Category Archives: National News

USCCB Joins in Petition Asking US to Change Nuclear Policy

Laborers work on the assembly of the reactor at Atucha II nuclear power plant in Zarate, Argentina, in early August. As nations are called to create a world free of atomic weapons, the international community must promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, especially for development and cancer treatment in developing countries, a top Vatican official said. (CNS photo/Marcos Brindicci, Reuters)

by Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined about four dozen other national organizations in amassing more than 50,000 signatures on a petition asking for a change in the United States’ “outdated” nuclear arms policy. “You must act now to reduce the nuclear danger and the role of nuclear weapons,” said the petition, addressed to President Barack Obama. The petition urges Obama to “end outdated U.S. nuclear war-fighting strategy, dramatically reduce the number of U.S. nuclear weapons and the number of submarines, missiles and bombers that carry those weapons, and take U.S. nuclear weapons off high alert. Maintaining large numbers of nuclear forces on alert increases the risk of accident or miscalculation.” A May 15 announcement from the groups involved said the petition was delivered to the White House May 7. Stephen Colecchi, director of the bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace, represented the USCCB. “This is just one of the many expressions of support for overdue changes in the United States’ nuclear weapons strategy which is still burdened by Cold War thinking,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which spearheaded the petition drive and assembled the coalition of organizations that signaled their support. The United States, Kimball told Catholic News Service in a May 15 telephone interview, possesses about 1,700 strategically positioned nuclear warheads. Russia has about 1,500. Each has more strategically deployed warheads than the rest of the “nuclear club” — China, France, Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — has warheads of all kinds combined. “Just one U.S. nuclear-armed submarine can destroy several cities,” Kimball said. “We today possess 12 submarines with nuclear weapons.”

Faith in the Footlights: Religion Gets a Curtain Call on Broadway

by Catholic News Service

Kecia Lewis-Evans stars in a scene from the Broadway production of "Leap of Faith" at St. James Theatre in New York. Faith-themed shows such as this have transformed Broadway into a "highway to heaven, " says one theater observer. "Leap of Faith" recently closed on Broadway but producers are considering a national tour of the show. (CNS photo/Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK (CNS) — Can it be? Has Broadway found religion? According to one recent article, a bumper crop of faith-themed shows, like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” “Book of Mormon” and “Sister Act,” has transformed Broadway into a “highway to heaven.” So why the great awakening on the Great White Way? “I think there is a “God moment” breaking out in the entertainment culture that’s partly driven by a quest for profits in difficult economic times, but also by people’s never-ending quest for transcendent meaning,” said Tom Allen of Allied Faith and Family, a marketing agency that is trying to promote shows like “Sister Act” to Christians. The Tony-nominated musical is emblematic of this religious revival: flashy and brash, yet earnestly spiritual. The same can be said for the recently closed “Leap of Faith,” which is contemplating a possible national tour. Both musicals were adapted from 1992 movies and feature music by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken. Both also deal with themes of redemption and salvation. “I think people are tired of hearing about selfish people feeling sorry for themselves,” said Fred Applegate, who plays a pastor in “Sister Act” and who believes the uptick in religious productions underscores a need “for hope.”

At Audience, Pope Says Work Should Help, Not Hinder, Family Life

by Catholic News Service

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) –  Work obligations should not harm a person’s family relationships but should provide support, giving couples the resources to have and raise children and spend time together, Pope Benedict XVI said. At the end of his weekly general audience May 16, Pope Benedict noted how the United Nations chose “family and work” as the focus of the 2012 International Day of Families, which was celebrated May 15. Work should not be an obstacle to the family, he said, “but rather should support and unite it, help it to open itself to life” and interact with society and the Church. Pope Benedict also expressed his hope that Sundays would be respected by employers as “a day of rest and an occasion to reinforce family ties.” In his main audience talk, the pope looked at prayer in the biblical letters of St. Paul. The New Testament letters, he said, include prayers of thanksgiving, praise, petition and intercession, demonstrating how prayer is appropriate for every occasion in life. “Prayer should not be seen simply as a good work we do for God — something we do — but as a gift, the fruit of the living spirit of the Father and of Jesus Christ within us,” the pope said. Pope Benedict said often “we do not know how to pray in the right way,” but simply opening oneself up and setting aside a bit of time for God, the Holy Spirit will take over. “The absence of words, but the desire to enter into dialogue with God, is a prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but carries to and interprets for God.”

