Archbishop Fiorenza: “Bishops have a lot to learn from Pope Francis.”

June 17, 2014, 10:55 am | Posted by

Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus of the 1.3 million-member Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (1998-2001). A leading social justice voice in the Church, Fiorenza spoke with Catholic Program Director John Gehring about the ways Pope Francis is setting a new tone and shaking up the Catholic conversation.

 

 In your opinion, what has been the most important change Pope Francis has brought to the Church and why are most people responding to him so positively?

The Pope seems to want a Church that is inclusive and out in the world, a Church going to the peripheries, a Church that is involved in the truly human problems that are affecting so many, especially the problems of poverty. He is also demonstrating a desire to enter into dialogue with an open spirit, not only among Catholics, but all people of goodwill who want the world to be more fair and just and peaceful. And even with those who may be our opponents he wants to find points where we can agree. Even when we don’t agree we should show respect and dignity. Bishops have a lot to learn from him, especially his lifestyle. He has made a deliberate effort to distance himself from the imperial court of Rome. Bishops have to take a close look at ourselves to see how we can live more simply.

 

Pope Francis has faced criticism from some Catholic conservatives. The editor of First Things wrote that the Pope’s “naïve” and “undisciplined” rhetoric has been “used to beat up on faithful Catholics.” Bishop Tobin of Providence, RI expressed reservations that the Pope was not talking more about abortion. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia acknowledged in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter that “the right wing of the church”…“generally have not been really happy about his (Francis’) election.” Why do you think he has faced this resistance?

The Pope’s very clear teaching condemning the “economy of exclusion” and the structures of sin that are involved strikes at the heart of some conservative Catholics who are so wedded to the unfettered free market that they think the Pope’s talk is naïve. Well, the Pope sees it as realistic. The poor of the world who suffer from that type of economic philosophy see it as realistic. The Pope is on a steady course. He is not naïve. He knows what he is doing.

Pope Francis makes it clear that he is opposed to abortion, but that can’t be the only thing we talk about. What he said early on in his papacy struck the heart of people who make abortion the whole agenda. The Pope is saying we have to oppose abortion but there must be a broader agenda. Some pro-life advocates don’t like to hear that and think if you take the focus off  abortion you weaken your position. The Pope is saying you weaken your pro-life position when you don’t take a broader view of issues that attack human life. Some people think there are only sins that are intrinsic evil, but the Pope is saying the economy has built in a structure that strongly impacts against the humanity of people and that is an evil too. Some pro-lifers don’t want to hear intrinsic evil entering into the conversation when it comes to the economy. By broadening the focus, he is strengthening our preaching against abortion.

 

As someone who is a leading voice in the Church on economic justice issues, do you think we will see a more robust emphasis on economic justice from the U.S. hierarchy because of Pope Francis?

If you take the “Gospel of Joy” (the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium) as guidance, I can’t help but think that will cause the bishops of this country to be more sensitive to the problems of the poor than they have been. That will take a while because there is an element in the church… some of the bishops of my time see these things more clearly than some of the new bishops who have come along in recent decades. But I’m hopeful that with Pope Francis they will broaden their views about the many ways human life are under attack.

 

Bishop McElroy of San Francisco has written in America magazine that the “substance and methodology of Pope Francis’ teachings on the rights of the poor have enormous implications for the culture and politics of the United States and for the church in this country…These teachings demand a transformation of the existing Catholic political conversation in our nation.”  Do you agree? Talk about what this “transformation” might look like? 

I agree completely with him. He is a young bishop but a bright light in the conference, and we would do well to listen more carefully to what he is saying. There has been discussion about some limited revision of Faithful Citizenship. (the U.S. bishops’ political responsibility statement.) The last time it didn’t include enough about what Pope Benedict said about economic justice in Caritas in Veritate. Hopefully, we will begin to see in Faithful Citizenship more emphasis on what Francis is saying about the poor. That will be a sign of how well Francis’ influence is taking root among the bishops of the United States.

  

Over the past several decades, the late Cardinal Bernardin’s vision of a Church that is known for “a consistent ethic of life” seems to have diminished some as U.S. church leaders put greater emphasis on fighting issues like civil same-sex marriage. Research from scholars like Robert Putnam of Harvard University and others shows that young Christians have left organized religion in part because of the perception that Church leaders are too cozy with a narrow conservative political agenda. Do you see this as a challenge for U.S. Catholic bishops?

I think there is truth in that perspective. A lot of young people are far more attracted when they see the Church opposing the death penalty, for example, where we have seen great progress and much more so than in my generation. I also think when young people see we are in the streets working with the poor I think that will make a difference.

 

How is Pope Francis different from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the late Pope John Paul II?

I think he has a broader view. He comes from Latin America and has seen first hand the effects of globalization on his own people.

 

There is a lot of anticipation for the October Synod at the Vatican. Do you think there will be changes regarding the availability of Sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics?

