IMAGE: CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, ReutersBy Ann RodgersPITTSBURGH (CNS) -- The Pittsburgh
Diocese said Bishop David A. Zubik is making every effort to achieve a swift
negotiated solution to the diocese's dispute with the federal government over
religious freedom in relation to the federal contraceptive mandate, as directed
by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We have always been willing to
meet with representatives of the government to negotiate a mutually agreeable
solution to our impasse over religious freedom," said a diocesan statement
issued Aug. 10.
In a May 16 unanimous decision
in Zubik v. Burwell, a
consolidated case of challenges to the contraceptive mandate filed by several
Catholic and other religious entities, the Supreme Court sent the case back to
lower courts, vacated earlier judgments against those parties opposing the
mandate, and encouraged the plaintiffs and the federal government to resolve
Zubik v. Burwell involves the
Little Sisters of the Poor, Priests for Life, the Pennsylvania dioceses of
Pittsburgh and Erie, the Archdiocese of Washington, and other Catholic and
faith-based entities challenging the Affordable Care Act's mandate that most
religious and other employers must cover contraceptives, sterilization and
abortifacients through employer-provided health insurance -- even if the
employers oppose the coverage on moral grounds. They see the mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, as a violation of their religious freedom.
"Zubik" in the case
name is Bishop Zubik, and "Burwell" is HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews
The plaintiffs, who do not fit
the narrow exemption to the contraceptive mandate the government gives to
churches, argue that providing contraceptive coverage even indirectly through a
third party, as the Obama administration allows through what it calls an
accommodation, still violates their religious beliefs.
The government argues its
existing opt-out provision for these employers does not burden their free
exercise of religion.
"Our counsel and counsel for the
other Supreme Court litigants had a meeting with representatives of the
Department of Justice, at which we attempted to engage in the kind of
resolution talks that the Supreme Court intended in its order," the Pittsburgh
Diocese said in its statement. "The government has been slow to offer anything
of substance to pursue a negotiated solution, except to mention openness to
Bishop Zubik initiated the
lawsuit against the government on behalf of Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh,
arguing that it is a violation of religious freedom to force a religious
organization to facilitate access to anything that it teaches is immoral.
After Bishop Zubik won an
initial victory in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh in November 2013, the
case was appealed until it reached the Supreme Court this year.
In its May decision, the high courts
urged the lower courts to give the litigants time to find a negotiated
solution. The high court also affirmed that the diocese and the others could
not be fined during those negotiations.
However, the diocese has learned
that the Department of Justice is pressuring secular insurance companies that
have contracts with the diocese, and with other religious organizations, to
begin providing church employees with the objectionable coverage.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh, along
with several neighboring dioceses, is self-insured through the Catholic
Benefits Trust. Catholic Benefits Trust hires secular insurance companies to
handle the administration and claims for its plans.
Those companies have told the
diocese that they recently received letters from the Department of Justice
directing them to provide the disputed coverage at their own expense, said
Christopher Ponticello, general counsel of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
"Since the Supreme Court issued
its ruling strongly directing that the parties negotiate a mutually agreeable
resolution to this matter, we have remained hopeful and open to those talks,"
told the Pittsburgh Catholic diocesan newspaper.
"It is discouraging to see this
aggressive action taken by the government," he said. "We hope to prevail upon
the Department of Justice to stop this latest action without having to pursue
additional litigation. We have believed from the beginning that an agreement
could be reached that would allow the government to accomplish its goals
without involving the church in the process."
The diocese has not paid
anything for its legal representation in Zubik v. Burwell. All costs associated
with the litigation have been donated by the legal firm of Jones Day.
Mickey Pohl, one of the Jones
Day attorneys who has been representing Bishop Zubik, the diocese, Catholic
Charities and other religious organizations in this litigation, said: "It is
extremely disappointing that the Department of Justice is trying to pressure
insurers to steamroll the religious objections of Catholics and other people of
faith who have been part of this litigation. It is also troublesome that these
assaults on freedom of religion have not been the subject of inquiry by the
mainstream media during this election cycle."
