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Bishops: Loss of affordable health care with GOP plan 'simply unacceptable'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuter

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in its analysis of the Senate health care bill, said late June 26 the measure would leave 22 million more people without insurance.

"This moment cannot pass without comment," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the 'discussion draft' of the Senate health care proposal, indicating that millions of people could lose their health insurance over time," he said in a statement issued in response to the just-released analysis.

"As the USCCB has consistently said, the loss of affordable access for millions of people is simply unacceptable," the bishop said, noting he would continue to study the full CBO report. "These are real families who need and deserve health care."

He added, "We pray that the Senate will work in an open and unified way to keep the good aspects of current health care proposals, to add missing elements where needed, and to not place our sisters and brothers who struggle every day into so great a peril on so basic a right."

The Senate released its Better Care Reconciliation Act in "discussion draft" form June 22, with plans to take it up on the Senate floor for a vote before Congress' July 4 recess.

But the afternoon of June 27, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced senators will not act on the bill until much later in July. News reports said McConnell and others determined they did not even have enough votes to begin debate on the measure.

The same day 300 Sisters of Mercy voiced their strong opposition to the Senate proposal in a statement issued from Buffalo, New York, where they gathered for the religious congregation's chapter meeting.

"Health care for all, especially the most vulnerable is one of our enduring concerns," said Sister Patricia McDermott, president of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. "The Sisters of Mercy have a legacy of advocacy for health care as a right, as well as providing care to generations of people. If the proposed legislation passes, health care ministries, social service agencies, and services for the elderly and family members will be impacted and suffer."

The Senate measure also drew opposition from the president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. In a letter to senators June 26, Dominican Sister Donna Markham urged senators to reject the bill and "craft a health care bill which truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respect human life and dignity."

The bill in its current form "will have a devastating impact on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable in our country," Sister Markham wrote.

While welcoming provisions in the bill to protect human life and increase flexibility to states in paying for health care, "a bill that rolls back gains in health care for the poor and vulnerable is deeply regretful," the letter said.

"It is deeply shameful that instead of improving our health care system, the bill provides tax cuts for people making over $200,000 per year while at the same time demanding dramatic cuts or eliminating programs which help those most in need and most unlikely to afford health care," the letter said.

In a statement the day Senate leaders released the Better Care Reconciliation Act, Bishop Dewane said the Senate version contains "many of the fundamental defects" that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act "and even further compounds them."

"As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net," Bishop Dewane said June 22. "It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written."

One part of the bill cuts the federal government's share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Bishop Dewane criticized the "per-capita cap" on Medicaid funding, which would no longer be an entitlement but have its own budget line item under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The effect, he said, "would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported."

He indicated the Better Care Reconciliation Act at least partially succeeds on conscience rights by "fully applying the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill."

However, the bishops "also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal," Bishop Dewane said in his June 22 statement.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Bishops, Catholic groups worry about consequences of partial travel ban

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration said the country's Catholic bishops are "deeply concerned" about the consequences of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow a partial ban on foreign nationals as it reviews the constitutionality of a wider ban.

"Today's decision will have human consequences," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez, of Austin, Texas, following the U.S. Supreme Court's announcement that in October it will hear a case involving President Donald Trump's travel ban, which seeks to delay entry into the country by immigrants, including refugees, from six majority-Muslim countries. It also seeks to suspend, for a time, the entry of all refugees.

The court announced June 26 that until its hears the case in the fall and weighs a decision, it would allow part of the ban to be implemented and some "foreign nationals" will be barred from entering the country, but that determination will be made depending on the applicant's previous relationships with a person or institution in the U.S. The administration says it needs to implement the ban while it reviews the refugee resettlement program and its vetting procedures.

Bishop Vasquez said the bishops are "deeply concerned about the welfare of the many other vulnerable populations who will now not be allowed to arrive and seek protection during the proscribed pause, most notably certain individuals fleeing religious persecution and unaccompanied refugee children."

He urged the Trump administration to include refugee service providers as well as national security and immigration experts in a timely, transparent and efficient review of the existing refugee resettlement program.

"We believe it is vital to utilize the full expertise of the existing resettlement program when conducting such an important evaluation," he said in a statement issued late June 26.

The court said the partial ban it has allowed to go forward allows "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States" to apply for entry, but "all other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of (the executive order)."

That means a person with family or a nexus with an organization, such as a university or employer, is not affected by the ban.

