Oakland, Calif., May 22, 2008 (CNA) - In a pastoral letter responding to the California Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, Bishop of Oakland Allen Vingeron said that Catholics must respond to this “profoundly significant” issue by bringing a proper understanding of marriage into public life. The failure to do so, he said, would result in a difficult situation where Christianity becomes a counter-cultural way of life.
Writing in a May 16 letter, Bishop Vingeron said the “most fundamental point” is that “marriage is a reality authored by God in his very act of creating the human race.” A marital relationship is only possible between one man and one woman for the purposes of “mutual loving support” between them and for their “loving service of life” by bringing children into the world.
All Catholics implicitly affirm this conviction when they profess to share the Church‘s faith in their baptismal promises, the bishop said.
However, he said, this conviction about marriage can be known from reason. Therefore, its position in society is not an ideological imposition but an aspect of the common good.
“This wisdom about the nature of marriage is not a form of discrimination, but undergirds our freedom to live according to God’s plan for us,” Bishop Vigneron said. “No government has the power to change the order which God has inscribed in our nature.”
Bishop Vigneron said future challenges related to same-sex unions can be divided into short term and long term categories.
In the short term, Catholics are called to bring marriage laws into conformity with their knowledge about the nature of marriage.
If such efforts fail, the bishops said, “our way of life will become counter-cultural, always a difficult situation for Christians -- one our forebears faced in many ages past, one that the Lord himself predicted for us.”
Bishop Vigneron recommended Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body as a resource for Catholics to use in renewing both their own and their society’s understanding of marriage and human life.
Recalling Pope John Paul II’s constant reminder to “be not afraid,” he concluded:
“Christ is risen. His vision for our world, and for the place of marriage in it, will, according to the time he has appointed, become the truth of our world.”
Doha, Qatar, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - Rival Lebanese leaders on Wednesday reached an agreement to end 18 months of political conflict.
At Arab-mediated talks hosted in Doha, the Lebanese parliament agreed to elect army chief General Michel Suleiman as president. The presidency has been empty since November.
Under the agreement, BBC News reports, the Hezbollah-led opposition will have enough cabinet seats to have veto power in the new cabinet.
In compliance with one plank of the agreement, Hezbollah members on Wednesday began to dismantle protest camps in central Beirut.
The agreement also forbids the use of arms or violence to settle political differences.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said it was "an exceptional agreement at an exceptional time," according to BBC News.
Hezbollah delegation leader Mohammed Raad said the agreement would help “towards strengthening coexistence and building the state.”
Father Fady Tabet, the director of Voice of Charity Radio in Lebanon, told Vatican Radio that the agreement was a victory for both the government and the opposition.
Brasilia, Brazil, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - Attendees at Brazil’s first national “Youth Conference” in the capital city of Brasilia has issued a declaration containing rulings favoring the legalization of abortion and the creation of an educational system free of “homophobia.”
Preliminary materials given to the 2,280 attendees at the April meeting were published by the government and bore the name of President Luiz Lula, LifeSiteNews reports.
One publication claimed that 70 thousand women die every year because of complications from badly-performed abortions. The publication also said that women never die of legal abortions.
Official U.S. statistics report about 0.8 deaths per 100,000 abortions, though pro-life organizations argue that such deaths are under-reported.
Government materials at the conference advocated that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites, transsexuals, and transgender people be guaranteed the right to “freely express their sexual orientation.” One document said a deviant sexual orientation “isn't an illness, isn't illegal, isn't wrong, and isn't an option.” Instead, it asserted, such orientations are “like heterosexuality, that is to say, another way of living and expressing one's love.”
One resolution passed at the conference asked the Brazilian government to increase access to secular education that does not privilege heterosexuality, while another urged the government to "implement public policies to promote the sexual and reproductive rights of young women...guaranteeing access to contraceptive methods, and the legalization of abortion."
A poll taken by UNESCO in late 2006 suggests attendees at the youth conference were not representative of their peers or their countrymen. In the UNESCO poll, 47 percent of Brazilian youth aged 16-19 said they would not like to have a homosexual as a neighbor. Forty-nine percent of male youths said that they believed a man who has sexual relations with another man is either ill or shameless.
