PCC Welcomes Two New Staff

PCC’s newest staff members: Eric Failing, Director of Social Concerns, and Stephany Dugan, Director of Outreach.

Two new faces joined the staff of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC), public affairs agency of the ten Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania based in the state capital, Harrisburg. Eric Failing is director of social concerns and Stephany Dugan is director of outreach.

The PCC’s mission is to formulate positions on public policy issues that affect the Church as an institution, but also on issues of morality, health, welfare, human rights, education and the common good. The PCC officially represents the Church before state government and works in cooperation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on federal issues. The PCC also aims to foster a public understanding of the Church’s teaching and concern about all of these issues.

Mr. Failing represents the Church’s concern about pro-life, social justice, and family-life issues and helps diocesan Catholic Charities agencies by monitoring legislation and regulations that affect them and the services they offer. He lobbies the state legislature on behalf of low-income and other needy population groups.

Ms. Dugan manages the Catholic Advocacy Network and the PCC’s website and social media. Her work helps to arm Catholics with the truth and authentic Church teaching behind today’s public policy issues so they can be effective advocates for the Gospel in the public square.

Learn about the latest issues and take action through the Catholic Advocacy Network at



JUNE 2017 column. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Stay up-to-date with Catholic news and issues at,, and

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Life of Cardinal William H. Keeler Honored by State Legislature

The life of Cardinal William H. Keeler was honored and celebrated on Monday, June 12, 2017, by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives with the unanimous adoption of House Resolution 345.

The resolution was introduced by state Rep. Frank Ryan of Lebanon County.

Cardinal Keeler, who was called to the priesthood at an early age, was widely known for forging strong relationships with other religious denominations, particularly Jews and Protestants.

A native of Lebanon and attendee of Lebanon Catholic High School, Cardinal Keeler served as the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg from 1984 to 1989 and was president of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Administrative Board. Namely, he was instrumental in arranging Pope John Paul II’s historic 1987 meetings with Jewish leaders in Miami, Florida, and with Protestant leaders in Columbia, South Carolina.

He was appointed the 14th Archbishop of Baltimore in 1989, became President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992.

In November 1994, Pope John Paul II appointed then-Archbishop Keeler to the College of Cardinals making him the third Archbishop of Baltimore to receive the distinction.

In his own words: “I wondered about a way of saying thank you to God and giving back to the church and the gifts that God has given to me. It was as simple as that. For me, becoming a priest was not complicated.” – From The Catholic Review of Baltimore.

Cardinal William Henry Keeler

March 4, 1931 – March 23, 2017

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Advocates, Lawmakers ‘Stand up for Life’ at Capitol Rally

Standing  united on the steps of the state’s Capitol, pro-life advocates and lawmakers renewed the call to stand up for life by urging passage of legislation (House Bill 77 or Senate Bill 3) which would reform Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp, who was inspired by the verse 30:19 from Deuteronomy where God advises us to “choose life”, led the call to support legislation to enact a ban on abortions from the 20th week on during a pregnancy.

Research, medical advances and scientific evidence have all shown that by the 20th week of a pregnancy, unborn babies are capable of feeling pain in utero – furthering the need to stand up for the protection of the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

In addition, the legislation also would completely ban the cruel and brutal practice of dismemberment abortions in the state of Pennsylvania.

More than 12 other states, including neighboring Ohio have begun to reduce the maximum gestational age for legal abortions. Sitting down, Pennsylvania will remain off that list. Standing up, Pennsylvania could be the next state to save the lives of unborn children and protect the lives of mothers!

Urge your state representative to stand up for life and support this legislation. Send a message here through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

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Maybe the cure is the problem

The following is an article by Aaron Matthew Weldon that appeared as the May 25, 2017, entry on “God’s Servant First: A USCCB Religious Freedom Blog.”

American culture today is highly individualistic.  Many of us make major life decisions on our own, we move from place to place, or we make frequent changes in employment.

My wife and I have made three major moves in the relatively short span in which we have been married.  Each time, the first thing we wanted to do was “get settled”—that is, get involved in a church, make friends, and start working.

I suspect many people are like me in that they feel vulnerable when it seems like they must make it in the world alone.  We want to belong.  We want to belong to a church, a community group, a service organization, or some other group.

