Archives for April 2015

Pope to newly ordained priests: No to boring homilies and much more 

Celebrating the 52nd annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations on April 26, Pope Francis ordained 19 men for the Rome diocese.  He told them that the best homilies are the ones that come from their heart because “they arrive straight to the heart of the people.” He went on to say, “May your homilies never be dull.”

He said that celebrating Mass should not be done in haste. “Don’t be hasty. Acknowledge what you are doing. Imitate what you celebrate – it is not an artificial rite”

Regarding Baptism, the pope said, “You must never refuse Baptism to those that ask for it.”

Regarding Penance, Pope Francis said, “You will forgive sins in the name of Christ and of the Church. I ask you never to tire of being merciful. You will be in the confessional to forgive not to condemn!”

Her went on to warn them not to be vain and live first for their own pleasure rather than for God’s.”

“A priest is ugly who lives for his own pleasure,” adding that such a priest “acts like a peacock.”

For the pope’s entire remarks to the newly ordained priests from Zenit, click here.

For the Catholic News Agency (April 26, 2015) report, click here.

For the Catholic News Service (April 27, 2015) report, click here.

For the National Catholic Reporter (April 27, 2015), click here.

Retired Baker, Oregon Bishop Thomas Connolly, dead at 92

Bishop Thomas J. Connolly, who led the Baker diocese 28 years from 1971 to 1999, died on April 24 at Maryville Nursing Home at the age of 92.

A native of Tonopah, Nevada, he received his seminary education at St., Joseph College and St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Reno in 1947. In 1971 at the age of 49 he was appointed Bishop of Baker.

According to a Catholic News Service (April 27, 2015) report, he took to horseback in to help ranchers in Eastern Oregon bring cattle to winter pasture. He drove between 30,000 and 35,000 miles a year in his mostly rural diocese.

According to Father Thomas Faucher, a priest of the Diocese of Boise who worked on loan with Connolly for three years as Baker judicial vicar and acting vicar general until the bishop’s retirement, Bishop Connolly brought with him a love and affection for rural America.

He was a magnificently warm and loving bishop who grew into the job because he was willing to listen to his priests and people, and helped create a church that was vibrant even though it was spread out over two-thirds of the state of Oregon in small, rural communities,” said Faucher, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Boise.  

For the CNS report – posted on the National Catholic Reporter (April 27, 2015) web site, click here.

Mercy Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, headed media relations for USCCB, dead at 68


Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM. Photo courtesy of America Magazine

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, RSM who last summer stepped down from her 21-year post in media relations of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, died on April 28 after a valiant battle with cancer. She spent the last 6 as director of the department.

After she left the US bishops’ conference Sr. Mary Ann began writing for America magazine as the Jesuit publication’s US church correspondent. According to the Religion News Service (April 28, 2015) the cancer returned after having been in remission since 2010. She then moved to the Mercy sister’s motherhouse in Albany, NY where she had entered the Sisters of Mercy 50 years earlier.

Over the next nine months as her health declined, Sister Mary Ann wrote obliquely about her own impending death, such as in a piece about the “underutilized sacrament of anointing of the sick,” shortly after she hosted a gathering of friends as she received the sacrament herself.

According to the Catholic News Service (April 29, 2015), her last boss, Father Matt Malone, SJ, editor-in-chief of America, insisted on keeping Sister Mary Ann working as much as she wanted to through the course of her illness. Some friends observed that at times it seemed like the need to write was keeping her alive.

In a note to CNS, Father Malone called Sister Mary Ann “a valued colleague and friend, a writer of exceptional talent and insight, whose faith animated her entire life. As the first female religious to serve on the editorial staff of America, Sister Walsh was a trailblazer even in this last phase of her professional life, a career that spanned four impressive decades. Our readers, especially, will miss her expertise, her generosity and her honesty.”

For the CNS report, click here.

For the Religion News Service report, by David Gibson, click here.

For a tribute by John Allen, Jr. of Crux, click here.

Raising the minimum wage boosts growth and does not cause unemployment

Walmart and Target recently announced they would increase wages for their lowest paid employees to $9 per hour. McDonalds will start paying its workers $1 more per hour than the local minimum wage. Although these are welcome signs of businesses willing to boost worker incomes, which have been stagnant for decades, it is time to go further: we must significantly raise the minimum wage.

The Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is far too low. A full-time worker — 40 hours per week for 52 weeks — earning the minimum wage is guaranteed to live at the poverty level. Raising the minimum wage is good economics, good policy, and good for workers. It would reduce income inequality and poverty while boosting growth, without increasing unemployment.

A higher minimum wage would also reduce the Federal budget deficit by lowering spending on public assistance programs and increasing tax revenue. Since firms are allowed to pay poverty-level wages to 3.6 million people — 5 percent of the workforce — these workers must rely on Federal income support programs. This means that taxpayers have been subsidizing businesses, whose profits have risen to record levels over the past 30 years.

Adjusted for inflation, the current minimum wage is at the same level as it was in 1956 and reached its maximum inflation-adjusted value in 1968, when it was worth $10.89 in today’s dollars. Had the 1968 minimum wage grown at the same rate as the cost of living it would be $16 today. And if it grew in step with worker productivity, the minimum wage would be $22 today — triple its current level. Yet while the value of the minimum wage has eroded by 67 percent, corporate profits have grown by over 300 percent.

The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years, and would boost living standards for over 25 million workers, and many more due to the ripple effect. All workers earning between the current minimum wage of $7.25 and $10.10 would get an immediate boost in their income. But, so too would workers earning just above the new minimum wage. And, to maintain internal pay scales, so would the workers just above them, and so on. The ripple effect can boost wages for low-income workers up to 25 percent more than the new minimum wage, providing a huge and sorely needed economic stimulus.

$10.10, however, is not enough to live a decent life. Full-time workers would still remain near the poverty level. What is needed is a living wage — a wage that ensures full-time workers can support a family without government assistance. Although estimates vary by location, an hourly wage between $15 and $25 would be enough to live a decent life for a small family.

Many critics think that raising the minimum wage will hurt precisely those workers that this policy is designed to help because firms will lay off workers to save on labor costs. Raising the minimum wage, critics argue, will create more unemployment and more reliance on public assistance. But there is no evidence to support this claim: states with a minimum wage higher than the Federal minimum have experiencedfaster rates of job growth than other states. How is this possible?

When the minimum wage rises, it is usually phased in over time, giving firms time to adjust. As wages rise, firms become more productive and efficient because higher wages reduce turnover, absenteeism, and hiring and training costs. Each time a worker quits a fast-food job, where turnover rates are exceptionally high, it costs the employer $4,700 to replace them. Using the low estimate of a living wage, raising the minimum wage to $15 would save firms a total of $2.1 billion, allowing them to avoid layoffs and afford the higher costs.

Another reason higher minimum wages do not lead to increased unemployment is that firms can compensate for the higher labor costs by raising prices. A $15 minimum wage would cause firms who employ low-wage workers to raise prices by only 3 percent.

Instead of turning to layoffs, firms could also accept slightly lower profits in the short term and, instead of engaging in stock buybacks which enrich stockholders, share with their workforce in the fruits of this growth. But, over the longer term, as incomes rise, consumption will increase leading, ultimately, to higher profits.

As businesses experience greater demand and sales, they are likely to hire moreworkers over time. This would serve as a stimulus that could help workers, firms, and the economy as a whole.

Small firms would face a special set of challenges since they operate with thinner profit margins. With the additional tax revenue generated by higher incomes and increased growth, coupled with reduced spending on income support programs for low-wage workers, small businesses could be given tax credits to offset the cost of a higher minimum wage, enabling them to avoid layoffs.

By failing to ensure the minimum wage keeps pace with the cost of living and worker productivity, policymakers have created a situation where full-time workers earning the minimum wage have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet. Programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Half of this spending goes to working people earning less than $10.10 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to this amount would lower welfare rolls by 1.7 million people and reduce government spending on welfare programs by $7.6 billion per year.

The minimum wage has been too low for too long. In an era when Wall Street bonuses are twice the amount earned by all minimum wage workers, it is clear that businesses can afford to boost the pay of their lowest paid workers. 140 cities have enacted living wage ordinances and 29 states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage higher than the Federal minimum, and none of these economies have imploded. Raising the minimum wage is good economics and good policy. It is time that businesses start paying their fair share of wages so that taxpayers don’t have pick up the slack.

