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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: pope francis

Pope's Apology To Native Canadians Echoes In The United States

Pope Francis met with Indigenous people in Canada on Monday to deliver a long overdue apology for the Catholic Church’s role in the system of boarding schools that perpetrated acts of cultural genocide against Native tribes.

"I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples," Francis said at the site of a former boarding school outside of Edmonton, Alberta. He spoke to a crowd of Indigenous people, including many survivors of the brutal school system.

"I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools," the pope said.

The Indian residential school system established by the Canadian government continued over 150 years, from the mid-19th century through the 1970s. Over 150,000 Native children were removed from their families and communities to attend these boarding schools. Their goal was forced assimilation and the destruction of intergenerational bonds so that Native languages, customs, and culture could not be passed on and would eventually die out. Children in these schools were given uniforms in place of traditional clothing and were forbidden from speaking their native language. Corporal punishment was standard; physical and sexual abuse were common. Many schools were underfunded, unsafe, and unsanitary, and disease was rampant.

These conditions caused the premature deaths of over 4,000 Native children, many of whom were buried in mass unmarked graves which have been discovered within the last few years. The education students received was poor: History didn’t begin until Europeans discovered the New World, and much of the training was vocational – unpaid child labor that only prepared Native children for a career of subservience and poverty.

Three-fourths of these schools were run by the Catholic Church.

The Canadian government has also issued apologies for the policy, and taken responsibility for its grievous long-term effects on Indigenous communities. In 2008, the Canadian government issued an apology and established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the system of Indian boarding schools, to collect stories and testimony from survivors, and to complete a full report.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated this apology in 2015 when the Commission finalized its report, saying, “The Government of Canada ‘sincerely apologizes and asks forgiveness of the Aboriginal peoples of this country for failing them so profoundly.’” Trudeau apologized again last year when graves of Indigenous children were found at the sites of several schools. The Canadian government has also moved beyond mere words and passed a bill to pay $2 billion in reparations to survivors of the school system. It was Trudeau who requested that the Pope also issue a formal apology to the Indigenous peoples of Canada, in keeping with the Commission’s recommendations, when he visited the Vatican several years ago.

A papal apology on behalf of the entire Catholic Church is not unprecedented, but is still a relatively recent phenomenon. Pope John Paul II was the first to do this, and as the head of the church, he apologized for the Catholic Church’s participation and complicity in the African slave trade, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of heretics and witches, the marginalization of women, the persecution and genocide of Jews during the Holocaust, and rampant sexual abuse by clergy, among other things.

During the Great Jubilee of 2000, John Paul II declared a day of Prayer for Forgiveness of the Sins of the Church, which was met with some resistance amongst those in the church. Some argued that the Pope did not have the authority to speak for the entire Catholic church, including the church of the past. Others argued that such an apology would besmirch the church's reputation, create an appearance of weakness, and lead to political consequences in Muslim countries. These concerns, however, did not outweigh the Christian imperative to seek forgiveness of God and those who were wronged. Later popes followed his example: Pope Benedict XVI also apologized for clerical sexual abuse, and Pope Francis, the first pope from the Western hemisphere, has aploogized for Catholic colonialism in the Americas.

But Pope Francis required some persuasion to issue a formal apology to the Indigenous people of Canada. Earlier this year, a delegation of Native Canadians visited the Vatican, to share survivor’s stories and their desire for reconciliation and healing. On Friday, April 1, the Pope issued a formal apology to Indigenous Canadians for the church’s part in Canadian boarding schools, and promised to come to Canada and be with them for the feast of St. Anne, a saint venerated by some Native tribes, which occurs on July 26.

The pope’s apology was met with mixed emotions. Many indigenous people were touched that the Holy Father kept his promise by making his first trip to Canada, and moved by his sincere words of remorse. The four chiefs of the Cree nations presented Francis with a ceremonial headdress, a symbol of honor that is typically only bestowed on men within the tribe who have earned such a distinction through valor or leadership. Still others were skeptical, and felt that the Pope’s apology was hollow. “Kneel down the way you made us kneel down as little kids and ask for that forgiveness,” said one survivor, in an interview with CNN.

