REPORT CARD: Catholic Leaders Applaud HHS Changes; Notre Dame Professor’s Judicial Nomination Advances; California Fires Damage Catholic Schools

Catholic education leaders cheer HHS mandate revision

U.S. bishops and Catholic education leaders cheered the Trump administration’s newly announced religious and moral exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate.

“We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, said in a statement.

Franciscan University of Steubenville’s president welcomed changes to the mandate, saying that the Newman Guide college is, “grateful that our constitutional right to free exercise of religion has been restored.”

Franciscan was among the first 42 Catholic organizations from around the country to join in filing lawsuits challenging the HHS contraception mandate in May 2012.

“The government has recognized that Franciscan University has the freedom to provide a health plan that does not violate its core religious beliefs as a Catholic institution,” Father Sean Sheridan, TOR, said in a statement. “We see the rule as a hopeful step toward restoring the constitutionally protected religious and moral freedoms of Catholics and all Americans.”

Father John Jenkins, CSC, president of the University of Notre Dame, released a brief statement supporting the new exemptions despite the university’s compliance with the mandate. By complying, Notre Dame disregarded the U.S. bishops’ pleas to Catholic organizations to refuse to provide employee health insurance that covers artificial contraception and sterilization.

“We welcome this reversal and applaud the attorney general’s statement that ‘except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,’” Fr. Jenkins said.

No word yet from the university on reversing its decision to comply with the mandate.

Senate committee advances Catholic professor’s nomination

In a party line vote, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted to move the judicial nomination of University of Notre Dame law professor Amy Barrett to the full Senate.

Barrett’s nomination process became national news when committee Democrats questioned her about her Catholic faith. Senator Diane Feinstein infamously said she was concerned that Catholic “dogma lives loudly” within Barrett.

Prior to the vote, Republicans criticized Democrats for essentially attempting to impose a religious test (or more accurately a non-religious test) on judicial nominees.

“I fear the committee is heading down a dangerous road if we continue to ask nominees questions like this,” committee Chairman Charles Grassley said, according to The Washington Times.

How students can stay Catholic at college

Aurora Griffin, author of How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard, recently wrote a piece for the National Catholic Register that should interest all Catholic parents planning to send their children to college.

Describing what her parents did for her, Griffin wrote that her father catechized her at home and taught her that she was made to know God, to love God, to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. The example of her parents’ “stable and loving marriage” also taught her about loving unconditionally, and their commitment to going to Mass every Sunday taught her that the Mass is the most important thing on your weekly calendar.

“So how do you keep your kids Catholic in college?” she asks. “Be the saint that you were meant to be. It’s the simple formula that the Church has held throughout the ages and the narrow path on which we all must begin again every day.”

Bishop defends firing same-sex married Catholic school teachers

Bishop Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte said it would be a “scandal” for Catholic churches and schools to employ anyone who marries or publicly announces plans to marry a same-sex partner, according to The Charlotte Observer.

If the government were to force schools to continue employing such teachers, it would “irreparably damage” the school’s mission, Bishop Jugis said in his testimony in a federal court case brought by Lonnie Billard, a teacher who sued the diocese after he was fired after announcing his same-sex wedding plans on social media.

Billard claims workplace discrimination and says that his right to work at the Catholic school should supersede the school’s right to religious freedom.

Catholic school upholds First Communion dress code

A Catholic school refused to allow a girl to wear a suit instead of a dress to her First Communion ceremony, according to The Washington Post.

St. John the Evangelist in St. John, Ind., told the nine-year-old’s family that there was a dress code for receiving the sacrament. The school said the girl could receive her first Holy Communion privately later if she insisted on wearing a white suit instead of a dress, but she would not be allowed to take part in the ceremony.

“It made me sad and mad,” the little girl was quoted as saying. “We should all be equal and wear what we would like.”

But the school appropriately upheld its standards and Catholic teaching on gender. “We have a dress code in place for our school,” a school official stated. “We consistently enforce that.”

The family insists this isn’t a gender issue but simply a fashion statement. They have since pulled their daughter out of the school and the parish, but she is attending another Catholic school.

What dissident Fr. Keenan learned at Amoris Laetitia conference

Father James Keenan, SJ, wrote a piece at the heterodox (and not Catholic) National Catholic Reporter about his Boston College conference discussing how best to implement Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which has resulted in widespread confusion and disagreement—especially when it comes to the reception of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried Catholics.

“It’s so good that the speakers basically chose to describe the contemporary situation in terms of families, instead of marriages,” said Boston College theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill, as if the two things could be separated.

Fr. Keenan, professor of theological ethics at Boston College, reports that when a bishop asked which document coming out of Rome should take precedence over others, Cardinal Kevin Farrell responded, “Amoris Laetitia! This is the document that talks about the entry level of the pastoral ministry of the entire Church.”

In 2003, Fr. Keenan testified against a Massachusetts amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman and reportedly argued that “as a priest and as a moral theologian, I cannot see how anyone could use the Roman Catholic tradition to support [the amendment].” He lamented that the bill would deny “gays and lesbians” the “full range of human and civil rights.”

Catholic schools damaged in California fires

California wildfires and have already destroyed or damaged more than 200,000 acres, including parts of two Catholic schools, according to Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Santa Rosa.

Damage to Cardinal Newman High School was extensive, including the destruction of the library, a number of classrooms, and the main office building. The chapel, however, escaped major damage.

Bishop Vasa called on all Catholics to help those who “have been severely impacted by the devastating fires and are in immediate need of your prayers,” Catholic San Francisco reported.

The fire has taken at least 23 lives, and many more are still missing. Prayers for all affected.

Catholic college mulls dropping ‘Crusader’ moniker

College of the Holy Cross President Fr. Philip Boroughs, SJ, has convened a “working group” to deliver an opinion on the fate of the Catholic college’s sports teams’ nickname.

“We are asking members of the Holy Cross community to weigh in on the appropriateness of the Crusader moniker and mascot in light of the mission, values, and identity of the College,” states the college’s website.

The group, consisting of students, alumni, faculty and staff, is charged with gathering comments and reporting its findings to the college president and board of trustees, which will then decide the fate of the moniker at its February meeting. The Crusader has been the college’s mascot for almost a century.

Last year, the college renamed one of its residence halls, because the priest it was named after reportedly had ties to slavery.

Catholic athletes refuse to stand for anthem, benched

Four football players at Lansing Catholic High School in Michigan, including the team’s starting quarterback, were benched after they announced prior to the game their plan to kneel during the national anthem, according to

One of the students said that the school’s decision “feels like oppression.” Others might think the protest feels disrespectful, and that teaching citizenship is an important role for any school.

Sessions reverses Obama’s transgender rule

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has announced a reversal of a controversial Obama administration rule declaring that “sex discrimination” under the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires employers to accommodate employees who claim a gender contrary to their sex.

Sessions said says that the Act does not extend to gender identity. He made it clear that that the reversal “is a conclusion of law, not policy” and that the Trump administration does not condone the mistreatment of any employee.

The rule, if it were allowed to stand, would have harmed the ability of Catholic schools to live out their mission by forcing them to accommodate gender ideology among its faculty and staff.

Gender ideology advocates immediately protested the reversal, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Receive the latest on Catholic Education

Related Articles