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CEO: Health care reform, sale of Catholic hospitals not linked

WASHINGTON -- The head of a Catholic health system has denied reports that the decision to put three hospitals in northeastern Pennsylvania up for sale was a result of the health care reform bill passed in March.

"Discussions about mergers, acquisitions and strategic partnerships have been conducted in our health care community for years -- long before the passage of the (Patient Protection and) Affordable Care Act," said Kevin Cook, president and CEO of Mercy Health Partners, in an Oct. 10 statement. "Our decision announced last week was due to many factors."

Cook said "the rationale for our initiative has been mischaracterized by certain politicized media outlets and severely distorted by some special-interest groups."

Mercy Health Partners is comprised of Mercy Hospital in Scranton, Mercy Special Care Hospital in Nanticoke, Mercy Tyler Hospital in Tunkhannock and several outpatient facilities. It is part of Catholic Healthcare Partners, based in Cincinnati.

Taking the midterms to Virginia's neighborhoods

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Penhook, Virginia (population 785) is well off the beaten path. Located about an hour south of Lynchburg, the town is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and along the 14 mile route from the main road, you pass signs directing you to six different Baptist and Christian churches as well as a farmhouse flying the Confederate battle flag.

In town, just past Carl’s Place Family Diner but before the post office is the Penhook United Methodist Church where, once a month, they host a community breakfast to build fellowship and raise money for charities that feed the hungry. You can have waffles, turkey sausage and cheese casserole, bacon and sausage cooked on the grill outdoors, grits with or without cheese, biscuits with gravy. “The gravy’s not too good today, I don’t know what happened,” one woman apologizes to me, but it tastes plenty good to me.

Emotions run high

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LANGHORNE, PA. -- Mike Fitzpatrick says he received an automated phone call from his congressman that invited him to a meeting. So he dropped in on Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat who represents Bucks County in the Philadelphia suburbs and, it so happens, the man Fitzpatrick hopes to replace by winning their Nov. 2 congressional election.

Group aims to mobilize Catholics for equality

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In recent state ballot initiatives about marriage laws, the Catholic church and Catholic allies have used deep pockets and organizational strength to speak out for state laws that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

But a group of politically savvy Catholics say the bishops are out of step with the majority of Catholics on this question, and on Sept. 14, they launched a new effort that plans to use grass-roots organizing and community building “to mobilize the 62 percent of American Catholics who support freedoms for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity ... [and] channel that support into action for legislative, political and cultural change.”

The group is called Catholics for Equality.

Fr. Joseph Palacios, a founding board member of the group and a sociologist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington, cites a May survey by Gallup that found that 52 percent of Americans say that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable, the highest acceptance rate since 2006. Among Catholics, support jumps to 62 percent, up from 46 percent in 2006.

Rep. Mike Pence wins Values Voter straw poll

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mike Pence, a fast-rising conservative firebrand from Indiana, was the surprise winner of a straw poll on Saturday (Sept. 18) among 17 possible Republican presidential candidates at the 2010 Values Voter Summit.

Pence beat out better known conservative leaders, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to win with 24 percent in a vote sponsored the political arm of the Washington-based Family Research Council.

Progressives in the public square

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WASHINGTON -- Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good closed its office in Washington at the end of July and let its remaining paid staff go, but it plans to continue a scaled-back program.

Founded in 2005 after George W. Bush soundly beat John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election, it was one of three new Catholic organizations formed to spread the message of progressive Catholic social teaching that is fully pro-life, countering Republican efforts of recent years to lay claim to being the party that represents Catholic values.

The other two, Catholics United and Catholic Democrats, both more directly political than the alliance, say they are still going strong and expanding, but much of the alliance’s funding dried up this year.

“The money just wasn’t there” to keep the full operation going, said Jesuit Fr. William J. Byron of St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, a member of the alliance’s board of directors.

Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, said a major problem facing progressive Catholic groups in general is that “they don’t have any money.”

Ted Kennedy's well-lived life

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A year ago today, people in Massachusetts and around the world mourned the death of Senator Ted Kennedy in a manner reserved for few Americans. Tens of thousands stood respectfully for hours, spontaneously forming lengthy lines along the shore of Columbia Point on Boston Harbor for a chance to walk past his casket. It was a testament to respect for a special moment in history, but more poignantly to a deep sense of personal loss. A member of the family had died, and the grief was evident on the faces of people who sacrificed hours to be together there. "He was out there every day, fighting the fight for us -- especially for our health," the Rev Jesse Jackson told me, as he signed the guest book. "And look how much these people loved him for it."

Senator Kennedy was the only one of the four brothers who was not taken in his youth. But even at age 77, after 15 months of crossing swords with cancer, he seemed at the height of his game -- a pivotal figure in the victory of Barack Obama and a key player in the impending healthcare debate. Why at that moment, many people asked. Why do bad things happen to the people we need the most?

JFK and the cafeteria bishops

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Analysis

A half century ago, John F. Kennedy was elected the first Catholic president of the United States because he convinced American voters that he wouldn’t take orders from the pope.

Now, however, Catholic politicians across the United States, particularly those running for national office, are increasingly facing criticism from some members of the hierarchy -- because they won’t take orders from the church.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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