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Archive of March 2, 2007

Commission rules priest suffered discrimination, reinstates him as hospital chaplain

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Fr. Henry Heffernan is expected to return to work as a chaplain at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center March 15, after proving that the administration had fired him for his Catholic beliefs.

According to the records in the lawsuit, beginning in 1999, Fr. Heffernan repeatedly raised concerns at the Bethesda hospital about the incongruence between the practices and teachings of the Catholic faith and the practices advocated by his immediate supervisor.

At the heart of the case, is the concept of generic or multi-faith chaplaincy. The priest of 45 years noted that under the multi-faith concept, a non-Catholic, who would be unable to offer the Sacraments, could minister to Catholic patients. Fr. Heffernan believed that he would be compromising his faith by permitting this type of chaplaincy for Catholic patients.

His employer claimed he was fired for failing to attend entry-level continuing education programs.

But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that “a preponderance of the evidence establishes that the supervisor's decision to discharge complainant, based on the failure to comply with the training certification requirement, was motivated by discriminatory and retaliatory animus."

The commission went on to document animosity at NIH towards Catholics. Evidence included testimony from a contract chaplain who stated that the supervisor would joke about Catholic priests being pedophiles and said he "would never hire another Roman Catholic priest again." Another chaplain testified that the supervisor boasted that he had done things to provoke Fr. Heffernan in order to discharge him, like instituting the continuing education requirement.

The Merit Systems Protection Board came to the same conclusion as the commission in a Feb. 23 ruling.

In discussing the ruling, lead attorney Irving Kator of Kator, Parks & Weiser said in a statement: "Here a government agency was punishing a Catholic priest for embracing his religion. It's truly an astonishing abuse of his first amendment rights, and raises questions about why a taxpayer-funded government organization would be dictating to a clergyman how he should be practicing his faith."

The law firm is also defending a Jewish chaplain who was fired by the same management after testifying in defense of Fr. Heffernan.

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Nearly 300 attend historic Illinois Catholic School’s summit

Peoria, Ill., Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Illinois held its first Summit for Catholic School Education last week, drawing nearly 300 educators and five bishops.

The one-day event, held Feb. 26 in Bloomington, celebrated the strengths of local Catholic education and addressed the challenges facing Catholic schools.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago called on Catholics to keep pressure on the government to do more to support parents who choose Catholic education. He and others outlined steps that can be taken within the Church to ensure a bright future for the Catholic school system, which he called unique and vital to the Church’s future, reported the Catholic Post.

“What we share is a concern for how we will finance private education, a concern for meeting the new demands of the digital age, and a concern for the passing on of our faith to our young people,” said Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, president of Loyola University Chicago, in a keynote presentation.

The summit zeroed in on three issues in the U.S. bishops’ 2005 pastoral letter on Catholic schools: availability, accessibility and affordability. Fr. Garanzini proposed two more issues: academic credibility and accountability.

Part of the academic credibility, he said, is reporting how Catholic schools are preparing young people to engage the diversity and materialism seen in today’s culture, and to challenge the “tendency toward isolation” spawned by the digital age.

The bishops took part in a panel discussion in response to concerns that surfaced at the assembly, most notably financing, accessibility, marketing, and preserving schools’ Catholic identity.

Catholic schools must be “places of prayer and hope” that inspire “martyrs” for the truths of the faith, said Cardinal George.

In the last decade, the number of Catholic elementary schools in the state has dropped from 513 to 437, and the total number of students has fallen from 215,346 to 170,165. There are six fewer Catholic high schools than in 1997.  

“What we need to do is truly convince people through results our schools are worth supporting on a wide basis,” said Bishop Peter Sartain of Joliet. Alumni of Catholic schools have a special role in that task, he said.

“Inspired by the mission of Christ, Catholic schools are an irreplaceable good,” said Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria during his homily at the summit’s Mass. Not only do the schools educate and change minds, he said, but “they can and they should change the world.”

He urged schools not to abandon their Catholic identity for “all the simplifications of our radically degraded culture.”

“Parochial schools that are no longer intentionally Catholic, clear in their mission, Christ-centered, morally and academically challenging, doctrinally sound, socially generous and spiritually sacral—such schools are really merely private schools, with no compelling reason to continue to exist,” he said in his homily.

