Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - An injunction against the federal contraception mandate granted to a group of non-profit Catholic organizations in Western Pennsylvania has been hailed as a key win for religious liberty.
Brandon McGinley, field director for the Pennsylvania Family Institute, told CNA on Nov. 22 that the decision is a “victory for religious freedom.”
He pointed to the judge’s “strong argument that the Free Exercise of Religion cannot be reduced to a ‘Freedom of Worship,’” saying that this should guide other courts in considering the mandate.
The case was brought by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as well as its affiliates the St. Martin Center and Prince of Peace Center of the Diocese of Erie, along with Erie Catholic Preparatory School.
It challenged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate on grounds of religious freedom.
Issued under the Affordable Care Act, the mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering early abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees, even if doing so violates their deeply-held religious convictions.
The regulation has drawn widespread criticism, as well as lawsuits from more than 200 plaintiffs. Faced with opposition from religious groups and individuals, the Obama administration issued a revision, exempting houses of worship and their affiliated organizations, but placing other religious non-profits under a separate “accommodation,” so that their insurers would directly provide the coverage.
Critics of the mandate have argued that the accommodation is insufficient, still requiring objecting groups to facilitate the coverage and possibly leading them to indirectly fund it.
In deciding the Pennsylvania case, the U.S. district judge ruled that the mandate would redefine “the Right to the Free Exercise of Religion as set forth in the First Amendment to a Right to Worship only,” a move which will “sever the Catholic Church into two parts,” - “worship and faith, and ‘good works.’”
He also commented that the government “has failed to offer any testimony or other evidence” showing that employees who do not receive contraception from religious employers “have, in fact, suffered in the past, or will in the future, any ‘negative health or other outcomes,’ without the enforcement of the contraceptive mandate.”
“In fact, the evidence was to the contrary,” the judge said.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh commended the decision in a statement for the diocese, saying that the Catholic commitment to providing healthcare and services for the poor is “central” to “the practice of faith,” and that the decision took “an important step in recognizing this obvious, fundamental truth.”
Matt Bowman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing some of the organizations challenging the contraception mandate, called the decision “a huge victory.”
“The injunction is the first one that has been thoroughly litigated for a Catholic non-profit organization, and only the second one so litigated for a non-profit entity of any kind,” he said in a post on CatholicVote.org.
The decision, he explained, “defeats the so-called ‘accommodation’ that President Obama has attempted to thrust on non-profit religious groups,” and “vindicates the U.S. Bishops’ uncompromising stance on the abortion-pill and birth control mandate, which they recently reaffirmed at their annual meeting.”
“America cherishes religious freedom for all people,” Bowman commented.
“Its jurisprudence is now doing so against an increasingly massive and insistent federal government that desires to impose its own anti-life and anti-fertility image on every citizen and organization in the nation.”
Vatican City, Nov 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Mario Palmaro, a traditionalist writer who co-authored an article critical of Pope Francis, received a phone call Nov.1 from the Pope himself, who knew that the writer is suffering from a grave illness.
Palmaro shared with CNA Nov. 22 that “Pope Francis wanted to act as a priest; yet he is a very special priest and bishop, by calling me and paying attention to my health condition.”
According to Palmaro, one of the features of the new pontificate is “the Pope’s phone calls to people, who luckily represent many other people who do not receive a papal phone call.”
“It is the kind of attention Pope Francis wants to show for sick people.”
“He just wanted to tell me that he is praying for me,” Palmaro explained of the Pope.
Palmaro recounted that the phone call lasted “just some minutes”, and they “only talked about a few things, because I was so moved from the phone call that I was not able to conduct so much conversation. Indeed, for a Catholic, getting a Pope’s phone call is unbelievable.”
Pope Francis called Palmaro’s home, and when his wife answered the phone, he could hear a “known voice asking her if it was my house and if she was my wife.”
After getting affirmative answers, Pope Francis continued: “Madam, I have know that your husband is very sick, and I would like to speak with him.”
During the conversation, Palmaro reminded the Pope that he had co-authored an article in which he criticized him.
The article was written together with Alessandro Gnocchi, and published in Italian newspaper “Il Foglio” Oct. 9 with the headline, “The reason why we don’t like this Pope.”
