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New Jersey bishop opposes contraception bill removing religious exemption

Metuchen, N.J., Dec 13, 2019 / 08:40 pm (CNA).- A New Jersey bishop is calling on legislators to amend a bill that would force religious groups to fund contraceptive coverage for their employees, even if doing so violates their religious convictions.

“Legislation (S3804/A5508) is now being considered in the New Jersey legislature which eliminates the long-standing religious employers' exemption in the current law,” said Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen.

“Eliminating the religious employers' exemption would essentially force religious organizations to pay for medications, including abortion causing drugs, sterilizations and other procedures which violate our fundamental belief that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred,” he said in a Dec. 10 statement.

The bill was introduced to the New Jersey Senate in May and the state’s House of Representatives in June. If passed, it would require full coverage for certain contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in health care plans and remove exemptions for religious organizations.

“Contraception was named as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said bill sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, according to northjersey.com. “That was 20 years ago, whether or not insurance plans cover contraceptives shouldn’t be a question today.”

The bill must be addressed before the second week of January, when the current legislative session ends. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced his support for the bill in May.

Bishop Checchio stressed the importance of religious liberty as one of the “important building blocks of American society.”

He said the law would threaten the “basic human right” of religious freedom and would place religious organizations in an impossible position, negatively impacting their charitable work, including aid provided to immigrants and those in poverty.

“Passage of this measure would require our Catholic parishes, Catholic schools and agencies such as Catholic Charities to offer our employees comprehensive health benefits in violation of fundamental Catholic principles,” the bishop said.

“If this measure should pass many of our Catholic institutions and services will be seriously impacted. Assistance that we provide to the poor, the frail elderly, the sick and the dying, and to immigrants and their families could be at great risk.”

Edward Sita, a resident of St. Joseph’s Senior Home in Woodbridge, which is operated by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, also spoke out against the bill.

“One of the principal reasons I am here is because we have a religious organization who wants to care for us,” he said of the senior home.

In a Dec. 12 statement, Sita said he is grateful in particular for the sisters’ attentive care for his wife, who has Alzheimers, as well as the for the opportunity for regular Mass, adoration, and other religious activities offered at the home.

“The folks here do so much and are completely giving of all that is possible to give, and that’s themselves. It’s hard to describe all the good things that are happening here.”

Sita said the proposed law would place the sisters in a “morally impossible situation.” He said he could not imagine life without the sisters’ help, if the home were forced to shut down.

“I couldn’t even imagine it and I pray and I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Bishop Checchio encouraged Catholics to take action against the bill, pointing to a website where people may appeal to their local representatives.

“I urge all of the faithful to contact their state senators today and urge them to amend the proposed legislation, S3804/A5508 to retain the established religious employers' exemption which is contained in current law,” the bishop said.

 

St. John of the Cross

Dec. 14 is the liturgical memorial of Saint John of the Cross, a 16th century Carmelite priest best known for reforming his order together with Saint Teresa of Avila, and for writing the classic spiritual treatise “The Dark Night of the Soul.� Honored as a Doctor of the Church since 1926, he is sometimes called the “Mystical Doctor,� as a tribute to the depth of his teaching on the soul's union with God. The youngest child of parents in the silk-weaving trade, John de Yepes was born during 1542 in Fontiveros near the Spanish city of Avila. His father Gonzalo died at a relatively young age, and his mother Catalina struggled to provide for the family. John found academic success from his early years, but failed in his effort to learn a trade as an apprentice. Instead he spent several years working in a hospital for the poor, and continuing his studies at a Jesuit college in the town of Medina del Campo. After discerning a calling to monastic life, John entered the Carmlite Order in 1563. He had been practicing severe physical asceticism even before joining the Carmelites, and got permission to live according to their original rule of life – which stressed solitude, silence, poverty, work, and contemplative prayer. John received ordination as a priest in 1567 after studying in Salamanca, but considered transferring to the more austere Carthusian order rather than remaining with the Carmelites. Before he could take such a step, however, he met the Carmelite nun later canonized as Saint Teresa of Avila. Born in 1515, Teresa had joined the order in 1535, regarding consecrated religious life as the most secure road to salvation. Since that time she had made remarkable spiritual progress, and during the 1560s she began a movement to return the Carmelites to the strict observance of their original way of life. She convinced John not to leave the order, but to work for its reform. Changing his religious name from “John of St. Matthias� to “John of the Cross,� the priest began this work in November of 1568, accompanied by two other men of the order with whom he shared a small and austere house. For a time, John was in charge of the new recruits to the “Discalced Carmelites� – the name adopted by the reformed group, since they wore sandals rather than ordinary shoes as sign of poverty. He also spent five years as the confessor at a monastery in Avila led by St. Teresa. Their reforming movement grew quickly, but also met with severe opposition that jeopardized its future during the 1570s. Early in December of 1577, during a dispute over John's assignment within the order, opponents of the strict observance seized and imprisoned him in a tiny cell. His ordeal lasted nine months and included regular public floggings along with other harsh punishments. Yet it was during this very period that he composed the poetry that would serve as the basis for his spiritual writings. John managed to escape from prison in August of 1578, after which he resumed the work of founding and directing Discalced Carmelite communities. Over the course of a decade he set out his spiritual teachings in works such as “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,� “The Spiritual Canticle� and “The Living Flame of Love� as well as “The Dark Night of the Soul.� But intrigue within the order eventually cost him his leadership position, and his last years were marked by illness along with further mistreatment. St. John of the Cross died in the early hours of Dec. 14, 1591, nine years after St. Teresa of Avila's death in October 1582. Suspicion, mistreatment, and humiliation had characterized much of his time in religious life, but these trials are understood as having brought him closer to God by breaking his dependence on the things of this world. Accordingly, his writings stress the need to love God above all things – being held back by nothing, and likewise holding nothing back. Only near the end of his life had St. John's monastic superior recognized his wisdom and holiness. Though his reputation had suffered unjustly for years, this situation reversed soon after his death. He was beatified in 1675, canonized in 1726, and named a Doctor of the Church in the 20th century by Pope Pius XI. In a letter marking the 400th anniversary of St. John's death, Pope John Paul II – who had written a doctoral thesis on the saint's writings – recommended the study of the Spanish mystic, whom he called a “master in the faith and witness to the living God.�

