Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Religious leaders from several Christian churches and Jewish organizations have reaffirmed their “staunch support” for the federal religious freedom protections cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision.
“In the United States, freedom of religion has always included – and should always include – the right to live out one’s religion and act according to one’s conscience outside the walls of one’s house of worship,” they said in a June 30 letter.
They praised the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as “a highly flexible legal standard that protects the rights and liberties of individuals of all religious faiths, including the most vulnerable.”
Signers of the letter include Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Jewish and Mormon leaders.
The letter asked Congress not to amend or repeal the act, calling it “one of our nation’s most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith.”
The signatories noted the important role of religion in public life.
“Every single day, millions of Americans are motivated by their faith to go and serve the neediest among us. The good works of these individuals of faith can be seen in soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, hospices – and, yes, family-owned businesses,” they said.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act says the government may not substantially burden an individual’s free exercise of religion except for a compelling purpose in a manner that is the least restrictive on religious exercise.
Enacted in 1993, the legislation was signed by President Bill Clinton after being unanimously passed in the House of Representatives and passed by a vote of 97-3 in the Senate. It was drafted in response to concern over Supreme Court decisions weakening religious freedom protections.
The law played a key role in the Supreme Court’s June 30 decision in favor of the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, who voiced religious objections to a federal contraception mandate that required their family-owned businesses to provide employee insurance coverage for some drugs that could cause early abortions.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court pointed to the federal law in finding that the government had not used the least restrictive means of advancing its goal of ensuring free birth control and related products for all women. For example, it suggested, the government could fund the drugs and products that the family businesses object to covering, thereby ensuring coverage without restricting religious freedom.
Religious freedom advocates welcomed the ruling. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a lead Republican sponsor of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, said June 30 that the act means that religious liberty of all Americans “must be equally protected and not unnecessarily burdened.”
However, some lawmakers who originally voted for the act have objected to its application in the Hobby Lobby decision, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
“No matter how sincerely held a religious belief might be, for-profit employers – like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood – should not be allowed to wield their beliefs as a means of denying employees access to critical preventive health-care services,” Rep. Nadler said.
In their June 30 letter, the religious leaders stressed that the religious freedom act has protected Americans “of all faiths” from “government coercion,” calling for it to be maintained.
They urged that it not be amended or repealed due to opposition to the Hobby Lobby decision. Doing so, they said, would “set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be unpopular at the moment.”
Signers of the letter included leaders of the Assemblies of God (USA), the Church of God in Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Presbyterian Church in America’s General assembly, the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Wesleyan Church.
The letter was addressed to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Toronto, Canada, Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage is “not open to change” as it is faithful to Jesus but the Church can do better in helping those suffering in this area, says Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto.
“Although it would not be right for them to receive the sacraments, we need to find better ways to reach out to people in this situation, to offer them loving assistance,” the cardinal said in an interview published on the Word on Fire blog June 25.
He said one form of help would be a wider realization that receiving communion is not obligatory at Mass.
The cardinal said that if there were less pressure for everyone to receive communion, “it would be some help to those who are not in a position to do so.”
Cardinal Collins’ comments come ahead of the Synod of Bishops’ extraordinary general assembly, to be held Oct. 5-19 to address pastoral challenges related to the family.
The synod has been the subject of significant media coverage and speculation, including highly publicized suggestions that the Church will change Catholic practice that divorced Catholics who have remarried should not receive Holy Communion if their first marriage was valid.
The cardinal rejected “unfounded speculation” about a change in Church teaching.
“Over-riding the explicit teaching of Jesus on the unbreakable nature of marriage is not an option. Nobody has the authority to do that.”
He said that the teaching of Jesus Christ on the indissolubility of marriage is “not open to change” but “there may be things that we can change to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in this difficult and painful situation.”
Cardinal Collins said that the Catholic Church “teaches what Jesus teaches” in presenting marriage as “an unbreakable covenant” between a man and a woman that is “faithful in love and open to the gift of life.”
“Divorce and remarriage is not allowed when it is a matter of a valid, sacramental, and consummated marriage,” he said.
The cardinal noted that many Catholics who are divorced and not free to marry nonetheless enter into a second marriage.