A recent nationwide poll of Brazilians found that 68 percent oppose further decriminalization of abortion in Brazil. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, but it is not currently punished in cases of rape.
Madrid, Spain, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - In his most recent pastoral letter Bishop Jose Ignacio Aguirre of Palencia in Spain encouraged parents who are engaged in a “holy rebellion” by conscientiously objecting to the government's mandate that their children attend the school course Education for Citizenship.
In his letter the bishop referred to the more than 30,000 parents who have formally objected to the course. “Their objections are not aimed at the school, the teachers or the book…but rather at the excesses of a State that seeks to make itself the moral educator of their children. I am sure God will bless these parents who have decided to declare a ‘holy rebellion’ for the good of their children,” he said.
The bishop explained that parents “have understood that when the lesser evil becomes the ordinary choice, it ends up becoming a slippery slope downwards toward the ‘greater evil.’ Their active resistance is one of the most beautiful pages in the history of this struggle for the good of children, as well as of the defense of the principle of subsidiarity in the face of the tyranny of the states.”
The Spanish bishop also encouraged more involvement by parents who are not yet engaged in objecting. “And when the day of victory arrives—which it will!—those of us who remained on the sidelines will perhaps feel admiration and thankfulness, and perhaps a bit of timidity and embarrassment.”
He recalled the statement published by the bishops of Castille and Leon that called the mandatory course an “illegitimate imposition by the State of a certain formation of conscience of the students without the consent of their parents.”
“Fortunately, there are increasingly more people who understand that the Church is not defending a particular interest, and there already exist many citizen-led initiatives of active resistance in the face of this unjust intrusion,” Bishop Aguirre said.
Local education officials also received blame from the bishop for refusing to “process the objections presented by parents and claiming that in the development of the curriculum, the contents that presumably would be contrary to the conscience of parents has already been removed. They are stumbling over the same stone as the federal government! Who are they to decide what moral content parents should accept or reject?” he asked.
Bishop Aguirre also criticized efforts to eliminate religion class from schools, noting that in many schools attendance at alternative classes is not enforced and students are allowed to “chat on Windows Messenger or play outside’.”
Sacramento, Calif., May 22, 2008 (CNA) - Homeschooling parents in California have been worried that the state may prevent them from educating their children following a February Superior Court ruling. The court has agreed to rehear the case, and on Monday, Gov. Schwarzenegger and California’s attorney general filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in favor of homeschooling.
Schwarzenegger and Brown’s brief explains that the state education code allows children in private, full-time day schools to be exempt from compulsory public school education.
A “private home school,” said the brief, can qualify as a private school under the code if it complies with state requirements for private schools. “Notably,” says the brief, “there is no requirement that the teachers in such schools have a California teaching credential, only that they be ‘persons capable of teaching.’”
The California education code, the officials said, “defines a private school as ‘a person, firm, association, partnership, or corporation offering or conducting private school instruction on the elementary or high school level.’”
Nineteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives added their voices to the debate by having the Liberty Counsel file an amicus brief on their behalf on Tuesday.
According to the Liberty Counsel, the Congressmen say they are “united in their concern for the effect that an unfavorable decision in California could have on national homeschooling laws, as well as the parental rights protected by such laws.”
On February 28, homeschoolers in California were blindsided by the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeals ruling that ruled that homeschooling parents without teaching credentials have no legal right to homeschool their children. The current rehearing of the case was granted on March 25.
Santiago, Chile, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - In response to the news from President Michelle Bachelet that the government will renew its efforts to distribute the so-called “morning after pill” in Chile, the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, urged the State not to overlook its commitment to “respect for the right to life.”
During a speech on Wednesday, Bachelet announced the government would seek to distribute the pill through local municipalities as the country’s Constitutional Court ruled it could not be made available through state-run health care facilities.
“There two aspects to consider, on the one hand the right to life, which the State is committed to protecting, and on the other the freedom of individuals,” the cardinal said in response to Bachelet’s speech.
“The problem is often addressed by eliminating one of these two factors,” he continued. “I think a good solution is when both are considered and respected.” He noted that in their speeches politicians often put the supposed right to certain “freedoms” above “the fundamental right to life of every human being, from conception to natural death.”
