Albany, N.Y., Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - The New York Catholic Conference is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a New York State Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Catholic and other religious social service groups must provide contraceptive coverage through their workplace-sponsored medical insurance programs, regardless of their faith views on the matter.
New York law does exempt churches, seminaries, and other institutions with a more overt religious mission and which primarily serve followers of that religion. However, according to The Associated Press, the 6-0 decision hinged on defining Catholic Charities and the other nine religious groups suing the state as social service agencies, rather than religious organizations.
The court said: "We must weigh against (their) interests in adhering to the tenets of their faith the state's substantial interest in fostering equality between the sexes, and in providing women with better health care."
The court cited as a critical factor the fact that these religions organizations hire employees outside their faith and that those employees deserve “rights” guaranteed under the law.
Dennis Poust, spokesman for the Catholic conference, said he believes this ruling demonstrated “a fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism,” which holds fast to the tenet that “faith without works is dead (James 2:17).”
“Faith alone is not enough ... and the way the Church performs its works of mercy is through its Catholic Charities, its schools and its hospitals — all of which the state has now held is secular," he was quoted as saying in an AP report.
Poust said his organization never believed that the court case was really about contraception. "We think it was to target the church and open the door for coverage of abortion," he said.
At issue is the 2002 Women's Health Wellness Act, a measure that, in addition to prescription contraceptives, requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for mammograms, cervical cytology, and bone density screening.
As Catholic Charities considers an appeal, it will continue to cover contraceptives for employees, under protest. If the decision stands, the organization could consider either dropping prescription drug coverage for employees or moving to a self-insurance policy, Poust said.
Vatican City, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) -
More than 100,000 people gathered in Verona, Italy, Thursday afternoon as Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the 4th Italian Ecclesial Congress. The Pontiff encouraged the Italian faithful to renew their efforts in spreading the Gospel and reminded them that Christ alone can satisfy the expectations of the human heart and answer life’s difficult questions.
"The certainty that Christ arose assures us that no adverse power will ever be able to destroy the Church,” Pope Benedict told the crowd. “We also draw encouragement from our awareness that only Christ can fully satisfy the profound expectations of the human heart and respond to the most disturbing questions of pain, injustice and evil, of death and the hereafter.”
"Therefore," he added, "our faith is well founded; but it is necessary that this faith become part of our lives. A great effort must therefore be made in order for all Christians to transform themselves into 'witnesses,' ready and able to shoulder the commitment of testifying - always and to everyone - to the hope that animates them."
The Holy Father told the crowd that it is necessary to go back "to a vigorous and joyful announcement of the death and resurrection of Christ, the core of Christianity, the bedrock of our faith, the powerful lever of our certainties, the great wind that blows away all fear and indecision, all doubt and human calculation.
“Only from God can the decisive change of the world come. Only by going back to the Resurrection can the true nature of the Church and of her witness be understood," the Pope emphasized.
Benedict XVI expressed his hope that the Church in Italy "may start out anew from this congress...impelled by the Word of the Risen Lord, who repeats to all mankind and to each individual: be, in today's world, witnesses of my Passion and my Resurrection.”
“In a changing world,” Pope Benedict said, “the Gospel does not change. The Good News is always the same: Christ died, and He rose for our salvation! In His name bring everyone the announcement of conversion and the forgiveness of sins, but be yourselves the first to bear witness to a life of conversion and forgiveness."
This is only possible, he added, with "the interior strength of the Spirit of the Risen Christ."
"Consecrated with the 'anointing' of the Holy Spirit," the Pope exclaimed, "go forth! Carry the good tidings to the poor, bind the wounds of the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom to slaves, open the doors of prisons to those within, promulgate the year of the Lord's mercy. Rebuild the ancient ruins... restore the wasted cities. There are so many difficult situations that await a decisive intervention! Bring into the world the hope of God, which is Christ the Lord Who rose from the dead and lives and reigns forever. Amen."
Athens, Greece, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey, from Nov. 28 to 31, will be a welcome opportunity to help improve relations between the Christian churches.
Bartholomew, who heads a church of 200 million Orthodox Christians, said on Thursday that he looked forward "with frank joy, love, and honor" to the pontiff's visit, The Associated Press reports.
One of the main reasons for the trip is a meeting between the two prelates in Istanbul, which serves as the seat of the patriarch. The two churches split in 1054 after disputes over papal authority and creed.
"It is preferable that those who bear the name of Christian ... should maintain good relations and peaceful communication and dialogue rather than have hostile relations and quarrel with each other," Bartholomew said in Athens during an eight-day visit to Greece.
