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Update: Court won't take case on law requiring ultrasound before abortion

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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 9 declined to take up a challenge to a Kentucky ultrasound law that requires a physician or qualified technician to perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and show the screen images to her.

The petition to the court did not get the required four justices to sign on to hear an appeal of an April 4 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a lower court decision that the law violated doctors' freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Kentucky Ultrasound Informed Consent Act law can take effect immediately. It was passed in early 2017 by Kentucky's House and Senate and signed into law by then-Gov. Matt Bevin. A Kentucky abortion provider, EMW Women's Surgical, filed suit against the law on free speech grounds.

"March for Life applauds the U.S. Supreme Court decision today upholding a Kentucky ultrasound law," said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life. "Women facing an unexpected pregnancy deserve to have as much medically and technically accurate information as possible when they are making what could be the most important decision of their life."

The law -- passed by the House 83-12 and by the Senate 32-5 in January 2017 -- requires a physician or qualified technician to perform an ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and show the screen images to her. The doctor or technician will be required to inform the mother what the images show, including any organs that are visible and the size of the fetus. The provider also must seek to detect the fetus' heartbeat.

The law allows the woman to refuse to view the ultrasound and she may ask the provider to mute the heartbeat if audible.

"Consistent with the Supreme Court's direction that mothers considering abortion may be given accurate, nonmisleading information about abortion and the nature of human life," said Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, "today's decision confirms that women deserve the truth, and cannot give real informed consent to an abortion unless facilities are transparent and honest about what abortion really is."

She added: "That's a right that was denied to me when I was 19 years old and making a difficult, life-changing decision, and I am so relieved that going forward, the women of Kentucky will have the opportunity I never did."

The Catholic Association's legal adviser, Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, likewise hailed the high court's decision.

It "affirms common sense, transparency and the democratic process," said Picciotti-Bayer. "Rather than keep women in the dark, Kentucky requires all medical professionals -- including abortionists -- to disclose vital information related to a woman's pregnancy and her developing child. Women deserve to know all the facts before making such a consequential decision."

Said Dannenfelser: "Modern ultrasound technology opens an unprecedented window into the womb, providing undisputable evidence of the humanity of the unborn child. The abortion industry has proven incapable of policing itself and will stop at nothing to keep vulnerable women in the dark for the sake of profit, which is why state laws protecting women's right to informed consent are so important."

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson also emphasized the right to informed consent.

"Key to our system of law is the idea of informed consent, and we believe that every American should welcome the fact that under this law women in Kentucky will be able to make a more informed choice about abortion," he said in a Dec. 9 statement.

"Our own work with ultrasounds has shown that women who see an ultrasound result while considering an abortion are often transformed by the experience through seeing their unborn child and avoiding what they would later consider to be a tragic mistake," he said.

"Such outcomes are better for the child and mother alike. Leaving this law in place will make mothers better informed on the issue and will undoubtedly save lives in the process," Anderson added.

Students for Life, via Twitter, said: "This is another pro-life law that will be allowed to stand and will help protect preborn babies from abortion."

This fall the Supreme Court said will hear oral arguments in March in a challenge to a Louisiana law -- Unsafe Abortion Protection Act -- that would require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The case is June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Gee.
 

 

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'Ad limina' visit takes on Marian flavor for Region VII bishops

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- As the bishops of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana began celebrating an early morning Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the church was abuzz with activity and repeated banging on a bass drum.

In Rome for their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- the bishops celebrated Mass Dec. 9 at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and in a chapel of St. Mary Major Dec. 10, the feast of Our Lady of Loreto.

Pope Francis has declared a special jubilee to mark the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Loreto being named patron of aviators and air travelers.

As the U.S. bishops prayed in the Marian chapel, workers moved chairs and pews and decorated the railing around the basilica's main altar with pine boughs, poinsettias and other flowers. And the orchestra of the Italian air force, which claims Our Lady of Loreto as their patron, began tuning their instruments.

The rumble from all that activity carried into the chapel.

Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the principal celebrant and homilist, noted how the bishops' "ad limina" week in Rome had a very Marian flavor: the transferred feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 9, the day's Loreto feast and the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

"We have been truly blessed to walk these days with our Blessed Mother," he said. "The world is in need of her intervention, her prayers, her grace and this is a time when she is reaching out to save souls and bring them to her son Jesus."

The day's first reading, from Isaiah 40, began, "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God."

Many, many people need comfort -- not the comfort of material goods, he said, "but the comfort of true and genuine peace that comes only from God."

"Often, my brother bishops, we are called to give comfort to our people, to listen to their trials and tribulations, sometimes their anger, sometimes their hostility," he said, "and we are called to walk with them, to accompany them in their sorrow, their sense of betrayal, their sense of needing God.

"And thank God they're still coming to us for consolation, some comfort," he added.

Bishops also are called to offer solace, affirmation and consolation to their priests and seminarians. "The challenges of being a priest today," Bishop Ricken said, "are more than anything I remember in my almost-40 years of priesthood, 20 years of being a bishop."

The Isaiah reading also spoke about being a "herald of good news" and not being afraid to share the glad tidings of salvation. "Courage is needed today to engage in a mission we've all been called to, a mission that seems defeated at this point, but we know in hope and confidence that this is God's church and the world needs the church now, perhaps more than ever," the bishop said.

During the "ad limina" visits, Bishop Ricken said, the bishops should renew their "'disponibilita' -- radical availability" to serve God, serve God's people and proclaim the Gospel.

Cardinal James M. Harvey, a native of Milwaukee and archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, was invited by the group to be the principal celebrant and homilist at their Mass Dec. 9 near the tomb of the apostle.

While the bishops did pray at the tomb, the readings for the Mass were those for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The cardinal quoted William Wordsworth's poem, "The Virgin," which includes the lines: "Woman! above all women glorified, our tainted nature's solitary boast."

"We do boast about Mary," Cardinal Harvey said. "We boast when we say, 'See what the power of God has done for a member of our human race.' And herein lies our hope. If the power of God is great enough to preserve from sin a human person like ourselves, Mary, then it is great enough to cure us of the effects of sin."

Celebrating the Immaculate Conception during Advent, he said, helps Catholics "recognize with humility that we are not worthy of Emmanuel -- God with us -- and yet God never fails to want us" because as St. Paul said, "God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight."

Praying at St. Paul's tomb, the cardinal said, the bishops pray for a renewal of their "zeal to be missionary disciples, first and foremost by living up to our calling as those chosen in Christ be holy and blameless in God's sight."

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Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz in Rome.

 

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Go to confession, let yourself be consoled, pope says

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By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anyone who wants to experience the consolation and tenderness of God simply needs to go to confession, Pope Francis said at his morning Mass.

Celebrating the liturgy Dec. 10 in the chapel of his residence, Pope Francis recited an imaginary conversation:

"Father, I have so many sins, I've made so many mistakes in my life."

"Let yourself be consoled."

"But who will console me?"

"The Lord."

"Where must I go?"

"To ask pardon. Go. Go. Be bold. Open the door. He'll caress you."

The Lord draws near to those in need with the tenderness of a father, the pope said.

Paraphrasing the day's reading from Isaiah 40, the pope said, "He is like a shepherd who pastures his sheep and gathers them in his arms, carrying the lambs on his bosom and sweetly leading them back to their mother ewes. That's how the Lord consoles us."

"The Lord always consoles us as long as we let ourselves be consoled," he said.

Of course, he said, God the father also corrects his children, but he does that, too, with tenderness.

Often, he said, people look at their own limits and sins and start thinking that there is no way God can forgive them. "It is then that the voice of the Lord is heard, saying, 'I will console you. I am close to you,' and he tenderly reaches us."

"The powerful God who created the heavens and earth, the hero-God -- if you want to say it that way -- became our brother, who carried the cross and died for us, and is capable of caressing us and saying, 'Don't cry.'"

