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Archive of September 9, 2004

Pope welcomes members of Schoenstatt movement

Vatican City, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II today welcomed 2,000 members of the Schoenstatt movement, a Catholic secular institute devoted to defending family life and to venerating Mary,  to the apostolic palace at Castelgandolfo on the occasion of the inauguration yesterday of the Matri Ecclesiae Shrine and Schoenstatt Center in Belmonte in the Roman neighborhood of Casalotti.

Members came to Rome on pilgrimage from various parts of the world for a three-day celebration that started September 7.

In brief remarks in German, the Pope told his guests that by building their shrine in Rome they deepened their ties to the Successor of Peter and to the Universal Church. He noted that the movement has many branches throughout the world dedicated to their apostolate and to the ideal of Christian holiness.

In particular he highlighted the closeness of the Schoenstatt movement to families as the basic cell of society, culture and the Church and their efforts to fight the threats against life in the modern world, most especially abortion.

The Pope also noted how members of the movement honor Mary, under whose protection the institute is plaed, as mother and educator, in their homes, so that homes become "domestic churches."

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US Bishops’ “Presidential Questionnaire” not withdrawn, just “not published,” says USCCB official

Washington D.C., Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - An official from the US Bishops Communications Office told Catholic News Agency that the “Presidential Questionnaire,” delivered some weeks ago to both the Bush and Kerry campaigns, was not withdrawn due to pro-life criticism - as some pro-life groups have claimed – but simply “not published.”

David Early of the USCCB Communications office stated that the USCCB “decided not to publish the results of the questionnaire because neither of the candidates responded to it before the deadline.”

It was hoped that the questionnaire would help Catholic voters in deciding which candidate to vote for by showing how much their campaigns were in line with Catholic teaching.

Pro-life groups slammed the questionnaire for giving equal weighting to issues which, according to Catholic teaching, are not of equal importance. According to Austin Ruse, president of the Culture of Life Foundation, “it improperly equates doctrinal issues like abortion with judgment calls like the minimum wage.”

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Cardinal Mahony ordered to hand over secret documents on accused priests

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - The Los Angeles Superior Court yesterday ordered Cardinal Roger Mahony to hand over documents from the archdiocese’s secret personnel files of priests accused of sexually abusing children.

Judge Thomas F Nuss, ruling that it was in the interest of the state to protect children from sexual abuse, rejected the claim made by the Archdiocese’s lawyers that criminal investigators demanding the disclosure of the documents were violating the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the operation of the Church.

The Archdiocese’s lawyers have said that they will appeal the ruling. They have waged a two year legal battle to keep the documents secret, a battle which has drawn criticism from an independent Catholic review board, who say that it does little to enhance the Church’s reputation for transparency.

Lawyers of 500 alleged victims who believe the documents will prove that Church hierarchy failed to protect their clients from sexually abusive priests, and prosecutors who have charged two priests with absuing children have been fighting to have the documents released.

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Law center challenges removal of 43-foot cross from public square

, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - The West Coast regional office of the Thomas More Law Center has filed a brief in federal court, challenging a planned attempt to remove a 43-foot cross that has stood atop Mount Soledad in San Diego for the last 50 years. The cross is part of a memorial that honors veterans of World War I and II and the Korean War.

The Mt. Soledad Memorial Association’s effort to remove the cross is part of a private deal to settle a 15-year lawsuit brought by an atheist against the City of San Diego. The Law Center’s brief was filed on behalf of a former Navy fighter pilot, who is enlisting the support of other veterans to oppose the removal of the cross.

Atheist Phillip Paulsen filed suit in 1989 and the court ordered the City to remove the cross. In response, the City chose to place the property up for sale, but the sale was ruled unconstitutional after Paulson objected because he believed the sale indirectly aided preserving the cross.

The City of San Diego attempted a second time to sell the property in 1998, this time to the Mt. Soledad War Memorial Association. The second sale was also challenged, but originally upheld before being overturned by an en banc panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

During its short period of ownership, the Memorial Association made significant improvements to the land, including extensive landscaping and the addition of more than 3,000 plaques, purchased by citizens, honoring military veterans.

The Memorial Association has continually promised the citizens, who purchased the plaques, that the cross would be maintained as a part of the memorial. Yet the association, under threat of legal fees, privately agreed to remove the cross.

“The long and complicated struggle to remove the cross now involves hundreds of donors and owners of plaques purchased to honor our nation’s veterans,” said Charles S. LiMandri, West Coast regional director of the law center.

“These individuals were promised that the cross would stay as a part of the memorial atop Mount Soledad. It is a sad day when we are faced with the prospect of withholding a promise made to those who wish to honor our nation’s veterans, and instead surrender to the demands of a hypersensitive atheist who is set on destroying one of San Diego’s most treasured landmarks.”

