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Posted on 04/28/2017 20:10 PM (CNA Daily News)
Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2017 / 12:10 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A White House advisor rejected recent concerns that the Trump administration supports the controversial HHS mandate, saying it is simply a matter of timing in finding a “litigation-proof” alternative.
“The administration is not stepping back. It's doing precisely what it should be doing here... because of the way people are attacking Trump executive orders, it's very important that this thing gets done right and be as litigation-proof as possible, knowing full well they're going to get sued anyway,” said White House advisor Leonard Leo, according to Axios.
His comments came amid concerns by religious groups after the Washington Post on Tuesday reported that the Justice Department had asked a federal appeals court for 60 extra days to negotiate an agreement with East Texas Baptist University and several other plaintiffs challenging the controversial HHS mandate. The Supreme Court last year had instructed the Obama administration to negotiate with the plaintiffs as the next step in the litigation process.
During his presidential campaign, Trump had promised Catholics relief from the HHS mandate, which requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some early abortion drugs. In a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference last October, he pointed to his opponent Hillary Clinton’s support for the mandate, and said “that is a hostility to religious liberty you will never see in a Trump Administration.”
After Trump’s election, the plaintiffs challenging the mandate widely expected that the new administration would drop the government’s appeal of the lawsuits, which federal circuit courts may re-examine in the coming months.
Instead of dropping the cases, however, the administration had indicated earlier this week that it intends to take the next step in the litigation process.
According to Axios, “The Trump administration is considering a range of options, from providing blanket exemptions to allowing schemes that would let insurance companies deal directly with employees.”
The HHS mandate was formed under the Affordable Care Act, which required preventive coverage in employer health plans. Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services interpreted this to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and drugs that can cause abortions.
After a wave of criticism from religious employers to the original mandate, the Obama administration announced an “accommodation” whereby objecting non-profits would tell the government of their opposition, and their insurer or the third party administrator for the plans would be notified separately to include the coverage.
Many non-profits – including Catholic dioceses and the Little Sisters of the Poor – said that the process still forced them to cooperate in immoral behavior against their consciences. Some critics voiced concern that the cost of coverage would still end up getting passed along to the objecting employers in the form of higher premiums.
Hundreds of non-profits and other plaintiffs filed lawsuits over the mandate, even with the accommodation. Among these plaintiffs is EWTN Global Catholic Network. CNA is part of the EWTN family.
A number of those cases made their way to the Supreme Court in Zubik v. Burwell. Plaintiffs in the case include East Texas Baptist University, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, and other dioceses, schools, and charities.
In March of 2016, the Court asked both the plaintiffs and the government to submit briefs explaining whether a compromise could be reached that provided for cost-free contraceptive coverage for employees and yet still respected the religious freedom of the objecting non-profits.
That request, which came after oral arguments and in the middle of the case, was almost unprecedented in its timing.
After both parties outlined ways where they believed both goals could be achieved, the Supreme Court last May sent the cases back to the federal circuit court level, vacated the previous decisions of those courts, ordered the government not to enforce the fines against plaintiffs for not complying with their demands, and instructed the courts to give the parties time to find a solution on which they could agree.
Posted on 04/28/2017 19:39 PM (CNA Daily News)
Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 11:39 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis closed his first day in Egypt with a visit to Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II, telling him their Churches are bonded by the blood of their martyrs, and are called to further cement this bond with acts of charity.
In his April 28 address to the patriarch, Francis said their ecumenical journey is sustained “in a mysterious and quite relevant way, by a genuine ecumenism of blood.”
Noting how Saint John the Evangelist wrote that Christ came “with water and blood,” Francis said this image serves as a symbol that “by living a new life in our common baptism, a life of love always and for all, even at the cost of the sacrifice of one’s life.”
“How many martyrs in this land, from the first centuries of Christianity, have lived their faith heroically to the end, shedding their blood rather than denying the Lord and yielding to the enticements of evil, or merely to the temptation of repaying evil with evil!”
