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Statement regarding Father Timothy Backous, OSB

June 11, 2014

Statement of Father James Bissonette, vicar general, Diocese of Duluth:

“We’ve just become aware of the allegations concerning Father Timothy Backous, OSB, a priest of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, and an incident with a minor that is alleged to have occurred in 1990. To our knowledge, Father Backous has carried out his duties here — assisting at St. Michael’s parish, Duluth, on weekends — in an exemplary manner and consistent with his vows and responsibilities. Nonetheless, we take such matters extremely seriously and have asked Father Backous to suspend his weekend work at the parish until a fuller examination of the facts can be completed.”

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Sacred Heart devotion

Sacred HeartThe month of June traditionally includes devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the month in which the devotion is celebrated in the liturgy (June 27). Devotion to the Sacred Heart also takes place in the first Friday of each month.

You can find more information on the Sacred Heart devotion in the June issue of The Northern Cross. Here is another resource, a devotional page provided by the Eternal Word Television Network.

Hundreds of Catholic employers win exemption from HHS mandate

Catholic News Agency/EWTN News—A federal court has ruled that the Catholic Benefits Association and its hundreds of employer members are exempt from a federal mandate requiring coverage of contraceptives and abortifacient drugs.

CBA“We are grateful for the ruling, but continue to pray that our leaders recognize that Catholics, whether bishops or businessmen, cannot in good conscience provide insurance that covers drugs and procedures that undermine the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life,” Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, the benefit association’s vice-president, said June 5.

“Religious freedom entails more than the right to worship, and any contrary legislation must be opposed,” he added.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the association’s president, also welcomed the decision.

“We formed the Catholic Benefits Association to support Catholic employers in providing quality, cost-competitive, morally compliant health care benefits for their employees,” he said June 5. “Yesterday’s decision makes this a reality.”

On June 4, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that the more than 450 employer members of the benefits association are exempt from the mandate. The ruling enjoined the U.S. government and its agents from attempting to enforce the mandate against the association’s members.

The benefits association’s general counsel, Martin Nussbaum, said the ruling is “especially gratifying” because the lawsuit is the only challenge to the HHS mandate that includes Catholic-owned for-profit businesses and other non-exempt organizations like colleges, Catholic Charities and healthcare institutions in addition to houses of worship.

The benefits association’s employers include 23 Catholic archdioceses and dioceses and almost 2,000 parishes in addition to nonprofits and Catholic-owned for-profit businesses. Its membership is also open to Catholic religious congregations, Catholic medical facilities, and Catholic universities.

The Catholic Benefits Association formed a subsidy, the Catholic Insurance Company, to allow Catholic employers to exercise their faith in what health care coverage they provide to their employees. The association also arranges health provider networks to help Catholic employers provide comprehensive health care that is consistent with Catholic ethics.

The Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires employers to provide insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause early abortions.

Widespread complaint led to a series of changes in the mandate into its current finalized form. A religious exemption to the mandate does exist, but it applies primarily to houses of worship and their affiliated organizations.

Religious employers that do not qualify for the exemption are instead offered an “accommodation” by the government, under which employees automatically receive contraceptive coverage from the objecting groups’ health insurance issuers.

These provisions have continued to draw criticism and legal complaints from hundreds of individuals and organizations who argue that their right to exercise their religious beliefs freely is being violated by the requirements.

In addition, neither the exemption nor the accommodation applies to individuals with religious or moral objections who own for-profit businesses.

Wednesday’s federal ruling on the class action lawsuit recognized that the benefits association could represent all its individual members without their explicit participation because its members are “so uniform in their beliefs.”

The named participants in the lawsuit include the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, Inc., Archbishop Lori and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Archbishop Coakley said that the U.S. government has already “effectively granted exemptions from the mandate to various employers whose plans cover more than 130 million employees.”

“We’re simply seeking the same exemption for Catholic employers who have religious objections to the unjust requirements of the mandate.”

