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Bishops Urge Catholics To Pray For Life, Marriage, Religious Liberty

The U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a pastoral strategy addressing critical life, marriage and religious liberty concerns. The five-part strategy or call to prayer was approved by the bishops in November and is set to begin after Christmas. The overall focus is to invite Catholics to pray for rebuilding a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.

Campaign components include monthly Eucharistic holy hours in cathedrals and parishes, daily family rosary, special Prayers of the Faithful at all Masses, fasting and abstinence on Fridays, and the second observance of a Fortnight for Freedom.

Read more here and watch for local events in your area.

Send a Message In Support of a Pro-Life Insurance Exchange

In consultation with the USCCB and other pro-life groups after yesterday’s announcement, it appears that a legislative remedy can be found to assure that the federally administered insurance exchange can exclude elective abortion coverage.

Access to health care remains a priority concern for Catholics, but no health insurance program should include coverage of abortion.  Simply put, pregnancy is not a disease and elective abortion is not health care.

The PCC will continue to monitor the developments on this issue and will post updates as they are available. Please click here to send a message to your representatives in support of legislation that removes taxpayer funded abortions from health insurance exchanges.

Pennsylvania will not set up state health exchange

Governor Corbett announced this afternoon that Pennsylvania will not set up its own health insurance exchanges under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  In his statement, the governor said, “Healthcare reform is too important to be achieved through haphazard planning. Pennsylvania taxpayers and businesses deserve more. They deserve informed decision making and a strong plan that responsibly uses taxpayer dollars.”

The Catholic Church has long and consistently advocated for the reform of the American health care system. Access to health care is fundamental and necessary for human dignity. Yet concerns raised during the health care reform debate about conscience protection and coverage of elective abortion are not resolved. Without a state exchange, Pennsylvanians who qualify will be enrolled in the federal exchange, which will cover elective abortions. PCC, with other pro-life organizations, will explore every option to avoid the federal elective abortion provision. Some pro-life groups have suggested that there may be other opt-out actions that can be taken, and we will spend the coming days exploring those options.

If Pennsylvania had created its own exchange, it would have been able to opt out of this abortion coverage.  As Pennsylvanians work with the state and federal government to address issues of cost and flexibility, we must also be concerned about taxpayers supporting the flawed and damaging idea that elective abortions are basic health care.

Click here to send a message to elected officials in favor of pro-life health insurance exchanges.

Update on Death Penalty Cases In PA

Hundreds of you have sent emails to the PA Board of Pardons and the Governor about the death penalty in recent months. You can send another message here.  

Here is an update on the pending capital cases:

1)      Terrance Williams:  On September 28, 2012, Common Pleas Court Judge Sarmina ordered a stay of execution and granted the defense request for a new sentencing hearing.  The prosecution filed an emergency petition with the Pa. Supreme Court to vacate the stay.  The Pa. Supreme  Court denied the emergency petition and ordered a briefing schedule to be set.  Currently, there are consolidated appeals filed by the prosecutors to vacate Judge Sarmina’s order which are pending before the Pa. Supreme Court.  To date, the Supreme Court has not set a briefing schedule in the appeals. There is no pending execution warrant for Mr. Williams.

2)      Hubert Michael:  On November 7, 2012, Federal District Court Judge Jones denied Michael’s request to reopen his federal appeal and denied the motion for a stay of execution.  On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit granted Michael’s request for a stay of execution and remanded the case to Judge Jones to address a technical matter related to the appeal issues.  By order dated November 19, 2012, Judge Jones addressed the appeal issues discrepancy and the case was returned to the Third Circuit.  According to the Third Circuit, it will be issuing “an expedited briefing schedule” to address Michael’s appeal issues, but to date no such schedule has been published. There is no pending execution warrant for Mr. Michael.

3)      Mark Spotz:  Execution date – January 8, 2013.  Spotz’ direct and State post-conviction collateral appeals have been exhausted.  However, according to his attorneys, he has never been afforded any federal review of his conviction and death sentence.  On November 14, 2012, Spotz’ attorneys filed a motion for a stay of execution in Federal District Court to allow time to file a federal habeas corpus petition.  To date, the prosecution has not responded to the defense motion.

