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‘CORRUPTION BEGINS IN SMALL THINGS,’ POPE SAYS

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Stalled action on proposed religious freedom order raises concerns

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Talk of President Donald Trump possibly signing an executive order on religious freedom -- which drew both criticism and praise -- has been replaced with discussion about what happened to it and what a final version, if there is one, will look like.

A draft version of the executive order, called "Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom," had been widely criticized in late January by those who said it would legalize discrimination and was too far-reaching. It then failed to appear on the president's desk while rumors circulated that a scaled-back version might appear eventually.

"We hope that President Trump and his administration will take action soon, especially to provide relief from the onerous HHS mandate," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, referring to the mandate issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if they are morally opposed to it.

"Now that some of the Cabinet posts are being confirmed, we hope that concrete and immediate action is taken to protect religious freedom," he said in a Feb. 10 email to Catholic News Service.

The archbishop pointed out that Catholic leaders have been "asking the executive branch for more than half a decade now for an end to the coercive HHS mandate that requires the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many other faith-based ministries to either violate their faith or pay millions of dollars in fines to the federal government."

He said he hoped the president would end the coercion of religious employers and also would "allow people of faith to have the freedom to serve others in all our ministries, including our soup kitchens, schools, adoption services, homeless shelters and refugee services."

After a draft version of the executive order was leaked to the public, the U.S. bishops posted an online letter for Catholics to send to the president urging him to sign such an order.

The four-page draft said that "Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the federal government into participating in activities that violate their consciences." It also noted that people and organizations do not "forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education or health care." It cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

The bishops' online letter supporting a religious freedom executive order stipulated that it should include some of the following provisions:

-- Relief from the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate for religious employers who do not fit the mandate's narrow exemption.

-- Preservation of tax-exempt status for nonprofit groups that hold beliefs based on marriage and human sexuality.

-- The ability of religious organizations that partner with the federal government to act according to their beliefs regarding marriage, human sexuality and the protection of human life at all stages.

-- The ability of religiously affiliated child welfare providers to provide adoption, foster or family support services for children that coincide with their religious beliefs.

-- Conscience protections about abortion in the individual health insurance market.

Richard Garnett, University of Notre Dame law professor, told CNS Feb. 13 that the Trump administration might hold off on signing some form of an executive order on religious freedom while there is so much attention on the proposed travel ban and upcoming confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court justice.

But Garnett said there are groups that have a real interest in the First Amendment Defense Act that will not be happy if the Trump administration "isn't willing to follow through" on such an order. 

The First Amendment Defense Act, first introduced in 2015 in both the House and Senate, would provide conscience protection for any person who believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman, preventing the federal government from discriminating against that person.

He noted that the measure is not likely to get passed by this year's Congress, so the most likely way for a similar move to happen with federal support would be through an executive order signed by the president.

Garnett, founding director of new program at Notre Dame's law school called "Church, State and Society,"
said the draft executive order on religious freedom was misunderstood by those who said it would legalize discrimination. The order doesn't legalize anything, he noted, nor is it currently against the law for religious institutions to take religion into account when hiring for example.

Another point of the draft version of the order, he said, is that it would make clear that those who are getting federal benefits such as grants or contracts, would not lose them because of a religiously motivated position.

His take on the draft is basically that it says the current administration supports RFRA and wants people to do their best to comply with it.

RFRA, a 1993 law that was highlighted in last year's Supreme Court case with the Little Sisters of the Poor, states that the government "shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless that burden is the least restrictive means to further a compelling governmental interest."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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Copyright © 2017 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.

NCEA leader says school choice support can help Catholic parents

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy NCEA

By Valerie Schmalz

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- The Trump administration's apparent endorsement of parental school choice could present a "huge opportunity" for Catholic school parents, the president of the National Catholic Educational Association told a group of Catholic high school teachers in San Francisco.

"This could be a huge opportunity for parents wanting to choose the right school for their children," Thomas Burnford, NCEA president, told participants at the Archdiocese of San Francisco's annual high school teachers' consortium Feb. 3.

"Whatever your politics, the current administration proclaims some understanding or belief in support of school choice," Burnford said in his talk at Archbishop Riordan High School. In his remarks, he did not mention President Donald Trump directly, saying in later comments he did not want to politicize the subject of parental choice.

His speech was given four days before Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate as the nation's education secretary following a tiebreaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence in his capacity as president of the Senate. DeVos, former chairman of the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, has long been an advocate of school choice. She told the senators during her confirmation hearing: "Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the needs of every child."

When he was running for president, Trump endorsed parental choice both in an October letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference and on his campaign website where he promised to "establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school-age children living in poverty."

Currently, at least 27 states have some form of parental school choice and although the programs affect a relatively small percentage of children, Burnford said that in areas with school choice programs, Catholic school enrollment tends to be stable or on the rise.

The U.S. bishops advocate tax credit and voucher programs that allow public education funding to follow the child to private, parochial or public schools and have made it one of their priorities for the current 115th Congress.

