07/17/17

3 Reasons Catholic Bishops Are Holding Their Tongues on GOP Health Care Debacle

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When President Obama proposed requiring health plans to cover common contraceptives without charge, the Catholic bishops howled like the world was coming to an end. Dire warnings about the future of religious liberty were issued on a regular basis by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then-head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who personally went to the White House to complain to Obama. A special committee was formed. Legislators were lobbied. Lay Catholics were called on to protest. A scorching letter was read aloud by bishops at masses across the country. And threats were made about the Catholic vote in 2012.

But now, even as the clearly deceptive and immoral Trump administration plunges further into chaos and the Republican Party uses it as a distraction as it plots to take health care away from millions, the nation’s Catholic bishops have remained largely silent.

There have been no condemnations of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, attacks on the press and outright mendacity. And while the bishops admit the GOP health “reform” efforts would be detrimental to the poor and marginalized and “fundamentally alter the social safety net for millions of people,” they have limited their objections to written statements from Bishop Frank Dewane, chairman of Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, a little known backbencher with virtually no profile in the national media.

As Michael Sean Winters noted in the National Catholic Reporter:

…there was no “postcard campaign” like the bishops launched on previous issues of less significance, no full court press as it were. It is clear that so long as they get rid of the contraception mandate, many bishops are willing to look the other way if millions are thrown off the insurance rolls.

It’s likely that the bishops are holding their tongues because, while they don’t love the health plan—except for the part that would further limit abortion services by private health plans—they still hope to get several much-wished-for goodies from the Trump administration beyond the promised roll-back of the contraception mandate. Here are three things the bishops are still hoping to gain from Trump and the GOP.

  1. A massive federal tax credit for parochial schools. As Politico reported:

Catholic leaders are meeting with GOP lawmakers and members of the Trump administration, hoping to shape a federal plan they believe could spur a rebirth of parochial education. The Trump administration’s consideration of a federal tax credit scholarship program could be a boon for Catholic schools … Catholic leaders are seizing the moment, pushing for a federal program that comes with few constraints. “We see this as game-changing,” said Greg Dolan, associate director for public policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Catholic education.

  1. The further marginalization of contraception and reduced contraceptive access. Make no mistake. The bishops’ real objection to the contraceptive mandate was that it threatened to enshrine contraception as an essential health benefit, which was a direct threat to the Catholic Church’s promotion of natural family planning. As Archbishop William Lori, head of the USCCB Religious Liberty Committee recently told Crux, preventive services should only “pertain to preventing diseases and not to … preventing birth.”

But, as New York Times reports, under Trump a number of anti-contraception activists have been given prominent roles in the administration. They are moving not just to finalize a rule that would allow any entity to opt-out of the contraceptive mandate for any reason, which has long been on the bishops’ wish list, but have a history of attacking contraception in general.

Katy Talento, who is now a White House domestic policy aide, has warned of the (false) health risks of oral and other hormonal contraceptives, charging that they are carcinogens, ruin women’s fertility and cause miscarriages. And, like the bishops, she suggests that natural family planning, which has the highest failure rate of any contraceptive method, is a suitable alternative:

“There are other ways to avoid pregnancy and to space children’s birth if necessary and appropriate, if a family or a woman wants to do that,” Ms. Talento said. “You don’t have to ingest a bunch of carcinogens in order to plan your family.”

Mathew Bowman, who is now a lawyer for the Department of Health and Human Services, came from the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he represented Conestoga Wood Specialties in its successful challenge, along with Hobby Lobby, to the contraceptive mandate. Bowman argues that there is no evidence that the mandate reduced the number of unintended pregnancies and has disputed that there are any ill health effects related to unintended pregnancy.

  1. Allowing Catholic Church-affiliated adoption agencies, such as those run by Catholic Charities, to refuse to provide adoptions to LGBT couples and individuals. The move by states to require any adoption agency that participates in state-funded adoption programs to provide services to LGBT couples and individuals was part of the original impetus behind the bishops’ “religious liberty” push. The bishops are backing the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017, which would “prevent the federal government, and any state receiving federal funds for child welfare services, from taking adverse action against a provider that, for religious or moral reasons, declines to provide a child welfare social service.” This would create a blanket exemption for faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to provide services to LGBT couples or individuals.