The basic human need to belong entails a need for a healthy pluralism; a healthy pluralism means, among other things, that organizations are free to order themselves in accordance with the purposes of the group, including religious purposes.

For example, in a pluralistic society, a religious organization is free to hire only people who support the mission of the organization.  In this sense, religious freedom helps foster a healthy pluralism by maintaining space for religious institutions to purse their unique missions.

Yet authentic pluralism, understandably, may look frightening to the isolated individual.  What if I cannot get involved with a particular student group on campus?  What if I don’t fit into that club?  What if I disagree with the goals of a potential employer?  The fear of exclusion results in praise for institutions to the extent that they are “inclusive,” and punishment to the extent that they appear to be “exclusionary,” which is sometimes further maligned as “discriminatory.”

This attitude has real consequences.  For example, on many college campuses, Christian groups have been forced to adopt “all-comers” policies.  Some colleges require that any student have the right to be a leader for any student group.  This may sound appealing on first blush, but it means that an atheist could lead a Bible study, a climate change denier could lead the environmental club, or a Republican could lead the College Democrats.

A false sense of “inclusivity” ends up meaning that organizations and clubs cannot really have a distinct purpose or mission.  Having mission-based policies would mean that the group must order itself both to support and to avoid subverting that mission; and that means excluding those who would subvert it or not support it strongly enough.  This exclusion is then called “discrimination.”

But if the group cannot order itself, there is nothing distinctive about it, and thus it cannot give the individual person the sense of belonging and opportunity for fulfillment that she is seeking.  The cure for exclusion ends up excluding anyone from belonging anywhere.  This reinforces the individualistic culture that causes people to feel so vulnerable in the first place.

Healthy pluralism is difficult.  The erosion of religious freedom makes authentic pluralism even more difficult. Without a healthy pluralism—that is, without the space for a variety of organizations and groups to thrive—human flourishing is diminished.

The desire to remove entry barriers to the groups that make up civil society is understandable.  We want everyone to belong somewhere; but we shouldn’t shoehorn everyone into belonging everywhere.  When the removal of barriers bleaches out distinctiveness and weakens mission—including religious mission—we undercut the goal of building a truly inclusive society.

Aaron Matthew Weldon is Religious Liberty Program Specialist for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Physician Assisted Suicide: The Real Effects

The Patients Rights Action Fund (PRAF) has released a new video “Physician Assisted Suicide: The Real Effects.” Featuring Dr. Brian Callister of Nevada, it addresses one of the most compelling dangers of legalizing assisted suicide – the denial of life-extending/-saving care the concurrent “offer” to cover the cost of lethal drugs for suicide.

His experience is disturbing–and should be made known far wide. Click the image to see the video on YouTube.

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What’s on the PCC Legislative Agenda?

The PA Senate Bill Room

The 2017-2018 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly is now fully underway and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association are tracking a number of different legislative proposals.

See what bills are on the radar screen

PCC and PCHA formulate policy positions about state government programs, legislation, and policies that affect the common good and the interests of the Church. Areas of interest include concern for the poor, education, faith and politics, health care, respect for human life, religious liberty and social justice.

In each two-year legislative session, the Legislative Reference Bureau prepares about 70 million pages of bills, amendments, resolutions, and citations introduced by the members of the General Assembly. Only a fraction of them will ever become law, but each one has the potential for consideration.

The PCC and PCHA review hundreds of these bills with a Catholic lens. Some bills may affect the Church, and its Catholic schools, charities, and health care facilities as an institution; but many more deserve consideration because they concern the welfare of others. The Gospel calls us to support and defend the common good.

With so many proposals to consider, how do the PCC and PCHA prioritize what to track? Bills that promote these values may earn Catholic support; bills that may harm or contradict will be opposed.

  • Protection of human life from conception until natural death.
  • Support of programs that provide aid to nonpublic school students and their parents, including school choice.
  • Health care and insurance reform that guarantees access to adequate health care, standard benefits, long-term care for all persons, and care that allows religiously-affiliated providers to deliver services in accord with their ethical and moral principles.
  • Strengthening Pennsylvania families and working to uphold the stability of marriage between one man and one woman.
  • Support for safe and affordable religious child care facilities.
  • Advocacy for social justice and human rights for all Pennsylvanians, especially for programs that serve people in need.
  • Protection of the right to religious freedom, whether within the Church walls or in the community.

