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Washington letter: U.S. strike on Syria raises ‘just-war theory’ questions

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —The U.S. cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base days after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in rebel-controlled territory further endangers innocent people, observers familiar with the just-war theory said.

If anything, the observers told Catholic News Service, the unilateral U.S. response could embolden Syrian President Bashar Assad to undertake future attacks, exposing more lives to harm, including those of people fleeing the violence.

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7.  The missile strike on a Syrian air base days after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in rebel-controlled territory further endangers innocent people, said observers familiar with the just-war theory. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy handout via Reuters)

The USS Porter, in the Mediterranean Sea, fires a Tomahawk missile April 7. The missile strike on a Syrian air base days after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in rebel-controlled territory further endangers innocent people, said observers familiar with the just-war theory. (CNS photo/U.S. Navy handout via Reuters)

The U.S. strike early April 7 on the Shayrat airfield came three days after chemical weapons were dropped in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. The attack claimed more than 80 lives, including dozens of children.

President Donald Trump has cited the deaths of the children in particular in condemning the attack prior to the retaliatory strike.

The Pentagon reported that 23 of 59 missiles launched from warships in the eastern Mediterranean Sea struck the air base. Military leaders were unsure of the status of the remaining 36 missiles.

SANA, the Syrian state news agency, said 15 people died during the U.S. attack and that nine of the dead, including four children, were civilians.

Overall, the six-year civil war has claimed as many as 470,000 lives according to various humanitarian agencies. An estimated 4.8 million people have been displaced with many fleeing the country altogether.

Such numbers should give pause to the U.S. and the world to think about the morality of future military actions and focus on responding to the needs of displaced people rather than one-time retaliatory strikes, said the expert observers.

“Few problems get resolved in 24 hours,” said Jesuit Father John Langan, who holds the Cardinal Bernardin Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University.

Father Langan was among several people who said that applying the just-war theory in Syria’s conflict is difficult because the warring factions are within one country rather than among two or more nation states, but that moral reason requires that the primary concern must be the protection of civilians.

The just-war theory encompasses seven principles: war as a last resort; war is waged by a legitimate authority; just cause in that a war must be in response to wrong suffered; probability of success; right intention to re-establish peace; proportionality so that the violence in a just war is proportional to the casualties suffered; and civilian casualties, meaning civilians are never the target in a just war.

“I think civilians are at great risk, but it’s not as if there are risk-free alternatives in that situation,” Father Langan said. “The level of risk depends on the smart quality of intelligence available. It’s particularly important in light of these considerations to avoid attacks that kill large numbers of civilians, particularly children.”

Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state and now is a distinguished adjunct professor of government and policy at the College of William and Mary, said U.S. leaders seem to have ignored the refugees.

“That should be the very first emphasis, taking care of these people,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson and others questioned Trump’s reasoning for the April 7 missile strike, the protection of civilians, while the administration has called for prohibiting Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., when in the past they have been welcomed.

They also expressed concern beyond such focused moral questions that the U.S. strike seemed to occur with no specific strategy in place to address the complicated Syrian situation.

“If you look at the (U.S.) strike, my concern about it is on just-war grounds. But I’m also concerned that it seems to be a one-off, something that doesn’t seem to be related to working toward just peace,” said Daniel Philpott, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

Philpott called for the international community to step up in response.

“In a strict legal sense and a larger moral sense, there needs to be a much more concerted international effort to not just have pinprick strikes, but toward bringing the whole thing to a halt,” he said.

Notre Dame colleague David Cortright, director of policy studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said the U.S. action “does not fit an ethical response,” because not all the facts were known at the time.

“When we respond so quickly in a military fashion it looks like retaliation rather than an attempt to find a solution,” Cortright explained. “Our ethical foundation calls us to find solutions to conflict, not to retaliate.”

While the use of chemical weapons is a “gross violation of human rights,” Msgr. Stuart Swetland, president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, who once served aboard a nuclear weapon-armed submarine while with the U.S. Navy, said the situation in Syria requires that “we want to think these things through.”

Msgr. Swetland expressed concern that there “is not a serious discussion on the U.S. use of military power” in Syria despite the onslaught of U.S. bombs in the country. An estimated 25,000 bombs were dropped by American forces during the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration without congressional authorization.

“Right now, we’re bombing both sides in the civil war. What is your hope and what is your goal?” he asked.