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Vatican delegation set for Vietnam visit

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - The Holy See’s Undersecretary of State for Relations with States, Monsignor Pietro Parolin, is making final preparations to lead a Vatican delegation on its visit to Hanoi Sunday.  The delegation’s visit is the next step in an ongoing effort to reestablish diplomatic relations between Hanoi and the Vatican.

The trip comes after Vietnamese Prime Minster Nguyen Tan Dung’s January 25th visit to Pope Benedict XVI, at the Vatican.  Monsignor Parolin and his entourage will visit with Vietnamese officials for a full week, from Sunday, March 4th to Sunday March 11th.

Relations between the Church and government of Vietnam have been tense for several years, especially since the end of the Vietnam War and the rise of Communism in the country.

As in Communist China, a majority of the disagreements stem from the government’s fear of granting full authority to the Church regarding its governance and appointment of bishops.

However, the Vatican released a statement following the prime minister’s visit, calling it, “a new and important step towards the normalization of bilateral relations.”

“Those relations have, over the last few years, made concrete progress, opening new doors of religious freedom for the Catholic Church in Vietnam,” the statement added.

According to the Vietnamese News Service the Vatican delegation will meet with the Vietnam Bishops Conference, visit some Vietnamese agencies, visit the Dioceses of Quy Nhon in the central coastal province, Binh Dinh and Kon Tum, in the province of the same name in Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands).

Due in large part to its history as a French Colony, primarily Buddhist Vietnam boasts a relatively large Catholic population.  With about one-tenth of Vietnam's 84 million people professing the Catholic faith the country’s Catholic population is the second highest in Asia, following only the Philippines.

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Case of handicapped Spanish woman could lead to legalization of euthanasia

Madrid, Spain, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - In a controversial case that confuses the right to receive disproportionate medical treatments with the legalization of euthanasia, the government of the Spanish region of Andalusia will decide in the coming days whether or not to authorize a patient with muscular dystrophy to disconnect the respirator that is keeping her alive.

Inmaculada Echevarria, 51, is demanding her respirator be disconnected and she has already attained the consent of a consultative body of the Andalusia government.  The problem is that the organization considers Echevarria’s request to be based on the “rejection of treatment” manifested by the patient, a right that is already recognized by Spanish law, which does not otherwise permit euthanasia.

This right implies the suspension of treatments that, for example, prolong the death of terminal patients.  However, Echevarria is not terminally ill, and disconnecting her respirator would lead to death.

“I am tired of living like this and of depending on everyone; I want an injection that will paralyze my heart,” said Inmaculada, who has been hospitalized for nine years.

According to the Spanish media, if the Andalusia government decides to accept Echevarria’s request and allow the respirator to be disconnected, it would set a precedent in favor of euthanasia in Spain.

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Elderly Catholic men’s group, preparing half a million crosses for World Youth Day

Sydney, Australia, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - World Youth Day has given a sense of hope and purpose to a community of senior men.

The patrons of the Men's Shed at the Mary MacKillop Outreach in Lewisham, a wood-working workshop for men, are making 500,000 mini-crosses for the lead-up to the international Catholic youth pilgrimage in 2008.

The mini-crosses will be distributed during the cross-country tour of the WYD Cross, which begins in July.

Cora Velasquez, who works alongside her husband, Sim, told The Sydney Morning Herald that each cross is a prayer. Sim Velasquez used to be a financial controller. A stroke two years ago left him unable to speak and with almost no use of his left arm.

Since starting on the project, Cora said, her husband has regained some control of his left hand, has become more alert and responsive, and feels valued again— an answer to her prayers, says Cora. The project has also strengthened their faith. The couple visits the St. Mary's Cathedral every day before heading home.

Martin James, who also suffered a stroke, glued together the first cross, which will be given to Pope Benedict XVI.

Organizers could have opted for a cheaper way of making these crosses, “but this is not what World Youth Day is all about," said Alice Priest, the co-ordinator of the WYD Cross in Australia. "The whole process is … a powerful witness to what the cross stands for: the cross is about transformation and resurrection,” she told the Herald.