Many bills that address important topics are introduced, but not all of them are likely to be considered. The PCC and PCHA include bills in its legislative review that seem to have “traction;” but things can happen fast in a legislative session. News and urgent calls to action are constantly updated on

Pray for our elected officials and their public policy deliberations. The well-being of Pennsylvania’s citizens depends on it!

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Catholic Schools Stand Out in 2017 PA-CAPE Annual Awards

PA-CAPE award recipients at the awards ceremony in Harrisburg on May 10th. (L to R): Jeanne Koenig Meredith (St. Mary Interparochial School), Christopher Buck (Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School), Mary B. Stauffer (Dayspring Christian Academy), Nona Shanis Melnick (Montessori Children’s House), Kevin Skaer (The Christian Academy), Rebecca Dewey (Gladwyne Montessori), Diane Hediger (representing Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School)

The Pennsylvania affiliate of the Council on American Private Education (PA-CAPE) honor Pennsylvania’s brightest teachers, administrators, and schools in the private sector each year.  The 2017 PA-CAPE Private School Teacher, Administrator, and School Awards included several Catholic winners. Representing approximately 85 percent of the students in private schools in Pennsylvania, PA-CAPE established the awards ceremony to elevate the status of private education in the eyes of the communities they serve as well as the Pennsylvania legislature.  There are many excellent candidates nominated for these awards each year, all of whom provide an outstanding example of how Pennsylvania private schools are changing the lives of students both in and out of the classroom.  We would like to recognize and congratulate the following individuals and school for winning this year’s awards.

  • Rebecca Dewey – Early Childhood Educator (Gladwyne Montessori)
  • Nona Shanis Melnick – Early Childhood Administrator (Montessori Children’s House)
  • Mary B. Stauffer – Primary Educator (Dayspring Christian Academy)
  • Jeanne Koenig Meredith – Primary Administrator (St. Mary Interparochial School)
  • Christopher Buck – Secondary Educator (Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School)
  • Kevin M. Skaer – Secondary Administrator (The Christian Academy)
  • Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School – Story Award


These teachers and administrators have a personal testimony that reinforces the overall significance of private school educators and leaders; we congratulate and thank them for the impact they make in their classrooms, schools, and in the lives of each of their students!

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Growing Vegetables & Awareness in the State Capitol’s Hunger Garden

Some of Pennsylvania’s politicians play dirty at the State Capitol – literally. Several members of the Legislative Hunger Caucus led by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Representative Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) got into the dirt and planted tomatoes, peppers, and other fresh vegetables in the Hunger Garden on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.

Located on the State Capitol grounds between the Main Capitol Building and the Ryan Office Building, the Capitol Hunger Garden provides healthy food for the Downtown Daily Bread soup kitchen in Harrisburg and serves as a valuable tool to raise awareness of hunger issues in Pennsylvania.

Every year, hundreds of volunteers including Master Gardeners plant, cultivate, and harvest thousands of pounds of produce to feed many Pennsylvanians in need from this small plot of earth.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Social Concerns Director Eric Failing offered an appropriate quote from Pope Francis, “It is Jesus himself who invites us to make room in our hearts for the urgency to ‘feed the hungry,’ and the Church has made it one of the corporal works of mercy. To share what we have with those who lack the means to satisfy such a primary need, educates us in that charity that is an overflowing gift of passion for the life of the poor that the Lord makes us meet.”

Hunger is an issue that affects every community in America; men, women, the elderly, and especially children face food insecurity every day. Catholic Charities operate over 10.4 million food services across the country including food distribution in pantries and food banks, fully prepared meals served in dining facilities, soup kitchen facilities, and home delivery.

Learn more about Pennsylvania’s Legislative Hunger Caucus here.

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Inform Your Conscience: Who’s Who in the 2017 PA Primary Election

Pennsylvanians will take to the polls on Tuesday, May 16, 2017, to select candidates to represent their political parties in the state and local judicial elections, and municipal elections. What are the duties of these offices and why are they important to Catholics?

