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Santa Rosa diocese hit hard by ongoing wildfires

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The Diocese of Santa Rosa “has been hit hard” and “is in an ongoing state of uncertainty” because of Northern California wildfires that began the night of Oct. 8, said Bishop Robert F. Vasa.

At least 12 major fires were raging across the region, according to news reports. Of those 12, at least five were zero to 5 percent contained, and the rest were 15 to 70 percent contained. Fanned by warm winds, they devastated a vast swath of North California’s wine country and forced 20,000 to evacuate. They left at least 23 people dead, and hundreds of others were missing.

A destroyed section of Cardinal Newman High School is seen following wildfires in Santa Rosa, Calif. A series of deadly Northern California wildfires has killed at least 17 people, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, including a section of the Catholic school. (CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Santa Rosa)

“Santa Rosa is extremely smoky with the sun a mere red ball,” the bishop said in an Oct. 10 statement. He also noted that for the many hundreds who have lost their homes, “the sense of great helplessness is palpable.”

A CNN report noted how fast-moving the fires are, saying they “torched 20,000 acres in 12 hours.” Local civic authorities said factors that contributed to the rapid spread of the flames included dry conditions, high-speed winds and lots of vegetation.

Over 17 fires were burning across the state, including in Southern California; more than 115,000 acres had burned.

In a statement Oct. 12, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic policy committee called for prayer for all impacted by the fires. “Today we ask for the intercession of Almighty God as wildfires rage in Northern California,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., quoting from Verse 10, from Isaiah 41. “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious. I am your God.”

“As brave men and women respond to these disasters, battling the fires and helping people to safety, we call upon God for improved weather, for the blessing of rain and favorable winds, to assist them,” the bishop said. “We pray that those who are missing or are still in harm’s way will be found and protected. May God grant eternal rest to those who have died, and bring them into glory with him forever.”

He also prayed “for generosity, care, and concern from neighbors and surrounding communities for those who are grieving and displaced.”

Bishop Dewane acknowledged that the natural disasters and other calamities the nation has endured as of late have left many feeling weary, but “we know that God cannot be outdone in generosity and charity.” He prayed God would provide all “with new wellsprings of love” to help those “hurting so deeply today.”

In Santa Rosa, Bishop Vasa reported that most of the parishes in the diocese were fine but that a Catholic high school and elementary school that share a campus suffered serious damage. Early reports indicated that “a significant portion” of the high school had been destroyed.

After Cardinal Newman High School officials were able to assess the damage, they reported that the news was better than first thought and that most of the high school’s facilities, including the chapel and retreat center, were “unscathed.”

However, they verified that the library, the main office building and portable buildings that housed several classrooms were lost. Another classroom building suffered roof damage and some of its windows were blown out. Of the athletic facilities, the school’s baseball infield and dugouts were damaged.

The diocesan chancery also was “in the heart of a severely fire damaged part of the city but fortunately was entirely spared,” Bishop Vasa said in his statement, but it was being used as an evacuation center and would remain closed to diocesan staff “for the unforeseeable future.”

“So I am currently working from my car and trying to visit a few of the evacuation centers,” the bishop said.

Residents embrace near the remains of destroyed homes Oct. 9 after wildfires in Santa Rosa, Calif. A series of deadly Northern California wildfires has killed at least 17 people, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings, including a section of Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa. (CNS photo/John G. Mabanglo, EPA)

“In the city, they estimate that 1,500 homes and businesses have been lost,” he continued. “I have met numerous folks who are in shelters and who have no home to which to return. The sense of great helplessness is palpable.

“That helplessness extends to the caregivers who know that short term solutions are necessary but also severely inadequate to meet the long-term needs.”

The six-county Diocese of Santa Rose includes four of the counties hit hard by the fires — Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. Bishop Vasa called on all Catholics of the diocese to help their brothers and sisters who “have been severely impacted by the devastating fires and are in immediate need of your prayers. Please do not hesitate to offer your help though ongoing prayer, donations, and emotional support.”

“You may even be inspired to offer your home to a family who has lost everything. Simply imagine yourself and your family going through what many are experiencing now in reality, and act accordingly,” he advised.

Bishop Vasa said he would try to send occasional updates to the people of the diocese. “I appreciate the outpouring of concern and especially prayers. When people ask how they can help, I answer that I really do not know. I do know that prayers are the greatest source of solace and help.”