The Aug. 10 statement from the
diocese said that "we are aware that the government has made an extremely
aggressive interpretation of the court's order in the Zubik case and is
apparently trying to take over -- to force our third-party administrators to
include the objectionable coverage in our self-insured plans.""We think that is
an erroneous reading of what the Supreme Court said," it continued. "Furthermore, as the
government seems to acknowledge, because we are self-insured there is no obligation
or authority for the third-party administrator to provide the objectionable
If the fines for not
facilitating the coverage were imposed, Ponticello said, they would bankrupt
Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh. Each year that agency provides about $10
million in services, such as free medical and dental care, and support to
homeless women and veterans, to people of all faiths in southwestern
"The Supreme Court also made
clear that we cannot be fined or penalized for refusing to comply with the
government's current regulations," the statement said. "Therefore, we believe
the government's position is wrong. In order to avoid future litigation, we
will try to work through these issues with our insurers, third-party administrators
and the government. Our counsel is actively working on this endeavor, and we
remain in prayer for a mutually agreeable solution."
In late July, the Obama
administration opened a public-comment period seeking input on ways the
government can comply with religious employers' refusal on moral grounds to
cover contraceptives for employees and at the same time make sure those
employees get such coverage.
- - -
Rodgers is general manager of
the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via EPABy Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hearing the mayor of Amatrice in
central Italy say his town no longer exists and knowing there were children who
died Aug. 24 in the earthquakes that struck the region, Pope Francis turned his
weekly general audience into a prayer service.
Beginning the audience in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis
said he had prepared a normal audience talk on how the merciful Jesus is close
to people, but given the devastation in central Italy, he decided to lead the
recitation of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary.
Later in the day, the Vatican press office said that as a
concrete sign of Pope Francis' concern for the earthquake victims, six Vatican
firefighters had been sent to Amatrice. They will work under the direction of
the Italian government emergency services in searching for victims and offering
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.2
quake had an epicenter close to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.
Smaller quakes -- at least two of which registered more than
5.0 -- continued for several hours after the main quake. By early evening,
the death toll had reached 120 but was expected to rise; more than 350 were reported injured.
As emergency workers began digging people out from under the
rubble of collapsed buildings and the number of verified deaths climbed, Pope
Francis arrived in St. Peter's Square for his general audience.
"Hearing the news of the earthquake that has struck
central Italy and devastated entire areas, leaving many dead and wounded, I
cannot fail to express my heartfelt sorrow and my closeness" to everyone
in the earthquake zone, especially those who lost loved ones and "those
who are still shaken by fear and terror," the pope said.
"Having heard the mayor of Amatrice say, 'The town no
longer exists,' and knowing that there are children among the dead, I am deeply
saddened," Pope Francis said.
The pope thanked all the volunteers and emergency workers
who were trying to rescue victims people trapped under the rubble.
Assuring the people in the region of the prayers and
"the embrace of the whole church," the pope asked the estimated
11,000 pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square to join him in praying that
"the Lord Jesus, who is always moved by human suffering, would console the
brokenhearted and give them peace."
At the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, a community growing
in fame because of its prayer life and brewery, the 15 monks and five guests
were already awake when the first quake hit, Benedictine Father Benedict
Nivakoff told Catholic News Service. Aug. 24 is the feast of St. Bartholomew
and "on feast days we get up earlier" to pray, he said.
"All of the monks and the monks' guests are safe,"
he said. But the Basilica of St. Benedict suffered "considerable
structural damage," and the monastery will need repairs as well.
Within a half hour of the first quake, Father Nivakoff said,
the square outside the monastery was filled with people "because it is the
safest place in town -- around the statue of St. Benedict."
While no buildings collapsed, it is obvious that many homes
are no longer habitable, he said. The monks have set up a reception desk to
help meet their neighbors' needs.
