Vatican orders drastic reforms of Women’s Religious

April 20, 2012 by  
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USA, April 19, 2012: The Vatican has called for reform amid a doctrinal “crisis” within the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), appointing Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to lead renewal efforts.

The appointment was made as the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revealed the findings of its multi-year doctrinal assessment of the women’s conference, which has more than 1,500 members throughout the country.

The assessment document explained, “It is clear that greater emphasis needs to be placed both on the relationship of the LCWR with the Conference of Bishops, and on the need to provide a sound doctrinal foundation in the faith of the Church.”

The assessment, initiated in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was carried out by Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee.

Among the key findings were serious theological and doctrinal errors in presentations at the conference’s annual assemblies in recent years.

Several of the addresses depicted a vision of religious life that is incompatible with the faith of the Church, the assessment found. Some attempted to justify dissent from Church doctrine and showed “scant regard for the role of the magisterium.”

The document cited one address about religious sisters “moving beyond the Church” and even beyond Jesus. Such positions — which constitute “a rejection of faith” and “serious source of scandal” — often go unchallenged by the LCWR, it said.


Jesuit advocates ‘do-it-yourself church’

March 17, 2012 by  
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Build Ur ChurchUSA, March 12, 2012: Catholics have to “face the fact that today we live in a do-it-yourself church,” step forward to “take responsibility,” and “no longer wait for Father or Sister to do it anymore,” said Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, who addresses that theme in a new book, A Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics.

The well-known author, social scientist and commentator mentioned the book, which does not yet have a publisher, during a recent NCR interview.

In the book, Reese says he advocates facing issues head-on, such as the exodus of faithful from the church.

“The problem with most books like this is that the last chapter begins, ‘The bishops should’ or ‘The pope should do X, Y and Z.’ I think, frankly, that is a waste of time,” Reese said. “I am tired of reading those books. I think what we have to do is say, ‘OK, these are the problems that are facing the church. What do I need to do? What do we have to do?’ ”

One of the advantages of fewer priests and religious sisters in today’s church “is that the laity have to grow up,” he said.
“The church needs to develop a new style of teaching and proclaiming the Gospel, one that is dialogical, one that listens as much as speaks,” he added. “At times we seem totally incapable of doing that.”

At the same time, Reese said, “Clericalism is two sides of the same coin. There is authoritarianism on one side. The other is laity wanting [clerics] to do everything for them.”

Currently a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, Reese was editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America from 1998 to 2005. He resigned after prolonged tension with the Vatican over the magazine’s open treatment of sensitive church topics, from priestly celibacy and the ordination of women to stem-cell research and reception of Communion by pro-choice Catholic politicians.

Reese is the author of a half-dozen other books, most of which focus on church organizational and political structures and challenges. His 1989 book, Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, for example, was a nuts-and-bolts research volume based on more than 400 interviews and participation from 31 American archbishops, including all the cardinals.

– ncronline

Top US Bishop: We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it

March 7, 2012 by  
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Pope Benedict XVI makes Archbishop Timothy Dolan a cardinal

Pope Benedict XVI makes Archbishop Timothy Dolan a cardinal

United States, March 4, 2012: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all the Catholic bishops of the United States reasserting the conviction of the Catholic Church that it will not yield to the Obama administration’s command—issued in the form of a Health and Human Services regulation implementing the president’s health-care plan–that Catholics and Catholic institutions must violate the teachings of their faith by purchasing and providing health insurance plans that pay for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients.

“We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans,” Cardinal Dolan wrote to his brother bishops.

“We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it,” he said.

“Since January 20, when the final, restrictive HHS Rule was first announced,” Cardinal Dolan wrote, “we have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it.”

Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops posted the cardinal’s letteron its website and issued a press release about it, neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times nor any other American newspaper that appears in the massive Lexis-Nexis database of news sources published a story about it in any of their Saturday editions. Nor, as of the early hours on Sunday, had any secular newspaper that shows up in a Google News search published a story about the letter.

Despite the silence from the establishment media, the cardinal’s defiant letter was in fact a major event in what has become the most significant confrontation over religious freedom in the history of the United States.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 51 to 48 to reject an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that would have added “conscience protection” language to the Obamacare legislation, and thus protect employers from being forced to provide health insurance coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients if they have a moral or religious objection to these things.

If enacted, this amendment would nullify the HHS sterilization-contraception-abortifacient regulation insofar is it effects employers, but not insofar as it effects individuals who buy their own insurance and who would still be mandated under Obamacare to purchase insurance.

“And you now ask the obvious question,” wrote Dolan, “”What’s next?’”

