U.S. bishops to select leaders as Pope urges new focus

November 10, 2013, 11:16 am | Posted by

Faith in Public Life Catholic Program Director John Gehring was interviewed about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual meeting. 

“Bishops have been stuck in a bunker fighting the culture war,” said John Gehring, who was once in the conference’s communications office and is now Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group. “Pope Francis has said we can’t just be known by what we oppose.

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Catholic Leaders Urge Bishops to Strengthen Anti-Poverty Campaign, Resist Attacks from Right-Wing Pressure Groups

November 8, 2013, 12:42 pm | Posted by

Washington, DC — More than 50 prominent Catholic leaders – including former ambassadors to the Vatican, retired bishops and past executive directors of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign – are urging Catholic bishops to redouble their commitment to economic justice initiatives.

In an open letter that will be published on Nov. 11 in the Baltimore Sun as members of the Catholic hierarchy convene for a national meeting to elect a new president of their conference, the leaders challenge the bishops to take inspiration from Pope Francis and stand strong in the face of well-funded pro-life groups that “relentlessly attack” their Catholic Campaign for Human Development. (CCHD).

The bishops’ anti-poverty campaign, which funds community based organizations that focus on building economic and social justice in low-income areas, has long been a target of religious and political conservatives. But a recent 23-page report from Faith in Public Life, an advocacy group in Washington, found an aggressive network led by the American Life League has ramped up efforts to sway bishops to defund anti-poverty organizations if they are part of broader coalitions in which an organization or individual supports same-sex marriage. In recent years, Catholic bishops in several dioceses have pulled funding from these groups and tightened regulations for grant making.

“Serving the common good sometimes requires Catholic-funded organizations to work with others who are not in agreement with Church teaching on every issue,” the leaders write. “In fact, CCHD advances the Church’s mission to defend human dignity precisely by building diverse coalitions that have led to living wages for workers, quality health care, better schools and stronger communities.”

“Well-funded groups relentlessly attack CCHD and pressure you to withdraw from these effective coalitions,” they continue. “We urge you to resist this pressure and redouble your commitment to social justice ministries that lift people out of poverty. We can affirm the Catholic identity of CCHD without backing away from essential partnerships.”

The push from Catholic leaders comes on the heels of Pope Francis’ remarks that the Church needs to find a “new balance” and not only be defined by opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. In a widely read essay in America magazine, a Catholic publication edited by Jesuit priests, Auxiliary Bishop Robert McElroy of San Francisco argues that the Church’s advocacy for economic justice has waned in recent years. The Catholic Church, he writes, “must elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our nation’s history.”

Signers of the letter include: Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, the retired bishop of Las Cruces, NM; two past executive directors of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Thomas P. Melady, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See in the first Bush administration; Miguel Diaz, a theologian at the University of Dayton and past U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; the presidents of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas as well as the Justice and Peace Director for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men.

The full letter with signatories is below.

Faith in Public Life’s report can be found here: http://www.faithinpubliclife.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/FPL-CCHD-report.pdf 

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Poverty is a Moral Scandal

Support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development

1 in 6 Americans live in poverty * 1 in 5 Children live in poverty *
1 in 7 Americans are “food insecure”

Dear Bishops,

As you gather for your first General Assembly in the pontificate of Pope Francis, please be assured of our interest, support and prayers. Pope Francis has inspired so many both inside and outside the Church with his spirit of humility, and his demanding challenge to embrace Christian mission in courage and hope.

“Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes, movements, they take ill. If a Christian goes to the streets, or to the outskirts, he or she may risk the same thing that can happen to anyone out there: an accident. How often have we seen accidents on the road! But I am telling you: I would prefer a thousand times over a bruised Church than an ill Church!”

In particular, we write to support an indispensable ministry of the Church “in the streets” that has suffered unjust attacks from those who seek to limit the Catholic prophetic voice to a narrow agenda. Your Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in the country, has a proud history of supporting community organizing to empower low-income citizens. This is essential to addressing what Blessed John Paul II described as “the causes of poverty and not merely the evil effects of injustice.”

Serving the common good sometimes requires Catholic-funded organizations to work with others who are not in agreement with Church teaching on every issue. In fact, CCHD advances the Church’s mission to defend human dignity precisely by building diverse coalitions that have led to living wages for workers, quality health care, better schools and stronger communities.

