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Bishops praise Supreme Court decision on school funding

Criticize ruling on abortion restrictions, urge reconsideration of federal death penalty

WASHINGTON | As the Supreme Court releases its decisions on cases that came up in its 2019-2020 term, the U.S. bishops have issued statements on the rulings that impact the Catholic Church. Here's a round-up of those statements and other issues on which the bishops have commented in the past few weeks.

Decision on school tax credits 'a blow' for Blaine amendments

On June 30, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which challenged a decision by the Montana Supreme Court to invalidate a tax credit scholarship program because families benefiting include those who choose to send their children to religiously-affiliated schools, a violation of the Montana state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment” of 1889 against aid to religious schools. By vote of 5-4, the Court ruled in favor of the petitioners. 

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J. of Oakland, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, have issued a statement:

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“The Court has rightly ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not permit states to discriminate against religion. This decision means that religious persons and organizations can, like everyone else, participate in government programs that are open to all. This is good news, not only for people of faith, but for our country. A strong civil society needs the full participation of religious institutions. By ensuring the rights of faith-based organizations’ freedom to serve, the Court is also promoting the common good.

“The Court has also dealt a blow to the odious legacy of anti-Catholicism in America. Blaine Amendments, which are in 37 states’ constitutions, were the product of nativism and bigotry. They were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We are grateful that the Supreme Court has taken an important step that will help bring an end to this shameful legacy.”

The USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the petitioners, which can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/Laycock-Berg-CLS-Amicus-Brief.pdf.

Abortion decision prioritizes business over women's health 

On June 29, 2020, the Supreme Court announced its decision in an abortion case out of Louisiana, June Medical Services v. Russo. The Court ruled 5 to 4 to strike down the Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, issued the following statement:

“Abortion violently ends the life of a child, and often severely harms women. Abortion becomes even more destructive when basic health and safety standards are ignored, and profit margins are prioritized over women’s lives. As Catholics, we condemn abortion as a grave injustice that denies the fundamental human right to life. Yet even as we seek to end the brutality of legalized abortion, we still believe that the women who seek it should not be further harmed and abused by a callous, profit-driven industry.

“The Court’s failure to recognize the legitimacy of laws prioritizing women’s health and safety over abortion business interests continues a cruel precedent. As we grieve this decision and the pregnant women who will be harmed by it, we continue to pray and fight for justice for mothers and children.

“We will not rest until the day when the Supreme Court corrects the grave injustice of Roe and Casey and recognizes the Constitutional right to life for unborn human beings. And we continue to ask all people of faith to pray for women seeking abortion, often under enormous pressure, that they will find alternatives that truly value them and the lives of their children.”

The USCCB filed an amicus curae brief in the case along with the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals urging the Court to uphold the law. The brief can be viewed here: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/18-1323-USCCB-amicus-June-Med-v-Gee-12-30-2019.pdf.

Bishops urge U.S. to reverse course on federal death penalty

Following the U.S. Attorney General’s decision to set new federal execution dates for four federal death row inmates beginning July 13, 2020, and the decision by the Supreme Court of the United States declining to hear their appeal, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, called on the Administration to reverse course on presiding over federal executions for the first time in 17 years.

Archbishop Coakley’s full statement follows:

“Now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeals of four federal death row inmates, and the Justice Department has set new execution dates beginning July 13, I reiterate the call made last July for the Administration to reverse course. 

“As articulated to the Supreme Court in another case earlier this year, the bishops have been calling for an end to the death penalty for decades. Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis have all called for an end to the death penalty around the world. As Pope Francis articulated through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the death penalty is unacceptable as an affront to the Gospel and to respect for human life. At their June 2019 meeting, the Catholic bishops of the United States voted overwhelmingly in affirmation of this position.

“Two of my brother bishops and I wrote last year: ‘To oppose the death penalty is not to be “soft on crime.” Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life.’ To this end, I implore Attorney General Barr and President Trump to abandon this path to preside over the first federal executions in 17 years.”  

Bishops urge better police formation and accountability

In the wake of the recent deaths of African Americans in police custody and the national discussion on police reform and racial justice, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, have sent a letter to all members of the U.S. Congress to offer reflections and principles for police accountability and reform.

In their letter, the bishops note that, although law enforcement officers offer “a great and needed service,” the “terrible and unjust killing of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and so many more,” demonstrates that there must be “better practices for formation and accountability for police, certainly in the use of lethal force, but also in patterns of discrimination and prejudice, so that real accountability can happen before more lives are lost.”

The bishops make reference to their pastoral letters on criminal justice and racism over the years, commentary from Pope Francis on the death of George Floyd as well as a previous address on the use of force by police, and remarks on the role of police in society from Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II.  

The bishops write, “We stand in the long tradition — from St. Augustine, to St. Thomas Aquinas, to Dr. Martin Luther King — that claims that the purpose of law and law enforcement is the promotion of justice.”

The “only solution to the challenges of this moment,” is to follow the wise counsel of Pope St. Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.”  

The full text of the letter to the Senate may be found online here. An identical letter was addressed to the House of Representatives.  

Bishop praises release of new Directory for Catechesis

On June 25, 2020, the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization released a new Directory for Catechesis.

As the Preface explains, “The criterion that prompted the reflection on and production of this Directory finds its basis in the words of Pope Francis: ‘we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or kerygma, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal…. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines, the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats. It is the message capable of responding to the desire for the infinite which abides in every human heart’.”

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, welcomed the new text: “We are excited to have a fresh and focused tool to enhance our evangelization efforts in catechesis. The new Directory highlights the centrality of the Church’s mission of bringing the world to an authentic encounter with Christ, an encounter that inspires and propels people as witnesses for the faith. In an age marked by tremendous social and cultural challenges, as well as ever-expanding digital tools which have often left the field of catechesis behind, the timing of this updated resource is providential.”

The Second Vatican Council originally inspired a Directory for Catechesis to ensure that the Church's catechetical efforts might be vibrant, informed, faithful, and attuned to the needs of the times. First released in 1971 and then updated in 1997, this latest edition considers both the opportunities and the challenges which the Church faces in an ever more global and secular society.

The new Directory builds upon the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the ongoing work of the new evangelization — particularly as called for in Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). With a vision that brings the content of these beautiful resources alive in the context of contemporary society, the Directory invites the Christian faithful to be courageous witnesses of Jesus Christ in the family, in the workplace, and in the wider community.

Bishop Barron observed that, “The Directory’s call for a ‘kerygmatic catechesis’ affirms the Conference’s recent focus on the importance of living as missionary disciples. The authentic proclamation of the Gospel leads to the conversion of hearts and minds, which cannot help but manifest that ‘missionary impulse capable of transforming everything’ with the healing power of the Holy Spirit (EG 27).”

 

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