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Catholic Charities' priorities on "Hill Day"

Four years ago, Ted Bergh was asking members of Congress to support food programs and comprehensive immigration reform, issues of deep concern to Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, which he serves as CEO.

Bergh was back on Capitol Hill March 29 for Catholic Charities USA's Hill Day with the same concerns and a few more in a time of uncertainty under a new White House administration.

Catholic Charities leaders spent the second day of their two-day meeting pressing support for federally funded social services -- in many cases their lifeblood -- that touch the lives of the millions of people they serve. Their concerns encompassed affordable housing, protections for immigrants and refugees, services for senior citizens, and food programs in schools and rural communities -- all in response to the deep cuts in social services proposed in President Donald Trump's "skinny" budget.

The budget -- a preliminary plan with specifics due in May -- calls for $54 billion in cuts in discretionary spending in nonmilitary programs including many social services. The budget calls for a corresponding boost in military spending.

The proposed reapportioning of the federal budget did not sit well with Robert McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Spokane in Washington state. He said he wanted to stress to Congress that a budget is a values-based document that answers the question, "What is most important to us?"

"In my mind, being able to solve homelessness in our country is more important than spending $582 billion on defense." McCann said. "I'm a patriot and I want to defend America, but I also want to take care of the dignity of every human being. That they deserve a bed and a shower and a place to eat and place to have a normal life. We can solve homelessness in the country, but it's going to take an intentional effort."

Bergh and colleagues made similar pitches.

"Food pantries cannot do it all. We run some food pantries. We have some mobile food pantries in rural areas. There's a lot of hunger. There's a lot of despair there," Bergh told Catholic News Service on the way to a meeting with an aide to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

"If SNAP benefits decline, the pressure on the charitable organizations that are doing all this feeding work is just going to increase. I don't think you can expect the charitable organizations to do it all," Bergh added.

In the meeting, Bergh turned to the lack of affordable housing in Cincinnati and beyond. He and others pressed for affordable housing projects to be included in Trump's call for $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements. It was an idea they said was mentioned during a private meeting with Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the day before.

Bergh was backed by Laura Jordan Roesch, CEO of Catholic Charities Social Services of the Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio, who said housing support for low-income families and immigrant communities in particular can help grow the economy.

Dayton, Roesch told CNS afterward, has undertaken a policy of welcoming immigrants in the wake of the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The newcomers have refurbished houses, opened business and created a burgeoning economy in the city's Old North Dayton neighborhood, she said.

Across Capitol Hill, agency leaders repeated calls to protect the social safety net, fearing programs that benefit poor people were being targeted by the president's budget proposal. The officials also made sure to point out that any change in the Affordable Care Act must ensure that people do not lose the health coverage they now have.

They cited examples from their communities of how low-income families are faced with spending an ever-growing percentage of their limited incomes for rent. Families especially have turned to Catholic Charities for rental assistance to avoid eviction and the resulting upheaval of family life.

Their point: Keeping people in a stable setting saves money in the long run because they are not having to turn to more costly emergency services. Stable housing reduces crime, drug abuse and school dropout rates, they said.

Terry Walsh, president and chief executive office of Catholic Charities Hawaii, said he wanted to respond to the "senior tsunami" affecting the state in which the senior population is rising at five times the rate of the rest of the country, stressing the affordable housing market on the islands.

"Per capita, Hawaii has the highest homeless rate in the country," Walsh said. HUD in 2016 counted 7,921 people as homeless in Hawaii, whose population totals 1.4 million. "It's going beyond the chronically homeless. It affects children. It affects seniors. It affects families," he said.

In meetings with staff of the House and Senate committees on agriculture, Kim Brabits, vice president, program operations for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, cited the need for strengthening food programs because of growing "food deserts" in rural areas of the 21 counties her agency serves. She said locally owned grocery stores in small towns and at crossroads have been forced to close as mega-supermarkets that are up to an hour away from some residents have opened.

"Our mission is to increase the summer meal programs," Brabits said. "Cutting the program would be detrimental to the kids we serve."

Brabits said meal programs are effective, despite what some government officials have said publicly. "We're feeding people," she said. "That's the main goal: how many people are being fed."

