Posts Tagged ‘USCCB’
Today marks the completion of two weeks on the road. I’m at St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in Southern Indiana this morning.
I’m looking forward to visiting with our three seminarians studying here as well as with the faculty, and celebrating the community Mass today. I remember as a seminarian looking forward to visits by my Archbishop, and now, I enjoy the opportunity to get to know my seminarians and hear how they are growing in discernment and formation.
The first week of November I was in St. Paul for meetings with Catholic Rural Life. We held a board meeting on Monday and Tuesday and then welcomed 70 agriculture and faith leaders from around the country for a three day symposium on faith, food, and agriculture. Catholic Rural Life is collaborating with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to draft a document on the Vocation of the Agriculture Leader. This will be a companion piece for the previously written document, The Vocation of the Business Leader.
A part of the work leading up to the writing of the document is to hold two symposiums, the one held last week in St. Paul, and an international one the end of June in Milan, Italy. We are posing questions on the topics of faith, food and the environment and listening to theologians, farmers and many others involved in various spectrums of the agriculture world and business.
There are many issues around hunger and food, farming, food production and distribution, labor, environment and care for the earth and all of our natural resources. Our efforts seek to better understand all of these complex issues, while at the same time introducing principles based upon gospel-based values and ethics to help leaders develop sound answers that will respect the dignity of the human person and the limited resources of creation. As Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, Blessed Pope Paul VI “proposed Christian charity as the principal force at the service of development.” (Charity in Truth, #13)
From St. Paul I made my way to Baltimore for the November plenary meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I was very encouraged during our meetings this week by the leadership of our President, Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville. I had a chance to speak with him at the airport in Baltimore yesterday evening, and thanked him for his generous and gracious leadership.
I am also pleased to see more time spent during our gatherings for bishops to gather in smaller groups for more in depth discussions on specific questions. I was particularly pleased that one of the questions invited the bishops to reflect upon the direction and teaching of Pope Francis in light of our own future priorities as a Conference. I’m hopeful that this will help us be more responsive to the needs, hopes and desires of the Catholic population, and enable our work to be more capable of making a difference in the day-to-day life of the faithful.
The past two weeks have been very full, and I pray God bless the work of the labor of many people who seek to serve Him for the good of the Church and the common good of society as a whole. More and more I am convinced that the Gospel is essential for building up the fraternal wellbeing of all of God’s people in society. Please God, may we find our way to presenting the truths of the Gospel in a manner that can improve the lives of all of God’s people.
This colloquium was held at Stanford University on Friday, April 25, 2014. The event was hosted by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Menlo Park, California, and sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the USCCB, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs of Georgetown University and Boston College, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
The colloquium gathered statesmen, policy makers, ethicists, theologians, students and Bishops with the express goal of defining the present state of the world affairs, and the role of nuclear deterrence, while at the same time raising new ethical and moral issues in order to help define new paths that can lead to a world with less reliance on nuclear deterrence and assurance that nuclear weapons are never used.
Clearly, the Cold War is well behind us, yet nuclear weapons still pose a threat to humanity and civilization as a whole. The world has changed since the Cold War, with terrorist organizations and regional tensions being perhaps the greatest new factor in world affairs that threaten peace and the use of nuclear weapons. After a time of reduced nuclear weapons and states that possess them, we are seeing once again the list of states with nuclear weapons expanding.
As mentioned above, one of the organizers of this symposium is a group known as the Nuclear Security Project. This alliance is made up of four senior U.S. statesmen with strong credentials in national security; former Secretary of State George P. Schultz, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry (both present for this colloquium,) former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, and former Senator Sam Nunn. Their background in national security and their bi-partisan concern gives credence to strengthen the commitment of the international community to renew our efforts to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons and material and our reliance upon nuclear deterrence.
A statement by Scott Sagan of Stanford University in The National Interest (September/October 2010) summarizes the present challenge:
“The choice we face is not between a nuclear-free world or a return to bipolar Cold War deterrence; it is between creating a nuclear-weapons-free world or living in a world with many more nuclear weapons states. And if there are more nuclear nations, and more atomic weapons in global arsenals, there will be more opportunities for terrorists to steal or buy the bomb.”
