Archive of December 3, 2004

US Embassy at the Vatican hosts conference on religious liberty

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - The US Embassy at the Holy See, in collaboration with the Solidarity Association based in Atlanta, is hosting a conference on Friday, December 3, entitled, “Religious Liberty, Foundation of Human Dignity,” at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

As part of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and the Holy See, the event will be inaugurated by the US Ambassador to the Holy See, James Nicholson, and by Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States.

A panel of experts on religious liberty will include presentations by Kevin J. Hasson, Director of the Becket Fund in New York, which is dedicated to promoting religious freedom in civil lawsuits; Paolo G. Carroza, Professor of Law and member of the Center for Civil and Human Rights of the University of Notre Dame, and John Hanford, Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Issues of the US State Department, the division charged with issuing annual reports to Congress on religious liberty throughout the world.

Joseph K. Griobeski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Washington, DC, will address the conference on the role of non-governmental organizations in the defense of religious freedom, and conference attendees will also hear from Attilio Tamburini, director of the Italian section of Aid to the Church in Need.

Lastly, the conference will conclude with a broad overview of the religious freedom situation in several key areas of the world.  The discussions will be lead by Father Bernardo Cervellera, Director of AsiaNews, and Father David Maria Jaeger, OFM, expert in Jewish issues and Father Daniel A. Madigan, SJ, noted Islam expert from the Institute for the studies of culture and religion at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

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Pope encourages diocesan newspapers to be “pulpits for the Gospel”

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - This morning Pope John Paul II called diocesan newspapers to pursue their mission as pulpits of the Gospel and thanked representatives of about 150 diocesan newspapers "for the service you render to building a civilization of love" which, "in the era of global communications is an ever-more difficult mission."

In a meeting organized by the Italian Federation for Diocesan Weeklies, the Holy Father, who thanked God for the Italy’s “rich tradition of Catholic weeklies," said that “the contribution of Catholic journalists is all the more precious today, on the pastoral level as well as the cultural and social levels.”

These weeklies, which “offer an information service on the life of the Church, together with supplements of documentation and a deeper look at ecclesial issues and their contents," permeate "families, parishes and cities with the Christian values that form great part of the spiritual patrimony of the Italian people.

“I am thinking in particular of the safeguarding of human life in its entirety,” the Pope continued. “I am also thinking of marriage and the family, whose nature a poorly understood culture of 'personal rights' tends to distort; And lastly, I am thinking of the values of truth, justice and solidarity."

In concluding comments the Pope exhorted the papers to "pursue with commitment the announcement of the Gospel of truth and hope from the singular 'pulpits' that diocesan weeklies are, remaining always open to the broader perspectives of the universal Church."

He also advised them "to enrich your ethical and cultural formation," taking recourse always to a rich spiritual life nourished by prayer and the sacraments.

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Vatican official speaks on religious freedom at US-sponsored conference in Rome

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - In a conference on religious freedom held this morning at Rome's Gregorian University Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, secretary for Relations with States, underscored that Vatican diplomacy were not determined by political interests but by the aim of ensuring religious freedom and conditions that allow the Church freedom to carry out Her mission.

The conference, "The Holy See and Contemporary Challenges to Religious Freedom," was organized by the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and the United States.

The archbishop noted that the Holy’s contriubution to the question of “religious freedom as the cornerstone of human dignity," is “to ensure that this right is recognized by individual States and, above all, by the international community."

"Considering the importance of religious freedom for the very life of the Church and Her faithful, it is obvious that Vatican diplomacy must actively concern itself with this right,” he said.

“The diplomacy of the Holy See,” he stated, “in fact, does not determine its priorities based on economic or political interest, not does it have geopolitical ambitions; its 'strategic' priorities are, above all, to insure and to promote favorable conditions not only for the exercise of the proper mission of the Church as such, but also for the life of faith of believers."

