Archive of December 18, 2013

Respond to divorced Catholics with love, theologians urge

Rome, Italy, Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Church must reach out to Catholics who are divorced and remarried to let them know they are welcome even if they cannot receive the sacraments, several theologians have noted.

Sean Innerst, theology department chair at Denver's St. John Vianney Seminary, said he hopes to see “interesting and creative responses” to help those who are divorced or divorced and remarried and believe themselves to be outside of the Church.

“They might be in a life situation which means they can't receive Communion, but that doesn't mean they can't darken the door of the church,” he told CNA Nov. 5.

“It’s just inconsistent with the gospel for people to feel they’re excluded because they’re in a situation that’s tragic and complicated and they can’t currently sort out.”

“We need to have some pastoral responses to these situations where we don’t simply allow people to drift away because they've made serious mistakes, because the culture has led them in this direction,” Innerst emphasized.

“We need to go out and find these people and help them to know they have a place in the Church.”

Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller – head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – reaffirmed in an essay republished in L'Osservatore Romano in October that Catholics in irregular marital unions after divorce cannot receive Holy Communion. He underscored, though, that it is “imperative” to show “pastoral concern” for them.

However, many Catholic bishops in Germany have said they intend to give Holy Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, despite Catholic teaching.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg in October released a document saying that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion if they can show their first marriage cannot be reentered, if they repent of their fault in a divorce and if they enter “a new moral responsibility” with their new spouse.

That document drew a swift response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which said pastoral approaches must agree with Church teaching.

Despite these rejections, Bishop Gebhard Fuerst of Stuttgart in November told a meeting of the Central Committee of German Catholics that the German bishops have drafted guidelines and aim to approve them at their plenary meeting in March 2014.

Last week, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith member Cardinal Walter Kasper told the German weekly Die Zeit that the divorced and remarried will soon be able to receive the sacraments, the Italian news site AGI reports.

Catholic teaching recognizes the indissolubility of Christian marriage, allowing marriages for the divorced only if they can show the first marriage was invalid according to canonical norms. Those in irregular unions are admitted to Holy Communion only if they are living “as brother and sister” with their partners.

Manfred Lütz, a German psychologist and theologian in Rome for the Pontifical Council for the Laity's plenary meeting on “Proclaiming Christ in the Digital Age,” said the Church’s dogmatic teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received an annulment is “clear” but the pastoral response is the question.

He told CNA Dec. 4 that in the Catholic Church in Germany lay people are “not always very informed about the position of the Church” and believe that the Church is “not merciful enough.” This is “a great problem” not only in Germany but “all over the world.”

Innerst agreed that many Catholics do not know or understand Church teaching.

“I know some people who are divorced, and not remarried, and they think they're formally excommunicated from the Church, but that's not the case of course,” he said. “They feel that if you violate a rule, you no longer belong.”

He noted that many people feel that Catholicism is “all about laws” and places the “law before love.”

While Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had to establish guidelines to correct laxity in the Church, Innerst said, Pope Francis is working to stress that “God loves us first.”

“All Francis is saying is that we have to start loving people first, and then bring them to...the law.”

If others see Christians as “a source of God’s love” then Catholics can “begin to talk, about conversion and changing people’s lives in accord with natural and revealed law. Otherwise it’s a losing battle.”

Lütz said Pope Benedict XVI was also aware that the pastoral care for divorced and remarried Catholics is poor. Catholics have to “see how we live in the parish together with these people” so that they are “not thrown out of the Church.”

He said it is “very important” to help these people and Pope Francis aims to discuss this pastoral care at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops, which is dedicated to the pastoral care of families.

Innerst suggested that the divorced and remarried should refrain from Communion and engage in prayer and penance “not as a punishment, but just as a way of finding meaning in their currently tragic situation.”

This would be a way for them to wait “for the time when they can come into conformity with Church teaching.” These are ways to respond “without pretending that the Pope can change things that he can't.”

