Daily News

  • Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News ).- A Supreme Court case about pension plans of religious hospitals could decide something much bigger whether religious groups are legally part of churches. Theres really a big problem if you decide church is sort of narrowly worship, said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Thats really something that a church should be deciding, whether they just worship or whether they go out and serve other people outside of the four walls of the sanctuary, Rassbach told CNA. The Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments in Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton, a consolidation of three cases involving the pension plans of religious hospitals like Advocate and St. Peters HealthCare System in New Jersey. The employers are looking to move the plans, regulated like other plans of for-profit corporations, into a religious category exempt from some of those regulations. The law in question, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, regulates pension plans of for-profit corporations, requiring the employers to hold an additional amount of funds in reserve. Setting up these reserves could be cost-prohibitive especially for community hospitals, some of whom are not going to be able to do that, Rassbach said. If Advocate and hundreds of other religious hospitals around the country were forced to follow for-profit rules, money currently used to serve the poor and inner city communities would be lost and many would be forced to shut down, the Becket Fund argued. Congress has recognized a religious exemption for pension plans of churches, and entities like St. Peters Hospital in New Jersey applied for this exemption after operating their pension plans according to the federal regulations for years. The plaintiffs bringing the suit, employees of the health care networks, claim their pension plan agreements are being unfairly altered. The religious exemption applies to plans established and maintained by churches. In the case of St. Peters HealthCare, decided by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court ruled that since the Catholic Church (through a diocese or parish) did not establish the pension plans, they were not eligible for the ERISA religious exemption, even if a church agency like a religious order set up the plan. St. Peters is a non-profit health care system sponsored by the Diocese of Metuchen. The court conceded that it has Catholic ties, like daily Mass offered at the hospital, Catholic devotionals present there, and many board members who are appointed by the local bishop. But can a church agency, in addition to maintaining an exempt church plan, also establish such a plan? The District Court concluded that it cannot. We agree, the appeals court decided. It also conceded that for years, plans set up by church agencies were recognized by the courts as religiously exempt: In the decades following the current church plan definitions enactment in 1980, various courts have assumed that entities that are not themselves churches, but have sufficiently strong ties to churches, can establish exempt church plans. However, the court added, a new wave of litigation, of which this case is a part, has sprung up in the past few years and has presented an argument not previously considered by courts that the actual words of the church plan definition preclude this result. New lawsuits are shedding light on the plain text of ERISA that churches and only churches can set up pension plans that meet the religious exemption, the court said. There are around 100 similar lawsuits involving religious hospitals many of which are Catholic, Rassbach noted. New litigation is taking from the poor to give to the rich class-action lawyers, he argued. Not only did the courts recognize that these religious entities were eligible for the pension exemption, but the IRS did as well, he maintained. This question was raised in Mondays oral arguments, where Justice Stephen Breyer pressed James Feldman, representing the respondents suing the health care networks, on whether orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor should be recognized as part of churches. Justice Breyer asked if its a legitimate organization like, lets say the Little Sisters of the Poor, really affiliated with the church, if they would be recognized as part of a church. The U.S. bishops conference and religious freedom legal groups like the Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom have sided with the health care networks in the case, saying that it is a religious freedom issue. In their amicus brief siding with the St. Peters HealthCare and Dignity Health, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that while Catholic health care providers may not be officially part of a church or parish structure, their plans should meet the religious exemptions under ERISA. Indeed, charity has always been a core component of the Catholic Churchs activities, as essential to her as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel, the USCCB said, quoting Pope Benedict XVIs encyclical Deus Caritas Est. This charity is lived out through myriad Catholic ministries like health care providers, they added, which should be treated as part of the Church. And these charities may or may not be directly affiliated with Catholic dioceses and parishes or with the Holy See, they continued, yet, as a matter of Catholic theology, the various ministries that the Church recognizes as Catholic ministries are all part of the Church even though they may be (and often are) civilly, structurally, and financially independent entities. These employers must be given a religious exemption, the bishops conference added, saying that long before the ERISA regulations were enacted for pension plans, Catholic charitable organizations provided their workers with generous benefits. In recognition of that reality (which is not unique to the Catholic Church), and to avoid imposing potentially crushing new obligations on such organizations, Congress has long exempted the benefit plans of church-affiliated organizations from the sometimes burdensome requirements of ERISA, they continued. And the Court must recognize this, they concluded, or this could bring about more problems in determining which religious groups are treated as part of a church.
