Office of Advocacy and Justice Updates

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Torture is an Intrinsic Evil: A Catholic Study Guide

The USCCB has created a new resource to focus on a critical issue of our time – torture — and the vital need to explore this topic in the light of the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church teaches that torture is intrinsically evil. It is universally condemned by international and human rights organizations. Through interviews of torture survivors, and discussion of Catholic social teaching, this module aims to inspire thoughtful reflection and conversation of the issue in a non-threatening environment. Download the study guide here.

Work of Human Hands Summer Sale

Now through June 15th, over 1200 handcrafts are 25% off, including Overstock items. Our artisan partners have already been paid in full, so stand in solidarity with them and start shopping today. Plus, every purchase contributes to the CRS Fair Trade Fund.
To Order
Online: www.serrv.org
Phone: (800) 685.7572
Fax: (888) 294.6376
Mail: Work of Human Hands
c/o SERRV
500 Main Street
New Windsor, MD 21776

 

The Philippines: A Virtue-Based Approach to Sustainability

A recent article notes that while stewardship is a hallmark of Christian life, Fr. Ben Beltran recognizes the persistent problem . . . that the message of stewardship has not tipped the scales in favor of sustainability. Despite the recurrent message of the Pontiff, we’re still not doing enough . . . We lack action. In order to move more Christians to action, Fr. Beltran has begun to take a virtue-based approach to sustainability.  The strategy, Fr. Beltran said, is to make environmental preservation a personal mission. Rather than insist on the message that the destruction of Mother Nature is immoral, we need to rephrase the question into: What kind of a person are you to do this on purpose? This shifts the focus to something directly relatable to every person, not only Christians. What you do to nature mirrors who and what you are. By asking this question, we change people’s mind-set and motivate them to do something positive for the environment right now. This should be the basis of new environmental movements. Read the entire article here, and learn about the good works at Fr. Beltran’s Sacred Heart Parish in Kamuning, Quezon City.

Australia: Gas and Coal a Justice Concern

The Archdiocese of Brisbane’s Catholic Leader newspaper reports that the Australian Archdiocesan Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) has hosted a World Environment Day screening of a documentary film, “Bimblebox,” depicting the struggle of central Queensland communities against coal and gas extraction in their region.  CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt said the documentary “built a picture of the broader implications of Australia’s mining boom, while focusing on one woman’s fight to protect the land she loves”.  Arndt went on to say that “Brimblebox” gives us the chance to hear the views and feelings of people living in the central west of Queensland whose lives and lands will be directly affected by very large mining developments.

Great Britain: Ecumenical Preparation for Rio+20

Arecent articlereports that the Anglican Diocese of Bath and Wells and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clifton are jointly organizing “Making it Happen Locally” on June 16, which is being staged as the Rio+20: Making it Happen summit on sustainable development opens.  The Bath conference will explore the way in which humans treat natural resources, which in many places determine quality of life and life expectancy. It will also give an insight into how, in the UK, Brazil and Zambia, the Church is showing ways forward for the environment and development.

Ruth de Barros from Brazil will speak at the conference.  She said,We cannot forget that the environment is not just a bunch of trees and a few streams of fresh water. Within those trees live thousands of people who struggle to keep the ecological balance working, while they witness all around them whole ecosystems of trees, bushes and plants being destroyed to plant soy-bean or to farm cattle. As a church we are working on the awareness of those who live in the city as to what is going on around.”

National Catholic Rural Life Center (NCRLC)

The current summer issue of NCRLC’s publication Food and Faith features an article about God’s Garden of Eatin’, a regional parish food pantry and community garden in Cincinnati.  Founding director Sue Stack described the work at God’s Garden of Eatin’ for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  There, she says that God is found in the fellowship of community gardening and describes that [t]he garden is about the joy of putting the plants into the bounty of God.   It’s about the excitement of understanding that in gardening somehow you participate in very concrete ways with the grace of creation; it’s about knowing that you are a co-creator of the earth. 

And it’s even more, she says: It’s about willingly living Catholic Social Teaching, the themes of providing for the dignity of others through fresh organic produce; about working communally for the common good; about our duty to use our talents and time as God calls us to; and of course about being in solidarity not only with our less well off neighbors, but with the earth itself.  This is about caring for creation as we should.

Finally, she says, this effort is prayer. It is the hope that one day the unity created by the peace of Christ will be a reality; that the greatest commandment will be lived by all who profess themselves to be Christian (and even those who do not!).  It is a prayer of hope that we will be willing to look beyond our own immediate wants and needs to truly care for the body of Christ in its broadest sense.

 

Advocacy Efforts

Action Alert: Send Letter to EPA for higher Clean Air Standard 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently put out a rule that would set a lower standard for carbon emissions from power plants. We need your help. The EPA is accepting comments until June 25, so we are working with other faith communities to send up to 9,000 comments to EPA Administration.  Consider how we here in the United States can take the crucial first step toward reducing our carbon emissions. Here is a special link to make a comment to the EPA and encourage them to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Read more about this Clean Air alert at the NCRLC website.

Farm Bill 

The Catholic community has come together to offer a united and active voice in the debate on how U.S. farm policies affect hungry people, domestic farmers, food producers, and consumers and promote stewardship of God’s creation. The USCCB is joined by Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and all of you, to advocate for a fair Farm Bill.