Funding for disaster response was on the mind of Sister Marjorie Hebert, a member of Marianites of the Holy Cross and president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Making her visit for Hill Day, she said the area had experienced weather-related disasters in the last year that forced people from their homes.

"We need to find a faster way to get the money to the recipients. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is there quickly enough. We sometimes have to front money for almost nine to 12 months before we (the region) get the federal assistance," she said.

Most importantly, she said, her visit to Congress was to serve as a reminder of the value of the front line services her agency provides and "the number of people we serve."

Pro-Woman Is Pro-Life

Recent cultural conversations on the importance of women's advancement have increasingly included abortion access, perpetuating a tragic assumption that 'pro-woman' and 'pro-life' are diametrically opposed viewpoints. This belief ignores the full reality of the beauty and dignity of all human life. To be pro-woman is to be pro-life; one cannot exist without the other.

Abortion has negative outcomes for both a woman and her child, with the two-fold loss including both the destruction of the child's very life and the destruction of the mother's well-being. The aftermath of abortion for a woman often includes psychological traumatization, and sometimes physical harm. Far from promoting dignity and freedom, abortion promotes the lie that a woman must harm herself and her child in order to be free.

The idea that abortion empowers women is one of many lies in society that are, in reality, incredibly harmful to women. How many other areas in culture have women been told to endure pain and a "quick fix" for their own advancement, whether through the fashion industry, eating disorders, or cosmetic surgery? Abortion advocates perpetuate the myth that women must "jump through hoops" and do violence to themselves in order to preserve their equality and the freedom to advance in the world. 

Many women have rightly rejected the myth that they must "jump through hoops" just to be acknowledged and valued as human beings. The authentic, pro-woman position demands a woman be loved and valued for her own sake, exactly as she is—not because she has compromised herself. Abortion is anti-woman because it attacks some of what is most true and beautiful within a woman. Abortion is the very antithesis to a woman's ability to nurture and bring forth new life. 

Abortion advocates treat pregnancy like a problem or a disease. Pregnancy is not the problem; it's the lack of care for the woman—for her own dignity and life-giving ability—that's the problem. When society devalues motherhood and the ability to nurture life, making these things a source of shame and inconvenience, it increases the likelihood of a woman feeling like she has no option other than to abort her own child.

We are called to love. A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy should never feel like she must face it alone. She needs to know that others truly care about her dignity and well-being, and that there is help through a variety of sources, especially from local diocesan resources like the Respect Life office, Catholic Charities office, or local pregnancy help centers and maternity homes. Both mother and child deserve experienced care and compassion; both deserve a future filled with hope. 

As we bear witness to and build the culture of life, in what ways can we show support, both for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies and for all women and the unique challenges they face? Society often objectifies women and tells them they need to reject their procreative and nurturing abilities just to be equal to men and to feel respected. But there is much we can do, in our personal witness, to counter these lies. When we celebrate and support women in all their unique gifts and contributions—including their life-giving capacity—they will be encouraged to make life-affirming choices for both themselves and their children.

To be pro-woman is to be pro-life. If we want to change the cultural conversation, we must be a part of it. 

Kimberly Baker is Programs and Projects Coordinator for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on local help for any woman facing a difficult pregnancy, please visit www.heartbeatinternational.org.

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."

Common dreams, diverse backgrounds

The U.S. bishops in a pastoral reflection released March 22 called all Catholics to do what each of them can "to accompany migrants and refugees who seek a better life in the United States."

Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the reflection was issued "in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, conflict or fear in their native lands," said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"To live as a people of God is to live in the hope of the Resurrection," said the reflection, which was approved by the USCCB Administrative Committee on the first day of a two-day meeting in Washington.

The 37-member committee is made up of the executive officers of the USCCB, elected committee chairmen and elected regional representatives. It acts on behalf of the nation's bishops between their spring and fall general meetings.

"To live in Christ is to draw upon the limitless love of Jesus to fortify us against the temptation of fear," it continued. "Pray that our engagement in the debate over immigration and refugee issues may bring peace and comfort to those most affected by current and proposed national policy changes."