The court seemed to be taking into consideration the hardships the ban would create for an "American party," such as a family member, whose relatives are denied entry, or for a university or employer, while also trying to consider the administration's arguments that it's necessary to do so in the interest of national security.

Denying entry to immigrants with no connection to the country "does not burden any American party," the court said. And though the order is seeking to cap the number of refugees allowed into the country at 50,000, the court said that if a person with one of the previously mentioned connections to the U.S. is seeking refuge, "such as a person may not be excluded ' even if the 50,000 has been reached or exceeded."

Groups such as Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, expressed disappointment with the ruling.

"This ruling will devastate some of the most vulnerable people in the world, innocent people who are fleeing the exact kind of violence that this executive order seeks to protect against," said Bill O'Keefe, CRS' vice president for government relations and advocacy. "The facts tell us that that these refugees already undergo significant vetting - more than anyone who enters the United States -- and none has gone on to commit acts of violence."

It also reinforces the false idea that refugees are dangerous, O'Keefe said.

"We outright reject the idea that refugees are implicitly dangerous," he said. "At a time of such unprecedented need around the world, we should be doing more to help and resettle those who are in danger and need, not less."

Christopher G. Kerr, executive director of Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national social justice education and advocacy organization based in Ohio, said the high court's decision "does not reflect our country's spirit of compassion and welcome."

"When we create uncertainty for those seeking safety from conflict and persecution, we compromise their dignity as fellow people of God," said Kerr. "We continue to stand with those seeking refuge and safety here in the United States."

The troubled executive order went into litigation almost as soon as it was issued Jan. 27, just a week into the new president's term. It was revised in March, but those revisions, too, have faced legal challenges.

In a statement after the court's announcement, Trump said the high court's decision was a "clear victory" for national security.

"It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective," he said.

In a partial dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said he worried that "the court's remedy will prove unworkable" and that the "compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding -- on peril of contempt -- whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country."

It also may "invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved," he said.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision came a day before it ended its current term. The new court term begins in October.

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Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

No church for old men: Cardinals called to be grandfathers, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN LETTER (CNS) -- The Catholic Church is not a "gerontocracy" ruled by old men, 80-year-old Pope Francis said; "we aren't old men, we are grandfathers."

"We are grandfathers called to dream and to give our dreams to the young people of today. They need it so that from our dreams, they can draw the strength to prophesy and carry out their task," the pope told about 50 members of the College of Cardinals.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his ordination as a bishop June 27, Pope Francis concelebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.

Most of the cardinals present were officials of the Roman Curia or retired curial officials living in Rome. Many of them needed assistance up and down the small steps to the altar at Communion time.

The Mass was celebrated the day before Pope Francis was to create five new cardinals: Archbishop Jean Zerbo of Bamako, Mali, 73; Archbishop Juan Jose Omella of Barcelona, Spain, 71; Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm, Sweden, 67; Bishop Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos, 73; and Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, 74.

With an average age of 71.6 years, the new cardinals would lower by two months the average age of the entire College of Cardinals. However, the new members would increase slightly the average age of the cardinal electors, the group of those under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope.

On the day of the pope's anniversary Mass, the average age of the 116 cardinal electors was 71 years, four months and 15 days; the five new members would raise the average by 11 days.

Before the new members were added, the entire College of Cardinals had 220 members and an average age of 78 years, five months and 23 days. The five new members would lower the average to 78 years, three months and one day.

None of the new cardinals, though, are as old as the patriarch Abraham was when God called him to leave his home and set out for a new land.

The Bible says Abraham was 75 years old when he got the call, the pope noted at his anniversary Mass. "He was more or less our age. He was about to retire."

At 75, "with the weight of old age, that old age that brings aches, illness," Abraham heard God call him "as if he were a scout," the pope said. God tells him, "Go. Look. And hope."

God says the same thing to the pope and the cardinals, he said. "He tells us that now is not the time to shut down our lives or to end our stories."

Instead, the pope told the cardinals, God continues to call each of them to keep moving forward and continues to give each of them a mission.

And every mission, he said, involves the three imperatives God gave Abraham: "Get up. Look. Hope."

God tells Abraham, "Get up. Walk. Don't stay still. You have a task, a mission, and you must carry it out walking. Don't stay seated," the pope said.

Abraham's tent is a key symbol in the story, he said. The only thing Abraham built solidly was an altar "to adore the one who ordered him to get up and to set out." His tent was his mobile shelter.

"Someone who does not like us would say that we are the gerontocracy of the church," the pope told the cardinals. "He doesn't understand what he is saying."

