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Diocese of Greensburg leads ‘a year of help’ in wake of August 2016 flash flood

The Diocese of Greensburg, led by Catholic Charities, responded immediately to help individuals and families after a flash flood hit the Connellsville and Bullskin Township areas of Fayette County last summer.

Nine months later, the agency has concluded its efforts after providing $185,374 of assistance to 61 families in the form of new furnaces, water heaters and oil tanks and repairs to furnace and air conditioning systems.

“The church reaches out to help people in their time of need every day, and this particular effort shows that,” said Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic. “I am proud of all the people of Connellsville, especially our parishioners, who have worked with no expectation of personal recognition to help their neighbors these many months. I am especially proud of the contributions by Catholic Charities. This is what it means to be Catholic.”

A torrential rainstorm dumped approximately 5 inches of rain in the area in just a few hours the night of Aug. 28, forcing several small creeks out of their banks and into surrounding neighborhoods, damaging 165 homes, according to reports in the Tribune-Review.

The Dutch Bottom neighborhood in Connellsville, a neighborhood along Breakneck Road in Bullskin Township, and homes along U.S. Route 119 in Connellsville Township were especially hard hit.

Donna Hagan, supervisor of information and referral services for Catholic Charities, made multiple trips to meetings of the Connellsville Flood Relief Fund Committee and VOAD, Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

In November, Hagan said, “We will continue to help people until our last available dollar is distributed.”

That last dollar was distributed June 6.

The final report showed that Catholic Charities helped repair 17 furnaces and provide 40 new furnaces and air conditioning units, 18 new hot water tanks and two new oil tanks.

*Article contributed by Jerry Zufelt, Editor, The Catholic Accent.

 

 

In Wake of Charlottesville Violence, Archbishop Charles Chaput Releases Statement

In Wake of Charlottesville Violence, Archbishop Charles Chaput Releases Statement

On August 13, 2017, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. CAP. released the following statement in wake of the Charlottesville, Va. act of violence in which one woman was killed and 19 were injured when a group of counter-protesters were attacked at a “Unite the Right” rally.

“Racism is a poison of the soul.  It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.  Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity.  Thus the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted.  We especially need to pray for those injured in the violence.

But we need more than pious public statements.  If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change.  Charlottesville matters.  It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.  We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories.  If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others.  That may sound simple.  But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”

In addition, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called for prayer and unity in response to the attack. An excerpt reads:

“We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love’s victory over every form of evil is assured. “

 

 

With Pa. as a Model, Education Tax Credits May Come to Federal Budget

From the Catholic News Service — Health care wasn’t the only issue before Congress this summer even though it grabbed most of the headlines. Lawmakers also held budget talks that included proposed cuts to education spending.

In mid-July, members of the House Appropriations Committee voted to advance a bill to cut $2.4 billion from the U.S. Department of Education’s budget primarily through trimming teacher training programs.

And even though two school choice initiatives — $1 billion public school choice program and a $250 million private school choice program — were missing from the education spending bill, that didn’t seem to cause panic among Catholic leaders who have supported school choice initiatives.

That’s because there is a new emphasis in school choice — tax credit scholarship programs — that have been gaining momentum on the state level and getting more bipartisan support than standard school voucher legislation.

Catholic leaders, hoping to move on this trend, are optimistic that a federal tax credit scholarship program is not far behind, possibly as part of a broader tax-reform package. Members of the Secretariat of Catholic Education of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and House members over the summer to talk about the potential of such a program.

“We want to keep the drum beating about this,” said Greg Dolan, associate director for public policy for the USCCB’s education secretariat.

He told Catholic News Service July 27 that federal tax credits are appealing because they do not directly involve the government with school tuition aid.

With vouchers, parents receive funds directly from the state to pay for part, or all, of their child’s education. Scholarship tax credits remove the state as middle man since corporations or donors contribute to scholarship grant organizations charged with dispersing funds to families for tuition payments. For these contributions, the companies and other donors receive a tax credit.

Opponents of tax credit scholarships claim they are a back door to vouchers and question if there is enough accountability or inclusion of students with disabilities with such a program.

Currently, 17 states offer some type of scholarship tax credit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The programs in these states differ in the types of scholarships or tax credits offered, student eligibility requirements and in allowing mission-based, or religious, schools to participate.

