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Catholic Conferences Prioritize School Choice Programs

School Choice PittsburghThe school choice efforts of Pennsylvania’s Catholics were featured in Catholic Education Daily: 

Pennsylvania has two tax credit programs, and was the first state “to create a groundbreaking program that empowers parents to choose the school they believe is best for their children,” Amy Hill, director of communications for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told the Newman Society.

Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program was established in 2001, and “provides businesses with a tax credit for donating to nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organizations,” said Hill. Under the EITC, students from families with eligible incomes can apply for scholarships to aid tuition costs for non-public schools. In 2012, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program was also established to expand the number of scholarships for students, particularly those living within the district boundaries of low-achieving public schools.

Hill shared that the Conference is continuing to lobby for increased funding to the state’s two tax credit programs. “Each year there is a waiting list of companies that wish to donate,” said Hill. “The demand for tax credits is high and so is the demand for scholarships.” The Conference is also currently pursuing legislation “to create grants for pre-K students that could be used at private or religious pre-schools, and a program that could help children with special needs attend the school of their choice.”

In November, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia urged legislators to approve corporate tax credits to increase scholarships for low-income students attending Catholic and private schools for the 2016-17 academic year. These credits “assist many thousands of needy children … by enabling Pennsylvania businesses to donate to qualified scholarship organizations,” Archbishop Chaput reportedly stated.

The impact that these programs have on Catholic education is not negligible, Hill shared. “Parents have the duty and responsibility to provide the best education possible for their children. Catholic school may not be the right choice for every family, but we can attest that EITC and OSTC has helped many students choose a Catholic education,” said Hill. “More students in our classrooms is good news for our schools; more students will help keep Catholic schools vibrant and available to more families.”

Read the entire article at Catholic Education Daily

What Does the Church Teach about Life & Dignity?

This is part of a video series by the USCCB and Catholic Relief Services on Catholic Social Teaching. In this video, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Fr. James Martin, SJ, and Dr. Carolyn Woo, discuss Care for God’s Creation.

Spread ‘A Vision of Life and Love’

NewBeginningsCardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York called on everyone “concerned about the tragedy of abortion” to recommit to a “vision of life and love, a vision that excludes no one” on January 14. His statement marks the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Cardinal Dolan chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Most Americans oppose a policy allowing legal abortion for virtually any reason – though many still do not realize that this is what the Supreme Court gave us,” wrote Cardinal Dolan. “Most want to protect unborn children at later stages of pregnancy, to regulate or limit the practice of abortion, and to stop the use of taxpayer dollars for the destruction of unborn children. Yet many who support important goals of the pro-life movement do not identify as ‘pro-life,’ a fact which should lead us to examine how we present our pro-life vision to others.”

“Even as Americans remain troubled by abortion,” wrote Cardinal Dolan, a powerful and well-funded lobby holds “that abortion must be celebrated as a positive good for women and society, and those who cannot in conscience provide it are to be condemned for practicing substandard medicine and waging a ‘war on women’.” He said this trend was seen recently when President Obama and other Democratic leaders prevented passage of the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, “a modest measure to provide for effective enforcement” of conscience laws.

“While this is disturbing,” said Cardinal Dolan, “it is also an opportunity.” Pro-life Americans should reach out to “the great majority of Americans” who are “open to hearing a message of reverence for life.” He added that “we who present the pro-life message must always strive to be better messengers. A cause that teaches the inexpressibly great value of each and every human being cannot show disdain or disrespect for any fellow human being.”  He encouraged Catholics to take part, through prayer and action, in the upcoming “9 Days for Life” campaign, January 16-24.

He also cited the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis as a time for women and men to find healing through the Church’s Project Rachel post-abortion ministry.

The full text of Cardinal Dolan’s message is available online.

Make a Digital Pilgrimage for Life

usccb-9-days-round-logo-org-crcleWhen people hear the word “pilgrimage,” many think of far-off destinations, such as Lourdes, Fatima, or Santiago de Compostela. Today, in the digital era, we have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage without ever leaving our hometown. In fact, the U.S. Bishops are asking Catholics to consider making a digital pilgrimage. The overarching intention is the end to abortion, however, as Catholics, we also recognize the need to pray for the protection of and respect for all human life.

Christians have been making pilgrimages since the Apostolic Age, motivated not only by the desire to venerate holy relics and places, but also to make a prayer out of their journey.

Whether they are walking for a month across France and Spain to Santiago de Compostela or flying to Mexico to visit the apparition site of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pilgrims make sacrifices often resulting in aching feet and weary bones, but also in an increased love for the Lord and gratitude for all of His blessings.

As wonderful and spiritually enriching as these opportunities are, monetary, physical and family circumstances often keep us from embarking on such journeys. However, just because we can’t trek 30 miles per day, we can still undertake a pilgrimage—a prayerful and sacrificial journey for a special intention.

