A week after Donald Trump’s stunning election as president sent the country’s governance lurching to the right, the nation’s Catholic bishops sent a message of their own — at least on immigration — by putting Mexican-born Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in line to become the first Latino to lead the American hierarchy.
But the vote at their annual fall meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 15 also suggested that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is still hesitant to fully endorse the more progressive and pastoral approach to ministry that Pope Francis has been championing since his election in 2013.
Naming it “corrosive” and a “dark” sign of contemporary American culture, the U.S. Catholic bishops approved a document this week condemning the production and use of pornography as a mortal sin.
Reaction from the bishops’ critics didn’t take long. Some said the bishops themselves have very serious problems with pornography; others pointed out the not-so-distant sex abuse crisis. The upshot was that the bishops ought to have different priorities.
One could be forgiven for confusing this disagreement with one from the 1980s. Didn’t it play out over a generation ago — with the result that our culture basically accepts porn as part of sexual liberation?
The nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 17 passed an updated guide for Catholic voters ahead of next year’s elections, but only after airing unusually sharp disagreements on how much they can, and should, adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis.
More than any other item on the agenda of the bishops’ annual meeting here, the debate over the lengthy voter guide, called “Faithful Citizenship,” revealed deep divides among the bishops and provided a snapshot of the extent of the “Francis effect” on the U.S. hierarchy.
In the most impassioned objection to the voter guide, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy took the floor to argue that the document — which was a reworking of an 84-page treatise first written in 2007 — should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church since his election in 2013.
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops kicked off a gathering in St. Louis of approximately 250 of the nation’s bishops by referring to Ferguson.
“We mourn those tragic events in which African-Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement,” said a statement prepared by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., which was read by Bishop Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 10.
“Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our church.”
ROME — On its 15 previous pilgrimages, the Catholic gay rights group New Ways Ministry drew maybe two-dozen people to visit holy sites in places like Assisi and Rome.
This year, the number of pilgrims unexpectedly doubled to 50.
Chalk it up to the so-called Francis Effect, where the pope’s open-arms acceptance is giving new hope to gay and lesbian Catholics who have felt alienated from their church for decades.
What’s been even more surprising is that both New Ways and a similar Catholic LGBT organization in Britain are finding support from the Catholic hierarchy in their efforts to meet the pontiff when they both visit the Vatican on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, the period of penance and fasting preceding Easter.
For example, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing.
The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is facing a lawsuit over the cancellation of a rental contract for a restaurant operated by a Somali Muslim.
Al-Yusra Restaurant Ltd. had signed a six-year lease starting in 2013 to operate a restaurant in a section of Waumini House where the bishops’ conference is based. Baakai Maalim, a Somali Muslim, is a director for the company.
How refreshing to see Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s May 29 letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy urging that the new carbon pollution rules on existing power plants should “protect the health and welfare of all people, especially children, the elderly, as well as poor and vulnerable communities from harmful pollution emitted from power plants and from the impacts of climate change.” The Miami archbishop was speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops in his role as chairman of the U.S. bishop’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
Since last Monday and even in the months leading up to the release of the new EPA rules governing carbon pollution, there’s been a battle royale in the media and the blogosphere between the fossil fuel industry (and their supporters) and the environmentalists (and their proxies).
The organization representing Catholic hospitals across the country says it no longer objects to the Obama administration’s mandate that all employees receive free birth control coverage.
The decision by the Catholic Health Association puts the hospitals at odds with the Catholic hierarchy, which last week rejected the White House’s final regulations on an issue that many church conservatives view as evidence of the administration’s hostility to Catholicism and religious freedom.
Sister Carol Keehan, head of the CHA, disagreed. “If you look at the final regulations it is very clear that we do not have to contract for, or pay for, or arrange for” contraception coverage, Keehan said in an interview on Tuesday.
NEW YORK — When Cardinal Timothy Dolan used the morning talk shows on Easter Sunday to say the Catholic Church could do a better job of welcoming gays and lesbians, his remarks were hailed by one activist as an “Easter miracle” and by another as an encouraging “first step.”
But two months later, it’s still not clear what the second step in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated.
Since Easter, three more states have passed same-sex marriage laws, and next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down a gay marriage ruling that will again spotlight the bishops’ full-throated opposition to a whole host of civil protections for gays and lesbians, particularly marriage.
Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.
Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.
Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.
Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”
We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WASHINGTON — Foes of same-sex marriage are warning the Supreme Court that lifting state or federal restrictions would threaten their own economic and religious freedoms and lead to social and political upheaval.
In about three dozen briefs filed in recent weeks, groups ranging from U.S. Catholic bishops and evangelicals to state attorneys general and university professors argue that upholding gay marriage could lead to penalties against objecting employers, military officials, and others.
Briefs from supporters of gay marriage are due by early March.
The nation’s Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama administration’s latest proposals to broaden accommodations for religious groups in regulations that require insurance companies or employers to provide free birth control coverage.
The administration last week released a long-awaited compromise for faith-based employers that have religious objections to offering health insurance that could be used by employees to access contraceptives and sterilization.
Yielding to demands by the bishops and other critics, the new accommodation contained a more expansive definition of what constitutes a religious group.
It also detailed how faith-based institutions that may not be exempt – especially religiously affiliated hospitals and universities – would be shielded from any involvement in providing contraceptive coverage; under the new rules, the insurance companies themselves would arrange that with the individual employee.
