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Upcoming Courage conference to focus on St. Joseph

St. Joseph and the Christ Child, by Guido Reni / Public domain

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic apostolate Courage International will be focusing its upcoming annual conference on St. Joseph, under the theme “St. Joseph: Model of Courageous Love.” 

Courage is an apostolate that provides pastoral support, prayer support, and fellowship for people who experience same-sex attraction. Its 34th annual conference will take place in July at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. 

“It is exciting that, by focusing our attention on Saint Joseph, our Courage and EnCourage apostolates will be united with the heart of the universal Church, which is celebrating the Year of Saint Joseph together in many ways,” said Fr. Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, in an interview with CNA. 

“Saint Joseph is a model, an encouragement, and an intercessor for our members who strive to make a sincere gift of themselves and bear much fruit as disciples,” he said.

The July 15-18 conference will include talks on a variety of topics including pastoral ministry, spirituality, and ways to support family members and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction. Participants will be able attend daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, and will have opportunities to go to confession.

Commenting on this year’s theme - during the Year of St. Joseph - Bochanski noted that St. Joseph initially expected a “normal” marriage with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“When he [Joseph] became more fully aware of his vocation, the purpose and plan for which he had been created,” Bochanski said, “he was willing to sacrifice the intimate sexual expression of love in his married life, in order to live out all the other responsibilities of being a husband with greater dedication and self-sacrifice.”

Bochanski said that Saint Joseph's integration and integrity allowed him to make a total gift of himself, to Mary, and ultimately to the plan of God. 

“This sacrifice bore fruit that he could never have foreseen, because it was in Joseph's home and in the heart of his family that God's promise of redemption was kept and the Savior entered into the world,” he said. 

He explained that chastity does not mean repressing human feelings and emotions, but rather requires understanding them in light of God's plan for marriage and sexuality, which always includes the complementarity of men and women. 

“Accepting and living this truth, which is rooted in their God-given identity and calling, involves sacrificing some intimate desires and relationships,” he said. 

Bochanski told CNA the result of this sacrifice is a full, fruitful and happy life where friendship, affection and charity can all flourish, because sexual desire is properly integrated. 

EnCourage is a sub-organization of Courage, and provides support for families and friends of persons who identify as LGBT. It aims to teach them how to reach out to their loved ones with compassion and understanding.

“For our EnCourage members, [St. Joseph] is a model of genuine fatherhood, and a reminder that to follow God’s plan for ourselves and our families, the most necessary thing is to stay close to, and focused on, Jesus and Mary,” Father Bochanski said in a press release. 

Delivering the keynote address at the conference will be Dr. Greg Bottaro, director of the CatholicPsych Institute and author of “Consecration to Jesus through St. Joseph: An Integrated Look At the Holy Family.”

Other speakers include Father Ricardo Pineda of the Fathers of Mercy; Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Catholic Women’s Forum; and Deacon Patrick Lappert, MD, a Courage chaplain. 

“Last year's virtual conference allowed us to connect with members and friends from around the world, and we don't want to lose those connections,” Bochanski told CNA. “Our conference this year will be a hybrid model -- conference talks and liturgies will be live-streamed for those who cannot attend in person for various reasons.”

Bochanski said that while Courage can't recreate all the benefits of the in-person conference in a virtual format, they are encouraging their members who will participate online to find ways to join with their local chapters, and watch the talks and discuss them together.

Courage will be holding a “Clergy Day” on July 14 for priests, deacons, and seminarians, which will include presentations on how to understand and present the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction “with clarity and charity, and to provide authentic pastoral care,” the press release said.

Bochanski said he was looking forward to the participation of all including Courage chaplains, as  well as other clergy, religious, and laity who are engaged in pastoral ministry. He especially is excited to welcome a number of bishops, who will celebrate Mass and preach during the conference.  

“I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City for welcoming us to his archdiocese, and agreeing to celebrate the opening Mass of the conference,” he said.

Bochanski noted that Courage is especially looking forward to the participation of their Spanish-speaking members from Europe and the Americas. “I am grateful that we have the ability to include them through simultaneous interpretation of keynote talks, as well as presentations, meetings and liturgies in Spanish,” he said.

