Archive of February 5, 2008

Anti-religious children’s book dangerous for young people, German ministry says

Berlin, Germany, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - The German Family Ministry is arguing that a children’s book for atheists that contains disparaging depictions of religious leaders is anti-Semitic and should be considered dangerous to young people, Deutsche Welle reports.


The book “How do I get to God, Asked the Small Piglet,” written by Michael Schmidt-Salomon, features a piglet and a hedgehog.  They discover a poster attached to their house reading, "If you do not know God, you are missing something!"


The animals are frightened that they are missing something in their lives, and begin a search for God.  On their journey they encounter a rabbi, a mufti, and a bishop.


According to the ministry’s report, “In the book, the three great world religions Christianity, Islam and Judaism are scorned.”  The ministry said, “The distinctive characteristics of each religion are ridiculed. Especially the Jewish faith is slurred by the portrayal and characterization of the rabbi.”


The ministry says the book’s depiction of the rabbi is anti-Semitic.


The depiction of the rabbi reportedly recalls anti-Jewish propaganda from the 1930s.  The rabbi is drawn with corkscrew curls, fanatical eyes, predatory teeth, and hands like claws.  He rages at the animals, yelling to them that God had set out to destroy all life on Earth at the time of Noah.


The book insinuates that the pale, fat bishop is connected to child abuse and is constantly attacking the mufti. 

The mufti, after quietly greeting the animals and inviting them into his mosque, soon changes into a fanatic who gathers a shouting Islamic mob that holds up the animals and condemns them to damnation.  


At the end of the book, the hedgehog says, "I think that God doesn't even exist."  Even if he existed, the character says, he doesn’t live in a synagogue, a cathedral, or a mosque.


Gunnar Schedel, the head of the book’s publisher Alibri, said the publisher was aware the book could provoke controversy.


"It's clear to me that putting a critique of religion in children's bedrooms is a hot political topic," Schedel said, according to Deutsche Welle. 


He said the book was intended for non-religious parents who want to provide their children with a critical view of religion. 


"All three religions are treated equally in the book," Schedel said. "No one is negatively singled out."


Author Michael Schmidt-Salomon responded to the controversy on his website.  “I don’t ridicule religions, they are ridiculous all by themselves,” he wrote, claiming children have a “right to enlightenment.”  He denied that he was anti-Semitic, claiming he had been cursed and threatened because of his Jewish-sounding name. 


“So I claim the right for myself to openly criticize those Orthodox Jews, as well as fundamentalist Christians and Muslims, who are struck by divine madness. This naturally has nothing to do with anti-Semitism,” he wrote.


The German department that reviews children’s literature is scheduled to discuss the book at a March meeting.

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Past and present archbishops of Dublin in court over sex abuse documents

Belfast, UK, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - A dispute between the former and present Archbishop of Dublin involving documents related to sexual abuse cases is puzzling Catholic bishops in Northern Ireland, The Belfast Telegraph reports.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin agreed last June to release some 5,000 documents to a commission investigating sexual abuse.  However, lawyers representing Cardinal Desmond Connell, the former Archbishop of Dublin, argue that Archbishop Martin was not legally entitled to make that agreement.  On Monday the cardinal’s lawyers were scheduled to present a legal challenge claiming the documents are legally confidential.

The Belfast Telegraph reports the dispute has surprised the rest of the Irish bishops, including Archbishop Martin.  Some believe there has been a significant breakdown in communication within the Archdiocese of Dublin that will negatively affect the Church’s efforts to increase transparency and accountability in dealing with sexual abuse.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, has repeatedly expressed his support for such efforts and to prevent abuse in the future.  A system of “vetting” is being applied to all priests in Northern Ireland, and the Church has been cooperating fully with police and other relevant authorities in child protection legislation.

Paul Goggins, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, wrote in a letter to Minister of Parliament David Simpson that he had been advised of allegations of “historical sexual abuse” allegedly committed by Catholic priests.  According to the Belfast Telegraph, he said the Church had cooperated " in supplying all relevant information which has been required or requested.”

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Court upholds dismissal of lawsuit over homosexual children’s books

Boston, Mass., Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit from Massachusetts parents seeking to prevent the discussion of homosexual families in their children’s elementary school classrooms, WorldNetDaily reports.

In spring of 2005 the 5-year-old son of David and Tonia Parker brought home a book to be shared with his parents titled “Who’s in a Family?”  Optional reading material in a “Diversity Book Bag” depicted at least two households headed by homosexual partners.

The Parkers filed suit against the Lexington School District in 2006, later being joined by Joseph and Robin Wirthlin whose second-grader’s class was read a story about two princes who become lovers, ‘King and King’.

