Denver, Colo., Aug 2, 2011 (CNA) - A new federal requirement that employers’ health care plans must cover contraceptives is an “aggressive” approach that could hinder or shut down Catholic institutions because of inadequate and “impossibly narrow” religious exemptions, several Catholic commentators have said.
“This will likely drive many important Catholic social service providers to close up shop, inevitably harming the poor communities that they serve,” Notre Dame Law School professor O. Carter Snead told CNA Aug. 2.
He characterized the regulations as a “watershed moment.”
“Being an employee of a Catholic university that takes seriously its Catholic identity, I worry very much about what we’re being asked to do at this point. We’re being directly asked to act contrary to our deeply held religious beliefs,” he added.
“It feels very aggressive to me. It bothers me very much.”
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Aug. 1 that new health care plans must cover contraceptives and sterilizations under regulations for preventive care created in response to the 2010 health care legislation.
The regulations may allow for existing health plans to be “grandfathered” in, but the Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for further information about how the rules will apply to Catholic institutions.
Catholic teaching recognizes contraception use and direct sterilization as sinful.
The Obama administration has released an amendment allowing religious institutions the choice of whether to cover contraceptive services. However, the exemption applies only to non-profit religious employers whose purpose is “the inculcation of religious values.” Exempted employers must primarily employ persons who share their religious tenets and must primarily serve those who share those beliefs.
“The so-called ‘exemptions’ are extremely narrow,” Snead said.
“This category does not cover virtually any Catholic institution that serves or employs non-Catholics. Accordingly, Catholic universities, Catholic social service agencies, and even perhaps the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be required to provide contraceptive coverage (including abortifacients like the recently FDA-approved ‘Ella’),” he explained.
Notre Dame Law School professor and associate dean Richard W. Garnett also criticized the exemption. It is not broad enough “because it excludes those religious institutions, employers, and ministries that are engaged actively in the world, providing care, services, and education to a diverse group of people, besides our fellow Catholics,” he told CNA.
Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University who formerly worked with the U.S. bishops’ pro-life office, said the regulations threatened religious freedom and respect for conscience.
“This regulation breaks a long-held, bipartisan understanding about who we are as a nation. We were founded on the basis of freedom of conscience, and that it's an important part of our overall level of freedom, not to mention peaceful coexistence,” she said.
All levels of government have understood the need to protect religious providers who “take up work others fail or refuse to do.”
“Their work is good or superior to other providers. At some level people understand that it is the moral commitments and views (including the deep respect for sex shown by our teaching on contraception) that undergird this,” she told CNA.
Garnett voiced similar concerns.
“The issue in this debate is not whether or not people should be made to live in accord with the Church's teachings -- of course they shouldn't! -- but whether Catholic institutions should be free to act in accord with those teachings,” he said.
The fact that most people, including many Catholics, do not agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception should be “irrelevant to the question of whether we respect and protect the religious freedom of Catholic institutions to follow the Church’s own teachings on this matter.”
The Health and Human Services (HHS) rule follows a long period of activism from feminist and pro-abortion rights groups.
Alvare said that the rules gave Planned Parenthood “everything they have asked for.”
“Planned Parenthood lobbied for exactly this outcome,” she said.
Snead said the rules’ possible effects on Catholic social services made it appear that President Obama has “chosen the agenda of Planned Parenthood over caring for the poor.”
He noted that the rule was announced in the form of a “final interim rule” which goes into effect before comments are received and evaluated. This avoids the usual course of proposing a rule, seek comments and offer responses, then issue the final rule.
“HHS chose a more aggressive course here,” he said. “That signals, I think, a strong normative commitment to promoting contraception (including potential abortifacients) that makes it unlikely that HHS will soften its stance.”
Snead encouraged Catholic institutions and individuals to send their comments objecting to the rule’s “impossibly narrow” definition of “religious employer.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, noted Catholic institutions’ “long and distinguished record” of serving everyone regardless of religious affiliation.
He accused the Obama administration of playing “Catch-22” with religious employers.
“If they are too religious, Catholic social service agencies risk losing federal funds, but if Catholic hospitals are not sufficiently religious, they cannot be exempt from carrying health insurance policies that transgress their religious tenets.
“The Obama administration knows exactly what it is doing, and what it is doing is burning religious institutions at both ends,” he charged in an Aug. 2 statement.
“The situation is even more pernicious than it looks,” he warned, citing President Obama’s past opposition to allowing faith-based programs to hire only their coreligionists.