The issue now facing the court is who owns the property. The Law Center’s brief argues that if the Memorial Association were considered the rightful owner of the property, then the cross would no longer violate the Constitution because it is a private entity. Moreover, the association would not be permitted to remove the cross without violating the rights of the owners and donors of plaques who were promised that the cross would stay.

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Nebraska ruling favors abortion doctors, says USCCB official

Washington D.C., Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - A Nebraska federal court’s decision yesterday that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is unconstitutional shows that the courts will not protect children from partial-birth abortions as long as there are abortion doctors who favor the procedure, said a spokesperson of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Federal Judge Richard Kopf ruled that partial-birth abortion must be available to abortion doctors under the Constitution.

"Four years ago, five justices of the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution will allow no legal protection for children from the violence of partial-birth abortion, as long as there are abortion doctors who favor it," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq., spokesperson for the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. "Judge Kopf's ruling shows this ‘abortionist's veto’ in action," she said.

Judge Kopf said his ruling was "guided …by the principles laid down by the Supreme Court" in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), a case which originated in his court.

Under the heading "Mechanics," Judge Kopf described testimony from doctors about how they kill children, who are three-fifths formed, in a partial-birth abortion. Dr. William Fitzhugh said he "uses forceps to compress the fetal skull in order to reduce its size and to ensure that the fetus is dead when it is removed." Dr. William Knorr testified that he uses a finger or scissors to puncture the baby's head.

The opinion includes admissions from abortion doctors that babies are alive during a partial-birth abortion and that the baby's heart can be seen beating before the head is punctured or crushed. The opinion also includes trial testimony that partial-birth abortion is "excruciatingly painful for a fetus."

This ruling – like the previous two rulings against the Act from federal judges in California and New York – is expected to be appealed.

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U.S. bishops said to withdraw presidential questionnaire

Washington D.C., Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - In a letter released to the U.S. bishops Friday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Government Liaison announced they have withdrawn the Presidential Questionnaire which had been delivered weeks ago to the Bush and Kerry campaigns.

At press time, the communications office of the USCCB had no statement prepared but, according to a press release issued by the Culture of Life Foundation, diocesan sources said at least one of the campaigns did not return the questionnaire by deadline.

"We have been critical of the Presidential Questionnaire because it improperly equates doctrinal issues like abortion with judgment calls like the minimum wage," said Austin Ruse, president of the Culture of Life Foundation.

"We also welcome the fact that candidate Kerry will not be able to use the questionnaire to claim he is a faithful Catholic when we know he actively opposes Church teaching on fundamental issues," he added.

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Democrats give up on religious outreach

, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - The Democratic National Committee (DNC) decided to end its religious outreach program after it received some negative attention about the credibility of the outreach program’s leadership.

Early last month, the Catholic League exposed Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson, the DNC’s first-ever senior advisor for religious outreach, for her signature on an amicus brief supporting atheist Michael Newdow and his attempt to excise the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. She quit two days later. 

The Catholic League said it has been tapping into the DNC’s Web site on a daily basis to learn who the new religious outreach advisor is, but each search has come up with nothing.

Catholic League president William Donohue said that the most “disturbing” aspect in the whole thing is the “hypocrisy.” He cites Democrat advisor Amy Sullivan in the current edition of Commonweal magazine, as saying, “This may well be remembered as the year of the Democratic Revival, when Democrats stopped allowing religion and God to be co-opted by the Republican Party and started to fight back.” 

Senator John Kerry’s spokesman Michael Meehan reportedly said last week: “We have one of the largest efforts any Democrat has made to reach out to people of faith.”

“Yet the Kerry campaign has silenced its religious outreach director, Mara Vanderslice (blaming us for exposing her resume),” said Donohue, “and the DNC has now given up altogether.

Donohue said the message Democrats are actually sending to people of faith is: “Take a walk. We’ve had it with you religious types.”

“We’ll be sure to get the message out,” vowed Donohue.

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Quadriplegics demand Spanish government respect for their right to life

Madrid, Spain, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - The controversy surrounding positive comments from Spanish government officials regarding a film which depicts a quadriplegic man who committed suicide with the help of his friends as a hero has led organizations that care for and defend quadriplegics to demand authorities ensure their right to live with dignity instead of promoting their eventual elimination.

Civil rights groups in Spain have been making public the testimonies of various quadriplegic leaders and have launched a campaign to get citizens to support those who suffer from this condition by sending letters to government officials, especially to the Ministers of Work and Social Issues, Health, Justice and Culture, in order to make known their rejection of the official support that is being given to a film that devalues the life of quadriplegics and to solicit real support for such individuals.