The bishops urged Catholics to pray for an end to the root causes of violence and other circumstances forcing families to flee their homeland to find a better life; to meet with newcomers in their parishes and "listen to their story, and share your own"; and to call, write or visit their elected representatives to ask them to fix our broken immigration system" in a way that would safeguard the country's security and "our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The statement opened with a passage from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus: "The word of God is truly alive today. When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt."

The bishops urged Catholics to "not lose sight of the fact that behind every policy is the story of a person in search of a better life. They may be an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future."

"As shepherds of a pilgrim church," they wrote, "we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope: "We are with you."

Those families could include "a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence," they said, adding that "it is necessary to safeguard the United States in a manner that does not cause us to lose our humanity."

The bishops said that "intense debate is essential to healthy democracy, but the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well."

"When we look at one another, do we see with the heart of Jesus?" they asked.

Their pastoral reflection comes at a time when the Trump administration's rhetoric and its policies on national security, refugees and immigration are in the headlines almost daily. Those policies have sparked almost nonstop protests in various parts of the country since President Donald Trump's Jan. 20 inauguration. In some cases, the anti-Trump demonstrations have turned violent.

The latest action on the refugee issue came March 16 when two federal judges blocked Trump's new executive order banning for 90 days the entry into the U.S. of citizens from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending for 120 days the resettlement of refugees. Two federal judges, one in Hawaii and one in Maryland, blocked the order before it was to take effect March 16 at midnight.

The Department of Justice announced March 17 it will appeal the Maryland ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Virginia.

In their reflection, the bishops said that all in this country find "common dreams for our children" in their "diverse backgrounds."

"Hope in the next generation is how the nation will realize its founding motto, 'out of many, one,'" they said. "In doing so, we will also realize God's hope for all his children: that we would see each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin."

Christ, as the word made flesh, "strengthens us to bring our words to life," they said, and suggested three ways Catholics, "in our own small way," can "bring our words of solidarity for migrants and refugees to life": by praying, welcoming newcomers and writing to their elected representatives urging them to support humane immigration policies.

"Pray for an end to the root causes of violent hatred that force mothers and fathers to flee the only home they may have known in search of economic and physical security for their children," the bishops said.

They asked Catholics to meet with newcomers in their parishes, and to "listen to their story and share your own." The bishops noted parishes across the country have programs for immigrants and refugees "both to comfort them and to help them know their rights."

They also urged Catholics to "to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us. The more we come to understand each other's concerns the better we can serve one another. Together, we are one body in Christ."

Finally, Catholics should call, write or visit their elected officials urging they "fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."

The reflection ended with a quote from Pope Francis: "To migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey toward our heavenly homeland."

Full text of the Bishops' Administrative Committee statement, Living As A People Of God In Unsettled Times

Bishops: Congress must consider budget's moral dimensions

The chairmen of six U.S. bishops' policy committees March 3 told members of the House and Senate that every decision they will make on the federal budget "should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity."

"A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects 'the least of these' (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, vulnerable and at risk, without work or in poverty should come first," the six chairmen said.

They pointed out that the government and other institutions have "a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

The letter said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits and believes the country has an obligation to address their impact on the health of the economy but that a "just framework for the federal budget cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons."

They also warned that cuts to domestic and international poverty-reducing and refugee-assisting programs would "result in millions of people being put in harm's way, denying access to life-saving and life-affirming services."

The bishops said they have devoted their efforts to addressing the "morally problematic features of health care reform while insuring that people have access to health care coverage."

They noted that the Catholic Church -- in its work across the country caring for the poor, homeless, the sick and refugees -- often partners with the government. "Our combined resources allow us to reach further and help more," they said.

The bishops urged federal lawmakers to recognize that the "moral measure of the federal budget is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless, exploited, poor, unborn or undocumented are treated."

"Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources," they said.

The letter was signed by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, chairman of the Committee on Communications; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration.