Well-funded groups relentlessly attack CCHD and pressure you to withdraw from these effective coalitions. We urge you to resist this pressure and redouble your commitment to social justice ministries that lift people out of poverty. We can affirm the Catholic identity of CCHD without backing away from essential partnerships.

Critics of CCHD misuse the Catholic principle of moral cooperation by distorting it into a blanket rejection of working for the common good with those with whom we disagree on other issues. In contrast, Pope Francis challenges us to the difficult fidelity that does not seek the purity of isolation, but risks working in the world – “in the streets” – to advance the Gospel.

“The Holy Spirit makes us look to the horizon and drives us to the very outskirts of existence in order to proclaim life in Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves: do we tend to stay closed in on ourselves, on our group, or do we let the Holy Spirit open us to mission?”

As you meet to elect a new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and reflect on the Church’s mission in the coming years, we support you with our prayers. May we all by guided by the Holy Spirit. In the words of Pope Francis, let us have the courage to “take to the streets” and become a “poor church for the poor.”

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, CSB
Bishop Emeritus of Las Cruces, NM

Bishop Sylvester D. Ryan (retired)
Monterey, CA

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton (retired)
Archdiocese of Detroit

G. Richard Fowler
Staff to Bishop Blaire
Diocese of Stockton, CA

Sabrina Burton Schultz
Director of Life Ministry
Diocese of St. Petersburg

Kent Ferris, OFS
Director of Social Action and Director of Catholic Charities
Diocese of Davenport

Timothy Collins
Executive Director, Catholic Campaign for Human Development (retired)
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Marvin A. Mottet
Executive Director, Catholic Campaign for Human Development (retired)
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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

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

Patricia McGuire
President
Trinity Washington University

Miguel Diaz
University Professor of Faith and Culture
University of Dayton
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See (retired)

Thomas P. Melady
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See (retired)
President Emeritus, Sacred Heart University

Stephen Schneck
Director
Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America

Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Former Director, Office of International Justice and Peace
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J.
President
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities

Rev. Charles Currie, S.J.
Former President
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities

Rev. Clete Kiley
Senior Fellow
Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America
Director for Immigration Policy, UNITE HERE

Rev. Anthony J. Pogorelc
Fellow
Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America

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

Sister Pat McDermott, RSM
President
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Kim Bobo
Executive Director
Interfaith Worker Justice

Kerry Robinson
Executive Director
National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management

Eli S. McCarthy
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Rev. Frederick Thelen
Pastor, Cristo Rey Church
Cristo Rey Community Center
Chair, Action of Greater Lansing
Lansing, MI

Vincent J. Miller
Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture
University of Dayton

Nicholas P. Cafardi, JD. JCD
Dean Emeritus
Duquesne University School of Law

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network

Sister Margaret Magee OFS
President Board of Directors
Franciscan Action Network

Marie Dennis, Co President
Pax Christi International

Bishop Kevin Dowling
Co-President, Pax Christi International

Fred Rotondaro
Chairman
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Thomas Allio, Jr.
Diocesan Social Action Director (retired)
Diocese of Cleveland

Nicole Mosher
Executive Director
Companeros: Four Corners
Immigrant Resource Center
Pueblo, CO

Mary Wright
Former Education Coordinator
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dorothy Valerian
Former CCHD Advisory Board Member
Diocese of Cleveland

Steve Callahan
Former Economic Development Program Coordinator
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Christine A. W. (Cris) Doby
Former Diocesan Social Action Director/CCHD Diocesan Director

Walt Grazer
Former Policy Advisor for International Religious Freedom and Human Rights
Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Thomas Shellabarger
Former Policy Advisor for Urban, Economic Issues
Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Thomas Chabolla
Former Associate Director of Programs
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. John A. Coleman, S.J.
Associate Pastor, St. Ignatius Church
Professor, Loyola Marymount University (retired)

Francis J. Butler
Founder
Drexel Philanthropic Advisors

David O’Brien
Professor Emeritus
College of the Holy Cross

Christopher G. Kerr
Executive Director
Ignatian Solidarity Network

John Gehring
Catholic Program Director
Faith in Public Life

Michael Duffy
Executive Director
Joan and Ralph Lane Center for Catholic Studies and Social Thought
University of San Francisco

