Young adults want to be heard by the church, study finds

LINTHICUM, Md. (CNS) – It’s no secret that for years, teenagers and young adults have been leaving the Catholic Church, putting aside organized religion for a more personal spirituality, another faith tradition or no faith at all.
A new study by St. Mary’s Press looks at the reasons for such religious disaffiliation, asking teenagers and young adults ages 15 to 25 a basic question: Why did you leave the church?
The answers reported in the study, titled “Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation of Young Catholics,” vary widely with respondents citing sociological, familial and spiritual reasons as well as opposition to organized religion.
What’s key to the study, said John Vitek, CEO and president of St. Mary’s Press, is that the process gave young people a voice, something which has not happened often within the church.
He made the comments during the Jan. 16 release of the findings at the Maritime Conference Center near Baltimore.
“We wanted to hear in young people’s own words their lived experience and their stories. So we spent time listening to young people throughout the country, to hear their stories in their own words, uncensored and unfiltered,” he said.
The study’s release coincided with a 90-minute symposium that included two young adults, a priest, a sociologist who studies religious affiliation trends and an audience of about 200 people from parishes and dioceses throughout the country.
The discussion occurred on the first day of a three-day invitation-only meeting of 65 Catholic leaders, many of whom work in diocesan and parish youth and young adult ministries.
The two-year study found that religious disaffiliation is a process and often begins with questions about faith, doubts and hurts that accumulate over time “until it’s too much,” Vitek said. The process begins at an early age, sometimes as young as 10 years old.
The study also found that the median age for young people to leave the church was 13 even though teenagers may have continued attending Mass with their families because they felt pressured to do so.
Vitek added that almost all respondents interviewed said they felt more freedom and were happier after leaving the church.
Father Edmund Luciano, director of development in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, and a former diocesan director of youth and young adult ministry, said during the discussion that 13 years old was too young to “be allowed to make decision like that.”
“I see a breakdown in this in the home and in the parents,” Father Luciano said. “They are the primary teachers of the faith. They are the role models and the examples. I don’t think the kids are doing anything wrong. I look to the parents wondering why they’re not supporting the growth of their kids.”
The priest and others suggested that the church must better equip parents, teachers and ministry leaders to not shy away from questions young people have about faith.
Panelist Father Joseph Muth, pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Baltimore, said teenagers often have many questions about life and that personal religious life was no exception.
“It’s the normal process of growing up. In that moment we need someone to trust the questions being asked and to be equipped to give an answer,” he said. Many in the audience nodded in agreement.
Christina Hannon, young adult engagement officer with the Coalition with Young Adults in Northeast Ohio, who was in the audience, said she has learned that young adults are looking for a place to be welcomed. If a parish is not welcoming, she suggested, a young person may decide to abandon the church altogether.
Panelist Beatriz Mendivil came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 12 with her family and grew up Catholic but left the church at age 20 to explore other options. She said she began wondering about church practices, particularly confessing sins as a 10-year-old.
“I was so ashamed I had to sit there and talk to a complete stranger,” she said, adding, “I felt … just awful and this person was just sitting there telling me that I was not good. As a 10-year-old I think that’s not fair. I think that creates a trauma for a young child.”
She said she now finds peace and clarity in a “higher power,” whether it is in nature, her family or even her pets.
The conversation returned repeatedly to the question of whether young people are heard by church leaders or others who can guide them through the questions they have.
Vitek said respondents thanked those conducting the study for the opportunity to speak because they had not been given such an opportunity before.
Often, the questions young people have challenge religious institutions, said panelist Josh Packard, associate professor of sociology at the University of Northern Colorado, whose work includes studies on how religion drives people away from church but not from God.
He said the challenge facing religious institutions is not to change tenets but to make sure that they adhere to core values “about who we serve and what we’re here for” so that young people do not feel ignored.
The study began in 2015 when St. Mary’s Press, based in Winona, Minnesota, contracted with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington to conduct a survey of young people from 15 to 25 years old who left the Catholic Church. It started with a pool of 3,450 randomly selected young people of which 1,435 completed the screening process.
The full report resulted from interviews with 204 young people – 20 teenagers and 184 young adults – who once self-identified as Catholic but now do not.
From the sample, the study estimated that 12.8 percent of U.S. young adults between 18 and 25 years old and 6.8 percent of teenagers 15 to 17 years old are former Catholics.
In the larger pool, 20 percent said they were no longer Catholic because they stopped believing in God or religion; 16 percent cited an issue with family or parents leading to their decision to leave; 15 percent changed faiths on their own while their family remained Catholic and 11 percent said they left Catholicism because of growing opposition to the church or religious institutions in general.
The study also found that 74 percent of the sample said that they no longer identified themselves as Catholic between the ages of 10 and 20 with the median age being 13. More than one-third, 35 percent, have no religious affiliation, 46 percent joined another religion and 14 percent said they were atheists or agnostics.
The margin of error is plus or minus 6.9 percentage points.
The study broadly categorized respondents into three categories – the injured, the drifters and the dissenters – based on the reasons given for leaving the church.
It also outlined a series of reasons respondents gave for their religious disaffiliation including family disruption; hypocrisy within the church; disconnection between belief and practice of the faith; lack of companions on a spiritual journey; disagreement with church teachings, particularly same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception; issues with teachings about the Bible including salvation, heaven and life after death; and disillusionment and frustration that their questions about faith were never answered or that they never had the opportunity to ask them in the first place.
The study follows a Pew Research Center study released in 2015 that outlined the religious landscape in the country and uncovered the rapid increase in people without any religious affiliation, who are sometimes referred to as the “nones.”
Pew researchers found in 2014 that 22.8 percent of Americans said they were religiously unaffiliated, up from 16.1 percent in 2007. The percentage of the unaffiliated rises to 36 percent for young adults 18 to 24 years old and 34 percent for adults in the 25- to 33-year old range, according to Pew.
Pew estimated overall that about 56 million U.S. adults had no religious affiliation.
The discussion at the Maritime Conference Center was recorded and was to be broadcast Jan. 25 by Minnesota Public Radio.