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is composed of seven justices. It is Pennsylvania’s highest court, so in matters of law it is the Commonwealth’s court of last resort. It is also the oldest appellate court in the nation. Most of the cases that come before the PA Supreme Court are requests for discretionary appeals from the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court; direct appeals from a lower court’s decision, including when a sentence of death is issued; requests to intervene in a lower court’s proceedings; or requests to let someone go from illegal detention.

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court is one of two intermediate appellate courts. Fifteen judges sit on this court to hear appeals in criminal and most civil cases from lower local courts, and appeals on matters involving children and families. The other intermediate appellate court is the Commonwealth Court. The nine judges on this court primarily hear cases that involve state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth.

Local courts at the county level are called Courts of Common Pleas. They are general trial courts where most cases are resolved. Lower than that and more local still are the municipal courts where district magistrates determine whether criminal cases are serious enough to be sent to the Court of Common Pleas.

Learn more about Pennsylvania’s unified court system at

In the Primary Election, each political party will select its candidates for one Supreme Court Justice; four Superior Court Judges; two Commonwealth Court Judges; and the various candidates for the local courts and local municipal offices such as mayor, city council, school board, and others.

Statewide Judicial Ballot

PA Supreme Court (vote for one)





PA Superior Court (vote for four)





PA Commonwealth Court (vote for two)





The judges we elect have an important job. While our advocacy is directed toward the legislative process, many matters concerning abortion, the death penalty, religious liberty, marriage, and other questions of social justice may come before the courts. The checks and balances that the judicial branch has on the other branches of government are significant. We have a duty to support candidates that uphold moral values in all branches of government.

Educate your Conscience

There are a few sources of information where voters can gain insights into the qualifications and values of the judicial candidates. Some groups ask general questions on their candidate surveys; for example, the PA League of Women Voters and the PA Bar Association. Other groups may be more focused on the candidates’ positon on a few particular issues such as the PA ProLife Federation, the PA Family Institute or the National Organization for Women. You can also learn a lot about a candidate’s views from the endorsements they receive. Click the links on the names above to see the endorsements listed on each candidate’s campaign website.

Get Out To Vote!

Mark your calendar for Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Get details about your polling place at And pray for Pennsylvania’s elected officials!

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Better Care, More Access for Women

“Better care, more access for women,” is the rallying cry of advocates who want to direct our limited tax dollars to health care providers that provide the most comprehensive care for women. Senate Bill 300 proposes a prioritization of funding of women’s health services and family planning to go to Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Centers which provide a wide array of women’s health services over those that offer limited services and focus narrowly on contraception, STD screening, and abortion.

Federally Qualified Health Centers offer comprehensive care, including prenatal care, mental health services, dental care, and other women’s health services; and FQHCs are easier to access. There are more than 300 of these centers in Pennsylvania compared to the 25 more narrowly focused centers operated by Planned Parenthood.

Tell your state Senator that women deserve efficient and comprehensive primary health care. Urge them to vote YES on SB 300 through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

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Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,

from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.


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President Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order


Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), responded to President Donald J. Trump’s executive order concerning religious liberty that was issued on May 4, 2017.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Today’s Executive Order begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate. We will engage with the Administration to ensure that adequate relief is provided to those with deeply held religious beliefs about some of the drugs, devices, and surgical procedures that HHS has sought to require people of faith to facilitate over the last several years. We welcome a decision to provide a broad religious exemption to the HHS mandate, but will have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.

In recent years, people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding. For example, in areas as diverse as adoption, education, healthcare, and other social services, widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility — and penalized accordingly. But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity.

We will continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith.  Religious freedom is a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims. As president of the Bishops’ Conference, I had the opportunity to meet with President Trump this morning in the Oval Office to address these and other topics.”

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Prioritizing Funding for Women’s Primary Health Care

The Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee voted 7-5 in favor of Senate Bill 300 which will prioritize the funding of women’s health services and family planning. In effect, the bill would direct the limited federal and state public funding first to the most efficient and comprehensive health care providers.

Public entities that provide a wide array of primary care services will receive the highest priority for receiving such funds. Next in line would be non-public hospitals and federally qualified health centers, rural health clinics, and non-public health providers that have their main purpose as the provision of primary health care. The bill also prohibits the Department of Human Services from entering into a contract with or making a grant to “any entity that performs abortions that are not federally qualified abortions or maintains or operates a facility where such abortions are performed, except as required by Federal law.”

