, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - A United Nations committee meeting in special session this week could announce as early as today an agreement on human cloning.
According to the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, “Pro-life groups hope that the result of today's deliberations will be the adoption a political declaration that condemns all forms of human cloning that violate the protection of human life.”
The committee first began discussing the issue in 2002, but a lack of consensus has forced the group to postpone any formal declarations.
Although consensus still seems unlikely today, as representatives of many countries are still heatedly split on the debate, many delegates feel a decision is necessary to maintain the UN’s credibility.
The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute commented that “Historically, countries that support human experimental cloning, including China, South Africa, and Belgium have been in the minority”, but they’ve still managed to delay a vote on procedural grounds.
The debate began when, in 2002, France and Germany proposed creating a convention, which would ban human reproductive cloning but still allow human experimental cloning. The U.S. and Spain quickly countered, calling for a ban on all forms of human cloning.
The debate now mainly surrounds language. Nations opposed to all forms of human cloning support the term “human life”, while those in favor of experimental cloning support using the term, “human being”, which could be construed to include only “born” individuals and not the embryos which would be used in experimentation before being destroyed.
Rome, Italy, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - Archeologists have announced that a sarcophagus possibly containing the remains of St. Paul was found directly behind a marble plaque with the inscription, “Apostle Paul, martyr,” below the main altar at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome.
Giorgio Filippi, an archeologist who works for the Vatican Museums and who led the excavation team, told the Italian daily “Avvenire,” “We have discovered a sarcophagus or container of relics. We know that in 390, that is, when the emperors Theodosius, Valentino II and Arcadius expanded the Basilica, the remains were known to be those of St. Paul.”
The sarcophagus has a small whole through which a camera could be inserted, but for the moment Filippi considers the discovery to be “sufficient.”
The discovery was made by a team of experts from the Vatican Museums in response to a request from the administrator of St. Paul's basilica, Archbishop Francesco Gioia.
During the Jubilee Year 2000, the archbishop noticed that thousands of pilgrims were inquiring about the location of St. Paul's tomb, and he decided to make the formal request for excavations to begin.
The sarcophagus was discovered during excavations which took place between June of 2002 and May of 2003, and on February 21, Filippi will announce the discovery at the Germanic Archeological Institute of Rome.
When the remains of St. Peter were discovered in 1941, it took the Church 35 years to determine they were indeed those of the first Pope. It is likely a similar amount of time will be needed to determine of the remains found at St. Paul’s Basilica are in fact those of the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
Washington D.C., Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - In the next few days, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to take a new case by Norma McCorvey, also known as “Jane Roe” from the infamous 1973 Roe vs. Wade case which legalized abortion in the U.S.
McCorvey, who once led the charge for abortion legalization has spent years and tremendous energy trying to get the law overturned.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to decide on February 22nd, weather or not to hear McCorvey’s case to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has allowed for nearly 45 million abortions so since 1973.
An overturning of the 1973 ruling would put the decision to legalize abortion back in the hands of the individual states.
McCorvey’s petition before the Supreme Court, which was denied in 2003 and 2004 by a Dallas federal judge and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, states, “Since the original judgment of Roe v. Wade, factual conditions surrounding abortion have changed significantly demonstrating that abortion hurts women.”
The petition now before the nation’s highest court includes the testimonies of over 1000 women who have been hurt by abortion.
Vatican City, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - The Vatican released the contents of a telegram from Pope John Paul II offering his condolences over the Valentine’s Day assassination of former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri of Lebanon.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, on behalf of the Pope, sent the letter to Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir, patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites in Lebanon.
The Holy Father said in the letter that, "Following the terrible attack which cost the life of Rafik Hariri, former president of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Lebanon, as well as of numerous other people, the Holy Father greatly deplores this criminal gesture which offends God and men, created in His image and likeness.”
“While praying ardently for the beloved land of Lebanon”, the Pope said, “he implores once again God's mercy on the Middle East, which aspires to a just and lasting peace.”
