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U.S. Bishops Call for Solidarity, Conversion

In anticipation of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement echoing Pope Francis’ call that all people, “Christians or not,…should be united in showing mercy to the earth as our common home.”  

The letter emphasizes the call to conversion and the role of mercy in caring for the environment, building on the Pope’s message last year. “Showing mercy to our common home first requires a personal and institutional examination of conscience,” said Bishops Dewane and Cantú.

The bishops recognized the need for collective action and restated their call for an “energy revolution,” stressing that we must especially “remember those who labor in the energy industry, from coal miners and solar engineers to legislators and scientists.”

The message also recognizes September 1 as the first day of the “Season of Creation,” which concludes on October 4 with the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. The bishops acknowledge that this “is a privileged time for all persons of faith to consider spiritual and corporal acts of mercy towards our common home and all those living in it, so that this may also become a ‘season of mercy’ within our families, our communities and our world.”  

Full text: Statement on World Day of Prayer for Creation

 
  • Published in Nation

Labor Day

"Excessive inequality" threatens cooperation among all people in society "and the social pact it supports," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., in the U.S. bishops' annual Labor Day statement.
 
In the message, Bishop Dewane cited the words of Pope Francis, who told factory workers in Genoa, Italy, "The entire social pact is built around work. This is the core of the problem. Because when you do not work, or you work badly, you work little or you work too much, it is democracy that enters into crisis, and the entire social pact."
 
Dated Sept. 4, the federal Labor Day holiday, the statement was released Aug. 30.
Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, pointed to a "twisted understanding of labor and laborers" that fosters deepening inequality.
 
In Genoa, the pope "acknowledges that 'merit' is 'a beautiful word,'" Bishop Dewane said, "but the modern world can often use it 'ideologically,' which makes it 'distorted and perverted' when it is used for 'ethically legitimizing inequality.'"
 
"Wages remain stagnant or are decreasing for the vast majority of people, while a smaller percentage collect the new wealth being generated. Economic stresses contribute to a decline in marriage rates, increases in births outside of two-parent households and child poverty," Bishop Dewane added. "Economic instability also hurts the faith community, as Americans who have recently experienced unemployment are less likely to go to church, even though such communities can be a source of great support in difficult times."
 
He said, "When a parent -- working full time, or even working multiple jobs beyond standard working hours -- cannot bring his or her family out of poverty, something is terribly wrong with how we value the work of a person."
 
"Pope Francis has said it is 'inhuman' that parents must spend so much time working that they cannot play with their children. Surely many wish for more time, but their working conditions do not allow it."
 
He quoted St. John Paul II's encyclical "Centesimus Annus": "Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business."
 
"A culture that obsesses less over endless activity and consumption may, over time, become a culture that values rest for the sake of God and family," Bishop Dewane said.
 
He added, "Our Lord's 'gaze of love' embraces men and women who work long hours without rest to provide for their loved ones; families who move across towns, states, and nations, facing the highest risks and often suffering great tragedy in order to find better opportunities; workers who endure unsafe working conditions; low pay and health crises; women who suffer wage disparities and exploitation; and those who suffer the effects of racism in any setting, including the workplace."
 
Bishop Dewane suggested several approaches to right the imbalance brought by inequality.
 
"Worker-owned businesses can be a force for strengthening solidarity, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged businesses to consider 'the active sharing of all in the administration and profits of these enterprises in ways to be properly determined,'" he said. "The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce."
 
Workers' legal rights to "a just wage in exchange for work, to protection against wage theft, to workplace safety and just compensation for workplace injuries, to health care and other benefits, and to organize and engage in negotiations, should be promoted," he added.
 
"Workers must be aided to come to know and exercise their legal rights. As an example, CCHD has supported the Don Bosco Workers in Westchester, New York, which has launched a successful campaign to combat wage theft. Persons returning from prison also need support to understand their legal rights as they seek new employment. CCHD has helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati and elsewhere as they work with returning citizens to find stable and meaningful jobs."
 
Labor unions play an important role in this effort, according to Bishop Dewane, as he quoted from Pope Francis' remarks in June in an audience with delegates from the Confederation of Trade Unions: "There is no good society without a good union, and there is no good union that is not reborn every day in the peripheries, that does not transform the discarded stones of the economy into its cornerstones."
 
"Unions must retain and recover their prophetic voice, which 'regards the very nature itself of the union, its truest vocation. The union is an expression of the prophetic profile of society,'" he said, quoting further from Pope Francis, who added, "The union movement has its great seasons when it is prophecy." Bishop Dewane added that unions should "resist the temptation of becoming too similar to the institutions and powers that it should instead criticize."
 
Bishop Dewane said, "Unions are especially valuable when they speak on behalf of the poor, the immigrant and the person returning from prison."
 