Washington D.C., May 22, 2008 (CNA) - The U.S. Court of Appeals of the 4th Circuit on Tuesday for a second time declared unconstitutional a Virginia law banning partial-birth abortions, saying the law is more restrictive than a federal ban approved by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.
The appellate court has never allowed Virginia’s Partial Birth Infanticide Act of 2003 to take effect, but the Supreme Court ordered the court to reexamine the law in light of the high court’s decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, the Washington Post reports.
The Virginia law bans “intact dilation and extraction” abortions, which are used after about 12 weeks into a pregnancy.
In a standard dilation and extraction (D&E) abortion, the unborn child is dismembered in the womb. In an intact D&E abortion, the unborn child is partially delivered and its skull is crushed to make its removal easier.
The law was struck down by a 2 to 1 decision of the three-judge panel. The majority said the only way a doctor could ensure that he would not be prosecuted under the law would be to stop performing abortions. In some cases, an “accidental” intact D&E abortion can take place when a doctor is performing a standard D&E procedure, which remains legal.
The majority in the appellate panel’s decision said a doctor acting in “good faith” to comply with the law could accidentally violate it. Unlike the Virginia law, the federal law protects an abortionist who does not intend to perform an intact D&E procedure.
"The Virginia Act imposes an undue burden upon a woman's right to choose a pre-viability second trimester abortion," Judge M. Blane Michael wrote, according to the Washington Post. He was joined by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.
In his dissent, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer accused the majority of "ignoring explicit language and undertaking its course to find ambiguity in the Virginia Act so as to be able to strike it down."
"With a troubling opinion, the majority now seeks to circumvent the Supreme Court's ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart, unwittingly inviting the Supreme Court to spell out in this case that Virginia's statute is likewise constitutional, because in the nature and scope of conduct prohibited, it is virtually identical to the federal statute," he wrote.
A spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said McDonnell had not decided whether to ask the entire 4th Circuit Court to reconsider the case or to petition the Supreme Court to hear it.
Montevideo, Uruguay, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Uruguay, Bishop Carlos Collazzi, has strongly rejected a campaign to legalize abortion being led by a feminist organization. The pro-abortions have posted billboards showing a rosary in the shape of a uterus to garner support.
The billboards include the picture of the rosary with the caption, “Get Your Rosaries off Our Ovaries,” “The right to our own bodies is not a question of faith. It is a question of democracy.”
In an interview with Radio Carve, Bishop Collazzi said the campaign betrayed a lack of respect for democratic principles and for a religious symbol that is important for the nation, “because the rosary speaks of the very religious sentiments of the Uruguayan people.”
“The issue at heart,” he said, “is always abortion.”
“The bishops have spoken out on numerous occasions and we have made statements that show we are not oblivious to the difficult circumstances” that many pregnant women face. “We are aware that social inequalities must be addressed, that the many difficulties that women who are pregnant face must be recognized…but the bishops and Christians or believers cannot be accused of being fundamentalists for defending the rights of the unborn.”
Bishop Collazzi said believers would continue to stand up for the right to life in a respectful way, and he emphasized that “the legalization of abortion does not change something evil into something good. That is a principle that we hold firmly and I am sorry to see a religious symbol used in a campaign against the faith, principles, the defense of life, which are not only religious principles but rather fundamental principles of human dignity, principles of life because five centuries before Christ Hippocrates refused to put his medical knowledge at the service of death.”
Regarding the accusation of “hypocrisy” leveled against the Church by abortion supporters, Bishop Collazzi responded, “The biggest hypocrisy is to say that life should be defended at certain times and not at others, and in my opinion, not defending all life is the height of hypocrisy.”
Madrid, Spain, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Sebastian of Pamplona in Spain is defending the right of Catholics to live their faith without restrictions in response to the publication of the secular “ten commandment” by a newspaper supportive of the Socialist party.
The archbishop summarized the “commandments” compiled by the newspaper Publico and called them a “barrier for excluding Christianity from society.”
“1. You shall teach with equality. The equality imposed by secularism is understood as one without any reference to God or to any religion, not even to the transcendence of the human being.
