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Remembering Who We Are and The Story We Belong To

Photo by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

Photo by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. presented “Reclaiming the Church for the Catholic Imagination” at the Bishops’ Symposium, co-sponsored by the USCCB Committee on Doctrine and the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame on October 19, 2016. Click here to read more at

Much of what I say today you probably already know.  But that doesn’t prevent a good discussion, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

As I sat down to write my talk last week, a friend emailed me a copy of a manuscript illustration from the 13thcentury.  It’s a picture of Mary punching the devil in the nose.  She doesn’t rebuke him.  She doesn’t enter into a dialogue with him.  She punches the devil in the nose.  So I think that’s the perfect place to start our discussion.

When most Catholics think about Mary, we have one of two images in our heads: the virginal Jewish teen from Galilee who says yes to God’s plan; or the mother of Jesus, the woman of mercy and tenderness, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”  We can too easily forget that Mary is also the woman clothed in the sun who crushes the head of the serpent.  She embodies in her purity the greatness of humanity fully alive in God.  She’s the mother who intercedes for us, comforts us and teaches us — but who also defends us.

And in doing that, she reminds us of the great line from C.S. Lewis that Christianity is a “fighting religion” – not in the sense of hatred or violence directed at other persons, but rather in the spiritual struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us, where our weapons are love, justice, courage and self-giving.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem described our spiritual struggle this way: “There is a serpent [the devil] by the wayside watching those who pass by: beware lest he bite thee with unbelief. He sees so many receiving salvation and is seeking whom he may devour.”

The great American writer Flannery O’Connor added that whatever form the serpent may take, “it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country,” not to turn away from God’s story or the storyteller.

If our theme as a meeting this week is reclaiming the Church for the Catholic imagination, we can’t overlook the fact that the flesh and blood model for our Church – Mary as mater et magistra – is quite accomplished at punching the devil in the nose.  And as Mary’s adopted sons, we need to be bishops who lead and teach like the great Cyril of Jerusalem.

Having said all that, my thoughts today come in three parts.  I want to speak first about the people we’ve become as American Catholics.  Then I’ll turn to how and why we got where we are.  Finally I’ll suggest what we need to do about it, not merely as individuals, but more importantly as a Church.  We need to recover our identity as a believing community.  And I think a good way to begin doing that is with the “catechetical content” of our current political moment.

Click here to read on. 

Bill Needed to Give Safe Harbor to Sexually Exploited Youth

Sb 851 Rally Wide ShotWhat are the kids in your life worried about right now? Is your grandson talking about what to dress up as for Halloween? Is your niece worried about her math test? Is your son anxious about an upcoming football game?

Now imagine a child who has become the victim of sex trafficking. They are worried about being sexually abused again. They are worried about retaliation from their trafficker. And, in Pennsylvania, they also have to be worried about being criminally charged under the current law.

Senate Bill 851, sponsored by Senator Greenleaf, aims to end this cycle of re-victimization by protecting instead of prosecuting child victims of sex trafficking. This legislation is an example of victim-centered criminal justice reform that would ensure children aren’t charged with prostitution.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) attended a rally today in support of Senate Bill 851.  PCC’s Director of Social Concerns, Francis Viglietta, said, “Legislation like Senate Bill 851 is needed because it gives immunity to these children, who need compassion and resources to get out of this form of modern day slavery, instead of a criminal record. We encourage the legislature to pass this legislation this session or as soon as possible next session.”

Thirty-five other states have already passed this type of safe harbor legislation.  Now is the time for Pennsylvania to provide support to some of our most vulnerable citizens and provide safe harbor to these childhood victims of sex trafficking.

Beyond the Headlines: Healing for Sexual Abuse Survivors

dove-41260_640The first response that a survivor of childhood sexual abuse receives when revealing what happened to him or her is crucial for opening the door toward healing.

“I believe you.”

“It is not your fault.”

“I am sorry that happened to you.”

The news of grand jury investigations and a renewed push to punish the Catholic Church with a retroactive removal of the civil statutes of limitations often overlooks and drowns out an important message about the Church’s support and assistance for survivors and their families.

