Washington D.C., Oct 25, 2011 (CNA) - As religious freedom becomes an issue for the Church in the U.S., the American conference of Catholic bishops has appointed Anthony R. Picarello Jr. as associate general secretary for policy and advocacy.
“His legal expertise and background in religious liberty matters provides a depth of knowledge and experience that is uniquely suited to the needs of the bishops’ conference,” said the conference’s general secretary Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, who made the appointment in consultation with the conference’s executive committee.
Picarello has served as the conference’s general counsel since 2007 and will retain the title. He will join Msgr. Jenkins, associate general secretaries Linda Hunt and Fr. J. Brian Bransfield and secretary of communications Helen Osman in conducting the regular business of the general secretariat.
Msgr. Jenkins said Picarello’s broader background will “support well” the bishops’ initiatives in policy and advocacy.
“He is familiar with the breadth of issues that the Conference faces, the bishops and staff engaged in them, and many of the partners who join us in promoting those efforts.”
Since he joined the bishops’ conference staff, Picarello has had many roles. He served as a member of the general secretary’s executive staff and as a consultant to the Committee on Child and Youth Protection and the Ad Hoc Committee of the Defense of Marriage. In April 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him to the first Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Before joining the bishops’ conference staff, he served at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty for seven years. He litigated major religious freedom cases on behalf of people of all faiths. In 2007, The American Lawyer listed him as one of the top 50 litigators under age 45.
Picarello served at the Washington Law Firm of Covington and Burling from 1996 to 2000. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1991. While at the university, he served as president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Catholic Student Association and as a tutor in an inner-city tutoring program.
He graduated in 1995 from the University of Virginia School of Law and received a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
He is a member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court and almost all federal Courts of Appeals.
San Diego, Calif., Oct 25, 2011 (CNA) - The San Diego-based apologetics group Catholic Answers has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow it to sue the Internal Revenue Service for violating its First Amendment rights for “improperly taxing its constitutionally protected political speech.”
However, the lawsuit’s success is “highly unlikely,” said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a University of Notre Dame Law School professor.
“Except under relatively rare circumstances, none of which exist here, successfully obtaining Supreme Court review is unlikely because the Court denies most requests for review,” Mayer told CNA on Oct. 24. “It is even more unlikely in this case because both the trial court and the appellate court - without dissent - found that the case was moot.”
Even if the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, he added, it would likely confirm the finding of the lower court and affirm the dismissal of the lawsuit without considering its constitutional claim.
In May 2008 the IRS ruled that two messages from Catholic Answers president Karl Keating illegally opposed the election of a specific candidate in the 2004 presidential election.
Keating’s two E-letters questioned whether Democratic candidate John Kerry, a Catholic, should present himself for Holy Communion because of his support for abortion. The organization also created a voter’s guide which the IRS investigated before ruling that it did not violate tax exemption rules.
The IRS ordered the organization to pay excise taxes for 2004 and 2005. However, the IRS in 2009 decided to lift the excise taxes and pay interest to Catholic Answers because the alleged political activity was “not willful and flagrant,” the California Catholic Daily reports.
Catholic Answers said that the complaint was initiated by Frances Kissling, then-head of the abortion supporting group Catholics for Choice, which the U.S. bishops have denounced for distorting Catholic teaching.
In its lawsuit, filed in 2009, Catholic Answers charged that the IRS’ process of punishment and appeal poses a threat to free speech.
James Bopp, Jr. of the James Madison Center for Free Speech, Catholic Answers’ legal representative, said the organization asked for court review because “without a change in the IRS’s position on its speech, it couldn’t risk mak(ing) comments like those on the web post again to avoid another investigation and tax penalty.”
Both courts ruled that because Catholic Answers got its money back, the issue was resolved and the courts could do nothing further.
“This allows the IRS to harass and penalize nonprofits who discuss public officials who are also running for office while leaving those nonprofits without any recourse: the IRS can simply return the money at the last minute and never be sued for taxing protected speech that shouldn’t be taxed in the first place,” Bopp said.
The IRS actions will deter non-profits from speaking about individuals who are political candidates in any context for fear of an investigation, he added.
“Nothing prevents the IRS from doing this again. And these groups now have no judicial remedy,” he said.
Mayer said the lawsuit raises the important issue of whether the government’s rule is unconstitutionally vague.
