Monday, January 30, 2012

Here Comes Everybody ... on HHS

"Here comes everybody," author James Joyce once said in describing the Catholic Church.

The response to the January 20 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandating private health insurance programs to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives (including those that can induce an abortion) has brought new life to the expression. Everybody is weighing in on this.

First, the bishops:
Letters, statements and other messages also came from:

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans; Cardinal-designate Edwin O'Brien, administrator of Baltimore; Archbishop Roger Scwietz of Anchorage, Alaska; Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine; Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa; Cardinal DiNardo; Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Illinois; Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana; Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington (who also issued a joint letter with Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond); Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York; Archbishop Jose Gomez and Cardinal Roger Mahony on Los Angeles; all of the bishops of Michigan (courtesy of the Michigan Catholic Conference); Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, California; Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri; Bishop David Kagan of Bismark, North Dakota; Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island; Bishop Peter Christensen of Superior, Wisconsin; Bishop Michael Jackels of Wichita, Kansas; Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona; Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington, Delaware; Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa; Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois; Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, Florida; Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas; Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan; Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina; Archbishop John Myers of Newark, New Jersey; Bishop Joseph McFadden of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Bishop David O'Connell of Trenton, New Jersey; Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland, Oregon; Bishop Lawrence Brandt of Greensburg, Pennsylvania; Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky; Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota; Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Florida; Bishop Frederick Campbell of Columbus, Ohio; Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania; Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati; Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York; Bishop Gregory Hartmayer of Savannah, Georgia; Bishop George Coleman of Fall River, Massachusetts; Bishop Glen John Provost of Lake Charles, Louisiana; Bishop Roger Foys of Covington, Kentucky; Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, California; Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin; Bishop Michael Driscoll of Boise, Idaho; Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii; Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami; Bishop Michael Sheriden of Colorado Springs; Bishop Robert Gruss of Rapid City, South Dakota; Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, Texas; Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque, Iowa; Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida; Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland; Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri; Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida; BIshop Terry LaValley of Ogdensburg, New York; Bishop Armando Ochoa, administrator of El Paso, Texas; and Bishop Timothy McDonnell of Springfield, Massachusetts.

And not just bishops, an array of other organizations, as well as both Catholic and secular media have weighed in on the topic:
Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress blog encapsulates all of this by noting that the silver lining of this rule has been how it's brought about a so much unity in an often fractious Church.

A true "here comes everybody" moment.

Note: Catholics wishing to take additional action on this matter can go here for more information and an action alert.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Health and Human Services’ recent attacks on freedom of religion show it is deaf to religious sensibilities. Even the Administration’s resounding defeat on January 11—when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Administration’s reading of the First Amendment as “extreme,” “untenable,” and having “no merit”—couldn’t unplug its ears.

The Court held in Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC that the government could not meddle in the internal affairs of religious organizations, in this case, a Lutheran church and school. Yet nine days later, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would force all but a few religious organizations to violate their own teachings in providing health care benefits to their own people. Specifically, the government has ordered virtually all employers—nationwide— to sponsor and subsidize health care coverage of sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, for their employees. And it gave church employers a year to get in line.

The First Amendment unambiguously says that government “shall make no law” prohibiting the free exercise of religion. It doesn’t say that some laws trampling free exercise are fine. It says no law.

Yet, nine days after the Hosanna-Tabor decision, on January 20, HHS announced its decision to keep in place the frightening mandate in the health care law, with barely the slightest nod to religious concerns. HHS holds to the absurd rule it announced last August, that church ministries get a religious exemption only if they employ and serve primarily co-religionists.

Must Catholic hospitals, to be true to their identity, now turn away people of other faiths from their emergency rooms and fire non-Catholic employees? Currently, Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care in our country. Must Catholic Charities hire and serve only Catholics in its food pantries and other social service agencies? Until today, you didn’t need a baptismal certificate for soup.

This egregious violation of religious freedom marks the first time in our history that the federal government is forcing religious people and groups to ante up for services that violate their consciences. Some claim this is all about access to contraceptives—but everyone knows how and where to get them, and get them cheaply. And the mandate also forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-causing drugs. This is about forcing the church to pay for all these things through insurance coverage, to sponsor these “benefits” that it considers immoral. This is, in other words, about freedom of religion, which is a foundation stone of U.S. democracy.

The government allows other religions to live out their beliefs. The Amish have a conscientious objection to health insurance, and so the law exempts them from buying it. The government acknowledges their right to live out their religious convictions in U.S. society. Why are beliefs of Catholics and others dismissed?

