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Bishops comment on opioid crisis

By Matt Hadro
 
(CNA/EWTN News)--Amidst a growing epidemic of drug overdose and opioid addiction, Catholic bishops have been speaking out on the need for prayer and solidarity with those suffering from addiction.
 
“The closer you get to the Catholic Church, the closer you get to the wounds of Christ,” Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas said during a June 14 press conference at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent meeting in Indianapolis.
 
“And it’s important for us to recognize that we accompany many people who are wounded,” he added. “It’s the very essence of the Church to reach out to those who are wounded.”
 
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared that opioid abuse is an “epidemic” in the United States. Every day, 91 Americans die of an opioid-related overdose. The drugs include those used in prescription painkillers like oxycodone, codeine, and morphine, but also heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
 
Overdoses have also become the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. Opioids are involved in over 60 percent of overdoses nationwide, the CDC noted, and opioid-related overdoses quadrupled between 1999 and 2015.
 
Many Americans have reported first using prescription drugs before they used heroin, and rates of “past month” and “past year” heroin use, as well as heroin addiction, went up among 18-25 year-olds from 2002-2013, the CDC found, as heroin has become more widely available and purer.
 
Heroin-related deaths have more than tripled between 2010 and 2015, driven in part by an increase in synthetic opioids like fentanyl being added to heroin and cocaine to increase the potency of the drugs, the CDC reported.
 
At the U.S. bishops’ annual spring meeting in Indianapolis, held June 14-15, several bishops addressed the rising opioid crisis and discussed what the Church is doing to help those addicted to opioids, and their families. “The problem is becoming just so massive,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
 
In Vermont, parishes are trying to reach out to victims on the local level but are making sure to reach the families of victims as well, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne explained at the June 14 press conference.
 
“Oftentimes we are kind of limited in what we can do on a state level,” he acknowledged. “But at our parishes and in our agencies in our parishes we can continue to reach out to addicted families,” he noted, stressing, “not just those who are in recovery, but also their families.”
 
This also involves finding foster parents for children of addicted parents, particularly those whose parents have overdosed and those who suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
 
Ultimately, Catholics must “recognize that it’s not just the addicts; it’s the whole family that suffers,” he continued.
 
Catholic Charities in the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese is “already on to this question,” Cardinal DiNardo noted, and is providing “the kinds of charity and help and counseling for them and their families that Catholic Charities by its professional expertise brings.”
 
On June 29, Bishop Edward Malesic of Greensburg, Penn., published a pastoral letter on the opioid crisis. In his diocese in Western Pennsylvania, more than 300 opioid-related deaths had ravaged the communities in the previous year.
 
In his “Pastoral Letter on the Drug Abuse Crisis from Death and Despair to Life and Hope,” Bishop Malesic affirmed that in response to the crisis, “we can either sink down into despair or rise up in hope.”
 
“This is a plague that has come into the homes and families of every city, town, and even the rural areas of our diocese,” he acknowledged. Yet Catholics must choose hope, he added.
 
“Hope is the certain belief that God will provide what we need to overcome the struggles we are now facing. If we are not guided by hope, we will give up before the battle is won. We must have hope!” he insisted.
 
And Catholics must give hope to those mired in the despair of addiction, he said. “We accompany them with courageous faith. We offer them the comforting presence and power of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Jesus will provide.”
 
Bishop Malesic exhorted priests, religious, and deacons to “reach out” in Christ’s name to those suffering from drug addiction, and “let them know that they are not alone.”
 
“With the power of prayer, we can lift up our needs and the needs of those who are addicted to a loving God who is concerned for all of us,” he said. “We know that prayer, this heartfelt and intimate communication with God, can make a dramatic difference in the life of someone coping with an addiction crisis.”
 
The bishop also announced initiatives the diocese was taking to respond to the crisis, including educational initiatives at the parish level and developing family recovery groups.
 
Last March, Massachusetts bishops also issued a statement in response to the state’s rising drug-overdose crisis, after the rate of overdose deaths had reached record levels there.
 
“We encourage our sisters and brothers who are suffering addiction or the addiction of loved ones to turn to their faith community for support, counsel and compassion, and we pray that those most affected will receive the physical, emotional and spiritual help that they need,” the commonwealth’s bishops stated.
 

Violent incidents involving controversial speakers

In the wake of several violent incidents involving controversial speakers at universities this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing June 20 on free speech on college campuses.
 
