Archive of July 3, 2014

Pope Francis banner in downtown Denver aims to inspire

Denver, Colo., Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A 10-foot tall banner depicting Pope Francis embracing a young child was hung July 1 on the exterior of the Samaritan House homeless shelter in downtown Denver, as a reminder of the need for loving service and encounter.

“This beautiful image illustrates the Holy Father’s vision of love and charity in Jesus Christ,” said Wendy Oldenbrook, director of marketing and communications at Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver.

The banner shows Pope Francis embracing a child present at his inauguration Mass in St. Peter’s Square last year.

“We seek to live out this vision every day at Catholic Charities in service to the poor,” Oldenbrook said in a statement.

She explained to CNA July 2 that the Samaritan House rotates banners frequently. Previous banners have included images of the Divine Mercy of Jesus and the Good Samaritan.

The Pope Francis banner was put up with the hope that the image will communicate “kindness, respect for the most vulnerable, and the joy of serving others.”

The particular image was chosen because of how happy the Holy Father looks as he encounters the child, Oldenbrook stated.

“His gentle smile and joy radiate from the image,” she said. “He is as attentive and humble with a child as he is washing the feet of prisoners.”

The Samaritan House is part of the Catholic Charities arm of the Archdiocese of Denver. It serves men, women and children facing homelessness, offering both shelter and programs to help residents obtain stable housing and income.

The shelter fits in with the broader mission of Catholic Charities, which serves more than 50,000 people in need each year, through programs that include women’s services, family and child care aid, housing services and disaster response.

In serving the poor and needy, the agency has found inspiration in Pope Francis’ saying, “At times we can be self-absorbed. Lord, help us to open our hearts to others and to serve those who are most vulnerable.”

“We believe that his tangible witness is a powerful way to open hearts to the Love of Jesus,” commented Oldenbrook.

“Pope Francis resonates with people because he lives his Faith in a simple, genuine way,” she added.

“Driving home from the city – perhaps after a long day at work – passing by the homeless lining the streets near the Samaritan House, Pope Francis now looms, smiling, prompting us to slow down, encounter the world and open our hearts to the people right in front of us who are in desperate need.”

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Surge of 'desperate' migrant children leaves needs unmet

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - As a wave of unaccompanied children adds to the already large numbers of immigrants entering the United States, humanitarian groups warn that resources to serve the vulnerable population are running thin.

Fr. Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative, a migration advocacy organization, was able to visit a federal facility housing migrants in Nogales, Ariz., but was not allowed to minister to the people there.

“They didn’t offer any explanation,” he said of the border authorities. “They said we are unable to receive volunteers and donations.”

Fr. Carroll received a briefing by the Border Patrol and was able to tour the facility in Nogales.

“My overall impression was that their basic physical needs were being met,” he said of the child migrants. “What’s less clear to me is whether their spiritual, psychological and emotional needs are being met.”

The priest said that he is “available and willing” to provide the sacraments to the child migrants, many of whom are Catholic, “but we’re not being allowed to do that right now. That’s the problem.”

“I really see these children as refugees,” he told CNA. “And they are. They’re fleeing extreme violence and poverty, and many of their lives are at risk. And coming north is an act of sanity, I think.”

“And the U.S. needs to treat them as such,” he said. “And it’s part of what it means, I think, to respect their God-given human dignity.”

The number of unaccompanied child migrants to the U.S. has doubled in the past year, with many of the children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The overwhelming numbers, combined with already high rates of immigrants, mean that needs are great and sometimes go unmet.

U.S. facilities along the Mexican border are “completely overcrowded” due to the recent surge in migrants, said Kim Burgo, the senior director of disaster services for Catholic Charities USA.

She added that the women and children crossing the border are “completely exhausted” and “in desperate need of compassion and care.”

“The current Border Patrol facilities are filled,” Burgo told CNA. She added that “those women and children are in desperate need of compassion and care” and that Catholic Charities is providing food, clothing, shelter, and in some cases counseling to the migrants.

