Denver, Colo., Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - For six hours yesterday, members of the Colorado State Senate heard testimony from both proponents and opponents of a proposed bill which would greatly expand the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse seeking recompense. The problem, according to critics however, is that the bill targets only private and religious entities--an act which many call blatantly anti-Catholic.
All three of Colorado’s Catholic Bishops have spoken out against proposed Senate bill 143, which cleared a Senate Committee hearing late Monday and could now head to the full Senate floor.
While Senate president Joan Fitz-Gerald adamantly argues that the bill is not aimed at the Catholic Church, even Vincent Carroll, a secular columnist for the Denver Rocky Mountain News had to raise an eyebrow.
He explained in a recent column that the “only allegations Fitz-Gerald or anyone else seems to mention in relation to her legislation involve the church. And that the only organization already targeted by a smoothly functioning coalition of high-powered plaintiffs' attorneys and victim groups is the church.”
Citing what they called an unfairly balanced tilt to Colorado state law, the state’s Bishops asked in a recent joint letter, “why can a victim of teacher or clergy abuse in a Catholic school or parish wait a lifetime before initiating such litigation, while the victim of exactly the same and even more frequent abuse in a public school setting loses his or her claim by waiting 181 days?”
Some 50 people were on hand to testify yesterday before the senate committee--many of them abuse survivors.
Martin Nussbaum, an attorney for the Archdiocese offered testimony in which he tried to shed light on the bill’s purported anti-Catholic bias. He spoke on the inequities of the proposed measure calling it fundamentally unfair that private institutions can get sued so harshly while public schools cannot.
This, he said hints at intolerance, specifically against the Church.
Jamila Spencer, of the Colorado Catholic Conference said that the Church is saying “most clearly that ‘we think this debate is important and we want to solve it, but we’re not the only place where it’s being done.’”
During the hearing however, she said that the Church was continually accused of deflecting the issue, with Senators arguing that the bill was not about the public schools.
That, according to Spencer, is precisely the problem. “I believe the Church is being scapegoated, she said.”
Allison Hintgen, a 21 year old student at Denver’s Regis University called the bill “fundamentally unfair”, echoing the Church’s concern that under the new legislation, all children aren’t truly protected.
To prove this point, the Archdiocese of Denver released a sordid list of some 85 cases of sexual abuse on the part of public school teachers Friday, which date back to 1997.
In a letter, read last week to all parishioners in the Archdiocese, Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput said that every one of the proposed pieces of legislation “ignores the serious problem of sexual abuse in public schools and other public institutions, and focuses instead on religious and private organizations.”
“In other words,” he said, “some Colorado legislators seem determined to be harsh when it comes to Catholic and other private institutions, and much softer when it comes to their own public institutions, including public schools. And it will be families, including Catholic families, who suffer.”
28-year old Julia Osiripaibul told CNA that she wanted to be there to “support all people who have been hurt and abused” but said that to limit the legislation merely to private and religious organizations was not true justice.
She said that in her opinion, the bill was severely lacking. “Whether a crime is committed in a public or private place, if it’s the same crime, it deserves the same punishment.”
Likewise, Tom Stroka of Boulder thought it important to show that “there are Catholics who are sympathetic toward victims of abuse but that we want justice for all.”
Hearing Chairman Ron Tupa is Stroka’s local state representative in Boulder and he wanted “to be present and to show him that, as a constituent, I disagree with how he’s handling this…I wanted to make my presence and opposition known to him.”
Spencer was quick to add a positive note to what many called a very difficult day for Catholics in Colorado. She said that more now than with any other issue she’s worked on, “the state’s Catholic faithful have been totally engaged on this issue and valiantly fighting for their Holy Mother Church.”
Vatican City, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Today the Vatican announced plans for its celebration honoring the Vatican museums, which turn 500 this year.
Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and Francesco Buranelli, director of the Vatican Museums were both on hand in the Holy See’s media office this morning for a press conference outlining the planned initiatives.
During the meeting, Cardinal Szoka explained that "This is not a conventional or a merely symbolic anniversary…it marks the chance but fortunate discovery of the marble statue of Laocoon and his sons in 1506.”