Pope Francis “can't erase the marriage bond” but he can change the Church's approach given that the status quo is “not working.”

Innerst suggested that the Pope's request for input from the Church around the world is an effort to find a good pastoral response for divorced and remarried Catholics, rather than a way to “pretend that they're not divorced.”

Lütz said the Catholic Church in Germany or an individual diocese cannot decide these responses alone. Rather, this response has to be decided “worldwide.”

He noted that many young Catholics in Germany place the “highest value” on being “faithful” in marriage.

“So, young people hope that to marry will be forever. But when they are asked if they think that they personally will succeed in this, they say they do not think so. And this is really a little bit pessimistic view of things.”

Alan Holdren contributed to this report.

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Pope urges Curial officials to hear confessions at local parish

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis has strongly encouraged the bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia to spend time hearing confessions weekly at a local parish, according to a priest of the church in question, Santo Spirito in Sassia.

The announcement was made at the end of evening Mass on Dec. 15 by Fr. Jozef Bart, a parish priest at Santo Spirito in Sassia, and was reported by “Inside the Vatican.”

Fr. Bart announced that the initiative “had been planned to begin in January, but this week, word came down that the Pope wished to begin immediately.”

According to Fr. Bart, Pope Francis is doing this because “he wishes to emphasize the importance of Confession, and of God’s great goodness in forgiving human sin.”

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, has already been hearing Confessions at the parish for “several weeks,” according to “Inside the Vatican.”

Santo Spirito in Sassia is located on the Via dei Penitenzieri, a walk of about 1,300 feet, or 5-6 minutes, from the front of St. Peter's Square, and is dedicated to the Divine Mercy devotion. It is a cardinal titular church, currently held by Cardinal-Priest Fiorenzo Angelini.

Pope Francis has several times underscored the importance of the Confession for Christian life, especially during the homilies he gives during Mass at the Saint Martha House chapel.

On Oct. 25, Pope Francis preached that “confessing our sins is not going to a psychiatrist, or to a torture chamber: it’s saying to the Lord, ‘Lord, I am a sinner,’ but saying it through the brother, because this says it concretely. ‘I am sinner because of this, that and the other thing’.”

Pope Francis often affirms that he himself is a sinner, and has made it known that he goes to Confession every two weeks.

According to a Vatican source who spoke to CNA Dec. 13, Pope Francis wanted to make it clear that he confesses.

The source recounted that during his trip to Brazil for the World Youth Day, Pope Francis felt the need to confess, and asked for a confessor. The confessor went to hear Pope Francis’ confession and, after the confession, he told Pope Francis that he did not want to be noticed.

Pope Francis said, “You must be noticed, because it must be clear that the Pope himself goes to confession."

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Archbishop Chaput says five Philly priests unfit for ministry

Philadelphia, Pa., Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Continuing the Philadelphia archdiocese's response to a grand jury report on sex abuse or misconduct by clergy, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on Dec. 15 declared five priests unsuitable for ministry, including one who faced a substantiated allegation of abuse committed 30 years ago.

“Priests on administrative leave are not permitted to exercise their public ministry, administer any of the sacraments, wear clerical attire, or present themselves publicly as priests,” the archdiocese said Dec. 15.

“Those priests found unsuitable for ministry will have no public ministry in the archdiocese.”

The priests may appeal the decision to the Vatican. Priests facing a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor could be laicized or ordered to live a life of prayer and penance.

Archbishop Chaput's latest decisions concerned seven priests. Of these, another four priests are unsuitable for ministry because of violations of “The Standards of Ministerial Behaviors and Boundaries.”

Father Michael A. Chapman was the priest declared unsuitable for ministry for abuse of a minor.

An archdiocesan review board had cleared him of a prior abuse allegation in May 2012. A new accuser made allegations against the priest concerning an incident 30 years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The review board substantiated the new allegation against him and he was placed on administrative leave.

The archdiocese said that Father Chapman was never returned to active ministry and the abuse allegation was reported to law enforcement immediately.

