U.S. Church News

'Black lives matter!' says Las Vegas bishop in pastoral on racism

By Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Bishop George L. Thomas of Las Vegas returns to his seat after receiving Communion at the Basilica of St. Mary Major during his "ad limina" visit in Rome Jan. 30, 2020. He issued a pastoral letter June 10 titled "When Words Fall Short: A Pastoral Letter on Racism." (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See LAS-VEGAS-PASTORAL-RACISM June 29, 2020.

LAS VEGAS (CNS) -- The "tragic death" of George Floyd, an African American killed while in the custody of a white police officer, "has torn the scab away from the gaping wound of racism that still infects communities across the globe," said Bishop George L. Thomas of Las Vegas.

He made the comments in a pastoral letter, "When Words Fall Short: A Pastoral Letter on Racism," issued June 10.

"What is needed in this critical moment is a genuine conversion of heart and a commitment to renew our communities," Bishop Thomas said. "The words of Pope Francis ring true in our hearts: 'Let no one think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.'"

Bishop Thomas was direct in the pastoral letter. "This time, words, chants, prayers and placards, however necessary and sincere, will not be enough to satisfy the hue and cry of the people. We want real evidence of real change," he said.

"We are a church that holds that all life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death. Under the banner of Catholic social teaching, we say with resounding voices, 'Yes! Black lives matter!'"

The bishop frequently cited both Catholic social teaching and the U.S. bishops' 2018 document, "Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love -- A Pastoral Letter Against Racism," in his own pastoral letter.

"There are no throwaway people, no second-class citizens and no disposable souls. Every person is an unrepeatable and unique gift of God, binding us together as a human family, as sisters and brothers, each with inestimable worth and inalienable rights," Bishop Thomas said.

He reached back to quote the U.S. bishops' 1986 pastoral letter, "Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy," when the bishops said, "Human dignity can be realized and protected only in community."

"What happens when certain individuals feel unsafe, unprotected, unwanted, and unequal in the very community whose purpose is to provide for them equal protection under the law?" Bishop Thomas asked. "Look no further than the headlines of the day."

"Racist acts are sinful violations of justice. They wear many faces and don many disguises," Bishop Thomas added.

"Racism can be seen in deliberate, sinful acts of violence and extremism, and in attitudes of superiority and prejudicial humor, he continued. "It is found in unjust social structures that tolerate or abet discrimination in hiring, in housing and lending practices, in the denial of educational opportunities, and in disparities in health care. Racism is clearly reflected in the disproportionate imprisonment of minorities.

"It is also found in sins of omission and complacency, in attitudes of superiority, and in subtle inattention to injustice, most especially when people turn a blind eye to the presence of violence and overt acts of bigotry," he said.

Putting Catholic social teaching's preferential option for the poor into practice, Bishop Thomas said, "bids us to ask the difficult questions, 'What are the underlying causes of poverty, misery, inequality and racism, and what must we do to effect real, concrete, and substantial change in the way we live, both individually, and as a society?'"

After having met with local, state and federal law enforcement officials over the past year, "I emerged from these meetings convinced we are a community that has not only learned much from the tragedies and failures of the past, but has also put into place best practices and sound policies to help promote high quality law enforcement and build community confidence," said Bishop Thomas, who was installed in Las Vegas in 2018.

"Perfect? No. But every leader acknowledged that they and their agencies are works in progress, open to substantial community input and constructive criticism."

Bishop Thomas said, "George Floyd's death is a call to action and a time for community engagement among civic and government leaders, the ecumenical and interfaith community, and members of the community at large to listen attentively and to act decisively, helping address and eradicate the sin of racism and forge a future full of hope."

He noted, "There are many ways to seize the moment," he said, listing 16 specific actions, including getting educated on the history and causes of racism in the United States; raising your voice whenever you see racism, injustice or discrimination; disengaging from racial and discriminatory humor; helping to create a just workplace at one's own workplace; making a conscious effort to engage with people beyond one's own comfort zones to build relationships; and to "never underestimate the power of the polling place."

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Editor's Note: The full text of Bishop Thomas' pastoral, in English and in Spanish, can be found online at https://bit.ly/2Zo1F7l.


A month after historic flood, Michigan Catholics still stepping up to help

By Gabriella Patti Catholic News Service

CNS photo/courtesy St. Brigid Church

A sign outside St. Brigid Church in Midland, Mich., offers a little levity during this year's coronavirus pandemic and historic May 20, 2020, flood. (CNS photo/courtesy St. Brigid Church) See MIDLAND-FLOOD-DEVASTATION June 29, 2020.