If this assessment is correct, it makes sense that efforts to reduce nuclear weapons (and the continued practice of nuclear deterrence) are important in making progress of halting proliferation if not someday a nuclear free world.
From the perspective of Church teaching, every person and nation has a right to self-defense. However, responses to aggression may not exceed the nature of the aggression. (The Challenge of Peace, #103) Responses must be both discriminate and proportionate.
Protecting the lives of innocent persons must always be considered in times of war and all activities of war. The other side of this consideration is that killing innocent people and populations is always morally unacceptable. Proportionality means that any military advantage gained from an action must be weighed against the harm and destruction the same action will cause.
In his 1982 address to a special session of the United Nations, Pope John Paul II said:
“In current conditions ‘deterrence’ based on balance certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable. Nonetheless in order to ensure peace, it is indispensable not to be satisfied with this minimum which is always susceptible to the real danger of explosion.”
The bishops’ 1983 Pastoral Letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, also gave conditional moral approval to the practice of the time of deterrence. The conditions of that moral approval now thirty plus years later seem to indicate that we have reached a point in time where steps must be taken to move towards a nuclear free world.
Mr. Gerald Powers of the Kroc Institute of Notre Dame summarized these conditions in a May 17, 2010 article in America Magazine:
“In their 1983 peace pastoral, … the bishops proposed an ‘interim ethic’ whereby nuclear deterrence could be morally acceptable under three conditions: 1) if it is limited to deterring the use of nuclear weapons and not expanded to include nuclear-war fighting strategies or using nuclear weapons to deter against nonnuclear threats … 2) if the goal is to have enough weapons only to deter nuclear use, not to achieve nuclear superiority … ; and 3) if deterrence is used as a step toward progressive disarmament.”
It is fair to say that any progress made in past decades towards disarmament has stalled at best. Is it possible to continue to morally justify today’s continued policy of nuclear deterrence with little effort being made to promote non-proliferation and disarmament? When did the world community get comfortable living with weapons that have the potential to destroy human existence?
After the colloquium, this passage came to mind, particularly in light of the potential that any use of nuclear weapons has to severely alter if not end civilization as we know it. “Thus says the Lord, the creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it, not as an empty waste did he create it, but designing it to be lived in: I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:18)
Any use of nuclear weapons is a direct threat to the beauty of God’s creation and to the human life it is meant to sustain. The destructive potential of nuclear weapons is so great that the very use of such weapons is morally unthinkable. The Holy See made the following 1976 statement before the United Nations: “the arms race is to be condemned as a danger, an act of aggression against the poor, and a folly which does not provide the security it promises.”
The nuclear threat is real, as Secretary George Schultz and the other members of the Nuclear Security Project have clearly stated. “The accelerating spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear know-how, and nuclear material has brought us to a tipping point. We face a very real possibility that the deadliest weapons ever invented could fall into dangerous hands.” (January 19, 2010 op-ed; Wall Street Journal)
I would simply propose that we all continue to keep this topic of nuclear disarmament in our prayers. Let us pray for today’s statesmen and women that they are capable of the kind of diplomacy and negotiations required to diffuse the regional conflicts that can lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Let us pray for today’s policy makers to discover a renewed motivation and commitment to work to address the safety and security issues regarding the handling of all present nuclear weapons and materials, and begin once again to reduce the number of nuclear nations. Let us pray for more and more people to dedicate themselves to being peace builders. Let us pray that the world population may once and for all learn the lesson and wisdom that war does not build peace.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Last Friday I had the opportunity to join a highly qualified group of individuals interested in raising awareness to the serious threat still posed to today’s world by nuclear weapons. I am presently writing up my own reflections from this day-long colloquium which I will share here very soon. For now, I wish to share today’s press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishops, Policy Specialists, Other Catholic Leaders Convene Renewed Effort on Nuclear Disarmament at Stanford University
WASHINGTON—Nuclear weapons “present an existential threat to mankind,” said former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz to a group of Catholic leaders on April 24. “We need to reduce the numbers of these weapons, identify and take the steps needed to keep them under better control, and ultimately eliminate them.” Secretary Shultz and former Secretary of Defense William Perry hosted a Colloquium on Revitalizing Catholic Engagement on Nuclear Disarmament, April 24-25, at Stanford University.
