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Wealthy donors working to limit 'inappropriate' religious freedom

Denver, Colo., Oct 18, 2017 / 02:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A network of wealthy donors is funding a series of well-organized lobbying campaigns to restrict legal protections for religious freedom, in order to advance access to abortion and LGBT causes.

Since 2013, a network of funders has earmarked at least $8.5 million in grants for projects intended to limit religious freedom provisions in federal, state, and local law, according to a CNA investigation of grant listings and tax forms.

Many of these funders are part of the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative, a grantmaking fund launched by the Proteus Fund in March 2017. The collaborative opposes “the inappropriate use of religious exemptions to curtail reproductive health, rights and justice, discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, and otherwise undermine fundamental rights and liberties essential to a healthy democracy,” the fund’s website says.

The new anti-religious freedom collaborative was created to oppose “ongoing and growing efforts in too many states to ‘legalize’ discrimination and restrict fundamental human and civil rights under the guise of protecting ‘religious liberty’,” according to the fund’s website.

The Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative has given grants to pro-abortion groups and LGBT advocacy groups at the state, federal and international levels; religious groups including Catholics for Choice; legal advocacy groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal; and aligned academics, including those at Columbia Law School’s “Public Rights, Private Conscience Project.”

One donor, the Arcus Foundation, has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to John Podesta’s Center for American Progress initiatives. These grants seek to redefine religious liberty as “a core progressive American value that includes LGBT equality and women’s reproductive health and rights,” according to its latest grant listed at the Arcus Foundation website.

The collaborative’s network also spends millions on leadership development, donor development, anti-violence and anti-discrimination projects, and LGBT and pro-abortion rights advocacy.

The Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative says it will serve as “a vehicle for broader donor education and mobilization in order to achieve deeper funding alignment as well as enhanced donor collaboration.”

The collaborative aims to nurture strategies and organizations that foster collaboration between “the reproductive equity and LGBTQ movements, especially at the state and local level.” It aims to boost the influence of faith leaders and religious communities that it says will support “equal rights and opportunities for everyone while also protecting legitimate constitutionally protected religious liberty rights.” Its website also claims that “discriminatory practices fostered by overly broad religious exemptions” have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.

The collaborative’s funding partners, listed on the Proteus Fund’s website, are the Alki Fund of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the Gill Foundation, the Groundswell Fund, the Irving Harris Foundation, the Moriah Fund, the Overbrook Foundation, and anonymous donors.

The Proteus Fund appears to have had previous success. Its Civil Marriage Collaborative, closed in 2015, was a leader in the push for legal recognition of gay marriage. The fund’s “Hearts & Minds” report says that the consortium of foundations invested $153 million over 11 years in many states and at the national level in marriage-related advocacy.

CNA contacted the Proteus Fund for comment, but received no response by deadline.

Religious freedom laws: ‘not a blank check’

Richard Garnett, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, disagreed with the fund’s claims that religious freedom legal accommodations and exemptions are illegitimate. He said this claim is “inconsistent with our history and with our longstanding commitment to religious liberty as our ‘first freedom.’

“Reasonable exemptions do not ‘undermine fundamental rights and liberties,’ they protect and promote them,” he told CNA.

“Unfortunately, there are powerful and well-funded interests who, with broad support in the academy and in media, have been working hard to associate our ‘first freedom’ with discrimination and prejudice,” Garnett said.

He reflected on the state of religious freedom advocacy.

“Proponents of religious freedom, broadly and generously understood, will need to work hard to remind our fellow citizens that religious liberty – which has to mean religious liberty for all, and not just for ‘people like us’ – is itself a fundamental human right, and a protection for democracy,” he said. “And, of course, to make religious freedom more appealing, it is important that religious-freedom proponents conduct their efforts in a civil, charitable, and inviting way.”

For Garnett, the fund’s rhetoric about discrimination concerns did not accurately represent the current state of the law.

“In fact, only a tiny number of religious-exemptions claims involve antidiscrimination laws and these claims almost always fail,” he said. “The claim that religious-liberty laws undermine important anti-discrimination protections in the marketplace, the workplace, or in public accommodations is false.  