MIDLAND, Mich. (CNS) -- Midland and the surrounding areas of Sanford and Edenville were already suffering from the effects of COVID-19 when another catastrophe struck May 19.

Although the mid-Michigan communities are no strangers to flooding, the historic breach of the Edenville and Sanford dams caused the worst flash flood in more than a century, forcing more than 10,000 people to evacuate their homes.

In response to the devastation, the area's Catholic parishes, which are part of the Diocese of Saginaw, say they've witnessed -- and been a part of -- a community recovery effort that has seen parishioners and citizens alike relying on one another for support, from food assistance to disaster cleanup to spiritual support.

"Individuals are helping individuals," said Father Daniel Fox, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, which includes St. Agnes Church in Sanford and St. Anne Church in Edenville.

Father Fox said many parishioners were hit hard by the flooding, and some were displaced from their homes, but other parishioners with means to help have risen to the occasion.

Some have volunteered their time daily to helping clean up downtown Sanford, even those who have been personally affected by the devastation, Father Fox said. Others have donated financial resources, helping the parish give away tens of thousands of dollars in relief aid.

"It isn't necessarily coming from wealthy people, but from people who are just struck by the devastation," Father Fox told the Detroit Catholic, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit, a neighboring diocese to Saginaw. "It is actually bringing some people together in solidarity because there is nothing like affliction that will gravitate people toward one another."

Our Lady of Grace also offered its parish grounds as a site to collect some of the refuse that littered the streets in the wake of the flooding. Until recently, the church property had several huge bins filled with debris.

"It has kind of compromised the beauty of the church, but it is a good compromise," Father Fox said.

The parish also set up a task force to reach out to every parish household to find out what they needed, Father Fox said. Although the task force wasn't able to reach everyone -- likely because of so many people being displaced, the task force connected with a few hundred, Father Fox said.

One parishioner, a licensed counselor, is even working to set up a grief support group for those who have experienced loss, Father Fox added.

A month after the initial flooding, relief efforts are ongoing, and the needs haven't disappeared. Many families have yet to see their homes restored or are still in need of food assistance. Some are still living out of hotels or other temporary housing without basic cooking utensils or stoves.

Local parishes have been coordinating with charities such as the United Way, Midland's Open Door and the Salvation Army to make sure families are fed. Even as far away as Detroit, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan stepped up to send a pallet of food including soup, cereal and evaporated milk to stock emergency food pantries.

Help also has poured in from parishes not directly impacted by the flooding. St. Gabriel Parish in Auburn, about a 20-minute drive from the devastation, has emptied its food pantry to help those suffering.

"Our food pantry is literally run by the parishioners; they supply it," said Kim Grant, office administrator at St. Gabriel. "They either contribute money or they contribute actual groceries. We were coming out of the pandemic with everything shut down, and we had an extraordinary number of people who were without jobs and needed food, and then the flood hit. "

The need for food has remained high, even as people have continued to generously donate.

All three of Midland's Catholic parishes -- Blessed Sacrament, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Brigid -- have gone out of their way to seek out those who need help, rather than waiting for people to ask.

"Our high schoolers were supposed to go on a mission trip this summer, but it was canceled because of COVID-19," said Kristyn Russell, coordinator of communication and technology at Blessed Sacrament. "Instead, they were hauling stuff out (of flooded homes). They were the ones who were cleaning out the homes and doing the mission work in their own back yard. They were able to be here, present to their own community."

Russell said local churches and organizations provided more than 6,000 lunches to flood victims in the first two weeks after the devastation. And starting in mid-July, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish will host a food truck open to anyone who needs it, said Cathy Converse, the parish's pastoral associate.

"No one wants to see the devastation of the flood, but it was astounding to see the community come together and lift up those who were affected by it," Russell said. "The church is here to help in whatever way we can. That is what the body of Christ is here for: to be Jesus' hands and feet."

Both St. Brigid and Blessed Sacrament have proudly watched as their youth groups have pivoted and volunteered their time cleaning up neighborhoods, providing help with landscaping, drywalling basements and other cleanup efforts.

While churches and parishioners continue to offer material help and physical labor, they also remain a safe haven for spiritual comfort, said Father Andrew Booms, St. Brigid's pastor. Within six days of the flooding, some of the restrictions on public Masses were lifted, and he offered the church as a place where people could pray and find refuge.