The observers suggested that a strong moral and ethical priority should be for the world to pursue negotiations among all of Syria’s factions to end the civil war, as Pope Francis has repeatedly stated.

How that comes about is difficult to determine. But the answer, the observers said, partially lies in the willingness of Russia, Assad’s main backer, and the U.S. to step back from a major confrontation between the world’s largest holders of nuclear weapons and do what’s best in the interests of the world.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Washington letter: Postelection to-do list — work for unity, healing

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — All the distrust, vitriol and rancor stirred up during the 2016 presidential election campaign did not go away when votes were tallied.

The Nov. 8 election’s outcome, for many, only added more layers of frustration, anger and fear, prompting dozens of protests across the country.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: “I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: “I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

Political leaders, including Hillary Clinton, President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama, acknowledged the disunity and urged people after the election to try to work together.

Catholic leaders have been making similar pleas, not only for the nation, but also recognizing the division that exists among the church’s own members who split their vote — 45 percent for Clinton and 52 percent for Trump.

Four days before the election, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, told a Catholic group in Arlington, Va., that regardless of the election’s outcome, “our country will remain deeply divided and those divisions are, to a very real extent, also reflected within our own Catholic faith community.”

The question before Catholics, he said, is whether we will be “a source of unity and reconciliation, or whether we will be a cause of further division.”

That view also was expressed in a Nov. 9 editorial in the National Catholic Reporter newspaper describing the political climate as a “profound moment in our nation’s history and in our church’s history. … The question now is whether we have the courage and leadership to confront these hurts, work for justice and begin the healing process.”

Putting it even more succinctly was an Election Day tweet by Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin of Indianapolis: “Whatever happens at the polls, God will reign. Our work begins tomorrow, building bridges and healing wounds.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: “Every election brings a new beginning. Some may wonder whether the country can reconcile, work together and fulfill the promise of a more perfect union. Through the hope Christ offers, I believe God will give us the strength to heal and unite.”

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobbying organization Network, said her faith dictates that “now, more than ever, we need to mend the gaps and bridge the divides among us.”

“If anger fueled the election, we need to listen deeply to this reality, not dismiss it,” said the Sister of Social Service. “The temptation is to immediately think about how we will fight back, but fighting back will only reinforce this mess we’re in. Instead, we have to fight for a vision that eases people’s fears, brings us together and solves problems.”

Days before the election, Jesuit Father Jim Martin, author and editor at large at America, a weekly magazine published by the Jesuits, said after the election Catholics might want to say the “Prayer for Christian Unity,” which is meant for interfaith unity but has an apt message at a time when many “will feel excluded and unwelcome.”

It turns out the Catholic “Prayer for After an Election” also highlights unity, asking God to “heal us from our differences and unite us, O Lord, with a common purpose, dedication and commitment to achieve liberty and justice in the years ahead.”

The very notion of unity after a more contentious presidential campaign than most can remember might seem far-fetched but some Catholics stress it should at least start at the parish level.

Father Thomas Berg, vice rector and professor of moral theology at St Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York, said the differences of opinion revealed in this election “should never be allowed to become occasions of separation and rupture. Disagreement is an invitation to encounter, dialogue and to witness to the faith we presumably share.”

“Postelection, at the parish level, how wonderful it would be if we could engage each other dispassionately in calm rational dialogue about our differences with regard to the candidates,” said the priest, who is currently writing a book, “Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics.”

Zach Flanagin, a professor of theology and religious studies at St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, similarly suggested old-fashioned dialogue saying Catholics should take their cue from Pope Francis who has spent a good part of his pontificate accompanying people and listening to them.

“It’s incumbent at a time like this when there is so much division that we sit down and listen to people,” he told CNS on Election Day.

One way for this to happen in parishes, which he said “can be as divided as communities,” would be in for parishes to host dinners where parishioners have the chance to talk to each other about what matters to them. They might not agree with each other, he said, but they will likely come away respecting the other person.

Flanagin said he has seen programs like this work in high schools and junior high schools that have recognized the need to bring diverse communities together to help heal toxic environments.

Sherry Weddell, co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, a group based in Colorado Springs, Colorado dedicated to strengthening parishes and lay Catholics, said the big post election question is: “How can we help rebuild our relationships with one another now that the shouting is over?”

For Catholics, she said the answer is found in embracing the church’s mission in outreach to others. “Being apostles together slowly builds remarkably strong bridges of trust and hope over the divides that separate us,” she said, adding that doing this “can actually heal and transform us as well.”