We should be guided by the spirit of the Gospel in a way that upholds the dignity or marriage. Hopefully, there will be a consideration of ways to have a path that includes these people (divorced and remarried) in the life of the Church but in a way that is not in conflict with the Church’s teachings on marriage.

 

Pope Francis has fully embraced the teachings of the Second Vatican Council for the laity to take an active role in Church life. What role do you see the laity playing in implementing the Francis agenda?

I hope they will be up front and strong about implementing that agenda in their parishes and dioceses. The “Gospel of Joy” can be their diocesan plan. If that becomes the starting point I think lay people will make a very positive contribution.

 

Some Catholics have expressed disappointment that Pope Francis has allowed the oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to continue. Are you hopeful for a positive resolution in that tense situation between Rome and women religious?

I think if Pope Francis had stopped the process it would have been perceived as him disagreeing with Benedict so I’m not really surprised the oversight (of LCWR) continued. But my hope is there is much more dialogue going on, and I hope they have a chance to meet with Pope Francis. Hopefully, there will be more voices coming forward among bishops who want to get this issue resolved. The Church has grown and been strengthened in this country because of women religious. They have been doing what Pope Francis has been talking about in the streets of the world, in the prisons.  They have done that far more effectively than anyone else in the church.

  

As someone who has been a Church leader for many years you can take the long view. Are you hopeful about the future of the Church?

I am hopeful as long as we continue to support what Pope Francis is doing and what he is trying to achieve. We have to take what he is saying seriously. We need bishops who reflect his style, and lay people have to be involved so that this Francis era is not just a passing moment but salt and light for our church for many years to come.

 

 

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30 Catholic leaders, bishops urge Congress to act on immigration

May 28, 2014, 6:30 pm | Posted by

 

As the immigration reform debate reaches a critical moment, 30 prominent Catholic leaders have released a letter calling on House Speaker John Boehner and other members of Congress to pass comprehensive reform that protects immigrant families and includes a path to citizenship. Signers include heads of religious orders, presidents of Catholic universities, priests, women religious and lay people from across the country.

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The letter, organized by Faith in Public Life, references the teachings of  Boehner’s Catholic faith about justice for immigrants, and is running as a full-page ad in Thursday’s edition of Politico. Also on Thursday, bishops who serve on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration are gathering on Capitol Hill to hold a mass urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for all aspiring Americans.

Bishops participating include Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami; Bishop Elizondo; Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City; Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.

It’s outrageous that Boehner and other House leaders have procrastinated and obstructed for so long while immigrant families are broken apart, but faith leaders are not going to give up until reform becomes a reality.

The text of the letter and list of signers is below:

Dear Speaker Boehner,

We write to you as fellow Catholics with heavy hearts and a profound sense of urgency. As the House of Representatives still delays passing comprehensive immigration reform, mothers are torn apart from children, migrants are dying in the desert and our nation is weakened.

Mr. Speaker, how can we fail to act?

Legislative obstruction in the face of preventable suffering and death is not only a failure of leadership. It is immoral and shameful. The eyes of our God — who hungers for justice and commands us to welcome the stranger and bind the wounds of those left by the side of the road — are on us.

Are we deaf to the cries of families and aspiring Americans separated by a broken system?

We stand with U.S. Catholic bishops who will celebrate Mass on Capitol Hill this week, and who come once again to advocate for humane and practical immigration reform.

Will you pray with us that the House of Representatives puts aside partisanship and passes comprehensive reform?

Pope Francis reminds us that a “globalization of indifference” prevents us from seeing that every migrant, regardless of status, has inherent human dignity. As Catholics who share your commitment to the sanctity of life in the womb, we must not be complicit in the suffering of migrants dying in the shadows. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has called justice for immigrants a “pro-life” issue, spoke during a Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border last month of the “unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.”

Is our nation so callous that we fail to weep for those nameless lost? We pray that you and your colleagues in the House have the moral courage to show real leadership and act.

 

Rev. Larry Snyder 
CEO
Catholic Charities USA 

Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
President
Jesuit Conference

Patricia McGuire
President
Trinity Washington University

Rev. Daniel Groody, CSC
Director of Immigration Initiatives, Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame

Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.
President
University of San Francisco

Donna M. Carroll
President
Dominican University

Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J.
President
Loyola University New Orleans

Rev. Clete Kiley
Director for Immigration Policy
UNITE HERE

Rev. Charles Currie, S.J.
Executive Director
Jesuit Commons

Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Distinguished Professor of Ethics & Global Development
Georgetown University

Rev. Michael U. Pucke
St. Julie Billiart Parish
Hamilton County, Ohio

Rev. Anthony Kutcher
President
National Federation of Priests’ Councils

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Stephen F. Schneck
Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America

Sr. Sally Duffy, SC
Executive Director
SC Ministry Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moya K. Dittmeier
Executive Director
Conference for Mercy Higher Education

Rev. Leonir Chiarello, C.S.
Executive Director
Scalabrini International Migration Network