Earlier this year in Vermont, Middlebury College student protesters shut down a talk by controversial conservative social scientist Charles Murray and injured a Middlebury professor who was with him.
 
This issue of violent incidents involving controversial speakers at universities also prompted Catholic News Service to interview several Catholic observers and leaders in higher education who emphasized the importance of civility and dialogue in a time of violence and intolerance.
 
The hearing was titled "Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses" and centered on the topics of free speech, intellectual freedom and the dangers they face on college campuses. Several people gave testimony, including two current students.
 
Zachary R. Wood, a senior at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., described his efforts to invite speakers who advocate challenging or controversial views in his work as president of Uncomfortable Learning at Williams College. Often his efforts were met with verbal attacks and violent language.
 
"I adamantly believe that students should be encouraged to engage with people and ideas they vehemently disagree with," Wood said in his written testimony.
 
Wood warned of the dangers of a campus that is an echo chamber, in which one view dominates and dictates the intellectual climate of the university.
 
Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran is no stranger to higher education. He is president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, based in Washington, and before that was at Regis University in Denver for 40 years, serving as president the last 19 years of his tenure there.
 
Tracing the tradition of civility in education from Aristotle and Cicero's classical works through Cardinal John Henry Newman's "Idea of a University," Father Sheeran explained that Aristotle's conception of man as a social creature complements Cardinal Newman's conception of a gentleman as one who never inflicts pain upon another. In the last half of the 20th century, however, Father Sheeran described a diverging trend in conduct.
 
"Thanks, I think, to the media and the internet, it has become OK to exaggerate, to lie, to insult, to provoke, all justified under free speech," Father Sheeran told CNS in a phone interview.
 
To counter this, Father Sheeran advocates for a return to the civility of tradition.
"Universities need to teach students the tradition that has been destroyed over the period since the 20th Century," Father Sheeran said. "Faculty need to model civility in the classroom, not to belittle approaches to their academic discipline that they disagree with."
 
Gerard Powers, director of Catholic Peacebuilding Studies for the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, also emphasized the importance of listening to opinions that may contradict one's own and acknowledged the problem of echo chambers.
 
"You look for the facts that enforce your beliefs," Powers told CNS in a phone interview.
 
"I think all of us have a problem with being in our little echo chambers and silos," said Powers, who also is coordinator of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network based at Notre Dame.
 
Sister Patricia Chappell, executive director of Pax Christi USA, agreed. "I don't think it's healthy, honestly, to just be engaged with people who think like you, or who only believe in what you believe in," the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur told CNS. "I think that's myopic."
 
To escape these echo chambers, Powers proposes both having confidence in one's own moral values and being willing to dialogue with those with whom one disagrees.
 
"It's a combination of rootedness, a deep sense of who you are and what you believe in, your own moral compass, as well as a cultivation of your own humility," Powers said.
 
John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, joked that people should delete their friends on Facebook in order to exit their echo chambers. Carr further stressed the universal nature of Catholicism, indicating that being an active member of the Church should involve an open-minded approach to dialogue.
 
"We're called to renew the Earth, to change society, and I don't think you do that from an island," Carr told CNS.
 
It is important, Carr said, to try to anticipate the concerns that others hold rather than giving into the temptation to view them as bigoted, dangerous or disrespectful.

"That's the antithesis of what a college education and a college campus could be," Carr said.
 
 
 

Going beyond administration

While preparing for the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, I paused on a statement describing a design principle for the event. In calling for missionary discipleship, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the participant guidebook cites Pope Francis' caution that "'mere administration' can no longer be enough."
 
As I had held administrative posts for almost a quarter of a century with 20 years in Catholic ministries, I took this as one of those learning moments to stop and think.
Simplified, administration is the coordination of people and their efforts to fulfill the purpose of an entity through the management of roles, activities, resources and processes. The goal of administration is to enable ministry while the purpose for any faith-based ministry is to help people know, love and serve God.
 
I would be the last person to cast administration as the polar opposite of ministry. The word "administration" embeds the concept of ministration. Few ministries can flourish without able administration.
 
Think about the cases where necessary services and outreach are held back by inefficient or incoherent processes, poorly trained or guided personnel, as well as insufficient or suboptimal use of resources. The Acts of the Apostles makes clear that the good works of charity and care for community require dedicated and organized administration.
 