And for many, part of the mission is simply to keep up the work at hand and encourage others not to lose hope.

Peggy Lewis, interim dean of business and graduate studies at Trinity Washington University in Washington, said she advises students who are disheartened by the election, especially immigrants covered by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that the “fight is still on.”

Lewis, highlighted with Trinity students in a Nov. 9 Chronicle of Higher Education news video, said she has been urging these students not to give up.

“Getting students from anger, where I still am, to thinking about the future, is something we’re striving to do,” she said.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, during a Nov. 10 interfaith prayer service for peace, solidarity and unity at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, offered similar encouragement to the immigrant community after the election.

“Tonight in America, children are afraid. Men and women are worried and anxious, thinking about where they can run and hide,” he said.

“The answer is not angry words or violence in the streets. It never solves anything. It only inflames it more. We need to be people of peace, people of compassion. Love not hate. Mercy not revenge,” he said. “These are the tools to rebuild our nation and renew the American dream. Tonight we promise our brothers and sisters who are undocumented: We will never you leave you alone.”

 

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter @carolmaczim.

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Washington letter: Anger, distrust with candidates may find voters snubbing presidential ballot

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Campaign 2016 is shaping up to be one where voters are not so much supporting one candidate or another as casting a ballot against a candidate they find intolerable.

Or they may not vote for president at all.

Anger, distrust with candidates may find voters snubbing presidential ballot

In a combination photo, U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is seen Sept. 9 and U.S Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen Sept. 14. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder/Mike Segar, Reuters)

In a combination photo, U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is seen Sept. 9 and U.S Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is seen Sept. 14. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder/Mike Segar, Reuters)

Underlying anger and deep-seated distrust of government and the major party candidates are at the root of one of the most tumultuous presidential campaigns in memory.

How well that anger and distrust are addressed in the seven weeks until Election Day will likely determine who occupies the White House come Jan. 20, a panel of political observers said during a Sept. 13 discussion hosted by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Polling shows that more than half of expected voters say they are voting against Democrat Hilllary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump, Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, told the forum. It’s a phenomenon that Seib said he found unprecedented in his years of covering Washington politics.

“Cynicism is so high. It’s the age we live in,” Seib said.

But Seib found it even more notable that a significant number of voters have said they would vote for neither major party nominee, choosing instead to focus on down-ballot races for Congress, state legislatures and local offices.

In key battleground states, the newspaper’s polls have found that 6 percent to 14 percent of voters said they would vote for neither Clinton nor Trump in head-to-head competition.

“(People are saying) ‘I have made a decision that I will not vote for either of them. Not that I do not know or I’m not sure yet. I have decided I will not vote for either candidate.’ These are astonishing things if you think about it,” Seib said.

Emma Green, senior associate editor at The Atlantic magazine, described the tone among voters as one filled with resignation because they are faced with voting for a candidate low on inspiration and excitement.

From where does such cynicism originate?

Political commentator and participant Mark Shields offered an observation: People, particularly blue-collar workers, feel abandoned by the government because they see that only the desires of the well-heeled are being addressed. He blamed Congress for being ineffective, failing to consider the needs of the working class, middle class and poor.

When millions of people who are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession that began in 2007 see money pouring into political campaigns from corporate entities and elite special interests, they realize that their needs and concerns will largely be ignored, Shields said.

Despite good news from the Census Bureau Sept. 13 that median incomes rose 5.2 percent and poverty fell by 1.2 percent in 2015, people are still struggling to recover economically because the value of their homes has not returned to pre-2007 levels and salaries have failed to keep up with inflation over the last 15 years, Shields added.

“People get bitter,” he said.

Melinda Henneberger, visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, suggested the distrust stems from feelings that “the system is rigged,” as Trump and, during the Democratic primary season, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, maintained.

“They feel they have been lied to and want to blow it up,” Henneberger said.

The panelists agreed that Trump and Sanders were able to tap voter anger, cynicism and distrust. Henneberger acknowledged that Trump has made untruthful comments, but that they don’t take his rants literally.

“They like the way it makes them feel when they hear him venting,” she said.

Although Sanders failed to get the Democratic Party’s nomination, he was especially able to tap into the mood of young people and push Clinton to adopt some of the language he used challenging the political status quo, explained Green, who regularly covers millennials, religion and politics.

