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Archbishop Chaput says successor is 'exactly the man our church needs'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPh

By Matthew Gambino

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Proclaiming his successor as "exactly the man our church needs," Archbishop Charles J. Chaput introduced Bishop Nelson J. Perez, whom Pope Francis named as the next archbishop of Philadelphia, at a Jan. 23 news conference in Philadelphia.

He will be installed as archbishop Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

The pope had announced the appointment while accepting the resignation of Archbishop Chaput, who last September turned 75, the age at which canon law requires that bishops turn in their resignation to the pope.

Anticipation for his successor had been building intensely in the archdiocese since that time, and judging by the applause in the room filled with more than 100 archdiocesan staff, it was a warm welcome home for Archbishop Perez, 58, currently the bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland.

He described his appointment as a "surreal moment" for a former priest of the archdiocese to be named its new shepherd.

Archbishop Perez is the first archbishop of Philadelphia of Hispanic heritage; his parents emigrated from Cuba and he was born in Miami in 1961. He also is the first native son to be archbishop of Philadelphia since Archbishop (later Cardinal) Dennis Dougherty in the early 20th century.

And at 58, he is the youngest archbishop since Cardinal John Krol arrived in Philadelphia in 1961 at age 50.

Cleveland and Philadelphia also share a renewed bond in that the new archbishop led that diocese and Cardinal Krol was an auxiliary bishop there before being appointed to Philadelphia.

Archbishop Perez was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989 and one of his ordination classmates joined him at the news conference: Father Gary Pacitti, pastor of St. Basil the Great in Kimberton. Archbishop Perez referred to him not only as a friend but "like my brother."

It was a sentiment that he extended to all his brother priests of the archdiocese and he would mention the strong priestly fellowship here several times during his remarks.

"You know, once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest," he said. "So the part of me that has that identity inside of me cannot wrap its head around being the Archbishop of Philadelphia. It doesn't compute. But it is what the Lord wants and what the Holy Father wants."

He said it is "awesome" to return Philadelphia with people who are faith-filled, who love the Lord, love the church. So I'm grateful to the Holy Father for placing this huge trust in me that I really don't deserve."

After studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and his priestly ordination, then-Father Perez served at St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia, worked in ministry to Hispanic Catholics of the archdiocese and led two parishes, St. William in Philadelphia and St. Agnes in West Chester, before he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Center, New York.

In 2017, he was named bishop of Cleveland and at the news conference he praised the people of that diocese, especially its Catholic young adults who "were a great source of joy" for him. He added that he "hoped to reach out to the young adults here" in Philadelphia.

Archbishop Perez also singled out praise for Archbishop Chaput, whom he called a friend and mentor.

Acknowledging the challenges of the past eight years in Philadelphia ranging from parish and school closures to financial crises to a wounded morale for both clergy and laity due to the sexual abuse crisis, Archbishop Chaput confronted them "with great courage and steadfastness," Archbishop Perez said.

"I watched it from afar (and) learned from him, how steadfast he was and with profound faith that while things were tough, that God would make a way, that somehow, someway all things happen for the good of those who love God, as St. Paul said."

Even in the midst of criticism, "I saw him make tough decisions, many times like a father. He made calls that today have placed the archdiocese in a way better place. We owe him a profound debt along with our gratitude (and) our love," Archbishop Perez said, inviting everyone to applaud his predecessor.

After the installation Mass, Archbishop Chaput will begin his retirement. For the first three months, he will have no public appointments as he takes up residence at St. Edmond's Home for Children, an archdiocesan facility in Rosemont for children with intellectual and physical disabilities.

After that period, he said, he will assist Archbishop Perez as needed and accept some writing and speaking engagements.

In his remarks Archbishop Perez offered a special greeting in Spanish to the Hispanic Catholics of the archdiocese, encouraging them in "a missionary church, in the life of our community and in the truth of the Gospel," he said.