“Instead, what these laws do is call for sensible accommodations for religious conscience, in cases where the accommodations will not undermine compelling public interests. These laws call for a balance, not a blank check.”

Religious freedom protections have become more controversial in recent decades. In 2012, the Obama administration attempted to mandate that all employers, including religious employers, cover sterilization and contraceptive drugs, including drugs that can cause abortions. The mandate burdened many Catholic dioceses and organizations, including EWTN Global Catholic Network, and was only changed by a recent Trump administration action.

There is also an ongoing push in some states to require insurance coverage of abortions, and some medical professionals and hospitals have faced pressure to cooperate in providing abortions.

Garnett thought abortion would be a prime focus of the Proteus funding network.

“My sense is that what efforts like the Proteus Fund are really aimed at is undermining the longstanding protections in American law for religious health care workers and institutions who cannot in conscience participate in abortions,” he said. “These protections are falsely labeled as ‘discriminatory’ when, in fact, they reflect the commonsense notion that it would be deeply unjust to require, as a condition of working as a healer, a pro-life medical professional to participate in a procedure she believes to be gravely wrong.”

Some Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close because placing children with same-sex couples violates their religious convictions. There is an ongoing debate over whether small businesses in the marriage industry must cater to same-sex ceremonies if they have religious objections to them.

Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-author of “Debating Religious Liberty and Discrimination,” reflected on the current situation.

“Anti-gay and anti-transgender bigotry exists and should be condemned,” he told CNA. “But support for marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t anti-gay. Nor is the conviction that sex is a biological reality anti-transgender.

“Just as we’ve combatted sexism without treating pro-life medicine as sexist, any public policy necessary to help people who identify as LGBT meet their needs should be crafted so as to respect the consciences of reasonable people, acting on good-faith beliefs about marriage and gender identity,” said Anderson. “Not every disagreement is discrimination. And our law shouldn’t suppose otherwise.”

‘We’re going to punish the wicked’

The Proteus Fund’s collaborative brings together several organizations with experience in effective political advocacy.

One of its funding partners, the Colorado-based Gill Foundation, was launched by the politically savvy former businessman Tim Gill. He has pursued strategic LGBT advocacy through funding both non-profits and political campaigns.

“We’re going into the hardest states in the country… we’re going to punish the wicked,” Gill said in a June interview with Rolling Stone magazine about his LGBT activism.

In March 2015, Tim Sweeney, a former president and CEO of the Gill Foundation,  told leading business executives and others attending the Out & Equal Workplace Advocates executive forum in San Francisco about the need to ensure their fight against religious exemptions is finished quickly.

“We are at a crossroads where the choices we make will mean we will fight religious exemptions for two to three years or have a protracted twenty year struggle on our hands,” he said.

The New York-based Arcus Foundation, founded by billionaire heir Jon Stryker, has dedicated millions of dollars to opposing religious freedom protections and to funding LGBT advocacy within world religions, including dissenting Catholic groups like Catholics for Choice, New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA.

One board member of this foundation is Darren Walker, past vice-president of the Rockefeller Foundation and current president of the deeply influential Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation has funded some projects against religious liberty protections, but is not listed as a direct member of the collaborative based at the Proteus Fund.

However, the Oakland, Calif.-based Groundswell Fund board of directors is chaired by Rocio L. Cordoba, a past program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Justice Program. The Groundswell Fund claims to fund more reproductive justice organizations than any other foundation.

Another partner, the Rockefeller Family Fund, was launched in 1967 by members of the prominent American family, including then-New York governor and future vice-president Nelson Rockefeller. Its mission statement says it “initiates, cultivates, and funds strategic efforts to promote a sustainable, just, free, and participatory society.” The fund did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

The San Francisco-based Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund is a private family foundation with half a billion dollars in assets. Since 2014 it has earmarked at least $1.4 million in grants for projects related to religious exemptions, according to a CNA review of its grant listings.

The New York-based Overbrook Foundation, founded in 1948 by financier Frank Altschul and his wife Helen, has a gender rights program to fund those who oppose “overly broad religious exemptions.” Its website listed $220,000 in grants related to religious freedom: a $100,000 grant to the Proteus Fund’s collaborative, and two $60,000 grants to Lambda Legal.