"The church has been very clear" that it is "parents who have the primary and inalienable right to educate their children," Burnford said, but to do so, they "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools," which he said does not happen in most of the country.

He said that choice is only real when the funding is made available for everybody and follows the student to the school of their choice, which he said occurs in other countries.

Burnford noted that tuition remains an obstacle for many parents to enroll their children in Catholic schools.

Since 2006, 20 percent of Catholic schools have closed, and while there are bright spots, and innovations that are working such as the Cristo Rey work study high schools, the situation is serious, Burnford said, noting that there has been a 27 percent decline in Catholic school enrollment since 2000. About 1.9 million of the 55 million school-age children in the U.S. attend Catholic schools.

About 60 percent of school-age Catholic children are Latino, while just 3 percent are in Catholic schools, Burnford said. That is "clearly a funding issue," he said.

The NCEA president said the track record of Catholic schools in educating children of every background is outstanding, pointing out that 99 percent of Catholic high school students graduate and 86 percent attend four-year colleges. "A child who is black or Latino is 42 percent more likely to graduate from high school and two and a half times more likely to graduate from college if they attend Catholic school," he said.

Burnford stressed that Catholic schools "need a growth mindset in this day and age."

"It is a matter of faith and knowing that God will deliver," he said.

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Schmalz is assistant editor of Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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Copyright © 2017 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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Pope praises abuse survivor for breaking silence

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The sexual abuse of children by those who have vowed to serve Christ and the church is a horrendous monstrosity that represents "a diabolical sacrifice" of innocent, defenseless lives, Pope Francis said.

The church, which must protect the weakest, has a duty "to act with extreme severity with priests who betray their mission and with the hierarchy -- bishops and cardinals -- who protect them," the pope wrote in the preface to a new book written by a man raped as a child by a Capuchin priest.

The book, "My Father, I Forgive You" ("Mon Pere, Je Vous Pardonne"), was written by Daniel Pittet, 57, in an effort to describe how he fell victim to a predator abuser when he was 8 years old growing up in Fribourg, Switzerland, and the challenges he faced when came forward two decades later with the accusations. The book, currently published only in French, was to be released Feb. 16. News outlets released the text of the pope's preface Feb. 13.

Pittet -- who had been a monk, but later married and had six children -- had met the pope at the Vatican during the Year of Consecrated Life in 2015.

In the course of their conversation, Pittet said he told the pope he had been raped as a child by a priest. Tears welled up in the pope's eyes, and the two embraced, Pittet said in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica.

Pope Francis said in his preface that Pittet's personal testimony about his abuse "is necessary, invaluable and courageous" because often it is very difficult for survivors to talk about what happened and the trauma that lingers for years.

"His suffering moved me. I saw once again the frightful damage caused by sexual abuse and the long and painful journey that awaits the victim," the pope wrote.

The suffering and suicides of people who were abused by clergy and religious "weigh on my heart, on my conscience and on that of the whole church. To their families, I offer my feelings of love and pain, and humbly ask forgiveness," Pope Francis wrote.

It is good for people to read Pittet's testimony and see how "evil can enter the heart of a servant of the church," the pope said. "How can a priest, at the service of Christ and his church, end up causing so much pain?"

Instead of leading children to God, the pope said, abusive priests "devour them" in "a diabolical sacrifice that destroys both the victim and the life of the church."

The abuse of children at the hands of religious, Pope Francis said, is "an absolute monstrosity, a horrendous sin, radically contrary to everything Christ teaches us."

The church must take care of and lovingly protect the weakest and most defenseless, he said, and to act with "extreme severity" toward abusers and toward bishops and cardinals who protect them, "as it has already happened in the past."

The pope wrote that he was also moved by the fact that Pittet had forgiven his abuser, Capuchin Father Joel Allaz, even meeting with him face-to-face 44 years later.

"The wounded child is today a man standing on his feet, fragile, but standing," the pope said.

"I thank Daniel because all testimony like his breaks down the wall of silence that hushes up scandals and suffering, sheds light on a terrible area of darkness in the church's life. They open a path to a just reparation and the grace of reconciliation and also help pedophiles become aware of the terrible consequences of their actions," he wrote.

According to a press release by the Catholic bishops' conference of Switzerland, accusations were made against Father Allaz by at least 24 victims.

The first two civil court cases in 1995 and 2002 were thrown out because the statute of limitations had run out. Only when Father Allaz admitted to abusing two minors between 1992 and 1995 was the court able to prosecute and hand down a suspended two-year sentence.

The Capuchins acknowledge that their way of handling accusations against Father Allaz over the years, including transferring him to ministry in France, only allowed for further abuse, according to the press release Feb. 13. The religious order, the conference said, recognizes that by trying to protect the church's reputation, they worked alone to resolve the problem, did not inform receiving employers and did not take victims' claims seriously enough.

The conference said the book shows "the sad mechanisms that gave free rein" to manipulative and malicious pedophiles -- mechanisms that were built on individual behaviors and mentalities as well as structures.

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Copyright © 2017 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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