The ‘tyranny of uniformity’: will the US have a diverse public square in the future?

Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2015 / 03:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The case of the Little Sisters of the Poor before the Supreme Court may determine if the United States will continue to have a diverse public square, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee. The case is about “the tyranny of uniformity,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore told CNA. The Little Sisters of the Poor have challenged the HHS contraception mandate on the grounds that it violates their freedom to live out their religious beliefs in public. Archbishop Lori said the administration is effectively telling the sisters, “you must play by our rules,” he explained; but the Church is “different, and we still have our place in the public square.” “We would like to run our health insurance programs in a way that conforms as well to our moral teaching,” he explained. In 2012, the Obama administration mandated under its health care law that all employers provide coverage in employee health plans for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions. They later offered what it called an accommodation for some religiously-affiliated groups and non-profits that objected to the mandate on grounds that it forced them to act against their consciences. In the revised rules, the parties would notify the government of their religious objection, who in turn would direct their insurers to provide the mandated coverage. Critics charged that the cost for the drugs and procedures would still be passed on to the employers, and many of the objecting parties, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Archdiocese of Washington, said they were still being forced to act against their conscience under the offered accommodation. The Little Sisters of the Poor challenged the mandate in court but lost their case at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in July. The ruling determined that the government’s accommodation did not put a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. The sisters filed for and received a temporary injunction against the law and appealed their case to the Supreme Court, which agreed Nov. 6 to hear the case along with the other challenges to the mandate. The injunction will expire if the Supreme Court rules against the sisters. Archbishop Lori insisted the Little Sisters should be exempt from the mandate because of their religious work. “When you go to see the sisters, as I do – I’m very good friends with the Little Sisters of the Poor –  and you spend any time at all in their home, you know it’s a work of religion,” he said. “You know it’s motivated by faith. And so it’s hard to understand why a ministry such as that would not be completely exempt from anything that compromises their faith in any way.” Archbishop Lori spoke with CNA on the second day of the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore. During the first two days of the session the bishops adopted a formal statement on pornography, approved an amended version of their 2007 voting guide “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and elected six committee chairs. In his Nov. 16 address to the bishops on religious liberty, Archbishop Lori warned that current threats to the beliefs of religious institutions, such as the HHS mandate, could dismantle the diverse public square that is so necessary to a free society. If religious organizations such as schools and hospitals must close their doors rather than comply with a law that forces them to act against their religious beliefs, he explained, the public square will become less diverse and pluralistic. “We are not isolated individuals, but members of communities,” he said, adding that such communities as schools, families, and charities should all have the freedom to practice their beliefs in public. “The struggle for religious freedom is not only a struggle for the survival of our institutions, important as that is, but indeed it is a struggle for a public square that welcomes a plurality of visions and communities,” he told the bishops.   “We are standing for the space that civil society needs” in order to flourish, he continued. “Pope Francis has called attention to the need for a healthy pluralism. This is a vision that is attractive. Who really wants a secularized public square stripped of all differences?” Pope Francis spoke very clearly about this when he was in the U.S., Archbishop Lori continued. “I think the Pope gave us [U.S. bishops] great support when he was here,” he told CNA of the Pope’s September visit to the U.S. “He put it [religious freedom] in the context of serving the poor and the needy and the vulnerable, and so have the U.S. bishops done as well.” Pope Francis even made a short, unscheduled stop at the Little Sisters of the Poor home in D.C. as a sign of support for them in their mandate case, the archbishop pointed out. That detail was first revealed in the Sept. 23 evening press conference by the director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi. In Philadelphia that weekend, Pope Francis had warned of “the challenge of modern tyranny which imposes what he called a ‘false uniformity’,” Archbishop Lori continued. In his address to the general assembly, the archbishop also announced developments for next year’s “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two week-long campaign of prayer, education, and action for religious freedom from June 21-July 4. “Witness to Freedom” will be theme of the 2016 fortnight, an opportunity to “remember those witnesses past and present throughout the Church … who testify to the meaning of freedom of conscience and of obedience to the truth,” he explained. First-class relics and possessions of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher will make a U.S. tour in 2016, he noted. All this will be an opportunity for Catholics “to pray for the modern-day martyrs for faith.”Photo credit: Read more

Pope Francis: What will be left of a world torn apart by war?