The bishops also would love any GOP health reform plan to include a wide-ranging “conscience” clause that would allow health care providers to refuse to provide any service for moral or religious reasons, which could be used to deny services to LGBT patients or single mothers. When it comes to the Trump administration, the bishops have apparently decided to hold their noses and see how much on their wish list they can get, literally selling their souls to the devil.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/14/16

Catholic Leaders Say Zika Doesn’t Change Ban on Contraception

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Zika

As the Zika virus spreads in Latin America, Catholic leaders are warning women against using contraceptives or having abortions, even as health officials in some countries are advising women not to get pregnant because of the risk of birth defects.

The challenge posed by Zika for the Roman Catholic Church comes as Pope Francis is making his first trip to Mexico, where the virus appears to be spreading.

After a period of saying little, bishops in Latin America are beginning to speak up and reassert the church’s opposition to birth control and abortion — positions that in Latin America are unpopular and often disregarded, even among Catholics.

“Contraceptives are not a solution,” said Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner, the secretary general of the National Council of Bishops of Brazil, and an auxiliary bishop of Brasília, in an interview. “There is not a single change in the church’s position.”

He urged couples to practice chastity or use “natural family planning,” a method in which women monitor their menstrual cycles and abstain from sex when they are fertile.

This is not a stance likely to win many new followers. South America happens to be the continent with the highest proportion of Catholics who already disagree with the church on abortion and birth control, according to a large international poll commissioned by Univision in 2014. Seventy-three percent of Catholics in Latin America said that abortion should be allowed in some or all cases, and 91 percent supported the use of contraceptives — a higher percentage even than in Europe or the United States.

While church leaders frequently say that doctrine is not determined by polls or popularity contests, they are nevertheless sensitive to counts of their flock. And the Catholic Church has been losing adherents in Latin America in recent decades as people leave to join evangelical and Pentecostal churches, or reject religion entirely.

Nearly 70 percent of adults in Latin America still identify as Catholic, but that is down from 94 percent in 1950, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. Much of the fall-off has occurred in just the last generation.

No Vatican department has yet issued a statement about the Zika issue, and it is not clear whether Pope Francis will address it during his trip to Mexico, where he will be until Thursday, said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, the English-language media attaché to the Vatican’s press office.

“The Vatican is very well aware of the seriousness of this issue, and the Holy Father is very aware of it,” Father Rosica said. “We’re waiting to see how the local churches in those countries respond.”

But Father Rosica said church teaching on abortion and contraception remains the same. The Zika epidemic, he said, presents “an opportunity for the church to recommit itself to the dignity and sacredness of life, even in very precarious moments like this.”

The five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that have advised women to delay pregnancy are Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Colombia and Jamaica. But access to contraception is limited throughout the region, especially for poor and rural women. Abortion is restricted in many countries, and it is illegal without exceptions in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes genus, but researchers have found some cases transmitted by sexual contact. Experts are not yet sure whether Zika is the cause of a sudden surge in babies born in Brazil with microcephaly — unusually small heads and, often, damaged brains. Microcephaly could lead to serious disabilities — but not always.

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus, and no cure for microcephaly. The World Health Organization this month declared the Zika epidemic an international public health emergency. The organization advised that women should have full access to a range of contraceptive options, as well as “safe abortion services to the full extent of the law.”

Many church officials are wary that the Zika epidemic will lead to the loosening of laws on abortion and contraception. Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who serves on Pope Francis’ nine-member advisory council, denounced the notion of “therapeutic abortions” for women carrying babies with microcephaly. He spoke at a Mass attended by the Honduran president and first lady.

“Therapeutic means curative, and abortion doesn’t cure anything,” he said, according to a report in the newspaper La Tribuna. “It takes innocent lives away.”

Cardinal Odilo Scherer of São Paulo said recently that mothers must accept babies born with microcephaly “as a mission,” and that abortion was out of the question. However, he appeared to open a door to using condoms, saying that is “personal choice” because a new life has not yet been formed.

The papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, said that artificial contraception was forbidden because sexual intercourse must always be open to procreation.

“The teaching is fairly clear that contraception is not ethically permissible,” said Christopher Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, in Los Angeles, and a corresponding member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

“That doesn’t mean a couple has to have a child,” he said, because it is possible to use natural family planning methods.

He and other Catholic scholars cited a study showing that when used properly, natural family planning is as effective as birth control pills. However, the United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that the failure rate for natural family planning is 25 out of 100 women, while for birth control pills it is five out of 100.

