Archive of May 21, 2008

Los Angeles schools’ sex abuse scandal raises questions about double standards

Los Angeles, Calif., May 21, 2008 (CNA) - Revelations of administrators’ mishandling of sexually abuse committed in the Los Angeles Unified School District have prompted comparisons to the clerical sexual abuse scandal that has afflicted the Catholic Church in recent years.  Some are charging that there is a double standard which treats sexual abuse committed by educators less harshly than that committed by clerics.

The scandal that has brought the comparison to light is that of former assistant school principal Steve Thomas Rooney, who faces 13 felony sex-related counts.  They include charges that he had unlawful sex with two female students ages 13 and 14 while he was assistant principal at a middle school. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) assigned Rooney to the middle school in August 2007 despite knowing that police had investigated Rooney about an alleged sexual relationship with a student at his previous school.  The former high school student has since testified that Rooney impregnated her.

Other cases of alleged sexual abuse are pending.  KNX 1070 Newsradio reports that “21 teachers and administrators have been pulled from schools in the past year because of allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with kids.”  Most of the allegations have been made since January 2008.

However, when Superintendent David Brewer was asked about the number of cases since January 2008, he said, "I don't have any data on that, I'll have to get back to you on that." 

LAUSD Deputy Superindendent Ramon Cortines discussed the scandal with KNBC TV, saying, “This is not out of the ordinary for school districts all over the nation. These things happen.”

Dave Pierre, a writer for NewsBusters, argued that there was a double standard in media coverage.

“By comparison,” Pierre wrote, “look at how the media has covered decades-old allegations of sexual abuse by clergy of the Catholic Church. Since 2002, the coverage has been voluminous and incessant. (The Boston Globe alone ran a mind-blowing 989 articles related to the scandal in the 2002 calendar year.) Years later, the media still takes joy in hammering the Church, even with misinformation and falsehoods.”

“When it comes to the abuse of children, it sure seems like the national media doesn't get too worked up unless the words ‘Cardinal,’ ‘bishop,’ or ‘priest’ is in someone's job title,” Pierre wrote.

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Vietnamese bishop protests government destruction of monastery to build hotel

Vinh Long, Vietnam, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Thomas Nguyen Van Tan of the Diocese of Vinh Long has protested Vietnamese authorities’ plans to demolish a monastery and build a hotel on land confiscated from a religious order in 1977.

The bishop recounted in a strongly-worded May 18 letter what he called “a day of disaster” for the Diocese of Vinh Long.  On September 7, 1977, he wrote, “the local authorities mobilized its armed force to blockade and raid Holy Cross College… St. Paul monastery, and the Major Seminary.”  Authorities arrested all who were in charge of the institutions, including Bishop Nguyen Van Tan himself.

Fr. J.B. An Dang informed CNA that last month, local authorities in the southern Vietnamese province of Vinh Long (about 85 miles southwest of Saigon) announced a project to build a new hotel on the land belonging to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. 

Though the sisters have staged protests at the site and priests have voiced their opposition to the office of the Fatherland Front, the government has not responded to their concerns.

Instead, Bishop Nguyen Van Tan writes, “the government has summoned residents in the town to meetings in which they vow to take strong actions against those who dare to prevent the construction.”

The bishop said the pending destruction of the monastery is a “great suffering” both for the entire diocese and also for the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, who have been in Vinh Long since 1871. 

“We cannot consent with the decision imposed unjustly by those who have power in their hand, neither we can stay silent in the face of this outrage. Being silent means complicity and a compromise with injustice,” he wrote.

Bishop Nguyen Van Tan asked the faithful to “pray earnestly” for the diocese and the sisters.  He asked that they sing three Hail Marys and the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi every day to bring about a resolution.

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Pope Benedict prays for successful ban on cluster munitions

Dublin, Ireland, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has prayed for the success of the Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions as it opens in Ireland in hopes of negotiating a treaty banning the deadly weapons.

Humanitarian organizations have said a binding treaty is urgently needed because the weapons cause “unacceptable harm to civilians,” Vatican Radio reports.  When a cluster weapon is used, it scatters thousands of small bomblets across a wide area.  Some of these bomblets fail to explode and can still injure or kill civilians who return to the area.

In recent years the weapons have been used in Kosovo, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

A core of seven countries, including Ireland and the Holy See, played a leading role in bringing negotiations to their present stage.  More than 100 nations are represented at the conference.

The main producers and stockpilers of cluster munitions, including the U.S., Britain, China, Russia, and Israel, oppose the ban.