Donald Kerwin
Executive Director
Center for Migration Studies of New York

Francis X. Doyle
Associate General Secretary (retired)
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.
Director, Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University New Orleans

Rev. John Baumann, S.J.
Founder
PICO National Network

Christopher G. Kerr
Executive Director
Ignatian Solidarity Network

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network

Sr. Pat McDermott, RSM
President
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ
President
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Sr. Patricia Chappell
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA

Francis J. Butler
President
Drexel Philanthropic Advisors

John Gehring
Catholic Program Director
Faith in Public Life

Gerry Lee
Director
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Christopher J. Hale
Senior Fellow
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J.
Executive Director
Kino Border Initiative

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Missouri faith leaders help reverse lifetime food stamps ban

May 22, 2014, 11:03 am | Posted by

Since 1996, low-income Missourians with a past drug-related felony conviction have been barred for life from eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a crucial lifeline that helps struggling families put food on the table.

While most states have modified or removed their lifetime SNAP bans in recent years, Missouri has kept theirs in place—until now.

After faith groups like Metropolitan Congregations United and Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (affiliate organizations of Gamaliel) engaged the faith community to end this cruel policy, the Missouri legislature recently passed a bill by overwhelming margins that would make people who have served their time eligible for nutrition assistance again if they have completed a substance abuse program or been ruled to not need such treatment.

Rolling back wrongheaded “tough on crime” policies that grew out of the war on drugs isn’t just smart criminal-justice policy, it’s critical to ensuring that former offenders have a chance to rebuild their lives and support their families.

The bill is now on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk, and he is expected to sign it in the coming weeks, giving at-risk individuals and their families the food they deserve.

 

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More Moral Momentum

May 21, 2014, 1:51 pm | Posted by
Last year, the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina boldly confronted the extremist agenda set forth by the state’s governor and legislature and completely transformed the political conversation in the Tar Heel state and across the country.

This week, they got back to work.

On Monday morning, clergy and laypeople led by Rev. William Barber II returned to the state capitol in Raleigh to resume the campaign to defeat policies that restrict voting rights and devastate struggling families. Hundreds marched quietly with their mouths taped shut to protest the legislature’s use of obscure rules to clamp down on protesters’ ability assemble at the statehouse. This kind of political maneuvering shows just how scared these politicians are – for good reason.

As the 2014 elections approach, the force of the Moral Mondays movement only promises to grow. At the Moral March that brought 80,000 to Raleigh earlier this year, Rev. Barber brought the crowd to a peak when he said “we will pray, we will get off of our knees and work, we will speak truth to power…and we will voter like never before!”

This fall, the eyes of the nation will be on a handful of US Senate and gubernatorial races where issues like Medicaid expansion will weigh heavily on voters’ consciences. No political ad or stump speech can shape the debate and speak truth to our better angels like a faith-led mass movement.

Forward together . . . not one step back!

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Houston Pastor Argues for Discrimination Against Gays, Jews

May 15, 2014, 4:42 pm | Posted by

Many faith leaders have strongly condemned the Religious Right’s recent efforts to give businesses the right to deny services and accommodations to LGBT people.

But this week in Houston, where the City Council is debating an ordinance that would ban such discrimination in housing and employment, a pastor made a deeply troubling case in favor of discrimination.

At a Houston City Council meeting on Tuesday, Pastor Becky Riggle of Grace Community Church was asked by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen if a business could deny service based not only on a customers’ sexual identity, but also on their religion.

Here’s how it played out:

 

“But what if someone doesn’t believe in my faith?” Cohen, who is Jewish, asked Riggle.

“I’m saying they have the right, if they want to, to be able to refuse service if it goes against their religious beliefs,” Riggle responded.

“If I’m asking for service and my faith is something that troubles them, they have a right to refuse me service? So you’re saying yes, they do have a right to refuse me service as someone of the Jewish faith?” Cohen asked.

Riggle said, “Yes, I am saying that. But that is not the issue that we’re talking about today.”

While this admission might sound shocking, it’s a clear logical extension of the thrust of the Religious Right’s pro-discrimination arguments.

According to the Houston Chronicle, faith leaders across the city support the nondiscrimination ordinance:

The Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange, co-pastor of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church Edmiston-Lange said her church “historically has thought of God as a God of love, and that all human beings are God’s children. God doesn’t discriminate, and neither should the law.”

The Rev. Lisa Hunt, pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the first Episcopal congregation in Texas to bless same-sex covenants, said passage of the ordinance is “very important for the life of the city.”

“Moral fabric is shaped not only by personal religious belief, but by the public values that get articulated into law,” she said. “So, I think a fundamental religious value to me is to respect the dignity of every human being. One of the ways we do that is to ensure that every individual is treated fairly, equally and with respect.”

The Rev. Harvey Clemons, of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said the proposed ordinance “reflects our faith traditions as ambassadors of Christ.

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