Manila, Philippines, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Though critics of government corruption in the Philippines have called upon Catholic bishops to lead the reform movement, the nation’s bishops have refrained from involvement.
One prominent bishop has suggested that the efforts to imitate past “People Power” anti-corruption movements, in which clergy played a leading role, must now take on a new form. He suggested some people fear another reform movement might only “bring the country from one frying pan to a worse frying pan.”
Recently, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and certain cabinet members have faced allegations of corruption in a now-canceled program to build a national broadband network.
Rodolfo Lozada, a former government consultant, testified before a Senate committee on February 8. He claimed a $329 million broadband service contract with a Chinese telecommunications company contained $130 million in kickbacks. Among others, Lozada implicated the former head of the election commission, Benjamin Abalos Sr., and President Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo.
The former governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, Jose Cuisia, said that though the scandal had not yet caused significant financial harm, the political impact was noteworthy. “The people are more and more enraged as they learn of the sordid details about these anomalous deals that are going on in government,” he said. “It’s just incredible that the [corruption] is so great that they don’t even think about it anymore. What’s $130 million?”
Cuisia called on the Church to take a stronger stand against corruption, saying, “corruption has very, very detrimental effects on the country’s poor people.” He said, “this is a moral issue that the CBCP must address and they must take a stronger stand on what’s going on in government.”
Ramon R. Del Rosario, Jr., Chairman of the influential Makati Business Club, also called for Church action. “The Church should take the lead,” Del Rosario said. Though saying he did not expect the Church always to take the lead in civil matters, he said, “but this is not just a civil and political issue, it’s a moral issue.”
Del Rosario said that the Church needed to provide not only guidance but also leadership, “so that those who are scared, looking for guidance will be properly led.”
However, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo recently maintained that the bishops could not be involved in politics in the same way they were involved in the “People Power” protests that ousted former ruler Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Writing in a statement, he said the first “People Power” protests, held on February 22-24 in 1986, were “historic and momentous days” that ended 14 years of martial rule and dictatorship and began a new democracy. Archbishop Lagdameo praised the peaceful and non-violent popular movement whose members “prayed together, reflected together, decided together and acted together.”
“They knew what they wanted,” the archbishop said. He noted that the late Cardinal Jamie Sin and the CBCP articulated their positions through radio broadcasts and pastoral letters.
Archbishop Lagdameo remarked that many of the participants in the first “People Power” protests had already died, and that those who still lived were 22 years older. This age, the archbishop suggested, had produced cynicism, apathy, and indifference about another movement today.
He noted that the “People Power II” protests in 2001, which were accompanied by hopes that history would repeat itself, only established the present corrupt government.
“Sadly, People Power II installed a leader who lately only has been branded as the ‘most corrupt’ and our government is rated ‘among the most corrupt governments.’ Is this the reason why many in civil society regard another People Power with cynicism and indifference? They are afraid another People Power might only bring the country from one frying pan to a worse frying pan,” Archbishop Lagdameo said.
The archbishop acknowledged that some Filipinos were disappointed that the bishops’ conference did not advocate specifics in its earlier call for “communal action” against corruption. He said the call to communal action was a challenge to “political conscience” that would generate a “creative, imaginative, and democratic” response to political problems.
Any new People Power movement, the archbishop said, would be different from past versions. “It will have to be with a different ‘brand,’” he said. “It will not be simply a repeat of the past. What brand will it have? What is God through the signs of the times telling us?”
The archbishop said that just one man’s witness against corruption had already exposed wrongdoing and had inspired further reform. “We hope and encourage that other courageous and inspired persons will emerge to tell or expose or humbly face the truth, whose concealment had made our country captive to corruption and greed of powerholders,” he wrote.
Archbishop Lagdameo also urged prayers for the country and sacrifice for the national common good.
Atlanta, Ga., Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - The Georgia legislature on Monday held a hearing about a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant legal personhood to human beings at every stage of their development, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Called the “Human Life Amendment,” the legislation states, "With respect to the fundamental and inalienable rights of all persons guaranteed in this Constitution, the word 'person' applies to all human beings, irrespective of age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency, including unborn children at every state of their biological development, including fertilization."
Both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly must pass the measure by a two-thirds vote, and then the amendment must be approved by a majority vote in a statewide referendum.
