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Archive of December 17, 2004

Fargo Bishop addresses the roots of dissent among Catholics in pastoral letter

Fargo, N.D., Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - In a pastoral letter to be released on Saturday, Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of Fargo, addresses the roots of dissent among Catholics, highlighted during the recent elections in the U.S., and picks out five main areas of concern.

In his letter, entitled “"You Will Know the Truth and the Truth Will Set You Free" A Pastoral Letter on Deepening our Understanding of the Truths of the Catholic Faith,” Bishop Aquila notes that many Catholics “are more influenced by the secular culture in which we live than by the teachings of Jesus Christ,” and stated that many Catholics have “an inadequate understanding of the Catholic faith.”

He suggests that though there are exceptions, catechetical formation for the last 30 years has failed to hand on the faith. He says it was clear during the media discussion of Catholic teachings and voting during the elections that “many of the faithful have not read the Catechism, the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II, or the documents of Vatican II.”

Accepting Church teaching

The first area of concern is that many people who call themselves Catholic “even reject the principle that we must accept what the Church believes and teaches, and think they can pick and choose what to believe,” writes the bishop.

“We must never forget that certain Church teachings,” - those revealed in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition and upheld by the Magisterium – “can never change,” he said, “regardless of whether or not people accept them or are faithful to them.”

Only Jesus Christ sets us free

Noting that secular culture exposes Catholics to “a variety of ideas that are incompatible with the truths of faith,” and that “Christians are by no means immune to these influences but adopt elements of them without recognizing their incompatibility with Christian faith,” the bishop stresses that “we must become more deeply convinced that we can find the truth that sets us free only in Jesus Christ.”

These secularist influences have a produced a culture of death where abortion and euthanasia are regarded by many as a “right,” promoted by the media and publicly funded, he notes.

He notes that if we make moral decisions according to the culture of death “we form our character in a way that is incompatible with the authentic fulfillment that God so much wants us to receive,” and that we must learn how to choose correctly.

Understanding conscience correctly

Bishop Aquila points to the crisis in the understanding of conscience, saying that  “Catholics sometimes say they are following their conscience when they choose to do something-for example, tell a lie, use contraception, have or recommend abortion, defraud someone, conceive a child through in vitro fertilization-that the Church teaches to be intrinsically evil.”

“Our conscience-our last and best judgment about what morality concretely requires-can be mistaken,” he says. “Pastors must clarify what conscience is, show the faithful how to recognize an erroneous conscience, and help them form their conscience properly.”

He notes that the guidance given the faithful by some members of the clergy to “Just follow your conscience," is misleading without proper explanation “because it suggests that people are responsibly following their conscience when they knowingly replace Christ's teaching with the world's opinions.”

Appreciating the dignity of human life

The bishop states that the dignity of human life is not sufficiently appreciated by Catholics who “all too often regard abortion and euthanasia primarily as political issues on which they can legitimately take a position at odds with the teachings of Christ and his Church. “

“Practices like abortion and euthanasia are morally abhorrent even when they are called "rights" and given the protection of law.  They remain abhorrent even when such a law is agreed upon by a majority of persons,” he says. 

He also points out that the “tendency among some Catholics to equate all issues of life such that, for example, capital punishment and war are considered to have the same moral significance as abortion and euthanasia,” are “misguided.”

Faith is not private

“We must deepen our understanding of what it means to live out our faith in the world,” writes Bishop Aquila. He points out that Catholics who say they are personally opposed to abortion “but defend the alleged right to abortion and even approve when others choose it”… separate their personal conviction about fundamental truths from their public life.”

“Whether they are culpable or not, such persons cooperate in a grave evil by their support of abortion,” he writes and affirms that “Catholic politicians who vote specifically to fund abortions do not merely cooperate with a grave evil but are principal agents in a grave evil.”

“All too often,” he states, “Catholic public officials and voters are more deeply committed to their political agendas than they are to the teaching of Christ.” 

In concluding Bishop Aquila points to other serious areas of confusion that need to be addressed: “the assumption that salvation is universal and automatic no matter what one says or does; the failure to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis and to be properly disposed before receiving Holy Communion; the failure to appreciate the truth, dignity, and meaning of human sexuality; the failure to understand the apostolic authority of bishops; and pastoral practices in dioceses which go beyond legitimate diversity.”

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Fr. McBrien attacks pro-life bishops in syndicated column

Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - In his syndicated column, Fr. Richard McBrien, professor of Theology at the University of Notre-Dame, issued a scathing attack on bishops holding a pro-life position, claiming that they negate the importance of other concerns such as capital punishment, just war, or social justice.

