Archive of November 20, 2007

Amnesty International's newfound abortion advocacy continues to be disputed

London, England, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - Fallout continues over the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International's decision to press for the legalization of abortion and to support access to abortion for women who have been raped, The Guardian reports.

Cardinal Renato Murio, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said that Amnesty International had "betrayed its mission" on human rights by abandoning its policy of neutrality on abortion.

Kate Allen, head of Amnesty International in the United Kingdom, told The Guardian that 222 of its quarter of a million British members had resigned as a result of its policy change.  105 members, she claimed, increased their donations as a result.

Last August the organization's international council voted to revoke its previous neutrality on abortion.  It decided to support access to abortion for women who had been raped, or become pregnant as a result of incest, or whose health was threatened by a continued pregnancy.  It is also advocating that abortion be decriminalized in countries that have outlawed it.  They said the change was an attempt to address issues such as the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war in conflict zones such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ms. Allen said the organization still wanted to co-operate with Catholics.  "We are very keen to keep our approach to the Catholic church open and keep a dialogue going. I am disappointed that the Catholic Church has categorized us as a pro-abortion group. That ... simplifies things to a sense that I think is a bit nonsensical really," she said.

High-profile Catholic clergy like the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and Bishop Michael Evans of East Anglia have resigned from the organization.  More recently, eight schools in Northern Ireland closed or suspended their Amnesty International groups, and 2,000 Catholic schools in England and Wales were advised to sever their ties with the organization in a letter from bishops.

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British cardinal decries homosexual parenthood bill as ‘profoundly wrong’

London, England, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - The archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has expressed strong opposition to a new bill making it easier for lesbian couples to undergo fertility treatment.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill, soon to be debated in the House of Lords, recognizes same-sex couples as legal parents and removes the requirement that IVF clinics consider the "need for a father" when evaluating an unborn child's welfare.

In a letter to The Times, the Cardinal said: "The Bill proposes to remove the need for IVF providers to take into account the child's need for a father when considering an IVF application, and to confer legal parenthood on people who have no biological relationship to a child born as a result of IVF."
"This radically undermines the place of the father in a child's life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple. It is profoundly wrong," he wrote.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, said the Bill merely extends the rights already available to heterosexuals.

But the cardinal has allies among pro-family activists opposing the bill.  Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said the legislation would drive a "nail in the coffin" of the traditional family.

The bill also permits experiments on human-animal hybrid embryos.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to allow Labor members of both Houses of Parliament to have a free vote on the bill.

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Church sends emergency aid to cyclone relief efforts

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - The worst cyclone to hit Bangladesh in a decade has united Catholic and Protestant aid organizations as they endeavor to aid the storm's victims.

Caritas Bangladesh and World Vision Bangladesh are packaging food parcels and blankets for people displaced by Cyclone Sidr, which struck on Thursday with wind speeds topping 100 miles per hour.

On Monday unofficial death toll estimates exceeded 3,000 people, while as many as 10,000 were feared dead.

Victims are mainly poor farmers, fishermen, and day laborers along the coast of Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country of 140 million.

Caritas Bangladesh, the local Catholic Church's relief and development organization, has begun sending rice, lentils, salt, and oil to nearly 19,000 families, with clothing and baskets to follow.  

"The loss of housing, winter vegetables and trees is huge in the affected area" said Benedict D'Rozario, executive director of Caritas

Caritas field worker Ananda Das said the most urgent needs are food and medical care.

World Vision Bangladesh, part of an international Christian humanitarian organization, plans to provide emergency food packs and emergency supplies to 20,000 families.  They are also providing first aid to those hurt by falling trees or collapsed houses.

Before the cyclone made landfall, Caritas and World Vision personnel assisted other organizations and government officials in issuing storm warnings through bullhorns and moving people to storm shelters.  

Some 600,000 people were evacuated from the southern coastal area.

Between 1985 and 1998 Caritas built more than 220 two-story shelters, while World Vision accommodated more than 20,000 people in its 31 cyclone shelters and schools that double as shelters.

Father Mrityunjoy Dafadar, parish priest of the coastal Shelabunia Catholic parish, told UCA News over the telephone that he hoped the Church and local government would soon bring help to the survivors.  "Thirty cyclone shelters are full with thousands of people and hence contagious diseases may spread," he said, repeating the call for medical aid.

"Most of the poor people have lost their houses, either partially or entirely," he said, requesting housing for refugees.

Past cyclones in Bangladesh have been very deadly.  A storm in April of 1991 sent a tidal surge that killed about 143,000 people, while in 1970 the deadliest storm on record killed around 500,000.

