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Archive of November 13, 2007

Sexual abuse of public school students more widespread than parents think

Sacramento, Calif., Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - A California investigator says there's an epidemic of sexual crimes against students in the state’s public schools, a problem largely overlooked by those responsible for protecting children.

In a telephone interview with California Catholic Daily, Mary Jo McGrath, a Santa Barbara lawyer who assesses cases of suspected sexual molestation in schools, noted there are now “staggering numbers” of sexual abuse cases coming to light, and estimated the incidence as on average about one perpetrator per school.

A seven-month investigation by Associated Press reporters found that, from 2001 to 2005, the teaching licenses of more than 2,500 educators nationwide were revoked for actions ranging from the bizarre to the sadistic.

The reported frequency of sexual abuse -- nearly three for every school day -- indicates an extremely serious problem, one which McGrath says is largely ignored because the public does not want to consider the broader implications if something so repulsive is so widespread.

For instance, the AP report examined the case of Rebecca A. Boicelli, a teacher in Redwood City who conceived a child with a 16-year-old former student, then went on maternity leave. She was then hired to teach in a nearby school district, where no one had told them about the teacher’s past.

As Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in teacher sex abuse told the AP, “It's a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames -- ‘passing the trash’ or the ‘mobile molester.’"

Who are the molesters? McGrath told California Catholic Daily that “80 to 90% are middle-class, middle-aged men who are married and have children. We think they molest mostly girls, although boys are far less likely to report abuse: a boy seduced by a female teacher gets the impression he’s ‘supposed’ to enjoy it, and a boy abused by a man is so confused and humiliated he won’t talk.”

Said McGrath, “Often, people simply don’t want to believe that a married man with children can be afflicted by this aberrant sexuality. But it’s a crime of opportunity. Where a normal man might think, ‘Oh, that’s an attractive child’ and consciously reject the notion of approaching her, an abuser will look for his chance.”

One big difference between suspected misconduct on the part of Catholic priests and that of public school teachers, says McGrath, is that investigators and prosecutors have access to extraordinarily full documentation in the case of priests: correspondence, medical and psychological counseling records, and employment history starting when the man was a seminary student. “Almost none of that,” she told California Catholic Daily, “would end up in a public school teacher’s personnel file.”

McGrath said public student abuse victims can sue the school, the school district, and the state Department of Education in much the same way the Catholic Church was sued by victims of abuse at the hands of priests. “Supreme Court rulings in the last 20 years on civil rights and sex discrimination have opened schools up to potentially huge financial punishments for abuses,” explained McGrath. “I’m now training entire school systems how to recognize the early warning signals, the ‘red flags’ of abuse.”

The original story can be found at California Catholic Daily

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Pope’s visit to the America’s capital is meant to be visit to whole U.S. Church

Baltimore, Md., Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - On Monday at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, details of the Pope’s spring visit to the U.S. were announced and to the surprise of many, only two major cities made the itinerary—New York and Washington D.C.

When asked why Benedict’s trip is so selective, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. explained that by visiting the capital, the Pope wishes to visit the whole American Church.  

Noting that Pope Benedict will turn 81 on April 17, Bishop Skylstad, explained that the papal trip doesn’t include other notable American cities so that the Holy Father could conserve his energy.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who will be the first to welcome the Pope to the U.S., said that “the fact that the journey was announced as an apostolic journey to the United States… shows that the Holy Father wants to representationally visit the whole Church.”

When asked how the Holy Father’s visit could affect the American political scene, Bishop Skylstad insisted that the Church’s stance on how we interface with politics is very clear. The Church always attempts to not be partisan in the political realm and as such the Pope’s visit will not be an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential elections.

Wuerl said at the press conference that the visit should be a “renewal of the faith life in the United States” and an opportunity that will call the whole country to put a relationship with God at the forefront of their relationships with others.

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U.S. Bishops consider preparations for next World Youth Day

, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - Preparations for the World Youth Day 2008 gathering in Sydney were discussed Monday at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore.

In a presentation, Bishop Jaime Soto, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Orange in California, informed the American bishops of progress being made toward the international youth event.

Currently 3,000 people are registered from the United States, though 12,000 total have expressed interest.  More attendees were encouraged.  “We expect around 18,000 but Sydney wants us to get to 40,000,” Bishop Soto said.

Australian organizers expect half a million total participants.