The Pope noted that this has tragically been the case even in recent days, when “the innocent blood of defenseless Christians was cruelly shed.”
“Their innocent blood unites us,” Francis continued, telling the patriarch that just as the heavenly Jerusalem is one, “so too is our martyrology; your sufferings are also our sufferings.”
“Strengthened by this witness, let us strive to oppose violence by preaching and sowing goodness, fostering concord and preserving unity, praying that all these sacrifices may open the way to a future of full communion between us and of peace for all.”
Pope Francis spoke in an audience with Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, on his first day in Egypt. He is on an official April 28-29 visit to the country, aimed largely at interreligious and ecumenical dialogue.
After arriving at Cairo in the afternoon, Francis made his way to Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam, where he met with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyeb and addressed participants in the International Peace Conference.
He then met with the country’s authorities, including President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, before heading to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral for his meeting with Tawadros, the last official appointment of the day.
Tawadros is head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is an Oriental Orthodox Church, meaning it rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers had historically been considered monophysites – those who believe Christ has only one nature – by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, though they are not considered so any longer.
Like the Bishop of Rome, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria is known as “Pope” to his followers.
Francis’ words to the patriarch bear special significance considering his visit comes against the backdrop of recent attacks against Christians in the area, which are part of a general increase in the persecution of Egypt’s 9 million strong Coptic community.
The Islamic State and other Islamists have carried out a series of attacks on Egypt's Christians in recent years, including the beheading of 20 Coptic Orthodox faithful in Libya in 2015, and a series of church bombings.
However, in his speech Pope Francis noted that the “impressive history of holiness” in Egypt isn’t limited to the witness of the martyrs, because “no sooner had the ancient persecutions ended than a new and selfless form of life arose as a gift of the Lord: monasticism originated in the desert.”
“Thus, the great signs that God had once worked in Egypt and at the Red Sea were followed by the miracle of a new life that made the desert blossom with sanctity,” he said, explaining that given this shared patrimony, he comes to Egypt “as a pilgrim.”
Francis noted that while the two Churches haven’t always gotten along given both theological and non-theological differences, their 1973 joint declaration, signed by Blessed Paul VI and Patriarch Shenouda III, allowed them, “with God’s help, to acknowledge together that Christ is perfect God with respect to his divinity and perfect man with respect to his humanity.”
Equally important and timely, he said, “are the words that immediately precede this statement, in which we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord and God and Savior and King.”
The strengthening of this bond between their Churches, Francis said, means they can no longer move forward with the idea that each can go their own way, because this would “betray” Christ's prayer that his disciples “all be one.”
While the journey isn’t always easy, the Lord exhorts them to persevere, he said, explaining that “we are not alone. We are accompanied by a great host of saints and martyrs who, already fully one, impel us here below to be a living image of the Jerusalem above.”
Quoting the Gospel of St. Mark, founder of the See of Alexandria, Pope Francis pointed out Christ's question to St. Peter: “who do you say that I am?”
Even today “many people cannot answer this question,” Francis said, noting that “there are even few people who can raise it, and above all few who can answer it with the joy of knowing Jesus, that same joy with which we have the grace of confessing him together.”
Because of this, Coptic Orthodox and Catholics are called to bear witness to Christ together and “to carry our faith to the world, especially in the way it is meant to be brought: by living it, so that Jesus’ presence can be communicated with life and speak the language of gratuitous and concrete love.”
As both Coptic Orthodox and Catholics, “we can always join in speaking this common language of charity,” he said, explaining that before completing some charitable task, “we would do well to ask if we can do it together with our brothers and sisters who share our faith in Jesus.”
“Thus, by building communion in the concreteness of a daily lived witness, the Spirit will surely open providential and unexpected paths to unity,” he said, praising the patriarch for his support of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt, particularly through his establishment of the National Council of Christian Churches.
Francis closed his speech praying that the two of them would be able to “set out together as pilgrims of communion and messengers of peace,” under the special care and guidance of Mary, the Mother of God.