“Families coming through, imagine their journey. They’ve been walking or traveling for the last, anywhere from seven to 21 days coming through,” she said. “By the time they get here, they’re completely exhausted. Their children many times are dehydrated, malnourished. And so we try to attend to those needs.”

Brenda Riojas, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, told CNA that the migrants are not expecting handouts at the border, but sometimes their possessions have been confiscated by the authorities.

“They’re tired, they’re hungry. They are scared, confused,” she said. “And so we are there to provide them a meal, provide them a change of clothing, provide them a little safe haven to kind of catch their breath and rest a bit and help them navigate their travel plans, for those who need some assistance before they continue on their journey.”

Riojas said that one center for the migrants opened in McAllen, Texas, and served 200 on its first day. A second shelter opened in Brownsville, Texas. The shelters minister to 50 migrants on a slow day, but up to 200 on a busy day.

The shelters offer a rest stop for the migrants, who have been caught and processed by Border Patrol Agents. Riojas said that a medical center is available as well as showers provided by the city and cots for people to rest. The volunteers give them packets for their journey to meet up with family or friends in the U.S.

Fatigue and dehydration are the most common problems, she said, although more serious struggles are also being faced by those who have suffered greatly on their trip to the U.S. Catholic Charities has made counselors available to these individuals.  

Despite an outpouring of volunteer help and supplies, Riojas expressed concern that the centers could keep up with the current level of migrants. “I think right now what we’re really concerned about is sustainability,” she said. “Because there’s no clear indication as to how long this will continue.”

Volunteers are taxed, she added. “Once you go in, it’s hard to even leave the center.”

In El Paso, Texas, Melissa Lopez is providing for the legal needs of migrants who were able to give authorities a sufficient reason to stay in the U.S. Some of the eligible reasons include family members living in the U.S., applications for asylum, and fleeing domestic violence.

Lopez, who is the executive director of El Paso’s Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Inc., believes the number of applications for asylum will increase.

“I think unfortunately when they live in very, very violent countries – I think some of the countries in Central America have murder rates that rank near the top in the world, so that’s the environment they’re coming from – I think we’re going to see an increase in asylum applications because many of them are scared.”

Lopez said that current immigration laws can be unreasonable and restrictive.

“For a U.S. citizen who is applying for their sibling to obtain lawful status in the United States, 20 years just seems like an incredibly unreasonable amount of time,” she said. “So I think that’s just one example of how broken our system is.”

“I have cases where I truly believe that if the judges or the immigration officials had a little more discretion, than the result of the case would have been different. But their hands are tied, there’s only so many things that they can do.”

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Cardinals council zeroes-in on Vatican management, finances

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the second of four days of meetings, the council of eight cardinals discussed the management of the Vatican State and of the Curia, including the so-called “Vatican Bank,” whose process of reform is ongoing.

Pope Francis, along with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, is involved in the meetings with the group of cardinals who he selected last year to help in Church reform efforts.

The Pope was present at the entire meeting Wednesday morning, having suspended his Wednesday general audiences for a summer break.

Although no document has yet formalized Cardinal Parolin's membership in the council, Holy See Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi said “Pope Francis told Cardinal Pietro Parolin he is a full member of the Council, and so we can consider him fully a member of the council.”

Fr. Lombardi reported that in these first two days of meetings the cardinals discussed “three main themes.”

Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the head of the Vatican City State administration and a member of the council, reported about a series of matters relating to Vatican City's governorate, of which he is the president. Cardinal Parolin made a presentation about the Secretariat of State.

The council also discussed in depth the issue of the Institute for Religious Works, known as the IOR and referred to informally as the “Vatican Bank.” In two sessions, the council spoke with the members of the IOR's Supervisory Commission of Cardinals.

All of the members of the supervisory commission were present except for Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna.

The commission is chaired by Cardinal Santos Avril y Castellò, Archpriest of Rome’s Saint Mary Major Basilica. Its members include: Cardinal Parolin; Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; and Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto.