Bishop Soto said there would be some logistical differences between the Sydney meeting and past World Youth Days.  The event at Cologne suffered problems due to the large distance between pilgrims' housing and event venues.  Sydney has enough accommodations to handle the number of pilgrims.

There will be an exhibition area for youth to visit that will focus on religious vocations, though other organizations are welcome to exhibit as well.

Bishop Soto's presentation advised bishops how to help pilgrims benefit from the activities in Sydney.  "Educational and catechetical formation beforehand is what makes World Youth Day effective," Bishop Soto said.  He recommended beginning with the theme for World Youth Day 2008: "You have been given power from on high and you shall be my witnesses…"

He also suggested participants sign up for an "e-pilgrimage" at the web site http://www.wydusa.org .

All English-speaking bishops will be invited to be catechists at the Sydney event.  A Saturday morning gathering is being planned to bring together both U.S. bishops and pilgrims for one event.

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National pro-life group to endorse Fred Thompson for president

Indianola, Iowa, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - On Tuesday the National Right to Life Committee will endorse former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson for President, the Associated Press reports.

The Associated Press credited the information to two anonymous Republicans.

Senator Fred Thompson, a Republican, has a 100 percent voting record in the Senate but has come under criticism for conflicting statements about his position on abortion.  Recently on the television talk show "Meet the Press," Senator Thompson refused to support the Republican Party's pro-life plank and suggested he did not favor criminalizing abortion even at the state level.  However, he also voiced support for overturning the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The National Right to Life Committee is the nation's largest pro-life organization, representing fifty state affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters. 

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Beijing Olympics recommendation against visitors bringing multiple Bibles now missing from official website

Beijing, China, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - A web page recommending that visitors for the Beijing 2008 Olympics bring into China no more than one Bible has now been removed from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games' official website.  Viewers following a link provided in earlier CNA reports now see the main site for the Olympics rather than the page titled "Entry and Exit: Entry," which used to be located at that web address.

Before its removal, the page noted material visitors were prohibited to bring in to the country.  One rule read: "Any printed material, film, tapes that are 'detrimental to China's politics, economy, culture and ethics' are also forbidden to bring into China."

Immediately following this line, the document stated:  "Note: Each traveler is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China."

A request for confirmation of the removal to the U.S. Olympic Committee was not returned.

A version of the removed document is located at an earlier version of the site, dated 03-12-2006:
http://en.beijing2008.cn/22/69/article212026922.shtml

Rather than reading exactly like the removed document, the older document contains a minor misspelling:  "Note: Each travel is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China."

Unlike the removed web page, the older document does not credit the Beijing Tourism Administration.  However, a document containing the same recommendation that visitors not bring multiple Bibles into China is also posted at the Beijing Tourism Administration website site at http://english.visitbeijing.com.cn/services/Practical/101637.htm

Last week Catholic News Agency carried a report from an Italian sports newspaper which claimed Bibles would be forbidden from the Olympic Village.  Though the accuracy of the original report is still disputed, further investigation exposed other restrictions placed on entering visitors.

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Priest who allegedly stalked Conan O'Brien hospitalized

Boston, Mass., Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Boston who was accused of stalking late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien was hospitalized after missing for a brief time, the Associated Press reports.

Father David Ajemian's father reported him missing at 3:15 in the afternoon after the priest had been missing for three hours.  Police were told "his mental health may be a concern."

After returning to his parents' home at 7 p.m., Father Ajemian voluntarily went to a hospital.

Father Ajemian, 46, was arrested in New York City while trying to enter a taping of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" despite warnings from security personnel to stay away. 

Father Ajemian allegedly started writing harassing letters to the comedian-actor in September, 2006.

He has been charged with aggravating stalking and harassment.  A judge recently found him fit to stand trial despite a psychological condition. 

The priest has been placed on leave by the Archdiocese of Boston.  He attended Harvard at the same time as O'Brien, but it is unknown whether they knew each other there.

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Archbishop Burke places interdict upon women who underwent "ordination" ceremony

St. Louis, Mo., Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - Two women who took part in a ritual they claimed was an ordination ceremony have been placed under interdict, the Associated Press reports.

Rose Marie Dunn Hudson, 67, and Elsie Hainz McGrath, 69, underwent the ceremony at a St. Louis synagogue.  The ceremony was led by a South African former nun who claimed to have been ordained a bishop by a German bishop in communion with Rome.  The two women plan to "co-pastor" a community, starting December 1, in a space offered by a local Unitarian church.

