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Vetoed bill on reproductive health called 'massive overreach by NARAL'

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNS) -- Religious freedom advocates and pro-life leaders praised California Gov. Jerry Brown for vetoing a bill called the Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act that targeted religious employers and their faith-based codes of conduct for employees.

Assembly Bill 569 would have made it illegal for a California employer to discipline or fire employees for "their reproductive health decisions, including, but not limited to, the timing thereof, or the use of any drug, device or medical service."

Alliance Defending Freedom said the bill would have prohibited churches, religious colleges, religious nonprofit organizations and pro-life pregnancy care centers "from having faith-based codes of conduct with regard to abortion and sexual behavior."

The government "should not and cannot tell" employers that they cannot live out their beliefs within their own organizations, said Elissa Graves, legal counsel for the alliance, which is a nonprofit legal group that advocates for religious freedom and sanctity of life and on marriage and family issues.

"Gov. Brown was right to veto this immensely unconstitutional bill, which would have been an unprecedented overreach on the part of the state of California," she added in a statement about the governor's late-night action Oct. 15.

"The First Amendment doesn't allow the state to order churches and other faith-based groups to violate their most deeply held convictions," Graves said. "They have the freedom to live according to their faith and to require those who work for them to do the same."

The California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state's Catholic bishops, called the measure "a massive overreach by NARAL" and an attack on religious liberty. NARAL Pro-Choice America advocates for legal abortion and for expanding access to it.

After A.B. 569 was passed by the California Legislature as its 2017 session ended Sept. 18, the Catholic conference urged Catholics to send a message to Brown calling for him to veto it.

It said the bill "deliberately" targeted religious employers "in a false effort to stop widespread 'reproductive discrimination' but supporters cannot cite a single case in California where such discrimination has actually occurred."

"There are no substantiated claims of discrimination in the secular workforce against women who are pregnant or exercise 'reproductive choices' because such actions have been illegal for decades under the Fair Employment and Housing Act," the conference said.

It noted the bill's supporters could only point to one case in the state in the last decade "implicating a religious employer" and "that matter was settled out of court."

"In a reach unknown in any other legal system, supporters (of A.B. 569) have expanded those who can allege discrimination in court to include anyone in the employee's family and holds supervisors personally and legally responsible for enforcing the policy of employers," the conference said.

"With no restraint in sight," the conference said, the bill did not allow employers to enforce codes of conduct, "even those negotiated with employees as part of union contracts."

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Pope's pro-life challenge: Respect all life, oppose death penalty

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Jenevieve Robbins, Texas Department of Criminal Justice handout via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis' recent statement that the death penalty is incompatible with the Gospel focused less on a government's role in protecting its people and more on the need to defend the sacredness and dignity of every human life.

At least from the time of Blessed Paul VI in the 1960s, the Catholic Church has been increasingly critical of the use of capital punishment, even while acknowledging centuries of church teaching that a state has a right to punish offenders, including with the death penalty.

St. John Paul II, in his 1995 encyclical letter, "The Gospel of Life," wrote of his alarm at "the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples," but said one sign of hope was the increasing opposition around the world to capital punishment.

"There is evidence of a growing public opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of 'legitimate defense' on the part of society. Modern society, in fact, has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform," he wrote.

Two years later, Pope John Paul had the Catechism of the Catholic Church revised to strengthen its anti-death penalty posture. The text now says that, "given the means at the state's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today ... are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'"

Opponents of the death penalty cheered St. John Paul's move, and theologians recognized it as a "development" of church teaching.

Death penalty opponents also welcomed Pope Francis' even stronger position against capital punishment, but his words set off a debate between those who saw his position as a further development of church teaching and those who saw it as a "change" that contradicted both the Bible and the traditional position of the Catholic Church.

Edward Feser, a professor of philosophy at California's Pasadena City College and author of "By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment," told Catholic News Service that St. John Paul's teaching was "a nonbinding prudential judgment," which was in line with centuries of church teaching recognizing the right of states to impose the death penalty.

And, writing in Britain's Catholic Herald Oct. 15, Feser said that if Pope Francis "is saying that capital punishment is always and intrinsically immoral, then he would be effectively saying -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- that previous popes, fathers and doctors of the church, and even divinely inspired Scripture are in error."

But Jesuit Father Jan Dacok, a professor of moral theology and theologian at the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, said the church always insisted there were limits to the conditions under which a state could legitimately impose the death penalty. St. John Paul, he said, emphasized those limits to the point of saying that now that it is easier to keep a murderer in jail for life, the necessary conditions for legitimacy are "practically nonexistent."

Pope Francis took a further step forward, Father Dacok said. The pope "did not change church teaching, but places it on a higher level and points out the path toward its perfection."

"What is accomplished with the death penalty?" the Slovakian Jesuit asked. "Do you obtain the true repentance of criminals? Do you offer them the possibility of correcting their ways, of asking for forgiveness?"