Response to DHS memoranda on immigration enforcement

From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Public Affairs
On Feb. 20 the Department of Homeland Security issued two memoranda implementing Executive Orders 13768 and 13767, relating to border and interior immigration enforcement.  In response to the memoranda, the Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, bishop of Austin and chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, has issued the following statement:
“We recognize the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to do that.  However, the two memoranda issued by Secretary Kelly on Feb. 20 contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it.  Moreover, taken in their entirety, the policies contained in these memoranda will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us, break down the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities and sow great fear in those communities.
The DHS memoranda eliminates important protections for vulnerable populations, including unaccompanied children and asylum seekers. They greatly expand the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border. Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation, thus prioritizing no one.  The memoranda further seek to promote local law enforcement of federal immigration laws without regard for the existing relationships of trust between local law enforcement officials and immigrant communities.  The engagement of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law can undermine public safety by making many who live in immigrant communities fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.
I urge the administration to reconsider the approach embodied in these memoranda, just as it should reconsider the approach it has taken in a number of executive orders and actions issued over the last month. Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability.
Moving forward, we remain steadfast in our commitment to care for and respect the human dignity of all, regardless of their immigration status.  During this unsettling time, we will redouble our work to accompany and protect our immigrant brothers and sisters and recognize their contributions and inherent dignity as children of God.”

Foundations helping dioceses meet needs

More U.S. dioceses are turning to foundations to help meet their financial and fundraising priorities. And foundation executives in the diocesan realm believe they've only begun to tap into the potential for these gifts.

Dan McKune, executive director of Catholic Community Foundation of Mid-Michigan, which covers the Diocese of Saginaw, said Catholic donors are used to giving to an annual diocesan appeal or a school fund. "They are getting used to it, but we still are not where we want to be," he said. "Our donor base is about 1,000 people and they've been very, very good givers," but he thinks the foundation could attract and retain 2,500 donors -- and possibly twice that.

The way the Saginaw foundation is set up, it "deals more in perpetual-type funds," McKune said. "Once the money goes (to the foundation), you don't ask for it back."

In Maine, a previous bishop authorized the establishment of the Catholic Foundation of Maine, covering the statewide Diocese of Portland, according to Elizabeth Badger, its executive director. The reasons to or establish the foundation, she said, was "to give people the opportunity to make planned gifts, to support Catholic ministries in Maine, primarily through endowments."

"We maintain 113 endowments, and have $24 million in assets under management," Badger added -- just a bit under the $25 million being managed in Saginaw. Both foundations are about one decade old.

Walter Dillingham, managing director for endowments and foundations for the New York City-based Wilmington Trust, and himself a Catholic, had always wondered about the extent of diocesan foundations in the United States, but could not easily find the information he sought. So he made the subject the topic of his master's thesis.

His paper, titled "The Advancement of Religious-Based Fundraising Foundations in the United States," found that 122 of the 181 Latin-rite U.S. dioceses used a separate foundation, but that there were 143 Catholic foundations in all, including those dioceses that have more than one foundation. "There was a lot of growth in the area but very little information," Dillingham told Catholic News Service. Now, Catholic foundation executives have their own professional conference.

His paper also showed that religion-based giving still accounts for the largest share of all charitable giving in the country, although the 32 percent recorded in 2014 is down from 36 percent in 2000 -- perhaps an aftereffect of the clerical sexual abuse scandal.

Dillingham cited a 2012 Gallup poll showing that one in five Catholics stopped donating to their local parish as a result of the scandal, and those who continued to give feared their donations were being used to pay for legal fees and settlement costs. The poll also showed 79 percent wanted greater transparency in how their donations were being used.

Foundations, as separate federally chartered nonprofit corporations, can provide that clarity, which is important for a donor who wants to make a perpetual gift restricted to a particular use, be it schools, liturgical music or what have you.

Badger said the Catholic Foundation of Maine handles 113 separate gifts that supporting a range of efforts, from schools to seminarian education to sacred art and other ministries.

Rick Suchan, who heads the Catholic Foundation of Buffalo, New York, had been a banker for 30 years in wealth management before he came to the diocese six years ago. "Now I raise money for Jesus instead," he joked.

"I use those 30 years of experience every single day because I spend a good chunk of the day with people talking about estate planning ... remembering how influential the church was for them and their families," Suchan said.

