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PA Man Named to Knights of Columbus Leadership

Michael O’Connor, a Pennsylvania native, was named supreme secretary of the Knights of Columbus during their annual conference in Toronto.

The Diocese of Allentown reports that the annual gathering drew approximately 2,000 attendees from around the world – including knights, their families and members of the clergy, including about 100 members of the Catholic hierarchy – making it one of the largest international Catholic gatherings in the city since Toronto hosted World Youth Day in 2002.

“The KOC convention is always a moving and inspiring experience of dynamic prayer and missionary commitment,” said Bishop Barres.

“I am personally so proud of Mike and Pat O’Connor and their contribution to the global mission of the Knights of Columbus.

“Our beloved Schuylkill County – home of Cardinal Brennan, Cardinal O’Hara, Father Walter Ciszek, S.J., Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Bishop Ronald Gainer – continues to provide outstanding servants of the universal church.”

“I’m honored to have been elected to this position,” said O’Connor. “I’m humbled, coming from a small Frackville council, to have been entrusted with this role.”

Read more here. 

Labor Day Statement 2016

This Labor Day, we draw our attention to our sisters and brothers who face twin crises—deep trials in both the world of work and the state of the family. These challenging times can pull us toward despair and all the many dangers that come with it. Into this reality, the Church shares a word of hope, directing hearts and minds to the dignity of each human person and the sanctity of work itself, which is given by God. She seeks to replace desperation and isolation with human concern and true solidarity, reaffirming the trust in a good and gracious God who knows what we need before we ask him (Mt. 6:8).
A World of Work in Disarray
We behold signs that have become too familiar in the years following the Great Recession: stagnant wages, industry leaving towns and cities behind, and the sharp decline in the rate of private-sector organized labor, which fell by more than two-thirds between 1973 and 2009 down to 7%. Millions of families still find themselves living in poverty, unable to work their way out. Poverty rates among children are alarmingly high, with almost 40 percent of American children spending at least one year in poverty before they turn eighteen. Although this reality is felt nation-wide, this year new research has emerged showing the acute pain of middle and rural America in the wake of the departure of industry. Once the center of labor and the promise of family-sustaining wages, research shows these communities collapsing today, substance abuse on the rise, and an increase in the number of broken families.

Continue reading at the USCCB.

Pittsburgh Diocese Comments on Justice Dept. Actions

We have always been willing to meet with representatives of the government to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution to our impasse over religious freedom. Our counsel and counsel for the other Supreme Court litigants had a meeting with representatives of the Department of Justice, at which we attempted to engage in the kind of resolution talks that we believe the Supreme Court contemplated in its Order. The government has been slow to offer anything of substance to pursue a negotiated solution, except to mention its openness to future meetings.

Meanwhile, we are aware that the government has made an extremely aggressive interpretation of the Court’s order in the Zubik case and is apparently trying to take over – to force our third-party administrators to include the objectionable coverage in our self-insured plans.  We think that is an erroneous reading of what the Supreme Court said. Furthermore, as the government seems to acknowledge, because we are self-insured there is no obligation or authority for the third party administrator to provide the objectionable coverage.

The Supreme Court also made clear that we cannot be fined or penalized for refusing to comply with the government’s current regulations.  Therefore, we believe the government’s position is wrong. In order to avoid future litigation, we will try to work through these issues with our insurers, third-party administrators and the government. Our counsel is actively working on this endeavor, and we remain in prayer for a mutually agreeable resolution.

From the Diocese of Pittsburgh

Religious Liberty: A Bitter Pill?

Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern

Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern

Many of us are unaware of the “ominous sign” delivered by the Supreme Court this summer.

The Supreme Court sent the message that cases involving religious freedom are not even worth listening to after it recently refused to hear Stormans v. Wiesman, a challenge to a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling.  The Ninth Circuit found that state regulations forcing pharmacies to provide drugs that go against pharmacists’ sincerely held religious beliefs do not violate the First Amendment.  By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court allows the Ninth Circuit decision to stand.