In describing the bill before the committee, the prime sponsor Senator John Eichelberger (R-Blair County) offered a list of about a dozen services provided by federally qualified health centers including diabetes and heart disease screening, even flu shots, which is why he feels they should have priority. Other providers that are more focused on family planning such as Planned Parenthood only provide three. Eichelberger said Planned Parenthood, for example, can test for a sexually transmitted disease (STD) but the patient must go somewhere else for treatment. “There are other resources in communities (that can offer more complete care),” he contended, speaking specifically to community health centers.

Tell your state Senator that women deserve efficient and comprehensive primary health care. Urge them to vote YES on SB 300 through the Catholic Advocacy Network.

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Pennsylvania Civic Commemoration Ceremony of the Holocaust

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer and Rabbi Elisha Friedman and son from Kesher Israel, Harrisburg, PA

“We must always be vigilant in preventing such atrocities,” said Matthew Handel, Chair of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “This annual civic commemoration is essential to acknowledge and reflect on the catastrophe that fell upon the Jewish people and other groups of victims who were the recipients of unfathomable bigotry and hatred.

“We must never forget, so that we do not allow this tragic chapter of history to be repeated.”

The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition hosted this year’s Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust on April 24, 2017, at the State Capitol.  The 33rd annual ceremony included remarks from many elected officials including Governor Tom Wolf and resolutions from the Pennsylvania Senate and House.

The ceremony also included the lighting of candles by Holocaust survivors, and children and grandchildren of survivors, an essay reading from students, and an interfaith message by Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.

“The crimes of the Nazis began with a false understanding of humanity – that there are different “grades” of being and worth among people. This misguided idea that human beings differ from each other in terms of dignity, importance, or worth,” said Bishop Gainer, “must be categorically rejected as a direct contradiction to a moral and democratic society.”

“May this Holocaust Memorial Day forge a united resolve never to forget the tears and sufferings of the past and a united resolve to protect the dignity and sanctity of every person and to protect the rights endowed to every person by our Creator.”

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Protect Religious Liberty of Adoption & Foster Care Providers

The U.S. Congress is considering important legislation that will protect religious liberty.

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA) protects the religious liberties of child welfare service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies.  The Act would prohibit the federal government and any state that receives certain federal funding from discriminating against child welfare service providers on the basis that they decline to provide a child welfare service that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.  The Inclusion Act is needed because child welfare service providers are being discriminated against because of their sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.  For example, certain religiously-affiliated charities in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia have had to stop adoption and foster care services because of requirements imposed upon them to place children in households headed by two persons of the same sex.  Also, women and men who want to place their children for adoption should be free to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.  The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice.  The Inclusion Act has been introduced in both the House (H.R. 1881) and the Senate (S. 811).

Contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators today!

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Child Abuse Prevention Month: 10 Points to Create a Safe Environment

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The responsibility of protecting children belongs to everyone as a matter of charity and justice. Child Abuse Prevention Month should lead to heightened awareness of the need to be vigilant about providing a safe environment for all within the Church and for our communities. Consider these 10 points:

1. Sexual molestation is about the victim
Many people are affected when a priest abuses a minor, but the individual most impacted is the victim who has suffered a violation of trust that can affect his or her entire life. The abuser, the family of the abused, and the parish community are all affected by this sin and crime, but the primary person of concern must be the victim.

2. No one has the right to have access to children
If people wish to volunteer for the church, for example, in a parish or school, they must follow diocesan guidelines on background checks, safe environment training, policies and procedures, and codes of conduct. No one, no matter who they are, has an automatic right to be around children or young people who are in the care of the church without proper screening and without following the rules.

3. Common sense is not all that common
It is naive to presume that people automatically know boundaries so organizations and families have to spell them out. For example, no youth minister, cleric or other adult leader should be in a child’s bedroom, alone with the child.

4. Child sexual abuse can be prevented
Awareness that child sexual abuse exists and can exist anywhere is a start. It is then critical to build safety barriers around children and young people to keep them from harm. These barriers come in the form of protective guardians, codes of conduct, background evaluations, policies and procedures, and safety training programs.

