Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - Pro-life and ethics groups across the United States are expressing their disapproval after the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday in favor of extending federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. The newly elected Democratically controlled House’s vote is a move to lift the restrictions President George W. Bush had imposed on such research by veto in 2001.
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (H.R. 3) would allow federal funding on research involving stem-cell lines derived from embryos created at fertility clinics as part of the process of in-vitro fertilization.
The 253-174 vote in Congress of fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised presidential veto. However, the stem cell bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass with a veto-proof two-thirds majority.
The White House has reiterated Bush's intention to use his veto power, saying American taxpayers should not pay for research involving the intentional destruction of human embryos, reported Reuters.
The measure passed in Congress after an emotional debate in which supporters argued that embryonic stem-cell research has the best hope for potential cures for degenerative diseases. Opponents condemned it as unethical and immoral, and pointed to alternative sources for stem cells.
"It is not necessary to sacrifice the life of embryos to obtain cells that could become embryonic stem cell lines," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md). "It is wrong to use federal taxpayer dollars for research which offends the morals and ethics of millions of Americans."
In a statement, the Illinois Federation for Right to Life pointed out that embryonic stem cells “have yet to cure one person.” The group underlined the successful clinical trials with adult stem-cell research, which does not involve any ethical dilemmas.
“Now with the discovery stem cells in amniotic fluid there is no reason for embryonic stem cell research,” the group added, referring to a scientific breakthrough published last week which indicates the remarkable similarities between embryonic stem-cells and stem-cells acquired from amniotic fluid - a process which most pro-life groups have deemed ethically sound.
“Since ethical alternatives exist, this bill is about playing politics, not helping patients," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
"We hope the Senate will show a more vigilant regard for life and not fall prey to the manipulations and falsehoods extended by those who want to strip human rights from an entire class of human beings," she added.
"Partisan politics has trumped ethical science. Not only is it unethical to kill embryos for their stem cells, it is unnecessary and undesirable," said C. Ben Mitchell, director of the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.
The bill, he said in a statement, allows the use of federal taxpayer dollars to support and thereby encourage the destruction of nascent human life for highly speculative research purposes.
"While the need for relief of human suffering is great, we must not seek cures for some at the expense of the lives of others,” he said.
Vatican City, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - This morning Pope Benedict XVI received civic leaders of the areas surrounding the Vatican City State for their traditional exchange of New Year greetings. The Holy Father told Piero Marrazzo, president of the Region of Lazio, Italy; Walter Veltroni, mayor of the City of Rome; and Enrico Gasbarra, president of the Province of Rome, along with their assistants, that there is an urgent need for national and regional government officials to enact policies to protect and serve the family.
The Pope began his address by expressing his satisfaction at the long-standing collaboration between their administrations and ecclesial bodies; a collaboration that aims "to alleviate the many forms of poverty - economic poverty, but also poverty in terms of human relationships - that afflict a considerable number of individuals and families, especially among immigrants."
On the subject of healthcare, Benedict XVI stressed the fact that "the Church and Catholic organizations are happy to offer their help, in the light of the great principles of the sacredness of human life from conception to natural end, and of the central importance of sick people." On this subject, he expressed his hope that the administrators would "favor a form of collaboration that brings definite benefits to the entire population."
Turning to the question of the family, the Pope said that the "intrinsic value and authentic motivations" of marriage and the family, "need today to be better understood. To this end, the Church's pastoral commitment is great and must grow further. But equally necessary are polices of the family and for the family," that translate into initiatives to help young couples form a family, have children and educate them. Such policies must involve "favoring the occupation of the young, containing as far as possible the cost of housing, and increasing the number of nursery schools and kindergartens.
"However," he added, "projects that aim to attribute to other forms of union inappropriate legal recognition appear dangerous and counterproductive," because they inevitably end up "weakening and destabilizing the legitimate family based on marriage."
After pointing out that "the education of new generations is the pastoral priority of the diocese of Rome," the Holy Father told his audience of his gratitude for the support "you give to certain forms of educational activity in the Church, in particular the oratories. I trust that, also in this field, we can further develop our fruitful collaboration, while respecting the nature and duties of each of the parties involved."
Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - A Catholic bishop is calling for prudence after a U.S. air strike on Monday and for the international community to assist Somalis in creating a policy that will help them restore peace in the country on their own terms.
Bishop Giorgio Bertin of Djibouti, who is also apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, expressed his concern to Fides after the U.S. air force targeted Islamist fighters in the village of Badel, in southern Somalia. The attack reportedly killed a terrorist who was involved in the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Other terrorists are said to be present in the region, including those responsible for the murder of Italian doctor Annalena Tonelli in 2003.
“This [U.S.] action could add fuel to an explosive situation,” the bishop told Fides. “I doubt the air strike will increase the support of the people for the fragile interim government and Ethiopia.”