Bishop Zubik on Lawsuit Dismissal

The lawsuit filed by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc. and the Catholic Cemeteries Association of Pittsburgh against the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that threatens religious freedom was “dismissed without prejudice” by U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry on November 27. Bishop David Zubik issued the following statement:

While I am disappointed in the ruling that our lawsuit cannot proceed at this time based on the very narrow argument that we allegedly have no real damages yet from the Health and Human Services mandate, I am very encouraged that it was “dismissed without prejudice.” That means that we have every right to file again in the future.

We will now await in good faith the accommodation to religious freedom that the federal government has claimed it will offer. However, we must all be aware that no modification to the original HHS mandate in regard to religious freedom has yet been made.

Other courts have reached differing conclusions in the challenges to the HHS mandate, so this remains fluid. I do want to make clear, however, that we cannot and will not negotiate away our constitutional rights to religious freedom and religious expression.

Learn more here.

PA Task Force on Child Protection Applauded for Its Examination of Child Protection Laws

The Task Force on Child Protection, which was created by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Tom Corbett, has issued a report recommending several changes to the existing laws governing child abuse.

Continue Reading →

VIDEO: Careless Cuts Cost Lives

U.S. poverty-focused international assistance saves lives worldwide. But some in Congress propose significant cuts to this lifesaving aid to address our nation’s deficit even though it makes up less than 1% of the U.S. budget. Send a message to your elected officials here.

Obituary for Henry J. Aschenbrenner

Henry J. Aschenbrenner, a long-time Director of Education and Deputy Executive Director, passed away on Thursday, November 15.

During his 28-year career at PCC, Henry achieved numerous victories for Pennsylvania’s nonpublic school students including bus transportation, textbooks, instructional materials and services. He was a tireless advocate for school vouchers and paved the way for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.

Henry was a founding member of the REACH Alliance and received the organization’s initial Founders’ Award in January 2010. He served as chairman of the State Education Advisory Counsel. He was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Award at Central Catholic High School and was inducted into the Philadelphia Hall of Fame for Distinguished Graduates.

Read more here, and keep Henry and his family in your prayers!

Eternal rest, grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

New Website Connects Mother, Families with Adoption Agencies

To mark National Adoption Month, the Catholic social service agencies across Pennsylvania launched www.adoptionpa.org, a website that connects mothers and families with a Catholic adoption agency in their area and also offers encouragement and support to those who experience unintended pregnancies.

Kelly Bolton, the Program Director for Adoption Services and Foster Care for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg, said “A statewide website that features each Catholic diocesan adoption program allows birth parents to have a one-stop shop for assistance. We are here to assist birth mothers considering adoption as a pro-life alternative to parenting. As always, we will coordinate services for any pregnant woman regardless of where she lives in the state—- there is a Catholic agency nearby and ready to help.”

By visiting www.adoptionpa.org and clicking “Find Help Near You,” the website user can enter his or her zip code and be directed to the nearest Catholic social service agency. A phone number, email, driving directions and website link are provided for each facility.

“Recent legislative changes have made open adoption a reality in Pennsylvania, and the website will help connect birth parents with our comprehensive services. Catholics can share this website address with their parish, friends and family. We do not want to be a ‘hidden treasure,’ we want the community to know that we are here to help, and this website will assist us.” Bolton said.

The website is intended to serve as an initial point of contact with pregnant women and their families and friends, says Fr. Sean Code, the moderator of the Social Concerns Department of the PA Catholic Conference. The department, made up of directors of Catholic Social Service agencies in Pennsylvania, oversaw the project.

“This new website acts as a portal to direct women and their families, especially those who may not be familiar with Catholic charities, to the help nearest to them.  We hope this website enhances our other outreach efforts and invites more women to consider adoption through our agencies,” said Fr. Code.

The homepage of the www.adoptionpa.org website states “Deciding the best option for you and your unborn or newborn child is difficult. We’re here to help you get the answers you need about adoption and the support to help you make the best decision.”

Visit www.adoptionpa.org for more information.

Joelle Shea is the Director of Outreach for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.