He had previously served in diocesan-wide ministry to Latino Catholics in the 1990s and as pastor led two archdiocesan parishes with significant Hispanic populations.

He did not leave the clergy sexual abuse scandal unaddressed. "I and we continue to pray for your healing," he said of victims abused by members of the church, "and we hold deep within our hearts those who have been hurt. It never should have happened, and we are sorry."

Archbishop Perez appeared to describe his vision for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as he cited the words of Pope Francis, calling for "a community of missionary disciples" that will be "ever vibrant and powerful in the church here in Philadelphia," a community that "takes initiative" and is "engaged in the world around it, accompanies with the truth of the Gospel, is fruitful and is joyful."

Acknowledging the challenges of the present and the future that he may face in Philadelphia, Archbishop Perez said he was not afraid to "do what needs to be done for the good of the family."

Although the church has "gone through difficult moments in the last two decades, heart-wrenching moments ... the church is still here because the church is Christ. We (members of the church) come and go. The mystical body of Christ, the church, has to deal with us in our humanity, and we're complex human beings. But God works through us. So I have great hope for the church, despite everything you read."

He offered an encouragement to his listeners at the news conference and those watching it livestreamed on the internet: "Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit working in you, through you, and despite you," he said.

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Gambino is director and general manager of, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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Update: Archbishop Chaput retires; pope names Bishop Perez successor

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and has appointed Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland as his successor.

Archbishop Chaput, who has headed the Philadelphia Archdiocese since 2011, turned 75 last September, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. Archbishop Perez, 58, was installed as the 11th bishop of Cleveland Sept. 5, 2017.

The resignation and appointment were announced in Washington Jan. 23 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The new archbishop said he was looking forward to returning to the archdiocese where he was ordained as a priest.

"I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for this appointment and his confidence in me," Archbishop Perez said in a statement released by the Diocese of Cleveland. "It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment -- joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood ... and sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply."

Archbishop Perez will be installed in ceremonies set for 2 p.m., Feb. 18 at at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

He was born in Miami June 16, 1961, to David and Emma Perez and is the brother of the late Dr. David Perez and Louis Martin Perez. He was raised in West New York, New Jersey and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Montclair State University in 1983.

After entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, he earned Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in theology degrees in 1988 and 1989, respectively. He was ordained a priest for Philadelphia May 20, 1989.

He ministered as a parochial vicar at St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia; was assistant director of the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics; founding director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization; pastor of St. William Parish in Philadelphia; and pastor of St. Agnes Parish in West Chester.

His work in education included teaching psychology and religious studies at La Salle University and developmental psychology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Named a monsignor by St. John Paul II in 1998 and a prelate of honor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, in 2012.

As a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Perez is chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church and formerly chaired the Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs. He also served as the lead bishop for the V Encuentro process for the USCCB and is a former member of the Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

He currently serves as a member of the Administrative Committee and the religious liberty committee for the USCCB. In November 2018, he began a three-year term as the bishop liaison for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

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Matthew Gambino in Philadelphia contributed to this story.



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Excerpt of retired pope's essay on priesthood and celibacy

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ignatius Press


VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The following is a short excerpt from the essay, "The Catholic Priesthood," by retired Pope Benedict XVI. The essay appears in the book "From the Depths of Our Hearts," a defense of priestly celibacy written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, with the contribution of Pope Benedict. Ignatius Press, which authorized publication of the excerpt, will release the book in English in February.

In the common awareness of Israel, priests were strictly obliged to observe sexual abstinence during the times when they led worship and were therefore in contact with the divine mystery. The relation between sexual abstinence and divine worship was absolutely clear in the common awareness of Israel. By way of example, I wish to recall the episode about David, who, while fleeing Saul, asked the priest Ahimelech to give him some bread: "The priest answered David, 'I have no common bread at hand, but there is holy bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.' And David answered the priest, 'Of a truth women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition'" (1 Sam 21:4-5). Since the priests of the Old Testament had to dedicate themselves to worship only during set times, marriage and the priesthood were compatible.