“My heart and prayers go out to all this displaced by the fire, especially those who have lost their homes,” he said. “I am extremely grateful to all the caregivers who have reached out so generously to your brothers and sisters in need.”

He added: “We all need to recognize that this is a long-term recovery and we are not yet done with the active fires. There is always need for ardent, consistent and devout prayers. I know that we can all count on you for this as well.”

In a letter to the Cardinal Newman High School community, church officials said that until further notice, all students, families and staff “are to stay away from the campus as it is in the evacuation zone and the site is not safe.”

School officials were working on a way to hold classes in another location, suggesting they might come up with a “hybrid” solution, offering some classes online. They invited families from the high school and St. Rose Elementary School to an evening meeting Oct. 12 on the “state of the schools” to share information and “how we plan to go forward.”

“We continue to pray for our families and our community who have suffered during this time, especially those who have lost their homes, business and have been displaced due to evacuation,” the letter said. “May God’s grace give you peace in this challenging time.”

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Trump administration expands exemptions on contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington Sept. 26. The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

While providing an exemption for religious employers, the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

President Donald Trump had pledged to lift the mandate burden placed on religious employers during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, but Catholic leaders and the heads of a number of Catholic entities had criticized the administration for a lack of action on that pledge in the months that followed.

From the outset, churches were exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers. The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.

A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Senior Health and Human Services officials who spoke to reporters Oct. 5 on the HHS rule on the condition of anonymity said that the exemption to the contraceptive mandate would apply to all the groups that had sued against it. Groups suing the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Eternal Word Television Network and some Catholic and other Christian universities.

In reaction immediately after the 150-page interim ruling was issued, religious groups that had opposed the mandate were pleased with the administration’s action.

An Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the new rule “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The church leaders also said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Lori said the decision was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

Michael Warsaw, EWTN chairman and CEO president, said the television network’s legal team would be “carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, told reporters in a telephone news conference an hour after the rule was released that it is a “common sense and balanced rule and a great step forward for religious liberty.”

He said the rule “carves out a narrow exemption” and keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for those without moral or religious objections to it.

He noted that it does not provide immediate relief for those groups who had challenged it, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which Becket represents. They will “still need relief in courts,” he said, but was confident now that it would happen.

“We’ve traveled a long way,” he added, of the multiple challenges to the contraceptive mandate in recent years, which he described as an “unnecessary culture war fight.”

Rienzi, noted that the HHS rule could have eliminated the contraceptive mandate completely but it did not do so. He also said the new rule is open for comments for a 90-day period and will likely face legal challenges, which already began in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of members of the ACLU and Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West who say they are at risk of losing their contraception coverage because of where they work or attend school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the interim rules violate the establishment clause regarding religion in the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution “by authorizing and promoting religiously motivated and other discrimination against women seeking reproductive health care.”

     

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

 

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Prayers after ‘unspeakable terror’ in Las Vegas

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WASHINGTON — The nation has experienced “yet another night filled with unspeakable terror,” and “we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering,” said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

In Las Vegas, a gunman identified by law enforcement officials as Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, was perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a hotel and unleashed a shower of bullets late Oct. 1 on an outdoor country music festival taking place below. The crowd at the event numbered more than 22,000.

People mourn during an interfaith memorial service Oct. 2 in Las Vegas for victims of a shooting spree directed at an outdoor country music festival late Oct. 1. A gunman perched in a room on the 32nd floor of a casino hotel unleashed a shower of bullets on the festival below, killing at least 59 people and wounding another 527. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

He killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500, making it by all accounts “the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, said in an Oct. 2 statement.

“My heart and my prayers, and those of my brother bishops and all the members of the church, go out to the victims of this tragedy and to the city of Las Vegas,” he said.

“Our hearts go out to everyone,” Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas said in a statement. “We are praying for those who have been injured, those who have lost their lives, for the medical personnel and first responders who, with bravery and self-sacrifice, have helped so many.

“We are also very heartened by the stories of all who helped each other in this time of crisis. As the Gospel reminds us, we are called to be modern-day good Samaritans,” he added. “We continue to pray for all in Las Vegas and around the world whose lives are shattered by the events of daily violence.”

He said an early evening interfaith prayer service was to take place at the city’s Cathedral of the Guardian Angels and he invited “our sisters and brothers around the world to join us in prayer for healing and for an end to violence.”

In a telegram to Bishop Pepe, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Pope Francis was “deeply saddened to learn of the shooting in Las Vegas” and “sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy.’

