Archive of March 18, 2008

Planned Parenthood apologizes for accepting racist donor

Boise. Idaho, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - Planned Parenthood of Idaho officials have apologized after a fundraiser for the organization was caught on tape agreeing with an actor posing as a racist donor who wanted his money to reduce the numbers of black people.

However, the organization also criticized the journalists whose investigation sparked the story, accusing them of using “racist” tactics.

Last summer, writers with The Advocate, a student magazine at the University of California at Los Angeles, called several Planned Parenthood fundraising centers across the country to discover how they would respond to donors with racist motives.  In February they released recordings and transcripts of some of the calls.

In a phone conversation with an Idaho Planned Parenthood office, the caller stated, “the less black kids out there, the better.”  Autumn Kersey, the office’s Director of Development, laughed nervously and said, “Understandable, understandable. ... Excuse my hesitation, this is the first time I've had a donor call and make this kind of request, so I'm excited and want to make sure I don't leave anything out."

On Wednesday, February 27 Planned Parenthood of Idaho released a statement apologizing for the employee’s actions, the Idaho Statesman reports. 

"A fundraising employee violated the organization's principles and practices when she appeared to be willing to accept a racially motivated donation," said Rebecca Poedy, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Idaho, in a written statement. "We apologize for the manner in which this offensive call was handled. We take full responsibility for the actions of the fundraising staff member who created the impression that racism of any form would be tolerated at Planned Parenthood. We took swift action to ensure that each of our employees understands their responsibility to communicate clearly with donors about the fact that we believe in helping all individuals, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, make informed decisions about their reproductive health care."

Poedy went on to attack the student journalists who started the story.

"While the actions of our staff member were unacceptable, it's also unacceptable for opponents of abortion to use racist, deceptive tactics to smear Planned Parenthood," Poedy said. "The race-baiting tactics on display in this case are not news 'exposes,' but rather the product of the most cynical form of politicking."

Lila Rose, a UCLA student and editor-in-chief of The Advocate who led the investigation, responded to the apology statement.

"They do not change their ways," Rose said. "They attack the whistleblower."

The Advocate is calling for UCLA to cut its ties to Planned Parenthood.  The magazine is waiting for responses from Idaho and Ohio before releasing recordings from Planned Parenthood offices in other states.

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Women who have abortions risk mental health, says Royal College of Psychiatrists

London, England, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - A British medical organization has warned that women who have abortions may be at risk for mental health breakdowns, the Times reports.

In a statement released on March 14, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said that women should not be allowed to have abortions until they are counseled on the procedure’s possible risks to their mental health.  Several recent studies have concluded that abortion in young women might be associated with mental health risks.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ statement recommended adding details about the risks of depression to abortion information leaflets. “Consent cannot be informed without the provision of adequate and appropriate information,” it said.

Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP campaigning for a waiting period for women considering abortion, welcomed the college’s revised stance.  “For doctors to process a woman’s request for an abortion without providing the support, information and help women need at this time of crisis I regard almost as a form of abuse,” she said, according to the Times.

The statement overturns the British medical establishment’s decades-old consensus that claimed the mental health risks of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy outweighs the risks of possibly living with regrets of having an abortion.  More than 90 percent of the 200,000 annual abortions in Britain are believed to be performed because doctors think that continuing the pregnancy would cause greater mental strain.

Dr. Peter Saunders, general secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said in response to the study: “How can a doctor now justify an abortion [on mental health grounds] if psychiatrists are questioning whether there is any clear evidence that continuing with the pregnancy leads to mental health problems.”

The British Parliament will soon vote on a proposal to reduce the upper time limit for abortions “for social reasons” from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.  A Sunday Times poll reports that 59 percent of women support the reduction, while 48 percent of the population as a whole supports the proposal.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ statement has added to the abortion controversy, already heightened in Britain by the recent suicide of a 30-year-old woman who said she was overcome with grief for having aborted her twins.

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Vatican in talks to open church in Saudi Arabia

, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - The Vatican is in negotiations with Saudi Arabia to open the first Catholic Church in the country in modern times, the Telegraph reports.

Archbishop Mounged El-Hachem, the papal envoy to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, said that talks had started a few weeks ago after King Abdullah’s November visit with Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop El-Hachem said a church in Saudi Arabia would be an important sign of “reciprocity” between the two faiths.
At present all Saudi citizens are required by law to be Muslim.  The Mutaween, the kingdom’s religious police, strictly prohibits the practice of non-Muslim religions.