Bartholomew addressed the criticism from some Orthodox, who consider the Pope a heretic.
"There can be no constructive dialogue with a person whom we exclude in advance by calling him a heretic," he reportedly said. "Even if he is a heretic in conscience, our first and second meeting with him must be ... a friendly exposition of the truth and not an admonitory or condemnatory judgment."
Bartholomew also urged peaceful coexistence with non-Christian religions.
"We religious leaders have a duty to proclaim that conflict and war are not part of our religious duties, that there are peaceful ways of overcoming differences and that those who maintain the opposite do not express God's true will," he said, echoing some of the Pope’s previously expressed sentiments.
Vatican City, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - To commemorate the end of the fasting season of Ramadan, Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, sent a message today to Muslims around the world. The cardinal encouraged continued work in dialogue and spoke out against the “painful scourge” of violence and terrorism, which he said, Muslims and Catholics should struggle to overcome together.
The sending of a Ramadan message is now customary at the Vatican, though this message has drawn a bit more attention following recent tensions between the Church and many in the Muslim world.
Pope Benedict XVI himself relayed a pre-Ramadan message during a meeting with diplomats of several Islamic countries as well as Muslim religious leaders.
Cardinal Poupard began by echoing Pope Benedict’s wishes for “peace, tranquility, and joy” in the “hearts, homes and countries” of Muslims everywhere.
The Vatican interreligious dialogue chief made passing reference to the tense situation which has arisen following a lecture offered by Pope Benedict. The academic speech was mischaracterized by many as an attack on Islam and the Muslim prophet Mohammed. The resulting outcry resulted in violent protests and even the murder of a Catholic religious sister and an Orthodox Christian priest.
“The particular circumstances that we have recently experienced together demonstrate clearly that, however arduous the path of authentic dialogue may be at times, it is more necessary than ever,” he said.
Noting that Ramadan allows time for prayer and reflection the cardinal expressed his hope that Muslims reflected on the “serious problems that affect our times.” Poupard noted the problems of “injustice, poverty, tensions, and conflicts between countries as well as within them,” but said that, “violence and terrorism are a particularly painful scourge. So many human lives destroyed, so many women widowed, so many children who have lost a parent, so many children orphaned … So many wounded, physically and spiritually… So much, which has taken years of sacrifice and toil to build, destroyed in a few minutes!”
“As Christian and Muslim believers,” the cardinal continued, “are we not the first to be called to offer our specific contribution to resolve this serious situation and these complex problems? Without doubt, the credibility of religions and also the credibility of our religious leaders and all believers is at stake. If we do not play our part as believers, many will question the usefulness of religion and the integrity of all men and women who bow down before God.”
Cardinal Poupard then turned to the Pope’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), which, he said, “echoes the most characteristic ‘definition’ of God in Christian Sacred Scriptures, ‘God is love’ (1 Jn 4: 8).”
“Genuine love for God is inseparable from love for others: ‘Anyone who says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, is a liar, since a man who does not love the brother he can see cannot love God, whom he has not seen’ (1 Jn 4: 20).”
“In recalling this point, the Encyclical underlines the importance of fraternal charity in the Church’s mission: love, to be credible, must be effective. It must come to the aid of everyone, beginning with the most needy,” Poupard noted. “True love must be of service to all the needs of daily life; it must also seek just and peaceful solutions to the serious problems which afflict our world.”
“Believers who are engaged in helping people in need or seeking solutions to these problems, do so above all through their love for God,” the cardinal said.
“Everyday worries together with the more serious problems faced by the world call for our attention and our action. Let us ask God in prayer to help us confront them with courage and determination. In those places where we can work together, let us not labor separately. The world has need, and so do we, of Christians and Muslims who respect and value each other and bear witness to their mutual love and co-operation to the glory of God and the good of all humanity.”
The letter was signed both by Cardinal Poupard and Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, Secretary for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Rome, Italy, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican's top official for health issues reiterated the Catholic Church's strong opposition to euthanasia in an interview published Thursday, but said it was in favor of allowing terminal patients to opt against aggressive therapeutic treatment.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan's comments came as an Italian Senate committee has been hearing arguments over proposed legislation to approve a living will, which allows people to decide in advance how they want to be treated if they become incapacitated in the last stages of a terminal illness.
Some politicians have viewed the measure with suspicion, warning that a living will could become a first step toward approving euthanasia. Euthanasia is currently illegal in Italy.
