WASHINGTON (CNS) --- With the median length of unemployment reaching 10 months and more than four job seekers for every opening, Congress must find ways to continue unemployment compensation to protect jobless workers and their families, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. "For millions of American workers and their families, economic hardship continues and grows," said Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton in a Dec. 12 letter to House members. "The U.S. Catholic bishops have long advocated that the most effective way to build a just economy is the availability of decent work at decent wages," he added. "When the economy fails to generate sufficient jobs, there is a moral obligation to help protect the life and dignity of unemployed workers and their families." The House was to vote as early as Dec. 13 on a Republican-backed proposal to restore the federal extended unemployment benefits program. Unless the program is extended, millions will lose their unemployment benefits beginning Jan. 1. Bishop Blaire urged the House members to "consider the moral and human consequences of your decisions on the most vulnerable among us, especially unemployed workers and their families." On the same day as the letter, the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development announced a relaunch of its poverty awareness campaign, Poverty USA, with a revamped website at www.usccb.org/about/catholic-campaign-for-human-development/povertyusa/ and a new Facebook presence at www. facebook.com/povertyusa.
Philadelphia leader: 'Painful' year may bring school, parish closings
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) --- Three months after his installation, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia warned Catholics that the archdiocese faces "very serious financial and organizational issues that cannot be delayed." In a pastoral letter dated Dec. 8, the archbishop called Advent "a season of self-examination in the light of God's word" and said there was "no better time to speak frankly about the conditions we now face as a community of believers." The letter hinted at coming closings or mergers of parishes and schools, and said the operating budget of each archdiocesan department will receive "careful scrutiny." He said: "To whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local church, events in the coming year will burn them out. The process will be painful. But going through it is the only way to renew the witness of the church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of God's word; and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship." Archbishop Chaput also said the first months of 2012 will see the resolution of all the cases of priests who have been suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, as well as the start in March of the abuse-related criminal trial of four priests or former priests of the archdiocese and a lay teacher. "The harsh media environment likely to surround" the trial "will further burden our laypeople and our clergy," the archbishop said. "But it cannot be avoided."
Pope celebrates Guadalupe feast, confirms he'll travel to Mexico, Cuba
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- Celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and confirming he will travel to Mexico and Cuba in the spring, Pope Benedict XVI called on the people of Latin America to hold firm to their faith. During his homily at the Mass Dec. 12 in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope prayed that God would guide the decisions of the Latin American people, so they could progress in "building a society based on the development of good, the triumph of love and the expansion of justice." Pope Benedict added that he intends "to make an apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba before Easter to proclaim the word of Christ and to strengthen the conviction that this is a precious time to evangelize with a steady faith, a lively hope and an ardent charity." Various Spanish language news outlets have reported the trip will take place between March 23 and 29. In addition to marking the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, the pope's Mass marked the bicentennials of many Latin American countries, which gained their independence from Spain between 1810 and 1825. The pope said he could not let the anniversaries pass without demonstrating "the joy of the church for the many gifts which God, in his infinite goodness, has bestowed on these beloved nations throughout these years." The bicentennial celebrations should not only recall historical, social and political events, he said, they also should include recognition of the Christian faith of the vast majority of the region's people and how that faith contributed to the development of society.
Cardinal Foley remembered as friend to Catholic press around the world
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) --- Cardinal John Foley, longtime Catholic journalist and advocate of Catholic communication, was being fondly remembered after his Dec. 11 death as a friend to the Catholic press around the world. The cardinal, a Philadelphia native, was residing at Villa St. Joseph in Darby, the home for retired Philadelphia archdiocesan priests, when he died of leukemia at age 76. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput described Cardinal Foley as "a man of great apostolic energy" and said anyone who met him "was immediately aware of his intense love for the church and his zeal for communicating the Gospel. By the sheer force of his personality, he drew people to the faith and to himself," he said, adding that the cardinal's "charisma and gentle spirit will be sorely missed throughout the universal church." Cardinal Foley was known for his many different roles: editor of Philadelphia's archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Standard & Times; head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (1984-2007); and most recently, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, a chivalric organization dedicated to supporting the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and to responding to the needs of Catholics in the Holy Land.