“The anniversary”, he said, “seeks to unify a centuries-long history of culture and art promoted with constancy and competency by the Roman Pontiffs, who collected the works of the past to save them from oblivion and destruction, and to hand them down to later generations."
Some 4 million visitors pass through the museums each year.
Cardinal Szoka went on to say that the Vatican Museums "house a centuries-old heritage, and not only a material heritage. The museums are responsive of their duty to conserve and transmit ... to future generation these expressions of genius, of life, of thought and of spirituality from the past; and they will continue to do so, without seeking to avoid the challenges of the present, with the perseverance and conviction that has always marked them."
Mr. Buranelli, the Vatican Museums‘ director, outlined the specific initiatives which will mark the fifth centenary. Most are scheduled to last throughout 2006.
The official commemoration, he said, will begin Friday, February 17, with the celebration of a Mass of thanksgiving in the Sistine Chapel. It will be presided at by Cardinal Szoka and attended by the entire personnel of the Vatican Museums.
He also said that during the first half of 2006, two important, and recently restored museums will be reopened to the public.
"They exemplify”, Buranelli explained, “the commitment of the Roman Pontiffs to promoting evangelization through the language of art."
The first, is the Pio Christian Museum, which was founded by Pope Benedict XIV between 1756 and 1757 in order to house various objects acquired by the Vatican during the first half of the eighteenth century, and "to promote the splendor of Rome and affirm the truth of the Christian religion."
It is scheduled to open this year on March 16th with an exhibition dedicated to finds made in the Roman catacombs during the eighteenth century. They will be exhibited in glass cases and decorated with busts of 24 cardinal librarians.
The second gallery slated to open during the year-long celebration will be the Missionary Ethnological Museum, which was founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926.
It was originally housed in the Lateran Palace until Blessed John XXIII moved it into the Vatican itself in 1963. The museum wasn’t opened to the public until 1973, then under the pontificate of Paul VI.
Buranelli said that this gallery will present the cultures and religious practices of non-European countries, and their contacts with Christianity. The sections dedicated to China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia are due to open on June 20th.
Among other initiatives, the Holy See will this fall open a new section of the Roman necropolis on the Via Triumphalis. The section was discovered thee years ago during work on the Vatican’s new Santa Rosa parking lot.
The Holy See said that once opened, visitors can view some 30 mausolea and 70 individual tombs dating from the first century BC to the third century AD.
The centenary celebrations will come to an end in November with the exhibition: "Laocoon. At the origins of the Vatican Museums."
Simultaneously, the Vatican will hold an international congress on the theme of the identity, essence and role of museums in modern society.
Vatican City, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - As some 3000 participants gather in Brazil to commence the ninth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Pope Benedict XVI has sent his encouragement for the gathering and prayers that Christians can effectively work together to share the divine love of God with the world.
The Pope’s message was sent to Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who is representing the Vatican in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The Assembly is being held from February 14th through the 23rd and will explore the theme: "God in Your Grace, transform the world."
In his message, the Holy Father writes that "Mindful of our shared baptismal faith in the Triune God, the Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches seek ways to cooperate ever more effectively in the task of witnessing to God's divine love.”
“After 40 years of fruitful collaboration,” he said, “we look forward to continuing this journey of hope and promise, as we intensify our endeavors towards reaching that day when Christians are united in proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation to all."
Pope Benedict concluded his message with assurances of his spiritual closeness and reaffirmed "the Catholic Church's intention to continue a solid partnership with the World Council of Churches."
Some 340 churches and ecclesial communities are being represented at the gathering. The Catholic Church is not an official member of the World Council of Churches although it has been a longtime partner and collaborator.
Chicago, Ill., Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Catholic hospitals in Illinois have come under sharp criticism with a recent ad campaign, which alleges that they are not meeting the obligations to maintain their tax-exempt status.
Hospitals — both Catholic and other nonprofit hospitals — in Illinois have been accused of aggressive collection practices and for charging higher rates to the uninsured than to Medicare recipients and to individuals with private insurance, reported the Chicago Sun-Times.