5. The residual effects of having been abused can last a lifetime
Those who have been abused seldom just get over it. The sense of violation goes deep into a persons psyche and feelings of anger, shame, hurt and betrayal can build long after the abuse has taken place. Some have even described the feeling as if it has scarred their soul.

6. Feeling heard leads toward healing
Relief from hurt and anger often comes when one feels heard, when ones pain and concerns are taken seriously, and a victim/survivors appropriate sense of rage and indignation are acknowledged. Not being acknowledged contributes to a victims sense of being invisible, unimportant and unworthy; they are in some way revictimized.

7. You cannot always predict who will be an abuser
Experience shows that most abuse is at the hands of someone who has gained the trust of a victim/survivor and his/her family. Most abuse also occurs in the family setting. Sometimes the nicest person in the world is an abuser, and this niceness enables a false sense of trust to be created between abuser and abused.

8. There are behavioral warning signs of child abusers
Training and education help adults recognize grooming techniques that are precursors to abuse. Some abusers isolate a potential victim by giving him or her undue attention or lavish gifts. Another common grooming technique is to allow young people to participate in activities which their parents or guardians would not approve, such as watching pornography, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and excessive touching, which includes wrestling and tickling. It is also critical to be wary of age-inappropriate relationships, seen, for example, in the adult who is more comfortable with children than fellow adults. Parishes can set up rules to guide interaction between adults and children.

9. People can be taught to identify grooming behavior
Grooming behaviors are the actions which abusers take to project the image that they are kind, generous, caring people, while their intent is to lure a minor into an inappropriate relationship. An abuser may develop a relationship with the family to increase his credibility. Abusers might show attention to the child by talking to him/her, being friendly, sharing alcohol with a minor and giving the child status by insinuating that the child is their favorite or special person. Offenders can be patient and may groom their victim, his or her family, or community for years.

10. Background checks work
Background checks in churches, schools and other organizations keep predators away from children both because they scare off some predators and because they uncover past actions which should ban an adult from working or volunteering with children. If an adult has had difficulty with some boundaries that society sets, such as not driving while intoxicated or not disturbing the public peace, he or she may have difficulties with other boundaries, such as not hurting a child. Never forget that offenders lie.

Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Anyone who has been abused or if you suspect abuse is occurring, report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or local law enforcement. Learn more about the child protection and safe environment efforts in your local diocese or how survivors of abuse can get help here.

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Legislative Status Report – Statutes of Limitation

Statutes of limitation reform for childhood sexual abuse is a being debated again this legislative session.

Senate Bill 261, which passed the Senate without opposition (48-0) in February, prospectively abolishes the criminal statute of limitation and would allow survivors to file civil lawsuits up to their age 50. The legislation also opens the door to the courts for survivors who suffered sexual abuse in public or governmental institutions by removing the sovereign immunity defense.

On April 4, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee amended SB 261 to further equalize the opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse in public institutions to access recovery of damages through the civil courts. The technical amendments render inapplicable the written notice requirement that public entities must be notified of an individual’s intent to sue only 6 months after the child victim’s 18th birthday, and eliminates the caps on the amount of damages that may be awarded. These amendments “level the playing field” for children who are abused by someone in a public institution with children who may have suffered the same crime in a private setting.

A third amendment strikes the provision in the Senate bill that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations in certain cases against an individual perpetrator or an individual who had direct involvement in allowing the abuse to continue. As amended, the bill would raise the statute of limitations for all civil actions to the victim’s age 50.

Caught up in the debate about making changes to protect children now and in the future has been an effort to change the statute of limitations retroactively. An amendment may be offered to SB 261 to allow lawsuits for decades-old cases. This proposal would, in effect, force the people who make up an organization like the Catholic Church today defend themselves against a crime that was committed in their parish, school, or charitable program years ago. Last year, the Senate held hearings and determined that changing the law retroactively would be unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.  Regardless, it is definitely unfair to individual Catholics today whose parishes and schools would be the targets of decades-old lawsuits.

SB 261 was reported out of committee with a vote of 22-5 and will soon be considered by the full House of Representatives. Send a message to your elected officials that it is possible to strengthen laws to give justice to childhood sexual abuse survivors without bankrupting the men, women and children who make up the Church today.

