Bishops stand with 'Dreamers' as DACA battles continue

by Courtney Grogan

Washington D.C., (CNA) - Catholic leaders have responded to developments in the legal battle over the DACA program, including a court order maintaining legal protections for undocumented youth, known as “Dreamers,” and a presidential commitment to legislative support for them.

U.S. District Judge William Alsap’s Jan. 9 order temporarily blocks President Trump’s attempt to phase out the DACA program, which was initiated by President Obama in 2012. Nearly 690,000 undocumented immigrants are beneficiaries of the DACA program. 

While President Trump has worked to phase out the program, he has also called for a legislative solution to resolve the immigration status of DACA recipients. In a televised meeting with bipartisan lawmakers Tuesday, President Trump that he hopes to reach a solution for DACA recipients with a “bill of love.”

In a recent column, Archbishop José Gomez expressed concern for the estimated 125,000 DACA recipients who live within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, all of whom could face deportation when the program ends in March.

“It would be cruel to punish them for the wrongs of their parents, deporting them to countries of origin that they have never seen, where they may not even know the language,” Archbishop Gomez wrote.

The archbishop called for systematic immigration reform, explaining that most DACA recipients have not experienced a healthy U.S. immigration system in their lifetime.

“This debate is passionate and partisan, as it should be. Systematic reform of our immigration policy is absolutely vital to our nation’s future. And we need to have this conversation. But Congress needs to separate the conversation about DACA from these larger issues.”

Deportation of DACA recipients, Gomez said, “would lead to a humanitarian crisis.”

The DACA program postponed deportation of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30, who had been brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. since June 2007.

DACA participants are eligible to apply for work permits, obtain social security numbers, and, in most cases, apply for a driver’s license. In 2017, a group of business leaders explained that if DACA recipients were deported, “our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions.”

In a Jan.10 statement, Bishop Joe Vasquez, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, wrote that bishops are “encouraged by the consensus that emerged from yesterday’s White House meeting that Congress and the President should move expeditiously to craft and enact legislation that would provide urgently needed relief for Dreamers. For years, these young people have been living in and enriching the United States in many ways. They are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes and communities. They and their families deserve certainty, compassion, generosity, and justice.”

Vasquez also called for financially sound, effective, and safe measures to strengthen national security at the US border. “Our teaching acknowledges and respects the right of sovereign nations to control their borders,” he wrote. “However, we caution against introducing unrelated, unnecessary, or controversial elements of immigration policy—especially those that jeopardize the sanctity of families or unaccompanied children—into the bipartisan search for a just and humane solution for the Dreamers.”

The Minnesota Catholic Conference recently organized a postcard campaign urging lawmakers to support bipartisan legislation that “protects the dignity of every human being,” particularly the “immigrant youth who entered the United States as children and know America as their only home.”  Other Catholic organizations have organized similar campaigns.

“As a nation, we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to Dreamers,” Vasquez wrote.

A Message from the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops During National Migration Week, January 7-13

January 5, 2018

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offers a National Migration Week message to the nation with special gratitude for the gift of immigrants and refugees. 

Cardinal DiNardo's statement as follows:  

“On Sunday, the Catholic Church across the United States will celebrate the beginning of National Migration Week.  For nearly 50 years, this week has been a time of prayer and reflection on our history as a migrant Church and nation.  In these five decades, the face of the immigrant may have changed – European, Asian, South American, and elsewhere -- but their faces reveal a common desire to secure the great blessings of American opportunity. 

Pope Francis, in his statement on the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2018, advises us that if we view the situation of migrants and refugees through the wisdom of our faith ‘we discover that they do not arrive empty-handed.  They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them.’

This week, I invite everyone to reflect on the Holy Father’s words as well as on your own family’s immigration story. Please also join me in prayer for all families, as together, we ‘Share the Journey’ toward a better life.”

National Migration Week 2018 to be Celebrated January 7-13th

WASHINGTON - National Migration Week 2018 will take place January 7-13th. This year’s theme is "Many Journeys, One Family.” The theme coincides with the Caritas Internationalis migration campaign entitled “Share the Journey”. National Migration Week provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the contributions of migrants, including refugees, and victims of human trafficking in our communities.

With over 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes globally, the world is increasingly affected by migration. National Migration Week offers a time to educate Catholic communities about migration and to come together to encounter immigrants and refugees in parishes, dioceses, and communities.

“National Migration Week allows for reflection upon the biblical teaching concerning welcoming the newcomer and allows us to share the journey with our brothers and sisters who have been forced from their homes.” said Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration.

As part of the 2018 National Migration Week celebration, USCCB/MRS will be participating in an event at The Catholic University of America with the Institute for Human Ecology entitled “On the Margins: At the Intersection of Catholic Thought and Migration” on January 11th. To register for the event in person, visit www.marginsevent.org, to view livestream of the event visit https://livestream.com/CatholicUniversity/events/8001597.

