Hot Issues

Senator Casey Stands Up for Life in Anti-Trafficking Bill Vote

CaseyPhotoSenator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) this week voted in favor of legislation to combat human trafficking despite strong opposition from many in the Democratic Party. The controversy centered on a fund to help trafficking victims using fines from people convicted of human trafficking offenses. The legislation would restrict this federal funding from paying for abortion.

The language is similar to what is known as the Hyde Amendment which routinely bars the use of tax dollars for abortions. Casey was one of just four Senate Democrats who took the pro-life stand on S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. Unfortunately, the 55-43 vote was not enough to end the filibuster; 60 votes were needed to move the legislation to a vote.

Senator Toomey Cosponsors Pro-Life Bill

Senator Toomey

Senator Toomey

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey has signed on as a cosponsor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (S. 582).

The bill codifies a permanent, government-wide policy against taxpayer subsidies for abortion and abortion coverage. It also requires health plans offered under the Affordable Care Act to disclose the extent of their coverage for abortion and the amount of any surcharge for that coverage to consumers.

In January, Cardinal O’Malley of Boston praised the House of Representatives’ version of this bill, saying, “The federal government should not use its funding power to support and promote elective abortion, and should not force taxpayers to subsidize this violence. Even public officials who take a ‘pro-choice’ stand, and courts that have insisted on a constitutional ‘right’ to abortion, have agreed that the government has every right (in the Supreme Court’s words) to ‘encourage childbirth over abortion.”

“What would we have done without it?”

SacredHeart Classroom“What would we have done without it?”

That is the question one mother asked herself when speaking about the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC). After seeing her son thrive in the academically excellent and nurturing environment of her local Catholic school, this mom recognized that she had found the right school for her son’s learning needs.

The small class size, caring environment and specialized attention from teachers have made a positive difference in her son’s success.  Yet she added, “None of this would have been possible without EITC funding.”

Both EITC and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs are funded by companies that contribute to scholarship organizations in exchange for a tax credit. The longstanding EITC program has helped tens of thousands of students attend the school of their choice, including Catholic schools. The three-year-old OSTC program helps thousands more by giving special scholarships particularly for income eligible students who live in communities with the lowest performing public schools.

EITC tax credits are often depleted on the first day of their availability. OSTC credits are also exhausted. The need for more credits, to help more parents pick the best school for their children, is evident.

Please ask your legislator to cosponsor and vote in favor of House Bill 752, which would increase EITC and OSTC tax credits, so that even more parents can make a choice about the right school for their children.

Pope Francis: We must not abandon the elderly

Pope Francis Address Elderly(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday addressed members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who are meeting in Rome for their General Assembly.

In his remarks, the Holy Father spoke about the theme of the Assembly: “Assisting the elderly and palliative care.” Palliative care, he said, “is an expression of the properly human attitude of taking care of one another, especially of those who suffer. It bears witness that the human person is always precious, even if marked by age and sickness.”

Pope Francis also spoke of the duty of honouring the elderly, which he associated with the biblical commandment to honour one’s parents. On the contrary, he said, the Bible has a stern warning for those who neglect or mistreat their parents. This judgement applies today when parents, “having become older and less useful, are marginalized to the point of abandonment.”

The Pope explained that “to honour” can be understood in our day “as the duty to have extreme respect and to take care of those who, because of their physical or social condition, could be left to die, or ‘made to die’.”

Palliative care, Pope Francis said, recognizes, at the end of life, the value of the person. He called on all those involved in palliative care to preserve this spirit of service, and to remember that “all medical knowledge is truly science, in its most noble sense” only if it has in view the true good of the human being, a good that can never be achieved when it acts contrary to human life and dignity. “It is this capacity for service to the life and dignity of the sick, even when they are old, that is the measure of the true progress of medicine, and of all society.”

Click here to read the full text of the Holy Father’s address to the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Support the Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Congress should reaffirm the principle that government “should not force anyone to stop offering or covering much-needed legitimate health care” because of a conscientious objection to abortion or other procedures, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore. In a February 13 letter to the House of Representatives, the bishops, who chair the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), urged legislators to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940).