But everyone agrees that this formal apology must be the first step in a journey of repentance and reconciliation. “This apology validates our experiences and creates an opportunity for the church to repair relationships with Indigenous peoples across the world,” George Arcand Jr., Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, said. "It doesn’t end here," he added. "There is a lot to be done. It is a beginning.” Phil Fontaine, a former chief of the Assembly of First Nations and a boarding school survivor, expressed a similar hope. "This is a special moment for our people,” Fontaine said. “It's the beginning. It's the start." And Francis himself agreed. "Begging pardon ... is only the first step, the starting point," he said. "An important part of this process will be to conduct a serious investigation and to help the survivors of residential schools."

The Pope’s stop in Alberta was just the first of a nearly weeklong trip throughout Canada. He will meet with Indigenous tribes at the sites of two other schools as well.

This historic trip to Canada has implications for the United States as well. Some tribes have noted that the Pope’s apology did not extend to Natives who experienced similar abuses in boarding schools in the United States. While only a small proportion of the residential schools in the United States were Catholic, the boarding school system in the United States served as a model for those in Canada.

But perhaps Francis has not sought out reconciliation with Native Americans because the United States government has made little effort to do so. A general apology to Native Americans for the government’s treatment of Native Americans was buried in a defense bill passed in 2010. President Barack Obama signed it, but the apology was not officially read or announced. The apology also included language to avoid claims of legal liability and prevent the statement from being used in lawsuits against the government. The first investigative report into the scope of Native American boarding schools was only just published in May 2022 in compliance with a directive from Deb Haaland, current Secretary of the Interior and the first and only Native American cabinet member in U.S. history.

The report identifies the names and locations of 408 Indian boarding schools that the United States’ government either ran or financially supported between 1819 and 1969. The report also locates 53 burial sites of children conscripted into the school system. However, this initial report is far from complete. The report lacks detailed data about each of the schools, and more research is needed as to the long-term effects of this system on Native American people.

Last month, Haaland spoke to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs advocating for a Truth and Healing Commission, akin to that in Canada, which could continue with this vital research. A bill has since been introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren, but time will tell whether the federal government is finally ready to own up to its predecessors' misdeeds.

The pope's visit to Canada highlights the failure of the United States’ sacred and secular institutions to take responsibility for the evils they have committed. For as Francis said earlier this year, “without historical memory and without a commitment to learning from past mistakes, problems remain unresolved and keep coming back….The memory of the past must never be sacrificed at the altar of alleged progress.”

Why The Supreme Court's Catholic Conservatives Should Be Denied Communion, Too

This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just flouted an order of the Catholic Church by receiving communion from a priest in Vatican City. Last month, the archbishop of the San Francisco Archdiocese put Pelosi on the “do not serve” list when he informed her that “should [she] not publicly repudiate [her] advocacy for abortion ‘rights’” he would declare that she cannot partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Since then, other bishops have voiced their support for that decision. "The church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave evil, and that public advocacy for — and support of — abortion is, objectively speaking, such a manifest grave sin," Portland, Oregon Archbishop Alexander Sample posted on Facebook.

It’s not a new issue. A South Carolina parish priest denied then-candidate Joseph Biden the Eucharist in 2019 because of his pro-choice position during his presidential campaign. Last year, a conference of Bishops deliberated making it official church policy to keep him from Communion. They ultimately didn’t enact the ban.

Even to debate whether President Biden, Speaker Pelosi or any other pro-choice person should receive communion in the Catholic Church while doing nothing to hold Catholic jurists and lawyers accountable for violating other church teachings is enough for me to consider leaving the faith. To wit, no churches have announced that they would withhold the sacrament from Supreme Court Justices who have approved the death penalty, as recently as last week.

When I was incarcerated from 2007 to 2014, I rediscovered my Catholic faith and started attending the weekly masses held on Saturday mornings in the chairs assembled in the prison school hallway. It’s not that I am so pious or good; someone sentenced to years in prison can’t survive without belief in things unseen.

Of course I leaned on the fact that faith supports my redemption — the Bible codifies my visiting rights. But the entire time I was there, the same Church that sustained me would have allowed — indeed, even supported — the state’s taking of the lives of two women who lived in my housing unit. Former nurse Chasity West barely escaped a death sentence for a capital murder conviction and Irish authorities refused to extradite former attorney Beth Ann Carpenter unless the State of Connecticut promised not to pursue such a penalty.

Now they’re both serving life without parole, also known as LWOP, which Pope Francis has condemned.

It was only after I had been home for almost 4 years that the Vatican announced a revision to the official Catechism of the Catholic Church in August 2018. The death penalty, it said, was “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and “inadmissible” in all cases.
Yet, approximately one year after the change in the Catechism, then-Attorney General William P. Barr — and former board member at the Catholic Information Center, an Opus Dei-affiliated bookstore and chapel — resurrected the federal death penalty and oversaw the Justice Department that put 13 people to death. One of them was the first woman to be killed by the federal government, altogether more than had been executed in the previous 56 years combined.

