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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Apr-30-2014

By Catholic News Service


Atlanta archbishop to restrict weapons in Catholic institutions

ATLANTA (CNS) -- Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta pledged to restrict the presence of guns in Catholic institutions in response to a new Georgia law that would allow licensed gun owners to carry arms into schools, churches and other locales. Set to take effect July 1, the law was opposed by the Georgia Catholic Conference. Writing in his column in the May 1 issue of the Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese, the archbishop said he regrets the enactment of the new law "more than I can possibly express. Before this legislation takes effect in July, I will officially restrict the presence of weapons in our Catholic institutions except for those carried by the people that civic authorities have designated and trained to protect and guard us -- and those who are duly authorized law and military officials," Archbishop Gregory explained. "The last thing we need is more firearms in public places, especially in those places frequented by children and the vulnerable." Previously in Georgia, licensed gun holders were not permitted to carry a firearm into a house of worship.

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Faith leaders urge support of federal minimum wage legislation

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A group of religious leaders stressed the moral obligation to raise the federal minimum wage in an April 29 letter to Congress, describing increased wages as "indispensable to ensuring that no worker will suffer the indignity of poverty." The letter was released the day before the Senate was to vote on increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016. The Senate, however, voted 54-42 April 30 against opening debate on the bill, killing the measure for the immediate future. Senate Democrats, who needed 60 votes to begin debate, pledged to reintroduce the measure, but gave no date for doing so. The religious leaders said raising the minimum wage was necessary to help lift people out of poverty. "We respect the dignity of our neighbors who toil under the yoke of today's unjust minimum wage, and we call on our elected leaders to ease their burden by making the minimum wage a family wage," said the letter, organized by public policy groups Interfaith Worker Justice and Faith in Public Life and signed by about 5,000 people including more than 30 prominent religious leaders known for their work on social issues.

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Catholic Charities agencies helping storm-damaged southern U.S.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic Charities agencies were on the ground assessing damage after a series of storms with deadly tornadoes and massive floods swept through the southern United States April 27-29. The storms killed 35 people and left thousands without power while razing homes and businesses. Arkansas and Mississippi were the hardest hit, but deaths also were reported in Oklahoma, Iowa, Alabama and Tennessee. Georgia residents lost power, and the Carolinas and Florida experienced flash floods. In areas hit by tornados, thousands of people forced out of their homes sought temporary shelter while the National Guard, local police and residents sifted through the rubble searching for victims. Patricia Cole, communications director for Catholic Charities USA, said its disaster response operations team has been coordinating with local Catholic Charities agencies in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama "where conditions on the ground are changing by the hour." She said Catholic Charities USA had received requests for grants for financial assistance and is staying in close contact with Catholic dioceses and agencies in the damaged areas as they assess the needs in their communities.

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Pope: Holy Spirit, not human smarts, helps people see God's loving plan

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Human smarts are not enough to truly understand God's word and how he is working in people's lives, Pope Francis said. Christians need the help of the Holy Spirit to "go beneath the surface of reality and peer into the depths of God's thinking and his plan of salvation," he said. During his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square April 30, the pope returned to a new series of audience talks on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. The audience drew tens of thousands of people, including numerous pilgrims who attended the April 27 canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II, whose images could be seen on banners still hanging from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica. In his catechesis, the pope focused on the gift of understanding, which, he said, is not the same as "human intelligence or intellectual ability." Rather, he said, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from sharing in God's life through faith and baptism.

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Pope asks cardinals to try to resolve conflict with Peruvian university

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed three cardinals, including Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec, to try to resolve a long-standing dispute with a Peruvian university and see if it would be possible to restore the university's designation as "pontifical" and "Catholic." The rector of the former Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima released a statement April 28 saying, "The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has formed a commission of cardinals with the mission of meeting to find a 'final, consensual solution,' in the framework of the apostolic constitution 'Ex Corde Ecclesiae,' ('From the Heart of the Church') to the outstanding issues" between the Vatican and the university. In addition to Cardinal Lacroix, Pope Francis appointed Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest and Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago. Cardinal Erdo, a canon lawyer, had conducted an apostolic visitation of the university in 2011 at the request of the Vatican. The Vatican press office confirmed the appointment of the cardinals, but gave no other details.