“It is increasingly obvious that Congress needs to act to protect conscientious objection to the taking of innocent human life,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Lori. “Recently California’s Department of Managed Health Care began demanding that all health plans under its jurisdiction include elective abortions, including late-term abortions. This mandate has no exemption for religious or moral objections, and is being enforced against religious universities, schools and even churches. Similar proposals have emerged in Washington and other states.”

The bishops noted that the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) section of the bill would give firmer legal basis to the Weldon amendment, part of every Labor/HHS appropriations bill since 2004, which forbids governmental bodies receiving federal funds to discriminate against those who decline to take part in abortion or abortion coverage. They noted that President Obama has expressed support for the Weldon amendment.

In addition, the bishops said that H.R. 940 would incorporate respect for rights of conscience into the Affordable Care Act, allowing those who purchase, provide and sponsor health coverage under the Act to opt out of abortion or other specific items that violate their moral and religious convictions. Finally the bill would recognize a private right of action for victims of discrimination under either provision, so they can go to court to defend their rights.

“We strongly urge you to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act,” the bishops concluded.

The full text of the letter is available online here. 

Send a message to your legislators here.

Catholic Parish Helps Immigrants of All Faiths in Berks County

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukranian Church Apostleship of Prayer chapter that helps coordinate parish outreach programs.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukranian Church Apostleship of Prayer chapter that helps coordinate parish outreach programs.

“It’s important for a parish to recognize the needs of the community and respond to it. In the Reading area, there is a large immigrant community. I was hearing from people – Catholics and non-Catholics – who were looking for language classes to help them better integrate into society,” said Father Andriy Rabiy, Pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic parish.

Father Rabiy recognized that the language barrier faced by many immigrants limits their ability to work and support their families and make connections with people in the community.

Relying on the talents of Emlyn Jones, a parishioner who had taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for 30 years, the people of the parish began to host regular ESL classes for residents of Reading, regardless of their faith. Perhaps because many of the families in this predominately Ukrainian parish recognized a connection with these immigrant families, the people of the parish were overwhelmingly supportive, donating to purchase books so that the classes can be provided free of charge. The Nativity ESL classes are offered in two tiers, introductory and intermediate, and have hosted up to 10 students per class.

The ESL classes aren’t the only way Nativity parish has supported the community.  In nearby Leesport,  the Berks Family Residential Center offers services for immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security, which runs the center, asked the parish to help a woman from Ukraine with two children who was seeking asylum status.  The parish again recognized a sister-in-need, and responded by helping with translation, donating clothing and food, and finding the family legal services and housing.  She has since been approved to work in this country.

The facility has contacted the parish to work with other people from Eastern European countries when they arrive in Berks County.

“We are helping people who are distressed. They are right here in our community, and we have a calling to help our brothers and sisters in need, regardless of their religion,” said Father Rabiy.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Reading is just one example of how the more than 1,000 Catholic parishes across the state offer support and assistance to their local community.  Others provide food pantries, clothing drives, and emergency assistance, among many other community services.

For more information about Nativity Parish, visit their website or Facebook page.

Please Support the Student Success Act

studentinclass2Urge your Representative to support reauthorization of ESEA by voting for the Student Success Act, HR5.

Current Situation/Background:  HR5 is the House version of the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Since its inception in 1965, ESEA has long upheld the principle that students in need, regardless of whether they attend a public or private school, are entitled to an equitable share of services and benefits.  However, following the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2004 (the last ESEA reauthorization), this principle has been continually eroded with private school students and their teachers no longer receiving the equitable share of services and benefits to which they are entitled and that Congress intended.  HR5 is the first step towards restoring equity and strengthening the historical safeguards designed to insure the fair and equitable treatment of private school students and their teachers.  The House plans to begin considering HR5 on Wednesday and vote on the bill Friday.

USCCB Postion/Church Teaching:  As the U.S. Bishops reiterated in their 2005 statement Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, “government at all levels, acting in partnership with parents, has a responsibility to provide adequate professional and material resources to assist all children to attain a quality education.”  The Student Success Act’s provisions related to improving access to services to students in need and their teachers, regardless of where they attend school, makes a substantial contribution to putting the needs of students and their families first.


Our state doesn’t need to rely on execution, and it shouldn’t

Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf made a bold decision to grant a temporary reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4. The governor vowed to grant other reprieves, in effect declaring a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania.