The supervisory commission will have one of its periodic meetings this week. It is likely the meeting will discuss the IOR annual report that should be released next week.

The report will “clarify the steps that have been made in the course of the year” and “will show the state-of-the-art of the IOR commitment to transparency,” according to an IOR spokesperson.

Fr. Lombardi's comments responded to several speculations about the Vatican finances and about the eventual dismissal of Vatican Bank president Ernst von Freyberg.

He stated that the IOR is “in a time of natural and peaceful transition.”

“The contribution of Ernst von Freyberg continues to be deeply appreciated and highly valued, and further clarifications are possible, indeed likely, next week after the meeting of the Council for the Economy on Saturday,” Fr. Lombardi said.

President von Freyberg’s mandate will expire this September. The issuance of the IOR annual report and the update of the IOR statutes could in any event lead to a changing of the guard at the IOR’s Council for Superintendency, which von Freyberg chairs.

The new IOR statutes would require a full time president. While von Freyberg acted as a de facto full time president, he is said to be desirous to return to his business and family in Germany.

The Council for the Economy is the 15-member council Pope Francis established to supervise the Vatican’s economic management. It also oversees the structures and the administrative and financial activities of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, of the institutions connected to the Holy See, and of Vatican City State.

The council is chaired by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich-Freising and member of the Council of Cardinals. It is composed of seven laymen and eight cardinals. The council will likely issue a first draft of it's statutes in their July 5 meeting.

Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for Economy, will also be present at the meeting. Cardinal Pell’s presence is a signal that the discussion will address the relations between the two separate bodies Pope Francis established with the Motu Proprio “Fidelis Dispensator et Prudens,” issued Feb. 24.

The Council for the Economy establishes policies, while the Secretariat for Economy implements them.

Fr. Lombardi said the council will also be informed on “developments relating to the IOR.” The Prefecture for Economic Affairs will inform the council about the 2013 budget and the 2014 provisional budget.

Economic matters are not the only focus of leading Vatican commissions and councils.

Fr. Lombardi also announced that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors will meet July 6. The commission is now working to enlarge its eight-member board and to draft its statutes.

The July 6 meetings will likely prepare for Pope Francis’ meetings with victims of sex abuse by clergy, scheduled for July 7 in the Vatican.

Pope Francis established the commission in December 2013 following the suggestion of the council of cardinals.

The council will continue its meetings, taking into consideration and systematically developing the reflections it formulated about the review of the different bodies of the Roman Curia.

According to Fr. Lombardi, “a draft of a new pastoral constitution to re-design the Roman Curia may not be expected at the end of the meeting.”

At the moment, many possible ways to streamline the Vatican offices have been discussed.

The council of cardinals is holding its fifth meeting since its establishment. This marks the first time they have met for four consecutive days.

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Catholic aid organizations scramble to meet Iraqi needs

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a tumultuous Iraq facing an increasingly uncertain future, Catholic charity organizations are rallying to meet the immediate needs of those afflicted by ongoing violence.

“Movement is pretty limited, so all numbers and information we get is anecdotal,” Kris Ozar, correspondent for Catholic Relief Services in Egypt, an international relief agency of the Church, told CNA June 30.

“The one thing that’s certain and that I’m hearing around here is that nobody knows, nobody knows,” he said. “Nobody knows where people are going, nobody knows how long people are staying, people are renting houses but for a temporary time because they’re expensive.”

“It’s a lot of uncertainty, absolutely a lot of uncertainty.”

Although Ozar is officially assigned to Egypt, he has been sent by the organization to Iraq in order to assist in giving aid to refugees. Having fled Mosul only 15 minutes before it was mortared by ISIS June 10, Ozar returned to Egypt briefly, and arrived back to Iraq June 30.

Aiming to establish a Sunni state within Syria and Iraq, which is a majority Shia region, ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Group (ISIS), launched its offensive in Iraq in early June, overtaking its second-largest city of Mosul June 10.

