NCR Today

An Accomplishment for the American Catholic Laity

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Whatever else the Obama compromise on birth control may turn out to be, it is a singular triumph of U.S. Catholic laity.

Bishops touched off the public furor by claiming that the original Obama mandate infringed on their religious rights, but the White House took its cue from the laity's acceptance and use of artificial birth control to craft a solution that has largely carried the day.

Except for the bishops who sidelined themselves by resisting the proposal and, as it were, stubbornly insisting that they still held clout.

The polls consistently have shown that a majority of Catholic citizens support the availability of means of contraception, personally and in principle. While Obama heeded the bishops' warnings that the original mandate was an intrusion, the President followed the laity's lead in deciding a proper outcome.

That's no small victory for the collective conscience of Catholic lay people. In the past, politicians tended to take directions from bishops. This policy struggle is, therefore, a departure from looking only to the top for what Catholics stand for.

I blame myself and everyone like me

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I feel like an idiot.

When the U.S. bishops came out so strongly against the new government rules regarding contraceptives and health insurance, they said the issue was one of religious freedom.

And I believed them.

When the bishops argued that it was not the administration's place to decide whether Catholic hospitals or colleges fit the "faith mission" exception to the insurance rule, it made sense to me.

And I believed them.

I thought the bishops were trying to make an argument apart from the politics of the moment, separate from the polarizing stances they have so often taken in the last few years, stances that had placed them in league with odd allies from the far right.

I feel like an idiot.

After the Obama administration announced adjustments to the contraception rule that would remove the church from directly having to pay for contraceptive coverage in health plans, many Catholics responded with relief, including Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association. The bishops' objections seemed understood, and the public at large was not denied access.

Conservatives see a war on religion; I see compromise

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In the midst of this controversy over contraception in health care coverage and religious liberty, some Republican candidates for president have engaged in overblown rhetoric that is just plain crazy, even in an election season already punctuated with over-the-top rhetoric and vitriol.

Newt Gingrich recently told voters in Ohio that President Barack Obama "declared war on the Catholic church." Both he and Rick Santorum have accused the administration of waging a "war on religion" when they devised a rule covering contraception in health care plans because the exemption was not broad enough to cover religiously affiliated universities and hospitals.

Santorum talks about the "intolerance of the left," as if no people with progressive views ever embraced a faith or darkened the door of a house of worship. He even suggested that the United States is heading for something like the French Revolution, complete with guillotines, because of the alleged intolerance for people of faith by the "left." Really, Rick? Really? How many progressive people do you know?

Now is the time to discuss prison sentences

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I've made a couple of trips to Jefferson City, Mo., the last few weeks to advocate for reducing prison sentences. This is the right time. Legislators are listening.

They are listening for a lot of reasons. First, incarceration is expensive. Second, in the case of many first-time offenders, prison is ineffective, to say the least; fellow inmates teach criminal behavior. Third, prison is the least effective treatment for addiction. Fourth, other states are reducing their prison populations while crime continues to go down.

Crime is going down in Missouri, too, but the population continues to creep up. Turns out Missouri has a high rate of re-incarceration for technical parole violations like missing appointments, testing positive for a drug, getting a traffic ticket. In 2010, two-thirds of prison admissions were parole and probation revocations. That's different than being charged with and convicted of a new crime.

Accountability, 'fraternal correction' for bishops

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ROME -- Bishops and other church officials from around the English-speaking world have been meeting in a gathering called “The Anglophone Conference on the Safeguarding of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults” since 1996, comparing notes and trying to identify best practices in fighting child sexual abuse.

This year’s gathering is taking place in Rome at the Domus Sanctae Martae, the $20 million hotel on Vatican grounds where cardinals stay when they gather to elect a pope.

tArchbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, Australia, who’s served since 2006 as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, is in Rome for the event this week. Over the years, Wilson has carved out a reputation as a “healing bishop” on the abuse scandals, and became the first Australian prelate to address the U.S. bishops when he was asked in 2002 to provide advice as the abuse crisis exploded in America.

Award-winning anti-violence film makes the rounds

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The Interrupters, an award-winning documentary by director Steve James and author Alex Kotlowitz, is generating quite a buzz this month.

The movie tells the story of three violence interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed. All three work for Ceasefire, an innovative organization founded by Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who believes violence mimics the spread of infectious disease and requires similar treatment: attend to the most infected and stop the infection.

The documentary, which received Official Selection at Sundance 2011, is scheduled to be aired at 9 p.m. Eastern time Feb. 14 on PBS's "Frontline," followed by a special panel discussion on WTTW's Chicago Tonight.

E.J. Dionne on the complexities of Catholic views on HHS mandate

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Columnist E.J. Dionne, in today's Washington Post, provides a lucid explanation of why a lot of liberal Catholics lined up to criticize the narrow Health and Human Services religious exception on covering contraceptives. And he explains why so many liberals stay put in a denomination with which they might have major disagreements on some issues.

In part, he writes: "Those of us who are liberal Catholics have remained in the church for reasons beyond tribal loyalties or a desire to honor the traditions of our parents and grandparents. At the heart of the love many of us have for the church — despite our frustrations over its abysmal handling of the pedophilia scandal and its reluctance to grant women the rights they are due — is a profound respect for the fact on so many questions that count, Catholicism walks its talk and harnesses its faith to the good works the Gospel demands."

Facing the elephant in the room of Vatican disarray

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ROME -- A consistory, the event in which a pope creates new cardinals, is supposed to have a festive air. New cardinals bring family, friends and supporters to Rome, to see the sights and to enjoy one another’s company. The afternoon of the consistory is the only time the doors of the Apostolic Palace are flung open to the general public, giving the place the feel of a block party.

Vatican lawyer's statement on end of sex abuse case

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ROME -- On Friday, lawyers for the victim in a Wisconsin sex abuse case voluntarily withdrew a lawsuit against the Vatican, which had also named Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State, and Angelo Sodano, his predecessor, as defendants. The case helped ignite a media firestorm in 2010 about the role of Pope Benedict XVI in the sex abuse scandals, suggesting that while he was still a Vatican official he had delayed action against the late Fr. Lawrence Murphy, accused of molesting some 200 boys at a Milwaukee-area school for the deaf between 1950 and 1974.

See also: Explosive sex abuse lawsuit against Vatican dropped

The following is a statement released on Saturday by California-based attorney Jeffrey Lena, who represents the Vatican in American litigation.

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Statement of Jeffrey S. Lena Regarding John Doe 16 v. Holy See, et al.
(Case No. 2:10-cv-00346 RTR, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin)

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June 16-29, 2017

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