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Archive of March 9, 2005

Pro-life leaders defend Gonzaga University president, say recent reports are false

Spokane, Wash., Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - A group of well-respected national and international pro-life leaders issued an open letter yesterday defending Gonzaga University president Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, from recent reports, which the leaders say, are based on false information.

The pro-life leaders say they feel recent reports “have been resurrecting a two-year-old attack campaign aimed at Fr. Spitzer.

“Sadly, these attacks are originating from pro-life agencies, which are spreading categorically false information and confusing good people about Gonzaga’s commitment to pro-life ethics,” it said.

The leaders state that the “news sources are reacting to an inflammatory letter by columnist Mike Adams (published 2/22/05 at www.townhall.com) who compares Fr. Spitzer to the KKK.” The Catholic News Agency filed a report on the issue March 4.

“Fr. Spitzer has long been a champion of the pro-life movement,” wrote the leaders, referring to Fr. Spitzer’s track record. “This alone should have caused the editors to pause before publishing the attacks that they did.”

The leaders say they feel the matter “has caused slander to [Fr. Spitzer] personally, and harm to the greater pro-life body.”

The story is based on the fact that the Gonzaga Student Bar Association denied funding to a group of law students who sought to form a pro-life club, called Gonzaga School of Law’s Pro-Life Caucus. In the club’s charter, these pro-life students chose to exclude non-Christians from holding leadership positions.

“Such a discriminatory policy against non-Christian pro-life students violates the policy of the Gonzaga Law Student Handbook, which entitles all law students to participate in Student Bar Association-sponsored activities,” says the leaders, adding that it is unreasonable to think that pro-life leaders must necessarily be Christian.

The leaders say Fr. Spitzer assured these students that they could meet on campus, apply for individual event funding (distinct from operating funding), and choose to receive Student Bar Association operating funding “at any time by opening [their] leadership to full participation by all law students.”

The leaders also sought to correct the “categorically false charge” that Gonzaga University has granted recognition to a pro-choice group on campus.

“A little bit of research at Gonzaga reveals that, although there are some pro-choice students who gather at Gonzaga’s Law School (something which is impossible to prevent), no group which promotes or advocates abortion has received recognition or financing from the university,” the letter reads.

The letter’s 29 signatories include Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute; Denise F. Cocciolone, president of the National Life Center; Holly M. Smith, adviser for the National College Students for Life/National Right to Life Committee; and John Crabbe, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Trust in London, England.

For the full letter, go to:
http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=52

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New York Press Editor quits in wake of offensive Pope story

, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - Jeff Koyen, editor of the controversial alternative New York weekly, the New York Press quit rather than accept a two week suspension over the paper’s recent cover story, “the 52 Funniest things about the Upcoming Death of the Pope.”

The story, written by columnist Matt Taibbi, has received immense amounts of criticism from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

In a statement on the web site “Gawker”, Koyen blasted the paper’s owner and publisher over the suspension, saying that the paper is “iconoclastic, occasionally obnoxious but always intelligent. If you see through the nasty Pope jokes, for instance, you will see a well-reasoned political argument.”

Others aren’t so sure.

Senator Chuck Schumer called the story “The most disgusting thing I've seen in 30 years of public life."

A representative of New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg added, “As disgusting as this is, it's sadly par for the course for this publication.”

Brian Saint-Paul, editor of Crisis Magazine called the piece “a nauseating list of almost unimaginably offensive items” and added that the New York Press is “exceptional only in the sheer number of New Yorkers who consider it garbage.”

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County appeals ruling to remove Bible in public display

Ann Arbor, Mich., Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - Harris County has appealed a 2004 ruling made by a federal court judge that ordered an open Bible, which was part of a four-foot tall display, removed.

The federal judge said the nearly 50-year-old privately donated display in Harris County, TX, violates the United States Constitution.

The display was designed and erected by the Star of Hope Mission, a Houston-based Christian charity, in memory of the late William Mosher, who had been an active member and longtime supporter of the homeless mission.