Priest gave general absolution to Mexico City metro victims

Construction crews attend to the collapsed cars of the elevated metro line in Mexico City, May 4, 2021. Credit: Nick_John_07/Shutterstock.

Mexico City, Mexico, May 5, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

Fr. Juan Ortiz has said he managed to reach the scene of the accident on a metro overpass in Mexico shortly after it occurred Monday evening, giving general absolution to the victims.

“I got as close as I could, at a safe distance, I prayed for the dead, for the injured, and gave general absolution,” he told Desde la Fe, the weekly magazine of the Archdiocese of Mexico.

The elevated metro line, with two passenger cars, fell onto a road May 3. At least 24 people were killed, and more than 70 were injured.

Fr. Ortiz is pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Zapotitlán, located near Tláhuac where the metro wreck occurred.

The Catholic Church allows priests to grant general absolution to the faithful who are “in imminent danger of death and even though a priest or priests are present, they have no time to hear the confession of each penitent.”

Fr. Ortiz said he was paying for his purchase at a nearby supermarket “when the power went out twice. I finished paying and when I left, the street was already closed and patrol cars were there.”

"In fewer than five minutes I came upon the scene," and "could see the dead were being taken out on stretchers.”

Fr. Ortiz said that everyone on the scene "felt hopeless and helpless knowing there were people trapped there; it was quite a spectacle, very shocking."

The priest lamented that the accident was foreseeable, since local residents had reported that the metro structures had been damaged by the earthquakes that struck Mexico in 2017.

Government officials, including president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, promised an in-depth investigation into the causes of the accident.

Bishop Andrés Vargas Peña of Xochimilco prayed for the deceased, injured, and their families and expressed his solidarity with them, offering Mass for the victims the following morning.

‘We are alarmed’: Catholic aid groups respond to India’s COVID crisis

June 25, 2020: Health workers arrive at a check-up camp in Malad / Manoej Paateel/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic aid groups are mobilizing relief efforts in India, as the country is gripped by a worsening outbreak of the coronavirus.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas India are on the ground in the subcontinent, and are administering aid. 

“In India and elsewhere, CRS and our Church partners are providing life-saving support to communities impacted by COVID-19,” Nikki Gamer, media relations manager for CRS, told CNA on Wednesday. 

Gamer said that CRS has reached more than 10 million people through on-the-ground efforts to prevent spread of the virus, support health responders, and “assist extremely vulnerable families to manage the compounded impacts of the pandemic on their lives.”

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), a papal agency that provides humanitarian and pastoral support for the Middle East, northeast Africa, India, and Eastern Europe, announced a new emergency campaign for India on Tuesday. The campaign will “help the local churches respond to the escalating COVID-19 crisis,” the agency said. 

“We cannot watch this catastrophe unfold and not share the heartbreak and feel the need to help,” the agency’s president Msgr. Peter Vaccari stated in a press release on Tuesday. 

The death toll from the pandemic in India is estimated to have exceeded 225,000. The country is averaging about 3,500 deaths per day from COVID-19, and hospitals are running low on bed and vital supplies. Experts believe the number of deaths to be undercounted, the AP has reported.

“We are alarmed by the spike in COVID-19 cases in India, Nepal and other hotspots. As our Asia regional director said last week, ‘Even as an increasingly vaccinated America looks forward to a light at the end of the COVID tunnel, a number of countries in Asia are hitting their darkest periods,’” Gamer said. 

Gamer told CNA that “it’s clear that the global response to the pandemic is not moving fast enough,” and that CRS is calling on the United States and other countries “to commit to bold and immediate action to prevent the threats posed by COVID-19 worldwide.” 

Msgr. Vaccari promised that his agency will be responding to where they are needed in India.

“When the world has needed us, CNEWA was there,” he said. “And we are there now, in India, where our regional office is at work, bringing assistance however we can to those in need.”

One of CRS’ top priorities is expanding vaccine education in hard-hit areas, said Gamer. 

“CRS and our Catholic partners play a unique role as a trusted source of information—which, at a time of fear and misinformation, is truly lifesaving,” she said. 

