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U.S. bishops pray for ‘safety, care’ of all hit by two massive hurricanes

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops’ Executive Committee Sept. 12 prayed for “the safety and care of human life” after two catastrophic hurricanes and urged Catholics around the country to offer their prayers as well as financial support and volunteer help as they can.

Residents look at a collapsed house Sept. 12 after Hurricane Irma passed the area in Vilano Beach, Florida. (CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters)

“The massive scale of the dual disasters and the effect it has on communities, families and individuals cannot be fully comprehended or adequately addressed in the immediate aftermath of the storms,” the statement said, noting that “lives and livelihoods” were “still at risk in Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean.”

Beginning Sept. 6, Hurricane Irma left hardly any place in its path untouched. The strength and size of the massive storm, with 120-plus-mph winds stretching 70 miles from its core, leveled entire islands in the eastern Caribbean, brought unprecedented flooding on Cuba’s north coast, devastated the Florida Keys, snapped construction cranes in downtown Miami and targeted cities along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Irma dwindled to a tropical storm as it neared the Florida-Georgia line early Sept. 11 and was forecast to die out over southern states later in the week. Officials in Florida and across the Caribbean, meanwhile, started to dig out and evaluate the full scope of the disaster Irma left behind. The death toll stood at more than 30 in the Caribbean and at 12 in the United States, as of Sept. 12.

More than a week earlier, Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on Houston and southern Texas Aug. 25-30. In a four-day period, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain. Flooding inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and prompted more than 17,000 rescues. The death toll from that storm stood at 70.

“At this time of initial recovery, we mourn the loss of life, homes and other property, and the harm to the natural environment, and we pray for all those affected and in need of assistance” in the wake of the two massive hurricanes, said the Executive Committee, which includes the officers of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We also pray for the safety of, and in thanksgiving for, the first responders who are risking their lives at this very moment in care for their neighbors, especially those who are elderly, sick, homeless, or otherwise already in need of special assistance,” the statement said.

The Executive Committee’s statement followed by three days a statement from the president of the USCCB, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose diocese was hit by flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

He called for prayers for the victims of Harvey and for those affected by Irma.

“At a time like this, when our endurance is tested, we implore God to direct us to yet unknown reserves of strength and human compassion for those suffering so deeply. May our manifestations of love and solidarity be lasting signs in the midst of this crisis,” he said Sept. 9.

The Executive Committee said it shared “Pope Francis’ trust that the Catholic faithful here in the United States will respond to the needs presented by these disasters with a ‘ast outpouring of solidarity and mutual aid in the best traditions of the nation.’”

“We encourage the faithful to respond generously with prayers, financial support, and for those who have the opportunity, the volunteering of time and talents in support of those in need,” it said.

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Ending DACA program called ‘reprehensible’ and ‘heart-breaking’ by U.S. bishops

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporters demonstrate near the White House in Washington Sept. 5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the DACA program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Although the Department of Homeland Security will immediately stop accepting applications to the DACA program, current recipients would not be affected until March 5, which Sessions said will “create a time period for Congress to act, should it choose.”

He described the 2012 policy, popularly known as DACA and implemented under President Barack Obama, as an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

DACA does not provide legal status for youths who were brought to the country without legal permission as children, but it gives recipients a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization in the United States, as long as the applicants meet certain criteria.

In the days leading up to the decision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with other Catholic organizations, asked the president to keep the program.

A Sept. 5 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and something that “causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families.”

“Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country,” they said, adding that the decision by the Trump administration is a “heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and goodwill, and a short-sighted vision for the future.”

The bishops also urged Congress to “immediately resume work toward a legislative solution.”

They told DACA recipients: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”

The statement was signed by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, USCCB vice president; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers.

 

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Bishops’ Labor Day statement sees threat of ‘excessive inequality’

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Catholic News Service

“Excessive inequality” threatens cooperation among all people in society “and the social pact it supports,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, in the U.S. bishops’ annual Labor Day statement.