The US bishops began the observance of National Migration Week nearly 50 years ago to give Catholics an opportunity to honor and learn about the diverse communities of the Church, as well as the work that the Church undertakes to serve immigrants and refugees. The week serves as a time for both prayer and action in support of migrants and refugees.

Educational materials and other resources for National Migration Week are available for download at www.justiceforimmigrants.org/take-action/national-migration-week.

President Should Work with Congress Toward Acceptable Tax Bill, Says U.S. Bishops Chairman

December 20, 2017

WASHINGTON - After the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate passed The Tax Reform and Jobs Act, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, drew attention to unacceptable problems that remain, and called on President Trump to insist that Congress fix them before he signs a bill into law.

The full statement follows:

“Today, Congress passed its tax reform legislation, The Tax Reform and Jobs Act, and it has been sent to the President to consider.  The legislation achieves some laudable things, like doubling the standard deduction, which will help many struggling families avoid tax liability, expanding the use of 529 education plans, and increasing the child tax credit.

However, the Act contains a number of problematic provisions that will have dramatic negative consequences, particularly for those most in need.  Among other things, the Joint Committee on Taxation indicates that the bill will eventually raise taxes on those with lower incomes while simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthy.  This is clearly problematic, especially for the poor.  The repeal of the personal exemption will cause larger families, including many in the middle class, to be financially worse off.  The final bill creates a large deficit that, as early as next year, will be used as a basis to cut programs that help the poor and vulnerable toward stability.  The legislation is also likely to produce up to a $13 billion drop in annual charitable giving to nonprofits that are relied upon to help those struggling on the margins.  This will also significantly diminish the role of civil society in promoting the common good.

As the President considers the tax bill before him, we ask that he take into account the full consequences of its provisions and work with Congress to remedy them before signing a tax bill into law.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane’s December 6, 2017, letter analyzing the Senate and House bills prior to reconciliation can be found at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/federal-budget/upload/Tax-Conference-Letter-Congress-2017-12-06.pdf

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Faith Leaders Affirm the Inherent Beauty and Dignity of Being Created Male or Female

WASHINGTON - Following the USCCB General Assembly in November 2017, a group of ecumenical and interfaith partners gathered with bishops of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage to discuss gender ideology. As a result of this discussion, faith leaders today issued an open letter entitled "Created Male and Female".

Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton, chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs signed the letter.

"We hope this letter communicates to the public our shared understanding of the goodness of the creation of humanity as male or female and underscores our commitment to service of this truth with both clarity and compassion," said Bishop Conley.

The religious leaders stressed the importance of acknowledging the reality of sexual identity, noting, "Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can 'change' their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults. Parents deserve better guidance on these important decisions, and we urge our medical institutions to honor the basic medical principle of 'first, do no harm.'"

The leaders close with a hope: "We hope for renewed appreciation of the beauty of sexual difference in our culture and for authentic support of those who experience conflict with their God-given sexual identity."

The letter is available at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/created-male-and-female.cfm and follows three previous open letters: "The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment," issued December 6, 2010, "Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods That Stand or Fall Together," issued January 12, 2012, and "The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness," issued on April 23, 2015, which are available at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/ecumenical-and-interreligious-activities.cfm.

 

As pope turns 81, kids entertain with song, dance and 13-foot pizza

By Junno Arocho Esteves Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) - Celebrating his 81st birthday, Pope Francis blew out the candles on a 13-foot long pizza after being serenaded with song and dance by children and employees from a Vatican pediatric clinic.

A group of children receiving assistance from the Vatican's St. Martha Dispensary, a maternal and pediatric clinic, had given the pope a birthday party Dec. 17 marked with singing, dancing and a cake adorned with gold and white fondant decorations.

They also rolled out a large pizza with a single lit candle on it. The pope was joined with several children from the clinic and counted down before blowing out the candle.

Read more at - http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2017/as-pope-turns-81-kids-entertain-with-song-dance-and-13-foot-pizza.cfm

 

Congress should pass a final tax bill only if it assists the poor and vulnerable, as well as working families.

by Katherine Cross, Communications Manager

(651) 256-7579, kcross@mncatholic.org

ST. PAUL (December 12, 2017) – The Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota, encouraged Minnesota’s congressional delegation to pass a final tax bill only if it meets key moral considerations.  According to Congress’ own nonpartisan analysis, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” bills recently passed by the House and the Senate raise the tax burden on low-income Americans and cut taxes for the wealthiest, which violates basic principles of distributive justice. 

“The House and Senate tax plans, while premised on the hope of long-term job and economic growth, disproportionately benefit businesses and wealthy Americans instead of working families,” said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director.  “Tax policy should serve the common good and create shared prosperity, not just the hope that long-term economic growth will eventually create jobs, or that corporate profits will eventually redound to the benefit of workers.” 

