Texas Catholic high school community cheers swimmer to Olympic bronze

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen
FORT WORTH, Texas (CNS) – Matthew Coffer, a 2007 Nolan Catholic High School graduate, said it best in a comment posted to the school’s alumni page: “It was a great night to be a Viking!”
He was referring to the pride and excitement when Nolan alumna Katie Meili won the bronze medal in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Colleyville native, who graduated from Nolan Catholic in 2009, posted a time of 1:05.69. Another American, Lilly King, beat out a Russian competitor to win the gold.
Meili is the first Olympic athlete in the school’s 55-year history.
“I’m just so happy,” a beaming Meili told reporters moments after her race.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve had so much support along the way,” Meili said. “This medal belongs to so many more people than just me, and I’m really proud of them.”
The 25-year-old’s former swim teammates at Nolan Catholic gathered for a watch party in the school’s auditorium Aug. 8. They were joined by current students, faculty members, and friends of the Meili family, who had watched the athlete’s swimming prowess blossom, first at Columbia University, where she clinched a 2013 Division I NCAA bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, and later at the invitation-only SwimMAC elite team in Charlotte, N.C.
Sports analysts said Meili was a long shot for an Olympic medal, but that’s not how the Nolan community felt. Current and former Nolan students wore blue T-shirts inscribed with the words, “All Viking for Meili” as they watched the 2016 Olympian compete.
“Everybody at the watch party knew it was going to happen,” said Nolan Catholic President Erin Vader. “If there is power in prayer and positive thinking, the people here got her through it.”
During the race, no one sat down.
“The sound was deafening. People were laughing and crying,” Vader said, describing the moment when TV graphics announced Meili’s bronze-medal finish. “It was thrilling.”
Stephen Montes, a Nolan classmate and friend of Meili, remembered her as “super supportive” of teammates when she swam the breaststroke and 200-meter individual medley in high school.
“Her practices were always intense,” he recalled. “She was a great teammate — humble and down to earth. Regardless of how tonight turned out, we would be proud of Katie.”
Nolan teammate Becky Russell has kept up with Meili’s competitive swimming through social media forums.
“She would give regular updates when she was swimming at Columbia and MAC Elite,” Russell said. “I’ve watched her progress to international meets and get faster and faster. It’s wonderful that she captured the swimming world’s attention.”
Russell applauded Meili’s decision to keep swimming after graduating from Columbia.
“She was never an Olympic shoo-in but at the same time, it was a very real dream,” she said.
“Katie winning this medal makes our other athletes feel like the Olympics are possible and that’s amazing,” Vader says. “It gives them a new goal.”
(Kurkowski-Gillen is a reporter for North Texas Catholic, online newsmagazine of the Diocese of Fort Worth.)

Little Sisters provincial accepts highest award from Knights of Columbus

By Michael Swan
TORONTO (CNS) – The Little Sisters who fought the big system heard the cheers, held back tears and accepted the Gaudium et Spes Award from the Knights of Columbus at the Knights’ annual gala “States Dinner” in Toronto. A delegation of Mississippi Knights attended the convention, accepting awards and gathering information on behalf of Knights across the Magnolia State.
The Knights of Columbus in the United States provided $1 million to fund the exhaustive legal battle between the Little Sisters and the Health and Human Services mandate contained in rules for the 2011 Affordable Care Act.
“With a kind yet intrepid spirit, (the Little Sisters of the Poor) opposed government regulations that sought to force them to act against their consciences so that they may continue to carry out their longstanding service to the poor,” said the award citation.
The Little Sisters are the first religious order to receive the Gaudium et Spes Award, the highest honor bestowed only occasionally by the Knights. It was first given to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in 1992. Other honorees include L’Arche founder Jean Vanier in 2005, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in 2010 and Chicago Cardinal Francis George in 2015.
The award to the sisters fits into a religious freedom theme the Knights of Columbus are promoting at their 134th Supreme Convention in Toronto. The Knights have also brought bishops from Iraq and Syria to participate. The Knights of Columbus played a significant lobbying role in persuading the U.S. Congress to declare massacres of Christians by the Islamic State group “genocide.”
Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province said the order did not go looking for a high-profile fight against Washington regulators.
“We would never have chosen to become the public face of resistance to the HHS mandate,” she said.
In 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies providing insurance for prescription drugs to their employees but excluding birth control were violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act. After the contraceptive mandate was included in the Affordable Care Act, the Little Sisters of the Poor argued in multiple courts that it violated their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion by forcing them to indirectly pay for forms of contraception that violate Catholic teaching. Most courts ruled the burden on the Little Sisters’ religious freedom rights was not substantial.
The Supreme Court found that the lower courts should have sought a compromise which would allow the order of Catholic sisters a way out of paying for contraception.
This year the Knights are celebrating $175 million raised worldwide for worthwhile causes and more than 73.5 million hours of volunteering. Their 2015 global fundraising was $1.5 million higher than in 2014. Last year was the 17th year in a row that the Knights set records for both hours of service and dollars raised.
The convention has attracted Knights from the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Poland, Mexico, Mindanao, Guam, the Dominican Republic and all parts of the United States.
(Swan is associate editor of The Catholic Register, Toronto-based Canadian Catholic weekly.)

