Washington D.C., Aug 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A slight revision of the federal contraception mandate offers some additional protection for certain religious employers but is not sufficient to ease religious freedom concerns, said a lawyer who is working to challenge the mandate in court.
Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told CNA on Aug. 27 that the Obama administration is governing by “sloppy executive fiat” and is failing to address the underlying problem with the controversial mandate.
She explained that for the third time in seven months, the federal government has rewritten the guidelines for the “safe harbor” that offers a one-year reprieve from the mandate to some non-profit religious organizations that object to its demands.
“They’re making it up as they go along,” she said. “They haven’t really thought through these issues carefully.”
The Becket Fund is representing Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois, in a lawsuit challenging the mandate. The controversial rule requires employers to offer health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Wheaton College argued that the mandate violated its religious freedom and filed for a preliminary injunction preventing its enforcement.
As a result, the federal government changed the safe harbor requirements, allowing Wheaton College to qualify for the temporary delay in the mandate.
Smith observed that the safe harbor, as it had previously been written, did not apply to Wheaton. The Christian college does not object to all forms of contraception, but only to products that cause early abortions, she said.
Initially, the safe harbor did not apply to employers that offered coverage of some contraceptives, she explained, but that regulation has now been changed to include those that accept certain elements of the coverage while objecting to others.
In addition, she said, Wheaton College was originally disqualified from the exemption because it had offered coverage of the products it objected to after Feb. 10, which was the deadline by which employers must discontinue the coverage in order to qualify for the reprieve.
Smith explained that coverage of early abortion drugs Ella and Plan B had been “inadvertently and unknowingly included in the plans,” and when administrators discovered it, they immediately began working with the college’s insurance company to remove the coverage. This process was not completed until March.
The federal government has now decided that because the college had “made efforts” to remove the coverage before Feb. 10, it can qualify for the safe harbor, she said.
But although the new regulation offers some protection to Wheaton College, it is “not a complete victory,” Smith cautioned.
She explained that the safe harbor is merely a 12-month “delay tactic” that will postpone “the inevitable conflict that will arise” between government and religious organizations that object to the mandate.
In addition, she said, Wheaton College is not entirely protected over the next year, because employees can still file private lawsuits trying to force the college to adhere to the mandate.
After the new regulations for the safe harbor were announced, Wheaton’s lawsuit was dismissed as premature in a court decision that pointed to the administration’s promised “accommodation” for religious freedom, she noted.
But the accommodation proposals put forward by the administration “are not satisfactory to religious institutions” and do not adequately address concerns of religious freedom, Smith stated.
She said that the Becket Fund will be carefully assessing options and following possible developments with the administration’s proposed accommodation to determine what further legal action may be necessary.
Chicago, Ill., Aug 28, 2012 (CNA) - Cardinal Francis George of Chicago is encouraging others to use his recent cancer diagnosis as a time to “reflect upon God’s goodness and grow closer to Christ.”
If people use his diagnosis for spiritual growth, he said, “then even my sickness and, at some point at a still unknown time and way, my death will be an answer to what I prayed many years ago: that I and all those God has given me to know and love here might live in such a way that God’s will for the salvation of the world will be realized.”
The cardinal said in his Aug. 26 column for the Catholic New World archdiocesan paper that he plans to say “little” about his cancer and his treatment even though it will “probably be a trying time for me in the next several months.”
“How can we know what to say when our knowledge is so limited?” he asked.
Cardinal George, 75, underwent a medical procedure Aug. 15 that discovered cancerous cells in his kidney and in a nodule that was removed from his liver.
In July 2006, at the age of 69, the cardinal underwent a five-hour operation to remove his bladder, prostate gland and sections of his ureters, the tubes which connect the kidneys to the bladder.
The cardinal said he is “profoundly grateful” to those who have already prayed for him. In the six years since his first diagnosis, he has collected a “lengthy list” of cancer victims who have asked him to pray for them.
