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Compassion Toward Immigrants Seeking Refuge

Posted on 26. Jul, 2014 by .

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Here are some resources that provide more information about the immigrants fleeing conflict and violence in Central America who are seeking refuge in the United States:

Language

Learn about what language to use when referring to the immigrant from Central America who are seeking refuge. This resources gives tips on how to address and respond to this issue with compassion.

Language

Advocacy

This resources provides an opportunity to take action! Call your representative in Congress and be an advocate for the immigrant families and children.

Call your representative here:  (202) 224-3121

Recent Legislation

Learn more about recent legislation that has passed regarding the children and families that are seeking refuge in the U.S.

Legislation

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Federal Judge: Death Penalty System Unconstitutional in CA

Posted on 25. Jul, 2014 by .

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The following article is from the New York Times and was written by Erik Eckholm & John Schwartz:

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LA QUINTA, Calif. — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that California’s death penalty system is so arbitrary and plagued with delay that it is unconstitutional, a decision that is expected to inspire similar arguments in death penalty appeals around the country.

The state has placed hundreds of people on death row, but has not executed a prisoner since 2006. The result, wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney of United States District Court, is a sentence that “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

That sense of uncertainty and delay, he wrote, “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

About 40 percent of California’s 748 death row inmates have been there more than 19 years.

Judge Carney, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, issued the 29-page order vacating the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones, convicted in 1995 of raping his girlfriend’s mother and stabbing her to death.

Calling it “a stunningly important and unprecedented ruling,” Elisabeth A. Semel, the director of the death penalty clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, law school, said that the “factually dense” and “well reasoned” opinion was likely to be cited in other cases in California and elsewhere.

But its legal sweep will depend on the outcome of the state’s likely appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, she said.

Douglas A. Berman, a sentencing expert at the Ohio State University law school, said the ruling could generate appeals in any of a dozen states with large backups on death row and no recent executions or infrequent ones, as well as the federal system, which has had no execution in more than a decade.

“California is the most extreme example, but Pennsylvania is pretty darned close,” Professor Berman said. He questioned the logic, however, of granting a prisoner “a windfall” because of a state’s inaction.

Professor Berman suggested that California could address the court’s ruling by saying, “ ‘We’ve got to get our act together and move forward with executions.’ ”

“But,” he added, “that’s a heck of a lot easier said than done.”

California voters affirmed the death penalty by a narrow margin in 2012, with 48 percent of voters favoring replacing it with life in prison without parole. That vote, Professor Berman said, “may reflect that they’re comfortable with a system that doesn’t get around to executing somebody.”

The death penalty has been effectively under a moratorium in the state since 2006, when Judge Jeremy Fogel of United States District Court in San Jose ordered changes in the state’s execution methods. In 2008, Ronald M. George, then the chief justice of California, called the system for handling appeals in capital cases “dysfunctional.” A state-appointed commission reached a similar conclusion that year, stating the system was “plagued with excessive delay” in appointing lawyers and in reviews of appeals and petitions before the State Supreme Court.

Mr. Jones’s lead lawyer, Michael Laurence, said in a statement that the legal team was grateful for the decision, adding, “The execution of Mr. Jones, and the others like him whose meritorious legal claims have gone unheard for decades, serves no valid state interest.”

imagesMr. Jones’s trial for the killing in 1992 of Julia Miller, an accountant, got little attention at the time. It took place down the hall from the murder trial of O. J. Simpson, and The Los Angeles Times published an article comparing the “mundane murder trial” with the nearby “trial of the century.”

Eric M. Freedman, a professor at the Hofstra University law school, said that he doubted the case would make it to the Supreme Court or set national policy on the death penalty, but that it would still resonate.

“The decision is incredibly important in bringing to public consciousness that this has been a political shell game,” he said, with politicians endorsing the death penalty but unwilling to provide the funds for defense lawyers and efficient courts that would keep the system working.