 

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Pope names Cardinal Tagle to lead evangelization congregation

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a move that may signal Pope Francis' plan for the reform of the Roman Curia is close to completion, the pope has named Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

The 62-year-old cardinal succeeds Cardinal Fernando Filoni, 73, who since 2011 had led the Vatican office overseeing the church's vast mission territories.

Announcing Cardinal Tagle's appointment Dec. 8, the Vatican also announced that Cardinal Filoni would become grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. Cardinal Filoni succeeds U.S. Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, 80, as grand master of the organization that supports Catholics in the Holy Land.

In a statement released by the order, Cardinal O'Brien thanked Pope Francis for allowing him to continue as grand master for five years after he submitted his resignation at the age of 75.

"Throughout my more than eight years as grand master, my personal faith and love of our church have deepened as I have witnessed our members' commitment to the goals of our order, expressed in different cultures and languages, all profoundly Catholic," Cardinal O'Brien said.

His office said Dec. 9 that he plans to continue living in Rome.

Cardinal Tagle is set to take up his new Vatican post early in 2020. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, often referred to as Propaganda Fide, is set to become part of a mega-Dicastery for Evangelization, at least according to a draft of the apostolic constitution on the Curia, "Praedicate Evangelium" ("Preach the Gospel").

According to the draft, distributed for comment in the spring, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization will be combined, becoming the first of the dicasteries. Currently, the first is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The new office would have two sections, one focused on the "first evangelization" and support for churches in the lands of more recent evangelization -- the traditional mission territories -- and one focused on evangelization, catechesis and the formation of missionary disciples in traditionally Christian lands.

Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, the nuncio to the Philippines, spoke at the end of a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Tagle Dec. 9 in the Manila cathedral. He said the cardinal smiled through his homily, "but I know his heart is broken" at the thought of leaving. And even though Filipino Catholics are sad to lose the cardinal, he said, they must give him to the global church.

Cardinal Tagle, he said, is "the best gift we have to give to the universal church." And he had everyone in the packed cathedral stand, extend their right arm and pray for God's blessing on the cardinal.

Mission, evangelization and dialogue have been recurrent themes in Cardinal Tagle's teaching, preaching and public speaking.

At the 2012 Synod of Bishops on new evangelization, then-Archbishop Tagle emphasized the importance when evangelizing of imitating Jesus' humility and demonstrating real love and concern for all people, particularly "those neglected and despised by the world."

Being humble also means recognizing when the church does not have all the answers, and therefore being willing to remain silent, he said, adding that "a church at home with silence will make the voiceless believe they are not alone."

It was during the 2012 synod, at the age of 55, that he was informed he would be made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI. The November consistory to create six cardinals, including Cardinal Tagle, was the last before Pope Benedict resigned three months later.

Born in Manila June 21, 1957, he was raised in Imus and went to a grade school and high school run by the Augustinians in Paranaque City. In 1973 he entered the seminary and began university studies at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila University and San Jose Seminary in Manila.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1982 for the Diocese of Imus, he was sent to the United States for further studies, earning a doctorate in theology from The Catholic University of America.

In 1997, St. John Paul II named him to a five-year term on the International Theological Commission, the group of theologians who study specific questions at the behest of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. During his term, the president of the commission was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict.

In 2001, he was ordained a bishop and installed as bishop of Imus and, 10 years later, he was installed as archbishop of Manila.

He served as an expert at the special Synod of Bishops on Asia in 1998 and, as a bishop, was a member of the synods in 2008 on the Bible, 2012 on evangelization and 2018 on young people. Pope Francis chose him as one of the presidents delegate of the 2014 and 2015 synod assemblies on the family.

In 2015, Cardinal Tagle was elected president of Caritas Internationalis, the global confederation of national Catholic charities; he was re-elected to the position in May. And, in late 2014, he was elected to a six-year term as president of the Catholic Biblical Federation.