A total of 26 priests were suspended from ministry by Archbishop Chaput's predecessor, Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, in response to allegations of sex abuse or inappropriate behavior contained in a 2011 grand jury report. All but one case has now been resolved.

According to the Dec. 15 announcement, the review board said two priests removed for violating the standards of ministerial behaviors and boundaries faced sexual misconduct allegations that could not be substantiated. The other two priests violated church standards of behavior in unspecified ways. The standards bar offenses that range in severity from making inappropriate comments to committing more grave violations.

The archbishop decided that two of the seven priests are suitable for ministry. The review board said that allegations against them could not be substantiated.

 A final case of a priest put on administrative leave in response to the grand jury report is still under investigation by the archdiocese. Law enforcement declined to press charges concerning the case in November 2013. When the investigation finishes, the archdiocese’s review boards will provide a recommendation to Archbishop Chaput.

Another priest not connected to the grand jury report has also been placed on leave.

On Dec. 15 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia placed on leave Father John P. Paul, 67, after allegations that he sexually abused minors. The priest had resigned as pastor of Our Lady of Calvary Parish in Philadelphia in November 2013, after which the archdiocese received new claims the priest committed sexual abuse over 30 years ago.

The archdiocese first received claims against the priest in late 2012, concerning alleged abuse more than 40 years ago. The archdiocese said it reported the allegations to law enforcement, which declined to press charges. The new claims of abuse against the priest are the subject of a pending law enforcement investigation.

The archdiocese said Father Paul was barred from unsupervised contact with children during the first investigation.

Archdiocese spokesman Ken Gavin told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the archdiocese decided to restrict his ministry rather than put him on administrative leave “based on the information available at the time.”

“There was nothing there that was leading the review board to believe he was a danger to minors,” he said.

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Minn. auxiliary bishop looks forward to sharing Christ's light

St. Paul, Minn., Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who was consecrated an auxiliary bishop of the Saint Paul and Minneapolis archdiocese Dec. 9, is excited that his new ministry will facilitate the spread of Christ's love.

“Being with people. Sharing the love of Jesus with people. Helping people experience the love of Jesus, teaching them to pray, teaching them about the beauty of God's love,” Bishop Cozzens told CNA in a Dec. 12 interview, when asked what he is especially looking forward to in his episcopal ministry.

Having had a “very focused ministry” for his last 10 years as a priest, first as a graduate student in Rome and then forming seminarians for ministry, he explained that “my flock has been kind of an intense and small one; I focused diligently on those few, so they can be strengthened to serve the larger flock.”

“The joy now is that I get to share in the larger flock, and get to be out, again, with the people of God, preaching and teaching about the love of God. I'm firmly convinced that, as Pope Francis says, our Church is rapidly becoming a field hospital as the culture continues to wound people, (so) we have to help them understand that only in Jesus is the true healing they seek going to be found. So I just look forward to the various ways I can help people be healed and come to holiness through the love of Jesus.”

Since his consecration, the bishop has already visited numerous communities to share God's love, going to a cloistered Carmelite convent; Sharing and Caring Hands to wash the feet of the homeless who are cared for there; his nieces' and nephews' school; a late night Mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe; and a Mass of thanksgiving at the local Catholic university.

Bishop Cozzens was made an auxiliary at the request of Archbishop John Nienstedt, in response to the need of the 250,000 Hispanics who live in the archdiocese, which previously had no bishop who speaks Spanish. The new bishop has long been active in Hispanic ministry in the local Church.

He described the surreal experience of being named a bishop, saying that “when you go through a life change like this, you feel like at any moment you might wake up … life does change dramatically.”

After learning of his appointment, the new bishop read, “Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way,” a book by Bl. John Paul II on his own episcopal ministry. He explained that the late Pope “says a bishop is like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. That's certainly the most shocking aspect of the job: all of a sudden you're set on a hill and everyone sees you. I just pray that as I'm on that hill, I can let the light of Jesus shine out brightly; that's my real goal.”