Green cited the role of social media as important in the election. From being the primary means that young people follow the campaign to being the main forum that extremist groups have promoted bigotry, how messages are shared through social media is expected to play a major part in getting different factions to the polls on Election Day.

Looming among the electorate are religious voters and the panelists said they will be important at the polls, but not solely because of their faith affiliation.

Henneberger, who also is longtime political reporter and editor, said many observers have been surprised how strongly evangelical Christians have lined up behind Trump, who has been accused of bigotry and of carrying out shadowy business deals over the years.

“Evangelical support for Donald Trump doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, until you start to wonder well, gosh, maybe evangelical voters are getting to be like Catholic voters have been for some time in that they are indistinguishable from other voters they are similar to in other ways,” Henneberger told the audience.

She told Catholic News Service that evangelicals, like Catholics, are more difficult to segregate from other voters when demographics such as economics, education and locale are considered.

“You really can’t look at Trump’s positions and argue that he’s gotten the evangelical vote because of his religious beliefs or even his being concert with them on issues that you think of as faith-based,” Henneberger said.

Despite the upheavals in the campaign, Seib expressed hope that a peaceful transfer of administrations will occur and American democracy will continue uninterrupted.

“I think it’s possible to get too carried away with the pessimism here. In the end there’s a remarkable system in this country, and somehow, through the most remarkably obtuse way, it tends to produce. I think there’s plenty of reason to think it can do that now,” he said.

“So let’s not be woefully discouraged here as I think basically this bizarre system we have tends to right itself and the values tend to persevere somehow,” he continued. “I cannot explain it and I cannot explain how it will be true this year. But I have to believe that it’s true.”

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Washington Letter — Catholic vote not as monolithic as it was, but still important

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Is there a Catholic vote?

Well, yes. Kind of.

Voting patterns show Catholics vote much like the rest of America, with minor swings one way or the other, depending on the candidate and the state.

Nevertheless, the Catholic vote still is important, as syndicated columnist, political commentator and Georgetown University professor E.J. Dionne likes to say.

A Maryknoll sister casts her vote at a polling station inside her religious community's auditorium in 2010 in Ossining, N.Y. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

A Maryknoll sister casts her vote at a polling station inside her religious community’s auditorium in 2010 in Ossining, N.Y. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

Any way it’s examined, analysts say the Catholic vote is not as monolithic as it once was.

That is, except for Latinos, who now comprise about 35 percent of U.S. Catholics: More than 65 percent regularly vote for Democrats, and about 20 percent vote Republican, leaving few to be swayed by the candidates’ political positions.

“Even though people use the shorthand of ‘the Catholic vote,’ ‘the vote of Catholics’ is probably the better way to describe it because there is that diversity now,” said Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Gray suggested that the elections of 1960 and 1964 were the last where Catholics could be considered a uniform voting bloc. In 1960, they were moved to support Democrat John F. Kennedy, the country’s first and only Catholic president, and that wave carried into the election four years later.

But since then, Gray said, Catholics “have not been really in one camp or the other,” and that they hold values similar to the rest of the voting populace, an indication that church teaching holds little sway in the election at the polls.

Catholics “look for teachings of the church that are consistent with the party affiliation that they have,” Gray said.

Monika L. McDermott, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, who has analyzed exit poll data for national news organizations, echoed Gray, saying the diversity among Catholics means they vote the way they want no matter what the Catholic Church teaches.

“They go their own way. They pick and choose what they want and what they want to follow,” she said.

So there’s no need to expect that Catholics by themselves will sway the eventual outcome of this year’s presidential election, with its strange twists as candidates trade extraordinarily nasty barbs and accuse major party leadership of a lack of transparency in the delegate selection process.

Factors such as anger and distrust among voters are fueling the rise of self-proclaimed outsiders whose message has appealed to those who have felt betrayed by the institutions of government, church and social services that they once trusted to work on their behalf.

Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, said perhaps no other group has felt more betrayed than white working class communities in places such as Pennsylvania, Appalachia, the Ozarks and the Deep South.

In an address during a daylong symposium, “Rebuilding Trust,” April 14 at the university, Schneck described the high levels of drug abuse and alcoholism, marriage failures, declining life expectancy and rising crime rates that plague such communities.

“There are many angles from which to consider the correlation between decaying social capital and what’s happening to the quality of life for these populations, but one way to see it is as a crisis of trust,” Schneck told the audience.

“It’s a breakdown of trust with even basic institutions of social life. Their distrust of government is something we all hear about, but it goes far beyond that,” he said.