This off-the-record event brought together 40 bishops, policy specialists, Catholic scholars, and young professionals and students to explore policy and moral challenges involved in moving toward a world without nuclear weapons.
“The bishops have made the moral case for ultimate nuclear disarmament; Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn have made the case for disarmament as a policy goal, a goal embraced by the U.S. and Russian governments,” said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace. “My hope is that this colloquium will be the beginning of a process to invigorate and refine the voice of the U.S. Catholic community in the debate on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.”
Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame and, with Bishop Pates, a co-convenor of the colloquium, emphasized the distinctive role of Catholic universities, which “should serve as networks of discussion and sources of knowledge – able to explore and address the practical, technical and ethical issues that arise on the way to a global ban.”
Other speakers included Secretary Perry, former Senator Sam Nunn, retired Ambassador James Goodby, Father Bryan Hehir (Harvard), Franciscan Father Kenneth Himes (Boston College), Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, (Georgetown), Scott Sagan and Sidney Drell (Stanford), and Stephen Colecchi (USCCB).
The colloquium was the kick-off of a larger project intended to empower a new generation of Catholic bishops, scholars, professionals and students to address the ethical and policy challenges of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. It will convene symposia for ethicists and policy experts, publish articles in scholarly and popular journals and reach out to students and young professionals through a social media site that emphasizes the religious and ethical dimensions of nuclear disarmament.
The Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University hosted the colloquium. The project is sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in collaboration with the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace; Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; and Boston College. The project is made possible with the support of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
As our 2013 Plenary meeting of the US Bishops’ Conference draws near to conclusion, a special statement was issued at the close of our executive session today. I share that with this readership now, in the hopes that after I get home, a more complete review may be offered.
The bishops of this country have just concluded their traditional fall meeting in Baltimore and have spent time on issues important to them and their people: help to those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan; an update on the situation in Haiti; matters of worship and teaching; service to the poor; and comprehensive immigration reform. Among those priorities is the protection of religious freedom, especially as threatened by the HHS mandate.
Pope Francis has reminded us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”
We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.
Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.
Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue towards a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.
The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working towards this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty.
We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek. s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences.
We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.
This resolve is particularly providential on this feast of the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was a brave woman who brought the full vigor of her deep religious faith to the service of the sick, the poor, children, the elderly, and the immigrant. We count on her intercession, as united we obey the command of Jesus to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.
I field a fairly regular question these days, and it goes something like this: “Bishop, what are the bishops going to do about…the HHS Mandate, or the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act, or religious liberty, or about the growing support for same sex marriage?” Obviously, there is no simple or immediate answer to such questions, but it begs a broader base of responsibility than the bishops alone.
First, it is important to know that the Bishop’s Conference has taken a very strong, public stance on a number of fronts, especially in promoting our right as a church and as individual people of faith to freely exercise our religion, privately and publicly. Second, there is a clear legal strategy making its way through the court system challenging the legality of the HHS mandate. A simple visit to the USCCB website will reveal the host of other ways in which your Catholic Conference of Bishops is leading on these many fronts.
There are a great many cultural issues being discussed, debated, and promoted today that fly in the face of our faith and Catholic teachings. The problem is not that people do not know or understand what the Church teaches. (Therefore, the solutions rest beyond the simple thought that the bishops alone can solve this problem.) I think the primary concern is that so many people want the voice of the Church silenced in these very public discussions. If people can convince themselves (or be left to their illusion) that there is no God, then there is no ultimate truth, no overarching moral law, and then everyone is free to do whatever they choose, as long as it does not hurt someone else.
For example, marriage is one of the longest standing institutions of human history. Why is it at this point in history we now need to broaden the definition of marriage? It is because so many people today reject the Truth. “Their senseless minds have been darkened.” (Romans 1:21) Marriage does not need to be redefined. Marriage simply needs to be respected. All of us are called to recognize God’s creation, the natural law inherent in creation, and the moral law given by God.