However, Cardinal Barragan spoke in favor of a living will, telling Turin daily "La Stampa" that the Vatican opposed "those useless and disproportionate treatments before the imminent death of the patient, which have as sole consequence prolonging the agony."
He clarified that hydrating and feeding a terminal patient could not be considered aggressive therapeutic treatment.
"In no way, however, are we in favor of the idea of euthanasia — meaning that action, or omission — destined to cause the death of the patient," the cardinal clarified.
The Senate committee began examining the bills last month amid a debate on euthanasia sparked when the Italian president received a plea from a man who can no longer walk, eat or breathe on his own because of muscular dystrophy. The man asked the president to legalize euthanasia so he could die.
, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - Assyrian Catholics in Georgia’s capital city of Tblisi, continue to live in fear of attack after a hostile mob of 60 invaded and damaged their nearly completed religious and cultural centre Sept. 18.
"The Orthodox Church and fundamentalists don't want a Catholic presence in Georgia," Fr. Benny Yadgar told Forum 18 News Service Oct. 18. The priest fears that “fanatics could attack our people with knives and wooden posts” if the people begin to use the new centre for worship.
The attack took place about four days after anonymous, undated leaflets started to circulate in the district, alleging that “Catholics are aggressive proselytizers who killed our monks in the 14th and 15th centuries. It also alleged they marry cats and dogs and give the Eucharist to animals,” recounted the priest.
The leaflets stirred people up against Catholics and urged them to come to the centre.
The attack was instigated by fundamentalist Orthodox, determined to prevent a Catholic church from being built, said Giorgi Khutsishvili, head of the Tbilisi-based International Center of Conflict Negotiations.
He said the Assyrian Catholic community has the right to build its centre, reported Forum 18. His group has hosted a meeting of the multi-faith Religions Council to discuss the issue.
Fr. Yadgar insists that the problems do not come from the authorities. He said the police had offered to send officers to protect the building, as long as the Assyrians paid for it. The community turned down the offer.
There is also a petition currently underway in the local district. Organizers are saying they need 200,000 signatures to block the Catholic centre from operating.
Fr. Yadgar said the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson has been sympathetic and has scheduled an Oct. 27 meeting, where he and his bishop, Bishop Giuseppe Pasotto, can discuss their concerns.
But the priest is disappointed by the lack of support from the Orthodox Church authorities. Fr. Yadgar said the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate has failed to speak out against the threats. "I called on Patriarch Ilya to defend our church, but he says it is not his business," the priest was quoted by Forum 18 as saying.
According to the news service, the Orthodox Patriarchate has successfully prevented almost all minority faiths from openly building new places of worship in recent years. Some Georgian Orthodox priests have a record of inciting mob violence against religious minorities.
Georgia's politicians also have shown little interest in the Assyrian Catholics' concerns, some denying that an attack on the center took place, others saying they did not receive any reports of violence or fear.
Human rights activists and other religious minorities, such as the Baptists, Lutherans, and Armenian Apostolic Church, have defended the Assyrian Catholic community.
The Assyrian Catholic center is to include classrooms and meeting rooms with a sanctuary for worship. Although all the external work is now complete, Fr. Yadgar said completing the interior could take another year, especially in the wake of the damage and the difficulty in finding funds to continue.
Vatican City, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, spoke this week of the deep faith of many Africans noting how the laity in Africa are “very conscious of their being part of the Church.”
In an interview with Vatican Radio, the cardinal said, “The laity in Africa really feel they are part of the Church.”
He noted how a strong Catholic identity has resulted in social action on the continent. “Many good things exist because lay people are present in society, politics, education, and medicine,” he added.
“Another positive element is the number of young people from many African countries that are responding to the priestly and religious vocation. This is significant. Many countries speak of a boom, a surge in vocations unprecedented in history,” the cardinal stated.
Cardinal Arinze also mentioned the challenges Africa is facing, such as “justice, the respect for human rights, for women, the care for the poor, for children, and for all those who have no one to speak for them.”
Another challenge, he said, was that of convincing politicians that religious considerations should have their place in politics, “not because the Church dictates laws for politics, but rather in the sense that Christian social teaching regarding laws, respect for others, justice, the meaning of service to society, is certainly valid. And not only for Sunday morning,” Arinze said emphatically.
The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Nigeria native also underscored that the institutional Church “should contribute, certainly not with political formulas, but rather with the conversion of the human heart. The Church cannot remain in the sacristy, because the joys, challenges and sufferings of the people are also the joys, challenges, and sufferings of the Church.”