The Pope invites all the Catholic faithful of Lebanon to a lasting commitment to peace and collaboration with all men of good will in order to build, through dialogue, a future of harmony in the country and among the peoples of the region."
Rome, Italy, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - The idea of Satanic possession has long been a source for movie plots and ghost stories around the campfire, but a new course at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University in Rome is training priests to understand and fight this very real source of evil.
With Italian police saying that Satanism is on the rise, and an Italian court preparing to convict eight members of a Satanic sect for their alleged role in three ritual killings, 100 priests gathered on Thursday to commence what is being called the first class of its kind.
Reportedly, many bishops and diocese do not take the idea of Satanic possession seriously enough. People, even theologians, commented one class member, began to think of the devil as just a myth.
The new course will train priests to understand and confront issues of possession and the occult. The wide-ranging lecturers will include exorcists, psychologists, theologians and criminologists.
Carlo Climati, an author who will teach about the Satan’s lure of young people, told IOL that, “It's a more spontaneous and hidden phenomenon, a problem of loneliness and isolation, a problem of emptiness, that is fulfilled by the values of Satanism."
The course, run by the Legionaries of Christ drew priests from Italy and as far away as Nebraska.
The Vatican came out with new exorcism guidelines in 1999 and stated that among signs like speaking in unknown tongues and demonstrating extreme strength, that priests should keep psychological concerns in mind.
Pope John Paul II used the new rite in many ways to reaffirm the truth that Satan is indeed at work in the world. He has denounced the devil in numerous homilies as “a cosmic liar and murderer.”
“The call for help comes from those who have entered into contact with the world of the occult and magic and desire to get out of it, or from those who in some way discover they are under the influence of the devil,” explained Giuseppe Ferrari, National Secretary of Socio-Religious Research and Information Group, which is helping to organize the course.
Father Alfonso Kabore of Burkina Faso, said, “I think it is very important for us priests to be prepared in this matter and above all to know how to act and what instruments to use in concrete cases that we confront daily.”
For his part, Father Anton Lasser of Austria stated, “Many people have requested of me prayers of liberation or healing sacraments and after having administered them they come back to tell me the prayers worked. I intend on continuing this course to understand fully the problem.”
Vatican City, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - In the midst of heavy speculation regarding the level of activity Pope John Paul II will be able to maintain following his illness and subsequent hospital visit, The Holy See Press Office confirmed today that he will meet with Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
The Vatican publicized a communique which stated that, "His Holiness John Paul II, readily accepting the kind invitation of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, president of the Italian Republic, will make an official visit to the presidential palace of the Quirinal on Friday April 29, 2005, feast of St Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy."
, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - Concerned Women for America (CWA) expressed relief yesterday when a judge dismissed all counts against four men in a state hate crime case.
The men, members of the Christian group Repent America, were charged with three felonies and five misdemeanors, stemming from their preaching of the Gospel during a homosexual street fair in October, as per the Pennsylvania's Ethnic Intimidation Law.
"When Pennsylvania lawmakers added sexual orientation to the law in 2003, pro-family leaders warned that it could be used against Christians to suppress freedom of speech, religion and assembly," Robert Knight, director of CWA's Culture & Family Institute.
“Now, we hope lawmakers will take a second look and pass a bill removing that portion of the hate crimes act,” he said.
“These cases show how hate crime laws can easily be abused by overzealous liberal authorities," he said.
Similar charges against a 17-year-old girl are expected to be dropped as well.
Concerned Women for America is the nation's largest public policy women's organization.
New Orleans, La., Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - Loyola University students staged the "The Vagina Monologues" this week, drawing public rebuke from Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans.
In a written statement Wednesday, Archbishop Hughes said the play is "contrary to sound Catholic teaching and does not advance the important questions about women, human sexuality, violence against women and the common good, which it proposes to address." Last year, the Jesuit school’s interim president prevented the staging.
