Washington D.C., Mar 20, 2019 / 02:16 pm (CNA).- In a March 20 letter to members of the U.S. Senate, three bishops warned that while the proposed Equality Act purports to address issues of discrimination, it would actually create new problems and threaten fundamental freedoms.
“This proposed legislation does not accomplish what its supporters assert, but rather creates new difficulties and will hurt more people than its designers want to help,” the bishops said, urging Senators to oppose the bill.
The Equality Act, reintroduced in Congress this month, would add anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to existing protections for race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion.
It would apply not just to employment, but other areas like housing, jury duty, credit, and education, as well as at retail stores, emergency shelters, banks, transit and pharmacies, among others. It would also specify facility access for self-identified transgender persons, such as access to male and female bathrooms.
David Cicilline, D-R.I., is the bill’s main sponsor in the House, NBC News reports. As of March 13, the bill had 239 co-sponsors in the House.
The March letter to the U.S. Senate was signed by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee; Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, head of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage; and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
“As a nation we have a laudable history of confronting and overcoming unjust discrimination and attempting to balance the rights of various groups,” the bishops said.
“As Catholics, we share in this work of justice. It is our firm belief that each and every person should be treated with dignity and respect,” including the right to gainful employment with discrimination and the right to services necessary to maintain health and safety, they said. “In this, we whole-heartedly support nondiscrimination to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.”
But instead of providing these protections, the Equality Act would create broad regulations that would harm society, they warned.
“The Act’s definitions alone would remove women and girls from protected legal existence. Furthermore, the Act also fails to recognize the difference between the person – who has dignity and is entitled to recognition of it – and the actions of a person, which have ethical and social ramifications. Conflating the two will introduce a plethora of further legal complications.”
The legislation would threaten the right to free speech, conscience and exercise of religion by making illegal certain beliefs about the human person - held by many individuals and groups, the bishops said. It would particularly threaten religious freedom, a foundational principle of the American founding, by exempting itself from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a move that the bishops noted is “unprecedented.”
Also dangerous, they said, is the lack of criteria for “gender identity,” which could open the door for abuses in restrooms and locker rooms.
“This risk arises not so much from those who experience gender incongruence, but from others who would take malicious advantage of open-door policies in these private spaces,” they stated.
The Equality Act would also put many charitable organizations at risk, requiring that homeless shelters place biological men with vulnerable women and adoption agencies place children with same-sex couples, even if this violates their beliefs and the birth mother’s wishes, the bishops said.
“The resulting closures of such charitable services would be unconscionable – especially when the opioid crisis is leaving more and more children in need of foster care.”
The legislation could threaten professionals in the wedding industry, such as cake bakers, photographers, and florists, who will serve all customers but cannot express messages to which they object. It would require health professionals to provide “gender transition” treatments and surgeries in violation of their medical and ethical judgments.
“Given all of these effects, we strongly oppose the Equality Act and respectfully urge you to oppose it as well,” the bishops wrote to the Senate. “We pray that wisdom will inform your deliberations on these matters and we readily stand with you, and are willing to assist you, in developing compassionate and just means to eradicate unjust discrimination and harassment from our country.”
Cucuta, Colombia, Mar 20, 2019 / 12:11 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Cúcuta in Colombia reported this week that it has provided 1 million meals to Venezuelan migrants affected by the humanitarian crisis in their country.
In a statement released March 18, the diocese thanked the volunteers and donors who since June 5, 2017, have provided support to those affected by the emergency at the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
“As the Holy Father Francis has well reminded us, the Church is like a field hospital where wounded people come seeking the goodness and closeness of God,” Bishop Víctor Manuel Ochoa Cadavid said in the statement.
Since Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen hyperinflation and severe shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities, and millions have emigrated.
Currently, thousands of Venezuelan citizens live on the remittances that relatives send them from abroad. However, only a maximum of 6,000 bolivars a day can be withdrawn from the bank, the equivalent of about $2.00.
Colombia has been a major destination for Venezuelans fleeing their home.
The Diocese of Cúcuta is serving the migrants through the Divine Providence House of Transit in addition to eight parish soup kitchens.