MCC welcomes the doubling of the standard deduction and the expansion of 529 education plans in the proposed legislation, but has serious concerns about, among other things, the repeal of the personal exemption, which will harm larger families; the failure to expand the child tax credit; the elimination of the deduction for medical expenses in the House plan; the House’s plan to eliminate incentives for employers to offer adoption assistance; and the failure to adopt an “above-the-line” charitable deduction that would incentivize and assist charitable giving at all income levels, and increase the amounts people can give.

“Policy that is good for workers, families who welcome life, families who are struggling to reach (or stay in) the middle class, and the very poor, has by design been a part of our tax code for years," said the Most Reverend Bernard Hebda, Archbishop of St Paul and Minneapolis. "Any modifications to these important priorities should be made only with a clear understanding and concern for the people who may least be able to bear the negative consequences of new policy.”

The Minnesota Catholic Conference joined with the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, in opposing the passage of the tax bill without important modifications.  The full text of Bishop Dewane’s letter to Congress can be read at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/federal-budget/upload/Tax-Conference-Letter-Congress-2017-12-06.pdf.

“The Church does not take a position on the proper corporate tax rate,” concluded Adkins.  “But she does speak to the moral considerations and principles that should govern fiscal policy, and by that standard the two tax plans, as currently structured, fail that test and will not serve Minnesotans well.”

 

USCCB Offers Advent and Christmas Online Resources for Prayerful Preparation

November 29, 2017

WASHINGTON — The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is offering online resources for prayerful preparation for Advent and Christmas. The daily suggestions for reading, reflection, and prayer during the Advent and Christmas seasons are now available online. In addition to a clickable online Advent calendar, with each click opening "doors" to a page of suggested reading, the online page also offers daily reflections, prayers, suggested activities and bilingual calendars that can be printed.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides the online Advent and Christmas resources at http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/advent/index.cfm and http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/christmas/index.cfm.

This year, in addition to the traditional bilingual calendar for Advent that can be printed out, the USCCB is also offering a second bilingual Advent calendar specifically for families, with daily suggestions for prayers and activities to do as a family in preparation for Christmas. Suggestions include creating a Jesse Tree, blessing the family Nativity, and taking time to learn about Advent traditions around the world.

Other Advent resources on the website include liturgical notes on the season, a commentary on the proper prayers of the Advent season from the Roman Missal, and prayers and blessings from the USCCB publication Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Also included are lectio divinas for the four Sundays of Advent.

For Christmas, in addition to the clickable calendar and the bilingual calendar that can be printed, there are lectio divinas for four feast days during the Christmas season—the Solemnity of Christmas; the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God; and the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The lectio divinas are also available in English and Spanish.

Advent begins on December 3 and continues until the evening of December 24 when the Christmas season begins. The Christmas season will conclude with the Baptism of the Lord on Jan. 8, 2018.

Pope Francis: the poor are our 'passport to paradise'

Vatican City, Nov 19, 2017 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the first World Day for the Poor, Pope Francis said caring for the needy has a saving power, because in them we see the face of Christ, and urged Christians to overcome indifference and seek ways to actively love the poor that they meet.

“In the poor, we find the presence of Jesus, who, though rich, became poor,” the Pope said Nov. 19. Because of this, “in their weakness, a saving power is present. And if in the eyes of the world they have little value, they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven.”

“They are our passport to paradise,” he said, explaining that it is an “evangelical duty” for Christians to care for the poor as our true wealth.

And to do this doesn't mean just giving them a piece of bread, but also “breaking with them the bread of God’s word, which is addressed first to them,” Francis said, adding that to love the poor “means to combat all forms of poverty, spiritual and material.”

Pope Francis spoke during Mass marking the first World Day of the Poor, which takes place every 33rd Sunday of Ordinary time and is being organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

Established by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, the World Day for the Poor this year has the theme “Love not in word, but in deed.”

In the week leading up to the event, the poor and needy had access to free medical exams at a makeshift center set up in front of St. Peter's Square.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Council for Evangelization, led a Nov. 18 prayer vigil at Rome's parish of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls the night before the big event. After Mass with Pope Francis, the poor will be offered a three-course lunch at different centers and organizations around Rome, including the Vatican's Paul VI Hall.

According to the Council for Evangelization, some 6-7,000 poor from around Europe, as well as some migrants from around the world, were estimated to attend the Mass along with the organizations that care for them.

In his homily, Pope Francis said no matter our social condition, everyone in life is a beggar when it comes to what is essential, which is God's love, and which “gives meaning to our lives and a life without end. So today too, we lift up our hands to him, asking to receive his gifts.”

Turning to the day's Gospel passage from Matthew recounting the parable of the talents, the Pope noted how in God's eyes, everyone has talents, and consequently, “no one can think that he or she is useless, so poor as to be incapable of giving something to others.”

