Washington D.C., Sep 6, 2012 (CNA) - A dissenting Catholic group believes that the First Amendment protection of religious freedom applies to personal decisions but does not allow people to apply their beliefs to every area of their lives.
Sara Hutchinson, domestic program director of Catholics for Choice, explained that religious freedom protects "me acting in my own faith for my own life" but does not extend to actions in other areas of life, such as business decisions about company policies and health insurance plans.
"Our faith charges us to respect religious pluralism and religious freedom," said Hutchinson. This means "respecting an individual's right to follow his or her own conscience and religious beliefs and practices as well as in moral decisions."
But while this constitutional freedom covers "personal beliefs" and private decisions made as "an individual," rights of conscience are forfeited when "acting as an employer," she argued.
Business owners making decisions about policies and health care contracts "are actually serving as an institution" and therefore cannot apply the teachings of their faith to such decisions, she said.
Hutchinson spoke as part of a panel on religious freedom at the Holiday Inn Charlotte Center City in Charlotte, N.C.
The Sept. 4 event took place during the Democratic National Convention but was not an official convention event. It drew about six attendees.
Panel speakers argued that Americans' religious freedom will be severely restricted if they cannot get birth control for free.
They slammed those who oppose a federal mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge.
Critics of the mandate, including leaders of the Catholic Church and other faiths, have voiced strong concerns that the regulation violates the religious liberty of employers who hold sincere moral objections to such coverage.
Hutchinson criticized "the Vatican and the bishops" and warned of a devious campaign by Church leaders to amass power and suppress dissenters.
"Under the guise of religious liberty, the bishops want to rewrite the rules on health care, employment, adoptions, marriage and more, so that they can deny civil rights for anyone who disagrees with them," she charged.
Hutchinson argued that this campaign is "a real threat" to true religious liberty, which requires employers to offer free coverage of contraception and abortion regardless of their views, and then leaves it up to the "individual conscience" whether or not use such coverage.
Catholics for Choice and its partner organizations are working to "stand strong against the bishops and their allies," who threaten "true religious freedom" with their "false cries of religious liberty," she said.
Bishop Tonyia Rawls, a lesbian and minister at the Freedom Center for Social Justice in Charlotte, also spoke at the religious freedom discussion. Rawls emphasized the importance of fighting for the "right to choose" and of supporting efforts to redefine marriage.
Rev. Harry Knox, president and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said that "religious liberty is a very complex subject" but agreed that such freedom does not extend to employers who wish to follow the tenets of their faith in the health coverage they offer.
Knox, a homosexual advocate who was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said that he worked in this role to ensure that faith-based organizations using tax money to serve those in need would not be permitted to do so in rooms with religious symbols.
People of different faiths or no faith could be "harmed" by such an environment, he said, and religious organizations such as hospitals and food banks should therefore have to cover or remove crucifixes, religious pictures and other faith symbols to make the room "neutral."
On the topic of abortion, Knox emphasized the importance of "empowering the person that you're counseling" and said that the role of a pastor is largely "to be quiet" and let individuals make their own decisions.
No individual or institution can tell other people "what is right for them," he said, adding that these moral discussions are "fundamentally a matter of perspective."
For the Church to suggest that its moral teaching is based in objective and unchanging truth is "the worst kind of hubris" and displeases God, he argued.
The faithful must fight against religious groups seeking to "impose their set of values on everybody else," Knox stressed, because "when that happens, people get hurt."
Charlotte, N.C., Sep 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Diocese of Charlotte is holding a Vigil for Liberty with Eucharistic adoration at St. Patrick Cathedral just a mile away from the Democratic National Convention.
“The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte is pleased to offer a gift to our nation, and that is over 80 hours of Eucharistic adoration and prayer for our country,” Bishop Peter J. Jugis said in his homily for the vigil’s Sept. 4 Mass.
“We are keeping our attention and our hearts fixed on Jesus,” he said.
The vigil began the morning of Monday, Sept. 3 and will run through 9 p.m. on Sept. 6.
Bishop Jugis said the faithful are “making great sacrifices” to come at all times of the day to pray for their country.
Prayer, he said, “keeps us attuned to listening to God.”
