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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — “I am on a pilgrimage toward Home,” retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote, capitalizing the Italian word...

Protecting social service safety net is Catholic priority with Congress

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic advocates visited Capitol Hill Feb. 6 hoping members of Congress were ready to listen to their push for a federal budget that makes the needs of poor and vulnerable people a priority.

Coming at the end of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, their visits took on greater urgency as Congress faced a Feb. 8 deadline to pass a budget deal or approve another stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating.

The advocates' main concern stemmed from the willingness of some in Congress to consider deep cuts in the social service safety net to offset part of the $1 trillion deficit expected over the next decade under the tax reform bill passed in December.

The most vulnerable programs: Medicare and Medicaid; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps; The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP; and international humanitarian and poverty-reducing assistance.

Other "asks" included a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young adults who were brought illegally into the country as children; increasing the value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, a primary vehicle that helps finance new affordable housing projects; and maintaining "strong and vibrant investments" in diplomacy and overseas development that leads to peaceful societies.

Even with a budget that spares deep cuts for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, there's talk that the 2019 budget plan due out in mid-February from the Office of Management and Budget will zero in on the very programs the advocates want to protect for a significantly smaller share of the federal pie.

In the current Washington environment there are other concerns, of course -- climate change, education, Social Security, the minimum wage and worker rights, to name a few. For now though, social services, housing and international aid were deemed the most pressing by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.

Trying to determine what issues are most important on any given day has given headaches to the three agencies as they see new crises emerge daily and the stances of President Donald Trump shift, seemingly, hour by hour.

Still, the three agencies coordinate as much as possible to ensure there is a consistent message coming from Catholics.

"On the budget stuff, we work on a one-church strategy," Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at CRS, told Catholic News Service.

International humanitarian and poverty-reducing aid has long been supported by CRS and the USCCB. Funding for international programs including disaster assistance, peacekeeping operations, and the President's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, totaled about $24.5 billion in fiscal year 2017. That's about 0.5 percent of the federal budget, noted Stephen Colecchi, director of the USCCB's Office of International Justice and Peace.

At Catholic Charities USA, addressing the need for affordable housing remains a priority and for officials there increasing the value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC, is a must.

The tax credit has funded 30 percent of the nation's 10 million affordable housing units. Catholic Charities agencies nationwide use it as a tool to attract investment in the housing projects they develop.

However, the tax reform act is expected to make the credit less attractive to investors.

With the corporate tax rate reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent, high-level investors are less likely to invest in the construction of new affordable housing projects to take advantage of LIHTC, Stephen Caprobres, executive director of Housing for Hope, Inc. of Catholic Charities Community Services in the Phoenix Diocese, said during a social ministry gathering workshop.

The country already faces a shortage of more than 7 million affordable housing units and should fewer projects be built, housing advocates fear the crunch will worsen.

Social ministry gathering delegates and Catholic agencies aren't the only ones concerned about potential budget cuts in social services. Nearly 1,000 women religious voiced their views in letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, that were supposed to be delivered to his office on Capitol Hill in December.

Two women religious from Ryan's district, Dominican Sister Erica Jordan of Kenosha and Franciscan Sister Ruth Brings of Janesville, were scheduled to meet with Ryan's deputy chief of staff, but the meeting was canceled by the time their plane landed in Washington, according to the Catholic social justice lobby Network.

Sister Kathleen Kanet, a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary in New York City, told CNS she came up with the idea of religious sisters writing letters as she read news reports about Ryan, who is Catholic, discussing the need for spending cuts to help balance the federal budget. Network helped coordinate the effort.

Sister Kanet said she thought the speaker should hear from women religious, many of whom see the daily struggles of families living in poverty.

"I'm thinking who can challenge that in the light of Jesus," she said. "It became so clear to me that religious sisters can do this."

As of Feb. 7, the letters had yet to be delivered. Network leaders were determining how they might be helpful as budget drama unfolds.

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Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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


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German cardinal urges pastoral care, but not 'blessing' of gay couples

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sascha Steinbach, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) -- The president of the German bishops' conference urged priests to provide better pastoral care to Catholics who are homosexual, but he said, "I think that would not be right" when asked if he could imagine the Catholic Church blessing gay couples.

The German bishops' conference released an English translation Feb. 7 of remarks Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, conference president, made during a radio interview Feb. 3.

German Catholic media had interpreted the cardinal's remarks as moving a step back from a suggestion made by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck in January that the Catholic Church should debate the possibility of a blessing ceremony for Catholic gay couples involved in the church.

But some English-language media and blogs portrayed Cardinal Marx's remarks as meaning he "endorses" such blessing ceremonies.

The coverage led Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia to write a blog encouraging bishops to be clear about what they intend or don't intend to suggest on the subject.

And, Archbishop Chaput said, "any such 'blessing rite' would cooperate in a morally forbidden act, no matter how sincere the persons seeking the blessing. Such a rite would undermine the Catholic witness on the nature of marriage and the family. It would confuse and mislead the faithful. And it would wound the unity of our church, because it could not be ignored or met with silence."