Backed by the success of some state tax credit scholarship plans, the bishops’ education office would like to see a similar program take place on a federal level as long as it includes Catholic schools’ participation.

In early June, Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on Catholic Education, wrote to Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, about the federal tax scholarship bills they have reintroduced in Congress.

The bishop thanked them for their “leadership in encouraging true choice for parents and their children” and said tax credit scholarships have “enormous potential to improve the lives of all children.”

But he also urged them to include certain provisions in the proposed legislation. Namely, schools that accept scholarship students “must retain their autonomy” in their religious identity and character and they also need to be able to keep “control of mission-driven hiring, academically stringent admissions and curriculum.”

Bishop Murry stressed that any federal tax credit program should “ensure real opportunity to access non-government education” and should be available for qualifying families across the country with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The program’s success, he said, should be evaluated by participating families and by the number of families renewing scholarships, student graduation rates and acceptance into college.

If the government is looking at a particular state as a model for a nationwide tax credit program they should look at Pennsylvania, said Dolan, noting that it allows scholarship donations to be given to religious schools.

The state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, that began in 2001, offers corporations tax credits for donating to organizations that provide low- and middle-income families private school scholarships.

Amy Hill, communications director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, said the program has helped tens of thousands of students to attend nonpublic schools — noting that Catholic schools are a choice, but not the only choice, for qualifying students.

“It empowers parents who might not feel they have the means on their own,” to send their children to nonpublic schools, she added.

Hill said the program has bipartisan support and has expanded its funding for the next year.

In Illinois, the state’s Catholic conference has been promoting a scholarship tax credit program for the past two years. This summer, Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich met with the governor to promote this the effort.

Jim Rigg, superintendent of schools in the Chicago Archdiocese, sent parents an email blast in late July saying there is “some hope” that tax credit scholarships will be included in an education funding compromise.

For now, advocates of tax credit scholarships see the state efforts as encouraging, but not enough.

As Dolan pointed out: “A more uniform policy is needed.”

 

Should Doctors Be Neutral on Suicide?

doctorMost of us have spent time with a loved one at the end of his or her life.  Depending on circumstances, this could have been a peaceful and loving experience or one filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

Some see doctor prescribed suicide as the solution to this uncertainty.  However, doctor prescribed suicide is anything but an easy answer.  Simply put, doctor prescribed suicide normalizes suicide as the solution to suffering, encourages decisions to be made based on cost containment instead of human dignity, and relies on inaccurate predictions of quality of life to determine a person’s worth.

The American Medical Association (AMA) is considering changing its decades-long opposition to doctor prescribed suicide. The association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs is scheduled to meet this week to further formulate the AMA’s position on this issue. If the AMA weakens its opposition, the move will send a message to the legislature that legalizing suicide is acceptable.

As a health care consumer, you have the right to tell the AMA to maintain its opposition to doctor prescribed suicide.

Please send a message to the AMA today asking them to support the dignity of every person and the need for supportive and comprehensive end of life care.

Very Rev. Andriy Rabiy Appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia

Very Rev. Andriy Rabiy of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference extends congratulations and best wishes to Very Rev. Andriy Rabiy who was named this week as Auxiliary Bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. He has been assigned the Tutular See of Germaniciana. Pope Francis concurred with the recommendation of the appointment offered by the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops.

Auxiliary Bishop-Elect Andriy Rabiy has studied for the priesthood at St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Seminary, receiving his philosophical and theological studies at The Catholic University of America and the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. He was ordained to the priesthood within the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadlephia and has served with enthusiasm and dedication at a number of parish assignments. He returned to The Catholic University of America for advanced studies in canon law and has served in our Archeparchial Marriage Tribunal. His care and concern for the souls of faithful living in locations not close to existing parishes resulted in his beginning a successful new mission parish in Lancaster, PA, St. Andrew the Apostle Ukrainian Catholic Mission Parish. Recently, he successfully transferred the location of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church from a downtown location to a more suitable suburb location offering a full range of facilities for the parish. Very Rev. Andriy Rabiy serves as Vicar General and Vice-Chancellor of our Archeparchy, in addition to his ministry at his parishes. The Auxiliary Bishop-Elect has also served the PCC as a member of the Communications Department and the Administrative Board.

