Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - U.S. Catholic bishops on Wednesday launched an ambitious plan to promote marriage, an institution they see as being under extreme pressure, not specifically from those who favor homosexual unions but from the general difficulty of getting and staying married.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also approved plans to collect more information on clerical sex abuse as the church struggles to respond to victims of priest pedophilia in a scandal that surfaced more than two years ago.
The multi-year marriage plan approved by a wide margin by the bishops will include a pastoral letter and also features focus groups -- group discussions -- with single, engaged and married people, a survey of Catholic clerics and a national research project.
The bishops have previously made their opposition to homosexual marriage known, but one architect of the marriage initiative noted that gay marriage was not the focus now.
"The debate about 'same-sex marriage' has demonstrated that most Americans understand and support marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman," said Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. "However, many struggle to connect this ideal with what they encounter in life. What can we offer them?"
In arguing for the plan, Boland asked a series of gloomy rhetorical questions reflecting the pressures on marriage, especially sacramental marriage within the Catholic Church.
He said the U.S. marriage rate had dropped by more than 40 percent in the last 30 years, with the rate of Catholics who marry within the Church declining by a comparable rate.
Boland said "cohabiting relationships" are now seen as a preparation for marriage or an alternative to it, in opposition to Church teaching, and 35 percent of those who have been married have been divorced at least once.
He said the project will only work if the bishops listen to "the ministers of the sacrament of marriage" -- married couples -- in crafting the church initiative.
The bishops also voted in open session to join a new alliance that would be the broadest Christian group ever formed in the United States, linking American evangelicals and Catholics in an ecumenical organization for the first time.
The alliance, called Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., is set to kick off next year. It would also include mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and black and other minority churches, though with about 67 million members the U.S. Catholic Church would be the largest denomination.
Church leaders also authorized a third-round of annual audits of all U.S. dioceses to determine whether they are complying with the bishops' policies on preventing clergy sex abuse.
Vatican City, Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - Receiving the leaders of three religious communities in Azerbaijan this morning – Russian Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish – Pope John Paul II said: "Muslims, Jews and Christians, in the name of God and civilization, together...we appeal for an end to violence” in the world.
The Pope recalled "the trip that God allowed me to make" to Azerbaijan in 2002 and welcomed Jeque-Ul-Islam, head of the presidency of the Muslims of the Caucasus Region, “which constantly makes an effort to build up peace in an area where, unfortunately, violent conflicts continue,” Bishop Aleksandr of Baku in the region of the Caspian Sea, “part of the Russian Orthodox Church, to which I am united through affection and esteem,” and the head of the Jewish Community of the Mountain, “an old community that offers an example of coexistence and fraternal collaboration in a context which is Islamic in majority."
"I hope with all my heart that peace returns to Azerbaijan,” said the Pope, “and that the conflict in Nagorno-Karabaj is resolved soon. This challenge, as well as others, should be addressed with good will in the mutual search for reciprocal openness and understanding and with a true spirit of reconciliation."
He asked God to help the religious representatives "to build up peaceful coexistence, one that is ever more positive," between them and the Catholic community in the country.
The Pope also sent his greetings to the head of the Catholic mission in the Caucasus region, Fr. Jan Capla and to all the Catholics in the country.
"May this visit to Rome be a symbol for the world,” said the Pope. “May it show that tolerance is possible and is a value of civilization which builds a foundation for more complete and united human, civil and social development.”
“No one has the right to present or use religions as instruments of intolerance, as means of aggression, violence or death,” he strongly affirmed.
“On the contrary,” he said, “the friendship and reciprocal esteem among different religions is a rich resource of authentic progress and peace, if also supported by leaders' commitment to tolerance."
"Muslims, Jews and Christians, in the name of God and civilization, together we wish to appeal for an end to violence and for everyone to set out on the path of love and justice,” said the Holy Father. “This is the path of religions. May God help us to take up this path with perseverance and patience!"
Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, reporting yesterday before the plenary of the USCCB on his job as President of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, blamed the media and partisan activists for unjustly attacking bishops who spoke out this election year on whether dissenting Catholic politicians should receive Communion.