Georgia Right to Life is promoting the bill, though not all pro-life groups have endorsed it. Some critics argue the wording of the bill is so broad that it would outlaw capital punishment and invalidate living wills.
A second hearing for the bill is scheduled for Wednesday.
London, England, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, sent a pastoral message to Catholics in England and Wales on Tuesday encouraging them to write their Ministers of Parliament about pending legislation that would expand human embryo research, remove regulations on fertility treatments, and possibly liberalize abortion laws.
“Many people of all faiths and none are deeply concerned by the moral questions raised by this Bill,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote.
The cardinal also pointed to the fact that the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill would allow the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research. He also warned that it also would remove a provision requiring those who administer in-vitro fertilization treatments to consider the child’s need for a father.
The bill states that lesbian "partners" may both be named on birth certificates as legal parents. The legislation being forwarded to the House of Commons also will make it possible for homosexual partners to demand treatments to produce a child as a "right." Male “partners” will also be able to apply for the legal status of parents of a child carried by a surrogate.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor called on people to write or visit their MP to voice their concern about the bill.
“Now is the time for our voices to be heard,” he wrote.
MPs, the cardinal said, should be asked to support amendments to the bill to limit embryo research and to recognize the need for children to have knowledge of their biological father.
He suggested that Members of Parliament should request a “free vote” freeing legislators from party mandates on parts of the bill dealing with “fundamental issues of personal conscience.”
“Taking action on this pressing issue now helps to remind us that our Christian witness can never just be personal but involves us too as citizens committed to serving the common good of society and to upholding the human dignity of all,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said.
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill has already passed the House of Lords and will soon be debated in the House of Commons.
Vatican City, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - At today's general audience Pope Benedict XVI returned to his catechesis on St. Augustine of Hippo saying that his works are able to teach Catholics even now. Before going into the Paul VI audience hall, the Pope greeted an overflow crowd of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Basilica.
St. Augustine, the Holy Father began, was "a great witness of Christ, much loved by my predecessors and whom I also have studied and meditated upon often. He is the Father of the Church who has left us the most works, some of which are of vital importance for the history of Christianity."
Benedict XVI turned to Augustine’s "Confessions" first, saying that in them "we can follow, step by step, the inner journey of this extraordinary man who was passionate about God".
"On the City of God" was "a decisive work for the development of Western political thought and in the history of Christian theology". It was written between 413 and 416 to respond to the accusations made by pagans who ascribed the sack of Rome in 410 to the Christian God and the apostles who could not protect the city, while under the pagan divinities Rome was the "head of the world" (“caput mundi”) and it was unthinkable that it could have fallen into enemy hands.
As the Pope explained, many thought that Rome "was not safe with the God of the Christians" and that "the Christian God could not offer protection, which is why they could not trust in Him".
St. Augustine responded to this objection, "which touched the hearts of the Christians profoundly, with his illustrious work "On the City of God", clarifying what we can and what we cannot expect from God, referring to the relationship between the political sphere and that of the faith, of the Church". "Even today", he continued, "this text is a source for defining the lay life and the Church's jurisdiction, the true and great hope that gives us faith".
In the text Augustine, describes the tension between two cities: the earthly city that springs from love of self and indifference to God, and the heavenly city, born from love of God and "indifference to self".
"On the Trinity", the Pope continued, "deals with the nucleus of the Christian faith", while "On Christian Doctrine" is a cultural introduction to the interpretation of the Bible and to Christianity itself, and was of great importance in the formation of Western culture".
The Holy Father also shared his admiration for the intellectual humility of St. Augustine. He explained that while he was "aware of his intellectual stature”, Augustine “always gave preference to the spread of the Christian message to ordinary persons over learned theological works.”
In his "Expositions on the Book of Psalms", the Pope added, are found many homilies "that were collected by scribes while the saint preached". Their fame ensured their wide distribution and they "served as models that were always adaptable to new contexts".
"Even today," the Pope concluded, "St. Augustine lives through his works and is present among us. We thus see the lasting vitality of the faith for which he spent his entire life."
, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller of Ratisbona told reporters in Germany today that the Catholic Church does not intend to abolish clerical celibacy. “The Latin rite of the Catholic Church holds to the sensible union of the priesthood and the celibate life for love of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is and will continue to be the Catholic Church’s discipline,” the bishop said, adding that celibacy will not be abolished “now or in the future.”
