Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Busy time at Bishops’ Conference

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Introduction of immigration reform legislation has everyone excited. The fact that 11 million people will start on a legal path to citizenship is heartening after all the years of work that the U.S. bishops have put into this cause. Other churches have worked for immigration reform too. The Southern Baptists, for example, have just joined other evangelicals in a $250,000 media effort for this reform. Expect the bishops to continue to speak out on this issue.

Decisions expected to come down from the Supreme Court in June on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8 have USCCB on high alert. Marriage redefinition is unjust and serves no one’s good. There will be a national legal mess if such redefinition becomes the law of the land and legislatures everywhere have to rewrite statutes to accommodate it. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and many other organizations and individuals have filed “friend of the court” briefs in defense of marriage.

The bishops have an increasingly urgent concern over the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that coerces almost everyone, including religious organizations, to provide employee insurance coverage for contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and female sterilization. Dozens of entities, religious, non-profit and for-profit, are taking the matter to court holding that the government’s position violates the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law goes into effect for most nonprofit religious organizations in August.

Meanwhile, discrimination rears its ugly head in the world of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA exists to help people recover from disasters such as those brought by Hurricane Sandy, which left parts of New York and New Jersey in ruins, and tornados outside Oklahoma City, that leveled businesses and homes. The winds and rain did not discriminate in what property they destroyed, but FEMA indicates it will discriminate against houses of worship by denying them aid for recovery. It’s ironic given that houses of worship stand out as a community’s stabilizing force, a place where people find aid when nature-driven physical and psychological chaos surrounds them.

The Catholic Communications Campaign that underwrote efforts for media during the Papal Conclave in March will be pleased to know that media coverage of the papal visit was worth billions of dollars in U.S. “earned media,” to use the P.R. term for coverage you can’t buy, i.e. news coverage. The event drew worldwide coverage and the cardinal electors were stellar even before they presented Pope Francis to the world. The spirit generated during and after the papal election is, as MasterCard says, priceless.

Fortnight for Freedom will be June 21 to July 4, to celebrate and advocate for the First Amendment, which guarantees citizens’ right to the free exercise of their religious freedom, which is protected by the First Amendment as well as federal and state laws. The focus of the Fortnight will be on prayer and education to support religious freedom, especially in light of the many threats to this basic right in the U.S. and around the world. The Fortnight is not just for Catholics but for people of any faith who wish to exercise their faith free from government coercion.

World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro is expected to include about 7,000 pilgrims from the United States, including dozens of bishops. The July 23-28 event includes the participation of Pope Francis in the event in Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country.

And that’s all we know is coming. It may be a hot summer in several ways.

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