Supreme Court rules in favor of church in crucial First Amendment case

June 26, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Jun 26, 2017 / 11:32 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In one of the biggest religious cases of the term, the US Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a church-owned playground can be eligible for a public benefit program.

Chief Justice John Roberts, delivering the opinion of the Court, wrote June 26 that “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran,” the church at the center of the case, “from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

The decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer was about “religious people being treated just like everybody else,” stated Mike Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom.

At issue was a playground owned by Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., and operated by the church’s preschool. To resurface the playground for safety reasons, the church had applied for a state reimbursement program that provides rubber surfacing material made from used tires. Trinity Lutheran had ranked the fifth most qualified out of 44 applicants for the program.

The state’s natural resources department ultimately ruled the church ineligible for the program because of its religious status. The Missouri state constitution forbids taxpayer funding of churches. The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the state.

The Supreme Court reversed that ruling and sent it back to the lower courts.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan joined Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion of the Court that the denial of the church’s eligibility for the program violated the free exercise clause. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in Chief Justice Roberts’ judgement.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined the Court’s opinion except for a footnote stating that the decision was about “discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing,” and does not “address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

“I worry that some might mistakenly read” the footnote to apply only to “‘playground resurfacing’ cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy,” Gorsuch wrote.

He added that “the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else.”

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented from the Court’s opinion.

The Church had argued that the new surface would be a safety upgrade for the playground operated by its preschool and used by members of the community during non-school hours.

It was used by both church members and non-members, they insisted, and should not be ruled ineligible for a state benefit program available to other entities just because it is owned by a religious institution.

Opposing the church was the ACLU, which had argued that to make the church eligible for state benefits would be an unconstitutional violation of the establishment clause.

Missouri’s denial of the church, however, “goes too far” under precedents of Supreme Court decisions, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, and “violates the Free Exercise Clause.”

The Missouri law was passed during a time when many other states were passing laws barring public funding of sectarian schools, widely viewed at the time to mean Catholic schools and other religious schools that were not part of the public school system. The laws were modeled after the federal Blaine Amendment, proposed in the 1870s and named after Maine Congressman James Blaine. His amendment was proposed, but never passed by Congress.

In oral arguments in the case, justices also discussed the broader constitutionality of religious groups having access to other public benefits, including a Jewish synagogue requesting a security detail.

Catholic leaders applauded Monday’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court is signaling in this decision that the government must stop its growing hostility towards religion and religious institutions, and that antiquated and anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments should not be used as a weapon to discriminate against people of faith,” Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association, stated.

“For over a century, Blaine Amendments have enshrined into law discrimination against faith-based charities and schools that form an essential part of American society,” Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association, stated. “In this case, a state Blaine Amendment was used to justify blacklisting a Christian elementary school from a playground safety program solely on religious grounds.”

“Blaine Amendments are anti-Catholic in their origin, and getting rid of them is more than a century overdue,” she added. “Today’s decision demands a more fair and inclusive approach to government programs meant to serve all people.”

The decision “will have an effect” in the future, David Cortman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued the case for the church before the Court in April, said. “Whenever religious people, organizations, see themselves being discriminated against, this case will be the controlling precedent,” he added.

Members of Congress also weighed in on the decision. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) called it “an important ruling for religious liberty with profound significance for America’s civil society.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and who filed an amicus brief with colleagues on behalf of Trinity Lutheran in the case, stated that “today’s decision affirms the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion—to have more than just a belief but to live out your faith without discrimination from the government.”

The case was ultimately between the church and the state’s natural resources department. Missouri’s attorney general recused himself in the case.

Missouri’s governor Eric Greitens (R) had already announced that in the future, religious institutions could be eligible for benefit programs of the natural resources department. However, the Court stated on Monday that “that announcement does not moot this case.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, stated that “this case is about nothing less” than the relationship “between church and state.”

“The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church,” she added. “Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that “it is true the Department has not criminalized the way Trinity Lutheran worships or told the Church that it cannot subscribe to a certain view of the Gospel.”

“But, as the Department itself acknowledges, the Free Exercise Clause protects against ‘indirect coercion or penalties on the free exercise of religion, not just outright prohibitions.’” And a church being denied participation in public benefits because of its religious character can be such an “indirect coercion” on the free exercise of religion, he continued.

“In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”

[…]

To understand Pope Francis, you have to understand the Jesuits

June 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 10

Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Discernment is one of the words Pope Francis repeats most, especially when speaking to priests and seminarians.