According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the mandate has prompted some 100 lawsuits from more than 300 plaintiffs, including nonprofits, for-profits, Catholic and non-Catholic organizations, and individual states. So far, court decisions have predominantly favored the objecting groups.

A significant Supreme Court case involving the legal challenge filed by craft store giant Hobby Lobby is expected to be decided later this month.

The Beatitudes, Marriage, and Family

“Mercy me!” What are people getting at with this exclamation? Like many of the strange utterances of the English language, it speaks to a certain aspect of our human experience, namely, that we need mercy. Not everyone recognizes this truth, but its truth is for everyone. What “Mercy me!” really says is, “Goodness gracious, I need mercy, so have mercy on me, and soon!” (USCCB) Read more >>

June 20 is ordination day for Deacons Lange and Rozier

The Northern Cross

Deacons Timothy Lange and Blake Rozier will be ordained to the priesthood on Friday, June 20, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, a year to the day after they were ordained transitional deacons. Mass begins at 4 p.m.

The two transitional deacons are also hosting a Holy Hour at the Cathe- dral the evening before in preparation for the ordination. Prayers will be led at the hour by Bishop Paul Sirba, beginning at 5:30 p.m. June 19.

Deacon Rozier, the son of Mark and Mary Rozier, comes from Holy Spirit Church in Virginia, and Dea- con Lange, the son of Greg and Mary Lange, is from St. Andrew’s in Brain- erd. Both studied at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

Each newly ordained priest will hold a Mass of Thanksgiving the following day, June 21, at his home parish.

After his ordination, Father Lange’s Mass of Thanksgiving will be held at St. Andrew at 10:30 a.m. Father Rozier’s Mass of Thanksgiving will be held at Holy Spirit at noon.

There is no transitional deacon ordination this year.

June 20 is ordination day for Deacons Lange and Rozier

The Northern Cross

Deacons Timothy Lange and Blake Rozier will be ordained to the priesthood on Friday, June 20, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, a year to the day after they were ordained transitional deacons. Mass begins at 4 p.m.

The two transitional deacons are also hosting a Holy Hour at the Cathe- dral the evening before in preparation for the ordination. Prayers will be led at the hour by Bishop Paul Sirba, beginning at 5:30 p.m. June 19.

Deacon Rozier, the son of Mark and Mary Rozier, comes from Holy Spirit Church in Virginia, and Dea- con Lange, the son of Greg and Mary Lange, is from St. Andrew’s in Brain- erd. Both studied at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul.

Each newly ordained priest will hold a Mass of Thanksgiving the following day, June 21, at his home parish.

After his ordination, Father Lange’s Mass of Thanksgiving will be held at St. Andrew at 10:30 a.m. Father Rozier’s Mass of Thanksgiving will be held at Holy Spirit at noon.

There is no transitional deacon ordi- nation this year.

Pope Francis praises ‘nobility’ of work

Catholic News Agency/EWTN News—Work is “both a gift and a duty,” Pope Francis told a United Nations labor agency in a message calling for an end to human trafficking and for greater concern for migrants and the unemployed, especially the young.

“At the dawn of creation, God made man the steward of his handiwork and charged him to cultivate and protect it,” the pope said May 28 to the International Labor Conference. “Human labor is part of that creation and continues God’s creative work.”

Labor is “not a mere commodity” but has “its own inherent dignity and worth.”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims
Elise Harris/CNA
Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square before the Wednesday general audience Oct. 30, 2013.

The International Labor Conference is hosting its 103rd session from May 28 to June 12 in Geneva. The conference is sponsored by the International Labor Organization, a U.N. agency that aims to promote internationally recognized labor rights, employment opportunities, social protections and dialogue on work-related issues.

Pope Francis said that Catholic social teaching supports the organization’s initiatives that promote “the dignity of the human person and the nobility of human labor.”

Citing his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the pope said that it is only “through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive work that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their life.”

The pontiff voiced the Holy See’s appreciation for the organization’s contributions to increasing cooperation between governments, employers and workers.