As a result, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is supporting legislation that would set standards for charity care and billing-and-collection practices for nonprofit and tax-exempt hospitals. She says the hospitals, on average, spend less than 1 percent of their operating costs on charity care.
The Tax-Exempt Hospital Responsibility Act would require nonprofit hospitals to allocate at least 8 percent of their total operating costs to charity care. A separate bill would prohibit aggressive debt-collection practices.
But the critical ad campaign targets Catholic hospitals alone. The Indiana-based Fairness Foundation has invested $140,000 on the ads in Chicago and $90,000 on similar ads that are running in Washington, D.C., reported the Sun-Times.
The broadcast ads state: "It's a sad day when the Illinois attorney general has to tell not-for-profit Catholic hospitals, among others, they aren't doing enough to earn their tax-exempt status. … but as with other immoral actions, apparently the Church needs to be forced by lawyers to do the right thing, to be moral. How sad."
Another ad accuses the hospitals of "putting profit over mission.” It says: “Catholic hospitals need to return to their charitable mission, providing affordable health care, or start paying taxes.”
Fr. William Grogan, Cardinal Francis George's representative for hospitals, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the targeted ad campaign seeks to discredit Catholic ministry.
"Englewood, Blue Island, Marquette Park and other parts of the Chicago area are neighborhoods where the poor live and where Catholic hospitals serve them," he told the Sun-Times.
Illinois Hospital Association spokesman Danny Chun said the ads are a "mischaracterization and misleading.” He said one-quarter of all hospitals in Illinois are Catholic—47 hospitals—and they play a vital role in providing health care to the poor.
Chun’s association joined with the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council in Springfield last week to lobby against the new legislation. They also issued a joint report, which indicates that the new bill would cause 28 money-losing hospitals to lose an additional $158 million a year, and lead 45 more hospitals into deficit. It also states that Illinois hospitals provide $1.2 billion in free care to the poor and the uninsured.
Turin, Italy, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Olympian and cross-country skier Rebecca Dussault has placed her Olympic quest and hopes for a medal in the hands of her patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Appropriately, Blessed Frassati was a Turin native and a lover of sport.
The day before her first race — the 15-km Cross-Country Pursuit — Dussault made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, where Frassati’s remains are kept. She asked her patron to inspire her with the same spirit that inspired him to climb mountains and to help the impoverished, reported the Washington Post.
This wasn’t her first visit to her patron’s tomb. Last summer, she traveled to Turin with her family to visit the cathedral, tour the Frassati family home, and visit Frassati’s sister, Luciana, who is 103.
Frassati, a rich young man who dedicated his energies to the poor, died 80 years ago of polio, which he contracted from those he helped. He was 24. Frassati was buried in a Turin park, but when his body was moved to the cathedral in 1981, the casket was opened and his body was found to be incorrupt. He still needs two miracles to be made a saint, and Dussault hopes that her medal win could be his first miracle.
The native of Gunnison, Colo., a devout Catholic, is not a likely medal contender, which is why she believes her win could be considered a Frassati miracle. She lost her first race Feb. 12, placing 48th, but will compete in the 30-km freestyle race Feb. 24.
She has dedicated her 2006 Olympic journey to Frassati so wholeheartedly that when she was asked what inscription she would like engraved on her official Olympic ring, she said: "Bl. Frassati.”
The 25-year-old had abruptly quit the sport in her peak years, at 19, while she was America's fastest-rising cross-country skier, to marry her lifelong sweetheart and to have a child.
During the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, she decided to return to the sport. She found a team that accommodated her lifestyle, found a team director who shared her faith, and started to win races again.
Despite a severe and chronic sinus condition that only gets worse with vigorous exercise in the cold winter air, she made it to the 2006 Olympic team. She believes Frassati is part of the reason she is competing at the Turin Olympics. She discovered him during her comeback at a Frassati festival in Denver.
"He was a lover of life. He was in love with a girl. He climbed mountains. He was handsome, he came home without his jacket because he would give it to someone who was poor. He ran over the mountain to the seminary to pray, he wouldn't take public transportation so he could give the money to someone who needed it. He was amazing," Dussault told the Washington Post.
, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Catholics should rally behind New York State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein and a new bill that he introduced that would sharply increase the penalties for vandalizing a house of worship, says the Catholic League. The bill also covers the destruction or theft of religious symbols.
“[Klein’s] bill is one that every lawmaker in Albany should support, and we look forward to its speedy implementation,” said Catholic League president William Donohue. “The time has come to clamp down on vandals who seek to destroy our First Amendment right to worship as we see fit.”
Jefferson City, Mo., Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Senator Jim Talent (R-Missouri) withdrew his name Feb. 10 as a cosponsor of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, SB 658, saying he did not want a human cloning ban to impede newly emerging technologies.
The Missouri Catholic Conference in urging the senator to reconsider his new position.
“Senator Talent was elected on the basis that he supported a ban on human cloning,” Deacon Larry Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, pointed out.
The senator had come under fire in recent months from cloning supporters.
Talent now claims that banning human cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same method used in cloning Dolly the sheep, might impede research on a new procedure called altered nuclear transfer, in which a cloned human embryo is created but is genetically modified to prevent growth beyond a certain stage.
Washington D.C., Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Sandro Magister, a columnist for the Italian magazine L’Espresso and one of the top “Vaticanistas”, an expert on Church affairs and the intricate world of the Vatican, gave yesterday an interview in Washington to Catholic leaders. He drew on the first months of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and the current situation of the Catholic Church. The event took place at the Cosmos Club in Washington DC, and was sponsored by the Athanasius Conferences -an iniciative of the Morley Institute- and Catholic News Agency.
Magister affirms it is possible to identify a clear and coherent direction in the beginning of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. He particularly recalls the pope’s first Mass at Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, on Saturday, May 7.
“In it, Benedict XVI asserted that the pope “must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.”
So this is the program Pope Benedict has enunciated since the beginning: that of restoring to the truth – which is Christ in the definitive – its primacy and splendor.”
“In ten months, he has shown his intention to carry this out in all areas: in his first encyclical, in the liturgy, in catechesis, in law, in pastoral practice, in the magisterium of the bishops, in the application of Vatican Council II, in working for peace…”
Reviewing Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Magister underlines this same consistency with the beginning of his pontificate: “to speak the truth about love, a word today "so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused". To demonstrate that “Deus est caritas.”
“The encyclical is a letter to the Christian people, but is also addressed to those far from the faith, to the “secularists,” to those without faith. To all of these, Benedict XVI says: This is the true heart of the Christian faith. Understand this. With a God such as this, you may have the strength to live “as if God exists,” even if you do not have the strength to believe.”
On the issue of liturgy, “Benedict XVI has wished to restore to the celebration of the Mass the truth expressed by the great liturgical tradition.”
“The pope has said in many ways that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is real, supremely real, not symbolic. He said it by adoring the consecrated host silently on his knees, with a million young people in Cologne – in Protestant country! – and with the one hundred thousand children who received first communion in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.”
In particular, the pope called back to faithful observance of the true liturgical tradition the Neocatechumenal Way: one of the most vibrant Catholic movements of the past half century, but which often modifies the Mass and uses it as an “instrument” for missionary expansion, instead of accepting and celebrating it as the work of God, the “source and summit” of Christian life.
In the second part of his intervention, Magister comments on the way the Pope is managing the Church and his relation to bishops, the way he is implanting the teachings of the Vatican II council. “Benedict XVI has addressed severe reminders to bishops he believes to be timid, doubtful, reticent in teaching true doctrine.”
The pope also wanted to restore its proper truth to Vatican Council II, forty years after its conclusion.
"He has criticized the false interpretation of the Council as “discontinuity and rupture,” as “the spirit” contrasted with “the letter.” And he explained, instead, its “proper hermeneutic,” its “rightful key of interpretation and application”: that is, the Council as “reform,” as “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.”
On a more international scope, Magister stressed the pope’s role in world affairs such as his message for the World Day for Peace
“Significantly, Benedict XVI entitled his first message for the World Day for Peace “In truth, peace.” The pope wanted to express, right from the title, “the conviction that wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace.”In this message, and then in his speech to the diplomatic corps, he brought all of international politics beneath the scrutiny of the truth:
“In short, the primacy of the truth appears to be truly the common thread since the beginning of this pontificate. Benedict XVI, the first pope-theologian, is showing himself as a “doctor of the Church.”