Baton Rouge bishop visits shelters, dispenses Mass obligation in face of widespread floods

BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) – As Louisiana’s governor announced the federal government had declared a major disaster for the state Aug. 14, Catholic churches in the Baton Rouge Diocese called for volunteers to help those displaced by extreme flooding and asked flood victims what assistance they needed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters at a news conference that about 20,000 people had been rescued from their homes and more than 10,000 people were in shelters after a slow-moving tropical storm system dumped nearly 2 feet of rain on southern Louisiana. Several rivers crested at record levels.
As of mid-morning Aug. 15, state officials said at least six people have died in the floods.
Baton Rouge Bishop Robert W. Muench visited three evacuation shelters Aug. 14 to comfort evacuees. In a statement the day before, he dispensed Sunday Mass obligations for all Catholics affected by the storm and urged parishioners to limit their driving over the weekend because of “the inherent dangers of unsafe driving conditions.”
“Please know of my prayers for your safety and the safety of your church parishes and parishioners,” he said in a message to pastors.
On Aug. 12 Edwards declared a state of emergency for the state of Louisiana and deployed the Louisiana National Guard. He then requested that President Barack Obama issue a federal disaster declaration. With that  declaration – which initially affects four civil parishes, with more expected – residents can seek assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At least 18 civil parishes have declared a state of emergency, with more expected to do so.
In a notice on its website, St. Jude the Apostle Catholic Church in East Baton Rouge civil parish called on parishioners available to volunteer to attend a morning meeting Aug. 15 to help with “flood relief planning and implementation.”
“It is possible that a significant number of our parish staff are unable to leave their homes and come to work, so we will need to rely heavily on parish volunteers,” the notice said.
At least two other Baton Rouge parishes, St. George and St. Aloysius, have set up Web pages asking flood victims to submit requests for help and asking others to list the kind of help they can provide.