The first obligation of the Church with regard to survivors of childhood sexual abuse is for healing and reconciliation. Dioceses and eparchies continue to reach out to every person who has been a victim of sexual abuse as a minor by anyone in church service, whether that abuse is recent or occurred in the past. Learn more about victim/survivor assistance in Pennsylvania.

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PA House Condemns Global Persecution of Christians

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution this week condemning the persecution of Christians around the world. HR 203 is a resolution “Condemning the global persecution of Christians and calling on world leaders to implement policies that protect the religious liberty of Christians and all other faiths within their borders.”

The prime sponsor, Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Crawford, Forest, Warren) urged her colleagues to support the resolution to bring attention to the various forms of persecution and the rights of Christians to practice their sincerely-held religious beliefs regardless of their location on the globe.

It is fitting for Pennsylvania, with our rich tradition of religious liberty, to acknowledge this serious threat to so many around the world.

Pray for peace!

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Child Abuse Prevention Month: Opening the Door to Healing and Recovery

The blue ribbon is a sign of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The first response that a survivor of childhood sexual abuse receives when revealing what happened to him or her is crucial for opening the door toward healing.

“I believe you.”

“It is not your fault.”

“I am sorry that happened to you.”

Statistics tell us one out of every four girls, and one out of every six boys, are assaulted before they turn 18. If those statistics are correct, everywhere you turn you will encounter people who have been abused and are feeling the pain of that abuse. Reaching out to all victims of abuse/survivors is critical in bringing hope and the love of Christ to them.

The Catholic community is committed to supporting healing and recovery among sexual abuse survivors and their families, and offers lifelong resources to cover the costs of counseling, addiction treatment and other services of the survivors’ choice. Every diocese has a survivor/victims services professional on staff to listen, learn about their trauma, and encourage survivors in their own time to get support. This is not ordered by the court; it is the Church’s initiative to address the harm, pain and anger caused by child sexual abuse. Assistance is available no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

Where to find Catholic child protection and victim/survivor support services in PA?

The Church has repeatedly acknowledged abuse that happened and its role in the ongoing suffering experienced by survivors and their loved ones. While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey toward healing, the Church is committed to offering assistance.   We will provide continuous resources for survivors and their families so they can have access counseling, addiction treatment, medications and other necessary support services.

In addition to support for survivors, the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania adhere to strict safe environment practices, including training for employees, clergy and volunteers in identifying and responding to signs of abuse. Our dioceses enforce a zero-tolerance policy for clergy, employees and volunteers accused of abuse. The dioceses have already reported these allegations to local district attorneys and have now also shared them with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. Credible allegations of misconduct result in permanent removal from ministry, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. Every adult who interacts with children — including clergy, employees and volunteers — is subject to thorough background checks.

The emotional outcry for the Church to make things right for past victims is understandable and fuels the Catholic Church’s support for survivors and enduring commitment to end child abuse through education, awareness and constant vigilance.


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The Real Criminals of Human Trafficking

Photo Credit: CRS

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society.” – Pope Francis

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee took a strong stand in support of victims of human trafficking this week with a 14-0 vote on Senate Bill 554. The legislation would provide specialized services to victims of sex trafficking under the age of 18 instead of facing charges in the juvenile justice system. The bill would establish a statewide protocol to provide local services including safe and stable housing, access to education, employment and life-skills training, counseling, treatment for addictions, health care, and more. Rather than facing delinquency charges for prostitution, these children will get the help and support necessary to break free from enslavement.

Senators Stewart Greenleaf (R-Bucks, Montgomery) and Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery), the prime sponsors of SB 554, wrote to their colleagues, “These children are victims, not criminals, and they deserve the protection of the child welfare system, not re-victimization and incarceration in the juvenile justice system. Not only is this the right thing to do by these exploited children, it is also the most effective way to help law enforcement target the traffickers and pimps who are the real criminals.”

Pope Francis believes, “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.” As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of every human life and vehemently oppose human trafficking and modern-day slavery as it contravenes basic human dignity. In addition to working to eradicate human trafficking, our nation should ensure that victims have the services and support they need to heal.