Fortnight for Freedom and Religious Liberty

0612fortnight

The 14 days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.  On Sunday July 1, 2012, all the parishes of our diocese will turn their prayers and attention to the freedom to practice our faith in this country and pray that it be protected for generations to come. In doing this we will be a part of the our Church’s national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

From the USCCB:

In 1634, a mix of Catholic and Protestant settlers arrived in Southern Maryland from England aboard the Ark and the Dove. They had come at the invitation of the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who had been granted the land by the Protestant King Charles I of England. While Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe, Lord Baltimore imagined Maryland as a society where people of different faiths could live together peacefully. This vision was soon codified in Maryland’s 1649 Act Concerning Religion (also called the “Toleration Act”), which was the first law in our nation’s history to protect an individual’s right to freedom of conscience.

Maryland’s early history teaches us that, like any freedom, religious liberty requires constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear. Maryland’s experiment in religious toleration ended within a few decades. The colony was placed under royal control and the Church of England became the established religion. Discriminatory laws, including the loss of political rights, were enacted against those who refused to conform. Catholic chapels were closed and Catholics were restricted to practicing their faith in their homes. The Catholic community lived under this coercion until the American Revolution.
By the end of the 18th century our nation’s founders embraced freedom of religion as an essential condition of a free and democratic society. So when the Bill of Rights was ratified, religious freedom had the distinction of being the First Amendment. Religious liberty is indeed the first liberty.

This is our American heritage, our most cherished freedom. If we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. If our obligations and duties to God are impeded, or even worse, contradicted by the government, then we can no longer claim to be a land of the free.

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat? Among many current challenges, consider the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring almost all private health plans to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to facilitate drugs and procedures contrary to our moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit an exemption. This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. It is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. It is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization, even when it violates our religious beliefs.

 

 

Archdiocese of Washington Posts Video Explaining Diocesan Lawsuits

Chancellor Jane Belford of the Archdiocese of Washington explains the significance of the lawsuit filed to protect freedom to practice religion. Chancellor Belford details why the suit is necessary in light of the attempt of the government to redefine what is a religious institution. She explains that under the new definition that the work of Mother Teresa no longer would qualify as the work of a religious institution.

To learn more, please visit:
http://www.preservereligiousfreedom.org

Visit the Archdiocese of Washington at:
http://www.adw.org

Catholics Urged to Resist Unjust Laws, Join in ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

by Nancy Frazier O’Brien, Catholic News Service

Fireworks light up the sky around the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument on Independence Day last year. In a new statement released April 12, an ad hoc committee of the U.S. bishops’ outlined examples of threats to religious liberty and urged Catholics to resist unjust laws. It called for “a fortnight for freedom” from June 21 to July 4 for prayer, study and public action emphasizing the Christian and American heritage of liberty. (CNS photo/Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — American Catholics must resist unjust laws “as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith,” a committee of the U.S. bishops said in a new statement on religious liberty.
Titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the 12-page statement by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty also calls for “a fortnight for freedom” from June 21, the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, to July 4, U.S. Independence Day.

“This special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action would emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty,” the committee said. “Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.”

The ad hoc committee opened its statement with several “concrete examples” of recent threats to religious liberty, saying that “this is not a theological or legal dispute without real-world consequences.”

Cited first was the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that most health plans must include contraception, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.

“In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are ‘religious enough’ to merit protection of their religious liberty,” the statement said. “These features of the ‘preventive services’ mandate amount to an unjust law.”

Among other examples of “religious liberty under attack” the bishops named:

– Immigration laws in Alabama and other states that “forbid what the government deems ‘harboring’ of undocumented immigrants — and what the church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants.”

– An attempt by the Connecticut Legislature in 2009 to restructure Catholic parishes.

– Discrimination against Christian students on college campuses.

– A New York City rule that bars small church congregations from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, while allowing such rentals by nonreligious groups.

– Changes in federal contracts for human trafficking grants that require Catholic agencies “to refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching.”

