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Pennsylvania Bishops Offer Statements Following Settlement in Federal Religious Liberty Lawsuit

Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik

Bishop Zubik

I am grateful to God that we have reached an agreement with the government that secures and reaffirms the constitutional right of religious freedom. The Diocese of Pittsburgh’s 5-year challenge to the HHS mandate provisions of the Affordable Care Act has been resolved successfully.   Our Catholic Charities and other religious organizations of different denominations will not be required to facilitate insurance coverage or practices that are morally unacceptable to them.

The settlement follows the recent release of new federal regulations that provide religious organizations with a full exemption from covering items that violate their core beliefs.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh joined more than 70 religious organizations represented by the law firm of Jones Day in filing an initial challenge to the government’s regulations in May 2012.  The diocese objected to the government’s definition of a religious organization. The federal government had exempted houses of worship from covering morally objectionable items in their health insurance plans but insisted that other religious institutions which are not houses of worship must facilitate such coverage against their sincerely held beliefs.   This rule was based on the faulty premise that religious organizations, such as Catholic Charities, were not religious enough to qualify for the exemption.

Read Bishop Zubik’s full statement.

 

Diocese of Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico

Bishop Persico

The Diocese of Erie celebrates its religious liberty as guaranteed by the First Amendment and secured today by the United States government.

This agreement allows faith-based organizations to uphold our religious mission in a di-verse society. For that, we are deeply grateful.

We have maintained from the beginning that the government cannot force anyone—Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or other—to do something that violates their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The government has finally acknowledged that there is a reasonable path to ac-complish its goals while also respecting the core beliefs of our faith.

Although we had to go through significant litigation, in the end, I find it heartening that through the wisdom and direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government signed an agreement acceptable to our diocese and other dioceses and religious organizations. Let’s hope it sets a good precedent.

Read Bishop Persico’s full statement.

 

Diocese of Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic

Bishop Malesic

We are extremely pleased with the favorable settlement that has been reached between the Diocese of Greensburg and the Department of Justice.

This permanent injunction solidifies an exclusive agreement between the government and the diocese. It holds that the Department of Justice will not enforce the HHS mandate, its accommodation, nor its narrow religious exemption on the Diocese of Greensburg. Additionally, this agreement will hold firm in the event of any future regulatory changes that may occur with HHS legislation.

I am deeply grateful to my predecessor, Bishop Emeritus Lawrence E. Brandt, who began work on this extremely important initiative several years ago. And I am appreciative of the highly competent work put forth by Jones Day, our legal counsel who diligently worked on our behalf.

This is a positive and substantive victory for every religious institution espousing that religious and moral beliefs must be supported by the fundamental right of religious freedom as envisioned by the founders of our great nation.

 

 

Senate Committee Approves Bill to Reauthorize CHIP; Maintains Funding is Used for Intended Purpose

The Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted 14-1 in favor of House Bill 1388 which would reauthorize the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which is set to expire on December 31, 2017. The measure would allow CHIP to continue through December 31, 2019.

Additionally, the committee adopted an amendment to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Don White (R-Armstrong) that would guarantee CHIP funding is used for its intended purpose of providing health care for children, not to pay for sex reassignment surgery and services.

“I don’t think in any way, shape or form that covering sex reassignment surgery should be part of the CHIP program that we set up years and years ago and is one of the model programs in the country that has been duplicated,” said White.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati said before the committee, “This goes far beyond what the CHIP program was designed to do. I will not accept, and I will reject the notion that we are discriminating against anybody.”

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association have been proponents of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, since its inception.

Across the nation, CHIP currently covers 9 million children with health insurance. More than 176,000 Pennsylvania children are covered by CHIP’s comprehensive, effective and affordable coverage.

Although CHIP remains a popular and valuable health insurance tool, it must be reauthorized in order to continue offering coverage.

Advocates, Lawmakers Stand up for “Safe Harbor” at State Capitol

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is a strong supporter of the proposed “Safe Harbor” bill.

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society.” – Pope Francis

Standing united on the steps of the state’s Capitol, advocates and lawmakers renewed the call to stand up for the dignity of young lives being destroyed by human trafficking.