Workers Memorial Day

Safe Jobs Save Lives Poster

Every year on April 28, the unions of the AFL-CIO observe Workers Memorial Day to remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces. This year the struggle continues to create good jobs in this country that are safe and healthy and pay fair wages and to ensure the freedom of workers to form unions and, through their unions, to speak out and bargain for respect and a better future.  It’s time for our country to fulfill the promise of safe jobs for all.

Four decades ago, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act, promising every worker the right to a safe job.  Unions and our allies have fought hard to make that promise a reality—winning protections that have made jobs safer, saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented millions of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Mourn For The Dead Sticker

But our work is not done. Many job hazards are unregulated and uncontrolled. Some employers cut corners and violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives. Workers who report job hazards or job injuries are fired or disciplined. Employers contract out dangerous work to try to avoid responsibility. As a result, each year thousands of workers are killed and millions more injured or diseased because of their jobs.

The Obama administration has strengthened safety and health protections through tougher enforcement and expanded workers’ rights.  New safeguards on silica and other workplace hazards have been proposed and are close to being finalized. But this progress is threatened by business groups and the Republicans who now control Congress. They are trying to stop these protections and shut down all future regulations.

We cannot let them succeed – workers’ lives are at stake.

NFPC Galveston-Houston Consultor named Bishop of Victoria, Tex.

Bishop-elect Brendan Cahill. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Bishop-elect Brendan Cahill. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston

Pope Francis named Father Brendan Cahill, a priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Galveston-Houston province representative on NFPC’s Council of Consultors, as bishop of Victoria, Tex. He succeeds Bishop David Fellhauer whose resignation was accepted due to reaching the age limit.

Bishop-elect Cahill, 51, is a native of Coral Gables, FL. His family moved to Houston in 1971. He was ordained a priest in 1990. He served in a variety of pastoral, administrative and teaching assignments including rector at St. Mary’s Seminary from 2001 to 2010 and adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Theology. Since September of 2014, he has served as Administrator pro-tem of St. Joseph Church in Houston.

The bishop-elect studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University and has theology degrees with specializations in the history and the theologians that were influential at the opening of the Second Vatican Council and on the Catholic doctrine on the interpretation of Scripture as developed in the Second Vatican Council. In addition, he has a Masters in Theology from Xavier University in New Orleans with a specialization on the experience and theology of African-American Catholics.

Bishop-elect Cahill is a Spiritual Director of the Houston Senatus of the Legion of Mary and a Chaplain of the Houston Serra Club and Knights of Columbus, Galveston-Houston Chapter. He is an Associate Chaplain of the Knights of Malta; a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Southwest Lieutenancy; and a Knight of Columbus, 4th Degree Member.

For the USCCB Media Release (April 23, 2015), click here.

For a report form the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, click here.

Salt Lake City Bishop John Wester appointed to Archdiocese of Santa Fe

Bp_WesterPope Francis named Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, UT as archbishop of Santa Fe. He succeeds Archbishop Michael Sheehan whose resignation was accepted due to reaching the age limit.

Archbishop-designate Wester , 64, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of san Francisco in 1976. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of San Francisco in 1998 and appointed to serve as vicar general. From 2005-2006 he served as apostolic administrator of San Francisco.

On January 8, 2007, he was named bishop of Salt Lake City and was installed on March 14, 2007. He is chairman of the USCCB Communications Committee.

Archbishop-designate Wester earned a bachelor’s degree (1972) from Saint Patrick College, in Mountain View, California, and a master’s in divinity (1976) from St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California. He also holds a master’s in spirituality (1984) from the University of San Francisco, and a master’s (1993) from Holy Names College, in Oakland.

His installation is slated for June 4.

For the USCCB Media Release (April 27, 2015), click here.

For the Crux (April 27, 2015) commentary, click here.

Is it time to make medical and family leave paid?

Michelle Andrews, NPR
A child's drawing of a family.


It’s been more than 20 years since passage of the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for medical or family reasons without losing their jobs.

Some workers’ advocates and politicians say it’s time to plug a big hole in the law by requiring that workers get paid while they’re on leave. But the change faces stiff opposition from some small business and other groups that argue that it would be too expensive and an unnecessary government intrusion.