In 2006 U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf dismissed the parents’ civil rights lawsuit, saying there is an obligation for public schools to teach young children about homosexuality.

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed Judge Wolf’s decision. 

"Public schools," Judge Sandra L. Lynch wrote in her opinion, "are not obliged to shield individual students from ideas which potentially are religiously offensive, particularly when the school imposes no requirement that the student agree with or affirm those ideas, or even participate in discussions about them."

The court’s opinion said that the Parker child was never required to read the books or have them read to them.  The court said the books do not endorse gay marriage or homosexuality, but merely describe how other children might come from different families.  “There is no free exercise right to be free from any reference in public elementary schools to the existence of families in which the parents are of different gender combinations,” the ruling said.

The First Circuit panel said the Wirthlin’s son “has a more significant claim” because he was required to sit through a reading of ‘King and King,’ a book that affirmatively endorses homosexuality and gay marriage. 

The judges nonetheless rejected the Wirthlins’ claim, writing, "There is no evidence of systemic indoctrination. There is no allegation that Joey was asked to affirm gay marriage. Requiring a student to read a particular book is generally not coercive of free exercise rights."

According to WorldNetDaily, David Parker said the ruling "will surely embolden and enable the schools even more on this if it's not fought."

"There's going to be an accountability, you can count on it," he said.

The Parkers’ lead attorney, Jeffrey Denner, said they were prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  "We will continue to fight on all the fronts that we need to," he said.

MassResistance, a citizen’s group supporting the Parkers, said Judge Lynch’s decision, ignored their lawyer’s argument that "that the basic constitutional protections of religious belief are being trampled on by the school."  It also criticized the decision for citing a state curriculum’s “non-mandatory, informal set of guidelines” in its reasoning.  MassResistance also warned that Planned Parenthood is promoting a bill to make the document a formal legal guideline.

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Kissimmee Baptist edges emperor toward sainthood

Orlando, Fla., Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - Karl von Habsburg, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire moved a step closer to sainthood last week, the Orlando Sentinel reports.  A Florida woman has claimed that by praying for the intercession of the emperor, she was cured from breast cancer.

The Baptist woman from Kissimmee, Florida received the ruler’s holy card from a friend, Paula Melancon, who became interested in Emperor von Habsburg on a trip to Europe.  The cancer sufferer prayed that Karl intercede on her behalf.

Doctors as well as a judicial tribunal of the Diocese of Orlando agreed that there appears to be no medical explanation for the woman’s recovery.

Karl, who was emperor during World War I, opposed the war, censored obscene materials, closed brothels and increased the chaplains sent to troops.  He was exiled and died of the flu at the age of 34.  In 2004, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II. 

Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski said, "It is an honor for our diocese to be part of something that is larger than all of us.  Miracles are not done for show. Jesus didn't do miracles because he was a showoff.”

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Pope Benedict takes his own advice, plans to go on retreat for Lent

, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - Following his own advice to make Lent a time of conversion, Pope Benedict and those who assist him in governing the Church (the Roman Curia) will go on retreat this coming Sunday, February 10.

The retreat will take place in the "Redemptoris Mater" Chapel of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace and have the theme of, “Let us welcome Christ, our High Priest. 'Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession'".

Using the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola as a guide for the retreat, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye S.J., the former secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, will direct the retreatants.

Pope Benedict and his fellow prelates will begin their Lenten withdraw from the world at 6 p.m. on Sunday with the celebration of Vespers, the first meditation, adoration and a Eucharistic blessing.

For the next six days, the group will follow a daily routine based off of the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, culminating in Vespers, adoration and a Eucharistic blessing at 5:45 p.m. every day.

The spiritual exercises will come to an end on Saturday, February 16, with the celebration of Lauds and a closing meditation at 9 a.m.

During the retreat all audiences will be cancelled, including the weekly general audience of Wednesday, February 13.


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Spanish cardinal laments attacks on bishops and reiterates election-day message

Madrid, Spain, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Toledo, Cardinal Antonio Canizares, lamented the recent attacks by Socialists against the bishops over the publication of a guide for Catholics which encourages them to vote for policies that do not contradict the Gospels.

During a Mass at the Cathedral of Toledo, the cardinal said the bishops’ statement was inspired purely by the Gospel.  “And for this reason it defends human life in all stages of its existence, from conception to natural death, and it shows how society violates this supreme and fundamental demand of mankind with abortion, euthanasia, the manipulation of human embryos and terrorism,” he said.

“For this reason,” the cardinal added, “it proclaims and demands in all circumstances the dignity and inviolability of each human being and the fundamental rights that belong to man, including those of freedom of conscience and of religion in all of their scope, as well as those related to freedom of education.  For the same reason, it proclaims in season and out of season the Gospel and the truth about the family, and it asks everyone to work for the family, because to work for the family is to work for man and to not do so is to go against man,” he stated.