Archbishop Raymond Burke of the archdiocese of St. Louis sent a three-page letter to the women after they underwent the ceremony.  He ordered the women to "renounce any attempts" to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, or officiate at any other sacrament.  The letter summoned them to appear before a church tribunal on December 3.

In the archdiocesan newspaper on Friday the archbishop wrote that the women would confuse and lead astray the faithful by their "sinful action."

Ms. McGrath claimed the two women are helping to "bring about badly needed reforms," to heal the church's "dysfunction."

Reverend Arthur Espelage, executive coordinator for the Canon Law Society of America, said the actions of Archbishop Burke are "extremely formal" measures.
He said each rite the women preside over creates a deeper separation from the church.
"He knows the law very well," he said, speaking of the archbishop. "He's a very conservative archbishop, he's going to take a severe stand here. But even if you had a very liberal bishop, you'd have the same response.
"Civil disobedience doesn't change laws in the church."

Catholic teaching holds that an attempted ordination of women would be invalid.

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Celebrations organized for the 150th anniversary of Lourdes apparitions

Vatican City, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - A press conference took place in the Holy See Press Office this morning to discuss the program of celebrations organized to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Viring Mary to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France.

Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes indicated that for the 150th anniversary a Jubilee Year will be held, due to run from December 8, 2007, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to December 8, 2008, and "to take place within the context of the new evangelization."

Regarding the possibility of a pilgrimage by the Pope to Lourdes for the 150th anniversary, Bishop Perrier confirmed that Benedict XVI would visit "though we still do not know the exact date."

“The mission of the Church in each of these fields," he added, "will become apparent during the Jubilee Year with pilgrimages, meetings and initiatives." For example "the mission of the Church to the sick will be made manifest thanks to the UNITALSI (Italian National Union for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines) pilgrimages," and missions are also envisaged with volunteers, with young people, with the disabled, to appeal for unity among Christians, to call for conversion, for peace, etc.

Bishop Perrier then indicated how on February 11, 2008, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, the first of the 18 apparitions of the Virgin to Bernadette will be commemorated (the last apparition took place on July 16, 1858, Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). A week later, on February 18, 2008, Feast of St. Bernadette, the first of the 15 consecutive apparitions will be remembered. "Our Lady asked Bernadette to come to the Grotto every day, and she kept her promise despite the difficulties."

March 25, will mark the anniversary of the 16th apparition of the Virgin. "On that day, Feast of the Annunciation," said Bishop Perrier, "the Lady finally pronounced her name: I am the Immaculate Conception."

The bishop then indicated how from July 15 to 20, 2008, to coincide with World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, various groups of young Christian artists will perform in Lourdes.

It is expected that an estimated eight million pilgrims will visit Lourdes for the Jubilee Year.

So far, we know that the Holy Father has planned three trips outside of Italy in 2008: France, the U.S. in April and Australia in July for World Youth Day.

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U.S. Bishops elect Cardinal Francis George as president as expected

, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - This morning in Baltimore, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected Cardinal Francis George as their new president as was anticipated. Cardinal George gained the presidency handily winning 85% of the vote in the first round of voting.

Commenting immediately after Cardinal George’s selection the outgoing president Bishop William Skylstad said, “I think that our applause speaks louder than any words could, congratulations, profound congratulations.”

Once Cardinal George was elected, the bishops moved on to choose the vice president from the remaining field of candidates. According to the rules for voting, the vice president must be chosen by a maximum of three votes, which it came down to.

On the final vote, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon was tapped to be the vice president by a 55% to 45% margin over Bishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee. Kicanas’ election to the number two slot means that barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will become the president in three years.

Unlike past USCCB elections, the prospect of Cardinal George as president has raised some controversy because of comments he made about legislation being proposed for sex abuse cases.

The legislature of Illinois has proposed the suspension of the statute of limitations for clerical sex abuse cases which the cardinal wrote was “not about the safety of children as the sponsor claims, and is clearly, to me at least, about money.” Cardinal George’s remarks echo those made earlier this year by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

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Colombian bishop hopeful for success of talks between Chavez and rebels

, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - The secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Fabian Marulanda, said this week he is hopeful talks initiated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with the Colombian rebel group know as the FARC, will lead to the release of the hostages being held by the group, saying that despite Chavez’s ulterior motives, the interests of Colombians is what matters and not “who gets the credit.”

