- Legislative Review
- Bishops’ Statements
To mark School Choice Week, Representative Mike Turzai visited De Paul Catholic High School in Philadelphia. Watch highlights from his visit here:
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference welcomes Governor Tom Wolf’s announcement of a “reprieve to inmate Terrance Williams, who was scheduled to be executed on March 4, 2015. Governor Wolf will grant a reprieve – not a commutation – in each future instance in which an execution for a death row inmate is scheduled, establishing an effective moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania.”
The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania have long been advocating for an end to the death penalty in Pennsylvania because the modern penal system provides alternatives to taking the lives of the guilty. Punishment should reflect our belief in the inherent human dignity of each person, and taking a life to avenge the death of another does not create a culture of life.
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. Just punishment, however, can be attained without resorting to execution. Even the most violent offenders who commit heinous crimes still have a dignity given by God.
In Living the Gospel of Life, the U.S. Bishops wrote, “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.”
In unity with Pope Francis and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the PCC reaffirms absolute respect and protection for every human life, from conception to natural death, even when one of those lives has been responsible for a heinous crime.
Society will not benefit from imposing the death penalty, nor will it be harmed by showing mercy. By turning away from the death penalty, we are embracing hope, not despair. Today’s announcement breaks the cycle of violence that so plagues our society. We hope that this spirit of respect for human life is shown throughout all laws and policies of the Commonwealth.
The Diocese of Erie was disappointed by the opinion issued today in the cases the Erie and Pittsburgh dioceses had brought against the government under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the United States Court of Appeals. At issue was whether the dioceses—which are exempt from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage for products and services against its teachings—can be considered separate from the nonprofit charitable and educational organizations they sponsor. If this ruling is allowed to stand, or unless Congress acts, it could mean that numerous entities operated by the Diocese of Erie may face the threat of crushing financial penalties if they refuse to comply with the mandate.
In November 2013, after an evidentiary hearing at which The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, bishop of Erie, The Most Rev. David Zubik, bishop of Pittsburgh, and The Most Rev. Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, testified, a preliminary injunction was issued by the United States District Court in Pittsburgh. That was made a permanent injunction in December 2013, after which the United States appealed.
The injunction had blocked the application of the regulations of the Affordable Care Act to the dioceses, Catholic Charities and related organizations. In a 3-0 decision authored by Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, the U.S. Court of Appeals today reversed the district court’s order granting the injunctions.
The court found that the regulations did not impose a substantial burden on the religious organizations and disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that the regulations improperly divided the Catholic Church into two tiers, with houses of worship getting an exemption and related religious organizations getting lesser protection. The Court of Appeals also reversed the order granting an injunction for Geneva College in its case. The Geneva case had been consolidated on appeal with the dioceses’ cases.
“The lower court ruling acknowledged that the good works the church provides are integral to who we are as believers,” Bishop Persico said. The new ruling means that the United States government has divided religious entities, including the Catholic Church, into two wings: (1) a “worship” wing limited to “houses of worship and religious orders” that provide religious services; and (2) a “charitable and educational” wing that provides what the government viewed as secular services. By that definition, agencies run by the church in all 13 counties of the Diocese of Erie, including the St. Martin Center in Erie, The Prince of Peace Center in Farrell, other Catholic Charities agencies as well as educational institutions including Cathedral Prep and Villa Maria Academy, will not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide services the church considers objectionable.
The diocese argued that the artificial distinction ignores the reality that the Catholic Church engages in charity and education as an exercise of religion. It maintains that by excluding Catholic charitable and educational organizations from the category of exempt “religious employers,” the U.S. government mandate is forcing the Catholic Church to act contrary to beliefs.
“Religious liberty means more than being able to go to Mass on Sunday,” Bishop Persico said. “It also means we should have the ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans in accordance with our religious beliefs.” He also said if the church is not free in its conscience and exercise of religion, all other freedoms are fragile.
“Freedom of religion is about much more than worshipping at Mass on Sunday,” Bishop Persico said. “We live out our faith through charitable and educational outreach.” The Diocese of Erie will study the opinion with its legal counsel and decide on its future course of action including possibly asking for rehearing by the full Court of Appeals or filing a petition for review in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We are, of course, very disappointed that the Court of Appeals did not accept our position that the threat of massive fines if we do not take action that causes the provision of services through our health plans, which we consider morally objectionable, is a substantial burden on the exercise of our religious beliefs,” Bishop Persico said.