Dolan first noted that the Obama administration’s regulation jeopardizes the church’s ability to carry out the ministries that he said have been entrusted to it by Jesus.

“As pastors and shepherds, each of us would prefer to spend our energy engaged in and promoting the works of mercy to which the Church is dedicated: healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor,” said O’Connor. “Yet, precisely because we are pastors and shepherds, we recognize that each of the ministries entrusted to us by Jesus is now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church.”

Cardinal Dolan then said that the so-called “concession” President Obama had offered in February—that he would order insurance companies working with Catholic institutions to provide sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients to the workers at those institutions for free—did not solve the problem.

“For one, there was not even a nod to the deeper concerns about trespassing upon religious freedom, or of modifying the HHS’ attempt to define the how and who of our ministry,” wrote the cardinal.

“Two, since a big part of our ministries are ‘self-insured,’ we still ask how this protects us,” he wrote.  “We’ll still have to pay and, in addition to that, we’ll still have to maintain in our policies practices which our Church has consistently taught are grave wrongs in which we cannot participate.

“And what about forcing individual believers to pay for what violates their religious freedom and conscience?” he wrote. “We can’t abandon the hard working person of faith who has a right to religious freedom.

“And three,” he said, “there was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon renowned Catholic charitable agencies, both national and international, and their exclusion from contracts just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception.”

The cardinal revealed that President Obama had invited the bishops to work with the White House to “work out the wrinkles” on his proposed accommodation. But that effort failed to make progress as the White House showed no flexibility on the core issue.

“At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table,” wrote the cardinal. “They were informed that they are. So much for ‘working out the wrinkles.’”

The cardinal said that the bishops would continue to seek a legislative remedy to the administration’s attack on religious liberty and would also pursue protection of religious liberty through the federal courts.

“Perhaps the courts offer the most light,” he said, pointing to the Supreme Court’s recent 9-0 decision against the Obama administration in theHosanna-Tabor case in which the administration tried to tell a Lutheran church who its ministers would be.

“Given this climate, we have to prepare for tough times,” the cardinal wrote. He closed the letter by noting to his brother bishops that religious freedom now faces a threat not from a foreign enemy but from within the United States.

“Brothers, we know so very well that religious freedom is our heritage, our legacy and our firm belief, both as loyal Catholics and Americans,” he wrote. “There have been many threats to religious freedom over the decades and years, but these often came from without. This one sadly comes from within. As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom.”

– cns

Interfaith leaders stand with Catholics against administration *US bishops release new statement for HHS mandate removal

February 16, 2012 by  
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Cardinal-Donald-D.-Wuerl-of-WashingtonUSA, February 11, 2012: Evangelical and Jewish leaders declared their solidarity with Catholics on Feb. 10, as the Obama administration sought to quell controversy over its policy on contraception and religious ministries.

“Stories involving a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew typically end with a punch line,” wrote Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, and Manhattan-based Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveichik in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

“We wish that were the case here, but what brings us together is no laughing matter: the threat now posed by government policy to that basic human freedom, religious liberty.”

They criticized Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for her Jan. 20 decision on religious employers’ coverage of contraception, saying the rule “stands the First Amendment on its head.”

“Instead of encouraging the different faith communities to continue their vital work for the good of all, the Obama administration is forcing them to make a choice: serving God and their neighbors according to the dictates of their respective faiths – or bending the knee to the dictates of the state.”

The Jewish and Evangelical leaders joined Washington’s archbishop in opposing the administration’s attempt to require religious ministries – including schools, hospitals, charities, and media outlets – to subsidize contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs in their health plans.

Only ministries that primarily served and employed members of their own faith, for the sake of promoting “religious values,” were to be held exempt from the rule.

After three weeks of uproar, led by over 170 Catholic bishops, the administration announced a new policy on Feb. 10.

In place of the policy forcing many religious ministries to purchase plans covering contraception and sterilization, the new rule shifts the burden to these institutions’ insurance providers – requiring them to offer the “preventive services” without a co-pay.

The administration claimed that under the new policy, “religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.”

But critics said the administration was only shifting the subsidy, by forcing religious employers to contract with insurance providers offering the controversial services.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue responded to Friday’s revised rule by predicting the president would soon see Catholics “team with Protestants, Jews, Mormons and others to recapture their First Amendment rights.”

Friday’s editorial from Colson, Soloveichik, and Cardinal Wuerl offered a preview of that prospect, as they explained that the administration’s attempt to mandate contraception coverage was not just offensive to Catholics.