Both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have finished holding hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill. The Senate is proceeding forward and is likely to vote on its version of the Farm Bill in early June. It is reported that the House may vote on its version in early July. While some positive changes are proposed by the Senate version to reduce subsidies (direct payments), the Senate plan increases funds for crop insurance that largely benefits large growers and agribusinesses and also calls for $4.49 billion in cuts to the SNAP (food stamp) program and over $6 billion in reductions to conservation programs. Final passage of the Farm Bill is not expected until the lame duck session at the end of 2012 or possibly later in 2013.

Because of your advocacy and the letters and testimony offered by the U.S. bishops and their Catholic partners, the Catholic community has been instrumental in reminding Congress of the need to feed hungry people at home and abroad and promote the well-being of rural communities and foster stewardship of creation. As the Farm Bill moves forward, you are urged to continue your efforts to advocate for fair agriculture policies in the 2012 Farm Bill.

Economic Justice 

As part of the FY 2013 budget and broader deficit reduction debate, the House of Representatives considered a package of cuts, most of which fell on programs that serve poor and vulnerable people–the Child Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Social Services Block Grant. Bishop Stephen Blaire, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote to the House expressing concerns with this approach, and urging Congress to protect, rather than cut or eliminate, these programs. Unfortunately, the House moved forward with these cuts, which means our advocacy in the U.S. Senate will have increased importance.

Conscience Protections in Health Care 

On February 15, 2012 the President’s Administration published a final rule mandating contraception and sterilization coverage in almost all private health plans nationwide, with an extremely narrow “exemption” for some religious employers. In a March 21 “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” the Administration leaves this mandate unchanged, while proposing an “accommodation” under which the mandate might be applied in various ways to the employees of religious organizations that do not receive the exemption.

The mandate does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities, or hospitals. These institutions are vital to the mission of the Church, but the Administration does not deem them “religious employers” eligible for conscience protection because they do not “serve primarily persons who share the[ir] religious tenets.”

The Senate’s 51-48 vote March 1 to table the bipartisan Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467), sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and 37 other senators, impels the Church to strengthen its resolve to support religious freedom.

In addition to the lawsuit filed by 43 Catholic entities against HHS in 12 federal district courts on May 21, a legislative solution to this unjust mandate will be pursued. Advocates should continue to educate their elected officials about the need for robust conscience protections.

Click here for more information on conscience protection.

Housing 

In April, Bishop Blaire urged Congress to protect funding for programs that provide housing for poor and vulnerable people and communities. He also expressed concern with proposals to raise the amount of rent paid by some of the poorest public housing residents. Recently, both the House and Senate subcommittees drafting the bill agreed, and rejected the rent increase for poor residents. While many programs continue to be cut, the poorest residents won’t be forced to pay more.

Poverty-focused International Assistance 

The USCCB and CRS have worked diligently to support international, poverty-focused relief and development accounts funded by the U.S. Congress. Both Bishop Pates, USCCB, Chair, Committee on Justice and Peace and Dr. Woo, President, CRS, wrote letters to the Chairs of both the House and Senate subcommittees on appropriations. CRS and the USCCB followed up with meetings with members of the appropriations subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs in the House and Senate.Sean Callahan, Vice President for Overseas Operations, offered testimony to both chambers. A number of action alerts were sent to dioceses.

So far the accounts we support have avoided deep cuts. Congratulations! The overall House foreign operations bill was cut by 10%, but poverty-focused accounts were cut by less or maintained at FY 2012 levels. The Senate increased some poverty-focused accounts and maintained others at FY 2012 levels. The considerable difference in the bills will mean there is plenty of room for negotiation when the two chambers come together. Poverty-focused aid remains at risk as the bills move onto the floor for consideration. 

“Hold” on Palestinian Aid Released 

Our brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza continue to receive support thanks in part to your advocacy. To “punish” the Palestinians for seeking UN recognition, some in Congress put a hold on funding for the Palestinian people. This action damages U.S. efforts to seek a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land by reducing assistance to Palestinians that is essential for humanitarian purposes and for building the capacity of a future Palestinian state. It is not in the long-term interests of either Israelis or Palestinians. CRS programs in Gaza and the West Bank were in jeopardy due to the hold.  Thanks to your advocacy, in March, Congress released 60 percent of the funds held and in April, Secretary Clinton overruled the remaining Congressional hold so that all funds could be provided. These programs promote civic engagement, infrastructure improvements, and vocational training. They help Palestinians, especially women, to participate actively in their communities. They also promote peace by giving Palestinians hope for a better tomorrow.

Religious Freedom 

The voice of Catholic advocates helped to move Congress to pass legislation reauthorizing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) at the eleventh hour. USCIRF plays a key role in championing religious freedom and human rights throughout the world. In the first quarter of 2012, USCCB staff joined in meetings to urge that the new Commissioners to be appointed to USCIRF be well-qualified and suggested some names for consideration. Eight of the nine Commissioners have been appointed, including two Catholics: Dr. Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Professor of Law at Harvard, and Dr. Robert George, Professor of Jurisprudence and director of a program on American ideals and institutions, Princeton University. Dr. Glendon also serves as a Consultant to the Committee on International Justice and Peace so we look forward to working closely with her to raise awareness about international religious freedom.