The cardinals are not just old men, but are grandfathers in the church, the pope said. "If we don't feel like we are, we must ask for that grace."

As grandfathers, the cardinals should know that their grandchildren are watching them and looking to them, he continued. They must help young people find meaning in their lives by sharing their experiences.

For that to happen, the pope said, the cardinals cannot be focused on "the melancholy of our story," but must be dreamers who continue to look to the future with hope, knowing that God continues to act in human history.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.


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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Court says church school can't be barred from state funds for playground

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court June 26 said a Lutheran preschool should not be excluded from a state grant program to refurbish its playground surface just because it is a religious entity.

"The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the court's opinion.

The court's decision reverses a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had sided with the state's 2015 decision to exclude the school from obtaining grant funds.

Roberts said the appeals court decision made it clear that the Trinity Lutheran preschool was "put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit," and the answer they were given was: "No churches need apply."

At issue in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer was the school's denial of grant reimbursement to nonprofit groups for the cost of purchasing and installing playground surfaces using recycled tires through a state program.

Missouri's Department of Natural Resources, which administers the playground resurfacing program, ranked Trinity Lutheran's grant application fifth out of the 44 it received. The department, which funds 14 grants, said it denied the school's application because the state constitution prohibits state funds from going "directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion."

For Trinity Lutheran, the bigger issue was the school's constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, which was a key point in oral arguments presented to the court in April.

The court's opinion noted that the school was not claiming "any entitlement to a subsidy" but was asserting its "right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character."

It also said the case indicated discrimination against religious exercise not just in "the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the church -- solely because it is a church -- to compete with secular organizations for a grant."

The court stressed that this case was unlike Locke v. Davey, a 2004 court ruling which said federally funded scholarships were not required to go to college students who were receiving divinity degrees. In the preschool case, the playground grant was not related to religion.

Roberts, writing the court's 19-page opinion, said the student in question in the Davey case was not denied a scholarship because of who he was but "because of what he proposed to do -- using taxpayer funds in a clergy training program." In the playground resurfacing case, Roberts wrote: "There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is -- a church."

Roberts' opinion states from the outset that he did not concur with footnote No. 3. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch made similar distinctions. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan concurred in full with the opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a 27-page dissenting opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The footnote in question says: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination," which may limit the scope of the ruling.

Sotomayor said the court described the Lutheran school decision as "a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground," but she warned that the "stakes are higher."

She said the court's ruling "profoundly changes" the relationship between church and state "by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church."

"Today's decision is a landmark victory for religious freedom," said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Religious Liberty. "The Supreme Court rightly recognized that people of faith should not be discriminated against when it comes to government programs that should be made available to all."

He also said the high court's ruling "marks a step in the right direction toward limiting the effects of the pernicious Blaine amendments that are in place in many states around the country."

The amendments to state constitutions, dating back to the 19th century for the most part, "stem from a time of intense anti-Catholic bigotry in many parts of the country," he said in a statement. These "harmful provisions," he added, have "restricted the freedom of faith-based organizations and people of faith to serve their communities."

Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, called the court's decision "good for kids and good for religious liberty."

Becket filed a filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the school's behalf as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Missouri Catholic Conference, the National Catholic Educational Association, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Salvation Army.

"This decision is significant because seven of the justices agreed that churches can't be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to widely available public safety benefits," said Smith.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Vatican calls on China to let bishop exercise his ministry

IMAGE: CNS/Nancy Wiechec

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican expressed "grave concern" over the situation of a bishop in mainland China who has been in government custody for almost 10 months and moved repeatedly in an apparent attempt to prevent him from assuming leadership of his diocese.

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin had been coadjutor bishop of Wenzhou and should have taken over leadership of the diocese in September when his predecessor died. Instead, officials took him to northern China "on a trip."

"The Holy See is following with grave concern the personal situation of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, forcibly removed from his episcopal see some time ago," said Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, in a statement June 26.

"The diocesan Catholic community and his relatives have no news or reasons for his removal, nor do they know where he is being held," Burke said.

The treatment of Bishop Zhumin "and other similar episodes," Burke said, do not foster the kind of understanding that the Vatican wants to reach with the Chinese government.

While Bishop Zhumin was approved by the Vatican as bishop of Wenzhou, his election was not recognized by the government.

The Vatican hopes that the bishop "may return as soon as possible to the diocese and that he can be assured the possibility of serenely exercising his episcopal ministry," Burke said.

