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June 29, 2016

Immigration reform and political game-playing -
U.S. Supreme Court rules on Texas abortion law; immigration -
Priests in Year of Mercy

In this edition:
1. Supreme Court on immigration.
2. Political game-playing on immigrants.
3. UK votes to leave European Union.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Pope on priests and mercy.
5. Texas abortion law struck down.
6. Marginalizing the gay community.

1. Immigration Reform After High Court Ruling

Catholic leaders renewed their calls for immigration reform after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its four-to-four decision on a major immigration issue June 23. The case appealed a lower court injunction against the Obama administration's executive order protecting some 4 million unauthorized immigrants temporarily from deportation.

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, said the ruling "dashed the hopes of an estimated 4 million immigrants whose threat of deportation had been deferred by the executive order. They are men and women who have been in the U.S. since 2010, have not committed any serious crimes and have children who are American citizens."

The chairman of the Committee on Migration at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the court ruling "a huge disappointment." Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle said it "means millions of families will continue to live in fear of deportation and without the immediate ability to improve their lives through education and good jobs."

But, he continued, it is important "in the wake of this opinion" to "focus on the bigger picture: Comprehensive immigration reform is necessary to fix our broken system."

People need to be brought "out of the shadows," Bishop Elizondo stated. He said: "We should not separate families. While today's decision is a setback, we must not lose hope that reform is possible. It is both necessary and possible to safeguard our immigration system in a humane manner."

He pointed out that "people do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status." In fact, he said, "no matter how they got here we cannot lose sight of their humanity -- without losing our own."

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said June 24 that the nation's "ongoing failure to address the immigration crisis is a humanitarian tragedy." He called upon President Obama and the U.S. Congress "to agree to halt deportations pending the outcome of the national elections this fall."

That, he said, "would be a humanitarian gesture that would provide temporary relief and peace of mind to millions of our brothers and sisters, including millions of children."

Archbishop Gomez said, "We need to reject all those who would exploit this issue for their own partisan advantage -- and we should be clear that both parties continue to be guilty of this." He called it "a sad sign of our political moment" that there is a need to "keep reminding ourselves" that comprehensive immigration reform "is not a matter of politics, it is a matter of defending human rights and protecting human dignity."

Speaking to immigrants directly, Archbishop Gomez said: "Please know that the Catholic Church will never abandon you. You are our family. We will continue to accompany you, and support you, and defend your inalienable rights and dignity as children of God."

The Texas Catholic Conference said the state's Catholic bishops "are deeply disappointed" over the high court's decision. The conference commented, "Given the large number of undocumented immigrants in the country, this ruling serves to keep many of our youngest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters 'living in the shadows.'"

2. Immigrants and Political Game-Playing

"Immigration is a pro-life issue," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said after the U.S. Supreme Court, by a tie vote, effectively blocked the Obama administration's executive action to temporarily protect some 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

It is regrettable, he suggested, that the gravity of immigration issues, "like the horror of selling the body parts of unborn babies, only bites at the political conscience for a little while." Thus, "the slow killing of young people's hopes for a decent life only moves the powerful to shake their heads and think about how this may or may not affect the next election."

Bishop Flores expressed disappointment that the high court ruling "left millions of young people exposed to the dangers of being uprooted and tossed to countries of which they have no real memory." It was, he wrote, "the latest in a long series of disappointments."

The bishop, while acknowledging the strengths of the U.S. system of government, spoke in strong terms of political actions that can seem to many like games being played at their expense.

"The spectacle of elected officials from every conceivable political angle running to microphones to take political advantage when once again the ball is dropped on a weighty issue only heightens the impression that it is all a great game," he said. He wrote:

"Going back to the times of the previous administration and through to the current one, immigration reforms have been formulated by presidents and debated in Congress. Strategies of delay and promises that 'this time we will make it happen,' followed by 'it's close but looks like no agreement will pass this year,' and then the inevitable, 'We will deal with this after the next election,' have all contributed to the national embarrassment that we are currently seeing."

All the while, "deportations continue and increase, families are separated and children grow up without the benefit of a secure family life," the bishop observed. But while the Supreme Court ruling "dashed the hopes of many," its deadlocked decision "also stands as a marble-etched memorial to the failures in the other two branches of government."

He said, "Yes, we have a fine form of government, but even its fineness cannot compensate for human failure." The system of government never is "more open to ridicule than when strident interests control the levers behind a wizard's curtain."

He added, "Perhaps that is a harsh description, and surely it does not do justice to the many conscientious public servants of both parties in both the executive and legislative branches." Nonetheless, he continued, "let these servants be aware that the cynicism of which I speak is rampant, and many ordinary folks with no real power or influence often describe the operations of government in harsher terms."

Bishop Flores said that "the republic endures as long as the conviction remains that justice is both an ideal and a challenge for succeeding generations." Moreover, the republic "endures as long as we have a confidence that a reasonable though painstaking effort to 'establish justice' can in fact move forward."