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Kentucky Senate considers pro-life bill

Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said he is praying for the Kentucky Senate to pass a second pro-life bill that would require women seeking abortions to be informed about fetal pain and the use of anesthesia in prenatal surgeries. Fr. Pavone said he hopes the Senate will “take this small step to reduce the excruciating pain and trauma of abortion” and pass the bill.

"Our laws offer more compassion to animals about to be slaughtered than they do to babies about to be aborted," Fr. Pavone lamented in his statement. "It would be cruel beyond reason to deny even the possibility of anesthesia to a tiny human who's about to have his or her body torn limb from limb.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jack Westwood, easily cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, reported the Associated Press.

The bill headed for the full Senate has the support of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who said he’s been consistently pro-life throughout his career. "Any measures we can take to protect the unborn should be taken," he said in a statement.

The Senate recently passed another bill, requiring women to have in-person meetings with medical professionals at least 24 hours before having abortions. It has been blocked by the state’s House Health and Welfare Committee.

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Family group denounces failure of Spanish Parliament to defend marriage

Madrid, Spain, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - The president of the Institute for Family Policy in Catalonia, Liberto Senderos, expressed regret this week that Spain’s House of Representatives has rejected a petition by more than 1 million citizens to protect marriage as a union between one man and one woman through the reform of the Civil Code.

“Instead of listening to the voice of the citizens, the Spanish Parliament has given in to the interests of absolutely minority lobbyists and has not wanted to hear the cry of the people for the defense of marriage, which can only be understood as the union between one man and one woman,” Senderos said.

He said the petition organized by the Spanish Forum on the Family and was signed by more than 1,330,000 people. It was the largest signature-driven legislative proposal in the history of the country.

Senderos criticized lawmakers for not allowing members of his organization to speak in defense of the proposal during debate.  Representatives who voted against the measure, he said, preferred to keep a norm in place that is clearly unconstitutional and contrary to international treaties and declarations on human rights.

Likewise, he said that instead of approving “marriage” and adoption for same-sex couples, the Parliament should have supported a social policy truly beneficial to the family.

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Serbian bishop working to make real the dream of a Cathedral designated to Mother Teresa

Konigstein, Germany, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - The newly appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Prizren, Bishop Dodё Gjergji, told the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, that one of his chief goals is to fulfil the dream of his predecessor to build a Catholic Cathedral under the patronage of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

“The dream of my predecessor shall come true, a Catholic Cathedral devoted to Mother Teresa.”

“For us,” the bishop said, “she is a sister, a member of the family.”  

Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity to care for the world’s poorest, was born in nearby Macedonia.  But, as Bishop Gjergji pointed out, her “father and mother were from Kosovo,” the Serbian province in which the Diocese of Prizen rests.

“The government has already signed a permit to construct the Cathedral,” the bishop said adding that they hope to begin work after Easter.  “It is the wish of all the people,” he said, “of the government and of the Muslims too.”

“There are Christians since the first century here. And our Muslims have a special history, some of them go back to their Catholic roots now. Each day, delegations come from the villages to us to ask for baptism. We need your prayers to sustain their conversion.”

Asked about the situation of the Catholic Church in Kosovo, Bishop Gjergji said, “Even though we are a minority of 60,000 Catholics, and many young people have left the country to look for work, which is our heart beat, we have a good communication and a normal life with all people in Kosovo.”

The Bishop said the majority of his flock remains very poor.  “Since we are a bridge for peace here, after the ruin of war, our Church in Kosovo deserves it not only to survive but to contribute to the life of people and to the society in Kosovo.”

To learn more about helping the Church in Kosovo, visit the Aid to the Church in Need website at www.kirche-in-not.org  or, in the U.S. www.aidtothechurchinneed.com. 

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Return to living your faith with the zeal of missionaries, Vatican tells Latinos

Vatican City, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - The Pontifical Commission for Latin America has made public its annual message for Hispanic-American Day, which is celebrated annually in the dioceses of Spain. This year the Day falls on March 4 and has as its theme: "Called to be disciples and missionaries in America."
 