He often expresses his desire for greater formation in discernment – a concept that may seem obscure without an understanding its importance to the Pope’s Jesuit formation.

“When a Jesuit says ‘discernment,’ they’re employing a term that has a very rich spiritual tradition within the Society of Jesus, so you can presume a lot in that,” Fr. Brian Reedy, SJ, told CNA in an interview.

Fr. Reedy is a US Navy Reserve chaplain and is pursuing a doctorate in philosophical theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He holds a licentiate in theology from Boston College.

He explained that discernment is something St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, emphasized profoundly in his Spiritual Exercises, which form the “backbone” of Jesuit spirituality.

In fact, St. Ignatius twice in the spiritual exercises has an extended discourse on how to carry out discernment properly: what it means, what its limitations are, and the rules that govern it.

“One of the things that’s very interesting about discernment is that while it does have a very polyvalent meaning, you can usually presume that when a Jesuit uses the term, when they launch it, it has these rules at least playing the background in their mind,” Reedy said.

So when it comes to Jesuits and discernment, what are the governing rules, and how can we use them to understand Pope Francis?

Rules of Ignatian discernment

One of the first things to keep in mind when it comes to discernment is St. Ignatius’ distinction between  categories of people, Fr. Reedy said, explaining there are different rules for people take the faith seriously, and those who do not.

“If you are somebody who is living a life where God is not really on the scene and the teachings of the Church aren’t really important you have one set of rules. But the reverse situation for somebody who does take their faith life very seriously and God is at least sought after … then we have a completely different set of rules,” he said.

Another distinction, he said, is between proper and improper objects of discernment, meaning that “some things you can discern and other things you can’t.”

When it comes to the current discussion on marriage, Fr. Reedy noted that in his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius himself speaks specifically about discerning marriage after you have contracted marriage “as an example of one of the things you can’t legitimately discern.”

This, he said, is because “after you are married, you can no longer legitimately discern being married or not, because you’ve made the decision; it’s not a proper object.”

What can be discerned, by a tribunal, is whether or not the marriage is valid.

“That’s a different question than discerning whether you want to be in a marriage still,” Fr. Reedy said. “For Ignatius that question doesn’t make any sense; in fact, it’s offensive to the process that you would discern changing a state of life that you have already committed yourself to.”

The same thing goes for priesthood and the religious life, he said, explaining that St. Ignatius uses that example because “once you’ve made that commitment, what you discern is how to live the commitment.”

“That’s what you would actually be discerning, because discernment is, fundamentally in Jesuit spirituality, the application of doctrine and teaching to the practical applications in somebody’s life. So it’s making practical that which is theoretical.”

There are then certain “guiding rules” that help in the carrying out of proper discernment.

One of St. Ignatius’ rules Fr. Reedy cited is that sin can never be discerned, using the example of committing murder.

“You can’t discern to murder,” he said. “In fact, it’s offensive to the process that you are pretending to discern choosing an absolute evil.”

What can be legitimately discerned is whether or not to kill, because “if you and your family were under immediate threat from somebody, then the father could in the moment discern whether it was possible for him to take lethal action. That’s permitted.”

In terms of Catholic moral theology, Fr. Reedy said it exists between the camp of what is “permitted” and what is “transformative,” and that beyond the permitted sign lies what is “forbidden.”

Things that are forbidden cannot be discerned, and “you only ask to be free from them,” he said. From there, the spectrum goes from what is simply permissible on one side, all the way to what is deeply transformative and engages the world like Christ on the other.

“In that realm, between what is permitted to what is transformative, there’s a lot of discernment of legitimate possibilities of things that are not against reason or against God or the Church,” he said, adding that one can never really discern between good and evil, but “only between relative goods.”

One key rule of discernment that is often forgotten is the guiding principle of “thinking with the Church,” Fr. Reedy said. This means that “whatever you discern, you’re not only thinking about the moral law and how that functions, but also specifically thinking with the Church.”

Francis is a man ‘steeped’ in Jesuit tradition

Pope Francis “is completely steeped in Jesuit tradition and is a man completely of the exercises,” Fr. Reedy said, explaining that one of the first things he tells people when he speaks about the Pope is that “you can hear the spiritual exercises active in what he says.”

In listening to Pope Francis “you can hear a Jesuit who has contemplated the life of Jesus,” the priest said, noting that Francis’ pedagogical or didactic style “is very much patterned on Jesus’, who often gave very oblique and obscure answers to questions.”