Bishop urges people to listen, learn, pray, act to foster racial harmony

By Joseph Kenny
ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Bishop Edward K. Braxton of Belleville, Illinois, said his background is as an academic, with writings on theological and pastoral topics, and not as an expert in a field related to racial matters.
But he has become an important voice in the Catholic Church on the topic, thanks to his writings.
His pastoral letter “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015” was followed early this year by “The Catholic Church and the Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited.”
The second pastoral was a basis for his address to the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and a Lenten reflection at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, as well as the Aug. 8 talk sponsored by the St. Charles Lwanga Center, the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver, and the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
After the well-researched yet plain-spoken talk in St. Louis, several people — black and white, young and old — lined up before a microphone to add personal experiences of a racial divide or ask questions about how they can play a role in easing it. Applause and reactions from the attendees showed they were engaged with the topic and encouraged by the talk.
Several times Bishop Braxton asked people to listen, learn, think, pray and act on the issue of racial equality and harmony.
“Listen to people who think differently than you. Tell your children and your children’s children. Finally, act. Everyone can do something,” he said, recalling Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, who told him, “I must do what I can,” when he asked her why she continued her work with the poor and dying.
He hopes to raise consciousness and encourage a civil discourse about the powerful challenges.
The Black Lives Matter movement that sprang from the shooting deaths of black men in confrontations with police and an All Lives Matter response are compatible, Bishop Braxton said. However, “it is necessary to acknowledge the legitimacy of the particular concern for the lives of people of color. This is not something Americans recognize,” he said.
He gave the example of being in a secure home with plenty to eat and facing a family in dire need of food and shelter.
In the case of the second family,at case, “it is their lives and not mine that are in peril. If you simply say ‘All Lives Matter,’ there is a danger of falsely implying that every group of Americans is facing the same degree of peril, which then makes it possible to ignore or deny pressing issues like the frequent violent and fatal treatment of African-Americans in the face of minor or suspected misconducts. They seem to be tried, convicted and sentenced to death on the streets.”
Bishop Braxton, a former auxiliary bishop in St. Louis, said police officers have a very difficult and dangerous job. They deserve respect and gratitude, and their lives matter, he said.
At the same time, he said, “the point of Black Lives Matter is that many in the African-American community face existential threats that must not be ignored.”
Bishop Braxton encouraged audience members who spoke during the comment period after his talk. He urged a high school student from a nearly all-white suburban parish to visit parishes with diversity, serve on a justice and peace committee and most of all to express discomfort when others are belittling someone who is different from themselves. He told another person not to wait for her priest to gather people together because through her baptism she is the Church and is called to share the Gospel. He also urged support for schools that serve children in economically disadvantaged communities.
Bishop Braxton cited the unique peril that makes the Black Lives Matter movement relevant. But it should not be silent about the significant number of young African-American males who die at the hands of other African-Americans or alarmingly high number of abortions, he said. He also called for a repudiation of any form of violence against white people, especially police officers.
A recognition must be made that the lives of other vulnerable, marginalized groups in the country also matter, he added.
He praised Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate who was a survivor of Nazi death camps, for bringing the word’s attention to the horrors of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust as well as being a champion for the human rights of oppressed people around the world.
(Editor’s Note: Bishop Braxton’s 2015 and 2016 pastorals on the racial divide in the U.S. can be found on the website of the Diocese of Belleville, www.diobelle.org.)

