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Federal budget jeopardizes struggling poor people, US bishops warn

Washington D.C., Jul 22, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Congress’ proposed federal budget will fail to provide for the basic needs of millions of America’s poor people, the U.S. bishops have said in a call for a morally sound budget.

“A nation’s budget is a moral document. Reducing deficits through cuts for human needs – while simultaneously attempting a tax cut, as this proposal does – will place millions of poor and vulnerable people in real jeopardy,” the bishops said.

“Congress should choose a better path, one that honors those struggling in our country.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice issued the July 20 statement in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The proposed budget assumes “harmful and unacceptable cuts to Medicaid” under the American Health Care Act, he said.

The proposal’s steady increases to military spending are made possible by “cutting critical resources for those in need over time.” These cuts could include programs like SNAP that he said are essential in providing nutrition to millions of people.

The budget proposes to roll back $203 billion in welfare spending, financial industry regulations, federal employee benefits, and other areas, the Washington Post reports. It passed out of a House committee July 19.

Over 10 years, defense spending would steadily increase while non-defense discretionary spending would fall to $424 billion from $554 billion this year.

The budget’s spending cuts could be deeply controversial politically and the bishops’ statement urged members of Congress to reach across the aisle.

“The bipartisan approach to discretionary spending in recent years, while imperfect, reflected a more balanced compromise given competing priorities,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said the U.S. bishops’ conference is closely monitoring the budget and appropriations process and analyzing the proposed House budget resolution.

India's bishops pray new president will defend rule of law

New Delhi, India, Jul 22, 2017 / 06:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of India have offered their congratulations to the country's newly elected president, Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to live out the oath he will take to serve the well-being of the people.

India's presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of government and leader of the executive branch.

In a July 20 statement the Indian bishops congratulated Kovind, assuring him “of our prayers for his good health and for wisdom and strength that he might guide our beloved country towards peace, development and justice for all peoples.”

“We pray that God may assist him, that, as per the Oath of Office, he will strive 'to the best of his ability to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law, and that he will devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India.'”

The bishops closed their statement praying that under his leadership India would “march towards greater heights,” and again assured the president-elect of “our loyalty and support in the service of our country.”

India's presidential election was held July 17, with the final votes counted July 20. The term of the country's former president,  Pranab Mukherjee, is set to end July 24.

Kovind, part of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was backed by the governing National Democratic Alliance coalition, and ran against opposition candidate Meira Kumar of the Indian National Congress.

The president-elect is a Dalit and a lawyer, and has served in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Most recently he served in the largely ceremonial post of governor of Bihar state.

The election comes in wake of a recent uptick in the number of “mob lynchings” happening in India, in which members of the country's Hindu majority carry out acts of violence against those, typically from minority religions such as Islam, accused of killing cows, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion.

Attacks against minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are common in India. They include anything from jeering, violence, forced conversions, and the burning of property, and frequently go under-reported.

According to Al Jazeera, the mob lynching of Muslims began to gain wider public attention in 2015 when 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beat to death by an angry mob who accused the man of eating beef.

Since his death, attacks against Muslims related to the slaughtering of cows have increased, with multiple attacks against minorities reported in 2015 and 2016, and at least seven such incidents between March and May of this year.

The latest, Al Jazeera reports, was the June 22 murder of three Muslims in West Bengal who had been accused of smuggling cows, and the June 27 attack against a man accused of killing a cow. The man survived, but was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

On July 16, around 40 religious leaders and intellectuals from across India gathered in Delhi to address the increase of violence,  a “disregard for the rule of law” and the spread of an “environment of hate” throughout the country.

Backed by the Indian bishops' conference, attendees urged the government to end “impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today” and threatens “not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”

They expressed their shock at the increased number of lynchings carried out on the pretext of protecting cows, stressing that in these cases, the state governments and police forces “acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.”

Past violence carried out against minorities in the country has largely been attributed to the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS.

They were established in 1925 with the goal of establishing “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” and have been banned three times in post-independence India, with all three bans eventually being lifted.

Critics of the group have often refered to them as a sectarian, militant group who believe in the supremacy of Hindus and who preach hate against Muslim and Christian minorities. Narendra Modi, elected India's prime minister in May 2014, was a full time worker with the RSS prior to his election.

As BJP spokesman in 2010, Kovind said that "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation."

The RSS sits on the right-wing and has no official registration in India. However, they maintain strong ties with the BJP, of which president-elect Kovind is a part, raising questions as to how much action will be taken against minority violence in the future. Kovind is also close to the RSS.

Catholic women's conference to be held in New Mexico

Albuquerque, N.M., Jul 21, 2017 / 06:40 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Women of Grace apostolate will mark 30 years at its national conference this year, an event which aims to help women celebrate their “gift of authentic femininity.”

“Come be restored, renewed, and refreshed as we journey together through this transforming weekend!” organizers said in an announcement. “Discover the blessing of your femininity and how to follow our Blessed Mother’s example in the world today!”  