The current president, Fr. Kevin Wildes, recognized the controversy surrounding the work and the fact that its language may offend some people, however, he commended the play for raising important issues, "particularly about sexual violence toward women."
He said in a letter Monday that the university was not endorsing everything in the play, but the play “has provoked a good deal of conversation among women and has helped them to name the dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors which reduce them to secular objects.”
"The Vagina Monologues" was written by Eve Ensler, based on interviews with more than 200 women about their memories and experiences of sexuality.
About 10 students delivered the graphic soliloquies about sexual encounters, including several accounts of sexual abuse and violence, during the one-night performance Feb. 14.
The play was produced by the university's Women's Resource Center, along with the Women's Issues Organization and the Drama Honor Society, and raised $2,500 for a facility for battered women.
Thirty Catholic universities plan to offer the play this year, according to the Cardinal Newman Society. The University of Notre Dame also staged the play this week, not for the first time. The Catholic University of America, a Vatican-chartered institution, will not stage it.
Chicago, Ill., Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - A new course on sexual ethics, contraception and other “reproductive issues” is now available to Protestant seminaries in the United States.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in conjunction with the Chicago Theological Seminary, has launched the curriculum for a course called "Theology and Reproductive Choice.”
The course claims to teach seminary students “theological perspectives on reproductive freedom as a distinct subject.”
A press release states that the course “examines contemporary issues such as religious authority over moral decision-making, the role of religion in developing public policy about reproductive issues, and sexual ethics.”
It covers five themes. Two among them are: “Reproductive decision-making in the context of world religions” and “Feminist theological perspectives on reproductive choice.”
It also claims to be “a practical course,” teaching seminary students how to apply these concepts in their future role as clergy.
As members of the coalition, the course is also backed by Catholics for Free Choice, a pro-abortion group, which the U.S. bishops have denounced.
The coalition is contacting theology professors to introduce the course to their universities and students.
The coalition was founded in 1973 by clergy and lay leaders, and it includes organizations from 15 religions and traditions.
Houston, Texas, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza was installed Wednesday as the first Archbishop of the newly formed Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston before a crowd of nearly 1,400.
Archbishop Jose Gomez, who was installed as Archbishop of the neighboring San Antonio Archdiocese on Tuesday, joined Fiorenza at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church for the installation Mass.
On December 29th of last year, Pope John Paul II split the massive Archdiocese of San Antonio in two, creating the new Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston in the process.
Fiorenza, a native of Beaumont, Texas, told those gathered at the Mass that, “it is my honor to serve the first archbishop, of course. But I think it is a wonderful honor and recognition for the depth of the faith of the people in this part of Texas that has caught the eye of the Holy Father.”
Apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo installed the new archbishop on behalf of the Holy Father.
Over 20 bishops and archbishops as well as Peru’s Cardinal Juan Luis Capriani Thorne, Archbishop of Lima, attended the Mass.
Ottawa, Canada, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - Prime Minister Paul Martin kicked off the debate on the Liberal same-sex marriage bill in the House of Commons yesterday.
Martin, who has promised a free vote on the issue, told Members of Parliament that the bill is a matter of protecting minority rights, reported the Canadian Press.
He emphasized that the bill respects religious rights by not forcing churches to perform same-sex marriages.
He rejected the notion of holding a national referendum on the issue, stating that it would contradict the very purpose of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper countered that it is possible to guarantee minority rights while protecting the traditional definition of marriage.
Harper plans to table an amendment to the bill that proposes civil unions for same-sex couples. Civil unions would guarantee homosexuals the same rights as marriage, but would not change the existing legal definition of marriage. The amendment would also allow civic officials to decline to marry same-sex couples based on conscience.
Harper pointed out that as early as 1999, the Liberal government had voted against changing the definition of marriage.
Martin admitted that he voted against changing the definition of marriage in 1999, but has changed his mind given the new social realities.
The bill is expected to pass this spring.