Judge Carney was scathing in his description of California’s administration of capital punishment and said the flaws stemmed mainly from state deficiencies, not abuse of the system by prisoners.

“When an individual is condemned to death in California, the sentence carries with it an implicit promise from the state that it will actually be carried out,” he wrote. It is a promise to the people of the state, who pay for the justice system, and to the jurors who see “evidence of undeniably horrific crimes” and participate in the “agonizing deliberations,” and to the victims and their loved ones. Not the least, he added, “it is made to the hundreds of individuals on death row, as a statement their crimes are so heinous they have forfeited their right to life.”

However, Judge Carney wrote, “for too long now, the promise has been an empty one,” and the result is “a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

Thus, he concluded, the death penalty system in California “serves no penological purpose.”

“Such a system,” he said, “is unconstitutional.”

A prominent supporter of the death penalty, Kent S. Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, disagreed. Mr. Scheidegger said he found the decision “kind of surprising” since the argument that delays are unconstitutional has been rejected by the Supreme Court. The reason a majority of Americans support the death penalty, he said, “is that the very worst murderers just plain deserve it — that remains true even after long delays.”

Judge Carney, however, wrote that the Supreme Court cases focused on each inmate’s individual delay. Instead, he noted, Mr. Jones argued that his long-delayed execution would be arbitrary and serve no state purpose “because of systemwide dysfunction in the post-conviction review process.”

The state attorney general, Kamala D. Harris, is reviewing the decision, a spokesman said.

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Catholics’ Responsibility to the Environment

Posted on 19. Jul, 2014 by .

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The following article is from USCatholic.org and was written by Patrick Carolan, the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN).

UnknownThe basis of Catholic concern over climate change is exemplified in psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds.” In response to the wonderful gift that God has given us of clean air, life-sustaining water, fruits from the land’s harvests and even nourishment from the sea, we are called to not only honor God for these many blessings but to also do so by honoring his creation.

It is because we value our relationship with God and God’s creation that climate change is for us Catholics a profoundly spiritual, ethical, and moral issue. Climate change is not about economic theory or political platform; it is most certainly not about partisan politics or concessions to special interest groups on either side of the argument.

Climate change is about our responsibility as God’s children and people of faith to care for each other and future generations by caring for all of God’s wondrous creation.

Pope John Paul II said: “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the wellbeing of future generations.”

In a statement issued by the USCCB called “Renewing the earth,” our call is to be stewards of the earth. In it, the bishops pointed out that as stewards, “we seek to explore the links between concern for the person and for the earth and for natural ecology and social ecology. The web of life is One.”

In a January 2010 address Pope Benedict 16 stated, “If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life.”

The human contribution to climate change represents one of the clearest examples of how human activity can be damaging to God’s wondrous creation. We need to recover the spiritual values that respect God’s creation. For those of us in economically developed countries, we have a duty to examine the ethics of responsible usage of God’s resources.

These resources do not belong exclusively to us, they belong to God and therefore are to be treated with reverence and used prudently. As Children of God and brother and sister with each other, we need to be more prudent in the use of Gods resources so that we can share the gifts of God’s creation more fully with the poor and marginalized.

In the Bible we are called to love God, and care for each other and all of God’s creation. If we improperly or disproportionately use the fruit of God’s earth, we not only dishonor him but also we ultimately endanger the livelihood of our poor and marginalized siblings who most depend on God’s creation.

As a result, what was once an individual decision now becomes a moral issue since it is the poor and marginalized who will tragically suffer the worst of the consequences, while not having contributed to climate change. Catholic social teaching calls on us to first consider how our actions and policies affect the poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable people. As God’s children, we must never forget our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters in need.

In his 1990 World peace day message pope John Paul II stated, “There is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflict, and injustices among people and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources which leads to a progressive decline in the quality of life. The sense of precariousness and insecurity that such a situation engenders is a seedbed for collective selfishness, disregard for others and dishonesty.”