Archbishop Lajolo explained that the Holy See's "concordat" diplomacy - agreements with other countries concerning "a specific content" (of which 115 have been concluded in 1965) – are "inspired by certain fundamental criteria" such as ensuring "freedom of cult, jurisdiction and of association of the Catholic Church" and opening "areas of cooperation between the Catholic Church and the civil authorities," especially regarding charitable activity and education.

"Even in States in which the right to religious freedom is taken very seriously and in which the Church can say that she is reasonably satisfied, there is always something which does not adequately respond to her needs,” noted the archbishop.

He said that “in one country, for example, the specific nature of some of her fundamental institutions is not recognized (for example, regarding her hierarchical structure); in another there is no due recognition of canonical marriage; in another the educational system does not sufficiently respect the right of parents and even less of the Church; in yet another the economic system does not take into account the properly social ends of the institutions of the Church.”

“In these countries, notwithstanding this or that particular limitation, the Church nevertheless can say that she enjoys almost always sufficient freedom, equal to that of other confessions," he mentioned in conclusion.

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Pope to preside at Mass for the 150th anniversary of the Immaculate Conception

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff announced today that on Wednesday, December 8, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and the 150th anniversary of its dogmatic definition, the Holy Father will preside at 9:30 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica at a Eucharistic concelebration with other members of the College of Cardinals.

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FRC slams Congressman Waxman's report against abstinence programs

Washington D.C., Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - The Family Research Council has slammed a report released yesterday by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) attacking abstinence-until-marriage education. Waxman, whose voting record shows him to be a staunch opponent of absstinence education, has consistently supported the distribution of contraceptive devices as a means of birth control.

Connie Mackey, Vice President of Government Affairs for Family Research Council, says that Waxman's report, which accuses abstinence programs of lying about the effectiveness of condoms, "lacks credibility because it was researched and distributed by Waxman's own staff."

“In fact,” she points out, “these programs are teaching the truth about condoms: that they are not effective in preventing the transmission of most STDs including HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer.”

She points out that "the report has no scientific background in its research; its not peer reviewed.”

“The report is a joke,” she said. “It was cooked up and served by his own staff and now it's being devoured by the national media."

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Denver mayor to keep 'Merry Christmas' sign at city building

Denver, Colo., Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - The mayor of Denver said he is “glad” to oblige the local Christian community and keep the “Merry Christmas” sign as part of the Christmas display, which includes the Nativity scene, in front of the City and County Building.

Last week, a journalist quoted Mayor John Hickenlooper as saying that the “Merry Christmas” sign should be replaced with a sign that reads “Happy Holidays,” which, according to Hickenlooper, would encompass greetings for people of all religious and cultural observances.

"Over the past several days, it has become clear to me that there is strong community sentiment to maintain the 'Merry Christmas' sign, and I am glad to oblige,” said the mayor in a statement.

“My intention was never to disrespect or slight anyone or any religious tradition.  I apologize to anyone who may have been offended or mistakenly felt I was being anti-Christmas,” he said. 

“'Hickenlooper' might have two O's, but I am not 'Scrooge,'” the mayor joked. “We are happy to keep the 'Merry Christmas' sign, and perhaps we can explore the possibility of also adding a 'Happy Holidays' sign to the display next year,” he said.

The mayor also addressed the appropriateness of having the Nativity scene in front of the City and County Building. He said the courts decided the issue a long time ago and the Nativity scene will remain a part of the holiday display “out of respect for a longstanding community tradition.”

Nevertheless, organizers of Denver’s annual Parade of Lights decided to ban Christmas songs and the words “Merry Christmas” from all floats this year, reported the Catholic League. The chief sponsor of the parade, which will be held today and tomorrow, is KUSA-TV, the local NBC affiliate.

Parade spokesman Michael Krikorian said the decision was made  “to avoid that specific religious message out of respect for other religions in the region.” Catholic League president William Donohue says Krikorian’s explanation is vague and without merit and says the decision discriminates against Christians.