Last year, Houston resident Kay Staley filed a federal lawsuit to have the Bible removed from the display. She claimed the inclusion of the Bible violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. A federal district court judge agreed with Staley and ordered the Bible removed.

Harris County has now appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and at the county’s request, the Thomas More Law Center has filed a friend of the court brief.

The president and chief counsel of the Law Center said this case is “another example of the hostility toward Christians exhibited by many federal courts.”

Richard Thompson pointed out that Staley confirmed her own hostility toward Christian displays in an interview last August following the court’s ruling. As a result of her actions, the Houston Atheist Society gave Staley the Activist of the Year award.

“The district court totally ignored the argument that this Memorial reflects the private speech of a private organization,” said trial counsel Edward L. White III, who authored the amicus brief. “The memorial to William Mosher is clearly the private speech of the Star of Hope Mission.”

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Catholic Charities urges Congress to protect programs that serve the poor

, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - Catholic Charities USA has urged Congress to protect programs that assist the poorest and most vulnerable members of society from deep spending cuts in the 2006 budget.

"At a time when the United States is spending more on defense and homeland security, a question arises about who will pay for it. It should not be our nation's poorest citizens," wrote Fr. Larry Snyder in a letter to all members of Congress.

The Administration's recent budget proposal places the full burden of deficit reduction on domestic programs, requiring cuts of $200 billion over the next five years, including funding for education, veterans' health care, rental assistance, utility assistance, and childcare.

At the same time, it sharply increases expenditures for tax reductions and defense.

According to Catholic Charities USA, such an unbalanced strategy would hurt millions of poor and vulnerable persons who, without federal assistance, will be homeless, hungry and without access to health care.

“Domestic discretionary spending constitutes only 16 percent of the federal budget,” said Fr. Snyder. “Even deep cuts in these programs would offer little help with the federal deficit.”

Catholic Charities USA also voiced its strong opposition to proposed cuts in Medicaid. “Medicaid funding cuts could add millions more people to the ranks of the uninsured and would harm our nation's health care safety net," wrote Fr. Snyder.

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Believers must join forces to renew society, Pope tells Georgian Ambassador

Vatican City, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - In a message earlier today, the Holy Father welcomed new Georgian ambassador, Princess Khetevane Bagration de Moukhrani to the Holy See and called on believers worldwide to join forces in order to foster authentic social renewal.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of State, received the princess, who presented her Letters of Credence this morning, in the name of the Pope

Cardinal Sodano read the Pope’s welcome speech, which said, "I am very sorry that, because of my convalescence, I am not able to receive you personally to express my best wishes at the moment you are starting your mission."

John Paul II noted his pastoral trip to Georgia in 1999 and the nation's "rich Christian patrimony.”

“I firmly believe”, he wrote, “that the spiritual and cultural values present in the tradition of the Georgian people will not fail to play an important role in promoting a new flourishing of civilization on the roots of Georgia's Christian past and in favoring the consolidation of a society worthy of your noble nation."

The Pope added that "on the path to independence and national rebuilding, Georgia has had to face many and often difficult challenges. ... In addition to the difficult task of setting up robust political and economic structures, Georgians have had to face the duty of keeping firm the sense of unity, while also being open to the broader European and international community"

He underscored that meeting these challenges is only possible "thanks to a wise and prudent equilibrium between the exigencies of unity and respect for legitimate diversity."

The Holy Father said that what is needed "is to develop a solid model of unity in diversity, firmly anchored in the historical experience that is proper to the country, but open at the same time to the enrichment that comes from dialogue and cooperation with others."

The Pope also assured the Georgian ambassador that the Catholic Church, though a minority in Georgia, is anxious "to make her own contribution to the spiritual rebirth of the Nation and to the progress of the common good, not only in realizing her specific religious mission but also through her involvement in works of charity and in promoting cultural exchanges and educational opportunities that favor young people, who are the future of Georgia."

"Today, more than ever," he concluded, "believers are called to join forces to lay solid bases for an authentic social renewal, thus contributing to forming consciences on the paths of peace and respect for the inviolable dignity and the rights of every person."