Other Catholic moral theologians say the church’s ban is not so clear-cut. The Rev. James Bretzke, a moral theologian at Boston College, said that some theologians interpreted a passage in Humanae Vitae as an “escape clause” that essentially permitted women to use an artificial means of contraception if it had the effect of curing or treating disease — for example, using birth control pills to treat menstrual pain or acne. Theologians could apply the same approach to the Zika situation, he said.

“My prediction is this Zika virus is going to reignite the unresolved debate that’s existed since 1968 about the moral status of artificial contraception when applied to extraordinary cases,” Father Bretzke said.

“Now we have not just an individual extraordinary case, but a situation in which these cases are extraordinary for a large group of people,” he said. “You’ve got one competing value — to have every act open to procreation — running up against another competing value — which is to protect the public health.”

The Catholic Church faced intense pressure as the AIDS epidemic spread to lift its ban on the use of condoms to help prevent transmission of the disease. Some nuns and priests who treated AIDS patients, and even the South African Bishops Conference, publicly said that the church should make an exception for married couples to use condoms when one partner tested positive for H.I.V.

Then in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI was quoted in a book saying that in some exceptional cases, when the motivation is to prevent disease rather than pregnancy, using a condom could be a “first step” towards moral responsibility. He said that this might be the case for a prostitute who uses a condom. Benedict’s remark set off widespread controversy and speculation about whether the Vatican would officially issue an exception or change to doctrine. But none came.

Complete Article HERE!

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12/14/15

Groups concerned about Walgreens’ ties to Catholic hospital

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Walgreens_store

Nineteen groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter Monday to drug store chain Walgreens expressing concerns about the company’s plans for a Catholic hospital to run its in-store health clinics in Washington state and Oregon.

In the letter, the organizations asked if the clinics would allow access to contraception, abortion drugs and prescriptions to help terminally ill patients end their own lives, which is legal in both states.

The groups note that other health organizations have stopped providing abortions after partnering with Providence Health, the Catholic hospital.

“In our states, we have consistently seen that when secular entities join with religious health systems, the services, information, or referrals provided at the secular entity become limited by religious doctrine,” the letter said.

When Swedish Medical Center in Seattle partnered with Providence Health in 2012, it stopped offering elective abortion services, the groups say. When Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, Washington, affiliated with a religious health system in 2013, its doctors stopped prescribing aid-in-dying medications.

Highline Medical Center in Burien, Washington, also agreed to comply with Catholic ethical guidelines when it partnered with a religious health system in 2013.

Organizations including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Compassion & Choices and several gay-rights organizations signed the letter.

It also asked whether Walgreens would continue to serve all customers equally, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It questioned whether transgender men or women will be able to receive a prescription for hormone therapy at one of the clinics.

“Can Walgreens offer assurances that its LGBTQ customers and LGBTQ patients at the clinics will be treated with dignity and respect and will receive the same medical standard of care as any other customer?” the letter said.

Walgreens has announced that Providence Health will be opening 25 health clinics within its stores.

Jim Cohn, a spokesman for the Deerfield, Illinois-based drug store company, said he could not immediately comment on the letter.

The Catholic hospital did not immediately return a phone call and email seeking comment.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/24/15

Vatican synod calls for a more welcoming Catholic Church

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Bishops chat at the end of the afternoon session of the synod in Vatican City on Oct. 24.

Deeply divided clerics at a landmark Vatican summit echoed the more inclusive tone of Pope Francis on Saturday, extending more welcoming language to divorced and gay Catholics but stopping short of calling for clear alterations in policy and leaving the extent of any change in the hands of the mercurial pontiff.

The meeting — known as a synod — marked the culmination of a two-year process to recalibrate the faith’s approach to families in the 21st century and broke new ground by tackling issues once considered taboo in the Roman Catholic Church. In the most significant pronouncement, the clerics cracked open the door for divorced and remarried Catholics, who the church teaches are technically living in adultery, to receive Communion — a sacrament from which they are currently officially barred.

But the synod did not explicitly condone a change either, leaving Francis room to interpret the will of his hierarchy. The document also recognized the “dignity” of homosexuals, while also saying there was not even a “remote” similarity between same-sex unions and “God’s design on matrimony and family.”

The final communiqué, while a significant bellwether of the hierarchy’s thinking, nevertheless amounts only to a recommendation to Francis. As pope in the benevolent autocracy that is Vatican City, Francis now has the final say.

Liberals at the synod were pragmatic, saying they were impressed they got as far as they did given significant conservative resistance. But the staunch opposition to fast change suggested how difficult it may now be for Francis to translate his revolutionary style into substance.