It is true that Benedict XVI enjoys the trust and attention of great crowds of the faithful – the number of those who attend his liturgies and preaching is more than double than in the case of John Paul II, and participants listen to him with great attentiveness.
Finally on the rumors of the bad conduct of his election as Pope, “These rumors are intended to show that the election of Ratzinger was not at all equitable, that it was in doubt until the very end, that it was unduly favored by the fact that he was the dean of the college of cardinals, that he is in the pocket of Opus Dei, that the time is ripe for a new pope, preferably a Latin American, and that, in short, Benedict XVI should submit himself to these inherent limitations.”
Cologne, Germany, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - A survey of 17 European Union countries has revealed that 56.7% of the people of Poland attend church regularly on Sundays. The Kath.net news agency reported that pollsters at the Mastershausen/Hünsruck Agency in Germany carried out the survey on church attendance in the EU.
The results left Poland in first place, followed by Portugal with 30%, and the mostly orthodox Greece with 24.5%.
In the traditionally Protestant countries, Sunday church attendance is much less, with Switzerland posting a mere 13%. Of the 82 million Germans, 8.7% attend Catholic or Protestant churches. Attendance in Sweden and Estonia is around 3.9%, while Denmark only reached 3.2%.
, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - Four Colombian bishops traveled to Havana, Cuba, this weekend to participate in talks between leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government.
The delegation included Bishop Jaime Prieto Amaya of Barrancabermeja; Bishop Leonardo Gómez Serna of Magangue; Bishop Ricardo Tobón Restrepo of Sonsón-Rionegro and Bishop Julio Enrique Prado Bolaños of Pasto.
Bishop Prieto said the purpose of the trip was “to be present and encourage this peace process that is beginning and to provide a sense of continuity to the talks.”
“We are hopeful,” he added. “In this second round that has been meticulously prepared by the ELN and by civil society it appears that some doors are opening towards a more concrete and operative agenda,” Bishop Prieto stated.
The ELN was founded in 1964 and is the second largest guerilla force in the country, after the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), with a membership of 5,000.
Rome, Italy, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - The Fides news agency reports that according to the latest investigation, vandalism rather than politics was behind the killing in Angola last week of Father Jose Alfonso Moreira.
The 80 year-old Portuguese priest, who was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, was buried in the city of Luanda last Friday. He was gunned down on Thursday, February 9, at his residence in Bailundo, some 60 kilometers north of Huabmo, Angola.
Police officials said the priest was shot seven times at close range in the face. “The missionary had just gone to bed when about 15 armed men broke into his room and shot him dead without even giving him time to get out of bed”. Police investigations indicated the shooting “would appear to be the work of bandits because the modest house was turned upside down and the catechist, the missionary’s assistant, was threatened and ordered to hand over non existing objects of value.” “Sad to say banditry is spreading and people kill for no reason at all,” police said.
“Fr. Moreira was loved by all for his witness of service and love for mission even in times of difficulty” the sources added. “For forty years he served in Bailundo during the long years of civil war 1975-2002. Bailundo was occupied by the UNITA rebel forces (National Union for Total Independence of Angola) and then by the regular army. Nevertheless Fr. Moreira remained neutral, refusing any comprise so he could continue to announce the Gospel and serve others in the freedom of the children of God.”
Berlin, Germany, Feb 14, 2006 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, has revealed new details about the visit Pope Benedict XVI is planning to make to his homeland in September, saying the Pontiff may celebrate a public Mass in his archdiocese.
The cardinal said the Pope’s visit is scheduled for September 10-15, although the Holy See has not yet confirmed the dates. According to Cardinal Wetter, the Pope may celebrate a Mass in Munich and visit the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, where he was consecrated bishop in 1977.
“We will prepare a warm and dignified welcome for him,” the cardinal explained. In addition to Munich, the Pope may also visit Regensburg, Altoettig and Marktl am Inn, where he was born. The Pope was archbishop of Munich and Friesing from 1977 until 1981, when he was called to Rome.