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Salesian Superior General denounces “anti-catholic secularism” of Europe

Rome, Italy, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - During an historic gathering of Salesian superiors in Europe taking place until Sunday, December 5, the Salesian Superior General, Father Pascual Chavez, said the mission of the children of Don Bosco today should be that of transmitting the faith, the Gospel and the congregation’s charism to Europe.

Father Chavez said that after the wounds Europe suffered during World War II, the “fathers of the new Europe,” Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer, wanted to turn over a new leaf and build a different Europe:  “reconciled, united, free, democratic, and in solidarity, with respect for the autonomy of its nations.”

Nevertheless, Father Chavez pointed to the current negative aspects of Europe, such as the lack of a clear definition of what Europe is, moral relativism, the recognition of non-married couples, among other things.

”The greatest worry concerns the convictions that are behind the current anti-catholic secularism, that is, that humanism and Christianity are two exclusive realities, and even more, that there is a substantial incompatibility between Catholic Christianity and the principles with which Europe identifies itself,” he warned.

According to Father Chavez, this vision has brought consequences for Europe, such as “the irrelevance of the Church, the breakdown of the family, the rupture in the passion on of the faith and values, the rejection of everything that is Catholic.”

He concluded encouraging Salesians to overcome pessimism and “to assume an Evangelical attitude of hope in order to continue with the work of evangelization and education: The Faith, the Gospel, the Salesian charism are the patrimony which we should vitally pass on because they are gifts from God to the Church and to young people.”

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21st International Marian Congress begins tomorrow in Rome

Vatican City, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - The Pontifical Lateran University in Rome will host the 21st International Marian Mariological Congress from December 4-8 on the theme "Mary of Nazareth Welcomes the Son of God in History."

Presiding at the congress on the Holy Father’s behalf will be Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The International Pontifical Marian Academy which organized the conference, is made up of experts, including Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, on mariology from all over the world.

The congress will be inaugurated tomorrow at 10 a.m. in St. Mary Major Basilica with a liturgy presided by Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, archpriest. At 3:30 p.m. in the Lateran University, Bishop Rino Fisichella, the rector, and Cardinal Poupard will address participants in an opening ceremony, before five days of discussions on the theme begins.

The congress will close on Wednesday December 8 in the Vatican Basilica with a Eucharistic Celebration presided over by John Paul II on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

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High rate of depression in homosexuals blamed on “society,” not behavior

London, England, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - In a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers from the Imperial College have noted a high rate of depression among homosexual and bisexual men and women, with almost a third of the 1,285 surveyed having attempted suicide. The study speculates that there is a “likely link” between mental illness and discrimination, a conclusion a leading UK mental health authority calls “simplistic.”

The study, which the researchers claim is the first to examine the effect of discrimination on the mental health of homosexuals and bisexuals, found that 42% of the gay men, 43% of lesbians and 49% of bisexual men and women had a clinically recognised mental health problem.

Anxiety and sleep disturbance, panic attacks, depressive moods or thoughts, problems with memory or concentration, compulsive behaviour or obsessive thoughts, and self-harming were among the symptoms reported.

Of the respondents, 83% reported having experienced damage to property, personal attacks or verbal insults in the last five years, or insults and bullying at school. According to the study, many of the respondents attributed these experiences to discrimination against their sexuality.

"The results of this research show,” said James Warner, one of the psychiatrists at Imperial College who carried out the research, “that there is a likely link between levels of discrimination and an increased risk of mental health problems.”

"Discrimination can impact negatively on a person's mental health,” said Richard Brook, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, "but,” he warned, “we should be careful not to see it as a simplistic causal factor in predicting mental ill health."

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“Mercy killing” of newborns evidence of dangerous slippery slope, critic says

Chicago, Ill., Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - The recent admission by a Dutch hospital that it has been mercy killing severely handicapped newborn babies by injecting them with lethal doses of muscle relaxant has prompted a Bill Beckman, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, to state that “the Netherlands is a country continuing down the slippery slope to the most grotesque forms of euthanasia,” reported the conservative Illinois Leader on Wednesday.