 

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Communion comes from faith in Christ, U.S. archbishop says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The traditional visit of bishops to Rome to report on their dioceses is about more than just keeping things in order; rather, it is a manifestation of their communion with Christ and his vicar on earth, the pope, said Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit.

"This is the reality of our communion, not organizational arrangements but faith in Christ Jesus. We live a mystery, we are servants of this mystery, the mystery of faith," the archbishop said.

Archbishop Vigneron was the principal celebrant and homilist at a Mass Dec. 9 at the tomb of St. Peter with the bishops of Ohio and Michigan, who were in Rome for their visits "ad limina apostolorum" -- to the threshold of the apostles -- to report on the status of their dioceses.

In his homily in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica, the archbishop reflected on the Gospel reading, which recounted Peter's profession of faith.

Archbishop Vigneron said that while the "ad limina" reports prepared before the visit focus on giving an account of their organizational and pastoral governance, it is "only one dimension" of a much deeper reality: "the church as a mystery."

"We come here to the tomb of St. Peter, conscious -- very conscious -- of this mystery that is the communion we have of faith with Peter," he said. "This is the mystery that is made present every time we offer the Eucharist."

As shepherds charged with the care of the flock, he added, bishops are called "to enable the whole people of God to have communion in this sacred mystery."

"We do that not as isolated individuals, but in communion with Peter, with his successor, Pope Francis, with one another, with bishops throughout the world," Archbishop Vigneron said.

"It means what it means all the time: communion in the faith of Peter and the apostles, the saving communion in Jesus Christ, his son and our Lord," he said.

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Immaculate Conception is feast of hope for sinners, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Mary, conceived without sin, is a "masterpiece" who reflects "the beauty of God who is all love, grace and self-giving," Pope Francis said on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Reciting the Angelus prayer with visitors in St. Peter's Square Dec. 8, Pope Francis focused on the feast day that celebrates how Mary was conceived in the womb of St. Ann without original sin.

Several hours after the noon prayer, the pope joined thousands of people near the Spanish Steps in central Rome to pay homage to the Immaculate Conception at a Marian statue atop a tall column. The statue was erected in 1857 to commemorate Pope Pius IX's declaration three years earlier of the dogma that Mary was conceived without sin.

Early in the morning each Dec. 8, Rome firefighters using a truck and tall ladder, hang a ring of flowers from the statue's outstretched arm. Throughout the day, individuals and organizations leave flowers at the base of the statue.

As is his custom, Pope Francis did not read a speech by the statue but recited a prayer he wrote for the occasion.

Nine days before his 83rd birthday, the pope told Mary that "the further we go on in life, the more our gratitude to God increases for having given us sinners a mother like you."

"You, Mother, remind us that yes, we are sinners, but we are no longer slaves to sin," he said.

The pope offered special prayers for everyone in Rome or around the world who feels oppressed, burdened and discouraged by their sins, those "who think that there is no longer hope for them, that their faults are too many and too great and that God certainly has no time to waste on them."

Mary is a mother who "never stops loving her children," he said. And in the darkest night and in the darkest souls, she can reflect the light of Christ, who alone "breaks the chains of evil, liberates from the strongest dependencies, dissolves the most criminal bonds, softens the most hardened hearts."

Earlier, in his address before the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis said that God always wanted Mary to be "full of grace, that is, full of his love."

When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would bear God's son, she "didn't lose herself in all sorts of arguments," Pope Francis said. "She immediately put her whole being and her whole personal story at God's disposition."

"Corresponding perfectly to God's plan for her, Mary became the 'all beautiful,' 'all holy,' but without the slightest shadow of self-satisfaction," the pope said. "She is humble. She is a masterpiece, but remains humble, small, poor. In her is reflected the beauty of God who is all love, grace and self-giving."

Pope Francis prayed that the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception would "help us make our whole lives a 'yes' to God, a 'yes' comprised of adoration of him and daily gestures of love and service" to those in need.