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Cardinal shares media tips he learned at 'school of hard knocks'

ROME (CNS) -- Thanking communications professionals who work for the Catholic Church, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York also shared with them tips he said he learned at the "school of hard knocks." When facing reporters, he said, "their initial posture often might be bellicose, but that should only challenge us, never scare us or make us uncomfortable." The cardinal gave the keynote address April 28 at a conference for Catholic communicators sponsored by the school of church communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. Cardinal Dolan highlighted the communications success of Pope Francis, who, he said, is a natural communicator of Christian truths and the Catholic faith. His words and actions are not a public relations ploy or gimmick, "it's just who Pope Francis is. Nobody, no communications expert, had to sit down with him and say, 'Holy Father, listen, we think it would really be a great idea if you concentrated on talking about God's mercy and forgiveness.'"

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New U.K. guidance may hurt those who won't dispense morning-after pill

LIVERPOOL, England (CNS) -- British doctors and nurses who refuse to dispense the morning-after pill on grounds of conscience will be unable to receive a specialist diploma in sexual health care. Guidance issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare states that medical professionals who, for religious reasons, refuse to hand out "emergency" contraception cannot receive the qualification. The diploma is considered to represent the "gold standard" of sexual health care training, a source at the faculty told Catholic News Service in an April 30 telephone conversation. The National Health Service will require the qualification before it pays for services, the source said, meaning that doctors and nurses who do not have the diploma are unlikely to receive specialist work in the field of sexual health care. The guidance from the faculty states that "completing the syllabus (theory and practical) means willingness during training to prescribe all forms of hormonal contraception, including emergency, and willingness to counsel and refer, if appropriate, for all intrauterine methods." It says: "Failure to complete the syllabus renders candidates ineligible for the award of a FSRH diploma."

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New Oregon auxiliary bishop thanks people for inspiring his ministry

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Archdiocese of Portland's new auxiliary bishop, the first in 36 years, credited the people of the diocese for building his faith and inspiring his work during his episcopal ordination. "I didn't get here on my own," Bishop Peter Smith told the congregation, which filled St. Mary's Cathedral in Portland to overflowing for a Mass that lasted two and a half hours April 29. "I got here because of all of you and many more besides." In brief comments, the new bishop thanked his family, the People of Praise faith community, the priests in his life and the lay faithful at parishes where he has served. He asked for prayers, especially that his heart grow in love for the People of God. When he took his official bishops' chair, the congregation erupted in a long round of applause. The former South African Army rifleman looked uncomfortable with the attention, but soldiered on. During his homily, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample offered a teaching on the rite of a bishop's ordination and exhorted Bishop Smith to let the prayers and promises sink in deeply. "We hope the power of the Holy Spirit will be poured out upon you in a powerful way to assist you," the archbishop said, turning to look at his No. 2 man, who has served the archdiocese as vicar general and moderator of the curia.

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Suburban Detroit pastor, lay manager indicted on federal fraud charges

DETROIT (CNS) -- The suspended pastor of a parish in the Detroit suburbs was indicted April 23 on federal fraud charges, as was the former parish manager of St. Thomas More Parish in Troy. Father Edward Belczak, 69, who was suspended by the Archdiocese of Detroit in January 2013, was indicted on mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Janice Verschuren, 67, who left the parish at the time of Father Belczak's suspension, also was named in the 16-page indictment. At issue is nearly $700,000 in parish funds donated between 2004 and 2012 that have not been accounted for. On one charge, the government accuses Father Belczak of diverting more than $109,000 of parish funds to put a down payment on a condominium he purchased in 2005 from Verschuren. The FBI moved April 21, the day after Easter, to seize the condo. The indictment also contends that Father Belczak spent money from a $420,000 bequest left by a parishioner who died in 2006 and intended the money to be used "for the needs of the church." According to the indictment, the priest deposited the funds in a money market account he kept secret from the archdiocese. The government said Verschuren intercepted offering funds donated by parishioners on Mother's Day and Father's Day from 2007 through 2012. In addition, according to the indictment, she assisted Father Belczak in stealing more than $33,000 owed to the parish by Diocesan Publications and more than $26,000 in commissions paid to the parish's travel club.


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