“There are various reasons that can lead to this, and their fellow parishioners should not occupy themselves speculating about them,” the cardinal said.
“Catholics in that tragic situation can be involved in many ways in the life of the community, but they may not receive the sacraments, such as Holy Communion.”
The cardinal said that whatever their personal situation or the reasons for their situation, they are “continuing in a way of life which is objectively against the clear command of Jesus.”
The point is not that these people have “committed a sin,” since God gives his mercy “to all sinners.” Rather, they have made a “conscious decision … to persist in a continuing situation of disconnection from the command of Jesus.”
The cardinal noted the “great tragedy” that some Catholics leave the Church because they cannot receive communion, noting that it is likely they and their children will “Become disconnected from the source of life in Christ that is found in the Church.”
He urged outreach to divorced Catholics who leave the Church.
At the same time, he said that Catholics need to be “attentive to the command of Christ” and not undermine the “sanctity of marriage” at a time when marital stability is “already tragically compromised.”
“If we proclaim in actions, even though not in words, that the marriage covenant is not really what Jesus says it is, then that offers short term comfort at the cost of long term suffering. As the sanctity of the marriage covenant is progressively weakened, it will ultimately be the children who will suffer most.”
The cardinal also praised divorced Christians who “live a life of exemplary holiness” and recognize the reality that they cannot marry again.
“They are an inspiration to us all,” he said. “I hope the Synod offers encouragement to those who are divorced and faithfully living the Christian life.”
Cardinal Collins said the upcoming synod will deal with the “whole range of issues facing the family.” The issue of communion and the divorced and remarried is “one among many issues.” He noted that cohabitation without marriage is now “one of the key problems,” as are social attitudes that do not value permanent commitments.
“Our Lord's teaching on marriage, like his whole teaching on discipleship, can at times be very difficult. Especially in the world in which we live, but really in all periods of history, a certain heroism is required in the Christian life,” the cardinal told Word on Fire. “We are all called to holiness; that is not just the vocation of the few who are canonized, but of all of us.”
Portland, Ore., Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Faithful from in and around Portland, Ore. filled St. Mary’s Cathedral to overflowing on June 28 for Archbishop Alexander Sample's Mass consecrating the archdiocese to Our Lady of Fatima.
The Mass and consecration, celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, were offered particularly for the strengthening of marriage and family life.
“Marriage and family life are in a real crisis. We make this consecration to her to watch over our families and marriages. Families need Our Lady's love and protection,” the Archbishop said during the homily, according to the Catholic Sentinel.
Todd Cooper, Special Assistant to Archbishop Sample, told CNA June 30 that Pope Francis' consecration of his papacy to Our Lady of Fatima, as well as his consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, spurred Archbishop Sample to do the same for Portland.
“That kind of planted a seed for him,” Cooper said, “and he has a strong Marian devotion.”
The Archbishop also found an urgent spiritual need to offer the archdiocese’s efforts of strengthening marriage and families to Mary for her intercession.
“He’s come to the realization that we need to look beyond our own efforts and our own resourcefulness in trying to evangelize the culture and our people,” Cooper said. “We need to look for spiritual support for that and he thought there would be no better way.”
Additionally, Archbishop Sample is inviting families and faithful to participate in First Saturday devotions, as Our Lady of Fatima encouraged.
On the first Saturday of the month the faithful are asked to: go to confession (preferably on a first Saturday, but within eight days before or after one), receive Holy Communion (in a state of grace), pray five decades of the Rosary (one set of mysteries), and spend 15 additional minutes in meditation (on one or more mysteries of the Rosary).
All of these actions should be offered for the intention of making reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Blessed Mother promised that if this is accomplished on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, she will assist the faithful at the hour of death with all the graces necessary for salvation.
Vatican City, Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In wake of escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine following the murder of three Israeli teens, Bishop William Shomali has encouraged leaders to work for reconciliation rather than retaliation.
“We are against the killing of these three young Israeli men. It’s a homicide, it’s a crime against humanity,” the bishop said in comments made to CNA July 2.
“But at the same time we should also look at the whole situation between Palestinians and Israelis (in order) to reach a reconciliation, so that such crimes are not repeated.”
