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'Faithful citizenship' gives glimpse of political season

WASHINGTON -- It didn't take long for the "spin" to start after the U.S. bishops reissued their 2007 document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship," with a new introductory note signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of nine USCCB committees.

The reissuance without changes to the body of the text "will not please some conservatives," wrote John Gehring, senior writer and outreach coordinator for Faith in Public Life, adding that "it's good to see the bishops affirm that Catholics should not be single-issue voters."

But Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, emphasized a line from the introductory note, praising the "especially helpful comment" that the document "does not offer a quantitative listing of issues for equal consideration."

"To that we say, 'Amen!" he added. "Not all issues are equal; at the core of every issue is the right to life."

Bishops' agency denied federal grant

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Since 2006, the U.S. Catholic bishops' Migration and Refugee Services has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care.

That service has come to a halt because the agency recently learned it did not receive a new grant award for this work from the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement. MRS' prior contract for the trafficking program ended Oct. 10.

Mercy Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that she hoped the Catholic Church's "position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision" by the HHS refugee office to reject MRS' application for a new grant, "especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience."

She noted that the MRS's anti-trafficking program "ran quite well without these services" and said it would be "tragic if abortion politics harmed the men, women and children already at risk because of the crime and scandal of human trafficking."

Catholics protest proposed health plan mandate

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In the past few weeks, U.S. Catholic bishops, leaders of Catholic health care and charitable organizations, and leaders of educational institutions have spoken out in opposition to a proposed federal mandate that would require all health care plans -- including those offered to employees of Catholic hospitals, schools and ministries -- to include coverage of contraception and sterilizations at no additional cost.

'Protest chaplains' shepherd at protests

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BOSTON -- As waves of demonstrators descended on New York City to protest corporate greed, they were met by typical sounds of raucous youth-led protests: drum beats, police sirens and shouted political slogans.

They didn’t expect to hear hymns.

Yet protestors rounding the corner of Zuccotti Park encountered dozens of white-robed worshipers singing spirituals and blessing the demonstrators while holding signs reading “Blessed are the poor” and brandishing handmade Christian crosses.

The group, calling themselves the “Protest Chaplains,” traveled from Boston to join the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which claims to advocate for “the 99 percent” of Americans against the “1 percent” who control much of the country’s wealth.

The Protest Chaplains, a loose group of mostly Christian students, seminarians and laypeople organized though Facebook, expressed support for the movement the best they knew how: through their faith.

Bishops warn that church teaching is nonpartisan

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With the 2012 campaign gearing up before an angry and divided electorate, U.S. Catholic bishops on Tuesday reminded Catholic voters that they can’t cherry-pick from church teachings to justify their own political preferences, and cautioned both sides not to edit the bishops’ statements into “voter guides” to back one party or another.

More comments filed objecting to HHS mandate

WASHINGTON -- Catholic organizations filing comments on the federal Department of Health and Human Services' mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception and sterilization and a proposed religious exemption registered their strong disapproval.

The latest round of comments echoed objections raised in those filed earlier by, among others, attorneys for the U.S. bishops and the Catholic Health Association.

The comment deadline was Sept. 30, the last day of a 60-day comment period for the mandate and proposed exemption announced Aug. 1 by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In describing as "narrow" a religious exception from the proposed mandate, Catholic Charities USA president Father Larry Snyder, in a 13-page Sept. 28 memo to an HHS administrator, said the mandate will "force organizations that oppose contraception for religious reasons to choose between (1) offering these services in violation of their religious beliefs, and (2) facing the prospect of substantial fees if they choose not to offer health insurance coverage. This lose-lose choice would impose a 'substantial burden' on these organizations' exercise of religion."

Bishops reissue 'Faithful Citizenship' with introduction

WASHINGTON -- A new introduction to the U.S. bishops' document on political responsibility reminds Catholics that some issues "involve the clear obligation to oppose intrinsic evils which can never be justified," while others "require action to pursue justice and promote the common good."

The brief Introductory Note to the 2011 reissue of "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" was signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the chairmen of nine USCCB committees. It was approved by the bishops' Administrative Committee at its mid-September meeting and made public Oct. 4.

The introduction says that "Faithful Citizenship," one in a series of documents that have been issued before every presidential election for nearly 35 years, "has at times been misused to present an incomplete or distorted view of the demands of faith in politics" but "remains a faithful and challenging call to discipleship in the world of politics."

Pavone pleads with donors for more money

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Fr. Frank Pavone, a high-profile abortion opponent who was reined in by Catholic officials raising questions about his financial dealings, recently mailed a frantic fund-raising letter urging that supporters send his organization "the largest gift you possibly can today."

Pavone, head of the non-profit Priests for Life, sent the Sept. 22 letter after Amarillo, Texas, Bishop Patrick Zurek ordered Pavone to return to the diocese because of "persistent questions and concerns" about how he was handling millions in donations to his organization.

Bishops aim to protect religious liberty

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Saying that religious liberty, a basic right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, "is now increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America," the president of the U.S. bishops' conference today announced the formation of an ad hoc committee for religious freedom with the aim of protecting "our people from this assault."

Announcing the new ad hoc committee, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York called this "a new moment in the history of our conference."

The assault on religious liberty is coming "in an increasing number of federal government programs or policies that would infringe upon the right of conscience of people of faith or otherwise harm the foundational principle of religious liberty," Dolan said.

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September 12-25, 2014

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