Pope Benedict addressed the proposed ban over the weekend, saying, “It is necessary to heal the errors of the past and avoid them happening again in the future.  I pray for the victims of the cluster munitons, for their families, and for those who join in this conference too, wishing that it will be successful.”

On Sunday the Holy Father in his Angelus message said the conference was an “important event.”

"I hope that, thanks to the responsibility of all participants, we can reach an international instrument that is strong and credible: it is indeed necessary to remedy past mistakes and prevent recurrence in the future," he said on Sunday.

The Dublin conference is scheduled to run until May 30.  If the conference comes to an agreement, it will create the most important disarmament treaty since the Ottowa prohibition of land mines agreed to ten years ago.

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Living faith rescues our cultural heritage from the past, Pope says

Vatican City, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - At the general audience today in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the beauty of Christian culture, which, because it is rooted in Christ, has left a heritage that remains alive today.

Continuing his series of reflections on the Fathers of the Church, the pope turned his attention to the poetry of a little known figure, Romanus the Melodist.

Born in Syria at the end of the fifth century, Romanus received a classical education, was ordained a deacon, and settled in Constantinople. He was called the “Christian Pindar" (a Greek poet) for his lofty compositions in verse.

His preaching took the form of chanted metered hymns known as "kontakia", consisting of an introduction and a series of stanzas punctuated by a refrain. Some eighty-nine of these have come down to us, and they testify to the rich theological, liturgical and devotional content of the hymnography of that time. Composed in simple language accessible to his hearers, these kontakia are notable for their dramatic dialogues and their use of sustained metaphors, the Holy Father explained.

This great poet, the Pope said in a departure from his prepared remarks, reminds us of "the entire treasury of Christian culture born of the faith, born from a heart that has met Christ, the Son of God":

"If faith is still alive, even this cultural heritage does not become a dead thing but remains alive and present. Icons speak even today to the believing heart, not just things of the past. The cathedrals are not medieval monuments, but houses of life where we are 'at home', we meet God, and we meet with one another. And the great music, Gregorian chant or Bach and Mozart, are not things of the past in the Church but live in the vitality of the liturgy of our faith. If faith is alive, the Christian culture does not become the past, but remains alive and present."

If our faith is alive, he added: "Even today we can respond to the command that is repeated over and over again in the Psalms:" Sing to the Lord a new song ":

"Creativity, innovation, new song, new culture and the presence of the entire cultural heritage in the vitality of faith, are not exclusive (of one another) but are a single reality, are the presence of God's beauty, the joy of being a child of God."

Reflecting on the figure of Romanus, the Pope explained that the key episode of his life was the apparition in a dream of the Mother of God and the charismatic gift of poetry. Romanus, he said, was "an eminent witness of the religious sentiment of his time." At Constantinople, he said, Romano preached in a suburban sanctuary. Here, the deacon spoke to the community using wall depictions or icons arranged on the pulpit, or even using dialogue.

His, he added, were "homilies sung in meter" called "kontákia."

Tradition attributes to him 1000 but we have only 89. Romanus adopted a Greek close to the koiné of the New Testament, and more accessible to his listeners. A significant example of a "kontakion" of Romans is the dramatic dialogue between Mary and the Son, which takes place on the way of the Cross:

"Where are you going, son? Why so rapidly have you completed the course of your life? / Never would have believed, O child, that I would see you in this state,/ never would I have imagined so much of fury would come from the wicked / that you would be placed now in the hands against all justice." Jesus replied: "Why weep, my mother ... Must I not suffer? Must I not die? How then could I save Adam? "

The Son of Mary consoled then the Mother, "but calls her back o her role in the history of salvation." The pope remarked that Romanus the Melodist, an able communicator, declared his homilies empty, himself separated from their consistent impact.

Pope Benedict emphasized the "palpable humanity, the ardor of faith and deep humility" that pervade the songs of Romanus the Melodist, whose hymns contain themes that are Christological and Marian.

Romanus shows us the power of symbolic communication, which, in the liturgy, joins earth to heaven and uses imagery, poetry and song to lift our minds to God's truth, Benedict XVI said.