While both are necessary, administration and ministry can pull in different directions that call for different actions and behaviors. Minimally, pressures for attending to tasks, deadlines, crises of one sort or another can hijack the time, energies, sensitivities and patience needed to attend to the feelings, needs and personal circumstances of the people involved.  
 
I learned this during my last month at Catholic Relief Services when I opened my calendar to anyone who wanted to have lunch. These conversations, unlike routine meetings, were not tethered to the usual organizational menus of problem-solving or brainstorming.
 
People shared stories of their backgrounds, why they chose to go into international development, their personal triumphs and losses, what was difficult about change for them, how they have grown, their hopes for CRS and how we could make more room for the ideas of our young people. My colleagues asked about me: What was difficult for me, what did I see in the organization, what did I hope for, what did I think we achieved together and what advice would I like them to hold in their hearts?
 
These conversations reveal the essence of people: who they are in the ways that matter to them; their joys and sometimes their struggles; what gives them meaning and joy; how they want to contribute and what holds them back. People were seeking to be known, not in resume entries that denote qualifications, but in human terms that foster understanding -- the first building blocks for engagement, acceptance and friendship.
 
The right brain kicks in to seek expressions toward bonded-ness and relationships without which we would not be fully human nor could we have the hunger for God and his people implicit to ministry.
 
A professional hazard to administrative roles is that these are based on power entangled with evaluative thinking that does not shut itself off. These inhibit conversations. Not only will people refrain from telling you their concerns; they also hold back on positive feedback and empathy for those in authority for fear that these may be misconstrued.
 
It is hard to imagine how one would find the extra time and the appropriate space that allows for both emotional bonding and professional objectivity. I would venture to say that had I appreciated the significance of these needs, I would have worked hard to make time and find ways to accommodate these.
 
It has to be done when we recognize that this is not really a choice: that our colleagues deserve nothing less, that empathy would wither or become brittle in their absence and that we are not really supporting God's ministry without channeling His eyes, ears and heart for the other.
- - -
Woo is distinguished president's fellow for global development at Purdue University and served as the CEO and president of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016.
 

Art's religious significance in D.C.

Elaborate artwork adorns the monumental buildings in the nation's capital, depicting the beauty and grandeur of the neoclassical era that inspired these buildings.
 
It is within these various forms of art that the principles on which the United States was founded come to life.
 
Much of this artwork illustrates virtue and features several religious figures, highlighting the influence of religion in the history of the United States.
 
Father Eugene Hemrick, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., is a columnist for Catholic News Service and the author of the book "One Nation Under God," which looks at the various religious symbols and images scattered throughout Washington.
 
To Father Hemrick, the early history of the United States makes it clear that the founders were dedicated to God and that their faith influenced their decisions for the nation.
 
"This country was established with a very strong religious background," Father Hemrick said in an interview July 3 with CNS.
 
According to a book published by the Department of the Interior, the men who signed the Constitution were predominantly members of the Protestant denominations that characterized early America, with only two men, Daniel Carroll and Thomas Fitzsimons, being Catholic.
 
"So we have their representation that these people were very conscious of religion," said Father Hemrick, who is in residence at St. Joseph Church on Capitol Hill.
 
The influence of a history teacher that Father Hemrick had years ago instilled within him a deep love for history. Combined with his interest in the arts, which moves him to play the violin every day, Father Hemrick writes in his book of his amazement at the abundance of religious symbolism found within the nation's capital.
 
"It's really the nature of our country, and anybody who says differently doesn't know their history of this country," Father Hemrick told CNS. "We are proud to parade these things."
 
When asked about a connection between the numerous religious symbols in the buildings on Capitol Hill and the nonsectarian nature of government, Father Hemrick emphasized the importance of preserving religious freedom.
 
"We're in a new age and a lot of those traditions have been lost, and they need to be rediscovered," Father Hemrick said.
 
Throughout the Supreme Court of the United States, visitors can view a plethora of references to virtue.
 
"The virtues which we talk about, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are our whole moral way of looking at life," Father Hemrick said.
 
To the left of the front stairway to the Supreme Court building sits a sculpture titled "Contemplation of Justice" by James Earle Fraser. Contemplation, as Father Hemrick said, is often seen as another word for prayer. The woman depicted holds a blindfolded figure of Justice on her right and a book of laws sits on her left. The sculptor, as stated on the website SupremeCourt.gov, saw the woman as "a realistic conception of what I consider a heroic type of person with a head and body expressive of the beauty and intelligence of justice."
 