“It’s not a small club, and each one has his or her story about the disease and its treatment.”
He saw his diagnosis as a reminder of his ultimate end.
“God awaits us because he is with us now and wants to bring our life to its fulfillment in his kingdom. History is what God remembers; and God interprets history through the lives of the poor, the first citizens of his kingdom.”
Cardinal George said that those who live their lives in relationship to God “begin even now to live in his kingdom, proclaimed by the prophets and personalized in Jesus.”
In this light, this world becomes a “strange land” and Christians are beckoned to “our true home.”
God’s kingdom is one of “self-sacrificing love that transcends this world even as it permeates it in quiet ways.”
The cardinal explained that in his youth he prayed “that I might live in such a way that God’s will for the world’s salvation might be realized.”
“That prayer was first answered in a call to make vows of religion in a missionary society consecrated to preaching the Gospel to the poor.”
Cardinal George learned from his experiences that “I was no more in control than were the poor I was visiting or living with.”
He also called to mind Pope Benedict XVI’s homily for the Feast of the Assumption.
During that homily, Pope Benedict said, “One thing, one hope is certain: God awaits us, he attends to us, we are not headed for a void, we are expected ... God awaits us: this is our great joy and our great hope that is born precisely from this feast.”
Cardinal George has headed the Archdiocese of Chicago since 1997. He previously led the Diocese of Yakima, Wash. and the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore. He is a past president of the U.S. bishops’ conference and a past vicar general of the Oblates of Mary religious order.
New York City, N.Y., Aug 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York has accepted an invitation to offer the closing prayer at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
“It was made clear to the Democratic Convention organizers, as it was to the Republicans, that the Cardinal was coming solely as a pastor, only to pray, not to endorse any party, platform, or candidate,” New York archdiocese spokesperson Joseph Zwilling said in an Aug. 28 statement.
As previously announced, Cardinal Dolan will also give the benediction at the close of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
Cardinal Dolan accepted the invitation after consulting and gaining the consent of Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., since the convention will be taking place in his diocese.
In preparation for the Sept. 3-6 convention, the Diocese of Charlotte has posted two “larger-than-life” banners to publicize the Church’s beliefs about marriage, human life and religious freedom, the Catholic News Herald reported Aug. 25.
The banners are hanging on two buildings owned by the diocese and are within feet of where the convention will take place.
A six-foot by 10-foot banner proclaims, “Religious Liberty, The Soul of Democracy,” while a six-foot by 27-foot banner at another location reads, “Protect the Unborn, Defend Marriage, Safeguard Religious Liberty.”
Cardinal Dolan has been an outspoken critic of the federal contraception mandate issued by the Obama administration in January 2011. It requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Numerous dioceses, non-profit organizations and Catholic-owned businesses have sued the administration, arguing that the mandate violates the First Amendment by forcing them to compromise their deeply held religious convictions.
President Obama has also consistently supported legalized abortion and is the first U.S. president to openly advocate a redefining marriage to include homosexual couples.
Rome, Italy, Aug 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue has voiced support for a Christian girl with Down syndrome in Pakistan, who was arrested for allegedly burning pages of the Quran.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Aug. 25, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran said the child, Rimsha Masih, “does not know how to read or write.”
“Before asserting that a sacred text was the target of ridicule, the facts should be verified,” he said.
Reports from some humanitarian organizations in the region said the girl unintentionally burned the pages because they were mixed in with a pile of trash she collected to make a fire for cooking. Neighbors allegedly burst in to her home and accused her and her family of burning the Quran.
Some describe the girl from Islamabad as a teenager, while others say she could be as young as 11 years old.
Qasim Niazi, a local Pakistani police official, told CNN nearly 150 people gathered in the Christian neighborhood on Friday threatening to burn their homes. “The mob wanted to burn the girl in order to teach her a lesson,” he said.