The Chicago-based Irving Harris Foundation, created by the businessman and philanthropist, awards $10 to $15 million in grants annually, InsidePhilanthropy reports. The Washington, D.C.-based Moriah Fund dedicated over $10.6 million to program spending in fiscal year 2016. Neither grant maker's website listed grants related to religious freedom.

 

 

 

 

Chilean Cardinal offers warm welcome to Syrian refugees

Santiago, Chile, Oct 18, 2017 / 12:26 am (CNA).- Last week in Santiago, government officials, representatives of the Catholic Church in Chile, and international organizations welcomed the first of 66 Syrian refugees who will be living in the country.

These 14 families, consisting of 34 adults and 32 children, traveled more than 20 hours from Lebanon and arrived as part of the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Program. The families will be making their homes in the Macul district in Santiago and Villa Alemana district in Valparaiso.

Present at the welcome were the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet; the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati; the regional UNHCR representative for southern Latin America, Michele Manca di Nissa; Interior Minister Mario Fernandez; the mayors of the host communities; representatives of the Syrian community in Chile; and the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

Bachelet said she hopes that the refugees will be able to “gradually let go of your fear, pain and uncertainty. We know that you have had trying times, and we want you to find in our country a land that welcomes you with friendship and good will so you can have a fresh start and raise your families in peace and security.”

“I am extremely delighted that Chile once again shows itself to be an open, supportive and welcoming country,” Cardinal Ezzati said at the welcome event.

“Without a doubt, language separates us to some extent, but greeting the people, I have noticed that there is a common language, the children smile and respond to our smiles.”

“That gives us great hope…we have a common language that comes from our humanity, from our ability to smile, from our ability to welcome,” the cardinal said.

Once they completed the immigration procedures, seven Syrian families moved into Macul and the other seven into Villa Alemana. Workers from the Social Ministry were awaiting them in their new homes.  

To finalize the move, the Vicariate for Social Ministry traveled in August to interview the families and give them information on Chile. One of the requirements for participating in the resettlement program is that the families had spent two years in refugee camps.

In the coming days, the refugees will begin Spanish classes and will be introduced to the culture, the workplace and educational environments, and other aspects of life in Chile so they can assimilate and restart their lives far from the humanitarian crisis caused by the war.

 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

 

Pope Francis on why he gives interviews

Vatican City, Oct 17, 2017 / 03:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a preface to a new book of interviews, Pope Francis outlined his approach to speaking with journalists, explaining that he thinks interviews should be like a conversation and this is why he doesn’t prepare answers in advance.

“For me interviews are a dialogue, not a lesson,” the Pope wrote.

“I do not prepare for this,” he said, stating that he usually declines to read the questions when they are sent in advance, instead opting to answer organically, as he would in an actual conversation.

“Yes, I am still afraid of being interpreted badly,” he clarified, while adding that as a pastor, it’s a risk he’s willing to take.

“Everything that I do has pastoral value, in one way or in another,” he said. “If I did not trust this, I would not allow interviews: for me it is clear. It's a manner of communicating my ministry.”

Pope Francis gave his thoughts on interviews, and why and how he gives them, in a preface written for a book called Now Ask Your Questions.

The book, a a collection of both new and old interviews with Pope Francis, was compiled by Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica. It will be presented Oct. 21.

In the preface, Francis explained that for him, giving an interview is not like ascending “a pulpit” to preach, but is a meeting between him and the journalist: “I need to meet the people and look them in the eyes,” he wrote.

He said he likes to speak with people from both small magazines and popular newspapers, because he feels “even more comfortable.”

“In fact, in those cases I really listen to the questions and concerns of ordinary people,” trying to answer “spontaneously” and in a “simple, popular language,” he explained.

He takes the same approach in press conferences aboard the papal plane when returning from apostolic visits, he said, though he sometimes imagines beforehand what questions journalists may ask.

He knows he must be prudent, he said, and he always prays to the Holy Spirit before listening to the questions and responding.

Historically however, Francis wasn’t fond of giving interviews. I may be “tough,” the Pope said, but I'm also shy, stating that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was a little afraid of journalists, though one eventually persuaded him.