Bishops condemn antisemitism after New Jersey shooting

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ conference on Friday condemned the antisemitic shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City earlier this week, reiterating the Church’s absolute condemnation of antisemitism.

“The recent attack on a kosher market in Jersey City, alongside many other recent hateful and at times violent actions, have highlighted the importance of, once again, publicly condemning any and all forms of antisemitism whether in thought, word or action,” said Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chair of the U.S. bishops’ ecumenical and interreligious affairs committee, on Friday.

“The past has taught us silence and passivity can result in the advancement of the worst crimes humanity can commit,” he said.

On Tuesday, two gunmen fatally shot a police detective in Bay View Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey, before entering the nearby Jersey City Kosher Supermarket and shooting four civilians inside, killing three.

After a shootout of several hours, police entered the market and found the two suspects dead;  a pipe bomb was discovered in the U-Haul truck of the shooters parked outside the market.

Bishop Bambera on Friday pledged the Church’s “irrevocable commitment to the Jewish community.”

“At the Second Vatican Council, in Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church articulated, ‘Mindful of the inheritance she shares with the Jews, the Church decries hatreds, persecutions, and manifestations of antisemitism directed against Jews at any time and by anyone,’” the bishop stated.

“We offer our prayerful support for all victims of antisemitic violence and their families.”

The two suspects in the shooting reportedly expressed anti-Semitic views online and appeared sympathetic to the Black Hebrew Israelite group, recognized as a hate group. The shootings are reportedly being investigated as domestic terrorism with a hate-crime bent.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force, said on Friday the shooting is “yet another wake-up call like the anti-Semitic slaughter in Pittsburgh that demands we redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism.” The October, 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11.

“Even though Jewish people comprise approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, the disproportionate number of hate crimes against Jews is absolutely appalling,” Smith said, noting that anti-Jewish crimes made up more than 57% of hate crimes motivated by religious bias, in the 2018 FBI Hate Crimes Report.

Bishop Conley announces medical leave of absence from Lincoln diocese

Lincoln, Neb., Dec 13, 2019 / 12:34 pm (CNA).- Bishop James Conley announced Friday that he is taking a medical leave of absence from his ministry as Bishop of Lincoln, Neb.

“I have been medically diagnosed with depression and anxiety, along with chronic insomnia and debilitating tinnitus, which is a constant ringing of the ears,” Conley wrote in a Dec. 13 letter to Catholics of the Lincoln diocese.

“My doctors have directed me to take a leave of absence for medical and psychological treatment, and to get some much-needed rest. After prayer, and seeking the counsel of my spiritual director, my brother bishops, and my family, I have accepted the medical necessity of a temporary leave of absence,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he was sharing information about his health “because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues.”

The bishop explained his own changing perspective on mental health.

“It has been difficult to accept that my mental health problems are real health problems, and not just a defect of my character, especially during a year of difficulty for our diocese.”

“For months, I’ve tried to work through these issues on my own through spiritual direction, counseling, and prayer,” Conley wrote.