“He commends the efforts of the police and emergency service personnel, and offers the promise of his prayers for the injured and for all who have died, entrusting them to the merciful love of Almighty God,” the cardinal said.

The barrage of shots came from a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino complex on the Las Vegas Strip. Once police officers determined where the gunshots were coming from, they stormed the room to find the suspect dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters.

The suspect later identified as Paddock was from Mesquite, Nevada, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, and was described in later reports as a retired accountant. News reports also said law enforcement believed the suspect was a “lone wolf” in planning and carrying out the attack.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo said: “At this time, we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering. In the end, the only response is to do good, for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light. May the Lord of all gentleness surround all those who are suffering from this evil, and for those who have been killed we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

Catholic bishops and other Catholic leaders around the country issued statements expressing sadness at the horrific developments in Las Vegas, offering prayers for the victims and praising first responders, volunteers and bystanders for their efforts at the scene.

“Once again we must reach out in shock and horror to comfort the victims of a mass shooting in our country,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago.

“We reaffirm our commitment to nonviolence and to addressing the causes of such tragedies. At this time we come together in prayer and also in resolve to change a culture that has allowed such events to become commonplace,” he said. “We must not become numb to these mass shootings or to the deadly violence that occurs on our streets month in and month out.”

He called for better access to mental health care and “stronger, sensible gun control laws.”

“We pray that there comes a day when the senseless violence that has plagued the nation for so long ends for good,” said Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. The bells of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus were to ring in the afternoon for all those affected by the Las Vegas tragedy.

The Catholic University of America in Washington offered prayers and support for the shooting victims. It also announced campus counselors and campus ministry staff were available to students needing help dealing with the deadly events, and said the employee assistance program was available to faculty and staff for the same purpose.

“As a community of faith, our university offers its prayers for the victims and their families, the first responders, and the health care workers who are caring for the injured,” said John Garvey, the university’s president. He added, “I ask that we meet this moment by cultivating peace with our words and deeds in our own community.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit held a noon service at St. Aloysius Church to pray for the victims of the shooting, their families and all affected, and also to pray “for an end to such devastating violence in our country and around the world.”

“Violence has once again horrified us as a nation and drawn us together in sorrow. All of us, people of faith as well as those with no particular religious affiliation, are stunned by the tragic, senseless, and incomprehensible loss of life in Las Vegas,” said Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

“Jesus is weeping with us and for us,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik. “It is time for us as a nation to require at least as much from those purchasing guns as we expect from those making application for a driver’s license. Public safety must always come first.”

He called on lawmakers “to make it far more difficult for those with dangerously impaired moral reasoning, criminals and terrorists to make their point with a gun” and, like Cardinal Cupich, urged better access to mental health care “for those who may be prone to violence.”

“Join with me in prayer that we as a nation will seek to build a society in which the right to life is the standard against which all other rights are measured,” he said.

“I pray for the end of the violence and hatred in our nation, and I continue to pray that we follow the truth given to us in Psalms, that we should always trust in Jesus,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee.

Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, Pa., noted the “tragic irony” that the mass shooting had taken place on Respect Life Sunday and the beginning of the Catholic Church’s observance of Respect Life Month.

“We can never become numbed to the seemingly endless stream of outrageous crimes that show a lack of respect for our fellow human beings,” the bishop said. “We continue to teach and proclaim that every human person is created in God’s image and has the right to life. … We will continue to pray that the light of God’s love will reach into the darkest places in our nation and our world.”

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Disturbing, shameful: Bishops join opposition to reported U.S. refugee limit

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Catholic bishops and other faith groups are objecting to reports that the Trump administration will limit the number of refugees the United States accepts to 45,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

A severely malnourished child is seen as Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid Sept. 25 at a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Immigrants and refugees need to be respected and assisted, not treated like an enemy, a panel said during a Sept. 27 news conference at the Vatican launching the Caritas “Share the Journey” campaign. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)

It would be the lowest admission level for persons fleeing persecution that the U.S. has accepted since the executive branch was allowed to set the caps in 1980 under the Refugee Act, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

“We are disturbed and deeply disappointed by the proposed presidential determination number of 45,000,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“While the Catholic bishops, Catholic Charities, and Catholic communities across the country join in welcoming all of those refugees to American communities with joy and open arms, we are gravely concerned for the tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable refugees left behind by this decision,” he said in a Sept. 29 statement.