“I've always been worried about bad interpretations of what I say,” he wrote. As with interviews in the past, he said he was hesitant to accept Spadaro’s request, though eventually he did and gave two long interviews, both which make up part of the book.

The compilation also includes various conversations with fellow Jesuits, which Francis said are the moments he usually feels the most comfortable and free to speak.

“I'm glad they've been included in this collection,” he said, since he feels like he is speaking among family members, and thus doesn’t fear being misunderstood.

Included in the book “are also two conversations with the superior generals of religious groups. I have always requested a real dialogue for them. I never wanted to give speeches and not have to listen to them,” he said.

“To me, to converse always felt the best way for us to really meet each other.”

In his meeting with Polish Jesuits, for example, the Pope said he spoke about discernment, strongly underlining the specific mission of the Society of Jesus today, “that is also a very important mission of the Church for our times.”

“I have a real need of this direct communication with people,” he said.

These conversations, which take place in meetings and interviews, are united in form to how he delivers his daily homilies at Mass in the Casa Santa Marta every morning, what is sort of his “parish,” he pointed out.

“I need this communication with people. There, four days a week, they go to find me, 25 people of a Roman parish, together with others.”

“I want a Church that knows how to get involved in people's conversations, that knows how to dialogue,” he said.

“It is the Church of Emmaus, in which the Lord ‘interviews’ the disciples who are walking, discouraged. For me, an interview is part of this conversation of the Church with the people of today.”

A modern horror: global persecution of Christians at historic peak, report says

New York City, N.Y., Oct 17, 2017 / 03:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Anti-Christian persecution is “worse than at any time in history” and in many cases genocide and other crimes against humanity “now mean that the Church in core countries and regions faces the possibility of imminent wipe-out,” says a new report from Aid to the Church in Need.

The report, titled “Persecuted and Forgotten?”, covers the years 2015-2017. Its contents are bleak, describing Christianity as “the world’s most oppressed faith community.” Anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak” and its impact is “only now beginning to be felt in all its horror.”

“In 12 of the 13 countries reviewed, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms in the period 2015–17 than within the preceding two years,” said the report’s executive summary, released Oct. 12.  

John Pontifex, the report's editor, commented that “In terms of the numbers of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.”

China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”

The report’s ratings draw from analyses like the Pew Forum’s Social Hostilities Index and Open Door’s World Watch List, in addition to other factors and sources, including fact-finding trips.   

In some countries the state is the principal persecutor, while in other countries social groups are culpable, while in still others a combination of both are responsible.

Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic pastoral charity, provides emergency and pastoral relief in 140 countries. Its U.S. affiliate published the report.

The report’s foreword was written by Archbishop Issam John Darwish of the Melkite Archdiocese of Zahlé and Furzo, a Lebanese archdiocese near the Syrian border. He recounted the stories of Christian refugees fleeing the six-year-old Syrian civil war.

“Many refugees have told terrible stories of persecution: like the man whose brother, a priest, was kidnapped – and despite the family paying the ransom they killed the priest. They sent his family a box containing his severed wrist, tattooed with a cross, to show he was dead,” the archbishop said.

The Middle East is a major focus for the report.

“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”

The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

However, the departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.

Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence.

The Islamic State group and other militants have committed genocide in Syria and Iraq. While Islamic State and other groups have been defeated in their major strongholds, many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would not survive another attack.

In northern Nigeria, the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has engaged in genocide against Christians.

There are reports from North Korea of forced starvation of Christians and forced abortion. Some Christians have been hung on crosses over fire, and others have been crushed by steamrollers. Protestants and Catholics are ranked among those least sympathetic to the state, which limits their access to food, education, and health care. Christianity is linked with American influence, and Christians are executed as spies.

In Sudan, the government’s pursuit of an extremist Islamist agenda led to orders to tear down Christian churches. Christians are arrested for alleged proselytism, and women face fines for wearing “obscene” or immodest dress. The government stripped citizenship rights of people with origins outside Sudan, leading many to leave for their ancestral homelands in South Sudan. Many had lived in their homes for three decades or more.

In January 2017 the U.S. put a six-month waiver on human rights sanctions against Sudan, on condition that the country improve its human rights and religious freedom record.