On the east side of the court building the sculptural group, "Justice is the Guardian of Liberty," by Herman McNeil, is featured inside the eastern pediment, where Moses holds what appears to be the Ten Commandments surrounded by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, and Solon, an Athenian lawmaker. Further down the pediment is an allegorical depiction of Mercy, according to Father Hemrick, in the form of a woman kneeling.
 
On the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol, the President's Room was used prior to 1933 as the place for the president to sign legislation at the end of congressional sessions. Today it is used by senators for press purposes. It was built in 1859 around the four principles held through the founding: liberty, legislation, executive authority and religion, according to Father Hemrick's book, "One Nation, Under God."
 
Father Hemrick writes, "As Religion looks down at us from the ceiling in the President's Room, she is a reminder that we are a nation of people who believe in religion."
 
In 1864, Congress passed a law permitting the president to invite each individual state to gift to the Capitol at most two statues of figures notable within their respective states. The statues were to be placed within the National Statuary Hall inside the Capitol.
 
Five statues of the statues there and in surrounding rooms within the Capitol have Catholic significance:
-- Mother Joseph, a Canadian missionary who contributed to 11 hospitals, seven academic institutions, and two orphanages in Washington State and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
-- St. Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary who founded the chain of missions in California.
-- St. Damien of Molokai, who spent his life ministering to people with Hansen's disease in Hawaii.
-- Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit scholar who devoted much of his time to the Pimas in southern Arizona.
-- Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary who was part of an expedition along the Mississippi River and brought the Gospel to Native Americans in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the region.
 
Timothy Meagher is an associate professor at The Catholic University of America, archivist and the curator of the American Catholic History Collections at the university. He said the fact that states chose these influential Catholics to represent their states speaks to the diversity of America's founding and how it didn't involve just men such as John Winthrop, the famed leader of the Puritans.
 
"The statues testify in some ways that we think of the country as being founded by the pilgrims, but these Catholics testify to the multiple origins of this country," Meagher said in an interview with CNS July 6.
 
He spoke about the French Catholics who explored along the Mississippi and the Spanish Catholics with strong roles in the West.
 
"The statues are recognition from those states of their influence," Meagher said.
 
Images of crucifixes and religious orders are scattered throughout the artwork within the U.S. Capitol. Carvings on the front doors depict the life of Christopher Columbus, accompanied by Franciscans with rosaries hanging from their waists. As well as paintings in the Rotunda, such as the engraving "The Discovery of the Mississippi" by Johnson, Fry & Co., which illustrates Hernando de Soto standing at the Mississippi River, with priests in the foreground, praying and placing a crucifix in the ground.
 
"We are truly blessed to live in a country that not only respects God, but has chiseled that respect in stone, inscribed it on walls, pieced it together in mosaics and painted it on canvases so that American generations that will never forget their religious heritage," Father Hemrick wrote to close his book.
 
 

Technological ‘practices’

By Brett Robinson
 
As a father of four, I am familiar with practice. There’s hockey practice, piano practice and lots of practicing patience. My kids are learning what a C-sharp sounds like and how to track the puck when they are playing defense. These practices form our family by training perception.
 
I’m thankful for all of the kids’ activities, partly because they distract them from the screen. The screen is another venue for forming perception, though we rarely think of it that way. We tend to talk about media technology as a means for communicating or gathering information.
 
Meanwhile, the practice of using the technology is forming our perception in small ways that often go unnoticed.
 
One example is the blue light that is emitted from smartphones and tablets that interferes with the neurotransmitters that bring on sleep. Reading before bed can be a relaxing activity but doing it from a screen can tell your brain just the opposite, to wake up.
 
Media technology practice also has an effect on memory. How many times have you opted to Google something rather than try to remember it on your own? How many photos have you taken at a party or on vacation for fear that you might not remember how fun or beautiful everything was?
 
Practice forms habits and when they are properly ordered, habits can be salutary for the soul. However, habits can also turn into disordered obsessions or addictions. Today, we hear a lot about technology addiction but not a lot about technology practice.
 
There are certainly addictive qualities about media technology but even if we are not addicted, we are still engaged in the practice of using those technologies regularly. And those practices can alter our perception in ways that change our understanding of others, ourselves and God.
 
The question that needs asking is, What is all of this technology practice forming us for?
 