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Students ask court to prevent university from violating constitutional rights

Tempe, Ariz., Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - The students of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at Arizona State University College of Law is asking a federal court to protect their constitutional rights.

The students filed a motion March 4 for preliminary injunction, while the civil rights case they filed against the university in November is pending.

The students want the court to immediately grant the CLS chapter status as a registered student group and permission to select official members and officers who agree with the CLS "Statement of Faith."

In the federal civil rights lawsuit the CLS chapter alleged that the university is violating the First Amendment rights of expressive association, free speech and free exercise of religion by failing to exempt them from the "nondiscrimination" provision in the Student Code of Conduct.

The school's policy forces the CLS chapter and other campus religious groups to accept non-Christian members and officers.

In September 2004, attorneys for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom asked school officials to exempt all religious student organizations from the religion and sexual orientation portions of the "nondiscrimination" provision of the Student Code of Conduct.

The letter explained that anyone is welcome to attend CLS chapter meetings and events, but official members and leaders must agree to the CLS Statement of Faith. School officials denied the chapter's request.

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Catholic Action Group supports boycott of Comic Relief fundraiser

London, England, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - Another pro-life group has come out in support of a boycott by Catholics of Red Nose Day, a fundraising event for Comic Relief, which is scheduled to take place in Catholic schools March 11.

Recently, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child discovered that Comic Relief has financially supported the efforts of the pro-abortion organization, Reproductive Health Alliance Europe.

Despite this evidence, the bishops of England and Wales issued a statement this week telling Catholics that they can give to Comic Relief, assuring them that the charity would not support pro-abortion organizations.

In a statement, the Catholic Action Group said Catholics of good conscience should support this boycott and “donate their monies instead to mainstream pro-life groups in protest.

“Our English bishops, considering their apostolic position, remain far too silent and passive on this important issue,” said John Gunn, Catholic Action Group’s national coordinator. “There are over 180,000 abortions carried out in this country alone each year. The abortion issue deserves more of their attention and of Catholics in general.”

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Bolivian bishops call for reconciliation in midst of deep national crisis

La Paz, Bolivia, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Bolivia has issued a statement entitled, “In the name of Christ, Be reconciled,” in which they exhort Bolivians to leave aside “polarizing and irreconcilable positions.”

“We are all witness of the radical positions and measures that provoke a situation of general uncertainty.  The recent events of social pressure and the resignation of the President of the Republic are a sign of the extreme moment at which we Bolivians have arrived.  This situation of political and social disintegration is putting democratic stability and the very foundation of the country at risk,” the bishops write.

They warn that “confrontational attitudes that bring us to the brink of the abyss” cannot be allowed to continue, and they reiterate their belief in the democratic system as the best way to resolve common problems.

In their message the bishops propose three clear signs they say will help to establish a “social truce” in the country.  First, a “new attitude” among Bolivians is needed in which people overcome prejudice and self interest and look to the common good.  Second, the “ability to listen” which, based on the principle of tolerance, takes into account everyone’s voice and especially the voices of those who are most vulnerable and in need.  Third, “sincere generosity” on the part of all social and political leaders in the country, in the direction of openness and collaboration.

The bishops conclude expressing their “strong conviction and trust that the Bolivian people will be able once again to overcome these difficulties, achieving greater maturity and democratic culture, which will allow us to contribute to a lasting peace, based on justice, truth, solidarity and love.”

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Portuguese priest sparks controversy by denying Communion to anti-life leaders

Lisbon, Portugal, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - A Franciscan priest in Portugal has caused a stir throughout the media for his refusal to give Communion to public officials who claim to be Catholic but support abortion and other attacks on human life.

Father Nuno Serras Pereira responded to the media uproar with a letter published in a Lisbon newspaper in which he argued that his decision was based on the Magisterium of the Church and on Canon Law, which teach that priests, in fidelity to the norms of the Church, are not allowed to give Holy Communion “to those Catholics who stubbornly and manifestly persist in defending, contributing to, or promoting the death of innocent human beings.”