Urge your state Senator to support a better life for sex trafficking victims and vote YES on SB 554.

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School Choice Leaders at the State Capitol

Leaders from organizations that represent many different non-public schools met with Speaker of the House Representative Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and many other elected officials this week. Speaker Turzai is the lead sponsor of House Bill 250, a measure that would increase Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits by $75 million. The tax credits are granted to companies that support scholarships for Pennsylvania students to attend the school of their choice.

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Sam Botta Lancaster County Christian School;, Sean McAleer, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and Co-Director of PA-CAPE; Tom Shaheen, PA Family Institute; Dr. Kathy Keafer, Johnstown Christian School; Representative Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House; Dan Stone, Upper School Principal of Dayspring Christian Academy; Dr. D Merle Skinner, Champion Christian School, ACSIPA, and Co-Director PA-CAPE; Arielle Frankston-Morris, Director of Teach PA – Orthodox Union Advocacy Center; and Rev. Theodore E. Clater, Pd.D., Keystone Christian Education Association.

Voice your opinion in support of increasing the EITC and OSTC programs. Click here to urge your elected officials to invest in success and support HB 250.


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Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion Bill Passes PA House

With a strong bi-partisan vote of 147-39, House Bill 250 cleared its first hurdle: passage in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The measure proposes to increase Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) by $50 million (raising it to $175 million) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC) by $25 million (raising it to $75 million).

The tax credit scholarships have granted more than 40,000 families each year the opportunity to send their children to a Catholic or another private school. It gives these families a true choice in the right educational path for their children. Every Catholic school in all corners of this great Commonwealth benefits from the EITC or OSTC programs.

The programs also benefit countless more Pennsylvania students in traditional public schools. Educational Improvement Organizations direct a portion of the tax credits to support innovative educational programs that enhance the regular public school curriculum.

House Bill 250 will now be considered by the State Senate. Urge your Senator to invest in success and support the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs by voting YES on HB 250. Click here to send a message to your state Senator today.


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What does the Church teach about Family, Community, and Participation?

Explore what the Catholic Church teaches about call to family, community, and participation in this video from Catholic Relief Services on Catholic Social Teaching featuring Lisa Hendey, Msgr. Ray East, and Jonathan Reyes.


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U.S. Bishops Chairman on Migration says New Executive Order Still Leaves Many Innocent Lives at Risk


The Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, says that President Trump’s latest Executive Order still puts vulnerable populations around the world at risk. In a statement issued after the announcement of today’s travel suspension, Bishop Vásquez says that while we seek to maintain our values and safety, we must also exercise compassion in assisting and continuing to welcome the stranger.

Bishop Vázquez’s full statement follows:

“We remain deeply troubled by the human consequences of the revised executive order on refugee admissions and the travel ban. While we note the Administration’s efforts to modify the Executive Order in light of various legal concerns, the revised  Order    still leaves many innocent lives at risk.

The removal of one of the original seven predominantly Muslim countries temporarily barred from entering the United States is welcome, but we are disappointed that the revised order maintains the temporary shutdown of the U.S. refugee admissions program, continues the more than 60 percent reduction in the number of refugees who can be resettled into the United States this year, and still temporarily bars nationals from six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long recognized the importance of ensuring public safety and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to accomplish that goal.

However, based on the knowledge that refugees are already subjected to the most vigorous vetting process of anyone who enters the United States, there is no merit to pausing the refugee resettlement program while considering further improvement to that vetting process.

The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion, including Christians, Muslims, and all others. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith and “welcoming the stranger” as Jesus has challenged us to do.

Today, more than 65 million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes. Given this extraordinary level of suffering, the U.S. Catholic Bishops reaffirm their support for, and efforts to protect, all who flee persecution and violence, as just one part of the perennial and global work of the Church in defense of vulnerable persons. Resettling only 50,000 refugees a year, down from 110,000, does not reflect the need, our compassion, and our capacity as a nation. We have the ability to continue to assist the most vulnerable among us without sacrificing our values as Americans or the safety and security of our nation.”


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What does the Church teach about human rights & responsibilities?

Explore what the Catholic Church teaches about human rights and responsibilities in this video from Catholic Relief Services on Catholic Social Teaching featuring Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Helen Alvaré, and Bill O’Keefe.


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