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Bishop of Juneau appointed to the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - Today the Holy Father appointed Bishop Michael W. Warfel as the bishop of Great Falls-Billings in Montana.

Born in 1948, Warful was ordained in 1980 and was appointed as the Bishop of Juneau in 1996, where he currently serves.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings consists of 51,629 Catholics and 74 priests.

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Creator of “Dolly the sheep” discards cloning in favor of embryo-free technique

Edinburgh, United Kingdom, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - "Therapeutic cloning" techniques may soon become a thing of the past after their foremost inventor has decided an alternative method of developing embryonic stem cells is more promising.

Edinburgh University's Professor Ian Wilmut may not be a household name, but his 1997 cloning breakthrough, in which he and his research team revealed Dolly the cloned sheep to the world, is common knowledge.

Despite his renown, the method for making Dolly has become controversial because scientists have tried to use it to clone human embryos. The technique, called somatic cell nuclear transfer, moves the DNA contents of an adult cell into an emptied egg cell that is then stimulated with an electric shock to develop into a cloned embryo.  The embryo is then destroyed for its stem cells, which many scientists believe to have great potential for medical cures.  

The method's use on humans is opposed by pro-lifers because it relies on the destruction of a human embryo.

However, Professor Wilmut now thinks a Japanese technique, which apparently sidesteps moral objections, is the way of the future.

The research of Professor Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University suggests a way to create embryonic stem cells without the need to create and destroy human cloned embryos.  

Professor Yamanaka has developed a technique in mice to turn skin cells into what appear to be versatile stem cells.  After his team used a virus to add four genes to adult mouse fibroblast cells, the resulting cells were filtered to find the resulting embryo-like cells that were marked with proteins typical of embryonic stem cells.

Called "induced pluripotent stem cells," these new cells look and grow like embryonic stem cells.  

The stem cells generated by the new method have also been used to generate viable chimeras.  In this case the mice stem cells were mixed with mouse embryos.  The resulting adult was able to pass down the reprogrammed DNA to its offspring.

These stem cells could be used in future medical treatments to repair damage to muscle cells after a heart attack or to repair the effects of Parkinson's.  Since the cells are identical to the patient's, the cells would not be rejected by his or her immune system.

Theoretically, these reprogrammed cells could convert into any of the 200 other cell types in the body.  It is hoped they could be used to re-grow tissue and even whole organs.

Britain's new Nobel prize winner and pioneer of stem cell research, Sir Martin Evans of the Cardiff School of Biosciences, commented on the Japanese work: "This will be the long-term solution."

While there has been some progress with embryonic cloning, which the Church is wary about because of its likely adaptation for human experimentation, researchers have little to show for their effort.

This last week a team of researchers at Oregon Health and Science University announced it had cloned rhesus monkey embryos and derived two stem cell lines from them, though one line was chromosomally abnormal.  Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, one of the researchers, used 304 eggs from 14 rhesus monkeys to develop the cell lines.  Though he presented his work as a "proof of principle" he acknowledged the method's efficiency was low, and not yet a cost effective option.

Thinking along the same lines, Professor Wilmut believes that the new Japanese technique is promising enough to abandon the method he invented to clone Dolly the sheep. He commented on the Oregon research saying "It is a nice success but a bit limited."

"Given the low efficiency, you wonder just how long nuclear transfer will have a useful life," he said.

"The odds are that by the time we make nuclear transfer work in humans, direct reprogramming will work too," he continued.  "I am anticipating that before too long we will be able to use the Yamanaka approach to achieve the same, without making human embryos. I have no doubt that in the long term, direct reprogramming will be more productive, though we can't be sure exactly when, next year or five years into the future."

Professor Wilmut now backs the direct reprogramming or "de-differentiation" method which requires no embryos, calling it "100 times more interesting."

While his concerns are mainly practical, he also recognizes that the Japanese technique is "easier to accept socially."  

Reaction to Wilmut’s Announcement

The news that Professor Wilmut is to abandon cloning was welcomed by Josephine Quintavalle on behalf of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, which is against the use of human embryos in research.

"At last scientists are starting to see reason and we are going to have fact and reality, rather than hype. It could not come at a better time with the new Human Tissue and Embryos Bill having its second reading in the [House of] Lords on Monday. It is a gift to us all. We are at last going to see some common sense coming into the debate."

She suggested this new method could mark the end of proposals to create animal human hybrid embryos too, to overcome difficulties obtaining enough human eggs, since this now seems irrelevant.

"If people are doubting the straight cloning process, what on earth are they are going to say about combining two different species."