However, "if the spectacle of game-playing continues, slowly but inexorably people give up on the notion that justice is about protecting the goods of human life and that law is somehow related to that pursuit."

Bishop Flores expressed fear that "we are sowing seeds of capriciousness and cynicism among the young, and we will one day wonder, if we do not already, how it is that they became adults without confidence in our own nobler ideals."

3. On the UK Vote to Leave the European Union

The confusion that emerged in the immediate aftermath of Britain's June 23 vote to separate from the European Union raised concerns among religious leaders.

Turmoil erupted in financial markets. Angry debates were heard. David Cameron, the British prime minister, submitted his resignation, effective in October. And many wondered if other nations might leave the European Union and how many.

It seemed clear, too, than negative feelings regarding the cultural impact of globalization and immigration were factors in the voting. This prompted many to ask what role sentiments of nationalism might play in Britain's future and the future, for that matter, of other nations.

"We are living in a period of political uncertainty, facing a new future. At this time it is important that we have a sense of duty to work for the common good and not create barriers of division and prejudice," said Bishop Declan Lang, chairman of the International Affairs Department of the Bishops Conference of England.

"We should have a profound respect for one another, and this should be reflected in the way we speak and behave," he said. "We need to keep in mind the needs of all citizens, particularly those who may feel marginalized at this present moment," he added. There is a need, moreover, to "continue to be a tolerant society free of racial and religious prejudice."

In a later statement, Bishop Lang added: "Every one of us has a responsibility to tackle hate crime and reassure minority communities that they are welcome here. Regardless of the UK's political future, we must never let hatred or bigotry poison our society."

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster urged civility and respect for others in a statement after the voting. "Today we set out on a new course that will be demanding on all," he noted. "Our prayer is that all will work in this task with respect and civility, despite deep differences of opinion"

The cardinal prayed that during the period ahead "the most vulnerable will be supported and protected, especially those who are easy targets for unscrupulous employers and human traffickers." His prayer, too, was that it will be possible to "build on our finest traditions of generosity, of welcome for the stranger and shelter for the needy."

It will be essential now, the British cardinal indicated, to serve as "resolute contributors in joint international efforts to tackle the critical problems of our world today."

The Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York commented in a joint statement that "the vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all reimagine . . . what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others." The archbishops urged the people of the United Kingdom to "remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers."

The archbishops noted that "many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbors, friends and work colleagues come from overseas, and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity." The response to these people should offer reassurance and demonstrate that "our wonderfully diverse society" is cherished.

During an in-flight interview while traveling home to Rome after visiting Armenia, Pope Francis was asked about Britain's vote to leave the European Union. It is important at this time to reflect on the reality that "bridges are better than walls," he suggested. But he acknowledged there are "different ways of unity."

He did not deny the reality of problems and challenges within the European Union. For example, he noted high unemployment rates among youths less than 25 years old in Italy. But the challenges are not necessarily a reason to dismiss the European Union's value, he suggested.

Rather, efforts are needed to redeem and to recreate things. "Creativity" and "fruitfulness" are two key words for the European Union as it faces new challenges, the pope proposed.

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

During the course of a one-day retreat June 2 for priests and seminarians, Pope Francis spoke to thousands of them about their call to mercy. He delivered meditations in three of Rome's basilicas: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls. The one-day retreat took place during the June 1-3 Jubilee for Priests that was an event of the Year of Mercy. The six quotes below are taken from the pope's third meditation for the retreat, delivered at St. Paul Outside the Walls:

"The failure of a priest to be merciful is a glaring contradiction. . . . Mercy is our way of making the entire life of God's people a sacrament. Being merciful is not only 'a way of life' but 'the way of life.' There is no other way of being a priest."

"There is a prodigal son in a pigsty and a father who goes out every afternoon to await his return. There is a lost sheep and a shepherd who goes out to seek him. There is a wounded person left at the roadside and a good-hearted Samaritan. What is our ministry? It is to be signs and instruments enabling this encounter. Let us always remember that we are not the father, the shepherd or the Samaritan. Rather, inasmuch as we are sinners, we are on the side of the other three. Our ministry has to be a sign and instrument of that encounter."

"Everybody has known good confessors. We have to learn from our good confessors, the ones whom people seek out, who do not make them afraid but help them to speak frankly, as Jesus did with Nicodemus. It is important to understand body language, not to ask things that are already evident from body language. If people come to confession, it is because they are penitent; repentance is already there. They come to confession because they want to change. Or at least they want to want to change if they think their situation is hopeless. Ad impossibilia nemo tenetur, as the old maxim goes: No one is obliged to do the impossible."

"I was very edified by a curial cardinal who I thought was quite strict. But when he had a penitent who was clearly embarrassed about confessing a sin, after a few words he would interrupt to say that he understood and to go on. He interrupted because he understood. That is tact. But there are those confessors -- forgive me! -- who probe and probe. 'Tell me this, tell me that.' Do you really need all those details to absolve or are you 'making a film'?"