The group now controls much of north and north-central Iraq, including the city of Tal Afar.

Over the weekend, displaced persons who scattered after the June 10 attack at Mosul began to return to the region, with many taking refuge in the neighboring city of Erbil, where they are under the protection of the Kurdish army.

“When I was talking to displaced families it was a buffet of needs,” Ozar noted. “But the greatest needs are food, mattresses, spending money, they need to have cell phone credit to call their families and to be in communication. They have medical needs.”

Since many families are now forced to sleep in local schools, “they need mattresses, they need sheets and blankets, they need soap, they need clothes. You name it they need it.”

“People literally picked up and ran with what they had with them,” he said, recalling how he had come across a newborn baby that was taken from the hospital in Mosul only a few hours after being born in order to flee from ISIS forces.

Despite the practical needs refugees are facing, which also include electricity and fuel, “the greatest thing they’re looking for is security and peace of mind,” Ozar explained.

“'What are your greatest needs?' 'We want peace. Can you give my family and I peace?'” was the looming question he was faced with when assisting the refugees, and is a task he has found “a bit daunting.”

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need published July 2, the Chaldean patriarch of Iraq, Raphael I Sako, explained that the country will “need help in the future to create a Christian infrastructure when the situation has stabilized.”

“We will need new houses, and we will have to rebuild the factories and agriculture. The remaining Christian towns will have to be modernized. We will rely on outside help for all this.”

Explaining how this is Iraq’s “darkest hour” not only for Christians but for everyone in the country, the patriarch expressed his concern that Christianity will cease to exist due to the number of people fleeing, stating that this would be “a hiatus for our history.”

In wake of the increasing number of refugees and displaced persons due to the recent ISIS attacks, Aid to the Church in Need has offered a donation of 100,000 euro, which equates to roughly $136,600.

Having donated 2,400,000 euro to Iraq in the last five years, mostly to aid refugees, Marta Petrosillo, Italian press officer for Aid to the Church in Need, told CNA June 26 that their newest donation will be delivered directly to the hands of Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul.

“Since ISIS attacked Mosul in the evening between June 9 – 10, about 500,000 people fled Mosul and among them almost the entire Christian community,” she said.

“The Church found a place (for them) to stay in schools, in houses that have been abandoned by their owners,” she said, “but now there’s an emergency because there’s a lack of water, a lack of electricity and of course a lack of food.”

Referring to the number of those who have fled their homes in Iraq since 2003, Petrosillo observed how “40 percent of all Iraqi refugees in the world are Christians” and that now “the percentage of Christians in Iraq is just 2 percent.”

“So this number can tell you how much the life of Christians in Iraq is terrible. They really have to face terrible things,” she said, recalling how in 2006 many Christians in Baghdad would find a note on their doorstep “from Muslim people telling them ‘convert or die.’”

Baghdad has lost “70 percent of its Christians in the past 11 years according to Chaldean auxiliary of Baghdad, and the same thing in other cities,” Petrosillo explained.

“It’s really hard to keep telling people that they have to continue having hope for the future because it’s been 11 years that they are suffering, so nobody can tell them that the future will be better,” she lamented.

“And now this last thing, this ISIS attack, it’s another wound to the Christian community, because they know what ISIS did in Syria.”

The only hope for Christianity in Iraq is that “the community stays in Iraq,” she said, “but how can you ask your people to stay if the situation is so dramatic and the future is so unclear?”

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Pope Francis names new bishop to Fall River diocese

Vatican City, Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - It was announced by the Vatican earlier today that Pope Francis has tapped Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha, S.D.V., auxiliary for Newark, N.J., to lead the diocese of Fall River, Mass.

“Today, with a mixture of great joy and sadness, I congratulate Bishop Edgar da Cunha on his appointment as Bishop of Fall River,” Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark said in a July 3 statement.

“I am confident that the priests, religious and laity of the diocese of Fall River will quickly come to appreciate his many gifts as he undertakes his pastoral office among them.”