The bishop also indicated his ongoing gratitude for the legal efforts of the Pittsburgh- based Jones Day law firm which has handled this issue on behalf of the Diocese of Erie on a pro bono basis.
Contact: Anne-Marie Welsh, director
Email Anne-Marie Welsh
The Ukrainian Catholic Bishops in the United States have issued an appeal to clergy, religious and faithful for meditation and fasting for Ukraine.
In their letter, the bishops state “The bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine with Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk have asked their faithful to fast and to pray daily for various intentions, among them, for the President and elected officials of Ukraine, for the conversion of the aggressors, for the Ukrainian army, for those who protect citizens, for the souls of the deceased, and for unity and independence of Ukraine. Let us join them in holy prayer and fasting!
The appeal continues “We, the Ukrainian Catholic Bishops of the United States call upon all of our clergy, religious and faithful to pray daily the special prayer for Ukraine provided with this appeal, and to devote precious time for quiet meditation and prayer for the intentions already cited by the bishops of Ukraine. Fast by pausing from our daily activities for an extended amount of time to reflect and pray for the people of Ukraine, and for the specific intentions given above. Meditate on the horrific sufferings of the people of Ukraine, as you pray to God for peace and unity. Pray to the Mother of God for her intercession with her Son, Jesus Christ and for her maternal protection of the people of Ukraine. Pause to identify with the suffering as you pray for peace. Sacrifice valued time and thought in prayer for our brothers and sisters who suffer!
The bishops also ask “that all of our clergy and faithful, following every Divine Liturgy and liturgical service say the Prayer for Peace for Ukraine,” encouraging the faithful to “be steadfast and continue to offer these prayers, fasting and meditation until peace and unity are achieved in Ukraine. ”
This special appeal from the bishops comes at a time when war is escalating in eastern Ukraine.
On Friday, Feb. 6, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, speaking at NATO Headquarters in Brussels stated, “Ukraine is fighting for its very survival right now. Russia continues to escalate the conflict by sending mercenaries and tanks and, as we euphemistically say in the United states, little green men, without patches, very sophisticated special operations soldiers.”
To date, over 5,000 people have been killed during hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
The appeal was signed by Metropolitan Stefan Soroka, Archbishop of Philadelphia for Ukrainians and Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States; Bishop Richard Seminack, Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago; Bishop Paul Chomnycky, OSBM, Eparchy of Stamford, Ct.; Bishop Bohdan Danylo, Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma; and Bishop John Bura, Auxiliary Bishop, Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
Protect Vulnerable People: Our brothers and sisters who have had to flee conflict in Syria and violence in Iraq now face harsh winter conditions. In Lebanon, Catholic Relief Services and our partner the Good Shepherd Sisters have been distributing shelter materials, food, blankets and heaters. In the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, thousands of people who fled the violence and threats by ISIS are also facing tough conditions without adequate shelter, supplies or even clothes. CRS and Caritas Iraq have worked in Erbil and Dohuk to provide safe shelter and other necessary supplies and services. Thanks to poverty-focused international assistance from the U.S. government, CRS and our partners are able to help those most in need.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and CRS support lifesaving programs funded by poverty-focused international development and humanitarian assistance. These programs address child survival and maternal health; HIV and AIDS; Ebola prevention and treatment; agriculture and food security; water and sanitation; health; peacekeeping; migration and refugee services; and infectious disease control. Contrary to popular misperceptions, poverty-focused development and humanitarian assistance represent just over 0.5% percent, or 0.6%, of the federal budget.
Promote Peace: The USCCB and CRS have long called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will build just and lasting peace for all people of the Holy Land. Last month Pope Francis expressed “a confident hope that negotiations between the two parties will once more resume, for the sake of ending violence and reaching a solution which can enable Palestinians and Israelis alike to live at last in peace within clearly established and internationally recognized borders, thus implementing the ‘two state solution.’” As people of faith, we believe that peace is possible. Now is the time for strong U.S. leadership to help promote a two-state solution.