National Migration Week tells story of many journeys, one family

By Maureen Smith
How can the church minister to and be strengthened by a new wave of immigrants from South and Central America? According to Dr. Hossfman Ospino, an associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education at Boston College, both the nation and the church have done it before and will be able to do it again. Ospino came to the Diocese of Jackson to lead and participate in a series of workshops and encounters in deanery five as part of National Migration Week, Jan. 7-13.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been organizing a theme and providing educational materials for National Migration Week for almost 50 years as an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.
“The theme of National Migration Week 2018 was ‘Many Journeys, One Family.’ In this context, Dr. Ospino gave a conference to pastors, Lay Ecclesial Ministers, leaders from different parishes and diocesan offices about the history of migration and how this phenomenon is re-defining the Catholicism in the 21st century,” explained Danna Johnson, coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for Pontotoc St. Christopher and head of the Catholic Charities office in Vardaman. “This was a learning experience and an opportunity to re-affirm our missionary spirit as one church here in this diocese,” she added.
In a recent article in America Magazine, Ospino compared the current influx of immigrants to when European Catholics poured into the States. Father Tim Murphy, pastor of Tupelo St. James Parish said he was encouraged by what he heard. “It’s challenging, but it’s possible. We have done this before, we have met the needs of other immigrant groups and we can do it again now,” he said. For both the European immigrants and the Hispanic immigrants, the church is at the center of their cultural experience so their presence is an opportunity to strengthen the church overall.
Father Murphy said Ospino’s statistics and suggestions “really affirm a lot of what we have been doing in this mission diocese.”
Father Murphy said beyond just research, Ospino brings a practical eye to his presentations. “He comes from a hands-on background. He did mission work and pastoral work and retreat work from the time he was 16-years old.”
Amelia McGowan, who heads the Catholic Charities Migrant Support Services, presented a video called “The Cost of Deportation.” The video is meant to raise awareness about what is happening in communities right here and help people comprehend the importance of knowing their rights. She also offered a free legal clinic to families who might have questions about their particular immigration status.
“Many Hispanic families from deanery five attended a unique presentation by Father Octavio Escobar and Ospino. Both presenters were able to challenge our roles as baptized, as Christians, and as immigrant Catholics in our communities,” Johnson said. “Father Octavio based his presentation on the article Dr. Ospino wrote in America Magazine,” she added.
On Friday, despite plummeting temperatures and ice and sleet pressing into the area, Ospino visited Vardaman. While there, he toured a sweet potato packing plant and took advantage of an opportunity to listen to a diverse group of local citizens and the advisory board of Northeast office of Catholic Charities, Inc. The group was able to share the challenges and opportunities all face in attending the different needs in this rural area of Mississippi. “He told me later this rural experience was new to him so the visit to Vardaman was mutually beneficial,” said Father Murphy.
“The outcome of this week was to have an opportunity to come together, as one family, to share, learn, and celebrate the Culture of Encounter,” said Johnson. “We believe that Amelia, Father Octavio, and Ospino made that possible. We all are blessed beyond measure with their presence among us,” she added.
“What we heard really ties in with the (Diocesan) Pastoral Plan to embrace diversity and inspire disciples,” said Father Murphy. He said he hopes he can host Ospino in Mississippi again at a later date.
To learn more about National Migration Week, go to https://www.sharejourney.org