The statement quotes the Founding Fathers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to bolster its arguments.
Rev. King, writing from jail in Birmingham, AL, in 1963, described an unjust law as one “that is out of harmony with the moral law,” and said he agreed with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

“An unjust law cannot be obeyed,” the bishops’ statement said. “In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices.”
“If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them,” it added. “No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”

The bishops also distinguished between conscientious objection and an unjust law.

“Conscientious objection permits some relief to those who object to a just law for reasons of conscience — conscription being the most well-known example,” the committee said. “An unjust law is ‘no law at all.’ It cannot be obeyed, and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.”

The statement also raised the issue of religious freedom abroad and said “the age of martyrdom has not passed.”

“Assassinations, bombings of churches, torching of orphanages — these are only the most violent attacks Christians have suffered because of their faith in Jesus Christ,” the bishops said. “It is our task to strengthen religious liberty at home, … so that we might defend it more vigorously abroad.”

The statement called on “American foreign policy, as well as the vast international network of Catholic agencies” to make “the promotion of religious liberty an ongoing and urgent priority.”

The bishops assigned special responsibility for advancing religious freedom to several groups:
– Those who hold public office must “protect and defend those fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights,” regardless of their political party.

– Leaders of Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies “who may be forced to choose between the good works we do by faith, and fidelity to that faith itself” were encouraged to “hold firm, to stand fast and to insist upon what belongs to you by right as Catholics and Americans.”

– Priests must offer “a catechesis on religious liberty suited to the souls in your care,” a responsibility that is shared with “writers, producers, artists, publishers, filmmakers and bloggers employing all the means of communications.”

Maronite Patriarch: Pope to Visit Lebanon Sept. 14-16

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Peter Rai. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

by Catholic News Service

BEIRUT (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI will visit Lebanon Sept. 14-16, Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai announced during Easter Mass at the patriarchal seat in Bkerke, Lebanon. Patriarch Rai said April 8 that the pope will meet with the country’s religious and civil officials, including President Michel Sleiman, a Maronite Catholic. During an open-air Mass in Beirut Sept. 16, the pope will present the apostolic exhortation on the October 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which met under the theme: “Communion and Witness.” In a statement, Sleiman said the pope’s visit would affirm the depth of the “historical relations that tie Lebanon with the (Vatican) and will form an occasion to focus on Lebanon’s position, message and role as a witness of freedom and coexistence.” It marks the pope’s second visit to the Middle East; in May 2009 he visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The announcement comes amid increased concern over the plight of Christians across the Middle East, emigrating in increasing numbers. Of Lebanon’s population of nearly 4 million, approximately 33 percent are Christian, considered a high estimate. Half a century ago, Christians represented about half the population. In Iraq, a Christian exodus since the American-led invasion in 2003 has reduced the Iraqi Christian population by two-thirds. In an interview with Vatican Radio broadcast April 9, Archbisop Paul Sayah, vicar general of the Maronite Patriarchate, said the pope’s visit would “inject a new dynamism,” not only in the Lebanese society and Christians, but in the whole region.

Catholic Residents are New Face of Natural Family Planning

Resident physicians Brooke Jemelka, Gavin Puthoff and Alexis Simon stand around Carmen Hinze as the proud father, Dan, looks on in her recovery room after she delivered her son at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. (CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review)

by Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS (CNS) — It was a month before she had to decide her specialty in medical school, and Brooke Jemelka found herself at a crossroads. She had been concentrating on pediatrics during her studies at Texas A&M University, but by the end of her third year, she was starting to question what she wanted to do with her life. Then she delivered her first baby, “and my whole life changed,” said Jemelka, a native of Yoakum, TX. As a Catholic, she was involved in pro-life activities, including sidewalk counseling, pro-life rallies and more. It was later that she realized that was preparing the way for a future in obstetrics and gynecology. “I felt like there was no way I could not be doing God’s work,” she said in an interview with the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Today, Jemelka is one of six — yes, six — resident physicians in the OB/GYN Residency Program at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis who plan to specialize in natural family planning, or NFP, in their future practices. As part of their training, the residents currently are caring for uninsured and underinsured women who come to Mercy’s JFK Clinic. Each of them has a different story of how they became involved in medicine, but all of them agree that God put them in the place where they’re at now for a reason. While doctors in St. Louis and around the nation who specialize in natural methods of fertility care are still considered the minority, all of these residents have encountered many women who want to know the truth about their fertility through the use of NFP.

