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By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, doesn't mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.

Two days ...

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, doesn't mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.

Two days before the GOP legislation was set for an initial vote in Congress and then delayed due to last-minute wrangling and efforts to gain support, she described the bill as a disgrace, a pro-life disaster, a huge step back, catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and something that would do incredible damage.

The woman religious, who heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, has a vested interest in the nation's health care and she also knows the ins and outs of health care legislation from working behind the scenes "forever" -- as she describes it -- on the Affordable Care Act.

At the time that the ACA was being drafted, some Catholic organizations opposed key elements of the measure. Once it became law, more than 40 lawsuits were filed to challenge the subsequent Department of Health and Human Service's mandate requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

Sister Keehan is quick to point out that the health care legislation signed into law seven years ago is far from perfect, but she says it was an "incredible step forward."

"I do recognize the political conflict and the imperfections in the bill, but when you can make insurance that much better for people who have it and give 20 million Americans insurance, that is a huge step forward," she told Catholic News Service March 21 in her Washington office.

At a 2015 Catholic Health Association gathering in Washington, President Barack Obama thanked Sister Keehan for her steadiness, strength and "steadfast voice."

"We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her," he said.

The immediate repeal and replacement of the ACA was a key promise of President Donald Trump's campaign, but the GOP health care measure has faced opposition from both conservative and moderate Republicans. Trump told House Republicans that he will leave ACA in place and move on to tax reform if they do not support the new health care legislation.

Watching the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA has been hard for Sister Keehan mainly because she and other health care leaders were not consulted in the process.

"We should never, ever throw together a bill that's going to be such a profound impact on the people of this country in this short of time and without any input from those who care for them," she said.

The work on these two health care bills couldn't have been more different, she pointed out, noting that prior to the ACA launch she felt like she "lived in committee rooms" because she was constantly meeting with committees, groups and subgroups at the White House and Congress.

With the GOP health care plan, she said there wasn't any opportunity for hospital groups or the American Medical Association to give any advice.

"We've just been dismissed," she said, noting that she attended a few small group meetings on Capitol Hill but "they were not meetings to get our input on what ought to be done with the bill but meetings to tell us what was going to be done."

"This has just been railroaded through Congress," she added.

While the U.S. bishops have applauded pro-life elements of the American Health Care Act, they also have criticized other elements and expressed concern for its impact on the disadvantaged.

In a March 17 letter to House members about the GOP measure, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the inclusion of "critical life protections" in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits are "troubling" and "must be addressed."

He said the bill's restriction of funds to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion "honors a key moral requirement for our nation's health care policy." But he also criticized the absence of "any changes" from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services considered morally objectionable by employers and health care providers.

"The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law," Bishop Dewane said. "The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society."

Main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a "per capita allotment"; and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions.

Sister Keehan said she thanked Bishop Dewane for his letter to Congress and said the bishops had carefully gone through the legislation measure by measure on a number of issues. She also noted that she knows people in the pro-life community either think the new bill is strong enough or not doing enough.

As she sees it, the bill is "a pro-life disaster in the fact that when you take health care away from people, you take life."

"If you want to really, really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their children are so valued by our country," she said, which means providing quality maternity and pediatric care and offering programs like Head Start and food stamps.

Although she said under the ACA no federal funds could be spent on abortion, a nonpartisan government agency in an assessment of the law in 2014 said abortion coverage was available in some plans. Sister Keehan also said the law included help for pregnant mothers to get drug rehabilitation, housing and maternity care, which are not included in the new bill.

"I don't find this a pro-life bill at all from every perspective," she added about the new measure.

When asked if there was a silver lining with people at least talking about the need to provide insurance for all Americans, Sister Keehan said the health care crisis for so many people doesn't give "the luxury of time."

"To be the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee all its citizens health care is a disgrace," she said, adding: "We are at a real crossroads in our country's sense of its responsibility to its people."

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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.