The group eats lunch.

Ospino hablará en eventos de la Semana Nacional de la Migración

Por Maureen Smith
Las parroquias en el noreste de Mississippi marcarán la Semana Nacional de la Migración, del 7 al 13 de enero de 2018, con cinco días de programación educativa, liturgia y celebraciones. La semana ofrece a los fieles la oportunidad de aprender más sobre los refugiados y los migrantes en su medio.
El presentador principal de la semana es el doctor Hosffman Ospino, profesor asociado de teología en Boston College, director del V Encuentro Nacional, miembro y asesor de la Asociación Nacional de Educación Católica y el USCCB. Ha escrito varios libros sobre el ministerio hispano y la identidad católica hispana.
Un comité compuesto por los ministros laicos Danna Johnson y Raquel Thompson y los pastores Padre Tim Murphy y Padre Mario Solarzano presentaron los programas.
“Cuando la Parroquia de San Cristóbal en Pontotoc fue parte del ministerio de los Misioneros de Glenmary, fue contactado por el Doctor Hosffman Ospino para ser parte de una encuesta nacional de iglesias con grandes poblaciones hispanas. El Doctor Ospino es uno de los expertos principales de prácticas del ministerio hispano, tendencias y planificación para el futuro ministerio en los Estados Unidos,” dijo el padre Murphy, pastor de Tupelo St. James.
“Nuestro Comité de Planificación ha utilizado su investigación y artículos. Le pedimos a Danna Johnson que se contacte con él y explorara la posibilidad de una presentación en el noreste de Mississippi. Más allá de todas las probabilidades, estuvo disponible durante la Semana Nacional de Migración 2018 y estuvo dispuesto a unirse a nosotros,” agregó.

PARA OBTENER MÁS INFORMACIÓN SOBRE LOS PROGRAMAS, LLAME A LA PARROQUIA AL 662-842-4881.