We are facing a serious cultural shift in our nation, indeed, in many parts of the world today. More and more people seem to favor the philosophy that allows everyone to do what they wish without any judgment. This is a false understanding of human freedom. Our Catholic, Christian belief tells us that we are created by God and for God, and our true freedom is found in our relationship with God and living in a manner that respects this relationship above all else. Human freedom is the pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful. The Author and Origin of Life, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is God.
My primary role as bishop in the midst of these cultural issues is to continue to preach the Gospel and to teach the faith. Our common goal as a people of faith is to live our faith. Granted, it is difficult to live faith in a time that it finds less and less respect. However, Jesus promised that if we follow Him, we will need to take up our cross. As a people of faith, I challenge all of us to spend a little more time on our knees in prayer. I challenge all of us to greater fidelity in regular attendance at Sunday Mass and reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. I challenge all of us to devote more time to studying and learning our faith.
If we are going to change our culture, we must begin by changing the present culture of our faith-practice, because fundamentally, the crisis of culture today is a crisis of faith. To a large extent, the liberal philosophy of the day is doing a good job of painting Christ and His Church as irrelevant. Does our faith-practice mirror that depiction?
How are each of us called to deeper conversion of life? Are you active in your parish? Are your children enrolled in a Catholic School or religious education program? Do you go to Mass every weekend as a family? Does your life revolve around faith or something else? Are you doing your best to know and live what the Church teaches? In the words of the Gospel, are we growing rich in what matters to God? (Luke 12:13-21)
St. Catherine of Siena teaches that worldly people fall into wickedness because they have left God. (Dialogue, #100) That seems to be the reality still today. So, changing our present worldly reality, begins with our remaining close to God.
St. Catherine also teaches that we are to leave judgment up to God. She writes of God speaking to her:
When you cannot see clearly and openly whether the sin is deadly, you must not pass judgment in your mind, but be concerned only about my will for that person. And if you do see it, you must respond not with judgment but with holy compassion. For you cast contempt on your neighbors when you pay attention to their ill will toward you rather than my will for them. Such contempt and scandal alienates the soul from me, blocks her perfection, and to some extent deprives her of grace… (Dialogue #100)
Even though we as a people of faith disagree strongly with some of the current cultural trends and shifts of our day, let us first be strong in our own belief and practice of faith. Called to love and respect our neighbor, we are also called to do whatever is in our power to help our culture recover a moral foundation. We can lead only when we ourselves are firmly rooted in Christ.
I will close with the encouraging words of Psalm 37:
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not envy those who do evil: If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure. Be still before the Lord and wait in patience. The patient shall inherit the land. The sword of the wicked is drawn, his bow is bent to slaughter the upright. Their sword shall pierce their own hearts and their bows shall be broken to pieces.
The Lord will support the just.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians teaches: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world…” This is perhaps one of the clearest Scriptural teachings that the Author of life is God, through the Word, Jesus Christ.
St. Catherine of Siena must have been profoundly aware of this text when she teaches about the generative Love of God. In her Dialogue, St. Catherine reveals this prolific love of God in these words: “Why did you so dignify us? With unimaginable love you looked upon your creatures within your very self, and you fell in love with us. So it was love that made you create us and give us being just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good.” (Dialogue #13)
These days leading up to the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which made abortion legal upon demand in our country, many people will march, attend Mass, offer prayers, visit their state capitols, and probably many other things. Best estimates are that in the last 40 years, in this country alone, some 55 million lives have been legally ended in the womb.
With St. Paul’s teaching, reflected in the teaching of St. Catherine, it is pretty clear that life in the womb is a life generated from ‘the womb of God.’ Each of us is a ‘creature’, whose origin is the loving gaze of God, who looks upon us ‘within His very self’ and draws us forth from this Love. This is the love that is the very being of God; the love of the Father for the Son, the love of the Son for the Father, the Holy Spirit that is love.
This is what being created in the image and likeness of God means: to be drawn forth from love; created for love. Thus, every human life conceived in the womb is conceived with a spark of divinity! No wonder we cherish all life as sacred and worthy of the dignity of the children of God. No wonder we believe that all life conceived in the womb is worth all our effort to protect so that the child may come forth from the Light of God into the light of the world.
