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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jan-24-2014

By Catholic News Service


Court continues injunction protecting Little Sisters from HHS mandate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court Jan. 24 issued a three-sentence order affirming -- for the time being -- an injunction blocking enforcement against the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Christian Brothers of a mandate to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance. The order released late in the afternoon affirmed Justice Sonia Sotomayor's Dec. 31 order in the case. It temporarily blocks the federal government from requiring the Denver-based sisters and their co-plaintiffs at the Christian Brothers from having to meet that requirement of the Affordable Care Act. "If the employer applicants inform the secretary of Health and Human Services in writing that they are nonprofit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, the respondents are enjoined from enforcing against the applicants the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit," the court said. The requirement to provide coverage for contraceptives in employee health insurance does have an accommodation, or waiver, the government says would keep certain religious organizations from having to comply with the mandate. The Little Sisters and the Christian Brothers had objected to being required to justify to the government that they should be entitled to an exemption from the mandate and that filling out the paperwork for a waiver that would instruct a third party to provide the contraceptive coverage amounts to them being part of the mechanism for providing abortion and other morally objectionable types of coverage.

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The end is near -- possibly -- for Internet communication as we know it

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in Verizon's favor Jan. 14 on its suit against the Federal Communications Commission, observers in the tech field suggested this could signal the end of the Internet as we know it. The court threw out the FCC's Internet anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules, saying the FCC could not regulate Internet service like it does telephone service because the FCC had chosen in 2002 to classify Internet service providers as providing information services, not telecommunications services. The concept is known as net neutrality -- short for network neutrality -- the principle that all users of the Internet and content providers of the Internet should be treated equally. This happens with telephone service: You pay your bill, and you're not going to get an advantage or disadvantage for things like how quickly you get a dial tone or how long it takes to make your connection. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has supported net neutrality since 2006. "Unless Congress requires telephone and cable companies to act as neutral providers of Internet access, as they had been required to do since the birth and through the spectacular growth of the Internet, those companies will use their control over Internet access to speed up or down connections to Web sites to benefit themselves financially," said Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., then chairman of the USCCB Committee on Communications, in a letter that year to members of Congress.

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Founder of shelters for unwed teens, their experiences inspire film

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- Every day, Kathy DiFiore, who helps young unwed mothers in need and their children with shelter and support, tells God that she wants to do his will. "And if I'm not doing what he wants, he has a right to pick up his divine two-by-four, hit me over the head a couple times and I'll pay attention," she said. DiFiore's conviction that God repeatedly was asking her to share the stories of the mothers she works with eventually led to the movie "Gimme Shelter," now in theaters. The movie -- starring Vanessa Hudgens, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones -- tells the powerful story of a teenager faced with desperate choices when she finds herself pregnant and homeless in New Jersey and how meeting people who cared changes her. The movie was inspired by real events that took place in DiFiore's shelters, which have been providing assistance to unwed mothers on the East Coast for more than 30 years. Called Several Sources Shelters, the network includes a shelter for homeless women. "I like everything involved with helping them solve their problems, bringing God into their lives, helping them to focus on motherhood, one baby at a time," she said in an interview with the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington. "It is all about quality and not quantity."

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'Safety first' plan urged to protect West Virginia workers, residents

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In a letter to West Virginia Catholics about the recent chemical spill in their state, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston said "safety first" must be "a lived reality" within West Virginia's coal mining and chemical industries. "Having seen the consequences of a single chemical leak on the lives of so many," he wrote. "I remain convinced that we owe it to our chemical workers, to our miners and mine operators, and to those who live around them to demand that our mines and chemical facilities become 'zero accident' work places, where an accident is unacceptable to all and where production would always be halted rather than risk an accident." The bishop released the letter in the Jan. 24 issue of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the statewide diocese. In it, he called on state legislators to enact better regulations to protect the state's people and environment from such accidents on the future. "With regulation, there must be adequate inspection and enforcement protocols in place, and we look to our state legislators to develop an effective plan in collaboration with the appropriate state and federal agencies," he wrote. "The responsibility to regulate does begin with our state government, with those we have elected to promote and protect the interests of our state and its citizens."

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Ukrainian Catholics watch, wonder, worry about homeland

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The ongoing strife in Ukraine is a citizen reaction to an "ideology of control and repressiveness, of control and domination," according to the archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who has been monitoring events in his ancestral homeland. Based on his communications with Ukrainians living amid the turmoil, "I think there's that sense of joy, of jubilation that people have stood up for the truths that they want to, and it's just become so intolerable that they just have to voice their opposition," said Archbishop Stefan Soroka in a Jan. 24 telephone interview with Catholic News Service. At the same time, he added, "there are those who voice their concerns that some will not exercise their self-restraint and may push this whole struggle into a situation where people are physically hurt much more than they already have." One troubling offshoot of the tumult is that "the church being repressed for being able to speak for the rights of people," Archbishop Soroka said, "just for offering pastoral services in Kiev," the capital. "Those priests and students are being persecuted for that."