“Catholic Answers is correct that the test is vulnerable to criticism that it unconstitutionally chills speech by charities that are tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) because it is difficult for them to know when the IRS will find that their speech violates this prohibition.”
It is “possible but not certain” the lawsuit’s constitutional claim would succeed, if a court would consider it.
Catholic organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic dioceses, are exempt from federal income tax as 501(c)(3) organizations. They are eligible to receive tax deductible contributions, but the tax code requires them not to support or oppose candidates for elected office.
“This prohibition applies to all organizations that claim these tax benefits, both religious and secular,” Mayer explained. “This prohibition prevents Catholic organizations from using tax deductible contributions for speech or other actions supporting or opposing candidates.”
Catholic organizations may create an affiliated organization that is exempt under 501(c)(4) rules, though these organizations are ineligible for tax deductible contributions. These organizations may support or oppose candidates, as long as doing so is not its primary activity.
Catholic Answers chose this path, he noted, by transferring responsibilities for its voter’s guide to its affiliate Catholic Answers Action.
“This option is not available for some types of speech, however, most notably speaking about candidates from the pulpit during a regular worship service,” Mayer explained.
New York City, N.Y., Oct 25, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The leader of Lebanon's Maronite Catholic Church says the world must not let the “Arab Spring” turn into a “winter” of civil war and minority oppression.
“The so-called 'Arab Spring' sweeping the Middle East holds much promise, yet we must remain vigilant. The Church abhors the use of violence to meet any goal,” said Patriarch Bechara Rai of Antioch, in an Oct. 20 conference at the Catholic Near East Welfare Association's U.S. headquarters.
“We do not wish to see happening in these countries what happened in Iraq, where the country now is in the middle of a civil war,” said the leader of 3.2 million Eastern Catholics of the Maronite tradition. “In such a situation, this will not be a 'spring.' It will be rather a 'winter.'”
“With the international community, we look forward to seeing a real 'spring' in the Arab countries. But we (want) to voice our concerns, so that we really may reach a spring and not a winter.”
The 71-year-old former monk, who became patriarch in March 2011, addressed observers of the Church in the Middle East at the invitation of New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan. His time in New York was part of a pastoral visit to the U.S., where nearly 80,000 Maronites live.
In his remarks, Patriarch Rai stressed the importance of helping Christians remain in their historic Middle Eastern homelands.
“When we're talking about the Christians, we are not talking about some people who came from outside,” said the patriarch.“Christians were in that part of the world 600 years before Islam, and they impacted society with their values.”
“It is important to point out the role the Christians played in upholding democratic principles, freedoms, and human rights in the Middle East. This is why a Christian presence there should be safeguarded and the role of Christians strengthened.”
The Eastern Catholic leader said Christians in Lebanon “want to see a Middle East renewed in its respect of human rights and dignity, especially for her minorities. We want to see people electing democratic governments and holding them accountable.”
But he worries that the movements and changes now sweeping the region may be “leading to regimes that are even more fundamentalist” than the governments they aim to replace. Some Christians have already begun to leave Egypt, fleeing persecution and a feared Islamist takeover.
In Syria, Lebanon's neighboring country, some residents fear that the downfall of embattled president Bashar al-Assad could spark an Iraq-like civil war between Muslim sects trying to drive Christians out and seize power.
“Everybody agrees,” Patriarch Rai observed, “that Syria is in need of reform: more freedom, and more rights.” He said that both citizens and authorities in Syria, the home of 53,000 Maronites and many other Christians, must “find the best way to run the country.”
“But what we wish to see is this … being done in a peaceful way, through dialogue.”
The Maronite patriarch is also organizing dialogue to help the Coptic Christians of Egypt – who lost at least 17 members of their community in recent riots that wounded over 300 – and other religious minorities at the center of the “Arab Spring.”
“We are in direct contact with (Coptic Orthodox leader) His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, and we have been discussing the matter also with all the heads of religious communities in the Middle East,” the Catholic patriarch explained.
“We are in the process of preparing a summit for the religious leaders (in) the Middle East, in order to try to promote the atmosphere that exists in Lebanon, where all religious communities live together in freedom and mutual respect.”
The Maronite leader held up Lebanon as a model for peace between Christians and Muslims in the region. The country's unique power-sharing system requires that the president must always be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the parliament speaker a Shi'ite Muslim.