The basilica, he said, is closed pending an inspection by
civil engineers, who were to arrive the afternoon of Aug. 24. However, Father
Nivakoff said, "the facade seems to have detached" from the rest of
the building and major repairs are likely.
Assisi is just 45 miles from Norcia and, according to
Franciscan Father Enzo Fortunato, the quake was felt strongly at the convent
and basilica that suffered major damage from an earthquake in 1997.
Father Fortunato told the Italian news agency ANSA that the
quake woke all the friars, many of whom ran to the Basilica of St. Francis. No
damage was visible, he said.
- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Michael KellyDUBLIN (CNS) -- The trustees of Ireland's national seminary
have agreed to bring in a specific policy to protect whistleblowers after
serious allegations were made about life in the college.
The Aug. 23 announcement also followed a decision by Dublin Archbishop
Diarmuid Martin to pull his students from St. Patrick's College, Maynooth,
after publicly raising misgivings about the life and governance of the 221-year
The archbishop referred to claims of what he described as a "gay
culture" in the seminary and further allegations that some seminarians
have been using a gay dating app. Archbishop Martin said some of the
allegations had been shown to be true.
The seminary trustees -- 13 senior Irish bishops, including
Archbishop Martin -- said in a statement that "there is no place in a seminary
community for any sort of behavior or attitude which contradicts the teaching
and example of Jesus Christ."
The statement said the trustees "share the concerns
about the unhealthy atmosphere created by anonymous accusations, together with
some social media comments which can be speculative or even malicious."
The trustees agreed to "review current policies and
procedures for reporting complaints with a view to adopting best practice
procedures for 'protected disclosures' (whistle-blowing)."
They said they would ask the Irish bishops' conference to
conduct an independent audit and report of governance and statutes in the three
Irish seminaries: Maynooth, the Pontifical Irish College in Rome and St.
Malachy's College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. They also agreed to reassess
future personnel and resource needs for the seminary.
The statement said "the trustees accept their
responsibility for ensuring that the national seminary adheres to best practice
in all areas of training for priesthood and that college staff are trained to
the highest level in accordance with requisite professional standards and the
requirements of the Holy See."
Archbishop Martin first raised concerns publicly in early
August when he said "there seems to an atmosphere of strange goings-on
there (Maynooth); it seems like a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters
being sent around.
"There are people saying that anyone who tries to go to
the authorities with an allegation are being dismissed from the seminary,"
the archbishop said.
"I don't think this is a good place for students,"
There was no immediate reaction from Archbishop Martin to
the trustees' meeting and no indication as to whether he would change his mind
as a result of the trustees' intervention.
In early August, he said he had offered to provide an
independent person for whistleblowers to approach, but the response to this
offer was the publication of more anonymous letters. At the time, the
archbishop said authorities in Maynooth "have to find a way to let people
come forward with solid evidence to substantiate the allegations."- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IMAGE: CNS photo/CJ Gunther, EPABy Mark PattisonWASHINGTON
(CNS) -- Today's "economic and political forces have led to increasingly lowered
economic prospects for Americans without access to higher education, which is
having a direct impact on family health and stability," said Archbishop
Thomas G. Wenski of Miami.He made the comments as the author of this year's Labor Day statement from the U.S. bishops.
the decline in good jobs to family woes, Archbishop Wenski said, "Over half of
parents between the ages of 26 and 31 now have children outside of a marriage,
and research shows a major factor is the lack middle-skill jobs -- careers by
which someone can sustain a family above the poverty line without a college
degree -- in regions with high income inequality."The statement, dated Sept. 5, Labor Day, was released Aug. 22. Archbishop Wenski is
chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human
rates and the rate of single-parent households break down along similar
educational and economic lines," he continued. "Financial concerns and breakdowns in family
life can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair. The Rust Belt region now
appears to have the highest concentration in the nation of drug-related deaths,
including from overdoses of heroin and prescription drugs."