Yet no priest or archbishop called for yanking the wafer from his mouth.

Nor has anyone removed Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh or Clarence Thomas from the communion lines at their Beltway churches.

Since the Catholic Church changed its position in 2018, the Supreme Court has involved itself in a total of 44 capital punishment cases (24 in the 2018-19 term, 14 in the 2019-20 term, 0 in the 2020-21 term, 6 in the 2021-22 term) over four separate court terms. Of those 44, only two decisions ended up protecting the life of the prisoner: the 2019 decision in Flowers v. Mississippi and the 2020 opinion in Sharp v. Murphy. Notably, Catholic justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented in the Flowers case and Justices Alito and Thomas dissented in the Sharp decision.

Many Supreme Court decisions turn on very specific legal questions, and deciding those issues often seems to have nothing to do with the punishment at the end of the case. That’s what happened with the case of Nance v. Ward, decided last week. It was actually the more conservative justices who dissented in approving execution by firing squad. At issue was the legal proceeding that a condemned man could use to challenge his method of execution. But it bears mentioning that in their dissents, the Catholic justices approved of a method of execution — lethal injection — that would likely amount to cruel and unusual punishment for Nance, who has compromised veins.

I can’t say whether writing a judicial opinion is different from active advocacy, which is what the bishops complain of in their communion bans. The actions of Catholic Supreme Court justices may not count as advocacy, but they do amount to complicity. Gorsuch recused himself from a capital case before the country’s highest court, not on the basis of the subject matter; but because he had been involved in the lower courts’ decisions. For the most part, the justices engaged with these cases. They touched them. Their fingerprints remain on the death warrants.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote article about this very issue in the Marquette Law Review in 2008, arguing that if a judge’s moral conviction would have prevented her from imposing the death penalty, then she needs to recuse herself from a case involving capital punishment. Coney Barrett noted the difference between being the judge who imposed the sentence and an appellate judge who is once removed from the penalty, but she didn’t follow her own advice. She failed to recuse herself in the case of Orlando Hall, a man convicted of the rape and murder of the sister of rival drug dealers, but instead noted a dissent to allowing Hall’s execution to proceed.

Conspicuously, though, Coney Barrett didn’t dissent in dismissing a stay order based on the fact that Hall, who is Black, was convicted by an all-white jury. And, just last month, she joined the majority opinion in Shinn v. Ramirez in deciding that potentially innocent men sentenced to die shouldn’t have a chance to prove that their post-conviction attorneys didn’t provide them with adequate representation. The Court’s decision in Shinn v. Ramirez is the least Christian attitude anyone can take toward someone who’s challenging a criminal conviction.

The prohibition on abortion is about 120 years older than the Catechism rule so perhaps it’s an issue of marination in the idea for bishops and judges. But the difference in attitudes toward abortion and death penalty is obvious: one life isn’t culpable, at least not yet. That’s why, before 2018, church leaders operated in “virtually unanimous agreement” that “civil authority, as guardian of the public good, has been given by God the right to inflict punishments on evildoers, including the punishment of death.”

I was baptized as an infant so I never chose the Church. The reason why I came back and stayed is that the Catholic Church is the temple of do-overs. God doesn’t want sacrifice; he wants mercy. And the church’s disparate treatment of reproductive rights supporters and death penalty proponents doesn’t square with that core value.

A healthcare provider can reevaluate their actions and behave differently; they often get a second chance to bring a child to term. Those who carry out death sentences have no such opportunity, unless they prevent the next execution — and not one Catholic with the power to do so was brave or responsible enough to take that stand.

Pelosi and other lawmakers have supported the now-overturned Roe v. Wade precedent out of a moral conviction that women deserve to be protected. It’s a position my God would allow and permit her to participate in the sacrament.

I understand that rules are rules. If public support for abortion services disqualifies someone from receiving communion, then I need to step out of line myself and join the lawmakers sidelined by bishops.

But if rules are rules, then Catholic bishops should impose similar bans on Justices Alito, Coney Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas. That would be equal treatment under church law.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

Poll: Most Americans Reject Religious Exemption From Vaccine Mandates

Majorities of Americans across all major religious denominations believe there is no legitimate religious basis to object to getting vaccinated against COVID-19, new public opinion research shows, yet religious objections to vaccine mandates remain a popular and effective way for vaccine-hesitant individuals to avoid the shots.