With new U.S. administration, USCCB enters policy debates more often in ‘17

By Dennis Sadowski
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A new presidential administration and a new Congress kept the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as busy as ever in addressing public policy issues during 2017.
Hardly a week passed without at least one reaction, statement or commentary, all based on traditional Catholic social teaching, on a public policy matter from a USCCB committee chairman or other conference officers.
From President Donald Trump’s January travel ban on the entry of people from certain Muslim-majority nations to the Republican-written tax reform legislation that continued to be debated in Congress in mid-December, bishops repeatedly laid out moral arguments on the importance of protecting human dignity at every turn.
The bishops issued an estimated 115 public statements and letters addressing public policy concerns through Dec. 12, according to the news releases listed on the USCCB website, www.usccb.org. That’s more than double the approximately 47 public statements and letters released in 2016.
Some of the statements were joined by leaders at Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services when appropriate. Those agencies also issued their own statements on many of the same issues.
But it was the bishops’ voice gaining the attention of Congress and the White House.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, has added his name to many of the statements.
He told Catholic News Service that he and his fellow bishops didn’t go out looking “to make a lot of statements,” but that it became necessary to bring a Catholic perspective to policy stances being addressed by the White House and in Congress.
“I think it wasn’t just us. A number of these issues were arising for a number of reasons,” he said.
“It’s cyclical,” he said. “It’s cyclical in the sense the issues arose that touch deeply on the principles we look at to guide society. These policies are always the same for us.”
Bishop Dewane pointed to the Trump administration’s immigration-related policies and the high-profile tax reform legislation – the first major overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years – as two areas where the bishops wanted to be sure to have their voice heard.
“Budgets and tax legislation are moral documents. … We’re looking to care for the poor, strengthen family, progressivity in terms of the tax program. If we stop and reflect on the centrality of the family in every society, we need to speak up for that,” Bishop Dewane said.
Immigration policy – from continued calls for comprehensive immigration reform to the administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for people from Nicaragua, Haiti and Sudan – drew the most public responses from various USCCB committee chairmen with more than two dozen statements.
In 2016, the bishops addressed immigration six times.
Their first statement on immigration actually came in response to an early January change in policy by President Barack Obama’s administration that ended a long-standing agreement that allowed Cubans who arrive in the U.S. without visas to remain in the country and gain legal residency. The change came just before Trump assumed the presidency.
At the time, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, said that the bishops opposed the change in the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy, saying doing so will “make it more difficult for vulnerable populations in Cuba, such as asylum seekers, children and trafficking victims, to seek protection.”
Other issues that have garnered significantly more comments from the bishops in 2017 than 2016 include the federal budget and the importance of prioritizing the needs of poor and vulnerable people in spending and tax reform; racism; health care; the environment and climate change; and religious liberty, particularly around the world.
When it came to pro-life issues, including conscience protections for health care workers, the bishops issued eight statements, the same as in 2016.
At mid-year as Congress attempted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, the bishops repeatedly called for certain provisions to remain, saying that rescinding the law altogether would result in millions of people losing health care insurance coverage.
The ACA has been controversial since it became law in 2010 because some of its provisions – abortion coverage, the contraceptive mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the exclusion of immigrants in the country illegally from being covered – violated church teaching. But in the end the bishops opposed its total repeal because it had significantly reduced the number of Americans without health insurance coverage. Ultimately, the Republican-led Congress failed to repeal the ACA.
The bishops also took a strong stance in favor of the environment, addressing the topic 10 times. Their statements opposed Trump’s decision to begin the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate agreement and efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back the Clean Power Plan that limits carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Bishop Dewane told CNS that being in the forefront of various public debates is vital for the life of the church. He admitted he did not expect as a committee chairman to have to devote as much time as he has to reviewing statements, signing letters and appearing at news conferences this year.
“I could us a little more prayer time,” he said.
Still, he added, the need to publicly uphold human dignity is necessary for the church.
“We’ve got to speak up.”

(Follow Dennis Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski)

Bishops launch letter campaign urging Trump to protect religious freedom

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Saying “religious freedom in America has suffered years of unprecedented erosion,” the U.S. Catholic bishops have posted an online letter for Catholics to send to President Donald Trump urging him to sign an executive order promoting religious freedom.
The letter, found at www.votervoice.net/USCCB/Campaigns, says the president can “restore the federal government’s respect for the religious freedom of individuals and organizations” with an executive order that establishes a “government-wide initiative to respect religious freedom.” Individuals can sign the letter and hit a link to submit it to Trump.
A leaked draft version of a potential religious freedom order was circulating in the media and among federal staff and advocacy groups at the end of January. When White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the draft Jan. 30, he said he would not get “ahead of the executive orders that we may or may not issue.” He noted that there have been a lot of executive actions and “a lot of things that the president has talked about and will continue to fulfill, but we have nothing on that front now.”
A White House official told ABC News that the leaked draft on religious freedom is one of hundreds of circulating orders that were either written by the transition team or the White House.
Although Spicer did not elaborate on the leaked document, he told reporters that freedom of religion in the U.S. should mean “people should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal.”
“And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way in the name of political correctness,” he added.
The four-page draft has raised concerns among those who said it would legalize discrimination and was too far-reaching, but University of Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett said in an email to Catholic News Service that the “critics are dramatically overstating” what the order can do.
The draft states that “Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the federal government into participating in activities that violate their consciences.” It also notes that people and organizations do not “forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education or health care.” It cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which states that government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless that burden “is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest.”
The U.S. bishops, who have made religious liberty a priority, have not released a statement on potential executive action on religious freedom by Trump but in the online letter available for Catholics to sign stressed such an order should include some of the following measures:
– Relief from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Currently, the mandate – issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services as part of the implementation of the health care law – requires most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if the employer is morally opposed to such coverage. There is a very narrow exemption for churches.
– Preservation of tax-exempt status for nonprofit groups that hold beliefs based on marriage and human sexuality.
– The ability of religious organizations that partner with the federal government to act according to their beliefs regarding marriage, human sexuality and the protection of human life at all stages.
– The ability of religiously affiliated child welfare providers to provide adoption, foster or family support services for children that coincide with their religious beliefs.
— Conscience protections about abortion in the individual health insurance market.
(Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.)