In the message, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re and Archbishop Luis Robles Diaz, respectively president and vice-president of the pontifical commission, write that the theme of the Day is inspired by that of the 5th Conference of the Latin-American Episcopate, which is due to be held in Brazil in May, "an event of great importance that invites us to reflect upon the identity of Christians, who are called to put Jesus Christ, light of the world, at the center of their lives and to transmit a love that turns people into His faithful disciples and committed missionaries."
 
"The extraordinary generosity of the first disciples cannot be explained save by the strength of their personal love for Christ, which brought them even to give their own lives. ... To be a follower of Christ thus means to be in living harmony with Him, so as to burn with zeal and to feel the urgent need to announce Him."
 
At the end of His earthly life, Jesus told His disciples "to announce Him to all people," in other words in "all those areas in which human beings express their culture; taking the message to the frontiers of life, the family, the workplace, culture, the economy and politics. Yet an undertaking of this magnitude cannot be carried out if not with the supernatural power of charity which is made manifest in the witness of missionary activity."

Cardinal Re and Archbishop Robles - in the name of the pontifical commission - express their gratitude to Spanish Catholics for "the pastoral efforts they have made on behalf of South America over more than 500 years of evangelization." And they encourage them "to continue to work with great missionary commitment in favor of the continent which has been called 'the continent of hope,' a hope founded on its invincible faith."
 
"Of course," the prelates write, "there are countless shortcomings afflicting that land," but these can be faced with the "living religiosity that today, more than ever, needs to be awoken and nourished with decision and courage."
 
In order to face this challenge, the message concludes, "the Pontifical Commission for Latin America again encourages Spanish Catholics to commit themselves to this great enterprise, each in their own way, either by prayer or by helping to support missionaries and their works, ... but above all through real participation in missionary activity. In celebrating the Hispanic-American Day, the Commission invites you to experience a real impulse of evangelization, in the knowledge that love 'has been and remains the driving force of mission, ... the principle which must direct every action, and end to which that action must be directed'."

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Fears grow in Cuba for well being of jailed pro-life dissident

Havana, Cuba, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Elsa Morejon, the wife of prominent pro-life activist and political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet, has issued an urgent appeal for medical treatment for her husband and for his transferal out of the harsh conditions of the prison cell where has been held for refusing to collaborate with the Castro regime and renounce his principles.

LiberPress published the open letter from Morejon, in which she describes the grave prison conditions Biscet must endure as part of a 25-year sentence for his non-violent struggle for civil rights and for his opposition to abortion and the death penalty, which are both legal in Cuba.

Amnesty International has classified Biscet as a prisoner of conscience since 1999.  He was released after three years in prison, but he was arrested again one month later while he was preparing to meet with human rights activist in the city of Matanzas.

In 2003 Biscet was condemned to 25 years in prison for his efforts to achieve freedom, democracy and respect for civil rights.

Elsa Morejon revealed that her husband is subject to harsh prison conditions and is allowed family visits once every three months and spousal visits once every four months.  In addition he is being held in a cell with no bed, lights, ventilation or chair and he is “taken out for fresh air” once a month.  She said he depends greatly on the antibiotics and medicines that his family members are able to bring to him during their periodic visits.

In her letter Elsa Morejon cites several paragraphs from a letter she received from her husband:  “Carrying out a sentence is very difficult for prisoners, but more so for a man of peace who was imprisoned for exercising his freedom of thought.”

“During these years here in prison,” the letter continued, “I have seen shameful things that I am unable to describe to you in words because of their perversity and their attack on the good mores of a civilized society.  Despite this difficult situation I am not intimidated nor do I take any step backwards in my mind…I will carry out this unjust sentence until the most high God puts an end to it.”

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Cardinal Rivera encourages priests to respond to drug lords' threats with continued care for their people

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City released a statement this week, standing by the priests of Iztapalapa who are being “warned” by drug traffickers. The Cardinal called on his priests to confront the concrete reality of drugs through pastoral work that reclaims family values and supports the region’s poor.

The Archdiocese of Mexico’s news service reported that during the cardinal’s visit to the Vicariate of Iztapalapa, the priests there told him that drug traffickers and local residents warned them that they “should be silent in response to the spread of drugs,” which is a phenomenon related to poverty and is one of the most serious issued facing the region.
 