“Since becoming president, he has authorized his administration to consider this issue on a case-by-case basis, and just recently many of his allies lobbied him to gut the religious liberty provision in hiring altogether,” Donohue said.
Alvare added that the mandate for contraception may not even serve the goal of preventive care.
“There is no data showing that at the level of a social policy, (contraception) has ever done anything but drive up rates of uncommitted sex, non-marital pregnancies, non-marital births, STDs and abortion.
“There is nothing ‘preventive’ about it. The social ills it claims to solve are all exacerbated.”
The rules represent a “further banalization of sex” and the U.S. government’s endorsement of the position that sex without any long-term commitment is “the norm, not the exception.”
Denver, Colo., Aug 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Knights of Columbus announced Aug. 2 that it will buy the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., to create a shrine and museum honoring the life of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
“I take great pride in reporting,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said at the group's conference in Denver, that “the Knights of Columbus will be at the forefront of preserving his legacy for generations to come.”
Anderson said within the next year, the knights will work closely with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit to establish a national center, permanent museum and Shrine of Blessed John Paul II.
The Supreme Knight made his remarks at the Knights of Columbus' 129th annual convention, this year held in downtown Denver from Aug. 2-4.
Cardinal Wuerl praised the development, saying the shrine will provide “a focal point for increased devotion to Blessed John Paul II and an ongoing recognition of his legacy.”
Archbishop Vigneron expressed gratitude to the knights for “stepping forward to make this transaction a reality” and applauded their efforts to “strengthen the vision of the Center and continue the intended purpose for the building and land.”
The John Paul II center – which was the initiative of now-retired Archbishop of Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida – has been beset by numerous financial difficulties over the years and borrowed heavily from the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Recently, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan made a bid for the center but withdrew in March due to lack of funding.
Anderson told Knights of Columbus members during their business session at the convention Tuesday that the organization plans for the center to “be a place where English, Spanish and French-speaking pilgrims from throughout North America will encounter the mission and legacy of one of history's greatest popes.”
“It will also be a place where our children and grandchildren will learn about their great heritage as Catholics,” he added. “True to Pope John Paul II’s vision, and using the story of his life as an inspiration, this Shrine will be an opportunity to evangelize and spread the good news of the Gospel through a New Evangelization.”
He noted that purchasing the site was fitting, given the Knights of Columbus' longstanding support for nearby institutions in D.C. such as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic University of America, and the U.S. bishops' conference.
Anderson also said the endeavor has received strong support from the Vatican. He quoted a letter from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who offered his “heartfelt” praise for the initiative and expressed his appreciation to the order for helping “cultivate devotion” to the late Pontiff.
“I am deeply gratified that your Order has wished to carry forward that vision as part of your commitment to the new evangelization and to the strengthening of the Church's witness to Christ at every level of American society,” Cardinal Bertone told Anderson.
The Supreme Knight reflected on the legacy of Blessed John Paul II, saying that because of his tireless evangelization efforts, “an entire generation of Catholics has become known as the John Paul II Generation.”
We are “honored to continue to spread his profound and powerful message of hope for our country, our continent and our world,” he added.
Rome, Italy, Aug 2, 2011 (CNA) - A car bomb attack upon a Catholic church in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk has injured 23 people – two critically.
The bomb was exploded outside the Holy Family Syro-Catholic Church at approximately 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 2. At the same time security forces disabled two other similar car bombs parked outside two other Christian churches in northern Iraqi city.
“The terrorists want to make us flee Iraq, but they will fail,” local priest, Father Haithem Akram, told Associated Press.
“We are staying in our country. The Iraqi Christians are easy targets because they do not have militias to protect them. The terrorists want to terrorize us, but they will fail.”
The bomb damaged both the church and nearby houses. The parish priest, Father Imad Yalda, was the only person inside the church at the time and was hurt in the blast. The other 22 wounded were local residents.
The attack comes at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Islamic militants are thought to be responsible.
“I was shocked, I visited the neighborhood and the hospital and many people were crying. It is sad because this is supposed to be a month of fasting and prayer, to do good things. We are shocked and really sad,” Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told Vatican Radio.
The bombing is only the latest in a prolonged campaign of violence against Christians in Iraq.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003 it is estimated that nearly 1 million Christians have fled the country. Many have also relocated to northern cities such as Kirkuk and Erbil which are usually regarded as safer due to having larger Christian communities.
“We were not expecting such actions against Christians. But I think that this is political also, security is still not the best,” said Archbishop Sako.