But New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the proposals fail to address or ease all of the hierarchy’s concerns, and said the bishops would continue to press ahead with efforts to overturn the mandate in court.
BALTIMORE — As Congress embarks on high-stakes budget negotiations to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are warning elected officials not to target programs for the poor and instead raise taxes and reduce defense spending.
“In developing frameworks for future budgets, Congress should not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote in a Nov. 13 letter to the House and Senate.
Blaire and Pates chair the bishops' committees on domestic and international issues, and the letter asks that “poverty-focused international assistance programs” also be spared because they are a small slice of the budget pie, are effective and enjoy bipartisan support.
BALTIMORE — The Catholic bishops gathered here for their annual meeting couldn’t agree on a statement on the economy on Tuesday morning, but with a unanimous voice vote that afternoon they easily backed a measure to push sainthood for Dorothy Day, whose life and work were dedicated to championing the poor.
Indeed, it was a remarkable moment for the reputation of Day, one of the most famous figures in 20th-century Catholicism.
Born in Brooklyn in 1897, Day lived a bohemian life in New York City in the 1920s while working as a leftwing journalist. She endured a failed marriage, a suicide attempt, and had an abortion when suddenly, after the birth of her daughter, she converted to Catholicism.
That decision confounded her literary friends but launched her on a new path of activism and piety.
One group of Americans that took a beating in the recent election was the U.S. Catholic bishops. Many of them were not shy in expressing their opposition to the administration and their preference for a Romney presidency. They also fought and lost a series of state referendums on gay marriage.
Some in the Obama administration may feel that the election shows that the bishops can be ignored as leaders without followers. But it would be a mistake to count out an institution that has been around for 2,000 years. In fact, this is a situation where being a gracious victor is not only the right thing to do, it makes good political sense.
Read more here.
BALTIMORE — A divided Catholic hierarchy on Tuesday failed to agree on a statement about the economy after a debate that revealed sharp differences over the kind of social justice issues that were once a hallmark of the bishops’ public profile.
The defeat of the document, titled “The Hope of the Gospel in Difficult Economic Times,” followed an hour of unusually intense debate among the 230 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting. It left many of them openly frustrated that the prelates have not made a joint statement about the nation’s economic woes four years after the recession hit.
“This document is dead,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said with obvious disappointment as he brought the gavel down on the debate after it failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
As the bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their annual meeting, they like everyone else in the country will be talking about last week’s election. The U.S. Catholic bishops took a beating at the polls. Not only was President Obama reelected, despite their attacks on him, the bishops also lost on state referendums on same-sex marriage.
Like all Americans, the bishops have a constitutional right to participate in the political process. They can debate the issues, criticize candidates and publicly express their views. They can even endorse candidates as long as they don’t do it on church property and don’t use church funds in supporting a candidate or party. In fact, they can even run for president as did Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jesse Jackson. The U.S. Constitution does not forbid this; Roman Catholic canon law forbids it.
But what is constitutional is not always effective or prudent. Clearly the political strategy of the bishops is not working. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama and gay activists won every referendum. The Missouri and Indiana Republican senatorial candidates, who took the toughest positions on abortion, were also defeated when the Republicans were expected to win these races.
So where do the bishops go from here?
A number of Roman Catholic bishops are making forceful last-minute appeals to their flock to vote on Election Day, and their exhortations are increasingly sounding like calls to support Republican challenger Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama.
The most recent example: a letter from Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky accusing the administration of an unprecedented “assault upon our religious freedom” and implying that Catholics who pull the lever for Democrats who support abortion rights are like those who condemned Jesus to death.
“Since the foundation of the American Republic and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, I do not think there has ever been a time more threatening to our religious liberty than the present,” Jenky writes in the letter, which he ordered priests in his Peoria diocese to read at all Masses on Sunday.
In the letter, Jenky blames Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate for trampling on the Catholic Church’s rights and moral convictions by requiring health insurers to provide contraception coverage. Jenky also compares abortion rights supporters to the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem that pledged loyalty to the Roman Empire and demanded that Pontius Pilate crucify Jesus.
“For those who hope for salvation, no political loyalty can ever take precedence over loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and to his Gospel of Life,” Jenky writes.
In their annual Labor Day statement, the U.S. Catholic bishops call for “national economic renewal that places working people and their families at the center of economic life.” Issued by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Cal., chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, the statement emphasizes the reality that “Millions of Americans suffer from unemployment, underemployment or are living in poverty as their basic needs too often go unmet. This represents a serious economic and moral failure for our nation.”
The bishops then cite related issues in the news.
On the deficit:
“Public officials rightfully debate the need to reduce unsustainable federal deficits and debt. In the current political campaigns, we hear much about the economy, but almost nothing about the moral imperative to overcome pervasive poverty in a nation still blessed with substantial economic resources and power.”
On June 21, Catholics across the country will amplify what is an already loud outcry from the hierarchy over the federal government's so-called contraception mandate.
With rallies, marches, lectures and special publications, the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Fortnight for Freedom campaign will seek to galvanize Catholic opposition to President Obama's proposed mandate to require employers — including religious institutions — to provide free contraception insurance coverage to employees.
But while Catholic leaders frame the events as a fight for religious liberty, critics see signs of political partisanship and electioneering. Questions over the financing of the bishops' campaign have caused those suspicions to multiply.
"The activities around the Fortnight for Freedom cost money," said Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington. "What groups are paying for this, and what's the accountability for that money?"