 

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Pope says he is 'scandalized' by anti-migrant rhetoric

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told Jesuits in Thailand he was "scandalized" by some of the anti-migrant rhetoric he hears in Europe, and he is convinced people are being manipulated into thinking the only way they can preserve their lifestyles is by building walls.

"The phenomenon of migration is compounded by war, hunger and a 'defensive mindset,' which makes us think only from a state of fear and that by reinforcing borders we can defend ourselves," Pope Francis said Nov. 22 when he met 33 Jesuits in Thailand.

The Jesuit magazine, La Civilta Cattolica, published a transcript Dec. 5 of the pope's responses to questions the Jesuits asked the pope during the meeting in Tha Kham, Thailand.

Often on trips abroad, Pope Francis spends time with local Jesuit communities and holds a question-and-answer session with them. Weeks later, a transcript of the exchange is published by La Civilta Cattolica.

A Jesuit who works for Jesuit Refugee Service in Thailand raised the question of ministry among migrants and refugees.

"The phenomenon of refugees has always existed, but today it is better known because of social differences, hunger, political tensions and especially war," the pope responded. " For these reasons, migratory movements are intensifying."

Much of the world responds with a "throwaway policy," he said; "refugees are waste material. The Mediterranean has been turned into a cemetery. The notorious cruelty of some detention centers in Libya touches my heart. Here in Asia we all know the problem of the Rohingya."

"I must admit that I am scandalized by some of the narratives I hear in Europe about borders," the pope told his Jesuit confreres. "In other parts (of the world) there are walls even separating children from their parents."

Strangely enough, the pope said, those same governments do not seem to be able to build a wall to keep illegal drugs out.

Pope Francis noted that the Bible and millennia of Christian teaching have encouraged welcoming the stranger. "But there are also many little customs and traditions of hospitality, such as leaving an empty chair on a festive day in case an unexpected guest arrives."

"If the church is a field hospital," he told the Jesuits, "this is one of the camps where most of the injured are found."

But, recalling the visit to Thailand in 1981 of Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, then superior general of the order, Pope Francis said the work with refugees and any other social apostolate must be supported by prayer.

"We must remember it well: prayer," the pope said. "That is to say, in that physical periphery do not forget this other one, the spiritual one. Only in prayer will we find the strength and inspiration to engage fruitfully with the messy consequences of social injustice."

Another Jesuit asked the pope about balancing the need to denounce unjust social systems and "the prudence that suggests you sometimes keep quiet for the greater good or not to complicate situations further."

Pope Francis said there was no easy answer to that question. The right way can be found only through prayer and the discernment of the concrete situation. "There are no rules that are definitive and always valid."

And, he added, sometimes a broad boulevard of opportunity will not open up and, even if it did, it may not be the right path to take. "Sometimes, more than highways, small paths work better; these are the routes through the peripheries that nonetheless get you to your destination. They're not rigid, big or obvious, but they're effective."

"Sometimes, however, when we want everything to be well-organized, precise, rigid and always defined in the same way, then we become pagans, even if disguised as priests," the pope said. "I think Jesus spoke a lot about pharisaic hypocrisy in this regard."

Another Jesuit asked Pope Francis how they should minister to Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried. "I could answer you in two ways: in a casuistic way, which however is not Christian, even if it can be ecclesiastical; or according to the magisterium of the church as in the eighth chapter of 'Amoris Laetitia,'" his 2016 apostolic exhortation on the family.

The document, he said, urges pastors to "journey, accompany and discern to find solutions. And this has nothing to do with situation ethics, but with the great moral tradition of the church."

Asked about the reception of his 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis said the Paris Climate Accord was a big step forward in addressing climate change.

"But then the conflicts began, the compromises between what was hoped for and the 'wallet,' the economic interests of certain countries," he said. "And so, some countries withdrew."

Still, he said, people today, especially young people, "have become much more aware than before of the need for the care of our common home and its importance."

Young people understand the encyclical "with their hearts," he said. Their commitment is "is a promise for the future."