“We are trying to bridge relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Many, many people have called me condemning this. I will ask the imams, the Shia and Sunni imams to speak about this inhuman attack and to condemn it telling people it is against God and against religion.”
The attack comes on the day that three men were sentenced to death in Baghdad for their role in a church siege last October that killed 68 people. A fourth man was sentenced to 20 years.
The raid on the Our Lady of Salvation Church is the deadliest single attack on Iraqi Christians so far. Islamic militants burst into the church during Mass whereupon they shot both priests and parishioners before detonating explosive suicide vests.
The four men stood accused of both masterminding and preparing the attack. They have a month to appeal their sentences.
Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 2, 2011 (CNA) - During a Mass to celebrate the ninth anniversary of the canonization of St. Juan Diego, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City urged Catholics to follow his example of humility, patience and love of God.
The cardinal exhorted the faithful to be the “St. Juan Diegos of the 21st century.” He called Catholics to surrender themselves with generosity and fidelity to the loving hands of the Lord, “who allows us to partake in the blessing bestowed on the community.”
St. Juan Diego, he said, “was a simple man in whom God’s grace was made manifest. He revealed to him the deepest and truest things that gave meaning to his entire life.”
“Today more than ever, we need to adhere to this ‘Eucharistic’ and generous attitude, as thousands and thousands journey directionless through life, seeking the truth about their existence on the wrong paths,” Cardinal Rivera said.
Today there are so many who are thirsting for love and yet are “lost in the abyss, thinking that they can be happy with money, sex and fame.” They believe that “by destroying, killing, kidnapping, raping, denigrating and tearing others to pieces they will find peace and happiness,” the cardinal continued.
Amidst the tragedy of poverty, Cardinal Rivera pointed to the example of St. Juan Diego, who teaches that “beyond material goods, the eternal goods are what give full meaning to our lives. He experienced them and left everything to care for the chapel of Holy Mary of Guadalupe,” the cardinal said.
“Now it is our turn to work for justice and honesty so that Jesus Christ can reach every sick heart that has strayed from the true path of life and has distanced itself from Him and from others. Now it is our turn to work so that violence and murder, injustice and destruction never happen again,” Cardinal Rivera stated.
He concluded by thanking Juan Diego for the testimony of his life and for bringing Our Lady of Guadalupe to Mexicans and to the entire world.
St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe
Juan Diego was a humble Mexican Indian born in 1474 and baptized at age 50 by the first Franciscans who came from Spain.
On December 9, 1531, he witnessed the first apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who asked him to go to the bishop and request that a chapel be built in her honor on Tepeyac Hill. Bishop Juan de Zumarraga at first brushed him off, but at the insistence of Juan Diego, he asked for proof of the apparition.
On Dec. 12, she appeared to Juan Diego again and invited him to climb to the top of the hill, gather roses blooming out of season into his tilma and bring them to the bishop.
Upon opening his tilma before Bishop Zumarraga, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of Mexico and America.
Denver, Colo., Aug 2, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver said that true reform of the Church requires deep faith and repentance from all members of the faith, including clergy, religious and laity alike.
“Renewal begins not in vilifying others, but in examining ourselves honestly, repenting of our own sins, and changing ourselves,” the archbishop said.
“We are all in need of God's mercy. When we really understand that, we can speak to each other with both honesty and love, and restoring the mission of the Church can begin.”
Archbishop Chaput, who was recently appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, made his remarks at the Knight of Columbus' 129th annual convention, this year held in downtown Denver, Colo. from Aug. 2-4.
The opening Mass at the Sheraton Hotel on Aug. 2 – packed to the brim with knights in colorful regalia and their families – was also concelebrated by 10 cardinals, 70 archbishops and bishops and more than 100 priests.
During his homily, Archbishop Chaput underscored that along with repentance, the “second thing needed for any lasting Church reform” is faith.
“Not faith as theology, or faith as a collection of doctrines and practices, but faith as a single minded confidence in God,” and faith, “as the imprudence, the passion, the recklessness to give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ,” he said.
“That kind of faith changes people. That kind of faith shifts the world on its axis because nothing can stand against it.”
Archbishop Chaput also urged respect and recognition for all vocations within the Church, saying that each are different but have their essential roles.
“The Church belongs to Jesus Christ, and the different roles within the Christian community – clergy, laity and religious life – have equal dignity but different purposes.”