The impact of the flood will be felt in the community for years, and the work is not yet done. Still, Midland's Catholics continue to count their blessings, Father Booms said.

"People recognize that we sink or rise together," Father Booms said. "Spiritually, they're just hungry, and thankfully with the relaxing of the ban on public Masses, we have been able to, in creative ways, help return people to the Eucharist."

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Patti is a news reporter on the staff of the Detroit Catholic, the online news outlet of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Gomez: Truth of saint's ministry is his respect, loving care of indigenous

By Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Victor Aleman, courtesy Angelus News

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is seen May 1, 2020, from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Victor Aleman, courtesy Angelus News) See GOMEZ-SERRA-STATUE-CONTROVERSY June 29, 2020.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez has asked Catholics of the archdiocese to invoke the intercession of St. Junipero Serra "for this nation that he helped to found."

He also urged prayers especially for "an end to racial prejudice and a new awareness of what it means that all men and women are created equal as children of God."

"In this hour of trial in our nation, when once again we are confronting America's shameful legacy of racism, I invite you to join me in observing St. Junipero's feast day, July 1, as a day of prayer, fasting and charity," Archbishop Gomez said in an open letter to Catholics.

The letter appears as his June 29 column "Voices" in English and Spanish in Angelus, https://angelusnews.com, the online news platform of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

He addressed the recent controversies in California surrounding public monuments to St. Junipero Serra, "the Apostle of California." On June 19 a statue of the saint in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park was toppled and desecrated. Archbishop Gomez also said a Serra statue in the plaza outside the archdiocese's first church, Nuestra Senora Reina de los Angeles, in downtown Los Angeles also was torn down.

"Up and down the state, there is growing debate about removing Serra memorials from public lands," he wrote. "Ventura officials have announced that they will hold a public hearing July 7 to debate whether to take down his statue from in front of Ventura City Hall.

"Faced with the possibility of vandalism, we are taking increased security precautions at the historic missions located in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, we will probably have to relocate some statues to our beloved saint or risk their desecration," Archbishop Gomez wrote.

He said these developments sadden him. "I have been thinking and writing about Junipero Serra for many years now."

"I understand the deep pain being expressed by some native peoples in California. But I also believe Fray Junipero is a saint for our times, the spiritual founder of Los Angeles, a champion of human rights, and this country's first Hispanic saint," the archbishop said, noting that he was "privileged" to concelebrate the Spanish Franciscan's canonization Mass with Pope Francis in 2015 during the pontiff's pastoral visit to Washington.

"I rely on his intercession in my ministry, and I am inspired by his desire to bring God's tender mercy to every person," the archbishop added.

Known for spreading the Gospel in the New World during the 18th century, the Franciscan priest landed in Mexico, then made his way on foot up the coast of Mexico and to California, where he established a chain of missions that are now the names of well-known cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

He was the first president of the California mission system, and personally founded nine of the state's 21 missions. It is estimated that during his ministry, St. Junipero Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.

In 2015, some people objected to the canonization of the Spaniard, like critics did of his beatification in 1988, because of questions raised about how Father Serra allegedly treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the Americas.

"The exploitation of America's first peoples, the destruction of their ancient civilizations, is a historic tragedy," Archbishop Gomez wrote. "Crimes committed against their ancestors continue to shape the lives and futures of native peoples today. Generations have passed and our country still has not done enough to make things right."

In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, "we have worked hard to atone for past errors and wrongs and to find the path forward together," he said. "We honor the contributions that native peoples made to building the church in Southern California and we cherish their gifts in the mission of the church today."

Archbishop Gomez said over the years he has "come to understand how the image of Father Serra and the missions evokes painful memories for some people," and for that reason, he said, he feels the protests in California and around the country over historical monuments are important.

"Historical memory is the soul of every nation. What we remember about our past and how we remember it defines our national identity -- the kind of people we want to be, the values and principles we want to live by," he said.

"But history is complicated. The facts matter, distinctions need to made and the truth counts," he explained. "We cannot learn history's lessons or heal old wounds unless we understand what really happened, how it happened and why."

Archbishop Gomez said U.S. society might reach a consensus on not honoring Sr. Junipero Serra or other figures from the past, but "elected officials cannot abdicate their responsibilities by turning these decisions over to small groups of protesters, allowing them to vandalize public monuments."

"This is not how a great democracy should function," he said.

"Allowing the free expression of public opinion is important," Archbishop Gomez added. "So is upholding the rule of law and ensuring that decisions we reach as a society are based on genuine dialogue and the search for truth and the common good."