  • Vatican City, Mar 29, 2017 / 04:56 am (CNA/EWTN News ).- With the battle for major ISIS strongholds heating up in Iraq, Pope Francis has voiced his closeness to the country, praying for the safety of people on the ground, particularly civilians caught in the crosshairs of the fighting. My thoughts go out to civilians trapped in the western districts of Mosul and displaced because of the war, to whom I feel united in suffering, through prayer and spiritual closeness, he said during his March 29 general audience. While expressing deep sorrow for the victims of the bloody conflict, I renew to all the call to engage with every effort in the protection of civilians as an imperative and urgent requirement. During the audience, which took place in St. Peters Square, the Pope greeted a delegation of Iraqi Superintendents representing various religious groups accompanied by the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran. The richness of the beloved Iraqi nation lies in this mosaic which is unity in diversity, strength in union, prosperity in harmony, he said, encouraging them to go forward on this same path. Francis also asked for prayers for Iraq that they might find reconciliation and harmony and peace, unity and prosperity among their different ethnic and religious groups. His appeal followed a sharp rise this week in the number of reported civilian deaths in U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as ground forces backed by the strikes are closing in on two of the Islamic States main urban strongholds: Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. According to the Washington Post, the reports have fueled accusations that the U.S. and its partners may not be acting with sufficient regard for the safety of civilians. During his main address to pilgrims, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the theme of hope, drawing attention to the close connection that exists between the virtue of hope and the virtue of faith. Great hope is rooted in faith, and as such is able to go beyond all hope, he said, because it is not based on our word, but the Word of GodWhen God promises, he accomplishes what he promises. Id like to ask you a question, the Pope said. We, all of us, are we convinced of this? Do we believe that God loves us and that everything he has promised us will be brought to fruition? All we have to do is have an open heart, and God will teach us how to hope and will do miraculous things. The only price, he said, is to open our hearts to faith and he will do the rest. To illustrate the point, Pope Francis drew on the Old Testament story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, quoting the words of St. Paul in the Letter to Romans, that Abraham believed, hoping against hope. Despite the advanced age of he and his wife Sarah, Abraham, did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body as dead (he was almost a hundred years old) and the dead womb of Sarah, who was barren. We are also called to live this experience and example of faith, Francis said, adding that Abraham, who, even before the evidence of a reality that seems destined for death, trusts in God, fully convinced that what he had promised he was also able to bring to completion. Francis said this is a paradox, yet at the same time is the strongest element of our hope. A hope, he said, which is founded on a promise which from the human point of view seems uncertain and unpredictable, but which does not fail even in the face of death. The God who reveals himself to Abraham is the God who saves, the God who has come out of desperation and death, a God who calls to life, he said. In the story of Abraham all becomes a hymn to God who frees and regenerates. And we recognize and celebrate the fulfillment of Gods promises in the mystery of Christs Resurrection at Easter, he explained. Hope, then, is not something we can possess based on human reassurance, but it occurs where there is no hope, where theres nothing left to hope for, just as it did for Abraham, in front of his imminent death and sterility of his wife Sarah. Dear brothers and sisters, today we ask the Lord for the grace to remain founded not so much on our safety, on our own strength, but on the hope drawn by the promise of God, like true children of Abraham, he concluded.
  • Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 29, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News ).- The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced a new initiative on marriage and family life: a three-year course which will be offered to both the clergy and lay people throughout its parishes. There is a serious need to shift our previous approach to marriage and family life which ignores the consequences of poor catechesis and the lack of personal encounter to a more evangelical and relational approach, the archdioceses said in a press release. The extensive program, titled Remain in My Love, will direct its focus at a different target audience every year for three years. The outreach will begin in May 2017 and will end in December 2019. The first year will specifically address the staff members of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, and will focus on the theme of renewing our mission in service to married couples and families. These gatherings will help us rediscover our shared mission to support, heal, and strengthen the married couples and families who have been entrusted to our care in the local Church of Philadelphia, reads the archdiocesan website. As the pastoral arm of his leadership and ministry in the service of all the Archdiocese, a reinvigoratedunderstanding of marriage and family life becomes a lens through which to encourage the same understanding in our parishes and institutions. Year two will begin in January 2018, and will cater to the staff of archdiocesan institutions such as parishes or schools. Their theme will focus on renewing our mission of pastoral care of married couples and families. It will be designed as an opportunity for growth and transformation as well as mutual support, encouragement and discussion fueled by study materials, dynamic presentations, and beautiful videos. The third and final year is aimed at all married couples and families within the archdiocese, beginning in January 2019. This program will highlight the goal of rediscovering the mission of marriage and the family. Married couples and families of the Archdiocese will be invited to encounter the splendor of what Christ has revealed about marriage and family life through large and small group gatherings. Each year is made up of three sessions, covering theological material such as the sacramentality of marriage, the goods of marriage, and the family as the domestic church. The classes will underscore the institution of marriage, the threats to marriage, and the mission of the family in the world. In addition, the participants will also be involved with a 12-session small group class called CanaVox. These small group sessions will read and discuss relevant topics about marriage and the family through Church documents and current events. The project, for all three years, moves in two directions, inviting a committed investment on the part of all. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is hoping that this new program will reach out to couples after their marriage, as a continuation of the conversation that marriage prep started. Pope Francis has also recently spoken out about marriage, calling for better marriage prep, and pointing to the need for a new catechumenate in preparation for marriage. Remain in My Love will aim to reinvigorate our understanding, practices and celebrations of Christian marriage and family life, to every member of the clergy, lay faithful, and to every parish and institution within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. More information about Remain in My Love can be found at www.archphila.org/remain
  • San Francisco, Calif., Mar 29, 2017 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News ).- In the centennial year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will consecrate his archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I am confident that the archdiocese will receive many graces through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary if we are spiritually prepared and properly disposed, Archbishop Cordileone said. For this act of consecration to bear fruit, we must prepare ourselves spiritually and with catechesis for this significant day. Archbishop Cordileone said the consecration comes in response to numerous requests from the faithful. The Oct. 7 consecration falls on the same day as the archdioceses Annual Rosary Rally, which takes place on the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. It comes in the 100th year since the 1917 apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young children in Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions took place from May 1917 to Oct. 13, 1917 when tens of thousands of people who had gathered near Fatima witnessed the sun dance. The Virgin Mary apparition delivered a message to the children, asking for prayer and reparation for sins throughout the world. The archdiocese website has a section dedicated to the upcoming consecration that includes Marian prayers and explanations of Our Lady of Fatima. It describes the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a devotional name for the internal life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, including her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people. The archdiocese website lists several activities and suggested prayer intentions for each month leading up to the consecration. It is holding art contests and writing contests for students and has plans for a Marian retreat May 6.
