Catholic News Service – Top Stories

 

CNS Top Stories

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget sent shivers through social service, education and environmental communities, prompting church leaders and advocates to question the administration's commitment to people in ne...

IMAGE: CNS/Tyler Orsburn

By Dennis Sadowski

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget sent shivers through social service, education and environmental communities, prompting church leaders and advocates to question the administration's commitment to people in need.

The leaders repeated in interviews with Catholic News Service that a budget is a moral document that reflects the nation's priorities and that they found that the spending plan revealed May 23 backs away from the country's historical support for children, the elderly and the poor, and protecting the environment.

Their concern focuses on the deep cuts -- totaling $52 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $3.6 trillion over the next decade -- in international aid, senior services, health care, hunger prevention, job training, air and water protection, and climate change research. The cuts essentially are paying for a corresponding $52 billion boost in military spending.

"We say there's a human component here. It's not just about defense. It's not just about deficits," said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

"Too often we think the budget is a number. It's not. Right behind those numbers are human beings and they look like you and they look like me," he told CNS.

Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, echoed Bishop Dewane's contention, saying she was "profoundly disturbed" by the White House plan. "You can't have people who are suffering and expect them to bring themselves out of poverty when we cut off their access to food and health care and job training. It's absolutely ridiculous," she said.

"Clearly, it's saying where the values are of this administration. And their values do not align with our values as people of faith who are charged with looking out for those among us who are most in need," Sister Markham added.

But rather than directly engage the White House, officials at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services and other agencies are planning to turn to Congress, which they see as a firewall to minimize the depth of the cuts being proposed. They have four months of work before a budget must be in place Sept. 30, the start of the next fiscal year.

Democrats in Congress, as expected, have opposed the change in spending priorities. Many Republicans have as well, describing the plan assembled by Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and a Georgetown University graduate, simply as a starting point.

That still worries social service administrators such as Gregory R. Kepferle, CEO of Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County in San Jose, California.

"By just presenting this extreme case, it's a classic negotiating ploy (to) be as obnoxious and extreme as possible and then move to the middle," Kepferle said. "It still means devastating cuts to the poor and more money for the rich. It's a breathtaking transfer of wealth from the poorest of the poor to the wealthy."

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, is so concerned about the budget plan that he has undertaken a day of fasting and prayer on the 21st day of each month from now through December 2018 when the current session of Congress ends.

Bishop Pates said the effort, organized by Bread for the World, for which he serves on the board of directors, is a time-honored tradition in the face of injustice. "In addition to the lobbying efforts, we really feel that prayer and fasting and relationship together as a religious community is very important," he said.

A look at the numbers provides insight into the concern that prompted such action.

Through fiscal year 2027, the budget outline incorporates more than $800 billion in reduced Medicaid spending envisioned in the House-approved American Health Care Act, which is under review in the Senate. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, will see $192 billion in reduced spending over the decade.

In Trump's plan, deep cuts are proposed for teacher training, after-school and summer programs, Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance, and the Senior Community Service Employment Program. The $200-million McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program and the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant program are among the better-known programs slated for elimination.

The Environmental Protection Agency would lose $2.5 billion, about 31 percent of its current budget. Plans call for reducing support for research and development, the Superfund cleanup program and the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Funding for international climate change programs would end.

Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said it appears that the administration values business profits over people's health.

"There's this sense that if it's hurting business then it's a bad regulation," Misleh said. "I certainly think there are undoubtedly some regulations that can be scaled back or done away with, maybe environmental regulations that outlive their usefulness. But I also think that can't be the only criteria whether we judge a regulation is good or bad.

"How these regulations impact people should be the first priority and whether business can afford them or is truly detrimental to business is another conversation," he said. "As Catholics, we should be concerned about how these environmental rules and regulations impact people."

Some proposals in the budget have long been sought by Catholic advocates. The fiscal year 2018 plan includes $1.4 billion for charter schools, private schools and other school choice initiatives. Another provision would prohibit funding for any agency that offers abortion services even though federal funds cannot be used for the procedure, as current law requires. If adopted, the proposal would end all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.

"A great country does not send money to those who kills its children," Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement, supporting the budget provision. "It's appropriate not to force taxpayers to subsidize abortionists and it's logical to exclude Planned Parenthood from health programs. Abortion is not health care."

Still, there are overarching concerns about the impact of the budget on people who are least able to fend for themselves.

"Adding money to the military is not going to solve our problems," said Lawrence Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Washington. "In the long run this is untenable. Eventually people will not tolerate that type of situation where they are not at the table."

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, said cuts in Medicaid funding are particularly troublesome because nearly half of such spending supports senior citizens and disabled people.

"If (the budget is) implemented as proposed I think many people will kind of fall through the cracks," he said. "I do have a certain hope and confidence as it goes through the legislative process that people will realize that the proposed budget needs significant modification."

