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House’s health care bill has both laudable and troubling aspects, bishop says

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WASHINGTON — 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” before the measure is passed, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, who is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, sent a letter March 17 to House members. It was released March 20 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Congressman Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, takes notes as he listens to House Budget Committee lawmakers deliver statements on the American Health Care Act during a March 16 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Congressman Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, takes notes as he listens to House Budget Committee lawmakers deliver statements on the American Health Care Act during a March 16 hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Regarding life protections in the bill, Bishop Dewane said: “By restricting funding which flows to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion, including with current and future tax credits, the legislation honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.”

Among the “very troubling features” of the bill are the Medicaid-related provisions, he said. Other aspects that must be addressed before the bill is passed include the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services, Bishop Dewane said.

His letter follows one sent March 8 to House members by him and three other bishops’ committee chairmen stating they would be reviewing closely the American Health Care Act, introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The other signers of the earlier letter were: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration.

In his March 17 letter, Bishop Dewane said one area in the new bill that could be helpful, with “appropriate safeguards,” is an effort to increase flexibility for states and provide more options for health care savings and different kinds of coverage based on economic levels. But still, Bishop Dewane said, “efforts to increase flexibility must be carefully undertaken so as not to undermine” a given program’s “effectiveness or reach.”

In the House bill, Medicaid expansion would be repealed and replaced with a “per capita allotment.” Under the current law, more Americans became eligible for Medicaid, so long as their states opted into the entitlement program’s expansion.

The House bill’s “proposed modifications to the Medicaid program, a vital component of the social safety net, will have sweeping impacts, increasing economic and community costs while moving away from affordable access for all,” Bishop Dewane said.

He also cited the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the bill that said “as many as 24 million additional people could be uninsured in the next 10 years for a variety of reasons.”

The U.S. bishops, he said, have stressed that “all people and every family must be able to see clearly how they will fit within and access the health care system in a way that truly meets their needs.”

The CBO estimates millions of people currently eligible for Medicaid under the law “will be negatively impacted due to reduced funding from the per capita cap” proposal, Bishop Dewane said.

“State and local resources are unlikely to be sufficient to cover the gaps,” he continued.

Congress needs “to rework the Medicaid-related provisions of the AHCA to fix these problems and ensure access for all, and especially for those most in need,” said Bishop Dewane.

He also pointed out that the House measure does not provide “conscience protection against mandates to provide coverage or services, such as the regulatory interpretation of ‘preventive services’ requiring contraception and sterilization coverage in almost all private health plans nationwide.”

The mandate requiring most employers to provide such coverage even if they are morally opposed to it, he reminded House members, “has been the subject of large-scale litigation especially involving religious entities like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Bishop Dewane outlined other provisions he said need to be addressed before the legislation is passed, including:

  • The new tax credit system, which “appears to create increased barriers to affordability, particularly for older and lower-income people when compared with the cost assistance” allowed under the current health care law.
  • The cap on the cost of plans for older Americans relative to plans for younger people would increase to a 5-to-1 ratio over the current 3-to-1 ratio. Studies show, Bishop Dewane said, that “premiums for older people on fixed incomes would rise, at times dramatically” under the House proposal.
  • A 30 percent surcharge for a 12-month period for those who do not maintain continuous coverage “presents a serious challenge.”
  • No longer any requirement for states to allow individuals seeking Medicaid benefits a reasonable opportunity to verify that they are either U.S. citizens or have a qualified immigration status. “This change would undoubtedly threaten eligible individuals’ access to essential and early medical care,” the bishop said.

The current federal health care law “is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said, noting the U.S. bishops “registered serious objections at the time of its passage” in 2010.

“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,” he said.

The U.S. bishops “look forward to working with Congress to address the problems found in the AHCA, to ensure that all people can benefit from comprehensive, quality health care that they can truly afford.”

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U.S. bishops call for solidarity with Middle East victims of violence, refugees

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WASHINGTON — Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board.