Gnocchi and Palmaro criticized passages in both the Pope's major interviews, published in “La Repubblica” and in “La Civilta Cattolica.”
In the interview in “La Repubblica”, conducted by Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis was reported as saying that “everyone has is own idea of good and evil, and must choose to follow the good and combat the evil in the way he conceives them.”
Palmaro and Gnocchi quoted John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, and concluded that newspapers were honest in contrasting Pope Francis' words with those of his predecessors, and in highlighting the contrasts in their headlines.
The two also focused on Pope Francis’ assertion about the Second Vatican Council in the La Civilta Cattolica interview, in which he said, “Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture.”
Gnocchi and Palmaro, however, argued that “the world is not anymore shaped in light of the Gospel, while the Gospel is deformed in the light of the world.”
Pope Francis has met many of their criticisms with adjustments of his own.
In a Nov. 22 article at “L’Espresso”, Sandro Magister noticed that Pope Francis has recently both had the La Repubblica interview removed from the Vatican website, where it had been posted among his speeches, and has also modified his judgement of Vatican II, “distancing himself from the progressive currents that have applauded him until now.”
Palmaro maintained, however, that he cannot “state objectively that Pope Francis met our criticisms.”
He did add though, that Pope Francis has responded to the article he co-authored.
“We were aware, and we wanted, to open a debate, and even to pay the consequences of what we were going to write. After six months of the pontificate, in the midst of the huge consensus the Pope had, we found it impossible that no-one would bring up some questions.”
He added, “we did not want to judge the Pope as a human person. We distinguish the action from the person.”
When he got the phone call, Palmaro said he felt a “duty to tell the Pope that I criticized him. I did not think he would have read my articles, but I thought I was a coward in receiving such a great gift as a Pope’s phone call and not being sincere with him.”
Pope Francis responded saying that he “understood that the critics had been moved by love for the Pope.”
Palmaro concluded that “critics are useful, and the decisions taken during these last days confirmed me of the existence of the problems I highlighted together with my colleague Gnocchi.”
Vatican City, Nov 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis stood at the door of St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday afternoon, prepared to celebrate the entrance of over 500 people into the Catholic Church.
As they waited to process inside, Pope Francis asked in the words of the Rite of Introduction, “what do you ask of the Church of God?”
“Faith,” the international group of men, women, and children replied.
Thirty-five representatives approached the pontiff to have him trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads as he pronounced, “Christ himself protects you with the sign of his love. Now learn to know him and follow him.”
Pope Francis noted that the Nov. 23 event came at the close of the Catholic Church’s Year of Faith, a sign of the journey that “many other men and women are carrying out in diverse parts of the world.”
Despite the various cultures and individual experiences, the Pope said, those gathered have “many things in common.”
“Above all, we have one: the desire for God,” he said.
“How important it is to keep this desire alive, this longing to meet the Lord and to experience Him, his love, his mercy!” he exclaimed.
There are three key moments in encountering the Lord, explained the Pope.
The first is that of listening. “In the tumult of many voices that echo around and inside of us, you have heard and received the call that pointed you to Jesus as the only one who can make full sense of your life,” he told the catechumens.
“The second moment is the meeting,” he continued. “God did not create us to be alone, closed in on ourselves, but to be able to meet him and to open us to a meeting with others.”
In the Scriptures, God “always appears as someone who takes the initiative in meeting with man.”
“God does not wait for someone to look for him: he searches immediately. Our Father is a patient seeker! He goes before us and always awaits us,” emphasized Pope Francis.
After meeting the Lord, the life of a Christian in faith becomes a “journey with Jesus.”
This journey lasts throughout all of life, even if “in some moments of the walk we feel tired and confused.”
“Faith, however, gives us the certainty of the constant presence of Jesus in every situation, even those most sad or difficult to understand,” he assured them.
“Don’t ever forget the gaze of Jesus on you – and you, and you, and you,” he said, pointing around the Basilica. “It is the gaze of love.”
The Pontiff closed by reminding them of Mary’s help. She who was “the perfect disciple accompanies you,” he encouraged the catechumens. “It’s beautiful to sense her as our mother in faith!”