“All of our work on behalf of the unborn, all of our work on behalf of marriage and the family and for religious liberty, all of our work for the poor and for immigrants and for all social justice concern, are all deeply rooted in Jesus.”
David Hains, the Charlotte diocese’s communications director, told CNA Sept. 5 that as the Democratic National Convention approached the diocese began to receive “a lot of inquiries” from organizations and individuals in the diocese. They wanted to know how the diocese was going to respond to “this platform question or that candidate, or that sort of thing.”
“We thought the best response for political questions is prayer,” he said.
Hains said the vigil’s organizers hope the prayer event will help advance “thoughtful reflection” among everyone, including politicians, reporters and protesters at the Democratic National Convention.
Bishop Jugis also had the diocese hang two large signs on the property of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, which is across the street from where the convention is being held.
One six-foot by 10-foot banner proclaims “Religious Liberty, The Soul of Democracy,” while a six-foot by 27-foot banner reads, “Protect the Unborn, Defend Marriage, Safeguard Religious Liberty.”
Hains said the signs are “being seen far and wide.”
Bishop Jugis’ Sept. 4 homily warned Catholics that their witness would not be easy.
“The mission to bring gospel values to our culture will always be accompanied by the cross,” he said.
“There is no Gospel without suffering,” he continued. “There will be struggle, there will be rejection.”
Prayer is essential “so that we always stay in Christ’s grace and Christ’s love.”
“Without prayer,” he said, “strong headwinds will blow us away.”
However, Bishop Jugis looked to the Jesus’ Resurrection as a sign of hope.
“The lesson of the cross is that divine love always prevails,” he said.
New Orleans, La., Sep 6, 2012 (CNA) - As Gulf Coast residents continue the recovery process following Hurricane Isaac, Catholic groups throughout the South have begun organizing disaster relief services for victims.
“These people who have been affected and certainly those who have lost so much need our prayerful support,” Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans said at a Sept. 4 press conference.
In order to convey the archdiocese’s prayers and commitment to providing assistance for victims, Archbishop Aymond visited badly damaged areas Aug. 31 to Sept. 1.
Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall Aug. 28, dropped more that 15 inches of rain, flooded parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama and has killed at least seven people in the U.S.
Immediately following the hurricane, Catholic Charities of New Orleans and the archdiocese-run Second Harvest food bank were on site offering food and water to victims. Since then, Catholic Charities has begun offering counseling and spiritual support in the form of prayer.
Archbishop Aymond has called on young adults and high school students throughout the archdiocese to volunteer in areas where help is most needed the most this upcoming weekend.
Young people, he said, should come together “not only not only to offer their prayers, but to offer their hands and their hearts” for hurricane victims.
As the New Orleans Saints host the Washington Redskins Sept. 9, attendees will be able to donate non-perishable food items to restock Second Harvest, the archbishop announced.
“We ask anyone who is coming to the game to bring a can of food,” he said.
Catholic Social Services of Mobile has been working to determine “how best our agency can respond to this particular disaster,” said John Wilson, who heads disaster preparation and response efforts for the Archdiocese of Mobile.
As chairperson of the Mobile County Volunteering Organizations Active in Disasters, Wilson has also been coordinating the services of various faith-based, non-profit and volunteer organizations “to ensure no duplication of relief efforts.”
“We're trying to assess who can effectively do what in response to specific clients,” Wilson said.
One of the challenges facing the relief efforts will be the smaller amount of federal resources than was available in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina.
“Some of the challenges tend to be financial, to be sure,” Wilson said. “But more than that it's just trying to make sure that we're allocating and not duplicating our efforts with those families and individuals that have been impacted by the storm.”
The Mobile archdiocese has called for a second collection at the upcoming Sunday Masses to benefit local hurricane victims.
Wilson said there is “always a positive feeling” in knowing that Catholic Social Services “is able to respond in a meaningful way” to help storm victims, either by providing direct assistance or arranging for the necessary services to be provided.
Nancy Loftus, a Catholic Charities case manager for the Diocese of Biloxi, said that although her organization is “light years ahead of where we were for Katrina,” Isaac has presented them with a new set of challenges.
“We know that we are not going to receive the resources we received during Katrina,” she said. At the same time, Loftus is thankful the number of victims is lower this time around.
