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From the Office of Communications

This article first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here. 

A federal appeals court’s ruling that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional is “a fundamental misunderstanding of the intrinsic nature of marriage and is an injustice to Virginia voters,” said Virginia’s two Catholic bishops.

WTOP reported that a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled July 28 that state constitutional and statutory provisions barring gay marriage and denying recognition of such unions performed in other states violate the U.S. Constitution. The Virginia gay marriage case is one of several that could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo said in a statement released after the ruling they “once again affirm what our 2,000-year-old faith teaches: that all men and women are endowed by our Creator with equal dignity and worth.

Bishop Anniversary“We maintain that those with same-sex attractions must be treated with respect and sensitivity,” they said. “However, by rejecting the state amendment, which affirms marriage as the unique institution between one man and one woman, the Court seeks to redefine an age-old institution, rooted in natural law, and extend a right that does not — and cannot — exist between people of the same sex.”

The bishops said that marriage has survived for countless generations because it uniquely benefits the common good by recognizing the union of two different but complementary individuals – that is a man and a woman – who, by their union, may create a family.

“Indeed, by its very nature this institution is ordered toward the regeneration and survival of the human race. For that reason Virginia’s constitution rightly recognizes the unique contributions marriage – the union of one man and one woman – makes to children and to the common good.”

The bishops said they will continue to affirm the truth about marriage, the lifelong union of one man and one woman, as well as the importance of marriage to the common good.

“As pastors, teachers and faith leaders, we can do nothing less,” they said. “We will continue to fight this unjust ruling.”

Circuit Court Judge Henry F. Floyd said he recognized that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life,” he said.

Floyd was joined in his majority ruling by Circuit Judge Roger L. Gregory. Their colleague Paul V. Niemeyer dissented and called the ruling “fundamentally flawed.”

The ruling upholds a decision by District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen. It won’t take effect for 21 days to allow for a request for a rehearing or a stay. It was not immediately clear if or when the state would need to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Virginia case is unusual because state Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) announced shortly after taking office this year that he agreed with the challengers that the state’s restrictions are unconstitutional.

In 2006, Virginians voted 57 percent to 43 percent to approve the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Virginia laws also prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

To see the statement in full, visit the Virginia Catholic Conference’s website here.

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 By: Caitlin Bootsma

Sometimes it seems like the fight for life, for marriage, for religious liberty and for social justice is just too large of a task. After all, I certainly don’t have the time to beat down legislators’ doors every day, nor do I know if they would listen to me if I did.

shutterstock_1619788And yet, I care very deeply about the laws that are being considered nationally and here in the state of Virginia. It matters to me that adopted children have the benefit of being placed with a married husband and wife and it matters to me that my taxpayer dollars do not go toward funding abortions of any kind.

Enter the Virginia Catholic Conference.

You may or may not be aware of all of the work that the Virginia Catholic Conference does on behalf of the Catholic Church in Virginia. Notably, under the direction of Jeff Caruso, the VCC has, for example, opposed the expansion of who can be sentenced with the death penalty, supported conscience protection for adoption and foster-care providers and supported better pre-natal health care for legal immigrants. A summary of highlights from the Virginia Catholic Conference’s advocacy work can be seen here.

For the next month, the Virginia legislature is in session deliberating a number of important pieces of legislation. One such bill, if passed, would limit state-funded abortions to lives that were conceived through rape or incest (which is federal law). Currently, Virginia also funds abortions of fetuses who have physical deformities or mental deficiencies. A bill being considered right now would limit state-funded abortions solely to those mandated by federal policy.

Crucial to the passing of these often life-saving bills is the participation of people like you and me. And here is the thing – this participation takes literally two minutes of your time. The Virginia Catholic Conference sends out an alert regarding bills like the one above and asks us to send a pre-written email to legislators, expressing our views. You might not think a quick action like this matters, but it does. Jeff Caruso has said time and time again that the tipping point for some legislators on issues has been how many of their constituents they have heard from.

Don’t delay. Lending our voice to these issues can make a huge impact and it is easy.