In Pakistan, banned fundamentalist cells pose a great threat to Christians, but some charge that the government’s failure to crack down on these groups worsens the problem of violence. On Easter Sunday 2016 as many as 24 Christians were killed in targeted violence in Lahore. A faction of the Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

In India, persecution has increased since 2014, with the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Like-minded groups frequently accuse Christians of forced conversion, a charge local Christian leaders strongly deny. An India-based Catholic group reported 365 serious anti-Christian atrocities in 2016, with 10 people killed and more than 500 clergy or church leaders attacked for their faith.

Some Christians have faced pressure to convert under threat of force, while others have been forced to take part in Hindu rituals and deny their faith.

In China, church communities face increased hostility. Authorities in some provinces have removed crosses from some churches and destroyed church buildings. In some regions, Christmas trees and greeting cards have been banned.

President Xi Jinping has depicted Christianity as a means of “foreign infiltration” into China and has advocated more state control and targeting of unofficial churches. There are fears that China’s 2016 announcement of categorization of citizens based on political, commercial, social and legal “credit,” will create a system that disadvantages Christians in a way similar to North Korea.

Christians in Egypt suffered a major suicide bombing attack in December 2016 and again on Palm Sunday in April 2017. Dozens were killed and more injured in both attacks, for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Saudi Arabia has come under criticism from western powers and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. However, President Donald Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with the country, a deal which had been held up under the Obama administration due to human rights concerns. The Aid to the Church in Need report said sources in the country are supplying arms and finances to Sunni extremist groups including the Islamic State, known in the region as “Daesh.”

“Given that Islamist groups such as Daesh are likely to be heavily reliant on undeclared external sources for weapons and intelligence, there is an urgent need to step up action to stop all entities collaborating with them,” the report continued. “Persecuted Christians are among the many who stand to be beneficiaries of progress in this area.”

Archbishop Darwish said it is imperative to help persecuted Christians.

“When the Christian families who have turned to us need the very basics for daily life – food, shelter and medical care – how can we refuse to help?” he asked, lamenting a lack of aid from the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations.

He praised Aid to the Church in Need’s efforts to report anti-Christian persecution and aid those persecuted.

What is Pope Francis' approach to appointing new bishops?

Vatican City, Oct 17, 2017 / 02:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Among the most lasting aspects of a Pope’s leadership is his appointment of bishops. To understand a Pope, it’s important to understand how he makes decisions about episcopal leadership.

With that in mind, Pope Francis’ approach to the selection and appointment of bishops is worth considering.

When diocesan and auxiliary bishops turn 75 years old, they are required to submit a letter of resignation to the Pope, which he can accept immediately or at any time going forward.

At present, there are seven key posts in the world waiting for a new bishop. While it can take more than a year before a bishop’s resignation is accepted, many analysts anticipate a flurry of significant episcopal appointments over the next several months.  

Bishops who recently submitted a letter of resignation to Pope Francis include Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC; Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo); Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban (South Africa); Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa (Honduras); Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City; Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris; and Archbishop Peter Okada of Tokyo.

What will Pope Francis’ criteria be in appointing new bishops to these significant dioceses?

Some recent appointments may shed light on his priorities.  

Pope Francis recently appointed Mario Delpini, 66, to serve as Archbishop of Milan, succeeding Cardinal Angelo Scola. Delpini served as Milan’s auxiliary bishop for a decade before being appointed archbishop.

Archbishop Delpini had been a collaborator with the three previous archbishops of Milan, Cardinals Martini, Tettamanzi and Scola. Unlike his predecessors, however, all of his priestly life took place in the Archdiocese of Milan.

Pope Francis also recently appointed a Vicar of Rome, the title used for the functional head of the Diocese of Rome. To replace Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Pope picked Bishop Angelo De Donatis, 63, who preached the 2014 Lenten spiritual exercises to the Roman Curia, and was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Rome in 2015.

Archbishops Delpini and De Donatis have several things in common. They both have extensive pastoral experience, both are considered ideologically moderate, and both were already connected to the dioceses they’d been appointed to lead. These are said to be key criteria in the episcopal appointments of Pope Francis.

In fact, the Pope’s apparent criteria were a factor in many of his other notable appointments.