Michael Clauss, Germany's ambassador to China, posted a statement on his embassy's website June 20 saying the bishop appears to have been forced by authorities to move to unknown locations four times over the past year, the Associated Press reported. The ambassador called on China to allow the bishop full freedom of movement.

AsiaNews, a Rome-based Catholic news agency, said June 21 that Chinese authorities appeared to be trying to get Bishop Zhumin to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The bishop was seen arriving at Wenzhou airport June 16, "accompanied by government officials, who took him to an unknown location," AsiaNews said.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Caring for the ill is priceless gift for society, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cancer prevention programs and campaigns need to reach everyone, Pope Francis said.

"Spreading a culture of life -- made up of attitudes and behaviors -- is greatly needed, a true culture (that is) of the people, serious, accessible to everyone and not based on commercial interests," he said in an address to members of the Italian League for the Fight Against Tumors June 26.

The pope praised the volunteer organization, which promotes education, prevention, research and support for those with cancer and their families.

He said their service represented a constant "decentralization toward the peripheries," emphasizing that the "peripheries" include any person who is marginalized by society or other people, and those who may be forced to compromise or abandon their daily routine and relationships because of illness.

Taking care of those who are ill "is a priceless richness for society," he said, and reminds both the church and civil society "to not be afraid of closeness, to not be afraid of tenderness, to not be afraid of 'wasting time'" by offering support, comfort and solidarity to those who need it.

"Since good health is a primary and fundamental necessity for every person, it is desirable that oncological prevention be extended to everyone, thanks to collaboration between public and private services and initiatives by civil society and charities."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Hospitality for the Terrified: 5 Simple Ways to Reach Out to Others

Hospitality for the Terrified: 5 Simple Ways to Reach Out to Others

Does the thought of hosting a meal fill you with terror? Do you break out in a cold sweat when you think of holding a…

The post Hospitality for the Terrified: 5 Simple Ways to Reach Out to Others appeared first on Busted Halo.

Circle of Protection mobilizes to change nation's budget priorities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Christian faith leaders pledged anew to build a "circle of protection" around vital social programs identified for deep spending cuts under President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2018 budget, saying their action is consistent with biblical principles.

Coming together during a news conference at the National Press Club June 21, more than a dozen leaders, including representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder in a unified front to defend a broad array of domestic and international aid programs that, they argued, sustain life.

They used strong language in criticizing planned cuts in food and nutrition, education, elderly services, health care, air and water protection, employment training and more. They said they feared that people will be harmed or even die if the budget as proposed is adopted.

"There is a troubling momentum at this time in Washington, D.C., for creating a serious imbalance in overall spending priorities, one that will place those who struggle on the margins of society, on the peripheries, in grave danger," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Bishop Dewane and the others repeated a simple message: A budget is a moral document that reflects the values and priorities of a country and they are concerned that the priorities being eyed by Washington have gone askew.

What particularly concerns the Circle of Protection group is how the budget assembled by Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, slices $52 billion from programs that help Americans cope with sickness, unemployment and homelessness to pay for a corresponding increase in the Pentagon budget.

The Rev. Carlos Malave, executive director of Christian Churches Together in the USA, charged that "the few" at the top end of the U.S. economy "are denying the masses a future" in the pursuit of power and riches.

"We're here because we believe in a different world. We're here because we believe all can have life and life in abundance," he said, saying a massive increase in military spending does not uphold human dignity.

Bishop Dewane called it "scary" when the defense budget is contrasted with cuts in social services. While he said defense spending is needed, he suggested that some shaving there would be in order.

"One part of the budget (defense) is about defending killing, if you want to put it that way," he told Catholic News Service. "But the other (reduced social service spending) kills also."

There has been little appetite in Congress for the stringent Trump budget. Democrats, as expected, have voiced strong opposition to any change in spending priorities. Republicans have described the Trump budget plan simply as a starting point.

The budget that will emerge later this summer is expected to limit the size of the cuts while boosting military spending in some fashion. And there's likely to be changes in how programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps, function.

With those expectations looming, the Circle of Protection umbrella group of faith leaders is preparing to up its game to stop what these leaders see as an unfair targeting of poor people.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, an ecumenical advocacy organization, said the group wanted members of Congress to stand up for the Christian values they hold and "speak as people of faith." He called for a mobilization of religious congregations to tell Congress that programs that promote human life must become a priority for the country.