Bishop Shomali, who serves as the auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem, spoke in wake of the recent killing of three Israeli teenagers – Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16 – and Eyal Yifrah, 19, who disappeared June 12 while hitchhiking near the West Bank city of Hebron.
On Monday, Israeli security sources confirmed that the bodies of the three young men were found in shallow graves, covered by few rocks, not far from where they were last seen.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faulted the Palestinian organization Hamas for their disappearance, stating at the start of an emergency session of his security cabinet after the bodies were found that “Hamas is responsible. Hamas will pay, and Hamas will continue to pay.”
The teenagers, he continued, “were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals” and stated that “Satan has not yet invented vengeance for the blood of a small child.”
Although Hamas has joined the coalition that rules the Palestinian territories, it is considered to be a terrorist group by the U.S. government. In their reply to Netinyahu’s comments, Hamas leaders stated that Israel would open “the gates of hell” on themselves should they attack.
In the midst of the rising tensions, Bishop Shomali emphasized that a true act of retribution is not done “in retaliation,” but rather works toward “healing the wounds present between the two peoples.”
“This is what we need. Because all the time there are victims from both sides. And if we don’t keep them from this we continue in a vicious circle.”
In wake of Israel’s launch of 34 airstrikes over the Gaza Strip Tuesday, which officials stated was a response to 18 rockets that had previously been fired into Israel from Gaza, the bishop encouraged both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to continue working for peace.
The bishop also noted that the conflicts are rising less than one month after both presidents met with Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartolomeo I of Constantinople at the Vatican for an invocation for peace. He observed that “the prayer doesn’t give an effect the same day or the following day.”
“The Lord is not like the mouse of a computer where you click a button,” he said. “We have to be very patient, and wait and wait, like the olive tree that was planted by the three leaders. It will take five years before producing fruits.”
“The same with the prayer that has been done,” he noted, affirming the prayer was “a success” despite the fact immediate results will not be visible.
“We need time. I am sure that (the prayer) is useful to prevent either a deterioration of the situation, it could be worse than that, or to have a final solution, but not on the following day. We have to be patient.”
Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl exhorted the faithful to be “vigilant” in protecting their God-given religious liberty, invoking the faith of the first U.S. Catholics.
As with the first Catholic settlers, the Holy Spirit is still at work today, the cardinal stated in his June 28th homily.
“Even today in the context of a secular world, the quiet, soft and gentle voice of the Spirit has not been stilled,” he said. “It continues to speak to human hearts. Not by bread alone do we live.”
To commemorate the Catholic history of the archdiocese, Cardinal Wuerl said Mass at two historic Catholic sites in Maryland, once a haven of religious freedom in the British colonies.
He celebrated Mass at a reconstructed brick chapel on the site of the original 1667 Jesuit church in St. Mary’s City, as well as on St. Clement’s Island, the place of the first Mass in the English-speaking colonies, celebrated on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1635.
“All of us, as spiritual descendants of those intrepid women and men, can rejoice and take pride in their vision and courage,” the cardinal said of the first Catholic settlers.
He pointed to current threats to religious liberty as a continuation of the obstacles facing early Catholics. He noted the closing of the St. Mary’s City chapel in 1704 as an example.
“Over the centuries since that decision to lock the Brick Chapel, our struggle for liberty, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, we have all recognized the importance of religious faith in a free and democratic society,” he said.
Today’s struggle against secularism is a reminder for Catholics to be “vigilant,” he added, citing the bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom as a call to action.
The fortnight, which runs June 21-July 4, is a time of prayer, education and action to promote and defend religious liberty at home and abroad. This is the third year that the U.S. bishops have held the event.
“This Fortnight also tells us of the need to be vigilant in protection of religious liberty,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “From the beginning of our nation the founders recognized our equality and liberty, and that those rights were bestowed on us not by the king or by the founders themselves or by any man, but by God.”
Seoul, South Korea, Jul 2, 2014 (CNA) -
A group of South Korean women who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II will attend an Aug. 18 Mass with Pope Francis when he visits the country.
According to local media reports, the Archdiocese of Seoul announced on Monday that it had invited the women to take part in the ceremony with Pope Francis. The Mass will be held at the Cathedral of Myeongdong in Seoul. A personal meeting between the pontiff and the women, many of whom are Catholic, has not been set.