Somalia’s interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, arrived in Mogadishu on Jan. 8 for first time since his election in October 2004. He said the U.S. army has the right to attack Al Qaeda terrorists wherever they are in the world and that the air strikes in Somalia were part of this plan.
“There can and must be other ways of stopping extremism,” the bishop continued. “Sowing death and destruction, apart from the moral aspects, is counter-productive also for the fight against terrorism.”
Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops urged the House of Representatives to reject a bill that would fund embryonic stem-cell research, which would require the destruction of human embryos.
The bishops instead called the legislators to lend greater support to more promising and morally acceptable research, using stem cells from adult tissues and from umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, and placentas.
The appeal was made in a January 9th letter, written by from Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities. The House is expected to vote on the bill Jan. 11th.
In his letter, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Philadelphia urged legislators to reject H.R. 3 and to support “medical progress that we can all live with.”
“The federal government has never taken the crass utilitarian approach of forcing taxpayers to support the direct killing of innocent human life, at any stage of development, in the name of ‘progress,’” he wrote.
He said legislators would cross “the fundamental moral line” if it passes H.R. 3.
The cardinal-archbishop also noted that many promising avenues of medical progress – such as stem cell research with adult tissues or umbilical cord blood — have received little funding because of the “almost exclusive focus on destructive embryo research in the political and policymaking arena.”
Embryonic stem-cell research, despite all the hype, has not led to any significant advances in therapeutic treatments to date.
“On a practical level, embryonic stem cell research has been as disappointing in its results as it has been divisive to our society,” he wrote. After almost three decades of research in mouse embryonic stem cells and nine years in the human variety, researchers can scarcely point to a safe and effective “cure” for any condition in mice let alone human beings.
“I urge you to vote against H.R. 3 for the sake of genuine progress for suffering patients, who deserve better solutions than this most speculative and most divisive type of stem cell research,” the cardinal told legislators in his letter.
Non-embryonic stem cell research has helped patients with over 70 conditions in early peer-reviewed studies, the cardinal noted.
The White House Domestic Policy Council was to release a report yesterday, citing a new study from researchers at Wake Forest University that found stem cells derived from amniotic fluid appear to offer many of the same benefits of embryonic stem cells.
According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal, the report may be a precursor to an executive order, signed by President George Bush, promoting stem-cell research that does not involve the destruction of human life.
White House spokesperson Tony Fratto did not give details on the executive order but told the Journal that the Bush administration is “clearly working on ways we can direct whatever tools and funding we can" to stem-cell research that does not kill human embryos.
"We are exploring all the alternative science that maybe will make this question moot so we as a society do not have to deal with this moral grudge match," Fratto was quoted as saying.
Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - Bishops representing the North American and British episcopal conferences will travel to the Holy Land this week in an effort to better understand the pastoral challenges facing the Church and the region, and to encourage inter-religious dialogue.
The bishops will travel from Jan. 11 to 18th. During this time, they will attend a meeting of the Co-ordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church of the Holy Land, which was established at the Vatican’s request in 1998.
The Co-ordination represents the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, and the Catholic bishops’ conferences of Austria, Canada, England and Wales, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States.
Representatives from the respective bishops’ conferences are scheduled to meet with a range of civic, political and religious leaders during the eight-day visit, including a possible meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. A meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been scheduled in Ramallah and will be followed by a public Mass.
The clerics traveling to the Holy Land for this meeting include: Bishop William Skylstad (United States); Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth and Archbishop Patrick Kelly of Liverpool (England & Wales), and Bishop Gilles Cazabon, OMI, of Saint-Jérôme and Msgr. Mario Paquette (Canada).
Bishop Skylstad will be joined by Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ International Justice and Peace office. The U.S. delegation also plans to visit Gaza, Bethlehem and other Palestinian territories with representatives of Catholic Relief Services, the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Church.
Rome, Italy, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - It has become a must-have for Rome’s homeless. The Sant’Egidio Community published its latest guidebook for the city’s homeless, which includes a fold-out map and tips on where to eat, sleep, and wash up in the Italian capital. It also contains information on legal and medical assistance.
The Catholic community printed 13,000 copies of the guide’s 17th edition, which it launched Wednesday, reported Reuters. According to Sant' Egidio, there are about 7,000 homeless people in Rome, and the number is rising due to the increase in the cost of living and in the number of poor migrants.
At the book launch, Mario Marazziti, a founding member of the Sant' Egidio movement, said that Rome has about “10 percent of people living in extreme cases of poverty in Italy,” reported Reuters.
The 176-glossy-page guidebook, which its authors have dubbed a "Michelin Guide for the Poor", is titled "Dove" (Where). Other cities in Italy, France, Spain and Austria have duplicated it.
The guide is also being used as a resource for people who are being released from jail and need information on how to get back on their feet.
The Sant’Egidio Community has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize for its charity work and international peace negotiations.
Lisbon, Portugal, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI will not travel to Fatima in October 2007 for the celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in Cova de Iria, Portugal.