May God bless him in his new important role!

Insurance Department Releases Brochure Outlining Coverage of Opioid Addiction and other Substance Use Disorder Treatment, Depending on How Consumers Get Health Insurance

Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic is interviewed by local media at a recent ‘Prayer and Support’ session held in the diocese on the Catholic Church’s response to the opioid epidemic.

From the Pennsylvania Insurance Department – As part of Governor Wolf’s effort to battle the opioid crisis, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department released a brochure to help people battling opioid addiction understand what substance use disorder treatment (SUD) is covered by their plan, depending on how they get their health care coverage.

“The coverage available for substance use disorder treatment varies by the type of health care coverage an individual has, so it’s important for anyone needing treatment and their families and support group to understand how this coverage may vary,” Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller said.

The brochure, “Substance Use Disorder and Your Insurance Coverage”, was first made available today at a meeting on the opioid crisis held by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg, at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.

The brochure outlines how the source of health care coverage impacts what SUD treatment coverage options an individual has, or whether this treatment is covered at all.

If you have coverage through government programs:

  • If you have Medicaid (also called Medical Assistance) or CHIP, you have SUD coverage.  Check with your program to find out exactly what benefits you have.
  • If you have Medicare, you may have coverage depending on the type of treatment you need.  Check with your program to see if you are covered.

If you have coverage through the individual market:

  • If you buy health insurance yourself at healthcare.gov, or directly through an insurance company or agent, you are covered for SUD treatment as long as the plan complies with the Affordable Care Act.

If you have coverage through an employer, you may or may not be covered.

  • Many companies are self-insured, meaning the company pays the claims itself even if it hires someone else to do the paperwork.  Self-insured companies are NOT required to provide SUD coverage, but many do.
  • If your company buys coverage from a commercial insurer, Pennsylvania law guarantees you are covered for SUD treatment.
  • Talk with your human resources department to find out if your company provides SUD treatment.

“Another important point explained in the brochure is that if you do have SUD coverage, the insurance plan must offer the same level of benefits as it does for medical or surgical treatment.  This is called parity,” Commissioner Miller said.

Examples of services that are subject to parity rules and must be covered at the same level as medical or surgical benefits are:

  • The number of outpatient visits
  • Out-of-pocket costs, such as co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance
  • Prior authorizations requirements
  • Your provider network for out-of-network services
  • Criteria used to determine medical necessity

“Governor Wolf’s expanded Medicaid program and the availability of individual plans through the Affordable Care Act are providing access to SUD care for approximately 175,000 Pennsylvanians.  Understanding what treatment consumers can get under their coverage is a vital part of accessing this care,” Commissioner Miller said.

The “Substance Use Disorder and Your Insurance Coverage” brochure is available on the Insurance Department website: www.insurance.pa.gov.

 

 

 

 

Pennsylvania Senator Unveils Plan to Empower Children with Educational Opportunity

State Senator John DiSanto outlines a plan to provide educational opportunities for at-risk students in Pennsylvania.

“My mom wanted something better for us so she sent us to the Joshua Group,” says Lance Deane “Through God’s work … my brother and I were the first in our family to graduate from college. I didn’t come from much; all I wanted was an opportunity.”

It was school choice that gave Deane that opportunity. In high school he received a tax credit scholarship through the Joshua Group, a nonprofit organization focused on the guidance of at-risk youth in Harrisburg through mentoring and positive role models. Deane’s young single mother took advantage of school choice so he could graduate from Bishop McDevitt High School, and now he is a recent graduate of Kutztown University. Deane credits his success today to the opportunity he was afforded upon changing schools after 8th grade.

Lance Deane tells his story of success that he credits to the educational opportunities afforded to him through a tax credit scholarship program.

Deane told his story to State Senator John DiSanto (R-Dauphin) and many parents, students, school officials, community leaders, and other lawmakers who gathered to show support for DiSanto’s proposed Education Savings Account legislation. Senate Bill 2 aims to help at-risk students just like Deane.