But because of the regular and often even daily celebration of the Eucharist, the situation of the priests of the church of Jesus Christ has changed radically. From now on, their entire life is in contact with the divine mystery. This requires on their part exclusivity with regard to God. Consequently, this excludes other ties that, like marriage, involve one's whole life. From the daily celebration of the Eucharist, which implies a permanent state of service to God, was born spontaneously the impossibility of a matrimonial bond. We can say that the sexual abstinence that was functional was transformed automatically into an ontological abstinence. Thus, its motivation and its significance were changed from within and profoundly.

Nowadays some scholars too readily make the facile statement that all this was just the result of a contempt for corporeality and sexuality. The critique claiming that priestly celibacy was founded on a Manichaean concept of the world was formulated as early as the fourth century. This critique was immediately rejected, however, in a decisive way by the Fathers of the Church, who put an end to it for a certain time. Such a judgment (of consecrated celibacy) is wrong. To prove this, it is enough to recall that the church has always considered marriage as a gift granted by God ever since the earthly paradise. However, the married state involves a man in his totality, and since serving the Lord likewise requires the total gift of a man, it does not seem possible to carry on the two vocations simultaneously. Thus, the ability to renounce marriage so as to place oneself totally at the Lord's disposition became a criterion for priestly ministry.

As for the concrete form of celibacy in the early church, it is advisable also to emphasize that married men could not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders unless they had pledged to observe sexual abstinence, therefore, to live in a so-called "Josephite" marriage, like the marriage of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary. Such a situation seems to have been altogether normal over the course of the first centuries. There were a sufficient number of men and women who considered it reasonable and possible to live in this way while together dedicating themselves to the Lord.


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Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. of Philadelphia; Names Bishop Nelson J. Pérez of Cleveland as Successor

WASHINGTON—Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap., from the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and has named Bishop Nelson J. Pérez of Cleveland to succeed him.

The resignation and appointment were publicized in Washington on January 23, 2020 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is comprised of 2,202 square miles in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and has a total population of 4,119,268 of which 1,292,704 are Catholic.

Keywords: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Pope Francis, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM, Cap., Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Bishop Nelson Pérez, Diocese of Cleveland.

Media Contacts:
Chieko Noguchi or Miguel Guilarte


U.S. bishops' pro-life chairman asks Catholics to serve mothers in need

IMAGE: CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In marking the "sorrowful anniversary" Jan. 22 of the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing abortion nationwide, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee said the Catholic Church's pastoral response to all mothers in need "will soon intensify."

The nation's Catholic bishops are being asked to invite the parishes in their dioceses to join a nationwide effort called "Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service" from March 25 of this year through March 25, 2021.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced the new initiative on the National Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. The new program has its own website:

The archbishop noted that the special day of prayer marks the "tragic" Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton of Jan. 22, 1973. The rulings in the companion cases legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy across the country.

"The church will never abandon her efforts to reverse these terrible decisions that have led to the deaths of millions of innocent children and the traumatization of countless women and families," Archbishop Naumann said.

"As the church and growing numbers of pro-life Americans continue to advocate for women and children in courthouses and legislatures," he said, "the church's pastoral response is focused on the needs of women facing pregnancies in challenging circumstances. While this has long been the case, the pastoral response will soon intensify," with the yearlong service project "Walking with Moms in Need."

In "recognizing that women in need can be most effectively reached at the local level," Archbishop Naumann explained, the year of service "invites parishes to assess, communicate, and expand resources to expectant mothers within their own communities."

The U.S. bishops will be providing "resources, outreach tools and models to assist parishes in this important effort," he said.

"We pray that 'Walking with Moms in Need: A Year of Service' will help us reach every pregnant mother in need, that she may know she can turn to her local Catholic community for help and authentic friendship," the archbishop added.

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Hospitality is an important ecumenical virtue, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Showing hospitality makes a person a better human being and a better Christian and is an important part of promoting Christian unity, Pope Francis said.