She said she was aware of the Japanese work and said it was given a cautious welcome at a recent meeting in the Vatican.

"A lot of people who have looked at it with more scientific expertise than me said it is very convincing and very interesting."

She added that this approach would attract more investment because it is not burdened with the ethical issues of creating and destroying embryos.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center has also voiced its support for the new method saying, "such strategies should continue to be pursued and strongly promoted, as they should help to steer the entire field of stem cell research in a more explicitly ethical direction by circumventing the moral quagmire associated with destroying human embryos."

Researchers stress that further research into the Japanese technique is needed to determine if it can fulfil its considerable promise.

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Cardinal-designate from Texas will focus on education and immigration

Houston, Texas, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - This Saturday, Benedict XVI will appoint Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo as the United States’ first Catholic cardinal from the South, in St. Peter’s Square.  With his appointment, DiNardo plans to continue serving the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, while focusing on Catholic education in the US.

In addition, the cardinal-designate will assume the responsibility of advising the Holy Father on issues pertaining to Texas and the United States.  DiNardo will also be one of the cardinals younger than 80 years-old who will one day elect the next pope.

The current archbishop told the AP that on broad issues, he expects that Houston's diverse religious and ethnic landscape would draw him into more inter-religious dialogue and issues of immigration.

"We put in our statements that a country needs to protect its borders," DiNardo said, "but the overly punitive way in which the issue of immigration reform is being handled today is just unworkable."

The 58 year-old cardinal designate describes himself as a traditionalist and fully in line with the doctrinal teachings of the church, emphasizing abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. He emphasized that he would "be not only down the line but absolutely convinced of it."

DiNardo was ordained a priest in his hometown of Pittsburgh and spent six years working at the Vatican in the Congregation for Bishops.  In 1997 he was named bishop of Sioux City, Iowa and in 2004 he was appointed archbishop of Galveston-Houston by Pope John Paul II.

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Archdiocese of Mexico City condemns “brutal profanation”of Cathedral, closes church

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Mexico City has condemned the “brutal profanation” during Mass at the Cathedral last Sunday carried out by over two hundred sympathizers of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and its leader, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The protesters forced their way into the Cathedral and began shouting insults against Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City.

In a statement signed by spokesman Father Hugo Valdemar, the archdiocese condemned the “brutal profanation” of the Mass and the Cathedral, “as well as the physical aggression that the faithful suffered”. He also berated “city and federal officials [who] have failed in their duty to safeguard freedom of religion and the respect for the most cherished sacrament we Catholics have: the Eucharist.”  Father Valdemar called the protests “an unequivocal expression of religious intolerance and hatred for the Catholic Church.”  

This past Sunday, some two hundred PRD sympathizers violently entered the cathedral to “protest” the ringing of the bells before Mass because, they said, they interrupted the Third National Democratic Convention taking place in the plaza.  As is commonly known, the ringing of bells is the traditional call to Mass that has been in use for centuries at Catholic churches.

Those responsible for this “condemnable and cowardly act of terror” entered the cathedral by “kicking open the doors, breaking the security barriers, destroying things, scratching the pews and physically attacking the faithful, which caused a panic among those present, which included old people, women and children,” the statement indicated.

The archdiocese announced that it has decided to close the Cathedral until authorities seriously guarantee “freedom of religion and the integrity of the faithful” who attend Mass and that the “sacrilegious criminals who committed this act of terror be punished as an example.”

Armando Martinez, president of the College of Catholic Lawyers, said his organization would file a lawsuit in response to the protests, and he blamed Senator Rosario Ibarra, who was speaking at the political Convention, for inciting the acts by asking during her discourse if the bells were being rung to greet them or to silence them.
“These are acts of terror that we must not permit, above all because they put the security of the faithful, the cardinal, the bishops and those in attendance at risk,” Martinez said.

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Brazilian society rejects feminist proposal to legalize abortion

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - Brazilian society, represented by its delegates, rejected a government-supported proposal during the 13th National Conference of Health to legalize abortion in the country.

The NCH voted on some 400 different proposals to improve public health in Brazil.  Agencia Brasil reported that on the issue of abortion, 70 percent of the 2,627 delegates rejected the proposal and that it would be excluded from the Conference’s final report, which will be sent to the government.

The proposal on abortion was introduced as a “recommendation” by feminist groups and portrayed abortion as “a public health problem” that should be addressed through the law.
Supporters of the proposal were booed by the majority of the participants.

Clovis Boufleur of the Ministry for Children explained that the vote against abortion “reflects the thinking of the Brazilian people,” as polls show that Brazilians do not want to legalize it.