“Before thinking about a confrontation with drug traffickers, we should ask ourselves what we should do so that society does not lose its values,” the Cardinal said, adding that the Church has the obligation to help because “society expects that the Church contribute to solving such a grave problem.”

Cardinal Rivera said the drug problem must be addressed at its root and that independent of the efforts of the government, the Church needs to develop a pastoral plan based on education, prevention, and awareness.  Many people, he explained, fall into drugs as an escape from loneliness.

The prevalence of single mothers who are unable to dedicate enough time to their children, as well as even the layout of some homes leads to the spread of drugs and gangs, the cardinal noted.  “In some homes families feel smothered, they need space for living and recreating,” he stressed.

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“Amazing Grace” calls us to conversion this Lent, Archbishop Chaput says

Denver, Colo., Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Addressing a new film focused on the traditional hymn “Amazing Grace,” in his weekly column, Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput pointed to the stories of profound conversation found within the movie and emphasized mankind’s need for continued conversion during the Lenten Season.

The archbishop noted how the hymn, which is “known by nearly every American Christian,” was written by John Newton, a former slave trader who converted to Christianity during a storm on the Atlantic.  Newton, Chaput said, “later became one of the leading Christian evangelizers of his day in England.”

“But he never forgot his role in the slave trade.  He spent the rest of his life repenting for it and preaching against it.  He understood from direct experience that real personal conversion must have broader consequences.”

“If we claim to love God, then we need to prove it with our actions,” Archbishop Chaput exclaimed, pointing out that Newton saw the way slavery, “violated human dignity in a profound way.”

“Like St Augustine before him, Newton discovered that ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in [God].’”

However, the archbishop continued, “Newton did more than write a memorable hymn, however.  His life had a huge impact on others – among them the son of a wealthy merchant named William Wilberforce.  Like Newton, Wilberforce underwent his own Christian conversion.  He took Newton’s anti-slavery message into Parliament in 1789, where he became the leading voice against slavery for the next 18 years”

The new film, also titled “Amazing Grace” investigates the lives of the two British converts.  Chaput called the movie “compelling; a beautifully written acted and directed portrait of a man on fire with his faith and its consequences.”

However, the archbishop added, in addition to being an excellent film in its own right, the movie, “is also an ideal source of personal reflection as we begin our own journey of Lent.”

“As long as we have breath, God offers us the chance for repentance and conversion, and through them, a path to eternal life in Jesus Christ.  St. Paul, St. Augustine and St. Ignatius all took that path.  So did William Wilberforce and a self-described former slaver and ‘wretch’ like John Newton.”

“In fact, every Christian man or woman who takes the Gospel seriously must walk the same road.  Lent is the season every year when the Church encourages us to repentance and conversion in a special way.  We urgently need to use this time well,” the Denver prelate said.

The archbishop concluded by inviting those in the Denver area to take advantage of his archdiocese’s annual “Living the Catholic Faith” conference which opens next week in Denver.

More information on the conference can be found on the archdiocesan website.

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Paraguayan bishop resubmits request for release from clerical state

Asunción, Paraguay, Mar 2, 2007 (CNA) - Although the Holy See has already refused his request to be released from the clerical state, the former Bishop of San Pedro, Fernando Lugo, has renewed his request to the Apostolic Nuncio.

According to the newspaper “La Nacion,” in his letter to the Nunciature, “Lugo seems worried about the unclear situation regarding his civil status, in the sense that on the one hand his advisors believe that his ecclesial resignation is enough to make him eligible to be a presidential candidate in 2008, but on the other hand the letter from the Vatican affirms that his status as a bishop remains in force.”

The former bishop now says that the publication of the letter from the Holy See has created “confusion in public opinion,” and therefore he sees it necessary “to ratify my undeniable resignation.”

The newspaper notes that Lugo “is not hiding his political objective” and that his intention is to be in conformity with the laws of Paraguay “in order to overcome the legal impediment that he has as minister of the Catholic Church” against running as a political candidate.

Paraguayan law states that “ministers of any religion or faith” cannot be candidates for president or vice president.

Response from the Vatican

Several weeks ago the Apostolic Nunciature made public a decree, signed by the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, affirming that Lugo “remains in the clerical state and continues to be obligated by the duties inherent therein, although he is suspended from the sacred ministry.”

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