According to the Ecclesia news agency, the secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Portugal, Bishop Carlos Azevedo, made the announcement at the conclusion of a meeting of the bishops’ executive committee with a statement from the Vatican Secretary of State.
The Holy Father had been invited to the celebrations several months ago by the Portuguese bishops. The reason he will not be able to attend is because of the previous engagements the Pontiff is scheduled to keep this year and that have forced him to reduce the number of trips he will take.
Nevertheless, the Pope will send a special envoy and he said he hoped to be able to visit Portugal in the future.
Paris, France, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - The Federation of Organizations in the Defense of Life is organizing a “Great March for the Defense of Life” on Sunday, January 21st, in France. This year’s march will mark the third time it has been held in Paris.
The call to march, which has been extended to pro-life organizations in Spain, Belgium, Germany and Italy, emphasized that “here in France, 220,000 children are murdered each year through abortion. And more than 7 million people have been killed since the legalization of abortion in the country.”
“Thousands of people participated in the great march for life in 2005 and 2006. This year its going to be even more numerous!” the invitation states.
According to organizers of the march, abortion in France “has consequences for demographic aging, the closing of maternity homes and schools and the problem of pensions for retirees.” It also leads to the breakdown of the family and the devaluing of the human person.
The march, which will coincide with the annual March For Life in the United States, has special significance this year, as France will elect a new president in April. “Our march is intended to be a unique occasion for showing the strength of the pro-life electorate, so that respect for life is taken into account during the electoral campaign,” organizers said.
Santiago, Chile, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - In a statement entitled “Welcoming and Promoting Life,” the executive committee of the Bishops’ Conference of Chile is denouncing the moral bankruptcy of the new norms on the regulation of fertility created by the Ministry of Health.
The Chilean bishops had already noted their objection to the government’s new anti-life policy, but the new document is based on a multi-disciplinary study, which the bishops entrusted to a broad group of scholars of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.
The bishops emphasize that the gift of life is sacred and that respect for life is not debatable, because debate cannot be a pretext for inducing and justifying attacks against the foundations of society.
While they say they understand “the concern of the government about confronting the social reality of teen pregnancy,” the bishops do not agree with proposals to address the issue because they do not promote comprehensive development of the human person based on unchanging values. They note that some of the proposed norms constitute an “attack on such fundamental social goods as the freedom of parents to educate their children.” The “ethical relativism” and “anthropological vision” of these norms “jeopardize respect for life and the dignity of the person,” the bishops state.
They also emphasize that the new norms show that the State is failing to fulfill its duties towards individuals and the family, and the bishops said they are unconstitutional because they violate three fundamental guarantees: the right to life, the right to privacy and the right of parents to educate their children.”
The bishops also denounce the pejorative allusions that some statements in the norms contain regarding the responses “certain religions” might have to these issues, and they point out that such allusions could be an “expression of certain ideological positions that claim that all references to God must be reduced to the private sphere or to individual consciences.”
In the document the bishops express their hope that Chile does not follow the path of other nations, where “democracy, despite its rules, is on the path to fundamental totalitarianism. The State becomes a tyrannical State that presumes to have the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless, from the unborn child to the elderly,” they state.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 11, 2007 (CNA) - While in Spain promoting his new movie “Rocky Balboa,” actor Sylvester Stallone said he has returned to the faith and decided to make that part of the message of the movie, which debuts this week in Europe. According to the Spanish daily “La Razon,” the star of the Rocky and Rambo movies has rediscovered God and is encouraging his fans to attend church to help free themselves of the pressure of today’s world and to strengthen their souls.
Stallone talks straight about his conversion. “The past doesn’t matter. If you look to God, you can be reborn,” the actor says, adding that his latest film is a reflection of the Christian faith, which he lost in his youth. “To me this film has been guided by the hand of God,” Stallone confessed.
The actor grew up in a Catholic home and attended Catholic schools. “Later I took some wrong turns when I went out into ‘real life.’ I needed to go through my trials and tribulations before I could be man enough to star in a movie like this,” he said.
“Rocky Balboa” begins twenty years after the fighter’s last boxing match. Rocky has undergone a conversion, he listens to Scripture readings before each fight, “and that gives him strength,” Stallone added.
“Rocky forgives. He is not bitter. He always shows the other cheek. Its as if his entire life was one of service to others. The movie is about redemption, not only Balboa’s redemption but of Stallone himself,” the actor emphasized.
“Most of my previous films were bloody,” he continued. “They were the creative results of my youth, when my marriage was not going well and I felt myself seduced by the temptations of Hollywood,” Stallone told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Today he is in a stable marriage and has a completely different relationship with Jesus. “When I go to church and I deepen my belief in Jesus and I hear his Word, at the same time that I let his hand guide me, I see how he freed me from my pressures. The church is the gymnasium of the soul,” Stallone said.