In 2014, the Pope chose Cardinal Reinhard Woelki as Archbishop of Cologne, moving him from his post in Berlin. Cardinal Woelki’s move to Cologne was a return to his hometown. When he was appointed, he was noted for his human touch, his pastoral work and simple style of life – television news pieces featured him washing his clothes personally and cooking at his home.

The same year, the Pope picked Carlos Osoro Sierra as the Archbishop of Madrid, and later named him a cardinal. Cardinal Osoro Sierra is known as the “little Francis” in Spain, largely because of his pastoral gifts and his missionary impulse, which have been a transformational factor for the Church in Spain.

Given these four examples, what is the Pope going to do with the Church in the U.S.?

Over the past year, Pope Francis has appointed 16 U.S. bishops, most of them in smaller dioceses or as auxiliaries. The major pending question is that of the successor of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Cardinal Wuerl is already 76 years old, more than a year beyond the normal retirement age.

The post in Washington, D.C. is a key post, as it involves both pastoral care and institutional relations with the U.S. political establishment. What will Pope Francis do?

An insistent rumor says that Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego might be at the top of the list.

Bishop McElroy recently grabbed headlines for jumping into the discussion on LGBT issues that followed Fr. James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge.” Bishop McElroy has defended the book, and Martin, in the face of criticisms of his work.  

He also recently took part in a Boston College conference on Amoris Laetitia, hosted by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Father James Keenan, SJ. During the conference, Bishop McElroy reported on the diocesan synod he launched on Amoris Laetitia, and said that Catholic teaching must take seriously the complexity of adult moral life.

Among observers, he is considered a figure similar to Cardinal Blase Cupich, who was personally chosen by Pope Francis in 2014 to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago. This seems to suggest that he is a fit for Pope Francis’ model of episcopal leadership.

Of course, his appointment is simply a rumor, just as another rumor in Rome says that the Pope will soon call Cardinal Cupich to lead an important Vatican office in Rome.

There are no confirmation of rumors, and sometimes gossip is just a way to test possible reactions to an appointment. Such rumors are typical in such a moment of transition.

It’s worth noting that Pope Francis might also be reconsidering the selection process for bishops.

During the June 12-14 meeting of the Council of Cardinals, a new procedure for the appointment of bishops was discussed. It was not the first time the cardinals who advise Pope Francis have addressed this issue.

In particular, the Holy See Press Office explained that the consultation before the appointment of a new bishop might involve more local priests and laity. In the end, a bishop’s appointment is always a Pope’s appointment. However, the Pope receives suggestions – usually in the form of a set of three – from the local nuncios of each country, who consult broadly, and “interview” a number of people before suggesting any name to the Pope.

The idea being suggested is to emphasize the local level, rather than the nuncio’s suggestions. One of the issues apparently of concern is the way that nuncios gather information, as the standard questionnaire they deliver is said to be too dated.

 

 

Benedict XVI's secretary denies rumors that he is close to death

Vatican City, Oct 17, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the personal secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, has rejected reports that the former pontiff is nearing death.

Rumors of Benedict XVI being close to death circulated on social media following a quote attributed to Ganswein, which reads, “Pope Benedict is like a candle that fades slowly. He is serene, at peace with God, with himself and the world. He can no longer walk without help and can no longer celebrate Mass.”

However, Archbishop Ganswein called this quote “pure invention.”

“It is false and wrong! I would like to know who the author of this is,” he said, according to German media outlet kath.net.

 “I have received in the last two days many messages that refer to this phrase, and people are worried,” he said.

Last week, Ratzinger’s brother was at the Vatican to visit, and he has now returned home, Ganswein confirmed, adding, “Both had a good time.”

 

US bishops call for health care protection for the most vulnerable

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2017 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In the wake of an executive order issued by the Trump administration halting federal assistance for certain insurance plans, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed that helping to protect low-income persons and the vulnerable is of the utmost importance.

“This is of grave concern. The Affordable Care Act is, by no means, perfect, but as leaders attempt to address impending challenges to insurance market stability and affordability, they must not use people’s health care as leverage or as a bargaining chip,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the U.S. bishops’  Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development in a statement.

“To do so would be to strike at the heart of human dignity and the fundamental right to health care. The poor and vulnerable will bear the brunt of such an approach.”