A week later in an interview, Schneck said working-class whites feel “like they’ve lived up to their end of the bargain, but the other institutions have not,” so they are turning to candidates who seem to offer them a better life.

Matthew Green, assistant professor of political scientist at The Catholic University of America and another symposium speaker, said that could explain the appeal of Republican billionaire Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, avowed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, candidates who have positioned themselves as outside the political mainstream.

Green said the high turnout in Republican primaries among people feeling forgotten has helped Trump hold off his two remaining challengers, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. And Schneck cited Sanders’ appeal among young people, who “came of age cynical.”

“If you distrust the institution, but there is a candidate who says ‘I’m going to fix things,’ then that might motivate you to vote,” Green told CNS.

Even with the large turnout among working class white voters, Latinos may hold the key to the general election. If they show up at the polls in places like Florida, Nevada and Colorado, they will influence who becomes the next occupant of the White House, said Luis Fraga, co-director of the Institute for Latino Studies and professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

As goes the Latino vote, so goes Catholic Latino voters, he said.

He offered a few statistics that are expected to influence election outcomes beginning this year, but especially in the future:

  • 63 percent of Latinos in the U.S. were born in the U.S. and another 15 percent are naturalized citizens
  • Of the Latinos young than age 18, 94 percent were born in the U.S.
  • About 800,000 Latinos turn 18 every year.

“If I wanted to register new Latino voters, that’s where you tend to focus, it would be 17-year-olds. You have a huge group that has the possibility of engaging (politically),” he said.

Fraga pointed to Florida, with its rapid growth in newcomers from Puerto Rico, with large numbers of young and educated people seeking opportunities that are unavailable on the Caribbean island territory. Fraga said the number of Florida residents of Cuban origin, who tend to vote Republican, remains flat and, because both trends are expected to continue, the political landscape in Florida will change.

However Catholics vote, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops again is preparing dissemination of its quadrennial document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” and accompanying study guides, bulletin inserts and other discussion materials.

The latest iteration of the document, approved at the bishops’ annual fall meeting in November, draws on papal teaching since 2007, particularly the latter part of Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure and Pope Francis’ three years overseeing the Vatican. It also considers recent developments in U.S. domestic and foreign policy related to same-sex marriage, the use of drones in warfare and care for the environment, among other issues.

“There’s no doubt that this is something that’s very important to bring to the attention of Catholics, and formation of conscience, as the document says, is a lifelong undertaking, and our need to bring our faith to the public square is also not about one election,” said Susan Sullivan, director of education and outreach in the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development .

Materials are expected to be ready in the next several weeks, giving parishes, schools and study groups ample time to consider what the document offers prior to Election Day Nov. 8.

 

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

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Washington Letter: Kids could go hungry during summer if agencies don’t fill gaps

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — A new report that more low-income children ate free breakfasts and lunches last summer than the previous summer is both good news and bad.

Of course, food program advocates emphasize that more children are getting fed, but they also point out the sheer numbers of those who need these meals and the sobering reality that so many children go hungry when their school cafeterias close for the summer months.

A boy puts out chicken and rice soup for hungry kids in 2010 at the Thomas P. Ryan Community Center in Rochester, N.Y. A new report shows that last July the federally run Summer Nutrition Programs fed more children than the previous summer but it is still only reaching one in six of the children who rely on subsidized school lunches during the year. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

A boy puts out chicken and rice soup for hungry kids in 2010 at the Thomas P. Ryan Community Center in Rochester, N.Y. A new report shows that last July the federally run Summer Nutrition Programs fed more children than the previous summer but it is still only reaching one in six of the children who rely on subsidized school lunches during the year. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier)

A positive note is that the word seems to be getting out more about subsidized food programs around the country and programs are also getting more creative in how to deliver these meals, by trucks or buses, to children who can’t reach the food sites.

But there is still a lot to do to make sure children who eat free and reduced-price meals during the school year have access to food in the summer, said a report released in early June by the Washington-based Food Research and Advocacy Center.

The report notes that last July, the federally run Summer Nutrition Programs served nearly 3.2 million children, an increase of 215,000, or about 7.3 percent, from the previous year.

It points out that participation in the summer meals program, which started in 1968, began dropping in July 2009 when states and communities cut back their child care and summer program funding. In 2012, this trend began to reverse with a slight increase that continued the next two years. But even with these increases, only one in six of the children who rely on subsidized school lunches during the year participate in the summer food programs, the report said.