The pope noted the problem of unemployment, particularly among the young who can easily become “demoralized” and feel “alienated from society.”

“Unemployment is tragically expanding the frontiers of poverty,” he said.

Pope Francis also spoke of mass migration as a cause for concern, noting “the sheer numbers of men and women forced to work away from their homelands.”

“Despite their hopes for a better future, they frequently encounter mistrust and exclusion, to say nothing of experiencing tragedies and disasters,” he said.

Migrant workers can be victims of the “globalization of indifference” and risk the “horror” of human trafficking, forced labor and enslavement.

“This cannot continue! Human trafficking is a scourge, a crime against the whole of humanity,” the pope said. “It is time to join forces and work together to free its victims and to eradicate this crime that affects all of us, from individual families to the worldwide community.”

He called for a “concerted effort to encourage governments to facilitate the movement of immigrants for the benefit of all” to help eliminate trafficking.

The pope also called for more cooperation and an expansion of solidarity throughout society.

He spoke of the need for a renewed insistence on human dignity, a “more determined implementation” of global labor standards, better development, and a “re-evaluation” of the responsibilities of international corporations.

The pope’s message concluded with a prayer: “I invoke God’s blessing on all that you do to defend and advance the dignity of work for the common good of our human family.”

Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labor Organization, delivered his own opening remarks at the conference May 28. He warned of the danger of mistreatment and abuse of migrant workers as well as the problems of forced labor. He spoke of the need to aid transitions from an “informal” economy to a “formal” economy with explicit labor standards.

Pope Francis says Holy Land visit aided Christian unity

Catholic News Agency — Pope Francis on Wednesday said his pilgrimage to the Holy Land fed the desire for Christian unity and he encouraged Catholics to pray that God may help “heal the wounds” that divide the faithful.

“I give thanks to God. He led me to that blessed Land, that has seen the historical presence of Jesus and where events fundamental to Judaism, Christianity and Islam took place,” the pope said in St. Peter’s Square May 28.

Speaking to thousands of pilgrims gathered for his Wednesday general audience, he reflected on his meeting with Orthodox Christian leaders at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

At the tomb where Jesus Christ’s body was laid to rest and resurrected, he said, “we all felt the bitterness and suffering of the divisions that continue to exist between Christ’s disciples, and this has really done great harm, harm to the heart.”

Pope Francis described his encounter with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as “the culmination of the visit,” recounting their prayers at the Holy Sepulchre with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, the Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Nourhan, archbishops and bishops from various churches, and many lay faithful.

“We are still divided; in that place, where the proclamation of the Resurrection resounds, where Jesus gives us life, we are still divided,” the pope said. “But above all, in that celebration so rich in mutual brotherhood, esteem and affection, we strongly heard the voice of the Risen Good Shepherd who wishes to bring together all His sheep in one flock; we felt the desire to heal the wounds that are still open and to follow with tenacity the path to full communion.”

“Once more, like my predecessors, I ask forgiveness for what we have done to promote that division, and I pray that the Holy Spirit may help us to heal the wounds we have inflicted on other brethren,” he said.

“We are all brothers in Christ, and with the Patriarch Bartholomew we are friends, brothers; we have shared the desire to walk together, to do what we are able to do today: to pray together, to work together for God’s flock, to seek peace and protect creation, the many things that we have in common.”

The pope explained to attendees at his general audience that the pilgrimage commemorated the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople.

“This prophetic gesture on the part of the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople constituted a milestone in the arduous but promising path towards unity among all Christians, which has taken important steps since then,” he said.

Pope Francis also spoke about efforts to encourage peace in the region. He said peace is “both a gift from God and a commitment for humankind.”

He voiced “great compassion” for natives of the Holy Land, saying they have lived in war conditions “for too long.” He said he had encouraged Christians to make gestures of humility, fraternity and reconciliation.

