National Catholic Reporter

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Politics

Obama seeks balance on contraception, religious beliefs

WASHINGTON -- A White House spokesman said the Obama administration is working to "strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs" as it decides on a religious exemption to the mandate that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilizations by Jan. 1, 2013.

2012 candidates asked to sign religious freedom pledge

An advocacy organization for persecuted Christians has asked the 2012 presidential candidates to sign a pledge stating they would make religious freedom a priority in the United States and overseas if they win the White House.

Open Doors USA joined with religious freedom activist Tom Farr of Georgetown University to draft the pledge, which was unveiled Monday. As of Wednesday, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was the sole signatory among the candidates.

"The right of religious freedom must be applied equally to all religious communities in America, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others," reads the pledge.

"At the same time, religious freedom does not mandate belief, but protects the right not to believe."

The pledge, endorsed by prominent conservative organizations and individuals, defends the right to use religious arguments when debating laws about abortion and traditional marriage. It also supports "religiously motivated" charitable work.

Exceptionalism more a fantasy than ever

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Viewpoint

“America is a unique and exceptional nation.” -- Mitt Romney

Along with flags pinned on lapels and hands over hearts during the national anthem, expressions of American exceptionalism are all but a requirement for anyone seeking political office. Mitt Romney’s use of the phrase is a staple of his stump speeches, as it is of the other Republican candidates now roaming the land in the quadrennial exercise in self-promotion.

Bishops take on health care

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BALTIMORE -- The U.S. Catholic bishops voted Nov. 14 during their fall meeting to create a permanent subcommittee on health care issues under the Committee on Doctrine, replacing a task force that had handled a variety of issues related to health care over the past three years.

The task force addressed “everything from medical moral issues to things like pastoral care,” health care reform and hospital mergers, according to its chair, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

Though the work of the task force -- dealing with health care reform or mergers between hospitals -- often intersected with the work of other committees, most of it dealt with ethical and religious directives, Rhoades said, and “those directives are really the responsibility of the Committee on Doctrine.”

The nine bishops who will be part of the subcommittee have not yet been selected, but Rhoades said they may include members of committees who had worked with the task force on health care in the past, such as the committees on Canonical Affairs and Pro-Life Activities.

Obama cannot be at war with Catholics if he is at peace with religious freedom

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VIEWPOINT

Sometimes one is tempted to say a plague on both your houses. We're not even close to the 2012 election season and already there are overheated claims that the Obama administration is at war with Catholics.

It is not.

One of the most attractive aspects of President Barack Obama is the significance of faith in his life. Raised outside a formal church of any kind, Obama early on discovered his own life's meaning in giving of himself to others. He also discovered that even the magnanimity of community service could often be misunderstood outside a context of shared belief.

Yet with tea parties and occupiers and dissenters of every variety active in the land, shared belief is increasingly hard for political figures to manifest on a national or even state or regional level. It is easier, but still not without challenge, for churchmen to articulate first principles held in common -- like, for example, that life is a gift; it is sacred; and it is not within our power to forfeit our own life or take that of another.

Religious liberty tops concerns at bishops' meeting

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BALTIMORE -- Despite predictions in some mainstream press accounts that the U.S. bishops were preparing for war with the Obama administration on the issue of religious liberty, President Barack Obama’s meeting with bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy Dolan at the White House a few days before the bishops assembled for their annual November plenary session in Baltimore seems to have defused the crisis.

Cardinal urges Senate to drop abortion funding

WASHINGTON -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo called on members of the U.S. Senate to remove four provisions "that pose a direct threat to innocent human life" from a package of three appropriations bills for fiscal 2012.

"At a time when Congress is tempted to reduce even vitally important programs that serve the poorest and neediest people here and abroad, the moral wrong of expanding subsidies for direct violations of human life and dignity is especially egregious," said the archbishop of Galveston-Houston, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The Senate was debating H.R. 2354, which covers FY 2012 funding for energy/water, financial services and state/foreign operations, during the week of Nov. 14.

Cardinal DiNardo said four senators had agreed to propose amendments to remove the four objectionable provisions:

-- Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was to offer an amendment restoring Congress' long-standing ban on coverage of elective abortions in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which the financial services bill would permit as currently written.

Nurses say they were forced to assist in abortions

NEWARK, N.J. -- Twelve nurses on Monday accused the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey of abruptly forcing them to assist in abortion cases, despite religious and moral objections to the procedures.

"In October, we were suddenly confronted with a choice between our faith and our jobs," said Fe Esperanza Racpan Vinoya, one of the nurses suing University Hospital. "They said very clearly if we did not assist, we would face termination."

The school denies that nurses have been asked to take any direct involvement in abortions or to even be in the room at the time of abortion procedures if they have cultural, ethical or religious objections.

"The university is in full compliance with all applicable state and federal laws and is confident its position will be vindicated when the court gives this matter a full hearing," the school said in a statement.

Twelve of the 16 nurses in the hospital's same-day surgery unit are part of the suit, according to their attorneys, one of whom is from the Arizona-based Christian nonprofit Alliance Defense Fund.

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