"Working together to live with ecumenical hospitality, particularly toward those whose lives are most vulnerable, will make us -- all Christians, Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians -- better human beings, better disciples and a more united Christian people," the pope said Jan. 22 during his weekly general audience.

Christians today, like the people of Malta who welcomed St. Paul and his companions who were shipwrecked on their island, must show hospitality to and care for those who flee violence and persecution, he said.

"Unfortunately, they sometimes encounter even the worst hostility," he said. "They are exploited by criminal traffickers today; they are treated as numbers and as a threat by some leaders today; sometimes inhospitality rejects them as a wave carrying poverty or the very dangers from which they were fleeing."

In his audience talk, the pope reflected on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which takes place Jan. 18-25. The theme for the 2020 celebration, "They showed us unusual kindness," is taken from St. Luke's account in the Acts of the Apostles of the hospitality shown by the people of Malta to St. Paul and his companions.

St. Paul and the other passengers of the ship were welcomed by the Maltese people, who gave them food and shelter "even though they had not yet received the Good News of Christ," the pope said.

The virtue of hospitality, he added, "means recognizing that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ."

"We are brothers and sisters," the pope said. "Someone may tell you, 'But that one is a Protestant, that one is Orthodox.' Yes, but we are brothers and sisters in Christ."

The pope said ecumenical hospitality means showing God's love to others and "a willingness to listen to other Christians, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and the history of their community."

"I think about the past, in my land for example, when some Evangelical ministers came," the pope said, "a small group of Catholics burned their tents. This isn't Christian. We are brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters and we must give hospitality to one another."

With so many migrants and refugees facing "risky voyages to escape violence, war and poverty," Pope Francis called on Christians to set aside their differences and work together to show them "the love of God revealed by Jesus Christ" and that "each person is precious to God.

"The divisions that still exist between us prevent us from being fully the sign of God's love for the world, which is our vocation and mission," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Supreme Court’s Blaine Amendment Case An Opportunity to End a Shameful Legacy Says U.S. Bishops’ Religious Liberty and Catholic Education Chairmen

WASHINGTON – Today, the Supreme Court of the United States hears oral argument in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The case challenges a decision by the Montana Supreme Court to invalidate a tax credit scholarship program because families benefiting include those who choose to send their children to religiously-affiliated schools, a violation of the Montana state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment” of 1889 against aid to religious schools.  

Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J., of Oakland, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education, have issued a statement:

“The case before the Supreme Court today concerns whether the Constitution offers states a license to discriminate against religion. Our country’s tradition of non-establishment of religion does not mean that governments can deny otherwise available benefits on the basis of religious status. Indeed, religious persons and organizations should, like everyone else, be allowed to participate in government programs that are open to all. This is an issue of justice for people of all faith communities.

“But this case is not only about constitutional law. It is about whether our nation will continue to tolerate this strain of anti-Catholic bigotry. Blaine Amendments, which are in 37 states’ constitutions, were the product of nativism. They were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to bring an end to this shameful legacy.”

The USCCB filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the petitioners, which can be found here:

Keywords: Bishop George Murry, Bishop Michael Barber, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, religious liberty, religious freedom, Catholic education, Blaine Amendments, Supreme Court, Espinoza.

Media Contacts:
Chieko Noguchi or Miguel Guilarte


Bishop Strickland says he asked pope about McCarrick report

IMAGE: CNS photo/Vatican Media

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Texas, said he asked Pope Francis about the Vatican investigation into Theodore E. McCarrick and the release of a promised report on how the former cardinal managed to rise through the church ranks.

The bishop, who was making his "ad limina" visit to Rome, drew widespread attention in August 2018 for a public statement saying he found "credible" the allegations made by retired Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former nuncio to the United States, regarding McCarrick.

Archbishop Vigano alleged that top Vatican officials, including Pope Francis, knew for years that McCarrick had been accused of sexual misconduct.