Johnnette S. Benkovic, EWTN host and founder and president of Women of Grace, will be among the event’s speakers.

The national conference will take place in Albuquerque, N.M. at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church Friday, Sept. 8 through Sunday, Sept. 10.

The conference is based on the theme “Bloom Who You Are.”

Besides Benkovic, other presenters include Father Philip Scott, F.J., founder of the Family of Jesus; singer/songwriter and Catholic evangelist Kitty Cleveland; and Carol Marquardt, founder of the Mantle of Mary Association Prayer Network.

Musical presenters include Kitty Cleveland and the worship team Living Praise.

The conference will include Mass, opportunities for confession and Eucharistic Adoration, a healing service, and a musical presentation. Spanish translation will be provided, as will a young women’s track.

The full cost of $140 includes a Friday boxed dinner, as well as lunch and dinner on Saturday. Other registration options are available.

Benkovic will lead a Benedicta Leadership Enrichment Seminar at the same location Sept. 7-8.

More information and registration is available at http://www.womenofgrace.com

 

 

Bishop: Senate mustn't repeal health care law without suitable replacement

Washington D.C., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The US bishops' representative for domestic justice has asked Senators not to vote to repeal the current health care law unless they have an alternative in place that offers acceptable levels of coverage.

“In the face of difficulties” of bringing health care legislation to the Senate floor, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice said in a letter to senators on Thursday, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA [Affordable Care Act] without a replacement.”

“Yet,” he said July 20, “reform is still needed to address the ACA's moral deficiencies and challenges with long-term sustainability.”

After the House passed a health care bill repealing the ACA and replacing it with provisions of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the Senate has worked on producing a bill of its own, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). However, the Senate has so far failed to bring a health care bill to the floor for a vote.

This week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that not only did the Senate not have the votes to pass the health care bill, but it did not have the votes required to sustain debate on repealing and replacing the ACA.

He announced that a vote would occur anyhow, on the House health care bill with an amendment attached that would repeal the current health care law but allow for a two-year transition period for stability.

A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act is expected as soon as Tuesday. However, according to reports it is still unclear exactly which bill the Senate would vote on to replace the Affordable Care Act.

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, for example, advocated on Friday that the Senate should vote either on its own health care bill or on the 2015 reconciliation bill that repealed the ACA. Those bills would end the funding of abortion coverage within the ACA, Susan B. Anthony List said.

Pro-life leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday. Mancini called it a “good meeting” and reiterated that “abortion is not health care,” referring to funding of abortion coverage under the current health care law.

Bishop Dewane had previously said that no repeal of the current health care law should be made without a suitable replacement plan. “To end coverage for those who struggle every day without an adequate alternative in place would be devastating,” Bishop Dewane said.

He said any replacement plan must be one that “protects poor and vulnerable people, including immigrants, safeguards the unborn, and supports conscience rights.” The replacement plans that have been proposed by the House and Senate are “seriously flawed, and would have harmed those most in need in unacceptable ways,” he said.

While the bishop had applauded the Hyde Amendment protections in the House bill that would have blocked the taxpayer funding of abortions through tax credits and other subsidies, he had expressed serious concern about its changes to Medicaid and other provisions. The bill, he said, would cut coverage or make it more cost-prohibitive for those who may need it most, like the elderly, the poor, and the chronically ill.

The revised Senate plan, meanwhile, was still “unacceptable,” the bishop said in a statement last Thursday.

Regarding the original Senate health care proposal, in his June 27 letter Bishop Dewane said that “at a time when tax cuts that would seem to benefit the wealthy and increases in other areas of federal spending, such as defense, are being contemplated, placing a ‘per capita cap’ on medical coverage for the poor is unconscionable.”

He added that under the bill health coverage costs could increase for many elderly and poor persons “because of decreased levels of tax credit support and higher premiums.” And, the bishop said, the bill, like its House counterpart, lacked conscience protections.

He warned that the pro-life language in the bill was laudable, but echoed concerns of other pro-lifers that the language could be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian before it reached the Senate Floor.

The revised Senate bill contained some slight improvements like more funding to fight opioid addiction, “but more is needed to honor our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters living in poverty and to ensure that essential protections for the unborn remain in the bill,” he said last Thursday.

This week, however, the Senate bill was scuttled. Yet amid the uncertainty of what the senators may vote on next week, “the appropriate response is not to create greater uncertainty, especially for those who can bear it least, by repealing the ACA without a replacement,” Bishop Dewane said.

On Friday, Pence urged Americans to ask their senator to vote to begin the debate to repeal and replace the ACA on Tuesday.

Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, said the Senate should work to ensure a bill is passed which defunds Planned Parenthood and protects taxpayer funding from going to abortion coverage in federally-subsidized plans.  