In a speech delivered behind closed doors and released Wednesday, McCarrick also announced that the Task Force will follow the spirit of the agreement reached last June by the USCCB in Denver.
The Cardinal noted positively that there has been a “great deal of attention paid to the role of Catholics in political life during the last few months” which has forced Catholics to grapple with what it means to be a Cahtolic and a citizen, a voter.
Despite the media and partisan attempts to “pit one bishop against another,” he stated that the US bishops “are united in our defense of life and the dignity of the human person—the two great causes of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II--and we have continued to work together to preach the “Gospel of Life” in all its dimensions.”
Referring to the Denver agreement, Cardinal McCarrick said that “bishops can come to different prudential and pastoral judgments on how to apply our teaching to public policy. Our task is to help our Conference move forward, reflecting our unity in our teaching and respecting diversity in pastoral practice in a spirit of collegiality.”
The cardinal also clarified the conference’s position on moral claims that featured prominently during the elections: “We do not believe that our commitment to human life and dignity and our pursuit of justice and peace are competing causes,” he said.
“While we do not believe that all issues have equal moral claims,” he continued, “we will work to protect those whose lives are destroyed by abortion and those who are dying of hunger, we will strive to protect human life from the moment of conception until the moment God calls us home and we will strive to pursue peace. We will work for human life and dignity, for justice and peace.”
He outlined steps that the Task Force has taken in order to fulfill the commitments made in Denver which consist of:
1. An investigation by the Committee on Doctrine and the Committee on Pastoral Practices, into Church teaching on the proper disposition to receive Holy Communion
2. Continuing consultation on theological and canonical aspects of these matters within the Conference and with the Holy See.
3. The develoment of resources and tools to help bishops in carrying out the Task Force commitments:
the development of a “Reader on Catholics in Public Life” with excerpts from Papal, Conciliar and USCCB statements on the responsibilities of Catholics in public life, “to be used by bishops as a basis of teaching, dialogue, and persuasion."
efforts to “persuade” Catholics to defend human dignity in public life according to Catholic principles.
“a commitment to maintain communication with public officials who make decisions every day that touch issues of human life and dignity,” in order to explain Catholic principles and “dialogue with them.”
consultation with leaders in Catholic education, Catholic health care, and Catholic social services to discuss how to fulfill the USCCB affirmation that “the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should “not honor” those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.
In concluding, Cardinal McCarrick said that “we welcome and affirm the discussion of the “culture of life” in the campaign, and the focus on “moral values” in the exit polls,” and hoped that it would lead to “real action to protect unborn children, defend marriage, protect the lives and dignity of all those who are poor and vulnerable and promote peace in a violent world.”
Vatican City, Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - At the opening of the 16th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, which began this morning in the Vatican, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, council president, addressed the assembly on its them, "The Mission of Mature, Experienced Couples with Engaged and Young Married Couples," in which he highlight the richness that young couples can draw out of the wisdom of older parents and grandparents.
The theme, according to a statement, was chosen "in order to promote a deeper study of the current situation of families, with special reference to the contribution that so many domestic hearths, who fully live the reality of marriage according to the Word of God and the teachings of the Church, can offer engaged and young married couples, to accompany them on the path of preparation for marriage and then in the first years of married and family life.”
Family pastoral workers and married family members who "have at heart a successful marriage," can offer “discreet, wise and valid help not only to their married children but also to their grandchildren,” says the statement.
“Grandparents,” it continues, “with their wisdom and affection, can be resources in the inevitable difficulties in the lives of young families. These mature couples, who are rich in human and Christian experience, are precious because they can witness with their own lives and apostolate to the beauty and happiness of family life, when lived according to God's plan."
Among the topics to be discussed are Tenderness in Marriage (young couples); The Couple's Stability, Problems Due to Lack of Understanding; Family and Procreation; Sex Education and Challenges for Young Families, Presentation of the Fifth World Meeting of Families, in Valencia, Spain 2006; Juridical Problems Regarding Life and the Family, and Panorama of Problems Regarding the Family and Life in the U.N. and International Policies.