“We are extremely grateful for the continued generosity from American Catholics and others of goodwill,” she said. “We remain committed to the notion that to end this pandemic anywhere, we must end it everywhere.”

According to CRS’ website, the organization has focused on supporting migrant workers, who are at an increased risk of getting the virus. CRS also provides psychological care and hunger assistance.

'Mosques are springing up everywhere', Congolese bishop says amid fear of Islamization

Stuart Boulton/Shutterstock.

Butembo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, May 5, 2021 / 15:01 pm (CNA).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has seen an increase in attacks that target Christians in what a Catholic bishop in the central African country has described as a path towards Islamization.

Bishop Melchisedec Sikuli Paluku of Butembo-Beni spoke May 3 to the pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need International, discussing the abduction of Christians and the widespread construction of mosques in the country.

Bishop Paluku, who has been Bishop of Butembo-Beni since 1998, said that those behind the persecution of Christians have “a grand scheme to Islamize or expel the local populations.”

When asked why he spoke of Islamization when the main organization involved in the abductions and the attacks in the region is the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group, the bishop said: “All those who have been kidnapped by these terrorist groups and who have escaped alive from them report the same thing.”

“They (victims) were given the choice between death and conversion to Islam,” Bishop Paluku said, adding that “they are given Muslim names to cement their identity. Besides, even those who live in the diocese and haven’t gone through this traumatic experience can tell you that mosques are springing up everywhere.”

He says that for many years Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had a lot of interest in DR Congo and gave generously toward the building of mosques in the country.

The Bishop of Butembo-Beni added that today “other sources” have taken over the funding of the construction of the buildings.

He said the militant groups are involved in mining to expand their sources of funding.

“It is plain to see that Islamization is not their sole motivation,” he said, adding: “This region abounds with natural resources and they are being exploited completely illegally.”

“How else can you explain those coltan refineries that are operating in Rwanda, when the country has none of this resource?” the bishop posed. “Instead this rare mineral is extracted here in our region and exported quite illegally across the other side of the frontier. And I see no sign of the Congolese government being concerned.”

The Islamist groups have faced opposition within the Muslim community. Ali Amini, a Muslim religious leader, was shot dead while praying in Beni's main mosque May 1. He was known as an outspoken critic of Islamic militancy.

ACN reported that since the beginning of April, a wave of demonstrations calling for an end to insecurity have taken place in DR Congo

Justifying the protests, Bishop Paluku said, “You cannot ask people who are being slaughtered like animals to simply shut up and do nothing. They have every right to demand security, every right to demand freedom. We simply urge that this should be done with respect for the law, peacefully and without violence.”

The people, the bishop said, are protesting what he describes as “the completely ineffectual nature of the UN peacekeeping mission” amid heightened conflict.

“When I became bishop, 20 years ago, people were already talking about the balkanization of the region. I can only say that the expression still applies today!”

He says that the National Episcopal Conference of Congo calculates that there have been over 6,000 people killed in Beni since 2013, and over 2,000 in Bunia in 2020 alone.

There are also at least 3 million internally displaced persons and around 7,500 people who have been kidnapped, the bishop said.

He denounced what he refers to as weakness and complicity on the part of the government of president Felix Tshisekedi and said that he is not afraid to call out the country’s leadership for allowing violence in the country.

When ACN asked whether he thinks he is taking a risk in denouncing the government, Bishop Paluku said, “The Congolese Catholic Church is not concerned in this respect. She has done so much for the construction of the country and she manages so many schools and hospitals!”

“Congo would not be the Congo without the Church. So, we are fortunate in being able to speak out quite freely,” the bishop said.

'Demographic earthquake'? U.S. fertility rates fall again to record-low levels

TOMO/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., May 5, 2021 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. total fertility rate fell to its lowest-recorded level last year and the number of births was the lowest in 42 years, new federal data published on Wednesday revealed.

According to provisional data of the National Vital Statistics System published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the total fertility rate in the United States dropped 4% from 2019 to 2020, reaching a record-low. The general fertility rate and overall number of births also declined by 4% last year, with the number of births at its lowest since 1979.