The foundation is responsible for the diocese's $100 million capital campaign, which began in November 2015. "To help secure a lot of those large leadership gifts, I use my financial background," he said. The foundation had "projected a 36-month duration," Suchan added, but by mid-February the amount pledged was already at $85 million, and "by August of this year we should be done. We're on target and we should exceed our goal by 5-10 percent."

Not every foundation operates, or is governed, in exactly the same way. Most U.S. dioceses are organized as "corporation sole," meaning its assets are held by the bishop appointed to head the diocese. But on foundation boards of directors, theirs is just one vote among many -- and not all foundation charters give their bishop voting privileges.

In some cases, foundation employees are actually diocesan employees. Sometimes they wear two hats, one for the diocese and one for the foundation. McKune had been diocesan development director as well as foundation executive director until he declared, "I just can't do this anymore," and a consultant's report agreed with him.

"Until Dec. 1, we had 0.94 employees" in the foundation, he told CNS. "We didn't even have a full person." However, since then, McKune is full time with the foundation, as is a volunteer who had been there on a quarter-time basis. He also had to decide whether gifts he was cultivating fit more properly in the diocese or the foundation, which he said caused some conflicts.

Tom Kissane, principal and managing director of CCS Fundraising, a New York-based independent consulting service that counts 125 dioceses among its clients, said that for Catholics like himself, "most giving is often rooted in stewardship principles, right? So it's often a combination of one's own way of life. They embrace stewardship, and there are major needs that a parish or diocese have: the need to expand ministry, sustain and advance Catholic schools, various ways to engage our youth, and capital projects are a part of it. Roman Catholic dioceses are extraordinarily responsive."

Parishes have one distinct advantage. "The key difference is that parishes welcome worshippers every week," Kissane said, with "an active Catholic offertory that is approached weekly. Colleges, they're lucky if they (alumni) go back annually."

Catholic foundations "are helping the church to build financial resources in a changing world," Dillingham said.

"I'm getting a number of calls from dioceses all over the country," he told CNS. "Foundations are starting to make some tremendous progress. Some are taking baby steps, but others are taking very big steps."