Saying the reality for many families is that both parents must work, President Obama has pushed for paid family leave, calling it an “economic necessity” in his State of the Union address. He proposed $2.2 billion in next year’s federal budget to help five states get paid leave programs up and running, and an additional $35 million for states to conduct planning and startup activities.

Supporters say that many workers can’t afford to take unpaid leave and others aren’t eligible for leaves because they work for small employers. The law allows workers to take time off to care for a newborn or adopted child, or if they or family members have a serious health condition. But it doesn’t apply to companies with fewer than 50 workers, and workers have to have worked for at least a year and logged at least 1,250 hours in the previous year to qualify for the benefit.

Only 13 percent of workers had access to paid family leave in 2013, according to the Department of Labor’s 2014 national compensation survey. Meanwhile, 59 percent of workers were eligible for unpaid leave under the FMLA in 2012.

Four states have implemented paid family leave programs, and their experience may provide guidance for a national paid family leave law.

Three of them — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — fund the programs entirely by withholding employee wages. The programs are administered by states’ unemployment insurance agencies in conjunction with temporary disability insurance programs, according to human resources consultant Mercer. (Washington state has a paid leave program on the books, but it has never been implemented because legislators haven’t approved funding.)

When Allison Guevara’s children, now aged 5 and 2, were born, she twice took paid time off from her half-time job as a field representative for the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated union that represents librarians and lecturers at the University of California.

Guevara, 36, says that getting just 55 percent of her salary might have been problematic, but she was able to negotiate with her employer to use accrued vacation and sick time to make up the other 45 percent of her pay.

Altogether, she took off at least three months with pay for each baby. Her husband, who works for the city of Santa Cruz, was not so lucky. The law typically doesn’t apply to public sector employees.

“The time off was very necessary,” says Guevara. In addition to bonding with her kids, “breastfeeding was very difficult with my first one, it took eight weeks to get that going.”

Guevara stumbled upon the information about her paid leave options by accident. That’s not surprising. A survey conducted last fall for the California Center for Research on Women and Families found that just 36 percent of Californians knew about the state’s paid leave program, a decline from three years earlier when 43 percent said they knew about the law.

California employers are generally positive about the paid family leave law, according to a study prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor last year. Ninety percent of employers in a 2010 survey said the law had either a positive effect on productivity, profit and morale, or it had no effect.

California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have built their programs around existing short-term paid disability program infrastructures; only five states have such disability programs in place, says Catherine Stamm, a senior consultant at Mercer.

“It’s not as difficult or momentous for these employers,” Stamm says.

Under the Democrats’ bill, workers and employers would split the cost of the program, which would be administered by the Social Security administration.

But that’s a problem for small business owners, says Jack Mozloom, national media director for the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade group. Many of their members have fewer than 10 employees, Mozloom says, and if someone’s out on leave, it’s likely that they have to hire a temporary worker or pay someone overtime to do the job.

Financing a paid leave program would “represent a real expense that some of them cannot absorb,” he says. “When it’s mandated, it puts them in a hole.”

Father Tony summarizes Convocation highlights in April 24th interview on Relevant Radio

In a follow-up interview with host John Harper on the Morning Air radio program, NFPC President Father Tony Cutcher shares highlights from NFPC’s 47th Annual National Priests’ Convocation held in Louisville, KY, April 20-23, 2015. Fr. Tony focuses on key topics from all speakers, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Fr. Lou Cameli, Joe Ollier, and Father Ralph O’Donnell. Listen below.


Democrats Are Rallying Around $12 Minimum Wage

WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are uniting around a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Within the next several days, Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that deals with labor issues, plans to introduce a bill to increase the minimum wage, in steps, from its current level of $7.25 to $12 by 2020.

The measure has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress in the near future, but it is the latest indication of Democrats’ rising ambitions for lifting the wage floor, an issue with considerable popular support in an era of increasing income inequality. The party is determined to elevate the issue in next year’s congressional and presidential elections.

Senator Murray’s forthcoming bill, and a companion measure by Representative Robert C. Scott in the House, have considerable support within the party, according to congressional aides. Among the 15 to 20 Democrats who already back the effort in the Senate are Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, and Charles E. Schumer of New York, his chosen successor.