He praised the city of Ventura for planning a public hearing and how it is approaching the debate by involving civil authorities and indigenous leaders, and representatives of the Catholic Church and the community at large. This could be "a model for thoughtful and respectful discourse," he said.

Those who are attacking St. Junipero Serra's good name and vandalizing memorials to him "do not know his true character or the actual historical record," Archbishop Gomez said, aadding that decades ago activists started "'revising' history to make Junipero the focus of all the abuses committed against California's indigenous peoples."

"But the crimes and abuses that our saint is blamed for -- slanders that are spread widely today over the internet and sometimes repeated by public figures -- actually happened long after his death," he said, noting that a genocidal war waged against the Native Americans took place in 1851, and the saint died in 1784.

"The real St. Junipero fought a colonial system where natives were regarded as 'barbarians' and 'savages' whose only value was to serve the appetites of the white man," Archbishop Gomez said, yet in online petitions today the saint "is compared to Adolph Hitler, his missions compared to concentration camps." No serious historian would accept this, he added.

The saint lived and worked alongside native peoples, defended their humanity and protested crimes against them; he celebrated their creativity and knowledge; and he learned their languages and their ancient customs and ways, the archbishop said.

"I like to think that his deep reverence for creation was influenced by his conversations and observations among this land's first peoples," Archbishop Gomez said, He also said the saint "did not impose Christianity, he proposed it."

"Pope Francis called Junipero "one of the founding fathers of the United States. He recognized that the saint's witness anticipated the great spirit of human equality and liberty under God that has come to define the American project."

San Francisco archbishop leads prayer, blesses site of toppled Serra statue

By Catholic News Service

CNS composite photo/images by David Zandman via Reuters; Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

A statue of St. Junipero Serra statue that was toppled June 19, 2020, in Golden Gate Park and San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone are seen in this composite photo. (CNS composite photo/images by David Zandman via Reuters; Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review) See CORDILEONE-SERRA-PRAYERS June 29, 2020. Editor's note: For editorial use only.

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Several dozen people joined San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone as he led the rosary June 27 and recited the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel for protection from evil at the site of the now-toppled statue of St. Junipero Serra in the city's Golden Gate Park.

The archbishop prayed for forgiveness and healing about a week after the statue of the saint and statues of others, including Ulysses S. Grant, were defaced and thrown off their pedestals, as part of a protest against racial inequality.

Archbishop Cordileone describe the Serra statue as "blasphemously torn down."

"An act of sacrilege occurred here. That is an act of the evil one. Evil has made itself present here," he said in a YouTube video. "So we have gathered together to pray to God and to ask the saints for their intercession, above all our Blessed Mother, in an act of reparation, asking God's mercy upon us, upon our whole city, that we might turn our hearts back to him."

He led the group in praying the rosary, "as Our Lady asks us," the archbishop said. "Our Lady is always asking us to pray the rosary, asking her intercession. The rosary has the power to change history. History has shown that it can change the course of history."

After the rosary, he offered "the prayer of exorcism, the St. Michael Prayer, because evil is present here," he said.

The prayer says in part: "Blessed Michael, archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil -- may God restrain him, we humbly pray: and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust Satan down to hell and with him those other wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen."

"This is the activity of the evil one, who wants to bring down the church, who wants to bring down all Christian believers, so we offer that prayer and bless this ground with holy water so that God might purify it, sanctify it and that we in turn might be sanctified," Archbishop Cordileone said.

In the YouTube video, Archbishop Cordileone said that since he learned the statue of St. Junipero Serra had been desecrated during a protest against racial injustice that led some participants to vandalize statues in Golden Gate Park, he had been "feeling great distress."

He said he feels "a deep wound in my soul when I see these horrendous acts of blasphemy and disparaging of the memory of Serra, who was such a great hero, such a great defender of the indigenous people of this land."

He said the saint "was very much a part of my own life growing up. I grew up very close to the first mission that he founded near San Diego."

The presence of so many people gathered to pray the rosary with him "was a great comfort and a support to me. I'm very grateful to them," Archbishop Cordileone said.

St. Junipero Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis Sept. 23, 2015, during his pastoral visit to Washington, is known for spreading the Gospel in the New World during the 18th century.

The Franciscan priest landed in Mexico, then made his way on foot up the coast of Mexico and to California, where he established a chain of missions that are now the names of well-known cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

He was the first president of the California mission system, and personally founded nine of the state's 21 missions. It is estimated that during his ministry, St. Junipero Serra baptized about 6,000 native people.