McBrien criticism is delivered in a piece entitled “Consistent ethic of life approach withstands backlash,” where he defends the “seamless garment” approach to life-issues, which he presents as a theory which claims that all issues concerning the dignity of human life –abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, war, social justice (including issues like ‘minimum wage’) or human rights – carry equal moral weight, and thus should have equal influence on a Catholic voter’s decision.

McBrien writes that this approach is the one adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the statement “Faithful Citizenship,” published in October 2003, in the run-up to this year’s elections.

Following the position held by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, McBrien explains three reasons for supporting the “seamless garment” approach. He says the first is that it is rooted in the Church’s “opposition to both abortion and war,” the second is that it unifies “a church involved in diverse ministries,” and third, “is unusually appealing to many people at various points along the political spectrum.”

McBrien, following Cardinal Bernardin, says that this approach “is emphatically not a strategy for downplaying the issue of abortion in the church or in society,” despite the criticisms of whom he calls “single-issue, anti-abortion Catholics.”

He then takes aim at a “significant minority in the bishops’ conference”, “some of whose number played a highly visible role in the recent U.S. election,” who –acording to him- say that “abortion is the only life-issue that matters --- to the point where it is said to ‘trump’ all others.”

McBrien also points out that the emerging backlash against the “seamless garment” theory is evident in the fact that “many bishops apparently broke with precedent last month and withheld their votes from Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, one of ten candidates for Conference president.”

Bishop Skylstad, Fr. McBrien claims, had been vice president for the past three years and, by tradition, should have received 70-80 percent support on the first ballot. “Although he was elected on the first ballot, it was with only 52 percent of the votes cast.”

“A number of bishops apparently voted against him because he had explicitly promoted the consistent ethic of life approach during the recent political campaign,” McBrien adds.

Father Richard P. McBrien is the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

He has been writing his syndicated weekly column for some 33 years. Over that time, he appeared in as many as 40 diocesan newspapers. At last count, however, he is down to about 20 Catholic publications.

“The Tidings” of Los Angeles is one of them.

Papers that have dropped his column in the last years include that of his home Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.

Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn, shortly after he became bishop in 1991, told the editor of the diocesan newspaper, “The Tablet,” to drop McBrien's column.

Seven years ago, Bishop James Moynihan of Syracuse, N.Y., pulled McBrien from the diocesan newspaper, “The Catholic Sun,” and substituted one written by George Weigel.

In  1996 letters to Father Richard McBrien, Archbishop John R. Quinn, then chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine and Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, acting chairman upon Archbishop Quinn's retirement, expressed disappointment that the then new edition of Father McBrien's book “Catholicism” did not sufficiently correct several deficiencies that the committee had identified in its examination of the first two editions of the book undertaken in the early '80s.

This examination culminated in a 1985 statement specifying a number of deficiencies that the committee hoped would be corrected in any future editions.

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Vatican creates new foundation to help AIDS patients

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - The Vatican's Good Samaritan Foundation for AIDS patients was presented today in the Holy See Press Office and “all men and women of good will, especially those in more economically advanced countries,” were invited by Pope John Paul II “to contribute to the goals of this foundation."

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, underscored that AIDS "is one of the most devastating epidemics of our time," and  recalled that more than 22 million people have died since its discovery in the 1980’s and 37,800,000 suffer from it.

He also pointed out that between 2001 and 2003 4.5 million children have been orphaned as a result of AIDS, taking the number to 15 million children who have been orphaned by the disease.

The Church "has always contributed to  attempts to prevent the virus and to help the sick and their families through medical, social, spiritual and pastoral assistance,” pointed out the Cardinal. “Currently, 26.7 % of AIDS medical centers in the world are Catholic." However, he added, "they do not have resources for necessary medicine, and the medicine they have is insufficient for covering the urgent need."

"In order to build the foundation," he continued, "the Holy Father has donated 100,000 euros, offering an example of charity that we ask that all Catholics to follow,” and said that this call “is directed above all to all bishops and their dioceses, to priests, religious institutes and foundations that carry out charity work and all men and women of good will.”

Contributions can be made by bank transfer or draft in dollars or euros and sent to the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), Vatican City 00120. International checks can be made out to “Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Good Samaritan Foundation, Palazzo S. Paolo, Vatican City, 00120.”

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Star-filled Christmas concert at the Vatican to build new churches in Rome

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II told the 90 performers who will perfrom at the Christmas in the Vatican Concert that it “helps support the building of new churches, especially on the periphery of our diocese.” He said he hoped that tomorrow's concert would “once again attain its noble goal.”

“Various song and concert initiatives, such as yours,” added John Paul II, “are promoted during the Christmas season in parishes, schools and other milieux. I hope that they, together with other traditional and evocative signs, such as the nativity scenes and the Christmas tree, will contribute to facilitating people's encounter with the Savior Who, born in Bethlehem, offered men of all times His message of truth and love.”