Speaking on RCN Radio March 19, Fr. David Cañas, the coordinator of the Divine Providence House, said that between 3,800 and 4,200 people arrive daily, starting very early, in search of food.
“Previously between 3,000 and 3,500 used to come (…) despite the blockades on the international bridges” that join Colombia and Venezuela, the priest said.
Bishop Ochoa voiced gratitude for “the 800 Catholic volunteers, men and women religious, priests and deacons, donors, coordinated by Fr. José David Caña Pérez, [who] make it possible for the Diocese of Cúcuta to become a prophetic witness of the charity of the Church.”
“The Lord in his infinite goodness blesses the families of Cucuta through the generosity and availability which they have had since the beginning of the border crisis in order to serve their neighbor with love,” he said.
He also thanked the institutions that have donated food, money, and resources to make the program possible: the World Food Program, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Caritas International, Adveniat, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
On March 19, in a meeting with migrants and volunteers at the Divine Providence House, Bishop Ochoa praised the 800 volunteers who have given their time to serve those in need.
“It’s the work of the Catholic Church…it’s the work of the Church for the beloved people of Venezuela… we ask you to pray for the people that help us help others.”
Omaha, Neb., Mar 20, 2019 / 05:06 am (CNA).- As devastating flood waters continue to rise in parts of the Midwest, Catholics are working to raise funds for both short-term aid and long-term rebuilding efforts.
“Please join Archbishop [George] Lucas in praying for all those displaced or otherwise affected by the ongoing flooding,” said the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
A special collection in Omaha this weekend will help fund recovery efforts. Parishes have been asked to evaluate needs in their communities and request funds for both immediate recovery needs and long-term rebuilding.
“Grants may be distributed to purchase water, food, shelter, cleaning supplies, tools, building materials, and tuition assistance for displaced employees,” said archdiocesan spokesman Deacon Tim McNeil said.
He added that funds can go not only to the immediate needs of parishes, but to help with broader community assistance.
Nebraska has been among the hardest-hit states by severe flooding in recent days, although several other Midwestern states have also been affected as a “bomb cyclone” tore through the region last week, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain. The floods that have resulted have washed out roads, destroyed homes, and burst dams, compounding the damage throughout the area.
The majority of counties in Nebraska are currently under a state of emergency, as are nearly half of the counties in Iowa.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the storm has already caused “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced.” Repairing damaged infrastructure could take months, and agricultural losses in ranching and growing crops could reach nearly $1 billion.
As residents scramble to evacuate, watching their livelihoods wash away in front of their eyes, their neighbors are doing what they can to offer support.
Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska is currently holding a bottled water drive to help students at Peru State College, who have been displaced for several days and are facing contaminated water for the foreseeable future.
“It is at times like these that we are all called to help our friends, relatives and neighbors who are suffering,” Catholic Social Services said in a statement. “Please help us help those who have lost so much.”
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, is teaming up with Bethany Lutheran, Brookside, Peace Presbyterian and COPE to help with long-term rebuilding support for flood victims.
Proceeds from the March 15 Lenten Fish Fry at St. Patrick’s were donated to flood relief efforts.
Meanwhile, northwestern counties in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are in the path of the flood waters.
“The towns are preparing,” said Kevin Murphy, executive director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities in the diocese.
He told CNA that the major highway in the area has been closed, as the Missouri River is expected to reach near-record flooding levels.
Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph could also be feeling the effects of the flooding in a very direct way - the organization's satellite office in Buchanan County sits just about 5000 feet from the river.
“We are monitoring the situation closely,” Murphy said.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, offered his prayers as the floods continue, while also calling Catholics to participate in relief efforts.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the flooding throughout the Midwest these past few days,” he said in a March 19 statement.
The bishop prayed “that those affected by the floods will find the strength to rebuild.”
“We trust that the Lord will console them in their suffering,” he said. “Let us answer the Lord’s call to love one another and generously support our neighbors in this time of need.”
He noted that Catholic Charities USA is collecting funds to help flood victims throughout the entire region.