Some months ago HHS refused to award an anti-trafficking grant to the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). It did so despite MRS’s scoring higher on an objective scale (according to the government’s independent advisors evaluating grant applications) than two of the three organizations that were awarded grants. (And two of those scored so low that they were deemed unqualified.) I suggested then that HHS had an ABC rule, “Anybody But Catholics.” Now I wonder if ABC isn’t also the answer to who gets freedom of religion.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A System of Fifty State Immigration Laws Is Untenable

Immigration advocates, Catholic leaders and others gathered in Utah this week to examine the consequences of federal inaction on comprehensive immigration reform and state and local legislation, particularly enforcement-only measures.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City delivered January 11 the keynote address at the “Immigration: A 50 State Issue” conference, organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in partnership with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network . He offered a look into the model of the “Utah Compact” and made the case for how, in the absence of federal legislation, state compacts offer an opportunity for people with diverging opinions on immigration to come together and take action for the common good.

Local media such as the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News have reported on the event. Excerpts from Bishop Wester’s welcome address, “Catholic Public Policy and State Compacts” follow.


Time is up for comprehensive immigration reform. But it is the American public, including the Catholics, who will decide the final outcome.

This is an important time in the immigration debate in this nation. While Congress has failed to address this issue, our state legislatures and local governments are not hesitating to attempt to fill the vacuum. Instead of one consistent national policy, we are now confronted with hundreds of State and local immigration policies, the majority of which are harmful to immigrant families and communities.

Rather than looking at the moment as a daunting challenge, we should look upon it as an opportunity. Congress will not act on this issue unless a strong national consensus emerges, where the majority of Americans agree on a path forward and communicate that to their federal, elected officials. The only way that will happen is if the American people are educated on the issues and the realities of immigration, and that can only occur if the issue is right in front of them, being debated in their local communities. Catholics must be part of and help bring about such consensus.

Different laws, particularly enforcement-only initiatives, played out in fifty States are bound to fail, since they will not fix a broken federal immigration system. Immigrants, over 70 percent of whom have been here five years or longer, are not leaving; they are just hiding in fear.

We must continue to fight because of the real suffering that is occurring in immigrant families and communities. There are four million U.S. citizen children who have one or more undocumented parents. The combination of Federal-State enforcement partnerships and federal enforcement actions has led to an unprecedented separation of families. Nearly a quarter of those deported in the last year were part of a family with a U.S.-citizen—most likely a child. They also have led to a record number of deportations over the past three years.

How do we fight these State and Local immigration laws? Here in Utah, we have employed the Utah Compact, which helped us define the debate in this State. Three laws were passed. The Compact principles helped diffuse a much harsher enforcement-only bill.

The compact was an effort to bring leaders from the civic, political, religious, business, legal and law enforcement community around a common set of principles, but from a state perspective. These principles are meant to guide our state leaders who must grapple with the realities of a broken immigration system in our country, and who hopefully do not forget that immigration is a human, moral issue and not simply a political debate.

The Utah compact contains several elements consistent with Catholic teaching:

  • First, it emphasizes that immigration is best addressed on the federal level, rather than on the State and local levels.
  • Second, it acknowledges and supports the need for law enforcement of immigration laws, but with respect for basic human rights.
  • Third, it talks about the break-up of families. Local initiatives have had a harsh impact on family unity. Children are the victims of family separation.
  • Fourth, it highlights the economic contributions of immigrants, and how they work in important industries in Utah. Immigrants, by and large, possess a strong work ethic and enhance our economic life—as consumers and producers of goods.
  • Finally, we live in a free society, in which we enjoy basic constitutional rights guaranteed by our Founding Fathers and our Constitution. Basic human rights are guaranteed by our Creator.

The ultimate goal of a Compact is to build pressure for federal reform. A system of fifty State laws which supplant federal authority is untenable.

We do not believe enforcement alone is the answer. Rather, it must be coupled with humane reforms in our legal immigration system that will allow immigrants to play by a fair and equitably administered set of rules. That is not the case in our current system—only the federal government can achieve this balance.

I am gratified by the fact that there is now also an Iowa Compact which has been released, and an “Arizona Accord,” being developed. I hope that you will consider such a tool in your efforts on the State and local level.

+ Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City

Did you know...MRS helped reunite 331 unaccompanied children with their families in 2011?

Did You Know...

... that Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has an active children services program? If there such thing as a vulnerable population in the world, it is children, and particularly children who are left to fend for themselves or who have been separated from their families. MRS provides residential care for unaccompanied children through a network of foster care programs nationwide. This program provides housing, food, clothing, and other much needed services to children who are under our care. MRS also works with the federal government and over 130 providers across the country to reunite children with their families. In Fiscal Year 2011, MRS helped reunite 331 children and provided them with a wide range of social services to ensure their continued health and safety. The top three nationalities were Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan.