Cardinal Canizares explained that the Church’s primary concern is man because God “has loved man to the extreme and wants happiness for him.”  “This is reason for the Church’s action, even though it earns her trouble, insults, discrediting, and even though she is subjected to false and unjust judgments that discredit—I’m sorry to say—the very ones who make them.”  The Church will never be silent about Christ, “no matter how much they want to silence her or limit her to sacred spaces,” he said.

The cardinal stressed that the document contains “exhortations that are in no way political and not impositions,” and he lamented that some try to put bishops in conflict with believers. In statements to the newspaper La Razon, Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he had wished the statement included words such as “harmony,” “life together” and “dialogue.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said the Catholic Church in Spain is a “fundamentalist” hierarchy that is “neo-conservative and does not represent the sentiments of the majority of Spanish Catholics.”

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Clinics in Rome promise to save babies who survive an abortion

, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - The directors of obstetrics and gynecology clinics at four universities in Rome have signed a declaration expressing their commitment to use all means to save babies who survive an abortion.

The statement, which is seen as one of the first fruits of the Day of Life recently held in Italy, says, “In response to the chance that a fetus survives an abortion, the life of the individual must be protected and given all of the medical means necessary to stay alive, with or without the consent of the mother.”

Experts assure that in the case of pre-mature babies, “The doctor must revive the baby, independently of his parents, unless it is not obvious that it is a case of therapeutic aggression.” 

The signing of the statement comes as Italy debates the possible liberalization of abortion.

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Pope Benedict XVI issues new Good Friday prayer for the Jews

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - Today the Vatican's Secretary of State issued the anticipated changes to the prayer for the Jews used in the Good Friday Liturgy celebrated according to the Roman Missal of 1962.

This new prayer, which is to be used this Lent, is a simple prayer for the Jewish people, that they may discover the salvation brought by Jesus. The previous version was regarded as offensive by some Jewish organizations.

The version in force until today did not contain the reference to the Jewish people as "perfidious" because it was suppressed by Blessed Pope John XXIII. However, the prayer found in the Roman Missal approved by Pope St. Pius V, still requested that God take "that people away... from their darkness" and liberate them from "their blindness," a text inspired by one of the letters of St. Paul.  

The new formula announced today by the Secretary of State reads:

Let us also pray for the Jews that God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men.

Let us pray.  Let us genuflect.  Rise.

All-powerful and eternal God, you who wish that all men be saved and come to the recognition of truth, graciously grant that when the fullness of peoples enters your Church all of Israel will be saved.

Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

The official statement reads as follows:

"In reference to the norms included in the Motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum”, from July 7, 2007, regarding the possibility of using the later version of the Missale Romanum, previous to the Second Vatican Council, published in 1962 with the authority of Blessed John  XXIII, The Holy Father Benedict  XVI has established that the "Oremus et pro Iudaeis" from Good Friday's Liturgy included in the Missale Romanum will be replaced by the following text:

Oremus et pro Iudaeis
Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum.
Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat.

Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

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Testimony of Italian priest killed in Turkey shows holiness of love

, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - February 5 marks the second anniversary of the killing of Father Andrea Santoro in Turkey. Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Committee for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, will commemorate Fr. Andrea’s witness of love by celebrating a Mass in the Church of Santa Maria di Trebisonda, together with Bishop Luigi Padovese, Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia and president of the Bishops’ Conference of Turkey.

According to the SIR news agency, Bishop Paglia said, “At the beginning of the millennium, Father Andrea offers a unique testimony.  To go to Trebisonda (the city where Fr. Andrea founded a center for dialogue) means to be inspired by dialogue with the force of a place that speaks:  a land bathed in love to the point of the shedding of blood.  These places are particularly significant and bear witness to the holiness of love and respect in a society that is used to consuming and destroying everything and producing only for profit.  The freely-given love of Father Andrea is different,” the bishop said.

“During this year pilgrimages have a significant value, because they bring to mind the witness of the Apostle Paul who learned there to love the Gospel, to the point of suffering martyrdom in Rome.  Father Andrea died in this land (Turkey) of apostolic memory and testimony.  We are indebted to the community present in Turkey and the Middle East,” the bishop said.

On the other hand, historian and university professor Augusto D’Angelo explained that Father Andrea, “in his desire to be radical in his vocation, considered martyrdom to be part of the vocation he was called to, to be the inheritance of the Church.”


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Brazilian bishops’ conference official defends and promotes abortion

Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - Bernardete Aparecida Ferreira, coordinator of the Ministry for Marginalized Women, which is connected to the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, has written and distributed a statement in which she defends and promotes abortion.