As the March for Life in Washington D.C. approaches again this year, please join the many voices crying out to God in prayer for the protection of all life and the protection of all those witnessing to the dignity and sanctity of life. Please keep this great prayer as one of your intentions as you attend Mass this weekend. Try to attend a daily Mass in the coming week for this important national intercession.
You are invited as well to join the Novena which begins today, Saturday, January 19. Our Blessed Mother asks us to join our prayers and sacrifices together under her Maternal care, that she may take them to her Son. Let us join all our prayers and sacrifices to the redemptive mission of Jesus. Let us together with Jesus seek the Divine Will of the Father. Through our faith, hope and love, God can and will do great things!
On this Vigil for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the faithful gathered for our Mass to mark the celebration of the Fortnight For Freedom. Below is the Homily.
Thank you for your presence here today to celebrate this Eucharist. Thank you for your presence with us to pray for one of our most basic human freedoms, the freedom of religion.
As many of you know, our US Bishops have called us in these days to a time of intense prayer for the protection of religious liberty, otherwise known as a the Fortnight For Freedom. During this two week period, the Church celebrates numerous feasts, such as those of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas Moore, who were beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII for their opposition to his practice and teaching on marriage. We also just celebrated a feast of St. John the Baptist, who was also beheaded by his king for being outspoken regarding King Herod’s practice of marriage that disregarded God’s law. On July 4th, which will conclude our Fortnight for Freedom, our nation will celebrate the anniversary of our Independence from what our forefathers saw as an overly intrusive government.
Today the Church celebrates the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles. Sts. Peter and Paul both gave their lives as a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. They shed their blood because they would not denounce Christ nor stop preaching in His name. They certainly would not have renounced Christ in order to profess the pagan beliefs of the Roman Caesars. They shed their blood because they knew that Christ was not only their greatest treasure, but the greatest treasure of all people for all times.
The feast of these two great Apostles reminds me of a quote from St. Bonaventure who said: “If I have everything without Christ, I have nothing. If I have nothing but Christ, I have everything.”
Our readings today remind us of the benefits of faith as portrayed in the power of St. Peter to heal a man crippled from birth. St. Peter’s words and actions are a clear teaching that faith is one of our greatest treasures: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” (Acts 3:1-10)
This account from today’s celebration not only instructs us on the role of religion in the life of the human person, but it also shows the connection between belief in God and the good works that follow. Our celebration today shows that religion, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ is a threat to no one, but rather is a force for good. Society has nothing to fear from religion, and only good to gain. Perhaps this was only one of several reasons our forefathers saw the need to enshrine this fundamental human freedom of religion in the First Amendment of our Constitution.
Jesus Himself in the post-resurrection account offered in today’s Liturgy from John’s Gospel, makes the same connection between love of God and good works. (John 21:15-19) “Simon, son of John, do you love me? … Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
Here, we see the foundational importance to first love God. This is the fundamental question before each of us: “Do we love God?” “Do we love Jesus Christ?” In a recent address in Atlanta to the body of U.S. Bishops, Mr. John Garvey, President of The Catholic University of America made the following observation:
Our society won’t care about religious freedom if it doesn’t care about God. That’s where reform is needed. We won’t have – and we probably won’t need – religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion. The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God.
So, my dear friends, we are here this evening to express our love for God, and to pray for the religious freedom to express this love through the many ministries our Catholic Church provides to the poor and needy, regardless of their beliefs. We are here this evening to pray for the religious freedom to carry out our good works without government mandates that we violate our conscience and moral teachings in order to do so.
Sadly, toady we see internationally growing concerns regarding violations against humanity when the basic human freedom of religion in disregarded. This international trend is now finding its ways to our shores, and we see growing concerns in the ways in which the federal, state and local governments are demonstrating a restrictive view of religion and a lack of respect for the role of religion in the broader society. Perhaps the most notorious demonstration of the federal government’s willingness to restrict the free practice of religion is the recent HHS Mandate.
I know some feel that the US Bishops are not truly concerned about religious liberty, but are simply using this issue as a political football to discourage the re-election of a certain political personality. I want to assure you, our concern is far greater than any one election, and is definitely about the very basic principle of religious liberty, and what we see as serious threats to this fundamental freedom. I invite all of you to join us in our prayers for the protection of the freedom to practice our religion.
