Archive of June 22, 2007

Speculation swirls about Blair's possible visit with Pope Benedict

London, England, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - Tony Blair will  travel tomorrow to the Vatican to meet the Pope in preparation for his conversion to Roman Catholicism reports the Guardian.

Speculation that the outgoing Prime minister of England will seek admission to the Church has been circulating for quite some time.  In part, the rumors have been fueled by the regular Mass attendance of Blair with his wife and four children. 

Three years ago Fr. Timothy Russ, whose parish includes Chequers, the town near the Blair summer home, disclosed that the Prime Minister had asked him for advice on switching churches.

But Russ, according to the Telegraph, said Blair had "some way to go" on important moral issues because his views on abortion, stem cell research and other issues are at odds with Church teachings.

Amidst the flurry of guesswork, scant mention has been made of where Tony Blair stands on these issues, which remain a significant obstacle to his conversion.

Nevertheless, the Guardian’s sources say that, “Mr. Blair has been readied for this milestone in his spiritual life by a Royal Air Force chaplain, Father John Walsh, who for the past four years has been quietly slipping into Chequers, to say Mass for the Blair family on Saturday evenings.”

More than likely, a visit between the Prime Minister and the Pope will take place since Vatican sources confirmed his visit more than a week ago. Also, yesterday a spokesman for the bishops in England and Wales reportedly said that a meeting had been set in which the environment and Middle East would be discussed by Mr. Blair and the Pope.

One potential obstacle to a meeting with the Pope is the EU summit continuing on into Saturday morning. However, diplomatic sources in London said this would be unlikely.

In what some of the media are reading as a clear sign that Blair will be welcomed into the Church soon, it has been reported that he will leave directly from his audience with Pope Benedict XVI to a lunch hosted by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, at the Venerable English College in Rome. 

By attending the luncheon, Blair would be the first serving prime minister to set foot in the college, which centuries ago trained Roman Catholic priests for a clandestine return to protestant England and, often, an agonizing martyr's death at the hands of their Anglican persecutors.

Mrs. Blair will also be at the lunch, the archbishop's spokesman said. It was not known whether Mrs. Blair would accompany her husband to see the pope.

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Landmark sexual abuse bill heads to governor's office

Dover, Del., Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - The Delaware Senate voted 15-0 on Wednesday for a bill that eliminates the two-year civil statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said she would sign the bill, reported The News Journal.

Senate Bill 29 has been described as the strongest in the nation, providing a two-year period during which victims of abuse, whose cases had been previously barred by the time limit, would be able to make their claims. Public institutions that allowed the abuse to occur through gross negligence also could be sued, but are not subject to the lower standard of proof that private institutions will be held to. The House passed the bill 41-0 Tuesday night.

Catholic League president Bill Donahue had issued a message when news of the bill first broke, suggesting that the bill did nothing to point to the problem of sexual abuse by teachers. His message also highlighted Rep. Greg Lavelle's failed effort to amend the bill so that the state would not be protected from lawsuits by its sovereign immunity. Lavelle (R-Sharpley) has said he would introduce a separate bill to address state institutions.

"The degree of corruption in the Delaware legislature is matched only by the selective indignation its lawmakers have for child rape," said Donahue in his statement. "The legislators are owned — lock, stock and barrel — by the teachers unions. Teachers can grope all they want. They can rape little kids. And now they will be protected by making it harder to prosecute them."

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington distanced itself from the Catholic League’s statement, issuing its own statement indicating that it had neither authorized nor requested the Donohue’s remarks.

"We consider Mr. Donahue's remarks about the Delaware Legislature and the state teachers union to be irresponsible and regrettable," the diocese statement said.

Jack Polidori of the Delaware State Education Association called the League's message "absolutely outrageous, unfounded, and an insult to the 11,000 men and women that work in our public schools in Delaware. We thank the Catholic Church for its statement."

Lavelle, too, issued a statement denouncing the League's message, saying it "offended and saddened" him.

In view of the way the situation has developed, Donahue issued another message yesterday calling on Lavelle to simply withdraw his bill. Donahue noted that Lavelle, prior to make his comments against the league, had called the league office requesting data on public school teachers who abuse children.

He also remarked on the diocese’s statement against the league. “It remains to be seen how Catholic officials will react when the lawsuits start coming and the public school teachers get to walk,” he said. “Must be a tight-knit club in Delaware.”

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Benedict tells bishops of Togo to evangelize and care for the family, addresses formation of priests

Vatican City, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - This morning Pope Benedict received the Bishops of Togo, Africa and exhorted them to evangelize the family, the youth, and through the Catholic schools.  

The Holy Father began his address to the bishops by thanking them for "your perseverance and courage in the face of the numerous difficulties your country has had to face over past years. On many occasions," he told them, "you have contributed to dialogue for national reconciliation.”

After highlighting the African prelates' commitment "to protecting and respecting life," Benedict XVI explained that "the promotion of the truth and dignity of marriage, and the defense of essential family values, must be one of your major priorities.