Posted: March 24, 2017, 8:54 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Europe must recover the memories and lessons of past tragedies in order to confront the challenges Europeans face today that seek to divide rather than unite humanity, Pope Francis said.

While the foundin...

IMAGE: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via EPA

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Europe must recover the memories and lessons of past tragedies in order to confront the challenges Europeans face today that seek to divide rather than unite humanity, Pope Francis said.

While the founding fathers of what is now the European Union worked toward a "united and open Europe," free of the "walls and divisions" erected after World War II, the tragedy of poverty and violence affecting millions of innocent people lingers on, the pope told European leaders gathered at the Vatican March 24.

"Where generations longed to see the fall of those signs of forced hostility, these days we debate how to keep out the 'dangers' of our time, beginning with the long file of women, men and children fleeing war and poverty, seeking only a future for themselves and their loved ones," he said.

Pope Francis welcomed the 27 European heads of state to the Vatican to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which gave birth to European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.

Signed March 25, 1957, the treaties sought to unite Europe following the devastation wrought by World War II. The agreements laid the groundwork for what eventually became the European Union.

Entering the "Sala Regia" of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis placed his hand above his heart and bowed slightly to the European leaders before taking his seat. At the end of the audience, he and the government leaders went into the Sistine Chapel and posed for a photograph in front of Michelangelo's fresco, The Last Judgment.

In his speech, the pope said the commemoration of the treaty should not be reduced to "a remembrance of things past," but should motivate a desire "to relive that event in order to appreciate its significance for the present."

"The memory of that day is linked to today's hopes and expectations of the people of Europe, who call for discernment in the present so that the journey that has begun can continue with renewed enthusiasm and confidence," he said.

At the heart of the founding fathers' creation of a united Europe, the pope continued, was concern for the human person, who after years of bloodshed held on "to faith in the possibility of a better future."

"That spirit remains as necessary as ever today, in the face of centrifugal impulses and the temptation to reduce the founding ideals of the union to productive, economic and financial needs," he said.

But despite achievements in forging unity and solidarity, Pope Francis said, Europe today suffers from a "lapse of memory" where peace is now "regarded as superfluous."

To regain the peace attained in the past, he added, Europe must reconnect with its Christian roots otherwise "the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice would prove largely incomprehensible."

"The fruitfulness of that connection will make it possible to build authentically secular societies, free of ideological conflicts, with equal room for the native and the immigrant, for believers and nonbelievers," the pope said.

The economic crisis of the past decade, the crisis of the family "and established social models" and the current migration crisis, he said, offer an opportunity for Europe's leaders to discern and assess rather than "engender fear and profound confusion."

"Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it," the pope said. "It is a time of challenge and opportunity."

Europe, he added, will find new hope "when man is at the center and the heart of her institutions" in order to stem "the growing 'split' between the citizenry and the European institutions which are often perceived as distant and inattentive to the different sensibilities present in the union."

The migration crisis also offers an opportunity for Europe's leaders to refuse to give in to fear and "false forms of security," while posing a much deeper question to the continent's citizens.

"What kind of culture does Europe propose today?" he asked, adding that the fear of migrants "has its root cause in the loss of ideals."

"Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone."

By defending families, investing in development and peace and defending the family and life "in all its sacredness," Europe can once again find new ways to steer its course, Pope Francis told the European heads of state.

"As leaders, you are called to blaze the path of a new European humanism made up of ideals and concrete actions," the pope said. "This will mean being unafraid to make practical decisions capable of responding to people's real problems and of standing the test of time."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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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.

Posted: March 24, 2017, 7:12 pm

IMAGE: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz

By George P. Matysek Jr.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's 14th archbishop, who was an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America's first cathedral, died March 23 at his residence ...

IMAGE: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz

By George P. Matysek Jr.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's 14th archbishop, who was an international leader in Catholic-Jewish relations and the driving force behind the restoration of America's first cathedral, died March 23 at his residence at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 86.