“Coverage of this story has almost invariably been framed as a conflict between the federal government and the Catholic bishops,” they observed. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Under no circumstances should people of faith violate their consciences and discard their most cherished religious beliefs in order to comply with a gravely unjust law. That’s something that this Catholic, this Protestant and this Jew are in perfect agreement about.”

Two days earlier, Colson co-authored a Christianity Today editorial with Beeson Divinity School Dean Timothy George, stressing Evangelicals’ duty to unite with Catholics against the contraception mandate.

In their column “First They Came for the Catholics,” George and Colson said Evangelical Christians “must stand unequivocally with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. Because when the government violates the religious liberty of one group, it threatens the religious liberty of all.”

US bishops release new statement for HHS mandate removal


Archbishop_Timothy_Dolan_USUSA, February 10, 2012: The U.S. bishops released a new statement rejecting President Barack Obama’s attempted compromise over the Health and Human services contraception mandate, calling for its complete removal.

The bishops issued an initial statement of caution the afternoon of Feb. 10 after President Obama announced a new policy stating that religious employers will not have to directly purchase contraceptives, but will be required to pay for health care plans from insurance companies that offer them without cost.

Later in the day, however, the bishops released a comprehensive statement calling the mandate and its recent update unacceptable and urging Catholics across the nation “to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.”

Below is the U.S. bishops’ statement in full:

The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the “preventive services” regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.

First, we objected to the rule forcing private health plans—nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.

Second, we explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.

Today, the President has done two things.

First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.

Second, the President has announced some changes in how that mandate will be administered, which is still unclear in its details. As far as we can tell at this point, the change appears to have the following basic contours:

• It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.

• It would allow non-profit, religious employers to declare that they do not offer such coverage. But the employee and insurer may separately agree to add that coverage. The employee would not have to pay any additional amount to obtain this coverage, and the coverage would be provided as a part of the employer’s policy, not as a separate rider.

• Finally, we are told that the one-year extension on the effective date (from August 1, 2012 to August 1, 2013) is available to any non-profit religious employer who desires it, without any government application or approval process.

These changes require careful moral analysis, and moreover, appear subject to some measure of change. But we note at the outset that the lack of clear protection for key stakeholders—for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals—is unacceptable and must be corrected. And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.

We just received information about this proposal for the first time this morning; we were not consulted in advance. Some information we have is in writing and some is oral. We will, of course, continue to press for the greatest conscience protection we can secure from the Executive Branch. But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.

We will therefore continue—with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency—our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government. For example, we renew our call on Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. And we renew our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.

– can

Religious Freedom Sunday is coming

January 11, 2012 by  
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Religious Freedom Sunday is comingUnited States of America, January 10, 2012: While the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church falls on the second Sunday of November every year, another important Sunday is approaching for both persecuted and free Christians.

According to Assist News, Religious Freedom Sunday is a day for churches to talk to their congregations about their freedom of religious expression. Religious Freedom Sunday is Jan. 15. It will precede Religious Freedom Day on Monday, Jan. 16.

Religious Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. It stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy, and it protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison authored this important legislation, which later played a major role in the development of the First Amendment.

During Religious Freedom Sunday, churches have the opportunity to inform their congregations about the religious liberties of public school students. It also serves as a way for Christians to prepare for Religious Freedom Day.

Open Doors and Gateways to Better Education are teaming up to encourage Americans to learn more about their religious freedom.

“We are very grateful to be collaborating with Gateways to Better Education for Religious Freedom Sunday,” says Dr. Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA. “We hope that American Christians will take this opportunity to learn more about their religious freedoms so that they can advocate on behalf of those who share our faith but not our freedom.”

Eric Buehrer, President of Gateways to Better Education, says: “There is a natural fit between Open Doors and Gateways: Open Doors brings awareness to the need for religious freedom internationally, and Gateways brings awareness to the religious freedom we have, but often don’t realize we have, domestically in our public schools.

“Not being aware of our religious freedom and, therefore, not exercising it, is like being unaware that someone set up a bank account for you and deposited a million dollars in it–it does you no good. Too many children and young people are under the misguided impression that they cannot express their faith while in a public school. And too many teachers think they must make their classrooms ‘religion-free zones.'”

Religious Freedom Sunday has been recognized since 2008 by Gateways to Better Education. To help churches prepare for Religious Freedom Sunday, Gateways for Better Education has prepared a pamphlet for students. “Free to Speak” is a pocket-sized summary of the U.S. Department of Education guidelines explaining students’ religious liberties.

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest, and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry, and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers.

– mnn/open doors