The Stormans family owns Ralph’s Thriftway, a grocery store and pharmacy in Washington State.  For the past eleven years, The Washington State Board of Pharmacy has pursued Ralph’s Thriftway because it does not sell Plan B and other abortion-causing drugs.  The State mandates that pharmacies may not “refuse to deliver a drug or device to a patient because its owner objects to delivery on religious, moral, or other personal grounds.”

The Stormans firmly believe that life begins at the moment of conception, so these pills could potentially end a newly created life. When customers ask for morning-after pills like Plan B, Ralph’s Thriftway cooperatively refers them to any of the other thirty pharmacies within a five-mile radius that carries them.  Not a single one of the customers has been denied timely access to emergency contraceptives.

Yet the pharmacists from Ralph’s Thriftway are being targeted because they choose to serve the community according to their cherished faith.  Perhaps the most shocking element surrounding this case is that ten times as many pharmacies choose to not provide emergency contraceptives for reasons of profit than for reasons of conscience, but the State only punishes those who object due to reasons of conscience.  If Ralph’s Thriftway referred clients to one of the other thirty pharmacies for business, economic, or convenience reasons, it would be a non-issue.  But because they wish to make a living in accordance with their religion, the Stormans will be forced to either go against their conscience or go out of business.

“Do we really want a society where businesses are free to follow the desire to maximize profit, but not free to follow their consciences?”  Archbishop Lori poses a question that is becoming increasingly critical.

In Justice Alito’s dissent, he states, “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”

In a nation where the foundational principle of religious liberty is under attack, it is important that religious communities and people of faith are aware of injustices.  The Supreme Court must realize that cases like these are extremely important and deserve consideration.

By Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern and Student at DeSales University

PA Teens Spend Summer Serving Others

Catholic service opportunities
Catholic service opportunities

Teens from Catholic HEART Workcamp take a break while on-site in Pittsburgh.

Each summer, hundreds of Pennsylvania Catholic teens volunteer a portion of their summer to restoring homes, distributing food and spending time with those in need.

Teens gather from the Commonwealth and beyond to dedicate their time to service and prayer at Catholic HEART Workcamp (CHWC).  Providing various ministries at approximately fifty worksites per city, campers have aided hundreds in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, and Oil City.

The goal of CHWC is best expressed by their mission statement: “To share the love of Christ as we serve the neglected, brokenhearted and the marginalized in any way needed. Equally, to inspire participants to live as disciples of Christ through serving others as a way of life; and to foster the Catholic faith of each participant through the sacraments, prayer, and involvement in social service.”

A significant portion of the campers’ work consists of rebuilding and remodeling homes.  Elderly residents who are not physically or financially able to provide upkeep are tremendously grateful for friendly campers who willingly step in to do whatever needs to be done. Some campers spend hours in soup kitchens distributing food while others devote their time to playing with children at Boys and Girls Clubs.    Not only is there a great deal of alleviation felt by those assisted, but a sense of genuine care and camaraderie.

After four years as a CHWC youth camper, Gina Galassi, a member of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Orefield and a senior at DeSales University, spent her fifth summer with CHWC as a staff member, traveling to four U.S. cities to serve.

“Once we experience the love of the Lord, it is so powerful that we cannot help but share it,” said Galassi, “Through our relationship with the Lord, we are able to be healed and extend this healing love to others.”

At the end of each camp, those who have been served are invited to an evening program to share stories about their experience with the campers.  “In Philadelphia, there were so many residents who came to give testimony that they had ‘the best group’ and that the campers came with smiles on their faces each and every day renewed their sense of hope and joy for life,” said Galassi.

Catholic HEART Workcamp is just one example of the countless service projects conducted by Catholics in the Commonwealth every year.   Through this service, Mother Teresa’s words are exemplified: “Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service.”

For more information about Catholic HEART Workcamp, visit http://heartworkcamp.com.

By Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern and Student at DeSales University

Pennsylvanians Participate in World Youth Day

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Scranton, led by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, gathered at the Diocesan Pastoral Center before departing for Poland.

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Scranton, led by Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, gathered at the Diocesan Pastoral Center before departing for Poland.

Pilgrims all over the world are arriving for the highly anticipated World Youth Day 2016 (WYD) in Kraków, Poland.  Pope Francis will gather with young people from every corner of the world in Pope Saint John Paul II’s home country to celebrate their faith, all while concentrating on this year’s theme, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Pope Francis recently posted a video message on the official WYD Facebook page saying, “Everything will take place under the symbol of mercy in this Jubilee Year, and also in the grateful and devoted memory of St. John Paul II, who was the architect of World Youth Day.”

Over 400,000 young Americans (ages 16-35) are registered to attend, including hundreds of Pennsylvanians.  While many young people are registered through their dioceses, some pilgrims are making the journey through different connections.

At 22 years old, Rob Johnson, a parishioner of St. Robert Bellarmine in Warrington, PA, has made arrangements to attend the global celebration with a British group.  “Every time the Church organizes one of these events, it brings together people from all around the world, united through the bonds of Catholicism and their common faith in Jesus Christ,” Johnson stated, “It demonstrates, in a real, physical way, that the Church truly is catholic – universal.”

World Youth Day draws young Catholics from China, Honduras, Iraq and even Vanuatu, a remote Pacific island.  In his message to WYD pilgrims, Pope Francis expressed, “I truly wish to meet with you, to give the world a new sign of harmony, a mosaic of different faces, so many races, languages, peoples, and cultures but united in the name of Jesus, who is the Face of Mercy.”

During this heightened period of international turmoil and violence, WYD is a manifestation of global solidarity and Christ’s triumph over evil.  “Holding WYD, even in these dark times, is exactly what the world needs,” Johnson stated, “The light of Christ and His love cannot be extinguished by any amount of hate or fear in this world.”

Mass, music, prayer, and pope-mobile sightings are sure to illuminate Kraków throughout the week.  The pilgrims will participate in Reconciliation, Stations of the Cross, Masses and a Vigil with Pope Francis.  Furthermore, catechetical sessions with participating bishops, including Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, will be held in order for the pilgrims to learn more about their faith and ask catechists any questions they may have.  “Hopefully, upon my return to America, I’ll be more aware not only of my neighbors from different parts of the globe, but of how to better live and share my faith,” Johnson said.

Those unable to make the physical journey to Kraków are still invited to take part in the spiritual journey.  Pilgrim is an inclusive free app that gives people at home access to prayers, music, and other content.  Additionally, photos, videos, and more WYD information can be found at http://www.krakow2016.com/en/ and www.wyd2016.us.

By Jennifer Southerton, PCC Intern and Student at DeSales University

Back to School Blessings for Scholarship Students

IMG_5454Summer vacation is still in full swing, but thousands of students are celebrating the chance to go to a new school this fall. This week the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed what is called the School Code Bill enabling support for public schools to move forward and providing a $25 million increase in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. The $175 million total line items fund scholarships for parents to send their children to a school that best suits their needs. Tens of thousands of students are able to attend Catholic schools with EITC and OSTC scholarships.

Both the EITC and OSTC programs provide businesses with a tax credit for donating to nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organizations. These groups grant scholarships to students giving parents the economic means to choose the learning environment they believe is best for their children.

Scholarships are awarded according to the scholarship organization’s criteria. Minimally, EITC scholarships go to families with an annual household income of $75,000 or less with an additional $12,750 allowance per student and each other dependent living in the same home. Each diocese has its own program criteria. OSTC scholarships are for students who live within the attendance boundaries of a low-achieving public school as determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education are eligible to receive a scholarship if their household’s annual income is the same as the EITC program discussed above. However, it is targeted to students with the greatest need, so priority is given to families closest to the poverty line.