There is a growing trend in the culture today that wishes to define religious liberty solely as the freedom to worship. This is neither the language nor the intent of the First Amendment of the Constitution. The language in the recent HHS Mandate wishes to define religion in such a narrow manner that very few would qualify as a religious organization. This religious exemption is a clear over-reach of the government, in that it seeks to define membership as well as the ministry of a religious organization.
Namely, to qualify as a religious organization, we would only be allowed to hire people who share our faith, and we would only be allowed to serve people who share our faith. It also says that the primary purpose of the organization should be to teach the faith. In other words, we would have to dismiss the mandate of Jesus Christ to serve the poor, heal the sick, baptize all nations, cloth the naked, visit those imprisoned, comfort those who mourn and enlighten those who are in the dark regarding the Truth of His Gospel.
And these concerns do not even begin to get into the other area of the Mandate which would force us and many other organizations and individuals to violate our conscience and teachings regarding contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs.
So, this threat to religious liberty is very real, and if we do not begin to raise our voice of opposition now, there is no telling where this invasion of government into the internal life of the Church will end.
Let our celebration this evening of the faith and works of these great Apostles, Peter and Paul, renew our faith. May the intercessions of Sts. Peter and Paul make us strong in living our faith in the face of a growing secularism that would seek to diminish the freedom of religion. May the witness of Sts. Peter and Paul renew our hope in this time, and strengthen our confidence and trust that God is still at work in the world today.
Saints Peter and Paul, Pray for us!
As most of you are aware, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) held its annual June General Meeting in Atlanta this past week. Here are some thoughts regarding out time together.
The General Meeting of the full conference ran Wednesday thru Thursday. However, many other Committees and sub-committees gather the weekend prior for the purposes of conducting their business. Even though the June meeting is typically not as ‘full’ as the November meeting, this June held some serious, and fruitful discussions.
Despite the very full days and many meetings, there is also the overall benefit of simply enjoying the fraternity and support of one’s brother bishops. Our evenings are generally free and provide opportunity for gathering for dinner and socializing. One real ‘plus’ are the daily celebrations of the Eucharist.
The agenda for our public sessions covered a number of salient and urgent issues, such as a report from our National Review Board, who continue to give the Bishops sage advice as we continue to make every effort to provide a safe environment for our children and properly respond to any allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy or church employees or volunteers. One very encouraging factor that is still to be properly understood by many is that this sad history of clergy sex abuse peaked in the 1980′s.
Our efforts to educate our youth as well as all church employees, parents, and volunteers is having a positive impact. The policies put in place ten years ago through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and our commitment to respond appropriately to victims and report incidents of abuse to appropriate authorities in a timely fashion are working. The challenge now is to not let down our guard and act as if the problem is solved. This will require continued diligence, sensitivity and effort.
We also heard from the President of Catholic Relief Services, Dr. Carolyn Woo. It is clear that this vast Catholic arm of emergency disaster response is in good hands! One of the things I learned is that CRS not only is a leader in emergency response, but it also devotes a great deal of resources to stabilizing situations once the emergency has passes, and continues on the scene for sometimes many years helping to reform local systems for the long-term good of local communities and individuals.
The Bishops also approved a proposal from the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development to draft a special message entitled Catholic Reflections on Work, Poverty, and a Broken Economy. We wish as a Conference to acknowledge that many people today are suffering because of poverty, and the strains this places on the human person, family and communities. This will give us a forum in which to review some of our basic Catholic Social Teaching and Sacred Scripture in application to this urgent need in our society today.
The Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, chaired by my predecessor, Bishop David Ricken, has been hard at work in the last seven months since November! Keep your eyes on the USCCB website for the many good materials being developed for this important work of the New Evangelization and our on-going efforts to inculcate the Catholic Faith.
The entire afternoon on Wednesday was devoted to the discussion on Religious Freedom, both Domestic and International. There were excellent presentations from Archbishop William Lori, the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, along with the President of Catholic University of America, Mr. John Garvey. I found Mr. Garvey’s comments particularly thought-stimulating. I will share more of his thoughts in talks later this month while we participate in the Fortnight for Freedom.