“God, in whose eyes no child can be neglected, entrusts to each of us a mission,” he said, explaining that God also gives us a responsibility, as is seen in the day's Gospel.

Francis pointed to how in the day's passage only the first two servants make their talent profitable, whereas the third buries it, prompting the master to call him “wicket and lazy.”

Asking what sin the servant had committed that was so wrong, the Pope said above all “it was his omission.”

Many times we believe that we haven’t done anything wrong, and so are content with the presumption that we are good and righteous, he said, but cautioned that with this mentality, “we risk acting like the unworthy servant: he did no wrong, he didn’t waste the talent, in fact he kept it carefully hidden in the ground.”

However, “to do no wrong is not enough,” Francis said, adding that God is not “an inspector looking for unstamped tickets.” Rather, he is a Father that looks for children to whom he can entrust both his property and his plans.

“It is sad when the Father of love does not receive a generous response of love from his children, who do no more than keep the rules and follow the commandments,” he said, noting that someone who is only concerned with preserving the treasures of the past “is not being faithful to God.”

Instead, “the one who adds new talents is truly faithful...he does not stand still, but instead, out of love, takes risks. He puts his life on the line for others; he is not content to keep things as they are. One thing alone does he overlook: his own interest. That is the only right omission.”

Omission, Francis said, is also a big sin where the poor are concerned, though it has a different name: indifference. This sin, he said, takes place when we feel that the brother in need is not our concern, but is society's problem.

The sin typically shows up in our lives when we choose to turn the other way, or “change channels as soon as a disturbing question comes up, when we grow indignant at evil but do nothing about it.”

“God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation, but whether we did some good,” the Pope said.

Asking those present how we can please God, Pope Francis said when we want to give someone a gift, we first have to get to know them. And when we look to the Gospel, we hear Jesus say “when you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

These brothers, he said, are the hungry and the sick, the stranger and the prisoner, the poor and the abandoned.

In the poor, “Jesus knocks on the doors of our heart, thirsting for our love,” he said, adding that “when we overcome our indifference and, in the name of Jesus, we give of ourselves for the least of his brethren,” only then are we being faithful.

An example of this attitude is seen in the woman who opens her hand to the poor in the day's first reading from Proverbs, he said. In her, “we see true goodness and strength: not in closed fists and crossed arms, but in ready hands outstretched to the poor, to the wounded flesh of the Lord.”

Choosing to draw near to the poor among us “will touch our lives” and remind us of what really counts, Francis said, explaining that this is love of God and neighbor.

“Only this lasts forever, everything else passes away,” he said. “What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes.”

Pope Francis closed his homily saying the choice we all have before us is whether “to live in order to gain things on earth, or to give things away in order to gain heaven.”

“Where heaven is concerned, what matters is not what we have, but what we give,” he said. “So let us not seek for ourselves more than we need, but rather what is good for others, and nothing of value will be lacking to us.”

How Christians are continuing to help hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Nov 14, 2017  (CNA/EWTN News) - Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the majority of the island is still without power, and many residents are without clean water as well.

While the rebuilding process is slow, Catholic aid groups are working to provide supplies to those who desperately need them.

On Nov. 10, Catholic Charities USA presented $2 million in additional aid to Caritas de Puerto Rico, the Catholic Charities agency on the island. 

This money follows the $1.5 million in funds given by Catholic Charities USA shortly after the hurricane struck the island.

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm. Up to 155 mile per hour winds and heavy rains destroyed buildings, caused massive flooding, and wiped out electricity to the entire island of 3.5 million people.  

The storm has killed at least 51 people, and Puerto Rican authorities have estimated the cost of damages at up to $95 billion.

Many residents are still in need of food and clean drinking water. The lack of communication has also been a serious issue, said one Catholic Charities worker.

“We have been trying to get ahold of the folks here in Utuado for almost a week and have been unable to do so…just packing up the jeep and bringing the supplies here is the only way we are able to communicate,” Kim Burgo told NBC.

More than half the population of Puerto Rico is Catholic, and about a third are Protestant. The island has a strong Christian presence that relies on the support of Christian churches.

While some churches were destroyed by the hurricane, many of those that survived have become safe havens for the Puerto Rican people. Caritas de Puerto Rico has set up locations in Catholic churches across the country to hand out food, water, and hygiene supplies.

Other Christian groups are also working to serve those in need. The Wall Street Journal reported on a Christian church housing more than 500 homeless people and a Southern Baptist group planning to send 200-300 volunteers to open kitchens serving food.

Looking forward, Caritas de Puerto Rico has identified four main objectives as initial steps to long-term restoration: improve distribution of supplies, develop disaster case management teams, provide mental health counselors, and establish a new health clinic on the island.