Sign up for the Virginia Catholic Conference emails. Follow and act on the alerts — especially during this legislative session.  We are called to be faithful citizens not only during election season, but every day throughout the year.

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By: Caitlin Bootsma, Office of Communications

When you read in the Washington Post that, “A provision in the law expanded preventive health-care benefits for women,” you could think that it is a positive development and simply skim to the next article.

If you look deeper, however, you’ll discover that recently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandated that private health plans cover female surgical sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives, including drugs which can attack a developing unborn child before and after implantation in the mother’s womb.

The same Washington Post article explains that Catholic hospitals are concerned that they will be required to provide birth control under this new legislation and will not be eligible for a conscience exemption. The Post quotes a representative from the National Women’s Law Center who says that, “all women do use contraception at some point in their lives” so essentially this mandate should not provide a problem.

The clear bias of the article may make it difficult to recognize the real problem.

First of all, claiming that all women will use contraceptives is a vast generalization.

Secondly, this mandate ignores that contraceptives, including ella (which can destroy a human life weeks after conception), are morally reprehensible to many people, not only Catholics.

In other words, this legislation – without adequate conscience exemptions – goes against one of the founding principles of our country: freedom of conscience, the very liberty that we pride ourselves on as Americans, that our country is founded upon, that we write patriotic songs about.

This roadblock to our pursuit of true liberty is expressed by Cardinal DiNardo:  “Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families or their employees. To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”

It is easy to treat this as just one more news story. However, except for a very narrow religious exemption that primarily affects churches, this new mandate will not only affect Catholic hospital. It will also require others who provides health insurance to their employees, including Catholic universities and schools and social service agencies such as Catholic Charities, to provide health insurance that  must now include free birth control.

So, what can we do?

  1. Keep the discussion alive. Too often, media or others can treat these debated issues as if they are done deals, that there is nothing else to be said, that everyone agrees. Let others know that this is a violation of your religious beliefs and, therefore, your right to liberty as an American.
  2. Pray for and support those health care workers or insurance providers who are fighting for conscience exemptions that will not force them to provide substances such as ella which can destroy human life.
  3. Let your voice be heard. Help ensure that a meaningful legislation on conscience exemption is enacted by Congress. Take a few minutes to write to your legislators about the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179). By writing, you tell your legislators how to best represent your view. The Virginia Catholic Conference offers the mechanism to do this on its website: http://capwiz.com/vacatholic/issues/alert/?alertid=51746501

The way I see it, liberty is not only a right, but also a responsibility. We have the opportunity to exercise our freedom of conscience and enable others to secure that right as well.

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Regulations concerning adoption in Virginia have been under much debate. Below is a joint statement from the Virginia Catholic Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington concerning their participation in comments given to the State Board of Social Services.

On April 20, the State Board of Social Services voted 7-2 in favor of adoption regulations supported by the Virginia Catholic Conference – regulations that had been amended by the Virginia Department of Social Services after a public comment period (ending April 1) that featured written submissions by the Conference, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, other faith-based organizations, and individuals.  Representatives of six faith-based organizations, including the Conference and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, also appeared personally at the April 20 board meeting to offer public remarks in support of the amended regulations. The groups also reiterated their objections to the prior version.  At the conclusion of the meeting, the board approved the amended regulations.

Commenting on the outcome shortly after the vote occurred, Conference director Jeff Caruso observed, “Today, religious freedom was affirmed; freedom of conscience was affirmed; the freedom of all agencies, including faith-based agencies, to continue doing the great work they are doing was affirmed.”

Art Bennett, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington, agreed:

“Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington has been providing adoption services consistent with the principles and moral teaching of the Catholic Faith for the citizens of the Commonwealth for nearly 65 years. We are relieved that the Board for the Department of Social Services will uphold religious freedom and thus allow Catholic Charities to continue providing adoption services that integrate our Catholic Faith.”

The full text of the Conference’s April 20 testimony to the board follows.