The proposed SB 2 would create state-funded, flexible, spending accounts for individual students. Parents can use the funds to pay for Department of Education-approved educational expenses such as non-public school tuition, higher education tuition, textbooks and curriculum, testing and industry certifications. Eligible expenses for children with disabilities would also include occupational, physical, speech and behavioral therapies. Parents will receive a portion of the statewide average funding per pupil (between $5,000 and $6,000), and students with special needs will be eligible for additional support based on their disability. Unused funds roll over from one year to the next. Unspent ESA dollars can even be used to pay for college.

Under DiSanto’s plan, families in the low-performing school districts would have access to a state-funded, flexible spending account through an ESA. Families could direct the funds to a qualified school that best meets the needs of their child or to pay for other support to help their child succeed.

Shannon Lawson, whose daughter is able to attend her school of choice through Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program, also applauded the proposal, “We needed an educational opportunity outside of what we were given. Because of that, we weren’t held by our zip code, we weren’t held by our income to get her the education she needed to excel.”

Lance Deane is now a mentor and tutor for the Joshua Group programs. He is giving back to the community that helped him. Lawson’s daughter is an honor roll student and aspiring author. Senate Bill 2 aims to give many more students the same chance for success.

“Too many Pennsylvania children are consigned to chronically underperforming schools that fail to prepare students for college or careers. Families without the means or good fortune face significantly limited educational opportunities,” said Senator DiSanto. “Waitlists for charter schools and tax credit scholarships are in the tens of thousands. ESAs significantly expand opportunities for students seeking a better education.”

State senators Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) and Mike Regan (R-Cumberland) as well as Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) were also in attendance and voiced their support for Senate Bill 2.

 

 

Why is HHS Contraception Order Still Standing? Trump Said it ‘Would Soon Be Over’

From USCCB president, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo – After meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office on May 4, I sat in the Rose Garden and listened as the president promised the Little Sisters of the Poor that their “long ordeal” with the government’s contraceptive mandate “would soon be over.” Yet here we are, nearly three months later, and the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate still stands.

For four years, the Little Sisters and many other faith-based nonprofit groups have patiently asked the government to do the right thing and let them serve the poor. In a pluralistic society like ours, people should be free to serve the common good without compromising their moral or religious convictions. The HHS mandate, requiring employers to cover contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices, has tested this country’s commitment to a healthy pluralism.

President Trump asked some of the Little Sisters to stand next to him on May 4 while he signed an executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty,” and he promised that “we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty.”

The HHS mandate tries to force faith-based employers — including religious charities, schools and pro-life advocacy organizations such as the March for Life — to facilitate the coverage of drugs and devices that go against our moral mandate to respect the dignity of every human person, born and unborn. If a solution is not reached, these nonprofit organizations could face millions of dollars in fines from the federal government for non-compliance with the HHS mandate.

The president’s promises were not just in his speeches. The text of the executive order itself directs the secretary of Health and Human Services to “consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

Yet the onerous regulations that are still on the books have not been amended.

In a diverse society like ours, people will disagree on moral issues. A majority should not be able to impose its way of life on others by using the government to coerce people into violating their consciences. The Catholic Church teaches that religious freedom has to do with immunity from coercion. Immunity from government coercion is a right that all citizens in this country should enjoy. So in asking for an exemption to the HHS mandate to fully accommodate deeply held moral and religious beliefs, we are simply asking that the government give us the space to fully participate in American life.

Following the signing ceremony, I said that the executive order “begins a process.” It is now time for the administration to take the next steps in the process of ensuring that the Little Sisters, and all those who seek to abide by their religious beliefs or moral convictions, would be able to continue to serve their fellow citizens in accordance with their consciences.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right, not a political football. Freedom belongs to us by human nature, not by government dictate. A government that serves its citizens is one that respects the right to religious freedom.

President Trump suggested that he understood the stakes when he said, “Freedom is not a gift from government. Freedom is a gift from God.”

The HHS mandate puts an unnecessary burden on religious freedom, a burden that the administration has the power to lift, a burden that the administration has promised to lift. And yet the burden has not been lifted.

Mr. President, please lift this burden.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

 

 

How to Talk about Religious Liberty

From the USCCB – Religious freedom has recently become one of the major focal points in the conversation on how Americans can promote the common good. Our Catholic tradition has much to offer this conversation. In this time of increasing polarization in our culture, we can contribute to a better understanding of this issue in a way that respects all people. We can speak with friends and neighbors about religious freedom and work to clear up misconceptions about it.

