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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Nov-15-2013

By Catholic News Service


New HHS ruling said strongest yet on citing religious freedom concerns

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- Several business owners across the country have filed suit in federal courts seeking relief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that requires nearly all employers to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives to their employees in their company health plan. A decision was handed down Nov. 8 by a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in suits brought by members of the Grote family in Madison, Ind., and the Korte family in Highland, Ill. According to Richard Garnett, a University of Notre Dame law professor, the decision goes further in exploring various legal questions involved in the mandate suits than in previous decisions involving the mandate. Judge Diane Sykes wrote the majority opinion in the 2-1 decision. Garnett, who teaches constitutional law, is an expert on religious liberty questions and has written widely on the topic. Sykes cited two of Garnett's legal journal articles on religious liberty in her opinion. She also used an analogy of the government denying the right of a kosher deli to follow Jewish dietary laws as a way to understand that businesses owners can exercise their religious freedom in how they run their businesses.

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'Catholicism' creator likes new media's impact 'way outside' churches

SMYRNA, Ga. (CNS) -- Chicago priest Father Robert Barron has a dream -- for another grand, sweeping documentary on Catholicism. It's the latest goal for the priest who more than a dozen years ago was asked to jump-start an evangelical endeavor to "invade that space" where the church's message was not often heard. "If you want to reach people who are under 40, you have to use media. Things like YouTube had just come into being and we jumped into that with two feet," said Father Barron. "If you want to find the unchurched Catholics and the secularists, you aren't going to find them by staying in church and inviting them to programs. You have to use this new means. We have to invade that space." The author of 10 books and a weekly radio commentator, Father Barron brings to YouTube and the web a Catholic perspective on mainstream cultural events, from blockbuster movies like "World War Z" to same-sex marriage. He has posted more than 180 videos online and his viewers have topped a million. Father Barron in 2000 founded the nonprofit Word on Fire that supports his efforts to draw people to the Catholic faith through new media. According to tax records, the nonprofit in 2011 had nearly $5 million in revenue generated by his diverse teaching tools, funds that go to support the mission of Word on Fire.

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Reconciliation of religious, personal liberties seen as elusive

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The reconciliation of personal liberties with religious liberties, played out over myriad stages across multiple generations, has been hard to reach, according to panelists at a Nov. 14 forum sponsored by the Federalist Society. The topics touched upon during the forum included not only contemporary issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion and the HHS contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, but a long-ago Supreme Court case and civil rights. William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and formerly a top domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion was incorrect in the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, in which the high court said the government's right to legislate against drug use superseded the right of American Indians to use peyote, an illegal substance, in religious ceremonies. If Scalia "was transported back in time" to sit on the high court in the 1920s and had heard a challenge to the religious exemption allowing for the use of sacramental wine in the Volstead Act, which ushered in Prohibition, the same argument "would have been applied" against Catholic clergy following the Code of Canon Law as well as Jewish families observing the Torah with a Passover Seder meal.

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20 years later, religious rights law being tested in ways not foreseen

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court Nov. 26 will consider whether to accept one or more of four cases it's being asked to review that deal with faith-based objections to provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Part of what's at stake is a couple of centuries' worth of history for the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, as well as the durability and reach of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. RFRA, as the 1993 law is known, was the result of concerted lobbying by an interfaith coalition allied to repair what was seen as damage to religious rights from a 1990 Supreme Court ruling. As noted by panelists at a Nov. 7 conference sponsored by the Freedom Forum, in the 20 years since RFRA passed, the debate over religious liberty has shifted in ways its advocates never anticipated. Indeed, some of those who worked side-by-side to pass RFRA now are on opposite sides of those lawsuits over the Affordable Care Act. In short, they disagree about what's more at risk: the right of people of faith to be free from laws that clash with their religious beliefs, or, the right of people to be protected from laws that affect them being shaped by religious beliefs they don't hold.

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Firm founded by former USCCB official to review St. Paul clergy files

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Nov. 14 that it has hired the Los Angeles-based firm of Kinsale Management Consulting to review clergy files as part of an archdiocesan plan to take a comprehensive approach to addressing the issue of clergy sexual misconduct. Kinsale Management, which provides consulting services for executives in businesses, is headed by its founding CEO, Kathleen McChesney, a former head of what is now the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. McChesney was the highest ranking female official in the FBI when she was named in late 2002 to head the newly created child protection office. She held the post for three years. "We are confident in the credentials and relevant expertise of Kinsale Management Consulting to conduct a thorough review of our clergy files," said Dominican Father Reginald Whitt, archdiocesan vicar for ministerial standards. "Our number one goal was to find someone with extensive experience and expertise nationally in this area, and Kinsale certainly has those qualities," the priest said in a statement.

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Pope cancels morning meetings because of slight cold

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis had a cold Nov. 15, and since his only morning meetings were with Vatican officials, the pope took the morning off, said the Vatican spokesman. "The pope has a slight cold," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, explaining that while the press office had published a bulletin saying the pope had held four morning audiences, "the meetings did not take place." Because the morning meetings were with cardinals and bishops who live in Rome, they would be easy to reschedule and the pope was able to rest, the spokesman said. However, the pope planned to preside at an evening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica and ordain to the episcopacy Legionaries of Christ Father Fernando Vergez, the new secretary-general of the office governing Vatican City. "There is no reason for concern," Father Lombardi said, the 76-year-old pope just simply has a cold.