Michael Jayasekara was one of five catechumens who arrived from Austria to meet with Pope Francis.
Jayasekara parents are from Sri Lanka: was raised Buddhist, but took Catholic religion classes in school when his family moved to Austria.
The 21-year-old told CNA that he was “very, very excited” to be in Rome so close to Pope Francis, who in a world that is often disillusioned “helps people to get the sense of the Roman Catholic Church again.”
For his own part, Jayasekara said that he is “proud to decide now” at his age to enter the Church. “It’s a hard step. I can’t change my religion like a sweater.” But, he continued, “I’m ready. I’m ready to get the catechumenate.”
Pope Francis concluded the evening with the final blessing, “go in peace” adding, “I should say, go also full of joy! Because Jesus journeys with you.”
Vatican City, Nov 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis met with participants of an international conference of health care workers today, reminding them that the elderly and sick play an important role in life.
The elderly “carry within themselves the memory and the wisdom of life, in order to hand it on to others, and they participate fully in the mission of the Church,” he said on Nov. 23 in the Paul VI Audience Hall.
Offering a special “greeting to the elderly,” Pope Francis continued, “dear friends, you are not just recipients of the Gospel message, but you are always also fully proclaimers by virtue of your baptism.”
“Every day you can live as witnesses of the Lord, in your families, in parishes, and in other common situations, making Christ and his gospel known, especially to young people.”
Saturday’s “Meeting of prayer and reflection for the Sick and Health Care Workers with the Holy Father” came at the end of a three day meeting entitled, “The Church at the service of elderly persons who are ill: the care of persons affected by neurodegenerative diseases,” hosted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers.
As he has done in the past, the pontiff emphasized that those who are aging are not merely objects of pity.
“I wish to repeat again that the elderly have always protagonists in the Church, and they remain so to this day. And today more than ever the Church must set an example for the whole of society of the fact that they, in spite of inevitable ‘ailments,’ sometimes serious, are always important, indeed, indispensible.”
Because of longer life expectancy, “an increasing number of people experience neurodegenerative diseases, often accompanied by a deterioration of cognitive abilities.”
In the face of this reality, Pope Francis noted the need for treatment “aimed at respecting the dignity, identity, and needs of the patient, but also of those who assist them, family members, and professionals,” since these diseases affect “the world of social health… as well as the family, which remains the privileged place of warmth and closeness.”
Such treatment will only be possible “in an environment of trust and as part of a mutually respectful relationship.”
To this end, the pontiff went on to “underline the importance of the religious and spiritual aspects” of care so that the relationship between the patient and caregiver becomes “a very rich experience” rather than “simple and cold ‘physical protection.’”
Along with a “traditional biomedical model” of care, there must also be an “enriched space of dignity and freedom, far from the closures and silences that too often surround people in the field of care.”
The spiritual and religious dimension of care “remains viable even when cognitive abilities are reduced or lost,” he explained.
Thus, “it is a matter of implementing a particular pastoral approach to accompany the religious life of older people with serious degenerative diseases” so as not to “interrupt their relationship with God.”
Christina Puchaliski, a medical doctor and professor of medicine at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, attended this morning’s meeting with the Pope.
She said that seeing Pope Francis “was very moving,” especially because in her work as the founder of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, Puchaliski urges caregivers to be “not a dogmatic presence, but a loving presence, which this Pope exemplifies.”
“When you see him – I was fortunate to sit close – when you see his love and compassion for people who are suffering, that is a model that we all should emulate,” she told CNA.
Father Piotr Krakowiak, National Chaplain for hospices in Poland, was also in attendance.
As someone involved with hospice for more than 20 years, Fr. Krakowiak was quick to notice that the “longest line” to see Pope Francis “was the line of the handicapped and sick.”
Although previous pontiffs have also taken time to visit the infirmed, the “accent” that Pope Francis places on such meetings was “very clear.”
“It’s something that I consider a gift to the Church,” explained the priest. “We used to say ‘the sick are the treasure of the Church’ – well, he shows that in a very practical way. So for me as a priest involved in healthcare, in hospice, that’s a very, very important insight.”