Mass to close Fortnight for Freedom honors heroes

By Mark Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The theme for the 2016 Fortnight for Freedom, “Witnesses to Freedom,” unfolded as 1,500 people spent part of their July 4 holiday in Washington attending the observance’s closing Mass and venerating the relics of two English saints martyred in 1535 for their Catholic faith.
The Mass and veneration took place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. After the Mass, people waited in a long line to kneel and pray before the relics of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More displayed near the altar.
Welcoming the congregation, Msgr. Walter Rossi, the shrine’s rector, said those filling what is the largest Catholic church in North America offered “testimony that the freedom to live our lives according to our faith is fundamental to the life of believers.”
The U.S. Catholic Church’s fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom closing Mass included the participation of three of the petitioners in a recent Supreme Court case challenging the federal contraceptive mandate. They contended that the requirement violated their religious freedom by forcing Catholic institutions to provide employee health insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization procedures, which are prohibited by church teaching.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, whose archdiocese and affiliated agencies challenged the mandate, was the main celebrant at the Mass. The homilist was Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, whose diocese also opposed the Health and Human Services contraceptive coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act.
The consolidated case that was before the Supreme Court, Zubik v. Burwell, is named for the bishop and for Sylvia Burwell, who is HHS secretary. A group of Little Sisters of the Poor – whose religious order also challenged the mandate – sat in a pew near the front of the congregation and received a long standing ovation at the end of the Mass.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, was a concelebrant at the Mass. Along with Bishop Zubik, other concelebrants included Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio and Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington; and Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield, the USCCB’s general secretary.
In his homily, Bishop Zubik commended the congregation for standing together and praying for religious freedom “on this 240th anniversary of our freedom in our United States,” dating back to the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1776.
He noted that just as footnotes in a term paper solidify the accuracy and strengthen the message of a point being made, “you and I are called to be footnotes, footnotes to the truth who is Jesus Christ himself.”
Catholics are called to be witnesses to Jesus and to be a living sign of his truth, the bishop said, adding that for some, that witness takes the form of martyrdom.
Bishop Zubik said “our ancestors in the faith” demonstrate what it means to be a footnote to Jesus’ truth, and then be witnesses and sometimes martyrs. He pointed to St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded when he refused to give in to political power.
Pittsburgh’s bishop praised the example of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, a layman and a bishop, respectively, as witnesses and martyrs who “would not yield supremacy of power over faith, even to the king.”
Both men refused to accept Parliament’s Act of Supremacy, which had declared that King Henry VIII was head of the Church of England. Both were imprisoned for treason in the Tower of London for months. They were beheaded 14 days apart in 1535; Bishop Fisher was 65, More was 57.
The relic of St. John Fisher was a ring that had belonged to him. The relics of St. Thomas More were a piece of his jawbone and one half of a tooth. The national shrine was the last stop of the tour for the relics, which earlier been displayed in Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
In his homily, Bishop Zubik also highlighted the heroic example of other martyrs, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan friar who gave up his life for another man in 1941 at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and Blessed Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop and champion of the poor who was shot in the heart while celebrating Mass in 1980. Bishop Zubik also praised the witness of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic State militants on a beach in Libya in 2015.
Bishop Zubik noted that the Little Sisters of the Poor in their service to the elderly poor and in their stand for religious freedom “are carrying the banner that we will not back off the truth that is Jesus Christ.”
He noted that the nation’s forefathers put forth religious liberty as the first freedom in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, giving people the freedom “to worship our God as the source of our strength, and also to “live our faith outside our churches, synagogues and mosques.”
Bishop Zubik concluded his homily by encouraging people to “pray that we may build on our ancestors of faith and our ancestors in our country and be witnesses to religious freedom.” That witness involves praying, speaking out and acting on behalf of religious freedom, and living that freedom, he said.
The intercessions included a prayer that the president, judges and lawmakers will uphold religious freedom and protect the conscience rights of all people, and that religious-sponsored educational, healthcare and charitable outreach programs will be free to fulfill their mission.
Cardinal Wuerl read a prayer for government written in 1791 by Baltimore Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the new United States.
In remarks after Communion, Archbishop Lori said he hoped the saints’ relics venerated that day “will spur all of us on to cherish, protect and use wisely the gift of freedom.” He thanked dioceses, parishes and individual Catholics for their activities during the Fortnight for Freedom, which ran from June 21 – the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More – to July 4. Archbishop Lori had celebrated the fortnight’s opening Mass in Baltimore at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Archbishop Lori also encouraged people to pray daily for religious freedom and to use that freedom to spread the Gospel, especially the works of mercy, and to stand in solidarity with persecuted people around the world.
People entering the national shrine by its main doors could see a 30-by-50-foot U.S. flag draped from the Knights’ Tower, which was provided by the Knights of Columbus. The Mass concluded on a patriotic note, with the singing of “America the Beautiful.”
The fortnight’s closing Mass was telecast live by the Eternal Word Television Network and also appeared on CatholicTV.
(Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)