Specifically, they urged House passage of legislation, introduced by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery/Bucks), which would provide specialized services to victims of sex trafficking under the age of 18 instead of facing charges in the juvenile justice system. The bill would establish a statewide protocol to provide local services including safe and stable housing, access to education, employment and life-skills training, counseling, treatment for addictions, health care, and more. Rather than facing delinquency charges for prostitution, these children will get the help and support necessary to break free from enslavement.

State Rep. Joanna McClinton, who served as assistant public defender for seven years, led the call for action to protect the real victims of human trafficking saying,” There are children in Pennsylvania that get prosecuted. It’s crazy that they get prosecuted when they are the most vulnerable children.

“If these children are protected they can help us really be able to find out who are the traffickers, where they are. They can point us and lead us in the right direction while getting the support they so desperately need.”

Senate Bill 554 was unanimously passed by the state Senate on April 25, 2017. It is currently under review by the House Judiciary Committee.

Urge your local lawmaker to support a better life for sex trafficking victims by voting YES on SB 554.

Surviving the Death Penalty

Ajamu joins members of the Pennsylvania Moratorium Coalition at a recent event recognizing its 10th anniversary. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is a member of the coalition and a long-time supporter of legislation to repeal the death penalty.

In August 1975, a jury found Ronnie Bridgeman (who has since changed his name to Kwame Kamau Ajamu) guilty of murder and a judge sentenced him to death.

“I was marked for death.”

He lived nearly 40 years of his life as Number 150.

Almost four decades later, a witness who was 12 years old at the time recanted his testimony and an Ohio judge cleared Ajamu of all charges, exonerating him.

To date, over 150 individuals have been exonerated from death row, Number 150 being one of them.

This is his story of survival, perseverance and healing.

Surviving

“The miscarriage of justice that eventually leads to someone  being put on death row – that destroys families. We look at the men and women on death row – a lot of us miss the wife, the mother, the sister, the father, the brother, the children who have been pulled away in a sense. No one thinks about them.”

Ajamu was just 17 when he, along with his older brother, was incarcerated and sentenced to death.

“My mother was the only one there for me.”

“When I got a five-year continuance from the parole board, it was on a Friday. I thought I’d call my mother after the weekend.”

The call was never made; Ajamu’s mother passed away that Friday.

Persevering

“You cried, ‘I didn’t do it’ the first day.” After that, Ajamu was determined to prove his innocence through action.

While incarcerated, Ajamu focused on educating fellow inmates as a way to cope with his sentence. He and five other inmates started an education system within the prison by establishing a cooking school.

“On my watch thousands of men got all the way from ABCDEFG to a Bachelor of Science degree because I was the one who would keep making them go.”

He would leave prison as the administrative clerk for the educational department for over 20 years and with one mark on his parole paper: Outstanding  Program.

Healing

“It has become a quest of mine to visit as many places as I can to promulgate these words:  end the death penalty.”

Today, Ajamu lives in Ohio and serves as Board Chair to Witness to Innocence, which is the only organization in the nation comprised of and led by exonerated death row survivors and their families who are dedicated to abolishing the death penalty in the United States.

“I’m not just a hired employee, I am a death row exoneree.”

“I think that anyone who comes into the particular situation as I have will realize that first and foremost you have now been given a platform and this platform is specifically geared toward death penalty abolishment.”

Ajamu acknowledges that his speaking engagements will never fully erase the scars of being wrongfully incarcerated; they serve as a form of healing and help to affirm his dedication to helping others – to help them helps him.

“We’re talking about human life.”

—–

On February 13, 2015, Governor Tom Wolf announced he would grant reprieves  on all executions in Pennsylvania, in effect establishing a moratorium while he remains in office. Currently, 169 men and women are sitting on death row in the state.

Furthermore, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Rep. Christopher Rabb (D-Philadelphia) have introduced Senate Bill 703 and House Bill 1466, respectively, to completely repeal the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

 

Time to Reauthorize CHIP

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association have been proponents of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, since its inception.

Across the nation, CHIP currently covers 9 million children with health insurance. More than 176,000 Pennsylvania children are covered by CHIP’s comprehensive, effective and affordable coverage.