At their meeting, Francis and Tawadros signed a joint declaration indicating their gratitude for the chance “to exchange a fraternal embrace and to join again in common prayer.”
Notably, they declared that they “will seek sincerely not to repeat the baptism that has been administered in either of our Churches for any person who wishes to join the other. This we confess in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and the faith of the three Ecumenical Councils assembled in Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.”
“We ask God our Father to guide us, in the times and by the means that the Holy Spirit will choose, to full unity in the mystical Body of Christ.”
Posted on 04/28/2017 19:33 PM (CNA Daily News)
Little Rock, Ark., Apr 28, 2017 / 11:33 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days, Catholics offered prayers for the prisoners, the victims, and their families, saying the executions have diminished the whole society.
“Catholic Mobilizing Network is deeply saddened by the events in Arkansas last night,” Karen Clifton, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, said on Friday. “Our prayers are with all the victims’ families and all those involved in carrying out these four executions.” Catholic Mobilizing Network fights for an end to the death penalty.
Arkansas carried out its fourth execution in eight days late on Thursday night. The state had originally planned to conduct eight executions in 11 days, which would have been the largest number of executions in so short a span of time since the death penalty was re-instated there in 1976.
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock wrote the state’s Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) on March 1, asking him to commute the sentences of the eight men to life in prison without parole.
“Since the penal system of our state is well equipped to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life (and thus protect society), we should limit ourselves to non-lethal means,” Bishop Taylor stated.
One of the eight inmates, Ledell Lee, was put to death on April 20. Two others, Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, were executed on Monday in the first double-execution in the U.S. since 2000. The lawyers for Williams tried unsuccessfully to win a last-minute stay of his execution with claims that Jones’s execution by lethal injection “appeared to be torturous and inhumane.”
The inmate executed on Thursday, Kenneth Williams, 38, had been convicted of a 1998 killing of Dominique Hurd, but after he escaped from prison he was convicted again in 1999 on capital murder charges for the killing of Cecil Boren.
Williams reportedly scored a 70 on an IQ test, “squarely within the intellectual disability range” which would make him ineligible for the death penalty, the Fair Sentencing Project claimed. His lawyers requested a last-minute stay of his execution but were denied by the state Supreme Court, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Four of the eight planned executions were halted by courts for various reasons – one for a hearing for DNA evidence, another for a 30-day public comment period after the state’s parole board had recommended clemency, and two others tied to the U.S. Supreme Court’s current consideration of a case about the rights of inmates to access an independent mental health professional to determine their competency for execution.
The four executions in eight days, Clifton said, showed “the brokenness of the death penalty system.”
“These four men represented all who are on death row: the intellectually disabled, the mentally ill, those who are too poor to afford proper counsel, those who have experienced abuse and severe trauma as children, and even some who maintained their innocence,” she stated.
Jones and Williams, executed on Monday, had both reportedly been sexually abused as children, according to the Fair Sentencing Project. Jones had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder before he committed his capital crime, while Williams had been pimped out by his mother for sex as a minor, in exchange for benefits like lodging and food stamps.
In addition, three of the four black inmates originally scheduled for execution were killed, Clifton said, while three of the four white inmates originally slated for execution received stays by the courts.
An AP reporter present at Williams’ death reported that he “lurched and convulsed on the gurney” as the drugs for his lethal injection were administered. According to the state’s three-drug protocol, midazolam – a sedative – is given first, followed by vecuronium bromide to paralyze the subject, completed with potassium chloride which is mean to stop the heart.
Williams was heard “speaking in tongues,” according to the AP’s Kelly Kissel, and as the drugs were administered through an IV he was then seen lurching on the gurney coughing, with his chest “pumping” according to one witness.
His attorney noted the reports of Williams’ reactions to the injection and called for an investigation to see if the execution was “botched.” Other recent lethal injection executions have been allegedly “botched,” most notably the 2015 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma where the inmate was seen writhing on the gurney for nearly 45 minutes after the drugs were administered.