The damaged entrance of St. Mary's Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

The damaged entrance of St. Mary’s Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

“A concern for our Christian brethren is inclusive and does not exclude a concern for all the peoples of the region who suffer violence and persecution, both minorities and majorities, both Muslims and Christians,” said a Feb. 10 statement from four bishops.

“To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others,” the statement said. “Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”

The group included Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

The group pointed to the findings of a recent USCCB delegation to Iraq, which confirmed that Christians, Yezidis, Shiite Muslims and other minorities had experienced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State group.

“It is important for Syrians and Iraqis of all faiths to recognize this as genocide, for that recognition is a way to help everyone come to grips with what is happening and to form future generations that will reject any ideology that leads to genocidal acts and other atrocities,” the bishops said in their statement.

The bishops called on Americans to accept “our nation’s fair share” of vulnerable families, regardless of religion and ethnicity, for resettlement as refugees. They called for special consideration of the victims of genocide and other violence.

They urged the U.S. to encourage the Iraqi government and the regional government in Irbil, Iraq, to “strengthen the rule of law based on equal citizenship and ensure the protection of all.”

U.S. aid should assist local and national efforts to improve policing and the court system and encourage local self-governance, the bishops said. Similar efforts are needed in Syria as well, they said.

The U.S. also can provide “generous” humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, displaced people and Iraqi and Syrian communities as they rebuild, the statement said. Such funding can be directed in part to “trusted faith-based nongovernmental agencies” such as Catholic Relief Services and local Caritas agencies, the bishops said.

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Cardinal Dolan: If sanctuary of the womb is violated, no one is safe

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

“Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother’s womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?” he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, waves as he arrives to concelebrate the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan. 26. The all-night vigil is held before the annual March for Life, which this year marked the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation. (CNS/Bob Roller)

New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, waves as he arrives to concelebrate the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington Jan. 26. The all-night vigil is held before the annual March for Life, which this year marked the 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb “a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother’s tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity.”

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States, first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but “clinging within to that pearl of great price, their faith,” and today’s immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, “should it shock us” that “such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth’s environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers?” Cardinal Dolan asked.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine’s Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year’s March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of “several hundred” seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry R. Knestout of Washington received applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included “senior White House officials and a special guest.” No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court.

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond’s homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan’s in terms how acceptance of abortion is “used to justify” other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day’s Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, “Jesus says, ‘Let them come to me, let them come to me.’”

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed “the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade.” Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but one was not mentioned.

That reason was “the witness of so many people for life,” he said. “Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church,” he added to applause. “You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life,” the archbishop said to more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers’ parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, “we will continue to witness, and with God’s help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life.”

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Catholic-Muslim dialogue opens to support Islamic American communities

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — An emerging Catholic dialogue with Muslims aims to show public support for Islamic American communities.

The dialogue stems from concerns expressed by U.S. bishops in the wake of “a serious uptick in violence against American Muslims … to make sure that they are sensitive to what is going on in the (Muslim) communities,” said Anthony Cirelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Read more »

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Cardinal DiNardo, new USCCB president, says bishops ‘intend to be attentive’

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — The newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said he is not planning on “creating a new vision” but hopes to continue the bishops’ priorities particularly focusing on dialogue and listening to Catholics.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston addresses a news conference Nov. 15 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The cardinal was elected USCCB president that morning. Seated to his left is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who was elected USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston addresses a news conference Nov. 15 at the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. The cardinal was elected USCCB president that morning. Seated to his left is Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who was elected USCCB vice president. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The bishops “intend to be attentive,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston hours after his Nov. 15 election to a three-year term that begins at the close of the bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.

For the past three years, he has served as USCCB vice president, a role that typically leads to election as president. He succeeds Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky.

The cardinal said he plans to focus on the needs and concerns of Catholics, particularly members of the immigrant community who fear deportation with the recent election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. But he also said he remained hopeful about working with the new administration, saying its newness “offers options and possibilities.”