Bishop Cunha, 60, has served as the auxiliary bishop for the Newark diocese since 2003, and was appointed upon the retirement of Bishop George Coleman, who submitted his resignation after reaching the age limit of 75 in February.

Hailing from Brazil, Bishop Cunha was born in Nova Fatima Aug. 21, 1953. He attended school there and eventually entered the city’s minor seminary of the Vocationist Fathers in Riachão do Jacuípe, where he later joined the Vocationist Fathers, also known as the Society of Divine Vocations.

After receiving degrees in both philosophy and theology, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Society of Divine Vocations March 27, 1982, in the church of St. Michael in Newark by Bishop Joseph Francis, S.V.D.

Following his ordination Bishop Cunha was assigned as parochial vicar of St. Michael’s and also served as his congregation’s director of vocations.

In 1983 he was transferred to St. Nicholas parish in Palisades Park after it was given to the congregation by the archbishop, where he then served not only as parochial vicar, but also as superior for his local community.

He was appointed pastor of St. Nicholas in 1987, and in 1992 was elected as secretary of the Council of the Vocationist Delegation to the United States, and from 1994 – 2000 he served as novice master and director of his congregation’s vocation house in Florham Park, N.J.

After his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Newark, Bishop Cunha was named as the archdiocese’s vicar general in 2013, for which his primary responsibility was in serving as the principle deputy of the archbishop in the administration of the diocese.

Bishop Cunha’s installation Mass as Bishop of Fall River will take place September 24 in the diocese’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. Other details regarding the Mass are not yet available, but will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Fall River diocese was established in 1904 and encompasses all of Bristol County, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket as well as the towns of Mattapoisett, Marion and Wareham in Plymouth County.

It contains a Catholic population of roughly 302,484 who attend 84 parishes and 11 mission churches in southeaster Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands.

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Official logo, prayer for WYD Krakow 2016 announced

Krakow, Poland, Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a press conference held earlier today in Krakow, Poland, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz presented the official logo and prayer for the 31st World Youth Day slated to take place there in 2016.

Announced by Pope Francis during the closing Mass for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last summer, the Krakow event is expected to draw millions, and follows the canonization of Polish Saint John Paul II earlier this spring.

World Youth Day is a gathering of young people from all over the world to pray and meet with the Pope in order to build and strengthen the bonds of faith, friendship and hope, symbolizing the union between people of different cultures and countries.

In his July 3 presentation, Cardinal Dziwisz – archbishop of Krakow and former secretary of Pope John Paul II – explained that the event’s logo has three specific elements which represent the place, the main protagonists, and the theme of the celebration.

The logo, he noted, provides an illustration of the gathering’s theme, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” taken from the Gospel of Matthew.

Cardinal Dziwisz went on to explain that the image is composed of a geographical outline of Poland inside of which there is a yellow cross, representing Jesus Christ, who is the soul of World Youth Day.

Also present inside the country’s outline is a yellow dot, which the cardinal revealed both marks the position of Krakow on the map and serves as symbol for the youth.

The red and blue flames, he observed, are the flames of divine mercy that emerge from the cross, which represent with their colors the phrase “Jesus, I trust in you” that accompanies the image of divine mercy revealed to Saint Maria Faustina.

Another reason for choosing the colors of yellow, red and blue is that they are the official colors of Krakow and its coat of arms, the cardinal noted.

The logo was designed by Monika Rybczynska, 28, from Poland’s small mid-west town of Ostrzeszow, following the canonization of St. John Paul II.

Cardinal Dziwisz also announced the official prayer for World Youth Day 2016, which is an entrustment of humanity and the youth to Jesus’ divine mercy, asking for the grace to obtain a merciful heart. It also invokes the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John Paul II, who is the patron of World Youth Days.