Although CHIP remains a popular and valuable health insurance tool, it must be reauthorized by the federal government in order to continue offering coverage.

To date, Congress has failed to take action to reauthorize CHIP – putting hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania children at risk.

Contact Pennsylvania’s federal lawmakers to urge them reauthorize this vital program for children in need of coverage and care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HHS Mandate Decision Represents Return To Common Sense

From the USCCB — Today’s decision to expand the HHS mandate exemption is a “return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state,” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the USCCB, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, are hailing the Trump Administration’s announcement to provide a broad religious and moral exemption from the mandate requiring health insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and drugs and devices that may cause abortions.

Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Lori offered the following joint statement in response:

“The Administration’s decision to provide a broad religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect. Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state. It corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.

“These regulations are good news for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who are challenging the HHS mandate in court.  We urge the government to take the next logical step and promptly resolve the litigation that the Supreme Court has urged the parties to settle.

“The regulations are also good news for all Americans. A government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all, so when it is threatened for some, it is threatened for all. We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted, and with the encouragement of Pope Francis, we will remain ‘vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.'”

 

 

 

 

 

Religious Liberty Update

Amy B. Hill and Bishop Bartchak on the set of Proclaim!

The issue of religious liberty continues to be a topic of concern for many across the country and in the state. It is also of particular interest to the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania as it relates to public policy.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Communications Director, Amy B. Hill recently sat down with the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Bishop Mark Bartchak to discuss religious liberty on a recent edition of Proclaim!, a weekly television program spotlighting news and happenings in the diocese.

You can watch the “Keeping the Faith” segment of the program to learn about religious freedom and its tie to our U.S. Constitution, the relationship between government and religious liberty and what’s currently being debated at the federal and state levels regarding religious liberty.

 

 

Pennsylvania Bishops Issue Statements Regarding Shooting in Las Vegas

Archbishop Chaput

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

“Like many Americans, I awoke this morning to learn of the horrific acts of violence that took place last night in Las Vegas. So many precious and innocent lives were senselessly lost in an evil manner and it fills all of us with an unspeakable sadness. As the number of dead and injured continues to rise, let us pray that God will receive the souls of those who have been lost, that He will heal the injured, and that He will pour His comforting grace upon all those bearing the heavy burdens of suffering and grief.

The terror that filled yesterday evening and its aftermath serve as a stark reminder of the fragility of life and the very real presence of evil in our world. Let us resolve each day to treat our brothers and sisters with dignity, charity, and respect. May we all embrace that which is good so that the light of Christ will prevail.”

 

Diocese of Greensburg Bishop Edward C. Malesic

Bishop Malesic

“It is with tragic irony that the Catholic Church’s observance of Respect Life Month begins with the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. My prayers, and those of all in the Diocese of Greensburg, are with the victims of this senseless tragedy. We also pray for their families and loved ones. We can never become numbed to the seemingly endless stream of outrageous crimes that show a lack of respect for our fellow human beings. We continue to teach and proclaim that every human person is created in God’s image and has the right to life. Although the event in Las Vegas is deeply disturbing for all of us, we will continue to pray that the light of God’s love will reach into the darkest places in our nation and our world. As Jesus said, ‘Be not afraid.’”

 

 

Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik

Bishop Zubik

“My heart and my prayers go out to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre and their loved ones. We should all be grateful for the courageous actions of the Las Vegas police. But we must also look beyond this tragedy to broader patterns that allowed it to happen. While little is yet known about motive, this shows that gun control is a pro-life issue.

As I stated in June 2016, following shootings in Orlando, South Carolina and Wilkinsburg:

Jesus is weeping with us and for us.

It is time for us as a nation to require at least as much from those purchasing guns as we expect from those making application for a driver’s license. Public safety must always come first.

I urge our legislators to make it far more difficult for those with dangerously impaired moral reasoning, criminals and terrorists to make their point with a gun. It is important that our government require background checks for all gun purchases, limit civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines, make gun trafficking a federal crime, and ensure that those on “no-fly” lists cannot buy guns.

I also urge our legislators to improve access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence.