Bishop Strickland at the time called for a "thorough investigation, similar to those conducted any time allegations are deemed to be credible."

"Pope Francis was great" in answering all the questions of the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas during an audience Jan. 20, Bishop Strickland told Catholic News Service the next day. But the pope did ask the bishops not to share certain details about the discussion.

Bishop Strickland said he does not regret what he said in his 2018 letter -- "honestly, I guess I didn't realize how controversial it was at that time" -- but as someone who studied canon law and as a bishop, "credible allegations" must be investigated and dealt with.

"If I regretted anything," he said, it would be that Archbishop Vigano called for Pope Francis to resign. "I never intended to embrace that, because that's a major thing to say."

"I certainly didn't want to validate that," Bishop Strickland said, "but I said these allegations about McCarrick need to be investigated, and they have been and the report, according to Pope Francis yesterday," will be published.

"I'm a Catholic bishop. Of course, I support the vicar of Christ," he said.

The summer of 2018 had been difficult for Catholics, beginning with the news in June that McCarrick had been suspended from ministry, followed by dozens of stories detailing his sexual misconduct with seminarians and then allegations of sexual abuse of children; McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals in July; and the release in August of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on abuse and its cover up in six dioceses.

Bishop Strickland said the priests and faithful of his diocese "were devastated at that time," and his reaction to Archbishop Vigano's report could be seen as him "taking on the smell of my sheep," as Pope Francis would say.

The bishop said he knew people are frustrated that it is taking so long for the report to be published, but "an institution that's been around 2,000 years doesn't turn on a dime."

When the report on McCarrick is published, he said, there will be a "dust-up" in the media, and it likely will cause Catholics more pain, but it also could bring "a sense of closure."

"I've always said that what hit the news with McCarrick began this moment of pain and struggle and confusion in the life of the church. It won't magically disappear with this report," Bishop Strickland said, but it should help people move forward.

"It's about the victims. It's about the children of God who have suffered through the negligence and bad acting of bishops, priests and other members of the church," he said. The report should help McCarrick's victims by acknowledging how the church failed to protect them.

Asked if he believed Archbishop Vigano's accusation that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick's misconduct with seminarians as early as 2013, Bishop Strickland said, "Honestly, I'd have to say I do not know."

But some of the things the pope told the bishops "makes you realize that it's always a bigger picture than maybe the slice you are looking at," he said, while insisting he could not say more. "I certainly am not ready to judge the actions in the moment of any of the pontiffs" who were in office during McCarrick's rise from priest to bishop to cardinal.

Bishop Strickland admitted he was "a bit nervous" about meeting Pope Francis for the first time, but the bishops' Mass that morning at the tomb of St. Peter was a reminder that God calls men, flawed human beings, to cooperate with his grace and "to guide the church inspired by the Holy Spirit."


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Supreme Court to reexamine contraceptive mandate for religious employers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Little Sisters of the Poor are once again going to the Supreme Court.

The order of women religious who care for the elderly poor have been down this road before, twice defending their right to not comply with the government's health law requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.

Now the court is about to look at the Affordable Health Care's contraceptive mandate from a different angle, examining if the Trump administration can legally allow religious employers to opt out of the mandate.

In 2013, religious groups and houses of worship were granted a religious exemption by the Supreme Court from the government's mandate in the Affordable Care Act to include coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan.

Three years later, religious nonprofit groups challenged the requirement they comply with the mandate and the court sent the cases back to the lower courts with instructions for the federal government and the challengers to try to work out a solution agreeable to both sides.

In 2017, religious groups were given further protection from the contraceptive mandate through an executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to write a comprehensive exemption to benefit religious ministries, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, from the contraceptive mandate.

HHS provided this exemption in 2018, but several states challenged it, including California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, saying HHS didn't have the power to give this exemption.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey obtained a nationwide injunction against the rules protecting religious objectors from the contraceptive mandate; that injunction was then upheld by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia.