Below please find the full text of the World Youth Day 2016 official prayer:

“God, merciful Father,
in your Son, Jesus Christ, you have revealed your love
and poured it out upon us in the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,
We entrust to you today the destiny of the world and of every man and woman”.
We entrust to you in a special way
young people of every language, people and nation:
guide and protect them as they walk the complex paths of the world today
and give them the grace to reap abundant fruits
from their experience of the Krakow World Youth Day.
Heavenly Father,
grant that we may bear witness to your mercy.
Teach us how to convey the faith to those in doubt,
hope to those who are discouraged,
love to those who feel indifferent,
forgiveness to those who have done wrong
and joy to those who are unhappy.
Allow the spark of merciful love
that you have enkindled within us
become a fire that can transform hearts
and renew the face of the earth.
Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
St. John Paul II, pray for us.

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Video showing marriage of young man with cancer goes viral

Manila, Philippines, Jul 3, 2014 (CNA) - Millions of viewers around the world have watched a YouTube video showing the determination of a young man in the Philippines to marry the love of his life just hours before dying of terminal cancer.

At the beginning of this year, Rowden and Leizel decided to marry. They planned on a July 8 wedding, but Rowden, age 29, was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the kidneys at the end of May.

Learning that his cancer was terminal, Rowden’s last wish was to marry Leizel. The couple moved the date up and decided to “bring the church” to him at the hospital, as he could no longer go out.

After 12 hours of marriage prep, he was able to fulfill his dream.

Rowden died on June 11, just 10 hours after marrying Leizel. The video recounting their story was posted on YouTube by her brother.

Within two weeks, the video was viewed more than 10 million times.

In the description accompanying the video, Rowden’s family said they wanted to “thank the Main Man up above, Jesus Christ, for orchestrating this very inspiring story. And for giving us enough time to give Rowden what he wanted, and show him how loved he was.”

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Call for religious exemption from ENDA draws diverse support

Washington D.C., Jul 3, 2014 (CNA/EWTN News) - A diverse group of religious leaders – including some who worked on President Obama’s re-election campaign – are asking for a religious exemption to a controversial discrimination rule.

“An executive order that does not include a religious exemption will significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government,” said a July 1 letter to President Obama from a broad group of 14 public religious figures.

“When the capacity of religious organizations is limited, the common good suffers,” they cautioned.

The letter comes after reports that an executive order is being drafted to ban employment discrimination against people who identify as gay or transgender. The proposed executive order would be similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has stalled in the House of Representatives, although it would only apply to federal contractors.

The U.S. bishops have voiced concern over the proposal, saying that while they welcome efforts to end unjust discrimination, including that against homosexual individuals, they fear that ENDA lacks reasonable exemptions for situations in which it is appropriate to consider sexual inclinations and behavior, such as a school setting or public restrooms.

The bill’s failure to differentiate between same-sex attraction and same-sex conduct has also drawn concern over the religious liberty of groups that hold moral teachings against homosexual behavior.

In addition, some critics are worried that the wording of the bill treats “gender” as being divorced from physical sex, and uses the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to describe both behaviors as well as identities.

In anticipation of the executive order, the 14 religious leaders signed a letter asking the president to create “a robust religious exemption” to the proposed rule.

Signatories included Stephen Bauman and Jenny Yang of World Relief, a humanitarian evangelical organization; Andy Crouch, executive director of Christianity Today; Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and the preacher who gave the invocation at the president’s 2009 inauguration; pastor Joel Hunter, whom the president has called a spiritual mentor; Fr. Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.

The letter calls for the administration to respect the “diversity of opinion” in the United States, particularly concerning sexuality. It notes that until several years ago, the president himself “believed you could serve your country” without supporting same-sex “marriage.”

Religious organizations can serve their country “in partnership with their government and as welcome members of the American family,” the letter affirmed, asking the president to protect the equality of religious groups in their ability to serve.

“A religious exemption in your executive order on LGBT employment rights would allow for this, balancing the government’s interest in protecting both LGBT Americans, as well as the religious organizations that seek to serve in accordance with their faith and values,” the signatories urged.