More information here

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti, fully functional and gaining steam

Today we mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and other surrounding areas, leaving behind unthinkable destruction and tremendous suffering. As we remember the victims and renew our commitment not to forget the survivors of this tragedy, it is worth noting that the implementation of the Partnership for Church Reconstruction in Haiti (PROCHE) is now fully underway. The first projects are being executed and will be soon followed by others. Momentum is building and we can anticipate much progress in 2012.

Just in the past two months PROCHE’s construction unit office (known as UOC) has processed 50 project applications and submitted 20 of them to PROCHE’s Executive Committee for review and funding recommendation. Of these, ten are currently moving forward with design and eventual construction. In November 2011, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved funding for the design phase of three of those projects. Additional projects are now under consideration.

In September 2010, the Church in Haiti and sister churches, as well as donor organizations including the USCCB, agreed to create PROCHE, an entity within the Haitian bishops’ conference that would ensure all construction projects would meet requisite quality requirements. These requirements include seismic and cyclonic design criteriaas well as guarantee accountability of all disbursed funds. A construction unit was to be established with technical and accounting staff, providing PROCHE with the means to accomplish its reconstruction mission.

In November 2011, 14 months after the historic partnership was created, this vision became a reality when the UOC became functional with six technical and support staff working in a fully operational office in Port-au-Prince. This is the result of significant investments made by all the partners involved. But much remains to be done, and all of PROCHE’s partners continue their commitment to making sure that soon the Church in Haiti can see many churches, schools and convents rebuilt. Numerous plans of eventual construction projects are now being finalized so that construction can begin.

Did you know...the Cuban-Haitian Program served more than 9,400 in 2011?

Did you know…

... that Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has a Cuban/Haitian Program located in Miami?

Here is a peek into the fantastic work that they do in Florida. The program is a historic leader in helping Cubans and Haitians who resettle in the United States under unique and complex immigration laws. Since 1995, this program has served a whopping 198,949 clients, the greater majority of which are Cuban.

In 2011, the program served 9,417 clients (trust me when I tell that it is a small office, and so that is a lot of people to serve!). The Miami Office was also integral providing support for Haitians who were adversely brought to the United States for medical support following the January 12, 2010 earthquake, which took the lives of some 300,000 Haitians.

Find more information on the Cuban-Haitian Program on our website.

Picture: Haitian children pose for picture during visit by a USCCB delegation to Port-au-Prince after devastating earthquake in 2010

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Did you know...73% of trafficked persons are victims of slave labor?

Did You Know...

.... that from April 2006 through October 10, 2011, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had an exclusive contract with the government to provide health, psychological and related services to survivors of human trafficking?

During this period USCCB provided services to 2,223 victims, along with 512 family members. In doing so, the Conference helped to provide former slaves with the opportunity for a new life and new opportunities. Of victims served, a full 73% of clients served were victims of slave labor. This flies in the face of widely accepted common wisdom, which tends to identity human trafficking with forced prostitution or other forms of sexual slavery. Further, 44% of clients were male, with the remaining 56% female.

The work that the staff USCCB anti-trafficking office has done in recent years deserves recognition and we should thank them for their efforts to help some of the most vulnerable populations on this planet.

For more information, click here.

Picture: This desperate mother traveled from her village in Nepal to Mumbai, India, hoping to find and rescue her teenage daughter who was trafficked into an Indian brothel. Nepalese girls are prized for their fair skin and are lured with promises of a "good" job and the chance to improve their lives. "I will stay in Mumbai," said the mother, "Until I find my daughter or die. I am not leaving here without her." (Credit: “Kay Chernush for the U.S. State Department.”)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Did you know... MRS resettled 27% of refugeess into U.S. in 2011?

Did you know…

... that the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) resettled 15,543 of just under 57,000 refugees, or 27 percent of all refugees admitted into the United States in 2011? While the total number of refugees resettled by the USCCB signified a decrease from 2010, the total percentage remained competitive with the previous year. The top six nationalities resettled by the Conference were Bhutanese, Burmese, Iraqi, Somali, Cubans and Iranians, along with smaller groups of Congolese and Eritreans. Enormous thanks go out to the USCCB staff in Resettlement Services, and to the staff of the over 100 diocesan resettlement offices across the country, who make this work possible.

For more information, please visit the Resettlement Services page.