The last Christian priest was expelled from the kingdom in 1985. 

Catholic relations with other Muslim countries are improving.  On Sunday, Qatar saw its first Catholic church open.

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Mob of Hindu radicals attacks nuns, teenage girls

Mumbai, India, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - A Hindu radical group on Saturday attacked two Catholic nuns and three teenage girls in a western Indian village as they prepared to hold a women’s educational program, UCA News reports.

Sister Merciana Tuscano, one of the Carmelite nuns attacked, told UCA News that radical Hindu men and women attacked the nuns and girls in the village of Sanghoti in the state of Maharashtra.  The mob shouted at the nuns, accusing them of “converting tribal people to Christianity.”  According to Sister Tuscano, the mob “told us to leave the village at once and never to come back or else they would break our legs.”

The Catholic group was in Sanghoti, a village about 75 miles south of Mumbai, to conduct programs for tribal women.  The group’s activities include running adult literacy classes, encouraging self-help groups, and popularizing the government’s AIDS program.

The Saturday program was to begin at noon, but at about 10:30 a group of about twenty men and twenty women arrived and began to throw away chairs and tables.  Sister Tuscano said that when she confronted the group, “the women caught hold of me, pulled my hair and punched me hard all over my body.”

She said that though she cried for help, the group dragged her out of the venue.  The three teenage girls tried to rescue her, but Sister Tuscano said they were “hammered” by the mob.

The second nun, Sister Philomena D’Mello, then arrived with other women for the program.  Sister Tuscano told UCA News that Sister D’Mello was also attacked.  "The mob rushed at her, caught hold of her, punched her all over. When she fell down in pain, a man stamped (on) her stomach twice," she said.

The mob also attacked the nun’s driver, a Catholic, who tried to intervene.

The injured group was rushed to a government hospital in Albag, but were discharged on Sunday.

Sister Floripe D'Silva, vice-provincial of the nuns’ Carmelite congregation, said she would take the sisters to a private hospital for further evaluation.  She said all six victims were traumatized by the incident.

Sister D’Silva said the mob also destroyed a grinding machine donated by a non-governmental organization to help tribal women generate income.  She said a Hindu social worker who had come on behalf of the government to talk about AIDS was shocked by the attack.

According to a local police official, 13 Hindu men and women had been arrested for the attack, but were granted bail.  The official said the attackers, who were followers of a local guru, accused the nuns of “converting the local tribal people to Christianity.”

Sister D’Silva denied the accusation.  “It is a humbug charge. We have not converted a single tribal,” she said.  She said that the tribal people themselves have told police that the nuns do not preach religion but only train them to lead a decent life.

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Kevorkian to run for Congress in Michigan

Detroit, Mich., Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - Jack Kevorkian, the infamous advocate of physician-assisted suicide, has announced his plans to run for Congress for the ninth district of Michigan, Cybercast News Service reports.

Kevorkian, who has been nicknamed “Dr. Death,” has said he has assisted in more than 130 suicides.  Michigan outlawed assisted suicide in 1998.  In April 1999 Kevorkian was sentenced to 10 to 25 years for second-degree murder in the death of Thomas Youk, which he filmed.  The film was later broadcast on the CBS newsmagazine show “60 Minutes.”

He was paroled on June 1, 2007, and will remain on parole for two years.  His parole conditions require that he not assist in any suicides and that he treats neither disabled patients nor patients over the age of 62.

Kevorkian has said he will continue to press for the legalization of assisted suicide.  "It's got to be legalized. That's the point," he told WJBK-TV in Detroit, Mich. "I'll work to have it legalized. But I won't break any laws doing it."

Kevorkian must gather a minimum of 3,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 17 to appear as an independent on the November ballot.  The congressional seat is currently occupied by Joe Knollenberg, a Republican.

Mike Brownfield, Knollenberg’s campaign manager, said Kevorkian’s campaign wouldn’t affect Congressman Knollenberg.  According to Cybercast News Service, Brownfield suggested Knollenberg’s Democratic challenger, Gary Peters, would be more affected by a Kevorkian candidacy.

"Gary Peters is with Jack Kevorkian on the assisted suicide issue," Brownfield said. "They'll be competing for the same votes. There will be a clear choice for voters come November."

Julie Petrick, manager of Gary Peters’ campaign, said "Anyone can run for Congress, but we're focused on our race."

Petrick said she did not see Kevorkian’s run as damaging to Peters’ candidacy.  She said that Peters voted against the law to ban assisted suicide in favor of a ballot referendum.