Bishop Cozzens shared the trepidation of setting out on episcopal ministry, saying “yes and no” when asked if it was difficult to accept his new appointment.

“There was nothing in me that wanted to say no … because I knew it was the Lord asking, there was no hesitation in me, or thought that I should say no. But it was obviously still difficult to say yes, because one is aware of one's own unworthiness, and one is aware of the weight of apostolic office. So it was difficult to say yes, even though it was very clear to me that that was the right response.”

The call to follow Christ is a call “to give up everything,” he reflected, sharing a scene from a film version of Jesus' life in which Peter, having said he looks forward to returning home and fishing again, is told, “You're not going home. You never get to go home. To follow Jesus means to give everything.”

“That thought came back to me as soon as I hung up with the nuncio: you don't get to go home,” Bishop Cozzens said. “That's the sentiment of John Paul II in his book; he quotes the Lord right before his passion, 'rise and let us be on our way.' You've got to go to the cross, so let's go, because that's what the Lord wants … of course it leads to the beautiful glory of the Christian life,” but it “only comes through the cross.”

Bishop Cozzens is particularly concerned with strengthening the spiritual lives of priests, and is involved in two efforts to that end: the Institute for Priestly Formation, and the Companions of Christ.

“One of the great struggles in the priests of our day can be isolation and not having enough fraternal support from other priests, and it's been both my personal experience and the wisdom of the Catholic tradition that when priests are able to support each other … they are stronger.”

He has been associated with the Institute for Priestly Formation, which assists in spiritual formation of priests and seminarians, since 2008, saying, “I've been deeply grateful for the training in the spiritual life and spiritual direction that I've received” there.

The bishop had also been a member of the Companions of Christ, an association of diocesan priests committed to priestly fraternity and a common life, as well as the evangelical counsels, since his priestly ordination in 1997. While as a bishop he can no longer be a member of the organization, he said that “I'm still able to maintain friendly relationships with the brothers” and looks forward to doing so.

He noted the particular value of priests supporting each other by living together, as in the Companions' ideals, and called the group “one model for … strengthening spiritually our priests.”

“Whatever we can do to help priests bond together and become a strengthening presence for each other, in particular helping each other to live the high ideals of priestly holiness, we need to find ways to do that. So I'm very grateful to have had that experience in the Companions of Christ, and will continue to try and find ways to support that as a bishop.”

Bishop Cozzens reflected on his experience of priestly ministry, saying that it was “someone turned up the volume on life,” intensifying life rather than withdrawing from it.

“People think the priest is out of touch, he lives in the church rectory, and doesn't really know what's going on, but the fact is, as a priest … you actually have a much deeper insight” into people's lives “because you're there at the most intense moments,” he said.

“I feel like a similar thing happens when you become a bishop: it's just like the volume on life gets turned up (yet) another notch.”

“It's certainly been my experience…that you're being carried in a new way by God's grace.”

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Pope: A Christian refusing to serve others is a 'pagan'

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2013 (CNA) - In his Wednesday general audience this morning, Pope Francis stressed the importance of humility and service in the Christian life.

“It is an ugly thing when one sees a Christian who does not want to lower himself, who does not want to serve, a Christian who parades around everywhere. It’s terrible, no? That person isn’t a Christian: he is a pagan! The Christian serves (and) lowers himself,” said the Pope on Dec. 18 in St. Peter’s Square.

With Christmas approaching, Pope Francis focused on the great ‘gift’ of God in sending his son, who came humbly as a baby in Bethlehem.

“In Christmas, God reveals himself not as one who stands above and who dominates the universe, but as He who lowers himself,” explained the Pontiff.  

“God lowers himself, coming down to earth as little and poor, showing that in order to be similar to him we must not place ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, place ourselves in service, make ourselves small with the small, poor with the poor.”

The incarnation of God made man, encouraged Pope Francis, should be a model for every Christian.