Trump's decision will end a series of subsidies for lower-income enrollees in Affordable Care Act plans, which help those people reduce their cost share. The subsidies were expected to total more than $9 billion in 2018, and Congress has never appropriated the money for these cost-sharing subsidies in particular.

Trump’s decision has been met with criticism from both the Democratic party and some members of the Republican party, while other members of the president’s party, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), praised the move.

Bishop Dewane explained that in addition to cutting federal funds for insurance subsidies for low-income buyers, Trump also issued a directive whichallow the sale of insurance plans across state lines and expand options for certain kinds of plans that are lower-cost, but contain fewer benefits.

There is also concern among healthcare policy experts that if enough healthy people leave their current plans for such high-deductible plans, those remaining in other Affordable Care Act plans would be, on the whole, sicker, and eventually face higher premiums. These costs would eventually impact the economy at large.

Dewane said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will monitor how the order is implemented, and its impact on vulnerable persons.

“In general, robust options for people to obtain health coverage, as well as flexibility and approaches aimed at increased affordability, are important strategies in health care,” he said of the other elements of the executive order. “However, in implementing this executive order, great care must be taken to avoid risk of additional harm to those who now receive health care coverage through exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act.”

In addition to opening up new areas of concern, the executive order “ignores” other severe problems in the health care system, Dewane said.

“Congress must still act on comprehensive reform in order to provide a sustainable framework for health care, providing lasting solutions for the life, conscience, immigrant access, market stability, and underlying affordability problems that remain unaddressed.”

Pope invites prisoners to lunch, they break free instead

Bologna, Italy, Oct 17, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- They were supposed to be having lunch with Pope Francis.

During his Oct. 1 trip to Bologna, the Holy Father was scheduled to dine with 20 prisoners from a local drug rehabilitation facility, along with refugees and the poor of the area, during a “Lunch of Solidarity” at San Petronio Basilica.

Instead, two of the Italian prisoners shirked their invitation for what they saw as a prime opportunity for escape.

According to Bologna newspaper Il Resto del Carlino, the prisoners escaped sometime during the hour, though it is unclear whether they first ate lunch.

They have yet to be found.

Pope Francis regularly includes prisoners in his trips and events, including washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday and holding a Jubilee Mass for prisoners at the Vatican last year.

'Clarity and charity' – the keys to defending marriage in Australia

Sydney, Australia, Oct 17, 2017 / 12:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Australians return their ballots for a poll that could aid the recognition of same-sex unions as marriages, the Archbishop of Sydney called for Christian charity in clearly explaining the importance of marriage as the union of man and woman.

“However the marriage debate pans out, I pray people will be able to say of us that we maintained clarity about real marriage while demonstrating charity towards all. God bless our country and its voters with such clarity and charity,” said Archbishop Anthony Fisher in his Sunday homily Oct. 15.

Australia is currently conducting a voluntary postal survey as a plebiscite, a non-binding process to gauge public opinion. The survey closes Nov. 7. Results will be announced Nov. 15.

Only the federal government has the power to change Australian marriage law, the Australian high court has ruled. A “yes” vote would allow a bill to be introduced into Parliament, but would not guarantee its passage.

According to Archbishop Fisher, clarity had been lacking in the discussion.

“Sadly our marriage ‘debate’ has rarely touched on what marriage is, what it’s for,” he said. “We’ve had slogans like ‘love is love’ but not every kind of love is marriage. Nor, if we are honest, is every marriage especially loving, at least all of the time.”

The archbishop stressed the uniqueness of marriage as an institution that joins man and woman and that has the unique potential for the begetting of children.

Unlike normal elections, the current Australia survey is voluntary. The country often has legal penalties for non-voters. However, the survey costs about $96 million.

At least 10 million survey forms have been returned, the Australian website News.com.au reports.

Various surveys indicate over 60 percent of Australians favor the legal recognition of “gay marriage.”

Archbishop Fisher also voiced concerns about threats to religious freedom that the redefinition of civil marriage could pose.

“If overseas experience is anything to go by, if marriage is redefined it will be very hard to speak up for real marriage anymore – in schools, at work, socially,” he said, citing discrimination and “other kinds of bullying” against those who cannot accept the new definition.