Vatican City, Nov 19, 2015 / 09:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his homily Thursday, Pope Francis said that just as Jesus wept for Jerusalem in the day’s Gospel reading, he continues to weep today, because the world has rejected the path of peace in e… Read more

Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica uncovered as Jubilee nears

Vatican City, Nov 19, 2015 / 06:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hidden since the Jubilee of 2000, the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica was revealed Tuesday as the brick wall covering it was removed in anticipation of the Holy Year of Mercy launching next month. Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, led a special “recognitio” ceremony, culminating in the removal of the brick wall. According to a Nov. 17 communique from the Vatican, after the cardinal presided over a procession and brief prayer service, workers began to remove the wall brick by brick, beginning with the extraction of a small zinc box containing mementos from the Jubilee of 2000. Opened with a type of blowtorch, the box held several documents of certification for the closure of the Holy Door in 2000. It also held the keys with which Pope Francis will open it Dec. 8 – the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – when this year’s Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy officially begins. Also inside the box were the parchment deed for the previous jubilee, a few bricks and several commemorative medals. The box’s contents were entrusted to the Master of Ceremonies for St. Peter’s Basilica, Msgr. Guido Marini, who was also present for the “recognitio” ceremony. Additionally, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, was also in attendance. Each of the four major basilicas in Rome has a holy door, which are normally sealed shut from the inside so that they cannot be opened. The doors are only opened during jubilee years so that pilgrims can enter through them in order to gain the plenary indulgence that is connected with the jubilee. Holy Doors in Rome’s other major basilica’s will be opened throughout the Jubilee year. St. John Lateran’s door will open Dec. 13, St. Mary Major’s Jan. 1, 2016, and St. Paul Outside the Walls will open Jan. 26, 2016. The rite of the opening of the Holy Door is intended to symbolically illustrate the idea that the Church’s faithful are offered an “extraordinary path” toward salvation during the time of jubilee. One of the novelties for the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy is that for the first time Holy Doors will be designated in every diocese throughout the world. For the first time holy doors will be designated in dioceses, and will be located either in the cathedral, in a church of special significance or a shrine of particular importance for pilgrimages. Though the Jubilee for Mercy doesn’t begin until Dec. 8, Pope Francis announced his intention to open the Holy Door in the Central African Republic’s capital 10 days early, during his Nov. 25-30 visit to the African continent. In his Nov. 1 Angelus address, Francis said that he would jump-start the Jubilee by opening the diocese of Bangui’s Holy Door while in the Central African Republic, as a sign of prayer and solidarity for the war-torn nation. Francis also spoke of the significance of the Holy Door during his Nov. 18 general audience. Sitting in front the St. Peter’s Basilica, where he will open the Holy Door in just three weeks, he described it as the “great door of God’s Mercy.” “On the threshold of the Year of Mercy, I want to reflect today on the meaning of the Holy Door,” he said. “It’s a door that opens in the Church in order to reach out to those who for many reasons are far away.” He said that families are also invited to open their doors “to meet Jesus, who waits for us patiently, and wants to bring us his blessing and friendship.” “A Church that is not hospitable or a family closed in on itself would be a terrible reality that mortifies the Gospel and makes the world more arid,” he said. The jubilee was announced by Pope Francis during a March 13 penitential service, the second anniversary of his papal election. It will close Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King. Read more

Stretched to its limits, US military archdiocese appeals for more priests

Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2015 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Archbishop Timothy Broglio is begging for more priests for the Archdiocese of Military Services, saying that he soon may be “unable to provide Catholic priests for the military.” … Read more

Confronting the porn epidemic: a major goal for the US bishops

Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2015 / 12:30 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a historic statement outlining the challenges pornography poses to the family and individuals as well as the tools available within the Church and society to combat its negative effects, the … Read more