One topic that the pontiff paid particular attention to was the necessity of forming couples and families. He noted that evangelization begins in the family and that in the family young people learn the value of being uniquely faithful and committed.

The Pope also encouraged the bishops "to continue in efforts to promote Catholic schools, which are places of integral education at the service of families and of the transmission of the faith.”

“Despite the difficulties they may encounter, the schools' role is essential to ensure that young people receive a solid human, cultural and religious formation. May the educators and professors themselves," he exclaimed, "be models of Christian life for the young!"

Going on to refer to the urgent need for evangelization, the Holy Father explained how catechists must strive to bring “the evangelical message and faithfulness to the doctrine of the Church," to the culture of Togo. He also spoke about young people saying that they must welcome Christ into every dimension of their lives.

Benedict also stressed the importance of the formation of priests, consecrated people and the laity, so as to help them "face the difficult situations with which they are confronted and transmit the contents of the faith through the witness of their lives, upheld by strong personal convictions.” To aid them in this the Holy Father recommended the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church as a valuable instrument.

At the end of his address, the Holy Father referred to the need "to pursue and develop the cordial relations that exist with Muslims in Togo. Such relations, he concluded, "are indispensable for ensuring concord and harmony among all citizens, and for promoting the shared values of humanity."

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Catholic bishops consider political involvement for 2008

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops are currently considering how prominent their voices will be in the 2008 presidential race.

Of late, there have been some high profile encounters between bishops and the different presidential candidates. This has not been isolated to the United States either. In Australia, as previously reported by CNA, Cardinal George Pell and Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth have become engaged in a debate over cloning and the creation of human-animal embryos.


Archbishop Charles Chaput recently granted an interview to The Associated Press where he said that the bishops’ involvement depends on which candidates and issues emerge, but said he thinks the time for behind-the-scenes diplomacy with politicians is over.

"I personally think that anybody that is pro-choice as a Catholic is not being faithful to his Catholic identity, and I think that people who are Catholics, when they look at those issues, should take that into consideration when they vote," the archbishop of Denver told the AP.

In the 2004 presidential race, the debate emerged about whether to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights. Archbishop Chaput helped craft a statement that year, which left the question of whether to deny Communion up to each bishop.

The archbishop said in the interview that he grew in assertiveness on this point partly out of frustration from his personal meetings with politicians, who often would just "look at you vacantly." He does not believe a more assertive stance violates the laws governing nonprofit involvement in politics.

But the archbishop added that the most effective approach is educating Catholic voters, who in turn could influence politicians. He added that he does not like either political party because neither encapsulates the range of Catholic teaching.


Archbishop John Myers of Newark told the AP that "the principle involved is to try to figure out which of the candidates comes closest to the full gamut of Catholic teaching, in particular when you talk about the life issues."

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Catholics free to worship in Kuwait, says bishop

Venice, Italy, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic Church in Kuwait "enjoys freedom of worship and suffers no restriction whatsoever," says Bishop Camillo Ballin, vicar apostolic of Kuwait.

The 63-year-old bishop and Comboni missionary spoke with AKI while attending an international gathering of Catholic clerics and researchers in Venice. Participants came from 18 countries, 11 of them majority Muslim.

Bishop Ballin said the crucifix can be exposed in churches without a problem, and he is free to wear his episcopal robe and cross without anyone looking at him strangely.

"Although Islamic extremists have different and adverse positions, there is no exterior sign to indicate it," he said about Kuwait.

Kuwait is home to approximately 150,000 Catholics in a mainly Muslim population of more than 2.5 million. The Kuwaiti Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but the government is reported to periodically send inspectors around to ensure that no religious teaching other than Islam is being done in both public and private schools.

Relations with the Kuwaiti government are good, he said: "The local government fully meets our demands and is extremely generous. It offers us places of worship and all the necessary help in bureaucratic and official procedures."

For example, he said, when there are major feast days, such as Christmas and Easter, authorities send security forces to protect the community attending Mass.

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Bishop suspends priest running for political office in Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Vicente Cisneros of Cuenca announced this week the suspension of the priestly faculties of Father Fernando Vega, who decided to run for a seat in the country’s Constitutional Assembly despite being forbidden from political office by Church law.

Father Fernando Vega, who was pastor of St. Joaquin’s Parish and was vicar of the Social Ministry Office of the archdiocese, is running as the candidate for a coalition of left-wing political groups.

By running for office, “Father Vega made a decision in his life that is incompatible with the laws of the Catholic Church,” Archbishop Cisneros said in announcing his suspension from the priesthood.

Vega is one of the more than four thousand Ecuadorians who are seeking the 130 seats on the Constitutional Assembly, which will draft the country’s new constitution.

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Church in Cambodia working to rebuild school system

Rome, Italy, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - According to Father Olivier Schmitthausler, Director of the Committee on Education of the Apostolic Vicariate of Phnom Penh, the rebuilding of the school system in Cambodia, which was destroyed by the dictatorship of the 1970s and by twenty years of civil war, is one of the most important tasks of the Church in that country.

Speaking to the UCAN news agency, Father Schmitthausler said, “The education of children and young people is a priority for the Church in Cambodia, which seeks to improve its educational strategies at all levels.”