2. You shall not preach outside the pulpit. This means religious expression can only be tolerated inside churches. The teaching of religion in schools must be eliminated.
3. You shall not impose your symbols on the State. Official acts must be strictly secular. State funerals and even Catholic weddings for the royal family are not permitted.
4. You shall not mix the earthly with the heavenly. No hymns, no flags, no officials at religious ceremonies, no religious symbols in official state business.
5. You shall not monopolize holidays. They seek to remove religious holidays and make them civil commemorations.
6. You shall not invade public institutions. With the exception of hospital chaplains, military chaplains and the existence of the Military Ordinary.
7. We shall control the patrimony. The Church must recognize that Cathedrals, Museums and Monasteries are public property.
8. We shall facilitate apostasy. No explanation is required here.
9. You shall not appear in the public media. Religious programs must be eliminated from state-run media.
10. Not one dime for the Church. It shall not even be acceptable to designate a portion of one’s income to the Church on tax returns.
Bishop Sebastian said that according to these commandments, “the Church, Catholics, the Christian religion doesn’t deserve the same consideration and assistance that is given to sports, movies, or beauty pageants. The only thing left for them to do is fine us for being Catholics,” he added.
The bishop also defended the right of public expression for all citizens, saying, “Citizens have the perfect right to live and act religiously in all areas of our personal, family and social lives, according to our consciences and in accord with our desires. No human authority has the right to outlaw this.”
Bishop Sebastian warned that secularists are motivated by a totalitarian concept of the State. “According to this mentality, the State is a sort of Supreme Being that is above us and tells us how to live. But this is not reality,” he said. “It’s the State that must conform to the society it serves, and not the other way around. This is the essence of democracy. The opposite is dictatorship and totalitarianism.”
“In the case of religion, the only thing the State has to do, which is not much, is protect the freedom of citizens so that each one can exercise and freely express his own religion, according to his own conscience, without bothering or attacking the freedom or the legitimate rights of anyone. Therefore correct secularism, as well as non-sectarianism, consists in that the State protects the religious freedom of society and of citizens to practice the religion they believe, without meddling in religious questions that are beyond its competence,” the bishop added.
“If Spanish Catholics want to remain free and responsible, we will have to begin to take these matters seriously. It’s not a matter of the bishops, but rather something that directly concerns all of society and all citizens. What is at risk is not the privileges of priests, but rather the freedom of Spanish citizens to live freely according to their consciences.”
Bangkok, Thailand, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - While relief agencies struggled to secure permission to bring food, medicine, and shelter to the 2.4 million cyclone victims in Myanmar, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was allowed to deliver a shipment of thousands of condoms to the region.
More than 133,000 people are dead or missing in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar on May 2. The junta ruling Myanmar has resisted accepting foreign disaster aid, granting foreign helicopters permission to distribute aid only on Wednesday.
The UNFPA is shipping to Myanmar reproductive health kits which include razors for cutting umbilical cords, clean sheets for delivering babies, and contraceptive pills and shots to last 3,390 women for three months, the Independent Online reports.
A shipment designed to serve 200,000 to 300,000 people arrived in Yangon by commercial cargo flight on May 10, according to the UNFPA web site. The UNFPA says it has shipped more than 70,000 condoms to survivors.
"We don't want regular use of contraception disrupted. An emergency usually damages the health system, so people don't have access to condoms and contraceptives," said UNFPA aid advisor Chaiyos Kunanusont.
According to the Independent Online, Chaiyos said a total of 218,400 condoms will be delivered.
Aid groups have complained that limits imposed by Myanmar’s ruling government are hindering the provision of vital supplies to survivors.
London, England, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - The British public has been misled in regard to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill, according to many Catholic Ministers of Parliament. The bill passed this week in the UK allowing admixed embryos, “savior siblings,” and the role of a father during fertility treatment.
The vote on Monday, which supporters of the bill won by 336 votes to 176, included six Catholic Ministers of Parliament (MPs) voting against Edward Leigh’s campaign to avoid using animal-human hybrids in embryonic research.