In 2015, some people objected to the canonization of the Spaniard, like critics did of his beatification in 1988, because of questions about how Father Serra treated the native peoples of California and about the impact of Spanish colonization on native peoples throughout the Americas.

In his statement issued after the Serra statue was brought down, Archbishop Cordileone said June 20: "The memorialization of historic figures merits an honest and fair discussion as to how and to whom such honor should be given. But here, there was no such rational discussion; it was mob rule, a troubling phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself throughout the country."

In His comments on the YouTube video, he said that "the first and most important thing for Catholics is to pray, so I encourage them to pray to pray the rosary." He also asks Catholics "to inform themselves."

"There's a lot of ignorance of the real history, so I would ask our people to learn about the history of Father Serra, of the missions, of the whole history of the church so they can appreciate the great legacy the church has given us, given the world so much truth, beauty and goodness. It's a wonderful legacy we should be proud of," Archbishop Cordileone said.

"There are those who want to make us feel ashamed of it. We have every reason to be proud of it," he said. "But also we have to approach leading our Christian life with humility and giving, to continue to give goodness to the world and to give the world beauty and truth with the help of the grace of God."

Update: Catholic leaders denounce rejection of federal death penalty appeal

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

CNS photo/David Maung

People hold signs during a candlelight prayer vigil Dec. 8, 2019, held to oppose the Trump administration's plan to reinstate the federal death penalty. (CNS photo/David Maung) See SCOTUS-FEDERAL-DEATH-PENALTY June 29, 2020.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the Supreme Court announced June 29 that it would not hear an appeal by federal death-row inmates challenging the method to be used in their upcoming executions, a longtime advocate against capital punishment said the court "abdicated its legal and moral responsibilities."

"This means that the federal government will likely execute four people" starting in July "using an untested lethal injection protocol during a global pandemic without any real oversight from the Supreme Court," tweeted Sister Helen Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille.

The unsigned three-sentence order from the court said Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have heard the inmates' appeal.

The inmates had appealed a lower court order allowing the federal government to proceed with executions using a single-drug protocol. The federal executions, which have not taken place since 2003, are set to resume in mid-July.

When Attorney General William Barr announced last year that the federal government was reinstating the federal death penalty, he said the executions would use a single drug instead of a three-drug protocol carried out in most recent federal executions and by several states. This execution method was challenged by some of the federal death-row inmates. Last November, a federal judge said this protocol injection went against the Federal Death Penalty Act.

In April, a federal appeals court lifted a lower court ruling that had prevented the execution of federal death-row inmates.

Three of the executions are scheduled to take place in July and one is scheduled for August. The inmates -- Danny Lee, Wesley Ira Purkey, Dustin Lee Honken and Keith Dwayne Nelson -- have been convicted of murder.

The day after the court announced it was not taking up the inmates' appeal, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the Trump administration to "reverse course" on resuming these executions.

"I implore Attorney General Barr and President Trump to abandon this path to preside over the first federal executions in 17 years," he wrote, adding that the bishops, echoing Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, have been calling for an end to the death penalty for decades.

Quoting a statement he issued with two other bishops last year, Archbishop Coakley said: "To oppose the death penalty is not to be 'soft on crime.' Rather, it is to be strong on the dignity of life."

The Catholic Mobilizing Network, a group that works for an end to the death penalty, tweeted: "The Catholic Church teaches that the death penalty is 'inadmissible' in all cases because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,'" quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The group also urged those in opposition to the resumption of federal executions to sign a joint statement to Barr and President Trump, https://bit.ly/3eJn0P1, that had more than 2,700 signatures as of June 29.

Sister Prejean also tweeted that the Department of Justice has said it is "pursuing justice for victims' families by pushing to execute Danny Lee. That could not be further from the truth. The victims' family is begging the government to NOT execute Danny Lee. The DOJ's statements are not truthful."

On June 24, the mother and grandmother of two of the three victims Lee was convicted of murdering, in 1999, wrote to Trump asking him not to execute Lee, saying it would only bring her family more pain.

"We feel Mr. Lee's execution would dishonor the memory of my daughter Nancy Ann and my granddaughter Sarah Elizabeth," she wrote.

Ruth Friedman, an attorney for Lee, who is the first of the federal prisoners scheduled to be executed, said in a June 29 statement that despite problems with the death penalty and "even as people across the country are demanding that leaders rethink crime, punishment and justice, the government is barreling ahead with its plans to carry out the first federal executions in 17 years."