The campaign, led by the Spanish website www.hazteoir.org, was launched after Spanish President Jose Luis Zapatero, together with seven cabinet members, attended the debut of the film, “Mar Adentro,” directed by Pedro Amenabar, which narrates the story of Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic who committed suicide with the help of friends.

“HazteOir wants to give voice to quadriplegics, who don’t go to the cinema and don’t care for the ‘kind’ offer to end their lives, but rather are interested in the real possibility of enjoying conditions that are worthy of life,” representatives said.

Among the groups that are joining in the protest include the Association for the Study of Spinal Cord Injuries.  The Association’s President, Maria del Mar Cogollos, is the first quadriplegic woman to become a mother after suffering from the condition

Cogollos said, “The media highlights the life of Ramon, the story of an anti-hero, who never accepted his circumstances or his condition.”

Gustavo Almela, a quadriplegic with a degree in economics, pointed out that “this movie has caused much harm to quadriplegics, who struggle to live each day.”

“Handicapped individuals currently receive around $325 a month in government assistance.  Roughly 500,000 individuals in Spain receive this aid and it is difficult for them to make ends meet,”   reported HazteOir.org.

Meanwhile, the Independent Life Forum, which defends the rights of the handicapped, also expressed its disgust for the film, saying, “The life of a quadriplegic should not be considered a burden, but rather of inestimable value for the whole of society.”

Real Problems

According to HazteOir.org, “It is amazing that the government pays more attention to a movie which advocates for the death of the handicapped than to the legitimate concerns of quadriplegic and paraplegic organizations, which are interested not in dying but in getting the State to help them achieve the minimum conditions for living a life of dignity.”

 “We invite our readers, especially those who suffer from a handicap, to make the true concerns of the handicapped known to our government, and to demand the social assistance guaranteed by our Constitution, especially the right to a just pension,” the organization said.

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Priests not allowed to hold public office, Bolivian bishops reiterate

La Paz, Bolivia, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - Responding to the decision by a local priest to run for the office of mayor, the Secretary of the Bishops Conference of Bolivia, Father Francisco Flores, issued a statement reiterating the church’s law that no clerics may seek public office.

“It is totally incompatible with Church law that a priest seeks public office,” Father Flores said.  Father Wilson Soria announced this week he has joined the Movement to Socialism political party and that he would seek the office of mayor of the city of El Alto.

A day before making his candidacy official, Soria requested retirement from active priesthood but the Diocese has not yet responded to his request.

According to Father Flores, until the bishop of El Alto responds to his resignation, Soria “should continue to exercise his priestly duties,” although he clarified that “you can’t make somebody do something he doesn’t want to.”

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Spanish government would entertain proposals for Euthanasia

Madrid, Spain, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - The Spanish Justice Minister, Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, said Tuesday that there is currently no bill on the agenda to legalize euthanasia in Spain and that the government is not committed to bringing one forward, although he acknowledged that if such a bill is sponsored, the government will be required “to respond to it.”

Aguilar said the government is not encouraging debate on euthanasia, rather it is simply allowing the issue “to take its natural and spontaneous course in a free society.” He said the government would participate in a debate and that if a bill was to be put forward, the government “would have to respond to it.” 

Aguilar said that after having seen the Spanish film “Mar adentro,” “now is not the time to announce a legislative initiative, but rather to applaud a pure and sober work of cinema that shakes one’s conscience and forces one to think.”

Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar, an self-proclaimed homosexual and admirer of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, recently released “Mar adentro,” a film about the story of Ramon Sampedro, a paralyzed man who wanted to end his life through euthanasia and, after he was unable to legally do so, finally died with the help of friends.

Aguilar said, “The movie invites you to think about life as a right and not an obligation and about the right to live life with dignity, completely respecting the freedom of each person,” without “adopting norms that are imposed on everyone in general or that modify legislation.”

On the other hand, Aguilar said the government’s review of divorce laws is close to being finished and will be approved this month.  The issue is a “priority” for the government, he said, because there is a public demand to simplify the judicial procedures for divorce.

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Cuban dissident sends message of faith, hope to political prisoners

Havana, Cuba, Sep 9, 2004 (CNA) - In an interview with the Cubanet news agency, noted Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, recently released from prison for health reasons, sent a message to opposition leaders who remain imprisoned, exhorting them, “Do not lose faith in God.”

Roque, leader of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba, underscored in her message to the dozens of political prisoners that “those of us who have been released continue the struggle.  Your imprisonment has not been in vain.  Have faith in God, for with God nothing is impossible.”

She also told Cubanet that she is not technically free, but that she is on a prison leave.  “I think the national and international support we have received has had a lot to do with this.  It has been a determining factor.”

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