National Catholic Reporter

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Bishops remain mum on economic turmoil


BALTIMORE -- Twenty-five years ago, as the U.S. faced an economic crisis and a fierce debate over cutting taxes for the wealthy and limiting benefits for the poor, Catholic bishops issued a landmark statement on social justice that became the touchstone for religious opposition to "trickle down" economics.

This week, as America faces even worse economic circumstances and engages in the same fierce debate over budget priorities, the bishops gathered here for their annual meeting focused on a handful of internal matters and geared up for fights against gay marriage and abortion.

The bishops did not take note of the document's anniversary -- or its core teachings. That shift has dismayed those who believe that this is a moment for the hierarchy to announce the church's views on the economy with the same vigor that it promotes other causes.

Obama meets quietly with head of U.S. bishops


President Obama met with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan without fanfare Nov. 8, the White House has confirmed.

Dolan is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The men discussed a range of issues related to the often complicated and recently fractious relationship between the administration and the U.S. church hierarchy. A spokesperson for the USCCB declined to confirm or deny the meeting.

Bishops gear up for fight with Obama


When the nation's Catholic bishops gather for their annual fall meeting next week (Nov. 14-16) in Baltimore, the issue that will stand out in an otherwise small-bore internal agenda is their growing resolve to engage in politically charged battles over gay marriage and access to abortion and contraception.

In fact, during their gathering -- which has been shortened from four days to three -- the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not scheduled to deal with the nation's economic misery, populist anger at Washington or even the unprecedented indictment of a Missouri bishop accused of failing to report a suspected child abuser.

Instead, the bishops are due to focus on various liturgical and financial proposals, and will also spend time discussing their approach to culture war issues that seem certain to worsen the bishops' already tense relationship with the Obama administration just as the 2012 campaign heats up.

Catholic college sues over contraception mandate

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Belmont Abbey College is suing the federal government over a new regulation that requires employer health insurance plans to provide free coverage of contraceptives and sterilization, even if it may be contrary to their religious beliefs.

The civil lawsuit was filed Nov. 10 in U.S. District Court in Washington by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based nonprofit, public-interest law firm that is representing the Catholic liberal arts college in Belmont.

In its lawsuit, Belmont Abbey College argues that the contraception regulation forces it to violate its religious beliefs or pay a severe fine.

Named in the suit are the federal departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury and their respective heads: Secretaries Kathleen Sebelius, Hilda Solis and Timothy Geithner.

"A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government would force the same monk to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounces," said Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel at the Becket Fund, in a statement issued Nov. 10.

After defeat, what's next for 'Personhood'?


WASHINGTON -- The failure of the "personhood" initiative in Mississippi on Tuesday intensified what appears to be a growing divide in the anti-abortion movement.

Some backers of the initiative, which aimed to make abortion illegal by defining a fetus as a person from the moment of conception, are pointing fingers at major anti-abortion groups that stood on the sidelines during the Mississippi debate.

"What you have is a few organizations that are moving in the wrong direction on the issue of life," said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a leading conservative law firm that provided advice to the initiative's sponsors.

Staver said he blames Americans United for Life (AUL) and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) -- two of the nation's largest and most established anti-abortion groups -- for an "impasse" in the movement that contributed to a loss at the polls.

"The split is not good," Staver said of the divide between more established groups and more confrontational groups that backed Personhood. "They want to be too conservative, too cautious. We need to move forward with a direct challenge to Roe (v. Wade)."

NH Republican makes his mark


MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Ovide Lamontagne rejects the title “kingmaker” in New Hampshire’s Republican politics. The state’s voters, he said, are too independent-minded to take directions from anyone.

But by the time he sat for an interview with NCR at his law office in downtown Manchester in late August, he had hosted seven GOP presidential candidates in his home for meet-and-greet parties, each attended by as many as 300 Republican activists.

Voters have say on 'personhood,' labor rights

WASHINGTON -- Voters in Mississippi and Ohio confronted such traditional Catholic issues as abortion and labor rights on Election Day, but the Catholic bishops in those states remained neutral on the specific ballot questions raised.

In Mississippi, Proposition 26, known as the Personhood Amendment, was defeated, with 42 percent of voters supporting the measure and 58 percent opposed. It would have defined life as beginning at the moment of conception.

But Bishop Joseph N. Latino of Jackson, Miss., said that although he and other Catholic leaders "admire the goals" of the proposed amendment, "we do not believe a Mississippi Personhood Amendment is the best means to pursue an end to abortion in Mississippi and our nation."

In Ohio, more than 60 percent of voters supported an effort to repeal a law that limited the right of public employee unions to collective bargaining and prohibited them from striking. The state's Catholic bishops had taken a neutral stand, saying the issue "involves a prudential judgment where people of good will may differ as to their vote."

Church's role in helping immigrants indispensable, says Texas bishop

SAN ANTONIO -- A Catholic bishop told a San Antonio audience that "as a leaven in the wider community of peoples" and the bearer "of conscience and of hope," the church must work in favor of the immigrant, preach the Gospel and focus on the youths.

After outlining the changing dynamics of immigration and violence and addressing some of the effects on the local communities, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville offered his "pastoral perspective and some thoughts about the indispensable role of the church in facing the current reality on the border."

He emphasized the need "to call attention to the plight of the innocent who suffer," and to the "urgent task" of connecting youths to the life of the church.

"We must raise a call to conscience for the people of our two great nations to see how a culture of violence and death is destroying a people and a culture that has endured and flourished on both sides of the border for many generations," he said. "This destructive blight affects us in different ways on the two sides of the (Rio Grande) River, but they are interrelated ways."



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