“We must make it so that our brothers and sisters never feel alone. Our presence in solidarity to their side expresses not only with words but with the eloquence of gestures that God is close to all.”

Moreover, God did not expect or demand perfection. “The presence of God in the midst of humanity is not carried out in an ideal, idyllic world, but in this real world, marked by many good and bad things, marked by division, cruelty, poverty, abuse, and war,” noted the Pope.

Still, “he chose to live our history as it is, with all the weight of its limitations and dramas. In so doing, he demonstrated in an unparalleled way his merciful inclinations and overflowing love toward his human creatures.”

“Jesus is God with us,” emphasized the Pontiff, making the crowds repeat with him, “Jesus is God with us.”

During this time of Advent, Pope Francis urged the faithful to prepare their hearts for the birth of Jesus as a “celebration of faithfulness and of hope that overcomes uncertainty and pessimism.”

“This is the reason for our hope,” he explained, “God is with us and God is still faithful to us!”

“Think carefully about this: God comes to live with men, he chooses the earth as his dwelling in order to stay together with find where man passes his days in joy and or in sorrow. Therefore the earth is above all not a ‘valley of tears’ but a place where God himself has pitched his tent.  It is the place of meeting for God with man, of solidarity of God with men.”

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Bishop Deeley appointed head of Maine's Portland diocese

Portland, Maine, Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis today appointed Bishop Robert Deeley, who has been an auxiliary bishop of Boston for the past year, as bishop of the Diocese of Portland, which serves the state of Maine.

“As I prepare to serve the faithful of the Diocese of Portland as their new bishop and shepherd, I wish to offer my gratitude first to our Holy Father Pope Francis for entrusting me with this honor and responsibility and to Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who has taught me much of what it means to be a faithful shepherd through his word and example,” Bishop Deeley said in a Dec. 18 statement.

“Kindly pray for me and for all God’s holy people that we may be what the Lord calls us to be, the community of the Church showing forth the love that God has shown us in his Son, Jesus.”

Bishop Deeley succeeds Bishop Richard Malone, who was appointed Bishop of Buffalo in May, 2012.

“We have known each other from the day we entered the seminary in September 1964,” said Bishop Malone. “While our educational journeys and ministerial assignments took us in different directions, our paths have intersected many times in these nearly 40 years we have known each other. And so it is that I can promise the people of our great Diocese of Portland that they will be pastored by a man who is, in St. Timothy's words, truly ‘strong, loving and wise’.”

Bishop Deeley, who is 67, was born in Cambridge, Mass. to Irish emigrants. Following high school, he attended minor seminary in Jamaica Plain, and later studied philosophy at Catholic University of America, where he graduated in 1968.

He then studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston in 1973. He served in parishes and on the archdiocesan tribunal, serving as judicial vicar from 1989 to 1999, and served as president of the Canon Law Society of America in 2000.

Bishop Deeley worked in Rome at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2004 to 2011, when he returned to Boston as vicar general and moderator of the curia.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Boston in November, 2012, and was consecrated Jan. 4 of this year.

Cardinal Archbishop Seán O'Malley of Boston said that “Pope has blessed the clergy, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Portland” in appointing Bishop Deeley as their shepherd, affirming him in particular for his guidance of a pastoral planning initiative in the archdiocese.

“The Archdiocese of Boston will greatly miss Bishop Deeley’s leadership that follows from a deep love for the Church … the Bishop’s significant experience in the life and work of the universal Church will greatly assist the people he serves as they carry out the mission entrusted to them by Jesus Christ. Our prayerful congratulations are with Bishop Deeley as he goes forward to lead the Diocese of Portland.”

Bishop Deeley's Mass of Installation will be said Feb. 14, 2014, at Portland's Immaculate Conception cathedral.

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Pope Francis sends Christmas presents to 2,000 poor immigrants

Rome, Italy, Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Two thousand immigrants at a shelter near the Vatican received simple Christmas presents from Pope Francis on the evening of Dec. 14.