He said reporters had twisted the comments of Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg about celibacy, saying that “in a fast interview all of the demands related to the issue of priesthood and celibacy cannot be satisfied.”
He went on to note that Vatican II clarified that the Church would continue to uphold the tradition of priestly celibacy.
According to the website Kath.net, Bishop Muller reiterated that “as bishops we are concerned about awakening vocations to the priesthood and striving to deepen the understanding of the spiritual dimension of the celibate life.”
Men who feel called to the priesthood and to the charism of this way of life in accord with the Gospel can be blessed as priests in the Catholic Church, “as long as the necessary requirements are met,” he said.
Havana, Cuba, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Father Joaquín Alliende, the spiritual director of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is calling the resignation of Fidel Castro “a great opportunity for the Church.” He conveyed his belief by pointing out the “wisdom and tenacity” of the Cuban bishops in great times of need and Pope John Paul II’s prayers when he visited the nation.
Father Alliende referred to the prayers of Pope John Paul II, that the Cuban people might "open their hearts to Christ, the one and only Redeemer." Fr. Alliende added that the Pope's prayer that Christians might "live according to their faith" and those who had lost this faith "might regain it", was more relevant than ever today. John Paul II had likewise prayed that the Cuban nation might become "a homeland for brothers and sisters."
Fr. Alliende, expressed his confidence that after the difficult years of the past, the Cuban bishops would continue to lead the People of God "with wisdom and tenacity" in the present circumstances. The Church lives through the history of her peoples, he added, and seeks "every possible opportunity" to make her Lord Jesus Christ "newly present in the constantly changing circumstances of every nation."
He also pointed out that the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is due to visit the country in the next few days, claiming that the trip is "a special gift of Jesus", since in this way the Christians in Cuba would be able to experience "the support of the charism, the wisdom and the strength of the successor of Peter, the Holy Father, Benedict XVI."
As a final point, Father Joaquín Alliende noted that on February 24, 1998 Pope John Paul II crowned the image of Our Lady of Cobre, the patroness of Cuba and declared her the "Mother of Reconciliation" for Cuba. It was then that he asked her to “unite her people.” He added, “May the events that are now unfolding there permit Cuba to restore her national solidarity, so that she may then set about planning her future."
Father Alliende is appealing to “all those who love the Church in Cuba” to accompany her “in these crucial moments, especially through prayer and with a watchful attentiveness that will lead us to a still more profound solidarity with her.”
Havana, Cuba, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Following the resignation of Fidel Castro, Javier Legorreta, an Aid to the Church in Need specialist on Cuba, says that the presence of the Vatican’s Secretary of State during the country’s power transition will help promote peace and a spirit of reconciliation.
According to Legorreta, Tuesday’s announcement that Fidel was handing the government over to his brother was “what everybody has been waiting for.”
Noting that the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, arrives in Cuba on February 20, the specialist says that while the coinciding of the two events wasn’t planned, it is providential.
Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the cardinal will be in Cuba when control of the country is transferred to Fidel Castro’s brother Raul. Legorreta believes that Cardinal Bertone may play an important role in the political transformation of the country.
“After 49 years of rule by Fidel Castro what happens on the 24th of February is very important to Cuba. Cardinal Bertone can help this change of power to take place in peace and in a spirit of reconciliation within the country. This is something the Catholic Church in Cuba has already long seen as her mission, and Cardinal Bertone will endeavor to strengthen her in this,” Javier Legorreta said.
The expert on the Church in Cuba also explained that “the mission of the Church is to spread reconciliation and peace. She will therefore endeavor to help the transformation in the country to take place in peace and human justice.”
Legorreta summarized his hopes for the coming days by echoing the words Pope John Paul II from his 1998 visit, “that Cuba may open up to the world and the world to Cuba."
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) -
In a letter addressed to the Catholic faithful of the country, the bishops of Argentina reiterated that all Catholics are responsible for financially supporting the Church.
The bishops are preparing for a tithing drive on the weekend of March 2 to encourage Catholics to contribute to their parishes and dioceses and to inform them about the Church’s activities.