Tires leave the curing presses in Union City, Tenn., in this file photo. (CNS photo/Goodyear via EPA)

In the message, Bishop Dewane cited the words of Pope Francis, who told factory workers in Genoa, Italy, “The entire social pact is built around work. This is the core of the problem. Because when you do not work, or you work badly, you work little or you work too much, it is democracy that enters into crisis, and the entire social pact.”

Dated Sept. 4, the federal Labor Day holiday, the statement was released Aug. 30.

Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, pointed to a “twisted understanding of labor and laborers” that fosters deepening inequality.

In Genoa, the pope “acknowledges that ‘merit’ is a beautiful word,” Bishop Dewane said, “but the modern world can often use it ideologically, which makes it ‘distorted and perverted’ when it is used for ethically legitimizing inequality.”

“Wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller percentage collect the new wealth being generated. Economic stresses contribute to a decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households and child poverty,” Bishop Dewane added. “Economic instability also hurts the faith community, as Americans who have recently experienced unemployment are less likely to go to church, even though such communities can be a source of great support in difficult times.”

He said, “When a parent working full time, or even working multiple jobs beyond standard working hours, cannot bring his or her family out of poverty, something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person.”

“Pope Francis has said it is ‘inhuman’ that parents must spend so much time working that they cannot play with their children. Surely many wish for more time, but their working conditions do not allow it.”

He quoted St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus”: “Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.”

“A culture that obsesses less over endless activity and consumption may, over time, become a culture that values rest for the sake of God and family,” Bishop Dewane said.

He added, “Our Lord’s ‘gaze of love’ embraces men and women who work long hours without rest to provide for their loved ones; families who move across towns, states, and nations, facing the highest risks and often suffering great tragedy in order to find better opportunities; workers who endure unsafe working conditions; low pay and health crises; women who suffer wage disparities and exploitation; and those who suffer the effects of racism in any setting, including the workplace.”

Bishop Dewane suggested several approaches to right the imbalance brought by inequality.

“Worker-owned businesses can be a force for strengthening solidarity, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged businesses to consider the active sharing of all in the administration and profits of these enterprises in ways to be properly determined,” he said. “The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce.”

Workers’ legal rights to “a just wage in exchange for work, to protection against wage theft, to workplace safety and just compensation for workplace injuries, to health care and other benefits, and to organize and engage in negotiations, should be promoted,” he added.

“Workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights. As an example, CCHD has supported the Don Bosco Workers in Westchester, N.Y., which has launched a successful campaign to combat wage theft. Persons returning from prison also need support to understand their legal rights as they seek new employment. CCHD has helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati and elsewhere as they work with returning citizens to find stable and meaningful jobs.”

Labor unions play an important role in this effort, according to Bishop Dewane, as he quoted from Pope Francis’ remarks in June in an audience with delegates from the Confederation of Trade Unions: “There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones.”

“Unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice, which ‘regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,’” he said, quoting further from Pope Francis, who added, “The union movement has its great seasons when it is prophecy.” Bishop Dewane added that unions should “resist the temptation of becoming too similar to the institutions and powers that it should instead criticize.”

Bishop Dewane said, “Unions are especially valuable when they speak on behalf of the poor, the immigrant, and the person returning from prison.”

     

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Bishop Murry says racism demands church’s attention

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — By creating a committee to deal with racism, the country’s Catholic bishops are standing up for the American value of equality and for a Gospel that refutes the hatred and violence the country witnessed Aug. 11 and 12 during white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., said the bishop who will lead the effort. Read more »

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From the Bishop: Racism is a sin that defiles the image of God

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A Statement by Bishop Malooly

 

I stand with many U.S. bishops in condemning the evils of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism that were evident during two days of demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 11 and 12. Our prayers go out to the families of those who lost their lives during the protests and to those who were injured.

The U.S. bishops wrote in their 1979 pastoral statement, “Brothers and Sisters to Us,” that “racism is a sin.” That simple statement was as self-evident then as it is now, but racism — which Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia recently called America’s “original sin,” evidenced in our tragic history of legal slavery — is a sin that persists.­­­ Read more »

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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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