  • Published in Nation

U.S. Bishops chairman responds to repeal bill defeat

WASHINGTON—In response to last night’s Senate vote on the “skinny repeal” bill, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has issued the following statement:    
 
“Despite the Senate’s decision not to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last night, the task of reforming the healthcare system still remains. The current healthcare system is not financially sustainable, lacks full Hyde protections and conscience rights, and is inaccessible to many immigrants.  Inaction will result in harm for too many people.
 
A moment has opened for Congress, and indeed all Americans, to set aside party and personal political interest and pursue the common good of our nation and its people, especially the most vulnerable. In order to be just, any bill for consideration must:
 
  • Protect the Medicaid program from changes that would harm millions of struggling Americans.
  • Protect the safety net from any other changes that harm the poor, immigrants, or any others at the margins.
  • Address the real probability of collapsing insurance markets and the corresponding loss of genuine affordability for those with limited means. 
  • Provide full Hyde Amendment provisions and much-needed conscience protections. 
  • Any final agreement that respects human life and dignity, honors conscience rights, and ensures that everyone can access health care that is comprehensive, high quality, and truly affordable deserves the support of all of us.
 
The greatness of our country is not measured by the well-being of the powerful but how we have cared for the ‘least of these.’  Congress can and should pass health care legislation that lives up to that greatness.”

 
  • Published in Nation

Reaction to draft Senate health care bill

After the U.S. Senate introduced a “discussion draft” of its health care bill, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, highlighted certain positive elements in the bill, but reiterated the need for senators to remove unacceptable flaws in the legislation that harm those most in need.

The full statement follows:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is examining very closely the new Senate “discussion  draft” introduced today and will provide more detailed comments soon. 

It must be made clear now, however, that this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them. It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.

An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life. Such a health care system must protect conscience rights as well as extend to immigrant families.

The bishops value language in the legislation recognizing that abortion is not health care by attempting to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it. While questions remain about the provisions and whether they will remain in the final bill, if retained and effective this would correct a flaw in the Affordable Care Act by fully applying the longstanding and widely-supported Hyde amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.   

However, the discussion draft introduced today retains a “per-capita cap” on Medicaid funding, and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities and must not be supported.

Efforts by the Senate to provide stronger support for those living at and above the poverty line are a positive step forward. However, as is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net. 

The USCCB has also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal. It fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections, which are needed more than ever in our country’s health policy. The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system. We look forward to the process to improve this discussion draft that surely must take place in the days ahead.
 
  • Published in Nation

Moral Principles for Health Care Reform

As the U.S. Senate begins to discuss health care reform, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin provided moral principles to help guide policymakers in their deliberations.
 
In a letter sent on June 1, the chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stressed the "grave obligations" that Senators have "when it comes to policy that affects health care." While commending the bill passed by the House of Representatives, the American Health Care Act, for its protections for unborn children, the Bishops emphasized the "many serious flaws" in the AHCA, including unacceptable changes to Medicaid.
 
"The Catholic Church remains committed to ensuring the fundamental right to medical care, a right which is in keeping with the God-given dignity of every person, and the corresponding obligation as a country to provide for this right," the Chairmen wrote. "[T]hose without a strong voice in the process must not bear the brunt of attempts to cut costs."
 
Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Lori chairs the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Dewane heads the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Vásquez is the chairman of the Committee on Migration.
 
The bishops outlined key principles for senators such as universal access, respect for life, true affordability, the need for high quality and comprehensive medical care and conscience protections.
 
If the Senate takes up the House bill as a starting point, the letter urges that lawmakers "must retain the positive elements of the bill and remedy its grave deficiencies." Specifically, the chairmen called on the Senate to: reject dramatic changes to Medicaid; retain the AHCA's life protections; increase the level of tax assistance, especially for low-income and older people; retain the existing cap on costs of plans for the elderly; protect immigrants; and add conscience protections, among other things.
 
The full letter to Congress can be found at: usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Senate-Principles-letter-Health-Care-Reform-2017-06-01.pdf.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

'Pledge to End the Death Penalty'

Bishops attending a meeting were among the first to sign the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty at the U.S. bishops' headquarters building May 9.
 
Each person taking the pledge promises to educate, advocate and pray for an end to capital punishment.
 
"All Christians and people of goodwill are thus called today to fight not only for the abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also in order to improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom," Pope Francis has said. This quotation kicks off the pledge.
 
The pledge drive is organized by the Catholic Mobilizing Network.
 
"The death penalty represents a failure of our society to fulfill the demands of human dignity, as evidenced by the 159 people and counting who have been exonerated due to their innocence since 1973," the organization says on the pledge sheet following space for someone's signature.
 
Quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the network added, "The death penalty is not needed to maintain public safety, punishment must 'correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and (be) more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.'"
 
After capital punishment was halted nationwide briefly in the 1970s, more than 1,400 people have been executed since it resumed 40 years ago, according to the Catholic Mobilizing Network. "The prolonged nature of the death penalty process can perpetuate the trauma for victims' families and prevents the opportunity for healing and reconciliation called for in the message of Jesus Christ."
 