The Catholic community is committed to encouraging healing among sexual abuse survivors and their families; and offers lifelong resources, including counseling, addiction treatment, and other services.  Every diocese has a survivor/victims services professional on staff to listen, learn about their trauma, and encourage survivors in their own time to get support. This is not ordered by the court; it is the Church’s initiative to address the harm, pain, and anger caused by child sexual abuse.

The Church has repeatedly acknowledged abuse that happened and its role in the ongoing suffering experienced by survivors and their loved ones. While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey toward healing, the Church is committed to offering assistance.   We will provide continuous resources for survivors and their families so they can have access counseling, addiction treatment, medications and other necessary support services.

In addition to support for survivors, the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania adhere to strict safe environment practices, including training for employees, clergy, and volunteers in identifying and responding to signs of abuse. Our dioceses enforce a zero-tolerance policy for clergy, employees, and volunteers accused of abuse. The dioceses have already reported these allegations to local district attorneys and have now they have also shared them with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. Credible allegations of misconduct result in permanent removal from ministry, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. Every adult who interacts with children — including clergy, employees, and volunteers — is subject to thorough background checks.

Where to find Catholic child protection and victim/survivor support services in PA?

The Church cares very much about healing for survivors of abuse. We take responsibility for what happened in the Church and take great precautions to protect children. The emotional outcry for the Church to make things right for past victims is understandable. Survivors do not need retroactive lawsuits to get support from the Catholic Church.

Catholic Relief Services Commits $5 Million to Hurricane Matthew Response

Hurricane Matthew Response
Hurricane Matthew Response

Mikai Edward 42, lost her home where she lives with her six children and husband in front of the ocean in the Zoranje neighborhood of Roche Bateau.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is committing an initial $5 million to help Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean recover from Hurricane Matthew, the powerful storm that has left hundreds dead and devastated communities in this nation still recovering from the earthquake that struck in 2010.

“Haiti in particular has once again been struck by a tragedy,” said Sean Callahan, CRS’ Chief Operating Officer. “This commitment shows that we will continue to stand with its people, offering our hand in friendship, to help and support them in this time of dire need.”

The funds will be used to continue and expand relief work that began even before Matthew hit on October 4 as CRS staff pre-positioned supplies in areas where the storm was expected to make landfall.

Based on the most critical needs, still being determined as teams are reaching areas cut off by the storm, CRS’ response will include:

  • Emergency shelter materials – tarps, ropes and blankets— and construction of temporary shelters using local materials that are cost-effective and easy to assemble.
  • Drinking water, hygiene kits, hand-washing stations to prevent diseases outbreak. The area is still reeling from a cholera outbreak in the months following the earthquake and there’s a high-risk for another outbreak.
  • Cash to families to cover their most immediate needs.
  • Living supplies, including kitchen utensils and buckets.

CRS teams rode out the storm in towns like Les Cayes, Dame Marie and Jeremie on Haiti’s southwest peninsula that took the hardest hit. Once it passed, they immediately began assessing damage and distributing pre-positioned supplies to help residents recover from the 140-mph winds, storm surges and as much as 40 inches of rain.

“We have seen roofs blown off houses, damaged homes and waters flooding the streets, but we still don’t know the full scale of the damage. We will be doing all we can to reach the most affected areas as quickly as possible.” said Chris Bessey, CRS’ Country Representative in Haiti.

The $5 million represents an initial commitment to the recovery of Haiti, along with the Dominican Republic, Cuba and other countries affected. It will be augmented by more funds, from both public and private sources. Rebuilding destroyed homes and restoring lost agricultural fields is expected to take years.

High population density, severe deforestation and decaying infrastructure make Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.

It was a hurricane that first brought CRS to Haiti in 1954 when Hazel left widespread damage and over 1,000 dead. The agency has been at work in the country ever since.

Read more and donate here.

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.

Now, the American Medical Association (AMA) is considering a resolution to change its decades-long opposition to doctor prescribed suicide. 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.