When it comes to international aid, a spokesman for Catholic Relief Services said foreign aid cuts ultimately could affect national security because poverty and desperation would expand. Bill O'Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy at the agency, called on Congress to protect nearly $60 billion in diplomacy and development aid.

O'Keefe cited the McGovern-Dole food program as one that has made a difference in the lives of children at a small cost. In a region of Honduras, for example, the program provides 90,000 children with a lunch at school, allowing them to attend classes and reducing the likelihood they will join a violent gang, O'Keefe said.

"It's not just lunch," he told CNS. "It's providing opportunities for kids to go to school, get a quality education and for the community to engage in the school in a way that's good for the community."

In the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Patrick J. Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities, predicted people will feel the pinch of reduced services. While the agency does not receive federal funds outside of refugee resettlement and natural disaster services, Raglow expects that it will be counted on to provide broader assistance particularly in rural communities if the proposed budget remains substantially untouched.

He suggested that funding will have to be sought elsewhere to meet existing needs if the cuts go through.

"It means you have to engage the (wider) community differently to sustain the community you're serving. We have to be faithful to God almighty, not to Uncle Sam almighty," Raglow said.

"It does mean you have to get off your duff and get out of your office and you've got to make some asks," he added. "Resources are available. You just have to go out and find them. But we shouldn't sit there and crawl under our desk because of this budget."

- - -

Follow Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

- - -

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.

Posted: May 26, 2017, 3:52 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ruthie Robison, Mississippi Catholic

By Ruthie Robison

DURANT, Miss. (CNS) -- A downpour of rain didn't dampen a dedication and blessing ceremony of a monument to honor the lives of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, who were slain in their Durant home Aug. 25, 2016. They wer...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ruthie Robison, Mississippi Catholic

By Ruthie Robison

DURANT, Miss. (CNS) -- A downpour of rain didn't dampen a dedication and blessing ceremony of a monument to honor the lives of Sisters Margaret Held and Paula Merrill, who were slain in their Durant home Aug. 25, 2016. They were both 68.

A crowd of about 100 gathered the afternoon of May 20 in Durant's Liberty Park to pay tribute to the two sisters, who both made a lasting impact on the community in which they resided for the last 15 years of their lives.

Sister Merrill was a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth based in Nazareth, Kentucky, and Sister Held belonged to the School Sisters of St. Francis congregation based in Milwaukee. The two nurse practitioners worked at Lexington Medical Clinic and attended St. Thomas Catholic Church in Lexington, located about 10 miles west from their home.

"It was wonderful to see so many people come here from around the country," said Franciscan Father Greg Plata, pastor of St. Thomas, who led the service. "Even though it was a horrible day weather-wise, that did not deter from the joy of the day that we come together. I think that every time I go that way, (the monument) will be a place for me to stop and say a prayer and be thankful to God for these two amazing women. It's just a great way to remember our sisters."

Rodney Earl Sanders, 46, of Kosciusko, Mississippi, later confessed to fatally stabbing the two women and stealing their car. He was charged with capital murder, burglary and grand larceny.

Among those at the memorial service were Durant city leaders, family members and longtime friends of Sisters Held and Merrill, staff members and patients of Lexington Medical Clinic, and parishioners of St. Thomas.

Durant Mayor Tasha Davis and Jackson Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz were featured speakers, and there were songs, prayer, Scripture readings and the unveiling of the monument.

"I know it is a sad event that we're here, but they were such wonderful people," said Davis, as she welcomed the crowd. "The Bible teaches us to give honor where honor is due, and we can all agree that it is befitting to honor these two ladies who left an everlasting mark on the city of Durant and Holmes County as a whole."

Before blessing the monument, Bishop Kopacz spoke of the sisters' service to their communities.

"Just as from the heavens the rain and the snow come down and accomplish what they're sent to do, so Sister Paula and Sister Margaret came to these communities, accomplished God's mission and returned to life fulfilled in heaven," he said.

After the unveiling, several people in attendance shared sentiments about Sisters Held and Merrill.

Mary James, who worked with the sisters at Lexington Medical Clinic, said that she and the other staff members at the clinic were truly blessed to have known the two women.

"They took me under their wings, and we became family," she said. "The sisters' angelic presence was so great. We miss them daily. ... Whenever we get a little down or teary-eyed, we remember these words, 'Let love win.' If the sisters were here today, they would probably say something like this: 'There's no love like forgiveness, and there's no forgiveness without love.'"

Sister Held's brother, James, spoke of her love for the people of Durant and Holmes County.

"We always tried to convince her to come back to the Midwest," he said. "We never could convince her to come back, and we missed her. She loved you so much, and she stayed and she gave her life for all of you."

Sister Merrill's family was unable to attend the ceremony. Connie Blake, a longtime friend of Merrill's and an associate with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, spoke on behalf of the family.