  1. Respect

Many religious freedom skeptics have plausible concerns. For example, they are concerned that all people should be treated with equal dignity. Indeed, the dignity of all people is the foundation for Catholic teaching on religious liberty. It is important that we not dismiss skeptics, but rather, that we listen to their concerns and take them seriously.

So, if the skeptics have a point, what do we say?

     2. A Fundamental Right

Religious freedom is a fundamental right. It means that the government cannot coerce people into acting against their consciences. This is important for all people, not just people of faith. A government that makes one group choose obedience to the state over obedience to faith and conscience can force any group to submit to the state’s demands. Religious freedom underlies all other freedoms for everyone

     3. Space to Do Good

People of faith need religious freedom to have the space to serve others. Oftentimes, religious liberty disputes arise when religious organizations are expected to sacrifice aspects of their faith in order to continue to serve the surrounding community. But it is our faith that in-spires us to serve. Take the Little Sisters of the Poor, who live out their Christian faith by serving the elderly poor.

These women have had to seek protection from a regulation requiring them to facilitate access to contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs and devices. Or, consider adoption services run by Catholic Charities, which simply seek to place children in homes with a married mother and father. Due to the redefinition of marriage in civil law, many Catholic Charities and other faith-based adoption agencies around the country have been forced to end their adoption and foster care services.

Challenges to religious freedom often come from a mistaken view of religion, a view that sees religion as good only if it conforms to every value that happens to prevail today.

However, the good that religious institutions do is inseparable from the parts that challenge prevailing norms. Religious convictions hang together, in and out of season. When faith groups violate their consciences, they undermine the whole mission of their ministry. People of faith and faith-based organizations need space to make their unique contributions to the common good.

     4. Authentic Pluralism

Skeptics are often concerned about the effects that religious organizations have on people who do not share those religious beliefs. Skeptics tend to see a conflict between religious freedom and their vision of equality and choose a mistaken concept of equality over freedom. These are certainly difficult issues. Here are points to consider:

  • A pluralistic society makes space for people who hold views that run counter to the mainstream. Religious groups, and groups formed around a particular set of principles, need to be able to express their views with integrity. Should an animal rights organization be required by law to hire a member of a hunting association? Of course not. Then, for example, neither should a religious organization be required to hire people who oppose the teachings of that religion. It is crucial that our society not adopt the view that all groups – least of all religious groups — must conform to one view. True freedom results in a diversity that strengthens, rather than weakens, society.
  • Some skeptics say that religious people impose their faith on others. However, when religious groups are accused of causing harm to others, the “harm” is often that they do not facilitate an action. The craft store chain Hobby Lobby refused to cover abortifacients for its employees. But Hobby Lobby is not preventing its employees from obtaining these devices. The Christian family that runs Hobby Lobby refuses to participate in an activity it believes is immoral.
  • It is similar when family-owned businesses choose not to participate in same-sex weddings. For example, florist Barronelle Stutzman had served a customer she knew was in a same-sex relationship for almost a decade. However, she could not in good conscience create custom floral arrangements for the customer’s same-sex ceremony. She was happy to provide flowers for any other occasion but did not want to be forced to participate in a particular event that went against her Christian beliefs. The State of Washington sued Barronelle for declining to participate in an activity that went against her faith.
  • Above all, the Church seeks to offer a better way. Catholic teaching is holistic, rooted in the dignity of the person, a dignity that is visible to reason yet made more clear by the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not simply asking for freedom from coercion so that we can be left alone. We believe that what we teach – about marriage, sex, family life, care for refugees, care for the poor, care for the sick, care for all vulnerable – is good for society. When we see a culture that is often un-loving and hostile to life, we work to bear witness to a healthier culture, a “civilization of love,” in which all people can flourish.

    5. Own It

When we engage in conversation as Catholics, people want to know what we think. It’s good to represent the Church and the beauty of her teachings; it’s even better when we internalize those teachings and reflect on our own experiences and reasons for caring about religious freedom. Your friends and neighbors want to know what you think. You have a unique contribution to make to the conversation!