“As I have stated before, this decision has very severe human consequences — people with faces, names, children and families are suffering and cannot safely or humanely remain where they are until the war and persecution in their countries of origin gets resolved,” Bishop Vasquez said.

“These people include at-risk women and children; frightened youth; the elderly; those whose lives are threatened because of their religion, ethnicity or race; and refugees seeking family reunification with loved ones in the United States,” he added.

David Robinson, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service, called the 45,000 figure a “shamefully low number.”

Robinson said in a Sept. 27 statement that setting such a low goal “is a retreat from global leadership and undermines both our interests and our values. Our faith calls us to be compassionate, and this unprecedented policy is in direct opposition to the belief that we should welcome the stranger, especially the victims of war, terror and oppression.”

The limit comes at a time when one in every 113 people in the world is facing displacement from their home country because of conflicts, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. Last year, the agency said 65 million people around the world suffered that type of displacement.

“With historically high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our country,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said Sept. 27.

Bishop Vasquez said the U.S. Catholic bishops are urging the Trump administration “to welcome and resettle every one of the refugees eventually authorized” for fiscal year 2018. “Looking ahead, we strongly urge the administration next year to return to the level of resettling at least 75,000 refugees annually to the United States,” he added. “We can and must do better.”

Other faith groups, including the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the second-largest refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., said it was “profoundly disappointed” at the reduction.

When the Refugee Act of 1980 went into effect, the U.S. set the cap at over 231,000 refugees. Though it has declined steadily since then, the country has accepted between 70,000 to 80,000 displaced persons each year for almost two decades. President Barack Obama set the cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 during his last year in the White House.

In his first executive order as president, Donald Trump, set the cap at 50,000 and said any more than that “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Just as they did then, many faith communities still disagree with the president.

“Churches and communities, employers and mayors are heartsick at the administration’s callous and tragic decision to deny welcome to refugees most in need,” said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“We are not afraid of our new neighbors and are not fooled by cruel and false claims that refugees are a threat to our safety,” she said Sept. 27. “The American legacy of welcoming refugees has made us stronger and better, and the government’s own research proves that refugees bring economic benefit to our country through their hard work.”

In his statement, Bishop Vasquez noted that “each refugee that comes to the United States is admitted through an extensive vetting system. Many of these refugees already have family in the United States, and most begin working immediately to rebuild their lives; in turn contributing to the strength and richness of our society.

“God has blessed our country with bounty and precious liberty,” he continued, “and so we have great capacity to welcome those in such desperate need, while ensuring our nation’s security.”

Bishop Vasquez noted that on Sept. 27, when the Trump administration released its recommendation for the 45,000-cap on refugees, that same day Pope Francis “exhorted us to ‘reach out, open your arms to migrants and refugees, share the journey.’”

At the Vatican, the pope launched the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign of Catholic charities around the world to promote encounters between people on the move and people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving in.

“We urge the administration to move past this period of intensified scrutiny and skepticism of the U.S. refugee program, which serves as an international model,” Bishop Vasquez said. “This is a moment of opportunity to restore America’s historic leadership as a refuge for those fleeing persecution.”

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Bishop calls bill that reduces legal immigration ‘discriminatory’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Calling a proposed piece of legislation “discriminatory,” the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration called on the president and Congress to reject a bill that seeks to drastically cut legal immigration levels over a decade, and which also would greatly limit the ability of citizens and legal residents to bring family into the U.S. Read more »

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U.S. bishops urge FCC to retain open internet, net neutrality

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In comments delivered July 17 to the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the FCC to use “the strongest legal authority available” to “retain open internet regulations.”

A man holds his smartphone in San Francisco in this  file photo. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged the Federal Communications Commission to use "the strongest legal authority available" to "retain open internet regulations." (CNS photo/Susanna Bates, EPA)

A man holds his smartphone in San Francisco in this file photo. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged the Federal Communications Commission to use “the strongest legal authority available” to “retain open internet regulations.” (CNS photo/Susanna Bates, EPA)

The current regulations, adopted in 2015 by a Democratic-majority FCC, treat the internet as a utility. A prior FCC effort to regulate the internet as a communication service did not stand up to judicial scrutiny. The regulations are now under review by a Republican-led FCC. The concept of an open internet has long been called “net neutrality,” in which internet service providers neither favor nor discriminate against internet users or websites.

The USCCB is “concerned that the FCC is contemplating eliminating current regulations limiting the manner by which the companies controlling the infrastructure connect people to the internet,” said USCCB assistant general counsel Katherine Grincewich.