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Pope, French president discuss controversial laws on family, bioethics

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Francis met French President Francois Hollande at the Vatican Jan. 24, their discussions about human dignity touched on several topics of tension between the French church and government, including the family and bioethics, the Vatican said. The two spoke privately for 35 minutes with the assistance of an interpreter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, although before and after their private talk, the pope spoke to Hollande in French. Media attention to the visit was high, particularly given recent revelations about Hollande's affair with an actress and its impact on his official companion, to whom he is not married. Security was tight around the Vatican for the visit after a rudimentary bomb exploded in Rome the night before near a French chapel, damaging several cars parked on the street and breaking the windows of some buildings. Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, confirmed reports that an anonymous call to Rome police at 9:30 the morning of Hollande's visit claimed that two bombs had been placed under the colonnade surrounding St. Peter's Square.

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Pope says judgments on annulments must be impartial and pastoral

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Addressing the Vatican court primarily responsible for hearing requests for marriage annulments, Pope Francis said judges on church tribunals should show "imperturbable and impartial balance" as well as the "delicacy and humanity proper to a pastor of souls." The pope made his remarks Jan. 24 to officials of the Roman Rota, at a meeting to inaugurate the tribunal's judicial year. "You are essentially pastors," he told the officials. "As you carry out your judicial work, do not forget that you are pastors. Behind every file, every position, every case, there are persons who wait for justice." Pope Francis has said that church law on marriage is a topic that exemplifies a general need for mercy in the church today, and that it will be among the subjects of discussion at this October's extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the "pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization." In his speech to the Rota, the pope said a judge on a church tribunal must sympathize with the "mentality and legitimate aspirations" of the community he serves, and thus render "justice that is not legalistic and abstract, but appropriate to the needs of concrete reality."

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Antilles cardinal-designate wants to remain 'country parish priest'

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (CNS) -- Even as he prepares to receive a red biretta from the hands of Pope Francis, Cardinal-designate Kelvin Felix hopes he can continue his ministry as a "country parish priest." But he admitted he may have a few new assignments from Pope Francis. The Dominica-born prelate, ordained in 1956, is the first cardinal to be named from the Antilles bishops' conference, based in Trinidad and Tobago. "Now that he's been appointed a cardinal, I'm certain he will prefer his people to continue referring to him affectionately as 'Father Felix,'" said Msgr. Patrick Anthony of St. Lucia, who served as vicar general under the then-archbishop. Cardinal-designate Felix led the Archdiocese of Castries, St. Lucia, for nearly 30 years and was away from his home country so long that people believed he was St. Lucian. Since retiring in 2008, he has been trying to "re-establish" himself in full-time priestly ministry by working in a small parish in Soufriere, Dominica.

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Pope: Better to eat humble pie than let anger harden the heart

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A heart hardened by anger and resentment is worse than eating humble pie and reaching out to enemies to seek peace, Pope Francis said. "Worse than trying to build a bridge (of understanding) with an adversary is to let the heart swell with rancor toward him," he said Jan. 24 during his early morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, where he lives. Holding onto one's hatred and anger, instead of taking the first step toward peace, only renders people "isolated in this bitter broth of our resentment," he said, according to Vatican Radio. When someone is wronged or faces an enemy, one option might be retaliation or revenge, Pope Francis said. But the Christian response is to choose the path of dialogue, he said, which requires humility, meekness and becoming all things to all people. One thing the Bible doesn't mention is that "to do all this, you need to swallow a lot of 'toads,'" that is, the bitter pill of humiliation, he said. "But we have to do it because that's how peace is made -- with humility, humiliation, always trying to see the face of God in the other," he said. Taking the first step toward dialogue and stooping low to begin building a bridge of understanding is not easy, he said.

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Eastern Africa bishops appeal for peace in South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan (CNS) -- The Catholic bishops of eastern Africa called upon warring factions in South Sudan to soften their positions "in the interest of saving lives" to achieve peace and to open safe corridors to allow humanitarian aid to flow to hundreds of thousands of people displaced since fighting erupted Dec. 15. The Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa said in a statement delivered to the bishops of South Sudan meeting in Juba Jan. 24 that all hostilities must end. The association also urged the parties negotiating in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to welcome wider array of South Sudanese representatives so that all underlying issues that led to the conflict to erupt to be aired. The South Sudanese government and rebels signed a cease-fire agreement Jan. 23. It took effect Jan. 24. Fighting broke out when rebels allied with ousted vice president Riek Machar attacked several government sites. President Salva Kiir removed Machar and dismissed all cabinet ministers from office in July. Hostilities expanded throughout the country for five weeks, leaving as many as 10,000 people dead, and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported 468,000 people were displaced as of Jan. 16.

