Hot Issues

PCC Executive Director Receives Defender of Life Award

Robert O’Hara (center), executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, receives the Defender of Life award from the Pro-Life Union’s Edel Finnegan and Bill Wohlgemuth. Credit: Sarah Webb,

Robert O’Hara (center), executive director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, receives the Defender of Life award from the Pro-Life Union’s Edel Finnegan and Bill Wohlgemuth. Credit: Sarah Webb,

Dr. Robert J. O’Hara, Jr., Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, was honored with the Defender of Life Award by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia at their annual Stand Up for Life Dinner.

Edel Finnegan, Executive Director of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia said, “We are grateful for Bob’s leadership at the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and his commitment to defending the sanctity of every life. The people of Pennsylvania are blessed to have Bob at the helm of the PCC. We are grateful for his friendship to our organization and it is a privilege to share in this work with him!”

The award is given to a public figure who stands courageously in defense of life.

“I am honored to work with partners in the pro-life cause who will not stop until every unborn child is afforded the right to life. The public policy gains we’ve made are a result of constant collaboration, most closely with Francis Viglietta, the Pennsylvanian Catholic Conference’s Director of Social Concerns, as well as the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Family Institute, the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and countless individuals across the state,” said O’Hara.

The Pro-Life Union has hosted the annual Stand Up For Life Dinner since 1982. The event brings together more than 1,500 people to celebrate the Culture of Life, including more than 500 students from area schools. Damon Owens, Executive Director of the Theology the Body Institute, was the evening’s keynote speaker.

O’Hara said, “It is a paradox of our work that while I enjoy this collaboration, I hope and pray that one day it is no longer needed.”

State Budget Impasse: Pennsylvanians under Siege

ChainLinkLockA military operation in which enemy forces surround a town or building, cutting off essential supplies, with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside is called a siege. With the state budget now five months overdue, thousands of Pennsylvania families with nothing to surrender are wondering why they are under siege.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association (PCHA) track many elements of the budget debate, especially those line items that assist the poor. From our perspective, here are some key issues at stake:


The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs are legislatively constructed to be legally independent of the annual budget process. Unfortunately, without a state budget, the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) is choosing to withhold the mandatory approval letters to the businesses that applied for tax credits. In turn, the companies cannot make their donations to the scholarship organizations. Thousands of the most vulnerable children are at risk of losing their scholarships. These donations will not be recovered if the tax credit letters are not issued soon.

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 increase at the same rate, but Catholic school students cannot benefit until the funds are available. Students are struggling to learn without the necessary textbooks and services they need.

Catholic Charities

Catholic charities and social services agencies are often the “boots on the ground” that provide services for state-funded programs like housing, foster care, or drug and alcohol counseling. Without a budget agreement, people in need will be turned away. Some agencies have resorted to taking out a line of credit hoping it will be enough to last until the reimbursement funding comes through, but there will be no recovery for the expensive interest paid on those loans.

Health Care

Fortunately, payments for Medicaid services are still being paid to health care facilities while the state budget impasse remains unresolved. However, the uncertainty is causing difficulties for Pennsylvania Catholic Health Care Association (PCHA) members as they try to develop financial plans to support their ability to continue meeting the needs of the poor.

Saint John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio (The Church in Service to the Family), “ In the conviction that the good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible to ensure that families have all those aids – economic, social, educational, political and cultural assistance-that they need in order to face all their responsibilities in a human way.”

The programs affected by the state budget impasse are putting a difficult strain on families and individuals who rely on them. Let us pray that our elected officials in Harrisburg will reach an agreement and lift this unfair siege.

Protect Conscience Rights of Health Care Providers

NCBClogoThe National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA) are part of a national coalition in a call-to-action to protect the conscience rights of health care providers, especially nurses. Dr. Marie Hilliard, Director of Bioethics and Public Policy at the NCBC and a Registered Nurse asks, “What will happen to nurses whose only fault is being unwilling to be compelled by government to be sources of death and destruction?”

The coalition sent this letter:

Dear Friends,

The next two to three weeks are critical. We must demand key conscience protections be included in the law Congress must pass by December 11 to fund government programs for the 2016 Fiscal Year. Urge Congress again to protect conscience rights.

What if you spent years training to help the sick as a nurse – only to find that to keep your job, and your license you must take part in the killing of a defenseless five-month-old unborn child?

What if a church in your town lived up to its teaching on healing the sick by providing its employees with excellent health coverage – but was told that is illegal, unless it pays for abortions that violate its teaching on life itself?

These are not projections of a nightmare future. Rather, each of these things happened recently in our country – and will keep happening, unless we stand up as citizens and demand a change in the law. Contact Congress now to urge them to protect the rights of pro-life health care providers.