This fall, Congress is set to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which creates rules for school and summer meal programs. The Food Research and Advocacy Center said there are steps the law could take to make sure these summer food programs reach more children.

For starters, legislation could allow areas with 40 percent or more of students (instead of the current 50 percent) receiving free or reduced-price lunches to be eligible for the program.

The group also says the program should consider providing free dinners along with lunches and breakfasts and it should provide support for organizations to transport children to meal sites or to serve meals remotely through mobile units.

Anne Ayella, assistant director of Nutritional Development Services, an agency of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that connects schools, parishes and groups with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Nutrition Programs, agreed that more should to be done to get meals to children in need.

She said the archdiocesan program has been coordinating summer meal programs since 1977 and currently delivers breakfasts, lunches and snacks to 450 sites which include camps and summer programs run by a number of different religious denominations. “We traditionally serve 1 million meals a summer” she said, noting that last year this number dipped to 909,000, “which is still an awful number,” but she said it went down because there are so many more local sponsors of the summer food program.

The biggest change she has seen in doing this work for 36 years is that it’s become harder to get the children to come to the food sites.

Ayella told Catholic News Service that she thinks parents are afraid to let their children go out and often tell them not to leave home during the day.

She has also seen meal sites struggle for the funds to stay open all summer or to run other programs where they’d need to pay counselors or buy games and crafts.

The archdiocesan program has a central warehouse where food is shipped daily and assembled by workers, often college students, into boxes. Lunches include a sandwich, fruit, vegetable and skim milk and breakfasts primarily contain a muffin, fruits and juice.

Ayella said this work has been rewarding, particularly since her job doesn’t involve “worrying about food getting from point A to point B.” She said she makes sure the overall plan is in motion, does taste tests, visits sites and organizes a yearly summer blessing at one of the sites.

She said she is always looking for more groups to offer meal sites, from trying to partner with libraries that have summer reading programs or offices that provide vouchers for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, or WIC.

Patricia Cole, communications director for Catholic Charities USA, said there has been a significant increase in the agencies running summer nutrition programs in recent years and several more agencies are opening sites for the first time this summer.

 

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Washington Letter: U.N. inaction on nuclear weapons disappoints Catholic advocates

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Catholic News Service

A month-long review of a key nuclear weapons treaty saw the nuclear powers stepping back from an opportunity to alter the status quo, much to the disappointment of Catholic peace advocates.

The disappointment stems from the failure of the nuclear weapons states to heed the arguments of the advocates, nongovernmental organizations and non-nuclear nations on the moral imperative to more rapidly shrink weapons stockpiles because of the threat they pose to humanity.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York April 27. Catholic peace advocates expressed disappointment with the lack of progress during the conference to shrink the arsenals of nuclear weapons-possessing nations. (CNS photo/Peter Foley, EPA)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York April 27. Catholic peace advocates expressed disappointment with the lack of progress during the conference to shrink the arsenals of nuclear weapons-possessing nations. (CNS photo/Peter Foley, EPA)

“Just the lack of political will all the way around, It’s discouraging,” Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, told Catholic News Service May 26, four days after delegates from more than 150 nations concluded the Ninth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York.

Perhaps sensing a lack of progress during the conference, Bishop Cantu, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry May 12 calling him to step up efforts to ensure the credibility of the treaty lest there be “catastrophic consequences for all countries and for the future of humanity as a whole.”

However, the conference ended without a final statement being issued, signaling a step back from the minimal progress toward the abolition of nuclear weapons at earlier review conferences, said Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University.

“The fact that there hasn’t been any (agreement) the last two conferences means that the binding power of the (treaty) is weakening,” he said.

The conference got hung up near its end as the draft of a final statement was being discussed. The United States, joined by the United Kingdom and Canada, rejected a draft resolution from Egypt that had the backing of the majority of participating nations calling on Israel to dismantle any nuclear weapons it may have as a step toward a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East.

Israeli leaders have neither confirmed nor denied that the country possesses nuclear weapons.

In a statement from the floor the final evening of the conference, Rose E. Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and a Catholic, announced there was “no agreement” and charged that Egypt and other Arab states were demanding “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” in the negotiations.

Without a final statement, nuclear-armed states will be able to keep their arsenals intact, much to the frustration of nations trying to rid the world of such weapons.