“Some may lose their jobs, promotions, businesses, political careers,” said Fisher.

Heterosexual marriage is the only kind of friendship properly recognized by the state because it leads to new citizens, namely children, and gives them “the best start in life,” he added.

At the same time, the archbishop noted the difficulty of presenting the gospel in a changing culture that increasingly sees Christian views on many things, including sexuality, marriage, and reverence for life, as “arcane, even harmful.”

“In a culture which for all its putative open-mindedness is less and less tolerant of Christianity, how will we ensure in the years ahead that people in parishes, schools and other institutions are free to speak and practice their beliefs?” he asked. “How will we maintain a sense of who we are and what matters most to us when some others barely tolerate us or even vilify and bully us?”

Fisher cited the example of the protagonist in the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” where pacifist Desmond Doss supports soldiers on the battlefield as a medic even though he himself refuses to kill.

“Desmond Doss had to make some hard choices, between worldly regard and godliness, between sticking to his principles and selling out to go with the flow,” the archbishop said. “He found a way to be true to his beliefs without being bigoted or bitter; indeed, being true to his ideals drove him to heroic compassion towards others and self-sacrifice on their behalf.”

 

Department of Justice announces settlement in HHS mandate suits

Washington D.C., Oct 16, 2017 / 09:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A week after issuing new religious freedom guidelines to all administrative agencies in the federal government, the U.S. Department of Justice has settled with more than 70 plaintiffs who had challenged the controversial HHS contraceptive mandate.

The Oct. 13 agreement was reached between the government and the law firm Jones Day, which represented more than 70 clients fighting the mandate. Made public Oct. 16, the agreement states that the plaintiffs would not be forced to provide health insurance coverage for “morally unacceptable” products and procedures, including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

“This settlement brings to a conclusion our litigation challenging the Health and Human Services’ mandate obliging our institutions to provide support for morally objectionable activities, as well as a level of assurance as we move into the future,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. in an Oct. 16 letter to priests of the archdiocese.

The mandate originated with the Obama administration. Issued through the Department of Health and Human Services, it required employers – even those with deeply-held religious objections – to provide and pay for contraceptive, abortifacient and sterilization coverage in their health insurance plans.

The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was one of more than 300 plaintiffs who had challenged the mandate, arguing “that the practice of our faith was inextricably tied to the ministries that put that faith into action,” and that as such, they should not be forced to violate their faith to continue their ministries, Wuerl recalled.

The archdiocese and six other plaintiffs had argued their position before the Supreme Court in the case Zubik v. Burwell. In 2016, the high court ruled against the government’s requirement that certain employers provide and pay for the morally objectionable services.

“While the Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Religious Liberty and new guidelines and regulations are extremely helpful, the settlement of the Zubik litigation adds a leavening of certainty moving forward,” the cardinal added.

The Department of Justice’s new settlement “removes doubt” and closes these cases challenging the mandate, the cardinal continued. “The settlement adds additional assurances that we will not be subject to enforcement or imposition of similar regulations imposing such morally unacceptable mandates moving forward,” he stated.

On Oct. 6, the Department of Justice revised its guidelines for all government agencies in light of existing religious freedom laws, releasing a set of principles which stated clearly that the government cannot substantially burden religious practices, unless there is a compelling state interest in doing so and those burdens use the least-restrictive means possible.

Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college in California and another plaintiff against the HHS mandate also celebrated the protection the settlement brings.

“While we welcomed the broadening of the exemption from the HHS mandate last week by the Trump administration, we have under our agreement today something even better: a permanent exemption from an onerous federal directive – and any similar future directive – that would require us to compromise our fundamental beliefs,” said Thomas Aquinas College president Dr. Michael F. McLean in an Oct. 16 statement.

“This is an extraordinary outcome for Thomas Aquinas College and for the cause of religious freedom.”

In addition to settling the case, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury have also decided to provide partial coverage of the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs of the lawsuits.

“This financial concession by the government only reinforces its admission of the burdensome nature of the HHS contraceptive mandate and its violation of the College's free exercise of religion,” stated Thomas Aquinas College General Counsel, Quincy Masteller.