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As Catholic Bishops Meet, Culture Wars Trump Poverty

November 7, 2013, 11:02 am | Posted by

FPL Catholic Program Director John Gehring published an op-ed in Time Magazine ahead of the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

More than 300 Catholic bishops will convene next Monday for a national meeting to elect a new president of their conference. While the new Pope has made a remarkable start advocating for a “church for the poor” and has warned against a fixation on a few hot-button issues, the bishops’ agenda in Baltimore reads as a primer in why the Catholic hierarchy in the United States risks losing its once powerful social justice voice. The bishops will vote on a statement about pornography, but the decline of living wage jobs, attacks on workers’ rights and growing threats to the environment—all moral issues addressed by traditional Catholic teaching—will not be up for discussion. The bishops will make time to hear a report about their advocacy efforts to oppose same-sex marriage, which an increasing number of Americans and most Catholics now support, but no reports are planned about income inequality or persistent unemployment. If the bishops left their hotel in Baltimore – where nearly 1 in 4 people live in poverty – they could follow Pope Francis’ lead during his visit to a favela in Brazil, where he listened to the stories of real people and challenged government leaders to address systemic injustice and growing inequality. But there are no indications that the bishops will scrap their formal agenda.

Their diminished voice on social justice stands in stark contrast to a time when bishops were at the forefront of debates over the role of government, the economy and war. During the Cold War, a Time magazine story about the nuclear arms race – “The Bishops vs. The Bomb” – was emblematic of a time when Catholic leaders drew public attention for a broader “pro-life” ethic beyond abortion. In 1986, U.S. bishops released “Economic Justice for All,” a national pastoral letter that offered a departure from Reagan-era “trickle down” economic theories, anti-government ideology and blind faith in free-market orthodoxy.

 

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Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office site of protest, prayer, petition

October 16, 2013, 2:32 pm | Posted by

Faith in Public Life led press outreach and worked with Faithful America to organize the petition and delivery. 

About a dozen members of area religious groups stood before the shuttered downtown office of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Tuesday morning, pushing through the mail slot pages of a petition demanding an end to the partial government shutdown signed by 30,000 people nationwide.

“It’s disproportionately affecting poor people,” said the Rev. George Taylor of All-Saints Lutheran Church. “People on food stamps, people on the (Women, Infants and Children) program … a lot of people are suffering.”

The demonstration was part of a national effort led by Faithful America, an online community of Christians who say they’re “dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right.” Linda Bartholomew, priest-in-charge at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Spokane Valley, helped organize the event and delivered the petition featuring signatures solicited through Faithful America’s website. She said the demonstration was not about casting blame but reminding McMorris Rodgers of her Christian duty.

“My only concern is for the poor,” Bartholomew said, adding she has compassion for the position the House Republican Conference chair is in. “That’s why I’m here, it’s just so that the Bible is not misrepresented, or somehow used as a tool, to oppress the poor more.”

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Praying for Broken Hearts in the GOP

October 16, 2013, 2:24 pm | Posted by

Faith in Public Life led press outreach and helped to organize the pilgrimage to end the government shutdown.

Yesterday in the Canon House Office Building rotunda on Capitol Hill, Rabbi David Shneyer led an interfaith group of approximately 150 clergy leaders, locked-out workers, and people of faith, in song.

“Of love and justice I will sing,” sang the rabbi, playing a guitar and riffing off of Psalm 101.

As the others joined in, their voices rang out powerfully and could be heard clearly a floor below.

The group had gathered to participate in an action organized by Faith in Public Life and the Washington Interreligious Staff Community. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and others marched on the offices of key Republican Members—including GOP Leadership—and urged a vote to immediately end the shutdown and to raise the debt ceiling without preconditions. Petitions with over 32,000 signatures were simultaneously delivered to members’ home district offices around the country.

When the song ended, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, offered a prayer: “It is the common good that is the way forward for our nation…. And so let us pray for their courage that they can act on behalf of all of our people. And may our walking these halls, and praying with Congress, be the bridge that you need for healing and for some sanity in caring for all.”

The group then began its procession while singing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns. Police officers quickly told them to keep their volume low and stay to the sides of the corridors, or risk arrest. The group complied. It wasn’t that they feared arrest—many of these faith leaders have engaged in civil disobedience in the past—but that wasn’t their mission on Tuesday.

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