Most Conservatives oppose the bill, and many Liberals also have deep reservations.
, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - During their meeting in the Colombian capital to prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM), bishops from 24 episcopal conferences of America called on the media to “contribute to the development of the human person and not to his dehumanization.”
The bishops, reflecting on the theme, “Secularization in society, evangelization and the communications media,” called on the media to give pride of place to the value of human dignity and reaffirmed that “the media and the Church should work together to make the world a better place.”
The president of the United States Catholic Conference, Bishop William Skylstad, explained that the media should daily seek out the truth, a principle which, in the case of his country, led to the Vietnam War being “lost at home” due to the lack of support from the US public.
Likewise, the president of CELAM and Archbishop of Santiago, Chile, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, said, “We are concerned very much about the media and their commitment to the truth.”
The cardinal underscored that the lack of rigor is a threat for the media, which have “so much social responsibility.” “Sometimes fact is confused with fiction,” he added.
The president of the Canadian Bishops Conference, Archbishop Brendan O’Brien of St. John’s Newfoundland, recalled that objectivity in the media “is a moral issue of great importance” and he added that it is better for the public if “different points of view are shown in an objective manner.”
The 50th anniversary celebrations of CELAM will take place in Lima, Peru, in May.
Tallahassee, Fla., Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - A coalition of conservative and Christian groups launched a petition Feb. 14 for an amendment to the Florida Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2006, reported the Miami Herald.
The Orlando-based Liberty Counsel heads the campaign. The public interest law firm drafted the amendment. Other coalition members include the Florida Catholic Bishops, the Florida Baptist Association, the Florida Family Association, and the Christian Coalition.
The group must gather 611,001 valid signatures by February 2006 and win approval for the amendment's language by the Florida Supreme Court before it can go on the November 2006 ballot.
Florida law already bans same-sex marriage, but the proposed amendment would prevent future courts from striking the law down.
Gov. Jeb Bush questioned the need for the amendment.
“I'm not sure we have a problem,” Bush reportedly said. “Gay marriages are banned in our state, and if I could be convinced there are looming court cases that will undermine that statute, or the [federal] law . . . then I would consider being supportive of it. But I have not been convinced of it.”
He told the Herald that if there were a problem with the law, he would prefer to have it addressed by the Legislature, not through a citizen petition drive.
Five lawsuits are pending that challenge Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act, passed by the Legislature in 1997.
Vatican City, Feb 18, 2005 (CNA) - Earlier today, the Vatican made public a letter of thanks from secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, to Archbishop Seraphin Rouamba of Koupela, Burkina Faso.
Rouamba is president of the Administrative Council of the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel.
Cardinal Sodano thanked him on the part of the Pope for the work that he and the Foundation have done since it was founded in 1984, and renewed the Pope's appeal to help the peoples of the Sahel.
The Sahel is the sub-Saharan region of Africa, which includes countries on the west coast and central part of the continent.
Cardinal Sodano expressed the Holy Father's gratitude to "all those who, from diverse parts of the world, responded quickly to his invitation and who generously cooperated with his concern for the many people who found themselves in truly precarious circumstances."
The Cardinal also wrote that the concrete initiatives that answered the Pope's appeal, led to the formation of the Foundation for the Sahel, "whose administration is directed by the episcopacies of the nine countries involved, whereas the legal representation is entrusted to the Pontifical Council Cor Unum."
The nine countries include, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Chad.
Sodano further wrote that, notwithstanding these initiatives, "the situation of these regions continues to be very worrisome. That is why the Holy Father takes this occasion to renew his appeal, encouraging the efforts used to surmount the many problems and the many needs that still persist and which concern available resources, unfortunately insufficient," especially drinkable water.
The Cardinal concluded by stating that Pope John Paul hopes that "this anniversary will be a propitious occasion for a renewed stimulus of solidarity to assure the worthy Foundation the means which will allow it to pursue its human and Christian mission with success."