Bishop Cantu called for disarmament advocates to “keep pushing forward and encourage particularly our (U.S.) government to move forward to fulfill the treaty.”

“There’s a moral need for (nuclear) disarmament,” he said. “Unfortunately, nobody’s moving on it.”

He suggested that if Americans better understood the security dangers and enormous social and economic costs of maintaining a nuclear arsenal they might be motivated to join the call for abolition.

“It’s amazing just the general public, if you walk on the street, if you ask people about nuclear weapons, they’d say ‘No, that’s an old thing.” People assume that went away when the Cold War went away.

“If the public only knew how we spend on them and for what? This deterrence doesn’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, advocates for nuclear disarmament are not giving up on the goal of nuclear weapons-free world.

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, attended the conference during its first week. She told CNS May 27 that despite the setback, enthusiasm remains high among advocates to work toward worldwide disarmament.

She cited widespread support for the elimination of nuclear weapons that emerged in December during the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

“So many countries have expressed their insistence that we move beyond this extremely dangerous status quo,” she said. “I think it gives good impetus to the likelihood that we will begin to negotiate a (weapons) ban treaty.”

The Vatican made clear its stance in support of abolition at the Vienna conference through two statements, including one from Pope Francis.

“The time has come to embrace the abolition of nuclear weapons as an essential foundation of collective security,” the Vatican said in a paper presented at the conference.

The church held firm to its stance in the paper that any use of nuclear weapons was immoral and argued that the time has come to abandon nuclear deterrence — the principle that such weapons might be used and they exist to deter another country from using them. Previously, the Vatican conditionally accepted deterrence as a step toward “progressive disarmament.”

Sister Mary Ann McGivern, a member of the Sisters of Loretto who serves on her order’s Committee for Peace, joined the Pax Christi delegation at the treaty review conference, but came away feeling “there were no surprises.”

She has placed hope, instead, on the growing effort to build on the humanitarian message that emerged from the Vienna conference and explaining how the high cost of maintaining and upgrading nuclear arsenals harms support for health care, education and preserving the environment.

“I think we don’t understand the close calls (of near nuclear weapons launches) that have happened,” Sister Mary Ann explained. “We don’t understand the imminence of them, that they’re poised along the wheat fields of Colorado and North Dakota. And the accessibility of them.”

The disarmament call gained additional support as the U.N. conference ended from the Catholic bishops of Belgium. The bishops said they backed the Vatican’s stance on deterrence and quoted Pope Francis in calling for progressive disarmament on the part of the nuclear weapons nations.

“A peaceful society is not created on the basis of threats, fear or deterrence, event at the international level,” the bishops said.

“The ethical responsibility for the abolition of nuclear weapons lies not only with the countries that develop these weapons, produce and stockpile them, but also in countries that tolerate this. Belgium is part of that,” the bishops wrote

 

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Washington Letter: Religious freedom debates and laws have a roller coaster history

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — It started with hallucinogenic peyote and a couple of guys in Oregon who were fired after they used it in a religious ritual.

Over the course of 25 years, the U.S. debate over religious rights moved from there to the current social and political uproar about Indiana’’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether it would give legal cover to those who might discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Within hours of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act March 26, critics slammed the legislation as going further than the federal version of the same law does and said it would enable individuals and businesses to claim a religious right to discriminate in ways not foreseen in other versions. Highly publicized protests and boycotts of Indiana and Indiana-based businesses were launched. Read more »

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Washington Letter: Supreme Court ponders Obamacare and insurance costs

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Catholic News Service

Several Supreme Court justices wondered aloud at oral arguments March 4 whether a ruling against the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies to millions of lower income Americans would lead to a “death spiral” for the health insurance program.

“We’re going to have the death spiral that this system was created to avoid,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, if the court were to rule in King v. Burwell against the practice of providing subsidies to some participants in insurance programs in states that failed to set up their own insurance exchanges and use the federal system. Read more »

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Cases yet to be accepted may be Supreme Court’s most-watched this term

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Not much more than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, the court could again this term weigh in on state laws related to such marriages.

When the court opens its 2014 term Oct. 6, the docket will include cases dealing with taxation, apportionment of river water, employment law and a handful of lower court rulings dealing with First Amendment rights. However, at a Georgetown University Law Center briefing about the term Sept. 23, analysts spent the biggest chunk of time discussing cases the court might take, as opposed to those already on the calendar.