Two other note-worthy presenters were Bishop Shlemon Warduni, from Iraq. It is heart-wrenching to hear the effects of the Iraq war on the Christian community in Iraq. His most passionate appeal came towards the end of his address:
We beg you to do something for us. We want only peace, security, freedom. You can tell everybody: Iraq was very rick, but now is very poor, because of the war and much discrimination. We want to cry out to you: we want peace, justice, stability, freedom of religion. No more war, no more death, no more explosions, no more injustice.
Another fine presentation on the status of international religious freedom came from Mr. Thomas F. Farr. Mr. Farr is the current Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center.
As this entry is getting well beyond my usual length, I will conclude quickly. Before going into our Executive, ‘closed door’ session, we also heard from our sub-committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, the Task Force on Communications (which was quite interesting and exciting), a brief report on our Priorities and Plans for the next three years, and finally, a report an a new effort (which will take quite some time) to produce and publish a New American Bible for common use in personal, and liturgical prayer.
As promised, I wish to keep you informed of developments in the U. S. Bishops’ Conference’s efforts to respond to this challenge to our Religious Liberty. Earlier this week, Cardinal Dolan, President of the USCCB issued the following letter to all Bishops. The letter is co-signed by Bishop Lori, the Chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty.
Dear Brother Bishops,
Since we last wrote to you concerning the critical efforts we are undertaking together to protect religious freedom in our beloved country, many of you have requested that we write once more to update you on the situation and to again request the assistance of all the faithful in this important work. We are happy to do so now.
First, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to you, and to all our sisters and brothers in Christ, for the remarkable witness of our unity in faith and strength of conviction during this past month. We have made our voices heard, and we will not cease from doing so until religious freedom is restored.
As we know, on January 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a decision to issue final regulations that would force practically all employers, including many religious institutions, to pay for abortion inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraception. The regulations would provide no protections for our great institutions—such as Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities—or for the individual faithful in the marketplace. The regulations struck at the heart of our fundamental right to religious liberty, which affects our ability to serve those outside our faith community.
Since January 20, the reaction was immediate and sustained. We came together, joined by people of every creed and political persuasion, to make one thing resoundingly clear: we stand united against any attempt to deny or weaken the right to religious liberty upon which our country was founded.
On Friday, February 10, the Administration issued the final rules. By their very terms, the rules were reaffirmed “without change.” The mandate to provide the illicit services remains.
The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain. Religious freedom is a fundamental right of all. This right does not depend on any government’s decision to grant it: it is God-given, and just societies recognize and respect its free exercise. The free exercise of religion extends well beyond the freedom of worship. It also forbids government from forcing people or groups to violate their most deeply held religious convictions, and from interfering in the internal affairs of religious organizations.
Recent actions by the Administration have attempted to reduce this free exercise to a “privilege” arbitrarily granted by the government as a mere exemption from an allencompassing, extreme form of secularism. The exemption is too narrowly defined, because it does not exempt most non-profit religious employers, the religiously affiliated insurer, the selfinsured employer, the for-profit religious employer, or other private businesses owned and operated by people who rightly object to paying for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. And because it is instituted only by executive whim, even this unduly narrow exemption can be taken away easily.
In the United States, religious liberty does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us. It is our “first freedom” and respect for it must be broad and inclusive—not narrow and exclusive. Catholics and other people of faith and good will are not second class citizens. And it is not for the government to decide which of our ministries is “religious enough” to warrant religious freedom protection.
This is not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization—although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program. It is not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals. It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all. If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end? This violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded.
Much remains to be done. We cannot rest when faced with so grave a threat to the religious liberty for which our parents and grandparents fought. In this moment in history we must work diligently to preserve religious liberty and to remove all threats to the practice of our faith in the public square. This is our heritage as Americans. President Obama should rescind the mandate, or at the very least, provide full and effective measures to protect religious liberty and conscience.