Catholic Charities of Biloxi is essentially doing the same work it normally would, but is now operating in “disaster mode” by providing abbreviated case management in order to help a larger number of people.
Even though the “number of calls” to their office have increased from their normal flow, the charity has been able to keep up “primarily because all these wonderful people that have come down to help.”
Baltimore, Md., Sep 6, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic Relief Services has announced revisions to an HIV prevention document because of its “inappropriate information” about condoms and their use.
“Despite the mistakes, at no point did CRS purchase or distribute condoms. We are revising the document to ensure that it meets our standards as approved by the USCCB,” Michael Hill, a senior writer with the relief agency, told CNA Sept. 5.
Hill said the 179-page document was written in 2009 by outside consultants for a Vietnam program that aimed to halt the spread of HIV among intravenous drug users.
“CRS staff prescribed revisions to the document that were not carried out by the external consultant in the final, posted document,” he said. This meant that five sentences in the document referred to condom use among couples where one person is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative.
The agency announced the revisions in Aug. 31 in response to a report from LifeSite News.
The relief agency, which is overseen by the U.S. bishops, has 5,000 employees working to help more than 100 million people across the world address poverty, hunger, drought, disease and other emergencies.
LifeSite News has also reported on several of the agency’s employees who have records of past employment with agencies that support legal abortion or distribute abortion drugs and condoms.
One reported case also involves an employee’s assault on pro-life demonstrators.
Charisse Glassman, a legislative assistant with Catholic Relief Services-Haiti, was charged with assault last year after she drove her car into a female pro-life demonstrator in a crowd at the March for Life in January 2011. Court records say Glassman allegedly laughed several times during the incident.
In response to the questions raised about employees, Michael Hill stated that Catholic Relief Services employees “all are expected to follow Church teachings and doctrines” in their work for the agency.
The agency also aims to hire “the best qualified people for jobs.”
“In many cases, that requires that an employee be Catholic, but in many it does not,” he said.
Potential employees are informed about the agency’s Catholic identity and are asked about their commitment to the agency’s “faith-based mission.” All job postings also note “fundamental” Catholic teachings.
“If someone has previously worked at an employer with policies that are not in agreement with Catholic teachings, we do not assume that the applicant shares those views,” Hill said. “We do ask about their commitment to Catholic teachings to ensure they are a good fit for CRS.”
Hill said the agency does not investigate employees’ outside activities but it expects employees to “conduct themselves with integrity to CRS’ values and its fidelity to Church teachings.”
In July, Catholic Relief Services responded to concerns about its funding of CARE, an international humanitarian organization that provides relief to the needy in developing nations but also offers contraception and early abortion-inducing drugs. Catholic Relief Services said the funding was carefully restricted to morally acceptable purposes and was reviewed by a Catholic bioethicist.
Lima, Peru, Sep 6, 2012 (CNA) - On the 15th anniversary of her death, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima said he hopes that the total surrender of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be an example of holiness for all Catholics.
The cardinal made his comments during Mass at the Missionaries of Charity “Home for Peace” in Lima on Sept. 5, the memorial of Blessed Mother Teresa and the 15th anniversary of her death. The home provides care for the elderly and homeless.
During his homily, Cardinal Cipriani prayed that “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta may help us to persevere in the faith, because she and the saints persevered in the journey of faith, with clarity and joy. They struggled and strived for years,” he said.
“How could Mother Teresa do that work amidst hardship? The answer is, she didn’t do it; God did. That is the holiness to which we are all called,” the cardinal said.
He also encouraged the Missionaries of Charity and their volunteers to follow the example of Mother Teresa in their service to those most in need, the poorest of the poor.
“That path to holiness is beautiful but also full of sacrifice. Mother Teresa had an arduous journey in life, with faith, perseverance and daily effort. She made that total surrender,” Cardinal Cipriani affirmed.
At the conclusion of Mass, the cardinal blessed the children and elderly at the home.
Rome, Italy, Sep 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Italian Jesuit who was exiled from Syria after criticizing President Bashar al-Assad says he is still hopeful for the country’s future despite its descent into war.
“I see hope in the fact that the Syrian people are very attached to their country, very attached to the fact that they are a mosaic country. People want to keep that. They are committed to pluralism,” said Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio in an interview with CNA.