Lebanon's different groups enjoy peace, he said, because the country does not make one religion the law of the land but “respects all religions, and all values of each religion” in its government and laws.
“In Lebanon,” he noted, “each religion has full rights, and each religion respects the others fully.”
Patriarch Rai noted that many non-Christian groups expressed joy when he became the Maronites' new leader, because they saw him as a figure of national unity.
The patriarch said that during those days in March 2011, he “realized how true is what Blessed John Paul II said about Lebanon” in a 1997 apostolic exhortation.
“He said that Lebanon is more than a country. Lebanon is a message of reconciliation and dialogue and conviviality for both East and West.”
Santiago, Chile, Oct 25, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile urged Catholics to share in the new evangelization, explaining that they are called to make the message of Christ present in the public life.
The Chilean archbishop noted that every Catholic receives this mission at the moment of baptism. “As the Church we are called to experience the changes of today’s world with great discernment in order to differentiate between what is permanent and what is passing.” He added that Catholics must discover everything “in the daily life that leads us to Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Ezzati spoke at the Fourth International Congress on Catholics and the Public Life held Oct. 21 in Chile.
Other speakers at the event included philosopher Joaquin Garcia-Huidobro, who spoke on the secularization of society. “The hearts of many people are empty and unsatisfied, and for this reason they are indignant,” he said.
He called for a strengthening of faith because “when Christianity is weakened, so is everything else because of the lack of morality.”
The director of CNA, Alejandro Bermudez, also spoke at the event on “the fears of Catholics.” He noted that this issue does not get enough attention and is manifested in the presumption that Catholics are the ones who must defend themselves. However, he added, they are not sufficiently prepared to proclaim Christ.
Bermudez recalled the pontificate of John Paul II and said his papacy could be summed up with the phrase, “Be not afraid.”
Also speaking at the event was Ronald Brown. Brown organized a recent march in Santiago on the “joy of being Catholic” that brought out more than 50,000 young people.
Vatican City, Oct 25, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI will mark January’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a call for the “new evangelization” to extend to migrant workers, refugees and international students.
“The phenomenon of migration today is also a providential opportunity for the proclamation of the Gospel in the contemporary world,” the Pope will say in his message, a preview of which was released by the Vatican Oct 25.
Pope Benedict noted that “Men and women from various regions of the earth, who have not yet encountered Jesus Christ or know Him only partially, ask to be received in countries with an ancient Christian tradition.”
The text of his address was unveiled at a Vatican press conference this morning.
Archbishop Antonio Maria Veglio, President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, explained that the Pope’s message will be divided into three parts dealing with each migrant group: migrant workers, refugees and international students.
“Faced with this challenge, the Church is impelled to reconsider her methods, forms of expression and language, so as to renew her missionary efforts,” said Archbishop Veglio, adding that a “new” evangelization “does not affect the contents and the value of the missionary mandate, as handed down by Holy Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.”
The latest figures show that in 2009 there were 38.5 million immigrants to the U.S. In terms of country of origin, a third arrive from Mexico, followed by the Philippines, India, China, El Salvador and Vietnam.
While recognizing the opportunities for evangelization, the Pope also notes that migration can sometimes undermine the faith of Catholics. This is particularly true, he says, when the Catholic migrant worker move to parts of the world where efforts to “efface God and the Church’s teaching from the horizon of life” are taking place.
“Having grown up among peoples characterised by their Christian faith they often emigrate to countries in which Christians are a minority or where the ancient tradition of faith, no longer a personal conviction or a community religion, has been reduced to a cultural fact,” says the Pope.
In response, the Church needs to help migrants “keep their faith firm” even when they are deprived of its previous cultural support. The Church must also find “new pastoral approaches” for the “ever vital reception of the Word of God,” the Pope writes.
As for asylum seekers, the Pope says that those “who fled from persecution” stand “in need of our understanding and welcome,” as well as an “awareness of their duties.”
According to statistics of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 80 percent of the world’s refugees are currently hosted in developing countries. The Pope said host populations should adopt “attitudes of reciprocal acceptance, overcoming fears and avoiding forms of discrimination.”
Lastly, Pope Benedict turns his attention to international students who, he observes, often face problems of “integration, bureaucratic difficulties, hardship in the search for housing and welcoming structures.” He calls upon Christian communities – and in particularly Catholic universities – to welcome and support such student and to see their time in education as an opportunity to evangelize.