Bishops mention immigration policy in statement

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – Urging Americans to look at their families for stories of immigration, the president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called attention to the hardships and contributions of immigrants to American society as the U.S. church prepared to observe National Migration Week.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles also said in a Jan. 6 statement that the week is “an opportunity to embrace the important work of continuing to secure the border, to welcome the stranger and serve the most vulnerable” as components of “a humane immigration policy.”
“This year, we are invited to create a culture of encounter where citizens old and new, alongside immigrants recent and long-standing, can share with one another their hopes for a better life,” said the statement marking the observance, which began 25 years ago as a way to reflect on how immigrants and refugees have contributed to the church. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew life as refugees, so let us also begin this encounter within our very own families.”
The prelates said migration is “an act of great hope” and those who are forced leave their homelands “suffer devastating family separation and most often face dire economic conditions to the point they cannot maintain a very basic level of living.”
War and persecution force refugees to leave their homelands, they said. They urged Catholics to seek stories from their families about how their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents left their homelands.

A woman holds a child's hand as they arrive for a rally in support of immigrants' rights in New York City Dec. 18, 2016. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles called attention in a Jan. 6 statement the hardships and contributions of immigrants to American society as the U.S. church prepared to observe National Migration Week. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) See USCCB-MIGRATION-HOPE Jan. 6, 2017.

A woman holds a child’s hand as they arrive for a rally in support of immigrants’ rights in New York City Dec. 18, 2016. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles called attention in a Jan. 6 statement the hardships and contributions of immigrants to American society as the U.S. church prepared to observe National Migration Week. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) See USCCB-MIGRATION-HOPE Jan. 6, 2017.

“Let us remind ourselves of those moments when our loved ones were forced to seek the mercy of others in a new land,” the statement said.
Though the United States has a great national heritage of welcoming the stranger, “fear and intolerance have occasionally tested that heritage,” the statement said, adding that “whether immigrating from Ireland, Italy or countless other countries, previous generations faced bigotry. Thanks be to God, our nation grew beyond those divisions to find strength in unity and inclusion.”

USCCB forms working group to monitor needs of migrants, refugees

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairmen of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.
In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

People in Tijuana, Mexico, stand next to a wall separating Mexico and the United States Dec. 10. (CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters) See USCCB-WORKING-GROUP-MIGRANTS Dec. 16, 2016.

People in Tijuana, Mexico, stand next to a wall separating Mexico and the United States Dec. 10. (CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters) See USCCB-WORKING-GROUP-MIGRANTS Dec. 16, 2016.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.
He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.
“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”
The working group also will spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts, and engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.
The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.
He added that the Chicago Archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for their families.”
National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.