Christ did this, he said, “to specifically avoid a kind of legalism that just wants a solid answer that can then be manipulated in some way,” whereas true discernment means “you’re not interested in rules for the sake of rules, (or) tools that can be manipulated or used as weapons; what you’re interested in is finding the best, the truest, the most holy, the most transformative.”

In essence, “you’re always looking for what is the spirit of the law: why does the law exist, what it is, what is it trying to do?”

What can be done is to “have people trained in what the rules are, why they exist, and how to help these people engage that system in a way that can contribute toward their holiness, to their growth in conforming to Christ.”

Fr. Reedy said that for him, one problem he sees in the Church right now is that some people, in their interpretation of the Pope’s actions, are “trying to put on the table, calling under the umbrella of discernment, the actual consideration of sins, of evils.”

“I’ve never gotten the sense that that is what Francis is saying,” he reflected, explaining that in his view, given Francis’ background, what he is is trying to do is to “train people in this: in the proper camp of moral reasoning, which extends from permitted all the way to transformative, how to help people function there in a way that can be messy, but also prevent them from crossing the line into what is forbidden.”

But what about Francis’ ambiguity? Is that a Jesuit thing?

Part of the confusion surrounding Pope Francis’ sayings and writings is that his language can frequently be ambiguous and imprecise, leaving people scratching their heads trying to figure out what he actually meant.

But for Fr. Reedy, this isn’t a Jesuit quality so much as it is a personal limitation of the Vicar of Christ.

“Francis is a complicated character. He’s not a precise theologian, so I think some of the ambiguity and imprecision just comes from his own training and background, which the Church just has to be patient with,” he said.

Secondly, the priest said that if we reflect on scripture, we see that the Pope uses a style that is very similar to what Christ himself often used, especially when he senses a “Pharisaical attitude.”

“When he senses that somebody’s asking a question in order to pin something down in a way he fears is going to hurt somebody else” Francis gets obscure, he said, explaining that the Pope is “very sensitive” to having doctrine “turned into a weapon of sorts.”

And so was Christ, he said, noting that “Jesus had very harsh words for those people.” Even though the Pharisees were technically faithful, upstanding Jews, “they also had a problem in the way that the viewed law; they saw the law first and the needs of the people second, and Jesus challenged that and so is Pope Francis.”

“I think people should stop pretending that Jesus was crystal-clear when he said things all the time,” Fr. Reedy said, noted that Christ “specifically said at times that he was intentionally being confusing. He would say that he was using parables so those other people over there wouldn’t understand – he would say that.”

However, even though Christ could at times speak cryptically, he was clear when pressed on important topics, such as the Eucharist and the meaning behind his words “this is my body,” and that to enter eternal life his disciples must “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”

So when it comes to Pope Francis, Fr. Reedy said people have to take into account “the Jesus-like way he teaches,” which he said is often at play in the Pope’s speeches.

But there is also an element of manipulation when it comes to the Pope’s ambiguity which must be addressed.

“I think (the Pope’s) ambiguity is being manipulated,” Fr. Reedy said, explaining that in these cases, “I think we need to continue to push for greater clarity.”

This doesn’t mean we’ll get the clarity immediately, he said, but when it comes to particularly problematic issues “we need clarity. We need a line to be drawn saying we’re not talking about Catholic divorce.”

This isn’t referring to somebody “who was in a valid marriage just rupturing that marriage, pretending it’s dissolvable against the explicit words of Jesus, and just starting a new one and saying that’s okay.”

“We’re not talking about that … I don’t think we are, I don’t think the Pope is,” he said, because if we look to the rules of discernment of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “I don’t think we can legitimately discern that.”

“So I’m confident that that’s not what the Pope is saying and I think that we should continue to ask for clarity, but not rush to clarity so that we can feel good about ourselves.”

What is needed, he said, is “to defend the truth so that we can become good.”

[…]

The tale of Fr. Brochero: Gaucho priest, devil’s worst nightmare

June 25, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Vatican City, Jun 25, 2017 / 02:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- If Jose Brochero doesn’t sound like a Gaucho name, nothing does.

Last year, Pope Francis canonized Saint Brochero, a fellow countryman from Argentina also known as the “Gaucho priest.”

He was beatified in Sept. 2013 by Pope Francis, who said Fr. Brochero was a priest who truly “smelled of his sheep.” He was canonized Oct. 16, 2016.