In their letter they recalled their statement ten years ago on the same issue, noting that since then, “we have been working with determination and hope to help the baptized live out their responsibility to sustain the great family of the Church that we form and that wishes to be present with you at every moment of your lives. God, our Father, has shared the riches of his gifts with us. Jesus, the Son of God and our brother, died to save us. The Spirit gives us strength to live the Gospel and to bring the message of love and salvation to our brethren. Let us live our faith with joy and commitment, placing our gifts at the service of communion,” the said.
The bishops stressed that each person is “unique and irreplaceable, as is each member of your family. Your time and talents are necessary so that your community has the warmth of a home and can thus welcome all, especially those who are unprotected, the poor and the suffering.”
They encouraged Argentinean Catholics to “continue helping your community that needs it so much, placing your gifts and material goods at the service of the work of evangelization.”
“We are all Church and we are all family. It’s time to share what we are and what we have so that the message of salvation reaches all,” the bishops said.
Paris, France, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, has expressed his support of a decision by a French court to grant legal status to the unborn.
The ruling, which unleashed the anger of feminist and pro-abortion organizations in Europe, declared that embryos less than 22 weeks old and that weigh more than one pound are persons under the law.
The decision comes after three copules, whose miscarried fetuses fell below the previous limit of 22 weeks, sued to register them as family members and give their children a burial. The court agreed the limits were not legally binding and permitted registration. The ruling is now in the hands of the Court of Appeals.
“The law in France never legalized abortion, it decriminalized it,” Cardinal Vingt-Trois said in an interview with Ouest-France. “We hope the court of Appeals will decide to legitimize the registering of the embryo as a member of the family,” he added.
“The position of the Church,” he explained, “is that the embryo must be treated as a person.”
Cardinal Vingt-Trois, who is in the city of Rennes with 60 other French bishops to discuss the defense of human life, recalled that the 1975 law that permitted abortion in France “does not establish a right,” and that over the last 50 years the embryo has been increasingly treated as a thing.
“We must respect both the beginning of life and the end,” the cardinal stated.
Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Ubaldo Santana, said the bishops of Venezuela hope that the retirement of Fidel Castro will open the way to suspending the economic blockade against Cuba.
“What is happening in Cuba is very important, the retirement of President Fidel Castro marks a new historic period that had already begun in that country,” the archbishop said.
He stressed that the bishops of Venezuela have always supported the request by the Holy See to suspend the blockade, as it has only produced “hunger in the nation and does not contribute to strengthening democracy.”
The archbishop also indicated that the Venezuelan bishops continue to affirm the words of John Paul II during his visit to the island: “may Cuba open up to the world and the world open up to Cuba.” Likewise, he expressed his hope that the “Cuban people would develop freely, in the best of democratic systems.”
As the archbishop was making his statements, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied that Fidel Castro had resigned. “What resignation? Fidel has not resigned from anything,” Chavez told reporters.
Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Father Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, coordinator of Immigrant Ministry for the Diocese of Tehuantepec, denounced military and police officials for continuing a policy of abuse towards Central American immigrants who pass through the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
In a letter sent to the local newspaper, Father Solalinde said last Saturday one of the most recent operations of repression against Central American immigrants crossing Mexico to the United States took place. He noted that the group of immigrants was surrounded by soldiers, shortly after having been assaulted by common criminals. “Many people were injured, and some came here between Sunday and Monday in terrible condition. We brought some of them to the hospital and had their injuries documented,” the priest said.
“The pressure from the United States is great and the commitment to showing results in exchange for money and assistance is being made manifest in these savage operations. If this is result of planning, it has to be Machiavellian and inhumane,” Father Solalinde asserted.
He questioned why law enforcement has done nothing to stop those who are harassing immigrants and why the Mexican government has not responded to accusations against police officials of kidnapping and extorting immigrants.
Washington D.C., Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama has been endorsed by Frances Kissling, the former president of the pro-abortion group Catholics for a Free Choice.
In an article written for the Huffington Post, Kissling defended her endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton saying that his presidency would finish the “social transformation” begun by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
"While I believe in the nitty gritty of a day-to-day legislative agenda, there will be little difference between Clinton and Obama, I am convinced that in the larger struggle to complete the social transformation promised by Roe, Obama's instincts and values will bring us closer to that transformation," Kissling said.
