WASHINGTON (CNS) --- A directive from the U.S. Army chief of chaplains that a letter opposing the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate not be read from the pulpit by Catholic military chaplains violated First Amendment rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, according to the head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio spoke with Secretary of the Army John McHugh about the chief of chaplains' response to the archbishop's Jan. 26 letter and the two "agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the archbishop's letter," according to a statement released by the military archdiocese to Catholic News Service Feb. 6.
The two also agreed to McHugh's suggestion that one line, which read "We cannot --- we will not --- comply with this unjust law," be removed from the letter because of "the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience," the statement added.
The letter was redistributed at Masses the weekend of Feb. 4-5.
"The issue was quickly resolved and the archdiocese considers this matter closed," John Schlageter, general counsel for the archdiocese, said in an email to CNS Feb. 7.
Col. James Hutton, media relations chief for the Army, confirmed in a statement late Feb. 7 that the chief of chaplains, Father Donald Rutherford, a major general, had asked Catholic chaplains that they not read the letter but that they distribute it to parishioners after Masses the weekend of Jan. 28-29.
Father Rutherford made the request because he was concerned that one line in the letter "could be misinterpreted as a call to civil disobedience within our nation's military ranks," Hutton's statement said.
"At no time did the chief of chaplains offer any judgment, statement or opinion as to the appropriateness of the letter's opposition to a specific federal policy, only his concern that a single line might run counter to proper military order and discipline," Hutton said. "Any suggestion that he or the Army were attempting to censor the clergy is not supported by the facts."
Following his conversation with Archbishop Broglio, McHugh met Jan. 30 with senior advisers, including Father Rutherford, Hutton's statement continued. The group "determined that the letter's content was a matter solely within the jurisdiction of the archbishop and the Catholic Church and its dissemination by military priests as part of a religious service was not a matter for Army review," it said.
Archbishop Broglio's letter had been issued as part of a nationwide campaign by U.S. bishops protesting the Department of Health and Human Services requirement that all health plans --- even those covering employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable institutions --- cover contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions, and sterilization free of charge.
The archbishop said he and the archdiocese "stand firm in the belief, based on legal precedent, that such a directive from the Army constituted a violation of his constitutionally protected right of free speech and the free exercise of religion, as well as those same rights of all military chaplains and their congregants."
The military archdiocese said there was no objection to the letter from the other branches of military service.
Vatican sex abuse investigator says bishops should be more accountable
ROME (CNS) --- The Vatican's top sex abuse investigator called for greater accountability under church law of bishops who shield or fail to discipline pedophile priests.
Msgr. Charles Scicluna, promoter of justice for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made his remarks to reporters in Rome Feb. 8, after addressing an international symposium on clerical sex abuse.
"It is a crime in canon law to show malicious or fraudulent negligence in the exercise of one's duty," Msgr. Scicluna said, regarding the responsibility of bishops to protect children and punish abusers.
With respect to bishops who fail to apply the church's anti-abuse norms, Msgr. Scicluna said that "it is not acceptable that when there are set standards, people do not follow the set standards."
Acknowledging that the sanctions that canon law provides for the punishment of clergy are sometimes not applied to bishops, he said that "ecclesial accountability has to be further developed.""What we need to do is to be vigilant in choosing candidates for the important role of bishop, and also to use the tools that canonical law and tradition give for accountability of bishops," Msgr. Scicluna said. "It's not a question of changing laws, it's a question of applying what we have."
Earlier in the morning, Msgr. Scicluna told a symposium attended by representatives of 110 bishops' conferences and 30 religious orders that a "deadly culture of silence, or 'omerta,' is in itself wrong and unjust," and that "no strategy for the prevention of child abuse will ever work without commitment and accountability."
The conference, "Toward Healing and Renewal," was called to launch a global initiative aimed at improving efforts to stop clerical sexual abuse and protect children and vulnerable adults. It was scheduled to run Feb. 6-9 at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, with the support of the Vatican Secretariat of State and several other Vatican offices.
Also among the speakers was an Irish woman, Marie Collins, who told the conference Feb. 7 that she was abused at the age of 13 by a priest whose superiors later shielded him from prosecution.
"There must be acknowledgment and accountability for the harm and destruction that has been done to the life of victims and their families by the often deliberate cover-up and mishandling of cases by their superiors before I or other victims can find real peace and healing," Collins said.
Government has no authority to redefine marriage, say Catholic leaders
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- The archbishops of Los Angeles and New York criticized a federal appellate court decision Feb. 7 that ruled unconstitutional California's Proposition 8, a 2008 voter-approved initiative that forbade same-sex marriage in the state.
"The government has no competence and no authority to 'redefine' marriage or 'expand' its definition to include other kinds of relationships," said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles in a Feb. 7 statement. "To do that is to say that marriage no longer exists. And this would have grave consequences for children and for the common good of our society."
"Our government has a vital interest in promoting marriage for two reasons," Archbishop Gomez said. "First, because marriage is the foundation of society. Second, because government has a duty to promote the well-being of children, who have the right to be born and raised in a family with both their mother and their father."
He added, "This debate over marriage is not about equality or about the needs of individuals. It is much bigger than that. It is about the nature of the human person and the nature of society."
Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York called the 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals "a grave injustice, ignoring the reality that marriage is the union of one man and one woman" in a Feb. 7 statement.
"The Constitution of the United States most assuredly does not forbid the protection of the perennial meaning of marriage, one of the cornerstones of society," said Cardinal-designate Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The people of California deserve better. Our nation deserves better. Marriage deserves better."
The majority opinion said Proposition 8 violates the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees citizens due process and equal protection under the law. It said the state, which had given homosexual couples the right to marry, could not revoke that right.
ProtectMarriage, which put the initiative on the ballot and fought in court to uphold it, can appeal the decision, either to the full 9th Circuit or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the appeals panel said no same-sex marriages can be performed.
New study examines factors that spur growth of US congregations
WASHINGTON (CNS) --- A new study of U.S. congregations found that some factors are more prevalent than others in spurring the growth of a congregation, among them the age of a congregation's members, family activities and a commitment to recruiting new members. But the study's author noted that only a minority of congregations of all denominations are actually growing.
"There were about 30-35 percent that were experiencing the highest level of growth," said C. Kirk Hadaway, congregational research officer for the Episcopal Church and chair of the research task force for the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, the study's sponsors. "There's as many congregations that are plateaued and declining (as) are experiencing rapid growth," Hadaway said during a Jan. 31 webinar on the study, "Facts on Growth."
“A relatively small percentage of congregations are sort of driving the growth to the extent that is occurring in U.S. society. It's not really clear to what extent growth is occurring."
adaway said that of the congregations surveyed, only 6.4 percent were either Catholic or Orthodox, but that the numbers were weighted to reflect their proportion in the U.S. population.
"Facts on Growth" is the fourth in a series of national congregational surveys that began in 2000. The sample for this latest study included 11,077 congregations. Faiths represented included the Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Church of the Nazarene, Baha'i faith, Episcopal Church, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish congregations, and nondenominational and black churches.