Cardinal Tauran pointed out that the child “does not know how to read or write and collects trash in order to make a living, and the pages from this book were in the trash that she was collecting.”
“The more the situation worsens and intensifies, the more dialogue is needed. It seems impossible that a child could show scorn for the sacred book of Islam,” the cardinal said.
This is not the first time the Vatican has spoken out on such a case. The Holy See has also called for the release of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five in Pakistan who remains imprisoned for allegedly violating the country’s blasphemy laws. She has been given a death sentence despite her insistence that she is innocent.
Her hopes for getting released from prison diminished significantly after the murders of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was Catholic. Both officials offered to help Bibi.
Protests have been held in Pakistan and Europe calling for the release of Masih, whose case will go before a judge on Aug. 28.
Pakistanis living in Italy have prepared a petition they will send to President Asif Ali Zardari calling for the girl’s release.
Caracas, Venezuela, Aug 28, 2012 (CNA) -
Venezuela's bishops grieved over the explosion and fire at an oil refinery in the country – one of the four largest in the world – that killed 41 people, left dozens injured and is still burning after three days.
Authorities at the Amuay refinery, the largest in Venezuela with a capacity of 645,000 barrels per day, said that if the flames cannot be extinguished, they will wait for the fire to burn out and cool off for two days before re-launching operations.
The bishops of Venezuela said the 41 deaths caused by the explosion and fire are cause for “mourning and saddens for the entire Venezuelan nation, and especially for the inhabitants of the state of Falcon.”
“As pastors of the Church, we want to convey our words of Christian comfort and solidarity to those affected by this unfortunate incident. May faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord of Life, the physician of our souls and bodies, sustain them in their sorrow and grant them the peace that only He can give.
May they be assured that the prayers and affection of all Catholics in Venezuela are with them at this time,” the bishops said. They also offered prayers for the eternal repose of the deceased.
“We pray that trust in the one who says: 'I am the resurrection and the life,' will strengthen those who today mourn the deaths of their loved ones in the hope of eternal life.”
The explosion at the refinery appeared to be caused by a three day-long gas leak, although President Hugo Chavez has denied this.
Ivan Freites, the union president at the Paraguana Refinery Center – which includes the Amuay and Cardon refineries – called the denials an “attempt to confuse the public.”
“The managers are acting like political operatives. They are saying what they have to say to keep their positions,” he argued.
Walsingham, England, Aug 28, 2012 (CNA) - Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury has encouraged English Catholics to prepare for the Year of Faith by embracing and proclaiming Catholicism in its entirety.
“We are invited together with Simon Peter and with his successor Benedict our Pope to profess our Catholic faith in fullness and with renewed conviction,” Bishop Davies said Aug. 26 during a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Walsingham in Norfolk.
Bishop Davies gave two homilies during his pilgrimage to England’s national Marian shrine. In a sermon to around 1,500 members of the Youth 2000 movement, he reminded the congregation of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
“The Mass brings us to make a choice, the choice Joshua put before his people, ‘choose today whom you wish to serve,’” he told the young pilgrims gathered for the movement’s Searchlight@Walsingham Festival.
“For faith, Pope Benedict reminds us, ‘is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him’ and this choosing begins for us on Sunday at the start of every new week,” the bishop said.
The Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham was established in 11th century by a Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, who desired to undertake some special work in honor of Our Lady.
In answer to her prayers for a special work, the Virgin Mary led her in spirit to Nazareth, showed her the house where the Annunciation occurred, and asked her to build a replica in Walsingham to serve as a perpetual memorial of the Annunciation.
In his later homily to the Latin Mass Society, Bishop Davies recalled how Walsingham “was once the focus of world attention” and a center of pilgrimage “renowned alongside Jerusalem and Rome,” until it was destroyed during the 16th-century English Reformation.
“These very ruins of Walsingham towards which you will walk the last ‘Holy Mile’ of this pilgrimage serve to remind us that each successive generation must make that choice for the faith again,” he said.