Our devices — even when they are put away — haunt us with the possibility that a new message or bit of news is ready to be consumed. It starts with a practice like using the computer for hours a day (required for most office workers) that spills over into leisure time with social media, games and plenty of Netflix.
 
For children, it is the threat of boredom that drives them to the screen. Boredom, a state once reserved for the free play of the imagination and memory, is conquered by their thirst for constant stimulation that can only be slaked by streaming media.
 
Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper said that leisure was the basis of culture. It’s leisure that gives us the time and space to contemplate God. Without it — in lives that are dictated by labor and the digital tools required to perform it — we lose our capacity to perceive the capaciousness of God. The ways that we spend our leisure time says a lot about what we ultimately value.
 
But there are upsides to the new technology’s effects on the senses, memory and imagination. There are practices that help us recognize the pain of another human being or get in touch with something transcendent.
 
One example is viewing family photos with a child and telling them stories about when they were little. It’s a small practice that forms their memory in ways that remind them that they are part of a family and a stream of memories, part of something much larger than themselves.
 
If the goal is finding a healthy balance with our technological creations, then we have to start with practice. Just as a doctor practices medicine, a Catholic practices religion. We know it’s the cure for our spiritual maladies, but sometimes we shirk our duty to rise and pursue the good.
 
Take a moment to revisit the practices in your daily life and to ask how they are forming your memory and imagination. As Catholics, we call to mind Christ’s passion, death and resurrection so that we can imagine a life of hope.
 
There’s even an app for that! It’s called 3D Catholic and 3D stands for three devotions: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It’s a simple reminder that our virtual technologies shouldn’t strip us of our physical bodies. Because those bodies can be used to commemorate Christ’s passion through prayer, fasting and helping others in very real ways.
 
– – –
 
Robinson is director of communications and Catholic media studies at the University of Notre Dame McGrath Institute for Church Life.
 
 

 

Convocation of Catholic Leaders

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl urged participants at the "Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of The Gospel in America" to take a look at each other in the hotel ballroom and realize that they, as lay leaders in the Church, are responsible for spreading the Gospel message, and they shouldn't waste the moment.
 
"This is not something new that we haven't heard before," he told the delegates in Orlando in a July 2 keynote address.
 
The cardinal stressed the sense of urgency of evangelizing and inviting others to Christ, stressing that Catholics have a perfect role model for this in Pope Francis, who has continually presented the church as inviting and open.
 
Cardinal Wuerl also acknowledged that Catholics are not always comfortable with the idea of evangelizing but they need to be willing to step out of themselves and talk with people about their faith as part of an encounter often spoken of by Pope Francis.
 
An encounter is not meant to tell people "they can be as wonderful as we are," the cardinal said. It is about telling them about Christ. He also noted that as people take this Gospel message out to the peripheries that doesn't just mean economic peripheries either but spiritual ones as well.
 
People need to be asked about their faith and encouraged in it, he added.
 
He spoke about an experience he had on a plane where a woman sitting beside him asked him if he was "born again." When he said he was at his baptism, his seatmate said: "You Catholics are big into this church thing, aren't you?"
 
She then asked him to tell her more and joking, he told the crowd: "You asked for it!"
His point was that many people have questions or even misconceptions about faith and need to be part of a conversation about it.
 
Stressing that church members today, as always, are called to be evangelizing disciples, the cardinal said this role requires courage, a sense of urgency, compassion and joy.
 
Deacon Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington and one of the convocation attendees, said it was “inspiring to be part of such an incredible and joy-filled gathering as the Church in America looks to move forward.”
 
The concept of a joy-filled missionary discipleship “must undergird all of our efforts in the Church—from our institution to our outreach to the margins of our society,” he said. “There are so many who are hurting, wounded and marginalized. The Lord can heal those hurts. And we have the privilege and responsibility to be the Lord’s instruments of mercy and love in the world. What a privilege and responsibility!”
 
Members of a panel of Church leaders who spoke at the convocation, similarly stressed the need to evangelize in simple ways of sitting and eating together, sharing conversion stories, and also reaching out to parishioners and urging them to be more involved.
 
The cardinal and many of the panelists also emphasized that reaching out to others requires a reconnection of one's personal faith.
 
Or as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said: "If you want to go out in world, start by going in."
 
Deacon Lawson said the convocation energized him for his ministry in Vermont: “The Lord continues to send us out into the world, but He never sends us out alone—always two by two right? To be with some 3,600 other Catholic leaders all seeking the same goal was inspiring and enlivening.”
 
