WASHINGTON—With international religious freedom increasingly imperiled, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) must be reauthorized quickly so it can continue to “highlight the need to protect those who are discriminated against, harassed and even killed for their faith,” said the bishop who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In a September 29 letter to Congress, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, urged legislators to support S. 2078, a bill that would extend USCIRF’s mandate for four years. The fact that Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) came together to support this bill in a bipartisan manner is a “welcome sign,” said Bishop Cantú. USCIRF’s mandate is set to expire today.
Bishop Cantú expressed the hope that swift passage of this bill would lead to broader discussion on how to protect religious freedom, which the Church views as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights.”
Bishop Cantú reminded members of Congress that Pope Francis, in his recent visit, warned about efforts to suppress religious freedom, and asked everyone to join “in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.”
Full text of Bishop Cantú’s letter is available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/letter-to-congress-urging-reauthorization-of-uscirf-2015-09-29.cfm
|Catholics in the United States, as well as all people of good will, should express openness and welcome to refugees fleeing Syria and elsewhere in order to survive, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement, September 10. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, issued the call on the heels of Pope Francis’ appeal, September 6, that every Catholic parish in Europe house a refugee family.
“The Catholic Church in the United States—with nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes assisting refugees to this country each year, and with Catholic Relief Services providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe—stands ready to help in this effort,” wrote Archbishop Kurtz.
Archbishop Kurtz expressed his solidarity with the pope, the bishops of Syria, the Middle East, and Europe, “and all people who have responded to this humanitarian crisis with charity and compassion.” He also encouraged the U.S. government “to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety.
The full text of Archbishop Kurtz’s statement follows:
Statement of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz
Archbishop of Louisville, KY
President, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
On Syrian Refugee Crisis
September 10, 2015
In recent days, we have seen reports about and pictures of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, primarily Syrians fleeing the conflict in their nation, fleeing into Europe in search of protection. These images have captured the world’s attention and sympathy. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has asked Catholics in Europe to respond to the needs of the refugees streaming into Europe and, throughout his papacy, has consistently called upon the world to protect refugees and other persons on the move.
As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I urge all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.
I express my solidarity with the Holy Father, the bishops of Syria, the Middle East, and Europe, and all people who have responded to this humanitarian crisis with charity and compassion. I also encourage the U.S. government to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety. The Catholic Church in the United States—with nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes assisting refugees to this country each year, and with Catholic Relief Services providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe—stands ready to help in this effort.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph flee the terror of Herod. They are the archetype of every refugee family. Let us pray that the Holy Family watches over the thousands of refugee families in Europe and beyond at this time.
The Catholic Church views protection of religious freedom as a “cornerstone of the structure of human rights” since it is rooted in the dignity of the human person. USCCB worked with other faith-based groups and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to pass the landmark 1988 International Religious freedom Act (IRFA). IRFA created the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF uses international standards to monitor religious freedom violations globally, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties. Their work is supported by a professional, nonpartisan staff. USCIRF has a proven track record of promoting human dignity and human rights around the world by monitoring and promoting religious freedom.
USCIRF is due to expire this September 30th unless legislation is passed for its reauthorization. Reauthorization of USCIRF is of critical importance to a wide range of U.S. religious believers/voters, U.S. and overseas NGO’s, and to religious communities and governments all over the world. This is not a Democrat or Republic issue or a concern of only a few Members. This is not a concern of only Christians or of the religious faiths most popular in the US. It is a bipartisan issue of concern to all US religious communities because around the world Bahia’s, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and members of newer and less numerous religions all experience persecution and discrimination in various countries.
Failure to reauthorize USCIRF will send a tremendously negative message to the international community. It will tell the worst offenders that our government is no longer truly interested in fighting for religious freedom and basic human rights of religious believers in their countries. If this happens, religious believers will be killed, jailed, and tortured.
Given the Church’s ongoing concern over the plight of Christians and other religious minorities, we strongly support a bipartisan bill to reauthorize USCIRF. We share the concerns of Pope Francis, “In today’s world, religious freedom is more often affirmed than put into practice.” Defending religious liberty “guarantees the growth and development of the entire community.” Please encourage Congress to lend their support for reauthorization.
See Bishop Oscar Cantu’s August 26, 2015 letter to Congress encouraging legislation for the reauthorization of USCIRF, in which he wrote, “Protecting religious freedom is critical to the health of societies.”
Bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee Offers Policy Framework for Targeted Killing by Drones
WASHINGTON—The practice of targeted killings by unmanned drones should be limited by international standards, be transparent and guided by an awareness of how the practice affects conflict around the world, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace in a letter to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The May 11 letter from Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico, noted the ongoing concerns of bishops around the “serious moral questions” raised by drone strikes, and shared a policy framework that had been adopted by the bishops’ committee.
Bishop Cantú wrote, “Since the United States has led in the use of armed drones, it should take the lead in advancing international policies, standards and restrictions on the production, use and proliferation of drones in general, and of armed drones in targeted killings in particular. As weapons technology becomes more sophisticated, the need for an internationally recognized ethical and moral framework governing their use becomes more urgent.”
The framework notes that drone strikes should occur only in areas of active protracted conflict where war has been declared or where there is multilateral agreement to take action, when a threat is imminent, and the use of force if proportionate and a last resort. It also raises concerns about the decision-making processes behind drone strikes, civilian casualties and the long-term fueling of hostilities toward the United States.