With applause and song, new archbishop installed in Manila, Philippines
MANILA, Philippines (CNS) --- The crowded Manila cathedral erupted in applause and the choir sang "Alleluia" after the priest read the letter from the Holy See appointing Archbishop Luis Tagle the next head of the Archdiocese of Manila. "By the leadership of your example, may the faithful entrusted to your care heed their superiors and, above all, pursue holiness of life to which we are called," read Father Rufino Sescon Jr. of the archdiocesan liturgical office. "This is the will of God: your sanctification." Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, retired archbishop of Manila, handed over the seat of the archdiocese to Archbishop Tagle. "The bishops, the clergy, the religious and the laity of the metropolitan Archdiocese of Manila now welcome your 32nd shepherd," Cardinal Rosales proclaimed to the overflowing crowd of around 2,000, including the U.S. and Swiss ambassadors to the Philippines and bishops from at least five Asian countries. A long line of clergy, religious and laypeople snaked its way to the altar to pay homage to Archbishop Tagle. The laity included members of the marginalized segment of the population, for which the archbishop is a major advocate. During his homily, the new archbishop, whom many call humble, asked: "Is this occasion really about me? I know many people are asking, 'Who is this new archbishop of Manila? What is he like? What are his vision and plans?' But, like John the Baptist, I am inviting you to focus on the one mightier than all of us: Jesus Christ the risen one, and the true shepherd of the church," he said.
Lawsuit challenging HHS contract with USCCB awaits judge's decision
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- A lawsuit pending in a Massachusetts federal court may determine if the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can allow religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services in agreements with private agencies to provide social services. The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in Boston in January 2009, stems from a now ended five-year contract that HHS signed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide case management services to foreign-born victims of human trafficking through its Migration and Refugee Services. ACLU claims that the bishops' conference dictated terms of the contract it received from the government to serve trafficking victims in violation of the separation of church and state provisions of the U.S. Constitution. ACLU attorneys maintain that the government, because it is spending taxpayer dollars, must set the terms of the contract. Michael O. Leavitt, then Secretary of Health and Human Services, was named as the chief defendant. Since then Kathleen Sebelius, current health and human services secretary, has replaced Leavitt as the government's defendant. The USCCB joined the case as an intervenor and, through its attorney, argued that its intention under the contract not to fund abortion or contraceptive services was permitted because of religious freedom and conscience provisions in federal law. The parties submitted final arguments to Judge Richard G. Stearns Oct. 18. He is expected to issue his decision early in 2012.
Australian researchers: Nuns should take pill to protect against cancer
MANCHESTER, England (CNS) --- Catholic nuns should take contraceptives to protect themselves against cancers linked to childlessness, two Australian researchers said in a British medical journal. Writing in The Lancet, Dr. Kara Britt and Professor Roger Short say that oral contraceptives help prevent the onset of cancer of the breast, ovaries and uterus in women who have never had children. "Catholic nuns are committed to leading a celibate, spiritual life in a monastery or convent," they said in the article, titled "The Plight of Nuns: Hazards of Nulliparity. In 1713, Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini noted that nuns had an extremely high incidence of that 'accursed pest,' breast cancer," the researchers wrote, adding that research among more than 30,000 nuns in the U.S. found a similar problem. They said: "Today, the world's 94,790 nuns still pay a terrible price for their chastity because they have a greatly increased risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers: the hazards of their nulliparity. They point out in the article that although Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" prohibited couples from using contraception to regulate their fertility, it was silent on the use of the pill for health benefits.
Evidence of alleged miracle credited to Archbishop Sheen heads to Rome
PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) --- Boxes wrapped in ribbon and a happy little boy are Christmas images, but the combination had another joyful meaning Dec. 11 during ceremonies closing the Diocese of Peoria's inquiry into an alleged miraculous healing through the intercession of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. "May God, who has begun this great work, bring it to fulfillment," said Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky after affixing a wax seal on a box containing evidence gathered in the past three months by an investigative tribunal. The assembly gathered for the special Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral responded with sustained applause. That evidence is now on its way to Rome for consideration by the Congregation for Saints' Causes. The congregation is studying the sainthood cause of Archbishop Sheen, a central Illinois native and priest of the Peoria Diocese who became an internationally known evangelist, radio/TV personality, writer and missionary. In a pew just outside the cathedral sanctuary, the focus of the testimonies contained in the box --- 15-month-old James Fulton Engstrom --- sat contentedly with his parents and two older siblings, squirming occasionally as all healthy little boys will do. "For a lot of us it felt like a full-circle moment," said James' mother, Bonnie Engstrom, of the official ceremonies that took place at the start of Mass. Among those in attendance were members of the tribunal as well as the Archbishop Sheen Foundation. Bonnie Engstrom recalled sitting in the same cathedral --- where Archbishop Sheen had been ordained in 1919 --- a few days after James' birth and "begging for a miracle" during a holy hour attended by family and friends. Considered stillborn on Sept. 16, 2010, after a routine pregnancy, James was without a pulse for the first 61 minutes of his life. It was only when doctors at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria were ready to call the time of death that his heart started beating. The doctors had warned the parents he might not be able to function normally, but they were proved wrong. "It's an amazing story," said Msgr. Jason Gray, who served as episcopal delegate to the investigative tribunal and was responsible for guiding the process. An oath of secrecy sworn by tribunal members kept Msgr. Gray from commenting further about the findings of the tribunal or expectations regarding its review in Rome.