“We are aware of President Chavez’s thirst for attention and if this works out for him, for us it will be good too.  We don’t care who gets the credit in the long run for the humanitarian accord.  I hope President Chavez and mediator Dr. Piedad (Cordoba) are able to get something from the FARC. The country would be very pleased at whatever they could do for the humanitarian accord,” the bishop told Caracol Radio.  He acknowledged that Colombians are somewhat skeptical at the prospect of a positive outcome.  “The FARC has shown us many, many signs of their unwillingness to move forward, to allow the release of the kidnapped,” he said, adding that at the same time there must always be room left for hope.

“Knowing the way the FARC acts, there is no other choice but to try to negotiate with them and find any way to release the kidnapped,” Bishop Marulanda said.  He noted that Colombians struggle to maintain their hopes for a resolution and that they have become “hardened” and “pessimistic” in the face of so many failed efforts throughout the years. 

Hugo Chavez accepted a request by Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to initiate talks with the FARC.

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Eritrea expels fourteen missionaries

Rome, Italy, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - "We knew for months that missionaries were at risk because of the expired residency permits.  It is very difficult to work in Eritrea. Everything is under the control of the government,” explained an official from an Italian NGO who has been working in the country since 1972 and asked to remain anonymous because of the tense situation in the country, where fourteen missionaries have been expelled.

The government, he said, “sent official statements two weeks ago to our NGO and to others that work in the country.  In theory, we should also be handing over all of our projects to the government,” the official said.

“The government of Asmara, led by Isaias Afworki, has had a policy during recent years of running Westerner humanitarian workers out of the country.  Since 2005, according to the ‘Proclamation’ which sent many organizations packing, the NGOs are no longer the ones who carry out projects but rather they are simply donors authorized to monitor.  The government is the one that carries them out,” he explained.

“We have been reminded of this by an official communiqué two days ago, according to which we must consign all of our projects to the government,” he said.

Without humanitarian aid, the official warned, “the population will be abandoned.  The situation itself is already tragic.  The people have a right to only two loaves of bread per day.”  Likewise, people are not allowed to leave the country and thus “they don’t realize that another way of life exists and that in order to achieve it only a few things would need to be changed.”

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Leading Chilean newspaper slams decision to force pharmacies to sell abortion pill

Santiago, Chile, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - The Chilean daily “El Mercurio” has published a stinging editorial criticizing the government of Michelle Bachellet for forcing pharmacies to sell the morning after pill.

The State has used its authority to trample the consciences of respectable members of the pharmaceutical industry, the editorial states, “who sought to exercise such as a basic right as that of fulfilling their task of service adhering to their moral principles.”

The force with which the government has imposed its will, showing contempt for valid objections such as these, as well as those of the Church hierarchy and its flock—since the Catholic religion is practiced by the majority in this country—and those of a substantial portion of the Congress and of the public, casts doubt on the government’s assurances that in our country tolerance and pluralism are respected.”  The editorial called government’s order to sell the drug “a trick to persuade pharmacy owners who see the sale of the pill as contrary to the dictates of their conscience.”

The Chilean daily stressed that the government’s actions are made worse by the fact that the abortion pill “is not even medicine, since its purpose is not to ‘prevent, cure or alleviate an illness,’ according to the legal definition of the term.  Its purpose is to avoid or alter (although this is even disputed by some) a normal state of health, as is the case with pregnancy.”

The article pointed to the ongoing controversy surrounding the use of the pill is a sign of “the profound differences of opinions and moral points of view regarding this issue in Chilean society.  This fact should have led the government to refrain from ignoring the valid conscientious objections of respectable businessmen and imposing something that is inconsistent with the serious and responsible use of legal power,” the article stated.

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Delinquents assault convents and threaten religions in India

Rome, Italy, Nov 13, 2007 (CNA) - Two convents were attacked and assaulted at the beginning of November in the northeastern Indian state of Bihar, in the latest round of violence against religious sisters and which often goes unpunished by police.

According to Fides, an attack occurred on November 3 at the convent and school of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Rajgir, where two armed men entered the convent by force, threatened the director, Sister Rose Platthottam, and demanded money.  After assaulting the nun in the head, the men ransacked the convent.

A second incident occurred on the night of November 2 at the community of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, where five armed men broke into the convent. They threatened the nuns and told them to leave the city and abandon their child care center for the poor and their medical supplies center that provides drugs for AIDS patients. 

The Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Patna, Msgr. Devasia Mattathilany, condemned both acts.  “Our work in the social arena is looked down upon by integralists.  We are at the service of the people, we should be protected,” he said, adding that many such acts of violence go unpunished by the police.

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