Comments on 22 VAC 40-131-170B

State Board of Social Services Meeting (April 20, 2011)

“On behalf of the Virginia Catholic Conference, I wish to convey support for the agency’s changes to 22 VAC 40-131-170B, which is part of the proposed Minimum Standards for Licensed Child Placing Agencies.  The Conference is the public-policy agency of Virginia’s Catholic bishops and their two dioceses.   My comments reflect the shared perspective of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and of Commonwealth Catholic Charities and Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia within the Diocese of Richmond.

The newly proposed 22 VAC 40-131-170B states: “The licensee shall prohibit acts of discrimination based on race, color, or national origin to: (1) Delay or deny a child’s placement; or (2) Deny an individual the opportunity to become a foster or adoptive parent.”

This new version brings the provision squarely into line with federal law and eliminates inconsistencies with state law that were inherent in the prior version.  The new version is also responsive to comments submitted by the Conference on March 31 that objected to the inclusion of items such as sexual orientation, family status, religion, and age.

Including “sexual orientation” and “family status” would have posed conflicts with the missions, beliefs, and practices of organizations, such as ours, that profess certain deeply held convictions and religious beliefs regarding the institution of marriage, the family unit, and human sexuality.  Indeed, including these items could have forced some agencies into a choice of whether to follow their own missions or to adhere to the law.  Forcing this choice would have been an unacceptable violation of the freedom of conscience upon which our pluralistic society is based, and even of the religious freedom upon which our Commonwealth and our country were built.

It is also important to note that some agencies may currently have requirements for prospective adoptive parents regarding age, and may consider religion when making certain placements.  Birthparents may also consider such factors and should, along with agencies, be free to continue doing so.

In conclusion, faith-based agencies play a vital role in the fabric of our Commonwealth, and their right to carry out their mission in the services they provide must be respected and preserved.  The agency is right to affirm the current federal and state law and the paramount principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience as the correct paths to follow. These paths empower all agencies, included those that are faith-based, to continue the great work they are doing.

Thank you for your consideration of the perspective of Virginia’s two Catholic dioceses and their agencies in this matter.”

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Shortly before 10 last night, Virginia joined the growing number of states that have adopted restrictions against abortion coverage within its state health exchange (to be created pursuant to the new federal health-care law).  Via a 61-36 vote in the House and a 20-20 vote in the Senate (with the tie broken favorably by Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling), the Commonwealth joined Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Idaho in making use of a provision in the federal law that provides, “[A] state may elect to prohibit abortion coverage in qualified health plans offered through an Exchange in such State if such State enacts a law to provide for such a prohibition.”

By banning coverage (within Virginia’s exchange) of abortions that have long been ineligible for federal funding in major health programs such as Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (that is, all abortions except for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother), Governor McDonnell’s successfully adopted amendment now ensures that, as discussions on establishing a state exchange proceed, health plans seeking to be part of the exchange will be prohibited from covering abortion on demand.

Prohibiting abortion coverage within health exchanges (through which federal taxpayer money will be routed) has been a top priority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, beginning during the debate on federal health care restructuring over a year ago and continuing after its passage in March of 2010.  The Virginia Catholic Conference is encouraged by the Commonwealth’s important contribution yesterday to the ongoing national effort to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that people will not be forced to pay for other people’s abortions. With the addition of Virginia, at least 10 states now restrict abortion coverage in health insurance policies generally and/or in policies traded on exchanges.

Also last night, the General Assembly added funding to the state budget for abstinence programs.  Governor McDonnell’s proposal to provide this money was the Conference’s other top priority (again in alliance with other groups) during yesterday’s one-day session and was approved by the House, 69-29, and by the Senate, 20-20 (with Bolling again casting the deciding vote to break the tie favorably).

The two 20-20 votes provide another example of how essential constituent input is.  Large numbers of people throughout Virginia contacted their legislators in support of these pro-life, pro-family amendments and made a very considerable difference in the outcomes.

To join the Conference’s email alert network, please visit www.vacatholic.org

 

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By: Jeff Caruso

Between 2004 and 2010, five new state research programs have been created. Each of the five includes a provision making it clear that no company can benefit from the program if it performs research on embryonic stem cells or aborted fetuses within Virginia’s borders.