“The first step is voting for the motion to proceed to the House-passed bill which replaces Obamacare abortion funding with health assistance that does not include abortion coverage and redirects funding for certain abortion providers to noncontroversial community health centers,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a July 20 letter to senators.

“While the House bill faces procedural hurdles, we support passage of a substitute amendment that is substantially similar to the Obamacare repeal bill sent to President Obama in January 2016,” she added.

“Obamacare has been a disaster for unborn children through its unprecedented expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion,” Dannenfelser said.

“The 2015 reconciliation bill that was sent to President Obama’s desk or the Better Care Reconciliation Act would roll back this damage and help return us to the principle that abortion is not health care.”

Bishop Conley: 50 years after Land O'Lakes, Catholic education needs renewal

Denver, Colo., Jul 21, 2017 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 50th anniversary of a historic statement that changed Catholic higher education in America represents both a cautionary tale and a chance to reflect on Catholic renewal, said Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska.

“The Land O’Lakes statement proposed to redefine the mission of the Catholic university. It rejected the authority of the Church, and of her doctrinal teaching,” Bishop Conley said. “It rejected the idea that faith and reason work best in communion with one another. It prioritized the standards and culture of secular universities over the authentic mission of Catholic education. It was a statement of self-importance, and self-assertion.”

Bishop Conley delivered his remarks July 5 in Denver to teachers and principals at the Regional Catholic Classical Schools Conference at the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.

He said that the Land O’Lakes statement “declared that Catholic universities would become independent from the hierarchy of the Church, from any obligation to orthodoxy, and from the authentic spirituality of the Church.”

Fifty years ago, 26 Catholic university presidents and administrators gathered at the Land O’Lakes retreat center in Wisconsin for the North American summit for the International Federation of Catholic Universities. The University of Notre Dame’s influential president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, was president of the federation at the time.

The meeting aimed to help the federation develop a vision for Catholic higher education in light of the Second Vatican Council, produced a document called “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” signed July 23, 1967. Many observers consider the statement a watershed moment in Catholic education.

Bishop Conley cited historian Philip Gleason’s characterization of the statement as “a declaration of independence from the hierarchy,” then suggested it represented “the ‘non serviam’ moment of many of America’s Catholic universities.” The Latin phrase, meaning “I shall not serve,” is used by the Prophet Jeremiah to refer to the Hebrew people’s disobedience to God. The phrase is also used to characterize Satan’s rejection of God.

“Fifty years ago, a ‘declaration of independence’ in Catholic education transformed the Church,” the bishop told the Catholic educators gathered in Denver. “Today, may your humility, wonder, and dependence on the grace of God transform your schools, transform the Church, and transform hearts for Jesus Christ.”

For Bishop Conley, the 1967 statement represented a burgeoning trend of Catholics becoming prominent in public life, but doing so by playing down faith elements that were out of step with general American culture.

He focused on several principles of the statement, including its commitments to “contemporary and experimental” liturgy, favoring “creative dialogue” over “theological or philosophical imperialism,” and “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

He was critical of the statement’s presentation of Catholic universities as the Church’s “critical reflective intelligence” that could “objectively evaluate” the Church’s life and ministry in order to give “the benefit of continual counsel.”

“It seemed to bemoan the fact that Catholic universities were not asked more often how bishops should be undertaking their ministry,” he said.

The bishop suggested that secularization in the universities and colleges has “impacted every single facet of Catholic life” and secularized many Catholic elementary and high schools. This impact is found both in textbooks and teachers who have “not been trained to think or teach from the heart and wisdom of the Church.”

He cited the decline of Catholic school attendance from 5 million in the early 1960s to 2 million today, faulting factors like the decline of the Catholic university. The university, properly ordered, can also be “a training ground for dynamic and faithful Catholic educators, and as a context in which to discern and discover vocations.”

Bishops, clergy, religious and lay Catholics were formed in the wake of the statement, Bishop Conley said – himself included – resulting in “all of us doing the best we can, but regrettably, without being exposed to much of the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Church’s tradition.”

But there is still cause for hope: if dissenting universities can have a deep impact on Catholic and civic life, so can faithful schools. “The work being done to foster renewal in Catholic schools across the country will significantly impact the culture of the Church in the United States,” the bishop told the Denver gathering,

He encouraged Catholic educators to avoid several temptations and not measure Catholic universities “according to the standards of the world” or “to confuse influence, sophistication, or social acceptance with virtue and fidelity.”

“Meaningfully engaging with modernity is much more difficult than either capitulating to it or rejecting it out of hand,” he said.

The Land O’Lakes statement’s self-importance and self-assertion show the importance of “humility, docility, wonder, and receptivity,” Bishop Conley added.

“Encountering the living God is at the heart of true and meaningful Catholic education. This means that teachers, and administrators, must first themselves be disciples of Jesus Christ. It means that prayer – silent communion with the Eucharistic Lord – is at the center of the vocation of a teacher.”