The archdiocese said the cardinal will lie in repose March 27 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption in Baltimore. His funeral will be celebrated March 28 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, also in Baltimore.

Pope Francis, in a papal telegram March 24, sent condolences to Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and the archdiocese, expressing gratitude for "Cardinal Keeler's years of devoted episcopal ministry" and his "long-standing commitment to ecumenical and interreligious understanding. He called the cardinal a "wise and gentle pastor."

"One of the great blessings in my life was coming to know Cardinal Keeler," Archbishop Lori said in a statement March 23. "Cardinal Keeler will be greatly missed. I am grateful to the Little Sisters for their devoted care for the cardinal."

Cardinal Keeler was the bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when he was appointed the 14th archbishop of Baltimore in 1989. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1994. He retired in 2007. As president of the U.S. bishops' conference from 1992 to 1995, he participated in a wide range of national and international issues.

As part of his work with what is now the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Keeler developed a reputation for effectively building interfaith bonds. He is particularly noted for his work in furthering Catholic-Jewish dialogue. He was appointed moderator of Catholic-Jewish Relations for the USCCB.

"As a priest, bishop of Harrisburg and archbishop of Baltimore, the cardinal worked to bring the hope of Christ to people's lives," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston Houston, who is president of the USCCB. "He also built bridges of solidarity to people of other faiths as a leader in ecumenism and interreligious affairs.

"Cardinal Keeler was a dear friend. The most fitting tribute we can offer is to carry forward his episcopal motto in our daily lives: 'Do the work of an evangelist,'" Cardinal DiNardo said in a statement.

He called the late cardinal "a servant of priestly virtue and gentlemanly manner" who is remembered by the USCCB for "his generosity of spirit in service to his brothers and the people of God."

Cardinal Keeler's death leaves the College of Cardinals with 223 members, 17 of whom are from the United States. The College of Cardinals has 117 members under the age of 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave.

In his statement, Archbishop Lori remarked on "the respect and esteem" in which the cardinal was held by his brother bishops, and praised his leadership in Jewish-Catholic relations and in Orthodox-Catholic relations. Archbishop Lori also said he was known for his "prowess as a church historian" and had a "deep love and respect for the history and heritage of the Archdiocese of Baltimore."

Cardinal Keeler was an ardent promoter of the Catholic Church's teaching on the sanctity of all human life. He twice served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities and testified at all levels of government on legislation ranging from abortion to euthanasia to capital punishment.

Among the cardinal's many accomplishments in the Baltimore Archdiocese, Archbishop Lori highlighted "the wonderful visit of Pope St. John Paul II to Baltimore in 1995, the restoration of the Basilica of the Assumption and the creation of Partners in Excellence which has helped thousands of young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to receive a sound Catholic education."

"When I would visit the cardinal at the Little Sisters of the Poor (in Cardinal Keeler's retirement), I gave him a report on my stewardship and told him many times that we were striving to build upon his legacy -- a legacy that greatly strengthened the church and the wider community," Archbishop Lori said.

Born in San Antonio and raised in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, William Henry Keeler knew from an early age he was called to the priesthood. In a 2005 interview with the Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper, he recalled visiting his grandfather's farm in Illinois when the local Catholic pastor stopped by for a visit -- pointing to the 4-year-old boy and announcing that he would one day become a priest.

He was ordained a priest in Rome July 17, 1955. He served as assistant pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Marysville, Pennsylvania, before taking on other assignments as secretary to Harrisburg Bishop George L. Leech and as a "peritus," or special adviser, during Second Vatican Council meetings in Rome.

He later was named vice chancellor and vicar general of the Harrisburg Diocese and named an auxiliary bishop for the diocese in 1979. Four years later he was appointed its bishop.

"He was a true churchman whom we are greatly honored to have called a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg," said Bishop W. Ronald Gainer, head of the diocese since 2014. "His roots and Catholic education in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, prepared him to do great work for the people of God.