Meanwhile, Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, has called Kevorkian a “media hound.”  She said Kevorkian’s congressional run was “another effort for him to grab headlines, to bring attention to physician-assisted suicide and to continue his ridiculous claims about himself."

"I think it's a joke, and I don't think he ever will actually run for Congress," Brown said.

Though Kevorkian is a convicted felon, Michigan law allows him to vote and to hold office now that he is out of prison.

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Nuns praying to clear skies for Pope’s visit

Sydney, Australia, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Anthony Fisher, the coordinator for World Youth Day, has recruited an army of Australian nuns to storm Heaven with prayers for good weather on for the Pope’s arrival in Sydney.

Since the international youth gathering is scheduled for July 15-20—the middle of winter in Australia—Bishop Fisher said, "I have nuns all around this country praying for good weather for that day."

Clear skies will be important given that the Pope will arrive in Sydney on a flotilla of 13 boats, dubbed a “boat-a-cade” by WYD organizers.

Pope Benedict will arrive on Thursday July 17 and come ashore at Barangaroo for an official welcome ceremony before more than 100,000 people.

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We need leaders who foster peace in the Holy Land, says Catholic archbishop

, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - The Latin-Rite Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michael Sabbah, said this week, “We need leaders capable of achieving peace, as that is the only way to put a limit on extremism and begin to establish security” in the Holy Land.

“Israelis and Palestinians, after a century of violence, must understand that they can no longer defend their people with arms, as they only expose them to more violence, more fear and more insecurity.  It is time for the states and politicians in leadership to accept their vocation, that is, to build up society and not destroy it,” the archbishop said in his Easter message according to a report by the SIR news agency.

“To say that peace is a risk we cannot take is the same as saying we will remain in violence and death,” he continued.  “It’s up to the leaders to choose between peace and extremism.  We need leaders ready to pay with their lives the price of peace and not leaders who give orders to kill and murder,” he stressed.

In his message, Archbishop Sabbah called the recent death of the Archbishop of Mosul a tragedy, and he said that after he retires he plans to remain in the Holy Land to continue working “for peace and justice in this land.”

Archbishop Sabbah will reach the retirement age of 75 on March 19.

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Cardinal Tettamanzi responds to questions about the faith on YouTube

, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi is responding to questions about the faith each week by posting videos on YouTube.

According to AFP, Father Davide Milani, a spokesman for the cardinal, said the first video was posted four weeks ago and has been seen over 65,000 times, mostly by Italian users.  “We decided to launch the YouTube initiative in order to reach a wider public with the teachings of Tettamanzi,” the priest explained.

He said Cardinal Tettamanzi has received more than 400 questions on such topics as, “Why are the baptized considered children of God? Aren’t we all children of God?” and “Did baptism exist before the time of Jesus?”

The ten minute videos, which are in Italian, can be viewed at 

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Archbishop demands families be protected, laments “quick divorces”

Piura, Peru, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Antonio Eguren Anselmi of Piura issued an energetic call this week to protect marriage and the family in Peru after the Parliament approved a plan for “quick divorce” that would allow couples to dissolve their civil unions in two months.

Preaching to the hundreds of people who filled the Cathedral of Piura for Palm Sunday Mass, Archbishop Eguren expressed his concern for a law that would make it easy for marriages to be dissolved civilly instead of strengthening them, “especially those that are experiencing problems, turning into a mere administrative procedure something that is of great social relevance, as marriages are the place where comprehensive formation of future citizens of our country takes place.”

“Today our society is going through a crisis of moral and institutional principles and values.  That has led to the weakening of the social fabric and the proliferation of criminal and immoral conduct that harms the formation of our children and young people,” the archbishop said.  “It has been proven that marriages and families are the key to transforming these kinds of situations.  If we want a healthy society, we must help marriages and families to fulfill the fundamental role they naturally have in society,” he explained.

According to the new plan, couples who have been married for at least two years and decide to separate can file for divorce at local government offices.

If they have children they must present a court-approved settlement or an agreement about child support and visitation rights.

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German cardinal calls for construction of a church in native land of St. Paul

Cologne, Germany, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, has called on Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan to support the construction of a church in Tarsus and to allow the current church there that was turned into a museum to be used again for religious purposes.

In the letter sent to President Erdogan in February and published in the latest edition of the Archdiocese of Cologne’s newspaper, Cardinal Meisner reminded the Turkish leader that on June 28 the two thousandth anniversary of St. Paul’s birth will be celebrated and that therefore people from around the world will go on pilgrimage to Tarsus.