 

USCCB Chairmen Urge Congress to Provide International Funding for Climate Change

November 10, 2017

WASHINGTON -  In a letter to members of Congress today, Bishop Frank J. Dewane and Bishop Oscar Cantú urge the United States to support international climate assistance during the year-end appropriations process. The bishops request that Congress dedicate $10 million to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the international body that guides climate policy.

The letter appeals to the responsibility to care for the common good and affirms that the “blessings of God’s creation and the duty to care for the common good overflow beyond our borders, especially when it comes to the air and climate shared with all peoples and creatures living on the planet.”

The UNFCCC facilitates international cooperation on climate change through initiatives such as the annual U.N. Climate Change Conference, which is currently taking place in Bonn, Germany. Two years ago, this conference resulted in the Paris Climate Agreement, from which the United States intends to withdraw. The U.S. bishops have expressed disappointment about the decision to not uphold this agreement that is based on unified global action against climate change.

“Restricting funding to the UNFCCC will only weaken the ability of the United States to dialogue in the international arena using a common language based on the best science available,” said Bishops Dewane and Cantú.

“By supporting the UNFCCC, the United States can direct attention and resources towards adaptation measures that help all people, especially the poor, adapt to the effects of climate change globally,” continued the bishops. “By doing so, our nation can better pursue the national interest, support credible climate research and promote the common good within and beyond our borders.”

Bishop Dewane of Venice, Florida, is chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. Bishop Cantú of Las Cruces is chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the USCCB. 

The full text of the letter can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/environment/upload/UNFCCC-letter-2017-11-10.pdf.

 

House Tax Reform Bill “Unacceptable” as Written, Say U.S. Bishops Chairmen

November 9, 2017

 

WASHINGTON—In a letter of November 9, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Bishop George V. Murry, SJ of Youngstown, Ohio called for amendments to the current draft of the House of Representatives tax reform bill “for the sake of families” and “for those struggling on the peripheries of society who have a claim on our national conscience.”

“Doubling the standard deduction will help some of those in poverty to avoid tax liability, and this is a positive good contained in the bill,” wrote the Bishops of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  “However, as written, this proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.  This is simply unconscionable.”

Bishop Dewane is the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Bishop Cantú chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bishop Murry heads the Committee on Catholic Education.

According to the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), households with income of $20,000 and $40,000 per year will see their taxes raised in 2023, 2025, and again in 2027.  Taxes will also increase on average taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000 in 2025.  At the same time, significant tax breaks to the very wealthy—including millionaires and billionaires—are projected for each year.

The bishop-chairmen highlighted positive provisions in the areas of education and modest increases to child tax credits, but stressed that the bill places “new and unreasonable burdens on families,” and must be changed.  Included among them are the elimination of:  the adoption tax credit and adoption assistance program exclusion, the personal exemption (which will harm many larger families), the out-of-pocket medical expenses deduction, and incentives to employees and employers dependent care assistance or child care, among others.

The letter also cautioned that the deficit could “be used as an argument to further restrict or end programs that help those in need, programs which are investments to help pull struggling families out of poverty.”  Finally, the Bishops called for fixes to disincentives for charitable giving and affordable housing and community revitalization development projects that will result from the legislation.

The full letter can be found at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/federal-budget/upload/Tax-Cuts-and-Jobs-Act-Letter-11-9-2017.pdf.

 

President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Responds to Mass Shooting in Texas

November 5, 2017

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel N DiNardo, of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued the following statement in response to today’s mass shooting during a church service in Sutherland Springs, Texas. 

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Earlier today, we heard of the mass shooting at the Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  With Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, I extend my prayers and the prayers of my brother bishops for the victims, the families, the first responders, our Baptist brothers and sisters, indeed the whole community of Sutherland Springs.  We stand in unity with you in this time of terrible tragedy -- as you stand on holy ground, ground marred today by horrific violence.   

We ask the Lord for healing of those injured, His loving care of those who have died and the consolation of their families.   

This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at Churches while people were worshipping and at prayer.  We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society.  A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who Himself is Peace, send us His Spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture His peace among us all.”

500 years of Reformation brings together some 800 people in Willmar

The Rev. Steve Verhelst, center, leads a service at the Church of St. Mary in Willmar Sunday to mark 500 years of Reformation. A number of pastors from area churches also participated in leading the service, which drew a crowd of more than 800 people from the area.  Photo by Rand Middleton  

The Rev. Steve Verhelst, center, leads a service at the Church of St. Mary in Willmar Sunday to mark 500 years of Reformation. A number of pastors from area churches also participated in leading the service, which drew a crowd of more than 800 people from the area.  Photo by Rand Middleton

 

By West Central Tribune

WILLMAR - A bold act 500 years ago by a German monk named Martin Luther that split the Roman Catholic Church and gave birth to Protestant religions was commemorated Sunday afternoon in an ecumenical service at the Church of St. Mary in Willmar The service, designed to focus on unity, drew a crowd of more than 800 from the area coming together to celebrate their likenesses rather than their differences.