In particular, the clergy's leadership in the Church should always be marked with humility and service “and never by a sense of entitlement,” he said. “Bishops, priests and deacons are too often weak and sinful. They need to be held to high standards. Some deserve to be chastised.”
“But men and women didn't found the Church, they don't own her, and they have no license to reinvent her.”
Although sin and failure “need to be named,” he said, “when people deride their bishops and priests out of pride and resentment or some perverse desire for what they perceive as 'power,' they undermine the Church herself, and they set themselves against the God whose vessel she is.”
Citing the example of St. Peter in the Gospel, when Christ invites him to walk out on to the water, Archbishop Chaput said that “as long as Peter keeps his eyes and his heart fixed on Jesus Christ, he can do the impossible.”
But the “moment he gives into doubt and fear, he begins to sink. So it is with our personal faith and so it is with the life and health of the Church.”
The Knights of Columbus convention in Denver this week brings together 500 delegates – including 85 bishops – from the global, 1.8 million member organization.
Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug 2, 2011 (CNA) - The number of Catholic priests in the United States has decreased over the past decade, while the average number of people attending a typical weekend Mass is increasing, according to a study released July 18.
The study was released by the Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership project, a joint effort by the National Association for Lay Ministry, the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association and the National Federal of Priest Councils.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City mirrors some of the changes noted in the study, which surveyed 846 randomly selected U.S. parishes in 2010. However, the local church is atypical in one very noticeable way: While the number of parishes in the U.S. has declined by 7.1 percent in the past 10 years, the Diocese of Salt Lake City has grown. There are now 48 parishes and 19 missions in Utah, compared to 47 parishes and 15 missions in 2001.
And, although the study shows that 29 percent of parishes nationwide celebrate Mass at least once a month in a language other than English – up from 22 percent in 2000 – 33 percent of parishes in the Diocese of Salt Lake City offer at least one weekend Spanish Mass. This is in addition to the regular Masses offered in Vietnamese and Korean, as well as native-language Masses for Filipinos, Tongans and Africans.
The Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Hispanic Ministry has grown tremendously, said Maria-Cruz Gray, who heads the department. Ten years ago they offered one Spanish-language class for catechists, now there are four, she said. In addition, "We have now probably four more missions, and they have their needs," she said.
Established parishes also have seen an increase in Hispanic parishioners, she said. "The ones who used to be 200 people now are 1,000 people in the Mass, like the Cathedral," which last year added a Saturday Vigil Mass in Spanish.
In other ways, the Diocese of Salt Lake City more closely follows many of the trends mentioned in the study. For example, the number of weekend Masses offered at each parish nationally has increased from 3.5 in 2000 to 3.8 in 2010. In Utah, while many of the missions have only one weekend service, even the small parishes offer numerous weekend Masses. For example, Blessed Sacrament Parish in Sandy offers the Saturday Vigil and three Sunday Masses. Larger parishes offer even more. The diocese’s largest parish, Saint Joseph in Ogden, celebrates six weekend Masses, three in English and three in Spanish.
Utah’s Catholics may see another national trend in their church: more people at Sunday Mass. According to the study, "The average number of people attending Mass on a typical weekend at Catholic parishes is 1,110, up from an average of 966 in 2000."
Although Utah’s Catholic population is fairly small, with 53,699 registered families statewide, parishes are growing. Many parishes have built new churches or added onto their existing structures in the past 10 years. At the diocese’s second-largest parish, Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Orem, "we’re full up," said Father David Bittmenn, who is in the process of building a new church to accommodate the growth. His parish also reflects the study’s finding that "40 percent of the increase in registered parishioners from 2005 to 2010 was among Hispanic/Latino(a) Catholics." In Orem, about 70 percent of current parishioners are Hispanic, Fr. Bittmenn said.
Perhaps the change with the most significant impact for U.S. Catholics is the decreasing number of clergy and vowed religious. The study reports that in the past 20 years the total number of religious priests, religious brothers and religious sisters has declined 41 percent, from 197,172 in 1980 to 117,080. In Utah, the number dropped from a total of 203 (92 priests, 16 brothers and 95 sisters) to 127 (77 priests, 10 brothers and 40 sisters.)
"If Mass attendance remains steady and the Catholic population grows as expected, the results of this study suggest demands will increase on parishes and parish staffs as the real number of Catholics attending and needing sacraments increases," the study concludes.
The study may be found online at www.emergingmodels.org.
Printed with permission from Intermountain Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Napa Valley, Calif., Aug 2, 2011 (CNA) -
Immigration is an opportunity and a key to American renewal because it helps bring to light the Christian, Catholic missionaries’ “heritage of holiness and service,” Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told a gathering of Catholic leaders and laity.