Consensus shows us way forward on immigration

By Archbishop Jose H. Gomez
Catholic News Service
The Catholic bishops of the United States have designated Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a national day of prayer for migrants and refugees.
This day of prayer comes at a time of fear, unrest and uncertainty in our country – especially for our immigrant brothers and sisters who are undocumented and their children and loved ones.
Everyone agrees that our immigration system is broken – and it has been for more than a decade. The blame cuts across party lines and we cannot find many examples of moral leadership or political courage to point to.
We are deeply concerned about the president-elect because of his drastic campaign promises regarding deportations.
But we also know that the outgoing administration has deported more than 2.5 million people in the past eight years – more than any other administration in history. And the vast majority of those deported are not violent criminals. In fact, up to one-quarter are mothers and fathers that our government is seizing from ordinary households.
That is the sad truth about immigration policy in America today. Our system has been broken for so long, our politicians have failed to act for so long that the people we are now punishing have become our neighbors.
Most of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. have been living here for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.
In addition, there are an estimated 1.8 million young people who were brought here as children by their undocumented parents. They are living in a kind of limbo – in many states they cannot enroll in college or get jobs.
This is the human reality of being undocumented in America. We have millions of people living on the edge of our economy and society, living in constant fear that one day without warning they will be deported and never see their families again.
And when you look into the eyes of a child whose father has been deported – and I have done that – we realize how inadequate our politics is.
Undocumented immigrants have become a kind of “scapegoat,” an easy target to blame for broader problems in our economy and society.
Many of our neighbors today rightly feel vulnerable and unprotected – they are worried about jobs, wages, the decline of their communities, the threat of terrorism, the security of our borders. We cannot simply dismiss their concerns or label them as nativists or racists, as some have. What our neighbors are worried about is real and we need to take their concerns seriously.
But undocumented workers are not the problem. The real problem is globalization and deindustrialization and what that is doing to our economy, to our family structures and neighborhoods. This is not a “white working class” issue only, as the media reports it. Whites, Latinos, Asians, blacks and others are all suffering from the breakdown of the family and the vanishing of good-paying jobs that make it possible to support a family.
Right now, we need to stop allowing politicians and media figures to make immigration a “wedge issue” that divides us. We need to come together to study these issues and find solutions.
The truth is there actually is broad public consensus on a way forward.
There is broad agreement that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and determine who enters the country and how long they stay. There is also broad agreement that we need to update our immigration system to enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow.
There is even broad consensus on how to deal with the undocumented persons living among us.
Virtually every poll has found overwhelming support for granting them a generous path to citizenship, provided they meet certain requirements, such as learning English, paying some fines and holding a job that pays taxes.
These basic points should form the basis for immigration reform that is just and merciful.
We have a consensus in public opinion. What we are waiting for is politicians and media figures who have the will and the courage to tell the truth and to lead.
(Editors note: In the wake of the national elections, Catholic News Service is offering a series of columns from leading archbishops on key issues facing the church and the new Trump administration. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles.)

Diversity theme for USCCB meeting with encuentro news, VP choice

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz attended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) fall assembly. He was not able to write a column this week because of travel so news from the assembly takes the place of his column this week.)
BALTIMORE (CNS) – A groundbreaking new study commissioned by the bishops that finds diversity abounds in the U.S. Catholic Church is a clarion call to Catholic institutions and ministries to adapt and prepare for growing diversity, said Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.
On Nov. 15, the second day of the bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore, the archbishop shared results of a report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University showing the church is one of the most culturally diverse institutions in the United States.

Bishops and alter servers process out after Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See BISHOPS-PETER-CLAVER-MASS Nov. 15, 2016.

Bishops and alter servers process out after Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore Nov. 14 during the annual fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) See BISHOPS-PETER-CLAVER-MASS Nov. 15, 2016.