"No," he said. "With the execution, the death, you irreversibly cancel the entire dynamic of hope" for repentance, conversion and at least some attempt at reparation.

"Obviously, Pope Francis cannot change the laws of individual countries, because that's the competence of legislators," Father Dacok said. "But he can continually encourage respect for the sacredness of every human life, because the death penalty truly is not necessary."

Because security and justice can be served without capital punishment, he said, the urgent matter today is to demonstrate respect for the sacredness of every human life, "even the life of public criminals responsible for the death of others."

Father Robert A. Gahl Jr., a priest of Opus Dei and a professor of ethics at Rome's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, said Pope Francis "continues the recent development of doctrine regarding the centrality of mercy for the Christian faith and the urgency to promote a culture of life in today's throwaway culture," where abortion and euthanasia are widely accepted.

"Pope Francis wants the church to offer a radical example of the defense of all human life," Father Gahl said. And "without condemning all past practices, he vigorously demands the elimination of the death penalty."

The priest noted the church's historic concern for the impact of the death penalty not just on the criminal, but also on judges and executioners.

In fact, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which was in effect until 1983, listed as those generally barred from priestly ordination "a judge who passed a sentence of death" and "those who take up the task of (execution) and their immediate and voluntary assistants in the execution of a capital sentence."

On the question of whether Pope Francis' statement marks a "development" or a "change," Father Gahl said the pope probably intended to "shake up theologians and to force us to reconsider traditional formulations of permanent teaching in light of this new and authoritative development of mercy and human dignity."

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Pope Francis was exercising his right and obligation to teach on faith and morals.

"Obviously, the church does not intervene on the level of civil legislation," the archbishop told CNS, "but today the pope authoritatively affirms that from a deeper understanding of the Gospel emerges the contradiction between the death penalty and the gospel of life."

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope: Common witness of faith can strengthen Catholics, Methodists

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholics and Methodists can strengthen each other through a shared witness of faith, especially through acts of love toward the poor and the marginalized, Pope Francis said.

The mutual call to holiness shared by both communities "is necessarily a call to communion with others, too," the pope said Oct. 19.

"When, as Catholics and Methodists, we join in assisting and comforting the weak and the marginalized -- those who in the midst of our societies feel distant, foreign and alienated -- we are responding to the Lord's summons," he said.

The pope met at the Vatican with members of the World Methodist Council who were in Rome to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Joint International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue Commission.

Welcoming the delegation members, the pope said that in the Bible, the 50th year is a significant moment for the people of Israel in which liberty is proclaimed throughout the land.

"We are grateful to God because we can say that, in a certain sense, we too have been freed from the slavery of estrangement and mutual suspicion," he said.

Citing the Second Vatican Council, the pope said that since then, both communities have striven to continue along the path of knowledge and mutual esteem through dialogue that is carried out "in a spirit of honesty and integrity" with "love for the truth, with charity and with humility."

"We are brothers and sisters who, following a long separation, are happy once more to see and learn about one another, and to move forward with open hearts," he said.

The pope also recalled the life and example of John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, who dedicated his life to helping others "live a holy life."

By recognizing those who dedicate themselves to reading the Bible and to prayer, he said, Catholics "cannot fail to rejoice" when the work of the Holy Spirit is recognized "in other Christian confessions."

Like the disciples awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Catholics and Methodists must "remain together" in prayer and hope so that the Spirit of God may "bring about the miracle of reconciled unity."

"We have learned to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ," Pope Francis said. "Now is the time to prepare ourselves, with humble hope and concrete efforts, for that full recognition that will come about, by God's grace, when at last we will be able to join one another in the breaking of the bread."

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Pope: If world insists on success, then make life more just, humane

IMAGE: CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Do not fall for the allure of money, which can enslave and alienate like a cult, Pope Francis told business school students.

"And it is also important that you be able to learn today the strength and courage to not blindly obey the invisible hand of the market," he said.

The pope spoke Oct. 19 at the Vatican to a group of students from a private Catholic school, "Institution des Chartreux," in Lyon, France. They are preparing for higher education in business and finance.

The pope said he was pleased they were receiving an education that touched on the "human, philosophical and spiritual" dimensions of life and said these aspects would be essential for their future professional life.

"Learn to remain free from the allure of money, from the slavery" that befalls those who "turn it into a cult," he said.

He called on them to promote and defend more fairness and to manage the world's resources adequately and justly.

"You are able to decide your future," he said, urging them to feel and become more responsible for the world and human life.

"Never forget that every injustice against a poor person is an open wound and diminishes your very dignity," he said.

"Even if this world expects that you strive for success, give yourselves the means and the time to follow paths of fraternity, to build bridges between people rather than walls" and to take part in the building of a more just and human world, he said.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.