The total fertility rate – an estimate of the number of births that 1,000 women would have in their lifetimes – was only 1,637.5 births per 1,000 women in 2020, well below the “replacement level” rate of 2,100 births per 1,000 women.

W. Brad Wilcox, senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, called the report “pretty sobering demographic news.”

He added that “we could be on the cusp of a major demographic shift, or almost like a demographic earthquake here in the United States.”

According to the report, the total fertility rate has been below replacement level “generally” since 1971, and “consistently” since 2007 – just before the global economic crisis of the following year.

The U.S. fertility rate is actually lower than Japan’s in 1988, Wilcox noted. Japan’s fertility rate went on to drop precipitously after that year, he said, effecting a demographic decline with around a million more deaths than births in recent years.

“The question is, are we heading down the Japanese road?” Wilcox asked, pointing to Southern Europe and East Asia as other examples of regions with low birth rates.

For 2020, the general fertility rate stood at 55.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a record-low.

The overall number of births in the United States fell 4% last year to just more than 3.6 million births in 2020 – the sixth consecutive year that figure has decreased and the lowest number of births since 1979.

There might be a number of causes behind the low birth rates, Wilcox said. While demographers have warned of a possible “baby bust” due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it caused, those numbers would only be revealed in the December statistics at the very end of 2020, he said.

“We would predict that 2021, this year, is going to be even more dramatic” in the declining birth rate, he said, noting that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could markedly influence the 2021 birth statistics.

Furthermore, birth rates have fallen since the 2008 economic crisis but have not rebounded as the U.S. economy bounced back from the “Great Recession,” he said, implying that causes other than the economy are also responsible for the decline in fertility rates.

“Delays in marriage” are a large driver of the decline, Wilcox said. The rise of technology impacting social life is another, he said, with fewer people socializing and dating in-person. Adults are also more invested in education and work, he said, and are less likely to view marriage and parenthood as “anchors” of adult life.

While federal policies such as paid parental leave and a generous child allowance could play a role in increasing the birth rate, Wilcox noted that Northern European countries with generous family policies are still seeing birth rates fall.

“That’s not a cure-all,” he said of federal pro-family policies, while noting that they would be "helpful."

Among demographic subgroups, the general fertility rate in 2020 dropped 9% for non-Hispanic Asian women, and 4% for non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic Black women, according to the numbers published by the CDC on Wednesday.

Birth rates among teenagers and young adults continued their steep declines in recent decades.

The provisional birth rate for teenagers ages 15-19 dropped by 8% in 2020, while the provisional birth rate among women ages 20-24 declined by 6% to a record-low 62.8 births per 1,000 women. The birth rate among this subgroup has dropped by 40% since 2007.

While the birth rate among women aged 40-44 had generally risen since 1985, it fell by 2% from 2019 to 2020, to 11.8 births per 1,000 women.

Stolen 14th-century reliquary found in police raid of art collector’s home in Sicily

The San Galgano reliquary, stolen in 1989. / Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

Rome, Italy, May 5, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).

On the night of July 10, 1989, four men crawled through a window of the Montarioso Catholic Seminary museum, bypassed an armored door through a hole in a wall, and came away with a medieval gilded crucifix, six silver chalices, and a 14th-century reliquary of St. Galgano.

The sacred objects had been forged by goldsmiths in Siena and Rome and held for hundreds of years in the Abbey of San Galgano, famed for a sword in a stone said to have been thrust there by the knight-turned-saint Galgano Guidotti.

/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.
/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

The 11 stolen items remained missing for more than three decades, until recently, when a raid by the Sicilian unit of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, which specializes in recovering stolen art, found them among 40 illegally obtained items in the home of a collector near Catania, Sicily.

Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, hailed the rediscovery of the more than 600-year-old reliquary as “a nearly unprecedented find.”

The Vatican Museums will spend the next six months restoring the items in its Metals and Ceramics Restoration Laboratory due to significant damage to the reliquary that occurred after the theft.

“It is a nearly unprecedented find for the importance that these reliquaries and objects have, not only from a historical-artistic point of view but also a devotional point of view,” Jatta said at a press conference on April 26 to announce the discovery.