Saint Brochero was born Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero in Argentina in 1840, the fourth of ten children to Ignacio Brochero and Petrona Davila.

St. Brochero entered seminary at the age of 16, and was ordained a priest at the age of 26 for the Archdiocese of Cordoba.

As a priest, after teaching philosophy at a seminary for a few years, Fr. Brochero was assigned to the large diocese of St. Albert – 1,675 square miles with 10,000 far-flung parishioners in the rural, Great Highlands region of Argentina.

Not deterred by altitude, distance or bad weather, Fr. Brochero was known for riding throughout the countryside of his parish on the back of a mule to bring his people the sacraments, always wearing a poncho and sombrero in the style of a gaucho, or Argentinian cowboy.

On muleback, he carried an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mass kit and a prayer book on his travels so that he was always prepared to offer the sacraments. He established a House of Exercises where his people could participate in spiritual exercises, and helped found a school for girls.

He is also credited with building post and telegraph stations, for building nearly 125 miles of roads, and for helping plan the railroad in the area.

“Woe if the devil is going to rob a soul from me,” he is held to have said, capturing his determined spirit to be close to his people no matter what.

Fr. Brochero was known for being particularly close to the poor and the sick, and helped care for those who contracted cholera during the epidemic in 1867. Eventually, he contracted leprosy from a leper in his parish, causing him to eventually become blind and deaf and to relinquish his parish duties, spending his last few years living with his sisters at home.

Fr. Brochero died on Jan. 26, 1914. His last words were: “Now I have everything ready for the journey.”

A few days after his death, the Catholic newspaper of Cordoba wrote: “It is known that Father Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced an abandoned leper of the area.”  

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI approved a healing miracle attributed to Fr. Brochero, in which 13-year-old Nicolas Flores, who was in a vegetative state after a car accident, was cured through the intercession of the gaucho priest.

 

An earlier version of this article was published on CNA July 14, 2016.

[…]

This beautiful church was a gift from Slovakia to Icelandic Catholics

June 24, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Reykjavik, Iceland, Jun 24, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Bishop David Tencer of Reykjavik last week consecrated a new wooden church building, a gift from the Slovak Catholic Church.

The church is a tribute to Bishop Tencer, who is a Capuchin Franciscan and a native of Slovakia.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and two other members of the Slovak government joined Bishop Tencer for the June 17 consecration of the church in Reyðarfjörður, more than 400 miles northeast of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.

Wood is scarce in the volcanic, rocky country of Iceland, so the church was made of Slovakian wood, then disassembled and shipped to Iceland for reassembly.

“You will not find a single house or church of this type in Iceland,” Bishop Tencer told The Slovak Spectator.

The church is in the shape of a St. Damian Crucifix, an eastern-style icon sometimes called a Franciscan crucifix because St. Francis of Assisi prayed before a cross of this style when he received a commission from God to rebuild the Church.

Icelandic sources report that the new church doubles the seating capacity of the previous chapel of the Capuchin friars from 25 to 50, allowing them to accommodate the growing number of people who come from all regions of the country to attend Mass with the friars.

Iceland’s population is mostly Lutheran, with the country’s 13,000-some Catholics making up only 3-4 percent of the country’s 350,000 population. Many of Iceland’s Catholic population are Polish immigrants who moved to the country for work.

Most of the country’s priests also come from elsewhere, including Poland, Slovakia, Ireland, France, Argentina, Britain, and Germany. The orders of religious sisters with a presence in the country include The Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará, The Mexican sisters from Guadalajara, the Missionaries of Charity, and two Carmelite orders.

The country is divided into six parishes, and the single Diocese of Reykjavik is immediately subject to the Holy See.

But the small size of the Church in Iceland is part of its charm, Bishop Tencer told The Spectator, because this means, “I know many of its members in person.”

It is also a result of a turbulent history of Catholicism in the country, which was nearly wiped off the island during the reformation and the rule of a harsh Danish king in the 16th century. Bishop Jon Arason, the island’s last Catholic bishop until 1929, was executed in 1550 for his refusal of the reformation.

The Slovak prime minister said he was happy to be a part of the project of providing a church building to Iceland, an initiative of the Church in Slovakia, because it paid tribute to the service that Slovaks are doing in Iceland.

“So, I’m happy that a piece of Slovakia from Hrinyová, and the bishop, who is also from Slovakia, are representing our country in Iceland,” he told Slovakian media.