"Underneath the headlines in Washington, there are moral choices we make," Rev. Wallis told CNS. "We want to make those moral choices clear. For us, this is not a matter of politics or partisan loyalty.

"What if a legislator can say, 'I'm hearing from my Christian constituents that we have to form a circle of protection because people are in jeopardy?' That circle has to be broadened. We're lifting that up," he said.

The Circle of Protection coalition released a two-page statement during the news briefing. In it, the leaders stressed that the country must address the national debt, but also called on Congress to "approve a budget that weighs the importance of providing for critical needs and that responsibly manages the country's fiscal issues; but the most vulnerable should not carry the burden of solving this challenge."

The statement cited how the recently House-passed American Health Care Act would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over the next decade and end health insurance under the Affordable Care Act for 23 million people, including 14 million poor individuals. On top of that, the administration's budget would cut another $600 billion Medicaid in the same period.

Such cuts would place people's lives at risk, the statement said. Released June 22, the Senate's health care reform bill, called Better Care Reconciliation Act, proposes similar cuts in Medicaid.

Bishop Dewane said the challenge ahead requires the Circle of Protection members to help lawmakers in Congress see the faces behind the numbers of the federal budget.

"There's where you make connections if you're looking at a budget," he explained to CNS. "Behind every number, there's human faces. And that's what I think they're not seeing. They're caught up in that number, but behind it are human faces and that's who we need to look to."

The leaders acknowledged they face a tremendous challenge in advocating for America's poor and vulnerable because powerful special interests carry great influence in Congress.

Still, they say they hope their message, rooted in the Bible will sway Congress to act on behalf of vulnerable Americans.

"Wouldn't that be a great cable news story to see legislators," Rev. Wallis said, "who expressed their Christian faith, to come together apart from party and say, 'We are together as Christians going to protect the poor. It's very simple. It's very clear. It's very unified and ... it's very biblical."

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Editors: The full Circle of Protection statement can be read online at http://bit.ly/2sKtOop.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Vatican announces pope will attend reconciliation events in Colombia

IMAGE: CNS photo/Leonardo Munoz, EPA

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Days after rebels in Colombia announced turning in the last of their cache of weapons over to international observers, the Vatican announced June 23 details of Pope Francis' September trip to the war-torn South American country.

The pope is scheduled to visit four cities, starting his trip in the Colombian capital of Bogota Sept. 6, followed by day trips to Villavicencio and Medellin Sept. 8 and 9, respectively, and heading back to Rome from Cartagena after Mass Sept. 10.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos had said the pontiff had promised him he would visit Colombia if the government and the rebel group known as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias) signed a peace agreement. Though Colombian voters last year rejected a referendum on the peace agreement between the government and FARC, Santos later negotiated a modified deal with Colombian opposition leader and former President Alvaro Uribe. The process came with help from the Vatican, including the pope, who met with the two men in late 2016.

The rebels began turning in their weapons to United Nations observers in early June and all were expected to be turned in by June 20, bringing 52 years of war to an end.

The pope is expected to take part Sept. 8 in several acts of reconciliation, including a Mass and prayer, in Villavicencio, according to a schedule released by the Vatican.

Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo said in an interview published June 23 in El Tiempo newspaper that that pope's trip comes at a time in the country "when the discussion stops being about how to win the war, but how to achieve peace." The pope's trip cannot be "just another episode" in the national discourse about peace, said Naranjo.

According to some estimates, more than 220,000 have died in the decades-long conflict, tens of thousands have been injured, and more than 7 million were displaced. Concerns about the end of the conflict were reawakened when a bomb exploded inside a mall bathroom in Bogota June 17, killing three and injuring nine people. Some blamed another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional). The group, however, denied involvement and said it doesn't target civilians.

While in Colombia, the pope also is set to meet in Bogota Sept. 7 with the directive committee of the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM for its Spanish acronym.

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Bishop: 'Fundamental defects' persist in Senate's version of health bill

IMAGE: CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA

By Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate's Better Care Reconciliation Act contains "many of the fundamental defects" that appeared in the House-passed American Health Care Act "and even further compounds them," said the bishop who heads the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

The Senate released its health care reform bill in "discussion draft" form June 22.

"As is, the discussion draft stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net," Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, said in a statement released late June 22. "It is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written."

Bishop Dewane criticized the "per-capita cap" on Medicaid funding, which would no longer be an entitlement but have its own budget line item under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The effect, he said, "would provide even less to those in need than the House bill. These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported."