This is where the Little Sisters come in. They appealed the circuit court's ruling and asked the Supreme Court to step in.

In one of the two consolidated cases, Trump v. Pennsylvania, the administration has argued that the exceptions to the contraceptive mandate for religious groups were authorized by the health care law and required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA.

Lawyers for Pennsylvania and New Jersey said the administration lacked statutory authority to issue such regulations and said the government did not follow proper administrative procedures.

The second case will examine if the Little Sisters of the Poor had the standing to appeal the 3rd Circuit ruling since a separate court order had already allowed them to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

"It is disappointing to think that as we enter a new decade we must still defend our ministry in court," said Mother Loraine Marie Maguire of the Little Sisters of the Poor. "We are grateful the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in, and hopeful that the justices will reinforce their previous decision," she said in a statement.

Mark Rienzi, president of Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm that represents the sisters, agreed, saying: "It is time for the Supreme Court to finally put this issue to rest."

The oral arguments, which will be heard by the court later this spring are the combined cases of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed a friend-of-the-court brief Nov. 1, siding with the Little Sisters of the Poor and stressing that the court needs to set the record straight particularly with its interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

RFRA -- which says, "Governments should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification" -- was passed by Congress in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

The USCCB brief said there was a compelling need to review this case not only because the 3rd Circuit Court decision conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings on this topic in Hobby Lobby and Zubik decisions, but because its ruling "threatens to reduce one of America's leading civil rights laws to virtual impotence," referring to RFRA.

This case, like previous ones, it said, asks if RFRA protects the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers from federal regulations requiring most large employers to include contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans.

It emphasized that RFRA essentially hangs in the balance because the appeals court "adopted a grudging interpretation of the statute that will, unless reversed, too often deny protection for religious people and institutions."

"Only this court's intervention can ensure that RFRA remains a meaningful security for religious freedom," it added.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

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Integral development for all is a moral duty, pope tells leaders at Davos

IMAGE: CNS photo/Denis Balibouse, Reute

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told global business and government leaders that everyone has the moral responsibility to seek the integral development of all people, but especially those who are in need, suffering injustice or whose lives are threatened.

"The moral obligation to care for one another flows from this fact," which must never be forgotten, that "we are all members of the one human family," he said in a message read to those attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Likewise, this means putting the human person, "rather than the mere pursuit of power or profit, at the very center of public policy," he wrote.

The pope's message was read to the assembly Jan. 21 by Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development; he attended the forum as the Vatican's representative.

The annual meeting in Davos Jan. 21-24 brought together people representing business, government, academia and media to discuss the theme, "Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World."

With the World Economic Forum celebrating its 50th anniversary, Pope Francis said it has offered opportunities "to explore innovative and effective ways of building a better world. It has also provided an arena where political will and mutual cooperation can be guided and strengthened in overcoming the isolationism, individualism and ideological colonization that sadly characterizes too much contemporary debate."

As the world begins a new decade, he said, the duty to put people first and protect their dignity "is incumbent upon business sectors and governments alike," and must be part of the search for "equitable solutions to the challenges we face."

"It is necessary to move beyond short-term technological or economic approaches and to give full consideration to the ethical dimension in seeking resolutions to present problems or proposing initiatives for the future," the pope said in his message.

When practices and structures are "driven largely, or even solely, by self-interest," he wrote, they often only see people as "a means to an end," which, in turn "gives rise to real injustice."

"A truly integral human development can only flourish when all members of the human family are included in, and contribute to, pursuing the common good," he said.

"In seeking genuine progress," he said, "let us not forget that to trample upon the dignity of another person is in fact to weaken one's own worth."

Pope Francis acknowledged the achievements made over the past 50 years and said he hoped those taking part in this year's and future forums "will keep in mind the high moral responsibility each of us has to seek the integral development of all our brothers and sisters, including those of future generations."

"May your deliberations lead to a growth in solidarity, especially with those most in need, who experience social and economic injustice and whose very existence is even threatened," he said.

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