“Without the current strong open internet regulations, including prohibitions on paid prioritization, the public has no effective recourse against internet service providers’ interference with accessibility to content,” Grincewich said.

“There will be uncertainty about how and whether those companies can block, speed up or slow down access to internet content, and nonprofit religious entities will be relegated to an internet slow lane,” she added. “Since public interest noncommercial, including religious, programming is a low priority for broadcasters and cable companies, the internet is one of the few mediums available to churches and religious groups to communicate their messages and the values fundamental to the fabric of our communities.”

Grincewich noted, “Without protections to prohibit internet providers from tampering with content delivery on the internet, the fundamental attributes of the internet, in which users have unfettered access to content and capacity to provide content to others, are jeopardized.” Such protections, she added, “have particular importance” for those “committed to religious principles” who depend on the internet to convey to the public information “on matters of faith” and on the services provided to the public by those organizations or individuals.

“The internet is an indispensable medium for Catholics, and others with principled values, to convey views on matters of public concern and religious teachings,” Grincewich said.

“The internet was constructed as a unique medium without the editorial control functions of broadcast television, radio or cable television. The internet is open to any speaker, commercial or noncommercial, whether or not the speech is connected financially to the company priding internet access or whether it is popular or prophetic These characteristics make the internet critical to noncommercial religious speakers.”

Grincewich added, “Just as importantly, the internet is increasingly the preferred method for the disenfranchised and vulnerable, the poor that the church professes a fundamental preference toward, to access services, including educational and vocational opportunities to improve their lives and their children’s lives.”

The USCCB “also supports the rights of parents to protect their children from pornography,” one consequence of an open internet, Grincewich said. “The means of protecting children from such material is available to parents,” she added, “without ceding it to companies providing internet access.”

In the USCCB’s filing, Grincewich noted how Pope Benedict XVI warned against the “distortion that occurs when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good,” which the pope said in this 2006 World Day of Communication message.

“As a public service, social communication requires a spirit of cooperation and co-responsibility with vigorous accountability of the use of public resources and the performance of roles of public trust,” Pope Benedict said, “including recourse to regulatory standards and other measure or structures designed to affect this goal.”

Grincewich also noted Pope Francis has called the digital world “a public square” and said the internet “can help us be better citizens.”

An online “day of action” July 12 on net neutrality issues resulted in a reported 2 million comments on the FCC proposal being sent online to the FCC.

 

Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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New priests follow many paths to answering call to serve God’s people

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WASHINGTON — After almost 12 years as an Episcopal priest, Deacon Jonathan Erdman entered into full communion with the Catholic Church along with his family in 2016 and a year later, he is becoming a Catholic priest.

He will be ordained a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter June 29.

This spring, 590 men entered the priesthood in dioceses throughout the United States, according to a report released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. The report is based on an annual study that the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate conducted for the USCCB. Read more »

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Bishops urge Trump to honor Paris climate pact to protect the planet

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WASHINGTON – The United States has an obligation to honor the Paris climate agreement to protect “our people and our planet” and “mitigate the worst impacts of climate change,” said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “is on record supporting prudent action to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, said in a June 1 statement. Read more »

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All Catholics must take faith, witness to the public square, bishop says

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Catholic News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In his famous work “Democracy in America,” published in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Where education and freedom are the children of morality and religion … democracy … makes better choices than anywhere else.”

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Neb., encourages more than 1,000 Catholics to engage in the public square during his talk March 9 at Catholics at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Catholic Conference. The event featured Mass, talks and visits with state legislators. (CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit)

Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, made the case March 9 that those words remain true nearly two centuries later, and that Catholics need to engage in the public square.

He made the comments in an address to more than 1,000 Catholics gathered for Minnesota’s first Catholics at the Capitol event.

Organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the education and advocacy event drew Catholics from every region of the state.

A member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Conley noted that the Minnesota Capitol stands at the confluence of streets named for two prominent American leaders: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Irish-born Archbishop John Ireland, St. Paul’s first archbishop.

“Those two streets on which the Capitol stands,” he said, “should remind us of two fundamental and important truths: that democracies depend on believers to witness prophetically to virtue, to truth, to goodness and to beauty; that believers have a critical and important role to play in the public life for the common good, to build a culture of life and a civilization of love; and we must do all of this as … missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. Your state needs your faith and your witness.”

He told Catholics that democracy’s success depends on the “generous participation of believers.”