Father Steve Verhelst of the Church of St. Mary and Jesus Our Living Water Area Faith Community, said even though the Reformation was an event between Catholics and Lutherans, the invitation to "lift our voices together" was open to all Christian faith traditions.

While the Rev Verhelst spearheaded the event, it was organized along with Lutheran pastors from a number of churches in Willmar, including, Calvary, Bethel and Vinje. 

Verhelst said the Protestant Reformation — spurred by Martin Luther nailing on the door of a church on Oct. 31, 1517, his 95 Theses that questioned practices of the Catholic Church — was a significant and historical event that had an impact on the whole world and continues to impact churches and individuals today. 

"We need to celebrate that," said Verhelst.

Click here for a video of the Oct. 29 event.

 

Statement Regarding Reverend James Devorak’s Return to Ministry

NEW ULM - Fr. James Devorak is returning to active priestly ministry after police cleared him of wrongdoing and following a thorough review by both the Diocese of New Ulm and the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Fr. Devorak is a retired priest of the Diocese of New Ulm who has served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis since 2015.

On August 31, 2017, the Glencoe Police Department completed its investigation into a sexual misconduct allegation against Fr. Devorak. The police investigators found the allegation to be “unfounded” and “without merit.”

On October 6, the Diocese of New Ulm review board recommended to Bishop John LeVoir that Fr. Devorak be reinstated to public ministry in the Diocese of New Ulm and the bishop approved that recommendation. On October 19, the archdiocesan ministerial review board recommended that Fr. Devorak be permitted to return to public ministry in the archdiocese. Archbishop Bernard Hebda accepted their recommendation on October 20.

Attorney Jeff Anderson informed the Diocese of New Ulm that his office will not pursue further representation of the individual who made the claim against Fr. Devorak. Mr. Anderson stated he did not want a cloud over Fr. Devorak because of this claim.

It is standard procedure for the Diocese of New Ulm to remove a member of the clergy from ministry if an allegation has been made against him. The Diocese of New Ulm takes all allegations against clergy very seriously and continues to ask that anyone with information about sexual misconduct by clergy report it to law enforcement. In addition, anyone who has suffered sexual abuse by clergy is encouraged to contact the diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator at 507-233-5313 for counseling or other assistance in healing.

Bishop LeVoir asks that we join in prayer for hope, healing and peace for both Fr. Devorak and the individual who made the unsubstantiated claim against him. Let us put our faith in the Lord, who is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.

Letter from Glencoe Police Chief James R. Raiter regarding allegation against Rev. James Devorak

The government's new religious freedom guidance: What does it mean? Catholic bishops weigh-in with statement

By Michelle Bauman

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2017(CNA) - All eyes were on the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday, as the Trump administration announced a major broadening of exemptions to the federal contraception mandate, prompting cheers from religious freedom proponents nationwide.

Less noticed was another critical development in the U.S. religious liberty landscape: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued government-wide legal guidance outlining 20 principles of religious liberty that, the Department of Justice says, should govern all administrative agencies and executive departments in their work.

Sessions had been instructed to “issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law” by an executive order signed by President Trump in May.

The 25-page document released by the attorney general will please many religious liberty advocates. Its bold language highlights the crucial role of religious freedom in American life. It could also have an impact on pending legal disputes across the country.

Early in the memo, the guidance asserts, “Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice.” Religious freedom proponents have argued for this definition avidly in recent years, amid fears that the idea was being eroded, especially as the phrase “freedom of worship” often replaced “freedom of religion” in the Obama administration.

The document goes on to state that religious liberty extends not only to persons, but to organizations, and that religious freedom is not surrendered when an individual participates in the marketplace or interacts with government – two key points argued in the HHS mandate debate over the last six years.

This second point – that individuals do not have to remove themselves from civil society in order to retain their right to religious freedom – could also have implications in several high-profile lawsuits, largely revolving around the freedom of service providers such as florists, cake bakers, and photographers to decline same-sex weddings, based on their religious beliefs about marriage.

Six of the 20 religious liberty principles in Sessions’ document are dedicated to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Enacted in 1993, RFRA is one of the primary legislative pillars upon which religious freedom arguments have rested in the last two decades. It says that the federal government may not substantially burden the free exercise of religion, unless there is a compelling state interest in doing so, and it is carried out in the least-restrictive manner possible.

RFRA applies only to the federal government, although in recent years, similar laws have increasingly been proposed or passed in state legislatures.

The guidance explains that RFRA “applies to all sincerely-held religious beliefs,” and the government does not have the authority to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious conviction. It affirms that in evaluating RFRA claims, courts must use what is known as “strict scrutiny” – the highest level of judicial review, under which only the most serious of government interests are permitted to infringe upon a fundamental constitutional right.