Clifton maintained that Williams’ death, as well as the double-execution on Monday, “have raised concerns of possible complications related to the use of controversial drugs.”
“Our whole society has been diminished by these four executions,” she concluded.
Posted on 04/28/2017 18:14 PM (CNA Daily News)
Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 10:14 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Shortly after landing in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced violent fundamentalism in his speech to civil authorities, telling them they have a special role in helping quell extremism.
“Thanks to its history and its particular geographical location, Egypt has a unique role to play in the Middle East and among those countries seeking solutions to pressing and complex problems that need to be faced now in order to avoid the spread of worse violence,” the Pope said April 28.
“I am speaking of the blind and brutal violence caused by different factors: sheer desire for power, the arms trade, grave social problems and that religious extremism which uses the Holy Name of God to carry out unprecedented atrocities and injustices.”
Pope Francis spoke to political and civil authorities, including Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, after landing in Cairo for his two-day trip to the country.
The visit will focus largely on interreligious and ecumenical dialogue in a bid to both strengthen Catholic-Muslim relations and support Egypt’s persecuted Coptic community.
After touching down around 2 p.m. local time, the Pope stopped by the prestigious al-Azhar University and adjunct mosque, considered one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam. There he addressed participants in the International Peace Conference before heading to his meeting with authorities.
In his speech to Egypt’s leaders, Francis voiced his gratitude for the invitation to come, saying that due to the country’s rich cultural and religious history Egypt is the misr um al-dunya, or “mother of the world,” a phrase commonly known by Egyptians.
He commented on how the Holy Family went to Egypt in order to find “refuge and hospitality” after fleeing Herod. This same hospitality, he said, can be felt by the millions of refugees from surrounding countries, including Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Iraq, who arrive and integrate into Egyptian society.
“This destiny and role of Egypt are also the reason that led the people to call for an Egypt where no one lacks bread, freedom and social justice,” the Pope said.
Because of this, Egypt has “a singular task, namely, to strengthen and consolidate regional peace even as it is assaulted on its own soil by senseless acts of violence.”
“Such acts of violence have caused unjust suffering to so many families – some of them are present among us – who mourn their sons and daughters,” he said, recalling the many youth, police, and Coptic citizens who have become “nameless victims of various forms of terrorist extremism.”
Among these victims, he said, are those affected by recent violence and threats that have prompted a Christian exodus from northern Sinai, and the death some 45 people killed by bombings in Tanta and Alexandria April 9.
“To the members of their families, and to all of Egypt, I offer my heartfelt condolences and my prayers that the Lord will grant speedy healing to the injured,” he said.
Pope Francis then offered his praise for various national projects aimed at building peace both within Egypt and beyond its borders, saying development, prosperity and peace “are essential goods that merit every sacrifice.”
He also spoke on the importance of keeping one’s focus on the human being above all else, because they are “the heart of all development.”
Pointing to the “fragile and complex” state of today’s world, which he has frequently dubbed a “third world war fought piecemeal,” Francis said a firm condemnation of violence is needed.
“It needs to be clearly stated that no civilized society can be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating and profaning the Sacred Name of God,” he said, thanking el-Sisi for clearly speaking out on this.
“All of us have the duty to teach coming generations that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, does not need to be protected by men; indeed, it is he who protects them,” the Pope said, adding that God “never desires the death of his children, but rather their life and happiness.”
“He can neither demand nor justify violence; indeed, he detests and rejects violence.” The true God, he said, “calls to unconditional love, gratuitous pardon, mercy, absolute respect for every life, and fraternity among his children, believers and nonbelievers alike.”
The Pope said it is the duty of everyone, regardless of nation or religion, to unite in proclaiming that “history does not forgive” hypocrites who preach justice but practice injustice, or who talk about equality and then discard others.
“It is our duty to unmask the peddlers of illusions about the afterlife, those who preach hatred in order to rob the simple of their present life and their right to live with dignity, and who exploit others by taking away their ability to choose freely and to believe responsibly.”