5 PA Catholic Schools Awarded Blue Ribbon

Students from St. Joan of Arc in Hershey celebrate the news of their Blue Ribbon Award. Source: Diocese of Harrisburg Facebook page.

Students from St. Joan of Arc in Hershey celebrate the news of their Blue Ribbon Award.
Source: Diocese of Harrisburg Facebook page.

Five Catholic schools in Pennsylvania were awarded the distinction of the “National Blue Ribbon School ” from the United States Department of Education.

These Blue Ribbon schools are chosen “based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. These schools demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels…The National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging content. ”

This year’s Pennsylvania Catholic schools to receive the distinction are:

  • Holy Family School, Phoenixville
  • St Genevieve School, Flourtown
  • St Joan of Arc School, Hershey
  • St Mary Interparochial School, Philadelphia
  • St Philip Neri School, Lafayette Hill


More information, including a complete list of schools to receive the award since its inception, can be found here.

Preparing for the Nov. 8 Election

In keeping with its mission, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) aims to educate and inform Catholics about a wide range of issues.

To that end, we have compiled a series of resources to help to educate you about some of the issues and topics of import to Catholics. The PCC neither supports nor opposes any candidate for public office.

As you review these resources, please also consider excerpt from the bishops’ Living the Gospel of Life:

“Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care. Therefore, Catholics should eagerly involve themselves as advocates for the weak and marginalized in all these areas…But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the ‘rightness’ of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community. If we understand the human person as the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ — the living house of God — then these latter issues fall logically into place as the crossbeams and walls of that house. All direct attacks on innocent human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, strike at the house’s foundation. These directly and immediately violate the human person’s most fundamental right – the right to life.”  From Living the Gospel of Life, No. 22 with original emphasis (Pastoral Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, 1998).

Another resource to help Catholics prepare for the upcoming election is Forming Conscience for Faithful Citizenship, and its companion summary bulletin inserts.

Presidential Candidates

Know the Positions of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

Know the Positions of the Presidential Candidates (Spanish)

Pennsylvania Statewide Candidates

Survey of Pennsylvania Statewide Candidates

Know the Positions of the U.S. Senate Candidates

Complete Survey Responses of Senator Toomey (Candidate McGinty did not respond to the PCC survey)

General Assembly and U.S. Congressional Candidates

As they become available, this section will be updated with responses from General Assembly and U.S. Congressional candidates. You can also check with your diocesan website for these results.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia 

Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown

Diocese of Erie 

“We work to provide our kids the best education”

ABC27 interviews the Garcia Family at Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School.

ABC27 interviews the Garcia Family at Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School.

When discussing school choice, “It’s easy to talk dollars and cents but what we really need to talk about is minds and souls and futures,” said the PCC’s Amy Hill during a feature on ABC27 about school choice. 

The Garcia family spoke about the importance of a program like the Education Improvement Tax Credits (EITC),  “My kids are the first generation here,” Carlos Garcia said. “I want them to have the American dream.”

Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver), a champion of the EITC program, said a family’s zip code shouldn’t limit their educational opportunities, “I believe that the way we make every industry better is competition and choice and giving people freedoms.”

View the story on the Garcia family and school choice here:

Study finds that religion contributes $1.2 trillion to US economy

A new study finds that religious groups in America contribute $1.2 trillion to the national economy, much of it in charitable services, which would be enough to make U.S. religion the 15th largest economy in the world.

In his commentary on this study, Crux Contributor Christopher White writes:

The notion that religion is antiquated, declining, and at worst, oppressive, seems to dominate much of our public discourse.

But a major new study just released in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion evidences that the country has never been more dependent on the contributions of people of faith to society, particularly from a socio-economic perspective.

According to findings from Brian and Melissa Grim, “religion in the United States today contributes $1.2 trillion each year to our economy and society.”

Impressively, this figure is more than the top ten tech companies combined-including Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Or, put in another perspective, if that figure was measured in GDP, U.S. religion would be the 15th largest national economy in the world.

These contributions range from general philanthropy to educational services to healthcare-and all stem from one of the shared central tenet’s of all major faith traditions: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Continue reading here.