quoted from Pope Francis' address to Congress during the pope's U.S. visit last
September: "I would like to call attention to those family members who are the
most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless
possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped
in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our
problems. We cannot avoid them."
pope added, "We live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a
family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture
presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting
Wenski said, "When our leaders ought to be calling us toward a vision of the
common good that lifts the human spirit and seeks to soothe our tendencies
toward fear, we find our insecurities exploited as a means to further partisan
agendas. Our leaders must never use anxiety as a means to manipulate persons in
desperate situations, or to pit one group of persons against another for
touting the "sanctity of work," Archbishop Wenski said, "Dignified work is at
the heart of our efforts because we draw insight into who we are as human
beings from it." St, John Paul II, in his encyclical "Laborem Exercens" ("On Human Work"), "reminded
us that human labor is an essential key to understanding our social
relationships, vital to family formation and the building up of community
according to our God-given dignity," the archbishop added.
engage with our neighbors and our communities, we quickly find ways to deepen
solidarity in a broader way, and to act on the structures and policies that
impact meaningful work and family stability," Archbishop Wenski said.
put, we must advocate for jobs and wages that truly provide a dignified life
for individuals and their families, and for working conditions that are safe
and allow for a full flourishing of life outside of the workplace," he added. "Unions
and worker associations, while imperfect, remain an essential part of the
effort, and people of faith and goodwill can be powerful leaven to ensure that
these groups, so important in society, continue to keep human dignity at the
heart of their efforts."
you are an employer, you are called to respect the dignity of your workers
through a just wage and working conditions that allow for a secure family life,"
Archbishop Wenski said.
we will begin to restore a sense of hope and lasting change that places our
economic and political systems at the service of the human person once more."- - -Editor's Note: The full text of the U.S. bishops' Labor Day statement is available in English and Spanish at, respectively, http://tinyurl.com/hm9dcoa and http://tinyurl.com/goq6kkr.- - -Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at email@example.com.
By Cindy WoodenVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation on
the family is an example of the "ordinary magisterium" -- papal teaching
-- to which Catholics are obliged to give "religious submission of will
and intellect," said an article in the Vatican newspaper.
Father Salvador Pie-Ninot, a well-known professor of
ecclesiology, said that while Pope Francis did not invoke his teaching
authority in a "definitive way" in the document, it meets all the
criteria for being an example of the "ordinary magisterium" to which
all members of the church should respond with "the basic attitude of
sincere acceptance and practical implementation."
The Spanish priest's article in L'Osservatore Romano Aug. 23
came in response to questions raised about the formal weight of the pope's
document, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"). For
instance, U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke has said on several occasions that the
document is "a mixture of opinion and doctrine."
Father Pie-Ninot said he examined the document in light of
the 1990 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the
vocation of the theologian.
The instruction -- issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
now-retired Pope Benedict XVI -- explained three levels of church teaching with the corresponding levels of
assent they require. The top levels are: "Infallible pronouncements,"
which require an assent of faith as being divinely revealed; and teaching
proposed "in a definitive way," which is "strictly and
intimately connected with revelation" and "must be firmly accepted
A teaching is an example of "ordinary
magisterium," according to the instruction, "when the magisterium,
not intending to act 'definitively,' teaches a doctrine to aid a better
understanding of revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how
some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard
against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for
is that of the religious submission of will and intellect."
"Amoris Laetitia" falls into the third category,
Father Pie-Ninot said, adding the 1990 instruction's statement that examples of
ordinary magisterium can occur when the pope intervenes "in questions
under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain
contingent and conjectural elements."
The instruction notes that "it often only becomes
possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and
what is contingent," although, as the Spanish priest said, the instruction
insists that even then one must assume that "divine assistance" was given
to the pope.
Accepting "Amoris Laetitia" as authoritative
church teaching, Father Pie-Ninot said, applies also to the document's "most significant words" about the possibility of people divorced and remarried without an annulment receiving Communion in limited circumstances.
- - -
Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.