants who currently have reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Victoria Daza, a native of Peru and an immigrants’ rights activist, holds her daughter during a rally in support of immigrants in Massapequa Park, N.Y., Feb. 24. The demonstration was held outside Republican Rep. Peter King’s district office in an effort to urge the congressman to help protect unauthorized immigrants who currently have reprieve from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said his concern for immigrants revolved around the possibility of an order for mass deportation from President Donald Trump’s administration. He told The Sacramento Bee March 1 that offering protection to people would be something local parishioners could consider if such an order was issued.

“We have to be ready to respond if and when that happens,” he said.

Bishop Soto also said he hoped that “all the hysteria” in the country over unauthorized immigrants would lead to comprehensive immigration reform, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated for years.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said in a March 2 interview with editors at The Washington Post that while the Catholic Church’s values mandate opposition to deportation of people already living in the United States, there is no certainty that immigrants staying on church grounds would avoid being arrested and eventually sent to their home country.

“When we use the word sanctuary,” Cardinal Wuerl said, “we have to be very careful that we’re not holding out false hope. We wouldn’t want to say, ‘Stay here, we’ll protect you.’”

Although a parish might offer sanctuary, it does not obligate federal agents to respect church property boundaries, he said.

“With separation of church and state, the church really does not have the right to say, ‘You come in this building and the law doesn’t apply to you.’ But we do want to say we’ll be a voice for you,” the cardinal explained.

Cardinal Wuerl said that providing food and legal representation for immigrants was among the Washington archdiocese’s top priorities.

Elsewhere, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago told priests and school officials in the archdiocese not to allow federal immigration agents onto church property without a warrant in a Feb. 28 letter.

He asked parish and school officials to immediately call diocesan attorneys if agents appear at their door.

At the same time, Cardinal Cupich wrote that he will not declare Catholic churches as sanctuary for immigrants. The letter also restated archdiocesan policy that forbids anyone other than assigned priests to live in a rectory or other church facility without written permission of the appropriate regional vicar.

The situation of immigrants seems to have divided the country’s Catholics. The majority of Catholics voted for Trump, according to polling data. However, bishops and leaders of Catholic nonprofit organizations have decried Trump administration policies regarding the suspension of refugee admissions to the U.S. and stricter enforcement of immigration laws even on people in the country for years.

Bishop Soto in his interview pointed to efforts in the 1980s by Catholic and Protestant churches to provide sanctuary for Guatemalans and Salvadorans who fled civil wars in their homelands for safety in the U.S. despite not being legally allowed in the country.

The Sacramento diocese provides services to immigrants and refugees through its Diocesan Immigrant Support Network, which includes Bishop Soto, Catholic Charities, parishes, legal experts and community organizations.

About 60,000 immigrants who are not authorized to be in the U.S. live in the 20 counties of the diocese, according to a diocesan official.

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Bishops visiting Holy Land say Christians must oppose Israeli settlements

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JERUSALEM — Christians have a responsibility to oppose the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, said bishops from the U.S., Canada and Europe.

“This de facto annexation of land not only undermines the rights of Palestinians in areas such as Hebron and East Jerusalem but, as the U.N. recently recognized, also imperils the chance of peace,” said bishops who participated in the Holy Land Coordination Jan. 14-19.

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops' Conference of England and Wales)

Bishops from the U.S, Canada and Europe walk through a street Jan. 16 in Hebron, West Bank. (CNS photo/Marcin Mazur, Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales)

“So many people in the Holy Land have spent their entire lives under occupation, with its polarizing social segregation, yet still profess hope and strive for reconciliation. Now, more than ever, they deserve our solidarity,” said the statement, issued Jan. 19, at the end of the visit.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, was among the 12 bishops who signed the statement. Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, represented Canadian bishops. The statement also was signed by representatives of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, as well as bishops from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

During their visit, the bishops visited Hebron, West Bank, where the main market area is closed off to accommodate the security needs of some 800 Israeli settlers. Afterward, Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service, “It becomes clearer that (the settlements) are not just about outlying settlements but something more systematic; more about infiltrating Palestinian land and forcing Palestinians out by making them so uncomfortable with such limited freedom they don’t want to continue living there.”

Three of the bishops also visited the Gaza Strip, where an Israeli blockade has made it difficult to get supplies for reconstruction of buildings destroyed by Israeli shelling. Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, Scotland, one of the bishops who visited Gaza, said he left feeling “sad and helpless” at the poverty and lack of basic commodities.

In 2006, a government led by Hamas was elected in Gaza. Israel, the United States and the European Union have listed Hamas. an Islamic political party with an armed wing, as a terrorist organization and have imposed economic sanctions against Gaza.

In their statement, the bishops said Christians had a responsibility to help “the people of Gaza, who continue to live amid a man-made humanitarian catastrophe. They have now spent a decade under blockade, compounded by a political impasse caused by ill-will on all sides.”

They also said Christians must continue to encourage nonviolent resistance, as encouraged by Pope Francis.

“This is particularly necessary in the face of injustices such as the continued construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land, including the Cremisan Valley,” the statement said.

The barrier is a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads snaking across part of the West Bank. If completed as planned, the separation wall would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank. Israel maintains that the barrier contributed significantly to a decrease in the number of terrorist attacks, while Palestinians contend that the barrier is simply another Israeli land grab, imprisons them and imposes travel limitations.

The bishops said that each year since 1998, they have called for justice and peace, “yet the suffering continues.”

“So this call must get louder,” their statement said. “As bishops, we implore Christians in our home countries to recognize our own responsibility for prayer, awareness and action.”

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