Catholic vote remains important, but less predictable than in the past

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Is there a Catholic vote?
Well, yes. Kind of.
Voting patterns show Catholics vote much like the rest of America, with minor swings one way or the other, depending on the candidate and the state.
Nevertheless, the Catholic vote still is important, as syndicated columnist, political commentator and Georgetown University professor E.J. Dionne likes to say.
Any way it’s examined, analysts say the Catholic vote — about 22 percent of the electorate — is not as monolithic as it once was.
That is, except for Latinos, who now comprise about 35 percent of U.S. Catholics: More than 65 percent regularly vote for Democrats, and about 20 percent vote Republican, leaving few to be swayed by the candidates’ political positions.
“Even though people use the shorthand of ‘the Catholic vote,’ ‘the vote of Catholics’ is probably the better way to describe it because there is that diversity now,” said Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Gray suggested that the elections of 1960 and 1964 were the last where Catholics could be considered a uniform voting bloc. In 1960, they were moved to support Democrat John F. Kennedy, the country’s first and only Catholic president, and that wave carried into the election four years later.
But since then, Gray told Catholic News Service, Catholics “have not been really in one camp or the other,” and they hold values similar to the rest of the voting populace, an indication that church teaching holds little sway in the election at the polls.
“(Catholics) look for teachings of the church that are consistent with the party affiliation that they have,” Gray said.
Monika L. McDermott, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, who has analyzed exit poll data for national news organizations, echoed Gray, saying the diversity among Catholics means they vote the way they want no matter what the Catholic Church teaches.
“They go their own way. They pick and choose what they want and what they want to follow,” she said. So there’s no need to expect that Catholics by themselves will sway the eventual outcome of this year’s presidential election, with its strange twists as candidates trade extraordinarily nasty barbs and accuse major party leadership of a lack of transparency in the delegate selection process.
Factors such as anger and distrust among voters are fueling the rise of self-proclaimed “outsiders” whose message has appealed to those who have felt betrayed by the institutions of government, church and social services that they once trusted to work on their behalf.
Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, said perhaps no other group has felt more betrayed than white working-class communities in places such as Pennsylvania, Appalachia, the Ozarks and the Deep South.
In an address during a daylong symposium, “Rebuilding Trust,”  in April at the university, Schneck described the high levels of drug abuse and alcoholism, marriage failures, declining life expectancy and rising crime rates that plague such communities.
“There are many angles from which to consider the correlation between decaying social capital and what’s happening to the quality of life for these populations, but one way to see it is as a crisis of trust,” Schneck told the audience.
“It’s a breakdown of trust with even basic institutions of social life. Their distrust of government is something we all hear about, but it goes far beyond that,” he said.
Later in an interview, Schneck said working-class whites feel “like they’ve lived up to their end of the bargain, but the other institutions have not,” so they are turning to candidates who seem to offer them a better life.
Matthew Green, assistant professor of political scientist at The Catholic University of America and another symposium speaker, said that could explain the appeal of candidates who have positioned themselves as outside the political mainstream.
Green said the high turnout in Republican primaries among people feeling forgotten helped Donald Trump hold off challengers.
“If you distrust the institution, but there is a candidate who says ‘I’m going to fix things,’ then that might motivate you to vote,” Green told CNS.
Even with the large turnout among working-class white voters during the primaries, Latinos may hold the key to the general election. If they show up at the polls in places such as Florida, Nevada and Colorado, they will influence who becomes the next occupant of the White House, said  Luis Fraga, co-director of the Institute for Latino Studies and professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.
As goes the Latino vote, so goes Catholic Latino voters, he said.
He offered a few statistics that are expected to influence election outcomes beginning this year, but especially in the future:
— 63 percent of Latinos in the U.S. were born in the U.S. and another 15 percent are naturalized citizens.
— Of the Latinos younger than age 18, 94 percent were born in the U.S.
— About 800,000 Latinos turn 18 every year.
“If I wanted to register new Latino voters, that’s where you tend to focus, it would be 17-year-olds. You have a huge group that has the possibility of engaging (politically),” he said.
Fraga pointed to Florida, with its rapid growth in newcomers from Puerto Rico, with large numbers of young and educated people seeking opportunities that are unavailable on the Caribbean island territory.
Fraga said the number of Florida residents of Cuban origin, who tend to vote Republican, remains flat and, because both trends are expected to continue, the political landscape in Florida will change.
However Catholics vote, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops again is disseminating its quadrennial document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” with accompanying study and discussion guides, bulletin inserts, and materials for use by bishops.
The latest iteration of the document, approved at the bishops’ annual fall meeting in November, draws on papal teaching since 2007, particularly the latter part of Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure and Pope Francis’ three years overseeing the Vatican. It also considers recent developments in U.S. domestic and foreign policy related to same-sex marriage, the use of drones in warfare and care for the environment, among other issues.
“There’s no doubt that this is something that’s very important to bring to the attention of Catholics, and formation of conscience, as the document says, is a lifelong undertaking, and our need to bring our faith to the public square is also not about one election,” said Susan Sullivan, director of education and outreach in the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.
(Editor’s Note: See Bishop Kopacz’ column on page 3 for additonal reflections and find a link to “Faithful Citizenship” materials online at
Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski

Diocese of Memphis welcomes Bishop Holley

By Suzanne Avilés
MEMPHIS, TENN. –Bishop Martin David Holley, DD, was installed as the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee on Wednesday, Oct 19. He follows Bishop Emeritus J. Terry Steib, SVD, who retires after 23 years of service to the Memphis Diocese.
Immediately after his installation, Bishop Holley joined volunteers from the diocese in two service projects to serve the hungry and comfort the sick. The effort was just one event in his “100 Days of Service,” in which he has teamed up with Catholic Charities of West Tennessee to assist the vulnerable.
In addition to Bishop Joseph Kopacz from the Diocese of Jackson, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, Justin Cardinal Rigali, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, attended the installation.
“I am honored and humbled to join the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee. I’ve chosen as the motto for my episcopal ministry “His Mercy Endures”, and mercy will be my guiding principle here on the banks of the Mississippi. I look forward to listening to, learning from and sharing with the people of the diocese,” said Bishop Holley.
Bishop Emeritus Steib stated, “I thank God for allowing me to serve the good people of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee for the last 23 years. Likewise, I thank God for sending Bishop Holley to our diocese to serve the people of West Tennessee. I offer Bishop Holley my prayers and best wishes.”
Bishop Holley was ordained as a priest in 1987 and served in his home diocese of Pensacola, Florida, before being named auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington in 2004. In the 12 years in Washington, he served as vicar general, moderator of ethnic ministries, a member of the Washington InterFaith Network, the International Catholic Foundation for the service of Deaf People, Catholic Athletes for Christ. He also participated on several committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops including the African-American Catholics, Hispanic Affairs, Pro-life and Multicultural committees. Bishop Holley has been a member of the Joint Conference of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus since 1983. He has been on the Board of Catholic Relief Services and is the immediate past Chaplain of the Knights of St. Peter Claver.
The Catholic Diocese of Memphis covers more than 10,000 square miles and includes more than 65,000 Catholics. Within the state of Tennessee, Catholics make up approximately 4 percent of the population. The Diocese is referred to as “The Good Samaritan on the banks of the Mississippi” and as the “Land between the rivers” referring to its location between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. The north and south boundaries of the diocese are the state lines of Kentucky and Mississippi.
(Suzanne Avilés is the Director of Communications for the Diocese of Memphis)

Worst U.S. natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy

By Richard Meek
BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) – Water lapped at the heels of Father Michael Galea, steady rain an arduous reminder of Mother Nature’s unfinished business.
With a sadness in his voice, Father Galea, pastor at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant, estimated that as many as 90 percent of his parishioners were impacted during the recent historic flooding that touched nearly every corner of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“It’s going to change the whole dynamic of Holy Rosary as a parish as we know it,” Father Galea told The Catholic Commentator, the diocesan newspaper. “It’s not going to be the same. And we are going to lose quite a bit of people if they choose to move away.