"This area and diocese benefited significantly from his leadership and passion for service and evangelization," Bishop Gainer said. As a priest and bishop, Cardinal Keeler "worked fruitfully to advance increased cooperation and warmer relationships between different Christian communities, both locally and nationally. ... I thank God for his priestly life and ministry and for his inspiring service to all."

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington called it "a privilege to have known Cardinal Keeler for more than three decades."

Besides collaborating on USCCB initiatives, he noted that when he was Pittsburgh's bishop, 1988-2006, and Cardinal Keeler was Harrisburg's bishop, the two worked closely together through the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. When then-Bishop Wuerl was named Washington's archbishop, and Cardinal Keeler was Baltimore's archbishop, they again had an "opportunity to work on important initiatives through our roles with the Maryland Catholic Conference," Cardinal Wuerl said. The Washington Archdiocese includes some Maryland counties.

"Cardinal Keeler was a beloved pastor of souls, exemplary leader, and a respected collaborator in ministry," he added in a March 23 statement. "His episcopal motto, 'Do the Work of an Evangelist,' foresaw our efforts now in the new evangelization and his efforts to build bridges among peoples offered us an example that is much needed in today's culture."

As Baltimore's archbishop and head of the nation's first archdiocese, the 1995 papal visit to Baltimore -- at Cardinal Keeler's invitation was one of the prelate's proudest moments. St. John Paul II celebrated Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, visited the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, shared a meal at Our Daily Bread and encouraged seminarians at St. Mary's Seminary in Roland Park.

A prodigious fundraiser, Cardinal Keeler established what is now known as the Archbishop's Annual Appeal. In 1997, he launched a major capital campaign known as Heritage of Hope that raised more than $137 million from more than 39,000 gifts and pledges.

The cardinal also established the Partners in Excellence program, which provides tuition scholarships for children in inner-city Catholic schools. Since its inception in 1996, Partners in Excellence has provided more than $26 million in tuition assistance.

One of the cardinal's last major efforts was the $32 million campaign to restore the basilica. After more than two years of construction, the building was rededicated Nov. 4, 2006 -- 200 years after the basilica's cornerstone was laid. More than 240 bishops from across the nation were there for the celebration, marking the first time all the country's bishops gathered in the basilica since 1989 when the archdiocese marked its bicentennial.

Father Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium and Cardinal Keeler's first priest-secretary in Baltimore, said Cardinal Keeler "put Baltimore on the map in the Catholic Church."

Father White noted that in addition to the papal visit, Cardinal Keeler hosted spiritual gatherings in Baltimore in the late 1990s with St. Teresa of Kolkata and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. Leaders within the Catholic Church and from other faith traditions regularly visited him in Baltimore and "not a day went by" when bishops from other parts of the country didn't call for the cardinal's advice, Father White said.

Cardinal Keeler suffered serious health problems in the latter years of his ministry. He underwent knee replacement surgery in 2005 and had to have brain surgery in 2006 following a car accident in Italy that resulted in the death of a friend, Father Bernard Quinn of Harrisburg.

In the early part of his retirement, Cardinal Keeler remained focused on many of the same priorities he had always held: promoting better relations between the Catholic and Jewish communities, celebrating Mass every day and staying in touch with friends.

In his final years, one of the U.S. church's great communicators was frustrated by finding it difficult to find the words to express himself.

"His final years of illness were lived in silent, Christ-like dignity and acceptance to the will of God," said Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, Cardinal Keeler's immediate successor in Baltimore, who is grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Referring to Cardinal Keeler's accomplishments as "monumental," Cardinal O'Brien added that he prays that the cardinal "enjoy a joyful, eternal rest in the Lord he served so generously."

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Matysek is assistant managing editor of the Catholic Review, the news website and magazine of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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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.

Posted: March 24, 2017, 3:51 pm
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