It was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, chaired by Archbishop Garcia-Siller, to help identify the size and distribution of ethnic communities in the country — Hispanic and Latino, African-American, Asian-American and Native American.
He asked his brother bishops to look at the data and see how it speaks to their regions to help dioceses plan, set priorities and allocate resources.
The study’s finding that there are close to 30 million Hispanics in the U.S. church resonated in the election earlier that day of Archbishop Jose Gómez of Los Angeles to a three-year term as USCCB vice president, bringing a Latino voice to the leadership role for the first time.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston was elected to a three-year term as USCCB president, succeeding Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, whose term ended with the close of the meeting.
The bishops also heard about the church’s preparations for the fifth National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, from Auxiliary Bishop Nelson Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the bishops’ Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs.
The V Encuentro, as it is being called, is to be held in September 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas. It will be the culmination of parish, diocesan and regional encuentros, in which the bishops anticipate more than one million Catholics participating over the next two years.
“It is a great opportunity for the church to reach out to our Hispanic brothers and sisters with Christ’s message of hope and love,” Bishop Perez said. “It is a time to listen, a time to develop meaningful relationships, a time to learn and bear abundant fruits, and a time to rejoice in God’s love.”
The effort got a personal endorsement from Pope Francis during a Nov. 15 video message to the U.S. bishops at their fall general assembly in Baltimore.
In other action Nov. 15, the bishops approved making permanent their Subcommittee on the Church in Africa and the hiring of two people to assist the subcommittee in carrying out its work. They also approved another 10-year extension for the Retirement Fund for Religious national collection; before the vote, the collection had been authorized through 2017.
They approved a strategic plan that will govern the work of the conference and its committees from 2017 through 2020, incorporating the theme “Encountering the Mercy of Christ and Accompanying His People With Joy.” It sets five priorities: evangelization, marriage and family life, human life and dignity, vocations, and religious freedom.
Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour gave a presentation on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, urging the U.S. bishops to bring wider attention to the situation to their parishes and political leaders.
A theme of outreach and inclusion ran through many sessions of the two days of public sessions of the bishops’ meeting. Sessions on the last day of the assembly, Nov. 16, were held in executive session, except for a brief address by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, that was live-streamed. Echoing Pope Francis, he told the U.S. bishops that their ministry is to be “witnesses to the Risen One.”
As the meeting opened Nov. 14, the bishops affirmed as a body a Nov. 11 letter from Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, as outgoing chairman of the Committee on Migration, calling on President-elect Donald Trump “to continue to protect the inherent dignity of refugees and migrants.”
The bishops’ group action followed by a day a TV interview in which Trump said one of his first actions would be to deport two million to three million people he described as “criminal and have criminal records” and entered the country without government permission.
In the letter, Bishop Elizondo offered “a special word to migrant and refugee families living in the United States: Be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.”
That first day the bishops heard a plea from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new nuncio to the United States, that the U.S. bishops and the U.S. church as a whole reach out to young Catholics, meeting them where they are and engaging them in their faith.
In his last presidential address, Archbishop Kurtz discussed the need to move beyond the acrimony of the now-completed presidential elections, but the main focus of his speech were the encounters he had in his three-year term in which he found that small and often intimate gestures provide big lessons for bishops to learn as they exercise their ministry.
The people he encountered in all his travels were concerned about something beyond themselves — the common good, he said Nov. 14. Seeking the common good would serve the nation well as it moves forward from the “unprecedented lack of civility and even rancor” of the national elections, Archbishop Kurtz said.
In other business the first day, the bishops heard a report on the 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders to be held in Orlando, Florida, next July to exploring the Gospel in American life. More than 3,000 people reflecting the diversity of the church are expected to participate. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who gave an update on the planning, urged bishops in each diocese to send a delegation to the event.
Cardinal Dolan also shared details of a simple celebration next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, founded originally as the National Catholic War Council.
Events will take place Nov. 12 as the bishops convene for their 2017 fall assembly. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, will be principal celebrant of an anniversary Mass at Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Cardinal Ouellet will deliver the homily.
In his report as chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said all U.S. bishops are required to speak out for religious freedom for all people of faith whose beliefs are compromised.
Bishops must equip laypeople to speak in the public arena about the necessity to protect religious liberty when interventions by government officials at any level infringe on the free practice of religion, he stressed.
In a final afternoon session and later at a news conference that concluded the first meeting day, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta returned to the tensions of the election year.
He is chairman of the new Task Force to Promote Peace in Our Communities, created in July by Archbishop Kurtz in response to the wave of violence in a number of communities following shootings by and of police. Archbishop Gregory urged the bishops to issue, sooner rather than later, a document on racism, given “postelection uncertainty” and that some of the tensions have only gotten worse following the presidential election.
Most questions during news conference that followed focused on the postelection climate. Archbishop Gregory stressed that the church should play a role in helping restore peace in the current climate that is so inflamed.
He also pointed out that no political parties fully embrace all life issues, something that had been stressed by Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died 20 years to the day of Archbishop Gregory’s remarks.
On the issue of healing racial divides, he said the Catholic response should start at the parish level. “Words are cheap, actions stronger,” he added.
Archbishop Gomez spoke of the fear many immigrants have of possible deportation since Trump’s election as president. When asked if churches could possibly provide sanctuaries for this group, he said that was impossible to answer at this point.
The day ended with the bishops celebrating their annual fall assembly Mass at a West Baltimore church known as the “mother church” of black Catholics, rather than in their traditional venue of Baltimore’s historic basilica.
In his homily, Archbishop Kurtz said the bishops came to the church “to be present, to see with our own eyes, so that we might humbly take a step and lead others to do so.”
(Contributing to this story were Mark Pattison, Rhina Guidos, Carol Zimmermann and Dennis Sadowski).