"Sister Paula was my friend for over 49 years," she said. "One thing she said she always wanted to do was to follow what we've all been asked to do, and that's to love one another and to care for one another, and indeed that was her life's work."

Blake said she and Merrill's family are humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support they continue to receive.

Sisters Held and Merrill "would be astonished and somewhat embarrassed by all of this attention," she said. "Paula and Margaret were quiet, humble and simple women, who lived out their passion to serve the underserved in Mississippi."

After a closing prayer and blessing by Father Plata, a memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Thomas, followed by a fish fry.

"I think it isn't just their deaths that are important, it's their lives," Sister Tonya Severin, vice provincial for the Western province of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said later. "They lived with the message of Jesus, that we are to give of ourselves in loving service to others, and that's what they did so unobtrusively."

- - -

Robison is a contributor to the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Jackson.

- - -

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.

Posted: May 25, 2017, 9:15 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

By

MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State group threatened to kill hostages, including a Catholic priest, who were taken from the southern Philippine city of Marawi May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial l...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

By

MANILA, Philippines (CNS) -- Gunmen claiming to have links with the Islamic State group threatened to kill hostages, including a Catholic priest, who were taken from the southern Philippine city of Marawi May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao late May 23, but ucanews.com reported that many, including church leaders, characterized the imposition of martial law as an overreaction.

As of early morning May 25, nothing had been heard of the whereabouts of the priest and the prelature's staff and some churchgoers who were taken captive.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato appealed to Muslim religious leaders to intercede with the gunmen, who claimed to be Muslims, for the safety of the hostages who were reportedly used as "human shields" when the militants attacked the city.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Philippine bishops' conference, said the terrorists "have threatened to kill the hostages if government forces pitted against them are not recalled."

"As the government forces ensure that the law is upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial consideration," he added.

Initial reports received by ucanews.com said Father Teresito Suganob, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, and several staff of St. Mary's Cathedral, which was set on fire, were taken hostage. The gunmen also forced their way into the residence of Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi.

Bishop de la Pena confirmed reports that the attackers took Father Suganob, several of the prelature's staff, and some churchgoers. He said he received a call from "a member of Islamic State" who used his kidnapped secretary's phone and demanded a "unilateral cease-fire" in exchange for the life of the priest and the other hostages.

"They want a cease-fire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi," said Bishop de la Pena. "Otherwise they will kill the hostages."

In a statement on his Facebook page, Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told the people of Marawi that no words could express the "shock, confusion, and sadness for what happened."

Sending solidarity and prayers from the Archdiocese of Manila, the cardinal asked why anyone would hurt their neighbor.

"We weep for you, for all Filipinos, and everyone in the world (whose) lives (are) ruined because of the violence," he said. "O God, forgive our contempt for life and human dignity."

Archbishop Villegas said Father Suganob was performing priestly duties at the time of his capture.

"He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every norm of civilized conflict," said Archbishop Villegas.

Fighters of the Maute group, which has vowed allegiance to the Islamic State, also burned several buildings, including the cathedral, a Protestant school and the city's jail.

The bishop said the gunmen used the hostages as "human shields" as fighting continued with security forces May 24.

In Marawi, the military confirmed that five soldiers were killed and 31 others injured in the attack on the city. At least two policemen were also reported killed.

Philippine authorities refuse to release the number of casualties and fatalities as "clearing operations" continued.

Duterte placed all of Mindanao's 27 provinces and 33 cities, roughly a third of the country, under martial law for a period of 60 days. Mindanao is home to an estimated 20 million people.

Duterte warned that the martial law in Mindanao "will not be any different" from the martial law declared by former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

"I'll be harsh," said Duterte. "I have to do it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines," he said, even as he assured Filipinos "not to be too scared."

Ucanews.com reported that religious leaders and civil society groups, however, said there was no need for Duterte to put Mindanao under military rule. Filipinos have been wary of martial law since it was used by Marcos to remain in power for two decades, until his ouster in 1986.

"Putting the whole of Mindanao under martial law is very dangerous and vulnerable to abuse," said Alih Aiyub, secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines.

The Muslim religious leader told ucanews.com that "innocent people might be caught in the crossfire or might be arrested illegally by mere suspicion."

"Fighting terrorism does not need the declaration of martial law, because our existing laws are more than enough to enforce it," said Aiyub.

Bishop Jose Bagaforo of Kidapawan said the declaration of martial law could have been limited to Marawi City and surrounding areas, "not all of Mindanao."

Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, who works with basic ecclesial communities and the bishops' conference, said declaring martial law across Mindanao while only Marawi was attacked "is either idiotic or an excuse to expand dictatorial control."


- - -

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.

Posted: May 25, 2017, 5:00 pm
Copyright © 2009-2017 The Catholic Messenger
Site Map
Send feedback to messenger@davenportdiocese.org. All rights reserved. This material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.