The homily was delivered during a Traditional High Mass which concluded a three-day, 55-mile walking pilgrimage by the Latin Mass Society. Bishop Davies recalled the words of the 19th-century Pope Leo XIII who predicted that “when England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.”
“In this way we will pass on the flame of faith and so leave to new generations not the ruins of a Christian past but the faith which Walsingham has represented for almost a thousand years.”
Tampa, Fla., Aug 28, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the U.S. Gulf Coast braces itself for Hurricane Isaac to make landfall, the Catholic community is preparing to offer aid to survivors in the wake of the storm.
John Wilson, who heads disaster preparation and response efforts for the Archdiocese of Mobile, said the archdiocese is taking a “proactive posture.”
“In this phase, we are essentially on standby,” he told CNA on Aug. 27.
He explained that it is “still difficult to tell how much rain and how much wind we’re going to get,” so efforts are focused on preparing parishes and archdiocesan facilities for the storm and getting ready to offer whatever type of aid is necessary in its aftermath.
Wilson has been working to keep archdiocesan staff and administration informed about weather conditions and official reports.
In addition, he said, the archdiocese has been “communicating with sister dioceses” to determine what levels of resources are available, in order to “share the burden” depending on the need after the storm hits.
Seven years after the Gulf Coast was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore as a strong Category 3 storm, the region is preparing for Hurricane Isaac, which could bring up to 36 straight hours of heavy winds and rain.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and the resulting floods left more than 1,800 dead and caused an estimated $81 billion in damage. While Hurricane Isaac is significantly weaker, it could still result in serious water and wind damages when it hits the U.S. as early as Tuesday evening.
In recent days, Tropical Storm Isaac swept through the Caribbean, killing at least 24 people before moving towards the Gulf Coast and strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane on the afternoon of Aug. 28.
In Haiti, the storm damaged infrastructure and caused flooding in a nation still struggling to rebuild after a severe earthquake in 2010.
Catholic Relief Services, the overseas relief agency of the U.S. bishops, sent out 4,000 text messages to over 1,000 households in Port-au-Prince before the storm hit, offering evacuation instructions and safety tips.
The agency is now working with local partners and the Haitian government to assess the damage and respond to the needs of the people.
Along the U.S. Gulf Coast, communities are now bracing for the hurricane to hit, with thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama under mandatory evacuation orders.
Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said that the organization has “been in constant communication with our agencies in the Gulf Coast” and is “ready to meet the needs of those who will be most affected by this storm.”
He explained that both “experience and investment” have made relief efforts “more effective and better prepared” than they were in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Nancy Loftus, a Catholic Charities case manager for the Diocese of Biloxi, said that Vietnamese and Hispanic translators are already working to make sure that important information gets out to the immigrant population in the area.
The agency is prepared to offer “basic relief items” such as food, water and infant supplies, she said, and the diocese will also be partnering with Red Cross to provide additional items, warehouse space and equipment as necessary.
Margaret Dubuisson, director of communications for Catholic Charities of New Orleans, said that efforts are currently being made in the archdiocese to ensure that clients in residential programs are taken care of, especially “medically fragile” children and senior citizens.
As in other dioceses in the Gulf Coast, New Orleans is preparing itself and waiting to see the level of damage that the storm will bring, she explained.
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond is “very, very hands-on in situations like this,” she added, noting that he plans to visit local emergency operation centers to see what the needs are.
Archbishop Aymond posted an Aug. 27 prayer on Facebook asking for safety during the upcoming storm.
“Lord, united with Mary, Our Lady of Prompt Succor, protect us and all those on the Gulf Coast as Isaac approaches,” he wrote.
Dubuisson said the archdiocese is preparing for wind and water damage, as well as possible power outages.
After the storm, it will be a matter of “picking up the pieces” and offering “whatever assistance we can,” she explained.
“We’re ready,” she said. “We’ve been through this before.”