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Update: At meeting in Florida, U.S. bishops decry Sessions' asylum decision

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA

By Dennis Sadowski

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CNS) -- The U.S. bishops June 13 decried U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision that asylum seekers fleeing domestic or gang violence cannot find protection in the United States.

"At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life," the bishops' statement said. They urged the nation's policymakers and courts "to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life."

Sessions' decision "elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection," it said. "These vulnerable women will now face return to extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country."

The statement from the bishops came on the first day of their June 13-14 spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale.

Just after opening prayers, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, read the statement from the dais, and the bishops voiced their support.

Announced by Sessions at a June 11 news conference, the decision "negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeting domestic violence," it said. "Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors."

The attorney general reversed an immigration court's decision granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she had been abused by her husband. He said U.S. asylum laws cannot be used to remedy "all misfortune," including violence someone suffers in another country or other reasons related to an individual's "social, economic, family or other personal circumstances."

In his remarks, Cardinal DiNardo also said he joined Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Migration, "in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexican border as an implementation of the administration's zero tolerance policy."

"Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma," the cardinal said. "Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.

"While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, said the new policy "is consistent with cardiosclerosis" or a hardening of the American heart. He called for a widespread discussion among bishops on how to more vocally respond to the practice.

He asked the bishops to consider sending a delegation to inspect the detention facilities holding children "as a sign of our pastoral response and protest against what is being done to children."

Other bishops called for stronger outreach to members of Congress as it struggles to address comprehensive immigration reform and extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program covering 800,000 young adults who were brought to the U.S. as children.

"They need to hear from us," Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn told the assembly. "There is an element of restrictionism, somewhat based on racism. It's hard for people to decide what they think about it. But in fact that is what we are seeing. This is a crisis situation."

Several bishops said it was imperative to do a better job of sharing church teaching on migration and welcoming the stranger, as Christ taught.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, expressed concern about a "very deliberate effort being made on the part of the administration, particularly the Department of Justice to put in regulations that actually defy the implementation of immigration law."

He urged the entire body of bishops to become more active in pushing Congress and the courts to understand long-standing American values and practices regarding the welcoming of immigrants.

"It just seems nefarious how the immigration system is being undone by more and more restrictive regulations that are being put in place," he said.

One bishop asked about the possibility of "canonical penalties" being enforced on Catholics who cooperate with unjust immigration policies. Bishop Edwin J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona, said such penalties are put in place to heal and "therefore, for the salvation of these people's souls, maybe it's time for us to look" at such action.

Beyond that, added Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, should be steps to offer broader pastoral care for immigration enforcement officials, some of whom he has heard from questioning the need to carry out "these unjust policies."

During the morning session, the U.S. bishops also heard a report from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States.

He talked about the need of church leaders to not just hear young people but to really listen to them, emphasizing that this is what Pope Francis often talks about it.

The nuncio talked about the encuentro process currently underway in the U.S., using it as a strong example of the church listening to the faithful

Regional encuentros are taking place all over the country. There delegates outline priorities that will shape Hispanic ministry for years to come. The regionals lead to the National Fifth Encuentro, or V Encuentro, to be held in Texas in September. Archbishop Pierre also talked about the church's upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.

"Young people need to be a priority of the church" today, the nuncio said, "not just for the future of the church. ' Young people express a desire of an intentional knowing encounter in Christ rather than a faith reduced to ' moralism."

"I believe many young people desire wholistic formation. They want the church to facilitate an encounter with Jesus," he said. Such an encounter "provokes the question 'What interests me in life' and leads to works of justice and mercy and to live life ' with great intensity while loving their neighbor."

"Young people want to engage in reality" but do not want to be on that journey alone, he added. "They are searching for a strong sense of belonging."

Also on the agenda for their first day were reports from Father David Whitestone, chair of the bishops' National Advisory Council, which is marking the 50th anniversary of its formation, and from Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, which oversees implementation of the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

Other reports covered the V Encuentro and the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, which will take place at the Vatican in October.

The bishops also heard preliminary presentations on several action items they will be voting on, including:

-- Revised guidelines governing Catholic and non-Catholic health care partnerships the audits. The revisions are limited to Part 6 of the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services," the document that governs moral questions related to the delivery of health care.

-- A new document described as a "pastoral response" to the growing Asian and Pacific Island Catholic community in the United States. "Encountering Christ in Harmony" offers pastoral suggestions to address the concerns and needs of Asian and Pacific Island Catholics.

-- Revisions in language to clarify seven of the 17 articles in the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults." The changes offer more specific language in several areas. Article 4 has been revised to protect the seal of the sacrament of reconciliation. Changes in Articles 6 and 12 specifically state that all people who have contact with minors rather than those in positions of trust "will abide by standard of behavior and appropriate boundaries." In all, seven changes have been proposed for a vote by the bishops.

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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Bishops of El Salvador warn against privatizing water

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters

By

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNS) -- El Salvador's bishops urged lawmakers to discard any plans for privatizing water in the Central American country, saying the poor could not afford to pay the cost of a vital necessity.

In a terse statement, issued June 12 and titled, "We will not allow the poor to die of thirst," the Salvadoran bishops' conference cited Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," which said, "Access to potable and secure water is a basic, fundamental and universal human right because it determines the survival of people and therefore is a condition for the exercising of all other rights."