“The [Holy] Spirit enables us to assume these attitudes in our daily life, with people of different cultures and religions, and to thereby become peacemakers,” the pope said. “Peace is crafted day to day, and with an open heart to allow God’s gift to enter.”

He praised Jordan’s effort to welcome war refugees and he voiced his encouragement for peace in Syria and a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Pope Francis expressed the church’s gratitude for Christians in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East, whom he called “courageous witnesses of hope and charity, ‘salt and light’ in the land.”

While he had hoped to be “the bearer of a word of hope,” he said he received hope from those who are refugees or suffer derision or discrimination because of their Christian faith.

“Let us stay close to them! Let us pray for them, and for peace in the Holy Land and in the Middle East,” he said, calling for prayers for full Christian unity “so that the world may believe in God’s love that in Jesus Christ came to live among us.”

Christian woman in shackles after ‘apostasy’ death sentence

Catholic News Agency — Protest is mounting in the case of a pregnant Christian woman who faces a death sentence in Sudan for not renouncing her faith, as her husband recently found her shackled to the wall of her cell.

Meriam Ibrahim (R) is pictured in this undated image with her husband Daniel Wani.

Via Catholic News Agency

Meriam Ibrahim (R) is pictured in this undated
image with her husband Daniel Wani.

U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., wrote a May 16 letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking that he give “full attention to the outrageous Sudanese court ruling that sentenced Meriam Yaha Ibrahim Ishag to death by hanging for her religious beliefs.”

They urged “full diplomatic engagement” to secure the release of her and her son and to offer her political asylum.

Daniel Wani, a Christian and U.S. citizen, was not able to visit his wife Meriam until this week, according to Tina Ramirez, executive director of the U.S.-based religious freedom group Hardwired.

“Once he was able to, she was shackled and her legs were swollen,” Ramirez told Fox News.

Ibrahim, 26, is eight months pregnant. She is imprisoned with her 18-month-old son in a Sudanese jail after a May 15 court ruling convicted her of apostasy from Islam and adultery.

She is recognized as Muslim under Sudanese law because her father was Muslim. However, she was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother after her father abandoned the family. She was convicted of adultery because the law does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and Christian men.

Ibrahim rejected the charges and refused to renounce her faith, telling the court, “I am a Christian, and I never committed apostasy.”

According to reports, members of her father’s family reported her to authorities, claiming she had changed her name. They submitted documents they said proved she had been Muslim from birth.

Ibrahim’s attorneys, who are appealing the sentence, said the documents are forgeries.

Wani cannot have custody of his son because the boy is considered a Muslim and is not allowed to be in the custody of a Christian man.

The married couple has several businesses, including a farm, south of Khartoum. Wani has returned to Sudan from New Hampshire, where his brother Gabriel Wani also lives.

“I’m just praying for God. He can do a miracle,” Gabriel Wani told the New Hampshire news station WMUR. “Everyone is depressed. You don’t believe it. It’s shock.”

Ibrahim’s death sentence will not be carried out until she gives birth and finishes nursing her baby.

Her conviction has caused international outcry.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson on May 15 said the State Department is “deeply disturbed” by the death sentence. It urged the Sudanese government to “respect the right to religious freedom.”

“We call on the Sudanese legal authorities to approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people,” the spokesperson said.

Numerous lawmakers and human rights advocates have called for greater action by the U.S. government and international bodies.

U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., a co-chair of the U.S. Congress’ International Religious Freedom Caucus, called on the State Department to express to the Sudanese government that such a human rights violation “will be taken extremely seriously” and that Sudan must follow its obligations under international treaties.

“Such blatant disregard for the value of human life — and religious freedom — is an indescribable disgrace,” he said May 15.

Senators Ayotte and Blunt asked Kerry and President Obama to reappoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, saying this position’s primary purpose is to “monitor, prevent, and respond to this exact type of incident.” The ambassador position has been vacant since October 2013, when the previous ambassador stepped down.