“We hope for a whole lot. This is brand new,” he told Catholic News Service.

The cardinal said he would listen to the voices of the immigrants and would work to ensure government leaders treat them with dignity, adding that the church in the U.S. has always stood with immigrants.

“We make our voices heard,” he said, “not by screaming in the streets but rather our voices are heard in the streets by our care and concern and our clarity, what we think is essential.”

Cardinal DiNardo, 67, said the key part of his role remains as a church leader, which is “where we show our shepherd’s heart.”

His Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston includes 1.3 million Catholics, 440 priests in 146 parishes and 60 schools spread over 8,880 square miles.

The cardinal, who was born in Steubenville, Ohio, was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1977 and named a bishop 20 years later. He is a former bishop of Sioux City, Iowa. He has been archbishop of Galveston-Houston since 2006. He was named a cardinal in 2007 and participated in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.

This summer, after the shooting of police officers in Dallas in response to shootings by police officers, Cardinal DiNardo said: “These tragedies call for our prayer for healing and for change. It seems as though at times our hearts are stony and paralyzed. We need God’s spirit of mercy to melt them and reopen our hearts to the beauty of human life and to rebuilding human communities.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter @carolmaczim.

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U.S. bishops OK four-year 740-things-to-do list

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — A new strategic plan adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 15 during its fall general assembly reflects the efforts of Pope Francis to establish a more merciful and accompanying church, said the archbishop who led the planning process.

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, listens to a speaker Nov. 15 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, listens to a speaker Nov. 15 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The plan, adopted by a vote of 199-4 with two abstentions, will govern the work of the conference and its committees from 2017 through 2020. It takes effect in January.

“We have adapted these priorities to coincide with the priorities of Pope Francis,” Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans and chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Priorities and Plans, told the assembled bishops before their vote.

The plan incorporates the theme “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People With Joy” in setting five priorities: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom. In total, the five priorities identify more than 740 individual projects to accomplish during the next four years.

Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who recently was appointed archbishop of Newark, N.J., asked where in the plan might be concern for the environment and people who are experiencing the negative effects of climate change.

“It is more urgent than ever given the possibility that the new (presidential) administration is not going to be interested in the issues Pope Francis is interested in,” Cardinal-designate Tobin said.

Archbishop Aymond responded that the plan’s work on the environment, climate change and a response to the needs of people on the margins of society worldwide falls under the human life and dignity priority.

In that section, one of the areas addressed includes teaching and advocating about what the pope has described as integral ecology, “emphasizing environmental degradation and its impact on the lives of the most vulnerable.”

The plan also calls for the U.S. church to move from a “silo approach” to ministry as expressed through the USCCB committees to deeper collaboration and cooperation in service of each bishops’ ministry.

“Committee chairmen and committee members will need to make sure we stay on track,” Archbishop Aymond told the assembly.

The plan, more than a year under discussion by the bishops through their committees, subcommittees and an ad hoc committee, stems in large part from Pope Francis’ message to the bishops when he visited the U.S. in 2015.

The 28-page document offers an overview of the plan and outlines several specific areas to address under each priority. Much of the plan was developed to support individuals of all ages as well as families as people go through daily life and to encourage actions that carry out what is described as “missionary discipleship.”

Another passage in the plan stresses that it charts “a path of hope for the people in need of a loving embrace as they face the challenges of the world.”

      Further, the document states, “The USCCB strategic plan exists to serve the mission of evangelization entrusted in a particular way to each bishop; it is the tool the U.S. bishops rely upon to prioritize, organize, optimize and resource good works which will allow the conference to fulfill its mission.”

      Two major events are expected to help achieve the priorities including the national Convocation of Catholic Leaders scheduled for July 1-4, 2017, in Orlando, Florida, and the V Encuentro for Hispanic Latino Ministry in 2018.

      Thousands of Catholics are expected at each event to discuss, learn, pray and act on ideas to strengthen the church at the local level and inspire new leaders to take on the challenges posed by modern society.