“America is intended to be a place of encounter with the living Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “This was the motivation of the missionaries who came here first. America’s national character and spirit are deeply marked by the Gospel values they brought to this land.”
Archbishop Gomez presented his talk Thursday at the Napa Institute's first annual “Catholics in the Next America” conference at the Napa Valley’s Meritage Resort & Spa in California.
The meeting brought together 200 Catholic leaders, including bishops, priests, religious and lay people, to discuss the future of the Church in an increasingly secular culture and to enjoy time for fellowship.
The archbishop said that although America was founded by Christians, it has become home to “an amazing diversity” of cultures and religions that flourishes “precisely because our nation’s founders had a Christian vision of the human person, freedom and truth.”
But America is changing because of globalization, threats from abroad, and internal cultural forces.
“We have an elite culture — in government, the media and academia — that is openly hostile to religious faith,” he continued. “America is becoming a fundamentally different country. It is time for all of us to recognize this — no matter what our position is on the political issue of immigration.”
The Los Angeles archbishop described the country’s immigration situation as part of a set of larger questions about America’s national identity and destiny. Catholics must answer these questions “in light of God’s plan for the nations.”
The archbishop said immigrants are “people of energy and aspiration” who are “not afraid of hard work or sacrifice.”
“The vast majority of them believe in Jesus Christ and love our Catholic Church. They share traditional American values of faith, family and community,” he said. “That is why I believe our immigrant brothers and sisters are the key to American renewal. And we all know that America is in need of renewal — economic and political, but also spiritual, moral and cultural renewal.”
The archbishop said that Americans have largely forgotten their history or only know an incomplete version that leads to “the wrong assumptions about American identity and culture.”
While the New England-focused American history tells the story of “great men” like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and also of “great documents” like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, it is not the entire story.
“When we forget our country’s roots in the Hispanic-Catholic mission to the new world, we end up with distorted ideas about our national identity,” Archbishop Gomez said. “We end up with the idea that Americans are descended from only white Europeans and that our culture is based only on the individualism, work ethic and rule of law that we inherited from our Anglo-Protestant forebears.”
The “whole story” about America starts in the 1520s in Florida and in the 1540s in California. This story also centers on New Spain and teaches that “before this land had a name its inhabitants were being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“The people of this land were called Christians before they were called Americans. And they were called this name in the Spanish, French and English tongues,” Archbishop Gomez said. “(L)ong before the Boston Tea Party, Catholic missionaries were celebrating the holy Mass on the soil of this continent … Immigrant missionaries were naming this continent’s rivers and mountains and territories for saints, sacraments and articles of the faith.”
“Before there were houses in this land, there were altars,” he continued. “This is the missing piece of American history. And today more than ever, we need to know this heritage of holiness and service — especially as American Catholics.”
Archbishop Gomez contended that forgetting these other roots has lead to bad episodes in history, such as the mistreatment of Native Americans, slavery, outbreaks of nativism and anti-Catholicism.
He worried that the political debates over immigration signals a new period of nativism.
However, he urged American Catholics to make their own contributions to America through the way they live their faith in Jesus Christ.
“The ‘Next America’ will be determined by the choices we make as Christian disciples and as American citizens. By our attitudes and actions, by the decisions we make, we are writing the next chapters of our American story,” he said.
Denver, Colo., Aug 2, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Members of the Catholic fraternal organization the Knight of Columbus are headed to Denver, Colo. for the group’s 129th annual convention, taking place Aug. 2-4.
Over 500 delegates – including 85 bishops – from the 1.8 million member organization will gather at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Denver.
The event will kick off on Tuesday, Aug. 2 with a Mass celebrated by Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was recently appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson will deliver his annual address on Aug. 2, followed by a gala “States Dinner” which will bring together over 2,300 knights and their families at the Colorado Convention Center for a black tie event.
The dinner will feature a keynote talk by Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican's highest court, the Apostolic Signatura. Other speakers will include Archbishop Cyprian Lacroix of Quebec and Cardinal Juan Sandoval of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Award sessions will also be held during the convention, including special recognitions for the Knights of Columbus Family of the Year as well as community leaders, charity workers and pro-life activists.
In 2010, the Knights of Columbus donations to charity exceeded $154 million, with individual knights volunteering over 70 million hours to charitable work.
There are 16,000 knights in Colorado alone, comprising 141 councils.