[…]

Francis urges Serrans to ‘keep moving forward’ promoting vocations

June 23, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Vatican City, Jun 23, 2017 / 02:42 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis offered encouragement Friday to members of Serra International, which promotes religious vocations, urging them to persevere in their “beautiful vocation of being laity who are friends to priests” and to “(k)eep moving forward!”

Pope Francis said June 23 that friendship “is central to the experience of faith.”

Serra International is a lay apostolate dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and does this by both prayer and assistance to discerners.

Serra’s conference is taking place from June 22-25 in Rome under the theme Siempre Adelante, “keep moving forward.” Friday’s papal audience was open to all attendees after a Mass in St. Peter’s.

Reflecting on friendship, Francis said that “the word ‘friend’ has become a bit overused.”

“But, when Jesus speaks of ‘friends,’ he points to a hard truth: true friendship involves an encounter that draws me so near to the other person that I give something of my very self. Jesus says to his disciples: ‘No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you’. He thus establishes a new relationship between man and God, one that transcends the law and is grounded in trust and love.”

Friends accompany us, he said. “They stand at our side, gently and tenderly, along our journey; they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words.”

He linked this Christian idea of friendship to Serra’s work in promoting vocations and helping priests. They are “(f)riends who share the wonder of a vocation, the courage of a definitive decision, the joy and fatigue of ministry. Friends who can offer priests support and regard their generous efforts and human failings with understanding and tender love.”

He compared their work to the home of Mary and Martha in the gospel, which Christ frequently visited and where he “was able to find rest and refreshment.”

He then offered his reflections for the convention’s theme of Siempre Adelante.

“Like you, I believe that this is a synonym for the Christian vocation,” he said. He compared the phrase to Christ’s call to his disciples to go forward in their ministerial journey, and he cautioned against giving into fear on this journey.

“Of course, we cannot make progress unless we take a risk,” he said. “We do not advance toward the goal if, as the Gospel says, we are afraid to lose our lives. No ship would ever set out into the deep if it feared leaving the safety of the harbour.”

“On the other hand,” he said,” when Christians go about their daily lives without fear, they can discover God’s surprises.”

He referenced the example of St. Junipero Serra, whom he canonized in Washington, D.C. in 2015, who, despite a limp, proceeded on his pilgrimage. He also warned against “museum Christians” who fear change.

“It is better to go forward limping, and even at times to fall, while always trusting in the mercy of God,” he said.

He concluded his speech by instructing them to not be afraid of changing the structures of their organization, humbly renouncing old roles and practices in favor of living their vocation.

“So you too, siempre Adelante! With courage, creativity, and boldness,” he said.

“The Church and priestly vocations need you. May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Mother of priests, be with you every step of the way And I ask you, please, pray for me!”

[…]

US Senate healthcare bill ‘unacceptable as written’, bishops warn

June 23, 2017 CNA Daily News 2

Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2017 / 11:10 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. bishops’ conference has warned that the proposed Senate health care bill will put serious burdens on poor families and is “unacceptable as written.”

After the draft of a Senate health care bill was finally released on Thursday, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, chair of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, stated that “this proposal retains many of the fundamental defects of the House of Representatives-passed health care legislation, and even further compounds them.”

He had previously explained, in a March letter to members of Congress, how the House bill was problematic for vulnerable populations such as the poor, the seriously ill, and the elderly.

After the Senate draft, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, was released June 22, he reiterated that “it is precisely the detrimental impact on the poor and vulnerable that makes the Senate draft unacceptable as written.”

After the House narrowly voted May 2 to pass its own version of a health care reform bill, the US bishops wrote to Senators urging them to reject the “grave deficiencies” of the American Health Care Act.

The bishops had asked the Senate to reject major changes to Medicaid, to retain protections for human life, to increase tax assistance for those with low-income and the elderly, to retain a cap on health care plan costs for the elderly, to protect immigrants, and to add health care protections.

Senate Republicans released the draft version of their bill after weeks of anticipation and controversy that the draft was being worked on behind closed doors. The bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act.

A major sticking point for pro-life groups and the U.S. bishops was Hyde Amendment-language protecting taxpayer subsidies from being used to pay for abortions.

However, pro-life leaders are concerned – or are even certain – that the pro-life language will be removed by the Senate Parliamentarian before the bill reaches the Senate floor.