 

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Rise in populism due to lack of listening, dialogue, pope says

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Ignoring the reality lived by men and women today has caused a resurgence of old ideologies, such as populism, that inevitably do more harm than good, Pope Francis said.

Speaking off-the-cuff with staff and members of the Italian Jesuit magazine, "Aggiornamenti Sociali" ("Social Updates") Dec. 6, the pope said that prejudices, certain "schools of thought and positions taken do so much harm" in the world.

"Today for example in Europe, we are experiencing the prejudice of populism, countries who close in on themselves and turn to ideologies," he said. "But not just new ideologies -- there are a few -- but to the old ones, the old ideologies that created the Second World War."

Founded in 1950, "Aggiornamenti Sociali" offers "information but above all formation," as well as "criteria and instruments to confront today's most debated issues and participate in social life in a conscious way," according to the Jesuit magazine's website.

The pope told the staff and writers he had prepared to read an eight-page speech, but he feared that "after the third page, there will be few left who will listen."

In his off-the-cuff remarks, the pope highlighted the importance of listening, saying it is the "fundamental attitude of every person who wants to do something for others."

"Listen to situations, listen to problems, openly, without prejudices," he said. "Because there is a way of listening that is 'Yes, yes, I understand, yes, yes,' and it reduces them, a reductionism to my categories. And this cannot be."

The resurgence of ideologies like populism, he explained, is a product of not listening because "it is a projection of what I want to be done, what I want to be thought, what I think should be."

"It is a complex that makes us substitute God the creator: we take the situations in our own hands and work," he continued. "Reality is what I want it to be; we place filters. But reality is another thing, reality is sovereign. Whether we like it or not, it is sovereign. And I must dialogue with reality."

Dialogue, he added, is an important step in confronting today's societal ills. Christians are not called "to impose paths of development or solutions to problems," but instead, to initiate "a dialogue with that reality starting from the values of the Gospel, from the things Jesus has taught us, without dogmatically imposing but with dialogue and discernment."

"If you start from preconceptions or preestablished positions, from dogmatic pre-decisions, you will never, never be able to give a message. The message must come from the Lord through us. We are Christians and the Lord speaks to us through reality, through prayer and discernment," he said.

In his prepared remarks, which were given to those present, the pope encouraged the magazine's writers to continue "to give space to the perspective of those who are 'discarded'" by today's society.

"Continue to be with them, listen to them, accompany them so that their voices may be the ones who speak," the pope said. "Even those who research and reflect on social questions are called to have the heart of a shepherd with the smell of the sheep."

He also reminded the Jesuit magazine's editorial staff of its responsibility to allow for dialogue and different points of view while avoiding "the temptation of abstraction, of limiting yourselves to the level of ideas while forgetting the concreteness of doing and walking together."

"Serious intellectual research is also a journey made together, especially when dealing with cutting-edge issues," he said. The staff must allow "for different perspectives and disciplines to interact" and should "promote relationships of respect and friendship between those involved so that they may discover how encountering one another enriches everyone."

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Religious freedom is a basic human right, says lawyer for Little Sisters

IMAGE: CNS photo/Becket - Religious Liberty for All

By Linda Petersen

SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- As an attorney with Becket, a religious liberty law firm, Luke Goodrich is proud to be able to make a difference while earning a livelihood. He sees his work as a calling from God.

It entails representing religious groups or individuals who fall afoul of the federal government simply by trying to follow the dictates of their conscience.

Perhaps the most well-known of his clients are the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate a number of homes for the elderly poor across the nation. The sisters continue to fight the Obama-era contraceptive mandate in the courts.

"I'm very grateful and very thankful that my life's work lines up with what I see as a fundamental issue of justice in Scripture," he said. "It's a great joy because I do think religious freedom is a basic human right and a basic issue of biblical justice."

Goodrich is a member of Misseo Dei Community, a nondenominational Protestant church in Salt Lake City. Originally from Florida, Goodrich has for the past seven years lived in Utah with his wife, Sarah, who grew up in Utah, and their seven children.