“The guests were very happy,” said Sister Michelle, the superior of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Rome.

Each practical gift package consisted of a small envelope containing a Christmas card signed by Pope Francis, postal stamps, a pre-paid international calling card, and a free day-pass for Rome’s metro.

The gift packages were distributed at the Dono di Maria, the shelter operated by the Missionaries of Charity just a few steps from the Vatican.

In a Dec. 16 interview with CNA, Sr. Michelle said the immigrants received the presents with love and were thankful for the opportunity to call and write their loved ones during the Christmas season.

The Holy Father brought joy to their hearts, she said, as many have little or no education and no knowledge of Italian. They survive in Rome with the help of the Missionaries of Charity.

The city of Rome sees the arrival every day of new immigrants. Many come in total poverty, fleeing from regions in Africa plagued by armed conflict or from the scourge of poverty and human trafficking in Asia and Eastern Europe.

Sr. Michelle noted that concern for the poor is characteristic of this papacy. “The Pope is very familiar with our work here and understands the realities that people face,” she said.

She added that Benedict XVI had also reached out to those in need through various initiatives, in ways that were never publicized by the Holy See’s Press Office.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski – who holds the office of papal almoner and is responsible for sending modest donations to those in need on behalf of the Holy Fahter – helped the sisters hand out the gifts. They were joined by other volunteers at the shelter.

The Dono di Maria home was founded 25 years ago by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta with the blessing of Blessed John Paul II. Mother Teresa also founded a soup kitchen in Vatican City State dedicated to St. Martha, the patron saint of hospitality.

Pope Francis visited the Missionaries of Charity home on May 21 to personally congratulate the community on the 25th anniversary of its founding.

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Bishops of Mexico to celebrate Christmas Mass in prisons

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 18, 2013 (CNA) - Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City will inaugurate a series of Masses on Dec.18 that will be celebrated during the Christmas season in various prisons in the Mexican capital.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, will help celebrate some of the Masses, along with six auxiliary bishops of Mexico City.

According to the Archdiocese of Mexico City’s News Service, Cardinal Rivera has been celebrating prison Masses during Christmas over the last 18 years.

This year includes a Dec. 18 Mass at a juvenile detention center.

In addition, Archbishop Pierre will celebrate Mass at the Femenil Tepepan Prison on Dec. 20 and will launch a new outreach to juvenile delinquents to encourage them to share the hope and joy of the faith among their fellow inmates.

Wreaths and blankets will also be distributed to the prisoners.

“The purpose is to encourage them in this journey that they are experiencing, especially the young people who need a lot of attention,” said Father Francisco Javier Guzman Carreno, the director of prison ministry.

“As the Church, we wish to bring them love, peace, joy,” he explained, “and who better than our pastor to convey this joy of Christmas in community as brothers and sisters?”

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Health group slams push for abortion in Catholic hospitals

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The New York Times was “inaccurate and irresponsible” to claim that Catholic hospitals' refusal to perform abortions threatens pregnant mothers in obstetric emergencies, the Catholic Health Association says.

“Catholic hospitals in the United States have a stellar history of caring for mothers and infants,” the association said Dec. 9. “Hundreds of thousands of patients have received extraordinary care – both in the joy of welcoming an infant or in the pain of losing one.”

The health association said that in many communities, the Catholic hospital is “the designated center for high-risk pregnancies.”

Several independent organizations have oversight responsibility for all hospitals, including the Joint Commission and state licensing agencies that accredit and certify hospitals. These organizations have “robust standards and inspections” and would not “in any circumstance” accredit or license a hospital unsafe for mothers or infants.

The association – which is the largest U.S. organization of Catholic health care systems and facilities – stressed that health professionals are also committed to care for these mothers and “would not tolerate working in a clinical setting that is detrimental to their patients.”