"As far as confession is concerned, I have [a bit] of advice. . . . Never look like a bureaucrat or a judge, somebody who just sees 'cases' to be dealt with. Mercy sets us free from being the kind of priest who is so used to judging cases that he is no longer sensitive to persons, to faces."

"We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness. . . . But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces. Life itself as 'flesh' hungers and thirsts; it needs to be clothed, given shelter and visited, to say nothing of receiving a proper burial, something none of us, however rich, can do for ourselves. . . . Life itself as 'spiritual' needs to be educated, corrected, encouraged and consoled."

5. High Court Overrules Abortion Clinics Law

A Texas law that required abortion clinics to comply with standards required of ambulatory surgical centers and required doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals was struck down June 27 by a 5-3 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The law's opponents charged that the law was aimed at closing abortion clinics. The law did lead many abortion clinics in the state to close, leaving seven clinics open, according to reports. Supporters of the law held, however, that the law protected women's health.

The Texas Catholic Conference, which supported the law, said in a statement after the high court's ruling that "surgical abortion is an invasive procedure that poses numerous and serious medical complications."

It said, "The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring the maximum level of safety for the woman subjected to the procedure and that viable emergency care is available if complications such as hemorrhage, infection, uterine perforation, blood clots, cervical tears or allergic reactions occur."

The conference called it "irresponsible" for doctors "to perform the procedure without being able to provide follow-up treatment for the associated complications."

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion of the court. He said the restrictions on the clinics "provide few if any health benefits for women, pose a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitute an 'undue burden' on their constitutional right to do so."

Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for pro-life communications at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' pro-life activities secretariat, commented that with its ruling the Supreme Court "rejected a common-sense law protecting women from abortion facilities that put profits above patient safety."

McQuade said, "The law simply required abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety standards as other ambulatory surgical centers -- standards like adequate staffing, soap dispensers and basic sanitary conditions. It required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that hallways be wide enough to allow emergency personnel through with stretchers, should a life-threatening emergency arise."

This ruling, she said, "contradicts the consensus among medical groups that such measures protect women's lives."

6. On Marginalizing the Gay Community

Remarks by Pope Francis June 26 on the church and the gay community made headlines internationally. In opposing discrimination against homosexual persons, he also opposed discrimination in many other forms, including discrimination once witnessed among Catholics against divorced men and women.

During an in-flight news conference while returning to Rome after his June 24-26 visit to Armenia, Cindy Wooden, chief of Catholic News Service's Rome bureau, raised a question about treatment of the gay community.

It seems important to look at the question posed to the pope and his actual response to it. Perhaps this is one of those cases in which a bit of documentation serves the purposes of clarity.

Wooden called attention to a recent public remark by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who "said that the Catholic Church should apologize to the gay community for having marginalized" them.

Not long afterward, on June 12, some 50 people were shot and killed at an Orlando, Fla., club frequented by members of the gay community. Many others were wounded.

Wooden's question observed that "many people have said that the Christian community has something to do with this hatred toward these persons." She asked the pope, "What do you think?"

Pope Francis responded by repeating "what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, namely that they should not be discriminated against, that they should be shown respect and given pastoral assistance."

He said, "We can disapprove of some ways of acting that are a little too offensive to other people, not for ideological reasons but in terms, we might say, of political propriety. But none of this has to do with the problem: If the problem is that a person is so inclined, and with good will seeks God, who are we to judge him or her? We should be helpful to them, in accordance with the teaching of the catechism."

Not only should the church apologize to a "person who is gay and has been offended, but also to the poor, to women and to children exploited in the workplace, and for having blessed so many weapons," Pope Francis continued. He explained that in using the term "the church" he meant "Christians."

He recalled "the culture of Buenos Aires" when he was a child and how "you could not enter the home of a divorced couple!" He said: "I am talking about 80 years ago. The culture has changed, thank God. As Christians we should apologize over and over again, and not just for this."

The pope continued: "It is true, [there is] the 'authoritarian priest,' not the fatherly priest; the priest who scolds, not the priest who embraces, forgives, consoles." Yet, he added, there are many of the latter. There are so "many hospital chaplains, prison chaplains" and "saintly priests!" But "they go unseen, because holiness is 'bashful,' unassuming, hidden."

There are, the pope observed, "so many organizations with good people and with not such good people." He noted in this context that "we Christians also have a Teresa of Calcutta and so many other Teresas of Calcutta! We have many, so many religious sisters in Africa, so many laypersons, so many holy married couples!"

So, he said, there are "the good seed and the weeds. . . . We should not be scandalized that this is the case. We have to pray that the Lord will uproot the weeds and make more wheat grow."

The pope concluded: "We are all saints because we have the Holy Spirit in us, but we are all of us sinners. Myself first. Agreed? Thank you. I don't know if I have answered. Not just apologies, but forgiveness!"