"An acceptable health care system provides access to all, regardless of their means, and at all stages of life," Bishop Dewane said. "Such a health care system must protect conscience rights, as well as extend to immigrant families."

He indicated the Better Care Reconciliation Act at least partially succeeds on conscience rights by "fully applying the long-standing and widely supported Hyde Amendment protections. Full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill."

However, the bishops "also stressed the need to improve real access for immigrants in health care policy, and this bill does not move the nation toward this goal," Bishop Dewane said. "It fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country's health policy."

Other first-day reaction to the bill was negative.

The Senate's 142-page draft "is not the faithful way forward," said a June 22 statement from Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service who heads the Network Catholic social justice lobby.

"My faith challenges me to heal the sick and care for the widow and the orphan. This Republican bill does the opposite," she said, adding, "We urge a no vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act."

"Learning about the proposed deep cuts in Medicaid passed by the House of Representatives, the American people looked to the Senate. Sadly, the Senate plan proposes even deeper cuts in Medicaid," said a statement from Larry Couch, director of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd's National Advocacy Center.

"This wanton disregard for human life must be stopped. Millions of children living in poverty, people with disabilities, and older people in nursing homes will be denied life-saving medicine and care," Couch added. "Stop this vicious attack on the most vulnerable people in our communities."

Sister Campbell criticized the Republican-only drafting of the bill, and the announced intent of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to have a vote on the bill before the Fourth of July recess, which could severely limit debate on the bill or any amendments.

"This bill is a crass political calculation carried out by 13 white, male senators who are out of touch with the realities of millions of ordinary families in every state," she said. "Democracy works best when there are hearings, debate, and discussion to craft a bill that works for everyone, not just a few senators."

"Ending the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of Americans will have their health care coverage taken away. Senators who support this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, the disabled, and children," said a June 22 statement from the Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby.

"Medical bills often drive families, especially those who struggle to make ends meet, into hunger and poverty," Rev. Beckmann added. "Instead of making our health care system worse, Congress should strive to improve the system so that all Americans have the health care coverage they need."

Network, Bread for the World and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd are part of the Interfaith Healthcare Coalition, which also includes as members the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness; the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism; the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative; the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries; and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The American Psychological Association also came out in opposition to the bill, citing the Medicaid cuts and permission to states to waive certain health benefits.

"This so-called Better Care Reconciliation Act is actually worse than the bill passed by the House, because it would undermine Medicaid even more severely, if a little more slowly," said a June 2 statement by Antonio E. Puente, APA president. "Medicaid is a critical backstop of coverage for mental health treatment, and for millions of older Americans, children and individuals with disabilities. If the goal is to cover more people, why slash Medicaid when it is already much more cost-effective than private sector plans?"

One part of the bill cuts the federal government's share of funding for Medicaid to 57 percent of its cost over the next seven years. States have picked up the balance of the funding to date.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government had guaranteed that its funding for adults newly eligible for Medicaid would fall to no lower than 90 percent of their costs. Many states expanded Medicaid coverage for all adults ages 18-65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The bill would reduce tax credits to help people buy insurance and would defund Planned Parenthood for one year under the bill. It is expected the Senate will take up the measure on the floor during the week of June 26.

According to an Associated Press analysis, the Republicans' health bill "cuts taxes by nearly $1 trillion over the next decade, mostly for corporations and the richest families in America."

The Better Care Reconciliation Act which would repeal taxes in the Affordable Care Act -- popularly known as Obamacare -- and structure subsidies for insurance policy-holders based on their incomes. It also would continue for at least two years to offer reimbursements to health insurance companies for subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income customers of Obamacare plans.

The bill would allow children to stay on their parents' health plans to age 26. It also would fund $62 billion over eight years to a state innovation fund, which can be used for coverage of high-risk patients, reinsurance and other expenses.

The Congressional Budget Office is expected to issue its "score" of the Senate bill before the end of June.

The CBO's score of the first House GOP-led Obamacare "repeal and replace" bill, which never came to a vote, estimated that 24 million Americans would lose health insurance over the next decade. Its score on the second bill, which squeaked to a 217-213 victory, estimated that 23 million Americans would lose their health care.

"America deserves better than its failing status quo," McConnell said June 22 on the Senate floor when introducing the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

But calling it "mean and heartless legislation," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said the bill is "going to gut Medicaid. It's going to take away care for our seniors" and "from millions of people across the country," to "give another massive tax cut for the wealthy and well-connected."

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Follow Pattison on Twitter: @MeMarkPattison.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.