United for Religious Freedom

A Statement of the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gathered for its March 2012 meeting, is strongly unified and intensely focused in its opposition to the various threats to religious freedom in our day. In our role as Bishops, we approach this question prayerfully and as pastors—concerned not only with the protection of the Church’s own institutions, but with the care of the souls of the individual faithful, and with the common good.

To address the broader range of religious liberty issues, we look forward to the upcoming publication of “A Statement on Religious Liberty,” a document of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. This document reflects on the history of religious liberty in our great Nation; surveys the current range of threats to this foundational principle; and states clearly the resolve of the Bishops to act strongly, in concert with our fellow citizens, in its defense.

One particular religious freedom issue demands our immediate attention: the now- finalized rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would force virtually all private health plans nationwide to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception—including abortifacient drugs—subject to an exemption for “religious employers” that is arbitrarily narrow, and to an unspecified and dubious future “accommodation” for other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.

We begin, first, with thanks to all who have stood firmly with us in our vigorous opposition to this unjust and illegal mandate: to our brother bishops; to our clergy and religious; to our Catholic faithful; to the wonderful array of Catholic groups and institutions that enliven our civil society; to our ecumenical and interfaith allies; to women and men of all religions (or none at all); to legal scholars; and to civic leaders. It is your enthusiastic unity in defense of religious freedom that has made such a dramatic and positive impact in this historic public debate. With your continued help, we will not be divided, and we will continue forward as one.

Second, we wish to clarify what this debate is—and is not—about. This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds. This is not about the religious freedom of Catholics only, but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church—consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions—to act against Church teachings. This is not a matter of opposition to universal health care, which has been a concern of the Bishops’ Conference since 1919, virtually at its founding. This is not a fight we want or asked for, but one forced upon us by government on its own timing. Finally, this is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.

So what is it about?

An unwarranted government definition of religion. The mandate includes an extremely narrow definition of what HHS deems a “religious employer” deserving exemption—employers who, among other things, must hire and serve primarily those of

their own faith. We are deeply concerned about this new definition of who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry. The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom. Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry. HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction—alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law—between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none. Cf. Deus Caritas Est, Nos. 20-33. We are commanded both to love and to serve the Lord; laws that protect our freedom to comply with one of these commands but not the other are nothing to celebrate. Indeed, they must be rejected, for they create a “second class” of citizenship within our religious community. And if this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity. All—not just some—of our religious institutions share equally in the very same God-given, legally-recognized right not “to be forced to act in a manner contrary to [their] own beliefs.” Dignitatis Humanae, No. 2.

A mandate to act against our teachings. The exemption is not merely a government foray into internal Church governance, where government has no legal competence or authority—disturbing though that may be. This error in theory has grave consequences in principle and practice. Those deemed by HHS not to be “religious employers” will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world. For decades, the Bishops have led the fight against such government incursions on conscience, particularly in the area of health care. Far from making us waver in this longstanding commitment, the unprecedented magnitude of this latest threat has only strengthened our resolve to maintain that consistent view.

A violation of personal civil rights. The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values. They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing “services” contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption. This, too, is unprecedented in federal law, which has long been generous in protecting the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions. We have consistently supported these rights, particularly in the area of protecting the dignity of all human life, and we continue to do so.

Third, we want to indicate our next steps. We will continue our vigorous efforts at education and public advocacy on the principles of religious liberty and their application in this case (and others). We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours. We will continue to pursue legislation to restore the same level of religious freedom we have enjoyed until just recently. And we will continue to explore our options for relief from the courts, under the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws that protect religious freedom. All of these efforts will proceed concurrently, and in a manner that is mutually reinforcing.

Most importantly of all, we call upon the Catholic faithful, and all people of faith, throughout our country to join us in prayer and penance for our leaders and for the complete protection of our First Freedom—religious liberty—which is not only protected in the laws and customs of our great nation, but rooted in the teachings of our great Tradition. Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength—for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.