      The strategic plan also mentions that the early projects being undertaken will help the bishops as they prepare a pastoral letter on race relations that is planned for the 50th anniversary of the death of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 2018.

      In his presentation Nov. 14, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, as chairman of the the USCCB Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, urged his brother bishops to issue the statement on racism sooner than scheduled, because of the racial turmoil that has affected many of the nation’s communities after police shootings of African-Americans. The archbishop also said such a statement would help address postelection tensions across the country.

 Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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U.S. bishops elect Texas cardinal president of their conference

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected president of the U.S. bishops’ conference Nov. 15 for a three-year term to begin at the conclusion of the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.

Cardinal DiNardo collected a majority of votes on the first ballot of voting during the second day of the bishops’ public session. Based on the number of bishops voting, 104 votes were needed for election, and Cardinal DiNardo, the current vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, received 113.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston,  Nov. 15 at the annual fall general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore, was elected president of the conference, succeeding Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., (at right). (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Nov. 15 at the annual fall general assembly of the USCCB in Baltimore, was elected president of the conference, succeeding Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., (at right). (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

He will succeed Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, whose three-year term as president concludes at the end of the meeting.

Elected vice president was Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles. By virtue of his election, Archbishop Gomez will not take over as chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration. He was elected last year as chairman-elect of the committee and was to succeed the current outgoing chairman, Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle, at the end of this year’s general assembly.

A lunchtime meeting was scheduled for the committee to advance two names for chairman to be voted on by the full body of bishops.

Archbishop Gomez was elected vice president on the third ballot.

Under rules established by the USCCB, the names of 10 bishops who are willing to be nominated for the USCCB presidency are presented for voting. After a president is elected, the remaining nine are then considered for the vice presidency.

If no candidate of the nine has received a simple majority after two ballots, the third ballot features only the two top vote-getters in the second round. Archbishop Gomez was elected over Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans.

The other nominees were, in alphabetical order, Archbishops Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City; Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, the only non-archbishop among the original 10; and Archbishops William E. Lori of Baltimore, Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit, Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, and John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The bishops also voted for chairmen-elect of five standing committees and three representatives for the board of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency.

The standing committees include Canonical Affairs and Church Governance; Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Evangelization and Catechesis; International Justice and Peace; and Protection of Children and Young People.

The chairmen-elect each will begin a three-year term as chairmen at the end of the bishops’ fall general assembly in 2017:

— Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance: Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, elected over Bishop David M. Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, 111 to 89.

— Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs: Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, elected over Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, 115 to 90.

— Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis: Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles elected over Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, 122 to 90.

– Committee on International Justice and Peace: Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services elected over Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, 127 to 88.

— Committee on Protection of Children and Young People: Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, elected over Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, 128 to 86.

Also several chairmen-elect chosen last year will become committee chairmen at the end of this year’s assembly and will serve three-year terms:

— Divine Worship: Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta.

— Domestic Justice and Human Development: Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida.

— Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations: Cardinal-elect Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis, who recently was appointed archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

— Catholic Education: Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio.

— Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth: Archbishop Chaput.

A vote also was taken for three seats on the board of Catholic Relief Services. Elected were Archbishop Coakley, who ends his term as president of the board but remained eligible to continue serving; Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee; and Bishop Gregory L. Parkes of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida.

 

Contributing to this story was Dennis Sadowski. Follow Pattison and Sadowski on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison and @DennisSadowski.

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Catholic News Service

BALTIMORE — Earlier this year, as communities faced tensions, protests and violence, following a spate of shooting and killings of black men by police, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, of Louisville, Kentucky, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked dioceses across the country to observe a day of prayer for peace.

Choir members sing during Mass Nov. 13 at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore. The U.S. bishops concelebrated Mass at the church Nov. 14, the first day of their fall general assembly. Bishop Wilton D, Gregory has asked the bishops assembled in Baltimore to issue a document on racism. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Choir members sing during Mass Nov. 13 at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore. The U.S. bishops concelebrated Mass at the church Nov. 14, the first day of their fall general assembly. Bishop Wilton D, Gregory has asked the bishops assembled in Baltimore to issue a document on racism. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

He also wanted the bishops to look for ways they could help the suffering communities, as well as police affected by the incidents.