How to Help:
— Diocese of Baton Rouge Disaster Assistance Fund at
— Catholic Charities USA at (Donations can be sent by mail with a check payable to Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 17066 Baltimore, MD, 21297-1066; or by phone with a credit card, (800) 919-9338.
— Knights of Columbus at (Donations via check or money order can be sent to: K of C Louisiana Flood, Knights of Columbus Charities, P.O. Box 1966, New Haven, CT, 06509-1966.)

“But hopefully with love and compassion and a lot of hugs we can become a family all over again. That is what is most important, for us to be together again.”
Coming together as a family, whether it is a community, church parish or simply a family dinner, is a question many are asking in the wake of the floods that in some area dumped 20 inches of rain in as many hours. The carnage is stunning.
In Central, it is estimated 27,000 out of 28,000 people were impacted, leaving some to speculate if the suburban community will be able to recover.
In Livingston Parish, a civil jurisdiction, at least 75 percent of residents suffered some type of water damage, with most of the destruction major. Residents in the civil jurisdictions of East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Tangipahoa parishes also were forced to dig out.
Much of Zachary was damaged, as the wide swath of destruction seems endless. In the aftermath many residential streets appeared to be mere passes surrounded by mountains of debris. And the stench permeates one’s pores, a smell that eventually subsides but never leaves.
Schools were closed, many for weeks, and businesses were struggling to reopen. Curfews were enacted in civil parishes throughout to lessen the threat of looting in the impacted areas.
Some estimates are as high as 100,000 homes damaged, with thousands fleeing to evacuation shelters. The floodwaters claimed 13 lives, and many others survived only after being rescued from their rooftops, reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.
According to Joe Ingraham, chief financial officer for the Baton Rouge Diocese, six churches took on water and the parish schools at two of those also were damaged. Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, which opened in August, was inundated with 4 feet of water and has to relocate.
Although the damage was widespread and costly, Ingraham managed to see the silver lining in the storm clouds that blanketed the area for nearly a week.
“It could have been worse, when you see four churches out of 71 severely damaged,” Ingraham said. “The worst thing is the damage to our parishioners and their homes.”
The storm, which first began to unleash its nearly weeklong fury Aug. 12, packed a one-two wallop that drove water into areas that had never experienced flooding. Initially, torrential rains from the slow-moving system initially caused street flooding, which also forced water into homes.
But the greater damage came in the days that followed as area rivers overflowed their banks and flowed unfettered into neighborhoods, businesses and even major thoroughfares.
At one point, Interstates 10 and 12, the two main arteries in and out of Baton Rouge, were closed. Along I-12, some motorists were trapped in their cars for more than 30 hours, presenting a unique opportunity for ministry for Father Jamin David, pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Albany.
Even as the waters continued to rise, donations, in the form of cash, clothes, gift cards, cleaning supplies and other necessities began to filter in from all over the world. On Aug. 23, the Knights of Columbus donated $200,000 to the diocese and another $30,000 to the Knights’ Louisiana State Council.
Members of The Mississippi Knights of Columbus have rallied to the support of the people from Louisiana impacted by the recent flooding. Guy Heying, state programs director of the Knights of Columbus Mississippi Jurisdiction, said that Knights of Columbus Councils from all corners of the state have responded in great numbers, working with their local communities and collecting trailer loads of supplies and delivering them to those in need in throughout the flood impacted areas.
“In addition to providing needed supplies, the Mississippi Knights have put boots on the ground helping to remove debris and cleaning out flooded homes in the Louisiana cities of Walker, St. Francisville, Denham Springs and Baton Rouge supporting the communities as they begin their recovery efforts in the aftermath of the recent catastrophic flooding,” said Heying.
(Meek is editor of The Catholic Commentator, newspaper of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.)

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,

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.