A solution is available and we should be part of it. The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) will close loopholes in existing law and provide a private right of action, so that healthcare providers, whose freedom of conscience is denied, can defend their rights in court. It is now part of the House of Representatives’ appropriations bill for funding HHS. By early December, Congress needs to pass a law funding government programs in Fiscal Year 2016 – and this urgently needed reform should be part of that final bill.

We must speak up now to protect our cherished right of conscience.

Thank you for acting in defense of life and liberty. Tell everyone you know to join us in raising our voices. Together we will be heard!

Lend your voice to this important effort. Send a message to Congress today through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

Talking about Syrian Refugee Resettlement in the Wake of the Paris Attacks

1KH_8938.jpgThe world was shocked by the terrorist attacks on citizens in Paris. In the wake of the news, there are many discussions about how to respond including whether or not we should permit Syrian refugees into the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Migration Refugee Services, developed several tools to help Catholics better understand the plight of the refugees.

A list of talking points offers a Catholic perspective on why displaced Syrian refugees should be welcomed.

An explanation of the 13-step screening process for refugees describes the strict security checks that are part of the refugee vetting process and to refute the notion that there is no process in place.

For further reflection, statements from Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, KY, and President, USCCB, and from the USCCB’s  Administrative Committee, provide inspiring messages of hope and support for Syrians coming into the country.

Finally, please pray for peace around the world and for the safety all families who travel in danger.

PHOTO CREDIT: Catholic Relief Services


Eliminate Hunger: Improve the Economy

hunger_infographicEliminating hunger is good for the economy, according to a recent study.

The analysts of The Perryman Group studied the economic cost of hunger and found that: “In addition to enormous human costs, hunger imposes severe costs on the economy. Not having sufficient food leads to a number of problems, both individually and for society as a whole. Providing for basic food needs for all citizens is a worthy societal goal, and expanding and supporting food banks and the charitable distribution network they support can facilitate meeting this need.”

The Perryman Group estimates that “every $1.00 invested in expanding the food bank network to meet current needs will result in $33.27 in incremental spending, $15.82 in additional gross product, and $10.31 in personal income (including related multiplier effects).”

Organizations that work to meet the needs of the poor, armed with the research to back it up, are urging Governor Tom Wolf to build upon the good investments already made in Pennsylvania’s Food Security Partnership, the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System, and the appointment of an adviser on food and nutrition programs. They are recommending funding of $21 Million for the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) and $5 Million for Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) in the 2016-2017 budget and asking that the programs be treated as separate and distinct appropriations.

In a letter signed by well over 400 organizations, including the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the organizations offer, “sincere thanks for the many positive steps you have taken to ease the pain of hunger which is still experienced by too many of our fellow Pennsylvanians … We believe that these relatively modest investments of Commonwealth resources will yield great benefits for Pennsylvanians struggling with hunger.”

A History Of Mercy – Healing After Abortion

Rachel-parishkit-logo-1Sometimes the media doesn’t quite get it right. When Pope Francis recently wrote on the topic of women who have had abortions, recent headlines suggested that the Catholic Church’s outreach to those suffering after abortion is a new phenomenon. But nothing could be further from the truth. From Jesus himself to our current pontiff, the Church has a long history of emphasizing forgiveness and healing for all who repent and seek help.

Throughout salvation history, God has welcomed those who repent from wrongdoing with special joy. Jesus concludes the parable of the lost sheep by saying: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7). When Simon and other Pharisees were scandalized that Jesus allowed a “sinful woman” to bathe his feet with her tears while dining at Simon’s house, Jesus holds her up as an example of humility, gratitude and love: “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, hence she has shown great love” (Lk 7:47). Not even once does Jesus reject a humble, contrite man or woman.

And because reconciliation and healing are at the heart of the Church’s mission, the Church has been on the forefront of post-abortion healing ministry for decades. Just after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide, the Catholic bishops recognized that those involved in abortion would have special sacramental and pastoral needs. In the 1975 Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, the blueprint for the Catholic Church’s pro-life efforts in our country, the body of U.S. Catholic bishops formally committed “the pastoral resources of the Church” to “the specific needs of…those who have had or have taken part in an abortion” (no. 6). In line with this commitment, U.S. bishops long ago affirmed the authority for priests in the U.S. that Pope Francis has now affirmed worldwide.

Over the years, the bishops have continued carrying out this commitment to forgiveness and healing by establishing and strengthening diocesan-based post-abortion healing ministries, most often called Project Rachel. This ministry gathers together the resources of the Church in the ongoing healing mission of Jesus. In dioceses and parishes throughout the country, Project Rachel helps provide opportunities for God’s mercy to transform the hearts of those wounded from abortion.