This could happen because the language might be determined to be not pertaining to the rules of budget reconciliation. Since the bill may be passed through the budget reconciliation process – thus requiring a simple majority vote, rather than the normal 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor for a vote – its measures would need to be ruled as pertaining to the budget.

Senate Republicans can also afford no more than two members of their party voting against the bill, as no Democrats are expected to support it. Several moderate Republicans in the chamber have voiced concern about the bill, and four conservatives have said the draft does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The draft also strips Planned Parenthood of taxpayer funding and redirects that funding to community health centers which do not provide abortions.

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, approved of the Planned Parenthood language but added that “the reality is that necessary pro-life protections in this bill will be stripped by the Senate Parliamentarian, as we have now publicly heard from two Senators.”

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) both admitted that the Senate Parliamentarian would not approve of the pro-life language being used in a bill passed by reconciliation.

“If this happens, one of the most egregious aspects of Obamacare – tax credits for plans covering abortion – will continue under this Administration and Congress,” Mancini continued.

Pro-life groups have insisted that the Affordable Care Act ushered in a massive expansion of abortion funding through tax credits paying for abortions and federally-subsidized plans offering abortion coverage, without sufficient guarantees that the subsidies were not being used themselves to pay for the abortion coverage.

While President Obama issued an executive order forbidding taxpayer dollars from funding abortions under the health care law, many – including then-president of the U.S. bishops, the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago – insisted that would not offer sufficient guarantee against taxpayer dollars funding abortions.

A 2014 GAO report found that in five states, all the taxpayer-subsidized plans offered on the health exchanges covered abortions, thus leaving no choices for those who wanted a health plan on the exchanges which did not include abortion coverage.

Furthermore, the report found that 15 insurance issuers and one state exchange were not billing abortion coverage separately from other coverage in federally-subsidized plans, thus leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were going to fund abortion coverage.

“The expectations of the pro-life movement have been very clear: The health care bill must not indefinitely subsidize abortion and must re-direct abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding to community health centers,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said in a joint statement released Friday.

“The Senate discussion draft includes these pro-life priorities, but we remain very concerned that either of these priorities could be removed from the bill for procedural or political reasons,” they added.

“We are working closely with our pro-life allies in the Senate to prevent this from happening as it could result in our opposition.”

Bishop Dewane echoed those concerns that the pro-life language could be stripped from the bill. He insisted as well that “full Hyde protections are essential and must be included in the final bill.”

Moreover, there are other serious problems with the Senate draft legislation that carry over from the House bill, he maintained.

Changes to Medicaid could cut vital coverage for low-income families; conscience protections for everyone in the health care system are lacking; and access for immigrants to health care would not be furthered, he said, which the bishops pointed out as one of the problems in the Affordable Care Act when it was passed in 2010.

The “per-capita cap” on Medicaid dollars to states would limit Medicaid funding based on the populations of the states themselves, “and then connects yearly increases to formulas that would provide even less to those in need than the House bill,” the bishop stated.

“These changes will wreak havoc on low-income families and struggling communities, and must not be supported,” he stated.

While efforts to assist people “living at an above the poverty line” are laudable, he continued, the proposed bill “stands to cause disturbing damage to the human beings served by the social safety net.”

The bill would phase out the expansion of Medicaid more gradually than did the House’s version, but the program would see larger cuts in the long run under the Senate’s plan.

Bread for the World, a social welfare organization of Christians that advocates for the ending of hunger the US and abroad, was also critical of the Senate bill’s changes to Medicaid, saying it will increase hunger and poverty domestically.

“Rolling back the Medicaid expansion at a slower rate still means that millions of vulnerable Americans will lose their health care coverage,” said David Beckmann, Bread for the World’s president. “Without health insurance, people must often choose between putting food on the table and receiving the medical care they need.”

He charged that “any senator who supports this bill will be voting to take away health insurance from the elderly, people with disabilities, and children.”

Bishop Dewane also said the bill “fails, as well, to put in place conscience protections for all those involved in the health care system, protections which are needed more than ever in our country’s health policy,” he stated.

For instance, the bill could set up conscience protections for religious organizations that refuse to comply with previous mandates that coverage for sterilizations and contraceptives be provided in their employee health plans, the bishop noted. Or doctors who conscientiously refuse to perform abortions or gender-transition procedures could be protected against federal or state mandates that they do so.

“The Senate should now act to make changes to the draft that will protect those persons on the peripheries of our health care system,” Bishop Dewane stated.

[…]