“But the truth is that depression and anxiety are real psychological problems, with medical causes, requiring medical treatment. For me, those problems have been coupled with physical symptoms,” the bishop added.

Conley wrote that he “will be at a diocesan retreat facility in the Diocese of Phoenix, thanks to the kind invitation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, while I undergo the best psychological and medical treatment available to me.”

In a Dec. 13 press release, the Diocese of Lincoln said that Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha will be the temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese during Conley’s absence.

“I offer my full support to Bishop Conley as he steps away from the Diocese of Lincoln to focus on his personal health and well-being. As a brother bishop, I know the demands of being a diocesan pastor; as a friend, I want Bishop Conley to avail himself of the time and the setting that will help him to return to full health and strength. I look forward to welcoming him back when he is ready to return,” Lucas said Dec. 13.

The “difficult time” for the diocese to which Conley referred began in July 2018.

In that month, reports emerged that Msgr. Leonard Kalin, who served as vocations director in the Diocese of Lincoln from 1970 until the late 1990s, had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with seminarians and prospective seminarians.

Kalin, now deceased, reportedly made sexual advances toward seminarians, asked them to help him shower, and would invite seminarians on trips to Las Vegas or for late-night drinks.

Some reports accused Conley’s predecessors of failing to take seriously allegations against Kalin, although an August 2018 statement from the diocese said it had “addressed these allegations of misconduct directly with Msgr. Kalin during his time in priestly ministry.”

After the Kalin report emerged, Conley ordered reviews of diocesan policies regarding clerical conduct and accountability, made personnel changes in the diocesan curia, and help listening sessions in the diocese about clerical abuse or misconduct.

Several Lincoln priests were subsequently removed from ministry, and Conley apologized for the way he had handled a 2017 report that a priest had “developed an emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.”

The priest was removed from ministry and sent to a treatment center in Houston before allowing him to return to ministry.

Conley said that he attempted to act with integrity, telling the parishioners that the priest had gone away for health reasons. But while he said he did not cover up the situation or oblige anyone to keep silent about it, he said he regrets failing to act with more transparency.

“Even though we were not legally obligated to report the incident, it would have been the prudent thing to do. Because the young man had reached the age of majority, we did not tell his parents about the incident,” Conley said last August.

In September 2018, Nebraska’s attorney general initiated an investigation into whether the state’s three dioceses had mishandled or covered-up allegations of abuse or misconduct. A report on that investigation has not yet been issued.

The diocesan press release did not cover what role Lucas will play in addressing those matters, though Conley’s letter said he had worked with the archbishop “for a smooth transition, with the full support of my senior staff.”

Conley, 64, became Lincoln’s bishop in November 2012. He had been an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Denver since 2008 and had worked in the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops from 1996 until 2006.

The bishop’s announcement comes days after a report from the Associated Press chronicled the mental health challenges experienced by priests, and noted the propensity of ministry leaders toward depression and other difficulties.

Conley wrote that he is hopeful about his medical leave of absence.

“Jesus Christ is the Divine Physician, who offers us the grace of healing. I entrust myself to the healing power of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” the bishop wrote.

“I am grateful to be your bishop, and I love the Diocese of Lincoln. It will be difficult to be away. Please pray for me, as I pray for you.”

 

Pope Francis presents the Works of Maestro Fiorito: a great dream that will bear fruit

On the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination, Pope Francis visits the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome to present a 5-volume collection of the Writings of Fr Miguel Angel Fiorito SJ, an Argentine Jesuit who died in 2005; and who formed many disciples, including the Pope himself. The collection is published by La Civiltà Cattolica, and edited by Fr José Luis Narvaja SJ.

Pope to students: Freedom to express yourself necessary for growth

Pope Francis on Friday inaugurated the new Vatican headquarters of Scholas Occurrentes, a pontifical organization involved in education in 190 countries around the world. Five South American "first ladies" were also present for the event.

EU leaders agree on climate neutrality deal

European leaders on 13 December reached an agreement to work for carbon neutrality by 2050 - but without the agreement of Poland.

The Revolution of Tenderness

The Emmaus Community is a successful example of how people with various disabilities can be integrated into society. In this case, into the vibrant academic environment of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. This is the story of Nadia and Khystyna, two young women who work there.

Pope: God’s birth a revolution of love and tenderness

Pope Francis on Friday met organizers and artistes of the Vatican’s annual Christmas concert that is scheduled for Saturday, December 14.

Pope: ‘never look at your brothers and sisters in need with condescension'

Pope Francis receives groups of French pilgrims dedicated to the Devotion of Divine Mercy saying there is no human poverty that God does not want to reach, touch and help.