Supreme Court tie vote blocks temporary plan to stop deportations

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – With a tie vote June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Obama administration’s plan to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
The court’s 4-4 vote leaves in place a lower court injunction blocking the administration’s immigration policy with the one-page opinion stating: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”
Legal experts have called it an ambiguous and confusing political and legal decision that leaves many in a state of limbo. It also puts a lot of attention on the vacant Supreme Court seat that may determine how the case is decided in an appeal.
Religious leaders were quick to denounce the court’s action as a setback for immigrant families and stressed the urgency of comprehensive immigration reform.
Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the court’s decision was a “huge disappointment” and a setback, but he said the focus now needs to be on how to fix the current immigration system.
“We must not lose hope that reform is possible,” he said. In a news briefing, President Barack Obama said the country’s immigration system is broken and the Supreme Court’s inability to reach a decision set it back even further.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin praised the court’s decision for making clear that “the president is not permitted to write laws – only Congress is,” which he said was a “major victory in our fight to restore the separation of powers.”
At issue in the United States v. Texas case are Obama’s executive actions on immigration policy that were challenged by 26 states.
The Texas Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, said in a statement that “respect for human life and dignity demands leaders put people before politics.” Added Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston: “Our legislators continuously refuse to address immigration policies in a comprehensive manner.”
“I am deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision … putting millions of families at risk of being ripped apart,” said Dominican Sister Bernardine Karge of Chicago, speaking for the Washington-based group Faith in Public Life.
“The stories of immigrant families are intimately woven into the tapestry of this great country, and today’s decision threatens our nation’s commitment to justice and compassion,” she said, adding that she hoped the presumptive presidential nominees and Congress makes comprehensive immigration reform a priority.
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. or CLINIC, similarly expressed disappointment in the court’s decision and said the responsibility is more than ever on Congress to come up with comprehensive immigration reform.
She said the court’s decision will put “millions of long-term U.S. residents in fear of law enforcement and at risk of mistreatment in the workplace, by landlords and from abusers due to threats of deportation.”
The case, argued before the court in April, involved Obama’s 2014 expansion of a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA.
The programs had been put on hold last November by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, upholding a Texas-based federal judge’s injunction against the executive actions. The original DACA program is not affected by the injunction.
The states suing the federal government claimed the president went too far and was not just putting a temporary block on deportations, but giving immigrants in the country without legal permission a “lawful presence” that enabled them to qualify for Social Security and Medicare benefits.
U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who defended the government, said the “pressing human concern” was to avoid breaking up families of U.S. citizen children, something echoed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CLINIC, and at least three Catholic colleges, which joined in a brief with more than 75 education and children’s advocacy organizations.
When the case was argued before the high court in mid-April, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stressed that the 4 million immigrants who might be given a temporary reprieve from deportation “are living in the shadows” and “are here whether we want them or not,” adding that the government had limited resources available for deportations.
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Supreme Court refuses to hear abortion law appeal

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) –The day after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a major abortion ruling striking down regulations on Texas abortion clinics and doctors, it rejected an appeal to reinstate laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin that would place similar requirements on abortion doctors.
It also denied an appeal of a Washington state rule requiring pharmacists to dispense Plan B or other emergency contraceptives despite their religious objections to doing so.
The court June 28 refused to hear appeals from Mississippi and Wisconsin challenging lower-court rulings blocking their laws similar to the one in Texas that require abortion doctors in the two states to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Federal appeals courts in Chicago and New Orleans had previously ruled against the states.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a statement that the court’s decision was “not surprising” after its rule on the Texas law. He had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Texas case.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he was disappointed by the court’s Texas ruling and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said the ruling endangers women’s lives.
According to The Associated Press, if Mississippi’s law had been enacted it would have likely led to the closure of the state’s only abortion clinic.
In a 5-3 vote June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, challenged a 2013 state law, H.B. 2, placing the requirements on the state’s abortion clinics. Opponents of the law claimed the requirements were aimed at closing abortion clinics. But the state and many pro-life advocates maintained that the law protected women’s health.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups submitted a joint friend of the court brief in the case supporting the Texas law, which was similar to other state laws regulating abortion clinics across the country.
The Supreme Court also refused to hear an appeal from pharmacists who have religious objections to a Washington state law that requires pharmacies to dispense Plan B or other emergency contraceptives also called “morning after pills.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said they would have heard the appeal and Alito wrote a 15-page dissent against the court’s decision not to hear the case, calling it an “ominous sign.”
“If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern,” he added.
Even before the Supreme Court issued a decision on whether it would take the case, the pharmacists’ case already had gathered 14 friend of the court briefs from supportive groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The case was filed with the court by the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom. Kristen Waggoner, a senior counsel with the firm, said that the state of Washington allows pharmacists to refer customers to other pharmacists for just about any reason — except reasons of conscience – and the other 49 states allow conscience-based referrals, which are fully supported by the American Pharmacists Association and dozens more pharmacy associations.
Follow Zimmermann on Twitter @carolmaczim.