A petition from the American Center for Law and Justice’s Be Heard Project calling for Ibrahim’s release has gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a body that advises the U.S. government, strongly condemned the death sentence and called for Ibrahim’s immediate release.

“This case and the sentencing are a travesty for religious freedom and human rights in Sudan,” commission chairman Robert P. George said May 16.

“International attention to this case is critical to holding the Sudanese government accountable for its constitutional provisions and international commitments to protect and respect freedom of religion or belief not only for Mrs. Ibrahim, but all Sudanese, regardless of faith,” he stressed.

Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has agreed with the commission’s recommended designation of Sudan as a “country of particular concern” on religious freedom issues.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, condemned the “draconian” sentence against the woman. He asked President Obama to appeal for Ibrahim’s release and offer her “safe haven.”

“The clock is ticking,” he said.

Vatican official sees ‘warming-up’ of Catholic-Orthodox relations

By Elise Harris
Catholic News Agency

A member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity affirmed the sentiments of many who believe that Catholic-Orthodox relations have improved in recent years, especially under Pope Francis

Father Gabriel Quicke

Andreas Dueren / Catholic News Agency
Father Gabriel Quicke speaks with CNA on May 16.


“When I look to what I hear about Pope Francis, and I remember when he was elected he spoke to the immense group of the faithful at St. Peter’s Square, I remember that he referred to the introduction of the letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Rome,” Father Gabriel Quicke told CNA May 16.

“In his introduction in the letter to the Christians of Rome he speaks about the Church of Rome that is presiding in charity over the whole world of Christians, and Pope Francis used that expression,” he recalled: “The Church of Rome is presiding in charity over all the churches.”

“It was really a very important expression, and most appreciated by the Orthodox churches. This is a warming up for all of us.”

A former missionary in Lebanon, Father Quicke is a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity who works specifically with the Oriental Churches.

Out of the four separate dialogues the Oriental section maintains, the priest is in charge of three, which includes the whole of the Oriental Orthodox churches, the two Malankara churches (also known as the Indian or Syrian Orthodox), and the Asian church of the east.

What they are seeking to do through these ongoing dialogues, Father Quicke said, is to “put very important steps forward” in order to strengthen their bonds of unity with the Catholic Church.

He said there is only “one obstacle” preventing the full union of the Catholic Church with the orthodox churches, “the role of the pope, the Petrine ministry.”

“We realized that we have so many things in common; we are proclaiming the same faith, we have the same sacraments, we have the same ecclesial structure, and we realized that we have the same spiritual roots. Most of the churches also have an apostolic tradition,” he said.

Noting how great “fraternal dialogue” is already happening within the Orthodox churches of Constantinople and those of the Slavic tradition, Father Quicke admitted that “it is not easy” and that “we need a lot of patience and we try to establish an atmosphere of fraternity, brotherhood.”

Speaking of the upcoming encounter between Pope Francis and various patriarchs during his visit to the Holy Land later this week, Father Quicke said that this meeting is especially significant firstly because “it is a commemoration of that unbelievable meeting, that fraternal encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago.”

Referring to it as “a milestone in the relationships of both churches,” the priest observed that “after a thousand years of excommunication that was a radical change.”

“And the fact that Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartolomeo of Constantinople will meet again 50 years after that historic meeting has a very important significance.”

“The fact that they meet each other in such an important place where Christ prayed for the unity of his disciples and where they would pray together,” he said, “is a sign that we have become closer to one another and that we both are engaged in putting further steps for unity.”

One of the things they are seeking to discuss during the trip is “looking together for a common date for Easter,” Father Quicke said, noting that “the fact that we don’t have the same date for the celebration of Easter is something painful.”

Regarding the future of the Catholic-Orthodox relationships, the priest said, “we can learn from them and they can learn from us,” but “with our human efforts we also have to pray for unity because Christian unity is not only the result of human efforts.”

“Ecumenical dialogue is not only discussing high theological issues. It is firstly to enter together into the prayer of Jesus that all may be one.”

Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.