“Abortion does not resolve the health problem in Brazil,” Boufleur explained.
Although the decisions by the NCH do not have any legal impact, they do have great influence over public policy.

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Iraqi Christians unable to return due to violence

, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - Father Zacaria Sulaqa of Basora said this week the Christian community in his region “has almost disappeared.  Of the nearly 10,000 Christian families once there, only some 500 remain.”

The SIR news agency reported that the “embargo and the difficulties Christians face living the region are the reasons they leave.  City officials’ offer of police protection for Christians is not enough to remedy the situation.”

“Some families have returned to the neighborhoods in Dora with the hope of returning to their own homes that they abandoned because of violence between Sunnites and Shiites.  Here many homes have been pillaged and illegally occupied.  In Dora, seven places of worship have been closed,” Father Sulaqa said.

In Mosul, “at least 2,500 students that live in Christian enclaves near the city are concerned because they cannot continue their studies because the road to the school is very dangerous,” he added.

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Pope Benedict XVI mourns Ukrainian miners

Vatican City, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - The Holy Father offered his sincere condolences in a telegram through Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone to the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko regarding the recent explosion in the country’s Zasyadko mine.

The explosion, which is said to be the worst in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, took the lives of 89 workers with 11 still missing.

"Having learned of the disaster in the Zasyadko mine in eastern Ukraine, the Supreme Pontiff wishes to express his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the government authorities and to the entire nation. While giving assurances of his fervent prayers for the souls of the deceased, he calls upon the Lord of heaven to grant consolation to the injured and to those suffering from the dramatic loss of their loved ones."

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Convent once used as a place of torture by Communists re-opened in Albania

, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - In the Albanian town of Scutari, eight Poor Clare sisters have opened the doors of their convent, which was once used as a prison during the Communist regime where many died defending their faith.

In statements to Vatican Radio, Sister Sonia, one of the religious living at the convent, noted that the convent was the “first Poor Clare monastery here in Albania to open after many centuries.  Today we are using an old convent that belonged to the Franciscan friars.  In 1946 it was confiscated and transformed into the headquarters of the Securimi, that is, the regime’s secret police.”

She recalled that one of the sections of the convent “was converted into a cell for detaining and torturing prisoners.  The oldest part still contains even today a series of cells where prisoners died and where you can still see the signs of the torture.”

“Walking through the hallways of the convent you can still truly breathe an air of grace: these halls have truly been washed in the blood of the martyrs,” she added.

Sister Sonia explained later that “these men were stripped of their dignity as human beings.  We can see signs of this on the walls.”  “We remember moreover that during the persecution of the Enver Hoxha regime in 1945, a true ecumenism of suffering was experienced in this place,” she said.

“We are here to safeguard and to tell this story, so that it is not forgotten.  It is very important because we know that if a nation does not recognize its own history, it risks repeating the same errors, and not only this, but this nation wants to rebuild a better and different history,” Sister Sonia added.

She said she hoped young people would be inspired by the history of the convent and that it would be a place to bring people together.  “We are happy to be here since it is the Lord who has allowed this,” she said.

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Cardinal Saraiva calls new blessed Antonio Rosmini “giant of the culture”

, Nov 20, 2007 (CNA) - The prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, said the example of the new Blessed Antonio Rosmini, who he called a “giant of the culture,” would help “to recover the friendship between faith and reason, between religion and ethical behavior at the public service of Christians.”

Before some eight thousand people gathered at the Palazzetto dello Sport in the Italian town of Novara, the Portuguese cardinal beatified the “Servant of God Antonio Rosmini, a priest, and the founder of the Institute of Charity and of the Sisters of Providence.”  His feast day will be celebrated on July 1, the day of his death.

Cardinal Saraiva pointed out later that Rosmini, “the philosopher, teacher, political theorist, apostle of the faith, prophet, [and] giant of the culture,” tells the people of today that it is possible to believe and to think of daily life; that faith and reason can be melded together in one’s living testimony.

“Abbot Rosmini lived a theological life in which faith led to hope and charity, with that dialogue of love confident in Providence, which led him to do nothing, either big or small …‘sustained by Providence itself’.”

“Let us welcome this message, making the God of love and providence the center, the heart of our lives as Christians in today’s society,” the cardinal said.

In speaking about his efforts in the area of culture, Cardinal Saraiva noted that “in response to the call of the popes of his time,” he developed a system of thought that was founded upon the faith.

He was misunderstood in his day, but his work received recognition in the encyclical Fides et Ratio by John Paul II.  The Church has recognized in his life’s work “the signs of virtues practiced in a heroic way.”

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