It also says that the law “applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties,” making it clear that RFRA applies in cases such as the HHS mandate.

The document takes a firm stand in insisting that RFRA be taken seriously and interpreted robustly. It’s worth noting that this is a return to ideas widely held just 25 years ago: when RFRA was enacted in 1993, it has nearly unanimous support from both parties and was signed into law by Bill Clinton.

Also significant, the guidance explicitly affirms the right of religious organizations to “employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.” This is a victory for faith-based employers, among them Catholic schools who have faced opposition for asking employees to sign codes of conduct agreeing to abide by Catholic teaching on issues such as sexuality.    

Today’s guidance also confirms that government cannot interfere with the autonomy of religious organizations. This idea was reinforced by the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC – a rare unanimous ruling in 2012 in which the court upheld the “ministerial exception” that allows religious organizations to hire and fire ministers without interference from the government.

Finally, the document released by Sessions said that religious organizations must have equal footing in applying for federal aid or grant programs – they may not be denied participation in these programs when the money is going toward activities that are not explicitly religious in nature.

This has been an important issue in the weeks after Hurricane Harvey with a group of Houston churches suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency, claiming they had been denied disaster relief grants due to their religious status.

The principle was also at play earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Lutheran church that was seeking to make safety improvements on its playground through a state reimbursement program. The church had initially been turned away because of its religious affiliation.

Now that the attorney general has issued the guidance, it is up to each agency and department to implement the principles as they make employment decisions, develop regulations, administer programs and write up contracts and grants.

The fight over the proper role of religious liberty in the nation is far from over, however. The document has already been criticized by its opponents as oppressive to women and the LGBT community.

The broad effect of the guidance will continue to unfold in the coming months. Challenges to it will undoubtedly arise as well. The ultimate outcome remains to be seen. But in the meantime, religious liberty proponents can find encouragement in some of the strongest language on the issue coming from a presidential administration in decades.

United States Catholic Bishops: "HHS Mandate Decision Represents Return to Common Sense"

WASHINGTON - The decision on Oct. 6, 2017, to expand the HHS mandate exemption is a "return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state," according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the USCCB, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, are hailing the Trump Administration's announcement to provide a broad religious and moral exemption from the mandate requiring health insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that may cause abortions.

Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Lori offered the following joint statement in response:

"The Administration's decision to provide a broad religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect. Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state. It corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.

"These regulations are good news for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who are challenging the HHS mandate in court.  We urge the government to take the next logical step and promptly resolve the litigation that the Supreme Court has urged the parties to settle.

"The regulations are also good news for all Americans. A government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all, so when it is threatened for some, it is threatened for all. We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted, and with the encouragement of Pope Francis, we will remain 'vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.'"

Cardinal Dolan Launches 2017-18 Program with Respect Life Month Statement

WASHINGTON - In a statement to mark Respect Life Month, October 2017, Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York reiterated the need to build a culture of life throughout the year. Cardinal Dolan chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The Cardinal’s statement launches the year-long 2017-18 Respect Life Program (www.usccb.org/respectlife), which provides materials exploring the theme, “Be Not Afraid.”

“Looking back over the last year, there’s been a lot of uncertainty, suffering, and heartache. Between tragedies that occur in the public eye and trials that take place in our personal lives, there’s no shortage of reasons we cry out to God,” Cardinal Dolan said. “At such times, we may feel alone and unequipped... But we have an anchor of hope to cling to. ...God says to us, ‘Do not fear: I am with you’ (Isaiah 41:10).”

“There are times we may doubt the value of our own lives or falter at the thought of welcoming and embracing the life of another. But…He makes all things beautiful. He makes all things new. He is the God of redemption,” the Cardinal said. “That’s powerful. That’s something to hold onto.”

“As followers of Jesus Christ, …we are called to be missionary disciples…commissioned to reach out to one another, especially to the weak and vulnerable,” Cardinal Dolan said.

Begun in 1972, the Respect Life Program highlights the value and dignity of human life throughout the year. Materials are intended for use across the spectrum of Catholic life, work, ministry, and education.

The 2017-18 Respect Life Program features six articles on a range of issues. They address practical steps to build a culture of life, compelling reasons to oppose assisted suicide, principles to consider at the end of life, an overview of the role of conscience, offering genuine support to a friend who’s considering abortion, and a Catholic Q & A on the death penalty. Many digital and print resources are offered, including toolkits for priests and deacons, parishes, Catholic education, Respect Life ministry, youth ministry, young adult ministry, faith formation, and communications.

The full text of Cardinal Dolan's statement is available along with many other resources at www.usccb.org/respectlife.

Bishops Conference President Calls for Prayers, Care for Others After Tragic Shooting in Las Vegas

WASHINGTON - On October 2, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), expressed “deep grief” after a deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas. 