He closed with “fervent Christmas wishes for the promoters, organizers and artists of the concert and all who watch it on television.”

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Pope to ADL: let us work together to eliminate all forms of racism

Vatican City, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - Welcoming 18 members of the Anti-Defamation League in the Vatican this morning, Pope John Paul II expressed his fervent desire for the eradication of all forms of racism.

“The Church and the Jewish people continue to enjoy close bonds of friendship,” said the Pope. “It is my fervent prayer that men and women will work together to eradicate all forms of racism in order to build a society that promotes truth, justice, love and peace. Upon all of you I invoke the divine gifts of strength and joy. Shalom!”

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Parents file lawsuit after school district bans Christmas decorations

Plano, Texas, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - Parents and students have filed a federal lawsuit against a public school district in Plano, Tex., after it informed its schools of a ban on candy canes with religious messages, pencils with the name “Jesus” on them, and red- and green-colored decorations at holiday parties, reported AgapePress. The matter has also sparked an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"These government officials have lost all common sense. Our schools are not zones of religious censorship," said Kelly Shackelford of the Liberty Legal Institute.

The institute filed the lawsuit against the Plano Independent School District on behalf of the parents Dec 15. Shackelford said school officials have violated the constitutional rights of students and their parents.

The attorney said he does not expect school officials to support or endorse religion, "but they can't ban students and parents from celebrating the holidays and expressing themselves in accordance with their beliefs."

The following day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was opening an investigation into the charges brought by the lawsuit.

In a letter to Liberty Legal, the Department of Justice explained that it is authorized to intervene in legal actions against public school districts that allege a "denial of equal protection of the laws on the basis of religion."

In an Associated Press report, school district attorney Richard Abernathy denied the claims in the lawsuit, and said school officials recently decided to allow the distribution of all materials at holiday parties. The attorneys were surprised by that statement, saying neither students nor parents were informed of such a change.

“If that is true, that is great," said Shackelford.

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Investigation urged after new analysis shows the pill is harmful to women’s health

Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - A new analysis of a studies on birth control pills demonstrates that there is no evidence that the pill cuts the risk of heart diseases. The same studies also falsely claimed that there is no link between the pill and increased risk of breast cancer. The new analysis was backed by the director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, who said the research was flawed.

American Life League President Judie Brown said she is not surprised by the new new analysis.

She questions why the federal government readily endorsed the Women's Health Initiative study without checking the results, confirming the data and reviewing the processes used.

"It's high time for the federal government to take a hard look at the birth control pill,” said Brown. “It's time for a realistic examination of what the pill does to pre-born human beings during their first week of life, and what it does to women, particularly the problems it creates for them later in life.”

She urged Dr. Barbara Alving, acting director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, to commence a full investigation immediately.

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‘Culture of life’ has new voice in Virginia

, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - The new executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference has his sight set on promoting a consistent ethic of life and creating a culture of life in the southern state.

The Virginia bishops established the conference in September to promote the Catholic perspective in the legislative process, and they hired lawyer Jeff Caruso as its executive director.

"Slowly, one step at a time, we will move state policies closer to the vision of respect of human life and dignity," the lawyer said in a report published in the Arlington Catholic Herald.  Caruso will begin Jan. 4.

"It’s an opportunity to advance the Church’s public policy in Virginia," the Notre Dame graduate told the diocesan paper. It is also an opportunity to help Virginia Catholics make the connection between Gospel values and what is happening in the legislature, he added.

"The consistent message that human life and dignity are to be valued cuts across political parties," he was quoted as saying. "Public dialogue is enhanced when that [Catholic] perspective is added."

The adjunct professor at the University of Baltimore served six years as associate director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. His tasks in Virginia will include lobbying legislators in Richmond for the eradication of abortion and the death penalty, while supporting health care and anti-poverty initiatives. He will also work on behalf of non-public school students and the growing immigrant population.

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Irish priests dismissed by Vatican, first in recent history

Dublin, Ireland, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II has dismissed two priests of the Ferns Diocese in Co Wexford from the clerical state, reported Irish Public Radio yesterday. This is the first defrocking of priests for sexual abuse in Ireland’s recent history.

The president of the National Conference of Priests in Ireland, Fr. John Littleton, welcomed the Vatican's decision as a good disciplinary measure and a good means to protect children.

A Vatican spokesperson confirmed the dismissals but did not offer or confirm the names of the priests.

However, Irish Public Radio reported on Fr. Donal Collins, who was given a four-year sentence with three years suspended in 1998 for indecent assault and gross indecency against teenage boys, and Fr. James Doyle, who was convicted of indecent assault on a teenage boy in 1990 and given a one-year suspended sentence.