Pope Francis will visit South Korea Aug. 14-18 to take part in the VI Asian Youth Day. It will be the third time a pontiff has visited Asia, the last time being St. John Paul II’s trip to the Korean peninsula in 1989.
Some 200,000 young girls and teenagers – more than half of whom were Korean – were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese empire, which ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945.
Japanese authorities denied involvement for years until clear evidence emerged, which led the Japanese government to issue an apology in 1993. However, the apology was not enough for Seoul, which has demanded reparations for the victims. Today there are some 54 women over the age of 80 who are survivors of the tragedy.
Madison, Wis., Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Diocese of Madison, Wis. explained its response to same-sex couples who present children for baptism, welcoming sincere baptism requests but also warning of “speculative” or “scurrilous” news reports on the subject.
In a June 27 statement, the diocese reproduced vicar general Monsignor James Bartylla's May 10 confidential e-mail to priests, which noted that each request for baptism for a child being raised by a same-sex couple “must be evaluated individually.”
Priests who receive such requests should contact him to consult and coordinate, Msgr. Bartylla said.
“As you know, there a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording,” the monsignor added.
That confidential e-mail drew the attention of the Wisconsin State Journal and attracted other national news, with the Wisconsin paper describing it as a “change in process.”
Religion News Service reporter David Gibson wrote about the Madison diocese's approach June 26, depicting it as a possible new cultural “battleground” and claiming that there is a “trend to curb baptisms.” He cited critics of Madison Bishop Robert Morlino who suspected the policy would curb baptisms he considers “problematic.”
In response to media coverage, the Madison diocese reproduced two statements its communications director Brent King sent to the Wisconsin newspaper.
In his June 2 statement, King noted “a few well-circulated and sometimes sensationalized news stories” regarding these baptisms. King said that Msgr. Bartylla’s office would assist pastors “on a case-by-case basis” given Catholics' desire “that all be offered the graces of baptism” and given “other just considerations.”
In his June 12 statement, King said that the number of babies baptized would not change under the diocese’s approach “if a parent is sincere in presenting a child for baptism.”
“We believe that baptism is the entrance into a new life in Christ and His Church, open to all,” King said. He added that in all cases of baptism of children, a parent must consent to the baptism and there must be “reasonable hope that the child will be brought up in the Catholic faith.” Otherwise the baptism should be “deferred.”
“Any parent who desires baptism for their child, and truly intends to raise the child in the faith and all that means, should approach the Church, requesting the sacrament,” the spokesman said. “We want everyone to receive this most important sacrament, and we are dealing with this sensitive matter prudently, for the child’s sake and the integrity of this most sacred sacrament.”
The Madison diocese also cited the working document for the October Synod of Bishops' extraordinary general assembly that will address the challenges facing the family.
The document, issued June 26, notes that bishops' responses are “clearly opposed” to the adoption of children by same-sex couples because of the risk to the child's “integral good” and because of the child's right to both a mother and a father.
The document also emphasizes that when a person in a same-sex relationship requests baptism for a child, almost all the bishops’ responses “emphasize that the child must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.”
Where there is reasonable doubt that the child can receive proper Christian instruction from those who request baptism, pastors should give careful oversight to baptismal preparation for the child, give particular attention to the choice of godparents and seek possible assistance from the couple’s friends and family.
This effort to secure proper support for a child’s baptism is “the same manner as for any couple seeking the baptism of their children,” the working document says.
News media coverage of the Diocese of Madison's approach to children raised by same-sex couples has also provided an opportunity for false front groups to criticize the Catholic Church.
The Religion News Service report from David Gibson interviewed Francis DeBernardo, the head of New Ways Ministries, which rejects Catholic teaching on sexual ethics. That organization's purported Catholic identity has been rejected by the U.S. bishops in 2010 and 2011.
Oklahoma City, Okla., Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Just a few months after a black mass reenactment was planned – and then canceled – at Harvard University, another has been scheduled to take place at the Oklahoma City Civic Center on September 21, prompting calls for organizers to reconsider.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said in a statement that the archdiocese is “astonished and grieved that the Civic Center would promote as entertainment and sell tickets for an event that is very transparently a blasphemous mockery of the Mass.”