This January 22nd marks the anniversary of the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout pregnancy. Forty-three years later, over 57 million children’s lives have been ended, and their parents, grandparents, siblings and many others suffer in the aftermath.

Of course, the unborn are not the only ones whose lives we should petition God to protect. We should pray regularly for the hungry, those without shelter, persons with disabilities, and all who are vulnerable. As bills legalizing doctor-assisted suicide are being introduced in a growing number of states, we should also pray that all those nearing the end of their lives may receive care that respects the sanctity of their lives. The Church recognizes and joyfully proclaims that each person’s life has value—from conception to natural death.

It is with these intentions for the respect and protection of human life in mind that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invites all Catholics to make a 9 day digital pilgrimage. “9 Days for Life” will take place January 16-24 (the nine days surrounding the anniversary of Roe v. Wade). To participate, visit www.9daysforlife.com and sign up for daily alerts (accessible via email, text message, or an app) or download and print the novena.

Together, people across the country can unite in prayer for the protection of life at all stages.

Along with daily prayer intentions, “9 Days for Life” also provides reflections, suggested acts of reparation, and additional resources. One important aspect of pilgrimages is that the participant grows spiritually and perhaps even develops some resolutions by the pilgrimage’s completion. “9 Days for Life” seeks to foster a deeper understanding of the value of life and encourages participants to continue to pray, support and advocate for life long after the pilgrimage’s end.

Sign up now at www.9daysforlife.com to join this important spiritual journey! Bilingual leader resources are available at www.goo.gl/JzZak6.

USCCB Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court Case Challenging HHS Mandate

U.S._Supreme_Court_BuildingThe General Counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) filed a brief amicus curiae, January 8, in the Zubik v. Burwell case now before the U.S. Supreme Court on the question of the contraceptive mandate of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The brief argues that the government mandate that faith-based organizations facilitate payments for contraceptives and sterilization for their employees damages not only religious freedom, but society as a whole.

“If the petitioners abide by their religious beliefs, they face the loss of the ability to sponsor health coverage for their employees and millions of dollars in fines, threatening financial ruin.  No one benefits from such an outcome—not the organizations, their donors, their clients, or their employees,” wrote Anthony R. Picarello, Jeffrey Hunter Moon, Michael F. Moses and Hillary E. Byrnes of USCCB’s Office of General Counsel.

The brief also highlights the major contribution to the public good made by Catholic and other religious charities and social services, assisting millions of people every year. The brief was filed on behalf of USCCB and seven other Catholic and non-Catholic organizations: Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; Catholic Relief Services; Family Research Council; Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance; The Cardinal Newman Society; Thomas More Society; and World Vision, Inc.

Full text of the brief is available online.

Do Not Be Indifferent to Abortion

LabelsJoyThe Pennsylvania abortion report was released this week with little note. The number of abortions in Pennsylvania in 2014 is about the same as the year before: 18 more for a total of 32,126. Statistically speaking, people may shrug their shoulders and think that’s neither good nor bad. Things stayed the same, so what.

Pope Francis warns us about falling into indifference to those in the outermost fringes of society during this Jubilee of Mercy:

Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism! (Misericordiae Vultus, No. 15)

Instead of shrugging our shoulders, we should step back to consider what those abortion numbers mean. It is not a count of “services provided,” it is 32,126 children whose lives were extinguished this year.  They are different boys and girls than the 32,108 unique individuals who were aborted the year before. That is a lot of human beings who were denied their dignity.

In this Year of Mercy, resolve to do more to bring about the Culture of Life in the world around you.

  • Donate time, money, or resources to a local crisis pregnancy center.
  • Pray at an abortion clinic for all those who are facing unexpected pregnancies, or look into sidewalk counseling.
  • If you have a friend who is facing an unexpected pregnancy, take her to a movie, to get her nails done, or even just out for ice cream. Let her know that you are there for her.
  • If you know a man who is facing an unexpected pregnancy, encourage him to accept responsibility and support his child and her mother.
  • Pray the Rosary for families who receive a pre-natal diagnosis and may be pressured to choose abortion.
  • Sign up and pray the 9 Days for Life Novena, January 16-24, 2016
  • Learn the facts about abortion
  • Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper in defense of life or weigh in with comments on an article online
  • Have the courage to share your views on social media. There are great graphics and messages in the free 9 Days for Life social media kit.
  • Contact your elected officials and urge them to vote pro-life. You can use the Catholic Advocacy Network to easily send an email

If we work together, we will break down the barriers of indifference and build a Culture of Life!


JANUARY 2016 column. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at www.pacatholic.org, www.facebook.com/pacatholic, and www.twitter.com/pacatholic.