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After 33 years, Cambodians recall anniversary of murdered bishop for the first time

Rome, Italy, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - Thirty three years after his murder by the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia, Catholics in Cambodia have commemorated the anniversary of the death of Bishop Paul Tep-im Soth for the first time.
According to UCA News, Bishop Sotha was killed at the beginning of Pol Pot’s reign of terror (1975-1979), during which more than a million people were exterminated in forced labor camps.   He died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in Kbeal Spean, where today a school stands and a monument that tells his story. 
Nearly 300 people participated in a special Mass, including 56 year-old Hnem Yard, who tried to help Bishop Sotha escape.  "I offered to take him across the Thai border another way, but he refused because it was illegal. He decided to go on National Road No. 5 to Poipet, where he was killed by a soldier for no reason," Yard said.
Bishop Sotha was ordained a priest in 1959, serving at St. Mary's Parish in Phnom Penh. He was appointed Apostolic Prefect of Battambang when the Vatican established the prefecture on Sept. 26, 1968.
Church records say Cambodia had 65,000 Catholics in 1970, but only 1,000 or so Cambodian Catholics were alive when Vietnamese troops forced the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979. Foreign missionaries were deported, and no Cambodian priests or nuns in the country survived.

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Cardinal Re recalls Cardinal Lopez Trujillo as defender of the Gospel and the family

Rome, Italy, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - During a Mass commemorating Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo death last month, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, recalled the late cardinal as a “passionate defender of the Gospel, with a robust strength of will, a brilliant clarity of thought and a man of boundless dedication and determination” for defending life and the family.
During the homily for the Mass at the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere in Rome, Cardinal Re said, “He never lacked courage, especially when he was trying to defend the non-negotiable values” of human life, the family and marriage.  And it is true, he continued, “He never feared unpopularity or hostility.  He was maligned, but the falsehoods leveled against him never stopped him or intimidated him.”
According to L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Re remembered the late Colombian prelate as “a pastor with great personality and firm decisions,” which were sometimes criticized and opposed. “Nonetheless, one cannot deny the uprightness and great inspiration that formed the basis of his dynamism” and that made him “a true man of the Church during his entire ministry, desirous only of promoting the good,” especially with regards to the defense of the family, “which today is under threat.”
Cardinal Re also recalled Cardinal Trujillo’s years of service to the Church as a priest, and later, as president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.  He also brought to mind the words of Pope Benedict XVI at the cardinal’s funeral Mass.  “We all admired his tireless activity.  We cannot help but be thankful for the tenacious battle he waged in defense of the truth about family love and the spread of the Gospel of the family.”
He called on the faithful to pray for Cardinal Trujillo to be received in the peace of Christ and enjoy “the vision of God face to face.”

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Mexican bishop calls for 'yes' to life this Sunday

Mexico City, Mexico, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - Responding to a call by the Committee on the Laity of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Mario de Gasperin of Queretaro called on the faithful of his diocese to participate in a massive March for Life to be held this Sunday.

In a message to priests, deacons and religions of the Diocese of Queretaro, Bishop de Gasperin asked for “prayers to the God of life, through the celebration of the Eucharist which will be offered for the defense of human life, from conception to natural death.”

The bishop recalled that Pope John Paul II often said that “the Church is the people of life and for life” and that this devotion to human life is what “defines us in the midst of a society and country increasingly sliding down the slippery slope of death.”

“Our destiny is life and not death,” he continued.  “Our God, Jesus said, is a God of the living and not of the dead. We adore a living God for whom even those who have died live because their destiny is the resurrection.”

He called on all Catholics to join the March for Life and to use every means within their power to defend the culture of life.

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British lawmakers reject new abortion restrictions

London, England, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - The British House of Commons has rejected proposals to reduce the 24-week limit on legal abortion procedures.Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has spoken out about the results saying that many people will be "very disappointed" the outcome.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries, a former nurse, had proposed a 20-week limit, the BBC reports.

"There comes a point when it has to be said this baby has a right to life," she said.  "I believe a baby has rights. Those rights kick in if that baby were born it would have a chance of life and if it feels pain as part of the abortion."

Dorries' proposal failed by 332 votes to 190.  Another proposal reducing the limit to 22 weeks failed by 304 votes to 233.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, voted for the 24-week limit to be maintained.  Conservative leader David Cameron voted for the 22-week limit.  Catholic cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne, and Paul Murphy voted for a proposal that would reduce the limit to 12 weeks.

Former minister Edward Leigh had pressed for the 12-week limit, saying it would bring Britain into line with the rest of Europe. 

"In modern Britain the most dangerous place to be is in your mother's womb. It should be a place of sanctity," Leigh said.  He said 98 percent of abortions are “social” and argued the nation should give a voice to the “silent child.”

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said there was no evidence requiring a change in abortion laws, saying there was no new research contradicting scientific evidence that established 24 weeks as the “threshold of viability.”

David Jones, a professor of bioethics, said research on the survival rates of extremely premature babies was “disputed.”

In a Wednesday statement Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of London, called for societal change to reduce abortions.