“We are still waiting to receive this reliquary, which we will treat not only professionally, from the point of view of conservation, restoration, and maintenance, but also with the devotion that this kind of work deserves,” she said.

St. Galgano Guidotti was a 12th-century knight from Tuscany who had visions of St. Michael the Archangel and became a hermit in Montesiepi, outside of Siena, near where the ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano now stand. He was canonized in 1185 by Pope Lucius III.

The reliquary with accompanying objects, including a copper cross and six silver chalices. / Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.
The reliquary with accompanying objects, including a copper cross and six silver chalices. / Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

Ten of the 11 items stolen from the Archdiocese of Siena-Colle di Val d’Elsa-Montalcino in 1989, which also included two pixes (small containers used to carry the Eucharist), were recovered in Sicily by the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC).

The police force, spread throughout Italy, uses a database of 1.5 million stolen artifacts to identify art that was obtained illegally, according to The Art Newspaper. The police recovered more than 900,000 stolen items in 2019, with a combined value of more than $124 million.

Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Minister of Culture, praised the Carabinieri TPC at the press conference for their “excellence recognized all over the world.”

/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.
/ Courtesy of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Palermo.

After they are restored by the Vatican Museums, the reliquary and other sacred objects will be returned to the Tuscan archdiocese.

The perpetrators of the theft, three Sicilians and one Tuscan man, were arrested by local police shortly after the items went missing, but the Carabinieri TPC has yet to confirm who commissioned the theft.

A silver chalice dating back to the 17th century that belonged to the Siena’s Certosa di Maggiano monastery remains missing.

Charleston diocese, Black colleges seek federal injunction to get COVID-19 relief

Historic court house and post office in Charleston, South Carolina / Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 5, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A 19th-century constitutional amendment in South Carolina is wrongly blocking coronavirus relief money for Catholic schools, an attorney for the Charleston diocese said in federal court Monday.

The state’s version of a Blaine Amendment, a policy barring state funding of religious institutions, was enacted in 1895. The Diocese of Charleston and an association of colleges are challenging it in court, claiming that it unlawfully shut off Catholic schools from critical relief funds during the pandemic. 

The lawsuit argues that amendment violates the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. A hearing in the case was held at a federal district court in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 3. 

The plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Suhr asked U.S. District Judge Bruce Hendricks to issue an injunction against the amendment, arguing that it is rooted in efforts to deprive Catholics and Blacks of education funds.

“South Carolina has come a long way since 1895,” said Suhr. “But though the state has come a long way, its past is with us still.” 

He argued that the Blaine Amendment still prevents Catholic schools and historically Black colleges and universities from “fair, equitable access” to the relief funds, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.

Some $34 million in federal funds are at stake in the case, provided as discretionary spending under the federal CARES Act which passed Congress in March 2020 for pandemic relief. 

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster had designated $32 million to help low-and moderate-income families in enrolling or remaining in private schools during the pandemic; he set aside another $2.4 million to assist with health upgrades and distance-based learning technology at the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, most of which are private.

However, the state Supreme Court blocked these efforts under the state’s Blaine Amendment.

In response, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston filed a lawsuit against South Carolina last month. The diocese has 33 schools and 7,000 students. South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, a nonprofit organization that includes five historically Black colleges and universities and 20 schools in total, is a co-plaintiff in the case.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston has commented on the lawsuit, saying, “This appeal to our state’s courts is not only to, at long last, expunge the anti-Catholic and racist sentiment that still haunts our past. It is about creating a more inclusive, uplifting future for parents and children who seek an education that best fits their values and needs of their students.”

“Many families have been significantly hurt by the COVID pandemic and they should not be denied financial assistance based on where they desire to send their children to school,” he added.

The Blaine Amendment dates back to South Carolina’s 1895 constitutional convention. Versions of Blaine Amendments were passed by many states in the late-19th century, forbidding public funding of religious or “sectarian” causes.

The plaintiffs have pointed to the historical context of the provision, which was backed by the national anti-Catholic group American Protective Association, and South Carolina politician and eventual-U.S. Senator Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman, then-governor of the convention.