As part of the Franciscan tradition we emphasize “thisness,” the unique specialness of each particular living and nonliving thing, which is loved individually and particularly by God. Every tree every pond, every member of every species is unique and special to God.

I would like to close with these words from Pope Benedict in his World Day of Peace message in 2008: “Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions. It means being committed to making joint decisions and pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthen that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative Love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.”

 

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Pope Francis and Environmentalism

Posted on 19. Jul, 2014 by .

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The following article is from TheAtlantic.com and was written by Tara Isabella Burton

leadThis past weekend, Pope Francis did something that was quietly revolutionary. In a talk at the Italian university of Molise, Francis characterized concerns about the environment as “one of the greatest challenges of our time”—a challenge that is theological, as well as political, in nature. “When I look at … so many forests, all cut, that have become land … that can [no] longer give life,” he reflected, citing South American forests in particular. “This is our sin, exploiting the Earth. … This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation.” And the pontiff isn’t stopping there; he’s reportedly planning to issue an encyclical, or papal letter, about man’s relationship with the environment.

It’s easy to be glib about Francis’s remarks—few people see the chopping-down of the Amazonian rainforests as an encouraging development. And a pope championing environmental protection isn’t entirely new; after all, The Guardian dubbed Benedict XVI the “first green pontiff” for his work in this area. But by characterizing the destruction of the environment not merely as sin, but rather as our sin—the major sin, he suggests, of modern times—the pope is doing more than condemning public inaction on environmental issues. By staking out a fiercely pro-environmentalist position, while limiting his discourse about hot-button issues like homosexuality, Francis is using his pulpit to actively shape public discourse about the nature of creation (indeed, environmental issues were part of his first papal mass). In so doing, he is implicitly endorsing a strikingly positive vision of the individual’s relationship with the created world, and with it a profoundly optimistic vision of what it means to be human—and incarnate—overall, opening the door for a radical shift in emphasis, though not doctrine, when it comes to the Catholic Church’s view of mankind.

The Christian view of the individual’s relationship to nature—“creation,” we might call it in a theological context—has traditionally revolved around interpretations of the exhortation in Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Many have cited the idea of dominion to justify an anthropocentric view of the world, in which nature exists solely to provide man with its bounty—a position that is often more prevalent in evangelical Protestant circles, especially within the United States. Legislation such as the Louisiana Science Education Act, which seeks to enact a “balanced” (read: climate-change-denying) curriculum on environmental change in schools, has received support from organizations like the creationist think tank the Discovery Institute and the Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom. The Cornwall Alliance, whose declaration has been signed by luminaries of the religious right, released a 12-part video series in 2010 entitled “Resisting the Green Dragon,” about the dangers of environmentalism. This perspective, however, is hardly limited to Protestants. Consider the Catholic politician Rick Santorum, who at a 2012 energy summit in Colorado rejected the threat of climate change. “We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” he said.

Such hostile stances on environmentalism are themselves rooted in a far more profound question: To what extent should the self be understood as existing against, or in concordance with, nature? In many Christian traditions, and particularly among the Christian right, the individual and the created world are considered at odds—a product of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and God’s declaration in Genesis 3:16 that “Cursed is the ground because of you [Adam]; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” The act of original sin, in other words, sets up an inherently combative relationship between man and nature; any conflict is part of “God’s plan.” As G. Elijah Dann, a professor of religion and philosophy at Simon Fraser University in Canada, put it in a Huffington Postarticle on the evangelical mindset: “To somehow think we can correct climatic instabilities is [seen as] a denial of God’s judgment against human disobedience.” Furthermore, any attempt to ‘fix’ the natural world is an unwelcome effort to shift emphasis from the soul to the body. As Dann writes, “When scientists back in the ’70s were starting to worry about the environment, they were seen as engaging in a secular form of salvation—to save the planet—and, as such, were an affront to God. Emphasis should rather be on the salvation of souls.” The secular and the sacred are, in this worldview, totally separate: to focus on saving the physical world is to harm the immortal soul.

