National Catholic Reporter

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Catholics silent in Iowa caucus hype


DES MOINES, IOWA -- Religion has had an extraordinary presence in the buildup to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, but Catholics have been distinguished by their silence.

“It’s part of the Catholic culture,” said Deacon Dan McGuire, parish administrator at Assumption Parish in Granger, Iowa. “We get involved in politics. That’s obvious. But as a former excluded minority ... we keep faith in our private community. We don’t vocalize it in public.”

Partisanship in the pulpit, then and now



In October, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, sponsored by a host of conservative, mostly Christian groups, including the Family Research Council, Liberty University and the Heritage Foundation, Pastor Robert Jeffress stirred up a hornet’s nest when he called Mormonism a “cult” and said that Christians had an obligation to prefer a coreligionist to a non-Christian, all other issues being equal. Jeffress’ comments raised the immediate issue of anti-Mormon bigotry, but they also raised another issue: What should be the role of clergy in campaigns?

Americans tend to conflate nostalgia with history, which produces a highly conservative understanding of the large variety of ways our forebears confronted complicated questions. The way things were done in our youth is, we assume, the way things have always been done.

Vigil calls for extended jobless benefits


WASHINGTON -- Ever since Shonda Sneed of Yellow Springs, Ohio, lost her engineering job two years ago, she has depended on unemployment benefits to support herself and her 81-year-old mother. “I loved working,” she told a crowd of hundreds of people gathered recently near the U.S. Capitol at a prayer vigil calling on lawmakers to extend benefits for millions of jobless workers. “Honestly,” she said, “I feel like the American dream is slipping out of my hands.”

An economic vision with a ray of hope



President Barack Obama’s Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kan. -- where Teddy Roosevelt gave his “New Nationalism” speech in 1910 -- marks a defining moment in this presidency. The speech offers a moral framework -- resonant with Catholic social teaching -- that names the absurdity that seems to rule national politics.

One of the signs of our time is its absurdity -- most evident, perhaps, when the most privileged economic and political interests in the nation call the president’s economic speech a “continuation of class warfare.”

People who stand for economic justice ought to turn such redbaiting on its head and name it what it is -- hypocrisy. The same voices calling the president’s economic vision “class warfare” or “socialist” themselves stand for a preferential option for the top 1 percent -- in the form of extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- as they refuse to lift a finger for millions of Americans who are jobless, underemployed or straining to make ends meet.

HHS announcement made MRS plan to help trafficking victims a tough sell

This story is the second in a series on the decision by federal officials to discontinue funding the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services program to assist foreign-born victims of human trafficking.

WASHINGTON -- After weeks of waiting, the federal announcement that staff members of the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services had been anticipating became public.

But the Department of Health and Human Services document released May 27 was not exactly what MRS's Hilary Chester, associate director with the Anti-Trafficking Services Program, and Beth Englander, director of special programs, had expected.

The document, called a funding opportunity announcement, was soliciting proposals from qualified nonprofit agencies to operate the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program, under which MRS had provided case management services to foreign-born trafficking victims since April 2006.

Time to take back our government


The name Buddy Roemer might not exactly roll off your tongue -- yet. But he will have a place in the 2012 presidential election story. He’s running on a platform with a timely message, like it or not. Roemer served four terms in Congress from 1981-88 as a Democrat who often broke ranks with his party to vote with President Ronald Reagan, and was Louisiana governor from 1988-92 as both a Democrat and Republican.

USCCB seeks answers to why plan to help trafficking victims was denied

This story is the first in a series on the decision by federal officials to discontinue funding the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services program to assist foreign-born victims of human trafficking.

WASHINGTON -- The letter arrived after business hours at the end of the workweek the last Friday of September in an email message to the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services.

"Thank you for submitting an application for the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program," began the correspondence from George H. Sheldon, acting assistant secretary in the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services. "I regret to inform you that your organization's application was not approved for funding."

Sheldon's letter contained little information other than an encouraging word to try again in the future.

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.



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