Pope John Paul II is scheduled to receive participants in the assembly on Saturday, November 20.
Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - The Pentagon settled an ACLU lawsuit Nov. 15 that requires it to warn military bases not to directly sponsor Boy Scout troops because the group requires a belief in God for membership.
ACLU filed a lawsuit five years ago, claiming that the Pentagon is violating the separation of church and state by sponsoring a group that requires a belief in God for membership. An ACLU spokesman claims that the government should “not be administering religious oaths or discriminating based upon religious beliefs.”
The Pentagon is now required to issue warnings to military bases around the world to not directly sponsor Boy Scout troops. Military personnel can still sponsor Boy Scout troops on their personal spare time and Boy Scout troops can still meet on military bases.
An organization, called Traditional Values Coalition, suggests that the public counter this ruling by writing a letter of protest to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Madrid, Spain, Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - Commenting on the proposed changes to educational policies by Spain’s Socialist government, Archbishop Antonio Cañizares Llovera of Toledo warned this Monday in Madrid that the proposals would only “make the broken culture of our time worse” by departing further from “the authentic view of man.”
Speaking to some 400 people who attended a Mass for the 140th anniversary of two local schools, the Archbishop pointed out as well that attempts to “exclude Christ from schools” lead to “the loss of the human person.”
Archbishop Cañizares argued that Jesus Christ “is the key to seeing and understanding that great and fundamental reality which is man. One cannot understand and see man fully without Christ. One cannot understand who man is, what his true dignity is, or what his vocation is or his final destiny.”
Consequently, the Archbishop stated, “The meaning of a Christian presence in education” is “to lead children and young people to the light that is Christ.”
“To erase Him from mankind’s history is an act against man,” and therefore “we cannot exclude Christ from the schools,”
Immense task of reconstruction
During his homily, Archbishop Cañizares underscored that “in the countries of ancient Christian tradition such as Spain, an immense task of reconstruction is needed.”
Nevertheless, he emphasized that “there will be no reconstruction of a human world without a new evangelization,” and he stated that “it is urgent that new generations come or return to the school of Christ to discover the true meaning being men and women or the profound meaning of key words and realities such as peace, love and justice.”
“The task is enormous, but we have all of the reasons in the world to be hopeful: in the midst of today’s difficulties, the drama of the human heart remains, and that human heart was created for encountering Christ; man’s eyes were made to see the light and to be open to the truth that is Christ,” he said.
Lastly, the Archbishop exhorted teachers “not to be stuck in ideals and values, as attractive as they may be.” “He who does not encounter the very person of Jesus Christ and does not entrust himself to Him has not fully understood himself in all of his depth and grandeur,” Archbishop Cañizares said.
Jerusalem, Israel, Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - Representatives of different Christian denominations signed a statement this week exhorting the faithful around the world to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land to help stop the massive exodus of Christians.
The statement entitled, “A call to all people of faith: Visit the Holy Land,” was signed by the Apostolic Nuncio to the Holy Land, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, as well as by religious leaders of the Catholic Church, the Armenian Church, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, and Evangelicals.
According to the guardian of the Holy Land, Father Pierre Battista Pizzaballa, OFM, the signing of this document is a sign that while “there are many things that divide us,” there are “many more that unite” Christians.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi pointed out that for Christians in the Holy Land, pilgrimages are the only times of “joy and spiritual enrichment” in which they can enjoy an environment of peace and thus set aside for a few moments the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
According to a 2003 report by the Franciscans who are the custodians of the Holy Land, the fear is that the Christian presence will continue to decrease in the region. In 2002, the document said, Christians in this part of world formed only 1.6% of the populace.
The data takes on particular significance when one considers that in 1840 Christians in Jerusalem, who were mainly Palestinian, formed 25% of the populace. In 2002 this percentage dropped to 2%.
The drop in the Christian population is countered by the growth of the Jewish and Muslim populations.
In the case of the Jews, they have grown from 4,000 in 1840 to 400,000 in 2002, while the Muslim population has grown from 4,000 to 143,000, due to their high birth rate, which enables the population to double every 25 years.