Media reports characterized the Franciscan priest’s comments as “exaggerated, dark and opportunistic,” and “too difficult to hear,” and reporters and commentators sought the opinions of well-known liberal priests such as Father Anselmo Borges, who dismissed Father Pereira’s comments saying, “Taking the pill in order to exercises responsible motherhood is not the same as euthanasia.”  “If contraception is a grave sin, then at this point 80% of women are in grave sin. It won’t be long before everything will be forbidden!” he complained.

Father Borges said he was not concerned that Father Pereira’s comments conformed to the teachings of Pope John Paul II.  “The Pope criticizes, but the Pope does not decide everything—he has the right and the duty to provide guidance, but the Catholic Church must learn that there is such a thing as moral autonomy.”

The bishops of Portugal have remained mum about the controversy, with the exception of Cardinal Jose Policarpo of Lisbon, who said Father Pereira’s comments were not very prudent and that expressing them through the media was not the most pastorally appropriate way to do so.

The Franciscan Provincial, Father Isidro Lamelas, in comments to the Ecclesia news agency, distanced himself from the comments of Father Pereira and said they were purely his own personal opinion.  Strangely, he said that while he supports the pro-life cause, in his struggle he prefers “charity to law, mercy to morality, communion to excommunication.”

Father Pereira sent a second letter to the editor in which he wrote that he was thankful for the comments by Cardinal Policarpo, but that “if the cardinal desires to make a pronouncement, in communion with the Holy Father, regarding some doctrinal or moral issue, making use of the authority he has been granted, it belongs to me to listen to and meditate upon his words, and to try to put them into practice.  I might add, however, just for informational purposes, that if he makes simple prudential judgments or expresses opinions, any Catholic is free to agree or not.”

“What’s at stake here is the objective responsibility of legislators and other politicians, researchers from laboratories and pharmacies, doctors, opinion makers, journalists, pastors of the Church, and any other person who professes to be Catholic, to not continue to publicly reject the teaching of the Church on such an essential issue as that of the respect for the commandment of the Law of God, Thou shalt not kill the innocent and the just,” Father Pereira wrote.

“The law is at the service of charity, morality at the service of mercy, and excommunication is a teaching at the service of communion—in this sense it’s not ‘either/or’ but rather ‘both/and’,” he concluded.

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“Barrabas” says Passion filming led to his conversion

Madrid, Spain, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Madrid’s publication “Alpha and Omega” publised an article in its latest edition on the testimony of the actor who played Barrabas in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” who says he experienced a profound conversion while making the movie.

Pedro Sarubbi, in an interview with the Italian daily Avvenire, said he had wanted to play St. Peter but Gibson “had already chosen the actors based on their resemblance to the different characters as portrayed in the paintings of Caravaggio and other masters.”  “As Barrabas, Gibson told me to avoid looking at Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, until the very scene in which we were to appear together.  ‘Barrabas is like a ferocious dog,’ he told me, ‘but at one moment he becomes a puppy: when he meets the Son of God and is saved.  I want your look to be that of somebody seeing Jesus for the first time’.  I did as he said, and when our eyes met I felt a sort of surge.  It was like I was really seeing Jesus.  I had never experienced such a thing in all my years of acting,” he stated.

Sarubbi said “The Passion” “was not only a professional, but above all a human experience.  I am not embarrassed to say that during the filming I had a conversion.  All of the actors who took part changed a little bit after this experience, but I have learned much more from the film than from any conference.”

The actor said his spiritual search “began many years ago and took me around the world.  I have done extensive anthropological research, as a man and as an actor.  I have been instructed in the martial arts...I lived in a Tibetan monastery for six months with a vow of silence. I have practiced meditation in India, I have lived in the Amazon.  I have reached the final goal of this search in Jesus.” 

Now, he went on, “I do everything possible so that those eyes continue to be important for me.  My family is first above all, and I also play a clown for orphaned children.  On the other hand I have my work.  I teach businessman how to act in public. I teach in various acting schools.  I use what I call the warrior-priest-clown method.  In life you have to be strong, honest, spiritual and funny.”