Francis stressed that we are bound “to dismantle deadly ideas and extremist ideologies, while upholding the incompatibility of true faith and violence, of God and acts of murder.”
Egypt, which once saved other peoples from famine, is called “to save this beloved region from a famine of love and fraternity,” he said, explaining that this means issuing a harsh condemnation of all violence and terrorism.
By simultaneously building peace and fighting terrorism, Egypt will give proof that al-din lillah wal watan liljami (religion belongs to God and the nation to all), he said, referring to the motto of the nation's 1952 revolution.
As the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions, the region, with the help of Egypt, the Pope said, “can and indeed will awake from the long night of tribulation, and once more radiate the supreme values of justice and fraternity that are the solid foundation and the necessary path to peace.”
“From great nations, one can expect no less!” he said, noting how this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Egypt.
Pope Francis voiced his hope that these relations will continue to be strengthened, particularly through his visit.
He closed with an appeal for peace, which he said is “a gift of God, but also the work of man” which must be “built up and protected.”
Offering his greetings to the various Christian groups present in Egypt, including Coptic Orthodox, Greek Byzantines, Armenian Orthodox, Protestants, and Catholics, the Pope prayed that St. Mark, who evangelized the region, would intercede for them in helping to establish unity.
“Your presence in this, your country, is not new or accidental, but ancient and an inseparable part of the history of Egypt,” he said. “You have shown, and continue to show, that it is possible to live together in mutual respect and fairness, finding in difference a source of richness and never a motive of conflict.”
Posted on 04/28/2017 17:22 PM (CNA Daily News)
Cairo, Egypt, Apr 28, 2017 / 09:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his first speech in Egypt on Friday, Pope Francis denounced all forms of violence and hatred, saying that they are blasphemous when carried out in the name of God, or under the pretense of religion.
“Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.”
“Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear 'No!' to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God,” he said April 28.
Pope Francis spoke to participants of an International Conference on Peace held at al-Azhar University as part of his April 28-29 visit to Cairo. The visit comes as the result of a recent thawing in relations between the Vatican and the university, which had been strained since 2011.
Grand Imam of the Mosque of al Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayyib, also spoke at the conference. He is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority the 1.5-billion strong Sunni Muslim world and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the University attached to it.
In his speech, Francis emphasized the role of religious leaders in ending violence and promoting peace, saying they are called “to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity” and is based not on “authentic openness” to God, but on selfishness.
“We have an obligation,” he continued, “to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.”
The Pope explained that violence and faith, belief and hatred, are incompatible, asking those present to affirm this with him. “Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological,” he said.
Francis reflected on the historical value Egypt has placed on education, saying it is absolutely necessary for the future and the proper education of the next generations that they make decisions based on peace.
“To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness,” he said.
In his speech, the Pope illustrated several points with symbolism taken from Mount Sinai, a mountain in Egypt believed to be the site of the biblical Mount Sinai.
Also called the “Mount of the Covenant,” Mount Sinai, he said, “reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).”
Mount Sinai is held to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, according to both the Christian and Islamic traditions. At the center of these commandments, the Pope emphasized, “addressed to each individual and to people of all ages” is the command: “Thou shalt not kill.”
“Above all and especially in our day, religions are called to respect this imperative, since…it is essential that we reject any ‘absolutizing’ that would justify violence. For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.”
Pope Francis also called out the increasing move toward secularism in society, saying that abandoning religion is not the answer to fundamentalism – religion itself holds the answer.
We are often caught between relegating religion to the private sphere or – on the other hand – not properly distinguishing between the religious and political. But religion is the antidote to a “banal and uninspired life” that has forgotten the existence of eternity, he said.
But religious faith must be “born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God,” otherwise it does not liberate mankind, but “crushes” it, he warned.
Continuing, Francis praised the cooperation between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue for their work as a “concrete and encouraging example” of dialogue and encounter between different religions and cultures.
“National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states,” he said.
“It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.”
Posted on 01/1/1970 00:00 AM (CNA - Saint of the Day)