Above all, dear brothers, we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle. We all need to act now by contacting our legislators in support of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which can be done through our action alert on www.usccb.org/conscience. We invite you to share the contents of this letter with the faithful of your diocese in whatever form, or by whatever means, you consider most suitable. Let us continue to pray for a quick and complete resolution to this and all threats to religious liberty and the exercise of our faith in our great country.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ:
As you are most undoubtedly aware, on January 20, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its decision not to expand the unacceptably narrow “religious employer” exemption to its mandate that virtually all health insurance plans must include, as so-called “preventive services” sterilizations, abortifacients, and contraception. Since that time, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and I began immediately preparing to meet this challenge.
The Bishops’ Conference committee on Religious Liberty is actively engaged in planning a nation-wide response on a number of levels. I simply want you to know that the bishops are fully engaged in this process, and a significant, sustainable, and long-term strategy is our goal.
You are invited to visit the USCCB website for continually updated information regarding our efforts to defend freedoms of conscience and religious liberty, and to better inform yourself as to what you can do as individuals. There is already information on this website to assist you in writing your representatives to express your deep concern for the protections of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.
I want to be very clear. We as church, and all believers, share a deep concern for women’s health. However, we take serious issue with any effort to portray pregnancy as a disease. Regardless of the present contraceptive practices of women and couples, the Church will always teach the integrity of the whole moral law of marriage and of human sexuality, for to do so is to support the true growth of human civilization. (See Humanae Vitae 18) God in His Providence has provided for the natural means of conceiving children, and the natural and nurturing place for their development is in the mother’s womb. This “sacred sanctuary” is and should be the first priority of healthcare, if healthcare is truly about nurturing and sustaining human life.
Regarding the Obama administration’s intention to mandate free healthcare coverage of contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization procedures, let us be very clear. This mandate seeks not only to reflect some women’s reproductive behaviors, but to change all women’s behaviors. Should this mandate stand, we can easily see into the future how this or any future administration will then feel quite emboldened to take the next step of mandatory coverage for abortions, infanticide, and so called ‘assisted suicide’. Indeed, this mandate will already cover the cost of certain FDA approved medications that are known to cause the early destruction of a human embryo, thus leading to the loss of life in the womb.
As serious as the above issue of life is, this mandate raises another grave concern, with far-reaching consequences, and that is Religious Liberty. Even though most churches and houses of worship are exempt from this mandate, other religious institutions, through which Catholics and other Christians carry out our Gospel Mission, are not. Faith-based institutions such as schools, hospitals, universities and charitable institutions will be required to follow this new mandate, or pay stiff financial penalties. In addition, individual employers who wish to act on their faith and provide their employees health insurance but do not want to provide services contrary to their religious beliefs are forced to either not provide health insurance and face a fine or act contrary to their faith. In short, the government is requiring that people of faith purchase something that violates their moral beliefs.
If we allow this mandate to go unchallenged, if we allow it to stand, we are surrendering our constitutionally protected right under the First Amendment, to freely exercise our religious faith in American society. This has serious consequences for our dioceses, parishes and other religious institutions and the way we are presently able to freely carry out our faith-based ministries. We believe firmly that our moral presence in the public square and our charitable service to those in need is not only protected under the First Amendment, but is also good for our culture and society. Once a country or government loses its moral foundation, there will be an inevitable destruction to “decent society” and the disintegration of culture and democracy.
This mandate is a “not-so-subtle” revelation of this administration’s misinterpretation of Religious Liberty as a mere “freedom of worship”. In other words, this mandate is telling people of faith: “Keep your faith at home or in your church, synagogue, mosque or temple and out of the market place, or we will enact regulations that will prevent you from practicing your faith in public.” This is a wake-up call to all Catholics and all people of faith in American society. This is one more step in the direction of declaring “no-god” the official religion of the State, and every person who holds dear their faith in God had better stand up and take notice.
I urge you to contact President Obama, Senators Barrasso and Enzi and Representative Lummis and state your objections to this new requirement, and ask for the repeal of this mandate or at least for a religious exemption that would allow people of faith not to have to provide contraceptive, abortifacients and sterilization coverage.
I invite all of you please stay abreast of the developments around this HHS Mandate. I also strongly encourage fasting and prayer as a proper response to this challenge. Last but not least, our response should always be one of faith, hope and respect. Please know how grateful I am for your faith. With assurance of prayers for you and your families and loved ones, I remain,
In The Heart of Christ,
Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
Bishop of Cheyenne