The full text of the letter is available online: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/war-and-peace/arms-trade/upload/letter-to-nsa-rice-from-bishop-cantu-re-drones-policy-framework-2015-05-11.pdf
Catholic and Evangelical Humanitarian Agencies Voice Concern Over Impact of Rule Regarding Unaccompanied Children
“We believe that, through practical discussions, we can find a resolution that allows the government to fulfill its obligation to care for unaccompanied children, while also respecting the religious and moral beliefs of faith-based organization that, to date, have provided such critical care for this vulnerable population,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in joint comments filed on February 20 along with the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, Inc., Catholic Relief Services and World Relief.
The organizations stressed their commitment to support and strengthen protections for these minors in ways that respect the organizations’ religious and moral convictions. “In cases where pregnancy occurs, those of us participating in the program are willing to continue to provide health care access, as we have for years, in a manner consistent with our religious beliefs,” the comments noted.
The comments stated that the rule falls short of having adequate protections for those organizations with religious or moral objections to certain requirements under the rule, including providing minors and victims of sexual abuse access to “emergency contraception” and access “to all lawful pregnancy-related medical services,” which the comments indicated “apparently includes abortion.”
The comments also noted that the rule has implications regarding human sexuality and therefore requests that ORR ensure that organizations remain free to act in accord with their religious beliefs and moral convictions in the area of human sexuality when providing care for unaccompanied minors.
The comments responded to an interim final rule that was published in the Federal Register on December 24, 2014.
Currently, six out of nine national refugee resettlement agencies in the United States are faith-based organizations, including the USCCB, which is the largest in terms of persons served, and World Relief, which mobilizes the resources of the evangelical community. Together, these organizations resettle the majority of refugees entering the United States each year.
Bishop Pates Urges Obama Administration to Promote Inclusive Government and Provide Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq
WASHINGTON—The current conflict in Iraq demands humanitarian assistance from the United States in addition to diplomatic measures, said the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace in a June 19 letter to Ambassador Susan E. Rice, National Security Advisor. The letter was delivered just before President Obama held a press conference on Iraq.
“Our nation bears a special responsibility toward the people of Iraq. The U.S.-led invasion and occupation unleashed both sectarian conflicts and extremism in Iraq, two tragic unintended consequences that have profound and continuing repercussions for the people of Iraq,” said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa.
“It is appropriate that the Administration is urging political leaders in Iraq to form an inclusive government. For too long, large elements of Iraqi society have felt disenfranchised. It is critical that all ethnic and religious groups are represented at the table of governance so that the common good of all is served,” Bishop Pates said. “Extremists have been exploiting the divisions born of exclusion and the weakening of the rule of law.”
Bishop Pates echoed the words of Pope Francis in his recent request for prayers “for the dear Iraqi nation, especially for the victims and for those who most suffer the consequences of the growing violence, in particular the many persons, among whom are so many Christians, who have had to leave their homes.”
He also noted the efforts for peace and prayers from Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, who has called for a day of “fasting and prayer for the restoration of security and stability in Iraq” on June 18. The Patriarch has said that “the best solution to all these problems is the creation of a government of national unity” to strengthen “the rule of law.”
Bishop Pates also called for continued efforts to seek political solution in neighboring Syria for the protection of Christians and other minorities. “The United States should work with the international community, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and all responsible parties in Syria. It is critical to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria,” he wrote.
The full text of the letter is available online. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/global-issues/middle-east/iraq/upload/letter-nsa-rice-iraq-2014-06-19.pdf
Bishop Pates to National Security Advisor: Help Nigerian Government and Faith-Based Institutions Counteract Religious Extremism in Wake of Kidnappings
The chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace, along with representatives of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Catholic Charities USA, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Rural Life, responded to the agreement of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, commending their ability to set aside partisan differences to advance a farm bill.
“While we are disappointed that the final compromise continues to call disproportionately for sacrifices from hungry and poor people in this country and around the world, especially when large industrial agricultural operations continue to receive unnecessary subsidies, we are glad to see support will continue for domestic and international nutrition and development aid, rural development and conservation,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
USCCB and its Catholic partners have been vocal in their opposition to harmful cuts and changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Farm Bill Conference Committee proposal calls for a reduction of $8.6 billion to SNAP over ten years by increasing the threshold at which persons receiving the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) may receive SNAP benefits. However, the bill does include increases for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, and Sheila K. Gilbert, president of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, expressed concern for the challenges that organizations like Catholic Charities agencies and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul face every day in trying to meet the needs of people in their communities.
“We continue to be concerned that those who are most vulnerable will bear the greatest burden when cuts are being considered in any programs that address poverty in this country,” said Father Snyder. “However, we realize that tough choices may have to be made and encourage our country’s decision-makers on this 50th anniversary on the War on Poverty to commit to ensuring that millions of our brothers and sisters are not being left out or left behind.”
Bishop Richard E. Pates, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Carolyn Woo, president of CRS, expressed support for the bill’s international food assistance funding, particularly for development programs, and reforms that increase program efficiency and provide more tools to combat hunger. “With one in eight persons around the world struggling to feed themselves each day, we welcome the renewed commitment by Congress to programs that tackle root causes of chronic hunger and appreciate its foresight in making programs more cost effective so we can serve more people with the limited resources available,” said Bishop Pates.
In addressing agriculture reform James Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life stated, “We are disappointed to see that necessary reforms to farm commodity programs and payment levels have been struck down in the final bill,” Ennis said. “Congress needs to close loopholes and set real payment limits. By doing so, the farm bill will help to save hundreds of millions of dollars and take a step towards leveling the playing field for all family farmers.”
USCCB has worked closely with its Catholic partners urging Congress to finalize a Farm Bill that prioritizes poor and hungry people, serves small and medium-sized family farms, promotes sustainable stewardship of the land, and helps vulnerable farmers and rural communities in the U.S. and around the world.
The project is recruiting volunteers for one- to six-week projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda focusing on agriculture, food security, and nutrition.
Contact Beth Hyser at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.