Although Sarubbi has traveled around the world, he is most at home on his farm on the outskirts of Milan, with his wife and four children, and dozens of animals.

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Pope gives impromptu blessing from hospital window

Vatican City, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - To the delight of hundreds of people gathered below, the Holy Father appeared at the window of his room at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic today to give an impromptu blessing.

The event happened just before noon, following a Mass the Pope concelebrates each day. The Pope appeared wearing the purple chasuble used in the liturgical time of Lent.

As he has done on the last two Sundays, the Pope gave several blessings to those gathered in the area in front of the hospital, where he was received with cheers and songs.

Several hundred people, including school children who had come to sing beneath John Paul's 10th-floor suite at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital, cheered as his hand came into view, weeping and shouting: "The Pope! The Pope! He is blessing us!"

The particularly large crowd at the hospital was due to the fact that Wednesday is traditionally the day of the Pope's weekly general audience. Usually held at the Vatican, the audiences have been suspended pending John Paul’s health conditions.

The Pope received an elective tracheotomy on February 24th to ease his breathing and hopes to be back in the Vatican in time for Holy Week.

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Pro-life supporters, Terri’s brother hopeful about new legislation aimed at saving Schiavo

Washington D.C., Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - Yesterday, U.S. Representative Dave Weldon (R-FL), and Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) introduced a piece of legislation which many hope could save brain-damaged Terri Schiavo’s life.

According to Weldon’s office, House Bill 1151, the Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act would “explicitly clarify fundamental due process rights for those who are incapacitated, are under court ordered removal of nutrition and hydration and have no written advanced medical directive in effect.”

If passed, the bill would give the family of 41-year old Schiavo access to a federal court to argue for their daughter’s life.

Florida judge George Greer ruled February 25th in favor of Michael Schiavo, Terri’s husband, who has been trying for years remove the feeding tube, which gives food and hydration to his wife.

Lori Kehoe, Congressional liaison for the National Right to Life told CNA that she is encouraged by yesterday’s introduction of the bill.

Basically, she said, “[representatives] fell into one of two categories: those who were extremely supportive of the bill and those who were very ambivalent and didn’t really know all the facts.”

Kehoe said that it was very powerful for the representatives to meet Schiavo’s parents and “to have to look into their eyes and see that this is a human being, not just another test case.”

She noted that one of the few harsh reactions came from Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) who “looked right at [Schiavo’s brother] and said ‘that’s not life…how long has she been in that coma and how much is it costing us?’”

“It was really bad”, Kehoe noted.

Bob Schindler, Terri’s brother who also spoke with CNA this morning said that, “the secular media has really miscalculated [his] sister’s condition…and has really dehumanized her.”

In response to Representative Johnson’s comments to him yesterday, Schindler noted that, “she had already made up her mind and didn’t want to listen to me.”

While he tried to point out that his sister was not on life support or in a coma, he observed that Johnson “didn’t really know anything about the case and didn’t want to hear it.”

Notwithstanding Johnson’s comments, Kehoe has high hopes for the new bill. She noted positive reactions from some senators who she said “are usually very hard.”

“The most difficult part now,” she said, “ is the time line.”

Judge Greer set a date of March 18th for Terri’s feeding tube to be removed, an act which will effectively end her life.

“It will be difficult but doable”, Kehoe added, “We’re just praying that this moves fast.”

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Cardinal Ratzinger to write this year’s Vatican Way of the Cross

Vatican City, Mar 9, 2005 (CNA) - The Pope has chosen Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and dean of the College of Cardinals, to write the meditations for this year’s Way of the Cross, traditionally celebrated on Good Friday in Rome's Coliseum.

Last year’s meditations were given by Fr. Andre Louf, a Belgian Cistercian monk who, after 35 years as abbot of the monastery of Notre Dame de Mont-des-Cats, France, retired to a hermitage in the south of France.

Pope John Paul II himself wrote the text of the meditations in 2003, for the 25th anniversary of his pontificate; in 2000, for the Great Jubilee; and in 1984, for the extraordinary Holy Year of the Redemption.

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