“The hospital admits it is doing this now on an illegal basis, and wants to change the country’s law to go along with what they already do,” said Beckman. Mercy killing for adults who requested it has been legal in the Netherlands for three years, and Beckman says that killing handicapped infants is the next logical step.

He pointed to Princeton University professor Peter Singer a proponent of mercy killing of handicapped infants: “If disabled newborn infants were not regarded as having a right to life until, say, a week or a month after birth,” writes Singer, “it would allow parents, in consultation with their doctors, to choose on the basis of far greater knowledge of the infant's condition than is possible before birth.”

“Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all,” write Singer in his 1997 book, Practical Ethics.

“Those in favor of mercy killing continue to push the envelope further and further, to the younger and weaker, ” Beckman said, pointing out that Singer’s view  is shared by the Groningen Protocol, after the Dutch hospital, which proposes that parents should decide whether or not they want their newborns to live a life of suffering and agony, or conditions which would demand expensive artificial life support.

In contrast, the federal Born Alive Infants Protection Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2002 requires babies who are extremely premature or with severe maladies that are born alive as a result of a failed abortion, to be administered medical assistance, rather than be left by medical staff to die .

Two nurses from Chicago area hospitals gave eyewitness accounts at congressional hearings of  babies that were born alive after induced labor, and left on closet shelves until they died.

Then Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, however, said that the medical practice was not illegal. One such hospital reportedly investigated at the time was Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, whose spokesman told that inducing labor in these situations continued, despite the passing of the 2002 law.

A key issue in the 2004 U.S. Senate race between Republican Alan Keyes and Democrat Barack Obama, was the need for such legislation, which the Illinois legislature failed to pass the four times it was presented. Barack Obama called the proposed legislation “politically-motivated,” and opposed it.

The only US state which allows adults to be legally assisted in committing suicide is Oregon, although “Right-to-die” movement activists suggest that California may soon follow suit.

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Church trial finds Methodist pastor guilty of living openly gay lifestyle

Philadelphia, Pa., Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - A 13-members jury, made up of United Methodist church clergy, has found Pastor Irene Elizabeth Stroud guilty of violating church law by living openly with her homosexual partner, reported AgapePress.

Stroud could be defrocked as a result of the ruling, which came on the second day of her church trial.

Stroud’s congregation in Philadelphia had already agreed that she could continue preaching, teaching, and doing pastoral work as a lay employee should she be found guilty. She would not, however, be able to celebrate baptism or communion.

The Pennsylvania pastor had told the church trial Dec. 1 that she lives with her lesbian partner, Chris Paige. However, she did not plead guilty to violating the denomination's ban on homosexual clerics in non-celibate relationships.

Stroud had admitted to her lesbian lifestyle 18 months ago. At a pre-trial press conference, Stroud stated her belief that God created her to be a lesbian, and expressed her hope that the United Methodist Church will eventually change its laws regarding homosexual clergy.

Rev. Tom Hall is the lead counsel for the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, which brought the complaint against Stroud. Hall acknowledged it is painful to bring a colleague to trial based on the denomination's Book of Discipline, but "when someone steps over the line, we are to be accountable."

Stroud said she stayed with the United Methodist Church because that is where she grew up, though she had considered the more homosexual-friendly United Church of Christ and Episcopal denominations.

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Catholic schools increase enrollment through community outreach

Cleveland, Ohio, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - When enrollment at their local Catholic schools dropped, parishioners in Cleveland’s East Side took matters into their own hands.

Parishioners in the Slavic Village neighborhood got proactive. They put up billboards across the community and did door-to-door outreach, speaking to new and young families about the benefits of Catholic education.

Four years later, their efforts have proven fruitful. Enrollment at the three schools – Holy Name School, Saint Stanislaus and Saint John Nepomucene – is up despite an increased poverty rate in the neighborhood.

