National Catholic Reporter

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Politics

'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.

Practices questioned

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American Life League, a major Catholic pro-life organization, has been flagged by several nonprofit watchdogs for questionable financial practices, including compensating board members and doing hundreds of thousands of dollars in business with a firm owned by the spouse of the organization’s leader.

The league has also been investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, according to forms filed annually with the tax agency.

Priests for Life in financial trouble

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A leading Catholic anti-abortion group whose leader is under scrutiny for failing to disclose financial details reported a $1.4 million deficit in 2010 despite collecting tens of millions of dollars in donations during recent years.

The budget shortfall at Priests For Life and a bishop's recent decision to sharply curtail its national director's activities raise serious questions about the group's long-term viability.

SCOTUS starts with church school employment

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The constitutionally thorny question of where the line lies between a church school's religious autonomy and the legal rights of its teachers comes before the Supreme Court Oct. 5, two days after the term starts.

Other cases on the court's docket this fall include consideration of standards of indecency on network television and at least two cases over what activities warrant deporting immigrants.

Within the court's first weeks, the justices also will decide whether to hear a challenge to Arizona's immigration enforcement law. They also will consider whether to hear several other appeals of how immigration and asylum laws are applied and yet another in a series of challenges to the display of crosses in public places.

The church school case could have broad implications for other religious groups.

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