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Catholic Church not full member of WCC, but works in partnership

BUSAN, South Korea (CNS) -- When the World Council of Churches Assembly said in its final statement, "We intend to move together," it referred not only to its members but to the Catholic Church. "We are not members of the WCC, but we have a close partnership with a great deal of interaction," said Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. "We are constantly in communication. And there are a number of channels in which this collaboration finds expression. This has been a very successful relationship," he told Catholic News Service. He said the World Council of Churches, with 345 member churches, "represents the place where an enormous section of Christianity is present to seek unity, to collaborate, to examine questions that arise. It's one of those centers of the Christian world that keeps Christ's desire for unity very much alive in the public domain." Bishop Farrell was one of the 25 Vatican delegation members at the Oct. 30-Nov. 8 WCC Assembly in Busan.

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In Philippines, signs of faith among ruins of typhoon

MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- In the week after Super Typhoon Haiyan cut a path of devastation across the central Philippines, faith remained strong among the hardest hit. At Villamor Air Base in Manila, Roel Gonzales, 42, of Leyte province smiled while aid workers sang "Happy Birthday" to him Nov. 15. It was a sweltering late morning with the sun approaching its peak, but everyone was shaded under a covered court. They sat in circles on plastic chairs, eating noodles with the speed of those who had not eaten for days. In fact, they had not. They were among the hundreds of thousands left homeless by the brutal storm that tore through homes and damaged the infrastructure of a number of island provinces. A storm surge that Haiyan churned up brought 15-foot waves to Tacloban, the obliterated city on Leyte's east coast that took the worst hit from the typhoon. "All of a sudden all the houses were gone," including his, said Gonzales, who lived right outside Tacloban. "You can't find any trace of it, not one piece."

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Pope tells new bishop to love, show tenderness to Vatican employees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis ordained Legionaries of Christ Father Fernando Vergez a bishop, urging him to show "real love and tenderness" to the Vatican employees under his care as secretary-general of the office governing Vatican City. Although the pope had canceled his morning appointments Nov. 15 because he was suffering from a cold, he presided over the late-afternoon ordination Mass in St. Peter's Basilica. Sounding congested, the pope told his "very dear brother Fernando" that he wanted to thank him on behalf of the whole church for the more than 20 years he spent as private secretary and assistant to the late Argentine Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, former head of the Vatican congregation for religious and council for the laity. "So many memories spring to my mind right now," the pope told him. As he had done at previous ordinations, Pope Francis' homily followed the Italian bishops' ritual text for the ordination of a bishop. The text emphasizes that being a bishop is more a call to service than an honor. "I remember that great service of tenderness and charity that you gave Cardinal Pironio," the pope said. "It was a humble and silent service, the service of a son and brother."

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Australian bishops welcome report that seeks changes in abuse protocols

SYDNEY (CNS) -- Australian bishops have welcomed the report by the Victorian state inquiry into clerical sexual abuse, which recommended sweeping changes in the wake of what one archbishop described as more than 25 years of "inexcusable failures" by the church. Those who would conceal, fail to report, or knowingly expose a child to abuse, including priests and religious leaders, would face imprisonment under recommendations by the Victorian parliamentary committee. Under current law, only those who benefit from the concealment of crime can be prosecuted. The state has six months to respond. The report, Betrayal of Trust, also recommended overturning statutes of limitations in civil suits, improving prevention systems, requiring strict compliance audits and establishing alternative avenues of justice for victims, because it said systems set up by churches were not truly independent. The state Inquiry Into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Nongovernment Organizations received 578 submissions, held 162 hearings, and referred more than 130 fresh claims of abuse to police. It criticized the Melbourne Response, the archdiocesan protocol for managing allegations of sexual abuse, as "conceptually flawed" and "fraught with difficulty." The protocol was established in 1996 by Cardinal George Pell, who was archbishop of Melbourne at the time and, according to the report, was plagued early on by "problems and victim dissatisfaction."

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Cardinal Zen: Vatican must be clearer on religious freedom in China

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired bishop of Hong Kong and an outspoken advocate of religious freedom in China, called on the Vatican to speak more clearly in defense of Catholics there, especially the so-called "underground" or clandestine communities who refuse to register with the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. "The Holy See has to choose between being clear or accepting compromise," the cardinal told Catholic News Service Nov. 13. "Unfortunately, on the executive side, people see a lot of compromise. There is the shadow of 'Ostpolitik.'" The term "Ostpolitik," in the context of Vatican diplomacy, refers to efforts to foster better relations with Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War, in an effort to improve conditions for Catholic churches there. The cardinal highlighted the divisions among China's estimated 10 million Catholics, not only between the "so-called clandestine community and the community that accepts government control," but also among those who comply with the government's requirement to register with the Catholic Patriotic Association.


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