“Many people consider the Church to be the voice for those who have no voice, an institution—perhaps the last of its kind—in which they can trust,” the cardinal added, “which constitutes a great responsibility and represents thus a great challenge, because the people trust as much in the Church as in the people who direct it, whether they are clergy, laity, or religious; they should all be aware of this great responsibility,” he said.
Madrid, Spain, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - The National Director of the Pontifical Missionary Works in Spain, Archbishop Francisco Perez Gonzalez of the Military Diocese, said this week “the fundamental work of the missionary is to bear witness and proclaim Jesus Christ.” If missionaries become officials simply charged with, “carrying out humanitarian projects…the true nature of ‘mission,’” is lost, he said.
In an interview with OMPRESS, the archbishop said the missionary “is the best balm for a suffering and hurting society.” He acknowledged the need for “a greater number of missionaries,” given the advanced average age of today’s missionaries. He said that while young people are “excited about the missions,” when it comes to mission for one’s entire life, “they find that more difficult.”
Nevertheless, he noted, there are still people willing to leave behind everything for the Gospel. “There are many who do so. There are priests, religious, and lay people (especially married couples) who leave everything—even a successful career—and they go to the missions. Also, during the summer, many young people accompany missionaries and this helps many of them to consider their own missionary vocation,” he added.
Archbishop Perez also noted that as a special collection will take place on October 22 for World Mission Sunday, he is hopeful that the people of Spain will continue to offer generously to the missions. “After the United States, Spain is the country that contributes most to the Pontifical Missionary Works,” he said.
“Spain has always been very missionary-minded,” the archbishop went on, but he noted the urgent need for “a new evangelization because of the secularism that is reigning throughout Europe.”
Madrid, Spain, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - The Spanish daily La Razon is denouncing a Catholic publishing company that has agreed to publish text books for Islamic religion classes that will be offered in public schools in Spain.
The Santa Maria Foundation, which is operated by the Marianist religious order, has assumed the project of publishing Islamic text books through its publishing group “SM,” with the support of the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE – Spanish abbreviation). The first textbook, which has been released to reporters, is called, “Discovering Islam.”
SM, says the purpose of their decision to publish Muslim texts “is to foster intercultural encounter and religious dialogue, with the integration of Islamic values in the socio-cultural context of Spain,” La Razon, however, argues the deal is really about getting Muslim business.
According to the Spanish newspaper, the UCIDE will sell the books at the same price as books on the Catholic religion published by the Marianists. The first printing of the books should thus bring over $275,000 in revenue. SM says the profits will be used to finance future editions, and if the UCIDE is able to sell 15,000 copies each of all seven volumes of the series, it will earn some $1.5 million in profits.
According to reporter Alex Navajas of La Razon, “In countries like Saudi Arabia or the Sudan, if you are caught with a Bible, you are sentenced to death…Surely the Islamists in Spain are not as fanatical as the Saudis or the Sudanese. But that’s not what this is about. The problem is that SM, whose ‘identity is inspired by Christian values’,” has fallen prey to “the most severe form of relativism and syncretism.”
“That is, there is no difference between promoting the Christian faith or the Islamic faith because, in the end, all religious are equal since all of them lead to God. So, let them publish the Book of Mormon, which is just nonsense, or come to an agreement with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who own one of the most powerful publishing companies in the world,” Navajas said.
Managua, Nicaragua, Oct 20, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes of Managua said this week if an unborn child is not wanted in his home, it is preferable he be given in adoption rather than being killed through abortion.
“We support life, and we think that children should be given in adoption rather than having their lives taken,” the archbishop said in response to questions by reporters about the case of a twelve year-old girl who became pregnant through rape and whose grandmother wants her to get an abortion.
Archbishop Brenes responded saying, “There are sad situations (such as that of the young girl),and the attitude of one grandmother in particular.” Nevertheless, he underscored, “there have been cases in which the unwanted child, when he is an adult, is the one to take care of the grandmother and provide for the mother.”
The Nicaraguan archbishop expressed his rejection of therapeutic abortion and said Nicaragua faces the challenge of working for a culture of life, in which people are taught the value of being parents and the true meaning of sexuality. “Therefore we should open ourselves to the spirit of the Lord, in order to discover what it is He is asking of us,” he said.
The current debate surrounding abortion in Nicaragua is related to proposed reforms of the country’s Penal Code. Pro-abortion groups such as the Human Rights Watch claim that laws prohibiting therapeutic abortion “violate human rights.”