Its statement comes in response to a Dec. 8 editorial in the Sunday New York Times that claimed mergers between Catholic hospitals and non-Catholic hospitals is a “threat.” Catholic hospitals' refusals to perform abortions, the newspaper editorial board claimed, harm their ability to “provide care for women in medical distress.”

The newspaper's editorial board relied heavily upon the American Civil Liberties Union's federal lawsuit against the U.S. bishops on behalf of  Tamesha Means, a Michigan woman. The lawsuit claims that Means was negligently treated at a Catholic hospital in 2010 when her water broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant.

Means made three visits to the emergency room, delivering the baby on the third visit. Her baby died less than three hours after birth, while she herself suffered severe pain and an infection. The lawsuit claims that the hospital should have told Means an abortion was an option and “the safest course.”

The legal group, which has a history of targeting Catholic institutions, is suing the U.S. bishops rather than the hospital on the grounds that the bishops set ethical practices for Catholic hospitals. Catholic teaching, reflected in the “Ethical and Religious Directives,” recognizes that abortion kills an innocent life and that the lives of both the mother and of the unborn baby deserve care.

In its editorial, the New York Times noted that Catholic hospitals have about 15 percent of the hospital beds in the country and are often the only facilities available in many communities.

The editorial claimed it is a violation of medical ethics and existing law to allow “religious doctrine to prevail over the need for competent emergency care and a woman’s right to complete and accurate information about her condition and treatment choices.”

The piece also denigrated religious freedom arguments, saying only that “the bishops are free to worship as they choose and advocate for their beliefs.” It added that religious beliefs should not “shield the bishops from legal accountability when church-affiliated hospitals following their rules cause patients harm.”

In their response, however, the Catholic Health Association strongly criticized the editorial.

“It is inaccurate and irresponsible to assert that these wonderful community services are unsafe for mothers in an obstetrical emergency, simply because a Catholic hospital adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives,” the association said.

Such an assertion, the association said, “can be frightening to families and is grossly disrespectful to the thousands of physicians, midwives and nurses who are so devoted to their patients and to the care they deliver.”

The health group also questioned the New York Times editorial board’s assumption that abortion is a solution. In obstetric emergencies, the association noted, the unborn infant is “almost always much desired” and parents want “every option for saving their baby.”

“This is not a simple clinical situation that you ‘take care of’ and then move on,” the association said. “Anyone who has ever cared for these parents knows that this will always be the child they lost.”

The Catholic bishops’ ethical directives do not prevent the provision of quality care for mothers and infants in obstetrical emergencies, the Catholic Health association said.

“Their experience in hundreds of Catholic hospitals over centuries is outstanding testimony to that.”

The merits of the ACLU lawsuit have been challenged on both medical and legal grounds. U.S. bishops' conference president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz on Dec. 6 said the lawsuit is “a clear violation of the First Amendment.”

Dr. Brian C. Calhoun, a professor and vice-chair in the obstetrics and gynecology department at West Virginia University-Charleston, told CNA Dec. 2 that abortion is “never necessary to save the life of the mother.”

He added that an abortion at 18 weeks is usually performed through “surgical dismemberment” and surgical abortions have “numerous” complications for a pregnant woman. The physician suggested the lawsuit is an attempt “to make abortion seem like a great idea.”

An unborn baby at 18 weeks is “essentially fully formed,” Calhoun said. The baby has a small human profile and is about 5.5 inches long and seven ounces in weight. He or she can make sucking motions with his or her mouth and can begin to hear, the Mayo Clinic website says. The mother can often feel the baby’s motions.

Catholic University of America law professor Mark Rienzi told CNA Dec. 4 said that the ACLU lawsuit ignores federal and state laws that protect the right of religious providers to refrain from providing or referring to abortions.

He said the lawsuit from the pro-abortion rights legal group was “an effort to drive people with different views out of the health care field.”

Should the lawsuit succeed, it would mean “a lot fewer health care providers,” said Rienzi, who specializes in constitutional law and religious liberty issues.

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