A same-sex couple from England holds their British marriage certificate March 29. In the U.S., the Supreme Court in its new term will consider whether to add to its docket one or more of a half-dozen lower court rulings overturning prohibitions on same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Will Oliver, EPA)

A same-sex couple from England holds their British marriage certificate March 29. In the U.S., the Supreme Court in its new term will consider whether to add to its docket one or more of a half-dozen lower court rulings overturning prohibitions on same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Will Oliver, EPA)

The docket so far is dominated by dryer matters or issues that will likely be settled in ways that won’t affect much more than the individuals involved in those specific situations.

But the cases that will catch the attention of the general public probably are those that were still pending: the half-dozen or so appeals of lower court rulings on state same-sex marriage laws. The justices were to consider several of those at their Sept. 29 conference, along with hundreds of other appeals.

The court also this term probably will be asked to review rulings on health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act; some state laws intended to restrict access to abortion-inducing drugs and others legislating medical standards for abortion clinics.

 

Religious rights case

Before those might come along, however, the first religious rights case is scheduled for Oct. 7.

The justices will hear oral arguments that day about whether Arkansas inmate Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik, should be allowed to grow a short beard, in accord with his Muslim beliefs. The state prison policy bans all beards as security risk, although 40 other state prison systems and the federal prisons permit short beards under some circumstances.

Holt, who requested a half-inch beard, argues that the policy conflicts with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a 2000 federal law that extends to prisoners some of the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA, as the latter bill is known, was the key to the court’s ruling in June that the federal government may not require closely held for-profit companies to provide contraceptives in employee health insurance if the owners say it would violate their religious beliefs.

In that ruling, the court accepted the argument of the owners of the Hobby Lobby crafts stores that the federal government failed to meet its goal of providing contraceptive coverage in a way that was the least restrictive of the owners’ religious rights as delineated by RFRA. In the Arkansas case, Holt makes a similar argument — that the prison system seeks to control inmates’ behavior without attempting to ensure policies allow for religious practices.

Among the religious and civil rights organizations that filed “amicus” or friend-of-the-court briefs encouraging the justices to find for Holt, one joint brief is by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Muslim, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Seventh-Day Adventist and United Church of Christ organizations. It discusses the benefits of religious practice among inmates.

Prisoners who are involved in religious activities not only are more stable emotionally, they are healthier and tend to have stronger connections to the outside world, were among the arguments that brief raised.

Free speech

Also on the court’s docket, though not on the calendars for October through December, is a free speech case brought by the Good News Community Church of Gilbert, Arizona. The church posts signs around town inviting people to Sunday services. Under Gilbert’s sign code, the church’s signs must be removed within hours, while other types of signs, including political ads, are allowed to remain for months.

The church argues that the sign code is content-based, in violation of the First Amendment. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 held that the code is not content-based, but “tailored to serve significant governmental interests.”

Among the arguments raised on the church’s side is that the prohibition on content-based discrimination does not require evidence that the discrimination is intentional or targeted at a specific type of speech.

Same-sex marriage bans

Looming large over the court’s term will be how the justices dispose of the many lower court rulings that have overturned same-sex marriage bans or laws prohibiting states from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

In June 2013, the court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and overturned California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved initiative barring same-sex marriage.

Since then seven federal court rulings rejecting several states’ laws have made it to the high court.

At the Georgetown briefing, professor Irv Gornstein, executive director of the Georgetown Law Supreme Court Institute, predicted the court would accept at least two of the pending appeals. Three are from Virginia and one each from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin.

He said that would enable the justices to address two separate streams of legal challenges, states must recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions even if they are not legal in their own state, and laws prohibiting such marriages. Gornstein said the justices might have hoped it would take longer after the 2013 rulings before the next round of same-sex marriage cases reached them, but legal challenges have proceeded so fast they can’t wait.

Although a general rule of thumb is that the court rarely accepts challenges of significance across jurisdictions unless there are disagreements in how federal circuit courts rule, Gornstein and fellow panelists said they doubt that will apply in this situation.

“Given how much is at stake,” Gornstein said, “so many couples, so many states,” it’s not realistic of the court to delay.

He said accepting two cases also will reflect the importance of the issue and help avoid continuing confusion over what is constitutional.

 

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Analysis: Bishops want U.S. budget to protect poor, raise adequate revenue

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The budget debates are just starting on Capitol Hill and in a highly polarized political climate that means they’ll be going right through the Nov. 6 elections, and most likely beyond.

It’s how Washington works these days.

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