John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, argued in yesterday’s USA Today that while the next pope may not radically change the Catholic Church, he will have an opportunity to actively encourage healthy dialogue in the pews:
The next pope, whether cheered by conservative Catholics or eyed warily by liberals in the flock, will not abruptly end the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, the all-male priesthood and contraception even as many practicing Catholics and some clergy find these teachings flawed.
But a new pope — and no church rule requires the Vicar of Christ to be a cardinal or bishop — could send a powerful message by claiming less infallibility and listening more to ordinary Catholics, overburdened pastors and tireless nuns who live out the Gospel from blighted neighborhoods in Cincinnati to remote villages in Kenya. Instead of silencing theologians and stifling debate, a new pope could let it be known that discernment and discussion are signs of a healthy, flourishing faith.
Read the whole op-ed here.
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John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, teamed up with Santa Clara University religious studies professor Kristin Heyer, to make a family values case for comprehensive immigration reform in yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News.
Heyer and Gehring write:
If you believe some conservatives, the biggest threat to “family values” is same-sex marriage. Yet these same elected officials wash their hands of a U.S. immigration system that tears parents from children, exploits migrants and leaves families in disarray.
You can read the full op-ed here.
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Today, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that religious institutions can opt out the contraception mandate of the Affordable Health Care Act. Here are a few of the responses from social justice advocates, religious leaders and commentators:
John Gehring, Catholic Program director at Faith in Public Life
“This is a strong signal that the administration is responsive to the concerns of Catholic institutions. The values of protecting women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers should not be in conflict. Those who demonize this president for being hostile to religion should drop the reckless rhetoric.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“Today, the administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate. We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”
Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter
“The proposed final rule on the contraception mandate, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services today, will widely be portrayed as a victory for the Catholic Church. This is mistaken. It is really nothing short of a miracle. And, it is a particular kind of miracle, the kind that happens in politics too infrequently, when a decision that has no real political justification is, nonetheless, taken because it is the right thing to do… [The White house] listened to those who proposed a sensible solution and urged a policy fix. The White House gave more than they had to. Politically, this is a huge win.”
Sr. Carol Keehan, President and CEO, Catholic Health Association of the United States
“Following last year’s proposed rule, the Catholic Health Association had asked during the comment period for some changes in the contraceptive coverage section of the rule on preventive services. Now that a new proposed rule has been released for review and comment, we look forward to studying it in relation to our members’ expressed concerns and sharing our assessment of the changes.”
Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, American Baptist Press
“The proposed rules signal an on-going effort by the administration to provide for the preventive health care needs of women employees while seeking to honor the conscience objections of religious employers and their affiliates… The proposed rules laudably clarify and simplify the definition of religious organizations and affiliated nonprofits, and seek to provide an acceptable alternative for self-insured employers.”
James Salt, Executive Director, Catholics United
“This is a victory not only for the Obama Administration, but for the Catholic Church… As Catholics United said from the very beginning, reasonable people knew it was right to be patient and hopeful that all sides could come together to solve this complex issue. The White House deserves praise in alleviating the Church’s concerns… As sensible Americans already know, and this new rule affirms, religious identity is protected and cherished in this country… The divisive right-wing myth that religious liberty is somehow attacked has been thoroughly debunked, and today’s ruling is just another nail in that coffin. Now the Church can focus on what brings us together: serving the least among us, including the poor and marginalized.”
Thomas J. Reese, S.J., Senior Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, Religion Dispatches
“HHS and the administration have gone out of their way to resolve the concerns of religious institutions that object to covering contraceptives in their insurance programs. They fixed the four-part definition of religious employer by eliminating the confusing first three parts and relied on the traditional definition of churches in the Internal Revenue Code. They have also found creative ways to provide contraceptives to the employees of religious colleges and hospitals without the involvement of these institutions. “
Bill Donahue, President, Catholic League
“While many aspects of the new proposal need to be examined before a final conclusion can be rendered, the decision to expand religious exemptions, and to adopt the IRS definition of a religious institution, is a sign of goodwill by the Obama administration toward the Catholic community.”
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The announcement today from the Obama administration that it is granting a more robust accommodation for religious institutions who object to providing contraception coverage is a sensible move. The values of protecting women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers should not be in conflict.
The provision that nearly all employers must provide contraceptive services under the federal health care reform law has sparked a long, messy fight between the Obama administration, Catholic bishops and some conservative evangelicals. This fight is far from over. A dozen separate legal challenges to the administration’s mandate are now winding through the courts. Because judges have reached different conclusions, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely make the final call.
The most significant news from today’s announcement is that the administration’s “four-part test” of what constitutes a “religious employer” — a major sticking point for Catholic universities, charities and hospitals — has been scrapped for a simpler IRS definition. Under the original proposal, employers could be exempt from the contraception mandate only if their purpose was to inculcate religious values, they primarily employed those who shared their religious tenets, primarily served those who shared their religious beliefs and were a nonprofit under federal tax law. The first three parts of that definition were a big problem for religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals, universities and charities. For Catholics, medical institutions and charities are not tangential to a religious commitment, but central to putting faith into practice. Respected Catholic organizations like the Catholic Health Association, which supported the health care reform law and has distanced itself from the strident rhetoric of some bishops had been urging the administration to make this fix. At the same time, the administration’s proposals announced today, which are open to a 60-day public comment period, will still ensure women have access to contraception coverage without a co-pay. This is a victory for women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers.
It will take time for various religious organizations to digest the details of today’s announcement, and tensions won’t disappear overnight. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put out a brief initial statement saying bishops “welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”
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Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami joined the calls of fellow U.S. Catholic Bishops last week with this op-ed urging lawmakers to pass legislation that will create a road map to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans:
“An earned path to citizenship for the undocumented, supported by the U.S. Catholic bishops and a strong majority of the American people, does not have to mean an “amnesty”. Reasonable requirements for permanent legal status and a chance at citizenship — such as paying a fine and any back taxes still owed or learning English — would in fact be gladly embraced by these immigrants who remain in illegal status not because they want to but because legal remedies are not available to them…
A path to citizenship for the undocumented should be the centerpiece of any immigration reform effort this year. A path to citizenship offers immigrants the opportunities and freedom that are the essential components of the American dream.”
Archbishop Wenski is not the only religious leader urging lawmakers to create a roadmap to citizenship. At PICO National Network’s “Separated Families Supper Table,” event, Rev. Richard Smith of San Francisco hosted a symbolic supper for families that have been torn apart by America’s broken immigration system, and prayed for passage of a common-sense immigration process that would reunite families:
“As people of faith the only solution to our harmful immigration policy that recognizes the inherent dignity and rights of all human persons is full citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans who work in our communities, raise their children alongside ours and worship with us,” he noted.
The “Separated Families Supper Table” event, which lifted up the stories of families torn apart by our immigration system, launched the PICO National Network’s Campaign for Citizenship, which “represents Americans of faith who believe that full citizenship rights for 11 million aspiring Americans is the only moral response to our broken patchwork of immigration laws that is consistent with the American values of freedom, fairness and family.”
And just this week, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition sponsored a National Faith Call-In Day with over 1,000 faith leaders from diverse backgrounds calling on their Senators “…to pass immigration reform in 2013 that prioritizes family unity and provides a pathway to full citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.”
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