Two Pennsylvania tax credit programs are providing a boon to Lancaster County’s seven Catholic schools.
Kristopher Nolt, a spokesman for Lancaster Catholic High School, said his school and its six partner elementary schools received more than $887,000 from area businesses for next school year. The money, for which the contributors get a tax credit, goes to student tuition scholarships.
The schools celebrated the contributions in a rally at Lancaster Catholic High School on Monday afternoon.
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, of the Harrisburg Diocese, said at the event that more than $3 million would go to Catholic school scholarships within his diocese next year through the state’s tax credit programs.
The Educational Improvement Tax Credit, which began in 2001, allows businesses to get tax credits for donations made to scholarship organizations or nonprofits that provide grants to schools.
The Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program was created in 2012. It allows businesses to earn tax credits for contributing to scholarships for students at low-performing public schools to attend private schools or neighboring public schools.
When Sister Mary Hoffman, OSB, and Sister Phyllis Schleicher, OSB, first opened the home base of the Catholic Rural Ministry in Port Allegheny, they had no idea the magnitude of the impact their presence would have on their local communities. Their presence in the Allegheny Mountains – dubbed by the Potter County Visitors Association as “God’s Country” – has allowed them to serve McKean and Potter County residents in ways they could never have planned.
Catholic Rural Ministry (CRM) of the Diocese of Erie started with the mission to bring a permanent presence of women religious to the rural areas and has since helped hundreds of people through a variety of programs which share the work of the Catholic Church and demonstrate what it means to be Catholic.
Sister Mary and Sister Phyllis, both Benedictine Sisters of Erie, were tasked with being present and available to the people of these rural towns. As the faces of Catholic Rural Ministry they do so much more. From visiting hospitals and nursing homes, caring for the elderly, conducting prayer gatherings and facilitating youth events to supporting ecumenical activities, the Sisters are busy working for the people they serve.
Throughout the year, the Sisters perform many acts of kindness as part of the Catholic Rural Ministry program. One project is tending a large garden that yields a variety of vegetables and produce which are then donated to area food pantries.
Sister Phyllis finds inspiration in serving others, “This is what brings us joy: showing concern for those who feel lost and helping those most in need of support, peace of mind and an invitation to community.”
The mission of the Catholic Rural Ministry is reflected in Pope Francis’s Joy of the Gospel: “Life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means.”
The Sisters’ work will never be finished in McKean and Potter Counties. CRM is an official Catholic Charity agency affiliated with the Diocese of Erie. With the help of grants and donations, CRM has been able to sustain its efforts but the ministry could always use more support.
Catholic Rural Ministry is one example of the services Catholic Charities provides across the state of Pennsylvania. Over 500,000 people of all faiths are served every year in Pennsylvania thanks to Catholic Charities.
For more information on the Catholic Rural Ministry, visit http://www.eriercd.org/rural.asp.
The Pennsylvania Council on American Private Education (PACAPE) has named Senator Dominic F. Pileggi (R-Chester) the “PA School Choice Champion Legislator of the Year” during National School Choice Week.
“Senator Pileggi is a hero who throughout his illustrious and distinguished career has provided a legacy of private education and school choice to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” noted Dr. D. Merle Skinner, Co-Coordinator of PACAPE.
“I am honored to have a chance to work for PA families in conjunction with Senator Pileggi’s leadership,” said Sean McAleer, Director of Education for Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
The event is timed to coincide with National School Choice Week, a nationwide celebration of the education options from traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, online academies, and home schools. More than 450 people are expected to attend the award ceremony.
PACAPE is organized to provide a framework for communication and cooperation among nonpublic jurisdictions and schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, preschool through secondary. In addition, PACAPE strives to maintain productive relationships with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Board of Education, the state and federal government, and other agencies which impact quality education.
National School Choice Week (January 25 – 31, 2015) will be America’s largest-ever celebration of opportunity in education. Featuring more than 10,700 independently-organized events across all 50 states, the Week shines a positive spotlight on effective education options for children. National School Choice Week is independent, nonpolitical, and nonpartisan, and embraces all types of educational choice – from traditional public schools to public charter schools, magnet schools, online learning, private schools, and homeschooling.