At Holy Name School, for example, community efforts have helped increase enrollment by 71 students to 229.

The parishioners’ efforts have resulted in these three schools bucking a national trend that shows a large number of Catholic schools closing in many urban areas.

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Australian cardinal backs stand against 'politically correct' baptisms

Sydney, Australia, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric has said he supports the archbishop of Brisbane’s stand against priests who do not use the correct Scriptural words when giving the sacrament of baptism.

“I strongly support what Archbishop Bathersby is doing in Brisbane to try to regularize an irregular situation," said George Cardinal Pell, archbishop of Sydney, in an interview with The Australian yesterday.

Cardinal Pell said he believes Archbishop John Bathersby’s ruling on the matter is "theologically correct."

Archbishop Bathersby called for hundreds of people, who were baptized at St. Mary Parish, to be rebaptized after he learned from a grandparent that a priest had used the words "Creator, Liberator and Sustainer" instead of the correct formula, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," for the last 10 years.

Cardinal Pell agreed the baptisms might need to be performed again.

"People come to the Catholic Church believing that they are going to receive a Catholic (baptism) ceremony based on Catholic doctrine,” he was quoted as saying. “It would be wrong for them to be misled on that and there's no doubt that the archbishop of Brisbane's theology is correct."

While the pastor has agreed to return to the traditional formula, Archbishop Bathersby has questioned whether parishes that defy orthodoxy on baptisms should remain in the Catholic Church. He said he has decided to take the dispute to the Vatican.

"Rome would be aware of the situation in Brisbane and possibly taking a lively interest in it. I think it's right that I report to Rome," Archbishop Bathersby told The Australian.

But Cardinal Pell stopped short of saying priests who used the wrong form of words should be thrown out of the Catholic Church.

"Just because a person is making a mistake that doesn't automatically put them outside the Church," he said.

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Government of Buenos Aires offers lukewarm apology for blasphemous art exhibit

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - In an effort to address the concerns of Catholics, the Secretary for Culture of the city of Buenos Aires, Gustavo Lopez, apologized to “those who may have been offended” by a controversial “art exhibit” which ridiculed the Catholic faith, the Blessed Mother and the saints.  However, the exhibit will continue to be on display.

Gustavo Lopez said there was “no intention” to “offend anybody” and that he thought the works by militant atheist Leon Ferrir were “controversial” but not “offensive.”

”Its one thing for a work to be controversial, which is what we consider in art, and another for it to be offensive.  We never think in aggressive terms,” he said in response to a letter by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, who called on Catholics to be courageous in the wake of this “blasphemy which is an embarrassment to our city.”

Lopez the signs posted at the entrance to the exhibit warning visitors that, “for religious or moral reasons some individuals might be affected” by the display was sufficient.

The exhibit was opened on Tuesday and includes 400 works by Ferrari, including erotic scenes featuring the Virgin Mary in a frying pan and saints in a blender.

Despite the lukewarm apology by Lopez and his insistence that Ferrari’s “art” is not offensive to Catholics, many Argentineans believe the state is funding blasphemy with taxpayer money.

A poll this week revealed that most in country think the exhibit is blasphemy rather than art.

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Comic book on life of the Pope published in Poland

Warsaw, Poland, Dec 3, 2004 (CNA) - A comic book on the life of Pope John Paul II, written by three French authors, was published this week in Poland.

The Polish publisher Bialy Kruck in Warsaw announced that after much deliberation it was decided that the format proposed by the authors did not trivialize the life of the Holy Father, despite portraying it in an unusual way.

Written by Louis-Bernard Koch and illustrated by Dominique Bar and Guy Lehideux, the book had already been published in France under the title, “From Wadowice to Rome.”

The first section deals with the Pope’s infancy in his native town of Wadowice, his adolescence in Crakow, his passion for sports and his priestly and episcopal ministry before being elected Pope.

The second part explains his life as Pope, from the attempt on his life to his travels to the most diverse regions of the world.

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