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An eventful Vatican year raises the profile of the Catholic press

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Few probably know it outside the ranks of the craft, but February is Catholic Press Month, when the church in the United States and Canada recognizes the importance of Catholic media and members of the Catholic media reflect in a special way on their service to the church. These are not easy times for Catholic journalism, which no less than its secular counterpart has been deeply unsettled by technologically driven changes in how readers and viewers receive and share information. The disruption seems bound to continue indefinitely and there is no consensus about where it will lead. Yet Catholic Press Month 2014 should be an occasion for new hope. The last year has witnessed developments within the church that offer Catholic journalism major opportunities for greater influence, among the faithful and the public at large. On Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. Those who were at the Vatican press office that morning remember how quickly it filled with seemingly all the accredited journalists in Rome, many of whom rarely covered papal events. Approximately 5,600 journalists were accredited to report on the conclave that elected Pope Francis March 13. As it turned out, that papal transition was just the beginning of the Vatican's longest stretch of global media attention since the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, and perhaps since the Second Vatican Council half a century before. The attention shows no sign of ending soon.

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Mexican priests play prominent role in supporting self-defense groups

APATZINGAN, Mexico (CNS) -- Father Gregorio Lopez Geronimo wears a bulletproof vest while celebrating Mass. A bullet hole marks the wall of his office behind Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in this city of 99,000 residents, where armed self-defense groups have formed to fight back against a drug cartel accused to causing chaos in the western state of Michoacan. The priest even ordered hundreds of clubs, which he wants a citizen group he's coordinating to carry in an attempt to take back the streets -- peacefully, he insists. "We're talking out because someone has to do so," Father Lopez, the diocesan vicar, said while attending to multiple foreign correspondents in his office, which is adorned by photos of him meeting Blessed John Paul II. Priests such as Father Lopez have played prominent roles in recent months, offering spiritual, moral and material support for self-defense groups, which have surged in the region around Apatzingan over the past year and taken at least 15 communities under cartel control. With the media converging on this corner of Michoacan -- where the soldiers and federal police were sent to disarm the groups and re-establish order earlier in January -- priests such as Father Lopez have prominently been featured in their coverage. Their candor contrasts with other prelates in troubled parts of Mexico, who have preferred to stay silent on the issues of crime and drug cartels.

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Kentucky bishop named to Harrisburg; auxiliary named for Sacramento

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Lexington, Ky., has been named to head the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., and the vicar general of the Diocese of Fresno, Calif., has been named auxiliary bishop of Sacramento, Calif., the first for the diocese. Pope Francis made the appointments Jan. 24. They were announced in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Later in the day, the new bishops were introduced at news conferences in the two state capitals. Bishop Gainer, 66, was ordained as bishop of Lexington Feb. 22, 2003. He is a native of Pottsville, Pa., just 55 miles from Harrisburg in the Diocese of Allentown. Ordained for Allentown in 1973, he served in that diocese as a parish priest, campus minister and judicial vicar until his appointment as the second bishop of Lexington. Msgr. Myron J. Cotta, 60, will become the first auxiliary bishop of the Sacramento Diocese. He is a native of Dos Palos, Calif., in the Fresno Diocese, and has been a priest since 1987. He will be ordained a bishop March 25 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop Gainer succeeds Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who died May 2. He will be installed March 19 in a service at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Harrisburg.

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Veteran Vatican reporter Allen calls Pope Francis 'pope of mercy'

ARVADA, Colo. (CNS) -- Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen Jr. took up the old journalist "man on the street" challenge by a priest in the poorest part of Buenos Aires when he sought the truth about how Pope Francis came to be known as a bishop of the poor. Allen has covered three popes in his career and was recently hired as associate editor of the Boston Globe after years of writing for the National Catholic Reporter weekly newspaper. He recounted the story in a recent talk about Pope Francis' first year before a crowd of nearly 500 people at Spirit of Christ Catholic Community Church in Arvada, in the Denver Archdiocese. Allen visited the place where Pope Francis chose to live for his 12 years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. "Rather than living in the archbishop's palace, he chose to live in a very Spartan apartment in the heart of the city where the poor lived," the journalist said a mid-January presentation. "When I say Spartan, I don't just mean that in the language of real estate professionals. This was the kind of place that you had to leave the stove on 24/7 over the weekend, because they didn't have enough money to leave the heat on over the weekend." He also visited he slums of Buenos Aires -- called the villas of misery -- where the future pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, spent much of his time.


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