The idea for the pledge campaign took root in January, said Catholic Mobilizing Network executive director Karen Clifton in an interview with Catholic News Service, but Arkansas' bid to execute eight death-row prisoners in a 10-day span in April -- four were ultimately put to death -- "exacerbated the situation and showed it as a very live example of who we are executing and the reasons why the system is so broken," she said.
 
Penalties for crime are "supposed to be retributive, but also restorative. The death penalty is definitely not restorative," Clifton said. Those on death row are not the worst of the worst, they're the least -- the marginalized, the poor, those with improper (legal) counsel," she added.
 
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said he and his fellow bishops have voiced their views strongly with Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, where capital punishment is legal and where prisoners have been executed.
 
Bishop Dewane, in recalling Pope John Paul II's successful personal appeal to the governor of Missouri to spare a death-row inmate's life during the pope's visit to St. Louis in 1999, said the episode offers hope. "It's a great example," he added. "You never know how your words will be taken, or accepted."
 
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, who was one of a number of bishops who signed the pledge following a daylong meeting May 9 at the U.S. bishops' headquarters building in Washington, said the Church's ministry to prisoners is another source of hope. "It's the ministry of companionship that's so important," he noted.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Reactions to American Health Care Act vote

The American Health Care Act that passed by a four-vote margin May 4 in the House has "major defects," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development.
 
"It is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded," Bishop Dewane said in a May 4 statement. "The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act."
 
He added, "When the Senate takes up the AHCA, it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people -- including immigrants -- as well as add vital conscience protections, or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system."
 
One of 20 Republicans to vote against the bill was Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.
 
"I voted no on the AHCA largely because it cuts Medicaid funding by $839 billion; undercuts essential health benefits such as maternity care, newborn care, hospitalization and pediatric services; includes 'per capita caps' and weakens coverage for pre-existing health conditions -- all of which will hurt disabled persons, especially and including children and adults with autism, the elderly and the working poor," Smith said in a May 4 statement.
 
Those opposing the bill cited reductions in coverage and cost increases. Those favoring the bill cited its pro-life provisions.
 
 "Today's House vote marks the beginning of the end of the shell game Planned Parenthood plays with public money. That the American Health Care Act limits Medicaid funds to entities that don't kill people is entirely appropriate, not to mention a step that's long overdue," said a May 4 statement by Father Frank Pavone, national president of Priests for Life.
 
"Abortion is not health care, and in light of that -- this bill provides Hyde (Amendment)-like protections and redirects funding away from America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, to community health centers that offer comprehensive women's care, and already outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by 20 to 1," said a May 4 statement by Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.
 
"Over 2 million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. This new health care bill ensures that we are one step closer to getting the federal government entirely out of the business of subsidizing abortion," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, in a May 4 statement.
 
"Protecting Medicaid is a priority for the faith community. The 'fixes' made to the AHCA do nothing to change the fact that millions of low-income Americans will lose their health coverage," said a May 4 statement by the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, the anti-hunger lobby. "Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty."
 
"We support efforts to strengthen and stabilize our nation's health care system and extend insurance coverage and protections," said Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. "However, the American Health Care Act is not the answer. Accordingly, we call on the Senate to reject the bill due to its projected adverse impact on the well-being of our nation, particularly on individuals with mental health, behavioral and substance use disorders."
 
  • Published in Nation

Pro-growth and pro-environment

President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on March 28, 2017 that rescinds and weakens numerous environmental protections, and effectively dismantles the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the national program designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 32% in relation to 2015 levels by the year 2030. Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest pollution emitting sector, making up just under one-third of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The USCCB, in unity with Pope Francis, strongly supports environmental stewardship and has called consistently for 'our own country to curtail carbon emissions,'" said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in response to the order. "This Executive Order places a number of environmental protections in jeopardy and moves the U.S. away from a national carbon standard, all without adopting a sufficient plan for ensuring proper care for people and creation. Yesterday's action means that, sadly, the United States is unlikely to meet its domestic and international mitigation goals." 

The USCCB has voiced support for a national carbon emission standard in recent years, though the Church does not privilege one set of technical, economic, or political approaches over another.  Bishop Dewane stresses that, although the CPP is not the only possible mechanism for reducing carbon emissions, the lack of a current viable alternative is a serious concern.    

"The EPA Administrator has repeatedly stated that policies must be pro-growth and pro-environment.  An integral approach can respect human and natural concerns and still achieve these aims, if properly done.  Many states have already made great progress toward carbon mitigation goals under the CPP, and this momentum ought to be encouraged and not hindered. Pope Francis' encyclical, Laudato si', focuses on both the 'the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'  With this recent order, the Administration risks damage to our air, our waters and, most importantly, our people, particularly the poor and vulnerable, without proposing a concrete and adequate approach to meet our stewardship obligations as a nation."
  • Published in Nation
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