Resist the urge to scapegoat Syrian refugees after Paris attacks, bishops advise

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2015 / 04:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Several bishops are saying we must resist the temptation to scapegoat all Middle Eastern refugees, since they themselves are fleeing violence similar to what happened in Paris last Friday. “We cannot and should not blame (refugees) for the actions of a terrorist organization,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, said Nov. 17 during the United States bishops’ general assembly. “These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives,” said the bishop, who is chair of the bishops’ committee on migration. Coordinated gun and bomb attacks linked to militants of the Islamic State killed 129 people in Paris Nov. 13, and wounded some 350 others. Officials have identified one of the suspected terrorists as a Syrian national who they believe posed as a refugee to gain entry into France. Several other suspected attackers, however, are French nationals. Bishop Elizondo condemned the Paris attacks, saying, “I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris, France and to the French people. I add my voice to all those condemning these attacks and my support to all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again – both in France and around the world.” In response to the Paris attacks, some federal and state officials, including the governors of more than 30 states, have called on an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Bishop Elizondo commented that the screening process for refugees to gain entry into this country contains more security checks and interviews “than any arrival to the United States,” highlighting that the process can take more than two years. Shutting out those seeking refuge from violence in their homeland is not the answer, Bishop Elizondo said. Instead, the U.S. should consider “strengthening the already stringent program,” while at the same time continuing to “welcome those in desperate need.” He added that public officials should continue to unite in making sure the Syrian civil war reaches a peaceful resolution soon. “Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.” Similarly, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence issued a statement Nov. 16 saying that “it would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim. Obviously the background of all those crossing our borders should be carefully reviewed for reasons of security.” “Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion. In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria.” Bishop Tobin added that “as is our well-established practice, the Diocese of Providence stands ready to assist in a careful and thoughtful process of refugee resettlement.” And the Diocese of Cheyenne responded Nov. 18 to Governor Matt Mead’s call to stop Syrian refugee resettlement saying it is “appreciative of Governor Mead’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all of Wyoming’s citizens.” The statement of Deacon Mike Leman, the diocese’s legislative liaison, added that “we hope the governor has in mind a means in which the vetting process can be measured in an expedient manner, so that a resettlement option for those fleeing from war can once again be considered.” “It is important to remember that these are our fellow human beings who are fleeing the same kind of terror that occurred last week in Paris. By denying them sanctuary, we play into the hands of terrorists. We believe that this is not an either or issue. Measured steps can and should be taken to ensure safety while also allowing that Wyoming continues to be a welcoming place.” Since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, more than 4.1 million Syrians have fled their homeland. Most are in Turkey and Lebanon, but many are seeking asylum in Europe and the United States. In September the Obama administration announced that the United States was to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. To date, the country has already accepted about 1,800 refugees from Syria. Candidates for resettlement are vetted by several federal agencies, which takes 18-24 months on average. According to the BBC, about half of applicants are approved for resettlement, and the American process is much stricter than that in Europe. But some officials, such as FBI director James Comey, worry that United States intelligence in Syria isn’t good enough to prevent “gaps” in the process. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, told ABC, “There is no background-check system in the world that allows us to find that out, because who do you call in Syria to background-check them?” House Speaker Paul Ryan called Nov. 17 for a “pause” in Syrian refugee resettlement in the United States to allow Congress to “verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.” Ryan added that “Our nation has always been welcoming. But we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion. This is a moment where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry.” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has introduced a bill that would place new restrictions on the entry of Iraqi and Syrian refugees to the United States. Several governors, however, have indicated they will continue to welcome Syrian refugees, including those of Utah, Colorado, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington, Vermont, and Hawaii. Read more

Vatican clarifies Mother Teresa canonization report

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2015 / 11:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite rumors that a date has been set for Mother Teresa’s canonization, the Holy See Press Office told CNA Wednesday that the cause for sainthood has not concluded, and no date has been officially set. Fr Ciro Benedettini, vice director at the Holy See Press Office, confirmed to CNA that there is “a project, a study being carried out” on the potential future canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa. However, he said, there is nothing juridical in place yet, as the setting of a date would require the sainthood cause to be concluded and the Pope to give his consent. Fr. Benedettini could not confirm whether there would be a meeting of cardinals next month to discuss the cause, as has been reported by Vatican Insider. Earlier on Nov. 18, the Italian agency AGI had reported that an official date had been set for Mother Teresa’s canonization, and that the event would take place in September 2016. Similar rumors have hit the media previously, but each time, the Vatican has made clear that nothing official has yet been released. Known for her work with the poor in the slums of India, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity. Her canonization cause is currently underway at the Vatican, with the study of possible miracles betting attributed to her intercession. In September, Father Caetano Rizzi, who works in the Vatican’s congregation for saints, told CNA that the Pope is interested in canonizing Mother Teresa during the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy. Fr. Federico Lombardi has also commented on the idea of a Year of Mercy canonization, telling CNA in May that while such an arrangement is certainly possible, nothing had been officially arranged at that time. Read more