Letter organizer Michael Wear, who worked in faith outreach for the Obama White House and for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, told Molly Ball of The Atlantic that this “is not an antagonistic letter by any means.”

He explained that following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the administration’s contraceptive mandate as it applies to some employers, “the administration does have a decision to make whether they want to recalibrate their approach to some of these issues.”

Schneck, who co-chaired Catholics for Obama during the 2012 campaign, told the Washington Post that while he thinks LGBT protection and Catholic teaching “fit together pretty well,” from a practical perspective, “it just makes perfect sense for the White House to give the faith-based groups time to work this out.”

“It’s not that long ago when Obama himself was where these faith-based groups are now,” he pointed out.

The White House has declined to offer comment on the letter in press conferences or in responses to news media.

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Kansas City diocese questions legality, accuracy of abuse penalty

Kansas City, Mo., Jul 3, 2014 (CNA) - Attorneys for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph have questioned the legality of a $1 million abuse penalty against the diocese, criticizing “numerous factual inaccuracies” in an arbitrator’s ruling.

A June 20 motion from the diocese asks the circuit court of Jackson County, Mo., to “vacate, modify or correct” arbitrator Hollis Hanover’s decision to award the money to the plaintiffs from a 2008 legal settlement.

Hanover justified the decision on the ground that the diocese violated a prior legal agreement by not promptly reporting a priest who had taken pornographic photographs of young girls.

The arbitrator’s decision concerned an agreement reached after a 2008 $10 million settlement with 47 abuse victims or their family members, the Kansas City Star reports. As part of that settlement, the diocese’s head, Bishop Robert Finn, agreed to report suspected child abusers to law enforcement.

The arbitrator ruled that this agreement was violated in the diocese’s response to a sexually abusive priest in a separate legal case, that of Father Shawn Ratigan.

Fr. Ratigan, a diocesan priest, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for producing child pornography. Diocesan officials belatedly reported him to police in mid-2011 after finding problematic images of young girls on his computer in late 2010.

Attorneys for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese asked the court to void the decision on the grounds that the arbitrator failed to follow the arbitration terms and limitations. The motion also contended that the Kansas City court must modify or correct the penalty “because of the arbitrator’s unwillingness to correct clear errors.”

“The largest number of factual errors concerned statements the Arbitrator made concerning the actions or inactions attributable to Bishop Finn who was found to have no personal liability,” the diocese’s motion said.

The diocese’s attorneys said that the arbitrator’s errors include the claim that Bishop Finn knew the pornographic nature of the images, which he did not see. They said the bishop relied on the opinion of the diocese’s attorney and the opinion of his vicar general, who had told him a review board member who was also a police officer had ruled they did not constitute child pornography.

In September 2012, Bishop Finn was convicted on a misdemeanor account of failure to report suspected child abuse in the Fr. Ratigan case. He was sentenced to two years of probation with a suspended sentence. The bishop apologized and pledged to take “every reasonable step” to protect children from abuse and misconduct committed by clergy, diocesan employees or volunteers.

Fr. Ratigan was first exposed in December 2010, when a computer technician found inappropriate images of children on the priest’s laptop. The priest was then removed from ministry, but he attempted suicide after diocesan officials told him of the discovery of the images. He was not expected to live, but later recovered.

Bishop Finn delegated the investigation of sex abuse claims against the priest to the diocese’s then-vicar general. The vicar general conducted what a diocese-commissioned independent investigation later called “a limited and improperly conceived investigation” into whether a single image, which the vicar general did not see, constituted child pornography. The diocese’s legal counsel also said that that single image did not constitute child pornography.

The vicar general did not contact law enforcement about the images until May 2011, after which Fr. Ratigan was arrested.

The diocese settled two lawsuits from parents of two girls photographed by Fr. Ratigan for a total of $1.8 million in February 2014.

Diocese communications director Jack Smith told CNA July 2 that the diocese cannot presently comment on the legal action because the matter is pending in court.

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