When did we see you? Poverty Awareness Month 2016

8066.CCHD_PovUSA_R1“With the present Jubilee of Mercy I want to invite the Church to pray and work so that every Christian will have a humble and compassionate heart, one capable of proclaiming and witnessing to mercy. It is my hope that all of us will learn to ‘forgive and give,’ to become more open “to those living on the outermost fringes of society – fringes which modern society itself creates,” and to refuse to fall into “a humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine which prevents us from discovering what is new!”

~ Pope Francis, Message for the World Day of Peace 2016

Pope Francis offers a fitting reflection for January, Poverty Awareness Month. The Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has excellent resources to inspire prayer and action to address poverty in the United States. Check out the printable calendar (en Español), longer daily reflections (en Español), and daily emails.

A Break in the Budget Impasse

Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) Source: Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) Source: Flickr

On Tuesday, December 29, 2015, Governor Tom Wolf finally signed a spending plan for Pennsylvania, although only part of it. He exercised his right to line item veto the budget bill passed by the General Assembly just before Christmas. After a six-month political stand-off between the governor and the General Assembly, some state funds will finally start flowing to the programs that provide services to people in need.

What was vetoed?

State Budget Secretary Randy Albright said in a press conference that funding for public schools from the basic education subsidy will be paid now, but only to cover the first six months of the fiscal year which has already passed. The amount equals roughly 45 percent of the total appropriation. “The balance of those funds will be blue-lined until the General Assembly can agree on a final spending package,” said Albright.

Governor Wolf also vetoed line-items that affect the operation of the legislature, some corrections programs, agriculture programs, and other smaller programs. See the list of vetoed line items here.

What was spared?

Fortunately, the line items that benefit clients of Catholic charities, social services agencies, and alternatives to abortion programs; the poor and under-insured who receive health care at Catholic medical facilities; and students in our non-public schools move forward with the full year’s funding.

Catholic charities and social service agencies provide services for state-funded programs like housing, foster care, or drug and alcohol counseling. Most of Pennsylvania’s counties rely on Catholic agencies as subcontractors to provide these critical services to the community.

Catholic hospitals have a special mission to provide care for everyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. Our health care facilities provide a high number of services or beds to Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and patients who are covered by other state supported health care insurance programs.

Nonpublic schools do not receive basic education tax dollars, but their students do benefit from line items that pay for textbooks, materials, equipment, and services that support their secular education through the Intermediate Units. The proposal this year finally achieves equity between public and nonpublic students – the line items increased modestly at the same rate. The Pennsylvania Department of Education will begin to process textbook orders immediately.

Thousands also benefit from scholarships funded by the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. The programs were funded at the same level as last year, but allowed to go forward. Approval letters to the companies that applied for the credits in July were sent last week, giving them the green light to make their donations to scholarship organizations before the end of the 2015 tax year.

It is expected that state funding checks to the approved programs will be sent immediately. This is welcome news for all who benefit; however the political turmoil remains. There is much work that still needs to be done.

Pittsburgh Students Give UPMC St. Margaret Patients a Christmas to Remember

CatholicAcademyMrsClausIn the spirit of Christmas, elementary school students in the Pittsburgh area joined together to give patients at Pittsburgh’s UPMC St. Margaret Hospital a holiday they will not forget.

Last month, students at Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy in Aspinwall, PA, joined with the St. Margaret Foundation to help patients get in the holiday spirit during the first ever Lights of Hope ceremony. Thirty students surprised some 248 patients as they performed a Christmas concert and presented a tree decorated with miniature white doves in the courtyard, which can be seen from many of the hospital windows.

The sights and sounds of the season brought a special joy to many. The traditional holiday hymns inspired good memories for those in the hospital and perhaps made new memories for the young singers. Jillian Stahl, a fourth grader, told the Tribune Review that she liked singing for the sick people, “The ‘First Noel’ is my favorite one.”

Principal Mark Grgurich knows the students get much more out of the event than just Christmas cheer. “In all that we do, our mission is to teach our students how to integrate the Gospel values into their own lives,” he said. “Sharing their talents with the patients at St. Margaret’s is a small way that the children can put their faith into action during this special time of year.”

This event joined communities together and allowed for multiple organizations to contribute to helping patients to have a joyous Christmas. While the students were singing, the hospital was able to live-stream the concert into patients’ rooms and replayed the concert throughout the month of December. The Foundation delivered red poinsettias to each room and the local Girl Scout troop made pine cone bird feeders for patients and hosted a craft and bake sale during the Lights of Hope ceremony. The celebration was a community effort.

Christ the Divine Teacher Catholic Academy is one of more than 500 Catholic schools in Pennsylvania educating the leaders of tomorrow by instilling academic excellence and encouraging faith formation in a safe, caring environment. For more information about the Academy, visit cdtca.org.