No law has ever eliminated the crime it addresses. But laws limit damage, enable the prosecution of perpetrators and make a statement about the values of our society.

Please join with me in prayer that we as a nation will seek to build a society in which the right to life is the standard against which all other rights are measured.”

 

Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera

Bishop Bambera

“We grieve over the tragic loss of innocent lives caused by the horrendous mass shooting in Las Vegas. We pray that God will bestow his healing comfort on the victims, their families and friends. We pray also for an end to all forms of hatred and violence.”

 

 

 

Metropolitan Archbishop Stefan Soroka, Ukrainian Archeparchy of Philadelphia

Archbishop Stefan Soroka

“The recent tragic loss of life and well-being in Las Vegas and from the terrorism act in Edmonton, Canada, preceded by the loss of life and major hardships experienced as a result of hurricanes in the Caribbean Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas have caused all of us to reflect on the preciousness of life. As we pray for the victims of these tragedies, we reflect on the gift of life each of us is given.  One’s thoughts during prayers are filled with thanksgiving for the gift of life.  We renew our personal resolve to value and cherish this precious gift of life shared with loved ones.  Hopefully each of us will be motivated to give greater thought and commitment to efforts to value and protect life from the conception of life to natural death.  Perhaps our best testimony to the innocent lives lost in the tragedies of recent weeks could be our own commitment to ensure respect for life from conception to natural death.

The gift of life is endangered by destructive forces of nature, and the manipulative and controlling hearts and minds of humanity.  Innocent life is daily taken by those who advocate abortion and euthanasia. Our efforts are needed to support people in every stage of life.  Can we do more to advocate and assist those who are mentally and physically handicapped? The weak and elderly also require our love and attention for their special needs.

Let’s cherish the gift of life given to us generously by God.  Express our gratitude to Almighty God in our prayers and with thankful hearts.  Our expressions of gratitude ought to lead us to active commitment to love and serve in whatever ways are presented to us in the journey of life.  Each October we renew our commitment for RESPECT FOR LIFE!  Celebrate the giftedness of life given to us by God.”

 

 

USCCB Pro Life Chairman Urges Passage of Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

A baby’s ultrasound at 20 weeks gestation. Credit: WebMD.com

From the USCCB — Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36). It is expected to come to the House floor the first week of October. The bill, introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), proposes a ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks after fertilization.

Urge your representatives to support this life-saving legislation.

In a September 29 letter to the House, Cardinal Dolan wrote, “All decent and humane people are repulsed by the callous and barbarous treatment of women and children in clinics…that abort children after 20 weeks.”

“Planned Parenthood’s callous and disturbing practices of harvesting fetal body parts from late-term abortions, partial-birth abortions, and the deplorable actions of late-term abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell…, have shocked our nation and led many Americans to realize that our permissive laws and attitudes have allowed the abortion industry to undertake these procedures,” Cardinal Dolan said, calling the 20-week ban a “common-sense reform.”

The Cardinal offered reasons why “the proposed ban on abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization is a place to begin uniting Americans who see themselves as ‘pro-life’ and as ‘pro-choice’.” The first centers on the expanding range of fetal ‘viability’. “The Supreme Court’s past insistence that unborn children must be ‘viable’ to deserve even nominal protection is not meaningful or workable…[M]edical technology is moving the point of viability earlier in the pregnancy putting Roe on a collision course with itself.” Second, there are life-threatening dangers to women undergoing abortions beyond 20 weeks. Finally, addressing the proposal to perform late-term abortions in “mainstream” clinics, he notes that those clinics generally refuse to perform the risky procedures. “What does it say about us as a nation, if we will not act against abortions that even full-time abortionists find abhorrent?” Cardinal Dolan asked.

Cardinal Dolan reaffirmed the right to life of humans at every stage of development, and clarified that the Church remains committed to advocating for the full legal protection of all unborn children: “[E]very child, from conception onward, deserves love and the protection of the law…. [T]he real problems that lead women to consider abortion should be addressed with solutions that support both mother and child.”

For the full text of Cardinal Dolan’s letter to the House of Representatives, visit: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/upload/CdlDolan-HR36-House-Ltr-09-29-2017.pdf.