“For more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide and more than 200,000 Catholics in Oklahoma, the Mass is the most sacred of religious rituals,” the archbishop said.
“It is the center of Catholic worship and celebrates Jesus Christ’s redemption of the world by his death and resurrection. In particular, the Eucharist – which we believe to be the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ – is the source and summit of our faith.”
Connected to witchcraft and demonic worship, a black mass is a sacrilegious ceremony structured as a parody of the Catholic Mass. Invoking Satan, the ritual is centered around the desecration of the Eucharist, which is generally done by stealing a consecrated host from a Catholic church and using it in a profane sexual ritual, or defecating and urinating on it.
The black mass is offensive to more than just Catholics, Archbishop Coakley noted. “(It) is a satanic inversion and distortion of the most sacred beliefs not only of Catholics, but of all Christians.”
He called on community leaders and Civic Center event planners in “a spirit of hope,” asking them to “reconsider whether this is an appropriate use of public space.”
“We trust that community leaders – and, in particular, the board members of the Oklahoma City Civic Center – do not actually wish to enable or encourage such a flagrantly inflammatory event and can surely remedy this situation,” he said.
In May, a student group at Harvard attempted to host a black mass re-enactment, to be carried out by the Satanic Temple of New York. However, the event was canceled at the last minute amid a huge outcry from the Archdiocese of Boston and the Harvard community. A petition against the black mass drew 60,000 signatures, and some 2,000 people attended a Eucharistic procession and holy hour on the night that the event had been scheduled.
Notably, the Satanic Temple of New York has submitted plans to Oklahoma City for a public monument of an enthroned Satan surrounded by two children to counter a monument of the Ten Commandments on the statehouse lawn.
The local archdiocese plans to respond in peaceful, prayerful and respectful protest to the black mass scheduled in September should plans continue to move forward, Archbishop Coakley said.
“In the meantime, I call on all Catholics in central and western Oklahoma – as well as all men and women of good will – to pray for a renewed sense of the sacred and, in particular, to pray that the Lord might change the hearts and minds of the organizers of this event.”
Washington D.C., Jul 2, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In the days following a Supreme Court ruling upholding religious freedom in the workplace, several lower courts have issued decisions protecting religious liberty in similar circumstances.
Several new injunctions issued since the Supreme Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby’s case “show that the HHS Mandate is on its last legs when it comes to religious non-profits,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is defending many of those challenging the controversial mandate.
“The sad part is that it has taken almost three years of litigation to get to a result the Administration should have supported in the first place because it is the right thing to do,” she said.
The mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, requires employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization, and some abortion-inducing drugs at no cost to the employee. More than 300 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging the regulation on religious freedom grounds.
On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who argued that the mandate forced them to violate their religious beliefs against certain drugs and devices that can cause early abortions.
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court found that the government had not used the “least restrictive means” of furthering its “compelling interest” of ensuring free birth control for all women, saying that the government could directly provide the drugs and devices, or find other means of distributing them.
The court struck down the mandate for “closely held corporations” that have religious objections to its demands. The IRS defines “closely held corporations” as those with 50 percent or more of their stock held by five or fewer individuals.
In the wake of its decision, the court also recommended that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider its decisions against Michigan-based Autocam Corp. and Eden Foods Inc. Those cases involve similar companies challenging the mandate.
The Supreme Court did not rule specifically on non-profit organizations, which must follow a modified version of the mandate that has also prompted heavy outcry. However, several of these groups have received injunctions protecting them from the contraception rules in the wake of the court’s decision.
On June 30, the Eternal Word Television Network and five Catholic organizations in Wyoming – the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, Catholic Charities of Wyoming, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, St. Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic School, and Wyoming Catholic College – received protection from their respective federal appellate courts from the mandate, which would have started enforcing crippling fines on July 1.
Evangelical school Wheaton College also received a temporary injunction from the mandate while the government responds to the college’s application for an appeal.
Other for-profit companies are also awaiting action after the Hobby Lobby decision, including Colorado-based Hercules Industries Inc., Illinois-based Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. and Indiana-based Grote Industries Inc.