Prior to that, he attended the University of Chicago law school and afterward clerked for Judge Michael McConnell, one of the nation's leading scholars on religious freedom cases. He then worked for the U.S. State Department in the human trafficking division, followed by time at a private law firm in Washington.

When a position opened up at Becket in 2008, "I jumped at the opportunity," Goodrich told the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

Becket was founded in 1994, by Kevin "Seamus" Hasson, a Catholic. It is "the nation's only law firm dedicated exclusively to protecting religious liberty and to doing so for people of all faiths," said Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel. Becket's main headquarters are in Washington.

With regard to the legal battle being waged by the Little Sisters of the Poor, Goodrich called their case critically important for the defense of religious liberty.

"If the government can reach inside us and force us to violate our conscience, there's very little that the government can't do," he said. "Every human being is born with a religious impulse, a desire for transcendent truth and by its very nature we can't act on that impulse under coercion.

"If the government coerces us in matters of transcendent truth, it's going against our fundamental nature as human beings and therefore violating our human rights," he added.

President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010. The Department of Health and Human Services in 2013 added FDA-approved contraceptives to a list of preventive services, mandating all employer health care plans cover all forms of these methods. It included a very narrowly drawn exemption for churches.

This exemption did not cover religious employers such as the Little Sisters, Catholic dioceses and many other faith-based organizations, all of whom opposed the mandate on moral grounds, because some of the approved contraceptives are considered abortion-inducing.

More than 100 lawsuits have been filed over the Obama-era regulation by religious organizations.

"It's one of the only times in our nation's history where the federal government has attempted, on such a large scale, to force so many religious organizations to violate their conscience, particularly around the issue of abortion," Goodrich said.

When the Little Sisters sued, claiming a religious exemption, their case made it to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected their argument. Becket intervened in the case on their behalf.

In 2016, the Supreme Court granted the Little Sisters of the Poor a religious exemption from the mandate.

Then, one year later, they were given further protection by an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring HHS to write a comprehensive exemption from the contraceptive mandate for the Little Sisters and other religious ministries.

HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

In May, HHS introduced the "conscience rule" that protects individuals and health care entities from discrimination on the basis of their exercise of conscience in HHS-funded programs. Several state attorneys general subsequently filed suit against HHS and the administration, arguing that the new rule is unlawful.

The attorneys general cases "exploit essentially a loophole because the Supreme Court's decision did not issue a definitive ruling that the Obama-era regulation was unlawful," Goodrich said. "Instead, it urged the parties to figure out a solution that would respect the religious freedom of the sisters and also accomplish the government's goal of distributing contraception."

So far, the 3rd and 9th circuit courts, based in Philadelphia and San Francisco, respectively, have found against the Little Sisters and other religious organizations. Becket has appealed to the Supreme Court to rehear the Little Sisters case and give a definitive ruling.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide by June 2020 whether it will hear the case, which Goodrich said is likely.

He believes that ultimately the Little Sisters will prevail. Still, there are a number of significant religious freedom challenges on the horizon in the United States that Christians are ill-prepared to deal with, he said.

"Long-standing Christian beliefs about life, marriage and absolute truth, which used to be uncontroversial, are now viewed in many quarters as a threat to the prevailing culture," he said.

Goodrich has published his first book, "Free to Believe," examining the principle of religious freedom, threats to it and how to protect it. He offers three arguments why everyone should care about religious freedom: It benefits society, is the foundation of all of our other rights and is a fundamental human right.

Nevertheless, Goodrich believes all Christians should have hope. "As Christians, our hope doesn't rest primarily in the results of an election or the composition of the Supreme Court. If we are Christians, our hope rests in the person of Jesus Christ," he said.

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Petersen is a reporter for the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

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Update: Beatification for Archbishop Sheen postponed

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PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria said Dec. 3 Vatican officials have told him that the upcoming beatification of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has been postponed.