Also in attendance was Bill Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Burlington.
 
-- Vermont Catholic Content Editor and Staff Reporter Cori Fugere Urban contributed to this story.
 
 
 

NFP Awareness Week Begins July 23

“It’s Time! Say ‘Yes’ to God’s Plan for Married Love” is the theme of this year’s Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, a national educational campaign of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to celebrate God’s design for married love and the gift of life and to raise awareness of Natural Family Planning methods.
 
NFP, as the U.S. bishops wrote in “Married Love and the Gift of Life,” is supportive of Catholic beliefs about married love because it “respects the God-given power to love a new human life into being.”
 
This year’s theme invites a reflection on how now could be a very good and acceptable time to learn more about NFP and the Church’s teachings about marriage and God’s plan for married love.
 
In his address to teachers of Natural Family Planning in 1996, Pope St. John Paul II said, “The moment has come for every parish and every structure of consultation and assistance to the family and to the defense of life to have personnel available who can teach married couples how to use the natural methods. For this reason I particularly recommend that bishops, parish priests and those responsible for pastoral care welcome and promote this valuable service.
 
The dates of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week (July 23-29) highlight  the anniversary of the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” (July 25) that articulates Catholic beliefs about human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The dates also mark the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne (July 26), the parents of the Blessed Mother.
 
Resources and ideas for celebrating and promoting NFP Awareness Week are available on the USCCB’s NFP Program website.
 
For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

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.
 

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.
 
 
 

Delegates prepare for Convocation of Catholic Leaders

The 3,000 people attending the upcoming Convocation of Catholic Leaders are being seen as members of diocesan teams who will return home to act on what they see and learn while discussing the church's role in a changing social landscape.

A combination guidebook and journal has been developed to help the delegates prepare for the gathering in Orlando, Florida, set for July 1-4.

The 68-page book offers activities for the diocesan teams as they meet during the weeks leading to the gathering, allowing them to reflect and pray on Scripture and the teachings of Pope Francis, particularly his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium" ("The Joy of the Gospel").

"To get something done, we want people to have prepared as teams before they come in to get more out of (the convocation)," said Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and a convocation planner. "What you get out of this is what you put into it."

The booklet is being sent to each registered participant to the invitation-only event. It also is available online to anyone interested in learning more about the convocation at bit.ly/2rR6OTY.

Reyes told Catholic News Service that the guidebook encourages team members to plan which sessions to attend that fits with the goals of their diocese in building a church built on mercy and missionary discipleship.

"In the ideal world, it's forming a team that brings together people from the peripheries who are not normally together. This book is what's going to help them think as a team before they get there. It gives them some things to reflect on together," he explained.

"We're trying to make clear that this isn't the kind of thing you attend passively and that bishops and leaders are meant to be integrated in a conversation of the whole church together and experience the conference not as the bishops over there, the laypeople over here. It's actually meant to be everyone mixing together in conversation," Reyes added.

The guidebook offers numerous Scripture citations and references to passages from the pope's exhortation. Delegates are encouraged to read some of the passages and pray about what they mean for their particular role in the convocation and the church at home.

A separate section includes space for journal entries based on the discussion of each day of the convocation. The idea, Reyes said, is to allow participants the opportunity to reflect in the moment and then return to their writings when they return home.

"It's spiritual preparation as well," Reyes said of the book. "It's deeply scriptural and there's a lot of "Evangelii Gaudium" as well as some other key church documents from the bishops. It's a lot of Scripture and a lot of Pope Francis."

The convocation is meant to guide people to build the church that Pope Francis is calling people to shape, Reyes added.

"We didn't want to create a program. This (convocation) is for people to design or think through together what mission looks like. Pope Francis says again and again, 'Don't do the same old things.' You want to think creatively. So we're not going to put together a program, but people are going to experience, hopefully, in a way that gives them a way forward, a vision for their own," he said.

Meanwhile, more than $500,000 had been pledged to support scholarships for people attending the convocation. Reyes' department and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have allocated $100,000 each in financial assistance. The Black and Indian Mission Office has pledged another $300,000.

The goal of such scholarships is to allow diverse voices to be on hand in Orlando, Reyes said.

"If there's a Francis inspiration in this, it's let's not just talk, (but) act," he told CNS. "So we are pushing action, action, action through proper preparation."
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