Tax credits are not deductions; they are an actual reduction in the tax liability of a business. A onetime donation to a K-12 scholarship program earns a 75% tax credit; a two-year commitment yields a 90% tax credit. A business contributing to a pre-kindergarten scholarship program receives a 100% tax credit for the first $10,000 and a 90% credit thereafter. To be eligible for a tax credit, a business must pay at least one of Pennsylvania’s business taxes.

Pennsylvania’s 2016-2017 state budget debate has been a difficult one, but fortunately for parents everywhere, EITC and OSTC scholarships will be a welcome blessing.

Statutes of Limitation Status Report

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives adjourned for the summer without taking further action on House Bill 1947. The initial bill passed by the House in April proposed to remove the criminal statute of limitations (SoL) for childhood sexual abuse, raise the civil SoL from age 30 to 50, and allow lawsuits against public institutions moving forward.  It also would have retroactively extended the civil SoL from survivor’s age 30 to age 50, but only against private institutions like churches and non-profit organizations.

In June, the state Senate stripped out the provision that would have retroactively nullified the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from decades ago. The Senate cited conflicts with Pennsylvania’s state constitution as the reason for the change. They also amended the bill to prospectively allow abuse survivors up to age 50 to sue either public or private entities under an equal standard of proof, and allow survivors to sue in certain cases beyond age 50. The bill maintains the prospective elimination of the criminal statute of limitations.

Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it must be ratified by the House before going to the governor for his signature.  The House can concur with the amended bill with an up/down vote, amend it again which would send it back to the Senate, or choose not to consider it, letting the legislation expire at the end of the session. It now awaits approval to proceed from the House Rules Committee.

The debate over statutes of limitations has been emotionally-charged and difficult for many, but it may be particularly painful for survivors of abuse. As we discuss the issue in the public square, we must all remember to stress that help is available to them. All 10 Pennsylvania dioceses financially cover the expenses of counseling or treatment services offered through local resources, including those not affiliated with the Church.  Anyone who is abused should immediately contact law enforcement and anyone who is struggling should contact their county’s crime victim support services office and/or the diocese to obtain the necessary help, or a group like www.MaleSurvivor.org  www.1in6.org, www.rainn.org, and others.

No matter the final resolution with the legislation, the Catholic Church will honor its sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million on victim/survivor assistance services to provide compassionate support to individuals and families. Tens of millions more has been negotiated in financial settlements with survivors who sought that type of resolution. We will continue to offer support and assistance as long as it is needed. Learn more about assistance for childhood sexual abuse survivors here.

The debate about statutes of limitations is not yet over. Lawmakers may still be asked to vote on House Bill 1947. Send a message asking them to oppose unfair changes to the statutes of limitations through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

Conscience Protection Bill Passes U.S. House

usccbWASHINGTON—Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – commended the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (S. 304) on July 13 in a 245-182 bipartisan vote.

“We’re grateful to House Speaker Paul Ryan for bringing the Conscience Protection Act to a vote, to all the co-sponsors for their leadership, and to those members of both parties who support the civil right of conscience,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said. “Even those who disagree on the life issue should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion.”

If enacted into law, the Conscience Protection Act “will ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced to help destroy innocent unborn children,” they wrote. “It will also provide an effective remedy to victims of abortion coercion.”

“The vast majority of medical personnel – and 85% of OB-GYNs, specifically – do not want to be involved in abortion. Whether their reasons are religious or non-religious, their conscientious objection to abortion is worthy of the highest respect and protection,” they said.

The Conscience Protection Act offers much-needed protection for religious employers, as well. “In light of disturbing recent developments, even churches and religious organizations are being required to cover abortions in violation of their beliefs,” they said.

“We now urge Congress to move this vital legislation forward as part of this year’s must-pass appropriations package,” Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori said.

For more on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights, including a video about a nurse who was coerced to take part in a late-term abortion, visit:www.usccb.org/conscience.