Just over one in ten Americans say getting a COVID-19 vaccine would violate their religious beliefs, according to a Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core survey released in December, while 60 percent agree that there are "no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine."

Meanwhile, 59 percent of Americans told the pollster they thought too many people were using religion as an excuse to avoid COVID vaccines, and just under half (47 percent) of respondents went so far as to endorse eliminating all requests for COVID vaccine exemptions on religious grounds.

As with most matters pertaining to the pandemic, however, Americans' opinions were split along partisan lines. A total of 20 percent of Republicans indicated that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 went against their personal religious beliefs, compared to just seven percent of Democrats. Among those who said they got their news primarily from far-right outlets like OAN and Newsmax, known for amplifying anti-vaccine content, the number with religious objections jumped to 41 percent.

Unsurprisingly, those who've refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 expressed the strongest opinions in support of religious exemptions: 52 percent in that group indicated the COVID shots violated their personal religious beliefs, and just over three in ten said they have already asked or planned to request a religious exemption to a vaccine requirement.

As the American Independent Foundation was among the first to report, religious exemptions stand as one of the few legal avenues for vaccine objectors to avoid vaccine mandates. When more employers and government entities began requiring vaccines, some vaccine skeptics turned to online marketplaces to purchase such exemption request letters, the investigation showed.

In October, the Biden administration moved to tighten the rules relating to religious vaccine exemptions, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission formally noting that employers could reject exemption requests if granting unvaccinated employees' accommodations would place an "undue burden" on their workplace.

Yet in recent weeks, several Republican-led states have enacted new policies making it easier for religious objectors to avoid vaccination. In Kansas, lawmakers approved a measure that requires employers to grant any request for a religious exemption to a COVID-19 vaccine mandate so long as the request was submitted in writing. In Utah, lawmakers went even further, enabling objectors to dodge vaccine mandates based on any "sincerely held personal beliefs," even if those beliefs aren't tied to a specific religious identity.

Yet the issue of religious exemptions is hardly settled law. On Monday, for example, the Supreme Court declined to block a vaccine mandate for New York health care workers even though the policy didn't allow for religious exemptions.

No major religious denomination or sect directs its members to resist COVID vaccines, and in fact, many spiritual leaders have been among the most vocal advocates encouraging vaccination. Pope Francis has called getting vaccinated against COVID-19 an "act of love," while several Catholic leaders across the U.S. have formally instructed priests not to grant religious exemption requests.

But the practice remains popular, with growing numbers of U.S. service members, health care workers, city staff, and private employees seeking exemptions as a means of bypassing mandates.

The poll showed that majorities of Americans did endorse granting exemptions for those who have refused other vaccines in addition to COVID, those who belonged to a religious sect known to ban vaccination, and those who had a letter from their religious leader attesting to their beliefs against vaccines. Only 39 percent of Americans said anyone who simply says vaccines violate their beliefs should get one, though 57 percent of Republicans indicated they supported that view.

The PRRI-IYC poll was conducted online from October 18 through November 9, included responses from 5,721 Americans 18 and older across all 50 states, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Rome Translator's Facial Expression Contrasts Biden And Trump

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis Friday morning at the Vatican, and while the press was not allowed to broadcast live some video was just released.

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Rep. Tenney Smacked For Smearing Pelosi And Pope Francis As 'Communists'

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

On Saturday, October 9, Pope Francis met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and then far-right Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York, in response, called both of them "communists."

The MAGA Republican and Donald Trump apologist, tweeting a photo of Pelosi and Pope Francis together, wrote, "Just two communists."

Tenney got slammed for her comment on Twitter.



Churches Are Challenged As Political Polarization Deepens

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

Most religious traditions follow a set of commandments, perhaps written down in a holy book. They differ in the particulars, but the sentiment can be boiled down to what's called the "Golden Rule" — treat others as one would want to be treated.

You don't need to subscribe to any faith; just strive to live with honor in a civilized society. But apparently, even that's too much for some folks who have other priorities.

This week, the welcome mat was out at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting. "Join us at the Nashville Music City Center for four full days of equipping, and inspiration," the invitation read. But that cheery message, and the words of Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee, that it's "a time for Southern Baptists to come together and celebrate how God is moving in and through our convention and churches," belied internal turmoil.