“Secular activists argue that our faith should stay out of the public square, that debates over public policy shouldn’t involve religious perspectives, (and) that we have no right to bring faith into the voting booth, or into the Capitol, or into the media,” he said.

But, he said, America’s Founding Fathers saw things differently. “”The Founding Fathers believed that well-formed believers were essential and critical for maintaining the social contract underlying the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

He pointed to the words of President John Adams, written in 1798 to soldiers of Massachusetts: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Public religious faith provides the ability to make moral judgments, which are rooted in a sense of common good rather than the individual good or personal gain,” Bishop Conley said.

He said in the first part of the 20th century, Catholics were observed to have kept their faith out of their political engagement, as they viewed it as a private or family matter “with no political implications.”

“But our faith is more than a family matter. Our faith is not private,” he said. “Our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is teeming with political implications, and we cannot live our faith in Jesus Christ as a private affair. We cannot be afraid to challenge our democracy with the truths of the Gospel. In fact, our democracy depends on that challenge.”

He said that our faith upholds a vision of the common good under which all people can flourish.

“The Gospel calls the world to objective standards of truth,” Bishop Conley said. “The Gospel promotes human dignity and protects the family and orders justice. Jesus Christ tells us what freedom is, what justice is, what it means to have peace and what it means to prosper. The Founding Fathers knew that the American Experiment would depend on the public faith of religious believers, and they knew that democracy itself depends on people of faith.”

During the last election cycle, many American Catholics considered themselves “politically homeless” because their values didn’t fit easily in either the Democratic or Republican parties. While it’s true that neither party represents a Catholic worldview, Catholics should not feel “homeless,” Bishop Conley said.

“Catholics do not have a political party, but we do have a political home,” he said. “Catholics are not politically liberal or politically conservative; we are simply Catholics, disciples of Christ and his Gospel. Our mission in the public life is to be faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ and his church, and the truths he’s revealed to us.”

“Our political home is our eternal home, the city of God,” he said. “Because of that, our political mission in this world is to build a culture of life, a civilization of love.”

He said Catholics are meant to be prophetic voices who speak the word of God and trust in its power. He quoted G.K. Chesterton: “When the world is upside down, prophets are the ones who stand on their heads to see things as they are.”

“Today, in a world that is upside down, God calls us to stand on our heads … to see things as they are and to speak the truth,” he said, pointing to abortion and other life issues, marriage, and the need to help people who are poor, immigrant, refugees or incarcerated.

Speaking truth might mean that Catholics lose friends, he said. “If we are faithful witnesses to the church’s teaching, we will make our neighbors from every political party unhappy and uncomfortable,” he said.

Catholics also need to trust in God’s providence, he said. Success is measured by fidelity, not results, and God may use people’s efforts in ways they may never see.

“The time in which we live is a very difficult one for Catholics and for our nation,” Bishop Conley said. “May we together work for the kingdom of God, for justice, for truth, for charity. May we do all of this as disciples of Jesus Christ and may we trust in the Lord, who calls us to be holy above all things, who has a plan for each one of us, and who knows how that plan will unfold in his glory, in the providence of eternity.”

 

Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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U.S. bishops’ group to monitor needs of immigrants, refugees

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.

People in Tijuana, Mexico, stand next to a wall separating Mexico and the United States Dec. 10. (CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters)

People in Tijuana, Mexico, stand next to a wall separating Mexico and the United States Dec. 10. (CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters)

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairman of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.

In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of Catholic New World, archdiocesan newspaper.

He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.

“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”

The working group will also spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts and to engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.

The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

He added that the Chicago archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for the families.”

On Nov. 30, at the end of Mass at St. Agatha of Bohemia Parish in Chicago, Cardinal Cupich told the congregation he had been invite to meet with President Barack Obama Nov. 29 “and the only issue I discussed with him was the executive order granting temporary protection for a large number of undocumented persons.”

He told Obama the U.S. Catholic bishops “favor this action but see if only as a first step” to comprehensive immigration reform. The cardinal said he and Obama discussed the need to have some confidentiality provision the church” for if they register for protection, that information would not be used against them.

“I wanted to tell you today about my discussion with the president,” Cardinal Cupich told the congregation, “so that you will know that you can count on me as a good friend of the immigrant community.”

National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.

 

More information about the U.S. bishops’ observance of National Migration Week in January and links to various resources can be found at http://bit.ly/1cWdELM.

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