  • Sacramento, Calif., Mar 28, 2017 / 08:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News ).- The California Catholic Conference has announced that it is sponsoring a bill to help attract and retain teachers in response to the states shortage of K-12 educators. Additional measures are needed in order to assure that our new teachers are given the appropriate preferential option that supports their development and commitment in their noble profession, the conference said in a March 16 statement. This in turn translates to better service and better education of our youth. The conference, tied to the states Catholic conference of bishops, is the official voice of the Church in Californias legislative arena. It is proposing a bill which would give greater tax breaks to new teachers in the process of receiving their permanent credentials. Besides paying back student loans and serving at the lower end of the salary scale, new teachers must enroll in costly induction and professional development programs aimed at converting their preliminary credential to a permanent or clear credential. California has suffered from a lack of educators since the recession hit in 2007. The conference says easing a teachers financial difficulties would incite greater quality and quantity of new blood to the profession. The state requires teachers to complete the clear credential within the first five years of being employed, but schools or districts are not required to pay for these programs. Local educational agencies have an average annual fee of $2,000, and universities or colleges may charge up to $5,000 yearly to complete the induction programs. New teachers are forced to pay out-of-pocket, and the legislative groups says the financial strain ultimately affects their students. The bill, AB 516, would either give teachers working towards a clear credential a tax credit or a deduction for professional expenses. Newly accredited teachers would have the option to either claim up to a $500 credit or deduct $2,500 from their state income taxes to balance the fees required for these programs. Over 310,000 teachers were employed in California, but after the economic recession in 2007, it has dropped to less than 296,000 in the 2014-2015 school year. According to the Learning Policy Institute, a study in 2013 reveals that Californias student-teacher ratio was 24 to 1 and is the highest ratio in the nation compared to the national average of 16 to 1. The conference cited a study from the Learning Policy Institute that the number of intern credentials, permits, and waivers it has issued has nearly doubled between 2013 and 2016. These permits are issued to teachers who have not yet finished their permanent credential. The study also stated that the greatest growth occurred in emergency-style permits known as Provisional Intern Permits (PIPs) and Short-Term Staff Permits (STSPs), which are only issued when classrooms have an immediate need. California not only needs an increase of teachers but a better system to support, develop and retain qualified teachers, the conference added. The most effective way to achieve this goal of offering a good education is to have qualified and prepared teachers in the educational work force committed to their profession.
  • Houston, Texas, Mar 28, 2017 / 03:54 pm (CNA/EWTN News ).- The Holy See directed last week that the oldest Catholic parish of the Anglican Use, located in San Antonio, will be transferred from the local archdiocese into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and its school, the Atonement Academy, have been transferred to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, effective March 21, read a statement. The ordinariate of St. Peters chair is a special ecclesial jurisdiction for Catholics in the United States and Canada who were nurtured in the Anglican tradition or whose faith has been renewed by the Ordinariate . At the direction of the Holy See, all parishes of the Pastoral Provision are to be incorporated into the Ordinariate, read the March 21 communique . Our Lady of the Atonement parish had been founded in 1983 as part of the pastoral provision established by St. John Paul II to allow former Anglicans to form Catholic parishes within existing United States dioceses. Until last week, the parish was part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Subsequently to the pastoral provision, Benedict XVI established ordinariates, which effectively provided former Anglicans with their own dioceses within the Catholic Church. With the establishment of the North American Ordinariate in 2012 and the ordination of its first bishop in 2016, the Holy See now expects all Pastoral Provision parishes in the U.S. to be integrated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, the ordinariates statement explained. The Ordinariate expresses its deepest gratitude to the Archdiocese of San Antonio for welcoming and caring for Our Lady of the Atonement since its inception, and for the Archdioceses ongoing commitment to the Churchs care for the unity of Christians. Through continued collaboration in the coming months, the Archdiocese and the Ordinariate will remain dedicated to supporting the natural evolution of this Pastoral Provision parish into the Ordinariate. While the ordinariates statement only includes Our Lady of the Atonement by name, the transferral would also presumably apply to the Congregation of Saint Athanasius, a pastoral provision parish located in a Boston suburb and heretofore part of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Vaticans directive that Our Lady of the Atonement should be transferred to the ordinariate is the outcome of several months of conflict between the parish and the San Antonio archdiocese. Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio had in January begun proceedings to remove Atonements pastor, Fr. Christopher Phillips, who had been pastor from the parishs founding. In a Jan. 19 letter the archbishop cited pastoral concern about Fr. Phillips relating to expressions in the life of the parish that indicate an identity separate from, rather than simply unique, among the parishes of the archdiocese. Another priest was appointed administrator of the parish, and Fr. Phillips was asked to dedicate some time to reflect on certain specific concerns. Late in 2016, Fr. Phillips had sought to join the ordinariate. According to the San Antonio Express-News , the ordinariates spokesperson, Jenny Faber, indicated Fr. Phillips will remain at the parish as pastor emeritus, and a new pastor will be appointed in due time. The Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter includes more than 40 parishes and communities. Its ordinary, Bishop Steven Lopes, was appointed in November 2015 and had previously served as an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The North American ordinariate is one of three such bodies; it has counterparts in the United Kingdom and Australia.