Formation of conscience for faithful citizenship

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As the elections loom before us, both national, statewide and local, the Catholic Church affirms the value of one vote as well as the value of contributing to the wellbeing of society and neighborhoods wherever and whenever this is possible. It’s too easy to get caught up in the malaise of a feeling of powerlessness in the face of society’s thorny problems, but the most important thing to focus on is what we can do in a democracy. With regard to elections, loving our neighbor and caring for the least among us means supporting leaders and policies that promote the common good and protect society’s most vulnerable members. Day-in and day-out there are endless possibilities for serving others, empowering, and advocating. Helping Catholics to recognize and act on this social dimension of our faith is an essential task for Church leaders. Therefore, there are fundamental questions that need to be posed in the election season.
Some people question whether religion and politics should ever interact. What do the bishops say in response to this criticism? What is the role of the Church in political life?
What is the connection between our faith and the desire to change the world for the better?
What types of leaders does our society need? For what should they stand and how should they lead?
Why do the bishops and all concerned Church leaders encourage all Catholics, whether able to vote or not, to be involved in political life? What are other ways, in addition to voting, that you can be involved in advocacy for important issues?
What do the bishops mean when they say, “Both opposing evil and doing good are essential obligations?” Why are both, not just one or the other, important for Catholics? What are examples of intrinsically evil acts and why must they always be opposed? What are examples of the basic needs of our neighbors which we must ensure are fulfilled? What might your own actions to avoid evil and to do good look like?
How might public policies and laws be different if the moral principles from Faithful Citizenship were used as a basis for political decisions?
Life and Dignity of the Human Person
Call to Family, Community, and Participation
Rights and Responsibilities
Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Solidarity
Care for God’s Creation
Centuries ago Socrates made the bold statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” There is no doubt that an active life directed toward the common good and solidarity are essential for the just ordering of society and for building up the Kingdom of God. However, the assumption underlying these principles is the capacity for a person to step aside, reflect, pray, study, be still, embrace silence, and engage in meaningful dialogue in order to take a long loving look in search of what is real. This balance adds considerable value to our lives. The formation of one’s conscience flows from both dynamics, the active and the reflective, Martha and Mary so to speak. It is a powerful feedback loop that can bear much fruit, action and contemplation in a lifelong dance.
What is conscience? What is prudence? How does one develop a well-formed conscience and the virtue of prudence?
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart. #1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is a light for our path. We must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the church
Reflection questions:
When has my conscience guided me to “do good and avoid evil”?
What are some key resources I can use to form my conscience?
Forming conscience is a “lifelong task.” What do I do to regularly form my conscience? What more should I do?
What advice might you give to a friend who is trying to decide between two candidates, neither of which fully share the Church’s commitment to the dignity of the human person? This might require the wisdom of Solomon.
The bishops describe two “temptations in public life” that voters can fall into: first, “moral equivalence” which “makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity,” and second, the misuse of moral distinctions “as a way of dismissing or ignoring serious threats to human life and dignity.” Describe a situation in which you witnessed one or both of these lines of thought. Why are they both distortions of the Church’s teaching?
What role should they play in our decisions about who we vote for and how we advocate for change?
In the words of Pope Francis, “progress in building a people in peace, justice and fraternity depends on four principles related to constant tensions present in every social reality.” These derive from the pillars of the Church’s social doctrine, which serve as ‘primary and fundamental parameters of reference interpreting social and political reality. The four principles include the dignity of the human person, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity. Taken together, these principles provide a moral framework for Catholic engagement in advancing what we have called a “consistent ethic of life”
Apart from principled living, and the authentic formation of conscience, fear and greed motivate our decisions, or a blind allegiance to a particular political party no matter whom they serve up. Guided by the Holy Spirit, may we choose rightly as we faithfully labor on behalf of the City of God in our world, a dwelling place of greater justice, peace, and hope for all, from the first moment of our existence until our final breath.
(Editor’s note: Read part one of this two-part column on www.mississippicatholic.com.)