To that end, he appointed a special task force to explore ways of promoting peace and healing around the country and named by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta to head it.

On Nov. 14, Archbishop Gregory urged bishops gathered in Baltimore at the USCCB’s fall general assembly to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism, given “postelection uncertainty” and that some of the tensions have only gotten worse following the presidential election.

He urged prayer, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, dialogues, as well as parish-based and diocesan conversations and training, and providing opportunities for encounter.

In a news conference that followed his afternoon presentation and ended the first day of the bishops’ assembly, Archbishop Gregory said communities that were disrupted by violence and riots after the police shootings, prompting a calling for healing from the church, are now seeing recent and highly public reactions to tensions brought about by the election results.

“It’s the hope of the task force, of people of goodwill, that the demonstrations, don’t turn violent,” he said.

American society has the ability to express opinion on social matters through various forms of expression, including protests, but “what we pray for is that those expressions of frustrations don’t provide another vehicle for violence.”

Tensions had been high enough in July, when Archbishop Kurtz had said the Catholic Church needed to “walk with and help these suffering communities” that had been affected by the shootings and the riots protesting them that followed.

“I have stressed the need to look toward additional ways of nurturing an open, honest and civil dialogue on issues of race relations, restorative justice, mental health, economic opportunity, and addressing the question of pervasive gun violence,” Archbishop Kurtz said at the time. He said he wanted the work of the task force to help embrace the suffering of the communities, to nurture peace and build bridges of communication and mutual aid in local communities.

The recommendations, said Archbishop Gregory, were examined before the recent elections and all the tensions and protests that have followed. The recommendations were related to race and violence issues related to the summer shootings and riots.

But Archbishop Gregory expressed hope that the church could help foster dialogue and bring healing by working with communities for a lasting peace.

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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How American Pharoah ‘attended’ a Mass

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Catholic News Service

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Horse farms. World-renowned racetracks. A nursery. A tobacco farm. A horse stud farm. An equine hospital. Read more »

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U.S. bishops say compromise could be reached in HHS contraceptive mandate case

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WASHINGTON — A Sept. 9 letter from USCCB officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.

The letter, in response to the government’s request for comments on a proposal mandating contraceptive coverage, echoed the Supreme Court’s May 16 decision in Zubik v. Burwell — the combined lawsuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, and several other religious groups, that said providing contraception coverage to employees through their insurance plans violated their religious beliefs.

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington are seen near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23. A Sept. 9 letter from U. S. bishops'  officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.(CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington are seen near the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23. A Sept. 9 letter from U. S. bishops’ officials to the Department of Health and Human Services stressed that a compromise could effectively be reached in the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive requirement.(CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

The court sent the cases back to the lower courts saying religious employers and the government should be “afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.”

For this accommodation to happen, the USCCB letter stressed that “any government-mandated contraceptive coverage must be truly independent of petitioners and their plans,” meaning the coverage should be offered by a separate communication and with a different policy, enrollment process, insurance card and payment source.

The letter, signed by members of the USCCB’s general counsel, also said such coverage should not be automatic in order to protect the conscience rights of people with religious objections to contraception and sterilization coverage.

It said that another look at the HHS contraceptive requirement provides an opportunity for the government to “bring to an end years of church-state litigation and, in turn, to avoid a legacy of ongoing and unnecessary conflict with substantial portions of the religious community in the United States.”

It also noted that the Supreme Court had urged the litigants “to resolve this matter amicably” which the letter said they had done by “describing, in good faith and in great detail, a way to reach an amicable resolution.”

But these groups cannot change the regulations, the letter added, stressing that only the government could and should do this instead of ignoring “the sincerely held and repeatedly stated religious objections of a substantial minority of our civil society.”

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