According to the online edition of the newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, “Although she said it was her personal opinion, (Ferreira) created controversy among the bishops of the Committee on Ministry and Service to Charity, Justice and Peace, of which she is an employee.”

Ferreira, who works with young women who have been involved in prostitution, points out that “women who prostitute themselves need to get an abortion every once in a while, despite the numerous contraceptive methods they could chose” and that “the criminalization of abortion does not diminish its practice.”  She claimed that she is acting as a Christian and a humanist in defending women who undergo abortions “in difficult and clandestine situations.”

Ferreira said the main reason behind writing the document was her experience with a “large number of women who are in prostitution and have obtained an abortion once, twice, three times and even twenty times each.”

“I do not recommend abortion or the use of condoms,” she asserted, “I am in favor of family planning that is as natural as possible, I agree with the Church in everything but I defend the lives of women.”

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Spanish bishops’ spokesman says no to “false diplomacy” of remaining silent

Madrid, Spain, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - In an article published by the newspaper “La Razon,” the general secretary of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, Auxiliary Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino of Madrid, defended the obligation of the bishops to offer moral guidance in accordance with the Catholic faith and said it would be wrong if they did not speak out because of “fear” or “false diplomacy.”

Last Thursday the bishops issued a guide to voters entitled “Faith, Morality and Politics,” which Bishop Martinez said is based on a pastoral instruction from November 2006 entitled, “Moral Guidance for the Current Situation in Spain.”  The new guide does not endorse or promote a particular party or candidate—as some in the government have suggested—but rather provides guidance in a much wider sense, the bishop said.

Bishop Martinez clarified that the Church has never sought to impose her principles, and when she makes recommendations she does not do so thinking of one and two of her moral principles.  The bishops’ guide, therefore, does not include “recipes” or “political orders,” but rather is intended to encourage responsible voting by distinguishing between fundamental principles of good and evil, which can be done thanks to the faith, he stressed. 

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Human embryos created from DNA of two women and a man

London, England, Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - British scientists say they have created human embryos containing DNA from two women and a man, the Associated Press reports.

The process would be used as part of an in-vitro fertilization procedure to create healthy embryos for couples who do not want to pass on genetic diseases to their children.

The research, funded by the British charity the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, was presented at a scientific conference recently but has not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. 

Patrick Chinnery, a professor of neurogenetics at Newcastle University who is involved in the research, described the research goal to the Associated Press, saying, "We are not trying to alter genes, we're just trying to swap a small proportion of the bad ones for some good ones."

The technique replaces genes in the mitochondria, the cell’s energy source.  Genetic defects in the mitochondria can cause epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, strokes and mental retardation.  Researchers used normal embryos created from one man and one woman, where the woman’s egg had defective mitochondria.  They transplanted the embryo into an emptied egg donated from another woman with healthy mitochondria.

10 embryos were created using the techniques.  They were killed after five days.

Because only trace amounts of a person’s genes come from the mitochondria, experts said it would be incorrect to say the embryos have three parents.

"Most of the genes that make you who you are are inside the nucleus," Chinnery said, according to the Associated Press. "We're not going anywhere near that."

Advocates of the procedure hope it will be considered a therapy for couples in a bill expected to be discussed in Britain’s House of Commons in March.

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Religious groups ask Colorado legislature for respectful immigration debate

Denver, Colo., Feb 5, 2008 (CNA) - On Monday a group of interfaith religious leaders asked the Colorado legislature to sign a “pledge of respect” to elevate the tone of debates on immigration.

“We are concerned that at times the debate demonstrates little respect for the issue or the people affected by the legislation.  Immigrants are living in a climate of fear, hate, and intimidation,” said Fidel “Butch” Montoya, Director of H.S. Power & Light, a faith-based Latino initiative.

Rev. Dr. Jim Ryan, Executive of the Colorado Council of Churches said the pledge could help set a positive tone and a good example.  “How we speak to each other and about each other is a matter of moral and faith responsibility,” he said.

Among the Catholic leaders who asked the legislature for the pledge of respect were Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput, Bishop of Pueblo Arthur N. Tafoya, and Bishop of Colorado Springs Michael J. Sheridan.

According to the Rocky Mountain News, the pledge reads, “As a legislator representing the people of Colorado, I believe that regarding matters where we are not of one mind, our humble respect for each other and all of God’s children can draw us together to be of one heart.

Therefore, I pledge that as I take positions and enter into dialogue on the issue of immigration that the tone of my discourse and the choice of my words will reflect the respect I have for the sacred humanity of those about whom I am speaking and with whom I may disagree.”

The numerous faith leaders said in a statement that they believed all people should discuss their differences in a spirit of civility, reason, and humility.

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