The Catholic Church insists marriage can be only between a man and a woman. It teaches that while homosexual people deserve respect and spiritual care, homosexual activity is sinful.

In the interview with Cardinal Marx, the journalist said many people believe the church should bless gay unions, ordain women to the diaconate and end obligatory celibacy for priests in the Latin-rite church.

According to the bishops' conference translation, Cardinal Marx said he did not believe those changes were what the church needs most today. "Rather, the question to be asked is how the church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today -- but also by new insights, of course. For example, in the field of pastoral work, pastoral care."

Following the teaching and example of Pope Francis in pastoral care, he said, "we have to consider the situation of the individual, his life history, his biography, the disruptions he goes through, the hopes that arise, the relationships he lives in -- or she lives in. We have to take this more seriously and have to try harder to accompany people in their circumstances of life."

The same is true in ministering to people who are homosexual, he said. "We must be pastorally close to those who are in need of pastoral care and also want it. And one must also encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people encouragement in concrete situations. I do not really see any problems there. An entirely different question is how this is to be done publicly and liturgically. These are things you have to be careful about, and reflect on them in a good way."

While excluding "general solutions" such as a public ritual, Cardinal Marx said, "that does not mean that nothing happens, but I really have to leave that to the pastor on the ground, accompanying an individual person with pastoral care. There you can discuss things, as is currently being debated, and consider: How can a pastoral worker deal with it? However, I really would emphatically leave that to the pastoral field and the particular, individual case at hand, and not demand any sets of rules again -- there are things that cannot be regulated."

The spokesman of the bishops' conference said the cardinal was unavailable for further interviews.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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


Also known as Joan of Valois, this French foundress was the daughter of King Louis XI and the wife of...

Pilgrim pope: Benedict says he's journeying toward God

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "I am on a pilgrimage toward Home," retired Pope Benedict XVI wrote, capitalizing the Italian word "casa" or "home."

Almost exactly five years after announcing his intention to be the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, Pope Benedict wrote the letter to a journalist from the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"I am touched to know how many of the readers of your newspaper want to know how I am experiencing this last period of my life," the 90-year-old retired pope wrote. "In that regard, I can only say that, with the slow diminishing of my physical strength, inwardly I am on a pilgrimage toward Home."

"It is a great grace in this last, sometimes tiring stage of my journey, to be surrounded by a love and kindness that I never could have imagined," said the letter, written on stationery with the heading "Benedictus XVI, Papa emeritus."

Massimo Franco, the journalist, said the letter, dated Feb. 5, was hand-delivered; the newspaper posted it online Feb. 6 and published it on the front page of the print edition Feb. 7.

During a meeting with cardinals Feb. 11, 2013, Pope Benedict stunned the cardinals and the world by saying, in Latin, "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry."

He set the date for his retirement as Feb. 28, 2013. And, seen off by dozens of weeping Vatican employees, he flew by helicopter to the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo, where he remained until after Pope Francis was elected.

The day before he left was a Wednesday and the overflowing crowd in St. Peter's Square made it clear that it was anything but a normal Wednesday general audience.

He told an estimated 150,000 people that his pontificate, which had lasted almost eight years, was a time of "joy and light, but also difficult moments."

"The Lord has given us so many days of sun and light breeze, days in which the catch of fish has been abundant," he said, likening himself to St. Peter on the Sea of Galilee.

"There have also been moments in which the waters were turbulent and the wind contrary, as throughout the history of the church, and the Lord seemed to be asleep," he said. "But I have always known that the Lord is in that boat and that the boat of the church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is his and he does not let it sink."

A monastery in the Vatican Gardens was remodeled for Pope Benedict, and that is where he has lived for five years, reading, praying, listening to music and welcoming visitors.

Until 2016, the retired pope occasionally would join Pope Francis at important public liturgies, including the Mass for the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in 2014 and for the opening of the 2015-2016 Year of Mercy.

Pope Benedict also attended the ceremonies for the creation of new cardinals in 2014 and 2015. But as it became more and more difficult for Pope Benedict to walk, Pope Francis and the new cardinals would get in vans and drive the short distance to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery to pay their respects.

The retired pope's letter to Corriere della Sera echoed remarks he had made the afternoon of his retirement when he arrived in Castel Gandolfo and greeted crowds there before the very dramatic, globally televised scene of Swiss Guards closing the massive doors to the villa and hanging up their halberds.

"I am a simple pilgrim who begins the last stage of his pilgrimage on this earth," he told the people. "But with all my heart, with all my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, with all my interior strength, I still want to work for the common good and the good of the church and humanity."

In "Last Testament," a book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald published in 2016, Pope Benedict insisted he was not pressured by anyone or any particular event to resign, and he did not feel he was running away from any problem. However, he acknowledged "practical governance was not my forte, and this certainly was a weakness."

Insisting "my hour had passed and I had given all I could," Pope Benedict said he never regretted resigning, but he did regret hurting friends and faithful who were "really distressed and felt forsaken" by his stepping down.

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 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


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