“The politics, substance and morality coincide to make it a winner issue for us in 2016,” Senator Schumer said. “It appeals not just to the people who would benefit,” he added. “Polling data shows it appeals to middle-class people, people of high income.”

 Senator Bernie Sanders called for a $15 minimum wage at a protest of federal government contract workers in Washington. CreditDrew Angerer for The New York Times

The speed with which Democrats and activists have strengthened their demands for minimum-wage hikes poses some complications for both the White House, which has yet to take a position on the Murray plan, and for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in response to last week’s national protests by low-wage workers wrote on Twitter: “Fast food & child care workers shouldn’t have to march in streets for living wages.”

Mrs. Clinton has a long record of supporting minimum-wage increases, but her recently begun presidential campaign has preferred to ease into revealing the details of her policy positions, the minimum wage included.

Whatever the challenges the minimum-wage issue presents for prominent Democrats, however, they pale in comparison to those facing the Republican Party, where support for even the current minimum wage is tepid. A January 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center showed that 73 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of Republicans, supported raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

“In a deeply polarized country, the minimum wage is one of a small handful of issues that gets broad bipartisan support,” wrote Dan Pfeiffer, who until recently was a senior adviser to President Obama, in an email in response to questions. “The Republican problem of opposing the minimum wage grows much worse when paired with their support of tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. The 30-second ad writes itself.”

To defuse the support, Republicans and pro-business groups have highlighted the potential job losses that could arise from minimum-wage increases. If “you just ask if people support a higher minimum wage, people support it,” said Michael Saltsman, research director of the business-backed Employment Policies Institute. “What’s interesting to me is when you have a follow-up question and walk them through the consequences, support really falls.”

A growing body of economic research suggests that moderate increases in the minimum wage would cause little or no job losses. An increase to $12 an hour spread out over the next few years, which would roughly restore the minimum wage to its purchasing power in the late 1960s, falls in this range, according to Jared Bernstein, who served as economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

But moving substantially beyond that could lead to more significant job losses, particularly in low-wage regions of the country, said Mr. Bernstein.

The Senate bill would raise the minimum wage to $8 an hour in 2016, then in $1 annual increments until 2020. Thereafter, it would rise in line with the growth in median wages, which typically increase more rapidly than the inflation measure used in Social Security and other federal programs to adjust for changes in the cost of living.

Perhaps the most far-reaching element of the bill is its gradual elimination of a separate minimum wage for workers who receive tips, like waiters, which currently stands at $2.13. “This is historic, truly historic,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and a leading activist on the issue.

According to Ms. Jayaraman, the practice of paying substantially lower wages to tipped workers dates back to the post-Civil War era, when dining establishments and railroads hired freed slaves to work for tips and nothing else.

Senator Murray’s effort comes at a time of increasing momentum around the country behind changes to the minimum wage. Even some conservative states, including Arkansas, South Dakota and Alaska, raised their wage minimums by referendum last year.

And since the beginning of 2015, large employers like Walmart, Target and McDonald’s have increased their companywide minimum wage to near or above $10 per hour.

Last week, tens of thousands of fast-food and other low-wage workers protested in over 200 American cities in favor of a $15 an hour minimum wage.

As the energy behind the movement has escalated, Democrats have become more ambitious about what they might ultimately achieve, despite continuing Republican opposition.

President Obama proposed an increase to $9 an hour in his 2013 State of the Union speech, then bumped his proposal to $10.10 by the fall of that year.

In 2014, the Seattle City Council voted to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour over a period of several years, while Chicago’s moderate Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to President Obama, helped win an increase of the city’s minimum wage to $13 by 2019.

“That momentum helped raise the awareness that there’s something we can do rather than ‘Gosh, let’s put our head down because it might get defeated,’ ” Senator Murray said.

Activists say that her forthcoming legislation effectively becomes the baseline, among Democrats, for the smallest acceptable increase in the minimum wage heading into the 2016 political season.

In a sign that the $12 figure could define the lower end of the debate within the party, Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, one of the chamber’s more liberal members, held a rally with low-wage workers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lift pay for employees of federal contractors to at least $15 an hour.

“Pretty much anyone who enters the 2016 cycle not at least talking about $12 an hour is way behind the times,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots organizing group with nearly one million members. “It’s the equivalent of entering 2016 talking about civil unions.”