Williams would have been the first “involuntary” execution in Pennsylvania since 1978. Three others who waived their appeals have died by lethal injection since then, the last in 1999. Currently, about 200 people sit on Pennsylvania’s death row.

These inmates are convicted of serious and violent criminal acts. They deserve severe punishment for their crimes; but we must ask ourselves, is it necessary for us to put them to death?

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has long opposed the death penalty. The Catholic Church is committed to upholding the dignity and sanctity of every human life — even the life of a person convicted of a most heinous crime. Our Christian faith calls all people to grow in respect for human life and to oppose the death penalty in our modern society.

In “Living the Gospel of Life,” the Catholic Bishops of the United States affirmed, “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others. The antidote to violence is love, not more violence.”

Catholic opposition to the use of the death penalty should not be construed as a lack of compassion for those who have been affected by violent crime. People convicted of capital offenses must be punished effectively and appropriately for their crimes. Family and friends of victims, and society as a whole, demand this; but can true emotional, spiritual and even physical healing be found in vengeance?

Read the entire op-ed here.

Pennsylvania Native Serves as Catholic Relief Services Fellow


Jerica with Janvier (middle), the Food Security Team Leader, as a beneficiary from the Keurig Green Mountain project shows one of his crop seedlings which he intends to sell at the market in order to buy more diverse foods for his family. The program supports small coffee farmers in agriculture and livelihood activities.

Many Catholics know of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as the international charitable outreach of the church. When the devastating typhoon hit the Philippines, parishes across Pennsylvania held collections to send aid.

Emergency relief is an important part of CRS’s work, but they do so much more.  Over 4,500 people work with CRS in 93 countries, serving nearly 100 million of the poorest people in the world each year. CRS addresses the root causes of poverty, drought and disease in partnership with the local Catholic Church across the globe.

Jerica Youngken, a Diocese of Scranton native from Our Lady of Victory Parish in Tannersville, PA, long admired CRS’s work and is serving as an International Development Fellow in Kigali, Rwanda.

While the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network is working to affect change here, Jerica and other CRS fellows and missionaries are likewise improving communities across the globe.

Jerica took time from her service in Rwanda to answer a few questions.

What is the most striking difference between life in Pennsylvania and Rwanda?

The most striking difference for me is the pace of life. I often find that in Pennsylvania I rush from one thing to the next and I hardly take the time to really treasure the current moment. I am also always “plugged in” to the TV, computer, or smart phone.

In Rwanda, on the other hand, a large emphasis is placed on time spent with friends and family. When you run into someone you know on the street you take the time to properly greet them and have a conversation. Our office takes a break each day to share tea and coffee together and catch up on our lives outside of work. In the evenings I often visit a friend and we enjoy one another’s company without the distraction of electronics. Life in Rwanda feels much more peaceful and intentional in many ways.

How did your Catholic upbringing impact your desire to help others?

I was a student at a Catholic CCD program and attended Villanova University where my desire to serve others really took root. I participated in various Campus Ministries and even went on several service trips, both domestically and abroad. After college I volunteered with the Salesian Lay Missioners in Cochabamba, Bolivia. While there I worked at a Catholic orphanage for girls and decided that I wanted to pursue a career in international relief and development in order to use my gifts to assist others in bettering their quality of life and ensuring their human dignity.

How has the experience affected your Catholic faith?

Every time I travel abroad, and therefore far away from my closest friends and family, I am reminded of God’s unyielding love for me. It is in those moments when I am feeling alone, unsure, or simply unsettled that I feel God reaching out and reminding me that He is always there to guide and comfort me.

I also believe that my faith is strengthened everyday by observing the faith of our projects’ beneficiaries. Despite enduring food insecurity, malnutrition, barriers to healthcare and education, and numerous other hardships, they give thanks to God for the blessings they do have – family, a roof over their head, their community – and have faith that God will continue to provide. They have inspired me to constantly reflect on the blessings in my own life.

Where do you see this fellowship taking you next?

The beauty of the fellowship program is that we [the fellows] are exposed to many different areas of programming and operations, enabling us to gain a true sense of what we would like to pursue after the fellowship ends. For me specifically, the fellowship has confirmed my interest in pursuing a position in business development and/or program quality, preferably in the Latin American region.

Learn more about Catholic Relief Services here.