Echoing earlier, similar statements of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis gave confidence in God’s love and mercy to women who suffer from abortion, urging them to seek forgiveness and healing:

“I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father” (Letter of Pope Francis to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Sept. 1, 2015).

During the Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis is calling special attention to Christ’s mercy and the mission of the Church to bring the Gospel of mercy to all people. Pope Francis continues to shine light on Christ’s coming for all since everyone is a sinner in need of mercy.

If someone you know suffers because of involvement with abortion, please encourage him or her to talk to a priest or contact the nearest Project Rachel Ministry by visiting the “Find Help” map at or or calling (866) 3RACHEL . . . . And please pray that many will seek and receive the gift of God’s infinite mercy.

LIFE ISSUES FORUM by Mary McClusky is Assistant Director for Project Rachel Ministry Development at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For confidential help after abortion, visit or

Use Tax Dollars for Life Not Death

ultrasound2015Videos of Planned Parenthood officials callously speaking about the harvesting and apparent sale of unborn babies’ body parts have been viewed by millions.

But how can Planned Parenthood be involved in the possibly illegal selling of human body parts? One Planned Parenthood official is on video admitting, “It’s all just a matter of line items.” Planned Parenthood apparently gets paid for selling the organs and tissues of aborted children to research laboratories.

Planned Parenthood also receives millions of tax dollars each year to provide or refer for a variety of other services. In Fiscal Year 2013-2014, the abortion giant reported receiving $528 million in tax funding – or 41 percent of its total revenue.

It is time to support House Bill 1623, cosponsored by Rep. Paul Schemel and Rep. Judy Ward. This bill would prioritize public funds to entities that provide  comprehensive women’s health care and  prohibit the Department of Health from entering into contracts with or making grants to any entity that performs abortions (except federally qualified abortions) or maintains or operates a facility where such abortions are performed.

The Catholic Church is opposed to all abortions.  Though this bill will not stop funding for Medicaid abortions (those for rape, incest or life of the mother), it still constitutes a positive step in the right direction by restricting significant public funding to those programs that engage in the abortion trade.  That is an important restriction especially since the primary goal of the bill is not to advance abortion of any type but is to provide important health care services to women at many, accessible facilities around the Commonwealth.

Although government funds cannot currently be used to perform abortions, Planned Parenthood does spend taxpayer dollars to attract people into its clinics for other services, providing the opportunity to promote its abortion business.

Simply put, we can do better for women and children. Send a message to your legislator today in support of House Bill 1623.

Supreme Court Chooses to Hear HHS Mandate Cases

Freedom to serve the needy, great national tradition, at stake
Continue years of prayer for justice for those who offer mercy
Pope Francis paid surprise visit to Little Sisters, among those before Supreme Court

WASHINGTON–As the Supreme Court takes up the plea of religious ministries to uphold their fundamental right to offer comprehensive health coverage consistent with their religious convictions, Archbishop William E. Lori, Chairman of USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, is inviting everyone to join in prayer.

Archbishop Lori welcomed today’s decision:

“Charitable ministries across the nation simply want to provide life-affirming health care for their employees, without fear of massive government penalties. At stake is nothing less than their freedom to serve others. Let us pray for justice for those who offer mercy.

“For years, we have prayed that the federal government would not force those who serve the needy—such as the Little Sisters of the Poor—to fund or facilitate coverage for drugs and devices that violate their religious convictions. Today, as the matter moves to the Supreme Court, we renew our prayer that this basic freedom will prevail. This freedom is not only common sense, it is what the law requires. And it is in keeping with our great national tradition of respecting religious freedom and diversity, which Pope Francis recognized to be ‘one of America’s most precious possessions.’”

Archbishop Lori’s call to prayer follows Pope Francis’ recent affirmation of the efforts of the United States Bishops in reminding us that “all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend [religious] freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” Also during his recent trip to the U.S., Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor, whose case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on November 6 that it will take up all seven pending cases challenging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients. These cases include dozens of religious schools, universities, and charities, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, who run nursing homes across the country for the elderly poor.

Heating Assistance Available for Those in Need

winter heating program

Iwinter heating programt is a Thanksgiving tradition in many families to sit around the kitchen table and tell each other what we are thankful for each year. Has having heat in your home ever made the list?

A successful program called the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helped about 400,000 Pennsylvanians keep their heat on through last year’s rough winter. Catholic Charities agencies across the state refer people in need to this important program. Catholic parishes frequently do the same for those they serve.

LIHEAP provides assistance to renters or homeowners in the form of a cash grant, sent directly to the utility company, or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat.

The LIHEAP application process for the 2015-16 season is now underway, and officials encourage families to apply before the brutally cold weather hits our region.  Click here for application information.

Please help our Catholic Charities agencies and parishes ensure that this winter is a safe and healthy one by sharing information about LIHEAP with those who need assistance with their heating bill.