However, the biotech industry has recently been engaged in an aggressive two-fold push: (1) for more lucrative state financial incentives, and (2) against restrictions supported by pro-life advocates on incentive-seeking companies that conduct life-destroying research. Given this activity, a state policy is needed more than ever to push back on behalf of Virginia taxpayers, so that we are not forced to finance entities that conduct unethical, immoral, and destructive research.

Please click here, scroll down, and then click “Send Message” to weigh in on this critical issue. Ask the Governor to propose policies to ensure that, across all state programs, Virginia consistently tells companies they are not welcome if they bring research that requires human lives to be destroyed to our Commonwealth.

Please share this with others who may have the same concerns. Also, please consider signing up for the Virginia Catholic Conference’s email network so that you can receive alerts like this directly in the future.

Thank you for advocating for the sanctity of human life.

 

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By: Jeff Caruso, Director of the Virginia Catholic Conference

Since before the Virginia General Assembly went into session on Jan. 12, the Virginia Catholic Conference has been busy working to ensure that proposed policies benefit the common good as understood in Catholic moral and social teaching, including respect for life from conception to natural death; preferential concern for the poor and “the least among us;’’ economic and social justice; support for the family and marriage; and parental choice in education.

Virginia Capitol, Richmond

Guided by the bishops and in a spirit of prayer, we’ve researched issues and held face-to-face meetings with legislators, government officials and other advocacy organizations.

Our recently developed agenda details the focus of our efforts during this 46-day session. High priority items include:

  • Protecting gains we made last year in restricting state abortion funding,
  • Ensuring that abortion clinics are subject to state regulation,
  • Preventing new biotech programs from funding embryonic stem cell research,
  • Stopping death penalty expansions,
  • Providing tax credits for corporate donations to scholarship programs for low-income K-12 students,
  • Providing immigrants with access to healthcare, and protecting them from harmful policies.

Especially now that the session has begun, the Virginia Catholic Conference is asking Catholics throughout the Commonwealth to join its efforts on behalf of life, dignity and the common good.

There are three key ways to become involved:

1) Act. Become a Conference’s e-mail advocacy network member and respond to its alerts.

  • Throughout the session (and beyond) members receive regular e-mail alerts pertaining to legislation being debated in the Virginia General Assembly (and, periodically, issues being considered in the U.S. Congress.) The Conference highlights the moral and social teaching involved, and urges its members to contact their legislator to advocate the Virginia Bishops’ stance. (This can be done with a few clicks of the mouse.) Also, members are encouraged to forward alerts to interested friends.
  • We know that our members’ legislative involvement has had a significant impact on legislation. During the 2010 session, for instance, legislation that significantly reduced abortion funding for Medicaid was attributed to constituent interest in the issue. We ask members to act on as many alerts as possible.

2) Advocate. Join the Virginia Catholic Conference at Catholic Advocacy Day in Richmond on Thursday, Jan. 27.

  • It’s a great chance to learn the issues, pray and take part in grassroots advocacy. Catholic Advocacy Day begins at St. Peter’s Church with prayer and a word from our bishops. Conference staff give updates on legislative items under consideration in this year’s General Assembly, then participants caucus with other Catholics from their state senatorial district to decide who and how they will discuss the issues with their state senator and delegate.
  • Register online at www.vacatholic.org.

3) Pray.

  • Prayer is the essential tool. We ask for prayers of wisdom and persistence for our state and federal lawmakers, executives and other government officials, and for our Bishops, Conference staff, our e-mail advocacy network members—all of whom are essential to this work on behalf of the Common Good.

We hope you will join us!

Take action at www.vacatholic.org:

  • Join the Virginia Catholic Conference network and receive alerts
  • Spread that link to friends
  • Join us for Catholic Advocacy Day

“In the Catholic moral tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in the political process is a moral obligation.  This obligation is rooted in our baptismal commitment to follow Jesus Christ and bear Christian witness in all we do.” (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2007)

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