At Easter 2002, Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns resigned because of his poor handling of child abuse allegations against the late Fr. Sean Fortune.

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More African countries adopt Uganda policies against AIDS

Madrid, Spain, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - A Spanish magazine focusing on African issues, “Mundo Negro” (“Black World”) is reporting that other African countries, especially Ivory Coast, are adopting the anti-AIDS policies of the Ugandan government, which are based on abstinence.

In Ivory Coast, 12% of those aged 15-39 are infected with AIDS, and in some areas as many as 20%.  Because of the positive results in Uganda, which has seen the number of those infected by AIDS drop significantly in ten years from 15% to 5% thanks to emphasizing changes in lifestyle more than the use of condoms, Ivory Coast has decided to follow suit.

Christine Nebout-Adjobi, who is directing the fight against AIDS, told Mundo Negro, “It is very clear that the condom, or the condom alone, is not the solution.  We must affect the habits, the profound values of the people, their moral values.  In Uganda this is what they have done and it is going very well.”

“If you have seen the ads against AIDS on television, which are paid for by our Ministry, the order in which these things are presented is abstinence, fidelity and lastly, the condom,” she added.

The anti-AIDS Ministry is working a project to help raise awareness in young people about moral values, including a pamphlet for young people aged 15 to 18 entitled, “The Trivialization of sex is corrupting our society.”

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Volunteers to bring Christmas to the streets of Chile

Santiago, Chile, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - As part of an outreach called, “Let’s evangelize the heart of the city,” thousands of volunteers, mostly young people, will participate in a campaign to bring Christmas cheer to the poor and the homeless.

Participants in the outreach, including students and professors, will walk the streets, subway stations, public squares and bridges in Chile’s capital of Santiago to reach out to those who are poor and homeless.  

According to Father Andres Moro, Head of Campus Ministry, “not only students, but also administrators, teachers and the entire community of higher education in Santiago” are enthused with the project.” He said it was a great opportunity for students “to look beyond their campuses and schools and understand the reality of the city, which needs to be evangelized.”

“Christmas on the Streets 2004 will allow us to reach out the poorest of the poor,” Father Moro added.  He emphasized that “when we speak of this encounter with the poorest of the poor we are not only talking about those who are economically poor, but also those who do not have material needs but, for various reasons, live this season without the most profound meaning of Christmas, which is the encounter with Christ.”

“Christmas on the Streets shows us that each person’s time is a beautiful gift.  It reminds us that we don’t need big gifts or flashy displays,” Father Moro added. 

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Pluralism does not justify anti-Catholicism, says Argentinean bishop

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop of Mercedes-Lujan, Argentina, Oscar Sarlinga, praised the “pastoral attitude” of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires for calling for a Mass in response to a “blasphemous” art exhibit on display in the Argentinean capital.

“Pluralism, which is legitimate and desirable, should not lead to offenses against Catholics,” said Bishop Sarlinga.

He also expressed gratitude for the support shown by representatives of other faiths, including Jewish and Muslim leaders, and he pointed out that “all human beings have a common origin and a common vocation.”

“The relationship with the only God, who is Father to all mankind, constitutes the basis for believing and living like brothers and sisters,” he said. “In the revelation of God in Christ, this principle is expressed with extreme intensity: ‘He that does not love does not know God, for God is love’.”

Bishop Sarlinga recalled that, “As we have entered the new millennium, we have hope in  us that the way human beings relate to one another will be increasingly inspired by the ideal of authentic fraternity.”

“If this fundamental ideal is not shared, peace will not be possible,” he warned.

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Spanish bishops deny calling for protests against government

Madrid, Spain, Dec 17, 2004 (CNA) - The Teaching and Catechesis Committee of the Bishops Conference of Spain issued a statement to dioceses and Catholic schools this week stating that neither the bishops, nor Catholic educational institutions have called for protests to be held this Saturday, December 18.  The statement, signed by committee director Modesto Romero, says, “Regarding the request for information about calls for protests outside the Cathedrals of every diocese,” the Spanish bishops have “no involvement whatsoever.”

The protests have been called for via instant messages sent to cell phones and by emails and are scheduled to take place at noon on Saturday outside the cathedrals of Spain’s principal cities.  The protests are against the government’s decision regarding the teaching of religion on public schools and against same-sex marriage, which was recently approved for a new version of the Civil Code.

The Spanish newspaper ABC said unnamed sources from the bishops conference have underscored “the concern of Cardinal Rouco himself,” who “is not in favor of these protests, especially if they are held in front of the cathedrals” because they could lead to “an identification with the Church that is not real” and they “could be used” by the government to find arguments for the “supposed campaign” of the Church  against the Socialist government.

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