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Church has worked with the government and civil society in opening new schools that not only offer basic education but also teach students important values, he added.

Father Schmitthausler said education for the underprivileged is a priority for the school system.  As a result in many cities “Student Homes” have been opened, providing children from rural areas a place to carry out their studies.  There are currently sixteen such homes operating in the country, and officials hope to open more elementary schools in rural areas, where illiteracy is common.

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Marianist school allows conscientious objection against book issued by its own publisher

Madrid, Spain, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - The most prestigious school run by the Marianist Congregation in Spain, Our Lady of the Pillar in Madrid, has decided to allow conscientious objection against the “Education for Citizenship” course, thus opposing the congregation’s own publishing house which issued the textbook for the controversial class.
The civil rights watchdog website, which has been encouraging conscientious objection against the class, commended the school for its policy change.  Directors of the site said they received a letter from the school’s principal, Father Ignacio Zabala, who said the school decided to accept the requests to exercise conscientious objection against “Education for Citizenship.”  “I would ask you to please remove the school of Our Lady of the Pilar in Madrid from the list of schools that are not allowing the exercise of the right of conscientious objection,” the letter said.

The website noted that the most important Marianist school in Spain would be allowing students and parents to object to a book issued by the congregation’s own publishing house.  Likewise, it noted that several government officials, including the Minister of Interior Affairs, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, studied at the famed Madrid school. reported that other schools have begun modifying their policies after the site published its list of educational institutions not allowing students and parents to object to the class.

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Bishops’ committee says Argentinean Supreme Court has defended right to life of the unborn

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - The Committee on Marriage and the Family of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina issued a statement this week recalling that the country’s Supreme Court has already ruled that the unborn child is a “person” under the law and that therefore a measure being considered by the Argentinean Congress to legalize abortion is unconstitutional.

The Committee pointed to a Supreme Court ruling in 1976 that ordered economic compensation be granted to Elvira Berta Sanchez for the killing of her daughter and her unborn child by soldiers in the military.

At the time, Sanchez’s daughter, Ana Maria del Carmen Perez, was just days away from giving birth when she was shot in the abdomen and her unborn child was killed.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sanchez’s petition, saying the unborn are persons under the law entitled to rights and obligations and that in the case of Carmen Perez, the unborn child should be considered a victim of the crime as well under Argentinean law.

The bishops’ committee noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling gives equal legal protection to the unborn and to the mother, thus rejecting arguments that the right to life of the unborn child must be subject to rights of the mother.

“Perhaps this ruling will serve to enlighten the minds of Argentineans and show the fallacy of those who tout abortion as necessary payment for the ‘empowerment’ of women, when it is nothing more than a neo-liberal tool for doing away with the poor, because they don’t know how to end poverty,” the committee said.

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Medical College of Peru embraces abortion

Lima, Peru, Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - Officials at the Medical College of Peru (MCP) decided this week to publish an “official document,” harshly contested by its members, forcing the college to adhere to the international agenda of pro-abortion organizations.

The document is based on the conclusions of the controversial “National Workshop on Sexual and Reproductive Rights,” which took place in March of this year behind closed doors and was convened by the president of the National Council of the Medical College of Peru, Dr. Amador Vargas Guerra.

The workshop focused on controversial and even illegal issues, such as the “right” to emergency contraception, “therapeutic abortion,” and “sexual and reproductive rights for young people.”  The event received financial backing from Planned Parenthood of America and the International Federation of Planned Parenthood, which worked to get abortion legalized in Colombia.

A number of prominent Peruvian doctors have expressed concern that they were never consulted that the document would be the new “public position” of the MCP, and local councils of the College said they did not endorse the document.  A group of doctors has announced they will be recommending measures to oppose the directive, especially since it recommends certain types of abortion that are prohibited by Peruvian law.

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Bishops commend President Bush’s veto of stem-cell bill

Washington D.C., Jun 22, 2007 (CNA) - Cardinal Justin Rigali has commended President George Bush for vetoing S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.

Cardinal Rigali is archbishop of Philadelphia and chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal also welcomed the president’s executive order directing the National Institutes of Health to explore alternative, ethically acceptable means for obtaining very versatile or ‘pluripotent’ stem cells.

“Recent discoveries regarding stem cells from cord blood and amniotic fluid, and the reprogramming of ordinary adult cells to become pluripotent stem cells, demonstrate that science not only raises new ethical questions but at times can help address them,” said the cardinal in his statement.

He noted that adult stem cells continue to produce new clinical advances on a regular basis, most recently showing benefits for patients with juvenile diabetes.

“Tragically, some embryonic stem cell advocates in Congress have dismissed such advances or even greeted them with suspicion, as though medical progress were less genuine or praiseworthy when it respects early human life,” he continued.

The cardinal urged them to follow the president’s lead on this issue, “by promoting research and therapies that everyone can live with.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver added his voice in a separate statement. Calling the veto “the right decision”, he said the Catholic Church supports scientific research that genuinely serves the human person, including stem-cell research that poses no moral problems.

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