“Pitchfork Ben’s racial bigotry lined up nicely with other delegates’ anti-Catholic bigotry,” the plaintiffs said. They objected that a Baptist food pantry, a Catholic hospital, and a Muslim mosque can receive COVID-19 relief, but not schools or universities affiliated with religion.

In a previous statement, the plaintiffs charged that the Blaine Amendment was passed “in order to suppress the education of newly freed slaves and to enable discrimination against Catholic immigrants.” They called the amendment “born of bigotry and prejudice, based on race and religion.”

Last month, Suhr said the lawsuit is based on a principle everyone can support. “We’re fighting to strike down a century-old law that was enacted with the purpose of discriminating against our fellow citizens,” he said. 

McMaster had sought to allocate $14 million in private school vouchers, but the state Supreme Court’s decision put that effort into limbo as well, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. While McMaster disagreed with the state Supreme Court Decision, his attorney said, he must enforce the law.

The law, however, could face significant scrutiny given recent court cases.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment. The provision constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them,” the majority opinion stated. That case concerned a ban on students at religious schools benefitting from a state scholarship program funded by tax credits.

The New Mexico Supreme Court in 2018 upheld a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks; the program had been challenged under the state Blaine Amendment. The 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer found that a state cannot deny public benefits to religious entities simply because they are religious.                                           

Illinois bishops urge support for school choice measure, while Nebraska bill fails

Stephen Kiers/Shutterstock

Denver, Colo., May 5, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Illinois bishops are urging Catholics in the state to support a scholarship program funded by donations with tax credit incentives - tax credits that the governor intends to cut. 

Illinois’ Invest in Kids Act, enacted in 2017, allows for a 75% state income tax credit for charitable donations to an approved scholarship-granting organization; the scholarships help students to attend the school of their choice. 

The act, which passed with strong Catholic support, has led to scholarships granted to some 20,000 children in Illinois so far, the state’s bishops say; more than 25,000 students are still in line for scholarships. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) and the Illinois Education Association do not support the act, however, claiming that it diverts money away from public schools. Pritzker has recommended cutting the tax credit from 75% to 40%. 

Parents should have greater school choice for their children, the state’s bishops said. 

“One of the most important decisions parents make is where their children will attend school. All of us concerned with the common good should advocate for greater access to excellent educational opportunities,” Illinois’ six Catholic bishops wrote in a joint letter this week. 

“Because this is an issue that will be negotiated during the budget negotiating process, there is no specific bill number to give you.  We ask you to simply call your state legislators and urge them to oppose the Governor’s plan to cut the Invest in Kids program and instead support efforts to extend and improve the Invest in Kids Scholarship Tax Credit,” they wrote. 

In Nebraska, the state bishops’ conference lamented the failure of a school choice bill last week in the state legislature. 

The legislature failed to pass LB364, a measure that would have created a tax credit for donors to scholarship funds for low-income students; the funds could have been used for students attending private school, with a yearly cap of $5 million on the funds. 

After eight hours of debate in the Senate, with opponents arguing that the bill would sap resources from the state’s public schools, the bill ultimately failed April 28 amid a filibuster. 

Jeremy Ekeler, Associate Director of Education Policy for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, lamented the bill’s failure to pass, saying that lawmakers had “prioritized politics over parents’ rights.” 

“LB364 affirms the truth that every child deserves the right to pursue an education that is best for them, regardless of zip code or income,” Ekeler said in an April 28 statement. 

“While LB364 did not advance today, a full day of thoughtful debate on this issue is a big step in the right direction. We will continue to advocate for families until we have true educational freedom in our state,” he stated. 

Nebraska and Illinois have not been the only states considering school choice-related policies. 

In late March, Kentucky lawmakers voted to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of school choice legislation; the bill allows the use of tax credits to fund vouchers for students in some of Kentucky’s largest counties to attend private schools. Kentucky’s four Catholic bishops applauded the bill’s passage. 

A previous version of this story stated that the proposed Nebraska tax credit was 50%; the actual proposal was for a 100% credit. The story has been corrected.

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