The full text of the statement follows:

“We woke this morning and learned of yet another night filled with unspeakable terror, this time in the city of Las Vegas, and by all accounts, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.  My heart and my prayers, and those of my brother bishops and all the members of the Church, go out to the victims of this tragedy and to the city of Las Vegas.  At this time, we need to pray and to take care of those who are suffering.  In the end, the only response is to do good – for no matter what the darkness, it will never overcome the light.  May the Lord of all gentleness surround all those who are suffering from this evil, and for those who have been killed we pray, eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.”

USCCB Pro Life Chairman Urges Passage of Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

WASHINGTON - Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36). It is expected to come to the House floor the first week of October. The bill, introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), proposes a ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks after fertilization.

In a September 29 letter to the House, Cardinal Dolan wrote, “All decent and humane people are repulsed by the callous and barbarous treatment of women and children in clinics…that abort children after 20 weeks.”

“Planned Parenthood’s callous and disturbing practices of harvesting fetal body parts from late-term abortions, partial-birth abortions, and the deplorable actions of late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell…, have shocked our nation and led many Americans to realize that our permissive laws and attitudes have allowed the abortion industry to undertake these procedures,” Cardinal Dolan said, calling the 20-week ban a “common-sense reform.”

The Cardinal offered reasons why “the proposed ban on abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization is a place to begin uniting Americans who see themselves as ‘pro-life’ and as ‘pro-choice’.” The first centers on the expanding range of fetal ‘viability’. “The Supreme Court’s past insistence that unborn children must be ‘viable’ to deserve even nominal protection is not meaningful or workable…[M]edical technology is moving the point of viability earlier in the pregnancy putting Roe on a collision course with itself.” Second, there are life-threatening dangers to women undergoing abortions beyond 20 weeks. Finally, addressing the proposal to perform late-term abortions in “mainstream” clinics, he notes that those clinics generally refuse to perform the risky procedures. “What does it say about us as a nation, if we will not act against abortions that even full-time abortionists find abhorrent?” Cardinal Dolan asked.

Cardinal Dolan reaffirmed the right to life of humans at every stage of development, and clarified that the Church remains committed to advocating for the full legal protection of all unborn children: “[E]very child, from conception onward, deserves love and the protection of the law…. [T]he real problems that lead women to consider abortion should be addressed with solutions that support both mother and child.”

For the full text of Cardinal Dolan’s letter to the House of Representatives, visit: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/upload/CdlDolan-HR36-House-Ltr-09-29-2017.pdf.

 

US Catholics Join with Pope Francis in Campaign to “Share the Journey” of Migrants and Refugees

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPTEMBER 27, 2017 – Today, several dozen bishops across the United States are joining Pope Francis as he launched the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign, holding events and reaching out to support migrants and refugees in their own dioceses as the campaign aims to raise awareness about their plight worldwide.

Kicked off around the world by the global Caritas network, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) are sponsoring the campaign in the United States. Both CRS, working in more than 100 countries around the world, and CCUSA, the Catholic Church’s domestic agency, are members of Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s worldwide charity organization that is the overall sponsor of the campaign.

“This campaign is both spiritual and practical,” says Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the USCCB. “The Pope is asking us to pray and reflect and to use the awareness we build to take action, both personally and publically. To our Church, this campaign is an embodiment of the Biblical command to love our neighbor.”

Pope Francis kicked off “Share the Journey” at the Vatican today with a symbolic gesture of reaching out to those displaced from their homes, who now number some 65 million around the world, the biggest such crisis since World War II. That will be followed by a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees in Catholic churches and parishes around the world from Oct. 7 to Oct. 14.

“The Holy Father wants us to feel this personally,” says Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “Each of us must work to encounter the migrants and refugees who are all around us. All too often, they seem invisible to us. We need to hear their stories, literally share their journeys, and see them as our brothers and sisters.”

From Seattle to Miami, bishops are holding masses, prayer vigils and events with local migrants and refugees. Two dioceses in Florida, for example, illustrate the support the Catholic Church is lending to the campaign. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Jacksonville, part of the St. Augustine diocese, is working through its local Catholic Charities to invite refugees and migrants to a special 7 p.m. mass where they will be welcomed to share their stories.

In Venice, the diocese is launching a photo exhibition and slideshow focused on the issue, along with a video about a young woman, the adult child of migrant workers, who is now Program Director for Catholic Charities Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee, FL. The campaign also calls for governments and international organizations to take responsibility for caring for forced migrants, most of whom are fleeing disasters – war, famine, violence – beyond their control.

“At CRS, we work with both the internally displaced and refugees around the world,” CRS President Sean Callahan says. “We know firsthand that these are innocent victims, that they should be treated with respect and dignity, that they are the people the Bible calls us to love. By heeding Pope Francis’ call to share their journey, we can all come to understand that.”

More information about “Share the Journey” is available on sharejourney.org.