The SBC surprised some Tuesday when it elected Ed Litton as its president. In a close vote, Litton, who is seen as someone more interested in reconciliation than retribution, defeated Mike Stone, the candidate of those wanting to move the organization even further to the right. But in some ways, Litton's selection is only buying time for a denomination that is still divided over issues of racism and sexism.

Several of the SBC's signature leaders are walking to the exit doors, and they are not going quietly.

In a leaked letter, Russell Moore, who left his position as head of the denomination's public policy arm, accused leaders of disparaging and bullying victims of sexual abuse and failing to properly investigate their claims. Moore, who is white, had also described racist behavior he witnessed within the convention, followed by, he says, threats.

Beth Moore, the popular Bible study teacher and author (no relation to Russell), had long been at odds with many in the SBC over her criticism of Donald Trump's comments about women. The organization's handling of abuse accusations and its pattern of not listening to the women and girls who made them led her to declare this year that she was "no longer a Southern Baptist."

Two Black pastors ended their church's affiliation with the convention late last year after the leaders of six SBC seminaries released a statement that said"affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message."

One of the two pastors, Charlie Edward Dates, the senior pastor at Chicago's Progressive Baptist Church, wrote in an op-ed for Religion News Service: "When did the theological architects of American slavery develop the moral character to tell the church how it should discuss and discern racism? … How did they, who in 2020 still don't have a single Black denominational entity head, reject once and for all a theory that helps to frame the real race problems we face?"

Though it is the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the SBC has been losing members, so perhaps the election of Litton was an attempt to slow the debate and the exodus. If only many of its members had thought long and hard before throwing their lot in with Trump, who demands absolute devotion. Isn't there something in the Ten Commandments about that?

A Catholic Chasm

My own Catholic faith also is facing a headline-making reckoning.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its virtual meeting this week, had scheduled a vote on whether to permit its Committee on Doctrine to draft a document "to help Catholics understand the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives." Those spiritual words, from Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, the USCCB president, couch the intentions of a leading figure among the conservative cohort that would deny the second Catholic president, Joe Biden, the sacrament of the Eucharist because of his support for abortion rights.

The right to an abortion may be legal in the U.S., for now, but it is also a sin for Catholics.

That, of course, is true for Pope Francis. But he has warned conservative American bishops to avoid prioritizing an issue that has become a political litmus test. For Francis, it's complicated, though many U.S. bishops disagree. So much for all Catholics being controlled by this pope, with whom conservative Catholics have been feuding since he arrived at the Vatican.

A recent petition, organized by Faithful America and signed by 21,000 people, accused the bishops of weaponizing the Eucharist, and in a letter the group thanked the more than 60 bishops who opposed the USCCB vote. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who is archbishop of Washington, was one of them. So the president is in no danger of being turned away at a D.C. altar.

It's not a new debate, though John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, had to prove with words and actions that he would not let faith dictate his politics. Another famous Catholic politician, Mario Cuomo, had much to say on the subject, as he did on most everything.

In 1984, at the University of Notre Dame, no less, Cuomo, who died in 2015, said: "Better than any law or rule or threat of punishment would be the moving strength of our own good example, demonstrating our lack of hypocrisy, proving the beauty and worth of our instruction. We must work to find ways to avoid abortions without otherwise violating our faith. We should provide funds and opportunity for young women to bring their child to term, knowing both of them will be taken care of if that is necessary; we should teach our young men better than we do now their responsibilities in creating and caring for human life."

That would satisfy few today. As places of worship have reopened post-pandemic, the political divide in America has followed worshippers through the doors.

Misplaced Priorities

Would now be the time to act on other items on Pope Francis' agenda — climate change, migrants, poverty, racial justice and how to ease the grief of those who lost someone or something in this harrowing year?

What about the voting restrictions proposed in Texas that take special aim at Black churchgoers, with limits on Sunday voting, and seniors, who depend on these organized voting drives? And this is in a state that plunged its residents into endless crises during a freeze.

What about disabled voters, who worry these laws being enacted across the country limit access, preventing them from exercising their rights as Americans?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose faith informed and inspired civil rights activism, once chided fellow ministers for failing to see the injustices in front of them. He might have a few relevant words.

As would the Rev. Dr. William Barber, who this week traveled to West Virginia to deliver a message to that state's Democratic senator, Joe Manchin — about voting rights and the minimum wage, poverty and power.

It was personal and political, and delivered with passion, as if on command.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Danziger: Darken A Church Door

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Danziger: Render Unto China

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.