Still, this view—though it is often expressed vocally in American political and theological discourse— is far from the only one. Another strand of Christian thought interprets the same reference to “dominion” in Genesis as an exhortation to “stewardship.” The command represents a responsibility as much as a privilege. This perspective has produced quiet movements of “green Christianity” in recent decades, from the proliferation of the idea of “creation care” among evangelicals, to the Environment Justice Program formed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1993, to Pope Francis’scomments in his inaugural mass to “let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

The stewardship mindset promoted by Francis arises from a broader theology that sees the created world as inherently sacred because it is made by God. The “fallenness” of the world may have damaged the man-nature relationship, but the ideal toward which we should be working is one of reconciliation. Such interpretations also embrace the Christian idea of salvific incarnation—that Christ represents not merely God in human form, but indeed God becoming man. If God can enter into the physical world, the logic goes, then the physical world is made all the more sacred (or even redeemed from original sin) by such a presence. The Franciscan Catholic tradition—from which Pope Francis draws not only inspiration but also his chosen papal name—is rooted in this perspective. As Patrick Carolan, president of the Franciscan Action Network, writes in U.S. Catholic: “As part of the Franciscan tradition we emphasize ‘thisness,’ the unique specialness of each particular living and nonliving thing, which is loved individually and particularly by God. Every tree every pond, every member of every species is unique and special to God.” Pope Francis defends his call for environmental action by arguing that “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

The eco-feminist Christian movement, which grew out of larger feminist and womanist perspectives on theology, has also flowered in both Protestant and Catholic thought. Some eco-feminists, like the Quaker Grace Jantzen, believe the demand for positive stewardship emanates from the very structure of the world. In her God’s World, God’s Body, Jantzen argued that God’s relationship to the world is analogous to the relationship between the body and the soul. Drawing on the widespread Christian doctrine of imago dei—that man is created in the “image and the likeness” of God (as per Genesis 1:16)—Jantzen maintained that our embodied state establishes creation as the “body” of God. Unlike the “dominion” schools of thought, the stewardship schools take for granted that the created world is inherently good—that there is an inherent concord, rather than conflict, between the physical and the spiritual.

In his recent remarks, Pope Francis did not go quite as far as Jantzen did. But his focus on the need for stewardship of the environment places him within this pro-environmentalist tradition, and within a wider theology that is willing to celebrate, rather than reject, the material as a gift of God.

What is radical is Francis’s willingness to present environmentalism not merely as challenge, but as one of the “greatest” challenges of our time. By underlining the importance of environmentalism to his overall theology, Francis is doing more than simply espousing a set of principles. He is also publicly—with the dizzying reach granted to a man in his position—emphasizing an understanding of nature that, in contrast to the combative dichotomy so prevalent in mainstream politico-religious discourse, is intrinsically positive in its treatment of the physical world. It’s a vision that is, radically and profoundly, pro-life.

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Hospitality Toward Migrant Families

Posted on 12. Jul, 2014 by .

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With the recent influx of migrant families and children from the south, the USCCB’s Anti-Trafficking Program has published a Hospitality and Accompaniment document. Families are arriving in great numbers and many are fleeing violent and destabilized communities in Central America. Hospitality takes many forms, and these families have both immediate and long term needs.

All of these families will be processed and placed in what are called Immigration Removal Proceedings; this is the legal process, whereby their individual cases are reviewed by a Judge at a court hearing and they have the opportunity to request asylum or some other protective immigration status. It typically takes about one year to complete an asylum case, therefore, those who agree to support migrant families should commit to supporting these families throughout the duration of this process. The purpose of this document is to list specific ways to assist these families while they await their hearings.

The USCCB Committee on Migration recently traveled to Central America to see first-hand the conditions in these sending communities and to meet with Church partners, other stakeholders, and families to find out what is driving the increasing number of children and youth and now families to make the decision to migrate. Take a moment to read the report they filed so you have the facts.

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