'Disrupt' oppression

Affirming that all human life is sacred and all people are "protagonists of their future," more than 600 grass-roots leaders echoed the call of a U.S. bishop to disrupt practices that cause oppression and violate human dignity.
The leaders attending the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements concluded the four-day meeting Feb. 19 saying in a final message that a "small elite is growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families."
"Racism and white supremacy are America's original sins. They (the elites) continue to justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation over human needs," said the "Message from Modesto."
The message broadly echoed Pope Francis' regular critiques of the world economy in which he has said the accumulation of wealth by a few people has harmed the dignity of millions of people in the human family.
The representatives from dozens of faith-based and secular community organizations, labor unions and Catholic dioceses representing an estimated 1 million people called for eight actions to be undertaken. The actions included inviting faith communities, including every Catholic parish, to declare their sites a sanctuary for people facing deportation by the U.S. government; developing local leadership to hold elected officials accountable and, when possible to recruit grass-roots leaders to seek elected office; and a global week of action May 1-7 in which people "stand together against hatred and attacks on families."
"There's too many leaders in this room not to mobilize," Takia Yates-Binford of East St. Louis, Ill., who represented the Service Employees International Union, said as the meeting ended.
The delegates called for "bold prophetic leadership" from faith communities to speak and act in solidarity with citizens on the margins of society. Participants in plenary sessions and small-group discussions challenged clergy, including the Catholic hierarchy, to be in the forefront of movements to seek justice on social issues for people outside of mainstream society.
In their message, delegates said they wanted to see the seeds planted in Modesto blossom across the country in statewide and regional gatherings to bring the vision of the four meetings of popular movements held to date and the pope's message of hope and courage to every U.S. community.
The final message reflected the words of Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, whose stirring presentation a day earlier invited people to follow the example of President Donald Trump, who campaigned as the candidate of "disruption."
"Well now, we must all become disruptors," Bishop McElroy told the delegates Feb. 18 to sustained applause. "We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need.
"We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men and women as a source of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children."
At the same time, Bishop McElroy said, people of faith must rebuild society based on justice for everyone.
"We have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service of the dignity of the human person and assert what that flag behind us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal," he said.
Bishop McElroy's words in a plenary session on labor and housing followed a video greeting from Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., in which he said the concentration of wealth and political power in the country "threatens to undermine the health of our democracy."
As families cope with economic stress and feel no elected official at any level of government cares about their plight, people tend to withdraw from civic participation and effectively disenfranchise themselves, leaving special interest groups, lobbyists and "even demagogues" to fill the void, Cardinal Tobin said.
Such a situation has given rise to populist and nationalist sentiments in the U.S. under which the blame for the economic struggles of some are placed on today's "scapegoats" including immigrants, Muslims and young people of color, he said, rather than toward the architects of what the pope has called the economy of exclusion. The rising fear and anxiety among people in the dominant culture has given rise to "the sins of racism and xenophobia," he said.
Cardinal Tobin used Pope Francis' calls for encounter and dialogue as necessary steps to overcome fear, alienation and indifference. "Encounter and dialogue create the capacity for solidarity and accompaniment," he said.
"It is our responsibility to respond to the pain and anxiety of our brothers and sisters. As popular movements, your role is to knit together strong communal networks that can gather up the experiences and suffering and aspiration of the people and push for structural changes that affirm the dignity and value of every child of God," Cardinal Tobin said.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told the gathering as the final message was adopted that the Church was "here to accompany you and support you all."
"The Catholic Church believes that the joys and the hope, the grief and the anguish of people of our time, especially those who are poor or who are isolated, these also are the joys and the hope and the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ," Cardinal Turkson said.
Meeting organizers, which included the PICO National Network of congregation-based organizations and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development, planned to send the message and a comprehensive report on the proceedings to the pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development co-sponsored the gathering.
The U.S. gathering was the first regional meeting in a series encouraged by Pope Francis to bring people working to improve poor and struggling communities around the world through organizing initiatives, prayer and social action. Three previous meetings since 2014 -- two in Rome and one in Bolivia -- have focused on land, labor and housing. The U.S. meeting added immigration and racism to the topics being discussed.
Along with the grass-roots volunteer leaders and professional organizers, 25 prelates attended the California meeting and several addressed the plenary sessions including Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, on immigration, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., on racism, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., on the environment.
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The full Message from Modesto can be read online at popularmovements.org/news/message-from-modesto.

US bishops support Conscience Protection Act

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to both Houses of the United States Congress on February 8, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644, S. 301).

The Conscience Protection Act, they wrote, is “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers…to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the bishops noted, citing recent examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.  “The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws,” they said, “most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori recalled the Hippocratic oath’s rejection of abortion in the profession of medicine, indicating that the Act will benefit not only Catholic medical professionals but “the great majority of ob/gyns [who] remain unwilling to perform abortions.”

Finally, they explained that conscience protection facilitates access to life-affirming health care: “When government… mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.”

The full text of their letter to the Senate.
More information on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights.

US bishops welcome ruling on travel ban

The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration welcomed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a temporary restraining order against President Donald Trump's travel ban on refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries that also temporarily suspended the country's refugee resettlement program.
"We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution," Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in a statement Feb. 10.
"At this time we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed in our country," the statement said.
The bishop pledged that Church agencies would continue to welcome people "as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and traditions."
In a decision issued late Feb. 9, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected the government's argument to lift the freeze on the president's order and maintained that the court had jurisdiction in the case as a check on executive power.
Trump had argued that his order was a matter of national security and that the courts had no claim to adjudicate the issue.
The panel ruled otherwise saying that such an argument "runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy."
The administration is expected to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trump said in a posting on Twitter minutes after the ruling was released: "SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!"
He later told reporters that the judges had made "a political decision."
The case was filed by the state of Washington, which argued that Trump's order was unconstitutional because it discriminated against Muslims and that state agencies were harmed because students and employees were barred from re-entering the country. The state of Minnesota subsequently joined the lawsuit.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart of Seattle halted Trump's travel ban Feb. 3 by granting a temporary restraining order.
Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump's Jan. 27 executive order that suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries -- Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia -- for 90 days.
Another clause in the order established religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.
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