"Given the unfairness built into the federal death-penalty system and the many unanswered questions about both the cases of the men scheduled to die and the government's new execution protocol, there must be appropriate court review before the government can proceed with any execution," she added.

When Barr announced the end to the moratorium on executing federal inmates, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke out against it as did Indiana's Catholic bishops since most of the federal death-row inmates are imprisoned at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, which is where most of the federal executions are scheduled to take place.

In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Deacon Steve Gretencord, who ministers to inmates on death row at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, told The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper, he was “surprised a little bit” by the Supreme Court's denial of the cert petition. “I thought the courts would be rethinking the value -- or lack of value -- of executions in the criminal justice system. So I'm surprised in a very sad way.”

In a June 18 statement on the upcoming executions, Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson said: "The taking of life, no matter how 'sanitary' or 'humane,' is always an act of violence."

"While the church is certainly concerned with the soul of every person, including those on death row, I make this plea against the death penalty out of ultimate concern for the eternal soul of humanity," he said.

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Natalie Hoefer in Indianapolis contributed to this story.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim


Update: Court's abortion ruling continues 'cruel precedent,' says bishop

By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters

Pro-life activists gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 29, 2020. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters) See SCOTUS-ABORTION June 29, 2020.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a 5-4 decision June 29, the Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law requiring that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals could not stand.

The opinion in June Medical Services v. Russo, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, said the case was "similar to, nearly identical with" a law in Texas that the court four years ago found to be a burden to women seeking abortion. Breyer was joined in the opinion by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Breyer said the Louisiana law was unconstitutional because it posed a "substantial obstacle" for women seeking abortions while providing "no significant health-related benefits."

The Texas case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, struck down the law with a different bench without Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The court said the requirements imposed on abortion providers -- to have hospital admitting privileges -- put "a substantial burden" on women who were seeking abortions and the law wasn't necessary to protect women's health.

"The court's failure to recognize the legitimacy of laws prioritizing women's health and safety over abortion business interests continues a cruel precedent," said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities.

"Even as we seek to end the brutality of legalized abortion, we still believe that the women who seek it should not be further harmed and abused by a callous, profit-driven industry," he added.

In the Louisiana case, Chief Justice John Roberts filed an opinion concurring in the judgment of the four justices voting to strike down this law even though four years ago, he joined the dissenting opinion in the Texas decision. Last year, he sided with the justices who agreed to stop the Louisiana law from going into effect while its challengers pursued their appeal.

"The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons," Roberts said, adding: "Therefore, Louisiana's law cannot stand under our precedents."

He said the legal doctrine known as "stare decisis" -- which obligates courts to follow the precedent of similar cases -- "requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike."

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court's decision "perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction."

He also said the court should revisit its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. "Roe is grievously wrong for many reasons," he wrote, emphasizing that its "core holding -- that the Constitution protects a woman's right to abort her unborn child -- finds no support in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Louisiana state Sen. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat, who was the author of the 2014 Unsafe Abortion Protection Act at the center of this case, said the court's action was a "tragic decision that continues its practice of putting the interests of for-profit abortion businesses ahead of the health and safety of women."

Supporters of the Louisiana law said it was a necessary regulation to guarantee women's health and safety while its critics argued that the law placed unnecessary burdens on abortion providers and made it more difficult for women to get abortions.

More than 70 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed on both sides of this case with health care professionals, researchers, lawmakers, states, and religious and advocacy groups alike weighing in. Catholics groups that filed briefs in support of the state law included: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Thomas More Society and the National Association of Catholic Nurses along with the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Members of Congress filed two briefs on opposing sides.

In his June 29 statement, Archbishop Naumann said: "As we grieve this decision and the pregnant women who will be harmed by it, we continue to pray and fight for justice for mothers and children." He also stressed that the court should correct the "grave injustice" of its major abortion decisions and recognize the "right to life for unborn human beings."

The archbishop also urged "people of faith to pray for women seeking abortion, often under enormous pressure, that they will find alternatives that truly value them and the lives of their children."

O. Carter Snead, law professor at the University of Notre Dame and director of the university's Center for Ethics and Culture, said the court "has once again overstepped its constitutionally defined role and robbed the people of this country the authority to govern themselves -- even at the margins -- on this vital and deeply divisive matter."

"The court has undermined the rule of law, done further violence to the Constitution, and has thus badly damaged its own legitimacy," he said, adding: "This is a sad day for the court and the nation."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter:@carolmaczim

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