The German cardinal said he plans to visit Tarsus this year and that he believes the construction of a church in St. Paul’s hometown would be of significance to Cologne, as it would improve relations with the large Turkish community that lives in that city.  He also said working together in the construction of the church would be a sign of unity.

Last month during a visit to Cologne, President Erdogan expressed his supports for plans to build the church in Tarsus, and during a press conference he said, “As soon as the Church makes this request of me, I will make a statement in support, even if it goes against the opposition.”

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Dalai Lama threatens to step down if Tibetan violence continues

Dhamsala, India, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - The Dalai Lama on Tuesday threatened to step down as leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile if violence committed by Tibetans in his homeland escalates, the Associated Press reports.

Monk-led protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa began peacefully on March 10, the anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.  The protests have grown increasingly violent, with widespread street violence reported on Friday.  Chinese officials say 16 have been killed, but the Tibetan government-in-exile has estimated a death toll of 80.

The rioting has prompted Premier Wen Jiabao to denounce the Dalai Lama’s supporters as separatists, accusing them of instigating violence in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa. 

The Dalai Lama told reporters that “if things become out of control,” his “only option is to completely resign.”

A top aide of the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Taklha, clarified his comments, saying, "If the Tibetans were to choose the path of violence he would have to resign because he is completely committed to nonviolence."

"He would resign as the political leader and head of state, but not as the Dalai Lama. He will always be the Dalai Lama."

Though the situation inside Tibet remains unclear, the violence appears to be committed by Tibetans who are attacking ethnic Han Chinese. 

Premier Wen accused the protestors of trying to disrupt the upcoming Olympic Games.

"By staging that incident they want to undermine the Beijing Olympics Games, and they also try to serve their hidden agenda by inciting such incidents," Wen told reporters at a press conference at the end of China’s national legislative meeting, according to the Associated Press.

Wen accused the Dalai Lama of instigating the riots.  “There is ample fact - and we also have plenty of evidence - proving that this incident was organized, premeditated, masterminded and incited by the Dalai clique," he said.  Wen did not provide details. 

He said China would only consider dialogue with the Dalai Lama if he would renounce his efforts at Tibetan independence.

China had set a deadline of Monday at midnight for protesters to turn themselves in.  Hours after the deadline, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia cited an unnamed witness who said authorities in Lhasa had begun arresting hundreds of people.

Protests have spread from Tibet into neighboring Chinese provinces, and even to the capital of Beijing.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after the 1959 uprising, setting up a government-in-exile in Dhamsala, India.

Recently he has called on Tibetan exiles to stop their six-month march from India to Lhasa at the Tibetan border.  "Will you get independence? What's the use?" he said.

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Catholics consecrate new church in Qatar

Doha, Qatar, Mar 18, 2008 (CNA) - Despite threats from Islamic radicals, thousands of Christians on Saturday took part in the first Mass to be held at the Muslim nation of Qatar’s only church, Agence France Presse reports.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Prefect of the Congregation of the Evangelization of the Peoples and the envoy sent by the Vatican, presided over the Mass, which was attended by around 15,000 worshippers.  Cardinal Dias thanked “God and Qatar for this great gift.”

The Roman Catholic church, named Our Lady of the Rosary, accommodates around 5,000 worshippers.  The $20 million building has no bell or crosses on its exterior, similar to other nondescript churches in some Muslim states.  It is the first of five churches to be built in Qatar.

Catholics began arriving at the church early on Saturday morning.  Big screens were erected on the church grounds so that those outside could follow the consecration rite.

The Mass was conducted in English, but prayers were also said in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog, Spanish, and French for the many nationalities of the worshippers.

Western embassies had counseled vigilance after Islamic militants on the Internet made threats related to the opening of the church.  "Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include ... the new Christian Church complex in Doha," said a warning from the U.S. embassy.

Dozens of police were deployed around the church, with female officers searching the handbags of women congregants.

Filipino Catholic Shato Mawude told Agence France Presse he was not concerned by the threats.

"It is a day without precedent. I am very happy. The threats were made but I didn't pay them much attention. I trust the country's authorities," Mawude said.

Filipina Ariel Almyede told AFP, "This church is a sign of a possible dialogue between the different faiths."

Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister, said the opening of the church sent a “positive message” to the world. 

"At the moment we are enjoying the construction of mosques and Islamic centers in the West,” he said, “so we must be fair” toward Christians in the region and allow them places of worship.

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