Courts rule on three cases impacting Mississippians

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Federal court decisions in three cases in the last weeks of June directly impact the work of the church in Mississippi. Federal Judge Carlton Reeves blocked the implementation of HB 1523, also known as the religious liberty law, hours before it was to go into effect Friday, July 1. Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a proposed law that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Turning away the case means the last abortion clinic in Mississippi remains open. In the third case, a tie vote in the Supreme Court blocked a plan to protect millions of immigrants from deportation.
The coincidence that the rulings all came during Fortnight for Freedom was not lost on local church leaders. “The U.S. bishops set aside these weeks for us to reflect on threats to religious liberty and to celebrate our protected American freedoms,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. “There is a certain irony to the fact that these all happened during the fortnight,” he added.
The bishop released a statement relating to the religious liberty law and the abortion case on Friday, July 1. “We must strike a just balance between church and state, not just for our own protection, but for the protection of other faiths and society as a whole,” wrote Bishop Kopacz. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in its statement on religious liberty states “‘This is not a Catholic issue. This is not a Jewish issue. This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue. It is an American issue.’ Once the state begins to limit rights of people of one faith, we must be concerned for people of all faiths and beliefs,” he added.
The bishop has emphasized from the start of the HB1523 debate this is not an issue of whom the church serves, but how.
“The Catholic Church welcomes everyone in our parishes, schools and service centers. We have and will continue to help anyone in need through Catholic Charities, schools and parish ministries, regardless of your faith, beliefs or background. And we will continue to raise our voices both in our churches and in our communities in defense of human dignity and justice,” he wrote. The full text of his statement is available on page 9.
The religious liberty law was originally meant to protect religious organizations from violating their beliefs regarding marriage. The church sought exemptions from performing civil unions between gay partners, placing foster children or adopting children to gay couples and from being forced to hire people in ministry or education positions whose lifestyles contradicted church teachings. Lawmakers added a host of provisions to the original bill and critics called the resulting legislation discriminatory. Earlier in the year, Bishop Kopacz released a statement explaining the stance of the Diocese of Jackson on the issue.
“The Diocese of Jackson supported and would continue to support a religious exemption on behalf of the mission of the Catholic Church with regard to education and social services. We would like to continue to provide these services while remaining faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” said the bishop in April. “The diocese had no involvement in the other portions of the bill that addressed business and government operations. The church will continue to work to protect its First Amendment right to worship, to educate and to serve in the public domain while respecting the dignity of all citizens,” he continued.
State Attorney General Jim Hood said he would have to think ‘long and hard’ before filing an appeal. “I believe in the free exercise of religion and there will be a case in the future in which the U.S. Supreme Court will better define our religious rights. This case, however, is not that vehicle,” he said. Governor Phil Bryant, however, has called for an appeal.
In his ruling, Judge Reeves called HB1523 unconstitutional because, he says, it “grants special rights to citizens who hold one of three “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions” reflecting disapproval of lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons. That violates both the guarantee of religious neutrality and the promise of equal protection of the laws.” He goes on to say the rights of religious institutions are already protected under the First Amendment and do not need an additional protection. Another part of his ruling calls HB1523 unclear in its instructions in too many cases to which it might be applied.
In the second case, a lower court had blocked a Mississippi law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to be able to admit patients at local hospitals. “We are saddened at this country’s insistence on abortion, the destruction of innocent lives, and the laws that have been passed to support this continued destruction,” said Bishop Kopacz. “The laws requiring doctors to have admitting privileges, although seen as a roadblock for abortion facilities, are in reality a commitment to the good health of all,” he added. There is only one abortion clinic left in Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. For more on this case, see the related story on page1.
The final court action involves the work of immigrants’ rights advocates in Mississippi. Advocates have reported an uptick in law enforcement raids in Hispanic communities in the state since January and they expect those raids to continue so the center is stepping up its efforts to make sure immigrants know their rights. See page 8 for more on the ruling and what the Migrant Support Center is doing to address the rights of immigrants here. See related stories on page 8.
Bishop Kopacz said the church in Mississippi will continue to work for justice for all through political involvement and social justice outreach, especially on behaf of those on the margins of our communities while respecting the dignity of each person. “People of faith are called to be active in the political process – to protect the dignity of each human being and to make our communities stronger overall.”