“Many people of all faiths and none will have been very disappointed by the result of last night’s votes on the abortion time limit,” the cardinal said.  “But this issue will not go away. Whilst the law affects attitudes, it does not in itself compel anyone to have an abortion. Even without a change in the law there is much we can all do to change the situation.

“There are many people on all sides of this debate who agree that 200,000 abortions a year is far too many, and abortion on this scale can only be a source of profound sadness and distress to us all.

“Abortion is not only a personal choice. It is also about the choices our society makes to support women, their partners and families who face difficult decisions. For the sake of our common humanity, and the lives at stake, we must work to foster a new understanding and approach to relationships, responsibility and mutual support. Even without a change in the law we can and should work together at least to make abortion much rarer.”

The votes on abortion limits followed intense debate concerning the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill.  MPs considering the bill rejected a requirement that doctors consider a child’s need for a “father and a mother” before allowing IVF treatment.

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Hispanic families sue Catholic school over English-only policy

Wichita, Kan., May 21, 2008 (CNA) - A Catholic school in Wichita is being sued by four Hispanic families over a policy that requires students to speak English in school at all times.

The Associated Press reports that the lawsuit filed against St. Anne’s Catholic School on Monday seeks to end the policy and to secure an order barring similar policies at other diocesan schools.  The suit also seeks to allow the return of one student who was allegedly kicked out for refusing to sign the “English only” pledge.  It asks for court costs and unspecified damages for discrimination and emotional suffering.

Parents Mike and Clara Silva, Maria and Fermin Fernandez, Guadalupe Cruz-Tello and Alma Contreras filed the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their minor children.  The lawsuit names as defendants St. Anne Catholic School, Principal Margaret Nugent, St. Anne Catholic Parish, and the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.

The diocese said the school instituted the policy in response to four students who were using Spanish to bully others and to put down teachers and administrators.  The majority of the school’s 243 students are white, while 75 students are Hispanic, 27 are Asian, and two are black.

According to court documents, the students named in the lawsuit are bilingual U.S. citizens with no disciplinary record.

Lawyers for the students' parents claimed that bullying was not the initial reason the school enacted the policy, citing a letter the school sent home saying that students who are immersed in the English language improve their ability to improve and succeed.

"One real problem that I think the plaintiffs have with the policy is not just that it's a bad policy, but that the justification keeps changing," said Christopher M. McHugh, an attorney for the families. "When one doesn't work, you move on to the next reason."

"I think if one school is granted their wish by not allowing their students to speak another language, then other schools will follow suit," said parent Mike Silva, according to the Associated Press.

Diocese of Wichita spokesman Fred Solis told the AP that the lawsuit was unfortunate because the church has historically offered services to minorities and has supported immigrant rights. 

The diocese’s attorney Jay Fowler suggested in a letter to the families’ lawyer that the lawsuit would divide the community.

"The politicization of what basically is a disagreement between a parent and a school will most likely morph into an anti-immigrant sentiment, thereby undermining the effects of both our clients," he wrote.

The lawsuit claims that because the school receives federal money for its free and reduced-price lunch program, it is subject to federal anti-discrimination laws.  The school district argues that the students, not the school, receive the federal funding.

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Political violence continues in Zimbabwe as election nears

Konigstein, Germany, May 21, 2008 (CNA) - Grave human rights abuses triggered by a disputed presidential election continue to afflict Zimbabwe.  Politically-motivated violence has affected thousands of victims and has driven many from their homes before next month’s presidential run-off election.

A priest from Zimbabwe, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the situation to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The priest said that the violence especially afflicts rural areas.  People who had voted for the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change have been kidnapped, tortured, maimed and raped by soldiers and militia groups.  Many Catholic priests and laity are on the wanted lists of these violent groups, and many are in hiding following death threats, he said.

Many of the streets and roads are filled with people living in the open because their possessions have been plundered and their houses looted and burned down.

The priest fears the situation will only worsen before the June 27 run-off election.

The food distribution system is also affected.  Members of the opposition are not receiving food and Catholic dioceses cannot find food sources to feed the hungry.  The hospitals, according to the priest, are “overwhelmed” with the victims of political violence but lack medicines and even the most basic painkilling drugs.

Some 3 million people have fled Zimbabwe to neighboring South Africa, where they have been subject to anti-foreigner attacks.   The South African bishops a year ago warned of a growing hostility towards foreigners.  The escalating violence there has left numerous victims.  Thousands of Zimbabwean refugees, fearing the danger, now want to return home.

The priest who spoke to ACN called on all Catholics to pray for the people of Zimbabwe and for those “who are persecuting us, because we have exercised our democratic rights.”

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