Pope to Church: Don’t act like you’re on lockdown

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2015 / 09:51 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis Wednesday centered his weekly catechesis on the upcoming Year of Mercy, urging the Church not only to keep its doors open, but to go out to those who may not have the strength to enter. “An inhospitable Church, like a family which is locked in on itself, demeans the Gospel and withers up the world,” the Pope said Nov. 18 to attendees at his general audience in the Vatican. “No armored doors in the Church! Open all of them!” Pope Francis delivered his address in St. Peter’s Square, in front the basilica where the Holy Door – which he described as the “great door of God’s Mercy” – will be opened Dec. 8 to mark the official start of the Jubilee of Mercy. While this door will be opened to everyone to offer grace of forgiveness, the Pope said we also must have the courage to enter. “We are all sinners. May we take advantage of this moment and cross the threshold of of this mercy of God, who never tires of forgiving.” Turning his reflection to last month’s Synod on the Family, the Pope spoke on how the Church is called to reach out to those who are lost and uncertain, and how Christian families, especially, are encouraged to enter this door in order to receive God’s blessing and friendship. “If the door of God’s mercy is always open,” we must leave the doors of our institutions open so that “we can go out carrying God’s mercy.” This, the Pope said, is the meaning meaning of the Jubilee: “Letting the Lord enter and go out.” While the invitation is always present, God never forces us to enter, Pope Francis continued. Citing the book of Revelation, in which those who open their homes when they hear the Lord knocking, the Pope said “Even he asks permission to enter … and does not force open the door.” The Roman Pontiff observed it has become the norm in many places to always keep our doors locked. While there is a need for security, this locking of doors shouldn’t apply to all areas of our life, be it family life, our cities, society – and especially the Church. Acknowledging the need for safety, Pope Francis said the Church, as well as homes, should open their doors often, in case “there is someone outside waiting, and who perhaps lacks the courage, or even the strength to knock.” The Roman Pontiff said the Lord, as our Shepherd, protects his sheep, allowing us to enter and exit without fear. “Jesus is the door whereby we enter and go out, because the God’s sheepfold is a safehaven, not a prison!” the Pope said. He added: “The Church is the caretaker of God’s house, not its owner!” Pope Francis concluded his address by reflecting how the Holy Family understands the significance of doors that are opened and closed, especially for “those expecting a child, those who have no safe haven, those who must from danger.” “May Christian families make the threshold of their homes a small sign of the great door of God’s mercy and welcome.” Later in the audience, Pope Francis issued two appeals, one stressing the importance of child protection, and the other celebrating the mission of cloistered religious brothers and sisters. The appeals come ahead of the the Nov. 20 World Day of the Rights of the Child and the Nov. 21 Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. “It is everybody’s duty to protect children,” the Pope said, and to ensure “they are never subjected to any form of slavery or abuse.” The Pope called on the international community to remain vigilant in protecting children from poor living conditions, especially those in regions where they are susceptible to military recruitment, and to support families in helping their children obtain an education. Pope Francis also celebrated the unique mission of the contemplative life, using the Presentation of Our Lady as an opportunity to “thanking the Lord for the gift of the vocation of men and women who, in monasteries and hermitages, have dedicated their lives to God.” “In order for cloistered communities to accomplish their important mission, in prayer and silent work, let us not be lacking in our spiritual and material closeness to them.” Among the groups he greeted following the audience was the Polish trade union Solidarity, whose activities helped lead to the fall of communism in the Eastern bloc. Pope Francis commended Solidarity for its protection of the rights of persons and society, telling them: “Be faithful to this commitment, so that political or economic interests do not prevail over the values which constitute the essence of human solidarity. I commend you and all members of the Union to the protection of your patron, Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko, and I cordially bless you. Praised be Jesus Christ!”   Read more

Latest Ratzinger Prizes highlight Lebanese and Brazilian gifts to theology

Vatican City, Nov 18, 2015 / 06:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Brazilian priest and a Lebanese scholar were awarded on Monday the 2015 Ratzinger Prizes, in recognition of their work in theology. “With these two figures, the list of theologians who … Read more

Paris archbishop: When the pain is too great, we cling to God

Paris, France, Nov 18, 2015 / 03:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral, the archbishop of Paris said that despite the uncertainty and grief surrounding the terrorist attacks in the city last week, God is the source of strength and hope. “It’s an understatement to say that the savage killings of this black Friday have plunged entire families into deep distress,” Cardinal André Vingt-Trois reflected in his Nov. 15 homily. “And this anxiety is all the more profound when there aren’t any rational explanations that would justify the indiscriminate execution of dozens of people they didn’t even know.” When the pain and confusion become too great to bear, the cardinal asked, “Who can we turn to in this trial?” He proposed that there are ultimately only two options: the “tranquilizers” of this world or “the God of life.” The Mass at Notre Dame was offered for the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. At least 129 people died – and over 300 more were injured – in a series of bombings and shootings throughout the city. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Cardinal Vingt-Trois reflected on how “the Christian faith can be of some help to us in the confusion that has fallen upon us.” In addition to the pain and unanswered questions surrounding the attacks themselves, he said, the atrocity of Nov. 13 reminds all the mourning people of France and the whole world of the “inescapable reality” that “whether close or far off…our existence is marked by death. We can try to forget it, get around it, to want to soften and lighten it, but it’s there.” “We don’t know the day or the hour of our own end, and not knowing this troubles a lot of people. But we all see – and what happened this week reminds us cruelly, that death’s work never ends and sometimes strikes blindly.” While it may not be possible to fully understand the evil that happens in this life, believers can hold on to hope and bear witness to it as they comfort the suffering, Cardinal Vingt-Trois said. Strength in face of these trials, he explained, “comes from our confidence in God and our ability to rely on him.” “So we can’t allow ourselves to be stopped by the misfortunes of life or the suffering that we’re enduring, as if this had no meaning. Through them, we can discover that God is knocking on our door and wants to call us again to life, and open up to us the ways of life,” he said. “This confidence in God is a light on the journey of life,” the cardinal said, encouraging those gathered to “put our trust in God, who is the God of life.” Photo credit: Frederic Legrand-COMEO via   Read more