It also puts him in a highly difficult position. If he fails to change the status quo, he risks disappointing liberal Catholics — as well as many non-Catholics — who have heralded him worldwide as an agent of change. Yet going too far beyond the recommendations could alienate many in his own divided church, triggering an even stronger backlash among conservatives — some of whom are already openly questioning the direction of his papacy.

“What the pope has to do now is take all of this in and decide how to we use it,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. “He may decide to use bits and pieces in different ways.”

Complete Article HERE!

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02/5/14

UN committee blasts Vatican on sex abuse, abortion

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By Nicole Winfield

The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a U.N. human rights committee said Wednesday, urging it to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

st petersIn a devastating report hailed by victims, the U.N. committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed. The Vatican promptly objected.

The report puts renewed pressure on Pope Francis to move decisively on the abuse front and make good on pledges to create a Vatican commission to study sex abuse and recommend best practices to fight it. The commission was announced at the spur of the moment in December, but few details have been released since then.

The committee issued its recommendations after subjecting the Holy See to a daylong interrogation last month on its implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the key U.N. treaty on child protection, which the Holy See ratified in 1990.

Critically, the committee rejected the Vatican’s longstanding argument that it doesn’t control bishops or their abusive priests, saying the Holy See was responsible for implementing the treaty not just in the Vatican City State but around the world “as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority.”

In its report, the committee blasted the “code of silence” that has long been used to keep victims quiet, saying the Holy See had “systematically placed preservation of the reputation of the church and the alleged offender over the protection of child victims.” It called on the Holy See to provide compensation to victims and hold accountable not just the abusers but also those who covered up their crimes.

“The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators,” the report said.

It called for Francis’ nascent abuse commission to conduct an independent investigation of all cases of priestly abuse and the way the Catholic hierarchy has responded over time, and urged the Holy See to establish clear rules for the mandatory reporting of abuse to police and to support laws that allow victims to report crimes even after the statute of limitations has expired.

No Catholic bishop has ever been sanctioned by the Vatican for sheltering an abusive priest, and only in 2010 did the Holy See direct bishops to report abusers to police where law enforcement requires it. Vatican officials have acknowledged that bishop accountability remains a major problem and have suggested that under Francis, things might begin to change.

The committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism. Rather, the U.N. asked the Vatican to implement the recommendations and report back by 2017. The Vatican was 14 years late submitting its most recent report.

While most attention has focused on child sex abuse, the committee’s recommendations extended far beyond, into issues about discrimination against children and their rights to adequate health care, issues that touch on core church teaching about life and sexual morals.

The committee, for example, urged the Vatican to amend its canon law to identify circumstances where access to abortion can be permitted for children, such as to save the life of a young mother. It urged the Holy See to ensure that sex education, including access to information about contraception and preventing HIV, is mandatory in Catholic schools. It called for the Holy See to use its moral authority to condemn discrimination against homosexual children or children raised by same-sex couples.

The Vatican said it would study the report and in a statement reiterated its commitment to defending and protecting children’s rights that are enshrined in the treaty. But it took issue with the committee’s recommendations to change core church teaching on life.

“The Holy See does, however, regret to see in some points of the concluding observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of human person and in the exercise of religious freedom,” the Vatican said.

Church teaching holds that life begins at conception; the Vatican therefore opposes abortion and artificial contraception. The Vatican has a history of diplomatic confrontation with the United Nations over such issues.

Austen Ivereigh, coordinator of Catholic Voices, a church advocacy group, said the report was a “shocking display of ignorance and high-handedness.”

He said it failed to acknowledge the progress that has been made in recent years and that the Catholic Church in many places is now considered a leader in safeguarding children. And he noted that the committee seemed unable to grasp the distinction between the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Holy See, and local churches on the ground.

“It takes no account of the particularities of the Holy See, treating it as if it were the HQ of a multinational corporation,” he said in an email.

But victims groups hailed the report as a wake-up call to secular law enforcement officials to investigate the abuse and cover-up and prosecute church officials who are still protecting predator priests.

“This report gives hope to the hundreds of thousands of deeply wounded and still suffering clergy sex abuse victims across the world,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the main U.S. victim’s group SNAP. “Now it’s up to secular officials to follow the U.N.’s lead and step in to safeguard the vulnerable because Catholic officials are either incapable or unwilling to do so.”

Complete Article HERE!

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