“Universities of Christian inspiration are to be, in a special way, places of witness and of the spread of the new evangelization,” he says, “seriously committed to contributing to social, cultural and human progress in the academic milieu.”
In this way, Pope Benedict observes, international students can be drawn closer to the Church by meeting an “authentic Gospel witnesses and examples of Christian life.”
He concludes by entrusting all three groups of migrants to the intercession of “Mary, 'Our Lady of the Way',” so that “the joyful proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ may bring hope to the hearts of those who are on the move on the roads of the world.”
Birmingham, England, Oct 25, 2011 (CNA) -
A leading financial expert is backing the Vatican’s proposal for a global financial authority.
“It is right for the Vatican to set out a marker of how the world should and perhaps sometime could be,” Edward Hadas remarked to CNA.
Hadas’ comments follow the Oct. 24 publication of a 20-page document by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace advocating a new global authority which, it hopes, can make economic decisions based on the international common good rather than individual national interest.
“Some American students of the Vatican see a great split between Left and Right, but this document does not suffer from that tension,” said Hadas.
He views the document as having a “consistent view” in suggesting that “the world needs a stronger political order, a more ethical orientation in government and a global economy which is consciously and globally organized to serve the human good.”
At the same time, Hadas believes it also encourages “the exercise of human freedom” but discourages “authoritarian control.”
Hadas teaches political and social philosophy at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England. He is also the Economic Editor at Reuters Breakingviews, where he won the Business Journalist of the Year Award for economics in 2009. Prior to becoming a journalist in 2004, he worked for 25 years as a financial analyst for various firms, including Morgan Stanley.
The biggest problem for the pontifical council’s plan is the “real tension” between “practicable policies and idealistic aspirations,” he said.
Hadas noted that while the G20 countries have already considered a financial transaction tax and new rules on investment banking, “much of the rest” in the Vatican proposal, “while attractive and theologically sound, seems distant from the thinking of world leaders.”
Nevertheless, he sees the good in the Vatican laying out a proposal for how the world could be, especially since “there may come a time—after another crisis or in some moment of reflection—when this advice will seem useful as well as hopeful.”
Sydney, Australia, Oct 25, 2011 (CNA) - Even though he is only 17 years old, Emmanuel Kelly has taken Australia by storm this fall with his X Factor performances. But he says all of his success could not have happened without his Catholic mom, Moira Kelly.
“My hero would have to be my mother. She worked extremely hard to change my life hugely,” Emmanuel told X Factor judges before his first performance in September.
Moira, 47, has given her adult life to helping disadvantaged children around the world, including working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
“Moira is very determined, very single-minded and, sometimes, challenging too,” chuckles Margaret Smith, a good friend of Moira’s for over 27 years, who also serves as chief executive of her charity, the Children First Foundation.
“Her Catholic faith has been her driving force to keep going and keep doing all this in New York’s Bronx, Calcutta, the Kalahari, Western Australia and all around the world.”
The Foundation describes its mission as transforming “the lives of children who need us most by giving hope, exceptional care and pathways to a brighter future.” Their “Miracle Smiles” program brings children in need of life-saving or life-changing surgery from the developing world to Australia to receive the care they need.
Because of her desire to help children in such dire straights, Moira went to war-torn Iraq in the mid 1990s. While she was there Moira came across Emmanuel and his brother Ahmed in an orphanage run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The baby boys had been found by the nuns in a shoe box in a Baghdad park. Both were suffering from limb deficiencies because of chemical warfare.
“It was like looking at an angel when mum, Moira Kelly, walked through the orphanage door,” Emmanuel told the talent show judges. “She brought us both to Australia for surgery originally and then mum sort of fell in love with both of us.”
Soon thereafter, Moira became legal guardian for both boys.
“I think one of the most wonderful things about Moira is that she accepts every child is accepted for who they are,” said her friend Margaret. “It takes a gutsy person to devote their life in this way rather than go out and earn a big salary.”
With the love and support of Moira, 19-year-old Ahmed has now set his sights on a swimming gold in the 2012 Paralympics in London. Meanwhile, Emmanuel is contemplating a music career, despite his exit this month from X Factor.
“Moira is thrilled to bits. We all are,” said Magaret, “it’s been a wonderful exercise for him.
“He knows he’s going to have to work at it very hard but we’ve always known he’s got a wonderful voice.”