Catholic press faces ‘double mandate’

By Julie Asher
ST. LOUIS (CNS) – Catholic communicators “have a double mandate: the First Amendment of the Constitution and the Gospel,” Greg Erlandson told the Catholic Media Conference in St. Louis.
Erlandson, former president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor, (OSV) received the Bishop John England Award June 2 from the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.
“These are perilous times,” he said in his acceptance remarks. “We are looking at competing ideological agendas that too often are incompatible with the Gospel and that too often threaten the weakest among us – both born and unborn – the undocumented, the terminally ill, the poor and neglected.”
Catholic communicators’ vocation “is to be their voice,” said Erlandson. “Our vocation is to be the voice of the church. That is our responsibility and our privilege.”
Our Sunday Visitor, based in Huntington, Indiana, was founded 104 years ago “to be a voice for the church and the rights of Catholics.” he said.
He said that in that role, he “sought to defend the church’s right to speak out on all the issues of the day, to defend the church’s right to participate in the debates that animate the public square, but to do so without rancor or histrionics, to do so without blinders or defensiveness, but in the spirit of loyalty, honesty and intelligence that I hope has defined all that we published.”
In editorials and articles, OSV Newsweekly “has spoken out in defense of religious liberty and supported – both in court and in our pages – the opposition to the HHS (Health and Human Services) mandate regarding contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. We have addressed religious freedom issues worldwide, and defended the rights of migrants and refugees.”
The publication also has addressed the sex abuse crisis, he said, “both saluting the church for the policies it has instituted in the wake of the crisis, but also addressing the failures of leadership that occurred and that so wounded our church.”
He noted the publication’s defense of Catholic organizations “that have endured unjust attack,” he said, pointing in particular to Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency. CRS “has been the target of malicious and shameful witch hunts,” Erlandson said.
The England award is named for the Irish-born bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, who founded The Catholic Miscellany in 1822. As publisher of the newspaper, Bishop England defended separation of church and state, saying it was good for both entities. He also espoused freedom of religion. Presented annually, the award recognizes publishers in the Catholic press for the defense of First Amendment rights, such as freedom of the press and freedom of religion. It is the CPA’s highest award for publishers.
In 2015, Erlandson received the CPA’s St. Francis de Sales Award.
Mississippi Catholic production manager and creative services coordinator Contyna McNealy was recognized at this year’s Catholic Media Conference with a second place award for the design of the diocesan Saltillio Mission collection ad. Editor Maureen Smith attended the conference on behalf of the department of communications.

Bishop Cheri resting after heart bypass surgery

By Peter Finney Jr.
NEW ORLEANS – After suffering a mild heart attack, Auxiliary Bishop Fernand Cheri of the Archdiocese of New Orleans underwent double bypass surgery June 1 at Touro Infirmary and is now recuperating at his residence.
“I’d like to ask everyone to keep me in prayer and try not to contact me because it’s better that I can rest and recuperate and get back to ministry,” Bishop Cheri said.
Bishop Cheri conferred confirmation at St. Joachim Church in Marrero on May 27, and he woke up early the next morning having difficulty taking deep breaths.
He was taken by ambulance to Touro, where tests revealed he had “a slight heart attack” and also had two blocked arteries.
“They said one was blocked over 90 percent, and that’s the one they call the widow-maker,” Bishop Cheri said. “It’s one of those silent killers.”
Doctors first tried to resolve the blockages through less invasive angioplasty but stopped the procedure when they determined the blockages were too great.
Bishop Cheri had to wait until June 1 for the bypass surgery in order to give his heart time to recover from the angioplasty procedure.
The bypass surgery went fine, Bishop Cheri said, but he had to spend a few extra days in the hospital because he got lightheaded after taking a particular medicine.
“I was born with one kidney, which complicates a lot of stuff,” Bishop Cheri said. “They’re trying to balance out what’s going on. It’s going to take time. I’ve just got to give myself time.”
Bishop Cheri said his recuperation of several months would be a challenge because he considers himself a “horrible” patient.
“Patience is not my middle name,” he said. “God is testing me. I’m grateful for all the prayers.”
Bishop Cheri spoke in Jackson earlier this year at the diocesan celebration in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Black History Month.
(Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.)