A news release from the Diocese of Peoria said it was informed Dec. 2 that Vatican had decided to postpone the Dec. 21 ceremony "at the request of a few members" of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The diocese added, "In our current climate it is important for the faithful to know that there has never been, nor is there now, any allegation against (Archbishop) Sheen involving the abuse of a minor."

However, a Dec. 5 statement from the Diocese of Rochester, New York, said it had "expressed concern about advancing the cause for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen at this time without a further review of his role in priests' assignments."

The statement said the Rochester Diocese, prior to Vatican announcement Nov. 18 that Pope Francis approved the beatification, had provided documentation expressing its concern to the Diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for Saints' Causes via the apostolic nunciature in Washington.

Archbishop Sheen was bishop of Rochester from October 1966 until his retirement in October 1969. He received the title of archbishop at retirement.

The statement from the Rochester Diocese said, "Other prelates shared these concerns and expressed them," adding that "there are no complaints against Archbishop Sheen engaging in any personal inappropriate conduct nor were any insinuations made in this regard."

"The Diocese of Rochester did its due diligence in this matter and believed that, while not casting suspicion, it was prudent that Archbishop Sheen's cause receive further study and deliberation, while also acknowledging the competency of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to render its decision. The Holy See ultimately decided to postpone the beatification," the statement continued.

The Rochester Diocese added it would have no other comment.

Calling the delay "unfortunate," the Peoria Diocese's Dec. 3 release outlined some of the activities for which Archbishop Sheen was especially known, including "his personal dedication" a Holy Hour of daily prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and "courage in confronting the challenges in our society."

"Drawing strength from his personal prayer life and deep devotion to Our Lord, Fulton Sheen consistently demonstrated tremendous courage in confronting the challenges in our society," the statement said. "He was well known for his boldness in preaching the Gospel on radio and on television in the face of our secular culture. This same spirit of courage and boldness guided him as a bishop to preach the truth, to defend the faith and to safeguard the church."

The Peoria Diocese also said "there continue to be many miracles reported" through the archbishop's intercession. The diocese said there have been "several" miracles reported since the pope's announcement of the beatification ceremony.

"The Diocese of Peoria remains confident that Archbishop Sheen's virtuous conduct will only be further demonstrated," the statement said. "Bishop Jenky has every confidence that any additional examinations will only further prove Fulton Sheen's worthiness of beatification and canonization.

"The Diocese of Peoria has no doubt that Fulton Sheen, who brought so many souls to Jesus Christ in his lifetime, will be recognized as a model of holiness and virtue," the statement added.

The diocese said Bishop Jenky was "deeply saddened" by the Vatican's decision.

"In particular, Bishop Jenky is even more concerned for the many faithful who are devoted to Sheen and who will be affected by this news," the diocese said. "He is firmly convinced of the great holiness of the venerable servant of God and remains confident that Sheen will be beatified. Bishop Jenky has every intention of continuing the cause, but no further date for beatification has been discussed."

The Diocese of Peoria said it will offer no further comment "at this time."

Fulton J. Sheen, a native of El Paso, Illinois, was ordained Sept. 20, 1919, at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria. He went on to teach at The Catholic University of America in Washington and lead the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. Perhaps he is best remembered for his popular television show, "Life Is Worth Living."

He died in 1979 at age 84. His sainthood cause was officially opened in 2003. The church declared his heroic virtues and he was given the title "Venerable" in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.

In July, Bishop Jenky announced Pope Francis had approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, which led the way to the announcement he would be beatified.

The miracle concerns the healing of James Fulton Engstrom of Washington, Illinois, who was considered stillborn when he was delivered during a planned home birth Sept. 16, 2010. His parents, Bonnie and Travis Engstrom, immediately invoked the prayers of Archbishop Sheen and encouraged others to seek his intercession after the baby was taken to OSF HealthCare St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria for emergency treatment.

In general, two miracles must be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of a prospective saint, one before beatification and the other before canonization.

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Copyright © 2019 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 [email protected]