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Bishops speak out on Equality Act, Johnson & Johnson vaccine, immigration

A round-up of statements from the U.S. bishops regarding topics in the news

Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith, threaten unborn

WASHINGTON | Five committee chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote a letter to members of Congress opposing the recent reintroduction of the Equality Act (H.R. 5), which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 25, 2021 and awaits consideration by the Senate.

The bishops warned of the threats posed by the proposed legislation to both people of faith and of no faith, with respect to mandates impacting charities and their beneficiaries in need, health care and other conscience rights, taxpayer funding of abortion, freedom of speech, women’s sports and sex-specific facilities, and more. Their letter explained:

“[E]very person is made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly, with respect and compassion. This commitment is reflected in the Church’s charitable service to all people, without regard to race, religion, or any other characteristic. It means we need to honor every person’s right to gainful employment free of unjust discrimination or harassment, and to the basic goods that they need to live and thrive. It also means that people of differing beliefs should be respected.”

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Furthermore, the bishop chairmen asserted, “The [Equality Act] represents the imposition by Congress of novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations. This includes dismissing sexual difference and falsely presenting ‘gender’ as only a social construct. As Pope Francis has reflected, however, “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.” ... It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality.’ Tragically, this Act can also be construed to include an abortion mandate, a violation of precious rights to life and conscience.”

“Rather than affirm human dignity in ways that meaningfully exceed existing practical protections, the Equality Act would discriminate against people of faith,” the bishops concluded.

The letter was jointly signed by Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop David A. Konderla of Tulsa, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The letter is available here. More information and resources related to the USCCB’s stance on the Equality Act may be found here.

Bishops address use of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

WASHINGTON | On March 2, 2021, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for use in the United States. 

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.

“Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines raised concerns because an abortion-derived cell line was used for testing them, but not in their production. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, was developed, tested and is produced with abortion-derived cell lines, raising additional moral concerns. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable Covid-19 vaccines are not available ... it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.’ However, if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.  

“While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world- suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.”

For further details, see:

Bishops welcome executive orders on immigration, refugees  

WASHINGTON | On Feb. 3, 2021, President Joe Biden issued three migration-related Executive Orders related to removing barriers and restoring due process in the legal immigration system. The actions include orders to:

  1. address root causes of migration from Central America and expand opportunities for legal migration;
  2. create a task force to reunify families separated during the prior administration; and
  3. strengthen integration and inclusion efforts for new Americans.

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:

“We welcome these Executive Orders on migration, which will help to ensure that immigrants and refugees are treated humanely and in accordance with their God-given dignity. Actions implemented by the prior administration on these issues have directly impacted and harmed immigrants’ and refugees’ lives, in many cases needlessly instilling fear and creating or perpetuating family separation. The Catholic Church teaches that each person is created in the image and likeness of God and that we must uphold the inherent dignity of each person. As a society, we must remain consistent in our openness and treatment of all persons, regardless of whether they were born in the United States or immigrated here. We know that changes will take time but applaud President Biden’s commitment to prioritize assisting our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters. We also offer our assistance and cooperation on these urgent matters of human life and dignity.”

Catholics, United Methodists publish results of latest round of dialogue

WASHINGTON | Representatives of the United Methodist Church and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the release of the results of their latest round of dialogue in the form of a two-part publication. This eighth round of dialogue was co-chaired by Bishop David P. Talley of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis and Bishop Peggy Johnson, resident bishop of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.

The work, entitled Catholics and United Methodists Together, was released Feb. 10, 2021. Both parts are available on the website of the U.S. bishops (here) and the website of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church (here).

The first book, subtitled “We Believe, We Pray, We Act,” emphasizes the importance of the shared recognition of one another’s baptisms, and pastoral commentaries on the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the commandment to love God and neighbor.

The second book, subtitled “Shared Prayers and Resources,” offers a practical guide for Methodists and Catholics to learn, pray and worship together. It describes shared traditions of prayer and worship and includes models for ecumenical prayer services. It also includes accessible teaching on conducting dialogue, a description of mutual and divergent sacramental practices, and a summary of the results of all of the past 50 years of official dialogues.

The collaborative project reflects the sincere desire of the dialogue committee that the deep spiritual communion shared within the group over the decades be shared among United Methodists and Catholics everywhere.

The episcopal co-chairs of the dialogue conclude their introductory letter with this commendation: “It is now time for the dialogue to take on new life within and between our respective communions. The unity of Christ’s church must take root in our hearts and bear fruit in shared learning, prayer, worship, and service within our faith communities.”

Bishops urge Temporary Protected Status, Foreign Assistance for Central America

WASHINGTON | Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington, and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, Bishop David J. Malloy of Rockford, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, have formally requested that the Biden Administration provide an 18-month designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for foreign nationals from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua — four Central American countries recently devastated by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in November.

Under U.S. law, TPS is a temporary and renewable immigration protection that allows individuals to remain and work lawfully in the U.S. during a period in which it is deemed unsafe for them to return to their home country due to certain conditions, including environmental disaster.

In their letter, dated Feb. 10, 2021, Bishop Dorsonville, Bishop Malloy, and Mr. Callahan stated:

“Recent hurricanes Eta and Iota have devastated communities across Central America. In addition to providing life-saving humanitarian assistance to populations in need, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to provide foreign nationals from these countries currently present in the U.S. temporary humanitarian protection. . .

“Undoubtedly, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are facing the aftermath of an environmental disaster. Therefore, we strongly urge the Administration to designate TPS for these countries for a period of 18 months. Current conditions prevent foreign nationals from returning safely, and managing their return would only add to existing challenges. This is compounded with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which further strains limited resources on the ground and imposes an added layer of complication for return.

“As Americans, we know such a response to be supported by the values, laws, and ideals that this country holds dear; and as Christians, we are called in a special way to make this plea. We therefore join with people of faith all across the U.S. in praying for a swift recovery from these devastating storms and a humane response to those impacted by them.”

Read the text of the full letter here. Learn more about TPS on the Justice for Immigrants website.

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