Fr. Dall'Oglio spent over 30 years in Syria as part of the Deir Mar Musa Monastic Community. Throughout that time he was a champion for interfaith dialogue in the majority-Muslim country, where Christians make up around 10 percent of the population.
Since being exiled, he has watched in horror as fighting has spread throughout Syria.
“We have so much blood on our streets, so many people lost, so many people standing for freedom and democracy have been lost. So many good, youthful people … It’s such a tragedy.”
The armed revolt against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
On Sept. 4, the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the United Nations General Assembly that the death toll from the internal conflict is “staggering” and the destruction “catastrophic.”
“Syria is suffering enormously, but nevertheless people are hopeful,” said Fr. Dall’Oglio. “They want to have a democratic Syria where the will to be together does not come from above or outside, but it is really a spring from the inside, from the souls of the people.”
To that end, Fr. Dall’Oglio is currently in Rome to participate in a Week of Solidarity for Syria. The event is organized by the Italian section of the Religions for Peace movement. They hope to encourage “fasting, prayer, reflection and awareness in support of the Syrian people who are suffering from the effects of civil war and repression.”
“We cannot be living with others without a religious and theological consideration of the weight and the role of these people in the history of salvation,” Fr. Dall’Oglio said.
The Week of Solidarity is also aimed at helping people prepare for the Sept. 14-16 visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Lebanon.
“More than ever before, if we are not inclusive, although faithful to our convictions, we will not be constructive and positive in the coming equilibrium of our societies,” Fr. Dall’Oglio stated.
Kansas City, Mo., Sep 6, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Kansas judge has convicted Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph on one misdemeanor count of failure to report suspected child abuse and acquitted him on another count, while charges against the diocese have been dismissed.
“I regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused,” Bishop Finn said in a Sept. 6 statement provided to CNA.
“The protection of children is paramount. Sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated."
The bishop pledged to take “every reasonable step” to protect children from abuse and misconduct committed by clergy, diocesan employees or volunteers.
In spite of the guilty verdict, Bishop Finn said he is “pleased and grateful” that the court and prosecutor “allowed this matter to be concluded.”
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John Torrence convicted the bishop during a short non-jury trial Sept. 6. He sentenced the bishop to two years of probation and suspended the sentence. The bishop’s criminal record will be expunged if he completes a period of unsupervised probation without any new criminal incidents.
Prosecutors had sought two years of probation, while defense attorneys asked for the sentence to be suspended. The maximum penalty for the guilty verdict is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Bishop Finn is the first American bishop and the highest ranking U.S. Catholic clergyman to be found guilty in an abuse case.
The trial concerned the bishop’s and the diocese’s response to the case of Father Shawn Ratigan. A technician found numerous lewd images of children, mostly prepubescent girls, on the priest’s laptop. He informed a deacon who reported the find to diocesan officials on Dec. 16, 2010.
The priest attempted suicide on Dec. 17 of that year after diocesan officials informed him that they had discovered some of the images.
Bishop Finn had delegated the investigation of sexual abuse claims to Monsignor Robert Murphy, the diocese’s vicar general.
However, Msgr. Murphy did not contact law enforcement about the images until May 11, 2011. Bishop Finn was told about the pictures by the vicar general but never saw them himself.
In the facts presented at his trial, Bishop Finn acknowledged that he is a mandated child abuse reporter under Missouri law.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph also faced charges on the same two counts, but they were dismissed.
Lawyers for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said that Bishop Finn’s agreement to a bench trial led to the dismissal of the charges against the diocese.
Bishop Finn’s lawyers, Gerald Handley, J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn Keller, said that the bench trial avoided the need for live testimony from diocesan employees, parishioners and others.
However, they also said the diocese’s operating procedures “failed to adequately identify the necessity” to inform the government of the priest’s behavior “in a more timely manner.”
“For this, the bishop is truly sorry,” the lawyers said.
An independent investigation of the case by Todd Graves, a former U.S. Department of Justice official who has worked on child exploitation cases, was released in August 2011. It found a failure to follow diocesan policy in a timely manner. Diocesan officials relied on limited professional judgments instead of the diocese’s independent review board. The investigation said that Bishop Finn misplaced trust in Fr. Ratigan to comply with restrictions placed upon his behavior.