The decrease in the Christian population is not only felt in Jerusalem, but also in Bethlehem and Nazareth.
“Along with the Christian exodus the Christian vision of man regarding the respect for the human person and human life is also disappearing, in a region in which these values are in open decline,” said the report.
The statement laments that “governments of the Christian West, driven by a false vision of religious freedom and perhaps by an exacerbated secularism” insist on helping the Palestinians instead of the Christians.
Israel’s Minister of Tourism, Gideon Ezra, said that during the Jubilee Year of 2000, “60% of the 2.67 million visitors to the Holy Land were Christians, while of the 1.5 million visitors projected for this year, only 29% will be coming on pilgrimage.”
Madrid, Spain, Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - The Spanish Association United for Life has begun a campaign calling for the creation of a Memorial Park in Madrid and in other Spanish cities in order to honor the children who have died as victims of abortion in the country since its legalization in 1985.
According to promoters of the campaign, in “The Garden of the Absent” a flower will be planted for each victim of abortion.
Membership in the park will be subscription based and will be open for applications through November 20, 2005.
Organizers said appeals for membership will be “directed towards the 52% of the population that, according to a 2001 poll, expressed ‘little or no tolerance for abortion’ and called for prevention campaigns.”
“Likewise the Park will be open to those individuals who have taken part in an abortion, as a act of reparation and a first step towards interior healing of Post-abortion Syndrome, which can affect up to 91% of women who have had abortions,” the Association said.
The inauguration will take place November 20 in Madrid.
More information can be found at www.unidosporlavida.org/jardinausentes.htm
Princeton, N.J., Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - A group of undergraduate students at Princeton University wrestled first-hand with the ethical question of whether the life of a premature baby should be ended if medical data predict a low chance of survival.
Bioethics professor Peter Singer took 13 students from his Ethical Choices seminar to visit the neonatal intensive care unit at Saint Peters University Hospital in Metuchen last week, reported the Princetonian.
At the hospital, 13 students saw premature babies, surrounded by life support machines and attached to a number of tubes. They came upon a 2-hour-old baby, who was born 14 weeks premature, weighed 365 grams and measured nine inches.
Because of the possibility of mental and physical defects, Singer argues the infant's parents should be able to decide whether to shut off her life-support machines and end her life.
Singer has stirred controversy with these views, with some groups labeling him a "baby-killer.” He says societies throughout history have used selective infanticide for the greater good. Singer also refuses to equate killing newborns with killing adults, saying newborns are not self-aware and therefore different from adult humans and animals worthy of protection.
However, Neonatal Medicine Director Dr. Mark Hiatt maintained that the nine-inch baby was fully human and rejected Singer's view. "This is a child, somebody's daughter," Hiatt said. "Hopefully she'll be with us for many weeks and eventually go home with her mother and father."
Hiatt told the class that a family asked him to withhold care for their premature baby because of financial reasons. The father was in graduate school and had a young family already. Hiatt asked them to seek another hospital.
"We [at St. Peter's] don't want to do all this aggressive, heroic intervention unless there's a good possibility that this will be an intact, healthy child," he told the students. "I could never do anything to terminate a life. I became a doctor for the opposite reason."
Hiatt said he would only allow a baby to die by withdrawing care – called passive euthanasia – and letting nature runs its course. "As a society, I don't think we want our doctors to [perform active euthanasia, where the doctor directly ends someone's life]," he added. "I wouldn't do it. I couldn't do it. I'm not an executioner."
Not all students, however, accepted Hiatt's reasoning. Student Nic Poulos called the doctor’s distinction between active and passive euthanasia "semantics."
"He's enabling the child's death, period," Poulos said. Singer said he doesn’t see a distinction either and says that in the case of the graduate student, he would have agreed with the parents.
Chicago, Ill., Nov 18, 2004 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Chicago will be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Francis Cardinal George will consecrate the archdiocese Dec. 8, which is the 150th anniversary of the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, during a mass at Holy Name Cathedral.
The consecration places the archdiocese under the protection and direction of Our Lady.