Ex-Tory minister Edward Leigh, who led the fight against the creation of hybrid “admixed” embryos, said they were “ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless.”
He said there was “no evidence yet to substantiate” claims the work could help treat diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Catholic MPs were also upset because for the first two readings, they MPs were allowed to vote according to their consciences, but for the third reading, the ministers were pressed to vote with the government whip.
Senior Catholic MP Joe Benton has described the government’s move to allow a free vote in parliament only during the first and second readings on Monday and Tuesday as “hypocrisy.”
Mr. Benton, Labor MP for the town, Bootle, and secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group told The Universe: “I cannot express the depth of my disappointment that these are not recognized as what they are, namely moral, ethical issues of conscience.”
Mr. Benton added, “It is hypocritical. There were so-called free votes. There was a free vote on Monday and Tuesday at the committee stages but come the third reading, and we were expected to support the government.”
“My views are well known at Westminster. They certainly will not be looking to me for support,” he said.
“It is absolutely illogical and absurd and an insult to the intelligence not to allow a free vote in all stages of the Bill.”
Mr. Benton was joined in opposing the bill by Catholic cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron both voted to legalize the creation of human animal embryos.
Outside Westminster opposition was equally strong. Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien of Edinburgh described the Bill as an attempt to create “Frankensteinian monsters.”
Helen Watt, director at the Linacre Centre for medical ethics said the Bill’s progress was “all too predictable.” “Given the constant stream of misinformation: science and ethics have both been severely distorted by the Bill’s supporters,” she said.
“We get the Parliament we deserve, and should all give a top priority at the next election to these issues, looking less to party affiliation and more to the voting records of individual MPs,” Watt stated.
Story courtesy of The Universe in partnership with CNA.
Vatican City, May 22, 2008 (CNA) - The L’Osservatore Romano published an article this week slamming an anti-life package passed this week by Britain’s House of Commons that includes measures allowing the creation of human-animal embryos, in vitro fertilization, and artificial insemination for lesbians who want to have a child.
LOR reporter Assuntina Morresi explained in her article that the most controversial measure in the package is the approval of human-animal hybrids. “There is no demand for these embryos in the scientific community, despite reports in the media. So far only tow British groups have requested permission to create the hybrids, using egg cells from cows and adult human cells,” Morressi said.
She called the proposed research “outdated and useless,” noting that last December Ian Wilmut, the creator of the sheep Dolly, publicly announced his refusal to continue harvesting embryonic stem cells from therapeutic cloning, saying “the technique is inefficient and has never worked in humans and has done nothing but harm to animals.”
Morressi also pointed out that human-animal hybrids could not be used to treat humans because of the possibility of contamination from animal biological material. “Neither could they be used as models to study certain diseases,” she added.
In her piece, Morressi also explained that the creation of “savior babies” through in vitro fertilization would mean producing a large number of human embryos in order to pick the ones with the best genetic characteristics. The “acceptable” embryos would then be allowed to develop so that after birth their tissues could be used to help sick family members. The other embryos would be destroyed.
Labor representative Des Turner noted, “If therapeutic measures exist, it’s a moral imperative to use therapies to save lives.” But, Morressi said, “Who knows what effect being considered a ‘therapeutic measure’ would have on someone, knowing that one was born because his genetic profile was exactly what the family needed,” Morressi asked.
Orphans before they were conceived
Referring to the third measure of the controversial bill on the right of a people to have a father and a mother, Morressi said the new law doesn’t respect this right but rather only requires that it be shown someone exists that will take care of the future child. Sponsors of the measure said, “It’s the quality of being parents that matters, not gender as such,” and further claimed that current British law constitutes “discrimination against lesbian couples and single women.”
“Orphans before they were conceived, in summary: impossible for mother nature but not for the law in Great Britain,” Morressi said. “Since there needs to be sperm in the test tube, there must be a biological father, at least in theory, even if he is nothing more than a sperm producer: a number in a sperm bank catalogue, or perhaps in today’s world, a simple bar code,” she stated.
Morressi ended her article with two questions: “Why persist in research that is so ethically controversial given all of the doubts from a scientific point of view? Perhaps to show that we can do research with whatever we want?”