Kissling broke ranks with other feminists who favor abortion rights but have endorsed New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. She said that both candidates would appoint Supreme Court justices who favor Roe v. Wade, overturn the Mexico City policy that forbids funding for non-governmental organizations that also perform abortions, and restore funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which lost US funding after its co-operation with coerced abortions in China was exposed.
Kissling said that Clinton had “more than once failed the movement” for abortion rights, such as when Senator Clinton did not include abortion coverage in her 1994 health care reform plan. She also disliked Clinton’s support for laws permitting objecting health professionals to refuse to provide services they consider immoral. Kissling wanted to know whether her present universal health care program “will give religious organizations the right to refuse to provide services they consider 'immoral' - emergency contraception, voluntary sterilization, condoms to prevent HIV, and assisted reproduction come to mind.”
Senator Obama, Kissling thought, would transform American culture and solidify support for legalized abortion.
"It is no longer about 'winning, the culture war. It is about completing the social transformation that Roe began but did not solidify," Kissling concluded. "That task, I believe, will best be accomplished by a president who sees her or his role as calling us to greatness ... I think Barack Obama is the person who can do that," she said.
Albany, N.Y., Feb 20, 2008 (CNA) - A New York state bill that would declare abortion a fundamental human right for women faces opposition from Catholics who believe the bill will leave Catholic hospitals and social agencies vulnerable to lawsuits and state sanctions, the New York Sun reports.
Some opponents argue that the bill privileges abortion rights even more than the right to free exercise of religion.
A video produced by the New York Catholic Conference suggests the bill could force doctors and hospitals to perform abortion procedures and could compel insurance companies and employers to cover abortion procedures in health plans.
The bill, called the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, was drafted by the administration of Governor Eliot Spitzer. Signaling that the bill’s passage is a top priority for his administration, Gov. Spitzer recently called for its passage in his January State of the State address, while his wife Silda Wall delivered a speech dedicated to the legislation at a gathering marking the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.
The legislation would establish abortion as a fundamental right for pregnant women prior to fetal viability and in later stages if the woman’s health is at risk. Abortion regulations would be removed from state penal law to public health law. The authority to perform abortions would also be extended beyond physicians to “qualified licensed health care providers.”
Its supporters say the chief purpose of the act is to ensure that abortion remains legal in New York if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Opponents say the bill would eliminate the possibility of putting new restrictions on abortion, such as parental notification, informed consent laws, and waiting periods.
The part of the law that most concerns opponents is a section stating, "the state shall not discriminate against the exercise of the rights … in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information."
Edward Mechmann, a legal coordinator for the Archdiocese of New York, said the bill would infringe on the freedoms of Catholic organizations. "If they grant us a license, which is a state action, they will be discriminating," he said, according to the New York Sun. "The right to abortion would have more protection under New York's law than the right to free exercise of religion."
Spitzer administration officials argued that existing “conscience clause” provisions in state law would protect Catholic hospitals and agencies from legal penalties.
"Nobody will be required to perform an abortion," said Lisa Ullman, an assistant counsel to the governor.
A spokesman for the New York Catholic Conference, Dennis Poust, said in an e-mail to the New York Sun that the guarantees were not specific enough.
"If the intent is not to force our hospitals and other facilities to perform abortions or make direct referrals or promote abortion, then why not amend the bill?" Poust wrote.
"Why not include specific language that says the bill does not apply to institutions owned, operated or sponsored by a religious institution? They are well aware of our concerns and have been shown zero interest in amending the bill. We have had lengthy discussions at the highest level of the administration on this and have gotten the cold shoulder," he said.
The Archdiocese of New York has launched an intense campaign opposing the bill. It has organized a petition drive, delivered more than 100,000 pamphlets to parishes, and produced an advocacy video, viewable at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ6j2srG2iA
The effort will peak in March, when Cardinal Edward Egan and the rest of the bishops of New York meet with Mr. Spitzer and urge him to reconsider the legislation, church officials said.
Kathleen Gallagher, the director of pro-life activities at the New York State Catholic Conference, said those who learned the details of the legislation reacted strongly.
"I've never seen anything like this. People, when they find out about this bill, get really incensed, and they want to do something," she said.
The bill is opposed by Republicans, who control the state senate.