The bishops continued: "As pastors, we are witnesses to the outcry of our people, who ask for potable water in all homes and could not pay the costs if (water) is turned into a good, which is subject to market forces."

El Salvador's legislature is starting debate on a national water law. The legislation is proving controversial because some lawmakers favor increased private-sector participation in water management.

The bishops' conference preferred that public oversight of water resources be maintained.

"If a law is approved that grants a private entity the right to decide over distribution of water in the nation, denying the state this function, we would be facing an absolutely undemocratic law, which lacks legitimacy," the bishops said.

"An unjust law that violates the rights of the people cannot be admitted."

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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Biggest danger in life is fear, settling for less, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The worst enemies in a young person's life aren't the problems they may face, Pope Francis said.

The biggest dangers are being unwilling to find a way to adapt, mediocrity by settling for the status quo, and fear, he said at his general audience in St. Peter's Square June 13.

"It is necessary to ask the heavenly father for the gift of healthy restlessness for today's young people, the ability to not settle for a life without beauty, without color. If young people are not hungry for an authentic life, where will humanity end up?" he said.

As the pope spoke to the crowd of 15,000 people, he was flanked on either side by 10 children wearing bright yellow baseball caps. He had invited them to temporarily leave behind their parish group pilgrimage in the square and follow him to the platform in front of the basilica to be part of his VIP entourage for the morning.

The pope said he was beginning a new series of audience talks on the Ten Commandments and how Jesus leads people from the law to its fulfillment.

He asked people to reflect on the reading from the Gospel of Mark and Jesus' response to a young, wealthy man who asked what was needed to inherit eternal life. This question reflects the burning human desire for a full and dignified life, the pope said, but the challenge is "how to get there? What path to take?"

Unfortunately, the pope said, some people believe this restlessness, this desire to live a better life is too dangerous and should be tamped down.

"I would like to say, especially to young people, our worst enemy is not concrete problems" no matter how serious or tragic they may be.

"The biggest danger in life is a bad spirit of adapting that is not meekness or humility, but is mediocrity, pusillanimity," that is, cowardice or fear, and making the excuse for doing nothing by saying, "that's just the way I am."

"Where will humanity end up with young people who are tame (and) not restless?" he asked.

Referring to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's insistence that it is better to live fully than to just get by, the pope asked the crowd whether a kid who is "mediocre has a future or not." The pope agreed with their answer, "No. He just sits there. He doesn't grow" and mature.

Reaching maturity, he said, is coming to realize and accept one's limits, and it is also seeing what is lacking in one's life, just as Jesus said the rich young man: "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

This invitation to leave behind everything and follow the Lord, is "not a proposal of poverty, but of riches," the real treasure of everlasting life, he said.

If told to choose between having "the original" or just a copy, who would choose just a copy, the pope asked.

"Here's the challenge: to find the original, not the copy. Jesus doesn't offer substitutes, but offers real life, real love, real wealth," he said.

It is difficult to see why young people would choose then to follow those Christians who are not choosing "the original, if they see us putting up with half measures. It is terrible to encounter Christians (who only go) halfway, dwarf Christians who only grow a certain height and have a tiny, closed heart," he said.

Young people need the example of Christians who invite them to grow, "to go beyond" and look for more.

"We have to start from reality," with the way things are, "in order to take that leap into what is lacking. We have to scrutinize the ordinary in order to open ourselves up to the extraordinary."

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.

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Catholic groups condemn ruling that limits some asylum seekers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Asylum seekers fleeing domestic or gang violence need not apply for protection in the United States, said the country's top law enforcement official at a June 11 news conference explaining why he reversed an immigration court's decision that granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she had been abused by her husband.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that while a person may suffer threats of violence in another country, "for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family or other personal circumstances," U.S. asylum laws cannot be used to remedy "all misfortune."

Various organizations, including some Catholic groups, quickly condemned the attorney general's ruling.

"No longer will the United States of America welcome and protect our vulnerable and abused brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution and brutality," said Lawrence E. Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

Couch said in a statement that Sessions' decision was "inherently hostile and cruel."

"I believe that the American people are a hopeful and welcoming people, but our government is out of sync with our values. The soul of our nation is being tested," he said.

Last year, in remarks posted on the Department of Justice's website Oct. 12, 2017, Sessions insinuated that an influx of people was entering the country on false asylum grounds, and said there was "rampant abuse and fraud."

Sessions made clear in June that violent threats were not enough to be granted asylum, even if a country's authorities could not help victims.

The ruling could affect adults and children coming from what's known as the Northern Triangle -- El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- a region plagued by gang violence, drug trafficking and other social ailments causing people to flee because authorities cannot control the violence nor guarantee safety.

"The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes -- such as domestic violence or gang violence -- or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim," Sessions said in the decision.

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said Sessions' ruling "sets a dangerous precedent for other victims of violence, including those who are targeted for their religious beliefs."

Asylum law, she said, "has long recognized that persecution can occur at the hands of entities that a national government is 'unable or unwilling to control' including by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Tamil Tigers."

But that's exactly what Sessions says in the ruling, she pointed out, when he says that "claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by nongovernmental actors will not qualify for asylum."

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Copyright © 2018 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 cns@catholicnews.com.